Smart planning

As the summer progresses and my own permaculture ventures fail to pop up overnight, I’m struck by how comforted this actually makes me feel.

Planning is such an important aspect of permaculture. It says so right in the introduction of a book I’ve had out from the library for months, Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield:

Successful permaculture systems “can only be achieved by means of careful design. Useful connections can only be made between things if they are put in the right place relative to each other. So permaculture is first and foremost a design system. The aim is to use the power of the human brain, applied to design, to replace human brawn or fossil fuel energy and the pollution that goes with it.”

Garlic takes planning, and even multiple seasons -- but it's oh so worth it

Keeping this in mind, when the permaculture garden I’ve been wanting to plant on The Farm I work at takes a few weeks to come about, I feel excited rather than discouraged. Kelsey and Erin (the rockin’ farm managers) and I spent one week planning, last week planting starter seeds in the greenhouse (chard, bunching onions, broccoli, cauliflower, sunflowers, peppers, basil, cilantro, dill, mint) and arranging rocks for the herb spiral, and will spent this week direct seeding. We might have to hold off on transplanting for another week or two — but it’s all good, because we’ve thought it all through. We have drawings and everything. In my opinion, the outcome will no doubt be worth the wait.

Another thing I’ve been wanting to do for awhile is chickens. A friend and I, upon contemplating our move from St. Paul to Minneapolis, got all excited about having chickens in our backyard — fresh eggs, man! But as time moves along and we realize that we’ve got to build a coop, get permission from the neighbors we don’t have yet, and locate some chickens, we’re realizing that maybe this is a next year adventure.

Once again, though — not discouraged. Because in planning our successful chicken raising, perhaps a little down the line, we’ve come up with more ideas — including a homesteading collective living situation where we try to grow and otherwise make as much of our own food as possible. Pretty awesome.

Not that raising chickens isn’t as simple as having cats, because as I learned this weekend at PRI’s Urban Chicken Practicum, it is! You have to have a place for them to live — that’s the coop and the run — and you have to feed them and clean up after them, like you would scoop a litter box — but that’s basically it. They eat food scraps from your kitchen along with some kind of powder or pellet feed made of mixed grains. And you can find the chickens themselves for 2 to 10 dollars each.

It seems to me that the hardest part is getting the permit — and the hardest aspect of that is getting your neighbors on board. So if you have chicken-friendly neighbors, I say go for it. Fresh eggs, man! I’ll even point you to some chicken list-serves at and craigslist.

Even when maintenance is fairly easy, though, careful planning will create a better, more integrated system. For instance, Seward Growing Lots Urban Farm, where the workshop was held, gets free fish waste from nearby Coastal Seafoods, which they use for chicken feed (it’s a great protein source) and as excellent compost in the gardens. They’ve also got a rain catchment (shown right) that feeds into a kiddie pool, so that when it rains they don’t have to worry about whether the chickens have water.

In conclusion: Planning is important. Smart planning is essential. Smarter planning means less maintenance of the system, less energy you’ll spend fixing what inevitably will go wrong. Think about it.


About PRI Cold Climate

PRI Cold Climate is an organization centered in Minneapolis that promotes permaculture throughout the region, fostering sustainable lifestyles and communities. We design and demonstrate permaculture systems specific to colder climates like ours, and provide leadership and resources for the permaculture community.
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