To get the most out of the environment you have, permaculture design is all about how you use what you have available, and not at all about what you actually have.
Permaculture design is about designing an eco-system to be self-sufficient, to be able to recycle energy, to absorb any waste and to be very productive. These eco-systems can be anywhere in the world, from forests to the tropics, and using what you have already where you are to it’s best advantage and working with it rather than against it, as traditional agricultural methods have tended to do in recent years.
Permaculture Design actually uses old theories and ideas that have in the past, already been tested, but this is about a design system that aims to imitate the natural world. Bill Mollison realised that in nature, nothing is wasted, there is no pollution and that nature is truly resilient.
Modern Permaculture is a system design tool, consisting of:
- looking at a whole eco-system
- observing how all the parts inter-relate and act
- planning to fix broken systems using ideas from actual long-term sustainable systems already in place
- and enabling connections between key sections
with the ultimate aim being to extract as much as possible with the minimum effort possible.
When looking at all the elements of design, you are looking for synergy between all the elements, while minimising waste and saving on human labour and resources, as follows.
Energy is about using natural energy, like the sun, wind and water as well as flora and fauna, so you minimise the need to use petrol, diesel and natural gas. For example, in order to keep a house cool in Summer, plant some tall trees near the house so these provide shade, thus there is no need for air conditioning! In the Winter, these same trees will provide a windbreak against bad weather if you live in the temperate part of the world.
There has to be a way of collecting and storing water, especially rainwater, and using as much of the sewage as possible (both human and animal) so that there’s minimal pollution. For example, if you keep chickens, take the straw and chicken poop and use it as mulch on your food growing area. It goes without saying that food production needs to be organic and free from chemicals, which is why the fertilisers needs to be as natural as possible, and this reuses what you already have on your doorstep and it’s free!
When it comes to looking at the use of buildings, these can either be built from new or renovated in appropriate ways, and need to be suitable for the climate you are living in. Plants used need to be strong and again, apt for the climatic conditions of the environment.
The natural resources need to be preserved to e.g. prevent any soil erosion, as well as looking after plants and animals that live together in harmony. Preventing soil erosion can be done by designing layered planting so that areas e.g. under trees are not left bare but have plants and shrubs growing there that like the shade, and those root structures will help to keep the soil in one place and not looking so bare and liable to erosion when it rains. Look to use resources that are durable and biodegradable as this will also minimise the necessity to buy in more than is required, as well as reducing what is used.
I have knowledge of one local project where a friend of ours was asked to build a shed in the place of two old wooden sheds. Typically on these projects, you see a skip full of material that’s just thrown away and then totally brand new wood and other stuff is delivered. On this project, there was no skip, and there was new material only to add to the salvaged wood, frames and glass that were all reused to erect the new larger outdoor building. Yes, a new concrete based was required but any earth that was excavated which is otherwise thrown away in a skip, was used in other parts of the large garden and added to existing beds. There was very little wastage at all, and the shed is very sturdy and well built from the pictures I have seen. This friend of ours is very much a long time practitioner of permaculture and this is the best example yet I have personal knowledge of that uses all the permaculture design principles as they are meant to be used.
Other resources that can be shared within a community are services like transport, sport facilities, entertainment and communal spaces. If there are no such spaces, build these into your environment to encourage social interaction between people in an area, as this is hugely important.
Ultimately, at the core of permaculture design are a set of ‘core values’ or principles, which stay the same regardless of whether the project is large or small, and these values are:
- Care of the Earth – instead of causing problems by over using the soil which often causes issues like soil erosion, permaculture seeks to restore a balanced relationship between people and their environment
- Care of the People –is about supporting each other to improve our way of living to reduce any damage we do to ourselves and the planet and to build communities of people which support everyone
- Care of Consumption – is about using the limited resources we have here on Earth, in the most fair and sensible manner so as not to drain those resources unnecessarily
- And this in turn all links to the idea of sustainable food production , so that instead of relying on industrial technology (like fossil fuels etc) to produce one high yield crop, permaculture looks to diversifying the crops with low technological requirements.
In a nutshell, yes, permaculture design is very important and using what you already have and adapting that to what you need rather than getting rid of everything and starting over again; as you can see in the drawing to the left, everything can be redesigned and reused such that the design principles are adhered to, for the overall good of our planet.