Part III — Transition Joshua Tree Permaculture Meeting

White Mulberry

III. Permaculture Principles

The permaculture principles may sound like a holy grail one would find hidden in a box underneath a stone walkway in a pyramid covered in vines. When I blew the dust of ones and zeros off of the box, I opened it to find this set of principles is not set. Different permaculture designers have their own versions of the principles. Toby Hemenway argues that permaculture and its principles might be hard to define because they exist in a paradigm that is exists outside of the paradigm of domination and exploitation we are currently experiencing. As both Einstein and Buckminster Fuller said, “We will not solve the problems we face today with the same thinking that got us into them.” I paged through different sets of principles and pulled together the ones that resonated the most with my internal ecosystem and categorized them into six themes.


Some Possible Principles of Permaculture

— Pattern Literacy — 

To create a design that responds to the site, first observe the context. Over multiple seasons, observe the climate, landform, water, legal issues, access & circulation, vegetation & wildlife, microclimate, buildings & infrastructure, zones of use, soil, and aesthetics. Also spend time doing unguided observation. 

Accept feedback from the system as it unfolds through the spectrum of time. Creatively use and respond to change. 

Make the least change for the greatest effect.
Identify leverage points in a system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change and the least unwanted side effects.

Design From Patterns To Details
Practice pattern literacy by observing patterns and integrating them into designs to intentionally create functions and relationships. Begin with overall patterns first, then refine towards the details. Patterns reflect the ecological functions and relationships of an ecosystem. Understanding patterns brings an understanding of how to help things flourish. Patterns arise from: needs, goals and desires; the relationships between us, plants, birds insects and microbes. They exist at multiple scales in space and time. Some distribution patterns include random, regular, clump, scatter, carpet, patch, tuft, cluster, constellation, and drift. Some root patterns include flat, heart, tap, rhizome, stolon, sucker, tuber, corm, bulb. 

— Relativity —

Relative Location
Design a meshwork of relationships, rather than an assortment of isolated elements. Base spatial relationships on how elements interact and assist one another, their frequency of use and maintenance. Attempt to bridge the gaps between wildlife areas to reform continuous corridors.

Zones are a way of analyzing and dividing space based on frequency of use and maintenance. Typically, zone mapping begins as concentric circles that are then modified. Elements of frequent use and maintenance are placed closer to the center zone. Elements requiring less frequent interaction are placed in outer or preserved zones. 

Sectors are used to analyze space based on how external energies enter and pass through the system. Elements are strategically placed to cooperate and synergize with incoming energies.  

— Multiplicity —

Each element performs multiple functions.
Select and locate elements that contribute in multiple ways to the success of the whole. Identify, the multiple functions and interactions of elements. Strive for interactions that are cooperative, facilitative or neutral. Avoid designing interactions that are competitive, inhibitive, or predatory unless they are used for an intentional, advantageous purpose. Stack elements in time and space.

Each critical function is supported by multiple elements.
Identify critical functions, such as water, food, and energy. Ensure that these critical functions are supported in two or more ways. Redundancy can build resiliency: if one element fails, a redundant element can expand to fill the gap in functionality. 

— Mutual Aid —

Practice Mutual Aid
Mutually cooperate with plants and animals to conserve energy and perform functions that would otherwise require fossil fuel resources. 

Collaborate with Succession
Assist with, rather than inhibit, the successive waves of evolution of a system towards greater diversity and productivity. Means of collaboration can include following the path of least resistance, using biological means to cycle energy and increase organic material, inoculating a site with diversity species, creating a habitat to attract a cohort of beneficial collaborators, and long term thinking. 

— Work with nature rather than against it —

Cycle Energy and Material
To increase the available energy on the site, identify, capture, store, chelate and cycle energies and materials present on the site and coming into the site from external sources that would otherwise flow out of the system. Strive to produce no waste. In a cycle, decomposition is as important as growth. 

Reduce Energy Use Before Acquiring Energy
Design to reduce energy use before attempting to acquire energy. Attempt to generate energy by collaborating with biological means before resorting to renewable sources. Use small scale renewable energy rather than large scale renewable energy that displaces ecosystems—colonizing the last wild spaces in the name of saving the “environment”.

Small Scale Stacked Systems
Because small scale systems take up less space, they can be managed with less resources and allow more space for wildlife and autonomous zones. Design stacked systems to attempt to maximize abundance within a small area. Stacking functions and diversifying the use of vertical and horizontal space can be used to intensify systems. Stacked systems can do less damage if they are placed in existing “developed” rather than “undeveloped” areas.

— Think, act, and feel like an ecosystem — 

Everything Gardens
Everything modifies its ecosystem to improve its habitat and ability to obtain food and energy. Humans are a keystone species: our actions and inactions are primary determinants of ecosystem health and evolution. We can become intentional guiders of change in our ecosystems by attempting to mimic the physical and social structures of ecosystems. Analysis is only one method of learning how to mimic an ecosystem. Spending time connecting with the other-than-human-world is another way to learn how to think, act and feel like an ecosystem. Humans and habitats share immune systems: we are organism-environments. Ecosystems occur both outside and inside the human body.

Integrate native elements. Native elements increase ecosystem health because they have evolved to thrive with the resources available, tolerate climatic conditions, and practice mutual aid with their neighbors. Native elements form essential webs of relationships and embody knowledge beyond our scope of understanding.

Integrate diversity in form, function, time and space. Diversity provides more niches for food, energy and habitat. By making more niches available, diversity reduces completion while increasing productivity and yield. Diversity generates resiliency because diverse ecosystems are more resistant to disease and pests and more stable during crises because of functional redundancy. Diversity reduces herbivory because predators spend more time looking for food than eating food. 

Ecological Analogs
Ecological analogs can be used to mimic native or desired ecosystems while enhancing desired yields. Ecological analogs are made by substituting native plants with plants that perform similar functions and thrive in similar conditions. The practice of ecological analogs can be expanded beyond plants.