Permaculture Specials

By Staff


What’s permaculture; Backyard Buzz: Getting started with bees; Urban Chickens: Legal update.

permaculturePermaculture means “permanent agriculture”-developing what is essentially a “food forest,” a garden perennial edibles, with best-case-scenario support from bees, chickens, a pond of fish and a thriving worm bin. But you can start with a windowbox and a packet of seeds. You’ve got to start somewhere.



Permaculture means “permanent agriculture”-developing what is essentially a “food forest,” a garden perennial edibles, with best-case-scenario support from bees, chickens, a pond of fish and a thriving worm bin.

But you can start with a windowbox and a packet of seeds. You’ve got to start somewhere.

Permaculture is a lens through which we see nature as a wise, dependable mentor. Perma­culture tells us that nature has it all figured out. Or, as Toby Hemenway puts it in “Gaia’s Garden,” “Nature has a broad back, and with a little ingenuity and a change in viewpoint, a gardener can shift plenty of labor to this willing partner.”

It still requires time, labor, imagination and fortitude. Above all, permaculture requires commitment. Turning your haven into heaven may be a challenging process at first, but it’s worth it in the end.

As with any worthwhile, but onerous task, it helps to break it up into steps. So what’s the first step to creating your urban permaculture oasis?

That’s easy, just use your senses.

Take your morning coffee outside and sit on the stoop. Notice sunlight and shadows, the trajectory of the sun. Come back later, and notice again.

Get curious about your soil. Who lives there? What does it feel like? If you dig a hole and fill it with water, how long does it take to drain? Take samples of your soil to the county extension and see what they have to say.

What creatures already visit or inhabit the plot? What other creatures are desired and what will invite them in?

The next step is the planning process, one of the most important steps because, if done correctly, it can save a lot of time and effort down the road. Toby Hemenway suggests using a Zone-and-Sector layout method. This divides the land into sections according to how often you use each component. For example, Zone 1 sits up against the house and holds all the most regularly enjoyed garden elements-vegetables, herbs, and lounging areas. Zone 2 holds things like fruit trees, berry bushes, and fish-filled ponds. The zones continue out to Zone 5, which contains the wild, unmanaged areas (should you be so lucky).

The last step in creating a permaculture homestead is the implementing the plan. First, the soil: Establish systems for composting and mulching/ Permaculture possibilities depend as much on manmade structures as those that are nature-made: Are the walls and paths where you want them? Decide how many and what type of fruit and nut trees your plot can support. Finally, the small-scale plant communities can start to take shape.

When taken seriously, the concepts within permaculture can change a person’s entire perception of the surrounding world. Given enough time, a permaculture garden can transform that world into a synergistic sanctuary. Permaculture is a philosophy that says: Nature speaks to those who listen.

Toby Hemenway two-day permaculture workshop, June 27-28 at the Day-Riverside Library, 1575 W 1000 N. Sponsored by TreeUtah. For more information see p.29 of this issue or

-Mitzi Card

Backyard Buzz
Getting started with bees

If there’s one thing that wraps up the ideals of permaculture best, its bees. Getting a hive or two started in the backyard is a must for the serious permaculturist: not only do they produce heaps of healthy honey, their pollination activities will noticeably increase both the size and amount fruit, flowers and veggies in your garden. By the middle of the first growing season a new hive will have from 50,000 to 80,000 bees, all of them working hard shuttling pollen around the neighborhood.

A single hive can produce 100 pounds of honey (sometimes more), although don’t expect that much the first year. Besides the benefits of pollination and honey, beekeepers also harvest beeswax, propolis, royal jelly and even pollen -all of which have their uses and health benefits (local beepollen, for example, is supposedly very helpful for those with seasonal allergies).

Your first hive

Starting a hive or two in your backyard is easier than you’d think. By far the easiest way is to call Jones Bee here in Salt Lake City and order a pre-built, bee-installed hive. You just take it home and set it down (available only in early spring). Alternatively, you can buy a pre-built hive and a bee colony to install yourself (it’s a matter of shaking the bees into the hive), or DIY hive kits can be purchased, as well. Although domestic bees seldom sting, you’ll probably want to invest in a bee-suit, veil and smoker. All together, expect to spend $200-$400 to get going. Also, beekeeping is perfectly legal, but you will need a $25 license from the state:

Picking a location

Perhaps the most important thing to think about with backyard bees is the location of the hive. It’s best to put the hive in a place where it’s out of the wind, but gets sunshine in the morning. Dappled sun is best-the full heat of the summer sun is sometimes too much for the colony. A water source in your yard is good, too, since bees need a lot of water and will travel some distance to find it. If your yard is dry, your bees might end up hanging around neighbors’ pools and ponds. A chicken watering device (available at agricultural supply stores) or simply an outdoor faucet on a very slow drip will suffice to keep your bees from venturing too far for water.

Don’t bee afraid

Does the thought of 80,000 stinging insects just a few feet from your house make you nervous? It shouldn’t. Unlike yellow jackets or hornets, honey bees almost never sting-and when they do, it’s because the hive has been disturbed or the bee itself is being crushed. I know beekeepers that even open the hive and remove frames without a suit or veil, all without getting stung. There are a couple easy ways to make sure stinging doesn’t happen when working with your bees:

-Wear your suit, veil and gloves. Wearing the bee clothes will reduce the chances of getting stung to almost zero.
-Move slowly; bees don’t like sudden movements. They’ll often land on hands and clothes, but this doesn’t mean they’re attacking. They just like to crawl around.
-Try not to crush bees. When a bee is smashed, it releases a pheromone that lets other bees know bad things are going on.
-Only open the colony during fairly cool weather, during daylight hours. This way, the bees are calmer, and most of them are out gathering nectar anyway.
-Wear light-colored clothing. For some reason, bees seem to get nervous with dark colors.

Utah Beekeepers Association:
Wasatch Beekeepers Association:
Danielle Downey, State Bee Inspector:, 538-4951
Jones Bee:

-Pax Rasmussen

Urban Chickens
Legal update

Raising chickens in the city is a growing trend with people interested in becoming more self-sufficient. After all, raising chickens in the backyard provides a great source of protein from the eggs, as well as natural fertilizer and pest control (they love grasshoppers, and will also eat cockroaches, aphids and just about any other insect). Plus, they make great pets. We’ve written before about urban chicken laws (see and in particular) – if you live within the boundaries Salt Lake City itself, no problem. Anywhere else, though, chickens are a no-go. The councils of Salt Lake County, West Valley City and Draper city are currently considering ordinances to allow hens (no roosters), but so far nothing has been approved. Provo’s City Council recently approved an ordinance allowing chickens, but Provo Mayor Lewis Billings vetoed it on May 5: He was worried about the need to pay a part-time employee to inspect the coops. Which implies, go ahead…. Fresh eggs for everyone!

Want to get started? Local organic gardener Celia Bell teaches a Backyard Chickens class through Continuing Education at the University of Utah. July 1-8:

Want to support urban chickens?

Salt Lake County Mayor’s office: Salt Lake County Council:

-Pax Rasmussen

This article was originally published on May 29, 2009.