Permaculture has become one of the most popular concepts in alternative agriculture. More and more people understand me when I use the term in conversations at parties, and I was not even surprised when I found myself speaking about hugel beds and mulching techniques with a far related cousin at my grandmothers funeral.
However, I reached a turning point when people that either have or know others that have a garden started asking me if they too could have “a permaculture.”
I’m sorry, you want what?
I am afraid something has gone a bit wrong at this point. Even though I very much enjoy that people are speaking about gardening and, better even, ecological alternatives, the current developments are starting to look like a hype to me.
From the birth of permaculture, derived from permanent cultivation (mostly meaning: grow more long living plants and less annual crops), the term has taken as many definitions as it has farming projects. Permaculture is now related to gardening, energy and water systems, relationships, and society–actually all imaginable interactions.
So you want “a permaculture”. Do you mean you want a garden? Do you want solar panels, free flowing hot water, do you feel happy with your hands in the ground? Where did you hear the term and what exactly do you think it means? Unfortunately most people are unable to answer these kinds of questions. They do not have a definition ready and they do not know what they want, except “a permaculture.” This is for me the problem with hypes, people do not know exactly what it is they want or why they want it, but they just heard that it is the new thing to do.
Another problem is seeing permaculture as a singular concept, which overlooks the fact that it’s methods vary much more, depending on soil type, climate, location, radiation, wind, etc., than industrial agriculture (that compensates for nature’s instabilities with poison and fertilizers). This means that while some techniques might work fantastically in one place, they could work terribly in another. Having strict recipes for mulching, compost tea, and companion planting therefore makes little sense to me.
My advice would be to not try to get your hands on “a permaculture”, but start by considering your garden as an ecosystem. Understand why covering the soil helps your garden by observing the appreciation of the soil animals that in return aerate and give nutrients to the soil and the plants.
All natural structures are built for a reason and have a function. Try to understand the function and see how you or something else in your garden (ecosystem) can benefit from it.
Whatever definition you choose, permaculture is not something you can give to someone but has to grow on, and around, you.
In my opinion we are not making “a permaculture” at Toca de Coelho, but try to stimulate and reactivate the natural processes that will ultimately result in a hyper-functional ecosystem from which we can harvest its fruits!