Quite simply, permaculture is the human-constructed partnering of plants into communities that produce the greatest human benefit with the least amount of maintenance through emphasizing symbiosis.
Much of permaculture is based around designing to fit the climate of the landscape so there are resources oriented to promoting techniques designed for specific biomes of the world. These are great go-to sites for the basic biomes of the United States:
Permaculture is based on seven principles.
1. Food Forests – Designed plant communities based around companion planting that match species based on nutrient and bacteria sharing and meeting other land use needs for insects, fungi, animals and people.
2. Living Machines – Taking a foundation from practices like xeriscaping and rainwater capture, living machines also clean waste water from other uses on the site to create irrigation and ultimately a potable source.
3. Soil Improvement – Burming up and submerging (or folding in) an additional nutrient base/decomposition layer to expand humus and enhance water percolation. This technique mimics the natural production of humus in grassland areas. The Ohio State University Extension Office lists some factors of soil health.
4. Nutrient Cycles – Imitating biological processes, biomimicry, symbiosis. Poultry, or pork depending on the size of your site, is nature’s nutrient distributor and contributors, and cows are the compactors. To separate the nutrient producers (animals) from the organisms that require nutrients (plants) by inappropriate scaling creates two problems from a natural coexistence. Allowing animals to share the land with the food forest also increases the value of the land by increasing its yield.
5. Biodeversity – Plant and animal responses to environment are the evolutionary regulators to speciation and variation. This is the importance of seed banks and polyfarms. Cultural appreciation for seasonal and locally produced goods increases the value of a food forest yield and decreases the transportation costs. Specialized products will always be in the global market, but the quantity and quality of importation is reflected in Tom Friedman’s glocalization. A kitchen without olive oil is where some aspects of the 100 mile diet are just illogical (kitchen humor), and one should rely more on a 100 mile market for non-specialty items. Flavorless winter strawberries are the flagship; solar-powered greenhouses provide the only vine sweetened strawberries in winter.
6. Ecobuilding – “The function of what I call design science is to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices.” – R. Buckminster Fuller, from Cosmography
7. Environmental Economics – A systems symbiosis. In the traditional economic model, externalities and ecosystem services are not factored into the equation. Environmental Economics teaches that system efficiencies directly result in economic efficiencies, and juxtaposing the two is a farce. A permaculture example of economy from environment is using a biodigester for waste: costs of waste disposal are reduced and profit can be generated from energy production. Herman Daly has long been the champion of Environmental Economics.