Permaculture is ecological design science focused on creating ecologically regeneratative agriculture and sustainable communities. Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s as a contraction of "permanent agriculture" and "permanent culture".
Pre-industrial agriculture was labor-intensive; industrial agriculture is energy-intensive; permaculture is information and design intensive. Permaculture is a systems thinking model that provides a set of conceptual tools to design sustainable and regenerative systems.
Mollison defines permaculture as "the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way."
Permaculture aims to develop perennial agricultural systems that mimic the structure and interrelationship found in natural ecologies.
History of Permaculture
Permaculture was founded in Australia in the late 1970s by Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren.
- Prime directive of permaculture:"The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children." -Bill Mollison
- Earth Care
- People Care
- Fair Share
Principles of Permaculture Design
There are three basic conceptual design tools in permaculture that enable a designer to develop the most productive agroecology possible, utilizing everything the site and component parts have offer.
Every part of a system is connected to every other part. The core of permaculture is to design these interconnections in the most productive manner. By properly designing the relative location of each element in a system, you get synergistic, emergent properties: the whole system produces more than the sum of its parts. This can range from where you place and orient a house or community to where you place specific species of plants to facilitate symbiotic relationships between soil micro-organisms.
Every design element should have multiple functions, multiple uses. A fruit tree yields fruit, but can also provide shade, timber, fibre, microclimate, habitat, soil improvement and maintenance, mulch, and animal fodder. You can map the different inputs (needs), outputs (functions) of different elements within a system to give a rough map of potential interconnections that can be formed. The permaculture chicken is the archetypal example of this.
By mapping the inputs (Needs) and outputs (Products and Behaviors), you can place the component within the system to meet its needs and utilize its products with the least maintenance necessary. For example, by placing chickens in a rotational system or chicken tractor over fallow garden beds, you can passively meet some of its needs for food, dust, and grit while utilizing its products of manure, scratching, and foraging for tillage, fertilizer, and weed and pest control. This meets the needs of both the chicken and the garden while minimizing human maintenance needed for both. Similar diagrams can be developed for every component in a system, allowing the designer to link inputs and outputs of different components so that the waste output of one component becomes a beneficial input for another.
Every function should be supported by multiple elements. This builds redundancy and resiliency into the system.
Energy Efficient Planning
Zones of use are a conceptual tool to enable the efficient design of a system based on the amount of maintenance, harvest, and observation different components need. Zones of use are different growing zones divided on a scale of 1 - 5 by how frequently you must visit them for maintenance or harvest. By placing aspects of your system that are visited most frequently (eg home garden) closest to your home or center of your system, you save much time and energy. Plants, animals, and other components that need similar amounts of maintenance are grouped together in your system.
While permaculture books often depict zones as concentric circles of diminishing visitation and maintenance as you move further from the home, in reality zones of use are a rough conceptual tool that takes many shapes and forms. This concept is scale invariant, and applicable from the smallest backyard garden to a five-hundred acre farm. Roughly, zones are described this way:
- Zone 0: The house, main structure, or center of a system.
- Zone 1: The area surrounding Zone 0 and frequently used paths. Visited many times a day,elements placed here require careful observation and maintenance, or need to be harvested often. This area is generally where you find intensively maintained and used vegetable and herb gardens and nurseries.
- Zone 2: This zone is visited less frequently than Zone 1, but still requires a moderate amount of maintenance. Smaller fruit trees, shrubs, hardy perennials, and crops, such as corn or potatoes that require less maintenance.
- Zone 3 and 4: Zone 3 - 4 are generally large orchards, pastures, and stands of nut and timber trees the require little maintenance.
- Zone 5: This has been traditionally considered the wilderness, an area you do not intervene in, but current science and anthropology has thrown into question the conception of wilderness untouched by humans.
Sector analysis is a conceptual tool to aid identification and management of energy as it flows through the system. It begins with mapping a site based on the flows of sun, weather, rain, water flow, wind, and potential fire as they enter and move through your site. Sector analysis is essential to the design process as it enables you to place system components to either catch beneficial energies, such as sunlight and water flow, and mitigate damaging energies, including using windbreaks and firebreaks to manage desiccating winds and fire potential, respectively.
A guild is an association of organisms - plants, animals, bacteria and fungi or other organisms - that create synergies with the intention of establishing over time and process a dynamically stable agro-ecosystem or regenerated ecology. Guilds are groups of species that act in mutually beneficial ways to boost production and resilience while reducing maintenance requirements in a system.
A very basic guild in a developing system consists of 1) a nitrogen-fixing plant, 2) a groundcover, and 3) the climax tree, shrub, or plant that you are hoping to establish. The Three Sisters of maize, squash and beans, central to traditional Mesoamerican agricultural exemplifies this: maize is the main crop, squash spreads as a ground cover, beans fix atmospheric nitrogen, and all three provide an edible yield.
Guilds can be expanded to include insect control, such as attracting pollinators or using aromatic pest confusers, and microclimate creators offering wind or sun protection.
Areas of Permaculture Design
Dave Holmgren's 12 Permaculture Principles
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation and accept 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
Permaculture Sections by Region
- Permaculture in the Humid Tropics
- Permaculture in Temperate Regions
- Permaculture in Drylands
Areas of Applied Principles
- Permaculture Books
- Miiu's list of permaculture books
- Permaculture Designers Manual by Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay
- Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison and Reny Mia Slay
- Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren
- Edible Forest Gardens Vols. I and II by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
- Gaia's Garden, Second Edition: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
[http://www.worldagroforestry.org/sea/Products/AFDbases/AF/index.asp World Agroforestry Centre Database