Monday, January 11, 2010


I read a blog entry from Sonya about permaculture recently, and it made me think it's probably time to share my relationship with permaculture. In the beginning, I thought it was just another way to market books and sell plants at nurseries. In truth though, it was probably just confusing information (to me) because it dealt specifically through "relationships" to systems.

I've been reading more about permaculture over the past few years, and I can now understand why it was so confusing to begin with. In our culture, we're told something is either true or false. We propogate absolutisms in other words. Permaculture however, asks you to consider how you relate to people, places and natural systems - then design an approach which will utilise as much as possible, with minimum waste and effort.

Our culture = absolutism.

Permaculture = observe and interact. So it's a more fluid approach.

I think I had to be ready to use permaculture, it's not something you can buy as a mindset to adopt "as is". That's because it will change with every different application. What will work on my property, for example, may not work for the person next door. The contours of the land will be different, the structure of the soil will be different too - but most importantly, the people will be different. So of course, permaculture must be fluid in order to work.

That's the part I didn't really get. Permaculture asked me to observe and interact in a culture that constantly "set" parameters of understanding. So if you're struggling to understand what permaculture is, drop any preconceptions of what you think it is. Read more about it, continually question and try practicing some of the applications. Then whatever you reap from it, is the practice of permaculture.

I started with skepticism and have gradually worked my way through to practicing what I have come to understand permaculture is. I'm sure my understanding will evolve further too.

For example, I'm constantly intrigued by the material David Holgrem puts into the public arena for discussion. In particular was a paper called, Bushfire Resilient Communities & Landscapes, which talks about the approach Australia has traditionally taken towards bushfire reduction. Rather than the slash and burn approach to reduce the potential fuel load of a bushfire, he proposes we focus on greening the fuel load instead. The wetter the soil and plants are, the harder it will be for them to burn. Trees will also act as a windbreak to slow the movement of embers in high winds.

It's quite a radical concept to use the potential fuel load to slow bushfires down instead. Bear in mind, this was a paper written specifically for the region David Holgrem resides in, and a region specific analysis should be adopted for different locations.

The more I read and practice the permaculture principles however, the more I respect how it mimics nature. For where nature produces the problem, it also produces the solution - if we care to observe and interact outside our cultural definition of life.

For more detailed information on what the permaculture principles are, click here. My favourite is the first principle, observe and interact. For this is what makes the other eleven principles possible. Other free downloads to do with permaculture, click here too. Flywire House is particularly interesting if you live in a bushfire prone area.

Lastly, I cannot talk about permaculture and not link to the writings and persentations of David Holgrem. Explore the linkbar menus, especially the "Writings" button. If you live in the burbs, you may find, Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability an interesting read too.

Happy reading and experimenting!


  1. Hi Chris!
    Thanks for this post! I have been reading about permaculture and trying to talk to permaculturists for what seem like eons and yet still didn't quite get how to apply it. I suppose starting with the first step-observe and interact is the wisest choice. Knowing me, I skipped that one:)
    I'll be doing that now and hopefully applying it to the land this spring. Whatever I apply, it will be my own idea of permaculture. I suppose I didn't get that until now! And thanks for the links!

  2. Spring won't be too long for you now, as we're just heading into our Autumn. Changing seasons are beautiful things. I especially love the anticipation of spring, when new growth starts to poke through.

    I hope the links are useful. I've read them a few times myself. What really makes it sink in though, is when you get to experiment and see what works on the ground.

    Sending warm, Spring thoughts your way. :)

  3. I'll take those warm Spring thoughts! Keep sending them. I think you are right, actually applying the principles is probably the best teacher. I happen to be a kinetic learner in some respects so its high time I paid that aspect some mind.
    I haven't checked the links yet, the kids have projects due at school and we only have one computer but by Tuesday, I'll have some time. Thanks again.


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