Permaculture is a movement to design wisely to better meet both human needs and the needs of natural systems. There is no well defined box of what does and does not fit into permaculture. This flexibility has assisted many to have great shifts in solution based thinking and learn brilliant techniques of holistic design. Its inclusiveness also leaves permaculture open to buffoonery and being seen as illegitimate.
I have been hooked on permaculture ever since I took a month and a half long Permaculture Design Course in the hyper-arid Israeli desert nearly four years ago. This course inspired me to take up gardening and use permaculture principles in my daily life. Working with my hands growing food and practicing natural building sparked something authentic within me.
The permaculture principles I find most powerful are
- Observe and interact
- Capture and store energy
- Maximum benefit for minimum input/work
Observe and interact
Observation and interaction are the basic methods of gaining understanding. Observation is valued highly in permaculture because it is easy to become action focused and not take enough time to record and contemplate the natural patterns around us. The desiccating effect of wind, animal behavior, microclimates, crust buildup on bare soil, and temperature flow are some of many things one will encounter with observation.
I believe that the earth has become so greatly transformed by humans that we are now vitally responsible to act in ways that restore natural systems. Restoration is better achieved universally by balancing interaction and observation in our caretaking.
Capture and store energy
Picture an intense rain event in the city. Much of the water is being sent away! Thankfully, our cities have typically been designed to protect property by preventing flooding. Diverting water from paved surfaces and roofs to our landscapes and trees in a way that keeps our buildings safe from floods would have an enormous impact on our need to irrigate. A necessary aside is how salt and alternative deicers fit into the picture.
Time and time again it has been demonstrated that appropriately using water upstream only benefits those downstream. By slowing water’s movement through the landscape more water is stored in the soil and less erosion and flooding occurs.
Graywater is a similar story; we send it all away. By mixing graywater and blackwater, the generally harmless graywater becomes pathogen carrying blackwater, which results in much greater quantities of blackwater that is more difficult and resource intensive to manage. The University of Utah’s new Platinum LEED law building is now using graywater instead of potable water for their toilets. This was previously illegal. It being the new law college building, the lawyers and law students worked and made the law change. Other capturing and storing energy examples in this building are using 54 degree groundwater for their cooling system and rooftop usable space with solar panels creating partial shade.
Maximum benefit for minimum input/work
If anyone tells you that permaculture is easy, they aren’t telling you the whole story. Permaculture can be much less resource intensive than other practices because of smart design and long term focus. Often times this could mean labor or mechanically intensive practices such as moving earth.
Applying maximum benefit for minimum work to weeds, one can learn to treat some weeds as food and medicine. Chop and drop is a phrase used within permaculture. Chop and drop is clipping a weed at its base before it goes to seed and allowing it to drop and decompose in that same location, feeding the plants around it by feeding the soil. Aggressive weeds are often mineral accumulators and can be used as fertility in one contained area.
These principles are already a part of human nature. I encourage you to further use these and other permaculture principles in your own landscape and life, and to learn more about what permaculture has to offer.
Observe and Interact: Pour water in different places in your landscape and observe. At what places in your landscape, and during what tasks, do you feel most connected to nature? Why?
Capture and store energy: Solar energy forms biomass which is decomposed into organic matter for soil building and water retention. How can you better capture solar energy with plants in your landscape? What biomass can you realistically capture that is being sent away? What is the best method of capturing it?
Maximum benefit for minimum work: How can you obtain many yields from a single plant or location in your garden?
I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about permaculture principles and design in relation to your landscape. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation.