Permaculture

Permanent | Agriculture

A philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.

 

- Bill Mollison in "Permaculture Two", 1979

There is nothing new under the sun.

The concepts of permaculture are very, very old. They come to us from a number of world cultures who developed ways of working with their particular place to create abundance that will last for centuries. It is the wisdom of a thousand generations, distilled into a set of design principles that can be applied anywhere on earth. ​

Don't take our word for it.

We're in our first years of farming, and have a lifetime of lessons ahead of us. Here are some books and video that have helped us to learn the basics, which we're applying on our farm:

Bookshelf

Recommended reading.

18067484485144077.jpg

Videos

The principles of a well-designed agricultural system are:

  • Observe and interact

  • Catch & store energy

  • Obtain a yield

  • Self-regulation and feedback

  • Use and value renewables

  • Produce no waste

  • Design from patterns to details

  • Integrate, don't segregate

  • Use small, slow solutions

  • Use and value diversity

  • Use edges, and value the marginal

  • Creatively use and respond to change

Principles:

17869107736815448.jpg

Sustainability is not enough.

Organics and sustainability, while admirable, are not enough. We must harness the power of living systems to regenerate the environment which supports human life, and the complex web of species we rely on for our survival.

All of human history is a story of us consuming all of the resources in a place, then moving on to the next. Technology has accelerated the rate at which we consume resources, such that even if we were to stop today, the changes we've caused to our environment may never recover on their own. We're out of new places to move on to.

Humanity has the unique ability among species on this planet to "steer Earth toward adaptive regeneration... by cultivating systems that produce as much food, energy, materials, medicine, wildlife habitat, water purification, carbon sequestration, pollination, and other ecosystem services as possible in the smallest space possible for the longest time possible." (Ben Falk, in "The Resilient Farm and Homestead", 2013)

Nature is the standard against which we must measure agriculture. Nature: balances growth and decay; has diversity at the core of its resilience; selects things suited to the place; adapts continuously; produces no waste - the output of one system is the input for another; and runs on solar energy.

This is the challenge we have accepted on our little corner of the world.

Our intent for Arcadia.

We aim to grow as much of our own food as we can, share the surplus with our community, and steer this land towards even greater abundance for living things.

 

We're still a long way away from having a site design and plan. We're still learning what Arcadia wants to be. This means a lot of observation, and taking small, relatively non-permanent steps which will support our big-picture goals, and observing the effects of those steps. We have four phases in mind for how we intend to accomplish our aim:

Years 1-3: Homestead & Observe

18149354278057159.jpg

Mike's favourite part of gardening is wandering around and staring at it for hours, so imagine his delight when he saw the first permaculture principle. This is the phase we're in now.

 

Our first year was spent cataloguing what is already here - animals, birds, trees, plants, insects, soil, water, and resources. Learning the sun's path at different times of year, and mapping the shade it casts. Seeing where water accumulates and runs off in spring. Seeing where frost pockets form in early fall and late spring. Soil tests. Finding what equipment and resources we have for projects. What's growing well and what's struggling. How we use different spaces, and where people congregate at different times of day, and different times of year.

We're learning basic skills - remember, we're new to this. Caring for animals, and breeding for suitability on our land. Building and repairing stuff. Grafting and propagating plants and trees. Harvesting animals. Foraging. Preserving. Saving seed. Cider making. Forest management. 
 

We're also establishing the basics of "Zone 1" - the area closest to the house: our herb garden,  kitchen vegetable garden, perennial plant nursery, perennial vegetable patches, and our permaculture orchard. We're keeping laying hens for the first time in our lives, and rotating them through our pastures. We're raising meat chickens. We'll be starting mushroom logs, trying a batch of turkeys, and building a stone oven. We've partnered with Curt Hardy of Unit No. 77 Honey Farm to host up to 15 honeybee hives. 

The joint will be buzzing.

Years 3-5: Grazing & Food Forest

By this time, our fruit trees should start coming into production, and our small fruit, mushrooms, and perennial vegetables should be in full swing. Our annual vegetable production will decrease to only those things we really love to eat, and things that store well for winter. We should have consistent and diverse offerings in our farmstand.

 

Once we've got the basics down close to home, we will expand our efforts. Grazing animals are the key to building topsoil. We will build a perimeter fence, and run water lines to enable cattle, sheep, and pigs to be rotationally grazed for meat. Expanding our laying flock, and having them follow the livestock on pasture. 

We will establish a fruit tree nursery to propagate fruit trees from seed, en masse. We will plant a vineyard with cold-hardy wine grape varietials. We will expand our permaculture orchard and steer it towards a full-fledged food forest.

We also hope to establish agri-tourism, with rental cabins, on-farm dinners, and workshops. We hope by this point to have enough predictability in our harvests to supply restaurants.

Years 5-10: Earthworks & Permanent Systems

By this time, we should be largely transitioned to a largely perennial diet, where our work is mostly a little pruning, moving portable electric fence, filling empty niches, and harvesting. Our farm stand should be chock full of unique items, and we should have strong relationships with local chefs, restaurants, and grocers.

 

This is the time when we are ready to dig  swales, ponds, and keyline plowing to stop, sink, and spread water evenly across the landscape. We will run gravity-fed water lines and watering points for livestock, and hopefully start to expand our systems onto rented neighbouring land.

We will establish a fruit tree nursery to propagate fruit trees from seed, en masse. We will plant a vineyard with cold-hardy wine grape varietials. We will expand our permaculture orchard and steer it towards a full-fledged food forest.

We also hope to establish agri-tourism, with rental cabins, on-farm dinners, and workshops. We hope by this point to have enough predictability in our harvests to supply restaurants.

Our ultimate goal is to leave a legacy of abundance for people, plants, and animals, and have some fun doing it. We hope you'll join us on this journey!