Permaculture TheorySeries: Permaculture

Part 4, Permaculture design principles

An overview of different sets of permaculture design principles

Design principles provide a more elaborate comprehension of the permaculture ethics. In this article I explain what design principles are and we will have a look at different sets of principles by different designers.

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Design principles

Permaculture principles by Bill Mollison

The most commonly used sets of principles are the 10 Permaculture Principles by David Mollison (in Introduction to Permaculture, 1997).

1. Relative location

To foster working relationships between each element, ensuring that the output of one becomes the input of another, all elements must be in the right place. By placing every element in relative location to the elements it depends on and those that it supplies, time and energy is saved.

2. Each element performs many functions

Each element in the design should be chosen to perform the largest possible amount of functions. To perpetuate the qualities of diverse elements the application of relative location is essential.

3. Each important function is supported by many elements

Important functions, such as water and energy supply, food production or fire protection should be supported in several ways.

4. Efficient energy planning

Maximise resource-use efficiency and ease through efficient energy planning. To this end permaculture tools such as Zoning and Sector Planning are essential when designing landscapes.

5. Using biological resources

To build sustainable and resilient systems the proper management and use of biological resources is key. The accumulation of biological resources should be considered a long-term investment and their integration should be well considered.

6. Energy cycling

Permaculture designs should be geared to promote a cyclical flow of energy, while preventing any energy outflows. Plants and animals interact to produce energy, which is caught, stored, used and re-used. Incoming energy, such as sun, water and wind are integrated into the system.

7. Small-scale intensive systems

For a system to be effective, it is important to fully develop the system at a small scale before moving on or upscaling. The intensity of an agricultural system can be optimised through plant-stacking (using the varying heights of plants to produce yields on several layers) and time-stacking (combining plants that produce yields quickly and those that produce yields in the longterm).

8. Accelerate succesion and evolution

Instead of thwarting a system’s tendency towards complexity (like we do when planting monocultures), permaculture is about accelerating complexity and diversity. To this end, plants, animals and soil life should be directed become as complex and diverse as possible as quickly as possible.

9. Diversity

Diversity is crucial for the resilience of any living system and the sum of yields in a diverse system will easily exceed those of a monoculture. Stability and resilience is a result of cooperation between the elements, which also highlights the importance of principle 3: each important function is supported by many elements. A practical example is companion-planting, where different plants are strategically planted together in order to support each other.

10. Edge effects

Edges are special places, as they share resources of separate ecosytems (e.g. a lake and the surrounding land) and are a net and sieve for energy. By manipulating where distinct ecosystems meet the edge effect can be manipulated and yields can be optimised.

On the next page we will have a look at David Holmgren’s design principles.

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