The first four modules of this course cover much of the detailed information which goes into permaculture – ecological interactions, working with the soil, growing fruit and vegetables and growing timber. Permaculture includes all of these things and others – such as renewable energy, sustainable building, working with water and communicating with people. But at heart permaculture is not about these things in themselves but about how we integrate them into a working system.
This is the magic of permaculture: just as a human body is more than a collection of bones, blood, flesh and hair, so permaculture is more than the sum of its parts.
Topics in this Module
All the topics contain a mix of information and activities but in some the emphasis is more on information and in others more on activity. In particular, the topics which contain the major design projects – 2 Mapping, 5 Observation, 8 Peoplecare and 12 Design – are focused on activity. In this series of projects you follow the permaculture design process from start to finish by preparing a permaculture design for an actual piece of land, and this forms the backbone of the module.
1 Principles of Permaculture
Here you will find a number of simple but effective ideas which can be used to design sustainable and resilient landscapes anywhere under any circumstances. These ideas crop up again and again through the rest of the course. They form an easily understood guide to where and how to place the different elements of a permaculture design.
Since permaculture is all about designing sustainable landscapes, where we put things is very much of the essence. So we need to start with a good map. This topic shows how easy it can be to make one, either starting with an existing map or from scratch. It’s surprising how little specialist equipment or skills are necessary to make a first class map and the process is an empowering experience for people who haven’t done it before.
The use and generation of energy are fundamental to our lifestyles and there are no greater challenges facing us than the twin issues of climate change and peak oil. This topic takes you step by step through the basics of energy and leads on to these big issues.
A large proportion of our ecological impact comes from the houses we live in, both in terms of their construction and in terms of the energy it takes to run them. Not many of us are in the fortunate position of being able to build our own houses, so the first emphasis in this topic is on the renovation of existing buildings. New build is also covered as is the crucial subject of choosing building materials, which is relevant both to renovation and new build.
One of the most important elements of permaculture is its emphasis on observing the landscape and learning about the unique characteristics of the individual place before deciding on any developments. This topic gives you both detailed information about what to observe and techniques and exercises for developing the habit and skills of observation.
For many of us the garden is the main place where we have the opportunity to practice permaculture. The topic gives an overview of the permaculture approach to gardening and looks at some permaculture specialties, including mulching, perennial vegetables and what many people consider the ultimate expression of permaculture, forest gardening.
7 Urban Permaculture
Permaculture is often thought of as a back-to-the-land movement, concerned with smallholdings in the countryside, but it can be applied just as much in the city as in the country. There are distinctive aspects of permaculture in cities, where land for growing is relatively scarce but human resources are abundant. We’re specially fortunate to have urban permaculturist Sarah Pugh on the team, with her highly inspiring presentation on urban permaculture.
Permaculture is as much about care for the people as it is about care for the Earth. Every permaculture design is based on twin foundations: caring for the land and meeting the needs of the people who inhabit it. In this topic we look at some general aspects of peoplecare, including communities, non-violent communication and listening skills, and then home in on the practicalities of integrating the needs and wishes of the people into permaculture design.
Two of the questions most often asked about permaculture are Can it feed the world? and Where can I see it in practice? This module addresses both of those questions, with a look at some of the scientific evidence for the yield of permaculture systems and a survey of small-scale food producers who follow a permaculture ethos, either implicitly or explicitly. It also presents the technique of bicropping, which can be used on any scale from the domestic garden to the largest farm, and gives details of windbreak design.
Water is a unique and precious resource. Here we look at how we can improve our use of water in the home, in the garden and on the broad scale. We also look at aquaculture – growing both plant and animal food in water. It can be extremely productive, with a low level of external inputs, and its potential as a sustainable source of protein and carbohydrate has hardly been touched.
One of the characteristics of permaculture is that is sees biodiversity as a functional part of the productive system, not an alternative to it which is confined to nature reserves. This is a theme which crops up throughout the course but here we focus on those places within a permaculture design where we give priority to wild species rather than to production. Such places may still be productive of human goods but the main emphasis is on biodiversity.
In this, the final topic of the course, we bring together all the strands of permaculture. There is an overview of the process and detailed information on the final stages in which, having mapped and observed the land and recorded the needs of the people, we prepare a design which gives a vision for the future of an actual piece of land. The course culminates in a major practical design exercise.