An Introduction to Permaculture
In this first piece I would like to share with you some key Permaculture concepts. We can then expand on that through a series of articles, exploring each of the 12 main permaculture principles in a practical way.
Permaculture: Permanent Agri-Culture / Permanent Culture!
Perhaps you have heard of forest gardens, organics, natural building, composting toilets, or eco vilages? Permaculture brings together all of these topics and skills -and many more. It is about growing practical and productive systems which provide for our needs and are at the same time in harmony with the rest of the planet. It is a way of consciously designing environmentally sensitive lifestyles; considering food, fuel, shelter, resources and even community and the ways we interact with each other. It draws on traditions and skills from the past and it also develops new techniques. It is a way of creatively taking responsibity for our existence. A way of thinking that becomes a way of life.
Permaculture seeks to create a culture founded upon care. Care for the earth; landscapes, water, soils and all living beings, Care for People; providing for our human needs, food, shelter, water and relationships, And 'Fairshares'; a more equal distribution of resources; energy, information, natural capital, both locally and globally.
Web of life
We are all connected, trees and plants, water, soils, people and all other elements, relying on and supporting each other in a web of life. Imagine a honey bee going about her business, collecting nectar and pollen from flowering plants, simply by living out her life she takes what she needs and contributes essentially to the pollination of many trees and plants. So the question for us is; as humans how do we weave our strand in this web? Where do all the things we 'use' come from and where do they go after leaving us? What influence do we have on our surroundings – land and people?
Learning from nature
Permaculture looks at how a natural ecosystem functions. In most cases, without any outside inputs such as fertilisers, human effort, a natural ecosystem will not only sustain itself, but also regenerate. In other words it makes more of itself! Where we might see an overgrown patch of brambles, Nature is seeing one step in the journey from bare ground to woodland and forest. A journey that is fuelled by the available water and sunlight resources alone. What's more, unlike the culture we humans have developed, in a natural system there is no such thing as 'waste', absolutely everything has an essential role to play in supporting something, the whole system is contantly in motion, -they don't call it the dance of life for nothing!
Permaculture observes natural patterns such as these and expresses them in the form of guides or 'principles'; 'produce no waste', 'use and value diversity', 'create beneficial connections' etc; Then, by applying these ideas to the way we live and make choices, we can create and enjoy abundant lifestyles which function like natural systems, ie: they are low maintenance, highly productive, no-waste, creatively responsive to changes, and in harmony with our surroundings. Looking at life through the lens of these principles doesn't tell us what to do, but rather rather, how we can achieve something. They offer us a new outlook and a re-focussing, 'focus permaculture'! In effect the principles act as our toolkit, the tools for creative innovation now and into the future. There certainly are challenges, and there are solutions! We will explore some of them, and ways in which we can begin to use the Permaculture toolkit in various contexts in the upcoming articles.
Key: Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder” By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
1. Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines” By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
2. Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach” Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
3. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation” We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
4. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course” Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
5. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine” By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
6. Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees” 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.
7. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work” By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
8. Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
9. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
10. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path” 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.
11. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be” We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.
Hannah Mole is an Organic farmer, Gardener and Permaculture teacher and designer, living in County Roscommon. For more info, events and courses see www.hannahmole.com
- Online: permacultureprinciples.com, permaculture.co.uk, hannahmole.com
- Reading: Permaculture: a beginners guide, by Graham Burnett Permaculture Principles
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