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Permaculture Principles by Bill Mollison

  • Relative location.
  • Each element performs multiple functions.
  • Each function is supported by many elements.
  • Energy efficient planning.
  • Using biological resources.
  • Energy cycling.
  • Small-scale intensive systems.
  • Natural plant succession and stacking.
  • Polyculture and diversity of species.
  • Increasing “edge” within a system.
  • Observe and replicate natural patterns.
  • Pay attention to scale.
  • Attitude:

Everything works both ways – Every resource is either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the use made of it.

Permaculture is information and imagination-intensive – It is the quality of thought and the information we use that determines yield, not the size or quality of the site.

Practical Design Considerations

  • The systems we construct should last as long as possible and take least maintenance.
  • These systems, fueled by the sun, should produce not only their own needs, but also the needs of those creating and managing them. Thus they are “sustainable, as they sustain both themselves and those who construct them.
  • We can use energy to construct these systems, providing that in their lifetime, they store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them (EROEI>1).

Elements of a total Permaculture Design

The Design – the harmonious integration of landscape and people:

  • Site Components – water, earth, landscape, climate, plants.
  • Energy Components – technologies, connections, structures, sources.
  • Abstract Components – timing, data, ethics.
  • Social Components – legal aids, people, culture, trade & finance.

A more detailed explanation of the aforementioned is provided in the following:

  • Relative Location – Components placed in a system are viewed relatively, not in isolation.
  • Functional Relationship Between Components – Everything is connected to everything else.
  • Recognize Functional Relationships Between Elements – Every function is supported by many elements.
  • Functional Redundancy – Good design ensures that all important functions can withstand the failure of one or more elements. Design backups.
  • Every Element is Supported by Many Functions/Functional Design – Each element and component we include in a system is chosen and placed so that it performs as many functions as possible. Every essential function should be supported by many components.
  • The Basic Rule of Energy Conservation – Every element (plant, animal or structure) must be placed so that it serves at least two or more functions. Every function (e.g. water collection, fire protection) is served in two or more ways.
  • Local Focus – “Think globally – Act locally” Grow your own food, cooperate with neighbors. Community efficiency not self-sufficiency.
  • Diversity – As a general rule, as sustainable systems mature they become increasingly diverse in both space and time. What is important is the complexity of the functional relationships that exist between elements not the number of elements.
  • Placement Principle – If broad initial patterning is well analysed, and good placements made, many more advantages than we would have designed for become obvious – OR, if we start well, other good things naturally follow as an unplanned result.
  • Use Biological Resources – We know living things reproduce and build up their availability over time, assisted by their interaction with other compatible elements. Use and reserve biological intelligence.
  • One Calorie In/One Calorie Out (Energy Returned Over Energy Invested or EROEI) – Do not consume or export more biomass than carbon fixed by the solar budget.
  • Stocking – Finding the balance of various elements to keep one from overpowering another over time. How much of an element needs to be produced in order to fulfill the need of whole system?
  • Stacking – Multiple functions provided by each element and component (stacking functions). Multilevel/Scaffolded garden design, i.e., trellising, forest garden, vines, groundcovers, etc.
  • Succession – Recognize that certain elements prepare the way for systems to support other elements in the future, i.e.: succession planting.
  • Use Onsite Resources – Determine what resources are available and entering the system on their own and maximize their use.
  • Edge Effect – Ecotones are the most diverse and fertile area in a system. Two ecosystems come together to form a third which has more diversity than either of the other two, i.e.: edges of ponds, forests, meadows, currents etc. Permaculture has been referred to as ‘Edge Culture’.
  • Energy Recycling – Yields from system designed to supply onsite needs and/or needs of local region.
  • Small Scale – Intensive Systems start small and create a system that is manageable and produces a high yield.
  • Make the Least Change for the Greatest Effect – The less change that is generated, the less embedded energy is used to endow the system.
  • Planting Strategy (selection criteria) – 1st priority are proven native species, 2nd priority are proven exotic/non-native species, 3rd priority are unproven exotics/marginal species (the designed provision of microclimates could make them viable) – carefully on small scale with lots of observation.
  • Work Within Nature – Aiding the natural (biogeochemical) cycles results in higher yield and less work. A little support goes a long way.
  • Appropriate Technology – The same principles apply to cooking, lighting, transportation, heating, sewage treatment, water and other utilities.
  • Law of Return – Whatever we take, we must return. Every object must responsibly provide for its replacement. Natural systems demand a return for every gift received (“the user must pay”).
  • Principle of Stress and Harmony – Stress may be defined as either prevention of natural function, or of forced function. Harmony may be defined as the integration of chosen and natural functions – and the easy supply of essential needs. Forcing a design element to function is a different proposition than putting it in a position where its natural or everyday behaviours permit benefits to other parts of the system. It is the design approach itself that permits components to provide many functions without forcing functions upon that element.
  • Principle of Cooperation – Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of future survival and of existing life systems.
  • The Problem is the Solution – We are the problem, we are the solution. Turn constraints into resources. Mistakes are tools for learning.
  • Limits to Yield – The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited; the only limit on the number of possible/potential uses of a resource is the limit of available information and the imagination, comprehension, understanding, and ability of the designer or manager of the system.
  • Everything Gardens – or has an effect on its environment.
  • Dispersal of Yield Over Time – As expressed by the principal of considering the impact of decisions made in the present on “seven generations” into the future. We can use energy to construct these systems, providing that in their lifetime, they store or conserve more energy that we use to construct them or to maintain them.
  • Policy of Responsibility (to relinquish power & control) – The role of successful design is to create a self-managed system.
  • Policy of Resource Management – prohibits the use of resources which permanently reduce yields of sustainable resources, e.g. pollutants, persistent poisons, radioactives, large areas of concrete and highways, sewers from city to sea, etc.
  • Principle of Disorder – Order and harmony produce energy for other uses. Disorder consumes energy to no useful end. Neatness, tidiness, uniformity, and straightness signify an energy-maintained disorder in natural systems. Chaos has form, but is not predictable.
  • Entropy – In complex systems, disorder is an increasing result. Living things are functionally “anti-entropic”.
  • Metastability – For a complex system to remain stable, there must be small pockets of disorder.
  • Entelechy – Principal of genetic intelligence. i.e. The rose has thorns to protect itself.
  • Principle of Self-Regulation – The purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements or components in such a way that each serves the needs, and accepts the products of other elements.
  • Observation – Protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.
  • We are surrounded by “insurmountable opportunities” – the system’s designer is the limiting factor in realizing them.
  • Wait One Year – (in reference to thoughtful observation).
  • Hold water and fertility as high (in elevation) on the landscape as possible – Utilise gravity to do the work for movement and dispersal.
  • Definition of System Yield – the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, reused, or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has readily available access to the resources it needs for growth, reproduction, and maintenance.
  • The Role of Life in Yield – Living things, including people, are the only effective intervening systems to capture resources on Earth and, as a result, to produce a yield. Thus, it is the sum and capacity of life forms which decide total system yield and surplus.
  • Pollutants/Pollution – an output of any system component that is not being used productively by any other component of the system.
  • Extra Work – the result of an input not readily and automatically provided by another component of the system.


Learn More:

Permaculture Principles by David Holmgren

Foundational Concepts

Regenerative Agriculture