“Differences between Permaculture and Food Forests”

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      This question has been brought up by Kathy Ogburn on the Transformative Adventures FB group. I am currently banned (again) from posting on FB, so I’m bringing it over here where it might be available a bit longer than on FB.  I hope Kathy is over here as well to see this thread.

      My answer is that Permaculture is a science for designing human activities, and a food forest is a human activity, so a well designed food forest will be an expression of Permaculture. When Permaculture is applied to food production, then there’s a tremendous importance that applies to water management and soil fertility.

      So much importance, that designing a permaculture food production system almost always begins with analysis of the hydrology of the site and addressing the water management needs of the site. My site includes about 18 of 20 acres in lowlands with a water table that is seasonally above ground level. The remaining two acres include house and driveway, but also the kitchen/market/herb garden areas. On our low lying areas, we need to work with excessive water, while on the relative highlands, we can use more water. The soil is also one hundred percent sand, but with large quantities of organic matter in the top two feet or so. This means our elevated areas drain very quickly and we need to be able to irrigate them a bit.

      Balancing in our situation will involve a pond of roughly one acre at the foot of our hill, with a solar powered pump lifting water from the pond to the hilltop to flow back down through the gardens. In another area, we plan a second pond, and in a third area we’ll use a pre-existing system of canals to build a waru waru system, with raised beds elevated by dredging the canals to a greater depth. This produces a system with the potential for aquaculture in the canals along with horticulture in the raised beds, and so working simultaneously to manage our water situation and our soil fertility.

      Permaculture isn’t gardening 😉 Permaculture is Design and can be applied to gardening, of whatever kind. The ethics and principles of Permaculture push our designs in certain directions – Earth care, people care and return of surplus (or fair share, or future care, all attempts to express the notion of giving back, paying forward, not being exploitative) – the Permaculture ethics. Applying these means not using biocides to grow food, it means working to preserve and regenerate topsoil rather than destroying it, it means trying to grow higher quality foods while seeking to reduce the human labor required (both of these are “people care”), Intrinsic to Permaculture are pressures to design without biocides, without synthetic fertilizers, without exploited labor. After the ethics are design principles, and here the picture is both broader and more varied (there’s only one set of ethics, even if one of them has multiple names). Mollison offered principles, Holmgren has offered principles, they’re not in conflict but they’re also not identical 😉 And here you find ideas like observe before implementing change; work from patterns to details; Yeoman’s scale of Permanence becomes a guide for the sequencing of broad actions, working from the most permanent to the least permanent design elements; small, slow changes;  iterative change/development; energy audits – how much work will this element involve? how much energy is embodied in this thing and how long will it last? (using heavy equipment to build a damn that will hold water for your site for many hundreds of years uses very little energy over the life of the element, for example); stacking functions – utilizing elements for multiple purposes simultaneously. There are more principles and more examples in varied circumstances, all of which is part of what makes Permaculture both fascinating and tremendously flexible and responsive to the needs of essentially any circumstance.

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