So you want to grow your own food and try your hand at a bit of homesteading but not sure where to start? Even a small backyard or patio space can provide ample opportunity for you to flex your green thumb….or if you are just like me with a black thumb then I have some good news to share. You can grow an incredible permaculture garden even if you are the type of person who can’t keep a potted plant alive.
I know… because that was me too!
The secret is in good design. You can learn techniques along the way but a good design for your food system right from the beginning is the magic ingredient that will fill your days with earthly delight and that is where the art of permaculture comes in. And it’s probably nothing like you’d expect!
My First Encounter With Permaculture
I remember back when I was a first year social ecology undergrad I was invited to the Henry Doubleday Gardens at Western Sydney University for an informal lunch with some of the 2nd & 3rd year students in their organic vegetable garden. I was expecting to see bare tilled soil and nice neat rows of produce growing much like this image below.
Instead I made my way through thick lush shrubbery to sit at a table surrounded by a wild, diverse and beautifully chaotic garden of flowers, vines, veggies and herbs, all intertwined and bursting with such colour and vigor.
So where is the vegetable garden I asked? Of course I was sitting smack bang in the middle of one of the most productive healthy growing systems you will find anywhere in the world.
“Well it’s not pretty culture” they told me… “its Permaculture”.
That was the first time I had heard the term Permaculture and I had no clue what they were talking about. So I nodded wisely and said “of course!” It looked so wild and pretty yet it had been meticulously designed to maximise output and minimise the hard labor associated with gardening.
Frankly I was astonished when the students explained they did no digging, no tiling, no weeding, no fertilising and no chemicals to control garden pests. All that was needed was planting & harvesting.
And that is what we did. We harvested an amazing amount of greens right there on the spot, boiled some noodles and voila! that was my first meal from a permaculture garden. If you can see yourself astonishing guests with a dazzling array of produce within arms reach then read on!
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is not a technique or method such as organic gardening or bio-dynamic gardening. Permaculture is a set of ingenious design principles that have been shown to work in every climate and landscape around the world and that includes your patch of open space whatever & wherever that may be!
You can incorporate & use all kinds of techniques within a permaculture system & that certainly would include organic gardening and often bio-dynamic methods…it really can be anything provided that it adheres to one or more of the permaculture principles.
Practitioners employ a vast array of methods spanning back to ancient times such as the Native American Three Sisters to very contemporary techniques such as above ground aquaponic poly tunnel fish farms or urban vertical growing systems for strawberries etc. To learn all about the full list of principles click here
So whatever you want to grow it will work in a permaculture system. The difference is that you will exert far less energy and grow far more produce than you ever have while creating clean healthy soil for your plants, livestock and ultimately your diet. And if you’ve never gardened before even better because you wont need to unlearn inefficient expensive practices that may have held you back. You can read more about the history of permaculture here
Common Misconceptions About Homesteading
I can’t keep any livestock; they’re too smelly, noisy, time-consuming, expensive to manage
Small livestock such as chickens, ducks, rabbits etc sure can be all of those things when kept in conventional pens in our backyard where they quickly destroy the soil leaving you with a yard that will become muddy, stinky, full of feces and a magnet to flies & lice: unless you are constantly cleaning and mucking out droppings, food scraps and nuking your pets with pesticides to keep the nasty bugs away.
That is no way to spend your spare time & it’s no wonder we often give up and find ourselves looking for new homes for our once beloved pets and we are left wondering how we are going to smooth relations with our cranky neighbours next door… It doesn’t have to be this way!
The Problem Becomes the Solution….
Awesome permaculture design not only removes the need to constantly dose pets with medications and clean up all their mess…it actually turns all those negatives into positives by harnessing their natural behaviours. All that digging, pooping, eating and socializing that would be a major problem in a stationary animal pen can be turned to good use in a well designed permaculture system.
By carefully tractoring our livestock around the garden in easy to build and inexpensive mobile pens we can have them fertilise, dig, weed and prepare our garden beds for us. Genius!
We get to sit back and enjoy the view and as far as the chooks are concerned it’s just another lazy day of socializing, preening and digging for worms in between laying eggs with yolks of the most vivid yellow for our culinary pleasure. This “lazy gardening” approach is extremely productive and kind to your body because you use your livestock to do all the hard work.
Tractoring our pets in this way combines all the benefits of free ranging and all the security of stationary pens so that they are protected from the elements and predators while always enjoying fresh pest free ground to explore. You’ll no longer be reliant on dragging in large bags of boring pellets for their diet…they will simply live off the post harvest produce, worms and insects left behind once a bed has been fully harvested and those pellet sacks can be used to supplement rather than provide all their feed.
Once you experience the pleasure and ease of keeping livestock this way you will never go back to a stationary pen again. To learn more about tractor systems click here
“But I don’t have full sun in my yard/patio/deck all day. There’s not enough sunshine to grow produce!”
European gardening books have made their way across the globe and certainly provided great instruction & inspiration for the gardeners of Australia & the world.They often state that vegetables and fruit trees require a full day’s sun to grow well. that may be true in the UK and similar places with less light but in the southern hemisphere the sunlight is very harsh and plants exposed to all that light actually put a lot of their energy into fighting it off so they don’t get sunburn.
Some sun throughout the day is plenty and a mix of shade and light give us the chance to experiment and create microclimates; mini worlds within worlds within our garden where we can grow all manner of different exotic plants. As the permaculture legend Linda Woodrow proclaims; “Dont be afraid of the shade!”. Shade in your yard is no reason not to have a thriving veggie patch so don’t let that worry you any more.
How To Get Started At Home
Go outside and check out any potential growing areas. Its a good idea to observe the light and shade at different times of the day to make sure the space gets a few hours of light per day. You can also think about access to water such as garden taps, access to any outdoor power or lights that will make your time in the yard more efficient and enjoyable. Start small. You can always add growing modules later on. For more tips on site selection click here
Make a note of features in your space that are permanent such as garden sheds, fences, pre-existing plants etc. This is really important if you are renting as you don’t want the hassle of having to ask permission to alter or remove any features. Dont despair if you feel you already have a few design limitations in your prefered space. Good permaculture design thrives on such limitations and its normal in a suburban backyard to have all kinds of features to work around. To read more about features click here
Draw up a site map. This can be a simple sketch on some spare paper that will show such things as permanent features (garage, shed, pond etc), boundaries, existing trees or plantings, steps and paths, boundaries of the space. to read further on designing a site map click here
Now you have your basic layout on your site map you can start to consider the physical forces that will help you shape and grow your garden. Make a note on your site map of your garden aspect: north, south, east and west. Take note of where the winds prevail, where the sun shines brightest, where it is coolest. Becoming aware of these natural forces is a vital part of figuring out how to choose the best place for all the elements you are going to add to your space.
To learn more about how aspect affects your garden layout, click here.
Animals for the Permaculture Garden
Consider what kinds of livestock you may wish to raise. Small livestock such as bantam chickens, quail, fish & guinea pigs can all do well in small urban yards. A larger suburban yard or acreage can cope better with slightly larger stock like full size chooks, ducks, rabbits etc. If you have a few acres you might even consider a couple of pigs, goats or sheep . Its even possible to rotate a few dairy or beef cows on just a few acres of well designed, well managed pasture if you follow permaculture cell grazing principles.
Small numbers of larger animals can do perfectly well in a cell grazing system where your animals are strategically moved around your property improving the pasture instead of destroying the ground and seriously speeding up your food growing production. To read more about choosing and purchasing livestock click here. To learn about cell grazing click here.
Tips for Success in Home Permaculture
- Read this blog often!…and watch my videos. Join me as I transform my own sleepy bush block from scratch into a thriving permaculture home garden to inspire you to get cracking at your place. I will demo large-scale and small-scale versions of growing systems so you can find one that will fit within your space to try out for yourself.
- Find a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course in your local area. It’s a brilliant way to get your hands dirty with other beginners and get some training from highly qualified passionate permaculture designers. Courses tend to run for approx 2 weeks. There are of course plenty of online options and you can connect with permaculturists from all around the world and be part of real design projects. A great place to start is with the Permaculture Research institute which runs the very best PDCs anywhere in the world. At completion of you PDC you will have your very own complete design ready to go for your own permaculture project. Click here for a link to permaculture Research Institute
- Start small. You can always add to the space later. It’s easy to get carried away and want to terraform your entire yard all in one hit but start with a small project and enjoy your success before you expand. This is so important when you are dealing with animals. They will be relying on you to get their environment just right.
- Start to consider all the resources you already have that you can use in your permaculture project. So much that we might normally throw away can become pure gold for our systems. you may have access to items such as newspaper, used paper, cardboard, toilet rolls, food scraps from home and local businesses, egg cartons, old tyres, grass clippings. To read more about recycling household products click here
The Last Thing You Need to Know about the Art of Home Permaculture
Getting some permaculture projects happening at your place is just a brilliant way to spend your time. There are so many benefits both for you, your family and the planet. Home grown produce tastes amazing and you can enjoy heirloom varieties that have long since vanished from the supermarket. Every time you produce some food for the table from your own system you will be saving so much embedded energy. Energy that would have been spent producing & transporting and refrigerating an inferior version of the same thing at the supermarket.
Growing your own food saves thousands of litres of water and fuel used to grow, process, transport and finally store at a supermarket near you. click here to learn more about embedded energy savings . Click here to read all about heirloom & heritage varieties of animal & plant species.
You can feel the deep satisfaction of knowing that the animals you raise are being cared for with love and good ethical practices, and the relief that you can eat food that hasn’t been poisoned with chemical sprays. Besides all of that goodness is a garden that will look & smell amazing and feel great to spend time in. You will be providing habitat for insects such as bees, butterflies and other creatures who really need your help and protection. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy a walk through a well-tended garden. Friends and family will love to visit and enjoy your place as your garden grows and changes throughout the seasons.
I hope you enjoyed my Beginners Guide. Please add your comments below and don’t forget to share/subscribe & check out our Earthly Delight vids on YouTube.
I’ll see you in the garden!
Cheers from Bella