THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Apply permaculture to your land to nurture its natural features.

Photo by Jessi Bloom

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We’re all stewards of the land, blessed to be living here, and it’s our critical responsibility to make sure we honor the natural resources that help us live. Permaculture design provides a great toolkit for doing this, and it can also help simplify your life and make your landscape more resilient. Practicing permaculture can be fun and rewarding on many levels.

Though it’s complex and can take years to learn, I’m going to help simplify permaculture for you. First and foremost, permaculture is rooted in ethics, which can act as a filter to help you make decisions:

• Take care of the Earth.
• Take care of people — starting with yourself!
• Share resources and abundance.

You can learn from a number of different ecological design principles, creation techniques, and even technical jargon, but I’ll let you save all that for your own adventures in learning permaculture. Here, I’ll focus on some easy ways to get started on your journey.

1. Become a Systems Thinker

Each one of us depends on many different systems to survive — food, water, energy, and soil fertility, to name a few. It’s important to examine these systems and try to understand the elements that make them work, as well as their connection to our lives, so we can create as many self-sustained, closed-loop systems as possible.

We must consider ways to design and build resiliency in these systems — take water, for example. We use it every day, and having access to a clean supply is critical for our survival. We should ask: What are our sources? Do we have a backup source in case of an emergency? How can we design backups for our water supply? How do we make sure we’re only using what we need? You can apply this same line of questioning to soil fertility, food, waste, energy, and even your laundry systems.

2. Start Small

Designing a new system can feel overwhelming, so a good permaculture practice is to start small — though the most important thing to do is to get started. Taking small steps means that if you make mistakes — which you will, and that’s the best way to learn! — the consequences will be minimal. If you want to try something new, look for and learn from an experienced mentor before jumping in headfirst. Select a system you want to work on and choose one element of that system. For example: For your soil fertility or waste system, start by building a compost bin or using a food digester to compost your organic matter.

3. Kill Your Lawn and Grow Food

Stop growing grass and start sowing produce. One of the most efficient techniques to begin with is sheet mulching: Cover your lawn with organic matter and smother it. You can use a variety of materials; I prefer burlap or cardboard with a good 6 inches of mulch piled on top. It may take several months to kill your lawn with this method, but then you can plant in the newly amended bed space. Or, if you don’t want to wait, simply remove your lawn manually.

4. Grow Perennial Food Plants

Annual food plants, such as tomatoes or carrots, are delicious when grown at home. However, they require resources year after year, and you only get one harvest. With perennial plants, you only plant once and then harvest each year! Think of food-bearing trees, shrubs, canes, and groundcovers, and start with those. Begin with what you eat most — maybe you love blueberries or are partial to raspberries. Perhaps you’re keen on perennial vegetables, such as asparagus. Some perennial food plants produce a harvest within their first year, but most will take three to five years to really get established.

 

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