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Since the 1960s, Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture leading to Permanent Culture) has become a world wide movement thanks to the work of its founders Bruce Charles (Bill) Mollison (4 May 1928 to 24 Sept 2016) and David Holmgren and those trained.

In the 1960s the environmental movements were blaming and confrontational in nature. Mollison disagreed with this approach stating that it achieved nothing but division. Instead, he preferred the positive approach of providing something useful as an example.

He documented and taught a design system for agricultural production that was effective and more importantly, produced a good yield.

Most Permaculture adherents prefer to lead by example. There are, however always the few…

Table of Contents

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a flexible, integrated design system that is modeled on nature. It produces systems that are clean (non polluting and sustainable), efficient (creates little work and uses the output from one process as the input for the next), and profitable (must produce an inherent physical and economic yield).

What is Permaculture Design?​

Permaculture is a design system principally used for farms, small and large. I have used a number of design systems and have found Permaculture to be the most useful.

It is not just a way to grow hippy tomatoes. That is how it has been used by some people who seek the most attention.

A designer is trained in climate, soil types, weather patterns, multiple ecosystems and the use and behaviour of flora and fauna. Production techniques and theory are a basic part of the training.

It was described to me once as a wardrobe – the hanging space and the drawers contain different tools and methodologies. Some you use regularly, they sit on the first shelf, some only every now and then, they are in the hanging space or the lower drawers.

Regenerative Agriculture and BioDynamic techniques are in pretty boxes on the open bench as they are used commonly. You pull out what you need for the current  task.

Not all the techniques are new, many are traditional, and some are positively ancient. You use what is suitable for the task at hand from the components in the chosen box

It is green because productive rural design must be green – you cannot fight nature for long because it is bigger that you.

The green revolution served its purpose aiding a world that had just come out of a century of war to survive through a cool period that significantly reduced agricultural production. Millions would not have survived without it. It was an emergency maneuver but it has been used too long.

With some directed thought we can be much more effective and efficient.

What is not commonly known is that the fourth principle of Permaculture Design is that it must produce a yield/profit.

For any farm to function its design must be Clean, Efficient and Profitable. Permaculture does provide a platform to include that functionality in the design.

Permaculture Design becomes a vocation rather than a career.

The Origin of Permaculture

Bill Mollison was a teacher of Environmental Psychology at The University of Tasmania when he crossed paths with a student, David Holmgren. Permaculture was to be David’s thesis with Bill as his mentor/guide.

The new doctrine was hammered out in Mollison’s lounge room on the lower slopes of Mt Wellington Hobart. It took on a life of its own. The academic doctrine of “Publish or Perish” came to the fore.

Permaculture One” was published in 1978 by Mollison and Holmgren in 1978 and described the case for Permaculture with reference to the design system.

This book was a modified copy of Holmgren’s thesis. The two went their own ways at this time. Mollison took the role as the face and voice of Permaculture. Holmgren retired to his property Melliodora in Victoria to test and further develop the concept.

“Permaculture Two” was published in 1979 by Mollison and described the beginnings of the design system of Permaculture.

Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual” published in 1988 by Mollison  is a 576 page tome which rapidly became the definitive reference.

“Ten Years of Sustainable Living at Melliodora” was published in 1995 by David Holmgren and described the research achieved and marked his return to the public side of Permaculture. The two versions of Permaculture are supportive of each other but do differ in their approach.

Geoff Lawton took the reins of the Permaculture Research Institute and became the new public face. He spent some years as Mollison’s apprentice and has “tidied up” Permaculture.

I believe that Mollison’s approach was deliberately provocative as a method of gaining a more rapid acceptance and greater awareness of his message. In any case, it was certainly successful.

In the early 1970’s, it dawned on me that no one had ever applied design to agriculture.  When I realised it, the hairs went up on the back of my neck.  It was so strange.  We’d had agriculture for 7,000 years, and we’d been losing for 7,000 years – everything was turning into desert.  So I wondered, can we build systems that obey ecological principles? We know what they are, we just never apply them.  Ecologists never apply good ecology to their gardens.  Architects never understand the transmission of heat in buildings, and physicists live in houses with demented energy systems. It is curious that we never apply what we know to how we actually live. 

– Bill Mollison (4 May 1928 to 24 Sept 2016)

What does Permaculture Cover?

Permaculture was originally created as a platform for long term design of small farms. Permaculture covers the aspects required of a profitable venture. It is concerned with effective sustainable yield.

Taken from “Permaculture a Designers’ Manual” written by Bill Mollison the topics covered are:

  1. Introduction
  2. Concepts and Themes in Design
  3. Methods of Design
  4. Pattern Understanding
  5. Climatic Factors
  6. Trees and Their Energy Transactions
  7. Water
  8. Soils
  9. Earthworking and Earth Resources
  10. The Humid Tropics
  11. Dryland Strategies
  12. Humid Cool to Cold Climates
  13. Aquaculture
  14. The Strategies of an Alternate Global Nation

Since publication of Mollison’s tome in 1988 the value of the information has not decreased, much has been learned and the design system has become much richer and more nuanced.

A good Permaculture farm design is based on P.A. Yoemans’ Scale of Permanence which covers:

  1. Climate
  2. Land-form
  3. Water Supply
  4. Roads and Access
  5. Trees
  6. Structures
  7. Fences
  8. Soil

The scale is accurate. Climate can be changed but it is a massive undertaking that will take centuries and the cycles of nature are very powerful, so your change may not exist long term. Mountains can be moved, but it is rare and expensive. Roads usually outlast Trees – look at the Roman roads. Trees regularly outlast sheds and fences. Soil can be modified within two to three years.

When making long term plans, consider P.A. Yoemans’ Scale of Permanence the best guide available and address each level as needed.

Consider the rule of the North American native peoples which  asks the question whether the decision I am pondering will benefit or hinder the children of the 7th generation. These people considered a generation to be 100 years.

Design Tools

Permaculturists have developed a suite of tools to assist the design effort. Some of these are:

  • Zone Analysis
  • Sector Analysis
  • Topography Efficiency

The principles of Permaculture do not just serve the physical layout of the farm, they also guide the business processes of the farm to a profit from yield.

The Ethics of Permaculture

I appreciate it that a design system comes complete with stated ethical guidance.

The wording often varies but the ethical foundation of Permaculture is:

  • Care of the Earth
  • Care of People
  • Return of Surplus

Care of the Earth

Look after the earth and the earth will look after you. The reason this is first is that if the environment is happy and healthy then mankind is healthy – not the other way around. Avoid damaging the soil and do not allow collateral damage to the beneficial insects, mycelial fungus and other organisms – they are the true wealth of the land.

Care of People

Ensure that your product is healthy so that your customers are likely to stay around long enough to provide repeat business.

Return of Surplus

Provide a surplus firstly to nature then to the people.

This assists nature to maintain a healthy environment. Provide a habitat and food for the birds and wasps over winter and they will be strong enough to help you come the growing season by managing pests. Leave a minimum of 15% to assist nature. This is common sense not just green babble.

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