What is Organic Landscaping and Permaculture
Is it possible to create more abundance in our lives, develop an intimate relationship with the natural world and, at the same time, address our ecological crisis? Does "permaculture" offer a key?
Permaculture is a practical set of ecological design principles and methods for human settlements which can be applied to urban, suburban and watershed scale. Permaculture principles provide a way of thinking that enables people to establish highly productive environments that provide for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs. These principals are rooted in careful observations of natural patterns and can be applied to all climates and a wide variety of cultures from indigenous to technological.
The permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennials, self-seeding annuals, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.
The excess or waste products from plants, animals and human activities are used as nutrients to benefit other elements in the system. Plantings are arranged in patterns that can catch water, filter toxins, absorb nutrients and sunlight and block the wind. Particular associations of trees, perennial vines, shrubs and ground covers known to nourish and protect one another, are clustered together. Ponds and other elements are constructed in patterns that maximize their edges to take advantage of the increased biological activity at the intersection of two ecosystems.
The implementation of a design requires proper sequencing and flexibility so that changes can be made as observation and experience bring new understanding. Creating a permaculture environment is a gradual and long-range process. Permaculturists also use "quick-start" techniques like covering weedy areas with a "sheet compost" - laying on newspapers, cardboard and straw, watering thoroughly, then making little planting holes in the mulch, inserting soil and seedlings and letting the worms, bugs, fungus, micro-organisms and roots do the rest.
Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from disciplines and traditions, old and new, such as indigenous land use and food systems, natural building materials like earth, straw, stone and bamboo as well as renewable energy systems.
Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and principles which can be used to establish, design, manage and improve all efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future.
Bill Mollison from Tasmania and David Holmgren from Australia developed the concept of Permaculture in the 1970's. As there was no term at the time for sustainable culture they coined the term "permaculture" to articulate the notion of "permanent agriculture". It evolved into the notion of "permanent culture" as culture and agriculture reflect each other. In other words, how do we as a human species sustain ourselves, provide for our needs and the needs of the environment for an indefinite period of time? Mollison first taught permaculture as an applied design system in 1981. Permaculturists design agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the stability, diversity, and resilience of natural ecosystems.
Many people who hold living sustainably as a goal strive to grow as much of their own food as possible. A Permaculture approach to this is through perennial systems like Food Forests.
There are differences between a typical orchard and a Food Forest. An orchard is usually just the fruit or nut trees, with or without a ground cover underneath. A Food Forest is a whole system that incorporates food-producing plants like berries and tubers between and under the canopy of trees. These dynamic systems also include plants that attract beneficial insects and build healthy soil. In this way a Food Forest becomes a self-organized system providing for its own pollination, pest management, and soil health.
A Food Forest can grow cut flowers or medicinal plants that provide the benefits of biodiversity, pest management, and a marketable crop. Other benefits to planting a Food Forest are that they become a haven for wildlife, absorb water, reduce erosion, beautify the land, and provide the perfect environment for walking and relaxing outdoors.
Food forests can take a few years to mature and our maintenance plan reflects the needs of this kind of landscape. Although harvesting will begin in the first year, a healthy Food Forest is expected to start yielding peak amounts of food in five to seven years. With proper maintenance this can last for a hundred years.
Water Harvesting & Drainage
Often, water is the first aspect of a system EarthClub considers in its designs. All elements of a site are dictated by their relationship to water. Our designs apply an ecological approach to managing water runoff.
Conventional Drainage Problems
Conventional drainage practices usually drain water off of a site as fast as possible. This may be from the misconception that the water will create flooding or erosion problems. In fact, the opposite is true in many cases.
Water that is drained in pipes, culverts, and other impervious materials accumulates and increases in velocity. When water is drained off a property too fast it can create erosion, release sediment into streams and rivers, and compound floodwaters.
An approach to drainage and water runoff that seeks to slow, spread, and sink the water into the landscape will provide a multitude of beneficial effects to the site as well as throughout the entire watershed. Water-harvesting systems recharge groundwater aquifers and create mini on-site aquifers, or “water lenses,” keeping water in the landscape far into the dry season. They also mitigate water flowing rapidly across the surface of the land, preventing sediment and accumulated toxins from deteriorating downstream waterways. Water-harvesting uses a variety of techniques, including terraces, seasonal pools and ponds, water infiltration swales, slow moving waterways, and dry creeks.
Every site has its own specific variables for which observation is required in order to develop appropriate water harvesting techniques. Once the strategy is developed, the process continues with shaping or opening up the soil to encourage water to move slowly across it. Water spreads along these contours or into pools where it sinks into the earth.
Water-harvesting elements in a EarthClub design always add an aesthetic value to the landscape. They are integrated completely with the overall design and existing elements. These terra-forming techniques also add to the building and retention of topsoil and often become the basis for planting beds, the layout of trees, and other agricultural systems.
There are some situations where water infiltration is NOT the wise choice: near the foundation of a building, on extremely steep slopes (beyond 18% grade), and on slopes that have shallow soils resting on top of bedrock. While infiltration is not appropriate in these cases, erosion can occur if water is not slowed and drained properly. EarthClub is available for consultation on any of these surface water issues.
A landscape or farm is only as healthy as its soil. Soil is a main focus and priority to a EarthClub landscape. We will often start with a set of soil tests to determine mineral content and ion exchange. Tests for soil structure, composition, and biological activities may also be used to understand the best rehabilitation methods for your soil.
Once soil tests have been done and observations have been made, a soil-building plan will be created. Usually this means a re-mineralization of your soil with the appropriate amendments, use of non-till cultivation techniques, and the building up of organic matter.
It is vital to the health of your landscape that there be a thriving biological community in your soil. Biological organisms (bacteria, fungi, worms, etc.) break down organic matter and minerals and make them accessible for plant uptake. The residues of this decomposition leave humic acids that help the soil retain and absorb water and air. This is the optimal condition for your soil. Plants growing in this environment have stronger immune systems, more prolific yields, grow faster, and need less water. Usually they have fewer pest and disease problems as a result.
Building soil also fixes carbon into the ground. It has been proven that carbon sequestration in the soil far exceeds the ability of trees to trap carbon and for much longer periods of time. Sequestering carbon in the ground is called “carbon farming” and is now being used globally to mitigate climate change. EarthClub uses this premise to develop fertility management plans that increase the sequestering of carbon and yield optimal health for your landscape.
In addition to the methods mentioned above, specific planting techniques using nitrogen-fixing and mineral-accumulating plants will continue to nourish and build the soil for the long term. A well-designed Permaculture garden requires few or no external nutrient inputs after the plantings are complete and have matured, a period of 3-7 years.
Small Ponds/Water Features
Whether for fish, water storage, habitat, or aesthetics, EarthClub can design and implement a pond for your needs. Often, we suggest small ponds for most of our edible landscapes as a source of food and water for beneficials. Bees, beneficial wasps, birds, frogs, snakes and other important plants and insects all rely on water for their survival. By putting a small pond in your landscape you ensure these beneficials will manage your system throughout the year.
Let’s face it, an exponentially growing human population will find potable water a scarcer resource as time goes on. As water issues come to a head rainwater collection and storage becomes your best source of irrigation, fire, and potential drinking water. For irrigation and fire, storage ponds are ideal elements to accomplish this goal while offering all of the habitat and aesthetics mentioned above.
EarthClub will custom design a pond to meet your needs. There are many uses for ponds. Below are some additional reasons why a pond is a good invest-ment. Pond designs have a huge range of scales, planting options, and maintenance needs, so keep in mind the functions you are looking for in your water ele-ment
- Irrigation water storage
- Firewater storage
- Habitat for wildlife and beneficial organisms
- Microclimate moderation
- Recreation (swimming, canoeing)
- Production of biomass (mulch, composting material)
In addition to ponds, EarthClub designs biofilters and water falls to keep your pond aerated and clean. These features are custom designed to your and your pond’s needs and functions. Most ponds require an oxygenating element to keep algae down through keeping biological activity up. This can be as simple as certain plant communities or air pumps or as complex as waterfalls and running creeks.
Contact One of Our Design Consultants
Please feel free to call us today to schedule a free consultation at 310.817.4257 or Contact Us.
Organic Landscapes/ Permaculture
EarthClub designs and implements only organic, edible and Permaculture landscapes and gardens. We use only organic and natural fertilizers, amendments, and pest control instead of chemicals. EarthClub is an expert in rainwater harvesting, maintenance, horticultural services, hardscapes and water feature services.
Our professional grounds maintenance provides comprehensive landscape management services that incorporate Permaculture principles and techniques providing our clients with healthy, lasting landscapes. We take pride in servicing commercial properties, retail centers, college campuses, public spaces, schools and private residences. Our goal is to assist you in growing edible gardens, switching to earth friendly practices and beautifying your surroundings.
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