Permaculture Class Oklahoma at Turtle Rock Farm

Permaculture class visiting a local garden and hand-built house

Scott Pittman, of the Permaculture Institute,
is teaching a group of 30 new Oklahoma “permies”
how to apply the principles of permaculture.
Friends ask now: “What’s permaculture?”
Here’s one explanation,
from the man who wrote the book:

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.

Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.

The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.

— Bill Mollison, Permaculture; A Designers’ Manual

And here’s what that might look like,
for instance,
when it comes to growing fruit trees.
By observing what grows together naturally
in an ecosystem,
permaculture designers know what groups of plants
encourage and support a sustainable environment.
So, instead of planting a group of apple trees,
they plant an Apple Guild—
a selection of plants that enhance
the health and productivity of the apple trees.
There would be herbal ground cover
(perhaps clover and nasturtium)
instead of grasses,
because cultivated fruit trees thrive in ground cover.
(And clover fixes nitrogen.)
There would be bulbs planted near the base of the apple trees,
to loosen the soil
and because their roots don’t compete with the tree roots
as grasses do.
Comfrey would be planted beneath the apple tree
because its roots accumulate minerals from deep in the soil
and share them with the apple tree roots.
Also, Comfrey roots break up hardpan soil
and, when pruned,
those leaves provide a mulch;
then the comfrey plant regrows.
The plant family that contains dill, carrot and fennel,
host good bugs.
Other plants—a certain marigold, for instance—
“fumigate” the soil against grasses and nematodes.
Some plants, including some other trees,
fix nitrogen and stimulate soil bacteria and fungi.

The plants all get to do what they are good at
and contribute to the health of each other.
It seems so obvious
and simple:
noticing in nature what works
and duplicating that around the home and farm.
Of course,
grasping the concept is part of the excitement,
then observing what grows together in one’s own ecosystem
and experimenting with plants
to create a polyculture that works in that ecosystem
is the rest of the story.
We’re on it!