Spreading the message of Permaculture and true sustainability is the main focus of Primal Forest Gardens. I will offer a glossary of terms that we use in Permaculture that will help to clear the air on many techniques and ethics of the practice. I would also like to direct folks to some of my mentors sites and learn more about where this all came from!
Permaculture: A design system for creating sustainable human environments. Using the three ethics of Care of Earth, Care of People, and Return of Surplus, Permaculture is based on mimicking natural systems, and building a Permanent Culture.
Forest Garden: Utilizing the seven layers of a natural forest, we mimic natural systems by planting species that guild together and using human intervention can move the success to maturity faster than Mother Nature often can.
Chop and Drop: This messy and effective technique involves "chopping" or cutting of excess foliage, cover crops or dynamic accumulators and piling the material as mulch on the floor of the garden. This helps smother un-desirable plants, cover soil, hold moisture and allow nutrient to cycle back into the system.
Resiliency: To have systems is place so that if one fails there are other to take over. A wood stove is a resiliency to electric heat during a power outage. A forest garden can create resiliency if there is a food shortage, natural disaster or drought. Using natural systems builds in resiliency, where conventional agriculture has only reliance on outside inputs and energy usage.
Swale: A swale is basically a ditch on contour. The difference being that a ditch is created to move water, a swale is used to slow water, stopping it and allowing it to seep into the sub-soil, watering deeply. They are effective at halting erosion, make great pathways and building soil.
Huglekulture: This is a technique created in Europe and is made famous by Sepp Holtzer. A "Hugle" mound is composed of three layers. First is a core of wood, logs, brush, chips, which ever is available. It all works. This is topped with soil, then compost, and finally mulch. True "Hugle" beds are created to have a 70 degree slope which amplifies the grow area, and are often up to 6 feet tall. The woody material in these beds feed the plants and as the wood breaks down, creates a spongy area that soks water in the wet season, helping to provide resiliency during the dry months. In North America, "Wood Core" beds have become popular. This it the same basic technique, but not stacked as tall, or the wood is buried under ground. These can also be used in conjunction with swales.
Mulch: The purpose of mulch is to cover soil. Mulch helps trap moisture, smother weeds, and feeds micro-organisms. Mulch can be any number of things, from wood chips, straw, "Chop and Drop", newspaper, or living mulch like buckwheat or clover.
Cover Crop: When establishing a new grow area, planting the ground immediately with something is always a wise idea. These plantings are most often a fast germinating seed, one that will fix nitrogen, bind the soil, and create a dense planting that will out compete with un-desirable, pioneer species. My favorites include Buckwheat, Red Clover, Winter Pea and Hairy Vetch.
Support Tree: Again nitrogen comes into play here. A support tree will be grown along side a production tree. Sometimes several to one tree that will become and over story tree. As the support tree grows, it can be "Chopped and Dropped" to add mulch, bio-mass from leaves and habitat for wildlife. Many will have gorgeous flowers and foliage. After several years the support tree will be sacrificed to make room for the main crop trees, however the wood can often be used for fuel, mushroom cultivation or building material. My favorites include Red Alder(native species), Black Locust and Mulberry.
Contour: Essentially a level line on landscape. These lines are used to lay out swales, any other methods of water harvest. To find contour, we use an A-frame, laser or transit level. We can follow contour around mountains if need be, or for kilometers across relatively flat landscape.
Guild: This is a group of plants from different species that have intrinsic characteristic that are mutually benificial to each other. The classic "Three Sisters Guild" of Native Americans is a planting of squash, corn and climbing beans. The squash is a ground cover, the beans fix nitrogen for the two others and the corn creates a trellis for the climbing beans. This is similar in a forest garden, and we could use any species in the seven layers to build this guild.
Layers: This is just how it sounds, layers of plant growth in a food forest. There are seven layers in a natural system including: Over story, Understory, Shrub, Herbaceous, Ground cover, Vining, and Rhyzomial(root). Using the seven layers the forest system elements support each other, utilizing the space necessary to fill in the holes with plants. Mother Nature never allows bare soil. Bare soil is bad, as it will wash away in the rainy season. We use a variation of the seven layers, as our over story trees may only be 10-12 feet tall at maturity, unlike a natura forest where it can be over a hundred feet!
Stacking Function: This is fun stuff! We stack function in elements in a design, so that every element has more than one use in the system. An example could be as follows. An apple tree, while giving us apples, could be a trellis for a climbing bean, shade for an understory shrub like a gooseberry, plus contributes mulch in the form of leaf drop, and provides roosting habitat for song birds. How many functions does a lawn provide?
Paul Wheaton: Paul hosts a great podcast, and has the most popular Permaculture site on the internet. Permies.com!
Geoff Lawton: Mr. Lawton is world renown for his work. He has done many amazing designs including "Greening the Desert" where he turned a piece of land salted and destroyed by over-grazing into a productive system, with almost no irrigation. geofflawton.com
Jack Spirko: Jack was my introduction to Permaculture. Happening upon his podcast by fluke, I have learned about preparedness, and the role Permaculture plays in that discipline. thesurvivalpodcast.com
Ben Falk: While I don't know a lot about Ben, his book, "The Resilient Farm and Homestead" is fabulous. He explains his design principles in detail and gives analysis on how to repair damaged landscapes using animal, controlled burns and using cover crops. I wouldn't recommend this book for someones first reading about Permaculture, however if you are already familiar with the concept, pick up a copy! wholesystemsdesign.com