Permaculture Principles in an Urban Permaculture Apartment

Updated: 11 hours ago

Larry Santonyo, Permaculture Teacher, best describes the permaculture principles as 'indicators of sustainability". These principles are normally interpreted with the landscape in mind. Instead, I've interpreted them in ways that can apply to even the most limited apartments, i.e ones without any outdoor space at all like high rises.

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

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

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

You may also find some of my other blogs useful:

1. Permaculture Apartment Design Zones

Get a yield

At first, I wasn't concerned about how I was going to preserve the food that I'd grown. I was just focused on growing food.

I soon started learning about how to preserve the food I had grown and it changed my experience of growing entirely. Instead of watching them die in the pot after a long while, I could save them and have them last, without the effort of maintaining them in the pot.

I started by drying a small amount fo dill, heating it in the oven on the lowest heat and then crumbling it up into a spice jar. I was so satisfied with that, that I now have a few condiments and I'm proud to say aren't store-bought.

Preservation ideas:

  • Fermenting

  • Drying

  • Freezing

Use biological renewable resources

There are many ways we can find renewable resources and use them in the garden. I've done articles on using coffee grounds and banana skins. But you can also use cardboard, eggshells and many more see my articles below:

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 and as such nature wouldn't be restoring itself in your container.

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 together with the same companions and it so happens that these companions work well symbiotically 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

Optimize edge

An edge is created where two environments meet. It's the most productive place where materials accumulate and are transferred. The most obvious edge is in an apartment is the window edge, where the sunlight falls on your apartment.

This is going to be the most productive area in your home for growing. We have more of the task of optimising this edge and for this, we utilise space maximising techniques like:

  • Shelving

  • Verticle gardening

  • patterning

  • Plant selections i.e dwarf or vining varieties

Make the least change for the greatest effect

This is where we justify using our on-grid items if they of course produce the greatest effect. Like having an electric water irrigation system.

Using off grid items can make a big difference too, like an off grid washing machine that you'd use for smaller cycles, perhaps in addition to the electric washing machine. See my article here on off-grid items.

  • Water irrigation systems

  • Compost teas

  • Placement

  • Space maximisation

Use small scale intensive systems

This is where you have a small system or arrangement that is working well and you repeat it the same way or with variations. This could be for example grow lights, this is a relatively small system that works extremely well for growing plants indoors, even during the winter.

You can repeat this system with variations, for example, grow lights with a red colour that will help maximise fruit growth or fruiting veg like tomatoes.

I started growing on the floor and then moved to a 3 shelving unit. I now have 3 sets of shelving units with grow lights around my apartment.

Turn problems into solutions

This is perhaps my favourite permaculture principle because it has the power to make a negative occurrence an opportunity, just by changing your perspective.

For example, if you have pests, instead of feeling bad about them and potentially giving up. You could focus on the solution, which is often a home-brewed natural concoction in a spray bottle.

As a result of focusing on the solution, you're empowered to deal with pests and are equipped with knowledge that will benefit you throughout your growing journey.

In a permaculture apartment, the whole concept is turning the problem of not having adequate land and sunlight into a solution.

We maximise space with verticle gardening, we extend the light for out plants if need be with grow lights and we substitute land for plant pots.

Recommended articles:

The biggest limit to abundance is creativity

When we think creatively, outside the box, there are little niches of things we can do to increase abundance I love thinking outside the box when it comes to 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 on the balcony

  • Using solar panelled lights to provide extra light for plants

  • Using fish tank water as a great fertiliser for plants

Mistakes are tools for learning

This is similar to turning problems into solutions, it's about adopting a mindset that supports growth rather than a mindset that will make you more like to give up.

Mindset is often an overlooked part of permaculture. This is why I love it when permaculturists like Toby Hebenway that start with zone 00, which is the individual's state of mind.

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


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

You can observe temperatures and this will inform you what plants might not do well on your balcony or home. Observation will reveal the windiest parts of your balcony and this will help inform what kind of plants to place there i.e sturdy stemmed plants like thyme.

Observation helps you know in advance to start creating a windbreak and place more fragile plants like dill in the safest spot.

Observing your space can give you ideas on how to maximise your planting area i.e I have an indoor patio area, which has a curtain rail. I've abandoned the curtain and placed hanging baskets there instead.

  • Sunlight

  • Temperature

  • Wind

  • Space

Catch and Store Energy

By growing plants, you are catching and storing the energy of the sun. And by having a worm bin you are 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 has to offer.

You can further catch and store energy via preservation methods. We can make use of lots of harvesting techniques in an apartment like drying, fermenting, pickling and drying.

Ways of catching and storing energy

  • Growing plants

  • Bokashi Bin

  • Worm Bin

  • Aquaponics

  • Hydroponics

  • Fermenting

  • Pickling

  • Drying

Each Element Supported by multiple functions

An element is say a worm bin and a function of it is fertiliser. Having this element supported by many functions would be to support the worm bin with the functions of other elements so, for example, you could feed the worm bin with waste foliage from your garden, 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.

Each function Supported by multiple elements

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

The fertiliser can be supported by worm castings, bokashi leachate, fish tank water, brewing garden foilage teas i.e nettle tea.


Permaculture is a linking science that places elements that work well with each other.

For example, planting sturdy plants to create a windbreak on your balcony. Placing, plants on top of 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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