top of page
Search

WISDOM FROM THE WILD CHILD GARDEN: JANUARY 2023: PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES

PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES: according to Bill Mollison, cofounder and father of the movement, “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Permaculture gardens leverage natural processes to regenerate the ecology of a site. They do this while also yielding useful things such as food, fiber, fuel, fodder, fertilizer, or “farmaceuticals”.


Permaculture allows us to be a part of the cycle of nature, working with, rather than against nature by learning, observing, and implementing twelve principles.

The Wild Child Herb Shop property has implemented permaculture principles in the following ways:


Observe and interact: use the sustainable actions of others to inspire us and adopt sustainable practices at home and in the garden. I have “rewilded” myself by spending more time in nature, and sitting, observing, and reflecting on how nature works.

Catch and store energy: solar, wind, or geothermal energy are all good choices to accomplish this goal. I plan to add a greenhouse to the landscape, solar panels to the main house, and a rainwater collection system for irrigating the garden. One of the easiest ways to capture and store energy, which I have already implemented, is growing and preserving food by dehydrating or canning the surplus.

Obtain a yield: yields are not just about how many crops are grown, it is also about other important aspects of sustainable living, including good health, happiness, well-being, and the wholesomeness of the environment.

Apply self-regulation and feedback: sustainable changes made can slow down climate change. These changes include reducing energy consumption, reducing the use of plastics, recycling, reducing the amount of waste generated in the home, and decluttering.


Ways to reduce plastic use include:

• Drinking from glass.

• Stop buying bottled water and use a stainless-steel water bottle.

• Keep real utensils in the car and at the workplace.

• Purchase wooden toys.

• Use only real or bio-degradable plates, cups, and utensils.

• Save glass jars and use them instead of plastic storage containers.

• Use cloth grocery bags.

• Compost to reduce the use of plastic garbage bags.

• Buy grocery items in glass containers when possible.

Use and value renewable resources: using water wisely: an important aspect of a permaculture-designed property is efficient management of water usage. A host of water management tools in the permaculture toolbox can divert, slow, or catch water, reduce watering time and usage, and establish the right amount of moisture for healthy soil and crops. Water is always the number one priority for any permaculture system.

Wild Child Herb Shop uses water wisely by slowing, spreading, and sinking water as it falls from the sky into the soil. This was accomplished by shaping the property so that the water gets into the soil and is stored there. This builds the soil’s organic matter which acts like a sponge and absorbs the water that slowly moves across the landscape. I use mulch to keep the soil temperature cool, and hold moisture in, plant native species that require less water than more delicate varieties, and plant in dense clusters which serve as a living mulch and keep the garden cooler. Green areas are allowed to go dormant naturally, and the garden areas only get additional water when needed. When I water the garden, I water deeply to encourage plant root growth, and reduce evaporation by banking water deep in the soil.

Produce no waste: there will always be something to recycle or reuse, and reducing plastic usage is a great start to a zero-waste lifestyle. To decide whether a product is worth purchasing, look at the quality of the product, lack of packaging, and whether the product can be reused, recycled, or composted.

Design from patterns to details: developing healthy soil: soil is a gardener’s most valuable asset. Healthy soil contains organic matter and beneficial organisms, manages nutrients and water efficiently, resists erosion, pests, and disease, and provides a happy home for herbs, plants, vegetables, and fruits. Healthy soil produces more nutrient-dense food, decreases excess carbon underground to reverse climate change, and brings insect biodiversity to help manage pest pressure for organic crops.


Wild Child Herb Shop developed healthy soil by adding high quality compost, leaving the subsoil intact, maintaining the organic matter with mulch, keeping fallen leaves as an extra layer of protection, and using crop rotation and perennial cover crops. The soil was also improved by allowing disturbances in the form of wildlife impact, including foraging and recycling the biomass by trampling the left-over fodder into the soil to feed earthworms and microbes. I created self-sustaining fertility with nitrogen-fixing trees already present on the property, and planting accumulators that raise nutrients from the sub soil.

Integrate, don’t segregate: layering multifunctional plants: When adopting permaculture principles, the elements of the landscape design should serve a minimum of three functions. For example, the Red Oak adjacent to the property functions as a wind break, leaf mulch, and wildlife benefit. The Sugar Maple functions as an insect habitat, leaf mulch, and wildlife benefit. The clover is a nitrogen fixer, insect habitat, and pollinator attractor. The dandelions are nutrient accumulators that provide early spring food for bees.


Wild Child Herb Shop uses garden plants that have a symbiotic relationship. I use perennials that provide multiple functions, including medicine, food, fodder, shade, mulch, windbreaks, and ground cover.

Use small and slow solutions: It takes several years and intentional steps to achieve an eco-friendly and sustainable homestead. Small and guided steps are the best way to achieve this goal. Raising goats, chickens, guinea, or ducks is a good way to provide food, milk, and eggs.

Use and value diversity: designing plant guilds: a permaculture guild is a grouping of plants that supports a central element such as a fruit or nut tree. Guilds are a step beyond well-established companion planting arrangements, moving from useful pairings into functionally and self-sustaining polyculture systems. In guilds, many plants are serving one another to achieve a stable co-existence in which the garden is mulched, the soil fertilized, the pests controlled, the pollinators attracted, the nutrients accumulated, and the cultivators feed. A guild integrates plants together to maximize the harvest while reducing cost, labor, and the need to import materials.


Wild Child Herb Shop uses the following criteria when deciding what to plant in the guilds on the property:

• Water needs: should be compatible.

Different root systems: vary root systems so that plants aren’t competing. Try to include a root crop in the mix.

Plant arrangement: use plants of different sizes and shapes.

Insects, good and bad: use plants for attracting beneficial insects and deterring pests.

The soil: always have something covering the soil and feeding it new nutrients. Use ground cover and include nitrogen-fixers.

Use the rule of three: have at least three reasons for including a plant in the garden. Include plants that attract bees and other pollinators, provide food, accumulate trace minerals in the soil, and add another color to the garden.

Use edges and value the marginal: managing the edges of a garden site, known as the edge effect, is an important step in permaculture design. By defining the edges, better control of what comes on the property, such as weeds, pests, wind, aerial chemicals, or water, is achieved. The edge effect is an ecological concept that describes how there is a greater diversity of life in the region where the edges of two adjacent ecosystems overlap, such as land/water, or forest/grassland. At the edge of two overlapping ecosystems, species from both of these ecosystems is found, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either ecosystem but are specially adapted to the conditions of the transition zone between the two edges. Edge environments occur naturally at many ecosystem boundaries, including along the perimeter of bodies of water, where forests verge on rock outcrops, riverbanks, and grasslands, where forested areas border clearings, and where estuaries meet the ocean.


The Wild Child Herb Shop property contains several regions where the edges of two ecosystems overlap. These edge effects contain a greater diversity of species, and have greater productivity, for the following reasons:


• Resources from both ecosystems are accessed in one place.

• Air temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and light levels change at edges.

• Variations in the conditions at the edges create favorable microclimates which support unique species.

• Increased availability of light to plants along the edges allows more plants to be supported, creates greater diversity, and increases productivity.

• Increased plant diversity increases herbivorous insects, which increases birds, and ultimately predators.

• Ecosystem edges and borders act as ‘energy nets, capturing the massive movement of materials, nutrients, and energy across their boundaries.

• Adjacent ecosystems are connected via flows of energy, nutrients, and organisms across their boundaries, and these flows can exert strong influences on the fertility and productivity of ecosystems.

Creatively use and respond to change: change is an inevitable and exciting aspect of all living systems. Changes that manifest in the permaculture design are not a sign of failure. They are an indication that it is time to re-evaluate the system, learn about it more deeply, and find ways to make it even better.


Ecological progression is a natural source of inspiration for this permaculture principle. Forests and other ecosystems go through a natural cycle of change and rebirth that keep things vibrant, bountiful, and resilient. The role of the permaculture gardener is to find ways in which changes set the stage for the next cycle of life.

Tennessee Smart Yards: “a smart yard is a yard that is in balance with the local environment for the benefit of both people and our ecosystem. Tennessee Smart Yards is an Extension-led program that guides Tennesseans on practices they can apply in their outdoor spaces to create healthier, more ecologically-sound landscapes and communities. Nine principles of stewardship serve as the foundation for the program and are explored in online modules and practical workshops taught by UT-TSU Extension and water resource professionals. Maintaining a Tennessee Smart Yard provides natural functionality for homeowners through working with nature for the benefit of both.” Learn more about this program at: www.tnyards.utk.edu.

SMART YARD PRINCIPLES:

Right Plant, Right Place: choose plants based on the yard characteristics such as light exposure, soil structure, topography, drainage patterns, and moisture tolerance.

Manage Soils and Mulch: the goal of soil management is to create a better environment for plant roots, and soil amendments and mulch is often needed to reach this goal. Have the soil tested at the local extension office and include the pH levels. A healthy lawn as a pH from 6 to 6.5.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: composting is one of the most effective ways to reuse yard waste and kitchen scraps. Compost organics fall into two groups. Greens such as eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable waste, and grass clippings have needed nitrogen and break down easier. Browns such as wood chips, paper, leaves, and pine needles are rich ion carbon and provide structural strength.

Water Efficiently: design the landscape so that it thrives predominately on rainfall and requires minimal supplemental watering. Group plants according to low, moderate, and high-water needs. Let the plants tell whether they need water such as grass that has a bluish-gray tint and rolled leaf blades.

Use Fertilizer Appropriately: excess fertilizer can weaken plants and make them more vulnerable to pests and disease. Most plants need little to no fertilizer once established.

Manage Yard Pests: an insect, disease, and weed-free yard is not realistic, and beneficial insects such as lady bugs, green lacewings, praying mantis, and syrphid flies keep pests under control naturally. Only 1% of all insects are harmful.

Reduce Stormwater Runoff and its Pollutants: stormwater management systems empty rainwater into the waterways and are not treated before released, carrying pollutants with them. Sediment is the top water pollutant that smothers the life within. Rain gardens and grassy swales filter pollutants and reduce the amount of runoff.

Provide for Wildlife: incorporate plants that support the habitat needs of desired wildlife, and provide food, cover, and a place to raise young.

Protect Water's Edge: the area that borders water bodies is called the riparian zone, and planting in this area with a mixture of trees and shrubs stabilizes the soil, creates wildlife corridors, improves water quality, reduces maintenance time, and provides privacy.





7 views0 comments
bottom of page