Introduction to Permaculture

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Permaculture Definitions

Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human environments.

Defined by co-founder Bill Mollison:

"For many people, myself included, the above conception of permaculture is so global in its scope that its usefulness is reduced. More precisely, I see permaculture as the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision. It draws together the diverse ideas, skills and ways of living which need to be rediscovered and developed in order to empower us to provide for our needs, while increasing the natural capital for future generations.

In this more limited but important sense, permaculture is not the landscape, or even the skills of organic gardening, sustainable farming, energy efficient building or eco-village development as such, but it can be used to design, establish, manage and improve these and all other efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future."

From co-founder of Permaculture David Holmgren.

-Permaculture: the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, appropriate technology, and community development. Permaculture is built upon an ethic of caring for the earth and interacting with the environment in mutually beneficial ways.

From the Permaculture Drylands Institute, published in The Permaculture Activist (Autumn 1989):

-Permaculture (PERMAnent agriCULTURE or CULTURE) is a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth.

From Lee Barnes (former editor of Katuah Journal and Permaculture Connections), Waynesville, North Carolina:

To paraphrase the co-founder of permaculture, designer Bill Mollison:

-Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive "edge-zones" within the system.
-Permaculture is: the design of land use systems that are sustainable and environmentally sound; the design of culturally appropriate systems which lead to social stability; a design system characterized by an integrated application of ecological principles in land use; an international movement for land use planning and design; an ethical system stressing positivism and cooperation. In the broadest sense, permaculture refers to land use systems which promote stability in society, utilize resources in a sustainable way and preserve wildlife habitat and the genetic diversity of wild and domestic plants and animals. It is a synthesis of ecology and geography, of observation and design. Permaculture involves ethics of earth care because the sustainable use of land cannot be separated from life-styles and philosophical issues.

From Michael Pilarski, founder of Friends of the Trees, published in International Green Front Report (1988):

-Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the wilderness. Its principles empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.

From a Bay Area Permaculture Group brochure, published in West Coast Permaculture News & Gossip and Sustainable Living Newsletter (Fall 1995):

-Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from ecology, appropriate technology, sustainable agriculture, and the wisdom of indigenous peoples. The ethical basis of permaculture rests upon care of the earth-maintaining a system in which all life can thrive. This includes human access to resources and provisions, but not the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs<>ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

Ethics[edit | edit source]

  • Care of the Earth
  • Care of the People
  • Return and sharing of Surplus

Principles[edit | edit source]

Work with nature, rather than against the natural elements, forces, pressures, processes, agencies, and evolutions, so that we assist rather than impede natural developments. The problem is the solution; everything works both ways. It is only how we see things that makes them advantageous or not (if the wind blows cold, let us use its strength and its coolness to advantage). A corollary of this principle is that everything is a positive resource; it is just up to us to work out how we may use it as such.

Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.

The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited. The only limit on the number of uses of of a resources possible within a system is in the limit of the information and the imagination of the designer. Everything gardens, or has an effect on its environment.

Common Techniques and Strategies

By Julianne Skai Arbor

-Site Analysis and Inventory
-Designing with zones and sectors
-Sheet Mulching
-Chickens Tractors
-Edible Food Forest
-Plant Guilds
-Native Plants
-Small Scale Intensive
-Herb Spirals
-Greywater systems

Benefits of well-developed permaculture projects include:

-Conserving and building healthy soils, the basis of food systems.
-Diversifying and greatly increasing local food production (typically from a few sources to dozens, even hundreds), which increases the nutritional quality and pleasure of local diets and buffers against market fluctuations in food prices.
-Eliminating use of toxic chemicals that cause a variety of health problems from immediate toxic poisonings to longer-term chronic problems like cancer, birth defects and the destruction of healthy natural food source (i.e. toxic fish).
-Maximizing efficient beneficial use of local water sources, the critical lifeblood for people.
-Practically eliminating pollution of water by human wastes, thereby dramatically reducing water born diseases.
-Creating clean drinking water sources, further reducing disease.
-Increasing tree crops, which retain soils, slow water runoff, increase groundwater storage, and provide cooling shade.
-Increasing the beauty of the community though the creation of diverse life forms - flowers, insects, birds, frogs, and hundreds of others that create a pleasant and inspiring atmosphere for people, especially children.
-Harnessing natural renewable energies to create comfortable home living conditions.

Combines Disciplines Examples

  • Agriculture and Horticulture


-Soil conservation
-Analog forestry
-Organic farming
-Biological pest control
-Kitchen gardens in cities and villages

Integrated farming systems:

-Companion planting and polyculture
-Perennial and tree cropping systems.
-Worm composting

Gardening techniques:

-Utilizing crop rotations
-Cover crops
-Green manures
-Medicinal plants
-Useful plants/edible landscaping
-Heritage plant varieties
-Seed saving

Bioregional planning

-citizen action
-cooperative organization
-community credit schemes
-barter and LETS systems

Water collection

-Greywater reuse
-Rain & runoff catchment
-Constructed wetlands
-Fungal systems for wastewater treatment.


-Passive solar heating
-Solar and wind power
-Solar water pasteurizers

Discussion questions and essay ideas[edit | edit source]

  • What could be some consequences of widespread permaculture implementation on Earth?
  • How can permaculture help to eliminate hunger and poverty potentially?

External links[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]