How to Replace Irrigation With Permaculture

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Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!

This is a guest post by Sunflower Craig of

When we think of irrigation systems and food production, we typically tend to think of large-scale farms with equally large-scale sprinkler systems. But even if all you have is a small garden plot, a couple raised beds or a few container plants, if you’ve ever used a backyard sprinkler, drip line, hose or even a watering can to water your plants, then you too rely on irrigation to grow your crops.

You’re probably thinking “um, ya… How else would I grow them? All plants need water after all!” But there are downsides to conventional watering and irrigation systems, and there is also a better way to ensure that your soil and your crops stay hydrated without costly, input-intensive irrigation methods. The answer (like so many things in the gardening world) lies in designing your property or garden with permaculture principles in mind.

Read on to learn how to reduce the need for irrigation or even replace it entirely by applying aspects of permaculture design to your garden and save water, money and time in the garden!


The problem with irrigation…

Irrigation (aka. “the watering of land by artificial means to nurture plant growth”) is an ancient practice dating back to around 6,000 BC. The introduction of irrigation allowed for mankind to grow and thrive by bringing water to the plants (crops) rather than having to grow crops right next to a water source or relying on the weather to provide adequate rainwater. Some of the very first irrigation systems in Ancient Egypt and China involved a network of irrigation canals, dams, dikes, and water storage facilities. This was a huge advancement in technology and laid the foundation for the agriculture and irrigation systems that have been in place ever since.

So, if irrigation helped propel the world forward to what it is today, what’s wrong with it?

For starters, irrigation can wash away vital nutrients from the soil, which means your plants aren’t able to absorb them. This can affect the overall health and yield of your crops and the quality and nutrition of the food that is harvested from them. Crops that are over-irrigated are also at greater risk for bacterial and fungal diseases. Over-irrigation of a raspberry bush, for example, will produce fruit that has little flavour. Over-watering of tomato plants can result in yellow leaves, root rot, blossom end rot and cracked fruits, among other things. 

On the other hand, when you rely on irrigation systems you also need to ensure your plants are getting adequate water and that the soil isn’t drying out too much as this can be equally problematic for your crops. All of this fussing over setting up just the right irrigation system or remembering to water by hand and water just enough but not too much can be a lot of work and requires a fair amount of mental energy. Not to mention it can be expensive too!

The overall goal of permaculture is to create ecosystems that can run themselves without much help from the outside, eliminating some of the inputs necessary for more traditional approaches to farming and gardening. Doesn’t it make sense then to use less traditional irrigation methods too?

Permaculture design is based on nature: Nature isn’t waiting around for someone to water her. Nature uses dozens of techniques to make sure all of the plants get the water they need. Observing these techniques and seeing how they can be applied to your garden or farm is well worth the time and effort up front as it will save you time, effort and resources later on.

To achieve true sustainability in your garden or on your homestead, it is necessary to work with nature rather than fight against her. This is the basic tenet of permaculture, and so swapping out conventional irrigation methods for those inspired by nature is just one thing you can do to implement this aspect of permaculture design to your farm or garden.


How to replace traditional irrigation with permaculture

Step 1: Observe and analyze

When switching from traditional irrigation to permaculture methods, the first step is to analyze your site and choose the most suitable spots to collect and store water.

Some examples of these measures are the construction of a pond or cistern, or the installation of swales (contoured ditches that catch and divert runoff water, slowing the flow and keeping water on your property for longer). The shape of your property, as well as its slope and contour, will determine the most efficient method of water collection and storage.

Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!

If you haven’t heard of Sepp Holzer, do yourself a favor and check out what he does. Sepp Holzer has 110 acres and uses no irrigation. He does this by having lots of ponds on his property (it creates more morning dew), not planting monoculture anywhere, incorporating hügelkultur, and more. So yes! It is possible to replace irrigation with permaculture!


Step 2: Establish plant guilds

The next step is to utilize plant guilds to establish a community of plants that are mutually beneficial and can maintain themselves.

Trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, as well as animals and fungi can all coexist in a plant guild, each playing an important role in maintaining the ecosystem’s balance. Shade-providing trees like oak and pine, which are also drought-resistant, and nitrogen-fixing shrubs like black locust and acacia work together to prevent soil erosion and keep water from running off.
Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!


Step 3: Consider adding or converting existing garden beds to hügel beds

If you have the space, I highly encourage you to investigate installing a few hügel beds on your property. Hügel beds (or hügelkultur beds) are raised beds that are built on top of rotting logs and plant debris. As the logs and debris down they not only feed the soil and provide slow-release nutrients to your plants, they also retain and release moisture much better and for much longer than the soil in tradition garden beds. They are the ultimate raised garden beds!. This helps to make hügel beds more drought resistant as well.

Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!

Twigs and logs being laid down for a hügelkultur bed (Photo c/o


Step 4: Mulch, mulch, mulch!

Mulch is a covering of organic matter used around plants to prevent water evaporation and weed growth. In addition to these uses, it may act as a home for beneficial insects and microbes, whose presence helps keep the soil at a comfortable temperature.

There are many different kinds of mulch, from wood mulch to straw mulch, grass clippings to leaf litter and even living mulch in the form of cover crops. Regardless of what kind of mulch you choose, mulching helps the soil to retain moisture and is one of the best defences against soil erosion. It can be used on its own or in conjunction with plant guilds to reduce water usage and enhance soil quality. 


Step 5: Monitor and make changes as needed 

Finally, to guarantee your permaculture system is working efficiently, it must be periodically monitored and assessed. While the beauty of permaculture design is that it requires much less input on your end, you do still need to manage a permaculture garden or homestead to some degree.

You’ll still need to make sure the plants are healthy, check the soil moisture levels and make changes to the watering schedule as needed. You may create a more resilient and self-sufficient ecosystem on your property by following these steps and switching from traditional irrigation to water management strategies based on permaculture practices.


Save water, time and money in the garden! Learn how to replace irrigation with permaculture design and let nature do the work for you!

How to conserve water in the garden through smarter irrigation methods

While replacing traditional irrigation systems with permaculture is a noble goal, it’s not always feasible to completely dismiss irrigation, especially if you live in a particularly dry or drought-prone area.

Drip irrigation, also called soaker hoses, is an important part of permaculture-based water management in this case. Using drip irrigation at the base of plants rather than overhead watering helps to ensure plants only get watered where they need it: at their roots. This not only saves water and lowers the chance of evaporation, it can also prevent blight and other fungal diseases, as well as sunburn in plants.

Conserving water through irrigation is also possible with greywater and rainfall collecting systems. And you don’t need some fancy, expensive setup to get started. You can even make your own rain barrel out of an old garbage can and a few basic pieces of hardware. A little ingenuity and resourcefulness go a long way when it comes to both traditional homesteading and permaculture design!

Do you have any other tips for conserving water or doing things more efficiently in the garden? Comment below!




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Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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When homesteaders hit the road for a summer road trip…

What am I missing?

@modernhomesteadingconference here we come!

(Yes, a week early, but we’ve got important business on the way;). Will I see you there???

#homesteadersbelike #homesteading #roadtrip

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The Modern Homesteading Conference is just a few short weeks away, and I have TWO free tickets to give away to one lucky winner.

This is a live, in-person event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on June 28th and 29th. I’ll be there speaking and teaching alongside expert homesteaders like Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms), Melissa K. Norris (Pioneering Today), Carolyn and Josh Thomas (Homesteading Family), Lisa Bass (Farmhouse On Boone), Anne Briggs (Anne Of All Trades), Lisa Steele (Fresh Eggs Daily), Robyn Jackson (Cheese From Scratch) and more!

Comment “ENTER” below and I’ll send you the link where you can submit your details and enter to win!

I’ll be drawing a winner this Thursday, so make sure to enter by tomorrow night (Wednesday, June 5th) if you wanna win!

May the odds be ever in your favour 😉

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For Mother’s Day this year, my husband is teaching our daughter to empty the dishwasher on her own. It may seem like a small feat, and for anyone who has kids who already do this and more, this may seem like nothing to celebrate. But for all of the moms who understand how much quicker and easier it is to just “do it yourself,” slowing down and allowing our daughter to take ownership of this even if it’s not perfect or takes twice as long is a huge milestone, both for her and for us as parents!

While it may sometimes feel like the work that we do day in and day out is just mundane and repetitive, the way we show up every day over many years with our children will have a huge impact on the type of people they’ll grow up to be.

What we teach them—the skills we pass on and the values we instil—will help to shape who our children become as adults, and who they become as adults will help to shape what our future world looks like.

It may seem as simple as emptying a dishwasher, but what this really symbolizes is that we’re raising a capable human being who takes responsibility for contributing to our household and is a valued member of our family. And since she will someday grow up to run her own household, possibly be a mother herself, and contribute to our future society, that means that we, as parents, (and especially us moms!), have immense power to shape what the future looks like through the simple actions we take every day to teach and empower the next generation.

All of that to say, thanks for everything you do moms! You are more valued and powerful than you know.

Happy Mother’s Day, and may someone else be doing the dishes for you today!

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Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition in our house, so naturally I wanted to learn how to make them at home.⁣

They're surprisingly easy to make with just a few basic ingredients, including flour, dry active yeast, milk, eggs, sugar and spices, plus raisins or, more traditionally, dried currants and/or candied citrus peels. ⁣

Click the link in my bio to learn how to make your own and enjoy hot cross buns fresh out of the oven this Easter!

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I’m not always so good at sharing all of the awesome stuff I’ve got going on in life and business here on social media. When you’re a full time homesteader, business owner, editor, mom and wife, sometimes IG falls by the wayside 😬

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Me shopping for Easter candy for my kids, and walking out empty handed because it’s all full of absolute garbage!

I don’t mind my kids having sugar now and again, but I draw the line at food dies, seed oils and artificial ingredients. (Or at least, I try!)

Hey, we’re not perfect, and yes, our kids will get Easter candy on Sunday morning. Ryan has already bought some and I’m sure he didn’t check all the ingredients like I do! I’m fine with the 80/20 rule most of the time. But the meta question here, is why are these types of ingredients allowed in foods to begin with? Especially food marketed toward kids!

Yes, it’s “junk food.” I don’t expect it to be HEALTHY. But it could be made better by omitting the known carcinogenic ingredients that have been linked to everything from ADHD to hormone imbalances to cancer!

Folks, we must demand better. We DESERVE better, and so do our kids.

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We said goodbye to a family pet yesterday. My mom has had Zoe since I was a teenager, and Evelyn has grown to love her during her visits with nanny.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a family member, human or furry. But we don’t shelter our kids from death either. Evelyn was with us when we found our rabbits dead. She went with my mom to say goodbye to her other cat a year ago. And she knows where the chickens go when it’s their time.

Having a healthy relationship to death is important. It is, after all, the only certainty in life.

Today Ryan is heading down to clean out his dad’s place after he passed last week. They had a strained relationship, so our kids never knew him as their grandpa. But still, it’s never easy.

It does, however, teach us to be grateful for every day we’re alive, and to appreciate the ones we love while we’re still together, because you never know how much time you have left.

RIP Zozo ❤️ See you over the rainbow bridge 🌈 🐾

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When I first started homesteading, gardening, and trying to be more self-sufficient, I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was new to me, and I had no one in my life to teach me the ropes.

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Plus, with my husband’s help, he can also
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Never before have we had access to so much information at our fingertips. Whether you have a question you need answered, are looking for a tutorial to walk you through a specific task or are searching for a recipe to help you figure out what to make for dinner, all you have to do is Google it.⁣

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That what sets Homestead Living magazine apart from much of the information you'll find online: We don't have staff writers, we have experienced homesteaders sharing their hard-won wisdom in each issue. And while we do offer a digital version, we're also now offering monthly PRINT issues for U.S. subscribers (Canada and elsewhere hopefully coming soon!)⁣

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