Permaculture Principles & Methodologies

The Permaculture design system is based upon certain ethics and principles & methodologies that govern design work. These principles are witnessed in the behavior of natural systems and therefore constitute a base for human activity that mirror nature and act within the laws that govern its behavior. 

The Three Ethics of Permaculture

Ethics:  The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of future survival and of existing life systems.

  • Care of the Earth: includes all living and non-living things, plants, animals, land, water, air
  • Care of People: promotes self-reliance and community responsibility and mutual access to resources necessary for existence
  • Setting Limits to Population and Consumption: in keeping with the current human capacity to benevolently distribute goods and resources

Principles of Permaculture

System yield: the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, reused, or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all its needs for growth, reproduction and maintenance. Unused surplus results in pollution and more work.

Relative Location: Components placed in a system are viewed relatively, not in isolation.

Everything is connected to everything else: Recognize functional relationships between elements.

Every function is supported by many elements (redundancy): Good design ensures that all important functions can withstand the failure of one or more element.

Every element is supported by many functions: Each element we include is a system, chosen and placed so that it performs as many functions as possible.

Local Focus: “Think globally-act locally”. Grown your own food, cooperate with neighbors. Community efficiency, not self-sufficiency.

Diversity: As a general rule, as sustainable systems mature they become increasingly diverse in both space and time. What is important is the complexity of the functional relationships that exist between elements, not the number of elements.

Biological Resources: We know living things reproduce and build up their availability over time, assisted by their interaction with other compatible elements. Use and reserve biological intelligence.

One calorie in/one calorie out: Do not consume or export more biomass than carbon fixed by the solar budget.

Stocking: Finding the balance of various elements to keep one from overpowering another over time. How much of an element needs to be produced in order to fulfill the needs of the whole system?

Stacking: Multi-level functions for single element. Multi-level garden design, i.e., trellising, forest garden, vines, groundcovers, etc.

Succession: Recognize that certain elements prepare the way for the system to support other elements in the future, i.e., succession planting.

Use onsite resources: Determine what resources are available and entering the system on their own. Maximize their use.

Edge effect: Ecotones are the most diverse and fertile area in a system. Two ecosystems come together to form a third which has more diversity than either of the other two, i.e., edges of ponds, forests, meadows, currents, etc.

Energy recycling: Yields form a system designed to supply onsite needs and/or needs of local region.

Small scale: Intensive systems start small and create a system that is manageable and produces a high yield.

Make least change for the greatest effect: The less change that is generated, the less embedded energy is used to endow the system.

Planting strategy:  1st -natives, 2nd-proven exotics, 3rd-unproven exotics- carefully on small scale with lots of observation.

Work within nature: Aiding the natural cycles results in higher yield and less work. A little support goes a long way.

Appropriate technology: The same principles apply to cooking, lighting, transportation, heating, sewage treatment, water and other utilities.

Law of return: Whatever we take, we must return. Every object must responsibly provide for its replacement.

Stress and harmony: Stress here may be defined as either prevention of natural function, or of forced function. Harmony may be defined as the integration of chosen and natural functions, and the easy supply of essential needs.

The problem is the solution: We are the problem, we are the solution. Turn constraints into resources.

Mistakes are tools for learning: Do not view mistakes as negative

The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited: The only limit on the number of uses of a resource possible is the limit of information and imagination of the designer.

Dispersal of yield over time: Principle of seven generations. We can use energy to construct systems providing that in their lifetime they store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them.

A policy of responsibility (to relinquish power): The role of successful design is to create a self-managed system.

Principle of disorder: Order and harmony produce energy for other uses. Disorder consumes energy to no useful end. Tidiness is maintained disorder.

Chaos has form but is not predictable. The amplification of small fluctuations.

Entropy: In complex systems disorder is an increasing result. Entropy and life-force is a stable pair that maintains the universe to infinity.

Metastability: For a complex system to remain stable there must be small pockets of disorder.

Entelechy: Principle of genetic intelligence, i.e., the rose has thorns to protect itself.

Observation: Protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.

We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities: there is no end to opportunity

Wait one year: observe and interact, take time to see between interactions, get through at least one revolution of the seasons if possible

Hold water and fertility as high (in elevation) on the landscape as possible: water is one of the basic needs for any system, catch and store it, use it multiple times, do not waste a drop

David Holmgren, co-creator of the Permaculture concept, has focused the Permaculture principles into twelve (12), comprehensive points. Visit his site for more information and free materials: Essence of Permaculture

Templates for Design

Scale of Permanence

The Scale of Permanence is a list was delineated by Australian P.A. Yeomans in the 1950′s. Noted for his work with the “Keyline” system, a simple technique for holding water where it falls on the land, he created this template to organize our thoughts around what is intrinsic to land design and development. These are the facets that we focus on when assessing and designing a land base:

Permaculture GardenClimate
Access & Circulation
Vegetation, Animals & Wildlife
Buildings & Infrastructure
Zones of Use
Soil Fertility & Management
Aesthetics & Culture

Applied Permaculture evaluates each element that is placed or included in the landscape in order to design relationships that maximize the use of energy and materials and to create a thriving ecology and food web that augments yields in energy, food, materials, etc.

Zone and Sector Analysis

The zone system is based on the frequency and density of activity and use of specific locations in the landscape and built environment. It affords us the opportunity to move people and materials through a site in the most benign and healthy ways based on need. Location, location, location!

Sector analysis is a process of mapping the movement of natural forces coursing through a property: wind, water, weather, sunshine. By taking an inventory of these forces and assessing their strengths and direction of movement we are able to put them to work for us. This eliminates the need for over dependence on technological means for heating, cooling and energy, and helps in the proper placement of vegetation and all other elements in the landscape.