The First Permaculture Ethic: Care For the Earth

vegetable walk

A walkway of cabbage, turnips, chard, amaranth, ground cherries and horseradish

The earth – at least in my beautiful part of the world – is naturally fruitful. Before I knew about permaculture, I spent many years benefitting from earth’s bounty without giving much thought to the fact that what I was doing was making constant withdrawals from its store of nutrients. I thought of fertilizer as something for plants, not as something for the soil.

As I got serious about vegetable gardening, I came to understand that I needed to rebuild the soil. That replenishment couldn’t be an after-thought – “I think I’ll add some fertilizer this year.” The soil needed to come first!

For Love of Compost

Years ago we got one black plastic barrel, put stuff in it, and waited while it did nothing. It was impossible to turn the material over and we didn’t know compost breaks down faster with rain and sun. We tried a different container – still no luck. It got overly full.

Finally we built an open wire and wood, 3-bin composting center. We keep a pitchfork available and my husband turns it regularly. Now we’re cooking – compost, that is!

We add compost into the garden beds every year. We use the worm castings to make worm tea, which is a nutrient-rich addition that can protect and nourish plants.

Hoarding water with mulch

It took me even longer to learn that the best water is what’s in the soil, not what’s in the hose. Now I use straw mulch but if we had a lawn mower with a bag (and enough lawn) I could use grass clippings. Maybe I’ll start asking my neighbors for their grass clippings because sharing the bounty is also one of the ethics of permaculture and I bet they don’t think of their grass clippings as one of the yields they obtain.

Personal Permaculture: The Bigger Picture

With only 1/10th of an urban acre, it’s pretty clear that the greatest impact I have on the planet and its resources is not as a gardener, but as a consumer. Like most Americans, I consume more than my fair share of the world’s natural resources in terms of food, water, minerals and fossil fuels. Every time I buy something, the permaculture ethic of care for the earth asks me to consider whether I really need it.

After all, there’s not much I can do to rebuild the world’s store of iron ore or titanium or tungsten, but if I don’t buy that extra thing, more of those resources stay in the ground. And if I give my usable, previously purchased possession to someone, or share it with friends and neighbors, then someone else doesn’t have to buy it and those resources won’t be needed.

Recycling helps. It puts at least some of these valuable resources back into the stream of production and it keeps them out of the stream of waste, where they may actually be toxic.

But reduce helps more. That should be my goal.

1 thought on “The First Permaculture Ethic: Care For the Earth

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Two Seasons of Permaculture | Think of It As An Adventure

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