Okay, that's a tough one, since I love to give advice and it's hard to stop at just one piece.
I'd say, start at your doorstep. That means start small and close in, get successful in a small space where you can really focus your efforts, and then repeat those successes at larger scale and with variations. That would include (see, I can't stop) building up the soil with compost and mulch until it's so rich that plants explode out of it; stacking lots of plants into a small space, and putting the things you love, whether veggies, fruits, flowers, herbs, medicinal plants, or whatever, into that small space. That way you'll reward yourself for your efforts. Put your garden where you'll see it and where it's easy to take care of.
The next thing to do would be to find other people doing permaculture and learn from them. Permaculture is about relationships and connections, and that very much includes connections with other people. Permaculture is as much a point of view as it is a set of principles and techniques, and in a culture that focuses mostly on things instead of processes and relationships, it can sometimes be hard to wrap your mind around the interconnections that permaculture makes. Being with others who get it really helps.
"That would include (see, I can't stop) building up the soil with compost and mulch until it's so rich that plants explode out of it; stacking lots of plants into a small space, and putting the things you love, whether veggies, fruits, flowers, herbs, medicinal plants, or whatever, into that small space. "
So would that theory exclude the making of raised beds? I am working at improving the soil here in suburban STL, but it's pretty miserable. So where I've had the best luck is in making raised beds and enriching the heck out of them.
I'm awaiting the arrival of a recycled black (to help warm) plastic raised bed from gardeners.com, but feel it may arrive at this rate sometime in the summer, which is not so great for my little garden which is, at the moment, in containers.
Any suggestions specifically for the new self-sustaining gardener of a raised bed?
Stacey: I'm a big fan of raised beds. They are a great way to keep track of a lot of plants in a small space; things have a tendency to get lost if I don't define the edges of my beds somehow (sometimes that's fine; they just go to seed and surprise me the next year, or I discover something great underneath another plant). And as you say, you can really focus on enriching the soil.
I'm wondering if, while you are waiting for the raised bed material to arrive, you could create a smaller bed in the spot you have selected for it, with just soil for the border, and then build the raised bed around it, and add more soil to fill it out to the edges. Maybe that's impractical, but it would be a way to use the space and get things growing.
I would suggest starting with just a few cultivars known for their growing ease in your climate. It is really easy to get caught up in wanting to grow fancy new speciman plants, or plant alot of varieties all with such different needs that you become overwhelmed trying to create the neccessary growing conditions for each one or frustrated because your yeilds are sparse. Also a garden often looks small when the ground is freshly worked and there are just a few seedlings poking their heads up, but by the time a few months have passed it may appear more as a monstrous weed bed with a few vegies in it. Start small and work up to what you are comfortable with. Add a few items each season, pick one new "special" variety to try each year (if that interests you) so you don't end up wasting much of your garden space on possible complete failures. welcome and good luck!