The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Permaculture at home

PermacultureYou keep talking about permaculture, and it does sound cool.  But it's so complicated!  What are a few simple permaculture steps I can take around my own home or farm?

--- Various people over the last few months

Introducing permaculture into your life starts with changing the way you think rather than with changing a specific action.  Like the natural ecosystems that permaculture is based on, our man-made environments are so variable that no single answer works for everyone.  Instead, we need to take the central permaculture principles and apply them to our own mini-ecosystems on our farms or in our yards.  Here are my top three favorite permaculture concepts:

There's no such thing as waste.  Despite the 14 billion tons of used materials that Americans deposit in landfills every year, waste is more of a state of mind than a reality.  Most of you probably have a worm bin and/or compost pile to turn your food "waste" into productive soil.  Hopefully, you've also done away with paper towels, swiffers, and anything else that is billed as a disposable.  Permaculture admonishes us to think beyond these basic steps and eliminate all types of waste from our lives.  Mark and I have a long way to go, but we've started buying some of our staples in bulk, seriously cutting down on packaging.  We're experimenting with growing mushrooms on our junk mail and cardboard, and are also using these "wastes" as decomposable weed barriers under mulch in the garden.  Our most recent step is harnessing graywater from the kitchen sink to grow King Stropharia mushrooms.  I'd love to hear what your waste-free household looks like.

1 week old chicksEvery aspect of your permaculture system should have multiple functions.  The earth is full of non-human life, so we are ethically bound to make our homesteads compact, leaving as much natural space as possible to house salamanders and wildflowers.  The trick to keeping your homestead small is requiring each facet to serve multiple functions.  For example, chicken tractors allow you to raise a useful food in the aisles of your garden or even in your city lawn, while at the same time keeping your poultry healthier than they would be in a coop situation and providing fertilizer for the garden.  Even if your neighborhood association restricts you to only growing ornamentals in your front yard, why not intersperse edibles (colored swiss chards and cabbages make elegant show-plants) and focus on nectary species to increase the local population of beneficial insects?  If you've got a multiple acre farm, how about turning a few acres of woodland into a multi-purpose forest garden which will provide your firewood, some fruits and nuts, and wildlife habitat all at once?

Focus on perennials.  While I don't see any permaculturalists getting rid of their cucumber and tomato plants, they do advocate using perennials instead of annuals wherever possible.  Perennial edibles generally require much less input of organic matter, don't tempt you to till up the soil, and need less maintenance.  Perennials also tend to encourage wildlife and discourage soil erosion, another example of multiple uses in a single system.

I could go on and on for hours, but I'd rather hear about your own experiences.  Which permaculture concepts have you applied to your life?

This permaculture post has multiple functions.  It tells you about permaculture (duh), sneaks in a photo of our chicks so that I don't have to bore you with another chick post, and now reminds you to check out our chicken waterer. :-)

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I know it sounds silly, but I still use my swifter wetjet. I hate cleaning and it makes an unpleasant job easier. But I sewed pads for it from old towels and velcro. And I figured out how to refill the solution bottle (dip the cap in boiling water and that will loosen the glue) and now I fill it with vinegar and water. It's all about re-thinking what you already have and do.
Comment by Sara Sun Mar 28 10:21:58 2010
Speaking of buying in bulk...I buy my toilet paper in bulk, each roll comes wrapped in paper which has the same application as the toilet paper itself. Also, even though we have well water, I converted my old 3-5 gal. toilet to a dual flush unit thus saving many gallons of water over the year.
Comment by zimmy Sun Mar 28 10:52:33 2010
I was just thinking about toilet paper as I wrote this. That's one thing that we go through relatively frequently that comes wrapped in plastic. Where do you get yours in bulk?
Comment by anna Sun Mar 28 11:05:20 2010

Sara -

Doesn't sound like a disposable anymore to me --- nicely done!

I hate cleaning and just don't clean. I knew there was a better way. :-)

Comment by anna Sun Mar 28 11:09:26 2010
The name of the toilet paper or (bath tissue) is POM. There is about 40-45 rolls per box and each roll is wrapped in paper which can be cut or ripped into 4 pcs. I buy one or two boxes at a time at Sam's club, but I think other bulk stores would also have it. Although the paper is some what slick, if you crunch it up a few times it does work. I realize some of the ideas expressed on this site is not for everyone, but I will adopt almost any idea that will help preserve the environment for future generations, and this is one of them.
Comment by zimmy Sun Mar 28 13:03:13 2010
Thanks for the extra information! We don't have a Sam's Club membership, but I'm sure we can find it somewhere else given the name. Time to hunt it down...
Comment by anna Sun Mar 28 17:06:01 2010
For those with the space, I reckon 2-4 backyard chickens are a great introduction to permaculture. They give you eggs, they'll eat all your kitchen scraps, their output (manure) can be combined with garden waste (prunings, lawn clippings, dead annuals, etc) to make great compost, and they're entertaining as well! Talk about a multi-functional garden addition!
Comment by Darren (Green Change) Mon Mar 29 18:00:21 2010
Chickens are the solution to everything with us. :-) I'd put a worm bin in that category too.
Comment by anna Mon Mar 29 19:03:17 2010

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