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What are the main permaculture design principles?

Permaculture design is based on a self-sustainable holistic integrated approach to agriculture that includes humans as part of the system. It is an ethical outlook that takes into account care for the Earth, community involvement and limits to consumption and population. Devised by Australian ecologist Bill Mollison, back in the 1970s, permaculture design aims to integrate the way humans, animals and plants interact with each other in the landscape.

One of the main principles of permaculture is the idea of zones. This puts the farmhouse or home at the center of a series of concentric circles with the most labor-intensive crops nearest to the center. Sectors, which are part of another approach to the same idea, divide the land as if it was a sliced pie, so that each type of activity flows naturally into and out of the center. By using the landscape as part of the design solution, permaculturists make sure that, for example, water flows downhill toward the crops rather than having the water pumped uphill to irrigate plants.

Other elements in permaculture design use the idea of multiple functions from a single element. For example, a pond could act as a barrier for animals as well as a water source. In addition, the idea of having one function from several different elements helps to create more diversity. Having more diversity is important so that farmers are less dependent on market fluctuations or crop failure. By taking advantage of natural processes, like using animals for manure or pest control, planting forest gardens, or using solar or wind power, permaculture farms are not only energy efficient but they can even improve the quality of the land. Preparation is key to the success of permaculture; long-term planning is needed before a permaculturist can produce each site-specific permaculture design.