Permaculture is a type of ecologically sustainable development that encourages all types of development of your property that will be sustainable for the future and have a low impact ecologically in damaging the planet. Permaculture is all about finding better ways to improve the planet by doing as little as you must to the property to provide a yield and adapting your property into a more natural growing system, more like what nature does. There are a lot of great books on Permaculture so I won't attempt to teach about permaculture on this blog, but will encourage you to seek out some of the really good books and phamplets and sites on permaculture.
My favorite book right now is Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, but other good books are One Straw Revolution by Mansobu Fukoka and several books by Bill Mollison. There are also other good books on forest gardening and on edible gardening available, some which I have not read so I can't give recommendations here. A good forum site to ask questions about Permaculture is http://www.permies.com/ forums.
On my property I am attempting to use common sense ideas of planting as close to nature as possible, inviting nature onto my property and doing no (or little) harm.
I am attempting to use concepts such as layering in my planting, imitating a forest by using Canopy layer, Understory layer, Shrub layer, Herbaceous layer of annual and perennials, Ground cover layer, Fungi layer and also Water Gardening layer.
There is also a concept of zones within permaculture where you have zone 1 closest to your home or business, where the areas that you will need to access most are in zone 1, slightly less zone 2, etc. to the areas you'll need to access least would go in zones farther out from the center..not necessarily in circles. In my property the West end of my house would be in a farther zone, as we hardly ever go there, it is a tiny strip of steep property difficult to access and is basically for wildlife, so it isn't in a close in use zone on my property. If you have farm animals they should be in zone 1 or 2, your salad garden crops or herbs you'll use every day should be in zone 1 or 2.
Another concept that I find very helpful is to try to closely match plants that would be companions in nature or that will work to benefit each other. One example is to plant lots of plants on the property that fix nitrogen in the soil, or that accumulate nutrients from deep below the surface. Nitrogen fixers can be many different plants, but they tend generally to be legumes such as peas, beans, lupines, as well as shrubs and trees that fix nitrogen, you can do searches on line or go to the permies site above to learn more about those types of plants.
Accumulators often have very deep tap roots that bring up nutrients from deep in the soil and carry them into their large leaves..those leaves can be chopped and dropped for a mulch or sheet compost several times a year and they will enrich your soil. Comfrey and Rhubarb are two good accumulators that can be cut often during the year and add their nutrients to your soil.
Other concepts are to plant lots of plants that will draw in and provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds. Beneficial insects are your insect and disease control guardians of your property, and you should try to provide a large variety of beneficial insect habitat plants in the gardens. I use several types of herbs and flowers, especially wildflowers, to draw in the beneficial insects, and hedgerows are another really good way to draw in these guardians.
Birds eat hundreds of harmful insects and weed seeds and can be drawn into your property by providing a few things like a good water source and also natural foods that the birds will enjoy. You can put out bird feeders, but also plant lots of trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers for habitat for the birds as well as plants that produce seeds and berries that will feed the birds on a more varied and natural basis.
I also attempt to draw in animals for their manure and browse on our property. I plant lots of browse plants for deer, rabbits etc. and they in turn deposit their manures on our property. Sure this does require some careful fencing around the trunks of tender baby trees so that the bark isn't damaged and proper placing of things so that they are more protected from the deer by putting the natural browse closer to your habitat corridors, but in turn you reap a rich reward of animal manures as well as the beauty of seeing the animals. Also should you choose to hunt you will have chemical free meat readily at hand.
Another concept is to provide natural habitat in the form of such things as brushpiles, stone piles, old rotton logs and standing dead snags on the property. These provide hiding places for the smaller animals, birds and lizards and toads and snakes that will patrol the property eating pest insects.
A pond or water source is a huge benefit to your property not only providing habitat for water plants and animals and fish and water birds, but also for fire control, drought water and irrigation should you choose to use it as such. We have put in a fairly large pond with irregular edges which are being planted to a variety of plants and trees, in the future we hope to add a freshwater source to the pond but at this time it is filled by springs and water run off catchment from our roofs and land that slopes down to the pond. In the future we wish to plant food fish into the pond to provide another source of protein.
Trees are an important source of food on our property, where we have been plantings dozens of fruit and berry and nut trees as well as trees for fuel and crafts, etc.
We have a small forested area that we use for several things but it is also a great source of peaceful strolls and beautiful sites to see, this past week as I was walking back on the trails in the woods it was completely covered with hundreds of beautiful bright orange fungii. It felt like I was walking among faeries. Why wouldn't you want to have a beautiful peaceful woodland of winding trails to walk through?
For more information on food forests I highly recommend that you read Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.
Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
this is a really wonderful all around permaculture book which leans toward forest gardens. Has a very good Urban garden section as well for those will smaller urban areas that they are wishing to make into productive gardens. I learned a lot from this book and have re read it several times. Highly recommended.
Edible Forest Gardens volume 1 and volume 2 by Dave Jacke
these are excellent but very wordy permaculture manuals. They are good if you need basic knowledge and have a good deal of detailed information on individual plants, etc. The appendixes at the end of the books are excellent information and very helpful.
Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeir
an excellent book that is very easy to read, has information on permaculture and on individual vegetables that are perennial with good growing information and prep information. This book was written in North American and covers all zones but with special attention to Florida. Living in Michigan I did find some information that was helpful for our zones and further north however found that a lot of the plants would not be usable in our area. Some suggestions for extending the seasonailty of the vegetables was helpful.
Plants for a Future by Ken Fern
This book was written in England and was a bit difficult to translate into Northern Michigan climate, but it has some good information in it on not only the plants but also on permaculture in general and is a good read with a good deal of humor and some interesting situational stories as well.
Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison
This is an excellent book but also written for a climate that does not resemble ours at all so translation to North America is a tad difficult. This is an excellent book to explain and learn about permaculture and has a lot of helpful and useful information, I have re read this book dozens of times and always find some new ideas while reading it.
On order from the library at this time 5 more books, will update when I have read them.