Yes, permaculture.

Category Archives: Stewardship

Yes, permaculture.

Last time I introduced the concept of permaculture (assuming some might not already know) and offered a sampling of Catholic teaching which fits neatly – some would say plainly – with the practice of permaculture.  Then I said some hopelessly optimistic things about living with Mother Nature.

This time, a start at implementation.

Most of the resources I’ve encountered seem to agree on the principles of permaculture, which are summarized here.

As the Permaculture Association has it, the first principle is “Observe and Interact.”  Other permaculture resources say likewise, and some recommend an observation period of at least a year, if not longer.

Ain’t nobody got time for that!  No, but seriously, I’m a 21st century American – who thinks I’m going to wait around after I’ve just publicly committed to starting into permaculture?  I’ll observe, alright – then immediately act!  What, am I supposed to be patient, and restrain my desires?

Almost took up an inverted soapbox there.

Fortunately, I have been observing, and for longer than a year.  Every time I’ve mowed the lawn, I thought how I would like to incorporate more garden beds, and how to arrange them.  Once we started a garden in the backyard, I noticed how the sun moved across it, how the wind blew, and where things would have room to grow or climb or drain.

According to my foray into permaculture, it was observation by accident; but according to purposes I already had in mind, it was sustained observation.

For example:  One technique suggested for implementing permaculture is an herb spiral.  There are even videos guiding the curious to herbal glory.

We Pluchars like herbs at the ready, and so I thought of two locations, and Marcy picked one – the more reasonable one, of course.  This is just outside our back door:

Foundation for our herb-phitheater.

Now, as to observation:  This particular location is on the south side of our property.  That white vinyl fence is on the south side of the frame.  That particular area – next to the heat pump, with a short concrete sidewalk and two pebbled areas – has always seemed hot to me.  This struck me immediately, from before we bought the house, and has been verified repeatedly.

I believe this is because our house and the neighbor’s (relatively close by – maybe 40′, with a fence in the middle) act as a wind block, the heat pump generates heat in the summer, and the sidewalk and pebbles absorb heat on top of that.  Even when the “weather” is breezy and tolerable elsewhere on our property, it is stifling in this area.

Furthermore, I believe we will modify the herb spiral, in favor of an herb amphitheater…or and herb-phitheater, if you please.

Weep at my raw talent.
Weep at my raw talent.

The reason for this is that any herbs on the north side of a spiral would have precious few hours of sunlight – given the house sandwich.  Another drawing?

Site Map - Herb garden

Therefore – I presume, at any rate – an amphitheater design will be more advantageous.

But where to find the building materials?


WTF is one of the TCG posting on permaculture?  ROFL!  IMHO, this is BQYE!

Yep, made the last one up.

Welcome to a new category, an informal series, meandering as it will through my family’s adventures in permaculture.

But seriously, permaculture?  On a Catholic blog?  Let me learn you something.

This comes as little surprise to those who know me, or who have any real understanding of the Catholic faith.  For a start, observe the confluence of these two:  Bethlehem Farm.  I spent a year on the farm, and another three nearby, helping people build and repair their houses and helping establish (what is now) a very impressive garden.

Bethlehem Farm is an explicitly Catholic community, and sustainability is actually one of their philosophical cornerstones.  They encourage organic farming, living in harmony with the seasons and one’s local climate and resources, and making every effort to live in a way which promotes giving (to others, to the Earth) over and above taking.

It is in giving, after all, that we receive.

And Bethlehem Farm is not an anomaly, but right in line with Catholic teaching.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for instance, tells us that “caring for and cultivating the world involves…joyful appreciation for the God-given beauty and wonder of nature…” and “…protection and preservation of the environment, which would be the stewardship of ecological concern.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has it, “[m]an’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”

Of course, you did not see the term “permaculture” used in either of those passages, nor is it immediately visible (if at all) on the Bethlehem Farm website.  Neither will you see the term “The Trinity” in Scripture, but it follows from what is written.

Permaculture, of course, is not the only …I beg your pardon.  Perhaps you are as unfamiliar as I was with permaculture, only a few sunrises ago!  Here you go!

As I was saying, permaculture is not the only way to carry out God’s command to “take dominion” over the Earth, but it seems to be at least one possible means.  Moreover, it seems to be a challenge given a suburban setting, which only motivates this writer.

And, it seems…romantic, to me.

In college, I was introduced to the idea that a good garden is the way man “perfects” nature.  Nature by itself, this view held, is wild and chaotic, and not particularly conducive to human needs.  In order to make the greatest use of the Earth, humans would need to cultivate it.

But traditional gardens – even suburban lawns! – seem almost comical to me.  I remember spending five weeks in the woods as a camp counselor, then returning to my suburban home, and laughing – heartily, without effort – for a minute or so when I first laid eyes on the clean and well-defined borders given to plant life.

There’s no doubt gardens can be beautiful – I simply find most of them amusing, like a dog wearing a sweater.

But to cultivate nature within one’s humble lot, to welcome her genius and offer a home to her lovely and untamed essence, and to barter with her evenly, as much as possible – now that awakens the soul, doesn’t it?