Sustainable Backyards

Why grow our own food?

We always hear that we should be growing our own food – but why? Here are some of the ideas gathered from permaculture students who were given 4 minutes to think:

Earth Care

  • attracts beneficial insects
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature
  • knowing inputs and processes of the food system (including energy and chemicals used)

People Care

  • good for mental health
  • superior taste and nutrition
  • know the history of the food, include how it has been grown (e.g. if/which chemicals have been added)
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature

Fair Share

  • greater self-sufficiency in the case of disasters and in general
  • sharing food with neighbours contributes to greater sense of community and community resilience


Using our space well

To get the most out of the garden/space we have (whether that is in terms of productivity, beauty, or any other function and/or use), there are some things to consider.

  1. Start by drawing a plan of the garden/space you have, including any existing features you do not plan on changing (e.g. buildings, trees, etc.).
  2. Identify north. This helps identify the path of the Sun, and also the direction of prevailing wind(s).
  3. Identify any areas that are very dry or wet.
  4. Identify any wind paths or corridors, and any sheltered areas.
  5. Consider the path of the Sun (including seasonal variations) and shade.  The Andrew Marsh 3D Sun Path shows sun paths for around the world and across the year.
  6. Identify frosty spots (they are good for killing some bugs, but also good for killing some plants!)
  7. Identify slopes and other topographical features.
  8. Understand soil type and fertility.
  9. Identify zones. Here are some useful links to understanding zones from a permaculture perspective: Zones and Sectors by Deep Green Permaculture, and Zones from

Whatever the weather

Understanding and knowing what to expect (kind of, at least) from local weather can be helpful when designing your garden/space.

Some useful websites include:

  • – said to be very accurate
  • Ventusky – app for interactive maps of real-time weather systems
  • MetService – New Zealand specific and probably most well known
  • MetVUW – New Zealand specific, lots of detailed information
  • – mesmerising maps of real-time winds and currents

So, for example, in the Waikato Region there is highly changeable weather, high humidity, frequent frosts during winter (because we are in a basin), and not a lot of wind (leading to a lot of fog).

Wherever you are, it is worth considering your local weather and climate conditions. It is also important for us to start considering how different climate change scenarios might affect our local climate and weather.

Planning and designing a garden 

Tania Ashman (gardener, permaculturalist, inspirational friend, and more) has come up with some ‘top tips’ for creating a productive, biodiverse, resource-efficient, ecologically considerate garden:

Keep a diary so you can organise, observe and interact. You can look back on what you did when and learn from successes and failures. A gardening calendar can be useful so you know when to sow and when to harvest different plants.

20161002_134819Choose plants that complement each other. Different plants have different needs, so planting those that have similar needs together. For example, planting ones with similar watering needs together means you avoid over- or under-watering.

You can plant in guilds to help promote the health and productivity of the different species.

Practice crop rotation. Try not to keep growing the same thing in the same year season after season, as this is not good for the soil (upon which your whole garden depends). Check this page for really easy-to-follow information on how to crop rotate.

We are wanting to create ecological systems, so letting some plants go to seed means they can self sow for next season. Also, even if there are ‘weeds’ growing… unless you are going to put something else where they are, consider just leaving them there because anything is better than bare soil.

Don’t leave soil bare, as it strips it of nutrients and life. The only time soil is bare in nature is after an ecological disaster… we don’t want this in our gardens.

Tania Ashman

If you want to start actually loving ‘weeds’, you might want to check out this post by Tenth Acre Farm. Or if you would still like to get rid of weeds, but without dangerous chemicals, try salt, vinegar, or boiling water.

Closing the loop

Nature is amazing in that it naturally composts everything biodegradable for us. By having a compost heap/bin/system in our garden it means we can actually collect the compost and obtain a yield. It is a great way of managing our kitchen and organic waste so that it does not end up in landfill, where it causes many environmental problems.

Animals in the garden – why and how?

Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.

Or if you prefer melodic creations by Flo and Jean (with some adult language)…

Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.

Tania says that no matter how we design our gardens, it is good to remember that they aren’t just for us. Gardens provide nature spaces for us but also other species. So when we are creating these spaces, how can we encourage other species to enjoy them?

Here are some ideas:

How are permaculture principles expressed in your garden?



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