Questions and Answers about the Basics of Permaculture

1: What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a way of design which observes and then mimics ecological systems. (my definition).

Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies. Wikipedia

2. Who were the originators?

Two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren co-originated the concept of permaculture. They published their first book on the subject, Permaculture One in 1978.

The term permaculture can be thought of as a contraction of the two words “permanent” and “agriculture” or of the two words “permanent” and “culture”.  Permaculture concepts were originally in the design of gardens, farms and other natural landscapes.  The principles are applicable throughout the world in temperate, humid and arid landscapes; in urban, suburban and rural development.

3.  What are the core principles of Permaculture?

Different people have articulated the core principles in different ways.  In his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, David Holmgren defines them this way:

  1. Observe and interact – By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy – By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield – Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services – Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste – By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details – By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate – By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions – Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity – Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal – The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change – We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Additional examples of these principles from the Permaculture Principles website appear here.  I’ll be illustrating each of these core principles in the coming weeks.

Also see this great pdf from Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute,  Permaculture, Sustainable Ranching, Farming, Living by Designing Ecosystems that Imitate Nature. For each principle, this paper describes how we see them working in nature and then how we can design to imitate nature.

4.  Is Permaculture only about gardening?

I hope not.  I believe permaculture is  an overarching framework to the concept of sustainability.  I hope to explore this theme through this blog (and why the subtitle of this blog is “concepts beyond the garden).

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