What is Permaculture?


Permaculture is a broad based and holistic approach that has many applications to all aspects of life. At the heart of all sustainable design and practice however is a fundemental set of ‘core values’ or ethics (Earthcare, Peoplecare and Fairshares) and principles which remain constant whatever our situation, whether we are creating systems for town planning or trade, whether the land we care for is a windowbox or a 2000 hectare forest. As well as providing the tools to create greater sustainability within our lifestyles, home environments, gardens and on our land, permaculture is just as importantly about finding ways of mending community and rebuilding our fragmented society.

Permaculture isn’t about is having to get your head around untold facts, figures, Latin names and complicated techniques, rather it is about recognising universal patterns and principles, and learning to apply these ‘ecological truisms’ to our own gardens and life situations. We can identify the underlying forms that recur throughout the natural world and learn to understand and utilise them in designed ecologies…

’PERMACULTURE’ is a word that was originally coined in the mid seventies by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, to describe the design system pioneered as a response to what they, and many others globally, saw as serious challenges to the survival of all of us. Originally derived from the words ‘PERMAnent agriCULTURE’, permaculture has gone beyond it’s roots in looking at strategies to create sustainable food growing methods to become a worldwide movement encompassing all aspects of how we as human beings can live harmoniously in relation to our Earth and it’s finite resources- A PERManent CULTURE. Permaculture now probably has as many defintions as there are practitioners, but one that is particularly useful might be,



Putting massive effort into attempting to ‘tame nature’, such as by damming valleys and flood plains or creating and maintaining bare soil by plough, is not only energy consuming, unsustainable and destructive, it is also unnecessary when we can meet the needs of people and the environment by working in harmony with, or even directly utilise, natural systems. Instead of using massive chemical inputs to control pests, why not encourage predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies to do our work for us? Or why not construct homes that utilise passive solar energy and wind power rather than building nuclear power stations?

It is how we look at things that makes them advantageous or not, or, as Bill Mollison once said, “You havn’t got an excess of slugs, you’ve got a duck deficiency”.

Nothing should be indispensable as it’s loss or failure can then be disastrous. If, on the other hand, every system has a back up, it can continue to function. If we give all of our land over to one crop (a monoculture) and it fails, we starve, but if we grow as wide and diverse a range of edible plants as possible (a polyculture), we still get to eat if some of them don’t make it to harvest. Similarly in our day to day lives it makes sense to learn as wide a range of skills as possible- a person who has had only one well paid but specialised job throughout their working life would be far less able to cope with being made redundant than somebody who has several smaller incomes earned from a variety of sources.

Effectively the other side of the coin… If you have learned the skills to prune apple trees, mend a computer, play the guitar, cook for a crowd, entertain children, operate a printing press, fix a downpipe, draw and paint, drive a tractor, use a word processor, install a wind generator, give a massage, juggle, run a photography workshop and build a compost bin, not only are you better able to earn a living in a variety of circumstances; YOU also become more valuable in terms of what you are able to OFFER to others…


Traditionally, ‘yield’ is thought of as quantity of material output (eg, amounts of potatoes, grain, etc) calculated against resources or effort put in, but there’s no reason why we can’t widen our definition to include information, lessons learned, experience, the health benefits of exercise and being outdoors, or even just plain fun… Within a permaculture design, we will constantly be finding new niches to utilise, new beneficial guilds, learning new techniques, trying out fresh ideas, be gathering knowledge. By comprehending and copying natural systems, we can develop techniques in order to consciously multiply such opportunities…

Unlike many contemporary cultivated gardens, nature does not neatly compartmentalise her landscapes with ornamentals growing in one place, vegetables in another and fruit trees in yet a third location. In woodland several plants such as standard and half standard trees, shrubs, climbers and ground cover occupy the same area of space, each ‘stacked’ to find it’s own requirements within it’s particular ‘level’ in the system. The Forest Garden is an attempt to replicate this ‘layering’, replacing the wild plants of the woodland with fruits, herbs, vegetables and other plants that are useful to peoplekind.


Why Garden Organically?

Gardeners may choose organic growing techniques for several reasons. Some do so because they believe organic gardens and landscapes are better for their health and the health of their families. Others grow organically because they believe this practice is better for the environment. And some gardeners believe organic gardens are more productive and beautiful.

I grow organically for all these reasons and because, when I do so, I become part of the legacy of people who honor the health of the Earth and all its inhabitants by using growing techniques that are safe and sustainable over the long term.


Probably the main reason why many people garden organically is to provide their families with safe, wholesome food and a toxin-free environment. Many gardeners believe that organically grown foods taste better, and recent studies show that organically grown foods may have higher nutrient levels than their conventionally grown counterparts. Organic growers also steer clear of genetically modified plants, the health risks of which are still unclear.

When it comes to health and safety, pesticides pose the greatest concern in gardening. Americans use about 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides each year in yards, gardens, homes, farms, and industry, about 1 billion pounds of which are synthetic pesticides. Despite a complex system of rules, regulations, and labeling requirements, thousands of people suffer acute pesticide poison-ing each year. Like most gardeners, organic growers may occasionally need to use pesticides, but they choose them carefully, opting for the least-toxic organic sprays as a last resort — only after other control measures have failed.

Many people assume that organic means nontoxic, but that’s not really correct. Some commonly accepted organic pesticides are, strictly speaking, more toxic than some synthetic chemical pesticides. But in general, organic pesticides ,which are derived from plant, animal, and mineral sources, tend to be less toxic than synthetic chemical pesticides, which are created from petroleum and other chemical sources. More important, organic pesticides tend to break down quickly into benign substances, whereas synthetic pesticides can linger in the environment for decades.


Many of the synthetic pesticides used today belong to a group of chemical compounds called organophosphates. They’re used to control insect pests on fruits and vegetables, to combat termites, and to control fleas and ticks on pets. These chemicals work by interfering with the nervous systems of the pests. Unfortunately, organophosphates can also harm the nervous systems of animals and humans. In fact, they are chemically similar to the World War II–era chemical-warfare agent known as nerve gas. In humans, symptoms of overexposure include nausea, headache, convulsions, and (in high doses) death. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, two recently banned pesticides discussed in the sidebar “How unsafe pesticides remain on the market,” fall into this cate-gory. Unfortunately, since diazinon and chlorpyrifos have been phased out, the use of carbaryl, an insecticide that also damages the nervous system, has increased. The EPA classifies this product as a likely human carcinogen.

Despite extensive testing by chemical companies in controlled trials, it’s hard to know exactly what pesticides will do out in the real world. Ponder these statistics: The EPA now considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be potentially carcinogenic (able to cause cancer). A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute found that farmers exposed to chemical herbicides had a six-times-greater risk of developing cancer than farmers who were not exposed. Scary stuff.

No matter what type of pesticide you’re using — organic or synthetic — you must follow label directions to the letter. Read all warnings, wear recommended protective gear, and use only as instructed. Taking these precautions isn’t just smart, it’s also the law.

“Engine Room” Of A Plant

Every plant needs at least some light in order to grow and prosper, but the amount really varies. Mushrooms (which are actually fungi), for instance, can grow in bins in a dim basement or shed; daisies and water lilies, on the other hand, crave hot, full-on sunshine. Plenty of plants rest in the middle of these two extremes, of course. And some plants, like azaleas and daylilies, grow well enough in less-optimum light but don’t flower well in the shade. In terms of labeling, just remember that full sun usually means six or more hours per day; part-day, of course, refers to less.


You may assume that flowers drink up the light, but actually, the leaves do most of the work. Leaves are the main “Engine Room” Of A Plant. For a plant to operate, thrive, and increase in size, all plant parts (except flowers) need to play their roles in photosynthesis. Roots draw in water, but the real energy production takes place primarily in the foliage. Light helps produce the fuel.

Long hours of plentiful sunlight, with varying angles throughout the day, are important so that every leaf — even the ones lower down on the plant — gets the chance to receive light. The good news is that no matter what light conditions your yard has to offer, at least something should be able to grow there.

Sun plants and shade plants are labeled, and of course gardeners try to accommodate them. If you need plant ideas along these lines, not to worry —the plant chapters in this book have plenty of suggestions for you.


The warmth of the sun, even more than actual light, inspires flowers to unfurl. Sunlight from the east (morning light) is considered cooler, and western sun (afternoon light) can be scorching. Many plants prefer a site with some morning sun, even until midday, and late-afternoon shade. Other plants are able to endure even the hottest conditions. A plant’s tolerance, of course, varies by region. You can place the same plant in a sunnier spot in the far North than in the South.

If you have plants growing in a spot that receives a blast of late-afternoon sun, be sure to monitor their water needs closely so they don’t dry out. If you find they’re struggling, you can help them by installing something to cast a shadow, such as an arbor, or by planting a tree or large shrub in just the right spot. Even companion perennials or annuals planted nearby can cast enough shade to bring needed relief.

www.agrinfobank.comHere are some signs that a plant is getting too much sun:

ü Flower petals dry out.

ü Leaf edges look burnt or dried.

ü Flower color looks faded or washed out.

ü The entire plant starts to flag.

And here are signs that a plant isn’t getting enough light:

ü Growth is sparse.

ü Stems are lanky and spindly.

ü The distance between leaves, where they’re attached to the stems, is especially wide.

ü You see fewer flower buds and, thus, fewer flowers.

ü The entire plant leans toward the light sources.

Some of figuring out the proper location is trial and error — you’re aware that roses like a full day of sun, but you really want that bush to go in the nook that gets afternoon shade. Give the spot a try. If the plant’s unhappy, you can always move it to a more appropriate spot.

To Bee or Not to Bee?

I’ve been keeping bees in my backyard since 1983, and I have a confession to make — I really love my bees. That may sound weird to you if you aren’t a beekeeper (yet!), but virtually everyone who keeps bees will tell you the same thing and speak with deep warmth about “their girls.” They impatiently await their next opportunity to visit their hives. They experience a true emotional loss when their bees don’t make it through a bad winter. Beekeepers, without a doubt, develop a special bond with their bees.

Since becoming a backyard beekeeper, I’ve grown to deeply admire the remark-able qualities of these endearing creatures. As a gardener, I’ve witnessed firsthand the dramatic contribution they provide to flowering plants of all kinds. With honey bees in my garden, its bounty has increased by leaps and bounds. And then there’s that wonderful bonus that they generously give me: a yearly harvest of sweet liquid gold.

Once you get to know more about bees’ value and remarkable social skills, you’ll fall in love with them too. They’re simply wonderful little creatures. Interacting with them is an honor and a privilege. People who love nature in its purest form will love bees and beekeeping. That being said, in this article, I help you better understand the remarkable and bountiful little honey bee by looking at its history and the value that it brings to our lives. I also discuss the benefits of beekeeping and why you should con-sider it as a hobby — or even a small business venture. This article gives you an idea of what equipment you’ll need to get started, the time you should expect to spend maintaining a healthy hive, and how deep your pockets need to be. It also discusses the optimal environmental conditions for raising bees and ends with a checklist that you can fill out to see if beekeeping is for you.

Discovering the Benefits of Beekeeping

Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? I’m sure that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use. I’m also sure that honey remains the principal draw for many backyard beekeepers.

But the sweet reward is by no means the only reason folks are attracted to beekeeping. For a long time, agriculture has recognized the value of pollina-tion by bees. Without the bees’ help, many commercial crops would suffer serious consequences. More on that later. Even backyard beekeepers wit-ness dramatic improvements in their gardens’ yields: more and larger fruits, flowers, and vegetables. A hive or two in the garden makes a big difference in your success as a gardener. The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees pro-duce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive can be harvested (it’s rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in our own diets).

How to keep a moth orchid alive

By Adrian Higgins

To some minds, the poinsettia is cheapened by its ubiquity. But somehow that everywhere orchid — the phalaenopsis or moth orchid — always seems elegant and exotic, even when herded in the big-box store or supermarket.

Mass cloning techniques and industrial-scale propagation in places like Taiwan have kept the market well-fed with unnamed varieties — big whites, pinky purples and weird bicolors — that seem as abundant and non-seasonal as potatoes. Still, the tree-dwelling jungle plant lends grace to its surroundings, the condo lobby, the swanky restaurant or your kitchen countertop. Does anyone not like a moth orchid?


But this affection, I wager, is accompanied by an underlying anxiety that we will kill the plant through neglect or abuse. Getting the most from a moth orchid — eight weeks of bloom and repeat flowering in a few months — is not difficult but requires method. In search of the best advice, I traveled to the Floradise Orchids greenhouse of Janet Cherchuck and Stephen Shifflett in Gordonsville, Va., where the couple has been raising orchids commercially for more than 30 years. (They sell at two D.C. farmers markets, regional orchid shows and from their greenhouse 100 miles south of Washington.)

Moth orchids have light and temperature needs, but the single biggest reason they crash, said Cherchuck, is through incorrect watering: usually overwatering, sometimes underwatering, or a combination of the two. Typically, the roots begin to rot and the leaves grow limp.

Getting it right is complicated by the type of growing medium used: either a loose mix of pine bark or sphagnum peat moss. In either case, the orchid should be thoroughly watered and not watered again until nearly dry. The more densely packed moss takes longer to dry and may need watering every 10 to 14 days compared with the weekly pine bark watering, but the timing varies by light levels, warmth and humidity. Use your finger to probe about an inch into the pot to see if the surface is dry. Another way to tell: A watered pot feels heavier than one that is dry.


At a sink, run the orchid under a tap of room temperature water — neither hot nor cold — and let at least a gallon run through the drain holes to ensure complete saturation. With open-growing media in free-draining pots, “watering is about frequency, not quantity,” said Cherchuck. Feed with a weak soluble fertilizer after watering. It’s okay to get the leaves wet, but not the flowers. Finally, tip the plant to remove water from the leaf bases and crown, where the stem meets the roots.

Once the flowers have finished, you can cut to just above a node to promote a new flowering stem. This will appear in a few weeks if the plant is happy. This constant blooming, however, will stress the plant, and the subsequent blooms will be smaller and fewer. If you want to build up your orchid for long-term cultivation, cut off the flower stem and in June, place the orchid outside in a shady, sheltered spot away from direct sunlight. Continue to water and feed as the growing medium dries; don’t rely on rainfall. The required difference in day and night temperatures outside will encourage the plant to bloom after you bring it back indoors in early fall.

Small phalaenopsis varieties, with different bloodlines, can bloom more freely than large hybrids and are a good choice for apartment dwellers who have no yard for summer care.

Buying a moth orchid

Orchids can become stressed if mishandled or improperly kept. Orchids in grocery stores tend to be too cold and displayed close to produce. Nearby apples, bananas or other fruit give off ethylene gas, which causes the orchid blooms to age prematurely.

Look at the general health of the plant. Look for fleshy, live roots. The leaves should be green, turgid and the central growth stem upright. Avoid plants with yellowing tips to the flower stem or with buds that are falling off. Choose an orchid that has begun to flower, not just in bud. When stressed, the buds will be small or fail to open.


Moth orchid roots are meant to wander out of the pot. But if the plant is potbound at the base or if the growing mix has broken down and smells musty, repot the plant. This is best done after flowering in late spring. Remove all the old mix, cut off shriveled dead roots and use fresh mix. The roots should occupy about three-quarters of the volume of the new pot — typically about an inch bigger in diameter than the old pot. Placed in a pot that is too big, the orchid will suffer root rot. If your orchid is part of a larger florist’s arrangement, wait for the plant to finish flowering and then pot it individually in a container of the correct size. Moth orchids do not grow by rhizomes and do not need to be divided like other orchids.

Bark… or moss?



Makes for tougher plants. Reduced risk of overwatering. Easier to see state of roots.


Needs watering more often. Harder to tell if it is wet enough.


Pros –

Plants grow larger. Looks attractive. Surface lightens when it dries out.


More prone to waterlogging. Risk of compacting when repotting. Slight risk of skin disease from moss-borne fungus; wear rubber gloves.

Temperature and humidity

Typical room temperature is fine, but go no lower than 60 degrees. Raising humidity in winter is a boon to orchid and orchid grower alike, but correct watering is more important than high humidity. Misting is unnecessary and may damage the blooms.


Moth orchids like bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight will turn the leaves pale green or yellowish green and stress the plant. Insufficient light will cause the upper leaves to be smaller than the ones below (they should be larger).


Forget the dainty watering can. Take the orchid to a sink and run water through the pot thoroughly. This will saturate the medium and wash out old fertilizer salts. Test dryness with your finger and learn to judge the watering need by the weight of the pot.

Source of Article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/