Permaculture Principle: Obtain a Yield


4 min

1. Obtain a yield

It is human nature to want to get something out of what you have created; to reap a return on investment; to come out ahead in some way when you put time, effort, and money into something.

The third permaculture principle, Obtain a Yield, sounds simple: work, earn; plant a tree, pick a fruit; nurture a garden, harvest a crop. But look more closely, and you will find it highly subjective: work, how? to earn how much? And how do you define what you (or somebody else) needs, what is a sufficiency, what is a surplus? Are abstractions like beauty, companionship, and love yields? And if yes, what is their value?

A full discussion of the concept of exploitation in human and environmental terms by agriculture and industry is beyond the scope of this article, and many nuances are lost in simplification, but in past centuries, when the soil of the steppes and prairies was deep, rich, and dark; when coal seams ran in the upper strata of rocks; when oil flowed just below the Earth’s surface, a yield was easy to obtain — though not without overt and hidden costs.

Today, from exhausted soils, played out seams, and wells that have to be dug ever deeper, costs per unit obtained are higher, not just in cash, but in environmental damage, pollution, loss of species and habitat, and the climate crisis. And very often those who enjoy the yield are not those who pay the price.

A key concept that has been lost is sustainability.

How long can you work in your job without becoming depleted physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Does your pay check make up for how your job makes you feel? If the answer is ‘no’, then you are working unsustainably. You are not obtaining a yield. The converse might be true — lucky you! Your work might energise you, teach you, inspire you and help you motivate others: you are not only working sustainably, but you are building resilience.

Are the trees that you are planting and the crops that you are harvesting taking more water than can be expected to fall in your area? Is the soil becoming grey and dusty, lifeless? Or do your orchards and gardens add biodiversity to the environment, are there more birds than there were last year? More insects? Is the soil rich and dark and full of life? All over the world, big monocultures are delivering the former answer, byte small diverse farms are demonstrating the latter.

2. Obtain a yield in Cyprus

In Cyprus, since dam construction in the 1970’s, agriculture has followed an increasingly unsustainable model. The climate allowed for mostly subsistence agriculture, with families and villages generally able to feed themselves and trade their surplus, but with little left over. Now year-round water in the reservoirs means that farmers can plant crops that were unimaginable a few short decades ago. With reliance on winter rains no longer relevant, family sized groves of olives, citrus, almonds, figs, and pomegranates — trees native to the island and suited to the climate — have given way to plantations of thirsty bananas, mangoes, and increasingly, avocados that yield financially… until the market gluts.

Much of this is irrelevant to the home vegetable gardener who just wants to eat seasonal vegetables grown in the back yard. But even in your veggie patch or food forest, you have to consider sustainability. How is your soil? Do you have enough water? Sun? Shade? Choosing trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetable appropriate to the conditions is key to obtaining a yield.

3. Obtain a yield at Paphos Green Goddess

At Paphos Green Goddess we focus on building soil and biodiversity in order to minimise our inputs of fertilisers, water, and labour and to obtain a sustainable yield. Whether our tree crops — mangoes and avocados — are truly sustainable in these years of rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, is something that we are considering. We have no plans to take out thirty-year-old trees, but we also will not expand the orchard or plant replacements for those that fail.

All the trees are bermed to retain water around their root systems, and are generously mulched to keep moisture from evaporating and maintain as low a soil temperature as possible throughout the harsh summer months. We are also adding layers: aromatics, calendula, and sweet potatoes have been planted around some of the younger trees to maximise yield per input: the same amount of water will nourish more plants which can be eaten (both tubers and leaves of the sweet potato), act as ground cover, attract pollinators, and have medicinal value. Permaculture design is all about each design element having multiple functions that support each other, and we are seeing that take place in the field at the moment.

Continuing the theme of obtaining and maximising a sustainable yield, two of our very local trees are lemon and carob. We harvest both in their appropriate seasons, and they provide far more fruit than we can use or that I can easily sell. We obtain a greater yield from both trees by weaving them into our food and workshop programmes. During the summer we run workshops on carobs — the history of the plant in Cyprus, its fantastic nutritional value, its different uses. We also turn the pods into flour which are the base of our signature carob cookies, a favourite for families and friends around Cyprus and around the world. The winter citrus season sees our lemon workshops: how many sweet and savoury ways can you use lemons? If you want to find out, register for the seasonal workshop ‘When Life Gives You Lemons’!

Do you have a garden? Check out the concept of plants supporting each other. Known as companion planting, or creating a guild, it is one of the easiest ways to obtain and maximise a yield in your own growing. You can combine food value, medicine, and beauty in just a few square metres. What’s not to love?

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