WHAT IS PERMACULTURE?

“Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have thediversity, 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, Permaculture Design Manual

 

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 SVG

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.

Increasing diversity

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)

Soil regeneration

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.

At Chatoyer Gardens our main yield comes from our farm. Our main form of marketing our diverse produce is to offer CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes. These go out weekly to customers in St. Vincent andthe Grenadines.

We add value to local grass fed cow’s milk by producing a natural yogurt and soft cheese. We support local economy by offering, for example, cocoa sticks and virgin coconut oil. A small apiary supplies our own need for honey, is invaluable in terms of pollination and offers a further yield to our household economy.

We teach Permaculture and organic gardening, and consult on Permaculture designs offering further yields. Most of our food comes from our farm and local economy, where we encourage the use of bartering. We import substitute at every opportunity, for example we grow our own kitchen sponges – the loofah has been used traditionally in our culture as a sponge substitute. We have access to spring water that is piped to our house but we also catch rainwater from our roof and store it in tanks as a reserve for times when we encounter problems with our main line, the house is then gravity fed from this storage.

Yields can be designed to generate themselves over the short, medium and longer terms. An example of a worthwhile longer-term yield is sustainable forestry. Mixed stands of timber trees can be planted and sustainable yields can be realized in as soon as 6 years for some varieties of Leaucena (the weed variety is known locally as River Tamarind) and longer terms depending on the type of timber tree selected.

In a world of impending crisis,   Permaculture offers practical solutions to building greater resilience into our lives and landscapes.

Luke Punnett
Chatoyer Gardens