Principles of permaculture
Permaculture isn't about having to get your head around untold facts, figures, Latin names and complicated techniques, rather it is about recognising universal patterns and principles, and learning to apply these ‘ecological truisms’ to our own design sites and life situations. We can identify the underlying forms that recur throughout the natural world and learn to understand and utilise them in designed ecologies. These principles are not meant to be applicable to all situations. E.g. re: "Use small, slow solutions": in certain contexts, big and fast-acting solutions may be best; however the principle reminds us that great impacts can come in ways that require patience and are not flashy.
Permaculture design principles include:
Holmgren's twelve design principlesEdit
These restatements of the principles of permaculture appear in David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability and permacultureprinciples.com. Holmgren's principles are meant to summarize the core concepts behind permaculture design.
- Observe and interact - By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
- Catch and store energy - By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
- Obtain a yield - Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
- Use and value renewable resources and services - Make the best use of natures abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
- Produce no waste - By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
- Design from patterns to details - By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
- Integrate rather than segregate - By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
- Use small and slow solutions - Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
- Use and value diversity - Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
- Use edges and value the marginal - The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
- Creatively use and respond to change - We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
Although Bill Mollison did not systematize a simple set of design principles, he often repeated several concepts. These are sometimes described as the 'attitudinal' principles of permaculture, and include;
- Work with nature
- Putting massive effort into attempting to ‘tame nature’, such as by damming valleys and flood plains or creating and maintaining bare soil by plough, is not only energy consuming, unsustainable and destructive, it is also unnecessary when we can meet the needs of people and the environment by working in harmony with, or even directly utilise, natural systems. Instead of using massive chemical inputs to control pests, why not encourage predators such as ladybirds and hoverflies to do our work for us (see Biological pest control)? Or why not construct homes that utilise passive solar energy and wind power rather than building nuclear power stations?
- Everything gardens
- All organisms modify their environments.
- See solutions not problems
- It is how we look at things that makes them advantageous or not, or, as Mollison once said, “You haven’t got an excess of slugs, you’ve got a duck deficiency.”
- Everything cycles
- In the natural world, there is no such thing as ‘pollution’. Within an ecosystem, every ‘waste product’ is useful elsewhere within that system. When we flush our bodily wastes out to sea, not only are we causing pollution, we are at the same time wasting a valuable resource. Composting our poop mends the cycle of fertility.
- Yield is theoretically unlimited
- Traditionally, ‘yield’ is thought of as quantity of material output (eg, amounts of potatoes, grain, etc.) calculated against resources or effort put in, but there’s no reason why we can’t widen our definition to include information, lessons learned, experience, the health benefits of exercise and being outdoors, or even just plain fun. Within a permaculture design, we will constantly be finding new niches to utilise, new beneficial guilds, learning new techniques, trying out fresh ideas, be gathering knowledge. By comprehending and copying natural systems, we can develop techniques in order to consciously multiply such opportunities.
Some ideas have become oft-repeated in the permaculture community.
- "It depends." - There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Every design site is different, and the designs should also be different.
- "Mulch more, weed less." - Good designs remove unnecessary labor.
- "Every element should have multiple functions, and every function should be met by multiple elements." - The more complexity in a system, the more resilient it becomes.
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