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  • Naomi Stephens | Permaculture Designer

Permaculture Principles in an Urban Permaculture Apartment

Updated: Mar 9

Larry Santonyo, a Permaculture Teacher, best describes the permaculture principles as 'indicators of sustainability. ' These principles are normally interpreted with acreage in mind.

However, they can also be applied to apartments with limited or no outdoor space, such as indoor gardens, balconies, or small yards.

These indicators help flesh out creative ways to strengthen the ecosystem within our apartments.

I hope it will give you new ideas of connections you can make within your home.

I've used the more thorough and adapted version of permaculture principles as stated in Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden.

You may also find some of my other blogs useful:

I've used Toby Hebenway's extended permaculture principles from his book Gaia's Garden.

Click to go to the section

1. Get a yield

Growing is usually the first thing we think about in permaculture. But we mustn't let our plants die in our pots. We should harvest them and find ways to preserve them to get a yield.

Preservation techniques:

  • Fermenting

  • Pickling

  • Canning

  • Drying

  • Freezing

2. Use biological renewable resources

We can find renewable resources and use them in the garden in many ways. I've written articles on using coffee grounds and banana skins.

But you can also use cardboard, eggshells, and many more. See my articles below:

3. Collaborate with succession

Succession is the path nature takes in restoring a landscape from weeds to a fully mature forest. We don't have landscapes, so nature wouldn't be restoring itself in your container. You may find the odd weed or two if you're on a balcony or using re-used compost.

However, one of the techniques nature does employ when maturing a landscape is plant communities. Ecologists and native people found that certain plants always spontaneously show up with the same companions, and these companions work well together.

In the same way, we can choose companion plants that work well together—for example, planting basil or dill among your vegetation to deter pests.

  • Companion planting

4. Optimize edge

An edge is created where two environments meet. It's the most productive place where materials accumulate and are transferred.

The most apparent edge at home is the window edge, where the sunlight falls on your apartment.

This will be the most productive area in your home for growing. We have the task of optimizing this edge with maximizing techniques like:

  • Shelving

  • Hanging baskets

  • Patterning, i.e., placing pots in a honeycomb pattern rather than a straight line for more space.

  • Mirrors or reflective material to enhance sunlight availability

  • Plant selections, i.e., dwarf or vining varieties

5. Make the slightest change for the most significant effect

This is where we justify using our electrical items if they can help produce the most significant effect.

  • Use grow lights to help with the plan, even in the winter or in the shady areas of the apartment.

  • We have an electric water irrigation system to help if we're too busy to water on time.

  • A water distiller so that we can convert tap water into pure water for the garden.

Using off-grid items, such as a manual washing machine for smaller cycles, perhaps in addition to an electric washing machine, can make a big difference in the USA and Germany, too.

Doing things differently to be more impactful. For example:

  • Saving the water from washed veg to pour back into the garden (this would be from your garden or organic and not generic store-bought veg, to avoid pesticides).

  • Pour water through your worm bin and then use that in your garden to enhance the water with nutrients.

  • Plants should be placed in the best potential spot according to their growing needs.

  • Use leftover tea or coffee grounds in the garden instead of throwing them away.

  • I am using space maximization techniques like verticle gardening.

6. Use small-scale intensive systems

This is where you have a small system or arrangement that works well and repeat it the same way or with variations.

This could be, for example, grow lights, a relatively small system that works exceptionally well for growing plants indoors, even during the winter.

You can repeat this system with variations. For example, grow lights with a red color stimulate fruit growth or fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, while blue lights stimulate green vegetation.

I started growing on the floor and then moved to a three-shelf unit. I now have three sets of shelving units with grow lights around my apartment.

7. Turn problems into solutions

This can make a negative occurrence an opportunity just by changing your perspective.

For example, if you have pests, you could focus on the solutions, often a home-brewed natural concoction in a spray bottle.

Focusing on the solution empowers you to deal with pests and equips you with knowledge that will benefit you throughout your growing journey.

A permaculture apartment is about turning the problem of not having adequate land and sunlight into a home that uses techniques to become regenerative.

Recommended articles:

8. The most significant limit to abundance is creativity

When we think creatively and outside the box, there are little niches of things we can do to increase abundance. I love thinking outside the box when gardening in an apartment.

Some of the creative solutions you could use in an apartment:

  • Using mirrors to reflect the sunlight for plants;

  • Having a reflective box for grow lights to be more effective;

  • Having a mini greenhouse;

  • Using mini solar panel lights to provide extra light for plants in outdoor spaces;

  • Fish tank water is used as an excellent fertilizer for plants.

9. Mistakes are tools for learning

This is similar to turning problems into solutions. It is about adopting a mindset that supports growth rather than one that will make you more likely to give up.

Mindset is often an overlooked part of permaculture. This is why it is essential to start at zone 0, which is the individual's state of mind.

Mistakes are often an opportunity for further exploration to learn more and find a solution.

10. Observe

Initial observation will help you greatly in the long run. By observing where the sun falls, you'll know which side of the window will get the best light and how far back away from the window you can add more plants.

You can observe temperatures, which will inform you about what plants might not do well on your balcony or home.

Observation will reveal the windiest parts of your balcony, which will help inform what kind of plants to place there, i.e., sturdy stemmed plants like thyme.

Observation helps you know how to create a windbreak and place more fragile plants like dill in the safest spot behind the windbreak.

Observing your space can give you ideas on maximizing your planting area. For example, I have an indoor patio area with a curtain rail. I've abandoned the curtain and placed hanging baskets there instead.

  • Sunlight

  • Temperature

  • Wind

  • Space

11. Catch and Store Energy

By growing plants, you're catching and storing the sun's energy. By having a worm bin, you're catching and storing the energy and fertility of the worms in the worm castings. By having a bokashi bin, you're storing all the energy your food scraps have to offer.

You can further capture and store energy via preservation methods. In an apartment, we can use many harvesting techniques, such as drying, fermenting, pickling, and drying.

Ways of catching and storing energy

  • Growing plants

  • Bokashi Bin

  • Worm Bin

  • Aquaponics

  • Hydroponics

  • Fermenting

  • Pickling

  • Drying

  • Salting

  • Canning

12. Each Element Supported by multiple functions

An element is, for example, a worm bin. Its function would be to provide fertilizer.

Many functions can support the worm bin, such as feeding it with garden waste, food scraps from your kitchen, or even water from your fish tank.

This is part of your permaculture project that turns separate elements into a connective ecosystem in your apartment.

13. Multiple elements support each function

This is similar to the above point but the opposite. This is where, for example, the function of fertilizer is supported by different elements.

Worm castings, bokashi leachate, fish tank water, and brewing garden foilage teas, such as nettle tea, can support the fertilizer.

14. Connect

Permaculture is a linking science that places elements that work together.

For example, they plant sturdy plants to create a windbreak on your balcony. Plants should be placed in the aquarium to help with water filtration and nutrient uptake.

Things you can connect in an apartment:

  • Vegetation

  • Worm Bin

  • Compost bin

  • Bokashi bin

  • Aquaponics

  • Hydroponics


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