• If you need help identifying a pepper, disease, or plant issue, please post in Identification.

Permaculture - SMALL FARMS - "of working with, father than against nature;??

Permaculture - SMALL FARMS - "of working with, rather than against nature;??

Gday guys,
I have been studying these techniques for awhile and will be putting them to practise.. Anybody here play with these strategies ? It is worth a research & time if you setting up a small plot. As I have multiple design elements to my plot such as Hydro, pollytunnel, greenhouse, worm farm, compost, shade houses, chook run, & open paddock, to employ things like Aquaponics on top of my sloping block is going to be a necessary. And the idea of MULTIPLE FUNCTIONS FOR SINGLE ELEMENTS... is going to be a integral part of my design & development here.

This is a great read, and the rest of the info can be found in link.



LINK to page
Designing Sustainable Small Farms and Homesteads

The approach of permaculture, the term coined by Australian Bill Mollison to describe the concept of a self-sustaining, consciously designed system of agriculture.
Permaculture takes the practices of organic farming one step further, applying natural principles to design a self sustaining food-, fiber-, and energy-producing ecosystem. By weaving together the elements of microclimate, annual and perennial plants, water and soil management, and human needs, the permaculturist forms an energy-efficient, low-maintenance, high-yielding, and intricately interconnected system. The philosophy, as summed up by Mollison, is one "of working with, father than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.)

Design permaculture Guidelines

The primary characteristic that distinguishes permaculture systems from conventional agriculture is the emphasis on skilled design. The placement of elements in a landscape, their relationships to each other, their evolution over time, and the ability of the system as a whole to meet the realistic goals of its managers should all be taken into consideration.

The following design guidelines are derived from texts (some of which are listed in the accompanying reading list) and from our understanding of ecological principles. As such, they represent a synthesis of scientific findings and common sense, combining proven practical ideas with experimental ones. These guidelines should assist your design process, influencing your management strategies and aiding in the selection of landscape components and their relative sizes and locations.


In permaculture systems, landscape components are divided into zones and sectors to help produce an energy-efficient design. Zones separate the site according to labor needs: Frequently visited or labor intensive areas are situated close to the center of activity (which in most cases is the farmhouse), while those requiring less attention are placed farther away. For example, as shown in Fig. 1, annuals that are tended daily-such as herbs and vegetables-are located near the farmhouse ... whereas low-maintenance livestock and tree crops are situated in a more remote zone. This concept makes sense in terms of minimizing labor, and it helps ensure high yields: After all, distance invites neglect, while proximity encourages management.

In general, farm development follows the concept of zonation, as well. Distant areas are utilized only after the nearby land is put to productive use.

Sector planning divides the landscape into wedge-shaped areas that radiate from a particular point (again, most often the farmhouse) or points. From any one such center, we identify some or all of the following sectors: views, both attractive and repulsive ... noises, some pleasant and others undesirable ... winds, warm in the summer and cold in winter ... sunshine, with its seasonal variations ... and fire risks.

For each sector, planting and building schemes are designed to block or channel these external inputs. Undesirable noise can be masked with earthen banks or dense bands of evergreen trees ... cold winter winds can be blocked with windbreaks ... fast-growing trees can screen ugly views ... and deciduous shrubs and trees planted to the south can provide summer shade while still allowing the warming winter sunlight to penetrate. Looking again at Fig. 1, you can see that the roadway, poultry run, and pond have been situated so that they assist in fire control in addition to fulfilling their primary functions. Blazes coming from the southern sector would have to cross the pond, the road, and the bare ground of the poultry run before reaching the house. Placing these three components in another relationship would mean the loss of this extra control function.


Within zones and sectors, farm components-orchards, the market garden, farm ponds, the farmhouse, the barn, the woodlot, and so forth should be placed in relation to one another so as to conserve labor and energy. Each component is thus viewed relatively rather than in isolation.

An earthy illustration of this concept (from times gone by) concerns the outhouse, the woodpile, and the kitchen door. Assuming at least one daily visit to the outhouse by each member, families could virtually guarantee a regular supply of fuel stacked by the stove if the woodpile was placed conveniently between the outhouse and the kitchen door.

Or, consider the relationship between placement and elevation. The higher on a slope a pond is situated, for instance, the more potential it has to provide useful work. If the pond that irrigates your raspberries is below the garden, energy must be furnished to move that water uphill ... whereas if the pond: s located up the slope from the berry bushes to begin with, a simple gravity-fed system is all that's required. Similarly, rainwater collection from the roof of a barn that's situated upland from the farmhouse might provide a simple, inexpensive supply of household water.

Taking advantage of slope isn't a new concept, of course: Barns have traditionally been built into hillsides so that hay can easily be loaded in the loft from the high ground and manure conveniently disposed of out the low side. In other words, imported materials should enter a site at a high elevation and exports should leave downslope.

bit of thoughtful planning as to the relative locations for homestead elements can not only conserve labor and energy, but also avoid actual catastrophe. On a farm in England, I once saw three goats tethered on pasture that was adjacent to a large vegetable garden. Because no fences separated the goats from the garden, disaster was only a broken rope away. A good design would have placed the goats at least two fences away from the vegetables.


Another consideration in permaculture systems is the capability of landscape elements to perform multiple functions. It's a simple statement of economics: Place the components so that they are encouraged to provide as many services as possible. For example, in the Cape Cod Ark-a solar greenhouse-type structure at the New Alchemy Institute water-filled 550-gallon tanks constructed of fiberglass-reinforced polyester provide thermal mass (see Photo 1). This is a common technique. However, we also use these ponds to produce fish, to provide warm, fertile irrigation water for vegetable crops (Photo 2), and to supply nutrients for hydroponic crops (Photo 3). Although our aquaculture/hydroponics system is still experimental, we have been able to produce up to 60 pounds of European cucumbers per plant from this setup.

The common hedge is another classic multifunctional element. Many species meet the basic requirements of providing wind protection, livestock control, and screening for privacy ... but the Siberian pea shrub (Photo 4) can do much more. It fixes nitrogen, provides nectar for honeybees, produces seeds that contain as much as 27% protein and are an excellent poultry feed, and it's an effective hedge.

Hedges, green manure crops, flowers, shade trees, and ground covers can all provide nectar and pollen for honeybees as well as serve their primary functions. Basswoods, for instance, are the equal of the oaks as shade trees but are far superior as a source of nectar and pollen. Another example is buckwheat, an excellent green manure crop for poor soils and a plant that's actively worked by honeybees. And in lightly traveled areas, the creeping thymes (Photo 5) are low maintenance, nectar-producing alternatives to lawns.

Farm ponds, too, can serve many functions. They can be used for irrigation, fish farming, aquatic crops, or watering livestock. In winter, the reflection from a pond will increase the light levels in a greenhouse located north of the water ... and (as mentioned before) a pond can play an integral role in a fire-protection scheme. Canal-like ponds can even act as barriers to livestock movement, limiting the range of sheep and chickens, for instance, while allowing ducks and geese to roam freely (Photo 6).


As well as encouraging landscape elements to perform multiple functions, good design ensures that basic needs-such as water collection, fire protection, and food supply-are met in several ways. It's an agricultural insurance policy, if you like. If a gardener or farmer is dependent on a single crop for livestock feed, income, or whatever, and that crop fails, the whole enterprise is endangered ... whereas on a multifaceted homestead, that loss could be made up by another means.

Preparing for drought offers a good example. Livestock farmers often depend on pasture for both summer grazing and winter stores of hay or silage. When a drought occurs, however, the number of livestock that can be sustained on the pasture is decreased. Simultaneously, the cost of alternative feeds is driven up while the price of livestock plummets. A prudent design plans for drought by including fodder trees as a backup food source. These plantings, in turn, should be located so that they deliver other functions as well, such as summer shade, erosion control, and windbreaks. Photo 7 illustrates how poplars (the leaves and shoots of this tree are palatable to livestock) and pasture can provide a secure sheep feed, with the trees also assisting in controlling soil loss on the sloping site.


Another characteristic of permaculture systems is that, whenever possible, production and management inputs are derived from biological resources. In my opinion, this concept is the key to sustainable agriculture.

During the design process, consider plants and animals that can provide such functions as energy conservation; insect, disease, and weed control; nutrient recycling-, fertilization; and tillage. In other words, let the work of farming be performed by the nonhuman elements in the system. For example, weeding geese (Photo 8) can be regarded as grazers, consumers of windfall fruits (thus aiding in disease and pest control), and sources of fertilizer . . . in addition to providing eggs, goose down, and Thanksgiving dinners. There are numerous possibilities for using biological resources: I've listed a small sampling of these in the accompanying sidebar.


Solar, wind, and other alternative technologies are also considered in permaculture plans. Options for the small farm or homestead include solar water heaters, photovoltaic systems, solar greenhouses, wind machines, methane digesters, and small hydroelectric setups, to name a few. In choosing design components, always look first for structures and systems that save or generate energy, and only then consider those that consume energy.

Of course, even solar technologies use nonrenewable energy during their manufacture. However, a fossil fuel can be viewed either as an inoculant or as an addiction. The embodied petroleum fuels in greenhouse glazing, for example, create a biologically powered environment that, over its useful lifetime, will repay that initial energy investment many times. Fossil energy invested in automobiles, in contrast, requires ongoing fuel investments in order to serve the desired functions. That's addiction.

The same distinction can be applied to soil restoration. Soluble fertilizers applied once to worn-out, eroded soil will produce a green manure crop that's high in biomass, which in turn supplies organic matter for biologically derived fertility. In this instance, the fertilizer acts as an inoculant. Conventional farming, on the other hand, is addicted to soluble fertilizers, using them as ongoing replacements for biological fertility.


A good permaculture design also takes advantage of the fact that landscapes develop over time. Orchard trees mature, weed and insect populations change, and woodlot composition shifts. In natural ecosystems, this concept is known as succession ... and it describes the process by which, for example, an abandoned field becomes inhabited with successive communities of weeds, wildflowers, shrubs, pioneer trees, and mature species until it becomes a forest.

In conventional farming, succession is frozen at an early stage by practices such as tillage, grazing, fertilizing, and pest control ... all of which require energy-in the form of human labor and chemical fertilizers and pesticides-for operation. By allowing agricultural succession to occur, or even by consciously directing it, energy and nutrients can be conserved, soil losses reduced, and herbivore populations stabilized.

Simple successional systems also make economic sense. For example, annuals and short-lived perennials planted between the rows of a young orchard will furnish income while the orchard species mature. Photo 9 illustrates a system incorporating beans, plums, and walnut trees. The beans and plums will eventually be shaded out by the final crop, walnuts.

In some cases, understanding the successional process provides the clue to optimal land use. Many shrub communities actually create the environment for the succeeding tree species. Trees that follow pioneer species in a successional series, for instance, are often shade tolerant and, in fact, require a shaded environment for germination. Other pioneer species are nitrogen fixers. By building up the soil nitrogen level, these plants create a more fertile soil in which succeeding species can thrive. Such communities could be interplanted with desired trees to accelerate succession.


Farmers are in the import-export business. Nutrients, materials, and energy are imported, often from distant sources; then farm products carry embodied nutrients, materials, and energy off-site. The goal in permaculture is to convert such nutrient flows to cycles, both within the farm ecosystem and at the local and regional levels.

A good farm design provides for the recycling of livestock manure in composting systems, fish ponds, gardens, and orchards ... retrieves leached nutrients with green manure crops ... and traps and stores rainwater. At the local scale, organic refuse (such as leaves and vegetable wastes) is reclaimed from the landfills. And on the regional level, properly treated human wastes are applied to farmland as compost or sludge.


Finally, permaculture systems favor diversity over monoculture. However, because interactions among plants are both beneficial and competitive, diversity in and of itself is not as important as the right kind of diversity. Plant relationships take many forms, including competition for light, nutrients, water, and pollinators ... relative attractiveness as food sources for insects ... and chemical interactions. Photo 10 shows the competition between a hedge and a shade tree for nutrients, water, and light (the tree seems to be winning this one). As another example, in the eastern United States planting apples in the vicinity of red cedar will almost inevitably result in apples afflicted with cedar apple rust (Photo 11). Thus, less diversity-in this case, no cedars within half a mile of the orchard species sometimes results in higher productivity.

In other words, the number of elements in the landscape is not as important as the number and quality of the linkages among them. Good design maximizes the number of beneficial interactions among plants, structures, and people while minimizing or eliminating those interactions that are harmful. Such a setup is shown in Photo 12: Here grapes and blackberries are grown in close proximity in a northern California vineyard, a wise combination because the blackberries attract a parasite of a major grape pest.

Diversity can also be considered from an economic standpoint. With farmers' incomes dependent on the vagaries of the marketplace, having several salable products instead of one tends to avoid large (and possibly disastrous) fluctuations in financial returns. As prices vary, some farm commodities can be held or sold to maximize profit. Of course, once your lettuce is in the ground, it must be marketed as it matures. But livestock and pasture crops permit flexibility in selling strategy. My father's 1,300-acre farm in New Zealand, for instance, provides varying amounts of lamb, mutton, wool, beef, barley, red and white clover seed, and ryegrass seed for sale in any one year.

Depending on the relative prices, cattle can be held a year before they're slaughtered, a potential seed crop can be used for hay, or sheep can be heavily or lightly called.

Now that we've covered the basic guide lines-zones and sectors, relative location, multiple functions for single elements, multiple ele ments for single functions, biological resources, alternative technol ogies, succession, nutrient recycling, and diversity-let's move on to implementing these principles.


A very long winded, politically correct copy of something that farmers have known for centuries. Permaculture is a nothing but a buzz word for being able to sustain a plot of land and grow crops on it year, after year, after year.

Suddenly, this "new method of protecting our limited natural resources" has taken root and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

In my opinion, it's as simple as this: Take a plot of land. Grow plants in it, when they are finished growing, stick them in a compost pile. Sow winter wheat over the garden, mow it in the spring, add the foliage to the compost pile, till the roots into the soil.

Make compost tea from the rotting plants, add it to growing plants the next year. Or just add the compost to the ground.

No offense to you, but the idea is not new but since someone managed to give it a new name, it is hip. We raised acres of tobacco, a plant that takes lots of nitrogen from the soil, but we also knew that spreading the stalks on the ground, as well as sowing wheat, returned to the earth at least as much as was taken from it.

Hey mike, I know most is also common sense, and I understand your view, most of this stuff was deveolped in the 70`s !

But the theory is a little more defined these days and courses offered at UNI here. In regards to the idea of self sustainability and eco balance. Developing your own food, market produce through to your own FUELS.

But I suppose I am entrenched in the idea of everything has multiple uses.
Such as a `Solar Aquaponics setup` , from recycled rain water, in side a greenhouse for; thermal mass, used to breed fish, hydro fertz, water supply, plants,-- to Biodomes, etc.
I love the idea of smart organic design and thats all its about.
Utilising position and zones, understanding your land. And designing a "sustainable ecosystem around them"
The selection of species and livestock is important as you have pointed out but a small part of it, but I suppose i like the idea of a full ecosystem promoting bugs, insects, organic fertz & pesticides, less labour, using under stories, succession, natural fencing and hedgerows, biofuels, etc.... Just tickles my interest , rather than just being selective on crop rotation on a basic farm.

Im getting my mum into this ....several chooks anice compost heap and smart planting. Works well and it certainly doesnt have to be complicated.
I like the idea of using water for fish farming and then using the fishy water for irrigation.

I remember visiting a salmon farm in Tasmania that was doing this, as well as reticulating the water back though a wetland.


Good luck mate, and even if this is nothing new, it's good to see that it's back in favour, rather than lining the pockets of Bayer and Monsanto!

I say any practices that improve your land and crops should be encouraged and there are always new techniques, you can't just go old-school.
I've seen some nice aquaponic set-ups but you can basically only grow lettuce and greens, and you also have to filter out any possible nasties:(
Sorry my comment came acrosss like I don't believe in permiculture techniques.
I do and use crop rotation and organic techniques for our vege patch, I got the chooks for manure too.
heres a pic of our vege patch just too it. Its small but we jam everything in, its winter but for me less pests in winter so things grow quite well.
I could do with a bit of humidity but.


this is a zuchinni I don't get down there everyday so this one has got a bit big, not woody yet though.
Scorpion said:
Im getting my mum into this ....several chooks anice compost heap and smart planting. Works well and it certainly doesnt have to be complicated.

:) certainly a very versatile strategy.

stillmanz said:
I use these techniques at home for my personal veg patch but for commercial setup tried and true methods are a good bet. Don't take that as a negative view. But check this link.
I used this old school commercial technique because I know it will work. And if it works it makes me money.

Love the Hab garden :with hills hoyst:, you have done some work this winter already ! Im falling behind because of wedding etc.... but it will be FULL STEAM come mid August.
And your veg patch looks great !

ring sting said:
I like the idea of using water for fish farming and then using the fishy water for irrigation.

I remember visiting a salmon farm in Tasmania that was doing this, as well as reticulating the water back though a wetland.


Good luck mate, and even if this is nothing new, it's good to see that it's back in favour, rather than lining the pockets of Bayer and Monsanto!

Thats what I thought, I would like to do some Barramundi, or Murray cod... which I understand is common practise here in oz in solar aquaponics. But prawn/shimp sound interesting too, but I would eat them !

I say any practices that improve your land and crops should be encouraged and there are always new techniques, you can't just go old-school.
I've seen some nice aquaponic set-ups but you can basically only grow lettuce and greens, and you also have to filter out any possible nasties:(

I probably would NOT have eatable veg in the pond to start with not untill we have got everything setup right, and just use a nitrogen fixing plant like Duck weed, and reeds instead.
Main purpose will be water, fertz, thermal mass, and of course fish/or prawn for the dinner table.
It is a interesting way to go about designing a small spread. I will give the strategy a fair shot over the next 2 years and see if it works for my needs.
Hey Scorp,
Im back !. For sure mate, we are gearing up for a big hunt in a month or so..

AHHHHHH..... I have so much to do so little time ! I am planting/propagating like a mad man.
I look forward to this season both grow and deer !