Coming into my internship, I knew very little about Permaculture. The extent of my knowledge consisted of no-till gardening/farming and better environmental relationships. Although I learned a lot more during my time this summer from first hand experience, there were times where we were all standing there scratching our heads, wondering what our next course of action should be. That’s when Toby Hemenway’s “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” played a very big role in the knowledge I drew from my internship.
“Gaia’s Garden” has three separate sections to its vast array of information. The first section introduces Permaculture and its play in helping make your garden a part of its environment’s ecosystem. The first chapter will walk you through the different designs your garden can take on and how it will be beneficial to the environment around itself. By keeping the design of your garden in mind, this allows for the scale of biodiversity to be large or small. There are no need for pesticides and fences if you can plant different bushes and small trees that will attract the right species and defer the wrong ones. There is also a wondering chapter on the benefits of certain designs over others. For example, if you design your plot in the shape of a starfish, this will create far more edge and possibility for more diversity in the plant world.
In section two of the book, Hemenway discusses the different parts of a permaculture garden. He dives deeply into the types of soil that make some plants flourish while other plants may diminish under such circumstances. On top of that, he covers what you could add to your soil if it is nitrogen or carbon depleted depending on the growing year. Another topic of interest in this section is the types of biodiversity in your garden including plants, animals, and water supplies. He teaches readers about how to plant certain vegetables or flowers to attract bees or birds, which will in turn lighten your workload. Not all bugs are bad according to Hemenway, since they keep away other bugs and pollenate your plants. He also mentions that sculpting your garden to catch rainwater will be beneficial to you in the long run, especially during dry periods of the season.
In the final section of Hemenway’s book, he covers topics such as involving the community in permaculture by showing them your new found knowledge, growing something more like a “food forest” rather than just a small scale garden, and even permaculture accessibility in the city! Through spreading the knowledge of permaculture throughout your community, it spreads environmental friendliness. Within the community, the idea of guilding your gardens can become more frequent, which involved expanding your garden to mimic more of a natural ecosystem rather than a man-made garden. By expanding the idea of Guilding, people can begin to connect their garden to make a larger scale of community. This larger scale can be known as a food forest. This idea does not just have to be confined to just suburban areas of the country. Although one would not be able to create a food forest in a city due to limited space, someone can find a way to create a garden on top of a rooftop with the help of Hemenway’s knowledge.
Toby Hemenway displays a thorough knowledge of Permaculture, ecosystems, and how to relate those two things to each other. Throughout my experience, I found this book very helpful in the face of driving off unwanted pests and animals in a very humane and environmentally friendly way. I also gained in-depth knowledge on how to design our plots better to increase edge, biodiversity to increase pollination, and to allow for less or better water flow. Yet, I do believe “Gaia’s Garden” is by no means a beginners guide to permaculture. One cannot simply pick up this book expecting to understand everything Hemenway is talking about. Although he tried his hardest to explain Permaculture to the best of his ability to someone who may not have a clue about it, he still displays a very extensive definition to Permaculture and its different parts. My suggestion is that if you have no prior knowledge to Permaculture or sustainable agriculture, try to read up on it before tackling this book. Once you have a decent understanding, this book will tell you all the in’s and out’s of sustainable agriculture and how to properly execute it.
After the duration my internship, I can proudly say I have enough knowledge of Permaculture and its techniques to teach others. Although I learned a lot from my mentors, Ellen Underwood and Dr. Brian Jennings, there is always more to learn. I suggest if you have any doubts of your approach to sustainable agriculture, “Gaia’s Garden” will have an answer to your questions. There is always new knowledge out there and you should never stop trying to learn new topics or improve your knowledge of already well-known topics. Happy gardening , my fellow community members, and I hope you have a wonderful off season.