The Philosophy of Permaculture
Permaculture is a creative design process which emulates the processes found in nature in our daily life. Adoption of the philosophy enables the transition from dependent and wasteful consumerism to more ethical food production, land usage and housing.
There are no hard or fast rules to permaculture as its implementation depends upon the environment and natural conditions currently available. However, there are principles or guidelines which can be adopted in order to make the transition. The practical application of the principles has led to some refinement and debate about which are the most important, but there some that are suggested as the basis for designing sustainable systems. Think of it as working with nature to create an edible and self-sustaining landscape.
The 12 Principles of Permaculture
1. Observe and interact: In any environment, it is possible to observed what plants thrive where and what ‘companions’ like to occupy the same space. Observation of which plants attract pollinating insects and other wildlife, where water flows and stagnates, and the effects of wind upon the landscape, will make apparent the natural patterns that can be used within the process of designing a productive and naturally balanced system.
2. Work with nature, not against it: The observation of natural patterns means that design elements can work with and facilitate nature. Human agriculture has the habit of constantly battling with nature. Why create so much work when harmonious cohabitation is possible? Shubhendu Sharma provides a great example:
Courtesy: TED talks
3. Use small and slow solutions: There is no denying that humans make a significant impact on the environment they live in. And what a mess they make! Small change is preferable to big change. The principle of observation applies here, small-scale interventions are kinder to nature and their effects can be more closely monitored.
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Nature provides its own source of feedback. However, perhaps the most important principle of the design process is self-development, self-regulation and ethical responsibility. The psychology of attitude change has shown how personal attitudes do not often translate into behaviour. Finding yourself a critical friend or two will help in the process of self-regulation and mastery, as long as you’re willing to accept their feedback of course!
5. Obtain a yield
We all need to eat and drink to live, so creating opportunities for self-sufficient food production is a priority. This principle emphasises the need to design your space in such a way that you maximise opportunities for self-reliance. Yields are not limited to food, but to fibres, dyes, energy sources, aesthetically pleasing spaces, structural materials … the possibilities are only limited by our own imaginations.
6. Produce no Waste: There is no such thing as ‘away’. We think that we are throwing things ‘away’, but in reality, our waste is on our doorstep, leaching into soils, rivers and seas. Waste can be a resource in itself if kept and reused on site and again, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
You can do this too! Open Source materials make processes available to all.
Precious Plastic courtesy of Dave Hakkens, Dave Movies, YouTube
7. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: We waste a lot of water. We use fresh water to flush our toilets and keep our lawns green. We use fossil fuels to heat our houses and showers. These are finite resources and there are renewable alternatives. Grey water, wind and sun can be valued and utilised more efficiently.
8. Catch and Store energy: Things we have now, but want to use later, we store: food in freezers, cans, tins, jars, spare tyres…. This principle is a similar idea. Plants rely on energy from the sun which can be stored. Think of the greenhouse effect, sitting on a rock that has been warmed in the sun, water that is warmed in the summer… these are ways that energy can be captured and stored in your garden.
9. Design from patterns to details: If you undertake a permaculture course, you’ll notice that it isn’t a horticulture course. You’ll find yourself learning about individual plants and their behaviours later on. Permaculture design is more holistic. This principle entails the observation of sun movement over the plot, wind direction, the direction of water flow, what plants are already growing where, what plants the deer are eating, patterns of human traffic, etc. These observations are important for the overall design of the project and saves a great deal of labour later. For example, a local permaculture project located its beds perpendicular to the contour lines of a particular hill. But due to the flow of water, they ended up locating the beds parallel to the contour lines, enabling them to capture water where the beds were rather than at the bottom of the hill where it was wild.
10. Integrate rather than segregate: Many of you may have heard of companion planting. This principle is similar. The functions of each plant supports the needs of others. The elements of a permaculture perform many functions that are needed within the system and additionally, more than one element will perform the same function.
11. Use and Value Diversity: Imagine a month without mains electricity in your house, or a month without your mobile phone. Imagine that everyone in your country grows potatoes and this year the crop fails due to the potato blight. So, don’t rely on just one crop, one energy source, one means of communication. Diversity is enriching.
12. Use edges and value the marginal: If you look at a river bank, you are looking at an edge. But where water meets land, there is life. The edge teams with life and you have a rich, diverse eco-system. Edges are highly productive spaces. This principle encourages the maximisation of edges within your design.
The above principles are employed when designing your space for greater self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Engaging with these principles reduces the number of inputs to your home, ie. the amount of stuff you purchase. Your outputs can be reutilised on site (waste) or shared with the community you are part of (yield). This includes non-human inhabitants, who’ll make use of everything you can’t reach or eat, as long as it isn’t synthetic. And once established, it takes very little effort to maintain.
Farming the lazy way!