If you follow sustainable practices, you’re probably familiar with the concept of permaculture as developing farming communities, growing your own food or designing more eco-friendly energy systems for your home. It incorporates aspects of various disciplines, from architecture to agriculture. But while permaculture might sound like a large commitment to make, it can start small — it’s really just about living in harmony with the natural world and using our earth’s resources wisely.
While starting an off-the-grid farm is something you probably can’t do during social distancing, adding small, at-home permaculture practices to your current lifestyle can benefit you significantly by improving your mental and physical health while soothing your soul. Here’s how permaculture can help you during the current pandemic — and how you can add practices into your everyday routines.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Permaculture
Practicing permaculture benefits both your body and your mind.
You know you should exercise to maintain your physical health, but it’s challenging to motivate yourself when you can’t attend your favourite Zumba class. However, merely getting outdoors provides health benefits, and permaculture melds fresh air with physical movement.
One recent Australian study revealed that spending 30 minutes each week in a park can reduce your risk of depression by 7%. Your risk of high blood pressure goes down by nearly 10%, even before you pick up your hoe. Once you start raking, your muscles benefit, too.
The mental benefits are just as striking. In offices, just the presence of plants is known to reduce stress, cut back on sick days and boost mood — so keeping and caring for plants in your own home or yard can only have positive impacts on your health. Permaculture can create a sense of calm in several ways:
- Makes you more self-sufficient: The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated how interconnected society truly is. You rely on your employer for income and your grocer for food. With a little patch of land and some gardening skills, you can grow nearly anything you need. If you have enough space, you can share it with animals to enjoy their bounty. However, even if you only create a balcony garden, you know you always have a supply of fresh, organic produce.
- Releases endorphins: Physical activity releases endorphins, natural opioid-like substances in the brain that make you feel better. Raking your garden, building a compost bin or watering and pruning plants all get your blood pumping and muscles working. Gardening for mental health brings a host of brain-friendly benefits.
- Alleviates depression: Permaculture and gardening may directly influence the brain chemicals controlling your mental health. Researchers recently discovered that bacteria in the soil can activate the brain cells that produce serotonin. Psychiatrists have long associated imbalances and deficiencies of this neurotransmitter with clinical depression.
Take a look around your homestead — even if you live in an apartment. Can you create an herb garden on a sunny kitchen windowsill? Can you build a small compost bin for food scraps on your patio? If you have a sizeable garden plot, can you harvest rainwater in your jurisdiction to irrigate it?
The idea is to become as sustainable as possible. The more you attend to your basic needs at home, the fewer carbon emissions you produce by running to the store. Plus, you lessen demand, decreasing the number of vehicles on roadways. Knowing you’re benefiting the environment has a positive mental impact all on its own.
Ideas for the Garden and Beyond
Now that you know how your mental health can benefit from permaculture, how can you get started? Try the following projects and ideas to begin:
1. Build a Compost Bin
You can make a simple compost bin out of a plastic tote container, but if you have some land, why not build a more massive permanent structure? Now is the ideal time of year to start yours by tossing in the dead plants from last year’s harvest. As the season continues, you can add organic food scraps, such as coffee grounds and fruit peels. Remember to turn your compost regularly. Once it is ready, you’ll no longer need to spend a cent on fertiliser.
2. Make Your Garden Grow
If all you have is a balcony, you’ll need some containers and potting soil. You can even find dwarf varieties of fruit trees to add privacy and sweetness to your outdoor living space. Some herbs, like oregano, look gorgeous in hanging pots.
If you have more space, the essence of permaculture involves living in harmony with nature. Instead of one large garden spot, consider how you can design your layout to take advantage of natural resources. For example, plants that need a ton of water might do well near a retaining wall you’ve built to keep rainwater from damaging your home’s foundation. Sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers thrive in brightly lit areas, while your kale and broccoli prefer a shady spot.
3. Learn Some Foraging Skills
Humans survived before agriculture originated by foraging on native plants. Take a nature walk with a purpose — use an app like PictureThis to identify the plants you see. Then, get on trusty Google and see which ones are edible. Many locations are thriving with wild amaranth and rye after a long winter, and anything from humble clovers to prickly pear cactus is edible when appropriately prepared.
Isolated? Try Gardening and Permaculture Techniques to Safeguard Your Physical and Mental Health
Permaculture principles help the planet and safeguard your mental health, too. If you want to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with improved physical and psychological well-being, get yourself into the garden today.