Permaculture systems work with nature and give value to all parts of it. While producing edible crops is one of the main focuses of any permaculture plot, other factors are also considered, including the pleasure that the garden brings, the benefit it can give to the earth it sits on, and how it can help to conserve precious and finite resources like water.
A further aspect of a permaculture design is how it interacts with local and migratory wildlife. Wild animals are a part of the ecosystem in which the permaculture plot is located, and so deserve consideration when making a design. Sometimes natural techniques will be deployed to deter certain animals from the site (in order to protect other life forms, be they plants or animals), but often the permaculture gardener will seek to attract wildlife to the site. Doing so can often help in keeping populations of other creatures, particularly pest insects, in the correct balance for the ecosystem, but having wild animals visit a site also adds pleasure to a site, either through observing them or hearing their voices, be it birdsong or the croaking of frogs. Here are some of the ways to attract wildlife to your permaculture garden.
As with many aspects of permaculture design, maximizing the diversity and variety of plants is one of the most effective ways to attract a range of wild animals, as doing so offers a wide range of habitat niches in which animals can function. Aim to create layers of vegetation, with ground cover plantings, shrubs and trees to give a range of environments to suit many species. For instance, some birds nest in the canopy of mature trees while others prefer small bushes closer to the ground for their nest building. Many birds, amphibians, insects and mammals look for food in groundcover and leaf litter, so avoid bare earth on your plot (which is good for your site anyway, as ground cover crops and leaf litter help protect the soil from erosion). A wide array of plants will also provide many different food sources, from leaves and shoots to fallen fruit and seeds.
Use Native Plants
When making your planting decisions, use native species whenever possible. These are the plants that are most suited to the climatic and soil conditions in your location. They are also those which are attractive to native animals, with relationships between them having built up over centuries of evolution. Native plants are also better at preserving water and nutrients in the soil, which will help support populations of insects and other microorganisms in the soil, which in turn will attract animals that feed on them.
Have Flowering Plants
Having lots of plants that produce blooms will attract a lot of different insects to your permaculture garden, as they feed on the nectar and pollen in the flowers. These insects will not only help to pollinate the plants in your permaculture site, they will in turn attract other species that predate n them, as well as birds. As with any feature of your permaculture design, seek to plant flowering plants that have more than one function. Lots of vegetable and fruit species produce attractive flowers, while some species of flower, such as nasturtiums, are edible themselves. Even those you can’t eat can perform more than a single function, such as daffodils being panted to deter deer from eating the crop from your fruit trees.
Add a Water Body
Almost all living things need water in order to survive. Providing that water is a sure way to bring wild animals to your garden. Not only does it provide animals with somewhere to drink from and bathe in, it is also another habitat for them to populate. Frogs, toads and other amphibians live in and around water bodies, while a whole raft of insects are aquatic or prey on others that are. Again, variety is the key to maximizing the animals that come to the water body. A variety of depths to the water offer different niches, while a diversity of plants in, on and around the edge will also attract animals.
Composting the soil has a great many benefits for the permaculture plot. Not only does it help the soil to retain moisture, prevent erosion by wind and rain, provide plants with valuable nutrients, and provide a means of recycling waste from the garden and the kitchen, it promotes wildlife as well. A soil rich in the organic matter that comprises compost is a healthy one, providing the best conditions for microorganisms and insects to thrive within it. And because ecosystems are complex interrelated webs of plants and animals, this brings other animals to the site as their source of food (the microorganisms) is abundant. These in turn attract other predators, and so on up the food chain. As with many things in your permaculture plot, attracting wildlife starts with a good, healthy soil.
Many animals are attracted to locations that offer them protection, both from the elements and from predators. Planting a wide variety of plants, particularly if you aim for several ‘layers’ of plants at different heights is a good way to do this, especially for birds, but you may also want to institute windbreaks if your site is prone to strong winds, and ensure there are plenty of places in shade if you experience regular high temperatures. Also make sure that your pets are not a threat to the wildlife, giving them plenty of places to hide and ensuring any measures you institute to attract birds do not put them in reach of your cat.
Providing a variety of non-plant environments on your plot is also key to attracting wildlife. Every animal in nature has its own characteristics, requirements and preferences, so having features on your plot that meet these will allow creatures to thrive. Even seemingly innocuous items such as rocks, fallen branches and hollow logs can provide homes and hunting grounds for wildlife.