Sensible permaculture for residential estates and developments
Increase efficiency, save money16th Jul 2020
Permaculture is one of those words being bandied about as possibly the only way to save the planet, and to slow down or prevent the demise of humanity. Well, that’s probably a bit over the top, but it is a revolutionary way of looking at how we relate to our world, and – who knows – it might just save the planet after all. Whether you are developing an estate from scratch, managing an existing estate, or just wanting to decrease your personal carbon footprint, permaculture principles can increase efficiency and save costs.
What is permaculture?
The word comes from ‘permanent agriculture’, as you will find out if you ask Professor Wiki, and it is about sustainability, but it’s really about a mindset. There is no set of rules, and there is no international body that will certify your cocktail tomatoes or courgettes as ‘permacultural’. It’s a bit Zen – it’s an ah-haa moment. And, once you’ve experienced that ah-haa moment, you will never look at anything the same way again.
Of course, changing absolutely every aspect of your life overnight is both impossible and stressful, so take it slowly. And – you will be pleased to hear – that is one of the principles of permaculture, too. As well as being gentle on the earth, you should be gentle on yourself. It’s not a guilt trip. There are easy ways to get started, and to reprogramme your mind, and – even more important – your employees’ minds. And even your children’s minds, but it’s more likely they will be reprogramming you.
Permaculture is – simply – using what comes to hand, minimising waste, and working with natural cycles rather than against them. That doesn’t mean dancing naked under the full moon, although you can if you want to – it’s about recognising that the natural water cycles, nutrient and waste cycles, and energy cycles will continue whether you are there or not. And they will continue even if you try to circumvent them. So – much in the same way that you can sail against the tide if you are determined to – it’s really so much easier and more effective to sail with it. And, really, that’s what permaculture is. So, what are those cycles, and how do we ‘ride the tide’?
Waste not, want not
Depending on your age, you may have heard that holier-than-thou aphorism as a kid, but it’s a sentiment that has gone out of fashion in the era of conspicuous consumption. But not completely. Most people carry their own reusable shopping bags, and almost everyone recycles to a greater or lesser degree, which is a very good thing, but we still haven’t changed our basic attitude. We still think of waste as something icky, and definitely somebody else’s problem. But permaculture practitioners consider waste to be a resource, not just something to be swept under the metaphorical carpet, and it’s just another element in the eternal cycle – like water, plants and even us. Yes, we are not something outside of nature; we are a part of it, and everything we do impacts on our environment, which then impacts right back on us.
Permaculture educator Jacqueline Edmiston says that you should never let any nutrient leave your property – and that includes paper and cardboard. And, obviously, it includes kitchen and garden waste. Composting really is a no-brainer, just like recycling. But it can be challenging on a small scale, so that’s why communal composters are such a good idea, and residential estates are perfectly positioned for large-scale composting. And, on a domestic scale, there are some great mini-composting options, so anyone can start. The easiest, according to Jacqueline, is a Bokashi activated bran composter. With absolutely no mess or smell, you can keep it right in the kitchen so it works fine for apartments, and it will give you enough compost for a nice little herb trough or a salad picking box. Worm farms are also great, but they are more hands-on – and those hands will get dirty – so they’re not for everyone. Traditional compost heaps are not really feasible on most estates, but there are some well-designed garden composters that can be camouflaged, and some – like the so-easy-to-use Yolo Colours compost tumbler – are made deliberately pretty and colourful because composting is something to be proud of, not hidden in a dark corner.
Water is so fundamentally essential that ensuring water security is one of the pillars of permaculture. Of course, most of us do have municipal water, but – as we realised a few years ago – that is not a limitless resource, and there are more and more people relying on it every day. So, unless you live on the banks of a huge, unpolluted perennial river, this will usually mean harvesting rainwater or mining groundwater. Or even – if the weather and relief are suitable – catching mist and fog. And, of course, having found a source of water, you need to make the most of it – and that means pretty much ensuring that your soil holds water well, and that there is no bare earth to facilitate rapid evaporation. Sometimes you have to fight against the OCD side of your nature and refrain from raking up every leaf the moment it falls, because a nice mulch of leaves could be your garden’s best defence against desiccation – that, and good soil enriched by home-made compost.
Around and around we go
And that brings us full circle back to compost. And that’s the secret – everything you do affects everything else. That’s why it’s worth consulting with a permaculture designer right at the onset of a development. Small innovations you implement right at the beginning are likely to facilitate other useful innovations, and chances are you will be hooked as you find yourself stepping deeper and deeper into the permanently perpetuating positive feedback loop that is permaculture. And you will find more sub-loops and exciting byways. And that leads to increased efficiency, which leads to a saving in resources, which leads to greater profit, which leads to increased peace of mind and happiness, which leads to …
… it really is a virtuous cycle. Welcome to the adventure.