This is a repost from my old Empress of Dirt blog.
Permaculture is a self-maintained agriculture system modelled on how nature works. By its very definition, it is the most sustainable approach to food growing possible because, once established, it does not rely on any outside resources to continue flourishing.
Most of our gardens are a complete contradiction to this method. Instead of letting nature work itself out, we try to exert complete control over it, overlooking valuable resources along the way. While I can’t see a mass exodus to permaculture sweeping our nations any time soon, that are basic steps many of us can take to make our gardens more sustainable or self-reliant and less expensive to maintain.
Consider the leaves.
Leaves are probably the most readily available. valuable soil enricher we have. Soil health will make or break a garden.
In nature, fallen leaves provide an essential ground cover, habitat, and nutrient source. Does a forest rake up its leaves and trade them in for an alternate, non-local compost? No. They stay right where they are. Life not only continues with them but depends upon them.
In our gardens, we rake them up, put them in tidy bags, and send them away in a diesel truck. In many cases, the leaves are then composted, made pretty again, bagged up and resold to us at a store or offered free at a pick up station. With a whole lot more diesel fuel burned between collection and reuse. We then put down our rakes, hop in the car, and go get us some good old compost. Or phone for a delivery.
I don’t imagine I need to spell out the irony in this. We’ve somehow collectively convinced ourselves that what we often need is at the store instead of free in our own yards.
Last fall I attended a talk by a horticulturalist who was passionate about his work, sharing his vast knowledge of the complex and amazing relationships between living organisms, and the urgent need for sustainable gardening and food growing practices. Knowing that the gap between the severity of our environmental problems and how most people actually live is so vast, he was smart enough to encourage any small steps that people might take. Little by little. Bit by bit.
His number one piece of advice?
Leaf mulch. Save your leaves. Grind them up with a weed whacker or leave them rot as they are. Cover your garden beds with them. Your garden can’t have a better, more appropriate, local source of nutrients than that.
Same goes for weeds that haven’t gone to seed, and of course, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings from your lawn, branch trimmings from trees and shrubs, and any other organic waste that we’ve grown accustomed to sending away. It’s all plant food, ready to enrich your soil, without the middle man or unnecessary use of fossil fuels squeezing in between.