Permaculture is for everyone. It is one of the best ways of producing food, minimizing our impact upon the planet, and moving towards a self-sustainable model that focuses on people and nature, rather than profits. However, sometimes it can seem very hard to get started with permaculture. This is particularly true if you live in rented accommodation. Unless you have an amenable landlord and the luxury of a long-term secure lease, it can seem daunting, even pointless to try and institute permaculture practices on a plot that you may have to leave with just a month’s notice.
One of the easiest ways to follow the permaculture principle of growing your own food on a rented property is to plant in pots. There are many species of harvestable plants that are perfectly happy in pots, and it means that you can move them to another property if you leave your current home, as well as move them around your garden in different seasons to give them the best growing conditions, such as giving them access to the early morning spring sunshine and shade from the blistering afternoon summer rays. Growing in pots is a great solution for those who may have a very small yard or only a balcony as outside space. And don’t worry about buying costly new pots, you can usually find pots at garden centers that have been marked down because of a chip or similar superficial damage. Failing that, anything can serve as a pot with a few drainage holes punched in the bottom, so look at recycling old buckets or even sinks.
Most herbs will grow very well in pots. Avoid planting mint in a pot with other herbs as it has a tendency to dominate a growing location. Citrus trees can grow well in pots, as do Bay and fig trees. When it comes to vegetables, leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce do well, while climbing crops like tomatoes and beans, as well as root crops like potatoes and radishes are also viable.
Planting in pots benefits from good organic compost and a regular ‘topping up’ with compost tea. Reduce water usage by placing your pots on plates or in trays so that water that percolates al the way through the pot is caught and still available for reabsorption by the plant.
If you are able to plant directly into the garden, make a habit of collecting and storing seeds from your favourite, most successful and native plants. Seeds can be kept in the refrigerator for several years and still are able to germinate when replanted, so you can establish your preferred cultivars when you move to another property. You could also take cuttings when you move.
If your landlord allows you to have chickens on your rental property, construct a chicken coop that you can transport with you when you move. It saves on building another one, and the chickens will appreciate the familiarity of their coop, reducing the stress of relocation.
While you probably won’t be able to install a large water tank on the property, you can still harvest rainwater in a barrel. This can provide water for irrigation, for your chickens if you have them, and even for some household tasks such as washing up and flushing the toilet, depending on the amount of rainfall your location receives. Your landlord may allow you to divert the flow from the gutter into the barrel, or there may simply be a leak in the gutter that you can locate the barrel underneath.
Rental properties are typically let on yearlong leases. While you may renew every twelve months, you never know when you may need to move. Perhaps the landlord has decided to sell the property, or you receive a windfall enabling you to buy your own place. Because of this potential shorter timescale, you want to get maximum productivity from your garden beds quickly. Composting and companion planting are your tools in doing so. By adding a good amount of organic compost to beds, and siting plants that compliment one another you are ensuring that the soil has sufficient levels of nutrients for the plants to thrive. These techniques mean you can densely plant your beds and get a larger harvest, even if you only have a small space.
If you are on a short-term lease or the landlord is opposed to your making any changes to the land, you can still use your rental property to further your permaculture aims, by using your time to hone your observation skills. Every piece of land where soil is available to plants, however small, will have life on it. Take time to notice what occurs on the land, the plants that colonize it, the insects and other wildlife that visit it, the way wind, rain and sun act upon it. These skills of observation will stand you in good stead for future permaculture projects when you are living on a property that is more suitable for them.
If your landlord does not allow you to alter the rental property for your permaculture project, it gives you the opportunity to look into community initiatives so you can still grow your own food. Some towns and cities have public space that has been given over to community gardens. This gives you growing space as well as a group of like-minded people to share your permaculture tips and techniques with. You might also have a land share project in your local area, whereby those with extra space, ‘rent’ out land to those without access to land to allow them to grow food. Typically, you will pay the ‘rent’ with a small proportion of your harvest.
Of course, if your landlord does not object, you could also institute more permanent permaculture practices on your rented garden, with a view to a longer-term project that will feature perennials and a garden that will mature over the years. If you have to or choose to leave the property, this sustainable garden providing food for the inhabitants of the rental property can be seen as a gift to future occupants. Who knows, it may just open someone’s eyes to the beauty of permaculture and inspire them in their own efforts.