When starting a design, I first try to understand (although ‘feel’ may be a better word) the functional nature of the piece of land I will be working on. Direction of the wind, animal paths, direction of water streams, what the land looks like in the sun, in the rain, at night; in general: how it lives. I consider the type of soil, what plants grow there and what it all means. Only then do I turn to Bill Mollison’s principles, which I learned during my studies at Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Design Course, and apply them to the design.
The project proceeds in the following phases:
PHASE 1: Specification of the client’s expectations: preliminary discussions, determination of the client’s expectations, history of the land and its inhabitants (people, fauna, flora, land use); environmental and social relationships; drafting of a budget and planning a timeline; specification of the land’s location, Google maps; challenges, restrictions, external limiting factors known to the client; agreeing the recompense for the design and how it is going to be paid (cash, barter, etc.).
PHASE 2: In-depth elaboration of the client’s expectations regarding the land; on-site visit; learning about the biology, contours, slopes and other characteristic or unique features of the site; wild animal corridors, birds (fowl), types of indigenous plants; potential energy sources, types of soil, favourable and adverse conditions; climate factors, neighbourhood, privacy. The Phase culminates in a final scope of the design, a timeline and client engagement. Presentation of deliverables, which usually include:
PHASE 3: Preliminary design. At this stage, the design includes items 1-5 listed in Phase 2. It is the time for the client to make amendments and incorporate additional functions into the project.
PHASE 4: Final design; final minor amendments and additions; final map, list of plantings, description of the soil re-cultivation process; description of the functions of the individual system components, their relationships and cooperation; the proposed timetable of works - reflecting plant growing time and a critical design element, as some actions will be irreversible.
PHASE 5: Project execution oversight (optional, paid extra).
Permaculture designs of eco-villages
A permaculture eco-village design contains all the components of a garden or farm design, extended by the mutual relationships of the village elements shared by all its inhabitants. A central meeting place, centralised heat generation, centralised biomass collection for the natural heating system or methane production are typical functions that a permaculture eco-village design should address.
A permaculture designer understands how to organise the ecosystem in the context of the planned major function of the farm or garden (for example, food production for sale, family homestead, animal or fish farming, a permaculture orchard).
These objectives are a starting point for the design of zones (to optimise the frequency of visits in each of them), sectors (sun, wind), structures (buildings), sourcing and circulation of water, as well as processes (production of soil, interactions between the livestock and the garden or a crop field), so that food and energy sustainability is achieved.
A soil re-cultivation or regeneration project combines irrigation techniques (diversion drains and swales, water retention) with planting of specifically selected plants and initial use of selected equipment (such as a chisel plough). Depending on the condition of the soil, a re-cultivation project includes:
Bill Mollison, the creator of permaculture, together with David Holmgren developed permaculture principles based on the experiences of many cultures and indigenous practices from all the continents. The principles are a repository of knowledge about how to ensure that human activity respects the Earth, respects People and shares resources and fruits of our labour fairly. This applies to both growing of food as well as building communities; some people even apply these principles in building their businesses. Many of these principles are well known and used in horticulture and in ‘amateur’ gardens and farms. They are rooted in common sense and the ‘do no harm’ precept. Looking at today’s crop or animal farming, the ‘do no harm’ seems to be the last thing on the farmer’s mind, when they navigate the pressures of an economic system that revolves around monetary profit only. If you want to create a properly functioning permaculture farm, you need a permaculture designer.
Correct Permaculture design
A permaculture farm is a system of mutually beneficial relationships which radically reduce the required input of labour. Of course, it does not mean that there is no work needed at all. However, the permaculture farm of Sepp Holzer in Austria (http://www.krameterhof.at/cms60/index.php?id=151), for example, has the area of 45 ha and employs permanently three people and five additional seasonal workers. Several dozens of fishponds, tens of dozens of cows and pigs, hundreds of fruit trees, and all of this on a steep slope at the altitude of 1,200 m.
Sepp Holzer has been developing his farm over decades. A permaculture design can speed the process up a lot.