The Beginning 

Depending on what you read the permaculture movement could have began as far back as the 1930’s with the publishing of a book called Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by Joseph Russell Smith.  In it he outlined principles that espoused the idea that the world is an interrelated system and must be treated as such in order to be managed effectively and sustainably.  This text inspired other noted permaculture pioneers such as P. A Yeomans who wrote about the use of an observation based approach to land use and Ruth Stout a no-dig gardening pioneer.

Through a buildup of knowledge and ideas that were pioneered and tested over of the years we have come to the modern idea of what permaculture is.  What has been developed is the idea of a self sufficient agricultural system that mimics natural processes and uses those processes to help us produce quality food and fiber in a way that benefits both us the landscape used to grow it.    

Basic Principles of Permaculture

There are 12 design principles that have been accepted by the majority of permaculture practitioners as the must understand basics of permaculture design philosophy.   

Observe and interact

To be able to build a permaculture lifestyle you must first begin to pay attention to your surrounding environment.  This greater attention to your surrounding ecosystem will aid you in designing solutions to issues that will confront you.  

Catch and store energy

You have to develop the ability and systems to gather and keep energy available to you on a consistent basis.  This could include using passive solar techniques in your buildings or even capturing water in cisterns or stock ponds to water yourself, animals and crops in the dry season.

Obtain a yield

All your work and effort have to amount to something.  You have to obtain a reward for all you effort in design and observation.  This could include a successful garden crop or plentiful solar power that you can sell back to the grid.  

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

You have to be able to monitor yourself and your efforts to make sure they are actually worthwhile.  You must also be able to accept criticism and be able to act upon it.     

Use and value renewable resources and services

The simpler and more natural your methods and systems of living are the easy it will be to live up to permaculture standards.  Using renewable energy and perennial plantings will enhance your resources with cost effective solutions that take care of themselves.

Produce no waste

Everything must be saved, reduced and recycled so that nothing is wasted.  Becoming familiar with composting methods and what is compostable is a great start.  You can follow up by breaking old habits try to use reusable shopping bags and using old jars to store dried bulk goods. 

Design from patterns to details

This is basically telling you to use the patterns present in nature to help you with the layouts of your permaculture plantings.  You don’t want to get caught up in the details of what you are doing and instead you should follow basic sound methods that have been proven successful.  By following basic sustainable patterns the details of the project will fill themselves in.      

Integrate rather than segregate

Don’t be afraid to mix and match your plants together so they can form mutually beneficial relationships.  A perfect example of this is interplanting fruit trees and berry plants together so you can grow two perennial crops in one plot.

Use small and slow solutions

Big changes can be hard to manage and accomplish.  By going with small changes you can more easily use local resources and keep what you change more sustainable.  A good example of this is continuous mulching of your gardens.  By adding small amounts of mulch often you will slowly choke out weeds while at the same time improve the health of your soil and plants.  

Use and value diversity

By using many different types of plants you will reduce your dependence on a specific species. This will leave you better able to deal with poor harvests in one area but perhaps better harvests in another

Use edges and value the marginal

The margins of areas are often some of the most fertile and diverse areas of a piece of land.  You will be surprised how useful little niches and edges of fields can be when approached in a new light.

Creatively use and respond to change

Flexibility is key to a permaculture landscape.  You have to be able to adjust to changing circumstances and make them work to your benefit.  A example of this would be finding a piece of ground wetter or drier than you expected.  You will probably have to change up what you were planning on putting there once you get a better idea what the soil is like.       

The Future

Permaculture design is going to become a critical part of the new green and sustainable future. It will because without smarter design and better use of space than we currently have we could find ourselves without very basic items like food and water.  

This ability to create green space, provide recreation and grow food in one location is going to be a key factor for the future of the human race.  Without the improvements in growing food that can come from a permaculture mindset we will continue to degrade and loose soil at a rate of around 7,400,000 acres or the size of Maryland and Delaware combined every year.  

But with a well designed permaculture system we can grow lots of food without sacrificing the soil to the plow and causing erosion.  We can bring food security back to nations that have lost it because of the so called “advancements” in industrial agriculture.  With permaculture we can feed the hungry, generate economic activity and bring green space back to cities.  So much can be done with permaculture and its design principles.  Just around your house you can find ways to enhance your landscaping to provide some permaculture basics.  Adding fruit trees and berry plants to take advantage of those hard to use edges of your property will not only provide you with food but also some beautiful low maintenance landscaping.