Identifying assets and resources
The permagarden method is based on using local resources to build and sustain the garden. A simple walk around a home, neighborhood, or village can highlight many assets and resources that can be useful in building, sustaining, and protecting these productive spaces.
Assets Assets are useful items that we have in our possession (could be personal or communal), for example, land, seeds, bicycles, animals, unused organic matter, and tools.
Resources Resources are people, assets, materials, or capital that can be used to accomplish a goal.
Building local skills and confidence is a critical first step in creating sustainable gardens. It begins by taking a walk around the household and the community to determine what may be of use. Waste materials, such as charcoal, wood ash, manure, and green and brown organic material, contribute to the goal of soil health, but to simply tell people this fact is not enough.
Drawing out local knowledge via open conversation leads to local empowerment and ownership of the garden.
After walking around and determining potentially valuable resources and assets in the home and throughout the community, the next step is to map suitable potential garden areas in the homestead. There could be unused spaces or waste areas that could be converted into a bounty of produce by clearing the land, controlling the water flow, and managing new plants. Empowering families to make their own decisions about what areas are better than others, as opposed to imposing these decisions from the outside, results in greater buy-in from gardeners. Several key elements should be assessed for use:
Available space The space available to a household for a permagarden can be as little as a few square meters or as large as 100 m2. Locate the garden within, or close-by, the compound, preferably next to the kitchen. Look for areas next
to buildings or fences that are currently not well used but still receive at least 4 hours of sunlight a day. Walls, trellises, and fences allow for vertical planting, increasing production potential from a small piece of land.
Waste materials Animal manures have nutrients and organic matter that are critical to soil health. Wood ash, biochar, and charcoal dust provide key minerals and micronutrients and help hold soil moisture. Kitchen waste, green and brown leaves, and water can be collected and used to create valuable compost. Coffee
Abundance of local materials available (above).
Photographs: Thomas Cole
grounds provide organic nitrogen. Bones and egg shells are good sources of calcium and phosphates. Dried cow bones can be burned and then crushed to provide an important phosphorus-rich powder to improve the soil or to add to compost.
Water sources Underutilized runoff water from roofs, hillsides, roads, and pathways can be controlled, redirected, and stored within the homestead (especially in the soil). Homestead wells or municipal taps nearby can also be used. Household wastewater from the kitchen and bathing can become the primary irrigation source in the dry season.
Livestock Livestock are sources of useful materials or labor, but also need to be controlled by fencing or other means.
People Neighbors or other farmers in the community may have valuable knowledge that can be used, especially in areas of water or soil management.
Plants and seeds Many indigenous varieties are important to food security and are already readily available within the informal seed markets. Neighbors, friends, and extended family may have seeds or plants they are willing to share. Many perennial herbs, such as lemongrass and aloe, can be divided and replanted.
Fodder plants and grasses can similarly be planted strategically to provide food for animals.
Tools The only tools required to create a vibrant garden are a hoe, bucket, pick, and machete. Survey the household and neighborhood for additional tools that could be useful, such as rakes, watering cans, empty grain sacks, and twine.