Permaculture Prime Directive

Whether you’re for or against him, the election of Donald Trump to the POTUS is a clear signal that levels of disorder are increasing around us. If this trend continues the next shock of disorder will be even bigger. I think the direct results of this will be that which sustains us eventually will be consumed by this ever growing disruption. 

There is an alternative which permaculture addresses directly. In Permaculture – A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison the Permaculture Prime Directive is discussed on the first page.

Permaculture Prime Directive

That is, the system currently sustaining us is also destroying us. Nearly everyone is invested totally in that system. When that system fails, and I think that is happening ever faster, any alternatives will be built by us, not for us. 

If it is up to us to build the alternatives, then let’s get started. If we don’t know how, let’s learn. Permaculture directly addresses how to do this. One way to learn more in a Permaculture Design Course. Or, find your local permaculturists and get to know them.

It’s up to us to take responsibility!

Symmathesy = Learning Together

A new word: Symmathesy, from this long article.

I think this is an interesting idea, to coin a new word. Or, even a bit presumptuous? It’s a move in the right direction. Perhaps the word itself will one day become quite functional. At the very least the author has captured the motion of life as it moves through space and time. We’ll see how things turn out.

Whatever the end result will be,  I’ve pulled out a few of the choice quotes of the article to simplify and sharpen the message a bit and added my own comments to the mix.

I would like to propose a new word for “System” that refers specifically to living systems – that is, to systems which emerge from the communications and interactions of living vitae…

Vitae essentially are tessellations, any whole that can be reasonably observed within a pattern. 

I want to put the Greek prefix Syn/ Sym (together) + Mathesi, (to learn):

Symmathesy = Learning together.

Say it 20 times. It starts to mean something, doesn’t it? Essentially a living system where the components change through time in response to each other, a sort of learning.

Our conceptual understanding of the living world can be elevated with a new terminology that better describes the processes we are referring to within it. The viability of this new term is a step toward a clearer understanding of the way we describe the difference between what we can “control”, i.e. in material terms, and that which requires another approach, i.e. interacting with the complexity of evolving living systems.

What is the difference between learning and life? None.

 When is something living NOT learning? Never.

I think this is the core of permaculture and something that lots of people miss. Living systems surround us but we interact with them as if they are mechanical, dead ones that serve only to fulfill our needs and wants. 

…It is difficult if not impossible to find a subject to study in the living world that is definable within a single context. Transcontextual research offers multiple descriptions of the way in which a ‘subject’ is nested in many contexts.This information provides descriptions of interactions that seem to erase the boundaries of what we might have previously considered to be parts and wholes. Medicine is entwined in culture, food, environmental conditions, education, economic stability, and more. Economy is formed through culture, transportation, resources, communication and media, education etc. To study the biological evolution of a pond it is imperative that other contexts in which the pond exists be included in the study. These might include the geological history of the region, human interaction (including food culture, sport culture, economics of tourism etc), chemical balance, weather patterns, concentrations of various species. Research without the study of multiple contexts renders the information about a given subject as though it were isolated from the many systems it is within, and therefore a great deal of data is not visible.

And this is why permaculture dabbles in so many different realms. How can we hope to interact with the world if we have no understanding of all the different realms of cause and effect?

Education: an education in the world as a mutual learning process would look at the interconnections between what we now call “disciplines” or subjects. Forests are interactions, food is culture, and so on. The ability to study both the details (existing disciplines) and the relationships of learning between them will increase our students’ ability to see and interact with a level of complexity that is necessary for future generations’ survival. As it stands our “knowledge” often prevents us from seeing the interdependencies in our complex world, which we therefore disrupt — to the detriment of our wellbeing and that of the biosphere we live within.

Indeed, for future generations survival. Education is where we need to start. 

What if we look at the interlocking, interdependency of our institutions as an ecology in and of itself? Ecology can be loosely defined as a totality of patterns of interrelationship that form interdependencies. In this sense our institutions function very much like a forest or an ocean. The infrastructures of our institutions reinforce and balance each other, and our socio-economic system develops in patterns that fit the characteristics of any ecology. Are we not, in that case, contributing perfectly to an ecology that we live within? Perhaps humanity is not so un-ecological after all. The difficulty we face is in the fact that the larger ecology of biosphere is at odds with the ecology of our institutions, and right now we believe we need both to survive.

And so on to our so called “invisible” structures. If we only interact with the world mechanically we miss out on the multitude of interconnections that weave themselves throughout. There is no simple fix. All we can do 

Core Model Man

My work with the GLPDC has had a number of effects. One of the things that has happened is that we advanced how we each understand and explain Mollison’s idea of the core model. I’d like to take this opportunity to capture my interpretation of it and share it with the world.

It starts as a seed – at origin. In the body it’s navel, 2nd chakra, or dantien. From that point expands the trunk, to arms then fingers reaching out; lobular. As above, so below – the same expands out to the toes. Our power can spiral upward from the ground, through our feet and be channeled into any direction out our hands. The negative space becomes a torus of Von Karman vortices and Ekman spirals appear under our arms and as we move.

I’ve put some of these ideas together in an animated gif. 

So what is this thing? It’s simply a model for the fundamental pattern of nature. Of course, all models have their imperfections and this is no exception. What it does do is connects together many of the patterns we use in permaculture as tools, giving us a sense of the interconnected nature of existence. The better we can sense that, the more accurate our designs can be.  

Rocket Stove 2017

A new project for the new year, a rocket stove!

I’d like to build a rocket stove in a greenhouse with a batch box. So, the testing begins. The basic design is drawn from Peterburg Batch Box Dimensions and my working knowledge.

It’s only got a 4” riser and with the box being 9” x 11.5” x 5.75” super small. That’s not much difference than just a standard J tube size. The P channel taller than it should be and there is no funnel for ash.

Let’s fire it up and see what happens! The original design for the chimney was just not going to work so I improvised some with some 8″ stove exhaust. Of course it smoked like crazy until things heated up. 

This thing is on fire, where’s the smoke? Oh yeah, it’s a rocket stove.  


Yup, I’ts burning. Cooking even.

It works! I am impressed to see that the torus down the tube in the base of the chimney. The small box burned up the fuel pretty quickly. The next build will be a bigger design, built for a 6″ chimney. Since the limiting factor on box size is width of a brick that will as big as I can build with what I’ve got. Eventually I’ll need to get some alternative materials to build bigger boxes. Then perhaps a larger one and clay slip to seal things up?

This will be great to show off at the GLPDC 2017 design course near Ann Arbor, MI!

Permaculturists as Time Scouts

When we design, we are always building for future floods, future fires, future droughts, and planting a tree a few inches tall that will be future forest giants, throw future shadows. Future populations will need future soils and forest resources, shelter, security. So somebody needs to range ahead in time, scout out the next century. We are not daydreaming. We are time scouts. – Bill Mollison

Time scouts eh? I like that. We are looking to the future. Note that this implies that others are not, even worse they’re pretty good at it. 

It seems our culture needs a change. We need many time scouts to create a future worth living as opposed to where we’re heading now.   Will you be a time scout?

We need many people to plant trees, the shade of which they will never see…

Permaculture Flower II

Permaculture FlowerI’m feeling really good about my new thinking on the permaculture flower, my thinking has congealed a bit since I first posted on it. All of a sudden I see what I previously perceived as a mundane categorization, as a valuable tool when examining and balancing any system.

David Holmgren, the co-originator of permaculture says “The permaculture flower shows key domains that require transformation to create a sustainable culture.” That is, each petal (or domain) represents a category into which we can apply permaculture in the world. But if you try to use the flower as a directional compass to orient yourself in that particular category, you’ll always find every domain simultaneously. Again and again there are always aspects of each topic that fit into each petal.

That is precisely what makes flower useful. Any subject, from something as general as farming to something as specific as a solar panel, manifests in all of these domains of the flower simultaneously. Together the flower represents the different facets of any single topic or object, therefore we can improve our designs by observing and interacting with each of these domains as we do our work.

As it manifests, permaculture is most obvious in the domains Land, Building, and Tools & Technology, in the physical world. It is less obvious in the other four domains of Education & Culture, Health & Spiritual Well-being, Finance & Economics, and Land Tenure & Community Governance. They represent what has been called “invisible structures” but perhaps is better called social systems as their patterns are quite visible, just often overlooked. An undeveloped petal would be a drag on any system, while conversely an over developed petal can not make up for the lack of development in the others.

In Practice

So for example, when we put up a gutter on a building not only does it interact with the flow of water and change the way that flow is distributed in a physical place(Land & Nature Stewardship), it is made of materials that were sourced and transported with a certain effect on the larger landscape (Building), and represents its own set of tools and concepts in its construction and installation (Tools & Technology). At the same time it also has a whole set of information about when and how we use it (Education & Culture), how it affects us physically and through our own vision of ourselves (Health & Spiritual Well-being), there is a whole economy behind that gutter as well as our means to obtain it (Finance & Economics), and finally there are certain regulations about what you can or can’t do in putting it up (Land Tenure & Community Governance).

In the example above, putting up a gutter may be no simple act when we consider all of the domains. It comes down to how wide of a view we’re willing and able to take. It also takes some prioritization to realize what is significant or what we can actually change. That’s where the ethics and principles or tools like the scale of permanence or the 8 forms of capital can help us to examine and connect to the different domains and create lasting, beneficial change in a healthy system.

The different petals together represent:

Land & Nature Stewardship – A specific place and its inhabitants, how they increase or decrease the ecology. What is the cause?

Building – The manmade environment. Specific structures and their construction. What is the total cost our effect over the whole life of the structure?

Tools & Technology – Physical objects that are required to manipulate the environment and concepts relating to how they function. What tools are commonly used?

Education & Culture – Specific, local ideas relating to how life is lived and how that information is transmitted. What is unique about the local culture?

Health & Spiritual Wellbeing – The effect that something has on its environment, both physically and mentally. What does it’s scale and demeanor tell us about ourselves?

Finances & Economics – How the materials are obtained and brought to a site vs how they are extracted. The larger flow of materials and its scale. How does it fit into the economy?

Land Tenure & Community Governance – How decisions are made about a space or it’s inhabitants. Who is included. In what ways do you or the world around you participate?

In the permaculture course with the GLPDC, in each of the topics we teach, we strive to fill our designs with all the domains of the petals.

Design Methods, Mapping & Process

Systems Thinking & Pattern Language

Ethics & Principles

Patterns & Pattern Application


Reading the Landscape




Economic Systems

Invisible Structures

Pattern Language & Conceptual Design

The Design Interview

The Local Ecosystem

Trees, Forests, Plants, and Cultivated Ecologies

Tropical, Arid, & Cool Climates

Broadscale Landscape Design

Urban Permaculture

Ecovillage and Neighborhood Design

Climates/ Biogeography

The Built Environment

Energy & Appropriate technology

Garden Design/Seed Saving/IPM

Waste & Bioremediation

Climate & Biogeography

Home System



Design for Catastrophe

Access to Land (Settlement Patterns)

If you’re interested in learning more about permaculture taking a PDC, especially a local one. Check out our PDC in the SE Michigan area at

Don’t “Drop Out”, Participate in Replacements To

2015-09-23-09-03-21It’s not about “dropping out” of the system or removing yourself in any way. While that’s the end goal we actually need to “drop into” something first. What we need to do is create the things that will replace the system by meet our needs, from the place where we live. Only then will we be able to let the system, and all the damage it causes, go.  

Thanksgiving Synchronicity

I had a small synchronicity leading up to and over the Thanksgiving holiday…

First, I showed up to harvest microgreens Tuesday before Thanksgiving and ended up listening to J. H. Kunstler interview Chris Martenson.  Kunstler is a bit of a cranky but eloquent old man, Chris Martenson is behind the Crash Course and has sort of an investor/scientist take on things. 

718o1ebxibl1Now, a long time ago I had read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It’s a very good book and an easy read. The premise is an analysis the of the leavers vs. the takers, using the story of Adam and Eve to chart the move from a foraging to agrarian culture. I had forgotten about it but just recently had another of Quinn’s books, Beyond Civilizationshow up on the Face, so I checked it out using interlibrary loan for some Thanksgiving reading. This one is a set of simple premises that build, asking how does one exit civilization. 

At nearly the same time this Chris Martenson interview with Daniel Quinn appeared on my newsfeed. I’m particularly fond of this quote Chris pulls out from Beyond Civilization:

“If we go on as we are, we’re not going to be around for much longer. A few decades, a century at most, if we’re still around a thousand years from now, it will be because we stopped going on as we are.”  – Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization

So taken all together, I’m realizing these are excellent resources. A framing of the entire problem from Quinn contrasted with the mechanics of how it’s playing out from Martenson and a little cranky but eloquent old man thrown in for fun. I think I’m going to recommend this as one of my standard courses of study.