Using self-sustainable practices in your home and business

Utilizing permaculture principles in home gardens can be as simple as adding a rain barrel to a downspout

Businesses, as well as home owners, need to watch their budgets closely. Food and landscaping are two expenses that can be integrated into one great way to save through using permaculture.

What if you could decrease your physical output and landscaping costs, and also increase your harvest yields while also providing a thriving habitat for wildlife and invaluable pollinators? What if you could catch and harvest water and energy, and lesson your impact on the energy grid and public water services? All while building beautiful landscapes that overtime can become nearly self-maintaining.

Sound intriguing? If you are an avid gardener or have a hobby farm perhaps you’ve heard of the term permaculture. Permaculture is a term coined by Australian bio-geographer and environmental psychologist Bill Mollison. Bill, along with Dave Holmgren, developed 12 principles and systems that became known as Permaculture Design. Together the two created a certification course teaching others how to create sustainable agricultural systems based on 12 principles that work in harmony with the earth without depleting its natural resources. It is a way of life that can lesson human impact on natural resources and provide future generations with a promise of a better world.

Small changes can have big results. Utilizing the permaculture principles in your home gardens can be as simple as adding a rain barrel to a downspout or designing gardens in a way that lessens the need for harmful pesticides by using plants known for their abilities to deter pests. Not only are you helping the planet, but you are also creating a diverse landscape that improves soil and gives beneficial pollinators a wild playground that in turn gifts you abundance in your yields.

This short column is far too limited a space to cover all 12 principles of permaculture but we will hit on a few important items to get you started. For more information, the internet is filled with resources.

Work with nature (don’t fight it): You will find yourself expending a great deal of time, money and energy trying to maintain a manicured landscape in a region that is just not suited for it. If you live in a desert, don’t try to grow a rainforest, xeriscape with cacti. If you live in the tundra, don’t plant palm trees, plant coniferous trees and hardy grasses. With the right permaculture designer you can have an attractive home or business while saving time, money and resources.

Use resources wisely: Water, no matter your climate, is a precious resource. Any opportunity to set up water catchment systems is a good long-term investment (check local laws and ordinances for limitations). Even in areas like ours where rain seems plentiful and (at times) endless, we have stretches of heat and drought. Saving water runoff in barrels or cisterns allows you to use this vital resource later when you really need it and will help you save on your water bill.

Location, location, location: Plants and trees all have different requirements for heat, light, water and nutrients. Make sure you plan out your garden area before you do the heavy lifting, watch where the sun shines at different times of the day and during the different seasons. Think about the trees that you are planting. How tall will they get? Will they block out needed light from your garden? Test the soil for nutrient density, pH and ability to drain. Plants like water but few like to be waterlogged. Some plants like peas and beans help to add nitrogen to the soil, so co-planting them with nitrogen dependent plants (for instance corn) helps increase your yield without the need for chemicals.

Think outside the norms: Society has set certain standards from time to time, and for the last 50 or so years that standard was to have your home or business look like a golf course or city park. I am happy to say that more and more homes, businesses and even city parks are using permaculture designs to improve their uniqueness, quality of life and cohesiveness with nature. If you are going to plant trees, why not plant fruit trees that feed the community or your family? Instead of planting a lawn, why not plant a walking garden with fruit, vegetables and flowers? If you are opening a new business in the community, why not find ways to give back in addition to providing your service or merchandise? You never know, you might just increase foot traffic by standing out and setting a new standard.

Eric K. Holt has been an avid gardener for more than 20 years, and Lindsay Holt just received her permaculture design certification from OSU. Together they live on five acres in Hockinson with their three boys, two dogs, two geese, 20 chickens, seven goats and Highland Steer. For more information go to