Permaculture is an approach to meeting the human needs for food and shelter in way that does not deplete the land. The goal is to create a landscape that can endure without constant human inputs, yet will yield benefits for generations to come.
Although permaculture principles did guide us in orienting our house towards the sun (to take advantage of solar gain during the long, cold winter months), we mainly applied permaculture principles outside our home.
For example, the field around our house was quite torn up from the building process. In typical permaculture fashion, we did not seed the field with grass, and instead allowed nature to seed the field wildly. As a result, we now have a beautiful, natural field of local grasses and wildflowers. Every 5 years, we need to brush hog the field; otherwise the field will eventually revert to forest, shading our southern exposure and making it harder for us to reclaim some of this land for future expansion of our garden. We brush hog our field in late fall which appears to have the lowest negative impact on the lives of the animals and plants who live there.
Permaculture principles also guided us in developing the garden around our house. From a permaculture perspective, the best location for a garden is on the southeastern side, since a southern exposure gets the most sunlight, and the temperature of the east side tends to be more moderate (warmer in the cooler, early morning hours, and cooler in the hotter, late afternoon hours). Unfortunately, the southeastern portion of our land is almost completely ledge. Therefore, we placed our original garden on the south side. Permaculture principles recommend siting the garden as close to the house as possible to prevent wildlife from coming to dine on whatever you’re growing. Our southern garden beds are only a few feet from the house, and we have had no problems with wildlife, despite being so close to the forest.
Permaculture also inspired us in planting local apple and peach trees so that we would have a fruit-producing landscape. Due to expense and the pervasiveness of the ledge, we only plant a few at a time. We are currently expanding our garden, but because of the ledge issue, we are siting the garden on the southwestern side of the lot. Since the garden is south of the building, we expect that it will still get a decent amount of eastern morning light. Of slightly more concern is that the garden is directly below the driveway, which permaculturists advise against due to the risk of contamination with oil or other toxic car fluids. Unfortunately, this was the only location where there was enough soil for a garden. We hope that the six feet of gravel that we laid on the driveway will protect us against potential leaks. Also, with the new building, we have constructed a connector which connects the two buildings and creates a barrier between the driveway and the newly protected garden space. We are expecting this barrier to create a micro climate that will change the growing patterns of the herbs and produce we plant.
Unfortunately, it has taken us several years to implement some of the earliest permaculture suggestions due to the expense. We are fortunate to have land with some trees along the northern boundary line, and recently we planted more trees on the north side of the house to protect us from the north winds (which are especially strong since we are almost at the top of the hill). Once the new trees are a bit larger in size we will see how this windbreak affects our property and the efficiency of our home.
We have also worked with a forestry consultant to evaluate the wooded area beyond our field. We are working on managing the forest to maintain the greatest diversity of plant and wildlife, while simultaneously obtaining some income from selective cutting.