Permaculture, as a design discipline, was established in the mid seventies as an outcome of a PhD thesis by David Holmgren with Bill Mollison. Since then tens of thousands of people have done design courses throughout the world and it has become an established part of agricultural curricula in many countries.
It takes years and decades of study and practical application to become a well rounded permaculturist, but only a 15 -day course to put people on the path.
Things a good permaculture practitioner has to know:
- How to produce abundant harvests with low external inputs. They should be able to produce yields equal or greater than the best farmers and gardeners in their area whilst improving their soils and reducing their costs.
- How to restore ecosystem functions and help nature get back to exuberant health.
- How to integrate knowledge to achieve results of diverse, highly productive landscapes; designing from the big picture to the detail, it is important to know about traditional agriculture, hunter-gather cultures and botanical and ecological understandings of indigenous people in their area.
- Passive solar design of buildings using low cost, low embodied energy durable, natural materials.
- Integrated hybrid energy systems for the whole farming enterprise, to choice of energy appropriate service delivery (pumps, lights, sound, transport, heat, cultivation etc)
- The role of livestock on agro-ecosystems – what are the functions of animals? How can they be beneficial? How to use animals for their function as well as their yield. What do the different kinds of livestock eat, natural medicines, breeds for local conditions, grazing systems, stacking (rotation of different species for multiple yield from same area, including fruit, fibre and timber).
- Water harvest, use and storage. Aquifer recharge. Wetland farming, aquaculture etc
- Mycology – fungi and mushrooms. Their role in fertility transfer, carbon sequestration, soil building, plant associations – how to encourage and proliferate mycorrhizal fungi. Soil building is a chief aim of permaculture.
- How to turn a mediocre soil into a luscious, fertile soil that grows bountiful healthy crops.
- Permaculture involves ethics, principles, design methodologies, observation skills and people skills. Design always involves working with people (as does farming). Design skills can be applied to social situations (humans are part of nature) and economic relationships. At present in New Zealand there are a number of successful interest- free finance and local currency systems in operation, including time banking. Cooperative systems have always been part of the agricultural scene.
- Permaculture is not dogmatic. People select what is appropriate and acceptable within their personal and cultural context. It is a process of continual learning through observation resulting in ongoing optimisation.
- There is no one size fits all.