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What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is all about growing things sustainably and ethically.

It recognises needs of people such as food, fuel and shelter, and attempts to marry supplying those needs with avoiding any degradation of everything else in the environment – animals, plants, soil and air.

In a broad sense permaculture attempts to establish of environments which are productive, stable, and therefore sustainable.  These are environments which provide food, shelter, energy, and other positive benefits.

The concept was founded in Australia by university professor Bill Mollison and his PhD student David Holmgren in the 1970’s, and was a response to modern agricultural practices that were increasingly damaging landscapes and degrading long-term farm potential.

Key elements of permaculture are low energy and high diversity inputs; principles which are equally relevant to a small home garden or a large commercial farm.

Permaculture started out as an innovative idea which identified and incorporated farming and gardening ideas from many different places around the world.  It adopted, adapted and combined practices and techniques that had been used in various parts of the world, but often not everywhere or extensively.

Designing a System

Designing a permaculture system involves three steps:

  1. Survey the site –Draw up a plan if the site, to scale, as it currently exists.
  2. Choose components (plants, animals, structures etc) you want to retain, remove and add to the site.
  3. Determine where components will be located; according to concepts and principles used in permaculture.

Techniques Often Used in Permaculture


Components (e.g. vegetables, chickens, nut trees), are located closer to a centre (e.g. a house) if they need to be accessed more often, and further away, if they are accessed less often.


In nature the lowest plants in a forest are the most shaded and protected from weather extremes.  In this way it is there are vertical layers in an ecosystem. Permaculture recognises and attempts to incorporate this idea into a "stack" of living layers, each with different environmental characteristics.

Companion Planting

It's always better to grow plants together that compliment each other, rather than ones that cause problems for their neighbours.

Keyhole Planting

To make harvesting and maintenance accessible, arrange small patches of plants with pathways for access between them.


Gullies dug across a slope to channel rain water to a point where you want plants to be watered.  Instead of wasting rainfall, having it soak into the ground where it is not needed, it runs down the channel to a hollow where it concentrates and soaks in around the roots.  This approach was used in ancient times and championed by the irrigation expert Yoemans in the 1960’s, but has been embraced in a big way by the permaculture community.

Organic Growing

Permaculture is commonly organic, but all organic growing is not permaculture.  Organic production usually avoids using chemicals, and attempts to harness the forces of nature.

Living Soil

By encouraging earthworms, beneficial bacteria and any other organisms to flourish levels of soil nutrition and fertility can be increased benefiting plants, and providing food for other animals.

Use Nature to Control Pests and Diseases

Encourage birds, predatory insects etc. Recognise that you need some “pests and diseases” to feed the predators – the aim is to try to achieve a balance though…  If you have a balance, you may lose some produce, but the problems are always kept in check, and your produce should never become decimated.

No Dig Gardening

No dig gardening was practiced in many places before permaculture, but again it is an approach widely adopted by the permaculture community.  The concept involves creating layers of organic matter, soil and manure or compost and then planting into the pile. It drains well because it is above the ground.  It is very fertile,and it tends to hold adequate moisture for plants even in dry weather.


Environments do change.  This is inevitable.  Permaculture plans for change though, and tries to achieve a relatively predetermined and managed succession.  To do this is exceptionally complex, and achieving a perfect control may be impossible, but attempting to manage change is exceedingly better than letting it happen without any forethought.


Permaculture systems are a polyculture not monoculture.

Making Optimum Use of Resources

Waste is recycled (e.g. composting), energy is harvested and reused.  Employ designs that minimize extremes (e.g. windbreaks, mulching) - planting deciduous trees to provide cooling in summer and allow warm sun penetration in winter; bodies of water, mulch, and rocks as heat and cool banks to slow rate of heating or cooling.

Learning More

The founders of permaculture established a Permaculture Design Certificate, widely known as the PDC.  This internationally set standard, teaches the same basics all over the world; graduates from the first certificates, went on to teach PDC’s to others, and new generations of graduates continue to do the same. Today, there are millions of PDC graduates around the world, and opportunities for people to study the PDC all sorts of different ways all over the world.

You can gain a PDC plus other qualifications at the same time - for further details please read our PDC Pathway page.

Links to some of our courses are shown at the bottom of this page, alternatively, view all of our Permaculture courses.

If you have any questions or want to know more about studying Permaculture with ACS, then please get in touch with our specialist tutors today, they will be pleased to help you.

[17/08/2022 17:45:12]

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