Per­ma­cul­ture has landed

Leave a smaller foot­print, use less en­ergy and get big­ger yields

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - HOMES - By Evan Bow­ness

IF you haven’t heard of per­ma­cul­ture, you can ex­pect to see it pop­ping up in con­nec­tion with small-scale or­ganic gar­den­ing and farm­ing. But there’s more to it than that just grow­ing food.

Per­ma­cul­ture is a way of liv­ing more re­spon­si­bly, mind­fully and sus­tain­ably. It’s a set of ideas that help guide us to a bet­ter life by us­ing less en­ergy, get­ting big­ger yields and leav­ing a smaller foot­print.

Dur­ing the last 30 years, more peo­ple have turned to per­ma­cul­ture for new ways to grow as in­di­vid­u­als, help oth­ers and build stronger com­mu­ni­ties. Be­cause per­ma­cul­ture is be­com­ing so pop­u­lar, Sus­tain­able South Os­borne Com­mu­nity Co-op­er­a­tive and the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba’s depart­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy of­fered a course on it this sum­mer.

Based out of the Riverview Com­mu­nity Cen­tre, the two-week long in­ten­sive class was called Build­ing a Com­mu­nity Com­mons: Ur­ban Per­ma­cul­ture in Prac­tice. The goal was to give stu­dents and the com­mu­nity a chance to get some ex­pe­ri­ence with per­ma­cul­ture.

We be­gan with an in­tro­duc­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems and grass­roots re­sponses to deal­ing with them. But that was it for tra­di­tional class­room in­struc­tion. The rest of the course was all about prac­tis­ing per­ma­cul­ture. As a class, we de­signed a per­ma­cul­ture gar­den park, held com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions, learned about find­ing fund­ing and planned a per­mablitz — an event where com­mu­ni­ties come to­gether to cre­ate ed­i­ble green spa­ces. The sec­ond week of the course was spent in the field, bring­ing the ideas of per­ma­cul­ture to life by in­stalling the new Peo­ple Gar­den lo­cated be­hind the com­mu­nity cen­tre. The gar­den got its name and sign thanks to the kids from a lo­cal day­care at an art work­shop dur­ing a big cel­e­bra­tion on the fi­nal day of the course. The name fits well with what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish, too: per­ma­cul­ture demon­stra­tion sites such as this draw peo­ple in who can’t help but want to get in­volved, help out and learn. The Peo­ple Gar­den fea­tures sev­eral per­ma­cul­ture de­sign con­cepts. The paths through­out are made of wood chips. Un­der the wood chips are sheets of card­board that cover flipped sod, a tech­nique known as sheet mulching. We were able to keep the or­ganic mat­ter in the ex­ist­ing top­soil, plus we don’t have to worry about grass grow­ing back into the paths. By the time the card­board de­com­poses, the grass in the flipped sod will have died. Even­tu­ally, the wood chips will also com­post, and what we’re left with is high-qual

ity, car­bon-rich soil.

The cen­tre of the gar­den is a hoop­house. Hoop­houses are very sim­i­lar to green­houses. They’re me­tal-framed struc­tures cov­ered in soft plas­tic (in­stead of the rigid win­dows that are prone to break and ex­pen­sive to fix) with a soil-bed floor. They are per­fect for grow­ing heat- and hu­mid­ity-lov­ing an­nu­als such as toma­toes, cu­cum­bers, egg­plants, pep­pers and mel­ons, or for ex­tend­ing the grow­ing sea­son. Be­neath the wood chip paths that bor­der the frame, we’ve slopped a wa­ter­proof lin­ing into the mid­dle of the gar­den beds in the hoop­house. This fun­nels rain­wa­ter runoff back to the plants in­side, cap­tur­ing rain that would oth­er­wise drain away un­used.

Out­side of the hoop­house, we have a self-wa­ter­ing herb spi­ral. Lime­stone rocks hold the soil in place and build up­wards rather than out­wards. This makes the best use of the space and is easy to main­tain, not to men­tion it looks beau­ti­ful and pro­duces plenty of de­li­cious herbs.

Next we have a set of three wick­ing beds. Wick­ing beds are raised gar­den boxes that can be eas­ily seeded, weeded and har­vested from. But what makes them spe­cial is that un­der the soil in the boxes is an im­per­me­able bar­rier that serves as a reser­voir that can be filled through an in­take hose. As the soil dries, the wa­ter in the reser­voir evap­o­rates through it and keeps the plants wa­tered. This de­sign means we’ll need to wa­ter far less of­ten than reg­u­lar raised beds. And to make the wick­ing beds even more charm­ing, they are dec­o­rated with etched cop­per plates made by stu­dents in the course.

Another fea­ture is our butterfly gar­den, planted with na­tive peren­ni­als that are favourite foods to lo­cal pol­li­na­tors. We also have a con­fider sapling tree­line to break the pre­vail­ing winds, an apri­cot food for­est, guilded berry bushes (each sur­rounded by com­mu­ni­ties of ed­i­ble plants that work to­gether to main­tain soil health), as well as a nurs­ery, which we will be sell­ing trees from as a fundraiser for the gar­den.

We are in the process of plan­ning for next year’s course where once again U of M stu­dents from a va­ri­ety of fac­ul­ties and de­part­ments will join ex­perts, neigh­bour­hood res­i­dents and mem­bers of lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions in prac­tis­ing per­ma­cul­ture in the com­mu­nity.

If you’re in­ter­ested in learn­ing more or get­ting in­volved in our ex­cit­ing per­ma­cul­ture projects, please visit www.sus­tain­able­southos­

Feel free to visit the Peo­ple Gar­den be­hind the base­ball di­a­monds at Riverview Com­mu­nity Cen­tre (90 Ashland Ave.). We hope you’ll come and see what per­ma­cul­ture has in­spired in our neigh­bour­hood, and what it can of­fer in yours.


Nu­tri­ent-rich soil forms the ba­sis of good per­ma­cul­ture de­sign. The lasagna method be­gins with a layer of news­pa­per, topped by ni­tro­gen-rich grass clip­pings, shred­ded leaves, well-rot­ted ma­nure, top­soil and wood chips. Al­low it to com­post for up to two years be­fore

plant­ing peren­ni­als. Wick­ing beds are raised gar­den boxes that can be eas­ily seeded, weeded and har­vested from. An im­per­me­able bar­rier

un­der the soil serves as a reser­voir.

A ba­sic tenet of per­ma­cul­ture de­sign is to in­clude plants in the land­scape that have a dual pur­pose: or­na­men­tal beauty as well as prac­ti­cal use­ful­ness. Lime­stone rocks, built up­wards in a spi­ral pat­tern to hold soil in place and to help

re­tain wa­ter, cre­ates an at­trac­tive (and tasty) herb gar­den.

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