Imagine a simple flat piece of ground. No trees, no grass, just some rather tired looking dirt. Using permaculture principles, you can turn this area into a jungle of food plants. In his famous video “In Danger of Falling Food“, Mollison explains how permaculture was derived from watching natural plant and forest ecosystems develop.
The fact is plants don’t normally grow in monocultures. Even grassland savannahs contain an entire ecology which helps support the growth of the grasses. The idea of permaculture is to create these ecologies to promote the growth of food plants.
In the case of the simple flat piece of ground, the first thing to be done was to create a viable soil ecology. By putting down newspapers, covering them with soil, adding plants, then watering in the plants, and mixing them to ensure a range of biological functions took place in the soil, Mollison was able to produce a virtually instant garden.
In more complex environments, permaculture uses trees, animals, insects and birds for windbreaks, pollination, pest control and providing additional nutrients to further develop the permaculture crops and plants. Permaculture systems can become quite complex, but the basic principles are extremely simple, which makes them useful, cost-efficient options for agriculture.
One of the most important things about permaculture is that it uses every available area for productive purposes. In traditional agriculture using monocultures, that simply isn’t possible. Monoculture harvesting and growing practices effectively exclude a lot of very useful plants that could contribute a lot to both soil fertility and biology.
Another important consideration for agricultural purposes is that permaculture is conducted on a “no waste” basis. Like good industrial design, good agricultural processes generate no waste. In fact, best practice should actually produce extra materials and resources for improved growing processes.
If you’re a farmer, and you’re looking at ways of improving both your range of commercial crops and your property, permaculture is probably your best bet for finding an economical methodology to achieve both purposes. Permaculture methods are viable in any environment, and when introduced into Africa immediately became popular due to the fact that financial outlays were minimal.
This very practical form of economics is a hallmark of permaculture. All permaculture methods and processes are cost-effective, and in most cases all resources can be obtained locally. In effect, permaculture is a sort of “portable” agriculture which can be conducted anywhere, at very low cost and with very high levels of efficiency.