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Lesson 8 – Creative Design Process based on Whole-systems

Permaculture is a Creative Design Process based on Whole-systems thinking informed by Ethics and Design Principles.

This approach guides us to mimic the patterns and relationships we can find in nature and can be applied to all aspects of human habitation, from agriculture to ecological building, from appropriate technology to education and even economics.

By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers. This journey builds skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that will help us prepare for an uncertain future with less available energy.

The techniques and strategies used to apply these principles vary widely depending on the location, climatic conditions, and resources that are available. The methods may differ, but the foundations to this holistic approach remain constant. By learning these principles you can acquire valuable thinking tools that help you become more resilient in an era of change.

The following Permaculture Principles are from www.permacultureprinciples.com authored by co-founder of Permaculture, David Holmgren and are referred to as the Holmgrenian Permaculture Design Principles, as not to be confused with the Bill Mollision Design Principles as outlined in Permaculture: A Designers Manual which are covered in the Design Modules.


By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.



This icon for this design principle represents a person ‘becoming’ a tree.

In observing nature it is important to take different perspectives to help understand what is going on with the various elements in the system.

The proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” reminds us that we place our own values on what we observe, yet in nature, there is no right or wrong, only different.

Connecting to the source of nourishment

Dharmananda community has a small herd of well-loved cattle, several of which are producing milk at any one time. The herder monitors the health, well-being and feeding of the cows through the course of daily tasks.

Over time that person gets to know each of the cows by name, how old they are and how they are related.

By keeping closely connected, the herder builds trust and both cows and people gain a sense of well-being from those relationships.


Discovering Springtails

Once classified as an insect, springtails like this Dicyrtomina sp. are one of the most abundant macroscopic animals.

They play an important role in spreading spores to help establish plant-fungal symbioses and in controlling fungal disease.

Because of their sensitivity to pollution they are used by scientists to determine soil health.

Though difficult to see, you can find the six legged critters, often less than 2mm in size, on the underside of damp wood using a magnifying glass.


Feel it

Kai, 2½, is delighting in a rare summer storm while his father observes erosion control measures.

The chains of ponds observed in some stable streams have been replicated here.

Rocks have been laid across this diversion channel to slow the flow and catch sediment, and branches laid across the staggered outflow to spread it across the grassed gentle slope in the background.

Kai is playing, and learning without trying.



By Developing Systems that Collect Resources when they are Abundant, we can use them in Times of Need.




This icon for this design principle represents energy being stored in a container for use later on, while the proverb “make hay while the sun shines” reminds us that we have a limited time to catch and store energy.




Cultivating a Micro-climate for Change

Juan Anton built his greenhouse using bamboo and rocks collected from his property.

The sun facing wall stores heat during the day and releases it during the cool nights, preventing frost.

The water tank and containers act in much the same way, allowing him to grow tropical plants in the Mediterranean climate.

Juan shares much of what he has grown and learnt at his edible forest with dozens of visitors who stay over for group discussions that can last for several days.


Heat People not the Space

Thermal mass can be heated by the sun or on demand using systems like this rocket mass heater.

The masonry holds hundreds of times more heat than air, storing it for longer, and releasing it at safe temperatures to keep people warm.

This design incorporates a rocket stove and flue running through the masonry.

Careful design and construction ensures that the small amount of fuel used is burnt hot and clean, while heat is soaked into the mass.


Catching and Storing the Goodness of the Alpine Meadows

In Montafon, farmers graze their cattle on alpine meadow pasture during summer and produce this Sura Kees (sour cheese).

The raw milk and the wood of the vessels carry the microflora for natural fermentation.

Most of the food value of the milk is caught and stored by the cheese for longer life and transport.

Cheese: milk’s leap towards immortality”.


Dry Bananas while the Sun Shines

Low tech solar drying using a salvaged window fly screen, and a roof.

Bananas were so cheap and plentiful in Australia that very ripe bananas would often go to waste.

Cyclones sometimes blow down exposed banana plants – Cyclone Yasi destroyed most of Australia’s banana crop in 2011.

The resultant short supply and high prices remind us to catch and store surpluses when we can.