What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human environments. The word itself is a contraction of the words permanent and agriculture and also permanent and culture. It is about designing households and communities that are productive, sustaining and largely self reliant and have minimal impact on the environment.

Permaculture recognises that everything we do has some impact on the environment and on other people. To avoid harm to the environment and to people, all Permaculture actions are consistent with three Ethics:

  • Care for the Earth - provision for all life systems to continue
  • Care for People - provision for all people to access those resources necessary to their existence
  • Fair Share – set sustainable limits to Population and Consumption and redistribute surplus resources to further the first two Ethics

On one level Permaculture deals with plants, animals, buildings and infrastructures eg. water, energy). However, Permaculture is not simply about these elements themselves, it is very much concerned with the relationships that can be created between elements and how elements are placed in the landscape. This concern with ‘relationships’ and ‘placement’ is reflected in a number of Permaculture Design Principles:

  • Efficient energy planning for house and site
  • Relative location – elements are placed so as to assist one another
  • Each element performs multiple functions
  • Each important function is supported by many elements

Efficient Energy Planning is achieved by dividing properties (large or small) into Zones and Sectors. Zones reflect the relative frequency with which various parts of a property are visited. For example Zone 0 is the Home, Zone 1 could be a herb garden or kitchen garden immediately outside the back door, Zone 2 might be some fruit trees beyond the kitchen garden. There are 6 Zones in the full design system with Zone 5 being land left in its natural state. Each site is also analysed in terms of Sectors to determine the best placement of the home and other elements of the design in terms of solar access, avoidance of harsh winds while at the same time making use of cooling breezes, minimising fire risk, water management, etc.

An example of the principle of Relative Location would be putting a small pond on the northern side of a house adjacent to living areas. The thermal mass of the pond and evaporation from the pond would cool the house in summer, while reflected sunlight in winter when the sun is low in the sky would warm living areas. The pond might also be used to capture rainwater to help irrigate a kitchen garden adjacent to the house. Permaculture designs seek to integrate animal & plant systems & the humble chicken is often used as an example of a design element that has multiple uses. If the chicken coupe is adjacent to a vegetable garden the chickens can be allowed to scratch over beds when crops have finished, to turn & manure the soil & to remove unwanted plants & insect pests. The one design element ‘Chicken’ provides; labour, fertiliser, pest control & food by way of eggs and meat.

An example of an Important Function Supported by Many Elements is water supply. Water is essential in any urban garden or any rural property. Design elements that might support the Water Supply function could include; rainwater tanks, greywater treatment systems, ponds or dams, swales, and windbreaks to reduce evaporation. There are many other design principles and other aspects to Permaculture but the most important message is; Permaculture focuses on simple, practical things we can all do to live more sustainably.

It is easy to learn more about Permaculture. Permaculture Sydney North Inc holds monthly meetings, open to the public, which include Guest Speakers addressing a range of sustainability issues. Meetings are held on the 3rd Monday of each month at the Ku-ring-gai Centre for Seniors, 259 Pacific Highway, Lindfield, commencing at 7.30pm.

Joining Permaculture Sydney North allows you to join a Local Permaculture Group in your Council Area. Local Groups also meet monthly.

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