Permaculture (from the English term "permanent (agri) culture" derived suitcase word ; German: "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture") is originally a sustainable concept for agriculture and horticulture, which is based on natural ecosystems and cycles in nature to observe and imitate. The concept was developed by the Australian Bill Mollison together with his student David Holmgren in the 1970s . In 1981 he received the Right Livelihood Award for his work . Permaculture has developed from an agricultural design method to an ecological philosophy of life and a global grassroots movement . Holmgren now describes permaculture as a culture of sustainable living and land use. In Europe, permaculture is practiced in private house gardens as well as on medium-sized farms.
In the mid-1970s, the two Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed ideas for building long-term, profitable agricultural systems as a sustainable alternative to the prevailing industrial agricultural system. In principle, they "rediscovered" the cycles of organic farming, which is already known in Europe, for themselves and their continent. They observed that industrial agriculture, with its preference for monocultures and the massive use of pesticides, pollutes soil and water, reduces biodiversity and surrenders formerly fertile soil to erosion . Today such observations are confirmed worldwide and the conditions in the agricultural industry are increasingly criticized.
Even if Mollison coined the term “permaculture”, his concept still has a forerunner. The American agronomist Franklin Hiram King used the term “permanent agriculture” in a similar sense as early as 1911 to describe the sustainable cultivation methods in China , Korea and Japan .
In 1978 Mollison published his first book (Permaculture One) . Three years later he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for researching and describing the principles of this form of near-natural agriculture.
Mollison and Holmgren expanded and refined their design principles by testing them in hundreds of projects. They became more and more aware of the need to include social aspects. The original agricultural concept was turned into an approach to design social settlement areas in harmony with naturally grown habitats in the sense of a permanent culture . Over time, permacultural thinking and acting spread through the newer social movements networked around the world .
The American Quaker Ruth Stout (1884–1980), who discovered a method of gardening with mulch on her farm Poverty Hollow in Oregon , which made digging up the ground superfluous, was also inspiring for permaculture . She published her experience in the book How to have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening (1955). The New York Times called it "the high priestess of permanent mulch gardening".
Independently of Mollison / Holmgren, Masanobu Fukuoka described a similar agricultural concept in Japan . His understanding of nature was based on a Zen Buddhist philosophy. Books by Fukuoka, such as The Great Way Has No Gate , translated into German in 1978 , are among the standard works of the permaculture movement.
The central idea of permaculture is to reduce or replace energy-intensive and environmentally harmful industrial technologies, especially in agriculture, through the use of biological resources and a design that is modeled on natural ecosystems. In order to create independent, resilient and equitably distributed habitats, permaculture proposes pragmatic methodological principles based on scientific ecology , traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples , observation and experimentation. Permaculturally designed habitats are understood as systems in which the coexistence of people, animals and plants is combined in such a way that the systems function indefinitely. The philosophy behind it is to work with nature and not against it. As with organic farming , monocultures and the use of chemical-synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are avoided. The natural diversity of species is to be promoted through the settlement of different plants and animals. The goal of permaculture planning is to create long-term stable ecosystems through closed material cycles that are self-sustaining and require only minimal human intervention.
In the opinion of Christian Rehmer, Head of Agricultural Policy at the BUND environmental association , permaculture is "the most natural system of farming". However, guidelines and seals that define what “permaculture” is do not yet exist in Germany compared to guidelines for organic farming .
According to Holmgren, permaculture was initially conceived as sustainable agriculture, but what is now described as sustainable culture. According to Holmgren, permaculture has developed into a culture of sustainable living and land use. This culture brings together the two sides of consumption and production .
The application of permaculture principles has led to the formulation of basic ethical ideas from the very beginning . They are a guideline for permaculture projects, be it a garden, agricultural or forest project, be it the construction of a house or an entire settlement. They can be summarized in three principles:
- "Earthcare" means caring for the earth and life on it. The earth is seen as the source of all life that needs special protection.
- “Peoplecare” means caring for people. All people should have the same right of access to the basis of life.
- “Fairshares” means fair sharing and limited consumption of resources such as natural resources.
As a sustainable form of cultivation, permaculture aims to ensure sufficient yields in the long term while minimizing the workload (energy consumption).
Permaculture systems show how individuals and communities can largely take care of themselves with little use of resources, space and time and an understanding of natural cycles. Permaculture projects use a. The storage of rainwater and solar energy , use them efficiently, improve soil fertility and practice near-natural waste avoidance, in which the output of one system element is used as input for the others.
- Long term instead of short term
Permaculture sees itself ethically obliged to guarantee future generations the greatest possible freedom of design. Soil, water and all other life-sustaining resources should be managed for long-term use and thus preserved.
The international permaculture movement supports and practices the development of productive structures and systems that enable everyone to lead a healthy, self-determined and peaceful life.
- Diversity instead of simplicity
The creation and preservation of diversity is a central concern of permaculture. Naturally grown ecosystems are role models. Culturally created systems are healthier, more productive and more sustainable if they are just as diverse. Mixed cultures instead of monocultures are given as an example.
Four aspects of diversity are important for a permaculture design:
- Biodiversity - the number of different species of plants and animals. It is an indispensable condition for building and maintaining ecosystems, as well as for constant adaptability to evolutionary changes.
- Genetic diversity - the number of different varieties and species of plants and animals. It is important for ensuring regionally adapted, healthy and sufficient food. According to permaculture, genetic modifications and unilateral high-breeding of certain varieties endanger human survival if other varieties are no longer used and gradually disappear.
- Ecological diversity - ecosystems / biotopes with their wild plants and animal species as well as the numerous niches that they use for themselves. This different use of existing resources in turn promotes and ensures biodiversity and genetic diversity. This niche strategy is carried over to permaculture systems: sheep, for example, eat short grasses and cattle longer ones: what some leave behind, others eat. That is why someone with a herd of cows can keep an approximately as large number of sheep without extending the pasture area. Wheat and beans or barley and lentils also occupy slightly different niches, and it is known that such mixed crops achieve a significantly higher total yield than a monoculture of the same size. The same increases through different niches can be achieved with a well thought-out combination of fruit-bearing trees and bushes and farm animals.
- Cultural diversity - especially the different cultivation techniques, supply and disposal systems, architecture and settlement construction. Here permaculture means precise observation and planning with local / regional characteristics and the predominant use of existing resources. This approach leads to the use of adapted technologies and relies on the maintenance of successfully grown structures.
- Sustainable optimization instead of short-term maximization
The above-mentioned transfer of the niche strategy to agriculture illustrates this principle. Instead of increasing the grazing area or growing monocultures in order to be economically more efficient in the short term, the use of diversity (different livestock, mixed cultures, ...) enables the area to be used efficiently in the long term or sustainably, to keep the system small and to increase overall productivity increase. Permaculture goals are better achieved in this way.
A sustainable, efficient design makes better use of the available resources. The waste-free nutrient cycles in nature show us this advantage of sustainable versus short-term efficiency . Plants and animals do not produce 'waste' because they are part of a sustainable system that reuses the remains of one as food for the other, for example as fodder or fertilizer. The greater the diversity in a system, the more efficiently the existing resources are used in the long term. A system designed purely for short-term efficiency would only take care to make the best possible use of a single resource until it is finally used up; the other resources remain unused and wither. That is why systems designed for short-term efficiency are less productive in the long term than systems that are used efficiently in the long term.
The photo shows how ducks , chickens and sheep satisfy their needs undisturbed. At the same time, the available resources are used efficiently and sustainably; what some don't like, others eat. The different niches enable cooperation in a relatively small space. Permaculturally designed systems use this successful ecological strategy to build and maintain integrated habitats for people, animals and plants.
- Optimize instead of maximize
The understanding of ecosystems and the principle of sustainable efficiency instead of just short-term efficiency leads directly to the insight that self-designed systems should primarily be kept small through optimization instead of increasing them in order to maximize yields. In the long term, that would be a waste of energy, because the greater the diversity used and its productive turnover, the less energy has to be put into the system. In addition, the diversity increases the reliability of the system.
For this reason, permaculture design pays more attention to the relationships between the elements than just the elements themselves. In addition, small systems are generally more manageable than large ones, because we humans have a limited perception of complex processes. Systemic thinking requires complex thinking, but this does not have to be complicated as long as the system remains small and the set of elements is adequate.
An example of intelligently used small space (small scale design) is the herb spiral . The photo shows how the required cultivation area can be kept small by using different dimensions and levels with different soil profiles. This strategy is an adequate and helpful solution, especially in densely populated areas with little available cultivation area.
The design of larger systems, on the other hand, is best done in the form of a mosaic of subsystems. In nature, the formation of subsystems begins when a critical size is reached, serves to maintain the system (survival) and can be understood as a strategy for optimization (instead of maximization). So there is an optimal size for all systems, the excess of which would result in disadvantages that threaten the existence of the system:
- Short- or long-term inefficiency (decrease in productivity or efficiency, underuse of resources, negative overall energy balance)
- Solidification (decrease in flexibility, destructive momentum, collapse)
The optimal size affects both the spatial extent and the growth dynamics of the system elements: short distances and dense cycles are more efficient in the short or long term than large-scale structures; Diversity of relationships (multifunctionality) and limited growth (saturation) of the elements ensure flexibility, durability and self-regulation of systems.
- Cooperation instead of competition
To z. For example, to keep a garden that is supposed to feed us productive for a long time with as little energy as possible, we need strategies with which we can largely leave it to its own devices. This also includes the use of cooperative structures, such as biological pest regulation. Pesticides produced with high energy consumption not only drive away the 'pests', but also the 'beneficial insects', which can relieve us of a lot of work. As soon as the 'pests' immigrate again, the 'beneficial insects' are missing because they haven't found food for a long time. Now the damage becomes really big because the population of the 'pests' gets out of control, which increases the renewed expenditure of energy.
Such self-caused destructive feedback develops the above-mentioned momentum and endangers the system up to the point of collapse. So instead of trying to compete with the 'pests' with wasteful use of pesticides, the use of cooperative self-regulation helps to ensure productivity with minimal effort.
The photo shows how ducks and geese stand by the gardening people as cooperative gardening helpers . The ducks deal with some snail problems and, together with the geese, keep the grass short on the paths. This gives people energy and cost-saving advantages: less maintenance and a simultaneous increase in the overall yield. The use of pesticides and / or herbicides can be dispensed with by a cleverly chosen combination of plants and animals. If there is a high demand for self-sufficiency , this strategy has a correspondingly high priority.
The design developed by Mollison and Holmgren with the help of patterns shows parallels to the principle of pattern language introduced by Christopher Alexander in 1977 . A complete design process includes a permanently repeating cycle of observation, planning and experimentation with the aim of successive optimization.
- Planning aids
- Planning according to differences in condition: Observation and analysis of a location according to opposing qualitative characteristics (warm - cold, damp - dry, calm - busy, sunny - shady, ...) with the aim of being able to better assess the given conditions and include them in the planning. In temperate climates, this planning tool is only complete if the analysis covers all seasons.
- Planning for Real: The entire design process is opened to all those affected or interested from the start. All conceivable data collection methods can be used ( interview , open space , paper computer , role play , ...) .
- Data overlay: Overlaying several transparent foils, each containing special, individually variable planning elements (water cycle, cultivation areas, living space, play and recreation areas, ...) in order to be able to get an overall visual impression of the later implementation before implementation.
- Flowcharts: Graphical illustration of resource flows (energies, substances, information) in order to understand system-immanent dynamics ( feedback, etc.) .
- Zoning and sectoring: design by combining spatial and temporal influences (sectors) and elements that can be designed by yourself (zones) .
- Mollison's design principles
From observing ecosystems, Bill Mollison derived the following design principles:
|1.||Multiple elements||-||Each function of the system is generated by several elements.|
|2.||Multiple functions||-||Each element of the system has several functions.|
|3.||Zones||-||Arrangement of the individual system areas according to intensity of use.|
|4th||Natural succession||-||Consideration of the natural development of an element or the system.|
|5.||Optimize Edges||-||Optimization of the edge zones as particularly active areas of the system.|
|6th||Relative location||-||The relative location (niche) of an element within the system.|
|7th||Elevational planning||-||System development through elements that build on one another.|
|8th.||Energy recycling||-||Reuse of energies and substances within the system.|
|9.||Natural resources||-||Use of the natural resources of a system.|
|10.||Sectors||-||Identification and use of external influences on the system (sectors).|
|11.||Patterns||-||Use of design patterns to structure the system.|
|12.||Diversity||-||Creation of a wide variety of elements within the system.|
- Extended design principles according to Holmgren
In his 2002 book Permaculture. Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability , which appeared in German translation in 2016 ( Permaculture: Design Principles for Sustainable Lifestyles ), David Holmgren particularly addresses the upcoming challenges with regard to the energy security of future generations. Around 25 years after Bill Mollison's Permaculture One , he sees the use of permaculture as a helpful tool for a smooth and at the same time productive transition from a destructive high-energy industrial society to a sustainable and life-friendly low-energy culture.
Holmgren defines the following 12 design principles:
|1.||Observe and Interact||-||Careful observation of systemic processes and thoughtful interaction with the system elements.|
|2.||Catch and Store Energy||-||Rediscovery and adequate use of energy sources, which were an important natural resource (for survival) for all cultures : water, soil humus, seeds and trees. Special attention to local and regional autonomy in order not to be 'dependent on the outside' in the age of an energy transition.|
|3.||Obtain a yield||-||Implementing and maintaining profitable systems will inspire imitators. Successful permaculture systems will spread (private and communal self-sufficiency).|
|4th||Apply Self-regulation and Accept Feedback||-||Recognize and use self-regulation processes (productive feedback loops) in the systems. The less it is necessary to intervene in systems, the less likely it is to intervene and cause labor-intensive consequential damage.|
|5.||Use and Value Renewable Resources||-||Careful but productive use of renewable resources (sun, wind, water, biomass). Simultaneously decreased input of non-renewable resources.|
|6th||Produce No Waste||-||Waste avoidance and recycling cascade: refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle (dt. Do without, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle).|
|7th||Design from patterns to details||-||Successful design first requires an understanding of the overarching patterns in nature. The planned and desired details of a permaculture project take these patterns into account and are based on them ( top-down thinking, bottom-up action ).|
|8th.||Integrate rather than segregate||-||Cooperation of diverse elements instead of eliminating individual ones and competition with one another.|
|9.||Use Small and Slow Solutions||-||Small and slow solution strategies make systems easier to understand for people and more productive in the long term than large ones that require a lot of energy and time.|
|10.||Use and Value Diversity||-||Use and preserve the diversity of elements in systems. This increases the reliability and in turn enables long-term self-organization.|
|11.||Use Edges and Value the Marginal||-||Recognize and use the wealth and importance of marginal zones (transitions between systems).|
|12.||Creatively Use and Respond to Change||-||Creative use of natural cycles and succession sequences in order to be able to respond flexibly and adequately to upcoming challenges.|
The maintenance of a permaculture designed system aims at optimization in terms of long-term productivity. The extensions and refinements of the implemented design solutions are carried out through continuous observation and evaluation. The aim is to achieve the best possible self-regulation
- minor and careful interventions
- priority use of low-energy and low-cost techniques
The principles described above do not appear as separate phenomena in practical application, but are linked to one another in a variety of ways. For example, the edge zones optimized through zoning create self-organizing patterns, which in turn can interact with other elements of the system. In the following some design principles are to be explained here in order to clarify the associated ideas.
One of the ways to plan with permaculture outlined above is zoning. Among other things, it serves to improve energy efficiency, for example to optimize the distances to be covered. For self-sufficient agriculture, for example, zoning could look like this:
|Zone 0||-||Applies as a residential zone / core area, but also as a description of the user of a permaculture system.|
|Zone I.||-||In the immediate vicinity of living areas. Plants are grown here that are used and cared for intensively on a daily basis, herbs and fine vegetables.|
|Zone II||-||Vegetable garden with less intensive care and use, such as salads, cabbage or root vegetables.|
|Zone III||-||Agricultural zone with grain, potatoes and all those crops that require less care and are harvested in large quantities at the same time.|
|Zone IV||-||Meadows, fruit trees, nut trees. This zone hardly needs any maintenance. The harvest is limited to a certain point in the year.|
|Zone V||-||Wilderness / jungle as a quiet zone for nature. Ideally, no more human interventions take place here.|
This zone system is to be seen as an aid. These are not hard limits. The zoning as such can also be freely adapted to the requirements of a system and does not follow a rigid concept. Usually, however, as shown above, five zones are used, often extended by a so-called zone 0. It is more of a philosophical nature and enables the observer of such a zoning to make himself the object of his observations.
- Optimization of edge zones
“Edge zone” is the transition area between different elements of a system. They are the areas of interaction (relationship and exchange) between the individual system components. When two different states meet, there are numerous interactions in the area of the edges. Depending on the desired effect, it can make sense to enlarge or reduce the edge zones in a system.
The transition from a forest to the open landscape (edge of the forest) is a particularly species-rich and productive zone due to the meeting of two ecosystems. Similarly, in a permaculture planning z. B. a hedge or a bed edge can be laid out in curved lines in order to enlarge the edge zone compared to a linear arrangement.
Conversely, it is argued in energy-efficient house construction: By reducing edge zones, such as the outer walls, one tries to minimize heat loss to the environment during the heating season, since protrusions, bay windows and other attachments act like cooling fins.
Examples of permaculture systems
In a fish pond, for example, not just one species of fish is raised, but several species of fish. The pond has zones of different depths and also different planting. The predatory fish are not fed, but instead feed on other fish. However, these find enough cheap niches for themselves so that they do not die out. The system as a whole regulates itself to a large extent. Humans fishes off “excess” fish.
At the same time, edible plants can be grown on the edge of the fish pond. Other (and partly the same) plants can in turn reduce the maintenance effort of the pond (cleaning plants). The increase in ecological diversity ensures a dynamic equilibrium, increases flexibility and ensures continuous income.
Green manure, mulch, direct sowing
The soil of a permaculture is not plowed or dug up, but loosened with the help of green manure and the soil tare is improved. Plant parts of nitrogen-collecting (see nodule bacteria ) legumes such as sweet lupins (whose seeds can be used as protein-rich food or feed), clover or robinia (whose branches also make good wood for plant supports), acacia branches in Africa and the herbaceous stems of perennial (e.g. from Jerusalem artichoke ) or protein-containing plants (such as comfrey ) are used whole or chopped as nitrogen-containing fertilizing mulch material. Paths between beds or furrows are sprinkled with clover, which (mowed before seeds are formed) is available as mulch several times a year next to it. Because of the use of mulch, new methods such as no-till or mulch sowing are being used.
The establishment and maintenance of forest gardens in temperate zones in Europe are based on a concept by the Englishman Robert Hart (1913–2000). In his own orchard in Wenlock Edge, Shropshire , England , he studied various methods of plant production. He developed a model that imitated the layers of plants in a forest and which he therefore called "forest garden". He published his results in the books Forest Gardening (1986) and Beyond The Forest Garden (1998). The model for this practice was the British deciduous forest, which he analyzed in seven layers from tall trees to climbing plants and shrubs to ground cover plants and roots. He found that this variety of vegetation layers of different heights ensures optimal light yield and high continuous productivity in a relatively small space. He combined fruits, nuts, herbs, lettuce plants and vegetables in a self-sustaining perennial system with no external fertilizers in accordance with vegan principles. Hart was influenced by the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi , according to Patrick Whitefield he was almost self-sufficient in his 500 m² forest garden . In the sustainable forest garden concept, Hart saw the ideal way to convert urban fallow land. The sketch shows how such an ecosystem could be cultivated through an intelligent selection of cooperating plant communities of different edible plants: walnut and fruit trees in the high layers, including berry bushes and fruit-bearing bushes, and various herbs close to the ground, right down to the ground cover . Vegetables can be grown in the humus layer.
Forest gardens are examples of agroforestry systems .
Transition Town means "city in transition" or "city in transition". In 2004, Louise Rooney and Rob Hopkins transferred the idea of permaculture, which had previously been used in rural areas, to the city. Two further aspects flow into their considerations: climate change and the maximum oil production peak oil . They assume that the use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas enables many people to enjoy a high standard of living, but has also caused most of the social and ecological problems.
The first study on the economics of permaculture was carried out by two French scientists from INRA and AgroParisTech . From 2011 to 2015, Sacha Guégan and François Léger observed a selection of cultivated areas of 1,000 square meters on the Ferme biologique du Bec Hellouin in Upper Normandy , which has been cultivated according to the permaculture model of Mollison and Holmgren since 2008. From each bed they collected data on the working hours, the work equipment and the amount of harvested products with the result that the yield of the beds examined was three to four times higher than that of conventional vegetable and fruit farms of comparable size in the region. The yield per plant was not greater, but because many different plants grow together in a relatively small space, they are more robust and less susceptible to pests. In the third year (2015), income in the area investigated rose to more than 55,000 euros. Sales were boosted by the fact that the products were not only sold in the farm's own shop, but also in a number of excellent restaurants. The study criticized the fact that the researchers only examined the most productive part of the twenty-hectare farm, which also includes pastures and meadows, and that they did not provide any quantities, only sales. However, the research director, the agronomist François Léger, emphasized: “The Bec Hellouin farm has shown that you cannot get rich from a small area without mechanization and with bio-intensive methods, but you can live on it appropriately.
Private academies, which are financed through course fees, offer practical workshops and multi-year courses. However, the degree "Permaculture Designer" is not a state-recognized apprenticeship in Germany & Austria.
In Austria, further education certificate courses in permaculture can be completed at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna and the University of Agricultural and Environmental Education since 2004.
Various German universities have included permaculture in their curriculum or in lecture series - often at the instigation of students. A scientifically supported pilot project is “PermaKulturRaum”, which some students from the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen initiated in 2011 . After introductory seminars on Mollison's concept, it was then put into practice on unused areas of the university. The project is scheduled to run for 20 years. One of the main goals is to reduce the ecological footprint . At the Institute for Geoecology at the TU Braunschweig , lectures and practical seminars under the direction of Boris Schröder introduce the basics of permaculture and the planning of complex systems.
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