The Differences Between Permaculture And Organic Gardening

Within the last few decades or so, the earth has suffered massive environmental changes from both natural events as well as mankind’s irresponsible actions that affect the animals and plant life. Both Permaculture and Organic Gardening are a response to correct some of these issues but what are the differences?

Organic Garden Harvest

Permacultures’ primary focus is not only on food production. It’s a holistic way of thinking, creating a balance between the outdoor and the indoor environment in a  harmonious, natural way. Organic gardening focuses primarily on agricultural practices without chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

As a new gardener or farmer who has wandered across the terms “permaculture” and “organic gardening,” you are probably seeking more information about these foreign terms and practices. Read on; this article will answer all your questions regarding the differences between permaculture and organic gardening. 

What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture was first introduced to the world in 1978 by an Australian ecologist, Bill Mollison, and his student, David Holmgren. The term “permaculture” is an amalgamation of sorts of the words “permanent” and “agriculture.”

It later became a joining of permanent and culture, giving us the term “Permaculture.”

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.”(BillMollison)

Permaculture is striking a balance between the outdoor environment and the one indoors. It creates synergy by enhancing and imitating the natural patterns found in nature. The highlight of this “New Age” way of thinking is to have the most negligible impact on the environment.

Permaculture is not just about food production. It involves building energy-efficient buildings, wastewater management, recycling, and land stewardship. 

Permaculture is based on three essential goals and twelve principles.

The three goals of permaculture are:

  • Care For The Earth
  • Care For People
  • Fair Sharing

The Twelve Principles of Permaculture are:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and feedback
  5. Use and value renewables
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate don’t segregate
  9. Use small, slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Combining these principles and goals of permaculture, you create a viable, sustainable garden. If you take a closer look at a beehive and how that works, you find there are designated systems and processes in place to ensure the beehive runs smoothly.

It is similar to permaculture, implementing processes and procedures to ensure everything works harmoniously and efficiently. Unlike organic gardening, where crops are planted in an organized fashion, permaculture follows the natural systems around. 

Sometimes referred to as ” lazy gardening” since everything seems to be randomly placed.

Both permaculture and organic gardening are great concepts, especially when you choose a change of diet, and with the soaring prices of fresh produce, you would be in a better place planting your own garden.

However, many don’t have the option of extensive gardens; we have to create our own permaculture space.

If you are in an apartment with limited space but still want to grow veggies, you have to look for alternatives. 

Using containers strategically placed, you build your own permaculture garden. Use containers that are large enough to suit the plants. You can set out containers to catch rainwater to use on your plants.

What Is Organic Gardening?

In organic gardening, the primary focus is on using natural products to grow and sustain plants. Man-made products, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, are avoided. Resources that are used are replenished.

Organic gardening uses some of the permaculture theories, such as creating systems for solar and water energies and recycling, to name a few examples. 

Plants are considered as part of a larger natural ecosystem that begins with the soil, water supply, wildlife, insects, and human beings. 

The fundamental concept of organic gardening is to create an ecosystem that is more than just planting seeds into the ground and waiting for them to grow. It focuses on sustaining the soil’s microorganisms and plants that benefit not only the crops but includes the insects and other animals within the vicinity. 

How Does Permaculture Differ From Organic Gardening?

Many people confuse permaculture and organic gardening. Here are a few very distinct differences between the two. 

1. How Do Crops Differ Between Organic Gardening And Permaculture?

With the human population increasing rapidly, it means less space for more extensive types of gardens. Several permaculture concepts may be incorporated into modern living and organic gardens. 

One of the first differences you will notice between permaculture and organic gardening are the type of crops grown. Where organic gardening tends to be commonly limited to monocrop that is concentrated on a single crop per season, permaculture is about incorporating multiple crops in a polyculture design to get the best out of the vegetation and environment.

Organic farming focuses on mostly growing annuals, such as corn, rice, legumes, and other vegetables. Permaculture concentrates more on perennials like artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb, fruit and nut trees, and berry bushes.

Permaculture vs organic garden

2. How Does Technique Differ Between Organic Gardening And Permaculture?

A significant difference between organic gardening and permaculture is the technique used in planting.

Organic gardening involves growing in rows upon rows of a single type of crop. This is due to many farms making use of a single water sprinkler system that caters to the entire field. However, much of the water evaporates prior to it even reaching the plants.

With organic gardening, inasmuch as no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, it is of no consequence what resources and how many are utilized to grow the crops. 

However, when you look at permaculture, the opposite is true. Faithful followers of permaculture are adamant about wastage. They consider the overuse of specific resources a severe breach of their ethics and the design systems implemented.

Under permaculture, similar plants are grown together, almost like a symbiotic system. Each plant is needed one to revitalize the soil while another provides cover to avoid the ground from drying up during times of drought. 

Some plants will draw insects beneficial to some plants, while others will repel insects. 

Permaculture irrigation systems focus on using water catchments such as swales, ponds, lakes, and rivers. Smaller type farmers or home-based farmers make use of containers such as buckets or bottles to catch rainwater, which is used for gardening. 

The overuse and wastage of natural resources are highly frowned upon by Permaculturists and go against permaculture principles. 

What Does Pest Control Have To Do With Organic Gardening And Permaculture?

The manner in which pests are controlled and dealt with is another difference between permaculture and organic gardening. This topic is quite controversial between these two groups. 

Organic gardeners make use of organic sprays to control and remove weed and insect infestations. In this way, it solves any issues the plant has while growing. This is standard practice to protect commercial crops.

On the other hand, permaculture strives to not use any sprays in gardening, but instead focuses on using natural methods for pest control. It is usually unnecessary as far as Permaculturists are concerned with a proper permaculture design.

With permaculture gardening, ecosystems are created in order for all living organisms, such as plants, animals, advantageous insects, and pests, to work together. 

An example of this will be an advantageous insect such as ladybugs that are drawn to the colorful, sweet-scented flowers that feed on aphids that can destroy the flowering plants. In this way, the ladybug controls the population of the aphids that, given a chance, may destroy entire crops.

Under permaculture, there is less of a chance of pests getting out of control. With the use of insecticides and pesticides, everything is destroyed, the insects, both advantageous and harmful, as well as the crops. The pests will return, eventually, because the beneficial insects are no longer around to deter them. The entire ecosystem is out of balance because of the extensive use of chemical pesticides. 

Ladybug eating aphid

What Impact Does Soil Have On Organic Gardening And Permaculture?

Soil plays an essential role in both organic gardening as well as permaculture. However, the type of soil used between the two gardening methods significantly impacts the plants themselves.

We grow plants for sustenance, but how the plants grow is dependant on the soil. Commercial farming uses nutrients and fertilizers to nourish the soil. This has become common practice everywhere.

If you have a look at some home gardeners, and even if you pass by farms, you will notice raised rows of crops planted. Many organic gardeners have adopted this method of digging then raising the soil. 

Permaculture aims to protect and maintain the sanctity of the soil. In permaculture farming, the soil is plowed once at most, then continuously covered with enriching and protective materials such as naturally made compost and mulch. Tilling is not an approved method in permaculture.

The method of tilling the soil once ensures the nutrients in the soil are built up. When the soil is rich with organic materials, it becomes fertile and therefore does not require chemical fertilizers. 

When regular tilling is stopped, all the microorganisms living within the soil begin to thrive, ensuring the efficient and effective running of the ecosystems.

Nutrient Cycling: Closed Versus Open

Nutrient cycling refers to the microorganisms, plants, and animals consuming food and excreting the waste. With a sustainable system, one person’s waste is another person’s food, so the nutrients remain within the system. 

In a closed system, energy is transferred from one source to another, ensuring there is no loss. With Organic gardening, some initial help is required to get things started before they begin to roll off. 

In permaculture gardening, energy is transferred from one source to another before leaving the system entirely. Whereas, with organic gardening, since fertilizers are used, the waste from one plant becomes food for another organism.

A stark difference between organic gardening and permaculture lies in the transport of fresh produce. Some of the nutrients in fresh products are lost during the transport from the garden to the market and then to the table.

Permaculture works to close that loop by bringing the food closer to the people and utilizing the consumers’ waste into the production cycle. 

In this way, the quantity of energy wasted and the cost of transporting the fresh produce back and forth is reduced since produce is grown closer to the consumers. 

Those living with and who have adopted permaculture as a way of life realize that it is more than just a gardening method. 

In many cases, permaculture is not entirely organic because followers of permaculture do not believe in importing organic resources. They rely essentially on local resources.

Sometimes unusual plants and seeds are used to create diversity despite not being organically sourced. Permaculture gardeners don’t intentionally use pesticides. 

Permaculture gardeners may use old containers to grow plants. Tires may be used to catch rainwater or used around ponds to hold up the pond walls. They believe in reducing waste and a cost-to-benefit analysis, which organic gardening does not have. Every object has a use. Nothing should be thrown away or go to waste. This is one of the principles of permaculture. 

With permaculture, before undertaking any task, the benefits are weighed. For example, the benefits of using local waste such as animal manure would be compared and weighed against buying organic waste from an outside supplier.

If choosing to use animal manure, the permaculture farmer will first enquire whether the animal owners use anti-worming medication and secondly, check whether it may be processed under high temperature composting, then re-mediating it before use.

An efficient permaculture design aims to have a better output rather than a higher input. In comparison, organic gardening does not have systems to reduce the impact on the broader ecosystem.

When Can Permaculture Not Be Organic?

There may be a few times when permaculture is not strictly organic. Listed below are a few examples where permaculture is not organic.

  1. When local resources are utilized instead of importing authorized organic products, permaculture is not organic.
  2. If diversity is needed, an unusual plant or seed supplier is sought.
  3. Permaculture can take a supply and convert it into organic. An example of this is that if the water in ponds, lakes, or rivers is polluted, then permaculture gardeners will plant around the water source to draw out the toxins. The plants filter out the harmful toxins bringing them to an approved level.

The whole idea behind permaculture is to close the energy loop by maximizing the use of what we have on hand.


If you thought permaculture and organic gardening were the same, you would be incorrect. There are vast differences between the two. Whereas organic gardening is a method of gardening, permaculture, on the other hand, is more a way of life. Organic gardening focuses on the output, while permaculture is about living sustainably and not disrupting the ecosystem. 


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    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

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