What should we do with water?

The availability of clean water is becoming an increasingly pressing problem in many parts of the world, including some areas of the United States. We need water; we also need to be mindful about how we use it.

Many practices in conventional American yards are not water-wise. We plant grasses that are not suited to our local climate and, in some parts of the US, shower them with twice as much water as is used for the people in our household. We do this sprinkling un-carefully, letting the water splash onto sidewalks or evaporate directly into the air. We point our downspouts onto paved surfaces, diverting precious rainwater to areas where it will do nothing but contribute to street flooding.

Permaculture practitioners have five better ideas for how we should manage water on our land.

Slow it. As water comes onto our property, we want to slow it down. If we let it move quickly, this valuable resource will continue straight on to someone else’s property, likely taking good soil with it. Our loss, our neighbor’s gain. It is to our benefit to hold on to as much free water as we can.

Spread it. Water is a powerful force, and too much of it in one place can lead to unhelpful outcomes. We want to spread out the water instead of letting it pool in one area. We can do this by observing how water moves on our property, and then making small adjustments to change its flow.

Sink it. The best place to put water is in the soil. Soil can hold a tremendous amount of water, and when water is in soil, it is a beneficial, rather than a destructive, force. Once we have slowed the water down and spread it out, it will naturally seek to move downwards. This is good.

Store it. Of course, it is also handy to store water in a form that we can access whenever we need it. Rain barrels or cisterns can hold many gallons of water, fill quickly in even a modest rainstorm, and provide us with a source of water in times when rain doesn’t come.

Share it. In line with the three pillars of permaculture – Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share – we are not slowing, spreading, sinking, and storing water in order to hoard it for ourselves. If the water is in a tank, we can and should share it with those who don’t have enough. If the water is in our soil, we can share the produce that grows from it. There is enough water to go around, if we use it mindfully to take care of ourselves and others.

 

As you follow these principles, be aware of your water rights. In some parts of the United States, it is not legal to divert water from following its natural course downhill onto your neighbor’s property. If you live in the western part of the country, you may be limited to only small changes in your water management, or you may need to work with neighbors to agree on how water will be shared.

What should we do with water?

What is a permaculture design certification?

As we have seen over the past twelve weeks, permaculture is a rigorous discipline for living sustainably on the land. Like with other rigorous disciplines, it is possible to become officially credentialed in permaculture. This credential is known as a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC).

Unfortunately, obtaining a PDC typically requires spending thousands of dollars to attend a several-week-long retreat, at which learners take intensive courses and complete a significant design project. This commitment of time and money is beyond the reach of many who are interested in permaculture.

The good news is that permaculture leaders recognize that the barriers to obtaining a PDC are steep, and that this is out of line with the idea that permaculture is for everyone. Thus, a number of more accessible ways to learn about permaculture have been developed. While these materials don’t lead to an official PDC, they are enough to enable a homeowner to get started with permaculture on their own property.

In addition to a variety of books, there are websites such as the Open Permaculture School, which offer hundreds of hours of free videos – mostly recordings of lectures from credential-granting PDC courses.

The principles and methods of permaculture are easy to learn, and implementing just a few of them around our homes can make our lives infinitely richer.

What is a permaculture design certification?

What is the twelfth principle of permaculture?

Creatively use and respond to change.

“Maintenance” means keeping something the same. To “maintain” a yard means to prevent it from changing. In a natural yard, it is accepted that change will happen.

Some of this change is predictable. Different flowers bloom at different times of the year, and plants grow bigger from one year to the next.

This predictable change isn’t always desirable. As a tree grows and progressively casts more shade on our yard, it causes problems for our sun-loving plantings. We can respond by pruning the tree, or we can choose to accept and work with the change by gradually adding plants that are adapted to shade.

Sudden, unpredictable changes can interfere with our plans as well. What to do when branches fall from a tree during a storm? We could throw them away. Or, we could use the change creatively. As it is said, when life gives you fallen branches, build a Hugelkultur berm.

Observing change – from sunny days to rainy ones, through the seasons, and across the years – is one of the most enjoyable parts of having a natural yard. With an open mind and a creative spirit, we can make constructive use even of the changes we don’t initially appreciate.

What is the twelfth principle of permaculture?

What is the eleventh principle of permaculture?

Use edges and value the marginal.

We know that there are different kinds of ecosystems in the world: forests, prairies, deserts, and so on. Logically, this means that there must be places where one kind of ecosystem stops and another begins. These transition areas are sometimes gradual and sometimes abrupt. They are called ecotones, and they are often more biologically rich than the area to either side of them.

In a natural yard, edges are important in several ways. First, even in the smallest yard, there will be edges between different areas – the border between a sunny patch and a shady spot, or the place where a vegetable garden meets a planting of wildflowers. Where space permits, gradual transition zones can be established between different areas. Where this isn’t possible, abrupt transitions can offer interesting opportunities.

One of the most abrupt transitions in a yard is the edge between a planting area and a paved area – a sidewalk, driveway, or patio. While these edges can be tough locations for plants, they can also be very favorable sites. The edge of pavement is typically warmer and drier than nearby areas, as well as sunnier, with less competition. Establish plants that like these conditions, and they will be very successful. Be sure to plan ahead, though, and avoid species that will lean or spread over the pavement.

Finally, suburban yards are defined by edges – that is, by the property lines. These may be areas in which to exercise restraint, in order to keep the peace with neighbors who prefer a different style of gardening. But, there is also a valuable opportunity to collaborate with neighbors in order to garden as though property lines don’t exist. Typically, nothing but the adjoining property owner’s agreement is needed to establish a planting that flows from one yard into the next.

When we start linking natural yards in this way, we can truly begin to restore healthy habitat in our communities.

What is the eleventh principle of permaculture?

What is the tenth principle of permaculture?

Use and value diversity.

Aldo Leopold once wrote, “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, ‘What good is it?’ … To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

More recently, Breitbart published an article titled “Animals That Aren’t Delicious or Useful Deserve to Be Extinct.”

The more scientists study ecology, the more they discover that every species is important. While some plants and animals are more crucial to the healthy functioning of their ecosystems than others, every species plays a role.

Since humans can’t survive without healthy ecosystems, this means that every species is useful to us. It is in our interest for every species to not just be present in its native range, but to be present in sufficient numbers to perform its function within the ecosystem.

If we want our yards to be functioning ecosystems – and we should, since for our own wellbeing we need healthy nature near where we live, and not just in a park somewhere – we need to welcome a diversity of species. We need tall grass to be distributed throughout the yard, playing its role of supporting wildflowers. One ornamental clump doesn’t do the job. We need plenty of bees to pollinate the flowers. We need predatory insects to limit populations of insects lower on the food chain, preventing them from eating all our plants. We need the occasional large predator to stop rabbits from doing likewise.

We may not like all these members of the community. We may not understand what some of them do. But they are all almost certainly doing something useful for us, and we will be much better off if we leave them to it.

What is the tenth principle of permaculture?

What is the ninth principle of permaculture?

Use small and slow solutions.

In the fourth principle, we learned that we may not always get what we want from our yards. In the ninth principle, we remember that we may not get what we want as quickly as we might like.

Permaculture involves working with nature, and nature tends to do things slowly. This can be frustrating in our high-speed, instant gratification culture. But in the end, nature’s patient processes are often more effective than any quick fix we might use instead.

For example, when we plant a tree in our yard, we want to plant the biggest tree we can bring home. After all, we want a fully-grown tree, not a little sapling! But, the bigger the tree, the more trouble it will have re-establishing in its new location. A smaller tree, which can settle in more quickly, will soon start putting its energy into growing. Before long, the smaller tree will surpass the bigger tree.

Similarly, when we want a plant to grow, we try to help it in every way we can: we bring home fertilizers and pesticides from the store, douse the plant with water from the hose, and prune stray leaves. But the plant doesn’t need that much help. It will do much better if we simply put it in a location that gets the right amount of sun and water, if we prepare that spot by working compost into the soil, and if we let the plant decide which of its leaves it doesn’t need anymore.

Small and slow solutions are the process equivalent of appropriate technology. They require advance planning and plenty of patience. But in the long run, they lead to better outcomes for lower cost and with less backbreaking labor.

What is the ninth principle of permaculture?

What is the eighth principle of permaculture?

Integrate rather than segregate.

Specialization is good. A farm that raises only cows or only corn is going to be more expert in getting its product to market than a farm that tries to do both.

But specialization also creates problems. Traditionally, animals and plants were raised together, mimicking the way natural systems are structured. In this traditional method, the farmer benefited from the ways plants and animals work together. As one example, the waste from animals makes great fertilizer for plants.

In modern farming, this simple solution has been turned into two problems. Because animals and plants now are raised separately, farms with animals can’t get rid of the waste, and farms with plants have to pay to bring in artificial fertilizer. Financial costs and environmental harms are incurred on both sides.

Another example is the practice of raising plants in monocultures. In the past, crops were raised in mixed plantings. In the famous “Three Sisters” system, farmers planted corn, beans, and squash together. The corn provided a pole for the beans to climb, the beans pulled nitrogen from the air to feed the nutrient-hungry corn, and the squash shaded the soil to help the other plants conserve water. When these crops are raised separately, the farmer has to provide all the services that the plants would otherwise provide for each other.

Bringing together plants and animals with compatible habits lays the foundation for a successful garden, turning problems into solutions and shifting work from the gardener to the garden itself.

What is the eighth principle of permaculture?