Having covered the ethics and definitions of main stream permaculture, we had better talk about the last core theme; the principles.

Different big-time permaculture guys have different principles, but the main set seems to be the ones articulated by David Holmgren (co-founder of permaculture) in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.  He has a set of twelve principles displayed nicely in the graphic above.  Let’s go over them briefly.

  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

Definitely some good things to think about there when implementing a system. I am not super keen on these principles though.  I think they are good to read over and understand, but I enjoy the Sepp Holzer approach more.  Here is a little graphic of his way of looking at things.


As you can see Sepp Holzer really emphasizes observation.  I think this is key.  Through thorough observation of nature, I think we can come to many of the principles listed by David Holmgren.  The model, expand, adapt, and profit parts of Holzer’s model are also excellently put.

Basically Holzer is saying, observe nature in the area where you intend to set up a system.  Then begin by implementing a small test section of an element in your system based on what you learned through observation.

Now before going any further, engage in observation of the small system you just set up and see how it functions in relation to the surrounding natural system.

Using what you learned from your observation of the test section and nature, go ahead and expand on it.  Continuing to observe and adapt along the way.  Once things are moving along nicely, you get to profit from that element in your system.

You continue around the circle in such a way for all components of your system, observing the whole time.  In this way, you don’t run the risk of setting up a massive system all at once, only to find out after a lot of hard work, that it doesn’t function properly.

If you start small, and keep building on that, while adapting to observations made along the way, you can’t possibly go too far wrong.  The keys being observation and adaptation.