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Previously we have looked at the ethics of Permaculture which are:

  • care of Earth
  • care of people
  • sharing surplus

Now we will start to look at the principles of Permaculture. Remember that Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human habitat.

In designing we use a number of principals to establish a system to create sustainability; which is the ability of the system to continue indefinitely without continual inputs from outside of the system and without it creating pollution (unused waste).

The first principle for designing any system is observation. This is essential for the gathering of information needed to create a system which can become sustainable. Observation is not time wasted as some may think.

It is a good idea to observe a new site for at least a year before making any significant changes to it. During this time a lot of valuable information can be collected and recorded such as:

  • seasonal changes in the movement of the sun across the land. Where is the shade at different times of day and year? Is there any effects on the amount of sunlight you get caused by neighbouring structures, trees, hills etc?
  • water flows— where does water run or collect on your property when it rains? Does it ever flood? Can you collect & store water, particularly in low rainfall areas? Where is the nearest creeks/rivers to you? Are you effected by the sea? How much annual rainfall do you get on average?
  • wind patterns— which direction does the prevailing wind come from? Does this change at different times of the year? Is it effected by any neighbouring structures? How strong is the wind? Do you live in an area which may be effected by cyclones or tornadoes? Do you get salty sea breezes or are down wind from a smoky factory or effluent treatment plant?
  • plants— what plants grow well in your area? What weeds grow? (These are also good indicators of soil types, minerals etc) What plants grow in which seasons? Many plants have an active growing season or can be entirely dormant and invisible for some parts of the year. Which plants grow well together and which plants don't? Do some plants seem to be thriving in one location yet the same plant variety is struggling in another spot?
  • soil— what soil types do you have & where? Is there different soils across the site? What is the PH? Are there any immovable objects like huge rocks?
  • structures— Are there any existing structures and how do these influence the use of the land? Are there any neighbouring structures which cause an effect on your site?
  • animals— What insect populations are there? Do these change at different times of the year? What birds are in the area? What do the birds eat? Are there predators like foxes or cats about which might eat your livestock? Is there a seasonal problem with mice or other rodents? Is there a lot of native wildlife? What effects are the various animals having on the other elements of your environment?
  • temperature— how does the temperature change over the course of the year? How long is your average 'growing season'?
  • people— what people resources are in your locality? Is there someone who does lawn mowing or keeps animals that you might be able to get material from for composting or mulch? What do your neighbours or elderly people in your community know? These people can often tell you about unusual events that have happened which may be useful to your considerations in designing.
  • waste disposal or recycling systems
  • history of the land use of the site

You're starting to get the idea. The more information about your site and the locality you can get the better your end design is likely to be.

Information can come from many different sources & forms. For geographical information like landforms, water courses & weather, maps are useful. Also the Bureau of Meteorology (or whatever your local weather forecast/watchers are called) is a good source of information about general weather conditions such as annual rainfall & wind patterns in your area. Talk to long time locals and people with nice gardens. These people are a rich source of information about what grows well or doesn't, when bugs are about, what freak events have happened like the year there was a hail storm or it snowed most uncharacteristically. Libraries will often have useful historical information as well as more general info on subjects like 'life in the tropics' or whatever may be relevant to your situation. Of course, the Internet is another fantastic source of information on every imaginable topic with products & experts abounding.

Recording Information.

There are many different forms of information you will collect to help you design your system for sustainability. It's important to record your observations so you can refer to it when the time comes to actually develop your working plan.

Keep a folder or file with things like papers and photos in it. Eventually, you'll want to develop a physical site plan using the information you have collected. There are many ways of doing this.

A good method is to start with a basic site map drawn to scale. You can do this on graph paper quite easily. Include all the boundaries and fixed objects like buildings, large rocks, watercourses, trees, hills, dams etc.

Build up your plan with a series of transparent overlays so you can look at each system independently as well as in combination. For example you could have one overlay which shows only the water flows, both existing and where you want it to be. Use different colours to differentiate between what exists & what you want. Mark on it where your plumbing is, taps, natural water catchments & flows, rainwater tanks, wells, springs, bores, irrigation systems etc. Everything to do with water on your site. You may also include information about significant water influences off your site such as the beach across the road etc. in the margins.

Each overlay will give you a comprehensive view of your system as it is and as it will become when you finally put all the information you have collected into the planning of the site. Use one overlay to show each of the important elements of your plan i.e. energy systems, nutrient flows, water flows, vegetation, infrastructures etc. This way you will easily be able to work on one part of the plan at a time when it comes to implementing it on the ground.

Perhaps you think that this sort of detailed observation and recording of information isn't necessary because you only live in a small city apartment or you want to apply Permaculture to your business. Thoughtful observation remains the most valuable first step in planning for greater sustainability in any situation. It is an invaluable practice which will serve you well in any pursuit.

To read other articles on Permaculture visit the archives.

If you want more in depth information on Permaculture look at any of the books available on the subject particularly those written by David Holmgren or Bill Mollison who were the original co creators of the system.

Many books are available through Amazon below.







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