What is Permaculture

Recently I heard this definition of Permaculture created during an introduction to Permaculture workshop. Permaculture is the conscious creation of regenerative systems that reflect the balance, stability and harmony of nature. Beautiful definition and how does one actually do this?

Permaculture Ethics are the foundation of permaculture design.   Design principles guide us through the process of creating systems. Below is a list of ethics and principles created by Toby Hemenway, the author of Gaia’s Garden. Principles may vary depending on who or where you study. I chose this list because it is comprehensive and well organized. Bill Mollison, the creator of Permaculture, did not create a list of principles. As people studied with him and passed the knowledge to others, the principles have emerged from his book, The Permaculture Design Manual.  

Ethics and Principles of Permaculture


  • Care for the Earth  
  • Care for People
  • Return the Surplus

Primary Principles of Functional Design:

1.    Observe. Use protracted and thoughtful observation rather than prolonged and thoughtless action. Observe the site and all of its elements in all seasons. Design for specific sites, clients, and cultures.

2.    Connect. Use relative location: Place elements in ways that create useful relationships and time saving connections among all parts. The number of useful connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.

3.    Catch and store energy and materials. Identify, collect, and hold useful flows. Every cycle is an opportunity for yield and every gradient (in slope, charge, heat, etc.) can produce energy. Re-investing resources builds capacity to capture even more resources.

4.    Every element performs multiple functions. Choose and place each element in a system to perform as many functions as possible. Beneficial connections between diverse components create a stable whole. Stack elements in both space and time.

5.    Each function is supported by multiple elements. Use multiple methods to achieve important functions and to create synergies. Redundancy protects when one or more elements fail.

6.    Make the lease change for the greatest effect. Find the “leverage points” in a system and intervene there, where the least work accomplishes the most change.

7.    Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest systems that will do the job, and build on your success, with variations. Grow by chunking.

Principles for Living and Energy Systems

8.    Optimize edge. Edge — the intersection of two or more environments —  is the most diverse place in a system, and is where materials and energy accumulate or are transformed. Increase or decrease edge as appropriate

9.     Collaborate with succession. Systems will evolve over time, often toward greater diversity and productivity. Work with the tendency, and use design to jump-start succession when needed.

10. Use biological and renewable resources. Renewable resources (usually living beings and their products) reproduce and build up over time, store energy, assist yield, and interact with other elements.


11. Turn problems in to solutions. Constraints and challenges can inspire creative design. “We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities.” __Pogo (Walt Kelly)

12. Obtain a yield. Design for both immediate and long term returns from your efforts: “you can’t work on an empty stomach.” Setup long-term feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment.

13. The biggest limit to abundance is limited creativity. The designer’s imagination and skill limit productivity and diversity more than any physical limit.

14. Mistakes are tools for learning. Evaluate your trials. Making mistakes is a sign you’re trying to do things better.

Rules for resource use: ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can:

            1.increase with use

            2. be lost when not used

            3. be unaffected by use

            4. be lost by use

            5. pollute or degrade systems with use 

Principles handout Toby Hemenway/Pattern Literacy

Here is a beautiful illustration of different areas of Permaculture and how they are practiced in community. The center of the flower holds the ethics and principles listed above.  These areas are interconnected and the system evolves as more connections are made. As you can imagine, there are many more examples than shown on this flower.

5 thoughts on “What is Permaculture

  1. Excellent, just what I was looking for. I am printing this blog off right now so I can re-read this at my leisure. Great piece of writing for the beginning who wants to know the principle of permaculture. Big thanks!

  2. I guess that growing this during a regenerative approach would be even higher, therefore make the soil too.
    Perhaps it may well be big on tiny community plantations, please provide ME some suggestion what I will do once scan your post.

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