This is a powerful quote, and in this post, I will illustrate with examples from my property how to implement the ‘working with nature’ permaculture principle in practice.
Here’s the thing…
We spend most of our days on our permaculture properties, working and thinking about what we need to do. There are always plants to tend, soil to improve, animals to feed, grass to mow, hedges to trim, firewood to cut…
It’s a never-ending list of to-do tasks that keep us happily busy.
Rarely do we stop and think about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and if there is a way to do it differently and more efficiently.
Instead, due to our everyday busyness, we mindlessly drone through the task, complete and check it off, and then move to the next.
I understand this way of doing things very well. I’ve been successfully killing myself from work for quite some time. In my case, primarily by trying to fight nature’s tendencies to take over my property, constantly trimming, mowing, clearing, and cutting something to keep everything in check.
Since I don’t spend all my time on the property, and most of the time, I manage everything myself, the workload is overwhelming.
It wasn’t until I started practicing “doing nothing,” observing, and thinking through what I wanted to achieve that I realized there were better ways to achieve what I wanted, all while working less.
By observing nature and asking myself the right questions (revealed at the end of the post), I was able to come up with, if I might say, elegant solutions that otherwise would be unthinkable for a type A personality like myself.
Let me illustrate what I mean by giving you two examples.
Permaculture Principle in Action Example #1. Hedgerow
My family and I have been maintaining a wild-grown hedge on our property boundary dry stone wall for years. The cracks in the stone wall were a perfect microclimate, cool and moist, for plant seeds to fall into and grow on their own.
These quickly growing native plants were a hassle to maintain, and we had to trim the hedge yearly to contain their growth.
So one day, I was sitting quietly, observing nature and thinking about how I needed to trim down that “annoying” hedge.
The thing is, I wanted a living fence there but not necessarily these natives that were growing. I wanted a hedge with species like hawthorn, rosehip, hazels, black locust…you know, the plants you often read about in the permaculture books.
Then I realized, wait for a second, hawthorn, rosehip, and hazel plants were already growing here and there throughout that hedge.
What if I leave them there, clear around them to encourage their growth, and let them take over? That would work, and eventually, I would end up with the hedge I wanted.
Native hawthorn in the hedge, I was coppicing the poor guy mercilessly until I realized there was a better way!
So after years of mindlessly maintaining that hedge and trying to beat it into submission, I found a way to work less, partner with nature, and eventually get the desired result.
All of this, thanks to observing, questioning, and putting some thought into a potential solution…
Permaculture Principle in Action Example #2: Food Forest Guilds
When I planted the first trees and shrubs into my food forest, naturally, I started to get regrowth of the native “weeds” and perennials around them. Everything in that row that wasn’t mulched but had bare soil grew native weeds with furious vigor.
Eventually, one day, I thought to myself, I would love to have this row and everything between trees and shrubs planted with medicinal, flowering, aromatic perennials.
But until then, I’ll keep mowing and weeding everything I didn’t deliberately put there.
Multiple times per year, I had to keep the weeds in check with my string trimmer, and as I expanded my food forest and planted more rows waiting for perennial cover, this became an even bigger time-consuming chore.
So one day, as I was taking the time to think things through and observe nature, I remembered Elaine Ingham’s interview in which she said that one of the best ground covers from a microbial perspective was creeping thyme.
This resonated with me as I wanted a low-growing ground cover that fulfills multiple functions and outcompetes weeds – perfect!
Then I was, wait for a second, I have all this native thyme, patches and patches growing throughout my food forest area, including the rows I’ve been mindlessly mowing.
If I keep trimming the grass hard and leaving the thyme to grow, it will eventually spread out and take over.
Native thyme growing within a row in a guild with black locust.
So again, instead of brute force and beating plants into submission, by just taking the time to think, to be still, and observe nature, I once more came to the realization that saved me time, made me work less, and achieved the result I wanted.
Although these examples are food forest specific, you can apply this way of finding an “elegant” solution to different growing areas of your property.
I have had many other realizations I might share some other time, but the bottom line is this…
From time to time, try to turn off the autopilot mode, stand still or sit quietly and observe nature. As you think through what you’re doing and trying to achieve, ask yourself:
“How can I let nature do the work for me?”
“How can I work with nature instead against it?”
You can totally change the way you manage your property by asking these types of questions.
Let this post be a reminder to do this today. You could be quite surprised by the answers you might come up with!