Dependable Diversity

A family home and garden that is a model of urban permaculture.

By Pam Beck


Rainfall is precious: Even the chicken coop boasts its own catchment system.Nothing goes to waste in a permaculture system, including vegetative debris. Compost piles cook in the lower end of Will and Jeana’s back garden, but their most effective, and charming, waste-disposal system runs on two legs.

“In our small landscape, we have chickens, which give us eggs and entertainment, consume our kitchen scraps and weeds, and keep a range of insect pests under control,” Will says. Chicken-manure-rich straw bedding is periodically gathered from the coop and composted for later use in the vegetable garden. Any food scraps are fed to the chickens, creating a closed system in which compost created on-site feeds the plants, the plants feed the chickens, and the chickens feed the family. Because the chickens are housed underneath a grape arbor, chicken waste also helps feed grapevines. Grapes are a favorite target of Japanese beetles, but in this garden, any beetles unfortunate enough to cruise the area are quickly gobbled up by the birds.

“One of the ways to describe permaculture is that it concerns connection between systems. And when you have multiple connections between multiple systems, by gosh, it sounds just like nature,” Will says with a laugh.

A lofty goal of permaculture is to harvest all water necessary for a garden. Will and Jeana’s rain barrels collect up to 600 gallons per inch of rainfall on the roof of the house and, taking advantage of the natural slope on the property, supply it to the garden. It sounds like a lot, but Will calculates that during dry summers it takes up to 400 gallons to irrigate the edible landscape just once. Watering the entire vegetable garden two or three times a week requires as much as 1,000 gallons. To increase their water-storage capacity, Will and Jeana plan to place a large cistern under a deck, using the soil removed for the cistern to raise an area for a patio.

Form follows many functions in a home garden dedicated to permaculture. “It is funky. It’s functional. It is attempting to be aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time being as productive as possible,” explains Will.