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Permaculture and Organics

How garden practice affects composting.

Organic CompostWe’ve been intrigued lately how the practices of sustainable, organic gardening and permaculture integrate composting into their philosophies. Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger has been known to say that organic gardening and specifically composting will save the world and both those endeavors seem to prove it. Yet, both have their differences.

We won’t go into all 12 principles of permaculture here. But consider how many of them are addressed by composting (as listed in Christopher Shein’s excellent new book The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide To Permaculture): work with nature, produce no waste, use and value resources, catch and store energy. To organic gardeners, all that come together to mean one thing: improve soil conditions without harmful chemicals.

Efficient and easy to use! The composting bins and supplies available at Planet Natural will reward you with piles of rich organic matter to use in your yard, garden or houseplants. Need advice? Visit our Compost Blog for the basics and some insider tips from the pros.

This is the time of year we’re adding grass clippings, if we have them, to our compost piles as well as vegetable scraps from our kitchens, thinnings from our garden (if we’re not eating them), and year-round items like cardboard and newspaper. The permaculturist, in an effort to diminish waste, advocates using shredded office paper and the like as a brown (carbon-heavy) material. The organic gardening purist may not want to add newspaper because of what might be in the inks, office paper because of the bleaching agents that make it white, and cardboard because of the glues used to hold its corrugated surfaces together.

Permaculturists will also add food scraps — their own and their neighbors — to the compost heap. These are very high in green (nitrogen) and if not balanced with enough brown material — dried leaves and plants, sawdust and, yes, paper — they could lead to an anaerobic, putrid compost heap. Kitchen scraps have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 25:1. By comparison, grass clippings have a c-to-n ratio of 12:1.

What’s interesting here is how different philosophies — permaculture and organics — are both closely related yet can have specific differences. If you’re avoiding the production of waste as best you can (permaculture) you may not be as concerned with things like inks in newspaper that goes into your compost. If you’re an organic purist, you may not want to use any sort of paper in your compost. Permaculture experts suggest scavenging grocery store dumpsters (or making an arrangement with the store’s produce manager) for collecting expired fruits and vegetables. Organic gardeners, in an effort to keep out any pesticide or herbicide produce (or avoid having to wash everything they collect; a huge use of water) may avoid produce from grocery sources. And they wouldn’t use grass clippings from a neighbor who sprays his lawn with weed killer.

To casual observers, it might seem that sustainable gardening, organic gardening, and permaculture are one and the same. But their differences are obvious to those who pay attention and follow the practices. It’s the goals — the principles — of each that generate these differences. But their overall effect is positive. Consider the sharp contrasts each has with traditional, fertilizer-reliant, pesticide-dependent gardening and commercial farming. As all organic, sustainable gardeners and permaculture enthusiasts know, one must sometimes make compromises. Which would you make? Which would you never make?

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6 Responses to “Permaculture and Organics”

  1. Beverly Letsche on June 17th, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    I do purchase grocery store produce and put the peels, etc in my compost, but I would never put anything in such as grass clippings contaminated with weed killers. I just emptied my compost bin and am starting a new batch, which makes me smile. It is so satisfying to turn “garbage” into a beneficial product.

  2. nicofrog on June 17th, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    Oh GOD please spare me the Rants of PURISTS
    your organic stuff is all grown with Black plastic PVC pipes laying out in full sun with water in them just getting LOADED with pvc’s Fortunately Plants pick up very little negative crap from the soil they are grown in. Check with u C Davis before writing your next article. I have been Composting using hot to worm compost for 35 years, My compost grown BEAUTIFUL HEALTHY HUGE PLANTS that grow Beautiful healthy people. All soft brown paper composts beautifully,a percentage of inked paper(they new soy based inks will hurt nothing) according to the scientists who probably sell the stuff..,,,i almost killed my worms by using pure paper for a while,but it was not the poisons ,it was the lack of proper roughage.. so GOOD on ya NO one should do too much of anything Carrots might kill ya if that’s all you eat.

    I have composted post consumer waste for all these years and the occasional dead cat of 6 dead sheep ,and YES you need to learn HOW to Compost ,but someone telling you RULE NO. ONE about anything is a certain sign of an acolyte who had proclaimed themselves Natural gate keeper .

    You can find dozens of articles on line about all the things you must not compost ,all this is literally a pile of crap.

    the picture shown has at least 5 composting errors in it ,perhaps that explains the need for the article ..

    n F B. K.

    • deborah on June 17th, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      I must agree with you on your points. I’ve been an organic gardener for 40 plus years and have never had a problem with using anything that will breakdown. Junk mail, (minus plastic windows)magazines, catalog, cardboard and tons of newspapers. Nature has a way of breaking down many things we never dreamed it could. As long as you know what you are doing….it’s all good!

    • Jennifer on June 17th, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Hi, nicefrog
      Like you, I shun all or nothing methods. My compost pile is just that a pile. It is 4 feet by 16 feet and is over the fence from my garden. I have been throwing “crap” over the fence for 5 or 6 years. I water the pile when I water and once in a while when it is hot. We have very cold winters here, and I have never turned the pile. It is too heavy. Into goes all of my garden waste: weeds, excess plants, the plants at the end of the year, and the box of growing potatoes and the box of moldy onions from last summer that I forgot in the garage. I honestly figured that it was never going to compost, but the pile goes up to 5 feet tall and down to 3 feet tall several time over the year. I finally had time to go around and clean it up, square it off and pile it neater the other day & you know what? It is a very large pile of super composted material that I can wait to put all over everything. I am wondering what you see in the photo that are considered composting errors (not that I intend to change what I’m doing) 🙂

  3. pfc on June 17th, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Wow Nicofrog, you sound like a total douche!

  4. Jennifer on August 30th, 2013 at 1:17 am #

    Well,I see nicefrog never answered me. Can anyone tell me the alleged perceived mistakes in the photo?