• Naomi Stephens | Permaculture Designer

Permaculture Principles in an Urban Permaculture Apartment

Updated: Apr 8

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

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

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'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:

1. Permaculture Apartment Design Zones

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

  2. Use Biological Renewable Sources

  3. Collaborate with succession

  4. Optimize edge

  5. Make the least change for the greatest effect

  6. Use small scale intensive systems

  7. Turn problems into solutions

  8. The biggest limit to abundance is creativity

  9. Mistakes are tools for learning

  10. Observe

  11. Catch and store energy

  12. Each element is supported by multiple functions

  13. Each function is supported by multiple elements

  14. Connect

1. Get a yield

Growing is normally 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 in order to truly get a yield.

Preservation techniques:

  • Fermenting

  • Pickling

  • Canning

  • Drying

  • Freezing

2. Use biological renewable resources

There are many ways we can find renewable resources and use them in the garden. 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 and as such, 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 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

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 obvious edge at home 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 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 least change for the greatest effect

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

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

  • Having an electric water irrigation system to help if we're so busy that we can't water on time.

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

Using off-grid items can make a big difference in usage too, like a manual washing machine that you'd use for smaller cycles, perhaps in addition to an electric washing machine.

See my article here on off-grid items.

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).

  • Pouring water through your worm bin and then using that in your garden, so that the water is enhanced with nutrients.

  • Placing plants in the best potential spot according to their growing needs.

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

  • Using space maximization techniques like verticle gardening.

6. 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 color stimulates fruit growth or fruiting veg like tomatoes. Blue lights stimulate green vegetation.

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.

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 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.

A permaculture apartment itself 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 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;

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

  • Using fish tank water as a great 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 a mindset that will make you more likely to give up.

Mindset is often an overlooked part of permaculture. This is why it's important 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 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 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 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