The Basics of Permaculture

Learn all about the natural, wild garden design and lifestyle of permaculture, which works to incorporate natural surroundings into your environment.

| September/October 2016

  • In permaculture, animals are often used to remedy problems.
    Photo courtesy Jessi Bloom
  • Jessi Bloom shows off her garden in the Pacific Northwest.
    Photo courtesy Jessi Bloom
  • In a permaculture garden, plants work together, such as interplanted flowers to attract pollinators to food crops.
    Photo courtesy Jessi Bloom

Describing permaculture in a few words can be a challenge for even the savviest of experts. That’s because permaculture is less of a defined technique or standard and more of a framework used to design holistic, interwoven systems. But that doesn’t mean permaculture is overly complex. On the contrary, permaculture seeks to find the simplest, most common-sense solutions to problems, guiding us to mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature. In a sense, permaculture means putting the cycles and resources in nature to work to support human life. Permaculture makes use of natural resources and seeks to eliminate waste output, creating systems —whether a garden, a building or our personal finances—that work as elegantly as the natural world. For example, in a garden designed from a permaculture perspective, the plants might give shelter and food to chickens, who then eat the weeds and bugs. Ultimately, the garden produces food for humans, who then recycle food waste back to the plants and animals. Jessi Bloom is the co-author with Dave Boehnlein of Practical Permaculture for Home, Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth, and the owner of N.W. Bloom EcoLogical Landscape, based near Seattle, which is known as an innovator in the fields of permaculture, sustainable landscape design, construction and landscape management. She is a frequent presenter at our Mother Earth News Fairs—hands-on celebrations of sustainability held around the nation. Here, she shares some permaculture basics.

Ethics of Permaculture

Permaculture design is predicated on its three main tenets, known as “ethics.” These ethics are the primary considerations of anyone designing a permaculture system.

1. Care of the earth
2. Care of people
3. “Fair share,” or the return or surplus to earth and people

How would you briefly explain permaculture to an absolute newbie?

Permaculture is a way to design human habitats. It’s a design system that gives us tools and a framework to make decisions. In permaculture, we design a big picture, and we think about everything we need and all the systems we rely on for survival. Another way I can describe it is that permaculture is how to create your own paradise.

Is permaculture consistent from one place to another?

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