Tropical Gardening: Living Sustainably has been called many things over the years
In the 1940s, progressive and futuristic farmers were aware of the big mistakes farmers and ranchers made in the early days, causing land to deteriorate. Today, we are always trying to improve our relationship with the environment. Terms like sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, organic farming and permaculture are used by people concerned with minimizing our negative impact on the planet. We are now focused on reducing our carbon footprint as we experience the effects of global warming.
Let’s take a look at the concept of permaculture in the face of today’s challenges. Permaculture uses a design methodology to create a sustainable way of life for all species, especially humans. By integrating information about natural ecosystems with human activities and needs, we can create a future that is truly sustainable, environmentally and economically healthy, and physically and socially healthy.
Most permaculture programs deal with what are called “visible structures”. These are all the elements that can be seen in the landscape such as windbreaks, orchards, aquaculture ponds, gardens, dwellings, roads, etc. These elements are designed according to several design principles such as needs and performance analysis. Each visible structure or plant and animal species has both needs and returns.
A pollutant can be considered an unused resource. Many agricultural systems have one product and many pollutants. Permaculture has many products and hopefully little or no pollutants. By placing items or species in an appropriate spatial relationship to each other, a connection is made that matches the returns of one item to the needs of another, turning a problem into a resource. While fallen fruit from mango or other trees can breed fruit flies and create unpleasant odors, leaving chickens to feed in an orchard, problematic fruit, insect eggs and larvae are converted into a rich source of food for chickens. Chickens can also provide weeding, manure, and insect control in any orchard, which benefits both the chickens and the orchard.
Chickens also fulfill another design concept that aims at multiple functions for unique elements. In addition to their orchard maintenance duties, they also produce eggs and meat and consume kitchen scraps. Another example could be a mango tree that produces food, shade, provides forage for bees and habitat for predators, and could be a natural jungle gym for children to play.
To save energy, designs are organized by zones that place items in relation to the home, based on how often that item is visited. For example, fresh herbs that could be used every day would be placed very close to the house, perhaps even in containers near the kitchen door. One could harvest vegetables, papayas and limes several times a week, so they would also be placed somewhere near the house. A mango or avocado tree or orchards that come into production only seasonally would be placed further away. Grazing animals are generally placed further away from the house, as are forest and wilderness areas.
Permaculture covers a wide range of topics, always making connections between topics and always looking for ways to create resources from problems. Particular attention is given to trees and their material and energy transactions, in particular reforestation and permanent arboriculture and agroforestry systems. In addition, special attention should be given to water and how to store and reuse it, aquaculture systems, soils, their composition and structure, and how to enrich them. It is important to expand these concepts to create sustainable communities. The integration of all these topics creates “villages” based on permaculture concepts which are the ultimate goal. It sounds a bit utopian, but earlier island cultures either learned this lesson or did not survive. We are now an island culture made up of the entire planet.
Permaculture touches on virtually every aspect of our society and economy. It is a valuable concept for people involved in disciplines as diverse as education, agriculture, forestry, land use or energy planning, landscaping, economic development, financial systems, opportunities for small businesses, legal advocacy, tourism, environmental conservation, nutrition and the links between all of these areas. Many are trying to solve these problems. If we are successful, humanity can flourish. If we fail, we will see more famine, massive migration, wars and pandemics. We have little time to waste!