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Permaculture Principles

By David Holmgren
Principle 1: OBSERVE AND INTERACT Principle 2: CATCH AND STORE ENERGY Principle 3: OBTAIN A YIELD Principle 4: APPLY SELF-REGULATION AND ACCEPT FEEDBACK Principle 5: USE AND VALUE RENEWABLE RESOURCES AND SERVICES Principle 6: PRODUCE NO WASTE Principle 7: DESIGN FROM PATTERNS TO DETAILS Principle 8: INTEGRATE RATHER THAN SEGREGATE Principle 9: USE SMALL AND SLOW SOLUTIONS Principle 10: USE AND VALUE DIVERSITY Principle 11: USE EDGES AND VALUE THE MARGINAL Principle 12: CREATIVELY USE AND RESPOND TO CHANGE INTRODUCTION Permaculture principles are brief statements or slogans that can be remembered as a checklist when considering the complex options for design and evolution of ecological support systems. These principles can be seen as universal, although the methods that express them will vary greatly according to place and situation. Fundamentally, permaculture design principles arise from a way of perceiving the world that is often described as systems thinking and design thinking. Principle 1: OBSERVE AND INTERACT fossil fuels decline. In financial language, we have been living by consuming global capital in a reckless manner that would Good design depends on a free and harmonioussend any business bankrupt. relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interactionInappropriate concepts of wealth have led us to ignore provide the design inspiration, repertoire andopportunities to capture local flows of both renewable and patterns. It is not something that is generated innon-renewable forms of energy. Identifying and acting on isolation, but through continuous and reciprocalthese opportunities can provide the energy with which we can interaction with the subject. rebuild capital, as well as provide us with an income for our immediate needs. Within more conservative and socially bonded agrarian communities, the ability of some individualsSome of the sources of energy include: to stand back from, observe and interpret both* Sun, wind and runoff water flows traditional and modern methods of land use, is a* Wasted resources from agricultural, industrial and powerful tool in evolving new and more appropriate commercial activities systems. While complete change within communities is always more difficult for a host of reasons, theThe most important storages of future value include: presence of locally evolved models, with its roots in* Fertile soil with high humus content the best of traditional and modern ecological design,* Perennial vegetation systems, especially trees, yield food is more likely to be successful than a pre-designed and other useful resources system introduced from outside. Further, a diversity* Water bodies and tanks of such local models would naturally generate* Passive solar buildings innovative elements which can cross-fertilise similar innovations elsewhere. Principle 3: OBTAIN A YIELD Principle 2: CATCH AND STORE ENERGY The previous principle focused our attention on the need to use existing wealth to make long-term investments in natural We live in a world of unprecedented wealth resultingcapital. But there is no point in attempting to plant a forest for from the harvesting of the enormous storages ofthe grandchildren if we havent got enough to eat today. fossil fuels created by the earth over billions of years. We have used some of this wealth to increase ourThis principle reminds us that we should design any system harvest of the Earths renewable resources to anto provide for self-reliance at all levels (including ourselves), unsustainable degree. Most of the adverse impactsby using captured and stored energy effectively to maintain of this over-harvesting will show up as availablethe system and capture more energy.

water, without them being consumed. For example, when we Without immediate and truly useful yields, whateveruse a tree for wood we are using a renewable resource, but we design and develop will tend to wither whilewhen we use a tree for shade and shelter, we gain benefits elements that do generate immediate yield willfrom the living tree that are non-consuming and require no proliferate. Whether we attribute it to nature, marketharvesting energy. This simple understanding is obvious and forces or human greed, systems that most effectivelyyet powerful in redesigningsystems where many simple obtain a yield, and use it most effectively to meet thefunctions have become dependent on non-renewable and needs of survival, tend to prevail over alternatives. unsustainable resource use. Principle 4: APPLY SELF-REGULATION ANDPrinciple 6: PRODUCE NO WASTE ACCEPT FEEDBACK This principle brings together traditional values of frugality This principle deals with self-regulatory aspects ofand care for material goods, the modern concern about permaculture design that limit or discouragepollution, and the more radical perspective that sees wastes inappropriate growth or behaviour. With betteras resources and opportunities. The earthworm is a suitable understanding of how positive and negativeicon for this principle because it lives by consuming plant feedbacks work in nature, we can design systemslitter (wastes), which it converts into humus that improves the that are more self-regulating, thus reducing the worksoil environment for itself, for soil micro-organisms, and for involved in repeated and harsh correctivethe plants. Thus the earthworm, like all living things, is a part management. of a web where the outputs of one are the inputs for another. Self-maintaining and regulating systems might beThe industrial processes that support modern life can be said to be the Holy Grail of permaculture: an idealcharacterized by an input-output model, in which the inputs that we strive for but might never fully achieve. Muchare natural materials and energy, while the outputs are useful of this is achieved by application of the Integrationthings and services. However, when we step back from this and Diversity (Permaculture design principles 8 &process and take a long-term view, we can see all these 10) but it is also fostered by making each elementuseful things end up as wastes (mostly in rubbish tips) and within a system as self-reliant as is energy efficient.that even the most ethereal of services required the A system composed of self-reliant elements is moredegradation of energy and resources to wastes. This model robust to disturbance. Use of tough, semi-wild andmight therefore be better characterised as consume/excrete. self-reproducing crop varieties and livestock breeds,The view of people as simply consumers and excreters might instead of highly bred and dependent ones is abe biological, but it is not ecological. classic permaculture strategy that exemplifies this principle. On a larger scale, self-reliant farmers were once recognize as the basis of a strong andPrinciple 7: DESIGN FROM PATTERNS TO DETAILS independent country. Todays globalised economies make for greater instability where effects cascadeThe first six principles tend to consider systems from the around the world. Rebuilding self-reliance at both thebottom-up perspective of elements, organisms, and individuals. The second six principles tend to emphasise the element and system level increases resilience. top-down perspective of the patterns and relationships that tend to emerge by system self-organisation and co-evolution. Principle 5: USE AND VALUE RENEWABLEThe commonality of patterns observable in nature and society allows us to not only make sense of what we see, but to use a RESOURCES AND SERVICES pattern from one context and scale, to design in another. Renewable resources are those that are renewedPattern recognition is an outcome of the application of and replaced by natural processes over reasonablePrinciple 1: Observe and interact, and is the necessary periods, without the need for major non-renewableprecursor to the process of design. inputs. In the language of business, renewable resources should be seen as our sources of income,The idea which initiated permaculture was the forest as a while non-renewable resources can be thought of asmodel for agriculture. While not new, its lack of application capital assets. Spending our capital assets for day-and development across many bioregions and cultures was to-day living is unsustainable in anyones opportunity to apply one of the most common ecosystem Permaculture design should aim to make best use ofmodels to human landuse. Although many critiques and renewable natural resources to manage andlimitations to the forest model need to be acknowledged, it maintain yields, even if some use of non-renewableremains a powerful example of pattern thinking which resources is needed in establishing systems. continues to inform permaculture and related concepts, such as forest gardening, agroforestry and analogue forestry. Renewable services (or passive functions) are those we gain from plants, animals and living soil andThe use of zones of intensity of use around an activity centre

such as a farmhouse to help in the placement of in nature and culture. elements and subsystems is an example of working* Co-operative and symbiotic relationships will be more from pattern to details. Similarly environmental adaptive in a future of declining energy. factors of sun, wind, flood, and fire can be arranged in sectors around the same focal point. These sectors have both a bioregional and a site specificPrinciple 9: USE SMALL AND SLOW SOLUTIONS character which the permaculture designer carries in their head to make sense of a site and help organizeSystems should be designed to perform functions at the appropriate design elements into a workable system. smallest scale that is practical and energy-efficient for that function. Human scale and capacity should be the yardstick for a humane, democratic and sustainable society. Principle 8: SEGREGATE THAN For example, in forestry, fast growing trees are often short lived, while some apparently slow growing but more valuable In every aspect of nature, from the internal workingsspecies accelerate and even surpass the fast species in their of organisms to whole ecosystems, we find thesecond and third decades. A small plantation of thinned and connections between things are as important as thepruned trees can yield more total value than a large things themselves. Thus the purpose of a functionalplantation without management. and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements. Principle 10: USE AND VALUE DIVERSITY This principle focuses more closely on the different types of relationships that draw elements together inThe great diversity of forms, functions and interactions in more closely integrated systems, and on improvednature and humanity are the source of evolved systemic methods of designing communities of plants, animalscomplexity. The role and value of diversity in nature, culture and people to gain benefits from these relationships. and permaculture is itself complex, dynamic, and at times apparently contradictory. Diversity needs to be seen as a By correct placement of plants, animals, earthworksresult of the balance and tension in nature between variety and other infrastructure it is possible to develop aand possibility on the one hand, and productivity and power higher degree of integration and self-regulationon the other. without the need for constant human input in corrective management. For example, the scratchingIt is now widely recognised that monoculture is a major cause of poultry under forage forests can be used toof vulnerability to pests and diseases, and therefore of the harvest litter to down slope garden systems bywidespread use of toxic chemicals and energy to control appropriate location. Herbaceous and woody weedthese. Polyculture (the cultivation of many plant and/or species in animal pasture systems often contribute toanimal species and varieties within an integrated system) is soil improvement, biodiversity, medicinal and otherone of the most important and widely recognized applications special uses. Appropriate rotationally grazedof the use of diversity to reduce vulnerability to pests, adverse livestock can often control these weedy speciesseasons and market fluctuations. Polyculture also reduces without eliminating them and their values completely. reliance on market systems, and bolsters household and community self-reliance by providing a wider range of goods In developing an awareness of the importance ofand services. relationships in the design of self-reliant systems, two statements in permaculture literature and Principle 11: USE EDGES AND VALUE THE MARGINAL teaching have been central: * Each element performs many functions. Tidal estuaries are a complex interface between land and sea * Each important function is supported by manythat can be seen as a great ecological trade market between elements. these two great domains of life. The shallow water allows penetration of sunlight for algae and plant growth, as well as The connections or relationships between elementsproviding forage areas for wading and other birds. The fresh of an integrated system can vary greatly. Some maywater from catchment streams rides over the heavier saline be predatory or competitive; others are co-operative,water that pulses back and forth with the daily tides, or even symbiotic. All these types of relationshipsredistributing nutrients and food for the teeming life. can be beneficial in building a strong integrated system or community, but permaculture stronglyWithin every terrestrial ecosystem, the living soil, which may emphasises building mutually beneficial andonly be a few centimetres deep, is an edge or interface symbiotic relationships. This is based on two beliefs: between non-living mineral earth and the atmosphere. For all * We have a cultural disposition to see and believe interrestrial life, including humanity, this is the most important predatory and competitive relationships, andedge of all. Only a limited number of hardy species can thrive discount co-operative and symbiotic relationships,in shallow, compacted and poorly drained soil, which has INTEGRATE RATHER

insufficient interface. Deep, well-drained and aeratedof change. Science has shown us that the apparently solid soil is like a sponge, a great interface that supportsand permanent is, at the cellular and atomic level, a seething productive and healthy plant life. mass of energy and change, similar to the descriptions in various spiritual traditions. This principle works from the premise that the value and contribution of edges, and the marginal andThe acceleration of ecological succession within cultivated invisible aspects of any system should not only besystems is the most common expression of this principle in recognised and conserved, but that expansion ofpermaculture literature and practice, and illustrates the first these aspects can increase system productivity andthread. For example, the use of fast growing nitrogen fixing stability. For example, increasing the edge betweentrees to improve soil, and to provide shelter and shade for field and pond can increase the productivity of both.more valuable slow growing food trees, reflects an ecological Alley farming and shelterbelt forestry can be seen assuccession process from pioneers to climax. The progressive systems whereincreasing edge between field andremoval of some or all of the nitrogen fixers for fodder and forest has contributed to productivity. fuel as the tree crop system matures shows the success. The seed in the soil capable of regeneration after natural disaster or land use change (e.g. to an annual crop phase) provides Principle 12: CREATIVELY USE AND RESPONDthe insurance to re-establish the system in the future. TO CHANGE David Holmgren Permaculture is about the durability of natural living Holmgren Design Services systems and human culture, but this durability Email: paradoxically depends in large measure on flexibility Web site: <> and change. Many stories and traditions have the theme that within the greatest stability lie the seeds