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. Kareen Erbe, a permaculture designer living in Bozeman, Montana, stresses that permaculture can be achieved anywhere from rural areas to cities. After learning about the concept in college, Kareen traveled to India where she studied under Vandana Shiva, a renowned Indian agricultural activist. Kareen has also studied in New Zealand and Australia, and now travels throughout the world to teach permaculture design.

“We’re looking towards positive solutions to a lot of problems, such as food insecurity and poor food quality,” Kareen said. “All of the principles can be applied to any scale. Suburbs are a perfect opportunity. Gardening is the way most people come to permaculture, yet permaculture is so much more.” The first step is to grow something edible. “Have a tomato plant or two, or lettuce. This whole idea of putting something in the ground and watching it grow, it’s a fundamental thing.” Building a permaculture landscape doesn’t have to happen overnight. It’s perfectly acceptable to make small steps each season to grow closer to the goal of a self-sustaining system. At her home, Karen and her partner, Jason Burlage, are gradually implementing more permaculture designs into their 0.75-acre landscape on the property they bought a couple of years ago. “Every year we’re closing more and more loops, and adapting the plants to our property,” she said.

Self-seeding plants, such as orach and other greens, continue to grow year after year, making them the ultimate low-care crops. She also allows broccoli to go to seed, providing her with a continual source from one year to the next. Zucchini and all types of vining plants sprawl over the ground, keeping it cool despite blazing summer temperatures. And throughout the garden, different varieties are planted together. Peppers and garlic grow next to each other, and some of the broccoli is surrounded by lettuce and dill. Borage, calendula, sunflowers and other flowers also spring up anywhere they want. This polyculture planting method creates a great habitat for pollinators while making it difficult for pests to find particular plants because they’re intermingled with other species. A spiral built of stone creates an ideal environment for plants that flourish in the additional heat from the sun-warmed rocks. A small water garden at the base provides moisture. Within the spiral she grows basil, thyme, cucumbers, peppers and a rosemary plant that looks like it’s rooted in far warmer climates than Montana.

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