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Glossary - Permaculture Design

ASSESSMENT Typically, the first action done by a permaculture designer. It includes an in-depth interview of all parties living on or majorly interacting with the site (“concerned parties”), a physical inspection of the site, and a full site analysis. An assessment can be ongoing, as new information tends to come up as the design process progresses and the designer should be receptive to and aware of this.

BASE MAP A to-scale map of the property that is being designed. This may include topography, underground utility lines, above ground infrastructure, waterways, and existing trees and other foliage. This map gives a good overview of the property, as it exists and allows one to design so as to take into full consideration existing structural elements of the land and built environment.

DESIGN A roadmap or a strategic approach to achieve a specific expectation. The sequence of activities to complete a design is called a design process.

ELEMENT, OR DESIGN ELEMENT A component or part of a whole, especially one that is essential or characteristic. Examples would include a pond, a house, a slope, roadways, animals, etc.

ENERGY The capacity of a physical system or organism to do work. There are different forms of energy – light, wind, gravity, heat, chemical, etc. Fuel is a potential energy. In living things, energy can be stored in cells as carbohydrates, fats or other substances. It is released by cellular breathing or respiration. Energy can also be an accumulation of matter – matter is a form of stored energy. Word origin: From Ancient Greek ἐνέργεια (energeia) "action, act, work", < ἐνεργός (energos) "active" < ἐν (en) "in" + ἔργον (ergon) "work".

FUNCTION The purpose for which something is designed or exists; its role.

INPUTS AND OUTPUTS An analysis of what energy is coming into thesystem and leaving, and how that is occurring. Once this is known, one can begin the design analysis of how to capture energy to increase yield.

INVISIBLE STRUCTURE Visible structure would include the natural world, food supply, water, the built environment, tools, living organisms and energy. Invisible structure would include culture and education, health and spiritual wellness, finance and economics, and community governance and land tenure (meaning, how we think about our relationship to the land legally and ethically – for instance, ownership, or stewardship? ). stainable and regenerative design addresses each aspect of invisible structure and considers how it can be incorporated into the design to make it more resilient and increase the yield.

ORDER (Mollison)A system that produces more than it consumes is an orderly system. If a system receives more resources than it can effectively handle, then pollution and reduced yield can result.

PERMACULTURE  Permaculture is the conscious design of human systems that work with, rather than against, the power of the natural world, to increase abundance for all living things. It is based on a specific set of principles and tools, and draws from both modern science and the successful practices and wisdom of indigenous peoples. It uses local resources wherever possible, to solve local problems.

Permaculture embraces all aspects of human interaction. When we design human systems consciously and holistically, every aspect becomes more sustainable, healthier and more responsive to the needs of individuals within that system.

Permaculture offers practical solutions to global environmental, economic and cultural crises we now face, through the use of regenerative design tools and principles. 

Bill Mollison:

Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.

Permaculture is the study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society, both agricultural & intellectual, traditional & scientific, architectural, financial & legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design & application of such systems. 

Permaculture uses the energies of wind, sun, water, soil & the myriad biological processes of the world’s organisms. Used appropriately, these energies reclaim soils. Forest, prairie, & river systems regenerate. Waste products are minimal & reused. Human communities provide for their own needs in small, efficient farms & gardens, allowing the broad landscape to return to health.

Permaculture is a trademarked word, owned as a common trademark by the Permaculture Institutes & their graduates. Derived from ‘Permanent’ and ‘Culture’, as follows:

Permanent: From the Latin permanens, to remain to the end, to persist throughout (per = through, manere = to continue)

Culture: From the Latin cultura - cultivation of land, or the intellect. Now generalized to mean all those habits, beliefs, or activities that sustain human societies.

PATTERNS. Observing the patterns in nature, we can then apply these to design for more efficiency and stability. The circle is a key pattern for this purpose. For instance, seasons move in a circle. Patterns are used to direct and regulate energy throughout the system and create beneficial connections.

REDUNDANCY. It is wise to include multiple elements to perform key functions in the system, such as water supply. Good backup creates resilient systems.

REGENERATIVE Regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes cells, organs, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans. Regeneration can either be complete where the new tissue is the same as the lost tissue, or incomplete. Stable ecosystems are regenerative. Following a disturbance, such as a fire or pest outbreak in a forest, pioneering species will occupy, compete for space, and establish themselves in the newly opened habitat. The new growth of seedlings and the community assembly process is known as regeneration in ecology. (Wikipedia)

REGENERATIVE DESIGN The results will be an improved ecosystem or community or household. The goal of permaculture design is to regenerate, to improve, and heal ecosystems and communities, not to just retain the status quo.  

RENEWABLE RESOURCE will last longer than it takes to grow a new one. For instance, wood buildings should last longer than it takes to grow the trees that were used to build them.

RESOURCE Any energy storage that assists yield (Mollison)

SECTORS The locations on site where energies can influence the design, such as sun, wind, fire, water flow, wild animals, etc.

SITE ANALYSIS The use of assessment questionnaires, site observation, and data gathering to determine the state of a site and elements related to that site. Typically included in a site analysis are aspects of sun and wind, location, legal (easements, etc), zoning, topography, utilities (underground), natural features, man-made features, sensory (smells, sounds, visual, etc), human and cultural (neighborhood mores, historical context, etc), toxins (for instance, heavy metals such as lead in the soil), and climate.

SPHERES Each invisible structure element (see invisible structure) such as the mental and emotional landscapes of those involved in and affected by the design, the community, economics, culture, education, health matters, spirituality, community governance (including zoning, regulations, etc.) can be thought of as a sphere, with its own particular influence. Each sphere can interact with and exchange energies with other spheres. Spheres have no physical location, but in some cases, a physical manifestation of a sphere can be located on the design (for instance, an education center on the property). The way any of them are addressed can make or break the success of a design, so it is vital to consider these in the course of design work. (Brennan)

STACKING Stacking functions involves a single element in a design performing multiple functions. This element could be a plant, an animal, a person or a social system.

SUSTAINABLE  something that lasts. It can go on indefinitely, based on available resources. It is midway between degenerative and regenerative.  

SWALES On-contour ditches which capture and hold water, making it available to trees and perennials planted on either side of the swale.

YIELD The sum total of surplus energy produced, stored, conserved, reused or converted by the design. Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all it needs for growth, reproduction and maintenance.

ZONES In permaculture design, “a method of ensuring that elements are correctly placed.” Zones are numbered from 0 to 5, and can be thought of as a series of concentric rings moving out from a centre point—where human activity and need for attention is most concentrated—to where there is no need for intervention at all. Note that zones are tools used to help you think with placement of the design. They are not rotely placed and the function of the zone in relation to other zones is what will determine where zones are placed in a design. For instance, you could have a small Zone 5 (see below) around a giant oak tree in your front yard. This could be a wild area that is left alone, and observed. Some designers feel that Zone 0 and Zone 1 should be combined.

ZONE 0 The house, or home centre. Here permaculture principles would be applied in terms of reducing energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live, work and relax. Some permaculture designers include this zone with Zone 1.

ZONE 1 The zone nearest to the house, the location for those elements in the system that require the most frequent attention, usually daily such as salad crops, herb plants, greenhouse and cold frames, propagation area, worm compost bin for kitchen waste, and so on.

ZONE 2 This area is used for growing perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance, such as occasional weed control (through natural methods such as spot-mulching) or pruning, including currant bushes and orchards. This would also be a good place for beehives, larger scale home composting bins, and so on.

ZONE 3 The area where main crops are grown, both for domestic use and for trade purposes. After establishment, the care and maintenance required for zone 3 crops is fairly minimal (provided mulches and similar things are used), such as watering or weed control once a week or so.

ZONE 4 A semi-wild area. This zone is mainly used for forage and collecting wild food as well as timber production. An example of timber production might be coppice-managed woodland.

ZONE 5 A wild area. There is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural eco-systems and cycles. Here is where the most important lessons of the first permaculture principle of working with, rather than against, nature are learned.

ZONE 6 Some permaculturists delineate a separate zone for sacred space. This can be a meditation spot, a wilderness area defined as sacred, a prayer area, or whatever that might mean for the people who are living in that space.