Soil is the foundation of any garden, and permaculture gardens are no different. Improving your soil naturally is the foundation of permaculture.
How you improve your soil depends on how impatient you are. Do you want to start planting now, or are you comfortable with waiting a few years to improve your soil the slow way.
Improving Your Soil Quickly
To prepare and improve soil using permaculture principals, one must first assess the soil and identify any weaknesses. One should then amend the soil accordingly, by adding materials such as compost and mulch.
- Start by testing your soil to see what nutrients it is lacking. You can do this with a simple home test kit or by sending a sample of your soil to a lab. Test your soil’s pH level. The ideal pH level for most plants is 6.5-7.0, but you can adjust your soil’s pH level accordingly.
- Once you know what nutrients your soil is lacking, you can amend it with organic matter like compost or manure. This will help improve the soil’s structure, nutrient content, and water retention capacity. You can also add minerals to your soil to improve its fertility. Some good options include rock dust, kelp meal, or greensand. Rock dust helps to improve the structure of the soil and adds minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Kelp Meal is a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, while greensand is high in potassium and iron.
- Amend your soil with compost or other organic fertilizers. This will provide your plants with the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong.
- Use mulch to protect your soil. Mulch will help reduce evaporation, keep the soil cooler in summer, and warm in winter.
- If your soil is compacted, you will need to loosen it up before planting. This can be done with a shovel or garden fork, but should only be done in the immediate areas you’ll be planting.
- Once your soil is amended and loose, you are ready to plant! Be sure to choose plants that are well-suited for the conditions in your garden.
If you’re willing to wait a few years before you really begin planting the trees that will make up the canopy of your permaculture garden, you can skip the above steps and proceed right to the next step, as cover cropping will take care of a lot of the issues the above steps address.
Improving Your Soil the Permaculture Way
One of the first steps to start a permaculture garden is to plant a cover crop, which is a group of plants grown together for the purpose of restoring nutrients and organic matter to the soil while suppressing weeds. These are known as cover crops or green manure. The most common cover crops include legumes, such as beans and peas, or grains, such as oats and wheat.
Typically, you’ll buy these seeds in bulk and then spread them out over the entire area you’ll want to turn into your permaculture garden. Manually planting them one by one takes too much time to cover any significant amount of space.
You’ll want to wait a season or two for the crops to start growing, then you can till them under in the areas you want to add plants for your permaculture setup.
Another thing you can do to improve your soil is to spread mulch over the area you’ve set aside for your garden. Usually this means spreading a few inches of wood chips, which you can get for free from tree removal companies in your areas. You can also grab bags of leaves from the side of the road in autumn and use them as part of your mulch.
Over the course of a few years, these will decompose and leave you with a nice, rich black soil that is perfect for growing plants in.
What Is Soil Permaculture?
Soil permaculture is the study and practice of how to design and manage systems that are based on natural ecosystems. It is an approach to land management that seeks to create more sustainable and efficient ways of using resources.
The term “permaculture” was first coined in the 1970s by Australian ecologist Bill Mollison and his colleague David Holmgren. They defined it as “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture.”
Since then, the scope of permaculture has expanded to include not just agricultural systems, but also urban planning, architecture, economics, social structures, and more.
Permaculture Is Built On Three Core Principles:
Care for the earth
This principle emphasizes the need to respect and care for the natural environment. It means designing systems that are efficient and use resources wisely, while also preserving the integrity of the ecosystem.
Care for people
This principle stresses the importance of creating healthy, sustainable communities. It means designing systems that are accessible and affordable for everyone, and that provide everyone with access to food, water, shelter, and other basic needs.
This principle encourages us to think about how we can use our resources in a way that benefits not just ourselves, but also others. It means sharing skills, knowledge, and resources with our community, and working together to create a more equitable and sustainable world.
Permaculture is often described as a “whole systems” approach to design. This means that it takes into account the relationships between different elements in a system, and how they interact with each other.
For example, in an agricultural system, permaculture design would consider how the different components (such as animals, plants, water, soil, and climate) interact with each other. It would then seek to create a more efficient and sustainable system by working with these natural relationships, rather than against them.
In addition to its three core principles, permaculture also includes 12 design principles that can be applied to any system. These principles provide a framework for how to create more sustainable and efficient systems.
12 Design Principles For Permaculture
- Observe and interact: This principle encourages us to take the time to observe and understand how a system works before trying to change it.
- Catch and store energy: This principle means designing systems that are efficient in how they use energy. It includes using renewable sources of energy whenever possible and storing energy for later use.
- Obtain a yield: This principle stresses the importance of creating systems that provide benefits to humans or the environment. It means designing systems that are productive and generate useful outputs, such as food, water, shelter, or fuel.
- Apply self-regulation and feedback: This principle helps us to maintain equilibrium in a system by making sure that we don’t take more from it than it can provide. It also means being open to feedback so that we can make changes as needed.
- Use and value renewable resources and services: This principle encourages us to use renewable resources, rather than those that are finite. It also means valuing the natural services that ecosystems provide, such as pollination or water filtration.
- Produce no waste: This principle calls for systems that generate little or no waste. It means using resources efficiently and finding ways to recycle or reuse waste material.
- Design from patterns to details: This principle helps us to see the big picture when designing a system. It means starting with the overall pattern that we want to create, and then working out the details.
- Integrate rather than segregate: This principle encourages us to think about how different elements in a system can work together to create a more efficient whole. It means designing systems that are interconnected and that use mutual support.
- Use small and slow solutions: This principle reminds us that small changes can have a big impact over time. It encourages us to start with small-scale projects that can be adapted and expanded as needed.
- Use and value diversity: This principle celebrates the richness of diversity, both within ecosystems and human societies. It means designing systems that are varied and that include a variety of plants, animals, and other elements.
- Use edges and value the marginal: This principle helps us to make use of the often-neglected areas in a system. It means taking advantage of transitional spaces and using them to our benefit.
- Creatively use and respond to change: This principle encourages us to be flexible and adaptable in the face of change. It means being open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and being willing to change our plans if necessary.
Applying these principles can help us to create more sustainable and efficient systems in our homes, communities, and even the world as a whole. By working together to apply these principles, we can make a real difference in how we live on this planet.
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