Difference Between Permaculture and Organic Gardening

Difference Between Permaculture and Organic Gardening

Design Matters

Permaculture is a system of land management that seeks to mimic natural ecosystems. It focuses on creating self-sustaining systems that are resilient to change. The term was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. Permaculture designs are built around the idea that nature does not need to be perfect to be beautiful. Instead, it is about making small changes that add up to big results.

Design features of Permaculture:

  • It has a strong ethical core. The test for any product is: does it help people and the planet? If not, don’t use that product.
  • Permaculture is an ecological design system that mimics natural systems. It takes advantage of the natural processes that occur in ecosystems to create sustainable living environments. Permaculture focuses on the principles of sustainability, self-reliance, and regeneration. It also emphasizes the importance of working with nature instead of against it.
  • Permaculture uses principles, strategies and techniques

The key lies in integration

Principles of Permaculture integrate the garden and home to help you create a sustainable lifestyle. A permaculture is an approach to designing landscapes that mimic nature. It focuses on creating self-sustaining ecosystems that provide food, energy, water, and habitat for wildlife. 

A permaculture garden is more than just an organic garden. While organic food production often has innovative elements, a permaculture-designed garden integrates each of the elements into a functional relationship. A permaculture garden is designed to mimic nature, and its design should follow natural principles.

Being Mindful

Permaculture design is about creating systems that allow us to thrive while also protecting the earth. Permaculture principles are not just about planting trees and growing vegetables. It is about designing systems that allow us to live in harmony with nature. Permaculture design helps us to understand what we need to do to protect the earth and ourselves. It is about making sure we have enough food, clean water, and healthy soil. Permaculture design allows us to create resilient communities that will survive the coming storms.

Big, Little, and More

Permacultures are designed to be sustainable. They are not just about growing food. They are about creating a healthy living space for all. They are about connecting people and places. They are about making sure everyone has enough food and water. They are about helping each other out. They are about working together.

Permaculture design has:

  • Focus on closing the nutrient and water loops by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
  • Creating healthier soil and increasing the variety of produce.
  • Responsibilities for waste. There is an effort to eliminate waste. i e. no excess nitrogen nor weeds seeds released.
  • Variety keeps residents interested and excited about growing their own food.
  • Imitate nature by conserving the soil and the water, and genetic capital, and you'll have a permaculture site that looks more like a food forest with some open glades filled with herbs and perennials. You won't see any food plants in rows.
  • Optimization of natural energies, e.g. wind, dirt, leaves, and bird droplets.
  • Nutritious food and habitat for people and native animals and birds.
  • Permaculture design is a mix of technologies. It is not just about observing nature, but also about using what you see to create something else. Permaculture is a system of designing sustainable living spaces. It is a philosophy of working with nature, rather than against it. It is an approach to designing landscapes and communities that promote biological diversity and ecological stability. 
  • Permaculture is a design system that allows us to create sustainable landscapes. We can use permaculture principles to help us create a healthy environment for ourselves and others. If we fail at permacultural practices, nature will take care of the rest. The soil will continue healing itself, the forests will grow back.

There are two main differences between organic farming and permaculture.

Closed and Open Nutrient Cycling

In a closed system, energy is not lost, it is just transferred from one being or object to another. Permaculture is an ecological design approach that seeks to mimic nature's patterns and cycles. It focuses on creating sustainable communities through the careful design of ecosystems.

Organic farming promotes the use of natural farming, and natural fertilizer, making use of the carbon cycle so that waste products from plants and organic material and organic matter become the food (fertile) of another. Inorganic farming, on the other hand, relies on chemical fertilizers, which are made from non-renewable resources. These chemicals pollute soil health and water supply, and also cause health problems when consumed. Organic farming is a sustainable method of growing crops, and is often considered to be more environmentally friendly than conventional farming. It uses sustainable agriculture and agricultural systems.

Permaculture is an ecological design system that promotes sustainable living through the integration of ecology, economics, culture, technology, psychology, sociology, and politics. Permaculture gardening is not just about growing food, but about creating a healthy environment for all living beings. Permaculture is a philosophy of working with nature and its cycles instead of against them. Permaculture is about designing systems that mimic natural ecosystems.

When is a Permaculture farm not organic?

Permaculture systems may include some non-organic elements.

  • When we use local resources instead of imported certified organic resources
  • We want to increase diversity by introducing unusual plants/seeds into our garden from a non-organic source.
  • Permacultures are designed to enhance a supply and convert it to organic. For example, when we grow food-plant along polluted rivers or roadsides to filter toxins and break them down into safer levels. We know that we may not be able to eat these plants, but we can keep them for our “catastrophe” backup. Permacultures are also designed to help us adapt to climate change. They are designed to be resilient and self-sustaining.

Essentially Permaculture seeks to close the energy loop by working with what we already have.

Creating a culture of recycling

This is usually due to the use of waste products that would otherwise go to waste. We could use old tires as ponds for fish, old shoes as plant pots, old car tyres as worm farms. Sometimes the choices are hard and we have to do an immediate cost-benefit analysis. For example: at Silk Farm we use recycled cooking oil (to make firestarters) and the oil cans from a non certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses vegetables and fruit from our garden. This trade stimulates our local relationships and fosters a culture where everyone is encouraged to think about what they can do with what they have. It is also about using natural resources. 

Permaculture can actively convert resources into food, and water.

We would have to weigh the benefits of using a free local waste versus supporting a good organic source that may be in another county. When we design well we can act as a cleaner or processing agent. Sometimes we can transform and then utilize polluted waste (within our reach). In the case of horse manure, we could talk to the owner about their anti worm medication, check that it could be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about remediation of it before using it. Permaculture design will aim to produce better output than input, organic gardening may not have checks in place to reduce the system‘s impact on the wider nature system.

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Extra reading 

Urban farms

Importance of native plants

Ethical gardening


Happy Gardening!
Dr. Vandana, Founder, UrbanMali.com