Posted by: permamonk | May 4, 2009

The start of something called Alleluia

Sometime early last year, a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of permaculture.  What is permaculture?  Well, you’ll most often here it explained two ways.  On the one hand is stands for permanent agriculture.  That is to say, sustainable agriculture.  On the other hand, it can stand for permanent culture – the idea that cultures and communities should be sustainable, and that the best way to start with that is learning how to be ecologically responsible as individuals and communities.

Permaculture promises many great things.  What got me hooked was when I read about Geoff Lawton being able to grow a garden on the salt flats of the Dead Sea.

Seriously!  Figs growing in a salt saturated desert!  I was blown away.  The more I read about permaculture, the more I saw a far greater scope than just trying to come up with backyard or community gardens.  Through permaculture, we can teraform existing barren landscapes, and better yet we can salvage and repair the damage we’ve done to landscapes that are entirely unusable now.  Imagine using mushrooms to clean up oil spills.  Or kudzu to feed the hungry and repair depleted soil at the same time.  Or using natural vegetation as insect repellents.  Or perhaps simply using compost to fertilize instead of chemicals.  Permaculture isn’t just about organic gardening; it goes far beyond.

Simply put, permaculture mimics nature.  Currently, our agricultural system is the exact opposite of what nature models.  Where forests and fields are ploycultures (many plants), industrial farms are monocultures (single crop).  Where nature creates a balance of plants, fungi and animals that support each other, our massive farms spend insane amounts of money on insecticides, pesticides and “vermin” control.  Where nature works in layers and fills each space with life, our farms plant single crops that work on only one level, ignoring the growing potential of the remaining wasted space.

For background, I’d encourage you to read about Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton.  These two pioneers in the field of permaculture has spent decades developing and teaching the basic principles of sustainable agriculture.

If you’d like to read up on permaculturea and urban gardening, here are some of the books that Br. Addison and I have been reading over the past year:

Food Not Lawns” by Heath Coburn Flores – This is a great start to easy backyard permaculture.  Flores outlines how to make easy and cheap!  backyard organic gardens.  As she spends the latter half of the book focusing on social issues and how to improve your community, you can read what you need or delve into the greater scope of ecological activism.  One point to note, however, is that Flores is writing about her projects on the West Coast.  For those of us in the Southeast, some of her projects and recommendations have to be adapted at best, or just set aside for alternative projects. Flores also offers great background on the true wastefulness of grassy lawns.  Did you know, for instance, that grassy lawns started in France as a means for the rich to flaunt their wealth because they had grounds that didn’t need to produce food for them?

Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway – A foundational book for anyone looking into homegrown permaculture.

Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman and Barabara Damrosch – For those of us that do not live in sunny California, this is a great resource for winter gardening.  Includes plans on growing boxes, movable greenhouses and lists of season specific vegetables.

Mycelium Running” by Paul Stamets – Seriously mind blowing.  This book explains the natural benefit to mushroom in any ecological system, from agriculture to industrial cleanup.  Why not grow edible mushrooms in your garden that are also helping create healthy soil and support all your other plants?  Seriously…everyone should read this.

On our wish list there is “Edible Forest Gardens” by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier – This has been described to me as the permaculture bible.  Granted, it reads like a text book, but it’s a tremendous resource.  As soon as we can save up enough or find someone to donate a copy of this 2 vol. set to us, we’ll dig in and offer a review here.

So there’s our starting point.  From here, we tackle the start of the Alleluia Garden.  Thanks for reading, and God’s Peace.

Silentio Coram Deo,

Br. Kenneth

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