Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I am excited to have the opportunity to dig further into Permaculture. This term that’s thrown around a lot and seems to have this ‘mystery’ element surrounding it because people really don’t know what it is. In fact, that’s because there are two versions of the word: permaculture with lower case ‘p’ is often used casually to describe any way of life that is attempting to live in harmony with Nature. Permaculture, upper case, is the name of Bill Mollisons’ published philosophy and model of farming. Will our little farm be designed using the principles of Permaculture? Sure, we will incorporate many different techniques, philosophies and ideas. Our little farm will be an experimental zone while we figure out which farming practices and designs make us, and the land, happy.
What is it:
Permaculture is a set of principles under which a person designs or adapts a farm or garden practice. It is also a general education in ecology, agriculture, ancient practices and innovative farming techniques. No one has ‘a Permaculture garden’ or ‘a Permaculture farm…’ it’s a garden or a farm designed using Permaculture.
The word stands for Permanent agriculture, and is an accurate description of what it accomplishes. The idea is to plant something that will produce year after year while also expanding as a system and it must not waste Nature’s resources (i.e. water, soil, biomass).
1. Observe and Interact: By taking time to engage with Nature we can design solutions that fit our particular situation.
2. Catch and Store Energy: By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
3. Obtain a Yield: Make sure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work you are doing.
4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: Make the best of Natures abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
6. Produce no Waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources available to us, nothing goes to waste.
7. 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 details filled in as we go. “can’t see the forest for the trees”
8. Integrate rather than Segregate: By putting the right things in the right places, relationships develop between those things and they work to support each other.
9. Use Small and Slow Solutions: Small and Slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, they make better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
10. 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.
11. Use edges and take Advantage of 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.
12. 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.
David Holmgren has set up a website, PermaculturePrinciples, where he explains each of them in greater detail. The principles are practical, they make sense, and it seems that most would agree on them. I would bet that my great grandfather probably practiced something close to this, even if he considered his knowledge common sense. You would be surprised how many people don’t let concepts like these ones sink in, particularly when designing a farm.
It all begins with the house, the house is central to a permaculture design. You are in the house most of the time, why shouldn’t your farm design cater to that fact? The immediate area surrounding the house is considered zone 1. There are zones in Permaculture, like concentric rings with the center being the main dwelling. Zone 1, the closest ring to the center, is where you want all the elements of your farm to be located which take the majority of your time.
For instance, if you have chickens that require daily feeding and letting out, you’ll want them in zone 1. Similarly, if you have a starter greenhouse where you will be looking after starts on the daily you’ll want that in zone 1. But if you have an orchard, which will not need daily or even weekly maintenance then it may go into zone 3 or 4 which are further from the home.
A food forest, for example, is one technique, model or style of design. It can be independent of any other system and a garden to itself. Or, it might be an element of a larger zone system where you have a food forest in zone 4 or 5 of your farm/homestead that you planted with a 10, 20 or 30 year plan. Because the idea behind a food forest is that it’s self-sufficient and you don’t have to be there every day, it would be in a distant zone further from the house. Other elements of this system may include a kitchen garden in zone 1 or a pasture with grazing sheep in zone 3.
The rings are all dependent upon your particular situation. Say you’ve got a major hill on one side of the house, the zones will only extend out on the side that is accessible. Also, let’s say you have a dairy cow, grazing animals are usually kept in zone 3, but you need to milk every day and you may not have room in zone 1 for a pasture. So now you will design the zone 3 pasture with a small access point touching zone 1 where you can build a milking stall. Again, may sound like common sense, but you don’t want to be the farmer who talks about “how much hard work it is” when you have to wake up and walk across two pastures, open four gates, disturb the other animals and do it all with only a flashlight just to feed the chickens in the morning.
You should want to be lazy. Laziness should be the ultimate goal of the whole ordeal. Not laziness equal to irresponsibility. We will always have a responsibility to the land and anything we create. But we should be aiming to reduce our workload and letting Nature do more of the work so that we can have time to focus on the reasons that drew us to Nature in the first place.
It's important to realize that Permaculture is one of many practices involved in creating a whole sustainable future:
" Fortunately, for the past half-century some pioneers have been preparing the agriculture of the future, and their ideas are now moving to center stage. Organic no-till, permaculture, agroforestry, perennial polycultures, aquaponics, and biointensive and biodynamic farming— long considered fringe ideas—are now converging as serious components of a sustainable agriculture."
Bates, Albert, and Toby Hemenway. "From Agriculture to Permaculture." State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability: the Worldwatch Insistitute (2010): 47-53.
How to learn:
If you want to learn more about Permaculture design, you have to take a course from a certified instructor. They are spreading rampantly and can be found in most metropli. There are also institutes, and according to Permaculture.org:
“Permaculture Design Course was developed by Bill Mollison to teach principles and foundations of sustainable design. All PDC courses offered throughout the world must follow the same format (see course syllabus and course outline below) to assure that the integrity of certification process is upheld. Permaculture Institute is among many other organizations that offer PDC. For a list of PDC offered by the Permaculture Institute, go here”
Some Other Readings and References:
Veteto, James R., and Joshua Lockyer. "Environmental anthropology engaging permaculture: Moving theory and practice toward sustainability." Culture & Agriculture 30.1‐2 (2008): 47-58.
David Holmgren; The Essence of Permaculture;2007