Permaculture Basics

The Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutation

Mutations in nature can be good, they can be neutral, or they can be harmful. Any idea or philosophy or science can also mutate as time and people influence it. Oftentimes, these mutations are truly beneficial for the maturation of that science or philosophy, and other times these mutations can be very detrimental to its credibility and acceptance.

I believe there are two mutations that have occured in Permaculture that have been detrimental to its credibility and acceptance in the world. These mutations have kept Permaculture from becoming more mainstream. It is only because of the integrity and grandeur of the design science we call Permaculture that it has still has gained such international recognition.

So what are these two mutations? The first I will save for my next article. The second is that years ago people bastardized the Third Ethic of Permaculture. I wrote an article outlining all three ethics in this previous article, but I only touched on this topic. I think I was trying to be more non-confrontational at that time, but a recent experience has fired me up a bit more.

The three Permaculture Ethics are:

  1. Earth Care
  2. People Care
  3. Return of Surplus

As I explained in my previous article, the original third ethic was “Set Limits to Population and Consumption”. But that is not what it is anymore. The Third Ethic is now “Return of Surplus”.

People often wonder a few things when they hear this. Who decided to change it? Why did they change it? And did they have the “authority” to change it?

Let’s start with a little history. Bill Mollison and his graduate student, David Holmgren, are named as the co-originators of Permaculture. They published the first book, Permaculture One, in 1978. I truly believe that Holmgren played a very significant role in the origination of Permaculture. However, after the initial creation and huge success of the book, Holmgren sort of disappeared from the international world of Permaculture. He states that he wanted to put these concepts into practice, and he did that for the next decade mainly on his mother’s property and then on his own. From online resources (granted this may not be accurate), David didn’t start formally teaching Permaculture until 1991. During this time, Bill Mollison had travelled the world many times over teaching everyone he could about Permaculture. He became the world leader of the movement. During this time, Bill Mollison founded the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia (PRI). PRI has been the home of Permaculture ever since, and it is truly the hub (or “mothership” as some have called it) for the worldwide teaching of Permaculture.

With all that said, it was PRI who changed the third ethic to Return of Surplus. To be honest, I don’t know when this official change occurred, but these are the three ethics that have been taught for years by PRI. Geoff Lawton now runs PRI, and some may try to say that it is Geoff Lawton who changed it. However, Bill and Geoff taught this information together many times, so it was not that Geoff changed Bill’s original idea.

In my opinion, this ethic was refined or clarified… not really changed.

I believe this ethic was restated as Return of Surplus, because so many people started to use this ethic as a tool to push their own social agendas and political ideals. I also believe that as the science of Permaculture matured, and it is still a relatively new science in the grand scope, a refining of the core ethics may have been needed. This is a common practice in science. A concept or “theory” needs to be refined as more information is discovered and as more applications of that science occurs.

In 2002, David Holmgren published Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. In this book, Holmgren restates the third ethic as Fair Share: Set Limits and Redistribute Surplus. This is a very interesting interpretation of the third ethic. The first part, “Fair Share”, has been used by Geoff Lawton to help describe the third ethic (Return of Surplus). I have said before that “Fair Share” is nice because it rhymes with the other two ethics (Earth Care, People Care), but it is rather vague on its own. “Set Limits” sounds a lot like the original text of the third ethic (Set Limits to Population and Consumption). But “Redistribute Surplus” has a lot of connotations, and depending on your personal worldview, it can mean a couple of things.

If you are of the same mindset as Bill and Geoff at PRI, then this can easily mean “Return of Surplus”, i.e. redistribute the surplus energy back into the systems that care for the Earth and care for People. However, if you are a person with a more socialist or communist worldview, then it can easily mean, “if you make more than you need, then you should give it away to other people… including those who have done nothing to earn it”. Whether this is what Holmgren meant or not… I don’t know. I honestly doubt it, but it is still out there as a competing Third Principle of Permaculture.

There is nothing wrong with being altruistic. In fact, I encourage it. I also think the idea of communisim is rather nice, but time and time again history has proven it to be unsustainable.  Unfortunately, the ideology behind this mutated iteration of the Third Ethic often gets pushed on new students. They are taught that if they really want to practice Permaculture the “way it was designed”, then they should live in a commune, own nothing, and give away all the things they produce. If you produce apples, then you can eat them or sell some of them at a Farmer’s Market to cover your rent, but the rest should be given away. And if you produce something like a book, then it should be given away for free, this is true of music and teaching as well.

This is the concept that has pervaded Permaculture for too long. This, I believe, is a big reason why Permaculture has not spread more through the world. Who wants to put all the work and effort, energy and resources into a project just to have a bunch of free loaders demand rights to the fruits of your labor? How will a person be able to feed their family and pay the bills if everything they work for is given away for free?

Here is an example I came across and why this article was written:

Geoff Lawton recently released an online Permaculture Design Course which I am currently taking and very excited about. It was not cheap, but it is less expensive than many live courses. It is half the price of the courses Geoff Lawton teaches in-person, and you don’t have to pay airfare to fly to Australia. In an online message board, one person stated with righteous indignation, “If Geoff was truly practicing Permaculture and adhering to Permaculture Ethics, then he would give this course away for free.”

Wow!

Do I blame this person? Yeah, sort of. But I also blame the rest of the Permaculture practitioners who are either flat out promoting this ideology or are passively ignoring it. Permaculture is not about socialism. It is not about living in a commune. It is not about working for free. It is a science. It is about sustainability. These people do not understand that it is not sustainable to give everything away. They do not understand that making a good and decent living is not anti-Permaculture.

Until we can sever the idea of Permaculture being a new expression of socialism or communism, then we will not break into the mainstream. It is time we cull the mutated Third Ethic, and take Permaculture to the masses!

Next time, I will tackle my other reason Permaculture is not more mainstream. Stay tuned!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/5/5165181_773ce5bdd8_z.jpg

Proven Permaculture Polyculture Plantings: Part 2

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, Polyculture, I would recommend reading my previous article: Proven Permaculture Polyculture Plantings: Part 1

Today, I have a single polyculture to add to my list. This one is mine, and it seems to continue to do well. I thought I would share it…

 

Proven Permaculture Polyculture Plantings: Part 2

1. Mint, Parsley, Plantain, Scallions

  • Mint (Mentha species) has amazing flavor, it attracts beneficial insects, is an aromatic pest confusor, groundcover, and dynamic accumulator.
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a biennial that reseeds so easily it acts like a perennial. It is an herb, spice, or vegetable. It is a beneficial insect attractor and dynamic accumulator. (The photo is showing one of my few curly-leaf varieties; however, most of mine are the flat-leaf or Italian variety.)
  • Plantain (Plantago species) is a potherb and salad green and has edible seeds. It is a dynamic mineral accumulator, is tolerant of drought, attracts beneficial insects, and is a great forage crop for animals.
  • Scallions (also known as Green Onions, Spring Onions, etc.) (Allium species) great tasting, very useful kitchen herb or vegetable. It is an biennial that can be treated like an annual. I have not had it in place long enough to know if it will reseed easily, but it can almost be kept like a perennial if you do not allow it to go to seed. Also, every once in a while, I will just plant the rooted bottoms of store-bought scallions (see my article on sprouted garlic here).
  • Notes: This combination has been growing well together for just over a year. I am currently in a mild weather location that does not freeze in Winter. I imagine that they would also do well in a cooler location, but the scallions may not make it well after a freeze, although that depends on the variety, as many are biennials… also, they grow from seed so easily, that a light spreading of seed in the Spring may be worth the trouble. These plants all get full to partial sun each day. The Mint can grow well in shade and the Parsley will tolerate some shade as well, but the Plantain and Scallions really do best in full to mostly sunny locations. Parsley has a taproot, Plantain can have deep fibrous roots or taproots, the Scallion has fibrous, fairly shallow roots, and the Mint has very shallow roots, so there is a good distribution through the soil without major conflict. The Parsley clumps and can form pretty tight bunches, but the Mint works its way through. The Scallions have a tall, thin profile, so they don’t compete much with any other plant. The Plantain has larger leaves that don’t allow much to grow under it, but the Mint finds its way around everything. I expect that this combination would work well as an herbaceous groundcover under trees and open shrubs that allow a moderate amount of light through. I plan on experimenting with this polyculture more in the future, and I will share my results.

 

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The Permaculture Prime Directive

The painting above is titled, The Doctor, and was painted in 1877 by Sir Luke Fildes. This poignant image always makes me pause… as a parent, a physician, and a permaculturist, this painting hits me on so many levels. We are at the bedside of a sick patient. That sick patient is our children’s future, and we have a cure if we choose to use it. The Permaculture Prime Directive gets to the core of the matter.

The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for own existence and that of our children.
– Bill Mollison

This is one of the first things written in Bill Mollison’s book, Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. I don’t have a whole lot to elaborate on it, but I would say that this is one of the primary things that drew me to Permaculture in the first place… even before I read this. I do believe there is something fundamental to being human that craves responsibility and longs to be a part of something that cares for our future generations. I actually do believe there are some significant spiritual reasons for this, but I will not go into that today. I think this quote is powerful enough on its own.

 

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Photo Reference: 

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    Why am I so passionate about Permaculture? A photo answer…

Why am I so passionate about Permaculture? A photo answer…

This was an image I put together last week. I posted it to Facebook, and in just over 3 days I have over 12,000 views. Pretty cool!

I’m not in the habit of quoting myself, but I thought I would provide a little of what prompted me to put it together in the first place, so I put the following statement with it:

Why am I so passionate about Permaculture?
History provides enough reasons.
Let us be intentional about our future.
–John Kitsteiner, 2013

 

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Permaculture Ethics

(first published 21 June 2011)

Any philosophy has its own set of principles or ethics whether they are written or not. Permaculture is no different. When Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the formal ideas of Permaculture, they also developed three guiding ethical principles. These principles were designed by evaluating indigenous, sustainable civilizations from around the world through history. One of the things that kept these civilizations going for so long, sometimes for over a thousand years, was that they had some set of ethics to guide them in the decisions and actions they made. The ethics from these civilizations could be distilled down to three core guiding ideas. Here they are…

 

Permaculture Ethics

  1. Earth Care
  2. People Care
  3. Return of Surplus

Now first, let me point out that these principles are all EQUAL in value; one is not more important than the other. There are consequences to generally treating the Earth as more important than Humans, and there are consequences to generally treating Humans as more important than the Earth. There are many ways to interpret these ethical principles, and this is my attempt, my version, my interpretation. I do not hold these as scripture, because Permaculture is not my religion. But it is a marvelous tool.

Earth Care

EarthCare_Eden

The Garden of Eden, Jan the Elder Brueghel – 1612

I am immediately reminded of what the Bible says in Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (emphasis mine)

I have seen some people get their feathers ruffled when anyone in Permaculture mentions the Garden of Eden. Their anger is more telling I think than anything else they would say, but that is getting a bit off topic. I think there are a lot of people who have forgotten one of mankind’s first duties. Take care of the Earth. Understand that our life is sustained by what we have on this planet. Air, water, soil, and all forms of life are interconnected. Whether you call it the Butterfly Effect or Chaos Theory, a person’s actions will have a consequence or domino effect on every other part of the whole system… the Earth. I don’t mean this in a spiritual way. I mean it as scientific fact. If we cut down the rainforest, we lose species of plant and animal for ever. Was there a new cure for cancer in one of those plants we just lost? Did we just destroy yet another one of God’s amazing species in our mismanagement of the forest? That loss of forest just increased worldwide desertification and contributed to the extremes of weather we are now calling climate change.

A parasite is a creature that slowly sucks up all the resources from its host while giving nothing in return. When people treat the Earth with no regard for the future, then we are no better than planetary parasites. I am truly not an eco-fanatic, but I am an ecologist (defined: a biologist who studies the relationship between an organism and its environment). I have a biology and medical degree, and I have a keen interest in the relationship between our environment and our health. I have seen that when people care for the environment, they are caring for themselves.

Which leads me to the next ethical principle…

People Care

DoUntoOthers

Do Unto Others, Norman Rockwell – 1961

I am very interested in Wilderness Medicine. One of the first things I was taught when dealing with a wilderness emergency is to assess scene safety, whether it is an avalanche, flood, or landslide. Only when I know the scene is safe do I enter and help others. This is not selfish. If anything it is the opposite. If I heroically give my life to save another person, and I am the only one with medical knowledge in the disaster area, then dozens more people may die because I am not there to help them. I have to survive to help others. This is also true of my family and my community. I need to care for myself so that I may continue to care for others.

When we put our focus on caring for ourself so that we can care for others (as opposed to caring for ourself as the final goal), our whole attitude shifts. We start to think more about our family. We also begin to think about the children in our life and their children’s children. We think more about the actions we are taking today that may effect them and their future. This ties into how we use our land, the chemicals we choose not to use, the trees we plant that will live for hundreds of years after we are gone… ultimately then this ties right back to the first principle: Earth Care.

Finally, our mind starts to focus on neighbors and community and ways we can help to build it. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:12:, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” We start to reach out and help others that are less fortunate or who are lacking the information that we have. We begin to teach others to take care of themselves. When we give a man a fish, we feel good about ourselves for doing something nice, but this is an example of caring for ourselves as the final goal, not others. When we teach a man to fish, we are now truly helping him. If we teach him how to raise fish and then he sells them, we are now helping the whole community.

And this leads me to the third ethical principle…

Return of Surplus

4Elements

The Four Elements – Earth, Joachim Beuckelaer – 1569

The original third ethic was “Setting Limits to Population and Consumption”. It has more recently been sometimes stated as “Fair Share”. This is nice and simple and rhymes with the other two; however, this is not what is taught by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia… the organization that Bill Mollison created and ran until naming Geoff Lawton the director. I think the reason Bill Mollison changed this to “Return of Surplus” is that this third ethic was often interpreted to be some form of socialism or communism ideal, and I think this is why there are many neo-hippy communes that crop up around Permaculture centers. In my opinion, Permaculture is not about giving away everything you worked so hard for to others that did not work. This is one trap of human nature: expecting others to do your work for you. And it is wrong.

Here is another trap of human nature: preventing others from caring for themselves and their families and communities so that you can accumulate beyond your ability to use. And this also is wrong.

What this principle is talking about in my opinion (and according to Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton) is about setting limits to your consumption. If you produce excess, then store it away for yourself or your children to use later, or sell it or trade it to those that want it so you can have other things that you need or desire. But do not limit the ability of another person to do the same. And do not take too much from the Earth that it has to recover and cannot provide for your children and their children.

Ultimately, this third ethic is stating that all the permacultures we design must have a surplus if it is truly going to be sustainable. This surplus must be returned to the system for the design to work. The Earth and People are the recipients of the surplus… this is why it is sustainable!

And that is it. Earth Care. People Care. Return of Surplus.

It is that basic, but it is not always simple. When we are managing our land and communities in a way that is environmentally sound (Earth Care), we are producing for our family and community in a healthy way and encouraging others to do the same (People Care). When we are cycling the excess energy back into the system (Return of Surplus), then we are truly sustainable, and then we are practicing Permaculture.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://permacultureprinciples.com/images/ethical_principles_image2.gif
  • http://www.terminartors.com/files/artworks/1/3/7/13713/Brueghel_Jan_the_Elder-Garden_of_Eden.jpg
  • http://psyc.queensu.ca/~psyc382/rockgold.jpg
  • http://agweb.okstate.edu/fourh/aitc/images/agart/4elementslge.jpg

Happy Permaculture Day… Earn your PDC!

int-permaculture-day-may-2013

Today, 5 May 2013, is International Permaculture Day!

Please head over to www.PermacultureDay.org  to see if there are any events near you. If you can’t make it to any local events, then please check out www.LIVE.PermacultureDay.org. There will be events taking place around the world which will be broadcasted for 24 hours… and you can go back to the events that you missed.

Geoff_Lawton

Geoff Lawton, director of the Permaculture Research Institute.

So what, you may ask, will I be doing on International Permaculture Day? Starting an online Permaculture Design Course taught by Geoff Lawton! This course was just opened for the first time yesterday, and the enrollment is almost closed. If you have any interest in this, please check out www.GeoffLawton.com.

Happy Permaculture Day!

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Proven Permaculture Polyculture Plantings: Part 1

Introduction to Polycultures

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, let me explain. A large farm field of corn or wheat or soybeans is considered a monoculture. Per the Wikipedia definition:
Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing a single crop or plant species over a wide area and for a large number of consecutive years. It is widely used in modern industrial agriculture and its implementation has allowed for large harvests from minimal labour. Monocultures can lead to the quicker spread of diseases, where a uniform crop is susceptible to a pathogen. ‘Crop monoculture’ is the practice of growing the same crop year after year.

The alternative to monoculture is polyculture. Again per the Wikipedia definition (and this one is really good!):
Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. It includes multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping.

Polyculture, though it often requires more labor, has several advantages over monoculture:

  • The diversity of crops avoids the susceptibility of monocultures to disease. For example, a study in China reported in Nature showed that planting several varieties of rice in the same field increased yields by 89%, largely because of a dramatic (94%) decrease in the incidence of disease, which made pesticides redundant.
  • The greater variety of crops provides habitat for more species, increasing local biodiversity. This is one example of reconciliation ecology, or accommodating biodiversity within human landscapes. It is also a function of a biological pest control program.

Polyculture is one of the principles of permaculture.

I want to start putting together some lists of plants that are proven to work well in a polyculture… not just theoretically, but actually, for-real, been done. Polycultures are also known as Guilds. I think I consider Guilds to be large polycultures, but they really are the same thing. As I come across more examples, I will share them. I will start with these ones today…

Proven Permaculture Polyculture Plantings: Part 1

1. Sunchoke, Hog Peanut

  • Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus) have edible tubers, emerge early, grow fast, reach 8 feet (2.4 meters), used as a trellis for vining plants
  • Hog Peanuts (Amphicarpaea bracteata) have edible seeds and “roots” which are really seeds that develop underground (see photo above), are shade-loving, climb up and sprawl out (smothering weeds), and fix nitrogen
  • Notes: Hog Peanuts can grow fast and can overwhelm shorter plants which make it a great groundcover. Sunchokes grow tall enough to avoid being overgrown by Hog Peanut. Sunchokes need to be harvested by digging. While the Hog Peanuts are sometimes not worth the trouble of harvesting because they are so small, if we are digging for the Sunchokes, then it is worthwhile to grab the Hog Peanuts as well.

2. Pawpaw Tree, Ramps, Hog Peanut

  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small tree with delicous fruit.
  • Ramps (Allium tricoccum) a.k.a. Wild Leeks, are early Spring vegetables and grows well in the shade
  • Hog Peanuts (Amphicarpaea bracteata) have edible seeds and “roots” which are really seeds that develop underground, are shade-loving, climb up and sprawl out (smothering weeds), and fix nitrogen
  • Notes: Ramps will grow well under Pawpaws, and will die back just when Hog Peanuts are getting large. If you do want to go through the trouble of harvesting the Hog Peanuts, there are no other actively growing plants in that layer during harvest time. The fruiting Pawpaw will benefit from the nitrogen produced by the Hog Peanut.

3. Jostaberry, Hog peanut

  • Jostaberry (Ribes × nidigrolaria) complex-cross in the Ribes genus, involving three original species, the Black Currant R. nigrum, the Coastal Black Gooseberry R. divaricatum, and the European Gooseberry R. uva-crispa. This is a fruiting shrub with fruit larger than a currant, smaller than a gooseberry. They taste like gooseberries but have no thorns! They grow 5-6 feet tall.
  • Hog Peanuts (Amphicarpaea bracteata) have edible seeds and “roots” which are really seeds that develop underground, are shade-loving, climb up and sprawl out (smothering weeds), and fix nitrogen
  • Notes: The Hog Peanut will suppress weed growth under the Jostaberry, and the Jostaberry is tall enough not to be overgrown by the Hog Peanut. The fruiting Jostaberry will benefit from the nitrogen produced by the Hog Peanut.

4. Red Alder, Chinese Yam, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Elephant Garlic, Kurrat Leeks, Ramps, Camas

  • Red Alder (Alnus rubra) These large trees fix nitrogen and are great support structures for climbing, fruiting plants, they attract beneficial insects, and they grow fast.
  • Chinese Yam (Dioscorea opposita) Vine with large edible tubers – high production. Can also produce smaller aerial tubers. Can climb to over 12 feet (4 meters).
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) Herbaceous perennial that fixes nitrogen, can be used for animal fodder, and attract beneficial insects. 1 foot (30 cm) tall.
  • Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum) Not really a garlic but a variety of Leek. Large, mild tasting bulbs.
  • Kurrat (Egyptian) Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) An onion species that is used like a leek.
  • Ramps (Allium tricoccum) a.k.a. Wild Leeks, are early Spring vegetables and grows well in the shade
  • Camas (Camassia quamash) has edible bulbs and has flowers that attract beneficial insects.
  • Notes: The Red Alder takes some time to grow as a living trellis for the Chinese Yam. For a few years before the Alder creates significant shade, the Birdsfoot Trefoil will make a good groundcover that puts nitrogen into the ground. The Elephant Garlic, Kurrat Leeks, and Birdsfoot Trefoil require full sun to grow well, so these are perfect initial plantings until the Alder grows. The Chinese Yams can take a few years to develop large underground tubers, but will produce aerial tubers right away, so there will be a small crop as the main crop is developing. As the Alder begins to produce heavy shade, the garlic and leeks will slow down production and the Ramps and Camas, which were already being harvested, will take over more since they are able to grow in the shade. As the Birdsfoot Trefoil dies back, the nitrogen production will continue with the ever growing Alder.

5. Beach Plum, Green and Gold, Dwarf Coreopsis, Ramps, Camas

  • Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) This fruiting shrub can grow to over 12 feet (4 meters) and produces small, delicious plums.
  • Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) This is a beautiful groundcover that attracts beneficial insects and can grown in partial shade.
  • Dwarf Coreopsis (Coreopsis auriculata nana) This is another beautiful groundcover that attracts beneficial insects.
  • Ramps (Allium tricoccum) a.k.a. Wild Leeks, are early Spring vegetables and grows well in the shade
  • Camas (Camassia quamash) has edible bulbs and has flowers that attract beneficial insects.
  • Notes: This is just a beautiful polyculture with flowering plum and groundcover, edible Spring vegetables, and edible Camas bulbs.

6. Comfrey, Mint

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officianale) This classic plant almost does it all: dynamic accumulator, attracts beneficial insects, groundcover, and forage plant for animals
  • Mint (Mentha species) Amazing flavor, attracts beneficial insects, aromatic pest confusor, groundcover, and dynamic accumulator
  • Notes: This is a classic combination for use as a tall groundcover under trees and large shrubs. The Comfrey will block out most weeds and can be used as a living mulch. The Mint will snake its way in and around the Comfrey to assist goundcover duties while providing its own additional benefits.

Source for these Polycultures: Permaculture Activist Magazine February 2013, Eric Toensmeier (award winning author of Perennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens)

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Photo Reference:

  • http://apiosinstitute.org/sites/default/files/resize/hog%20peanut-500×375.jpg

Practicing Permaculture Principle One… Observation

I have written previously about Permaculture Principles. Since discovering Permaculture years ago, I have slowly been trying to put these principles into practice in my day to day life and thinking. If you are new to this site, you will know that I do not say this in some esoteric or pseudo-religious manner. Permaculture is a practical science, and its practice has actual implications. Understanding what these implications are and how to achieve them is what the science of Permaculture is all about. Ultimately, it strengthens resiliency in our day to day existence, and it is to this end that I am most drawn.

Principle One states to Observe and Interact. The first part of Principle One, observe, is the starting point to understanding pretty much everything else about Permaculture. Observation, through the lens of Permaculture, allows us to critically examine the world around us, to see systems. It is the foundation allowing us to design new systems, because it is from these observations, i.e. what we have seen, that we are able to create new systems in the first place.

Another way of saying this is that Permaculture Design is really an amalgamation of multiple systems which we have observed in nature in one form or another (or from other human-made designs, which were themselves originally created through observation).

So in the vein of practicing what I preach, I realized that it has been quite some time since I put the first part of Principle One into overt practice. Really, I am always trying to observe. I am always trying to understand the world around me. Why is that plant growing there? Why is that plant doing so well? Why is that plant about to die? Why are the hills shaped just that way? Why is the fog drifting in that direction? Why is that cow lying down in that spot when all the others are lying down in another?

This is just a scratch at the surface of the thoughts that run through my head every day. I am actively trying to observe all the time. However, it has been too long since I have sat down and observed my own garden. So I did it today.

I went out and laid down in my garden. Grass under me and sky above me, I just relaxed in the warm sun and cool ocean breeze. I was looking up at Bird of Paradise and Hibiscus to my right, and Fava Beans, Garlic, Rosemary, and Tomato and Corn seedlings in one of my garden beds to my left. At my head was my one Century Plant (Agave americana marginata) and a large bed of Aloe with wild Azorean Blackberry canes snaking their way between the succulents. I could hear the Sparrows chirping non-stop and the Ocean crashing on the volcanic rocks about a hundred yards (90 meters) away. I could smell that great scent of clean soil and also fresh mint as my dog stepped on some runners growing along the edge of the shrub line.

I almost fell asleep, but then my dog decided to lift his leg and urinate about five feet from my head. Inner tranquility is rather diminished in the presence of highly odiferous dog urine. Oh well, it was time to get up and get some other things done.

For this exercise, I spent twenty minutes just taking it in and resting. I can’t remember the last time I did this. To be honest, I didn’t make any revolutionary observations, but I was rejuvenated. It was worth it for that alone. I will try to make this a more regular habit from now on. Maybe I will stumble upon something life changing. Probably I will just get to know my little garden better, or perhaps I will just get a little much needed, often neglected rest.

But next time, I’ll lock the dog out of the garden first.