Six Fundamental Permaculture Design Principles

by: EJ on 11/04/2016

Ross Mars, author of the recently released The Permaculture Transition Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Resilient Living, has been a permaculture teacher and designer for decades.  In his new book, he has condensed the ideas and concepts of permaculture design into six fundamental concepts.


1. Observe and analyze
The first step is to observe, collect and collate data. This may include soil and water analysis, local climate, water movement in the landscape, sun angles for each season, and the wants and wishes of the human inhabitants. From this information we sort, group and analyze trends, make predictions and determine priorities.


2. Consider needs and functions
All of the things that are placed in a design are called elements. We need to think about the needs, requirements, functions and products for each of the elements in the system. This means identifying which special requirements the various plants and animals have, how their waste can be used as a resource, what functions we want the animals to perform, how each element can complement many others, and how human needs can be met in the design we are proposing.


3. Use patterns and make connections
The third step of the design process asks: how can we integrate all of this into a holistic system, involving communities of plants, animals and people? This is where we start to use concepts such as edge, stacking, guilds and zones. We endeavor to determine ecological interactions between all of the living components and examine land use patterns to develop strategies. For example, we may consider the types and shapes of garden beds for maximum production, how we can place plants to grow as much food as possible without jeopardizing their needs for sunlight, nutrients and water, and where we place everything in areas of different intensity.

4. Manage energy and use local materials and resources
Permaculture design is essentially about energy. We consider how winds and storms can be deflected and their effects minimized by sector planning, we think of ways to harvest and store energy and water, we determine what recyclable materials and renewable energy systems we can access and use (with consideration of the embodied energy of these materials), and then we consider what local resources are available.




5. Increase biodiversity and productivity
Our ultimate aim should be to nurture soil to increase both food and non-food production and to increase the biodiversity and biomass of the cultivated ecosystems we develop. This will involve a whole host of techniques and strategies, including integrated pest management; growing, harvesting and storing food and materials; and replenishing spent nutrients as plants are removed from the system.


6. Design for catastrophe
Natural disasters have always been with us, so we should prepare, within reason, for flooding, drought, fire and even earthquakes. While we don’t really know how our future will unfold, we can make some very good guesses of what might happen. Simple observations of what is happening now will reinforce our resolve to address pest and plague, energy decline, severe weather and extremes, nutrient depletion, declining freshwater sources, pollution and loss of arable land. Our designs should include contingencies to counteract possible future scenarios and to enable resilience in the systems we construct. Sometimes you need to be the change you want to see happen. You know what they say about the longest journey starting with the first step, so don’t underestimate the power of one. I remember Bill Mollison once said (maybe not verbatim), “I can’t change the world all on my own. We’ll need at least three of us.”






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