Permaculture Principles: Part IV

Permaculture Principles Part I

Permaculture Principles Part II

Permaculture Principles Part III

When I first undertook a permaculture design certificate course, I got very excited about edible plants.  Many hours were spent researching plants – first, into the edibility of Britain’s native plants, and then, onto other edible perennials.  My thinking commenced with the details of the project, then I set about the aesthetics of planting.    However, as part of the project, I’d missed some vital patterns – a windswept moor that provided a home with no shelter from the winds, hence heavy expenditure to eliminate loss of heat and to seal draughts; an unused stone shed, lack of accessibility to often used plants, like herbs, and the water, needed for the beautiful water feature I had designed, was flowing in a totally different direction, to how I’d planned.

What can I say? Wisdom lies in mistakes.

I had failed to look at how existing patterns would provide a foundation for the design process.  So instead, this permaculture principle turns my upside-down world to a more functional perspective.

Design from patterns to details

The more time I spend researching and thinking about permaculture, the more I believe that ‘observe and learn’ is the Fractalimost important.  It has applies no less to the principle of designing from patterns to details.  Nature is self-sustaining.  It finds its own balance and harmony and its patterns are a response to the natural flow of energy.  Consider this: when did nature ever plant in straight lines?  Come to that, when did nature take over 10 acres with a single crop?

An optimal design will begin with a thorough analysis of the site for the project.  It will note water flow, water collection points, the direction of erosion, the path of the sun, wind funnels, the predominant direction of the wind, plants that are natural companions, the pattern of animal migration and habitation……

Additionally, the site will not be situated in isolation.  It will have neighbours and may exist as part of an existing community with its own habits and patterns.  Go against the flow of the community, and you lose its energy, just as going against the flow of natural energy within our environment creates the same effect.

And as you may begin to see that as all the principles are interwoven and inextricably linked, so is a good design.  Which leads us to our next principle:

Integrate rather than segregate

There’s an important message for society as well as for permaculture design throughout its ethos – value diversity.  Anyway, before I get carried away on another favoured topic …. I really like this principle and its various aspects.  I think these aspects can be summarised as elements, functions and locations.  The overall aims of the project will determine the functions that need to be fulfilled.  To that end, you need more than one element in the system to fulfil that function (e.g. like your boiler, you’re without hot water until you get it fixed).  So each important function is undertaken by many elements.  Similarly, particularly if space is limited, each element would ideally perform more than one function.

Trees are a good illustrative example of the many functions an element can provide: wind barrier, lumber, fruit, nuts, rain maker, soil builder, fertiliser, energy transformer, home, playground, water pump, climate regulator, canopy provider, psychological well-being… please comment on any others you can think of!

And the number of elements that can contribute to a single function?  How about the need for heat?  Sun (panels, thermal flooring, sun-heated water pipes (works in Spain for an outdoor shower), drying fruit, olives, carob pods …, lumber, thermal mass (e.g. in masonry, rock), compost, woolly jumpers ….  Ok, I live in Yorkshire, I realised the obstacle quite some time ago!  Perhaps I should have focused on water?


Principles of Permaculture V to follow …..


8 thoughts on “Permaculture Principles: Part IV

  1. Having picked myself up off the floor after seeing the extent of your research and the detail of your response, I must concur that you might indeed be experiencing the effects of argumentis monumentus, a condition not uncommon in many eLFonian females.

    I suspect you are right that once someone did die from eating an unknown, or rather untested, food source that word would spread quickly and so deaths would be minimised. I must say, your foraging exploits can be tempting fate given that, as you say some poisonous plants are unforgiving (although I suspect you are probably well acquainted with the many and varied species). As for the Fibonacci sequence in nature, that’s precisely the point I was making. It’s difficult to see this as a result of evolution.

    I must confess, an answer does not find a ready place in my memory reserves which have been depleted in recent days. I’m not sure what wisdom was lost as I am still trying to discover some of my own so.

    p.s. I am impressed with your research which is, very much what eLFonian females do just before they eat their males. Perhaps now is a good time for me to take refuge in some quiet cave. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder how many people have died through the ages eating plants in the continuing quest for additional sources of food. Nature is indeed self-sustaining and a wonderful teacher. We can learn so much from it though it begs the question – if evolution, then do we place our faith in learning from such randomness? There is much wisdom in integrating and assimilating. Live or perish! Ancient tribes learnt this principal the hard way. Wisdom, dwells with prudence and has several sisters and rests in the heart of those who have understanding.


    1. researching your first question, and I’m coming to suspect that comparatively, there have been few who have died from eating plants, and if they did, they were likely to have been between the ages of 0-5. I’ve looked at some contemporary statistics in the UK, and 0-4 years is the highest risk group for ALL poisonings, of which plant poisonings are very few. Skin irritations and injuries from plants are more common though.

      Secondly, I’ve been learning about foraging, and for any new food suggested as edible, I always take a very tentative taste first and wait. If it’s poisonous, its effects will be minor. I think it is the approach many foragers take.

      Thirdly, we do learn through others. (watch the orang-utan one). This brings me back to culture. Why do our most poisonous of plants (funghi) have names like ‘Destroying Angel’ and ‘Death Cap’? Misidentification is a problem and does result in death.. but compared to other causes?

      To your second question, I will answer with a question (due to your interest in maths ^_^) – how random is the fibonacci sequence?

      And finally, what wisdom was lost as a result of the lack of integration of the colonisers?

      Gosh, I’m so argumentative today!!

      Liked by 1 person

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