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Hi everyone, I’m a total newbie to permaculture though I’ve been trying to garden and produce food mindfully and in partnership with nature for many years.  I’d love to have a rural homestead but for now I’m a wage slave in a suburban house, blessed with a large garden.  I’m interested in ideas for adapting my approach in my existing garden set-up to incorporate permie principles - can that be done, or would I need to start again from scratch?  How do I start?  At the moment I’m a bit overwhelmed with information and find myself doing a lot of reading but not a lot of doing (I appreciate that might say more about me than anything else!)
 
pollinator
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welcome Arwen, it sounds like you know what you need to do. Some doing! Observe and act, you don't have a lot of space so you can't fuck up that bad. Try things out, don't use toxic gick, plant flowers, and perennials, play around with native plants. There's lots you can do on a suburban lot. Build a mini hugel mound and an herb spiral. Just tear up the sod and replace it with diverse plants useful to something beside a victorian aesthetic. Grow preposterous amounts of zucchini, tomato, and lettuce and give it to your neighbors. Oh and post pictures of all the hare brained schemes you try out here, we all like pictures of experiments
 
pollinator
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I would not suggest starting from scratch unless you have a grand design already in mind. I would probably start chop-and-drop composting/mulching in the beds and pathways. Find some perennials that do well there. Hugel any branches or logs. If its on a slope, I would shift the beds onto contour, if possible, to reduce irrigation. And I would definitely look for wild edibles to add in the garden. Hang a wasp house. Plant native wildflowers. Start building up germs if it's really windy.
That's some stuff I would do.  Good luck and happy planting!
 
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Arwen Hutchings wrote:Hi everyone, I’m a total newbie to permaculture though I’ve been trying to garden and produce food mindfully and in partnership with nature for many years.  I’d love to have a rural homestead but for now I’m a wage slave in a suburban house, blessed with a large garden.  I’m interested in ideas for adapting my approach in my existing garden set-up to incorporate permie principles - can that be done, or would I need to start again from scratch?  How do I start?  At the moment I’m a bit overwhelmed with information and find myself doing a lot of reading but not a lot of doing (I appreciate that might say more about me than anything else!)



Hi Arwen, I agree with the other posts about chucking in useful plants and creating a load of organic matter can't go far wrong with that, however the overwhelm of plenty of choices and plenty of reading can really benefit from observation and applying the design process.

First, observation:  There are many gadgets and data sources to give us observed information, however, there is an incredibly sensitive, highly calibrated instrument available to us all. It has evolved over millennia to sense and feedback environmental conditions. Everyone has access to it, at all times, and with no financial cost or strange buttons to master. This tool is the body, our Bodyometer, and our most intimately inhabited landscape. Going into observation mode when you're pottering around and also having a regular  sit spot where you every day just look and listen is a great practice, it educates you about the natural processes at work and guides your thinking later towards the tendency of the existing natural system.

Developing sensory or embodied awareness of place, mentors us back into alignment with our indigenous ancestry, making us less likely to impose top down ideas from our brains on to the land / garden / project. At the heart of permaculture is finding the most appropriate location for our design ideas, creating efficiency and resilience by harnessing energy inherent in the landscape. Our bodyometer, attuned to environment, is a valuable resource in placing elements, such as gardens, ponds and buildings in relation to landform, soil, water, and sun, thereby reducing energy inputs.


Second, design process: Complexity can lead to overwhelm, which tends towards skipping steps or blocking out pertinent issues to make life easier. The beauty of a design process is that it frees us from this pressure through a step by step approach, giving our brains space to assimilate dense information. A design process reduces complexity into manageable chunks and our super computer brains do unseen work, effortlessly, leading us to sound choices. We know we’ve done our best given the resources available and space is created for deepened insight. Within the stages of a design process, we are observing, surveying, analysing, designing, implementing a plan and then evaluating over time. There are a number of design process frameworks in permaculture books, or you can create your own. Within each stage you’ll employ design tools e.g. the survey stage may include quantifying physical data, interviewing people and research. Design tools can be applied in many diverse ways and in different sequences, because like nature, design is cyclical and its quality is more holographic than linear. However take care to apply a tool that suits the design process step you are working on. Like with any craft, select the right tool for the job. The key is to consider, what is the purpose and the effect of the thinking I am doing, and what does it reveal?
 
pollinator
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Have a look at this Geoff Lawton video,  


Fairly small yard that was all grass and they go through the process of him designing a food forest on it. Might give you some ideas.
 
Jasmine Dale
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Arwen Hutchings wrote: I’m interested in ideas for adapting my approach in my existing garden set-up to incorporate permie principles - can that be done, or would I need to start again from scratch?  How do I start?



Thinking on this aspect of your question last night...you can always start from where you are...that goes back to observation and surveying the existing site as it is. One tool that really helps me, is visioning, spending time sitting with what my dream outcomes would be, making a vision board from images I'm drawn to and writing a short statment to express this. The vision board can contain specific elements you'd like and also choose images, colour etc that you are drawn to, regardless of their specific application to your garden. Colour and pictures work in the unconscious, supporting our thinking brains to later come up with decisions and organise the complexity of choices before us.

Spend time dreaming and observing, allowing inspiration to bubble up, talk over ideas, do research into specifics, visit other projects, watch films and so forth. Then systematically make a plan, this can be based on patterns, rather than detail, which makes space for you to tinker and experiment along the way...



Part of how I made my book (Permaculture Design Companion) was to explicitly support people to apply permaculture to places already in use (as well as people with an empty lot/field), stick it on the Christmas list perhaps!
 
Arwen Hutchings
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Thanks so much to all of you for taking the time to reply - lots of food for thought and great advice here. I’m going to spend my weekend digesting it, observing and trying to be more intuitive and less fixated on “doing things by the book”. The garden and the way I feel about my life are both definitely trying to tell me something - I’m going to listen hard this weekend. Thanks for your advice and support - will keep you posted! 😊
 
Arwen Hutchings
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Jasmine, thanks so much for your posts,  I really love the idea of the vision board - I’m definitely going to do this! I’m holding out hope of winning your book but if I don’t, I’ll definitely be buying it! 😊
 
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