Permaculture is about making the best of where you are and what you have. This might be a 5-acre parcel graced with a stream or pond, a small backyard setting, or even an apartment balcony. The concept behind permaculture, which is a design that mimics natural systems, is to produce what you can, minimize consumption and waste, and turn problems into solutions. Permaculture gardening is all about thinking locally and developing relationships that give strength to those wanting to live a more self-reliant lifestyle.

1) OLLA IRRIGATION: Irrigating with ollas (oy-yahs) is a method thought to have originated in North Africa that was used in China 4,000 years ago and practiced here by Native Americans in the Southwest. Ollas are pottery containers made of unglazed terracotta fired at low temperatures to keep them porous, and have narrow necks to minimize evaporation in the desert heat. Bury ollas in the ground, up to the neck, fill them with water, sow seed or plant around them—not inside—then watch your gardens grow. Soil-moisture tension, which controls water seepage through the pots, stops when the soil is moist and the water demands of a plant have been met. When the soil becomes dry, seepage begins again. Overwatering does not occur. The olla uses 50 to 70 percent less water than most watering systems. There is no runoff and almost no evaporation. Since the olla is buried up to the neck at root level, the roots grow towards the water source and pull out water as needed, which encourages healthy, large root growth. Filling the ollas with water requires a hose and not much time. You need to fill most ollas two times a week, sometimes three if no rain has fallen in week. You can put fertilizer in one, adding one-third less the liquid fertilizer normally recommended. You can also use ollas in containers. Browse drippingspringsollas.com for different kinds of ollas.

2) SELF-SEEDING PLANTS: Self-seeding plants, such as orach and other greens, continue to grow year after year, making them the ultimate low-care crops. You can also allow broccoli to go to seed, providing a continual source from one year to the next.

3) VINING PLANTS: Zucchini and all types of vining plants will sprawl over the ground, keeping it cool despite blazing summer temperatures.

4) POLYCULTURE PLANTING: Planting different varieties together and allowing flowers to spring up anywhere they want creates a great habitat for pollinators while making it difficult for pests to find particular plants because they’re intermingled with other species.

5) STONE SPIRALS: A spiral built of stone creates an ideal environment for plants that flourish in the additional heat from the sun-warmed rocks. Include a small water garden at the base to provide moisture.

6) CHICKENS: Chickens give you eggs and can prepare your garden. When frost knocks out the garden for the season, turns the girls loose to clear out any bit of vegetable matter, and then they’ll scratch in the rest. All the while, the hens deposit valuable manure that will break down and mellow over the winter well before planting. In the fall, station the flock along the perimeter of your home so the chickens can nab the spiders and other insects looking for shelter.

7) GET TO KNOW THE LAND: Notice where the water flows and where the leaves collect. It often takes at least a season of observation to gain a better understanding of the overall nuances of the land. Take notes or, better yet, snap pictures so you can visualize it.

8) PLANT IN ZONES: These areas should each have a different focus based on what you grow, as well as your daily habits. For example, in Zone 1 you may have your annual vegetables. It’s the area where you head when you need to pick a few handfuls of produce for dinner, and it’s where you keep the plants that might need extra attention. From there, the zones are made up of areas with varying needs. Perennials, berries and shrubs, fruit trees, chickens or other livestock are each a step further from the home. If at all possible, a little wildness along the perimeter of the property is good to encourage wildlife to maintain balance. Finally, think of the last zones as places you visit, whether it’s a town or a location you might have to fly to occasionally. Zones put consumption into perspective.

9) START SMALL & STAY CLOSE: For many people this means turning a lawn into a garden. Start with a small annual garden, and then add perennials. Grow whatever herbs and vegetables your family enjoys together. Mix up your plantings. If possible, enhance a low spot to better capture the moisture, or dig a trench out from a downspout that directs water to plants that utilize it. You’d be amazed at how much water you can sink into the ground by a little earthwork.

10) SHEET COMPOSTING & MULCHING:
Instead of tilling the soil, work on building it from the materials you have on hand. Sheet composting is a terrific method to utilize kitchen scraps and other waste products while creating an exceptional growing medium. Sheet mulching is a method of building soil by layering nitrogen-rich items (grass clippings, manure, seed-free weeds) and carbon layers (rotted straw, leaves) on top of an initial layer of cardboard or newspaper that smothers out the grass. This combination is a veritable earthworm magnet, making the soil-building process easier as the worms do the hard work of breaking down the materials.

11) FRUIT TREE GUILDS: A guild is a combination of plants that complement each other. With fruit trees, too many people plant them in the middle of the yard with grass all around them. The grass competes for nutrients and moisture. A guild might have deep-rooted plants (such as comfrey) as well as herbs, bulbs and shrubs. They all bring different qualities to the area while encouraging beneficial insects due to the variety of blossoms.

12) ADDING SWALES: Swales are one earth-shaping technique that harvests rainwater or irrigation water right where it’s needed, at the base of your plants. A swale is a basin followed by a raised bed or berm on the downhill side. Swales on contour are perpendicular to the slope, and every point along the swale is at the same level.