Embracing Urban Permaculture

Permaculture is both a scientific and artistic method used to design human settlements with the intention of meeting basic human wants which include healthy food, clean water, shelter in a way that both sustains and regenerates biodiversity and natural resources.

It is useful when one is designing an urban plot, a community garden or even a whole city block.

Permaculture seeks to work with natural patterns like the way water moves on a slope. Human beings are part of nature, and life is dependent on the lives of all living organisms. There is no way we could change the patterns of nature, however, advanced the humanity may be.

Geoff Lawton, center, designs a backyard system
Geoff Lawton, center, designs a backyard system

It is shocking that many people still do not know the importance of sustainable use of land. Land is often left to turn into desert and to become unproductive over the years. What these people have not known yet is the importance of a Permaculture system where every feature in a suburban home is placed in a particular position. Urban Permaculture helps turn average suburban backyards and small city spaces into functional areas that are also appealing to the eye. Of course, these designs will be different and will depend on the backyard in question, but the site plan is usually the character of the site and also on what the owner of the suburban home requires.

What about a hen house? A Permaculture system will require the hen house to be located at the top of the yard. The nutrients from the chicken droppings in the chicken house are washed by rainwater running through it and then carried to the garden. This increases the fertility of the soil in the garden and increasing its productivity. A Permaculturalist will be able to give all this advice which is essential to the owner of an urban plot which he wishes to develop, but it must is done as part of a design system.

A good design also has other benefits like the direct sunlight which is reaching the garden. The importance of sunlight cannot be underrated as far as the plants are concerned. A sound system will place everything else in the suburban home in such a way that the garden is not obstructed from getting the direct sunlight.

Geoff Lawton sketching solutions to backyard problems.
Geoff Lawton sketching solutions to backyard problems.

Geoff, while advising the owner of a suburban home on how to place elements in the garden, considers the arc of the sun, the present wind angles, hot summers and cold winter suns. He will also advise on the trees which ought to be replaced and which trees ought to be preserved. If for instance a particular tree obstructs the garden from getting the direct sunlight, then it ought to be replaced, and if a tree acts as windbreaker in the garden, then it will be preserved.

Permaculture gardening should be part of our healthy lifestyles, and it is not something to take for granted. How we place anything in our suburban homes has far reaching impacts as we have already seen. If we try to run away from Permaculture, then we are bound to regret, as our soils will remain unproductive forever. Permaculture directs us to move away from the destructive path of development to the improvement that is truly sustainable which then requires the transformation in the basic human patterns as every pattern has an impact. As designers, we are not only concerned with agriculture but also with our housing patterns, energy, health, transportation, social organization and every other aspect of our lives.

Before and after illustration.
Before and after illustration.

Working with the Nature Rather Than Against it

Having a chicken coop placed higher than the house in the garden may seem to be problematic. If you receive heavy rain, the rain water is likely to run through the middle of your chicken coop and send the chicken manure everywhere in an uncontrolled cascade and not gently through your garden.

The Simple Solution

Constructing massive swales in a bid to solve this problem is a bad idea as this challenge is on a small scale and not on vast open spaces.

The solution will simply involve slowing down the water flow, which is running through the chicken coop gate, and then directing it to the garden where it will be of great use. This is advantageous contrary to when it gets into the house.

Geoff Lawton and the nutrient flow through the  chicken pen
Geoff Lawton and the nutrient flow through the chicken pen

Using a drainage irrigation pipe is the ideal solution to this problem, which can be accomplished by digging a shallow trench of the length of the chicken coop. You then place the irrigation pipe in it and cover it well with drainage gravel.

Once it rains, the rain water will run down the hill, enter the chicken coop and collect the chicken droppings, which have nutrients required in the garden. The runoff then deposits the chicken poop into the trench which then allows the water to equally seep in which then distributes down the length of the drainage pipe and then run down equally into the garden. This fertilizes the plants in the garden.

Small trench with slotted agriculture pipe and drainage gravel being set up.
Small trench with slotted agriculture pipe and drainage gravel being set up.

There is no need for adding artificial fertilizers to the soil in the garden to increase its fertility. There is no need for pumps either. Nature does it all, with a little Permaculture assistance. The problem that looked very complicated now becomes the solution. Every problem should be viewed as an opportunity!

This idea is simple but it is very efficient, and it will help to turn what would otherwise be a mess in the house to something to add fertility to the garden.

The Permaculture Research Insitute

PRI Zaytuna Farm functions as a model farm (in development) and permaculture training facility. Geoff and Nadia Lawton, world-renowned permaculture educators and consultants, lead the project. Much of Geoff and Nadia’s time over the last few years has been spent away from the Institute, consulting and helping set up projects in diverse locales around the world. Seeing the worldwide demand for knowledgeable permaculture consultants and teachers increase exponentially, as fuel and fertiliser prices skyrocket and the effects of climate change, soil depletion and water shortages begin to hit hard, priority and focus is now shifting back to the Institute, where growing the training program will increase the output of quality teachers to help fill the growing need for them.

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