From the 14th to 17th May, a group of like-minded people from across Ireland came together in the wilds of Donegal to explore the subject of Permaculture & Forest Gardening with one of the UK’s leading practitioners, Aranya.
Permaculture is a design science which has it’s roots in Agriculture; the term itself is a portmanteau of “Permanent” & “Agriculture”. The Permaculture approach involves establishing robust systems which mimic natural cycles & self-manage, while also providing a useful yield or function (timber, nuts, fruit, shelter belt, etc…).
Forest Gardening is a perennial approach to food production where plants, trees & shrubs are planted as a close guild & encouraged to grow together to maximise production per square foot of ground area. The graphic below details a typical arrangement for each of the 7 vertical layers of the a Forest Garden.
The benefits of such a planting pattern are twofold:
- By vertically stacking functions, there is potential for a greater calorific yield of food, per square foot, than conventional mono-culture practices.
- By selecting species which compliment each other through the nutrient cycle, a well designed system will effectively self-manage once established. Hence, once these systems are up & running, human effort tails off through time, as food output reaches optimum & plateaus.
Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm runs a successful farm in Wisconsin, US, based on these very principles. Mark is one of a new breed of farmers who are managing their operations as complete ecosystems, with some remarkable success. I can definitely recommend his book, Restoration Agriculture, which makes a very convincing argument for this approach to broad acre food production on all social, environmental & financial levels, as well as giving real-world examples of calorific yields from his own operation.
Of the 20 or so participants on this 4 day workshop, a variety of backgrounds were represented including Home Gardeners, Community Market Gardeners producing vegetables, Smallholders, Farmers, Professional Landscape Designers & Architects. Feedback from this diverse group was very positive. The scaleability of the design approach to both Permaculture & Forest Gardening has applications right across the board, from the smallest of front gardens in urban environments, right up to farm-scale systems.
Huge thanks goes to Sean Debney & Joanne Butler for bringing the idea for this training opportunity to life. Particular gratitude also goes to Seamus O’Donnell & Cluain Na dTor Nurseries, Falcarragh, for providing an inspirational setting for this course.
If you want to find out more about Permaculture or get involved with this growing movement here in Donegal, please get in touch.