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Published on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Permaculture principles and me

Efficient energy planning

This starts a series of articles I have decided to write centered around the principles of permaculture. While I am no expert, I have taken to heart the principles and ethics, studied them and am trying to apply them to my own circumstance, ie.- my 10 acre organic herb and market garden farm-ette near Colbert. If you search online for “Permaculture Design Principles” or “Permaculture Principles” you will find a plethora of sites with their own lists. So I have decided to use those principles put forth by Mollison and Slay in ”Introduction to Permaculture”:

  • Relative location.
  • Each element performs many functions.
  • Each important function is supported by many elements.
  • Efficient energy planning: zone, sector and slope.
  • Using biological resources.
  • Cycling of energy, nutrients, resources.
  • Small-scale intensive systems; including plant stacking and time stacking.
  • Accelerating succession and evolution.
  • Diversity; including guilds.
  • Edge effects.
  • Attitudinal principles: everything works both ways, and permaculture is information and imagination-intensive.

I will discuss what I think they mean, how they apply to my farm and how they can be applied to issues confronting us today, locally. I say locally because I have no authority or knowledge about how they can be used nationally or globally to any extent. I will let others, including you and those infinitely more qualified than I, do that.

Being an avowed minimalist and having a tendency toward relaxation the first principle I wanted to address is efficient energy planning. I am 64 years old and as I age, the energy available to me inevitably wanes. I relate this to entropy where available energy will eventually go away or, at the very least, be converted into something else. Think of water in a pond on a hillside. The potential energy inherent in a “hanging” body of water can be converted into kinetic energy by letting it flow downhill- to a generator, over the ground in the form of erosion- or converted into biologic energy when used to water plants. In the end, however, that potential, kinetic and biologic energy will disappear. We have to plan for entropy. We have to build it into our systems. Why? Because we must capture as much of the available energy as we can right from the start to use for later. We can design sun traps and arrange our gardens to take advantage of the sun; we can install small ponds to capture rain water during the rain season to use for irrigation or small hydro; we can use manure for heat and nutrient energy and we can use fungi to provide biologic energy. There are many, many other ways to capture, convert and use energy.

I have heard many people talk about the goal of zero external energy and resource (is there a difference between the two?) inputs into their systems by which they seem to mean that it is desirable to have compost, water and other energy forms come from their own systems (sort of a closed system). I feel no compunction to go this route. I want to MINIMIZE the amount of external resources I gather but I willing grab every resource that I can find, and that I do not have, in order to further my purposes. Of course those resources MUST be healthy and sustainably produced.  However, I will never be able to realize a closed system. It would take way too much energy to try to do this. So I plan efficient use of energy when I am building my infrastructure for sustainability because at 80 I don’t want to be dropping trees and hauling logs and digging ponds nearly as much as I do now.

As we look around at the country it is easy to see how inefficiently energy is being used today. From standalone lumber mills that could co-generate their heat, grocery stores that could contribute to community composting, products that could be designed for recycling after their use and many, many more examples. Of course all of this inefficiency has been fueled by cheap fossil fuels. Strangely enough, when I think of it, the petroleum industry is at some level one of the most efficient users around. Their cracking towers can, from a barrel of oil, capture myriad substances used in thousands of products. Of course the side effects are a bit detrimental to the planet. I suspect though that this is an example of an ultimately self-regulating process, ie- we will run out of oil sooner rather than later or the earth will rebel and kick us all out. We shall see.
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Author: Thom

Categories: Principles

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