Dear EcoNews: Permaculture

Dear EcoNews, 

I heard from a friend recently that permaculture gardening has been shown to be helpful in reducing wildfire risk and increasing ecosystem resilience to difficult climate conditions. I am wondering why this is and if there are ways I can incorporate these techniques where I live if I don’t have tons of acres of land?

– Horticulture Hopeful

Dear Horticulture Hopeful,

Permaculture takes an approach of observation, as in observing a situation before applying a solution. Through observation, we are able to identify patterns in the landscape and relationships that exist in nature. By standing back and taking a holistic view we can witness the connections that link all living things and systems. Permaculture aims to not impose a one-size-fits-all solution but to understand that there may be many solutions for each unique situation.

As fires become more of a common occurrence in our lives, we can turn to nature for solutions on how to create more resilient landscapes. Our long arid summers on the West Coast have created ecosystems adapted to fire. Plants, fungi, and animals have all adapted and learned to live with and use fire for survival. We know that climate change is creating challenges for our food systems. As we mimic nature’s resiliency in our own gardens and homesteads, we can better prepare for the greater fluctuation in dry years and wet years.

Water can be a scarce resource during the summer months on the north coast. If we increase soil moisture by building soil and trapping water in the ground we can have dramatic effects on humidity and fire reduction. As the permaculture motto goes “Slow it, sink it, spread it, store it.” Store water in the soil, store water in the vegetation, and store water in the ground.

When using native plants in your garden and homestead you will be incorporating trees, grasses and shrubs that have adapted to fire over thousands of years. These plants are often more drought and pest tolerant and require fewer inputs, such as fertilizer and maintenance. Using hardy natives and plants closely related to their native counterparts, we can increase the adaptability of our landscapes.

By creating and nurturing more resilient ecosystems we will support a wider diversity of insects, birds, fungi and animals. By giving our ecosystem this support we will then be supported in return.

Things you can do:

  • Try observing what plants grow in your ecosystem.
  • Find plants that have natural fire and drought resiliency.
  • Seek out native plants or plants closely related to their native counterparts.
  • Plant native food-producing plants for yourself and the wildlife.
  • Mimic plant guilds (a community of plants that grow and support each other) you observe in nature.
  • Propagate native plants by saving seeds, taking cuttings or purchasing native plants at the North Coast California Native Plant Society, Lost Foods Nursery, or asking about native plants at your local nursery.

– Levon Durr is a Certified Permaculture Teacher and Designer. He is currently the director of the Humboldt Permaculture Guild. To learn more about the HPG, go to