|Photo: Ewig Lernender|
“Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability. The design principles are equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers"
Bill Mollison, permaculture co-originator, Introduction to Permaculture
"Permaculture" originally derived from the words "permanent agriculture", a phrase coined by Australian ecologists David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in the mid-1970s. Both were concerned with how the world was choosing to farm, using poisonous chemicals, destroying soil and biodiversity.
Mollison actually went bush for a time, and began to notice the way nature was self-sustaining. Together with David Holmgren, he came up with the idea for a farming system that was self-sustaining, requiring no inputs.
However, over the past 30-odd years, permaculture has grown to be more than just a way of growing food sustainably. A definition of permaculture often cited today is:
“Creating sustainable human habitants following nature’s patterns.”
Designing by permaculture
Setting up your property using the principles of permaculture requires a change in thinking for most people.
Bill Mollison says in essence what you are attempting to do is create a Garden of Eden; you are devising a framework of plants and animals that is self-steering, something that supports itself with no extra energy required once the design is up and running.
The basic principles
In their book “Introduction to Permaculture”, Bill Mollison and Rena Mia Slay outline the basic principles of permaculture. These include:
The areas required the most attention ie the vegetable and herb garden are as close to the house as possible, next is the chicken coop. In permaculture, there are zones so the house is zone 0, the eating garden is zone 1 and the chook house is zone 2 (see more on zones below).
Each element performs many functions
The best example of this is the “Chicken Model”, as outlined here in an interview with Mother Earth News magazine in 1980.
“Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other.
“In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest . . . if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens' shelter . . . and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse. Well, then you've got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.
“Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens' body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you'll find that it's fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself.
“Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat . . . so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they're outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they'll go back inside to keep warm . . . taking their body heat with them.
“Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it's performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work . . . in fact, I don't know what you can't do with chickens, once you get started! “
The Plowboy Interview, Mother Earth News, 1980
More reading: Introduction to Permaculture Design Series
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