An Interview with Joshua Pendleton about Permaculture Principles

Joshua Pendleton has been interested in and practicing permaculture principles for years in his designing of landscapes and water systems. Recently, he received his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) fromMaster Permaculturist, Geoff Lawton.  http://permacultureglobal.org/users/11149-joshua-pendleton. We sat down with Joshua to get more information about permaculture, why it is beneficial and why he strives to incorporate it into Pendleton Design Management (PDM) projects when possible.

PDM: How/Why did you become interested in Permaculture Design?

Joshua:  From a very young age I have asked the question “ why”. Why do things happen the way they do, why does this work and this doesn’t, what are the long term consequences   if it is done this way? It has intrigued me over the years to observe and study installed landscapes, and see over 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 30 years how these systems have evolved.  Some, after many years, still have to be highly maintained and cost lots of time and money. Others have evolved and grown to where they need little time or money to maintain, and in my opinion, look a lot more aesthetically pleasing. Through designing landscapes and other systems using permaculture methods, one can already see the evolution of the system and determine the long term effects the design will have on the land and the people around it. When I look at a system or problem that needs to be fixed, I also look at the most efficient way to correctly implement a solution. A well thought out design takes less time to implement and less outside input to maintain. I have found that using Permaculture Design methods and concepts are the best and most efficient way to design a landscape, where you can take many systems and link them together like an intertwined web, an ecosystem that has diversity, stability, and resilience. Working with, rather than against, nature and mimicking how it operates, is the best way one can truly be sustainable.

 PDM: In your own words, can you describe permaculture and how it is different from basic organic gardening?

Joshua: First we have to understand what “organic” is and what it isn’t. Organic does not necessarily mean it is sustainable, healthy, or good for the land; and in the long term, organic farming can be detrimental for people. Organic farms are still monocultures, which is the furthest thing from nature. They still exploit the people, soil, aquafers, and the wildlife. Yes, organic farms do agree that they will not use certain chemicals and products so they can put “organic” on their labels. Permaculture is everything organic is not and more. A correct permaculture design takes less labor, builds soil, harvest water and recharges aquafers, and uses wildlife to produce more abundance and yield.

PDM: What are some of the main principles behind Permaculture?

Joshua:  The main principle or ethic of permaculture is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. We want to leave our children with a better world, not one they have to fix.  Cooperation, not competition, is the basis of existing life systems and the future of survival.  Those who are Permaculture Designers adhere to a common set of ethical principles which are: first, care of the earth; second, care of people; and third, sharing or returning the surplus.

PDM: If there is a residence where they do not want to have a vegetable garden or fruit trees, how can it “create a yield” to keep things in harmony?

Joshua:   A yield is specific to something that you harvest, like fruits and vegetables. But “yield” can also mean production, and health. You can have a healthy lawn and trees that produce great growth with using permaculture principles. Most landscapes have many systems, but most of the systems are separate from each other. A small example is, first you have hundreds of gallons of water fall on your roof every time it rains, and you have a system in place that takes this water as quickly off the property. Second, you have a sprinkler system that sprays water that you pay for on every square inch of your property regardless of if it needs it or not, using thousands of gallons a month. Third, you have leaf and/or tree branch debris and weekly grass clippings that you pay for someone to haul off. If one was to connect all three of these separate systems together using permaculture methods, they would spend less time and money maintaining their property.

PDM: So you are saying the scope of a Permaculture Design doesn’t have to have all the elements in one particular project?

Joshua:  Yes, you don’t have to have all the elements in one design. But the more systems you have, along with their elements, that are interconnected, the less time and input is needed to have a sustainable and productive system.

PDM: As part of your Permaculture Design Certification, you designed a model community garden incorporating Permaculture Principles. We see a copy of that design here.  Can you explain some of the Permaculture Methods you used to design this model?

Joshua:  In the past, every year after the garden area was tilled, the irrigation gate was opened to water newly planted vegetables. However, the growth of the newly planted vegetables was severely hindered due to the extreme amount of weed growth, especially during the growing season. The weed growth was almost too much to handle and choked most of the vegetables that were planted. One of the main concerns of using the irrigation canal to flood irrigate is that the irrigation canals potentially carries many weed seeds onto the property, adding to the ones that already exist.  To fix this problem we separated the vegetable garden area into “islands” - twelve 35 foot by 20 foot plots, surrounded by perfectly level trenches or swales. These two foot deep swales are filled with mulch and have a four inch perforated pipe in the middle so the water can freely flow through the swales.  As the water flows through the pipe and out into the mulch, it is filtered through the mulch and  weed seeds get trapped and are too deep to germinate.  Other parts of the garden will also provide community members with access to other food products that they don’t have the means or knowledge to produce themselves, such as honey, berries, fruit trees, medicinal herbs, chickens, and eggs. The owner wanted the property to be as low maintenance as possible, as many people have to come some distance to take care of their vegetables gardens. He also wanted the property to be able to produce a better yield and also provide a better experience for those who participate in the garden than what has happened in the past. Since the property has irrigations water rights we incorporated those to water all the plants in the system without using any mechanical or electrical components. One way in doing this was installing a Hugulculture Bed on the east end of the property at the base of the last stretch of swale before the water exited the property.  We decided on a Hugulculture Bed because there were a lot of left over stumps and logs from old existing trees and other community clean-up projects. The stumps and logs can be buried in a trench in the ground and then be covered with soil. The rotting wood acts like a huge sponge and any rain or water going through the nearby swale soaks in providing all the water the plants in the soil on top need.  In any good size garden there will be plenty of unwanted produce and scraps that can be tossed to the chickens as food and also scratched up and turned back into soil to use in the garden.  Every few weeks the chickens can be moved from one paddock to the next so the ground can rest and the chickens have a variety of feed and work to do in each paddock.  

PDM: How/Can you incorporate these principals in your work at Pendleton Design Management?

Joshua:  Most clients that I come in contact with want their landscapes to be productive and healthy with little maintenance, and over time want it to look better and more established. Also, they want it that way immediately. The problem with immediate gratification is that a lot of the time we make choices that are detrimental to the plants and soil in the long term. Quick fixes don’t really treat the problems with a system; they just cover up the underlining problems. I believe that as we incorporate more and more permaculture principles and methods our clients properties and area they live will be a great investment that will pay them back in abundance.