Permaculture is a design system rooted in ethics, and defined through a series of principles to create a mindful decision-making process. By combining appropriate modern technology and traditional techniques, the goal of permaculture is to create a sustainable and resilient world that is stronger and healthier by mimicking nature.
In the past three months, this column has covered the ethics of permaculture: Care for the Earth, Care for People and Care for the Future. The balance of these create the foundation for permaculture design and is present in most traditional societies. One of the founders of permaculture, David Holmgren explains, “Ethics are culturally evolved mechanisms that regulate self-interest, giving us a better understanding of good and bad outcomes. The greater the power of humans, the more critical ethics become for long-term cultural and biological survival.”
Although permaculture principles can be applied to all decisions, the most common is in the design of landscapes, farms and gardens. Holmgren states, “By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers.”
As the snow melts, it’s natural to start planning the garden and outside space. The first and most important principle in permaculture is observation. The more time you spend on this the more successful your designs and projects will be. Observation of a landscape should take one year at minimum before making decisions, but really it is a continuous process that initiates other principles like “accepting feedback and applying self-regulation”.
We are blessed in Fraser Valley to be able to enjoy beautiful views as we observe the property and we can even witness all four seasons in one day. Learn about the typical climate patterns, and note microclimates. Take notes on the wind patterns, and abnormal weather. Where do the wild flowers grow and where does the water flow? What species of wildlife visit? What is the wildfire risk? Where are the common pathways and areas people like to spend time?
I have lived in various mountains for most of the past twenty years, although this is my first year back to Fraser in a long time. While I understand high altitude planting, this is a unique ecosystem and I have spent the past year observing and taking notes. In our cabin community, there are many different interests and potential projects. It may seem slow, but careful planning of slow and small solutions (another principle) will bring the best outcomes with the least amount of financial and physical investment. While big projects are exciting, they can become large failures if you do not slow down and take the time to gather information and make educated decisions.
Lessons I learned this past year were based on the infrastructure already in place, the sun patterns, and basic climate. The chickens did really well over the winter, although they are happy to see spring. Many greens did well including bok choy, kale varieties, lettuce, chard, green cabbage, herbs, and flowers in the larger gardens, but we also had a visiting gopher or other broccoli-eating animal. I put up fencing to keep out the dogs, but apparently not the little creatures. While it would be nice to have a hoop house over the garden this summer, we need to work securing the perimeter first, and that decision is made from observation. This year we will focus on plants that did well and try additional plants that have similar characteristics, plant mountain berries, and work on eliminating unwanted plants, among other projects.
In any new situation, observation is critical. Analyze new environments, social groups and economic systems to decide how to move forward in the most efficient and sustainable way. For long-term solutions, look to nature and long-time locals for knowledge. Utilize what you observe and create simple solutions to achieve your goals. For more detailed information on the permaculture principles, see David Holmgren’s books, and the website:
Robyn Wilson has degrees in International Business, Sustainable Communities, and Bilingual and Multicultural Education. She teaches permaculture design at Colorado Mesa University. Robyn returned to Grand County after 17 years to manage the cabin community of Grandma Miller’s New Horizons.