It’s a biggie today! In this post, I’ll briefly go over each of the 12 Principles of Permaculture, as laid out by David Holmgren.
1. Observe and Interact – This is principle number 1 because it’s the most important! Observation of the landscape, its patterns and dynamics is absolutely fundamental. I like to say, “Don’t ask why, just record the observation.”
2. Catch and Store Energy – This includes all different types of energy: solar and wind, but also people, animals, fertility, and soil and water flows. How do we capture energy which flows through a site, and then cycle it creatively through that site to use in as many ways as possible?
3. Obtain a Yield – To paraphrase Bill Mollison, “the yield of any system is only limited by the creativity of the designer.” How creative can you get?
4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback – “Self-regulation” means automating the design process in some way; it does not necessarily mean subtracting yourself from the process. Define your level of involvement and stick to it. And then, observe and accept the feedback that the system shows you.
5. Use and Value Renewable Resources – I like to change this one to the Bill Mollison quote, “Always favor biological solutions.” How can a plant solve this problem for me? How can an animal support the work needed for this design? As opposed to non-living entropic systems which degrade over time, biological solutions and renewable resources live on and regenerate.
6. Produce No Waste – Waste is just an unused output of any system, or MOOP – “matter out of place.” Get creative here–what use could your “waste” be put to?
7. Design from Pattern to Detail – It’s more important to understand the larger patterns working on any system–i.e. weather or human patterns–than get lost in the details, especially at the beginning of any design process.
8. Integrate Rather than Segregate – Permaculture is interested in the relationships between two things. Understanding how the chicken house and the herb garden relate, for example, is way more interesting that simply having those two elements as distinct parts of your design.
9. Slow and Small Solutions – By using slow and small-scale solutions, you allow yourself to be flexible to new information and idea. You preserve the ability to change and adapt as you go, thus building resilient and durable systems.
10. Use and Value Diversity – Diverse systems are more flexible than homogeneous ones, and spread risk between the different elements of the system. By valuing diversity of plants, animals, and humans, we build robust and resilient systems.
11. Use Edges and Value the Margins – The “edge effect” is what happens when two different things meet, i.e. forest and pasture. Out of the interaction between those two things, new possibilities arise. The edge is greater than the sum of its parts.
12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – I like to note that this principle urges us to respond rather than react, which implies thoughtfulness and creativity. This one is also related to the permaculture best practice of having every element in your system support at least 3 functions, and every function supported by at least 3 different elements.
Studying Permaculture and Natural Building in Guatemala offers amazing opportunities to learn from indigenous cultures, rich natural patterns, and enormous diversity. Permaculture in Central America is representative of the edge effect or Edge Valuing Principle of Design. As one of the world’s centres of biodiversity, Central America attracts people from all over the world interested in learning through nature. Permaculture practices and sustainable building designs can be seen in action via the surviving indigenous traditions that are common in Guatemala. Studying permaculture and natural building in Central America offers designers great opportunities to learn from diverse groups of people in incredibly diverse natural settings.