Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions
Welcome to my multi-part series on Permaculture. This series is aimed at giving you an introduction to how to apply the principles of permaculture not only in the garden but in all areas of your life.
- Introduction to Permaculture: My Journey
- Principle #1 - Observe and Interact
- Principle #2 - Catch and Store Energy
- Principle #3 - Obtain a Yield
- Principle #4 - Apply Self-Regulation & Accept Feedback
- Principle #5 - Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
- Principle #6 - Produce No Waste
- Principle #7 - Design From Patterns to Details
- Principle #8 - Integrate Rather than Segregate
- Principle #9 - Use Small & Slow Solutions
Get Small & Slow
Permaculture favors small-scale solutions that are applicable in many ways. Building a system slowly is advantageous because it allows you to adjust to changes and make corrections on a small scale. This will ultimately be less of a drain on your time and budget. While meeting its objectives, once established, a well-designed system should be as small as possible thus making it more efficient and easier to maintain. Slow systems are easier.
Garden Example - Perennials
Perennial plants are a good example of a slow solution. Initially, they are characterized by slow producing yields but over time once they establish themselves they have many benefits over annuals. They improve/preserve the topsoil, and save you time, energy and money because they don't need to be planted every year and many of them – for example, rhubarb, tolerate cold well and produce early in the spring.
Perennials come in a broad variety, are generally hardier than annuals, and have a wide range of blooming times (though out the summer) allowing you to extend your harvest period. They are easily propagated by splitting the root clump into smaller chunks that create two or more new plantings.
They percolate the soil. Through successive years of growth perennial plants develop root systems that create a porous, arterial-like network in the soil thus allowing water and oxygen to percolate deep enriching the health of the soil and other plants. Fill your raised beds, planter barrels or any flower beds with perennials keep on giving.
Slow Pace but Many Benefits
They add sun cover, nutrients, and water to the topsoil. Perennials have root profiles that tap deeply into the soil allowing them to access nutrients (i.e. nitrogen, iron, magnesium) and water not available in shallower soil and then transport these elements to the topsoil. The water that is drawn up adds moister to the topsoil, therefore, improving its quality, benefitting the surrounding plants, and preserving the topsoil for new growth in the spring. Perennials are cover crops, so their annual foliage shades the soil keeping it moist and mitigating the effects of wind and rain erosion.
Save Time, Energy, and Money
From season to season once perennials are mature, they will always be planted in the same spot (not unless you move them), producing approximately the same amount of yield making it a set-it-and-forget-it kind of planting. The predictability of perennials makes it easier for growers to predict and prepare for their harvests.
It’s easy to take for granted the amount of time and energy perennials save you once you have them happily established. They eliminate the need to prepare your soil for planting, the sowing/planting of the plants, and composting the dead plants in the fall. Plus, the money saved. No trips to the garden center, so no money is spent on seeds, plants, or other gardening supplies that you undoubtedly would have purchased.
Although perennials take the slow road to establishing themselves their long-term benefits outweigh the more immediate pleasures obtained from a blooming annual. In the long run, they require less output from the gardener allowing him to focus on other more important gardening tasks. With a little patience and some planning perennials can provide you with a garden that is easy to maintain, healthier, and costs you less money.
Business Example – Real Tiny Estate
A relatively new trend in the tiny house movement is the concept of starting with a tiny house as a way to live inexpensively and save money for a down payment for a traditional home.
This is an extremely attractive option to young couples starting with little money but eventually wanting to have a house and a family. If they can manage to live in a tiny house for a few years and diligently save money they can step up to a larger home relatively quickly.
Living in a tiny home has other imbued financial benefits such as:
A sincere commitment to saving money combined with the low-dollar output of the tiny house live style can amass cash quickly not just for a down payment on a house but for investment, travel, and philanthropic purposes.
On top of lowering your housing costs, you can sleep well at night knowing you are doing something positive for the planet by the small-scale footprint of your dwelling.
Health/Community Example - Incremental Changes
The general zeitgeist today openly embraces the concept of working locally, staying small, and being innovative with resources so we need to ask ourselves how “small and slow” or local our lives are.
To be self-sufficient, we need to create a small world for ourselves through localization. A visit to the local farmer's market takes longer than running out to the supermarket but you will be supporting the local economy, buying healthy food, and connecting with others who are choosing to do the same.
Walking and cycling might be slower than a ride in a car but the benefits to the environment are immeasurable. This is a “no-brainer” it is easy to see the result of your efforts.
I have only driven a handful of days (maybe 10?) a year for the last 6 years. It started as a 30-day challenge that evolved into a lifestyle choice. I had been thinking about adopting the non-driving habit for some time and had been mulling over the logistics of the whole thing.
When the challenge was presented to me, I just jumped in and figured the rest out as I went along. Since my main reason for doing the challenge was to reduce my carbon footprint, I was pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits. I have lost 15 lbs. from the additional walking I now do and I’m in better shape overall.
I get work done or read on my commutes and I never need to fight for a parking spot. I don’t have worries about gas prices, insurance, and car maintenance so I can afford car services or rental agencies when I need them for longer trips. Positive action for the planet results in benefits tenfold in return.
Good for Me, Good for You
You’re probably thinking “Yeah nice, good for you Mr. Permie Pants but I’d prefer to keep driving so next idea please.” I don’t expect others to give up their rides not unless inspired to do so, it works for me and it’s now completely ingrained into my life. I completely understand there are justifiable reasons why people can’t let go carless because of their location or other limitations.
What's Your One Thing?
What I would like people to ask themselves though is what one new sustainable practice could they incorporate into their lifestyle that they would be proud of. A practice that would make their life smaller and slower. Like with most topics that fall under the permaculture umbrella this is up to the individual to experiment with and figure out.
Again, it doesn’t need to be something as big as going carless. Start small, there are so many small habits you can develop that compound makes a big difference.
Steady Small Scale Solutions
Small-scale efforts compound and create big results, it’s not always sexy or exciting at the moment but as the benefits of your efforts amass, they are undeniable, positive, and empowering. When you are willing to be the person that does things differently, a person who doesn’t conform to the norm, you will find that people will emulate your behavior in surprising ways and will inspire you to contribute at an even higher level.
I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Bill Mollison's Designers Manual where he expands at length on this powerful but easily understood permaculture principle. Mollison's Manual will give you the tools to increase slow food production and the skills to use small and slow solutions.
Join us in our quest at blendedtribes.com to save the planet one permie principle (aka a 'Better Choice') at a time.