Permaculture is simply a contraction of ‘permanent agriculture’ a way of growing that is designed to be both permanent and self‐sustaining. This is how most of us grow our flower gardens, for example, with 90% of the plants being permanent and few more showy or fragile ones being annual or impermanent.
Agriculture tends to the opposite proportion, with more than 90% of crops being annuals. So a permaculture vegetable garden requires a massive change of thinking. The idea is to create a habitat rather than a garden and for that habitat to be a place where animals, insects, and soil and air micro‐organisms work together to produce the right conditions for growth.
Principles For Permaculture
Multiple purpose gardening is one principle – it means growing vegetable for food production, medicinal plants, flowers for food and using all three to create a wildlife habitat that is also an attractive place to be.
Vertical gardening is another principle – this involves using trellises, hanging baskets and raised beds to maximise space. The raised beds tend to be horseshoe shaped rather than square and very small, about half a metre at most across. These small beds are rarely dug, they are just topped up with mulch and compost so that worms and other soil dwellers can pull the nutrients down to the plant roots.
Plants For Permaculture
The following characteristics are sought in any vegetable used in permaculture:
- Perennials are preferred over annuals.
- Legumes are utilised to fix nitrogen in the soil for other plants – this means growing beans and peas up trellises with perennials below.
- Deeper rooted plants bring nutrients from way below the surface of the soil upwards. They also break up lower levels of soil that can be compacted. When that plant is cut for food or its leaves are dropped in winter, those nutrients are deposited on top of the soil and then carried back down to the more shallow‐rooted plants.
- Plants with rapid growth can be pruned for mulch in a system called ‘chop and drop’ which is where you cut the plant and just chop the removed leaves and branches a little before dropping on the soil to feed the plant.
- Other broad‐leaved plants can be used to shade the soil or a pond to prevent water evaporation.
Varieties To Choose
- Perennial plants such as fruit bushes and trees and nut trees are the obvious choice for a permaculture system. Where a tree casts only light shade, you can grow other perennials underneath it, such as alpine strawberries or autumn raspberries.
- Babbingtons leeks are a permanent crop – you lift a few bulbs to eat and leave the rest in place to multiply, they grow well in light shade such as near currant or gooseberry bushes.
- Rhubarb is another permaculture crop which can be left in place for many years, only being lifted and divided when its productivity drops. Rhubarb spreads widely and the leaves can be used to prevent other crops betting scorched by laying them over seedlings in hot weather.
- Asparagus is a perfect permaculture crop, requiring not to be disturbed and remaining in place for up to thirty years.
- Cardoons and globe artichokes are closely related and can be grown permanently in the same place. They have the advantage of being extremely beautiful too.
- Strawberries are a good crop, remaining in the ground for up to five years before needing to be moved. They often need a windbreak which can be provided by a taller plant such as a row of dwarf beans.
- Perennial broccoli can grow for nine years before needing to be renewed.
- Cut and come again salads can be grown both winter and summer. Although they are not truly permaculture crops, they can remain in the ground for many months with just some leaves being cut. A mixture of red and green leaves with yellow and red winter chard can provide very pretty garden areas in addition to a range of tastes and textures.