Veganism seeks to avoid all forms of animal harm and exploitation.
Veganic permaculture therefore differs from traditional permaculture through avoiding the intentional use of animals and their by-products for our benefit.
It is not only suitable for vegans; it’s also very useful to anyone who simply cannot or wish not to keep animals on their property. Whether it may be by lack of time, energy, skills, finances, or because of periodic travels, or simply by lack of space or interest in animals, there are plenty of reasons to practice veganic permaculture.
Animal integration in veganic permaculture
Veganic permaculture absolutely values and integrates wildlife and free-living animals as part of natural and balanced ecosystems; and it ensures their needs for food and habitat are met.
Examples of animals you can encounter on a vegan farm include:
- Mammals of a given bioregion, such as deer, kangaroo, racoon, fox, rabbit, bats, mice
- Birds, including ducks if you have a large pond for instance
- Insects and pollinators such as bees, bumble bees, dragonflies
- Frogs and other batrachians
- Other wildlife such as snails, spiders, snakes
- And free-living domesticated animals such as rescue individuals (e.g. animal sanctuaries)
Worm Farms & Beehives
Vermiculture and beekeeping are in adequacy with the vegan ethics. I would highly recommend any gardeners to install a worm farm and a beehive for obvious ecological reasons. Both populations are in sharp decline and our food production system vastly relies on them. The basic condition to keep these sytems vegan is to properly care for your worms and bees of course and, for the latter, to not take their honey and sell it for profit.
If you’d like to encourage native bees in your backyard, check-out our bee & insect house that comes with a packet of pollinator-friendly flower seeds.
Some vegans may decide to rescue animals, battery chicken for instance, and give them a second chance at life. They will let them roam free; and the chooks will very likely lay eggs; but these won’t systematically be collected for food or money. Most chooks will end-up eating some of the eggs, replenishing their levels of calcium as they lose a lot of it to make the egg shell. There isn’t a very clear line about what to do with any surplus. I probably would think in terms of the fair share ethics. Collect only abandoned eggs and re-distribute the surplus to the household, biodigester, and any other animals living on site, rather than leaving them to rot on the ground.
Veganism fully aligns with the 3 permaculture ethics:
– Care for the People
– Care for the Earth
– Fair Share
And it also covers an additional ethic: Care for All Living Beings.
You can read more about these 4 ethics here.
Veganic permaculture practices
Most of the practices used in veganic permaculture also apply in traditional permaculture. Sometimes, there will be slight variations.
- For instance, a standard compost can contain animal food scraps, while vegans only consume plant-based foods; so the compost will naturally be plant-based. The principle remains the same: You’ll target a carbon / nitrogen ratio of about 30:1.
- Carbon-rich materials are called “brown”, such as dried leaves, twigs, small branches, sawdust, dried straw, cardboard, paper (basically wood pulp).
- Nitrogen-rich materials are called “green”, such as grass clippings, food scraps and coffee ground, fresh leaves, crops, etc. Optional additional sources of nitrogen compatible with the vegan ethics, but that aren’t plant-based, include road-kill carcasses and humanure.
- All green and brown materials will naturally contain both carbon and nitrogen, but in different concentrations. This short YouTube video explains how to easily balance your C:N ratio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTHUalsT8sQ
- Mulches are soil-covering materials; they are generally deposited around plants to protect the soil around their root system.
- Popular examples of mulches include hay, straw, pine bark, pine needles, wood chips, leaves, cardboard, newspapers, and leaf mould.
- Mulches play multiple roles. They stabilise the soil and prevent erosion from the wind and rain, retain moisture, moderate ground temperatures, impede growth of competing plants, decompose overtime and add nutrients to the soil.
- Living mulches are cover crops. Like mulches, they cover the soil, but they are living plants. They are often inter-planted or under-sown with a main crop; They can be seasonal, annual or perennial.
- Examples include legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, peanut, lupine, lucerne (=alfalfa), various types of clover, vetch and buckwheat.
- They play the same role as mulches, but grow with crops, last longer, and benefit the soil both above and below the ground. They open-up the soil, feed the soil web, and act as pest control. Legumes have the advantage of fixing the atmospheric nitrogen in small nodules of their rhizobia (root system), making it available for other plants.
They are low maintenance. You can incorporate in the soil in springtime to add residue a few weeks before planting. Otherwise, manage by keeping low.
Permanent Cover Crops
- Permanent cover crops are like living mulches, from perennial species. This means they grow back year-on-year. They are often planted in between crops and on pathways to avoid bare soil.
- Examples of permanent cover crops include white clover, rye grass / winter rye, hairy vetch, red clover, melilot and lucerne (= alfalfa)
- Their role is similar to that of the mulches and they also help with soil decompaction. They can be cut or mowed periodically to add residue, and will grow back.
- Green manures are nutrient-rich plants that are grown to be cut back before they seed (“chop and drop”); and incorporated into soil to add biomass and nutrients. They are excellent fertilisers and basically replace animal-based fertiliser like cow or chicken manure and blood-and-bone fertiliser.
- Good examples include legumes, grasses (graminae), cruciferous and weeds. These comprise rye grass, hairy vetch, oats, red clover, buckwheat, cabbage, lupine. Combination of grasses and legumes are best to avoid weed competition (e.g. oats and red clover).
- As mentioned, green manures efficiently improve soil fertility. They add organic material, act as fertilizer by bringing nitrogen and biomass to the soil, improve soil structure, retain existing soil nutrients, improve water retention, improve drainage, enhance biological diversity and therefore increase yields.
They can be used for succession (in time, after crop harvest), inter-cropping (in space, between rows of crops), or over the full season. Spring tillage / incorporation into soil is also a good way to fertilise the soil before planting.
- Worm farms are a safe and attractive space for worms. They will break-down green materials that we feed them.
- If you keep a compost bin or bury your food scraps at certain spots, they will likely gather there naturally.
- If you keep them in a bath tub, rainwater and worm pee will run through the decomposing materials and can be collected at the drain point to be used as liquid fertiliser. Worm castings are also very nutrient-rich and can be collected periodically by feeding worms on one side for a few days and collecting castings on the opposite side.
- Compost tea is a liquid form of compost that is rich in micro-organisms and nutrients. A small bag of solid compost is sufficient to brew a barrel of compost tea, also making tea a more economical solution.
- The compost must be mature to avoid pathogens, and the water must be free from chlorine. Molasses or kelp should be added to the tea; they constitute a goof source of food for the microbes. And there needs to be a constant supply of oxygen in the water to keep the aerobic micro-organisms alive (e.g. with a pump).
There are plenty of other options to build soil fertility. Leaf mould, soil inoculants / fungi, ramial chips, and even waste products from nearby industries can complement the methods described above. Like in all things in permaculture, diversity is key.
All practices to ensure biodiversity and increase resilience apply in veganic like in traditional permaculture:
- Polyculture and crop rotation
- Mix of annual and perennial species
- Succession stages
- The 7 layers of the forest
- Niches, time & space-stacking, and edge effect
- Multi-functionality of elements, etc.
Resources & Links
If you’re interested in learning more about veganic permaculture, you can look up the following people; they all have been practicing veganic permaculture for over a decade and offer very good content on the topic.