Tag Archives: permaculture design

Permaculture and the Garden

I want to take a moment to address the idea that permaculture is only a kind of “gardening”. Nothing can be further from the truth! We create our world from the things around us, permaculture helps us arrange and optimize them. Sometimes, for any number of reasons, a garden is just not possible. Permaculture still has much to offer in how we arrange those things that are not a garden. Urban Garden 4x8 on concrete

That being said there is a great amount of leverage to be gained by interacting more closely with food. We all eat and it’s going come from somewhere. So, I’ll just throw out some guidelines that you can start with. Of course they are loosely drawn from permaculture’s principles.

  • Give yourself some time to find the right place for your garden. Limit your work and perhaps be ready to move it until you’ve had a couple of seasons under your belt. 
  • Generally work in the smallest complete chunk you can. That way you get to keep whatever you pull off. 
  • Bigger is not necessarily better. A small garden is a fine place to start!
  • Be on the lookout for natural patterns that you can take advantage of or need to guard against. 
  • Allow your garden to evolve. It will be what effort you are able to put into it and that’s OK. 
  • How much effort will it actually take? Multiply the time it takes by three.
  • Always be ready to roll with what happens. Sometimes your ability to work in the garden just stops or an explosion of growth can seemingly happen overnight. 
  • Consider a few perennials. I’ve got two kinds of strawberries, gooseberries, lovage, chinese lanterns, hops, mint, lemon balm, bee balm, lavender, mushrooms,  and rhubarb growing in the few square feet I have around my home, in addition to the ornamental plants that were already there. And some potatoes, all with less than an hours work this year. 
  • Alternatives? Support farmers and farmer’s markets first, local coops and stores next, before shopping at any supermarket.
  • It’s also it’s good to keep something growing even if it’s just one plant.

It’s pretty certain that someday people are going to have to be much more in tune with their food and where it comes from. But that someday is somewhere in the future. For now we just have to be ahead of any change that’s coming. In the meantime there are many other things that also need our attention. If gardening is not something you can really do, find a placeholder and then work on the aspects of your life you can change.

Learn how with a Permaculture Design Course!

Permaculture Prime Directive

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!

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.  

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

Microclimates

Reading the Landscape

Water

Earthworks

Animals

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

Soil

Aquaculture

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 glpdc.info.

Design Intention

cat-913059_960_720[1]Permaculture seeks to impose thoughtful changes on both us and the land. Often these changes can require continual upkeep and burden us with chores. Perhaps that’s the lure of modern life, trading many little chores for a job and shopping.

Creating systems that work on their own or very easily cuts down on the to do list. However, it requires much observation and tweaking to get the system right. Perhaps it is a question ultimately of how do we want to spend our time? And also how much do we work on now, how much do we work on the future? It’s almost a stance or intention.

The more more accurate the design, the more it works on it’s own. If an intention is part of the system then we can design for it, make a choice about how we face the world. Set the intention and the rest can follow.

What sort of stance are you taking in your life? How much are you working for the now and how much for the future?

Permaculture Design as Meditation

Permaculture MeditationThere are many different takes on what real “permaculture design” is. Maps and surveys, hours spent fussing over the contours and placement. Charettes, meetings, and design methods with silly acronyms like O’BREDIMET give us a form and a process to follow.

What actually happens through that process? What do the circumstances tell us is most likely to happen? Why choose one method over another? What is the actual goal of these processes and are there different ways to achieve it? Of course there must be alternatives – as Mollison says, the limits are only those of the imagination of the designer.

What do these processes called “permaculture design” achieve? In their most useful form, they ask us to be one with a place; to be a part of that place and nurture what that place wants to be. They are a meditation on what is, not what our desires are or what we think should be done. It involves letting go of the idea that human life is the most important; surrendering to the idea that we’re all in this together.

Once we’ve done that, we can act in a way to improve the conditions for life. We can make choices that don’t come at the expense of the world around us. Our particular form of self awareness can benefit the whole system. We can allow other forms of awareness to flourish alongside us: the intelligence of the birds & trees,  the information imbedded in the heritage of seeds, and the pulse of the seasons, earth, & stone beneath our feet.  

Once we’re all in this together then we can move as one, confidently into the future.