Permaculture Took Kit
The permaculture tool kit features innovative practices that can be combined and adapted to grow abundant, earth-healing landscapes. Learn more about the science underpinning our approach and the tools we use in these pages (and more about how weuse these tools here ).
Start with the Soil
A landscape or farm is only as healthy as its soil and the many organisms that live in it. Long-term soil fertility is determined by the strength and diversity of these organisms and the soil food web they compose. Building soil fertility, in effect, strengthens the foundation for all life on that land. The goal of our soil fertility services is to launch and/ or maintain the virtuous nutrient cycle whereby healthy soil organisms nurture healthy plants that, in turn, feed soil organisms.
Recent research in soil science has improved our understanding of how to foster this virtuous cycle. It begins with adding organic matter to feed the first and second trophic levels of the soil food web. Biological organisms (bacteria, fungi, worms, etc.) break down organic matter and minerals and make them accessible for plant uptake. The residues of this decomposition leave humic acids that help the soil retain and absorb water and air. This approach, focused on feeding the soil food web, is in stark contrast to conventional agricultural fertilizers which provide water-soluble nutrients directly to plants. Such an approach is akin to feeding a human refined sugar as opposed to a complex carbohydrate that will provide a more balanced and long-lasting energy source. The latter is the optimal food for your soil and the organisms living there. Plants growing in this environment have stronger immune systems, more prolific yields, faster growth, and lower water needs. Usually they also have fewer pest and disease problems as a result.
Once established, maintaining soil fertility requires striking a delicate balance on several fronts, including, for example, between anaerobic and aerobic soil organisms, carbon and nitrogen, bacteria and fungi. Where that balance lays depends on the desired yields. For example, annual vegetables prefer a lower fungi-to-bacteria ratio than perennial trees as bacteria tend to produce higher levels of nitrogen that the annuals need. Permaculture Artisans’ nutrient management strategies are designed to build soil fertility that supports the type of plant life desired.
Building soil also fixes carbon in the ground, and is increasingly recognized as a tool for climate change mitigation. It has been proven that carbon sequestration in the soil far exceeds the ability of trees to trap carbon and for much longer periods of time. Sequestering carbon in the ground is called “carbon farming” and is now being used globally to mitigate climate change. Permaculture Artisans’ fertility management plans increase carbon sequestration and optimize the health of your landscape.. Learn more about how we can help build and maintain soil fertility on your land while helping to combat climate change here .
Water = Life
Where there’s water, there’s life. That’s what nature teaches us and it’s why we consider water in every aspect of our projects. How can we protect this vital resource and make best use of it on the land? How can we ensure that all water flowing off a property is clean enough not to damage the waterways it enters? How can we design systems that respect the hydrological balance of the entire watershed? These are the questions we are constantly asking ourselves as designers and builders. Often, the answers involved storing, sinking and spreading water, supporting life in every corner of a landscape. With this objective in mind, we read a landscape to decipher the natural flow of water and determine how best to make use of this precious resource in situ.
Conventional Drainage Problems
For the past 200+ years, we’ve gotten in all wrong: channeling water off a site as fast as possible to avoid flooding and erosion problems. In this misguided perspective, water falling on a landscape is seen as a problem to be dealt with, to be sent “away”. Just as with trash and solid waste, we know there is no such place as “away” and that we can do much more with water than pipe it away. In fact, this approach has aggravated our water woes as water drained through pipes, culverts, and other impervious materials accumulates and increases in velocity. When water is drained off a property too quickly it can create erosion, release sediment into streams and rivers, and compound floodwaters.
A more enlightened approach is to slow, spread, and sink the water into the landscape, making good use of every drop. We call this set of tools water harvesting as they allow us to redirect hydrological flows to recharge groundwater aquifers and create mini on-site aquifers, or “water lenses”, keeping water in the landscape far into the dry season. They also slow water flowing rapidly across the surface of the land, preventing sediment and accumulated toxins from deteriorating downstream waterways and fish spawning habitats. A healthy soil food web will ensure than accumulated toxins are broken down and turned into plant food (except heavy metals which require special safety considerations). Water can be harvested using a variety of techniques, including terraces, seasonal rain gardens and ponds, water infiltration swales, slow moving waterways, and dry creeks. These techniques are interwoven across a landscape to shape or open up the soil and encourage water to move slowly across it. Water spreads along contours (i.e. a specific elevation) or into rain gardens where it sinks into the earth. These techniques also add to the building and retention of topsoil and often become the basis for planting beds, the layout of trees, and other vegetative systems. There are some situations where water infiltration is not the wise choice: near the foundation of a building, on extremely steep slopes (above 18% grade), and on slopes that have shallow soils resting on top of bedrock. While infiltration is not appropriate in these cases, erosion can occur if water is not slowed and drained properly. Learn more about how Permaculture Artisans has dealt with surface water issues here.
Many people believe you have to choose between an ornamental or a productive landscape, between beauty and food. We have moved beyond this false dichotomy, installing dozens of food forests that provide a perennial source of nutritious food and gorgeous vistas. A food forest goes far beyond a typical orchard whose flora is usually limited to the fruit or nut tree the grower wants to harvest. A food forest is a biodiverse ecosystem that weaves food-producing plants like berries and tubers between and under the canopy of trees. These dynamic landscapes also include plants that attract beneficial insects and build healthy soil. Each plant provides yields for other plants while getting its own needs met by still other members of the plant community. Shifting our perspective from a simple harvest to the dynamic relationships in a system reveals a plethora of possible yields and relationships our systems are designed to nurture. We build food forests that become self-regulating systems providing for their own pollination, pest management, mulch and soil health. A food forest can also include cut flowers or medicinal plants that provide the added benefit of a marketable crop. Food forests also become havens for wildlife, absorb water, reduce erosion, beautify the land, and provide the perfect environment for walking and relaxing outdoors. Food forests can take a few years to mature and we work with all our clients to clearly communicate the maintenance needs of this kind of landscape. Although harvesting will begin in the first year, a healthy food forest is expected to start yielding peak amounts of food in five to seven years. With proper maintenance, yields will continue for many years. In Morocco, there is a food forest that has been feeding locals for 2,000 years!