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  • YaelKonings

Permaculture – creating systems that sustain themselves

What is permaculture ?

The definition given by founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren tells us the following: “Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems that have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people that sustainably provide for their food, energy, shelter and other material and intangible needs. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order.” The basis of permaculture is based on 3 ethical principles: care for the earth, care for the people, and the return of surplus.

What is permaculture design?

This is explained by the founders as a system in which conceptual, material and strategic components are brought together in a pattern that benefits life in all its forms.

Moreover, permaculture design does not create diversity for the sake of diversity, but for stability. What does this mean?

In designing a permaculture design, you make sure that each element has at least 3 functions and that each of those functions is in turn supported by multiple elements.


Elements are for example animals, plants and buildings.

After identifying your elements you try to create a spider web between these elements, which can then function as a safety net, if an element or function is lost. You are trying to imitate a naturally stable ecosystem that can withstand a knock.

And you can see the need for permaculture very clearly in nature.

In the event that too many elements and functions in a natural system disappear, the ecosystem eventually collapses.

Nature will eventually (in most cases of degradation) recover itself without the influence of humans, but in the same way we as humans often have a negative impact on the earth, we can also help the earth speed up its recovery process by means of applying permaculture principles.

How to analyse an element?

Simply by writing down the needs, products, behavior and the intrinsic characteristics of an element.

Let's take the example of a chicken. It may surprise you, but the best thing for our earth and also for our soil and keeping our soil healthy is a circular system.

This is where animals come in, not only for their 'compost', but also for their intrinsic qualities to work the soil in a natural way, so that we as humans disturb the soil as little as possible with heavy machinery. I will come back to the circular system in more detail next time, but back to the chicken.

Example - the chicken

The needs of a chicken include: food, water, mud, air, housing, protection & other chickens. The values ​​of a chicken include: manure, feathers, eggs, heat (there are examples where the heat from a large chicken coop is used to heat other rooms) and meat.

This analysis does not mean that you should actually use all the values ​​of that chicken, but merely illustrates how you should parse each element and therefore use and place it in a suitable place in your system.

When analyzing a plant, we can look more closely at the shape, tolerances (sun, shade, etc.) and at the use or possible applications of a plant.

Let's take a willow tree as an example.

Example – the willow

The shape: deciduous tree, can reach a height of 30 m, grows quickly, can proliferate, easy to take cuttings.

Tolerances: Full sun, grows best in moist, well-drained soil, often found next to streams and in moist areas. The willow is salt tolerant and can handle a wide variety of soils and pH levels.

Uses/Applications: Nitrogen fixing for other plants, willow branches can be used for structures, baskets and even charcoal making or as mulch for other plants.

Willow bark also contains salicin, which is used in the manufacture of aspirin.

The above does not mean that you have to write an entire analysis for every herb, but it is good to think about elements with this design strategy in mind instead of just randomly placing them somewhere in your system.

Try to think of where a plant would thrive, what you could use this plant for, but also how you can best create a circular system, perhaps also by using animals.

But more importantly; don't try to overthink it either and especially follow your gut feeling, use your intuition, your primal instinct, and don't forget to enjoy the process.

Love, Yaël

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