Grand Permaculture Plans but No Money? No problem!

So, you want to get started on your home-scale or broad-scale Permaculture plans, but you’ve got no capital! As in all things, the problem–no money–is the solution!

Garden made from mostly free materials.

Many of the most practical, beautiful and truly VALUABLE Permaculture gardens have been done on the cheap, such as Robert Hart’s forest garden, Bealtaine Cottage, and the Jardin des fraternites ouvrieres. 

In fact, I believe that return-on-investment is the best objective measure of a Permaculture garden, so this is one place where an empty wallet might be your greatest ally!

 A lack of money is a powerful tool in helping one follow the Permaculture principles. It forces you to work with nature instead of investing against it; use slow, small changes, instead of investing in big, quick changes; use protracted planning…and so on. Actually, there is not one of the Permaculture principles that can’t be ENHANCED by SUBTRACTING money from the plan! Truly, if you can afford to be wasteful and destructive, you will. But when you can’t afford to waste anything–as if by magic–you won’t.

Path from recycled materials and walkable ground covers, most plants started from seed.

Subtracting money from your plans can help you avoid some of the most common (and famous) mistakes in Permaculture. The internet is filled with reports of over-sized, expensive projects, especially swales and hugel-kultures, that were unnecessarily large for their climate and destroyed the landscape hydrology, and sun access, leaving a formerly messic landscape thirsty, or flooded, or strangely both. Next, over-planting of expensive cultivars at ultra-high, tropical densities, limits the productivity and yields a poor return on investment. Then there’s the expensive infrastructure, “eco” features and hardscaping, driven by consumer fads “no green home can do without!” Often, these expensive items have an environmental cost, too, such as mining, transportation, manufacture, installation, etc. And they usually require expensive ongoing maintenance.

And the biggest danger of all is implementing expensive, but poorly conceived plans that yield little up front and will have to be changed before they have a chance to even start paying off.

Some tips for starting on the cheap:

1. Don’t wait for money, change the whole question. Don’t ask “What would I do if I had the money?” Set a realistic budget, then ask, “what can I do if I cut this budget in half?”
2. Do nothing and do it often, wherever you can.  Here’s a beautiful garden that was created by literally doing nothing. To create this garden all Margie Ruddick did was stop mowing! In time, a beautiful and useful assembly of plants sprung up. Meanwhile, she has created healthy garden soil and wonderful wildlife habitat.

3. Learn to forage.
4. Guerrilla Garden. 
5. Maximize “zone zero.” Permaculture can be applied to the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, and growing space inside your house. Maximizing efficiency in the home is important work!
6. MAXMIZE the space you have, even if it’s growing on your patio or a small outdoor garden. Learning the principles of converting sunlight to food with little waste is one of the most important aspects of Permaculture. With too much money and too much land, there’s a temptation to spread out wastefully, instead of valuing the space.
7. Practice plant propagation. This takes little space and will save you oodles of money. 

*And added by PJ in the comments:
8. Collect seed from wild plants, public parks, botanical gardens, cemeteries, other people’s yards, etc. This is a resource that is almost entirely ignored, but which has great potential to convert lawns and other under-utilized areas to more useful stuff.

9.  Making friends with other permaculture folks, who, if they’ve been at it for a few years, will almost certainly have plants that they are happy to divide, share, dig up seedlings or suckers from, cut scions from, or give seed from.

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One thought on “Grand Permaculture Plans but No Money? No problem!

  1. Another great post. A couple more thoughts come to mind here: 1) your earlier suggestion of collecting seed from wild plants, public parks, botanical gardens, cemeteries, other people's yards, etc. This is a resource that is almost entirely ignored, but which has great potential to convert lawns and other under-utilized areas to more useful stuff. 2) Making friends with other permaculture folks, who, if they've been at it for a few years, will almost certainly have plants that they are happy to divide, share, dig up seedlings or suckers from, cut scions from, or give seed from. After a few years at my place I'm finally getting to that point and love to share plants, though I could be doing a lot better job of the nursery and plant propagating work.

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