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  • Writer's pictureLieke Hulshof

How to start a permaculture garden?

Starting a permaculture garden seemed beautiful yet overwhelming. There is a lot of knowledge and it can be confusing how and where to start. With help of our volunteer Mary, who has permaculture experience for 10+ years, we give hands-on tips for beginners about how to start. It might help you flow with more ease while starting a happy green place. Why permaculture? Read the benefits here.

1. Build soil

In permaculture, soil is gold. It is the basis from which all life sprouts. No soil, no life, no food. So: soil should be nutritious and delicious. It should be full of nutrients and have the right texture.

  1. Observe your soil. Is it airy and fluffy? Hard and crumbly? Is it dark and moist? Dry and sandy? Observe how your plants are growing. They will tell you if they are getting enough nutrients! It's not only about water, but about the chemical structure of your soil. For most vegetables you want to have dark, moist, fluffy soil. If the quality of your soil needs to be upgraded, it's time to build soil:

  2. Make compost from green organic waste (food left-overs, garden waste, cow dung) and brown organic waste (old leaves, twigs, dried grass). The balance between wet waste and dry garden waste should be 50-50. Always cover your compost pile with a layer of dry garden waste. This compost can be added to your beds.

  3. Build your soil directly on the land. Lay the chopped plants, leaves, grasses on your land. Put a layer of green garden waste followed by a layer of brown garden waste. Make sure the layers are thick enough - they shrink when decomposing.

  4. Want to turn grass into veggie beds? Place cardboard on top of the grass, then a layer of green waste topped with a layer of brown waste.

Note 1 It takes time (3-6 months depending on the climate) for waste to turn into soil. In permaculture, most effort is put in the starting phase. Once good soil is built, things become easier. You can introduce earthworms to fasten the process.

Note 2 Always make sure your soil is covered by a layer of brown organic waste. We call this mulching. Soil exposed to sun, rain and wind is like an open wound for the soil. It needs protection.

2. Start with easy-growing crops

  • Start small and easy. A small patch. A few seeds. As much as you can handle watering daily. Choose the easy and fast growing crops. Growing crops is also a way to improve your soil, so the first crops make way for future crops.

  • Combinations of crops can be very good. A golden triangle is for example: beans (medium roots), corn (deep roots) and pumpkin (creepers with small roots). They have different root systems and different effects on the soil, together making a perfect balance.

  • Keep your soil moist. The smaller the seed, the more vulnerable. Drying out can be fatal, so water sufficiently once or twice a day. You can choose to plant directly in the soil, or first in small pots. This is personal. Lay crumbled leaves or chopped grass as mulch. This way the water evaporates much slower. The small plants will easily push through a thin layer of mulch.

  • Experiment! Don't be afraid to fail, because that is part of the journey. All your experiences will make you wiser.

  • Use old & left-over plants for compost or mulch.

Note If you don't yet know which crops grow well, start with a few seeds of a wider range of crops as an experiment. We did this and found that lettuce, swiss chard, pumpkin and broadbeans grow easily in our climate. Look for crops less sensitive to disease and pests. This will give you confidence to explore more.

3. Make paths

  • Design your garden so that it’s clear where to walk and where not. Walking on soil presses the oxygen out. As our bodies need to breathe, so does soil. It is vital for the texture and all soil life. Don't forget: soil is alive!

  • Paths give you access to your crops, without disturbing your garden.

4. Collect seeds

Growing plants is good for soil health and for eating. A third benefit is that it gives you seeds. This is way cheaper than always buying seeds! Make sure to dry before storing in a jar or box. It's best to use seeds within 1 year, although some seeds (heirloom seeds) can be stored much longer. You can look more into GMO seeds, heirloom seeds and hybrid seeds. It is better to prevent GMO seeds. Heirloom seeds are harder to get by, but worth the effort as they are not genetically manipulated. Heirloom seeds can also be planted year in year out. Hybrid seeds are artificially pollinated - some people don't mind and others do. Hybrid seeds will not produce the same plant (and yield) the following year, because most varieties are not self-sustaining.


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