Permaculture is usually explained in a garden context, but isn’t just for the garden. It can be applied to life, work, and business.
And pretty much any area of your life.
Permaculture is, in a sense, the result of the correct application of the scientific method.
No! I don’t want to go back to 9th grade! You can’t make me! Gaaaahhhhhhhh!
Hey, it’s ok. I get it.
I too have some parts of school I really didn’t like. This is pretty easy though.
You just have to make good observations, keep excellent records, and – unlike some “modern” scientific practices – really try to understand what you are seeing.
The observation must be careful, and is best done over a long period of time. This is especially true if you are unfamiliar with the current area of study.
So how do we get out of the garden, and apply permaculture to life?
With the permaculture principles and guidelines, of course!
Permaculture Guidelines and Principles
…can be applied to the design of any system. Let’s look at one and see how it applies in certain situations.
Holmgren’s Principles #4 – Apply self-regulation and accept feedback:
We need to discourage inappropriate activity (inefficient or destructive actions) to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
Let’s apply this principle to work (traditional employment or homemaking) efficiency.
#1: Think about the individual tasks that you’re doing. Could they be combined or some tasks eliminated if you changed their order or priority? Is a particular task taking up a lot of your time but not really producing good work?
#2: Can a task be made more efficient in some way? Have you prioritized tasks in order to do the most important ones first? Allow yourself to change from “the way I’ve always done it.”
#3: Look harder at the inefficient tasks, and see if you can figure out why they take longer. Do you not enjoy them as much as others? Is there a related time-wasting task that goes along with this task? If you can get to the root of the problem, fixing it will be much easier.
#4: Keep observing your habits and behaviors, while applying corrective measures when needed. Be flexible to change if the need arises.
Keeping in mind that these principles are interrelated, let’s look at another one:
Holmgren’s Principles #3 – Obtain a yield
Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
See how this goes right along with #4 above?
And by following those suggestions, you can verify that you’re getting a yield from your work.
I realize most people get paid by the hour, and so your paycheck will be the same whether you are efficient or not.
But when it comes time for raises and promotions, the efficient, hard-working employee should get the benefits. The lazy one who’s just doing enough work not to get fired. won’t advance because he’s producing well enough where he is.
Of course, sometimes what happens is the idea of “failing upward”, where lazies and screwups get promotions while the good guys never catch a break.
It happens, I know.
Life isn’t fair, and nature is sometimes like that too. Just do the best job you can do and analyze your faults and inefficiencies.
Home design, the permaculture way
Most people live in some form of house, and it’s the biggest expense in your life. There’s normal maintenance costs, utilities, emergency repairs, and upgrades.
If owning, most people spend around 35% of their income on housing, and pay on a mortgage for 30+ years. Some people spend 50% or more on a house (??!!!), especially in expensive areas.
And some die still paying on a mortgage, because they got a second mortgage for those “essential” house upgrades I mentioned. Or to go on vacation. Or whatever.
Add to that the issue that most modern stick-built houses start deteriorating the moment they are completed. Plus, the only reason housing goes up in “value” over the long term is due to inflation.
So what’s the solution? Rent?
For some people renting is the best solution for their situation. For me, I wouldn’t want to plant a bunch of trees and then have the landlord tell you to move.
But I did. It’s a sad story. Anyway…
To me, these facts say you need housing that is as sustainable as possible.
It should be
- Reduce utility bills
- Be inexpensive to build
- Comfortable & well-suited to your lifestyle
- A place for relaxing and enjoying family & friends
All of this points to some kind of natural building method, designed and built correctly.
Tiny House Rant: This current trend of tiny house obsession should not influence your decision in home buying or building. There are some practices and ideas that can be used in any size house (space efficiency and minimalism to name two), but tiny house living is NOT for everyone. This is not to say that everyone needs at least 5000sf mansion, but a house should properly fit you and your family. You wouldn’t put up with an ill-fitting pair of shoes, would you?
The natural building method selected should also keep the climate in mind.
Putting a flat-roofed, adobe-based southwest Spanish mission style dwelling doesn’t make sense in the rainy northwest.
Nor does putting a multistory strawbale timber-framed house (my favorite) in the hot parts of New Mexico.
The method should also reduce the maintenance and long-term costs of housing.
Consider all the inputs you have into the house:
How much of this could you cut down on, or could you provide yourself?
First, power generation
No matter where you live, there should be some way to generate power near you.
- The southwest gets lots of sunshine days, for solar power & hot water
- The northwest has lots of water and elevation changes, for micro hydro power
- The south & midwest have lots of growing plants (kudzu, anyone?), for bio-gasification
- And many areas of the country are suitable for wind power
But even before that, the best practice is to reduce your need for power.
Because that’s less you have to spend on power generation.
Use less, spend less. Easy peasy.
Second, water production
A spring or well for domestic water is very common in many rural areas without municipal water supply.
I would rate an artesian or gravity-fed spring with good water as a first, best choice. Putting the water above where you use it lets you leverage gravity for FREE and pressurize the water. This could also affect your house location.
A properly drilled and cased well is another choice, but you’re reliant on the pump and power to never fail.
Another choice could be surface water (rivers/streams and ponds/lakes), but these can be seasonal and vulnerable to upstream pollution.
You would also have to filter or UV-sterilize this surface water to remove any sickness-causing bugs like Giardia and other viruses and bacteria.
Another choice that works even in very dry areas is rainwater harvesting. Some people can catch all the water for their needs just from the sky. See the YT homesteadonomics channel rainwater harvesting playlist.
You will need at a minimum: tanks, plumbing, and a pump to pressurize the water, but it may be more cost-effective than trying to drill a well.
Whatever method you choose, consider using the most robust (self-supporting and easily repairable) system with the least required inputs.
All that water gets used, and some eventually ends up in the sewer/septic system. But what if we used that resource instead of sending it “away”? See the better way than sewer or septic in a previous post.
Greywater re-use is a great way to use that water as many times as possible, and reduces the load on the sewer and septic systems.
Humanure or composting toilets is another way to use the nutrient-rich resource people produce every day. There are methods that are complete hands-free.
So you DON’T need to haul heavy buckets or touch someone else’s poop! Yay!
Yeah, it kinda grosses me out too. Blecchhhh!
You see now that you can apply permaculture to much more than just the garden. And we really just barely touched on ways to use permaculture in work and home design. I’ll do more examples in future posts.
OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about practical applications of permaculture? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
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