Permaculture in Practice: Catch and Store Energy

The second principle of permaculture is to catch and store energy. What does that mean? We’ve gotten so used to having energy appearing in our houses without any real effort on our parts that we seldom think about what energy we might be simply throwing away.

When permaculturists talk about cycling energy, a few examples often come up. Capturing rain water. Composting kitchen scraps. If you’ve seen any of my “compost cam” Gardener Visitor of the day posts, you know I’ve already got those covered. We have a compost bin directly outside of our kitchen window, so scraps can be thrown out as soon as they are generated in the kitchen. This was essential for making composting work in our house, where my husband is not a fan of keeping a compost bucket in the kitchen. Directly next to the compost bin is a rain barrel that is hooked in to our downspout. Since we get 40+ inches of rain here a year and do not have a dry season, most of the water for our veggie garden comes from this barrel.

I wanted to challenge myself to dig a little deeper this year. What other sources of energy do we throw away? Part of permaculture is thinking deeply about the space around you and finding the particulars of your own site and processes. What sources was I missing that weren’t listed out neatly on all of the permie sites?

When I found one, it seemed so obvious that I metaphorically kicked myself for not realizing it sooner.

We have a solo stove campfire ring that we like to pull out for fires with friends in the backyard. It’s a nice way to spend the evening, and was especially welcome during Covid. Because it is the only thing we use firewood for and we only use it for a limited amount of time each year we generally buy bundled firewood from the grocery store. But we always struggle with kindling.

This year as I was putting my fruit tree branches from the annual pruning on the curb for municipal pick-up, I realized that I was essentially throwing away a lot of energy that the trees in my yard had worked hard to produce. What could I use them for?

Kindling of course. Instead of throwing them on the curb, I got out my little handsaw and spent an hour or so on a nice day sawing the branches into solo-stove-sized pieces. Now we have a small pile of kindling next to the deck ready for the next campfire, and several more bags tucked in a corner of the garage for when these run out.

A little kindling waiting for a backyard fire

The rest of the prunings were used as rudimentary trellises for peas to grow up in the veggie garden or buried at the bottom of the new garden beds in kind of a mini hugulkulture. They will slowly break down at the bottom of the beds and release their nutrients into the soil.

This is the first year I haven’t had any branches to put on the curb in the spring. Now to just make a habit of doing this each year…

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