In a world of impending crisis, Permaculture offers practical solutions to building greater resilience into our lives and landscapes.
“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people. Providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.” – Bill Mollison
Written by our Permaculture teacher Luke Punnett.
Who can learn Permaculture?
Permaculture is for everyone and anyone who is interested in a sustainable future. Permaculture design can be practiced in limited urban spaces as well as the rural farm- lands. It offers the possibility of developing a diverse skill set that allows for greater resilience in increasingly uncertain times. Long-term access to land is critical for implementing designs and is the main impediment to the take up of Permaculture design.
Permaculture in St. Vincent
Permaculture offers design principles and practical tools, based on observations of nature, that allow us to transform our landscape to one offering greater abundance in a sustainable and chemical free way.
Permaculture offers a holistic viewpoint on sustainable agriculture, we learn that soil is ‘alive’ and needs to be ‘fed’, that the trees of the forest are ‘connected’ by threads of fungi called mycelium which transfer information and nutrients, that life is interdependent – the destruction of nature preceding our own.
Preventing erosion and recharging the water table
Before we can begin the process of restoring the soil we must first prevent further damage. Water is a critical resource; the management of it as it passes through our land is crucial to the success of our design. Permaculture teaches us to make a simple A— frame that can be used to establish the contour of the land, starting at the highest point on the land we can then dig and plant a swale (a trench along contour). Swales can be planted at intervals down the slope of the land – passive water harvesting. This will lead to reduced erosion and greater water infiltration into the soil - where it enhances existing water table levels. This can mean greater resilience, by our tree crops in particular, to extended drought. It can also, over time, lead to the emergence of springs on lower slopes.
As we observe natural tropical forests, we notice the diversity of plant species occurring in a pattern of typically seven layers. In our designs we mimic nature by providing for diversity, which leads to greater stability in our constructed ecosystem. In Permaculture we achieve effective diversity by using ‘plant guilds’ (i.e. beneficial associations of plants)
Before restoring soil we need to understand how nutrients are cycled in tropical forests. We then seek to apply this knowledge to our farm and garden designs. In tropical forest systems nutrients are cycled primarily in the abundant biomass,which breaks down under sheltered conditions on the forest floor offering organic material to the hungry bacteria (microbes) and mycelium. This process gives rise to the most abundant and luxuriant forest systems known to man.
For such a forest to develop there is a biological succession which takes place, which builds soil over time. The key to building sustainable forest and farming systems lies in understanding this succession and the use of Nitrogen Fixing Trees (NFT’s) and Green Manure Cover Crops in its development. In our regeneration of typically exhausted tropical soils we use the following strategies:
- Nitrogen fixing trees and other useful pioneer species
- Dispersed shade systems
- Mulch (e.g. Glyricidia leaves, Leucaena, Vetiver grass, Cardboard...)
- Green manure, cover crops
- Compost and grass-fed animal manure
- Obtaining a yield
In our Permaculture design a primary principle is ‘obtaining a yield’. In Permaculture design our yield should come from varied sources and be spaced to accrue over time thus providing greater resilience in our income streams.