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How to Start a Permaculture Garden in 8 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 13, 2020 • 3 min read

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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Permaculture gardening is ideal for anyone looking to grow their own food in a sustainable system. Permaculture principles allow you to build a vegetable garden that relies on natural processes to promote growth, providing you with abundant fruits and vegetables.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a sustainable design system focused on forming a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship between people, plants, animals, and soil. The term “permaculture” was first coined in 1978 by Australian ecologist David Holmgren and environmental psychology professor Bill Mollison as a portmanteau of "permanent agriculture," and it has since evolved to also connote "permanent culture." Permaculturists aim to design agriculture landscapes that sustain themselves indefinitely by regenerating fertility. Permaculture uses ecology as the principal foundation for designing unified natural systems of food production and human habitats.

What Is Permaculture Gardening?

Permaculture gardening is based on the concept of designing your garden around your local environment. A permaculture garden design considers the needs of the natural ecosystem and climate in addition to meeting human needs. Permaculture gardening also focuses heavily on gradually building up soil quality with nutrients so that you're constantly rejuvenating the earth as you strengthen the health of your plants. The three basic permaculture ethics are: Care for the Earth, care for people, and take only your fair share (and return any surplus).

Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
Ron Finley Teaches Gardening
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How to Start a Permaculture Garden in 8 Steps

There are eight basic permaculture gardening techniques for getting started with a sustainable garden.

  1. Acquaint yourself with your surroundings. Familiarize yourself with the native plants, insects, and predators that inhabit your region and planting area. Observe which parts of the garden get the most sun. Identify slopes in the landscape that could cause rainwater to pool. Are there any unique features of your garden area that could be beneficial? For example, you may have tall native plants that can act as a living trellis for a new plant in your permaculture system.
  2. Choose plants based on your environment. When deciding what to plant, do some research and which annual and perennial plants will thrive in your surrounding habitat. Practice companion planting by choosing crops that attract beneficial insects, deter pests, and naturally fertilize your soil. Plant flowers that attract butterflies, grow herbs that repel harmful insects from fruit trees, and choose nitrogen-fixing, green manure crops that will gradually increase the nutrients in your soil over time.
  3. Design your garden layout. Once you're familiar with your surroundings and know the plants you want to grow, use that information to plan your garden's design. During the design process, consider your light requirements, water sources, and the existing landscape to determine where to grow each type of plant. Use plant stacking to maximize space: Grow herbaceous plants as ground cover, shrubs as a middle layer, and trees as a top layer.
  4. Build your garden beds. Raised beds are ideal for permaculture gardening since you don't need to till the soil, thus keeping nutrients intact. Your raised beds should be six to 12 inches above the ground. An alternative no-dig gardening method to raised beds is sheet mulching. Sheet mulching is the process of creating a plantable area by layering compostable materials such as straw, cardboard, wood chips, and leaves over grass in order to build soil without disturbing the pre-existing tillage.
  5. Plant your permaculture garden. Start by growing your taller plants first, so that shade cover is in place for any smaller plants that are sensitive to direct sunlight. Double-check your design to make sure plants with similar water and sun requirements are grouped together.
  6. Add a layer of organic mulch to the topsoil. Chemical weed killers don't align with the principles of permaculture gardening, so make sure you add a layer of organic mulch after planting to suppress weeds and keep your soil moist. Common types of mulch include leaves, newspaper, straw, wood chips, shredded bark, and grass clippings.
  7. Add compost without disturbing the soil. Avoid chemical fertilizers and instead, use a natural compost filled with organic matter. Popular composting choices include manure and kitchen scraps that you can collect in a compost bin. Earthworm castings and worm tea are also great options, as they are extremely rich in nutrients and add beneficial microbes to your soil.
  8. Use an efficient and sustainable watering system. Make sure you're using the minimum amount of water needed for your garden to thrive. A low-waste drip irrigation system is a great choice to directly water your soil with minimal evaporation. Collect rain run-off from your roof gutters that you can recycle into your watering system.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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