Permaculture Principles

As part of the Sustainable Land Use course I recently completed we had to do a short piece of work on Permaculture Principles. I put together this little list of principles compiled from the following books (and website)…


Attitudinal Principles

  • Work with nature not against it – results in minimum negative impact on long term sustainablilty
  • Value Edges and Marginal and Small – small and different can be vital
  • See solutions inherent in problems – overcomes blockages to design and implementation
  • Produce no waste – move towards a closed ecosystem
  • Value people and their skills and work – draws people in, enables, appreciats and supports them
  • Respect for all life – the delights of all natural and cultural diversity and valued
  • Use Public Transport and Renewable Fuels – move toward people-scaled sustainable urban planning, friendlier places and less pollution
  • Calculate ‘Food Miles’ – Support local farmers, bioregional produce, lower food costs, truck-free roads.

Design Principles

  • Preserve, regenerate and extend all natural and permanent landscapes
  • Water: conserve and increase all sources and supplies of water, and maintain and ensure water purity
  • Energy: catch and store energy by all non-polluting and renewable means
  • Biodiversity: preserve and increase biodiversity of all types

Strategic Principles

  • Focus on long-term sustainability – careful thinking
  • Co-operate don’t compete – share best knowledge and practice
  • Design from patterns to details – see the whole picture first
  • Start small and learn from change – avoid expensive errors
  • Make the least change for the largest result – efficient and economical detail
  • Make a priority of renewable resources and services – establishes a feedback loop to long-term sustainability
  • Bring food production back to cities – empowers food security and rish avoidance


  • Relative location.
  • Each element performs many functions.
  • Each important function is supported by many elements.
  • Efficient energy planning: zone, sector and slope.
  • Using biological resources.
  • Cycling of energy, nutrients, resources.
  • Small-scale intensive systems; including plant stacking and time stacking.
  • Accelerating succession and evolution.
  • Diversity; including guilds.
  • Edge effects.
  • Attitudinal principles: everything works both ways, and permaculture is information and imagination-intensive.


  • Work with nature rather than against.
  • The problem is the solution.
  • Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.
  • The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited (or only limited by the imagination and information of the designer).
  • Everything gardens (or modifies its environment).


  1. Observe and Interact – Observation is interaction and Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  2. Catch and Store Energy – make hay while the sun shines
  3. Obtain a Yield – You can’t work on an empty stomach
  4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback – Take Personal Responsibility
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – Nature knows best
  6. Produce No Waste – Waste not – want not
  7. Design from Patterns to Details – Don’t reinvent the wheel and See the forest before the trees
  8. Integrate rather than Segregate – Together We Achieve More
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – Small is beautiful, slow is sane and Slow and steady wins the race
  10. Use and Value Diversity – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and The key to intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – The action is at the edge
  12. Use and Respond to Change Creatively – Everything evolves, is succeeded but comes around (again)

See also, the excellent Permaculture Principles site for lots more on these.


  1. Conservation – Use only what is needed.
  2. Stacking functions – In permaculture we speak about getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system.
  3. Repeating functions – We meet every need in multiple ways.
  4. Reciprocity – Utilize the yields of each element to meet the needs of other elements in the system.
  5. Appropriate scale – What we design should be on a human scale and doable with the available time, skills, and money that we have
  6. Diversity – We want to create resilience by utilizing many elements.
  7. Give away the surplus – Create systems that are abundant and share the abundance rather than hoarding it for ourselves.

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(with examples by me, although many are no doubt are straight out the book – this is actually what our assignment was to do, write a couple of examples each for a selection of the principles below)

Wild Soil
No till e.g. raised beds and thick sward of grass on Fordhall Farm
Covered soil e.g. mulching and green manures.
Perennials e.g. fruit and nut trees and perennial vegetables such as Nine-star broccoli or Daunbenton’s Kale.

Species e.g. a small garden with many different crops is both much more productive more resilient against pest and disease than a large monoculture. Bicroping on large farms (e.g. white clover and wheat) is also possible and helps significantly reduce energy use, stop soil erosion and keep down pests and disease.
Genetic e.g. growing lots of different types of tomatoes or lettuce, for example, can greatly increase production throughout the year (with early/ late varieties) as can the production of many different types of apples (or any fruit) in an orchard. Large losses to pest and disease are also much less likely (because different varieties and be more or less resilient)
Ecological e.g. creating a pond to attract beneficial predators such as birds and frogs, a leaving an undisturbed area for bees and other insects to live in.
Cultural e.g. respecting and valuing different people’s way of life. But also not expecting everything to go smoothly when working in a very diverse group where starkly different views and values are represented. Diversity is needed, but so are shared values.

Multi-dimensional Design
Stacking e.g. the different layers in a forest garden/ food forest, or growing tall beans together with short squashes.
Succession e.g. radishes and parsnips together, or alley cropping (i.e. growing veg in the alleys of young orchards before they cast significant shade)
Edge e.g. Chinampas in lakes (as famously done in Mexico), key hole gardens, hedges.

Relative Location
– e.g. chicken-greenhouse and tender fruit trees growing up a south-facing wall

Key Planning Tools
Zone e.g. herbs and salads closest to house, timber woodlands further away.
Network e.g. placing paths and tracks along desire lines connecting multiple areas of human activity.
Sector e.g. placing pretty blossoming trees in live of sight with windows, but not if that is where there is very strong wind.
Elevation e.g. placing water storage higher up than where you need to irrigate and using shallow slopes and swales/ dams to store maximum water. Also avoiding frost pockets in valleys and strong winds on hills.

Small Scale
& yield e.g. small scale farms are much more productive than large ones, in terms of total amount produce per acre, value of food per acre and energy inputs needs for energy outputs. A recent study of Turkish Farms found small farms to be 20 times more productive than large ones!
& diversity e.g. it is easier to manage diversity on a small scale. Harvesting lots of different crops from a home garden is still a small job. Doing the same on a large scale quickly become commercially unviable because of the time it would take. The same goes for irrigation. It is quite easy to hand water different plants/ beds different amounts of water according to need on the small scale, but much harder to achieve on a large scale.

Linking i.e. placing things so that the output of one thing can easily become the input of another, e.g. on a well designed small farm poultry could be used to help cultivate vegetable beds, control pests in an orchard, make use of household food scraps and even heat the greenhouse – assuming their relative location was suitable and a network or paths/ tracks was in place to move them from area to area.
Multiple Outputs i.e. every plant, animal and structure in a permaculture design should serve as many functions as possible e.g. the many outputs of the poultry mention above, a roof collecting water and providing shelter, a wall a place to grow food up or paint a mural, not just the structure that holds up the house.

In use e.g. despite the overall energy efficient of electrical appliances in Europe increasing, so too has the total amount of energy used by appliances (to meet new energy efficiency requirements manufacturers have built larger machines that do use energy more efficiently, but more of it). Solar PV panels have a high embodied energy, but with no moving parts are pretty much “fit and forget” and cost almost nothing to maintain (in contrast, for example, to a Wind Turbine than has lots of moving parts constantly under the stress and strain of high winds)
Embodied e.g. concrete is long lasting but takes lots of energy to create in the first place. Using reclaimed and other low embodied energy materials (e.g. Earth, Straw) when building can greatly reduce the overall energy used by a home.
Biological resources e.g. using a horse and cart to move things and poultry for pest control.

– e.g. the sum is greater than the parts. None of the pieces of a bicycle can move you from one place to another, only the complete bicycle system can. Everything is connected. There are always unintended consequences of actions. There is no “away”.