Permaculture is a sustainable design system that applies ecological principles that are found in nature to the development of human settlements, allowing humanity to live in harmony with the natural world. While permaculture can be applied to almost any area of living, including local economies, energy systems, water supplies, and housing systems, permaculture has become most well known for its applications in sustainable food production.
Permaculture strives to “work smarter, not harder,” banish waste in all its forms (such as pollution, water waste, and energy waste), and increase natural productivity and efficiency over time through the application of sustainable design systems that work with nature within its natural limitations. Permaculture is especially useful in a world where there are constrained energy and natural resources.
In permaculture, there is particular emphasis on the use of perennial crops such as fruit trees, nut trees, and shrubs that all function together in a designed system that mimics how plants in a natural ecosystem would function.
The Permaculture ethics
All permaculture design and practice is informed by three permaculture ethics:
- Earth Care: We are dependent upon the Earth and all of its living systems for our survival, and we are a part of the Earth, not separate from it. Therefore, we must care for our Earth, its resources, and its lifeforms.
- People Care: In our actions, we must care for and support each other in ways that don’t harm people or the environment that we depend on.
- Fair Share: The Earth has limitations. Therefore, each of us needs to place limits on our personal consumption of resources in order to have an equitable and just world for everyone.
The permaculture principles
Permaculture design and practice utilizes 12 permaculture principles that can be applied to just about any situation, including farming. These principles emphasize how everything is ultimately connected, a focus on small-scale, efficient, and intensive systems that rely on the use of biological resources instead of fossil fuels. There is also an emphasis on closed loops that recycle waste and incorporate ecological principles.
Permaculture design on a farm or in a garden involves the designation of “zones” where those things that require the most attention should be placed closest to our home or whatever the “homebase” is for a farm.
As you move further out away from “home,” your sphere of influence weakens, and the energy that is required to maintain it is reduced.
For instance, in permaculture, Zone 1 is the area right outside your door, such as a kitchen garden. Zone 2 is an area of your garden or farm that you would visit daily. Zone 3 is an area of your farm or garden that is further away and does not require daily maintenance. Zone 4 includes those areas that you would only visit occasionally, such as an orchard, and Zone 5 consists of those outer-lying areas of your property that are left in more of a “wild” state, such as a wildflower garden, native prairie area, or a woodland.
Examples of permaculture design practices
Permaculture design techniques include herb spirals, hugelkultur garden beds, keyhole and mandala gardens, sheet mulching, growing grain without tillage, food forests (also called “edible forest gardens”), each plant serving multiple purposes, and creating swales on contour to hold water high on the landscape.
Permaculture design training
Permaculture design training is taught through the 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course that was developed by Permaculture’s original co-founder, Bill Mollision. PDC courses are now being taught throughout the world.