Permaculture Principles on the Homestead
How is homesteading meaningful to me? It means greater independence and self-sufficiency. Bearing this in mind, homesteading becomes more meaningful when we apply Permaculture Principles on the homestead.
For example, I love that we have some control over the food we grow, preserve and eat. I’m grateful we have to ability to do that, and I’m also grateful for the community to which we’ve been introduced, both locally and virtually.
For more about us and our homesteading journey, see THIS PAGE.
Mainly, though, I love that we are able to put Permaculture Ethics and Principles into practice.
If this is your first encounter with the term, “Permaculture,” in a nutshell, it is a design system that works in a regenerative, sustainable way. Permaculture is a combination of the words “permanent” and “agriculture” or “permanent” and “culture.”
*I am honored to say that this post is part of a collab, “What homesteading means to me.” See the links at the end of this post which will take you to the other participants’ websites.
Bill Mollison, the originator of the Permaculture system, says that in 1959, the original idea occurred to him while observing marsupial animals in the rain forests of Tasmania. He was won over by the abundance and the interconnections within the ecosystem, and thus began his journey to “…build systems that would function as well as this one does.”
Together with David Holmgren, the Principles of Permaculture became evident. In the 1970’s, they began to identify and apply these principles in an effort to design eco-friendly, sustainable, productive gardens, farms, and landscapes.
Thus the more current definition of Permaculture(David Holmgren): “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.”
They modeled their systems after the methods and practices of Indigenous peoples, reasoning that these cultures must have uncovered some keys to sustainability. Thus began their agricultural, regenerative, sustainable, Permaculture design system.
But it didn’t end there! These principles are so embedded in the wisdom of nature, they have a far-reaching scope, and venture beyond Permaculture’s agricultural beginnings.
Permaculture design has been used in architecture, energy systems, sewer and wastewater systems, communities, and villages. It has also been used as a tool to guide decision-making in many realms, such as school modules and curricula, businesses, community groups and governing bodies.
How awesome! And how meaningful to be able to incorporate Permaculture principles on the homestead.
The 3 Permaculture Ethics:
Care for the Earth.
Care for the Earth’s people.
Share your abundance.
Some “translate” that to:
Isn’t that just amazing? I believe it’s in accordance with things as they should be in nature and in our everyday lives.
You can read more in depth about Permaculture Ethics HERE.
Once I was sold on Permaculture Ethics, I wanted to delve further. Enter, the Permaculture Principles.
Permaculture Principles on the Homestead
This is where we can go into more detail – the specific ways in which Permaculture makes so much sense.
There are twelve main principles in Permaculture:
1. Observe and Interact
“Protracted and thoughtful observation” – Bill Mollison
One of the first things that is recommended in any Permaculture class or text, is to invest in a hammock.
The idea is that one should spend their first year observing the patterns in nature that are unique to their specific place, all from the comfort of a hammock. The observations would include, but not be limited to, things like weather patterns, seasonal changes, wildlife, plants that thrive, slopes in the landscape, wind breaks, and existing infrastructure, if any.
As we observe, we need to see how we will interact with our surroundings. Birds, for example, give clues about the changes in weather patterns by the way they chirp and flock together. Many of the birds sing sweetly when they are happy. Listen and learn.
This is the information-gathering period. It is the time to take notes and use imagination to scratch out some rough ideas for where to create gardens, other functional areas, and determine how you will interact in these places.
2. Catch and Store Energy
Where there is an abundance of life, many energy transactions must occur. Once upon a time, this principle was described as “cycling and recycling.” But we mustn’t rely on the already over-taxed systems in nature – we need to go deeper into the ecosystem process to capture and store energy.
Permaculture puts attention to these four elements: Water, seed (genetic diversity), soils (humus), and forests (biomass). These are regarded as “great building blocks of ecosystem abundance (Peter Bane-The Permaculture Handbook).”
Some examples of this principle in Permaculture design include: rain barrel water catchment, composting, and gray water (waste water from washing – NOT toilets or kitchen wastewater) recycling in the form of irrigation.
3. Obtain a Yield
This is where, for us, at least, Permaculture principles on the homestead get especially exciting: Harvest!
The productivity of a system in terms of obtaining a yield was the recurring question in several of our Permaculture discussion groups. In fact, throughout our talks, we were able to come up with multiple ways a yield could be obtained from just one source, building upon our observations, and utilizing captured and stored energy.
Apple trees, for example, give us fruit, seeds, kitchen scraps for compost (or chicken food if you have chickens), twigs to start fires, wood to be ground into mulch, oxygen produced from the leaves, and food for wildlife (deer especially love apple wood). This is just one of so many examples of the many ways a yield can be obtained.
4. Self-Regulate, Accept Feedback
Self-regulation is a product of maturity. In Permaculture terms, we could say that mature ecosystems are characteristically known for their efficient use of resources. This means conserving materials, as well as good levels of internal communication.
If we are speaking in human terms, we could say this refers to self-awareness.
Being able to accept feedback, both positive and negative, is critical to the growth in any Permaculture design system. We need to be careful of the impact any element has in our own system, as well as our neighbors’ and any surrounding areas in nature.
For example, we might want to make sure we are not spreading the manure in the field when the temperatures are scorching and the wind is blowing the scent through our neighbors’ windows as they are sitting down to a meal.
An understanding of the Permaculture Ethics helps us to understand this principle.
5. Use and Value Nature’s Gifts
Biological systems can be like “goods and services” of nature. We protect the chicken so that we may continue to collect the eggs, for example.
Wind can be used as an energy source, and it can cool us and our homes, reduce detrimental fungi that afflict certain plants, and help spread pollen and seeds.
Animals such as goats can give milk and manure for the garden, and provide lawn-mowing services. They even enjoy eating poison ivy!
If we notice services, as well as obvious “goods” (harvests), we can begin to understand the numerous functions that our landscape elements provide. Thus, we have a strengthened capacity to connect-the-dots to begin breathing more life and healing into the world around us.
6. Waste Not
Energy cycling ethics can translate as “waste = food.” Nature wastes nothing.
I remember seeing an interview with Sir David Attenborough where he was asked, “If you could name one thing to help the environment that everyone could do right now, from here on in, what would it be?”
His answer? “Do NOT waste!”
In nature, plants take up the nutrients and complex molecules in soil for their growth. These nutrients help the plants grow leaves, flowers, roots, and seeds, which we, or animals, can eat for nourishment.
There is also a mind shift in Permaculture where, say you have slugs in the garden. Bill Mollison would regard is as a “deficit of ducks” rather than a slug problem. This is a great example of Permaculture principles on the homestead in action.
In today’s disposable world, reducing or eliminating waste can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Start with small changes. Every bit helps.
Join my “Kitchen Sustainability Challenge” for simple, actionable ways you can reduce your waste and increase sustainability.
7. Design from Pattern to Details
Remember when we spent a year simply observing? This helped us gain an awareness of patterns. Knowledge of these patterns gives way to energy-efficient planning.
Patterns in nature will help us see that our deliberate, creative designs are best done thoughtfully in a series of stages where one layer of work grows out of its previous layers.
Spirals, for example, appear largely in nature (think snail shells, fiddlehead ferns, the Milky Way) and are well-used in Permaculture design. The Herb Spiral (Pattern) is a favorite among many permaculturists. It allows for a greater variety of plants (Details) in a small space. Because of this, many people put their herb spirals just outside the kitchen door, thus allowing easy access to the plants.
This principle is all about relationships – the very heart of Permaculture. In Permaculture design, we place elements near one another to maximize functional benefit.
An example of this practice would be the use of companion plants. Companion plants are mutually beneficial to each other. We plant chives and garlic next to our rose plants to help protect them from predatory insects, like aphids.
In Permaculture, the expression, “Stacking Multiple Functions” is used frequently and interchangeably with the principle of Integration. In addition to creating relationships between various design elements, we also look for as many possible uses for just one design element. See Food and Flowers in Permaculture.
An example of this would be a comfrey plant. The comfrey leaves can be made into a poultice for skin wounds, especially burns (Disclaimer – check with your health care practitioner first!). The leaves are also great in compost due to its ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. The flowers are beautiful to look at, and they attract beneficial pollinators. Some wildlife like to eat it. We often do the “chop and drop” method of mulching with our comfrey plants. It’s quick, simple, and effective.
9. Choose Small and Slow Solutions
Remember being told, “Haste makes waste?” This couldn’t be more true when implementing Permaculture principles.
Often, nature will move in small, slow ways. For example, photosynthesis occurs one cell at a time and one plant at a time.
When we are learning something new, it is easier to be introduced to information in small, slow ways than it is to be bombarded all at once.
Local, familiar, human in scale – all of these are small and slow. If there are problems or setbacks, it’s not the end of the world. We can more easily handle and correct the problems before they are allowed to get out of hand.
When we plant a tree, it won’t bear fruit right away. But with our gentle, patient care, it will in a few years. We planted our diverse fruit orchard five years ago from this writing. We got our first pears just this past year, as well as a few cherries.
10. Cultivate Diversity
Today, approximately 90% of the human diet is made up of only about 20 plant species. We need, on a deeper level, to respect the nature of our world as well as its life. Conservation is essential for this.
When we create designs using Permaculture principles on the homestead, we should always strive to include native plants. They have relationships with local pollinators, wildlife, beneficial insects, and organisms in the soil. We are also more likely to get a reliable yield from native plants, thus ensuring our likelihood that we will continue to eat!
At one time, Paw Paw trees were native to our area, but they are hard to find anymore. I planted two several years ago, but only one survived. I hope to plant at least one more this coming year. The Paw Paw is highly perishable, which is probably at least one reason why they fell out of favor with factory farmers. They can’t be transported long distances. I hope to one day be able to go out and pick a Paw Paw off our tree(s) and eat it right away!
11. Push the Edge, Mind the Margins
The edge represents the place where “things happen” in Permaculture. When two or more environments meet, like the forest and the meadow, or land and water, life may thrive abundantly in the richness found there.
Not only are the species from each ecosystem found in the edge, but species that are unique to the edge itself can be found there. Such species adapt to the conditions of the transition zone where edges overlap.
When designing a cultivated system, we need to plan productive edges where more prolific yields can thrive. Edges are used as much to define zones as to blend them. By observing the way edges occur in nature, we can use this principle more efficiently.
The edge of a vegetable garden, for instance, can be planted with pollinator-friendly flowering shrubs, created a lovely zone into which the bees and butterflies can proliferate. Also, increasing potential edge lengths can be achieved by following curved, or wavy patterns, much the same as can be found in nature.
12. Cultivate Vision, Respond to Change
Permaculture ethics cement the power of Vision. When we have Vision, we have deep understandings and sensitivity to the dynamics of change.
Our commitment to Permaculture Ethics (Earth care, people care, and sharing fairly our surpluses) for the benefit of all is our criteria during a time when the only reliably constant thing is change.
Biological diversity, forests, clean water, and our precious soil need to stay in our focus as we make our journey. Our future generations will be grateful to inherit this planet, complete with regenerative sustainability in place.
Permaculture Principles on the Homestead
I once heard David Holmgren say, “Think of these twelve principles as the numbers on the face of a clock, or the outside edges of a wheel. The Ethics should be place in the center of the clock, or function as the hub of the wheel.” The principles and the ethics all work together, and build upon one another.
Using Permaculture Principles on the homestead has helped make our lives easier. We are able to work slowly and simply, while interacting with and trusting nature. This has brought about a sense of self-sufficiency and peace.
What are you waiting for? No matter where you live, you can begin implementing Permaculture practices in your own life. Even if you have a small apartment in the city, you can grow Sprouts, or bake from Sourdough starter you make yourself! Start small and slow. Observe and interact. And enjoy the process.
Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane
Gaia’s Garden by Chelsea Green
Permaculture Design: A Step-by-Step Guide by Aranya
Be sure to check out the other 11 participants’ posts in this collab, “What homesteading means to me:”
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This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Wendy, I love this! I loved learning more about permaculture, and plan to study more on this. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Alexa! And thank you.
Brittany Gibson says
This is a post I will save and come back to over and over! There is SO MUCH INFORMATION! Thank you for this 🙂 So excited to start my journey!
Thank you, Brittany!
I studied a little bit about permaculture principles in college- I took a master’s level course on plant biology. &, it’s so amazing to see someone who implements these- see them in action! Those three ethics are spot on!
Thank you, Chey!
Wendy I loved this post. I feel I gained some valuable information that I can apply to my own homestead!
Thank you, Lindsay! Let me know how it goes.
Brandy Brown says
Tons of great info!!
Thank you, Brandy!
Steph | Spruce Acres Homestead says
Man, what an informative post! I’m learning more ways to add permaculture into how we homestead and this just gave me a lot of great ideas. I cannot wait to plan my garden. Thank you!!
Let me know how it goes, Steph!