Permaculture Principles is the first of three Core Permaculture Training Modules designed to introduce students to the foundational principles, values and ethics of Permaculture. They provide the framework upon which Permaculture design and practice can be developed across the planet. Each participant will be given the opportunity to embark on a journey, shared by many, to take responsibility for the health of their habitat, its environment and the community that surrounds them. Permaculture is a strategic contributor to the regeneration and revitalization of our planet’s health.
Key Components of the Module
- Habitat – Observation and Participation
Having a thorough knowledge of the property’s landscape, including for example, soil structure and fertility, flora guilds/fauna colonies and hydrology is critical before instigating change. This includes an awareness of the interactive relationships between them and the functional influences that each of these elements contributes to the whole site.
- Energy – Forms and Influences
Energy is present on every site, entering and exiting it, and influencing the microclimates. This can be in the form of the most common; solar, wind and water energy. Understanding the flow and influence of these is an important consideration and can impact the effectiveness of management decisions. These in the end impact running and maintenance costs and yield capacity in relation to production and profitability. For example, the capture and storage of water and its energy is critical. How quickly and forcefully it flows through your site can impact the security of infrastructure and soils (erosion). Knowing the optimum location of storage can remove the need for additional energy inputs (electricity) in order to located it where required. The human energy required to manage an on farm system is also a consideration. Permaculture utilizes energy zoning in the design, placing those elements requiring greatest input, closer to the living space (house). The elements of the site that require less attention and human visitation are further away.
- Yield – Production and Economics
Maximising production in any garden or farming context relates to return on investment. The backyard gardener who enjoys the activity for leisure is interested in how to do so, maximising nutrition and yield against personal time and energy invested. For the farmer, or market gardener this is invariably measured in financial terms as well. Applying Permaculture in ways that coordinate all the various site elements, maximises these outputs without compromising the environment or the life (human or otherwise) that inhabits it.
- Systems – Feedback and Regulation
Natural Systems maintain health and balance through positive and negative feedback processes that allow them to self regulate their functioning. Negative feedback is any element or process that decelerates or impedes efficiency and abundance. Positive feedback accelerates or promotes efficiency and abundance in the system. Managing a system through effective Permaculture Design, nurtures a balanced feedback scenario which facilitates self regulation and promotes health and life. For example, with yield in a garden setting, sufficient water, soil conditions, and nutrients brings growth and abundance to an apple tree. Pruning correctly in order to produce satisfactory fruiting buds in the correct place will ensure a maximum crop, minimum spoilage and waste. Providing the right conditions in the garden is creating a positive feedback which encourages abundance. The pruning process introduces negative feedback which impedes fruitfulness in a balanced way enabling the tree structure and strength to carry the fruit . Your action in pruning is a self regulatory action that ensures it. There are many of these type of activities in natural systems. Good Permaculture design creates a balanced and self-sustaining landscape.
- Resources – Renewable and Re-usable
Emphasizing the use of renewable resources builds resilience, self-sufficiency and long term sustainability into your site. It leaves you less dependent on fossil fuels and the variables associated with suppliers. This can be dramatically noted in times of disaster and disruption. Electricity supply would be an example. And the cost of inputs for a primary producer can be cut dramatically buy generating on-site nutrient cycling with onsite bio-mass as opposed to the use of chemical fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers ultimately deplete fertility anyway, and impacts on long term productivity.
- Waste – Excess and Usefulness
A balanced system, be it a ¼ acre garden or a 500 acre farm, can be designed to balance production across the various elements of the landscape. Recognising the functional relationships between the elements and arranging them proportionally is a fine tuning process. For example, a farmer could cell graze cattle on a rotational basis and follow them with chicken tractors. The cattle feed on the pasture which in turn is stimulated by the grazing, the manure and the disturbance by their hooves. The chickens add to the manure of the cattle, continue to disturb the ground, removing parasites and other threatening organisms, while at the same time distributing the cattle manure and providing eggs and meat. This adds to the meat harvested from the cattle adding other layers of yield to boost income. All of this activity increases the pasture’s capacity to photosynthesize the sun’s energy and store it in the grass, later to be used by the cattle and chickens. The reality is, there should be no excess resource which we often refer to as waste. It really is unused resource. A balanced Permaculture system will utilize all surplus resource to enhance the environment and its productivity, instead of polluting it.
- Design – Patterns and Details
Permaculture Design is characteristically, holistic. In other words it looks at the big picture and considers the functional relationships of the various elements. Discerning patterns in the landscape and its natural processes and incorporating these into a site design helps to bring it all together. Recognising the patterns in the topography of the landscape allows for the effective placement of water storage and dams. Swales on contour can be engineered into the landscape to capture and redistribute water. Whole landscapes can be rehydrated. Along swales, food forests can be established and shelter belts installed. Following the patterns will help direct the detail of design and function.
- Integration – Relationships and Functions
Integrating various elements and functions is important. Permaculture design endeavours to incorporates elements that have multiple functions, and functions that require multiple elements to fulfil their purpose. The productive results of this integration is typically greater than the sum of the individual elements alone. This integration produces synergy between the elements. Integration is only possible if you have a holistic approach to design. This is as true for agriculture as it is for human habitat and community, where different people performing different functions and using a variety of abilities, work together to manage the operation and produce its yield – minimum energy input for more abundant production.
- Solutions – Adjustments and Scale
With careful observation and creative design that mimics the natural world, the solution can often be found in the problems that need to be overcome. The best design and the most effective solution needs to be the one that will bring the desired change with the minimum of disturbance. Making small adjustments, then observing the results gives us the feedback we need to know whether further adjustment is necessary. Making considered changes that are slow in progression and which allow the natural world to adjust are often more effective and profound. Typically, when we are sure of the dynamics and the positive impact on production and the environment, Permaculture design can be scaled to suit the particular site and its size.
- Diversity – Variety and Stability
The modern industrialized approach to agriculture is typically mono-cultural. In other words we have moved away from the diversity of natural systems to growing hundreds of hectares of the one crop. This introduces a feast for particular organisms (pests) which we then seek to poison to protect the crop. Invariably the poison arrives at the table laced in these chemicals which damage human health. The natural world functions in guilds and associations where each element or species assists in satisfying the needs of another. In a home garden for example, companion planting is an expression of this. Associations of plant types interact with each other, complementing and protecting one another. Particular flowers attract lady bugs which feast on the insects wanting to overwhelm a companion plant. Diversity fosters stability and balance in the landscape. Finding ways to farm in this way builds resilience. Economically, this diversity of production on the farm produces income stability. There is a growing recognition that diversification in farming practice is more secure and profitable.
- Edges – Margins and Vitality
Edges in the ecosystem are more diverse, interactive and dynamic than other areas. The edge of a forest is a characteristic edge where greater diversity of flora and fauna interact. The edges of ponds or streams is another example. Understanding this edge affect and including additional edges into the design of a site increases biodiversity and improves its vigour with the result of improving the abundance of production. Dynamic edges can enhance soil production and structure. It then possesses richer nutrient levels and a more diverse, densely populated colony of micro-organisms.
- Change – Creative and Responsive
Natural systems are dynamic and cyclic. Change is happening all the time and we need to adjust our activities to suit the circumstances. An obvious example of this are the seasonal changes and the type of agriculture we undertake. We need to be responsive to natural dynamics and changes. With the application of Permaculture, the design of human habitat, industry and agriculture brings change to the environment that is considered, careful and complementary to the biology. With this care and understanding, we can impact the environment in a way that has a regenerative affect and improves vitality and health. Human habitat and activity does not need to deplete the environment. Permaculture demonstrates that we can enhance it and foster the fulfilment of its created purpose – to produce life and abundance.