How Permaculture Works

Permaculture Design Principles

The movement not only involves chemical-free organic farming, but also a number of key permaculture design principles aimed at keeping modern farming methods streamlined with nature.

  • Zones: This involves the division of areas on a farm based on movement and the amount of human attention required for different areas. Think of a permaculture farm as a circle with a farm in the center. Dividing a farm into zones involves arranging farm activities into a series of concentric rings moving out from the center. The higher the human traffic required for the activity, the closer that zone is to the center.

    © Turner
    Permaculturists believe the best way to raise plants and animals is to follow nature's examples.
  • Sectors: This is another method of arranging the location of farming activities, this time based on the flow of necessary energies or resources from a given point, such as a farm house. Imagine the farm as a pizza. Each triangular slice is a sector radiating from the center. Permaculturists attempt to arrange farm activities so that each area has easy access to the center.

  • Relative location: This principle involves the thoughtful planning of both zones and sectors based on where they are in relation to each other. Permaculturists aim to position these elements in a way that maximizes energy usage and minimizes waste. An example would be planting crops downhill from a pond to allow for easy irrigation without the need for a pumping system.

  • Single elements with multiple functions: To maximize efficiency, permaculturists place farm elements in a way to encourage the performance of multiple functions. For instance, a properly positioned pond can supply irrigation and fence in livestock. The right choice in a hedge plant could provide wind protection and produce seeds to feed poultry.

  • Single functions from multiple elements: If a function is important, make sure multiple elements can supply it -- think of it as having a backup plan built into the farm. This involves backing up feed crops with edible fodder trees or using a pond to help irrigate during drought.

  • Energy efficiency: Permaculture calls for the input of as little energy as necessary from outside the farm. Energy-efficient designs, like using solar or wind power, help make this possible by wasting very little.

  • Biological resources: Whenever possible, leave farm work to more efficient, non-human elements. This involves the use of animals for tasks like weed control, pest control and fertilizer production. Using wasps to control plant parasites and manure to nourish crops is an example of this principle.

  • Plant succession: In a natural environment, plant populations develop over time, transforming from fields and weeds to include progressively larger plants. Ultimately, they develop into a forest. Permaculturists plant a variety of crops with this in mind, growing fruit and nut-bearing trees alongside short-lived food plants. In this example, the land is still bearing fruit and enriching the soil while the trees grow to maturity.

  • Nutrient recycling: This involves using the ecosystem within the farm to replenish nutrients instead of relying on imports. A good example would be composting organic matter and using manure as fertilizer.

  • Diversity: Permaculture encourages raising multiple crops and farm animals to prevent farmers from becoming dependent on one product. This way, fluctuating market prices or breed-specific illnesses are less likely to have catastrophic results.

On the next page, we'll examine some of the ways in which permaculturists have carried out their ideals.