Taking the hippie out of permaculture

Call a person a “futurist,” and everybody crowds around to hear a tale of doom – and maybe what we can do to avoid it. Call a person a “hippie,” and everybody runs for cover.

I think the difference really is in the language each uses. When someone talks about thinking seven generations, or 20 generations, or 100 generations into the future with our decisions about energy consumption and food consumption, that person is a hippie, and therefore crazy. When someone talks about running out of food and oil in 300 years, and describes what the world will look like if we don’t start doing x, y, and z, that person is a futurist, and therefore a visionary.

Let’s talk permaculture for a moment. If you ran that through spell-check, you got squiggly red lines. Outstanding. So the word is an invented one, which means we’re still on the hippie or futurist path. Let’s look at one definition:

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.

OK, so now you know I’m heading in the “let’s think 7 generations into the future” direction.

Now let me tell you about my Saturday afternoon.

I joined some of the Alchemical Nursery folks in one of those $1 undeveloped houses on the Near West Side of Syracuse to build a permacultured spiral herb garden, with an urbanite construction.

Right, OK, so what the heck does that mean?

Basically, we made a multi-level garden out of broken-up sidewalk that had been discarded at a construction site. It will become semi-permanent (it can always be moved or removed) structure in the owner’s back yard that he’ll be able to plant things in every year, and with a vertical construction, it allows for more things to be planted.

And from a gardening standpoint, he can plant things that need more moisture on the bottom, since water will drain downward, and he can plant things that need more sunlight on the south side of the structure (the sun’s east-west path is in the southern sky, so there will be more shade on the north side of the garden).

How we did it:

We started by laying flattened cardboard boxes on the ground, so that grass wouldn’t grow into the garden. We then laid broken sidewalk in the first level of the spiral on the ground.

We mixed sticks and compost on the bottom layer, then began spiraling the concrete up the mounded compost. We added more compost, and continued the spiral upward.

With eight of us there to help out and learn from the experience, from introductions to planting some starters (oregano, chives), it took less than two hours.

Hopefully our host will post some photos soon and I’ll be able to share. But basically he has a decorative concrete garden base in his back yard, and he’ll be growing some of his own food – nothing weird about that, right? But it’s permaculture, so let’s learn to embrace it, cool?


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