Basically, the bigger the system you have, the more energy it takes to manage it. Think about the big farms you see. They cannot possibly be maintained by 1-2 people. They need heavy machinery and likely many workers to keep the system going. We need to downsize. If you have a huge farm, it is also often a monoculture. Rather than using an inefficient monoculture, plant many things together in a smaller, more intensive system for a much higher yield.
Perennial-Perennial plants can be planted once and will produce for many years. Once you get them in the ground and established, they require far less work than annuals. They grow slower than annuals so they require less nutrients from the soil. They are hardier and will better tolerate things like drought or over watering. You can also plant them together with their companion perennials and they will do even better. As these groups grow year to year, they can begin to form their own little ecosystems. You don’t need to replant them every year so you aren’t disturbing the soil or any of the beneficials that are growing in the soil around the plants.
Biological resources-Rather than going out and buying things like fertilizer and hoses, use things that you have laying around and from sources that are renewable. Manure or compost make excellent fertilizer. By mulching you not only conserve water, but you also protect from weeds. You can use swales to create irrigation systems that will fill your soil with enough water to keep your plants from getting thirsty. Use companion planting rather than pesticides to protect your garden from disease and insect infestation.
Plant stacking-This idea ties into guilding and the food forest. In a guild, you are planting different plants together in such a way that they all help each other. You don’t plant monoculture rows, you stagger different types of plants all together so that they function as a system. A food forest works in the same way. You plant perennials together in a guild so that they all benefit each other. However, in the food forest, we take this one step further. We plant trees and bushes and vines along with small perennial plants to form a large guild that will grow and provide for many years. If you wanted to go another way with this idea, you could stack plants right in with the animals. Pea shrubs planted in a chicken run will feed the chickens. Comfrey planted under a rabbit hutch will be fertilized by the rabbit manure and then the comfrey can be spread as it own extra rich fertilizer on other plants. The list goes on and on.
Succession planting-Succession planting makes use of your garden beds for as much of the year as possible and protects from soil erosion. Basically, once one crop is finished fruiting, you plant another crop in its place. Here is a quick example: Plant peas in a garden bed. Once the peas are getting close to finished, plant tomatoes next to the peas. The small tomatoes plants don’t require much space, so they won’t interfere with the peas. By the time the tomatoes get bigger, the peas will be harvested and you can cut the vines off anyways. You can plant an autumn planting towards the end of tomato season as well. Once growing season is done, cover crops are one more way to keep the soil in use. The cover crops can be cut in the spring and used as mulch as well. Food forests take this idea one step further as well. Say you plant a couple apple trees. While the trees are small you can use the area around the trees to plant beneficials in. As the trees get larger, the surround plants will die off leaving nutrient rich soil behind for the apple trees to thrive in. Once the apple trees die, you can start the whole process all over again.
If you notice, many of these ideas I’m getting into right now connect perfectly with many of the other ideas already discussed. Everything ties together, and all of the different ideas tie together to form amazing systems. This is what I like so much about permaculture.