Evolving Our Permaculture Theory
Permaculture design thinking has brought success in many situations. Permaculture seeded the transition movement, built huge aid development programs and helped millions of urban gardeners worldwide. Permaculture techniques have enriched farm regeneration. But you don’t have to leave the armchair to use permaculture thinking. New groundbreaking social structures are popping. And business strategies have emerged.
Core Ethic – Care
In 70s permaculture activists were fighting for a way to conserve native forests by growing more food in the cities. Now permaculture is fighting for healthier environments for both the people and the wildlife. We see huge populations without breathable air, clean water or healthy food. World Health Organisations now recognise that planet health and human health is closely interconnected.
We strive for a fair share but the ultimate success would be a win-win. A win for a rich and diverse environment and a win for human health and prosperity.
Principles: Stabilisers, Enhancers and Flows
A holistic design approach can contain steady stabilisers, fancy enhancers and an ability for energy and information flow.
- System stabilisers build resilience into a design.
- System enhancers enable acceleration.
- The principles that encourage flow let the system self-check, adjust or adapt.
Mollison says ‘A permaculture design is like a bicycle’. With this new perspective we can see that the seat, pedals and symmetry of the tool ensures stability. The tyres providing padding to the wheels, the suspension under the seat, the gears and the brakes are all system enhancers. The bicycle chain enables the obvious notion of a flow of energy from the pedals to the wheels. But another clever system flow device is the steering. The steering mechanism lets the rider respond to changes in the path. This allows information to flow from the bicycle to the rider. Adaption can be instantaneous and smooth. The modern bicycle is a clever and comfortable design. A skilled rider can steer without touching the handle bar and often without concentrating.
Permaculture aims to design a culture that is as comfortable, responsive and sustainable as a bicycle.
A Fresh Look at Early Permaculture Principles
Bill Mollison’s Principles:
Mollison didn’t formally list a set of permaculture principles in his text. But he and many other permaculture teachers have gleaned these from his texts including Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.
Permaculture Principles To Build Stability
- Relative location: position elements in the design so that there is minimal transport between them. Use natural forces where ever possible to work for you.
- Multiple functions for each element: Each Element in the design should be used and positioned to perform a range of functions. For Example: A driveway for vehicles can also be used to harvest water and low growing plants can be planted onto the center strip of the driveway.
- Multiple elements for each function: Satisfy each required function with more than just one element. E.g. heating can come from multiple elements – a mini greenhouse; a wood-fired stove, geothermal, solar radiators or trombe wall.
- Energy Efficiency: Run your equipment to its potential. Share (or hire) equipment. Support durable technology that is adaptable and is easy to maintain.
- Stacking increases the productivity of a system. A forest often has many layers: bulbs, moss, grasses, ground covers, Fungi, Herbs, Shrubs, Small trees, Epiphytes and Aerial plants, Vines, Climax Species, Parasitic plants. We applied this handy design tool in our chicken house design.
- Consider Context: Work with the natural and social energies of the landscape and the community. At the steps of parliament house, Berlin (The Reistag), there is a grassed area that is designed to withstand wet conditions and high pedestrian traffic. In this situation, the compromise of hard and soft landscape tools works well with nature and also provides for the needs of the people.
Permaculture Design Enhancers
Stress-free Yield: By giving each element several functions we can accept that not all the functions can be performed all the time. A duck will hunt for snails, eat weeds and fertilise the garden. She will swim, preen, mate or shout at strangers. The eggs that are produced per busy duck are lower than in controlled conditions but the sum of all the functions is greater.
- Use Biological Resources. Fossil fuel is best used
when it makes itself redundant eg. a Tractor can work a landscape that will no longer require a tractor to manage it.
- Diversity includes a variety of species of food plants or animals. Diversity in nature builds resilience and resistance to pest attack. It also lets us find which variety works well in our own particular climate and micro-climates.
- Information and Observation replaces Energy: Intensive systems with feedback and observation are more productive and reduce waste.
Permaculture Flow Mechanisms
- Natural Succession: Imitate nature in your plans to help a system evolve to meet your needs. Build a food forest that looks and behaves very like your local natural forest.
- Appropriate Technology: Maximise the use of a technology by sharing or hiring equipment. Make sure your equipment works to full capacity. Choose the simplest and most effective technologies first.
- Energy Flow: harness existing energy flows E.g. Wind, wave solar, gravity or running water.
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