The Urban Homesteader: A Permaculture Primer

By Cara Cooper / Photography By Cara Cooper | May 01, 2014
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beautiful cottage among a front yard of trees and greenery

It is not uncommon for me to get blank stares when I mention that we try to incorporate permaculture design into our yard. “So, what does that mean exactly?” is the typical response.

I describe permaculture as a design approach used to create edible, sustainable landscapes that work with nature to create a productive environment for people and wildlife. But the details can be a little harder to explain since there are a variety of ways permaculture can be used in urban agriculture.

The ultimate goal of both urban homesteading and permaculture is the same: to create a self-sustaining system that uses fewer resources. But you might say that permaculture takes things one step further, also striving to create balance with the natural aspects of the environment.

For example, organic gardening eliminates the use of chemical pesticides, which in turn allows native beneficial insects to help tend the garden as pollinators and natural pest control. The next step beyond this could be actively trying to attract and host these beneficial insects and wildlife by using native plants in the landscape. The balance of creating a productive yard for people while nourishing the natural environment is the key to permaculture.

Anyone can get their feet wet with permaculture design. Start by looking around your yard for things that you use regularly that could be replaced with more ecologically beneficial versions. This could include replacing your grass lawn with a native ground cover that bees and butterflies love or installing rainwater catchment systems to reduce how much city water you use for your landscaping. You can also compost food and yard waste to return what you’ve grown back to your garden or simply leave yard waste in place (grass clippings, leaves) to decompose and fertilize on its own.

Permaculture design also tries to work with nature by choosing edible plants that have longer growing seasons, require less water and nutrients, and are appropriate for local growing conditions. For example, unlike traditional cultivated greens such as kale, lettuce and chard, Okinawa spinach, Ceylon and Malabar require little effort to produce nutritious greens, rarely have pest problems and can provide a year-round harvest in our area.

Permaculture is a great way to make your yard more productive, but also more fun. Imagine sitting down to a meal prepared exclusively with ingredients from your yard – say a vegetable omelet and orange juice – while you watch butterflies and birds do acrobatics! Better than mowing the lawn isn’t it?

In cities around the country, groups are popping up to teach and support permaculture. In our area, check out:

Tampa Bay Permaculture Guild

Saint Petersburg Urban Permaculture Collective

There are also books on permaculture in general and those that can help you determine the best plants for your own permaculture- designed urban homestead:

Gais’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

Perennial Vegetables by Erin Toensmeier

Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants by Charles R. Boning

Article from Edible Tampa Bay at
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