The overall goal of a permagarden is to provide household members with an attainable, practical, and sustainable method to increase their own household food and nutrition security. By implementing the permagarden method, farmers can increase their household food production and income from small land areas. It is a sustainable method using local materials and building the environmental health of the garden. Additionally, with proper water management, this method works in the rainy and dry seasons, and is particularly useful in dryland or arid environments. Overall, the permagarden method has five aims:
- Ecological – enhance natural resources and ecosystem services through: improving soil and water health
increasing biodiversity, and reducing erosion.
- Economic – increase economic income by: reducing input costs, and diversifying and intensifying production.
- Energy – increase energy efficiency through:
better garden design that works with natural influences to maximize the efficiencies of an integrated system and reduce time and energy expended tending crops and animals.
- Nutritional – contribute to increased nutritional status by: increasing access to a diverse diet, and
improving critical nutrient uptake.
- Social – strengthen the skillset, capacity, and confidence of smallholder farmers by:
* supporting local innovative farmers to become leaders enabling them to understand how to maximize local resources and utilize influences improving their ability to adapt and test technologies.
The permagarden method is a combination of permaculture and bio-intensive agriculture.
‘Permaculture’, a combination of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, focuses on designing the garden to include permanent, soil-based structures. In essence, permaculture helps farmers to understand natural influences that affect the homestead, and results in a better garden location and design that optimizes the use of available resources. For example, swales are used to direct and capture rainwater. Specifically, swales are used around the edges of permagardens to control and manage water, for pest management, and to provide the potential for year-round supplemental food production on the berms.
‘Bio-intensive agriculture’ refers to the efficient system of planting, deep healthy soil structure, diet design, composting, and management of annual crops in beds that are found within protective and productive berms.
The permagarden method teaches how to design and integrate multiple agricultural practices in order to increase production and create a more resilient garden. The success of a permagarden often depends on three things:
- Understanding of key permagarden concepts (described in this manual),
- How well the garden is designed to capture water and nutrients, and
- Incorporating as many agricultural practices fulfilling each key concept as possible.
Empowering gardeners to make decisions
Building resilient households includes empowering people to make decisions together that can improve their livelihoods.
Building a permagarden can be a productive decision that can improve the availability of food, but it requires upfront time and labor commitment.
Program staff should encourage households to carefully consider what decisions to make to maximize their livelihoods.
This permanent garden is a small-scale, high-yield, nutrition-focused instrument of food security that anyone can create close to home.
Key concepts of a sustainable home garden: Utilize local resources.
Create an efficient garden design. Improve soil health.
Increase water management. Plant for maximum benefit.
Conduct proactive crop health and protection.
A permagarden does not rely on expensive material from outside the community; it can be successfully created and maintained using only local tools and seeds. This productive space is not always used to produce the same crop. Rather, it is designed and managed in such a way that, like a house, once built, continues to provide both protection from the elements and production for the family for many years to come. With a permagarden, a family can have a diverse supply of fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables on a year-round basis. The pathways in between the permanent growing beds allow easy access to the growing vegetables, fruits, and other useful crops. The protective berms around a permagarden’s borders can hold local medicinal, herbal, and flowering plants that live from year to year and never need replanting, yet continue to provide useful products. The permagarden is intended to be located close to the home and therefore easy to manage, even for children, the ill, and the elderly.
Building resilient gardens and households
The permagarden method aims to build the capacity of farmers to withstand and adapt to environmental shocks and stresses, such as poor seasonal rainfall, droughts or floods, and still be able to produce nutritious crops throughout the year. This is achieved through applying the principles of creating a productive garden and by preventing dependence on outside or expensive resources.
Materials needed for a permagarden are often available and accessible year- round within a farmer’s community.
Enhancing resilience through permagardens means that programs must teach the basic agronomic principles and ideas behind the permagarden method instead of teaching how to replicate a particular practice. For example, at the end of the training, households should be able to manage rainfall runoff, not just build a swale, and to improve soil fertility, not just make compost. The fundamentals behind all of these practices are the keys to building resilient households.
Similarly, the design of the garden should not rely on only one agricultural practice to improve soil health or water management. Instead, the gardener should implement as many practices as possible to achieve these goals. For example, the gardener could use swales, berms, holes, and mulch to improve water management in the garden. As a general rule, the gardener should try to have at least three different agricultural practices for every function in the garden. Multiple practices are at the heart of the permagarden’s success.