The obvious question that needs to be answered before discussing the use of neem in permaculture, is “What is permaculture?”
In the future we’ll be writing more about the practice of permaculture, what it means to be organic and other related topics, but here’s a quick definition so that you can better understand how the use of neem fits in. Permaculture, a combination of “permanent” and “agriculture,” is a farming philosophy that focuses on working with, instead of against, nature. Rather than trying to conquer nature, permaculture seeks to mimic and utilize natural processes and patterns, allowing humanity to live in harmony with the natural world. Permaculture has become well known for its applications in sustainable food production and often in reference to perennial (i.e. “permanent”) crops like our organic limes, mangos and avocados.
The phrase “work smarter, not harder” comes to mind. Permaculture practices seek to banish all forms of waste (water, energy, pollution) and create an environment that increases natural productivity through the use of sustainable systems. Permaculture is taking on increasing significance as natural resources and sources of energy become more scarce. Simply Natural’s use of a high-tech irrigation system fits this model – and so does our use of neem. Those of you who have had the opportunity to visit the Simply Natural Farms plantations have seen the neem trees planted around the property. As mentioned in our first installment in this series on neem, we planted 16” seedlings around our fields just under 4 years ago and they are already nearly 16’ tall! Planting “wind rows” is a common farming practice world wide and our neem certainly fill that role by reducing wind damage to our tree crops and the pests that can be brought by the wind. In other words, we’re letting nature defend our trees. The use of neem is a completely biodegradable process. The neem leaves, fruit and twigs get blown into the fields where they break down into the soil and help to “fix” the nitrogen, which reduces the need for other fertilizers. The high level of antioxidants contributes to the overall health of the trees. As the leaves, fruit and twigs break down, they reduce soil alkalinity and enrich the soil through increasing airflow and water retention while inhibiting the growth of pests and bacteria. The oil in the seeds is a highly effective bio-pesticide, effective against 600 different insect species and plant diseases including aphids, white flies, nematodes, spider mites, powdery mildew and fungus. Why use expensive, toxic chemicals when we use neem to work with Mother Nature and let her do her thing?