How to Find Synergy Between Garden Projects

Combine projects to fulfill more than one objective at a time.

woman pruning a fruit tree

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Finding synergy between different garden projects can be an important strategy in making your efforts as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. What I mean by this is finding ways to stack functions and combine projects to fulfill more than one objective at the same time. Synergy and holistic thinking are key to permaculture gardening. To help you understand this concept and apply it in your own garden, here are some examples:

Synergy Between Ponds + Other Projects

Building a pond on your property can offer a wide range of benefits; but the material you dig to create your pond can also be useful. Thinking synergistically allows you to make the most of the excess soil. For example, you might:

  • Stack any turf removed upside down to create loam for other garden projects
  • Use topsoil elsewhere in growing areas (as the top layer in a lasagna garden, for example, or as part of a homemade soil-based potting mix)
  • Use subsoil in earth bags for construction of garden buildings, bed edging, retaining walls, etc.
  • Take soils with appropriate clay content and use them in cob/adobe construction (e.g. garden buildings, fire pits, outdoor pizza ovens, etc.)
  • Isolate clay and use it in making clay renders, lining ponds/earthworks, or in crafts
digging a garden pond

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Tree Thinning, Coppicing, Pruning + Other Projects

On many wooded properties, it may be necessary to thin trees to revitalize native woodland. Coppicing plays an important role in woodland and forest management, as does pruning to keep fruit trees producing well and in optimal health. These jobs can provide a wealth of materials to use in other garden projects. For example, wood and natural branches might be used for:

  • Building greenhouses and other garden buildings
  • Creating fences on a property
  • Building hugelkultur beds (raised garden beds made with rotten wood) or making bed edging
  • Making biochar to improve the soil and boost soil carbon
  • Chipping for use in new beds, paths, etc.

By thinking about how the output of one job or garden area can be used as an input for another, you can create a holistic scheme which works as a closed-loop system. 

Greenhouses + Chicken Coops

kids in front of greenhouse with a chicken coop

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When undertaking various projects that use natural resources from your garden (along with reclaimed materials), it is important to think about potential synergy between the different structures you build. 

One famous example of this in permaculture is combining a greenhouse and a chicken coop. By combining these two garden elements, you can create a system that is greater than the sum of its parts. The greenhouse will warm the chicken coop when the sun shines (and when carefully designed, will do so only during the winter and not overheat during the hottest summer months), and the body heat of the chickens can reduce the chances of freezing temperatures in the greenhouse when it does not. The chicken manure and bedding in the greenhouse will be composted and, once composted, does not have to be moved far for use in the greenhouse. 

Rainwater Harvesting + Other Projects

There are plenty of ways to create synergy between rainwater harvesting systems and other garden projects. For example, you might:

  • Place rainwater harvesting tanks or barrels within a greenhouse for thermal mass, to keep temperatures more even throughout the year
  • Send rainwater to an outdoor tap (perhaps outside a chicken coop, an outdoor kitchen, or a vegetable harvest prep area)
  • Direct rainwater immediately to wicking bed reservoirs or an aquaponics system
  • Gravity-feed rainwater to drip irrigation systems
  • Direct rainwater to a reed bed filtration system or rain garden
  • Create conduits to carry rainwater to ponds on your property
  • Pass rainwater through piping in a compost heap or solar water heater for space heating or hot water needs
rain barrel filling a watering can

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Composting + Other Projects

Compost heats up, and this is a characteristic that can be used to create synergy in a range of settings. As mentioned above, you can pass piping through a hot composting area for space or hot water heating. You can also make hot beds filled with composting materials that will provide gentle bottom heat for a growing area above. 

Compost heaps, when carefully positioned, can often bring benefits to other garden elements close by. Remember, too, that composting methods often provide not only compost but also other yields, such as a compost tea, which adds fertility to your growing areas. In the case of vermicomposting, worms are another yield. Use those worms as feed for chickens, wild birds, or fish in an aquaponics system. 

These are just a few examples of how finding synergy between garden projects can help you design and implement a better, more sustainable, and more productive garden, while reducing demand for additional resources.