12 Principals of Permaculture

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Have you ever heard of Permaculture? It’s not a new concept, but it is one that more and more people are becoming interested in. What is Permaculture, you ask? Principally, it is the design of sustainable human habitats by taking into account the patterns and features of natural ecosystems. 

Permaculture is a branch of agriculture that focuses on creating sustainable systems. The word “permaculture” comes from the combination of “permanent” and “agriculture.” Permaculture systems are designed to be self-sufficient, so that they can continue to produce food and other resources indefinitely.

There are 12 principles of permaculture, which provide a framework for designing and managing these systems. These principles are:

(1) observe and interact;

(2) catch and store energy;

(3) obtain a yield;

(4) apply self-regulation and accept feedback;

(5) use and value renewable resources and services;

(6) produce no waste;

(7) design from patterns to details;

(8) integrate rather than segregate;

(9) use small and slow solutions;

(10) use and value diversity;

(11) use edges and value the marginal; and

(12) creatively use and respond to change.

These principles can be applied in a variety of ways, depending on the specific needs of the system. When used together, they can create a closed loop system that is capable of sustaining itself indefinitely. 

Wondering how this could benefit you? Keep reading to find out!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

1. Observe and Interact with Nature

Observe the land and the systems that are already functioning naturally to help you decide how to make these natural systems work for you.

The central tenet of permaculture is observing and interacting with nature. This means taking the time to get to know the natural systems in your area – the lay of the land, the prevailing winds, the types of plants and animals that live there, and so on.

Once you have a good understanding of how your local ecosystem works, you can start to think about ways to work with it, rather than against it. For example, if you want to grow vegetables, you might choose a spot that gets plenty of sunlight and use natural methods to deter pests.

By working with nature, you can create a more sustainable and productive garden.

2. Catch and Store Energy

Collect natural forms of energy when and where they are available to use when needed.

The principal of permaculture is to catch and store energy. The most basic form of this is catching rainwater and storing it in a rain barrel. You can also store energy in the form of food.

Planting fruit trees is a great way to do this. The trees will bear fruit for many years, providing you with a source of fresh food. You can also store energy in the form of heat.

By insulating your home, you can trap heat inside, making your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. By using these simple techniques, you can catch and store energy, making your home more sustainable.

3. Obtain a Yield

The goal of permaculture is ultimately to produce as much food and as many useful resources as possible from your land.

When we think of a yield in the traditional sense, we tend to think of the annual yield we from our garden crops. But in permaculture, a yield can be anything that is useful in some way (ie. fruits and vegetables, herbs, firewood, nuts, seeds, or even flowers). Even weeds and pests that are typically seen as a nuisance can produce yields of food and medicine, food for livestock (chickens love weeds and bugs!), and organic matter for your compost pile.

Meat, eggs and dairy are also yields that can and should be counted on a permaculture property, along with the fertilizer that animals like chickens, rabbits and cows produce.

Likewise, a rain barrel can produce a yield of rain water, and solar panels can produce a yield of solar energy.

4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback

Always assess and reassess what is and isn’t working and make necessary adjustments.

Feedback can come from several sources; Our own reflection on our gardening practices, our successes and failures and advice from experts are just a few examples. Permaculture teaches that we need to listen and be open to receiving feedback from all sources, and most importantly we need to be willing to make changes when necessary.

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources

Try to use resources that are renewable over those that aren’t. Don’t take too much, use only your fair share and allow these resources the time the need to regenerate.

The use and value of renewable resources is a key principle of permaculture. Proponents of permaculture believe that we should make use of resources that are renewable, rather than those that are non-renewable.

This means using things like solar energy, wind power, and organic matter, rather than fossil fuels, metal ores, and other non-renewable resources. Not only is this better for the environment, but it also ensures that we won’t run out of these resources in the future.

What’s more, using renewable resources is often more efficient and cost-effective than using non-renewable resources. This principle is an important part of creating a sustainable way of living. . . And if we want to leave the planet in a better state for future generations, it’s something we need to start doing now.

6. Produce No Waste

While it is difficult not to produce any waste at all, try to make use of the waste you do create (ie. use grey water to irrigate, repurpose old packaging, fix old tools, compost, etc.)

One of the guiding principles of permaculture is that it should produce no waste. This means that every element in the system should serve a purpose and that there should be no unused or unneeded materials.

By adhering to this principle, permaculture systems can function indefinitely without l need for inputs from the outside world. In today’s society, where resource depletion and environmental degradation are major concerns, the philosophy of permaculture offers a sustainable and practical solution.

7. Design From Patterns to Details

Be intentional with the way you design your garden, homestead and property. Observe first and then design your property to take advantage of the naturally occurring systems already in place.

One key strategy is to design from patterns to details. This means first understanding the big-picture patterns at play in a system, and then designing specific solutions that fit within those patterns. For example, in a permaculture garden, one might start by observing the patterns of sun and shade throughout the day, and then choose plants that will thrive in those conditions.

By understanding and working with natural patterns, permaculture can create more efficient and sustainable systems that provide for our needs without damaging the earth.

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate

Set things up to work together and make connections between different elements of your homestead so that they can benefit each other through their interactions with one another.

The principle of permaculture is to integrate rather than segregate. This means working with nature, not against it. For example, rather than planting a row of corn and then a row of beans, you would plant the corn and beans together. The beans would climb up the cornstalk, providing support for the plant while also getting the benefits of the nitrogen-fixing properties of the beans.

This type of integration is called polyculture and it is a more efficient way to grow plants. It mimics the way that plants grow in nature, and as a result, it is more sustainable and requires less work. Polyculture is just one example of how permaculture principles can be applied to our everyday lives.

By integrating rather than segregating, we can create a more sustainable world for ourselves and for future generations.

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions

Focus on establishing plants and systems that take time to set up and produce up front, but will produce massive yields later on. Likewise, when changing anything on your homestead, start by observing and making small changes over time.

The Small and Slow Solutions approach is a permaculture principle that can be applied to many different areas of life. In general, it means that we should focus on small-scale, sustainable solutions rather than large-scale, industrial ones.

So, for example, instead of using a lot of fossil fuels to power our homes, we could install solar panels or install a wind turbine. We could also start a garden and grow our own food, or keep chickens for eggs. These are just some of the many ways that we can use Small and Slow Solutions to create a more sustainable world.

10. Use and Value Diversity

Plant a variety of different crops and raise a variety of different animals (if you choose to raise animals). The more diversity, the healthier the ecosystem on your property and the better chance you’ll get a harvest even if one or more crops fail.

Diversity is one of the foundations of permaculture. By using and valuing diversity, we create more resilient ecosystems that are better able to withstand environmental changes and disturbances. Additionally, by utilizing a wide range of plant and animal species, we can create more efficient systems that provide a greater range of benefits.

For example, by planting a diversity of crops, we can ensure a consistent food supply even if some crops fail. Similarly, by including a variety of animals in ourpermaculture systems, we can provide complementary functions such as pest control, soil fertility, and weed management. In short, diversity is essential to creating productive and sustainable permaculture systems.

When we use and value diversity, we create more resilient ecosystems that can provide a multitude of benefits.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal

Utilize as much of the space on your property as you can. The edges of your property are great for planting fruit-producing shrubs and bramble or trees for harvesting wood. Don’t neglect or overlook the far corners of your property.

As you walk around your garden and property, pay close attention to areas that are not being used. A couple prime examples of this are fence lines and shady areas. Could you use your fences as vertical support to grow pole beans, peas or squash? As for shady areas, there are numerous varieties of vegetables and herbs that grow very well in shade and partial shade. Adding in those varieties could substantially increase your harvest.

If you have pastured and forested areas on your acreage, consider the edge of your pasture where it meets the forest. Edible weeds like nettles like to grow in this area, and so do some fruit trees and berry bushes. Livestock like cows and pigs (but also chickens, geese, goats, etc.) also like to hang out along the forest edge because it provides a variety of different forage, as well as shade. Forest edges are also great for hunting and harvesting firewood.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

Find a way to adapt to the changes instead of fight them. Grow things that thrive in new environments. Start at square one again. Observe and then design. Always work with nature, never against her.

As a gardener, I have seen firsthand how important it is to be adaptable and responsive to change. Depending on the season, the weather, and the type of plants I am growing, my gardening methods have to change.

For example, in the winter I need to make sure my plants are protected from the cold and in the summer I need to make sure they are getting enough water.

Permaculture is a gardening method that takes this concept of adaptation to a whole new level. It is based on the principle of working with, rather than against, nature. This means using techniques that mimic natural ecosystems, such as using companion planting or catch and release irrigation.

By following these principles, gardeners can create gardens that are more resilient to changes in the environment. In a world where climate change is becoming increasingly apparent, permaculture offers a way for us to creatively use and respond to change.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the 12 principles of permaculture, check out David Holmgren’s book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.

For a practical guide to designing a home-scale permaculture garden or homestead, I recommend Practical Permaculture by Jessi Bloom.

By following the 12 principals of permaculture, you can create a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. These principles can help you live a more efficient and self-sufficient life, while also having a positive impact on the environment. What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate permaculture into your life?

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