Principles in Action: Using Biological Resources
By Will (Maplewood Permaculture Farm)
You have possibly heard permaculture undeservedly described as lazy gardening. There is the wilder side of gardening that comes with it, but anyone with experience in growing by the principles and ethics knows that the description is not a fair one. Possibly, some of the misconception can be attributed to the preference in permaculture systems to replace inputs and labour with biological resources.
The idea is this, make a long-term investment in building up biological resources on your site, allowing you to lower your dependency on artificial inputs, fossil fuels, and possibly even labour, thus simultaneously increasing the sustainability and resilience of your system. Essentially this means carefully selecting plants and animals to perform a variety of roles in any sized garden. The functions that might be covered include pest management, erosion control, soil improvement, fuel, and fertilisers to name a few.
Of course, it is going to be essential to rely on inputs in the beginning of any system. Something usually is introduced to do the likes of building soil fertility or providing energy. Where possible, these should be contributing to the long term improvement of the system, ideally supporting their replacement with a biological alternative. For example, fossil fuel powered equipment might be used for land-forming in the beginning, which then provides the conditions for effective plant growth, going on to provide biomass, fodder, food and fuel.
Where might a biological solution fit in the average veggie garden? Let us look at soil fertility. There are countless products available to add all sorts of things to our soil. All of which have embodied energy, with many fertilisers being a mining industry product. What we know, is that increasing organic matter is a powerful long-term remedy to most issues, from water retention, to nutrient availability and pH level. Planning for composting (a natural biological process), chickens or other small birds such as quail (for nutrient cycling), growing a green manure (legumes such as peas, beans and clover), and using comfrey, dandelion and other weeds as ‘fertiliser teas’ (to cycle nutrients) are all alternatives that can be built into the garden system.
An important consideration for biological solutions to be successful is timing. Introducing chickens or ducks into the orchard before plants are resilient enough, yields quite a different result to doing it after the plants are grown. Cutting back legumes before they flower is better timing for nitrogen availability, and mowing the lawn before it goes to seed allows you to make a mulch with less chance of grass popping up in your beds!
In essence, choose plants and animals to support the growing of food, and you will have the beginnings of a system that feeds itself.