To follow up last week’s post, I thought I’d give an example of permaculture in action. I am not giving this example because it’s the best or most illustrative. More imaginative and complex examples of permaculture from much more experienced permaculturists abound. However I share this example for several reasons: First, it is straight from my back yard. Permaculture principles suggest we ‘use the resources on hand’ to accomplish a given task. Second, on Monday, I leave my home and community for six months. Before I begin examining and analyzing other gardens and farms, this is small homage to my own little piece of backyard oasis. Lastly, I share this example because it is the first “original” permaculture idea I’ve implemented in the garden.
For years we’ve collected rain water from our roof. With some minor modification to the downspout, we divert rain water otherwise destined for the street gutter and local creek to our garden. In this way we capture and utilize a resource that would otherwise end up running down the drain, and into the creek carrying topsoil and roof leachate with it. We also save money we’d otherwise spend on city water to water the garden.
However standing water attracts mosquitoes (aka mozzies), which are not welcome in my backyard, nor I’m sure, in our neighbors’. While we do have some bats (welcome in many permaculture gardens) living nearby who snack on evening insects, they are not sufficient in force to control the mozzies to our zero-mozzie-breeding tolerance. There are many options on the market for managing the mozzies; clorox and mosquito dunks, among others. However each of these options require continuous inputs to the system, expense (except maybe the clorox), and/or are potentially chemically harmful to sensitive plant life.
Solution: Goldfish. Two little goldfish (light colored so we can see them against the dark interior of the barrel) at 29 cents each have done an amazing job of chowing down on unwanted mosquito larvae, turning our problem into a solution. In addition, goldfish are notorious contributors to the nitrogen cycle by virtue of their excrement, which serves as fertilizer for the garden plants. As rain barrel residents, the fish are happy in a much larger space than they get in our indoor aquariums and eating a protein rich, natural diet, and – they make the plants happy while keeping mozzies at bay.
This is but one simple example of permaculture in action. While it is certainly not the whole story, I hope the example demonstrates the benefits of devising systems that both mimic and work with nature, while simultaneously meeting our own human needs (in this example, to grow food without paying for water or attracting noxious pests). In essence, this is exactly what permaculture is about. And you don’t have to live on a big farm to practice it.
Technical note: Our fish have been hardy enough to outlast fairly dramatic differences in water depth, ambient temperatures, and no supplemental fish food (excepting the first couple days of their tenancy). We do tap the barrel regularly for water which seems to introduce enough oxygen, and also keeps the ammonia from overwhelming the barrel, though we’re still in experimental phase.