Process of Permaculture Design

The basic stages in the design process are research, creating ideas, creating the design, and presenting it. But this is not a linear process. The process is more like a spiral. Deeper understanding and more ideas come as you dive in. Each time we take a step back we build a better design.

Research, Ideate, Create, Present – Four stages of Design Process

To be honest, one of the biggest sections of your design process will be the research. In the research phase, we collect the goals of the clients and ourselves and the ethics. And then we look at the data. Like: all the different types of maps and the permissions that you need to apply for. And the sectors of natural energies that are reaching the site. And then we look at the capability of this site and the people that are going to be involved in changing that site.

identifying elements (component) of the design is an important part of the process

So, we have goals, your objectives and the client’s objectives. We have ethics and sometimes, there can be a conflict of ethics. And we have dreams.

Process Starts Boring, Gets Exciting

In the data we’re going to be looking for permissions required. And different types of maps. To be honest, we will need to do some mapping it ourselves to get the finer details. From this, we will identify the sectors: all the different natural energies that come to the site. When we’re looking at the social aspects of a design, we’re going to look at the historical use of that site. And then, the community values.

By listening to the community, we connect with them. The capability assessment of a site will look at the different assets that are on the site: the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And the risks. And then the skills and the interests of the people involved.

stages of design process - research, ideate, create, present

IDEATE – Understand Components

When we get to the ideation stage (where we put ideas onto paper), we’re going to look at the different elements that we can use (or the different components in the design). We identify the different components wanted by the client. And those needed. And we analyze them. Then we look at the function.

Look at Functions

And we look at different functions from each element. And different elements or components that will meet those functions. ‘Sort of like having safeguards. Then we put this all together in an array a pattern or a shape.

So getting to the elements: we list them. And we analyze them for how useful they are going to be. And how useful connections. There’s a whole bunch of elements you can use in a design. But let’s just take one. For instance the bee. We know what its needs are. We identify the level of expertise

required. And we know it produces or what its function can be. And the main function of the bee is to actually pollinate crops. Not just give us honey.

analyse components such as bees as part of the process

Process of Functional Connections

We use three factors to work out the best placement for an element these three factors are the sectors, zoning and the integration with other elements. So, let’s take an example of the worm farm. The worm farm benefits from shade. It also benefits from being in a nearby zone.

So, it’s not difficult for the user to carry waste food waste from the kitchen to that worm farm. Then, we integrated them. We ask: “What other elements can benefit from the worm farm? The castings and the water from the worm farm is fertilizer for delicate plants in the nursery. So, we position it between the kitchen and the nursery and in the shade.”

integration of worm farm and kitchen and plant nursery is part of the process

The Design Creation

Then we move on to that stage of creating the design. We’ve got some ideas for the strategies that we can use to achieve the function. Remember, that strategy of using and cycling the waste by using chickens? But, we know we can also use worms and compost piles. Our strategy is to cycle the nutrients. But, the different ways to do that with chickens or compost pile are the techniques. The third thing within the creation stage is looking at patterns – where things will flow.

finding resources, different techniques and strategies is part of the process

Feedback Enriches Process

In the discussion stage you’ll be talking to your client about the concepts. And you’ll be setting about to make a staging plan: what should come now, what can wait until later. And finally, you want to think about how you can accept feedback. How it can improve your work every stage in this process. We can have little feedback loops. Oh! that’s a good idea. I’m going to put that into my next plan!

The ultimate goal of your design is to empower the client. Maybe the client is yourself. By finding ways to empower the client you will find a way to bring the design to life. And by having that design implemented you get to assess how good it is.

Finding joy in the creation process

Living By Design – Not Default

“We can either live life through design or through default” Say Dr Charlie Brennan and Bridget O’Brien of Garden Juju Collective.  In our interview, Charlie discusses ethics in Permaculture and his involvement in group projects to help us design a better future’.

Design or Default – The Choice to be Active or Passive

Charlie came from Dartmoor, UK to Australia as a young man. His family also lived in Singapore during his teens. “One of the things I studied in my doctorate was eco-psychology. I feel like a sense of place became a big thing”. Because of the moves in his youth “which were both very exciting but also kind of dislocating”. In his research Charlie uncovered eugenic narratives by Joseph Campbell. “we need to understand the stories we’re living or the stories will live us”

One the things that came out of Charlie’s study was that the importance of a critical approach. That doesn’t mean criticizing it means looking at the arrangements we enter ourselves into. And learning from practice.

Permaculture Design is a Practice Not a Doctrine

“it’s very much about practice. It’s not about some doctrine. Permaculture isn’t a doctrine. It’s a set of practices which are exciting and fantastic. And they need to be evolving all the time… Anything can be treated as a doctrine. Permaculture can be, so can football training…but that’s not necessarily useful. It’s useful to keep things as an active set of practices.

Photo by ALEXANDRE DINAUT on Unsplash

Ethical Framework of Permaculture

“Permaculture is fantastic. It also is problematic sometimes. But it’s probably the only framework to address everything that’s going on. So it’s incredibly valuable. And it’s fantastic especially for holistic systemic thinking. It’s fantastic for engaging with the organic world and as a practical guide to getting things done. It’s for people who want to do something different, sustainable, regenerative and healing.”

“Ethics drives permaculture and what we’re all trying to do. Because we’re always evaluating the you know how effective or good or better this action is over that action.

Permaculture has Ethics but isn’t an Ethical System

The three ethics of permaculture (Care of Planet, Care of People and Fair Share) are more an ethic rather than a set of ethics, But they’re not ethical systems. Ethical systems offer a way of evaluating complex dilemmas that are incredibly hard to work out. For instance, we might ask: ‘do these trees stay in or do these trees come out? Do we involve these people or not? What do we do with the produce? Where do we share it? Where do we put boundaries around our knowledge versus sharing?’ All these things incredibly complicated.

Ethical Systems

Ethical systems include utilitarianism, care ethics or deontology. Charlie thinks these traditional forms of ethical approach are still really important. “We ask is it your sacred duty to live your life as close to your values as you can?

It’s challenging. But it’s also very exciting. We can suggest systems that people get a chance to explore for themselves. We ask people to look at Carol Gilligan’s care ethics. This is about 30 years old. It is sometimes seen as a feminist approach to ethics. It is unlike a bunch of old white men being quite abstract (which has its place)”. Ethics by Carol Gilligan questions the qualities of the relationship around you. And of course, there are many valuable “ethical systems from indigenous values and practices”.

Design Wisdom of Our Elders

Sometimes permaculture would challenge traditional methods. But Charlie has talked with a lot of older farmers. “They all have a set of ethics. They all have ethical aims to be the best farmer you can. Or to produce the best produce or the best soil… It involves ethical decisions on an ongoing basis. So you’re evaluating whether you use one weed method of removal or another. Or whether you even leave the weeds or not. Whether you employ certain labour. Or whether people can walk through your land. If it’s private or not. There is a constant set of ethical evaluations

adapt card game

ADAPT Card Game for Design

Charlie and Bridget O’Brien are keen for permaculture to be applied to everything. In fact, that’s how Bridget came up with the adapt game. It is now available and for sale. It is permaculture design boiled down to a design process. Adapt helps adapt without being narcissistic and selfish. “We’re doing things as a collective. And we’re doing things in service. We’re asking the question ‘what are we in service of? we’re in the service of the planet or really important causes”. To be ethical, creative and positive.

We can either live life through design
or through default.

Charlie Brennan

Life presents us with values. And we adopt these. Often we’re “scared to change from them. We live by not designing anything. Some are scared to design things. Also, what a lot of people do is design by impulse. They say !#$% it: ‘I’m doing my own thing now. And they make choices which are impulsive.

Our Adapt game is a holistic systemic approach to the design. It supports and encourages you to explore other options. It asks you to answer some difficult questions. Because a card will come up and say ‘what are the ethics of this? Or, how are you going to put this into action?

We don’t always like to go to the difficult places in designing approaches. Yet the difficult places are also often the fertile places. And so, by the end of a round of Adapt, you’ll come up with a much more involved plan. You will be putting your dream or desire or need into action.”

Live by design. Learn more with us.

Design Theory Into The Zones

Zones for a house on a hilltop

Where is it?

confused roosterDo you ever get frustrated because you can’t find something? How many times have you wished there was a better system? Have you struggled to complete a task because the tools or resources are not at hand?  Ever wished to add a little something but it is too far away? Are you always feeling for your keys in the bottom of your bag only to find forgotten debris instead? Is there sometimes a touch-of-confusion at work making it hard to get stuff done?

If only everything was in its place. But wait… how do we know where the right place is? This is where it pays to do a little bit of designing.  Permaculture Zoning gives you the design tools to make life more comfortable and work more efficiently. We have a tool that can sort things into zones according to how much we need them, and in return, how much they need our care.

Tea herbs from the gardenSome things need to be close-by because we use them often. For example: tea herbs near the cups, kindling next to the fire, or pens on the desk. Some things need a watchful eye but need some space in order to thrive (like a children’s play area, or the berry patch).  Other things may prefer not to be bumped or tampered with so they do well in an area that is typically neglected, like wine in a cellar. These also include a nesting robin, or the soft yoga mat in your sports bag.

Zones for Efficiency

There are a few basic factors to help us determine which is the right zone for something. Firstly, ask how much observation does the item need? Secondly, ask how frequently am I going to it? If the answer is often, put it nearby. If the answers are rarely, put it far away.

This design tool is super flexible. You can apply the zoning tool to your design for a farm, a home, a community garden or a work station. You can even use it to pack your luggage.

When Bill Mollison was introducing the concept of Zoning as a design tool, he talked about having food plants that were needed regularly near the kitchen door.

These include herbs and plants like lettuces and kale that we can clip each day rather than rip it out of the ground.  Zone thinking can also be applied to the design of your bag. Those items that are needed regularly need a pocket up high to keep them accessible. Whereas, things that are rarely used but handy in emergencies can dwell in the outer zones.

Applying Permaculture Zone Theory To Design Of A Bag

Get Your Nest of Zones

Zones don’t have to be separated. But compartments, pockets, or fences are often useful. In zone 1 we keep regularly used and valuable items. In a bag these items might be your keys, phone, medicine or photo of your favourite chicken.  On the farm, Zone 1 might hold your dog’s box, your pick-up truck, your trusty tools and your favourite wet weather coat. In Zone 2 you will find intensively grown food-plants and the smaller species of fruiting shrubs. The hen-house might sit in this zone to help manage weeds in the orchard and provide regular eggs. Bigger trees, pumpkin vines and corn patches site well in Zone 3 and larger farm animals go well in the Zone 3 or 4 area. Zone 5 is a great space to dedicate to wildlife which thrives on careful management and minimal disturbance.

Zones according to use and micro-climates. Our design for yoga retreat in Otford

What about Zone 0 you may ask?

Self reliant eldersZone 0 is traditionally indoors or in your head where all those secret recipes dwell and where you hone your powerful ethics and motivation. But In a house design or on a farm, zone 0 can also contain ferments, indoor production and work stations, the office and first aid.

As you can see, there are a lot of design tools taught through Permaculture. Learn more design tools with a Permaculture Design Course. We offer courses online and on-site.

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Liberty Chic Fights Waste

Eliminate Your Food Losses

How to reduce food waste

9 year old hen and her chicks

  1. Take control of your well-being and cook for yourself. You’re worth it
  2. Plan the menu to dish up the healthy foods you love and are in season
  3. Check what is in the cupboard before it expires
  4. See what is growing in your garden
  5. Write a shopping list
  6. Buy locally made alternatives
  7. Make your own sauces
  8. Buy seasonally available food
  9. Buy whole foods that will store well
  10. Let people serve themselves at the table
  11. Thai Basil and mint: home-grown teas

    Store food correctly to reduce pests in the kitchen such as weevils and cockroaches

  12. Eat the Leftovers in curries, pies, pasties, pasta sauces, on pizzas and in lasagna or soups.
  13. Have a rat-proof system of feeding leftovers to your chickens in the mornings, then put remainder in a metal enclosed worm-farm at night.
  14. Turn your scraps back into food. Grow pumpkins and tomatoes from the seed. Grow ginger, sweet potato and shallots from a small piece of the tuber.

Feathered Friends

Each morning, chickens are ready and keen to work. They strive to convert food-waste to fertiliser. Gobbling scraps and frolicking in the garden is their idea of chicken-heaven.  A little training may be required to teach old chickens to try new foods.  One way to start your chickens eating the food waste is to offer them scraps each morning before offering them seed. A permaculture design helps you manage your chickens. It designs spaces for them to access a lot of their needs and it uses zoning and other design tools to absorb their products such as manure, dust and noise.

Superb Self-Motivated Workers

chic in egg getting ready to tend the garden

Chickens do a lot more than just eat your scraps. Dancing a funny kind of shuffle, scratching to aerate the soil then trimming the edges of the garden paths are natural activity for chickens. Most Chickens like to bathe in a dust bath which they make for themselves. Design their space to give them access to a dusty corner. Add diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs away.

Ancient Hunters

Rooster defends against predatorsIn addition to all these natural attributes, chickens will hunt. They eat snails, baby snakes and a lot of insects pests and beneficial. So, you do need to manage them. They will also eat your food before you do. How can the docile domesticated chicken be expected to know what you want to eat or keep in the garden? If they like your scraps, then you can bet they will prefer them fresh. The hens will probably like to eat your favourite herbs and veggies. You are their master, guide them well with fencing. Fencing also keeps them safe from predators like dogs and foxes.

Kryptonite for Chickens

a tad of fowl confusionNot all chickens like the same foods, just the same and you and me. They will most of our scraps however, there are some you should not feed to them.  We never feed our hens raw egg-shell because we don’t want them to get a taste for raw egg and start eating eggs in the nests. We pop the egg-shells into a metal bowl and store it in the oven. The shells dry out and get baked in the next preheat. When we open the door to put a dish in the oven out comes the baked egg shells. They are crushed with the end of cup and more shells are put on top. Eventually we feed the lot to the hens as part of their shell grit.

Chickens Mow

Mowing is another chicken specialty. Your hens will help mow the grass. They are not super neat but if you put grain along the edges they will start there. Build your flock gradually. Start with just a couple and slowly build the numbers two by two. If you get the right ratio of chickens to grass, there will be no bare earth. Two bantam chickens can neatly graze an established lawn of 1/8 acre. However, If you notice the lawn area is suffering over the winter, simply lock them in a straw yard.  As spring approaches, your hens will bound out ready to work. These animated balls of fluff fertilise your garden with their manure and feathers. Ultimately, it is clever design of the garden layout and fencing that will give you management options.

A Daily Gift

home-grown eggs and sprouts

At the end of the day you might even get some of their world-loved eggs. Eggs are the best protein and conveniently delivered in their handy little hard-cased compost-able packaging – Egg shells!

If chickens were as popular as cats and dogs, 
the world's food waste would be halved

Get cracking on your permaculture design skills today

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