How To Get Started with Permaculture

How to Get Started with Permaculture

September 03, 2020

Daniel Mark Schwartz Profile Picture

Whenever I talk to someone new about permaculture, they immediately love the idea of a more natural lifestyle. However, it can seem intimidating to get started. That’s why I wrote this dead simple guide to getting started with permaculture for the complete newbie.

To learn permaculture, start by reading a short book on the topic such as Gaia’s Garden. Then develop a simple and actionable plan to incrementally integrate permaculture systems in to your life. Finally, share what you know with others and establish yourself as a “permaculturist” with your friends and family.

Building up your own permaculture garden can be a fun and relaxing pastime if you take everything step by step and in the right order. From my permaculture experience, this is the best way for someone new to permaculture to get started.

Build Up a Basic Understanding of Permaculture Principles

The first thing you need to do to get started with permaculture is build up a basic understanding of the natural design principles and terminology used by permaculture designers.

Don’t make this mistake! While there are endless free and paid resources for learning about permaculture design principles — including everything from month long courses to degree programs — you don’t need to be an expert to get huge benefit from permaculture. Too often people get too sidetracked learning about permaculture to actually practice it!

I recommend you start by reading this short book called Gaia’s Garden which covers all the basics in an easy to understand way. This books is absolutely the quickest way to get started practicing permaculture.

Check out my short list of essential permaculture books and resources:

Write Out Your Permaculture Dream Sheet

One you have a bit of an idea of what you can do with permaculture, the next big step is to write out your permaculture dream sheet.

The dream sheet is simply a piece of paper, whiteboard, computer file, etc where you dream big and write down anything and everything that you could hope to achieve by implementing permaculture in your home or farm.

In this step there is nothing too big or small, so long as it feel exciting to you to achieve that with your permaculture design.

Some things you might hope for include —

  • Fresh herbs
  • Homemade apple cider
  • Reduction of household waste
  • Eggs
  • To spend more time outside
  • Improved health
  • To attract more wildlife to your property
  • To impress your friends and family

There is honesty so much that you could achieve with permaculture that a full list of potential benefits would be pages and pages long. But these few hopefully get your imagination going.

I have also written a bit more in depth of the benefits of permaculture here:

Draw Up a Basic Permaculture Site Map

This step is the time to take in to account what you have on hand to work with in terms of land and geography.

During your reading on permaculture design practices, you will have learned a few of the basic permaculture design documents like —

  • Permaculture zone maps
  • Permaculture sector maps
  • Permaculture input / output analysis

And you probably know of a lot more.

However, at this stage I would recommend you just start with simple walk around the property, observing and gathering information in a passive mode.

Then, print out top down map of your land and start blocking in key elements of the land. What parts are shady. What parts are heavily sloped. Which parts are easy or hard to get to?

Feel free to complete in depth analysis like zone maps, etc, as you feel that you would benefit from them. But, don’t spend to much time with busy work and paper pushing, just write down enough to clarify in your mind what you have to work with.

Identify Short Term Permaculture Goals

Now is the time to really home in on what you can do with your property.

Look at your site map and dream sheets, and choose a few ideas that you think you can implement right away, or in the next year.

Also, make a list of ideas that might be something you would like to do in the future, and are feasible with your land, but you don’t have the ability or interested to get started with right away.

Lastly, collect the ideas from your dream sheet that just don’t seem to fit, and file those away for the far future.

By the end of this process, you should be able to identify one or two goals that you feel like are probably doable with your current level of understanding and time commitment you are willing to commit to.

Make a note of what these goals are, and when you hope to have them completed.

Complete Some Small Permaculture Projects

Now is the time for implementation. To start with, I highly recommend you do something or build something that can be completed in a single weekend or less.

Getting some successes under you belt gives you confidence and builds momentum in the right direction.

To start with I recommend something like one of the following —

  • Build permaculture herb spiral or herb garden
  • Plant a few trees
  • Install a permaculture worm bin
  • Build a pallet wood compost pile(s) box
  • Fence off a small bit of land for a garden (chicken moat anyone?)
  • Build a simple and fast potato mound
  • Construct a chicken coop

All of these could be a single day project or less, and will get you well underway integrating permaculture in to your life.

For recommendations on how to design a deer-proof garden, check out my related article:

Share Your Permaculture With Others

Permaculture isn’t only about gardens, it’s about community as well. At this stage, get some other people nvoked with your permaculture process

This could be as simple as posting a photo of your accomplishments on social media. But, inviting friends and family over to enjoy your garden and the fresh produce in a tasty meal is one of the highlights of the permaculture lifestyle.

Giving gifts is also a great way to build up the permaculture lifestyle. Your friends and family should feel the benefit of what you do, and will start to see you as a permaculturist, if even just a hobby one.

By cultivating this image in others, we are growing their support and confirming our own vision of ourselves as someone who is successful and permaculture design.

A little bit of bravery and humility can go a long way in this regard.

Review Your Permaculture Successes and Look for Ways to Improve

As you go bit by bit in to the permaculture lifestyle, take time to review what you’ve done.

Like all things in nature, your permaculture designs should develop little by little and year by year. Whatever works well, keep it. What doesn’t work should quickly be allowed to wither away.

Nature is quite ruthless when it comes to out with the old and in with the new, and so should you be as a permaculture designer. Constantly be updating, replacing, and creating to keep your permaculture design as vibrant and alive as the plants within.

Share permaculture with those you love!

Make Sure You Are Having Fun with Permaculture

As you progress with permaculture, it is absolutely essential that you make sure that you are having fun.

Ideally, working in the garden should be a fun, enjoyable task that you look forward to doing. The moment it becomes a chore, you have a problem.

I know this all too well, because I am the type of person who tends to be driven and serious about what I do. But, permaculture works best when there is an element of play involved.

Here are some ideas that you can use to make permaculture an even more enjoyable experience —

  • Work together with family and friends. Spend time in each other’s gardens. Talk, laugh, and tease each other while you are together.
  • Give yourself un-regimented time for permaculture, where you have no clear plan except to be in the moment and work on whatever you feel like at the time.
  • Be creative, and do things differently just to try something new. Allocate places for artfulness and design.
  • Allow for the fact that some things just won’t work out. Being overly tied to any particular outcome takes all the fun right out of it.
  • If something doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it. Just because you excel at growing zucchini doesn’t mean you have to plant any if you just don’t like them any more

Teach Permaculture to People You Love and Respect

The last step is to start teaching permaculture to people around you.

You don’t have to be an expert or get some kind of certificate to be allowed to teach. And, you don’t need to hold a formal class or anything like that.

We all teach others by showing them how we live, or volunteering little tidbits here and there as they apply. With modern technology, sharing what we are doing with others on social media, or even a little blog of your own will probably be more of a inspiration to other people than you will ever know.

Most importantly, if you are a parent or have children around you, invite them and their parents to come in your little permaculture world. Show them how food grows and how pick and eat organic fruits and vegetables. Give them room to play and be excited about the fruits of the Earth just as much, if not more, than you are.

What are the 12 principles of permaculture?

The 12 principles of permaculture are a collection of simple guidelines used to guide the design of sustainable agriculture and community systems. Together they express the unique methodology in an easy to remember form.

How much land is needed for permaculture?

5 – 10 acres is typical for a permaculture farm or homestead. But, here is no minimal amount of land needed form permaculture, since permaculture design stresses integrating with the surrounding environment. Even 1/10 of an acre is sufficient to get started with permaculture design.

How do I get started with permaculture?

Learn the basics of permaculture design practice through Gaia’s Garden or other resources. Then, start a basic permaculture site plan and complete a simple permaculture project like a herb spiral or worm compost bin.


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