Preparing for Catastrophe in a Permaculture Garden

In permaculture design, we expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

Flood Waters
shaunl / Getty Images

None of us like to think about the worst that may happen. But forewarned is forearmed, and it is good to be prepared. I like to think that in permaculture design, we expect the best, but prepare for the worst. It's not about fear-mongering or inviting in doom and gloom. It's not about hunkering down for the apocalypse. It is simply about being clear-sighted about the future. And taking steps to make sure we are resilient in the face of whatever may come.

In a permaculture garden or on a sustainable farm, it is important to remain vigilant to risk. That means understanding the catastrophes that may come, and taking whatever steps we can to mitigate the effects of those disasters. Here are some topics to consider.

Understanding Sectors, and Environmental Risks

In order to prepare for catastrophe, you need to be aware of the current risk picture. And for that, you need to know your environment well. You need to take a look at sunlight, wind, and water, and the effect that these have on your land. In a broader context, you need to understand the inputs and outputs required by any system. And to see how external forces acting on the system could create issues with supply and such down the road.

Future-Proof Growing

In the context of our climate crisis, we need to look not just at how things are today, but also anticipate how they may change in the years to come. For example, some regions will experience lower rainfall levels, and water shortages as the planet warms. In many areas, climate change brings an increased risk of wildfire. But in other areas, extreme weather events mean flooding becomes an increasingly prevalent risk.

Shelterbelts, erosion planting and cover crops, on-contour planting, swales, etc. for water conservation, ponds or reservoirs, and taking a no-dig/no-till approach are just some permaculture methods that can help you in averting disaster in the years to come. Undercover growing areas can also be worth considering – so we can continue growing throughout the year, and be less vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Boosting Personal and Site-Level Resilience

Boosting resilience on a personal and site level means implementing strategies that will allow you to take greater control over your environment and mitigate risks. Boosting your personal resilience means making sure that you have the skills required to take a DIY approach and can rely less on external people and resources.

At site level, in your garden or on your farm, resilient systems are those which can stand the test of time. A typical annual garden, for example, might work right now. But will it deliver what you need in the years to come? Perennial planting schemes such as forest gardens, for example, can often be better able to provide food over the longer term, with less external input, and less of your time and effort.

Diversifying: Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Above all, in a permaculture system, preparing for (and often preventing) catastrophe means boosting biodiversity as much as possible. The more plants and wildlife are present in an ecosystem, which interact in beneficial ways, the more stable and resilient a system will be.

Beyond planting and wildlife encouragement, however, diversification is also important in other spheres. In addition in fostering diversity through what you grow, you should also promote diversity in other ways. Preparing for catastrophe and mitigating disaster often also means diversifying your revenue streams. And making sure that even when one area fails, another can thrive.

Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Planning and preparation are key in any permaculture system. We cannot, of course, predict every eventuality. But by thinking about the future, we can begin to formulate plans that will see us through the roughest times and take us towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable way of life.

Always be organized, with your planting and growing schedule, with jobs around your property, and in your daily life. Plans can change, of course, but having plans in place not just for the short term but also for the longer term, can help you make the most of everything you have, and work with nature to meet your goals.

Meet the future with hope and ambition. But do not be blind to risk, and make sure you plan and prepare for catastrophe, as well as for the best outcome possible.