Plumbing, Organic Gardening and the Culture of Permaculture

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There are a number of reasons why permaculture is a growing trend among home owners. Whether you live in your own private suburban residence, on a farm or in a high density urban environment, the practice of permaculture offers beneficial returns for the gardener as well as the surrounding community.

The rising cost of food and concerns over pesticides and other contaminants in our food supply have people taking a second look at growing some or all of their own produce. In addition, reports of soil erosion and pressure on the environment with water restrictions in drought inflicted areas like California have led many to consider the value of watering a lawn versus cultivating a natural and more harmonious existence with the local ecosystem.

The Culture of Permaculture

While the term may seem new, the concept has been around for a long time. In the 1970’s an Australian ecologist named Bill Mollison from the University of Tasmania began using the term in his studies. As a biologist he became concerned with what he noted as patterns of destruction and the impact of habitat loss and human impact on otherwise healthy ecosystems.

Bill Mollison became one of the first outspoken supporters of sustainability, and wrote about different aspects of the interactive environment, drawing correlations to the health of lakes and the importance of functioning wetlands, to the role that birds play in the elimination of insects and pests.  By the 1980’s Mollison (along with his co-author and student David Homgren) had written books that provided instruction for residential home owners with regards to designing outdoor spaces for ecological sustainability.

For additional information about permaculture practice by Mollison and Homgren, read “Permaculture: A Designers Manual” or “Permaculture Two: Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture” for tips on building your own sustainable home ecosystem.  The books provide instruction on design and planning for your regional environment, and how to create a home that is harmonious with its natural surroundings.

Part of the backlash against permaculture is related to the way our lawn and property appears. Lawns are the norm for most neighborhoods, but a permaculturalist would install raised plant boxes instead and opt to grow vegetables, herbs and other plants.

Imagine for a second that the entire street is lined with perfect, well-manicured lawns and then a lawn that looks a little more like a jungle or wildlife preserve. The esthetic of a lawn versus the environmental and social benefit of permaculture are constantly opposed with municipal governments enforcing uniformity (lawns) in many cities and states.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, more than 50% of water by volume used to water lawns is wasted which makes little practical sense for the preference.

Walking the Talk: The Nowicki Family

Ron and Vicki Nowicki are residents of Downers Grove, Illinois a suburb of Chicago. The couple started applying their environmental awareness and ecological principles over thirty years ago before anyone was using terms like “eco-friendly” or “permaculture”. With degrees in Horticulture, Environmental Studies and Environmental Education and Landscape Architecture shared between the two innovators, they set out to design a healthy new life by creating a minimal carbon footprint with a maximum beneficial impact on the local environment.

The Nowicki family began their journey with the construction of their own house.  Ron was inspired by the traditional New England “salt box” home design featuring a wood stove, passive solar and energy efficient features, a root cellar for cold storage and a rain barrel for water reclamation.

Rather than cultivate their home with the traditional front and backyard manicured lawn, Ron and Vicki opted to fill the surrounding landscape with native plants, an herb and large vegetable garden and other perennial edible plants.   In addition to planting for their own food supply, the Nowicki family developed a permaculture plan to plant flowers, shrubs and different types of grasses that would attract insects, bats and wild birds.

By nurturing the natural wildlife around their home, they have been able to skillfully balance predators with food sources, and provide beneficial insects (such as bees) ample opportunities to feed and pollinate.  The successful maintenance of the immediate ecosystem supports the production of the family’s organic fruit and vegetables, which are sold through their business “Circle GardenFarm” nearly all year round.

Vicki Nowicki turned her research into a Master’s Degree and focused on the North American cultural concepts of lawns and gardens.  Her goal was to change perceptions and attitudes about permaculture and she has since created a secondary business called “The Land Office” which provides consulting on herbaceous garden design and installation. Vicki also co-founded a number of environmental groups including “The Wild Ones” in Wisconsin and the Downers Grove Organic Gardening Club, which emphasizes the benefit of replacing lawns with ecologically balanced food or wildlife sustaining alternatives. A third business was founded by Vicki Norwicki called “Let’s Grow” which provides consulting and labor teams to assist with the development of new urban and suburban organic food producing gardens.

Incorporating Permaculture in a Home Garden

While building a home garden may seem perfectly doable, it can be extremely difficult for residents of areas like Downers Grove to grow foliage in the monsoons as the vicinity experiences tremendous waterlogging. Although the collection of water can be taken of by installing flood control systems by engaging a licensed plumber who provide services in Downers Grove, for example, you will do well by planning ahead and planting plants which can survive waterlogging and flooding.

Apart from that, whether you live in the country, on a farm, an apartment or a house, there are affordable easy steps to begin incorporating permaculture design into your home environment. No matter how much space you have or where you live, you can have a positive impact on the environment by changing the way you think about gardening.

  • Stop using pesticides. Do some research online and discover non-harmful methods of deterring and controlling insects. Remember also that not all insects are dangerous or bothersome and all of them serve a purpose in the environment. Look for natural ways to control them such as placing a bird feeder away from your home or patio, or planting native plants that deter insects such as citronella. Install a bat box to help with flying insect control.

  • Start composting. If you can set up your own composting bin, follow the directions to create the most potent and valuable topsoil for your garden or potted plants. Everything from plant and vegetable cuttings to egg shelves and leaves can be placed in your composter, with the exception of meat or bones and pet refuse.

  • Look for ways to preserve soil fertility. Some methods can include composting and spreading leaves on the lawn before winter to allow for a repatriation of nutrients to the soil. Avoid over watering and choose native plants wherever possible with robust root systems.

Having a beautiful garden is one thing, but having a thriving, balanced ecosystem that sustains bees, birds, trees and wildlife offers a deeper satisfaction is something worth bragging about. Not only will your home or patio look fabulous, you will know it is actually doing something tangible and beneficial for the environment.

July 7, 2015 |
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