I thought I’d write an article on something that I get asked a lot about. When people ask what I do and I explain that I’m a Horticulturist and Permaculturist, most people say “A what??”

I guess most have heard of Horticulture, but not so many people know what Permaculture is, so I thought I better explain this.

The word ‘Permaculture’ was devised by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970’s from the words ‘Permanent’ - perma and ‘Agriculture– culture and also considering permanent culture as they realised that our cultures could not survive or sustain the way we were living and farming the earth.

“Permaculture is about sustainable, human settlements. It is a philosophy and approach to land use which weaves together microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, water management and human needs into intricately connected, productive communities” Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison.

From the World Dictionary - ‘The practice of producing food, energy, etc, using ways that do not deplete the earth’s natural resources’

David Holgrem’s many writings on Permaculture including the Permaculture Principals and the Permaculture Flower. 

 Permaculture Principal and Ethics by David Holmgren.

The three principals of Permaculture are – Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share

Earth Care – Care of the Earth means looking after our home, community, country and the earth we live in. This also means caring for all things that inhabit the earth.

People Care – Caring for ourselves and others. This really starts with caring for ourselves and then we can care for others.

Fair Share (or redistributing surplus) – After we’ve satisfied our basic needs and the lifestyle we live can be sustained by the environment, we then share our abundance and energies to help others. We all should be living in a way that we’re not over consuming, but having enough to sustain a healthy lifestyle whilst sharing and caring for others.

There are twelve ethics of Permaculture (as written by David Holmgren)

  • observe and interact
  • catch and store energy
  • obtain a yield
  • apply self-regulation and feedback
  • use and value renewable resources and services
  • produce no waste
  • design from patterns to details
  • integrate rather than segregate
  • use small and slow solutions
  • use and value diversity
  • use edges and value the marginal
  • creatively use and respond to change

When planning your home and property and how you aim to live your life, it’s a good idea to consider the three principals and then work through the ethics to incorporate as many of these as you can.

For me Permaculture is considering the earth, other people and how I live, provide food and function as a person in day-to-day life, whilst considering our future needs.  Permaculture is a way of life that benefits the earth and its people for many years to come.

David Suzuki once said “What Permaculturists are doing is the most important activity that any group is doing on the planet” A very strong quote from an amazing man…

I was very fortunate to attend a 4 day course with David Holmgren a few years ago and learnt so much from him. He is so highly educated and knowledgeable on many topics and I feel that the time spent with him, his wife Su and the other participants filled me with more desire to share these ideals with others. I now apply Permaculture Principals to the Workshops I deliver.

Permaculture Design

One main aspect of Permaculture is good design. It’s considering all the things that are part of your home and life and connecting them in a way that benefits everyone, the land and the environment.

For example, if you’re considering having chickens then how can they have a connection with your garden? The chickens scratch around and eat weeds, keep pests under control, produce manure and eggs. They are a useful element for a garden, so plan the best way that the chickens can benefit the garden. This is where good design can bring elements together to have symbiotic relationships and perform many functions.

Worm farms and composting are other good examples of elements that can work together to perform many functions. For example food scraps added to worm farms or compost help to reduce waste, provide a great resource to use in the garden and then the garden produces food to eat and then the scraps go back to the worm farm or compost. That’s a good example of a closed-loop system. Great use of energy !!

To effectively design your property, consider where each element is located for maximum benefit to all. This is where the Permaculture Ethics are important. By using the twelve ethics when planning your property you effectively connect important elements that will have a positive impact on your life, the property and the environment.

An arial view of our property used for planning.

When designing a property start with a good site plan. These are available through nearmap.com or Google Earth. You can also purchase a site plan with boundaries, contours and other important markings from your local Council. It’s important to mark all buildings pathways and any solid structures on your plan. Get to know your property, no matter what size it is. Feel the soil, look at waterflow, damp or dry areas, existing trees, plants and also any animals and birds that visit you. These are all an important part of a Permaculture property.

Another things to consider are Sectors and Zones.

A Sector Analysis is considering elements or wild energies (things we can’t control) that have an impact on the site.

Some wild energies are sun, wind, slope, animals, humans, water, fire, seasons, pollutants (eg in air or noise or unattractive views)

Also consider any easements, neighbouring land or natural waterflow.

Consider how these wild energies will impact your property and then plan how you can use elements to improve or make use of these. You can’t control wild energies, but you can use good planning to minimise the effect of them and use them to benefit your property.

Zones are used to record the areas on your land according to the most or least used. They are marked on a plan of the property using rounded lines to mark each zone.

Start at Zone 0 which would be your home, dwelling, shed. The centre of activity.

Zone 1 – the areas most visited regularly and many times daily. Eg, the kitchen garden, compost, chooks, clothes line, shed. These are your high yield areas.

Zone 2 – an area visited once each day. Eg fruit trees, relaxing/ meditating space, kids’ playground.

Zone 3 – other animals that require larger space, but visited each day, larger fruit trees that you visit each week.

Zone 4 – long term projects like farm forestry or food forest

Zone 5 – wildlife corridor, natural bushland or forest, conservation areas or local parklands. Not necessarily on your property.

The plan for our property.

Make a list of the elements or systems that you would like to include and mark them on your plan in their zone areas. This will maximise their uses while minimising the work you have to put in…

When you’ve made plans for your property and considered the permaculture principals and ethics you can then start to make small changes in the way you live, eat, travel and have fun based on the permaculture philosophy. Permaculture is a way of life, it’s about caring for yourself, your family and friends. It’s also about caring for our earth and the beautiful environment we live in. I guess it’s all about choices. What choices will have a positive impact on your life and the lives of others??

Permculture is a simple and practical approach to living a life that we and our earth can sustain.


© cath manuel 2 june 2012

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