Sep 24, 2011

What is Permiculture

I've been using the internet to learn more about gardening for many years now, and permaculture has always been there on the sidelines. Occasionally it would be mentioned in relation to some chickens or composting, but it always seemed to be this kind of vague thing, something for hippies when I tend towards a scientific point of view.

Boy was I wrong. What I have learned is that a scientific mentality is at the core of permaculture, "Knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation", this is your starting point.

OK so that's simple enough, but what comes next? Here is where I would normally start to get lost. On most of the material you can find on the internet there is very little specific information about what you should actually do with this knowledge. There is no consistency in how to do it, only lots of individual examples of people doing their own things. A Google search for permaculture will revile content about building houses from junk, making a fireplace, raising cattle, a composting toilet or growing vegetables.

Meanwhile if you look up a non-permaculture approach to something like maybe a vegetable bed rotation system it can provide you with a clear set of guidelines, plant this here and that there, move this crop to that bed, rest this bed for this long and replant that crop there. Superficially it seems more logical.

I think it's this relative vagueness that can make permaculture seem like a bunch of hippies talking about their love of nature and not much else. This was all cleared up for me when I was watching a DVD from Geoff Lawton about designing with permaculture and he dropped one word that clicked with me big time. EDIT: looking back over this, I'd hate for anyone to get the impression I don't like hippies. I know some great hippies whom I love dearly, in some ways I count myself as one. Its more just that this coming together with science makes me feel more secure about the decisions I'm making. Anyway back to that important word....


So permaculture starts with observing the successful (sustainable) relationships, patterns and cycles in nature and then is using them as the basis for your own creativity. Permaculture is like being a painter when mother nature (or science) is literally your paint, brushes and canvas. This is why some tend to be vague about how it is applied, because just like any other piece of creativity there are millions of variations for how it can be done. This is about understanding the tools at your disposal and then coming up with your own design with those tools.

This fits in perfectly with my frame of mind and my ambition. In a way this what I have done in other parts of my life already, I teach animation, but its not about telling the students exactly what they must animate, its about showing them the tools and techniques for animating so that they can then go on to express their own creativity with those tools. When I animate I am observing nature, the way things behave and function in the world and choosing which of these I want to apply to my own expression at any given point.

Permaculture can be applied to any aspect of your life, how you interact with your neighbours, how you get to work, how you get your food, and of course how you garden. It can be small or large, if you compost your kitchen scraps then that is permaculture because it uses a natural process to create energy, or you can set up your entire home so that it produces more than it consumes. Any system that gives back to the world more than it takes is Permaculture.

Permaculture is not a set of rules, it is a framework for decision making, it is a launching pad for your ideas.

Permaculture has the potential to solve every major problem confronting humanity today.
There are some videos about permaculture featuring Geoff Lawton on my video page, and I highly recommend his DVDs.
While Permaculture is 1000s of years old, it was first defined as Permaculture by an Australian Bill Millison.


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