Step Two: Harvesting Renewable Resources In Your Home and Garden
There are several steps that it is a good idea to take before you start actually planting seeds and establishing your permaculture garden. After you have observed your garden and established what you are working with, it is time to establish how you will make use of the renewable resources at your disposal.
When making the most of the planet’s ultimate energy source, it is important to recognise that sun can be a powerful ally – though when we do not recognise its power, we risk making it into an enemy as home gardeners. Sensible permaculture design can help us to make the most of the sun’s heat and light when they are wanted and block some of them out when they are not.
Sunlight can be used in all sorts of ways around your home and garden, not just to grow plants but also to dry herbs, dehydrate fruits and vegetables and even to pre-heat water or generate electricity for your home. Solar panels, which can be used for water heating or for power, can be placed on a roof of your home or a garden building, but these can be a costly addition. If that kind of addition is not within your reach, do not worry. There are still some things you can do right now, for very little cost, to utilise the sun’s heat and light to your advantage:
- Use a reclaimed window or another piece of glass and other scrap materials to make a solar dehydrator that can be used to help store produce that will be grown in your garden in a sustainable way.
- Place rocks you find in your garden, barrels filled with water, or other items with high thermal mass to gently regulate temperatures in your garden. Such items will store the sun’s heat during the day and gently release it when temperatures fall at night.
- Make a greenhouse or polytunnel from scrap materials (plastic drinks bottles can be used to make a low-cost, under-cover growing space) to increase the range of crops in a colder climate and to regulate temperatures more easily in a warm one.
To make sure that the sun is not too fierce in the summer months, we can:
- Consider using trees for shading and layer more tender crops beneath other plants.
- Make simple garden structures from scrap materials and recycled items that will also provide shade.
- Use leaves and other materials to create mulch that will protect the soil beneath and plant’s roots from the blazing sun during the warmest months.
When we understand the sun and its uses, we can begin to draw up plans for all the ways in which we can put it to good use and prevent it from doing damage in our gardens. Write a list of the elements that you plan to incorporate in your garden design related to the sun.
No matter where you live, harvesting rainwater should be an important part of your sustainable garden design. A beautiful copper rain chain will add to the aesthetic amenity of your home while also allowing you to channel the rainwater that falls on the roof of your home into, for example, a swale irrigation system, a rainwater barrel or a garden wildlife pond. Planting around the drip line of trees or larger plants is another way to make the most of the rain that falls. Mulching and soil improvement will also allow you to hold onto any rain that falls and are vital in more arid regions, but useful wherever you live. One of the first steps to take when putting your permaculture plans into action is to set up an efficient water harvesting system to catch rainfall on your property.
Consider whether a wind turbine might be an option for power generation on your property. Even if this is not feasible, you may still be able to harness the power of the wind for small-scale milling, or simply to sound wind chimes or move bird-scaring devices (used to protect your seedlings from bird pests). You may simply take advantage of a spot that has a pleasant breeze in summer to create a cooler seating area.
Soil and the biomass, or ‘waste’ plant material in your garden can also be treated as a sustainable, renewable system. Composting helps to close the loop.
In the next article in this series, we will talk about soil and compost in more depth.
Post by Elizabeth Waddington
Elizabeth Waddington lives with her husband and her dog on a sustainable smallholding in Scotland. She is a green living consultant and freelance writer with a particular interest in permaculture and organic growing.