About Permaculture



Per­ma­cul­ture is a design sci­ence for cre­at­ing sus­tain­able liv­ing sys­tems. Through care­ful obser­va­tion of healthy nat­ural sys­tems, we design pat­terns that cre­ate abun­dant sys­tems of food, energy, water, shel­ter and com­mu­nity with min­i­mum labor and pol­lu­tion. Per­ma­cul­ture teaches how to drought-proof where you live. Per­ma­cul­ture can be prac­ticed by all peo­ple, regard­less of loca­tion, eco­nomic sta­tus, or edu­ca­tional achieve­ment. Prac­ti­cal per­ma­cul­ture offers a rich and abun­dant future.



Per­ma­cul­ture means “per­ma­nent agri­cul­ture” that allows for a “per­ma­nent culture.”

Per­ma­cul­ture teaches us how to sim­plify our lives and lead a more sat­is­fy­ing lifestyle. Per­ma­cul­ture teaches us how to quickly reduce reliance on fos­sil fuels and indus­trial sys­tems that are destroy­ing the earth’s ecosys­tems. Per­ma­cul­ture is more than a new way of gar­den­ing — it’s a sus­tain­able way to live on planet Earth. We cre­ate per­ma­cul­ture wher­ever we live.


Bill Mol­li­son (co-founder of per­ma­cul­ture in 1978 with David Holm­gren) describes per­ma­cul­ture as the “con­scious design and main­te­nance of agri­cul­tur­ally pro­duc­tive ecosys­tems which have the diver­sity, sta­bil­ity, and resilience of nat­ural ecosys­tems and the har­mo­nious inte­gra­tion of land­scape and peo­ple. The idea is to be able to look out your back­door and see your friends and fam­ily gath­er­ing food.”


Per­ma­cul­ture is an inte­grated, self-sustaining sys­tem of peren­nial agri­cul­ture … which involves a large diver­sity of plant and ani­mal species. It is com­pletely self-contained agri­cul­tural ecosys­tem that is designed to min­i­mize main­te­nance input and max­i­mize prod­uct yield. In per­ma­cul­ture, lit­tle wheels or cycles of energy are set up … and the sys­tem vir­tu­ally keeps itself going! Essen­tially, it’s a liv­ing clock­work that should never run down … at least as long as the sun shines and the earth revolves.


I like to call per­ma­cul­ture a “humane tech­nol­ogy”, because it’s of human dimen­sions. By that, I mean that it deals in a very basic way with sim­ple, liv­ing ele­ments … so it’s avail­able to every man and woman. Per­ma­cul­ture doesn’t involve some sort of com­pli­cated tech­nol­ogy. Instead, it’s a bio-technology … which peo­ple can intu­itively han­dle . After all, per­ma­cul­ture deals with liv­ing sys­tems … and since man him­self is a liv­ing organ­ism, he can read­ily com­pre­hend it.


A permaculturist’s skills may include build­ing a house that uses almost no energy (my elec­tric bill is $5 a month), or installing a grey­wa­ter sys­tem and pond. We may have cre­ated an edi­ble food for­est. We may have set-up a rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing sys­tem that col­lects and stores the rain that hits our roofs, or turned our fences into a food source. All this and more is part of a design con­cept that takes its cues from nature, while cre­at­ing sys­tems that take less work than con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture and are wildly abundant.


The good news is you are prob­a­bly already prac­tic­ing some per­ma­cul­ture principles.


Per­ma­cul­ture Defined

1. From Bill Mol­li­son: Per­ma­cul­ture is a design sys­tem for cre­at­ing sus­tain­able human environments.


2. From Dry­lands Per­ma­cul­ture, August 1987, Cathe’ Fish and Bill  Steen. Reprinted by Per­ma­cul­ture Dry­lands Insti­tute, pub­lished in The Per­ma­cul­ture Activist (Autumn 1989): Per­ma­cul­ture: the use of ecol­ogy as the basis for design­ing inte­grated sys­tems of food pro­duc­tion, hous­ing, appro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy, and com­mu­nity devel­op­ment. Per­ma­cul­ture is built upon an ethic of car­ing for the earth and inter­act­ing with the envi­ron­ment in mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial ways.

3. From Lee Barnes (for­mer edi­tor of Kat­uah Jour­nal and Per­ma­cul­ture Con­nec­tions), Way­nesville, North Car­olina:
Per­ma­cul­ture (PER­MA­nent agri­CUL­TURE,  or PER­MA­nent CULTURE) is a sus­tain­able design sys­tem stress­ing the har­mo­nious inter­re­la­tion­ship of humans, plants, ani­mals and the Earth. To para­phrase the founder of per­ma­cul­ture, designer Bill Mollison:


~ Per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples focus on thought­ful designs for small-scale inten­sive sys­tems which are labor effi­cient and which use bio­log­i­cal resources instead of fos­sil fuels. Designs stress eco­log­i­cal con­nec­tions and closed energy and mate­r­ial loops. The core of per­ma­cul­ture is design and the work­ing rela­tion­ships and con­nec­tions between all things. Each com­po­nent in a sys­tem per­forms mul­ti­ple func­tions, and each func­tion is sup­ported by many ele­ments. Key to effi­cient design is obser­va­tion and repli­ca­tion of nat­ural ecosys­tems, where design­ers max­i­mize diver­sity with poly­cul­tures, stress effi­cient energy plan­ning for houses and set­tle­ment, using and accel­er­at­ing nat­ural plant suc­ces­sion, and increas­ing the highly pro­duc­tive “edge-zones” within the system. ~


4. From Michael Pilarski, founder of Friends of the Trees, pub­lished in Inter­na­tional Green Front Report (1988):

Per­ma­cul­ture is: the design of land use sys­tems that are sus­tain­able and envi­ron­men­tally sound; the design of cul­tur­ally appro­pri­ate sys­tems which lead to social sta­bil­ity; a design sys­tem char­ac­ter­ized by an inte­grated appli­ca­tion of eco­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples in land use; an inter­na­tional move­ment for land use plan­ning and design; an eth­i­cal sys­tem stress­ing pos­i­tivism and coop­er­a­tion. In the broad­est sense, per­ma­cul­ture refers to land use sys­tems which pro­mote sta­bil­ity in soci­ety, uti­lize resources in a sus­tain­able way and pre­serve wildlife habi­tat and the genetic diver­sity of wild and domes­tic plants and ani­mals. It is a syn­the­sis of ecol­ogy and geog­ra­phy, of obser­va­tion and design. Per­ma­cul­ture involves ethics of earth care because the sus­tain­able use of land can­not be sep­a­rated from life-styles and philo­soph­i­cal issues.


5. From a Bay Area Per­ma­cul­ture Group brochure, pub­lished in West Coast Per­ma­cul­ture News & Gos­sip and Sus­tain­able Liv­ing Newslet­ter (Fall 1995): Per­ma­cul­ture is a prac­ti­cal con­cept which can be applied in the city, in sub­ur­bia, on the farm, and in the wilder­ness. Its prin­ci­ples empower peo­ple to estab­lish highly pro­duc­tive envi­ron­ments pro­vid­ing for food, energy, shel­ter, and other mate­r­ial and non-material needs, includ­ing eco­nomic. Care­fully observ­ing nat­ural pat­terns char­ac­ter­is­tic of a par­tic­u­lar site, the per­ma­cul­ture designer grad­u­ally dis­cerns opti­mal meth­ods for inte­grat­ing water catch­ment, human shel­ter, and energy sys­tems with tree crops, edi­ble and use­ful peren­nial plants, domes­tic and wild ani­mals and aquaculture.



Per­ma­cul­ture adopts tech­niques and prin­ci­ples from ecol­ogy, appro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy, sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, and the wis­dom of indige­nous peo­ples. The eth­i­cal basis of per­ma­cul­ture rests upon care of the earth-maintaining a sys­tem in which all life can thrive. This includes human access to resources and pro­vi­sions, but not the accu­mu­la­tion of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.



Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Permaculture† 

  • Per­ma­cul­ture is one of the most holis­tic, inte­grated sys­tems analy­sis and design method­olo­gies found in the world.
  • Per­ma­cul­ture can be applied to cre­ate pro­duc­tive ecosys­tems from the human– use stand­point or to help degraded ecosys­tems recover health and wild­ness. Per­ma­cul­ture can be applied in any ecosys­tem, no mat­ter how degraded.
  • Per­ma­cul­ture val­ues and val­i­dates tra­di­tional knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence. Per­ma­cul­ture incor­po­rates sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tices and land man­age­ment tech­niques and strate­gies from around the world. Per­ma­cul­ture is a bridge between tra­di­tional cul­tures and emer­gent earth-tuned cultures.
  • Per­ma­cul­ture pro­motes organic agri­cul­ture which does not use pes­ti­cides to pol­lute the environment.
  • Per­ma­cul­ture aims to max­i­mize sym­bi­otic and syn­er­gis­tic rela­tion­ships between site components
  • Per­ma­cul­ture design is site spe­cific, client spe­cific, and cul­ture specific.

†Source: Pilarski, Michael (ed.) 1994. Restora­tion Forestry. Kivaki Press, Durango, CO. p. 450.


The Prac­ti­cal Appli­ca­tion of Permaculture

Per­ma­cul­ture is not lim­ited to plant and ani­mal agri­cul­ture, but also includes com­mu­nity plan­ning and devel­op­ment, use of appro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies (cou­pled with an adjust­ment of life-style), and adop­tion of con­cepts and philoso­phies that are both earth-based and people-centered, such as bio-regionalism.


Many of the appro­pri­ate tech­nolo­gies advo­cated by per­ma­cul­tur­ists are well known. Among these are solar and wind power, com­post­ing toi­lets, solar green­houses, energy effi­cient hous­ing, and solar food cook­ing and drying.


Due to the inher­ent sus­tain­abil­ity of peren­nial crop­ping sys­tems, per­ma­cul­ture places a heavy empha­sis on tree crops. Sys­tems that inte­grate annual and peren­nial crops—such as alley crop­ping and agroforestry—take advan­tage of “the edge effect,” increase bio­log­i­cal diver­sity, and offer other char­ac­ter­is­tics miss­ing in mono­cul­ture sys­tems. Thus, mul­ti­crop­ping sys­tems that blend woody peren­ni­als and annu­als hold promise as viable tech­niques for large-scale farm­ing. Eco­log­i­cal meth­ods of pro­duc­tion for any spe­cific crop or farm­ing sys­tem (e.g., soil build­ing prac­tices, bio­log­i­cal pest con­trol, com­post­ing) are cen­tral to per­ma­cul­ture as well as to sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture in general.


Since per­ma­cul­ture is not a pro­duc­tion sys­tem, per se, but rather a land use and com­mu­nity plan­ning phi­los­o­phy, it is not lim­ited to a spe­cific method of pro­duc­tion. Fur­ther­more, as per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples may be adapted to farms or vil­lages world­wide, it is site spe­cific and there­fore amenable to locally adapted tech­niques of production.


As an exam­ple, stan­dard organic farm­ing and gar­den­ing tech­niques uti­liz­ing cover crops, green manures, crop rota­tion, and mulches are empha­sized in per­ma­cul­tural sys­tems. How­ever, there are many other options and tech­nolo­gies avail­able to sus­tain­able farm­ers work­ing within a per­ma­cul­tural frame­work (e.g., chisel plows, no-till imple­ments, spad­ing imple­ments, com­post turn­ers, rota­tional graz­ing). The deci­sion as to which “sys­tem” is employed is site-specific and man­age­ment dependent.


Farm­ing sys­tems and tech­niques com­monly asso­ci­ated with per­ma­cul­ture include agro– forestry, swales, con­tour plant­i­ngs, Key­line agri­cul­ture (soil and water man­age­ment), hedgerows and wind­breaks, and inte­grated farm­ing sys­tems such as pond-dike aqua­cul­ture, aquapon­ics, inter­crop­ping, hedgerows and polyculture.


Gar­den­ing and recy­cling meth­ods com­mon to per­ma­cul­ture include edi­ble land­scap­ing, key­hole gar­den­ing, com­pan­ion plant­ing, trel­lis­ing, sheet mulching, chicken trac­tors, solar green­houses, spi­ral herb gar­dens, swales, and vermicomposting.


Water col­lec­tion, man­age­ment, and re-use sys­tems like Key­line, grey­wa­ter, rain catch­ment, con­structed wet­lands, aquapon­ics (the integra-tion of hydro­pon­ics with recir­cu­lat­ing aqua­cul­ture), and solar aquatic ponds (also known as Liv­ing Machines) play an impor­tant role in per­ma­cul­ture designs.

From ATTRA –National Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture Infor­ma­tion Service


“The only eth­i­cal deci­sion is to take respon­si­bil­ity for our own exis­tence and that of our chil­dren,” Bill Mol­li­son, 1990.

“You can fix all the world’s prob­lems, in a gar­den. You can solve them all in a gar­den. You can solve all your pol­lu­tion prob­lems, and all your sup­ply line needs in a gar­den. And most peo­ple today actu­ally don’t know that, and that makes most peo­ple very inse­cure.” Geoff Lawton