One conversation with Belinda Messmer and it’s obvious that she’s passionate about her family, her faith and permaculture gardening. In fact, the Grovetown resident hopes to become a certified consultant and share the premise behind permaculture gardening with others.
“Permaculture gardening is using science in a design style of gardening to reach many different purposes,” said the mother of four. “When we do permaculture gardening, we look at how everything is divided into zones and we work to reduce the carbon footprint.”
The concept of permaculture gardening was introduced by Bill Mollison in Australia in the mid-1970s. While it has taken off in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many European countries, Messmer said acceptance in the United States has been slow.
“We aren’t doing it Amer-ica like we should,” she said, adding that permaculture gardening works with nature rather than against it. “Sometimes we get bent on how things look, but the more natural your system is, the more your system will produce.”
Among the zones identified in permaculture gardening is that in which frequent attention is required – Zone 1 – and often includes salad crops and herbs. Zone 2 is set aside for perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance and might include composting bins.
In Zone 3, gardeners plant crops that need minimal care after they are established. Zone 4 is designated as a semi-wild area and is the section of the property where gardeners forage for wild food, as well as timber for construction and firewood.
The final zone – Zone 5 – is the wilderness zone and there is little to no human interaction in this area.
“Most people put their garden at the back of their property or behind the shed,” said Messmer. “Permaculture gardening uses science to teach different techniques and one of those is that you put the gardens as close to the house as possible. You make the garden where you travel most and plant along pathways.”
Messmer uses the concepts of permaculture gardening – which include hugelkultur, rainwater harvesting, sheet mulching, the use of guilds or companion planting – to teach her children the circle of life.
“My kids get it,” she said of her homeschooled children, 7-year-old twin sons, a 13-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. “Everything I’ve learned about permaculture gardening I’ve passed on to my children. Permaculture gardening is permanent agriculture. It’s looking at how many perennials you can put on a property.”
When Messmer began permaculture gardening about three years ago, it was primarily to help supply food for her family and reduce grocery expenses. She soon discovered that many of the plants she put in her garden had medicinal purposes.
“My kids don’t get sick like they used to,” she said. “If you take good care of the soil, the soil takes care of plants and the plants will take care of you.”
The entire Messmer family has an active role in the gardening and harvesting of the crops and they hold to one rule when deciding what to put in their garden.
“We say that it must have at least three uses,” said Messmer. “We have to be able to eat it and it has to have several other uses.”