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Get cosy with Permaculture and the lingo

Updated: Mar 25

General terms and other information on permaculture.

                Permaculture Ethics

  • Permaculture is an ethical approach design system.

  • The ethics are at the core of permaculture and thus everything else follows on such. These three ethics define how one should behave toward the earth, each other and other beings.

The three ethics of permaculture

1. Care of the earth giving priority to taking utmost care of the earth, making sure we don't damage its natural systems.

2. Care of the people through the establishment of systems that meet people's needs in order that people's lives can be sustained with a good quality of life without damaging the earth.

3. Accepting limits to population and consumption is realizing that as a human species, we cannot grow beyond a sustainable portion of the planet. We need to recognize that nature has a balance and putting limits on our own growth and on our own consumption is the only way to ensure the evolution of our species. This ethic is sometimes phrased as "Return of surplus, invest all of your means in the first two ethics". Thus limiting our consumption so that we can invest our resources in caring for the earth and caring for the people.

Care of the earth

No matter how advanced our technology becomes, we are still dependant on a living ecosystem to give us life. We as human beings need to understand that we are the stewards of our planet and need to act responsibly.

Care of the people

Our civilizations have evolved and changed form many times, however, the need to care for each other is fundamental to our survival. Following the first ethic, we need to build on symbiotic relationships to care for each other and sustain life.

Fair share, return of surplus

There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. We need to understand that taking more than our fair share is like stealing from others their opportunity to share what also belongs to them.

Holmgrem’s Permaculture Principles

1. Observe and interact - By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.

2. Catch and store energy - By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.

3.Obtain a yield - Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

5. Use and value renewable resources and services

- Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.

6. Produce no waste - By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.

7. Design from patterns to details - By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.

8. Integrate rather than segregate - By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.

9. Use small and slow solutions - Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.

10. Use and value diversity - Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.

11. Use edges and value the marginal - The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

12. Creatively use and respond to change -

We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time. In permaculture all elements are seen as part of the

whole which they constitute. Nothing is segregated and studied in isolation, as in reality, there is no isolation of anything in life.

Permaculture and our Natural Resources


Air is the medium for all living things. It needs to be clear, clean and in sufficient quantities to sustain the exchanges of gases between living organisms. Without

air, no life will exist as we know it, and in permaculture designs, it is given the importance it merits. Among many functions; living vegetation, such as trees and

grasses act as filters of the air and exchange a supply of oxygen with an intake of carbon dioxide. Thus trees and grasses are needed in abundance to filter the air of our environment.


Water is the blood of our planet. Just like the blood in our veins, it needs to be in balance, circulated and purified by other components while delivering life to the whole being. Water is an integral part of our ecosystem. We need to observe and promote the health of water in order to replenish life. All our systems, especially agriculture and forestry are directly dependent on an abundance of healthy water.


Earth is our mother planet which sustains us and all other living beings. We also refer to soil as earth. Soil is the living medium which supports the growth of vegetation and other life forms. There are many different types of soils, and they host different bacteria

and micro-organisms which are all necessary to sustain soil life. In return, when soil is healthy, the trees, crops and plants are also healthy. Thus in sustainable agriculture, soil life is given a great attention.


The sun can be simply described as the Earth’s power station. No life as we know it would exist on the Earth if the sun was missing. All energy systems including fossil fuels and others used on earth are simply a product of or energized by the sun. In permaculture, we recognize this fact by giving priority to observing the path, the cycle and angles of the sun for our designs in order to maximize the efficiency of light and shadows, both in the natural and the built environment.

What does it mean to have a Permaculture Design Certificate?

A Permaculture Design Certificate means that one has completed a 72 hour design course in the principles and methods of Permaculture. The holder of the certificate is the holder of a complex toolbox of solutions and visions. Many people think they understand permaculture as a gardening system or as alternative agriculture. Someone who has attended proper training and has received a certificate understands the full scope of what permaculture design has to offer. It also means they have an understanding of the systemic and integrated quality that good "sustainable" or "regenerative" design reflects. It doesn't mean the person has the necessary skills to implement these solutions. They carry what is possible.

How does one become a permaculture designer?

Students who have completed a Permaculture Design Certification course (PDC) can advertise that they are a certified permaculturist and can use the word permaculture in their work. The curriculum is a minimum of 72 hours and should follow the Permaculture Designers Manual. We suggest further training, internships and volunteering on existing permaculture sites so one can cover other pertinent topics and do hands-on activities which are of utmost importance to develop skills and rigorous understanding of permaculture.

We recommend that a graduate spends 2 years applying what they learn in the permaculture course before they work professionally, especially if they did not have much prior experience.

Some people have already been doing a lot of this work and feel confident that they can serve the permaculture community by doing quality work, and they can put out the sign as soon as they graduate.

Permaculture terms used to describe design work

Permaculture Swales

In Permaculture, a swale is a method used to harvest rain water passively. They are long shallow man made trenches that run along the contour of the land. This means that swales are perfectly level. Swales do not direct water flow, but they collect water. The soil removed from the swale is piled on the downhill side to make a slightly raised bank or berm. When rain falls, the water runs along the surface of the topsoil, and it will collect in the depression of a swale. The water will slowly seep into the soil and collect in underground pockets that will supply the roots of plants through weeks and even months without rain.

If rainfall is heavy or fast enough, the water will also slowly seep into, through, and maybe overflow the berm. Since the swale and berm are levels, the water gently slips over the edge, and no erosion takes place. The water then travels downhill to the next swale.

Permaculture Edges

As noted in the principles above, ‘Use edges & value the marginal’, edge is the interface between two different systems or microclimates. This interface is extremely important to observe and work with in order to maximise the use of natural forces such as wind, evaporation, growth, biodiversity interaction etc. The list is endless, and every design has its functions and potential relationships which can be improved upon.

Edge could also be used to situations beyond the physical levels such as in descriptions and studies of social structures, relationships, and evolution of cults, etc.

Forest Gardens and Agroforestry

In ecological farming one moves away from the unnatural practice of mono-crop cultivation to follow on nature’s examples of growth based on poly-cultures ie; varieties of shapes, patterns, colours, genres, structures, etc.

These varieties are rich in complex relationships which take many forms including plants, fungi, soil organisms, micro-organisms, insects, birds and also larger animals.

In permaculture we are particularly interested in beneficial relationships between organisms in order to replicate and use their principles productively thus using nature to aid our diversity and productivity.

Forest gardens thus use these relationships (also known as guilds) to create productive gardens that can easily support the needs of the system (garden) within the system itself. These gardens can be as small or large as one likes and vary on their designs and functions from place to place, especially when one compares between the tropics to temperate or the southern

Mediterranean climate.

On the other hand, Agro-forestry is the combination of agricultural practice with that of forestry. It is a better form of land use than conventional agriculture and ties in perennial with annual crops. Projects under this description can also vary substantially depending on various factors.

In conclusion, permaculture is a holistic approach to design and living, guided by ethics and principles. It emphasizes care for the earth, care for people, and accepting limits to population and consumption. Permaculture principles provide practical guidelines for sustainable design, promoting renewable resources, waste reduction, integration, and diversity. Recognizing the importance of air, water, soil, and light, permaculture values their balance and health. Obtaining a Permaculture Design Certificate signifies completing a comprehensive course, equipping individuals with tools and visions for sustainable design. Permaculture techniques like swales, edge utilization, and forest gardens enhance productivity and mimic nature's beneficial relationships. Overall, permaculture offers a transformative approach that prioritizes the well-being of the earth and humanity.

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