Stacking Functions for a Healthy, Vibrant Garden

stacking functions permaculture chicken

When is an apple tree more than an apple tree or a chicken more than a chicken? Stacking functions in your garden or landscape design is an easy way to save water, grow soil, save time, and grow a lush, diverse garden. 

Stacking functions is a core permaculture design principle that anyone who wants a healthy garden can and should practice. The idea is pretty simple:

  • Every element of your garden (plants, animals, insects, fungi, water, etc) serves multiple functions
  • Minimum inputs for maximum outputs in your garden, landscape or farm
  • Mirror Nature as much possible — the ultimate designer of healthy, resilient, efficient biological systems

Stacking functions gets you thinking about all the ways the elements of your garden interact and can support each other. For example:

  • A fruit tree might serve multiple purposes over its lifetime — food, shade, habitat, micro-climates for companion plants, visual barriers for privacy, contributing to soil fertility, green mulch (through dropped leaves), and wood at the end of its life.
  • Planting a dense, diverse landscape boosts garden health, conserves water, provides natural pest control, and rebuilds organic matter in your soil.
  • Mimicking a forest ecosystem by planting a multi-level landscape provides natural shade for ground cover or structures for climbing plants.  
  • Using barrels or water tanks to capture rainfall provides you with year-round irrigation source.
  • Retaining water with green mulch, cover crops, swales, etc provides a canvas for beneficial super organisms like fungi.
  • Keeping chickens or quail provides a natural pest control, inputs nutrient rich manure into your soil, provides companionship in the garden, and provides a food source.

Tierra: Online Bonus Video: Stacking Functions Explained

In our Tierra: Online permaculture video series, we sat down with Ryan Johnston, Program Director for the Permaculture Skills Center. In our conversation, he covered a number of easy to follow examples of how you can stack functions to transform your garden, farm, or landscape. Here’s a juicy excerpt from the video:

Best of all, stacking functions is an easy, scalable technique that anyone can do. You don’t need to be planning a huge food forest in your backyard. It’s a design concept that works as well in small spaces like containers or on a balcony as it does more in larger, more ambitious projects.

Want to see the full conversation with Ryan? Check out our full Tierra: Online video collection. 18 in-depth conversations with leading experts in gardening, soil, water, permaculture, and more — offered at a ‘pay what you like’ price. Happy stacking!

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