Once you have planned out your permaculture eco-system based on the site you already have, there are other factors that need to be considered next, in order to maximise the use of the site and output.
In order to optimise your plan, you need to take account of structural features on the site like:
- large trees, but not to overdo the forestation and to have some areas with no or few trees
- “edges” between e.g. grass and pond, where good conditions can be created
- “succession” to take account of ongoing changes within the design
Permaculture designers are shown how to develop “patterns”. These often either mirror those already found in nature or are used to fulfil a particular design requirement.
“Zones” are where the human inhabited part of the design is organised, which is based on how often an area is used as well as the needs of the plants and animals. For example, herbs often used every day for cooking, would be located in a herb spiral in Zone 1, right near the house or near to the kitchen. Thus the less an element is used, the further away from the house it is located as a zone.
When it comes to limits and connections, this is best summed up by Bill Mollison in 1988, in this quote:
“It is not the number of diverse things in a design that lead to stability; it is the number of beneficial connections between these components.”
One of the main design aspects in any permaculture design is making the best use of space or the overall site, and this is best illustrated by using “layers” or “stacking”, which is also used in Forest Gardening, as follows:
Layer 1 – The Canopy – these are typically tall trees that can also provide shade for an area
Layer 2 – Low Tree Layer – for example, like dwarf fruit trees
Layer 3 – Shrubs
Layer 4 – Herbaceous
Layer 5 – Rhizosphere – root crops
Layer 6 – Soil Surface – or soil cover crops
Layer 7 – Vertical Layer – like climbers and vines
Layer 8 – Mycosphere – fungi can also be added in as a layer, depending on the site
These layers take into account and make the best use of the fact that all plants and trees grow at different heights, which can be seen in any environment or eco-system. For example, it is rare for a forest area to suffer from soil erosion, as roots are always to be found in the soil. You will also find a wide variety of animals and plants living there, which rely on each other for pollination and seed distribution.
It’s this model of how much more productive a wood can be, for example, with much less fertiliser being used, which is what Permaculture is based on.
Polyculture is where there are multiple crops in the same eco-system or site, and which is completely the opposite of what monoculture is which is based on just one crop. This is how most farms in the West are organised, and are dependent on jus tone crop each year. This doesn’t take into account changing weather patterns which can decimate a crop one year and so leaving that farm without a source of income potentially.
“Guilds” are groups of plants, animals, bacteria, funghi, etc., that are found to work really well together, which can also be considered as a more comprehensive form of Companion Planting that is sometimes used on more traditional garden designs. For example, carrots and tomatoes often do well grown together, whereas strawberries near brassicas stop both plants from flourishing.
The “Edge Effect” is where very different systems meet, where there is often an intense area of productivity and useful connections.
The types of plants that are frequently used in any Permaculture Design are perennial plants, as they need much less maintenance and fertiliser, and don’t need to be planted every year, as they come back year to year if looked after. These types of plants have a role in the Outer Zone of a permaculture site and can also be part of the layered system.
Many Permaculture eco-systems include animals and not just humans, and these animals have more than one use or output. For example, ducks are often used as slug control, but the eggs can also be eaten, the meat can be used as food, and the bones and leftovers of the animal can be composted and put back into the soil. But it may be that your permaculture site doesn’t treat the animals as “products” and they are considered to be pets instead so living alongside the humans and having a role other than as meat. Their biggest role is usually as pest control as already mentioned as well as their droppings being an excellent source of fertiliser!!
Lastly, energy has to be considered, as the idea here is to use far less non-renewable sources of energy compared to fossil fuels or petroleum-based energy sources. In this regard your Permaculture Design is seeking to create a renewable system of food production that uses minimal or much less energy than has been used in traditional designs for food production.
All in all, you can see that there are many important elements to making sure your site makes the best use of Permaculture Design principles in order that you are able to make the best use of what you have and understand what you need to do to improve on that and to take the next steps in designing and planning your design, to minimise the resources needed and at the same time, maximising production of food for every being on your site. And I have to say that I now look at our garden and other sites with very different eyes!