Permaculture Lexicon – Vocabulary, Terms, Concepts and links

Adobe – Clay – Cob – Barro – Sustainable Building

Adobe : A mix of clay and sand used as a building material, typically in the form of dried bricks. See how applied concretely here.

Adobe building is part of a habitat settlement in Permaculture.

Aggregates (soil) or lumps

Soil aggregates are groups of soil particles binding together. They are a sign of soil fertility and come from different processes; sticky substance excreted by bacteria and fungi, fungi hyphae (filaments) and root hair tying soil particles together, sugar excreted by roots binding minerals together, oxides acting as a glue, electrostatic forces.

SoilAggregates

Aggregates provide porosity, water-holding capacity and a stable environment for microorganisms. Unless soils are actively aggregating, they will not be fixing significant amounts of atmospheric nitrogen or sequestering stable forms of carbon. External resource : see an illustration of aggregate by Rudy Garcia, State Agronomist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in New Mexico.

Permaculture uses aggregates as a sign of fertility in the process of soil observation.

Agroecology

Agroecology is a domain of science which studies the ecological processes at work in agricultural systems. See the comparison between Permaculture and agroecology.

Permaculture is a concrete application of agroecology in addition with habitat production and ethic statement.

Agro-toxic farming

Non sustainable farming based on simplistic knowledge of biological and ecosystemic processes. Agro-toxic farming survives because of government subsidies in a geopolitical context and on the parasitism of environmental services like water availability at low cost, subsidized fossil fuel and public funds for health care resolving side effects of farming toxicity, pollution and lack of nutrition. Agro-toxic farming requires between 10 to 20 calories equivalent petrol to produce 1 calorie equivalent food.

Agro-toxic industry is a monopolistic sector intimately related to bank and finance, political lobbying, fossil fuel and chemical and pharmaceutical industry. As such a transition to a different model seems difficult and is obstructed by

– the lack of awareness of alternative models (maintained by this monopolistic model)
– food is considered as a commodity preventing a transition toward more ethic regulation (see external resource)
– the poor knowledge of soil and ecosystem processes both in industrial farming and in small farms in developing countries

Side effects like geopolitical dominance in genetic engineering and commodities exchanges speculation disturbs the world chessboard and maintain this outdated technology. Consumerism and marketing processes maintain as well uneducated population in the belief that no concrete alternative exist.

Transition drives toward ecofriendly practices may include

– Crisis (famine, large scale diseases, water shortage, dependency outbreak between dense urban centers and countryside, …)
Ecosystemic and agroecology studies in science
– Organic agriculture in search for optimization
– Popularization of Permaculture know-how and public awareness of alternative system
– Creation of alternative local distribution channels supported globally by internet (see external resource) empowering small organic farms
– Reorientation of genetic selection toward perennials (see external resource)
Urban Permaculture
– Development of free from patent seeds networks

Permaculture intends to use no artificial (petrol based) calorie input (only sunlight) to produce food at the same time as to improve the ecosystem fertility.

Allelopathy

Allelopathy is a biological interaction between organisms using biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction. The allelochemicals can have beneficial (creating synergy) or detrimental (aggressive or defensive mechanisms) effects on the target organisms or ecosystem.

Permaculture intends to include allelopathic mechanisms in the ecosystem management either to increase beneficial interactions or control invading species.

Alcohol

Alcohol may be considered as an organic derivative of water (H2O) in which one of the hydrogen atoms has been replaced by an alkyl group (molecule made of Carbon and Hydrogen atoms), typically represented by R. Lignin are polymers (complex structure) made of aromatic alcohol. Alcohol is not a carbohydrate.

Annual plant

An annual plant is a plant that completes its life cycle, from germination to the production of seed, within one year, and then dies. It is based on a short cycles requiring a lot of nutrients to propagate.

Although agro-industry has been developed on a model of annual crops production, Permaculture tends to find a balance between annuals (energy demanding) and perennials (energy accumulating) in order to ensure the sustainability (permanence) of the ecosystem.

Biochar

Biochar means charcoal enriched with biological nutrients. Its properties have been used for thousand of years by the amazonian civilization to substantiate (through soil fertilization) an intensive and productive agriculture (the necessary foundation of a civilization) in an ecosystem having poor soil. The addition of biochar to the soil create a rich and black earth called ; “A terra preta dos indios” meaning ; “the black earth of the Indians”. In the amazon the fertility stands usually up the ground in the different stages of vegetation. Every particle of biomass falling to the ground (if not diverted by the forest) is quickly degraded and used by fungus and bacteria, and end up as nutrients for the superficial roots of the giant trees. These giant trees do not really count on the very thin layer of top soil but survive by complementing there diet with very deep roots getting sparse nutrients from the deep and poor degraded soil. Biochar is everyday more famous and many countries envisage the production of this material (for agricultural purpose) as byproducts of energy production in a circular economy perspective.

The properties of biochar are (being still under the scrutiny of a growing population of biologists);

  • The difference between charcoal and biochar is the inclusion of biological nutrients inside the charcoal to get the biochar. If you put charcoal right into the soil it can suck the nutrients and have a negative effect on the plants. Amazonian Indians certainly added these nutrients by using organic waste from everyday life (organic garbage from the kitchen, urine, etc.)
  • Charcoal has a large wall surface area inside the cavities where microorganisms can find a habitat and protect themselves from the effects of heavy rains and biological cycles (being pray in the food web). A charcoal spoon has a wall surface area equivalent to a football stadium. Adding charcoal to a soil rich in clay will improve drainage, adding charcoal to a sandy soil will reduce drainage. In each case it has a structural benefit to handle more water available and help the distribution of soluble nutrients to plants.
  • Charcoal (or pyrolyzed biomass or pyrogenic carbon) is a very stable structure of carbon. What never appears in scientific studies is the question of the use of this carbon as a nutrient for plants, fungi and bacteria.

Biodiversity

Read more about biodiversity here. Biodiversity is not a trivial concept. A bird could be considered as a flying ecosystem ! Therefore defining the complexity of our biological environment requires some steps back and smart consideration.

Here is an example of the interrelations at play in a diversified environment (biodiversity completion) when all the puzzle pieces are present;

Permaculture relies on biodiversity to ensure ecosystem fertility, productivity, stability and resilience.

Biomass

Organic matter dead or alive (based on the chemistry of carbon) such as organisms (plants, microorganisms, animals,…) , wood, mulch, agricultural crops or wastes, etc… Biomass originates from the photosynthesis and as such stores the sun energy harvested by plants through photosynthesis. Petrol, bacteria, humans, trees have an inherent biomass.

In Permaculture biomass accumulation is the sign of fertility and sustainability.

Biomimicry

Biomimicry is mimicking nature to innovate in the creation of sustainable products, services and environments. It goes from simple inspiration to engineering accurate reproduction of the exact mechanisms observed in nature.

Permaculture uses biomimicry mainly in its ecosystemic dimension (patterns, functions, relations, simulations).

Bokashi

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic degradation using specific microorganisms as an inoculum. It needs a closed recipient and allows to degrade meat and diaries which represents its main advantage in an urban environment with no presence of omnivores (like chicken) in the food chain able to recycle meat and which excrement can be usefully recycled.

Carbohydrate (Carbs for short)

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, cellulose and many other compounds found in living organisms. Carbohydrates are also known as sugars. The central structure of carbs are a chain (sometime forming a cycle) of Carbon and Oxygen atoms, surrounded by Hydrogen (twice the number of carbon) atoms. Alcohol is not a carbs.

Permaculture aims to generalize and improve the process of sun light (energy) transformation into carbs production as a way of energy conservation for direct or subsequent food and byproducts production.

Compost

Compost is an inoculum based on microorganisms and associated foodweb. Read how to make compost.

Permaculture uses compost as a way to nourish the soil ecosystem, which itself will nourish the plants and animals of the farm.

Closed Loop – Cradle to Cradle – Circular economy

Closed Loop : A processing system in which effluents are recycled.
Cradle to Cradle : A biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems. It models human industry on nature’s processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms.
Circular Economy : An industrial economy that is, by design or intention, restorative and in which material flows are of two types, biological nutrients, designed to reenter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to reenter the industrial process of production after usage.

The 3 terms are slightly describing the same concept. As Cradle to Cradle is specifically mono-company, Circular Economy involves a set of partners related by financial interests contributing to a Cradle to Cradle finality. Difference between Cradle to Cradle and Circular Economy

Closed Loop encompasses the capacity of energy saving since, in thermodynamic, a closed system is conserving energy.

In opposition to the model Cradle to Grave (animal like) the model Cradle to Cradle intends to propose a solution to make the industrial process (driven by neurotic consumption) more sustainable.

Permaculture uses natural (biological) closed loop processes to save energy and optimize farm production. Read more about the link between Permaculture and Cradle to Cradle. Biological Closed loops are highly efficient in harvesting and storing sun energy. Over time they produce excess which requires maintenance. This maintenance is paid off by biomass overproduction (carbohydrate energy which will be used somewhere else). In case of technical Closed loop; time produce degradation, maintenance is then resource intensive and has a negative balance in term of incoming and outgoing flows of material (e.g. equipment replacement), unless built on site with on site materials.

Ecosystem

An ecosystem is both a system with boundaries and crossing flows and the biological community of interacting organisms it shelters. The complexity of an ecosystem increase exponentially with the number of the type of elements it contains. Systemic approach is usually used to handle this complexity.

Permaculture is the management of a productive and biodiverse ecosystem.

Ecotone, edges and ecosystems interfaces

Ecotone : the transition zone along the edges of two adjacent ecological communities, where one ecological communities meets the other (e.g. the area between forest and grassland, between land and water, between two different areas separated by an edge, …). The transition from one ecosystem to the other can be gradual or sharp.

At the edge of two overlapping ecosystems, you can find species from both of these ecosystems, as well as unique species that aren’t found in either ecosystems but are specially adapted to the conditions of the transition zone between the two ecosystems.

There is a greater diversity of life in the region where two adjacent ecosystems overlap.

ecotone

It is the reason why Permaculture involves the creation of as many interfaces as possible. The multiplication of niches and species increase the number of Schedules therefore the productivity of the system. Additionally edges play a major role in harvesting resources (rain, sun, wind) which can benefit or help specialize the sub-ecosystemsas well as increase the interactions consumer/resources existing in the foodweb.

Ecovillage

A community whose inhabitants seek to live according to ecological principles both in the setup of their habitat and the way of living.

Permaculture and Urban Permaculture design principles are often used as guidelines for the settlement of such communities.

Emergence

Goldstein initially define emergence as: “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems”.

Synergy supported by complex system interactions produces emergence. E.g. A life form is more than a collection of atoms and molecules, intelligence and conscience is more than a collection of cells, an ecosystems is more than a collection of plants and animals. For example the resilience in an ecosystems is an emergent function supported by the biodiversity.

Permaculture by using ecosystems synergies aims to produce human food as an emergent function of a natural ecosystems.

Exudates (see Root exudates)

Fab-lab

Wikipedia definition : A fab lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop offering (personal) digital fabrication.

Fab-lab are open-source with design sharing ambition. Initially not a productive platform, intending to support ultimate customization, the movement has however seen some shifting here and there to adapt to local need ; for example creation of contextual tools to support local industry, agriculture, services, …  Map of fab lab in the world.

Permaculture is intensively connected to the development of alternative ways of production, being aware of the need for autonomy and self sufficiency and giving importance to the necessity of re-acquiring technological knowledge. At the moment Permaculture use low-tech products however with fab-lab development we could see emerging an increased usage of more sophisticated technologies still keeping control on the “know-how” . See more about Permaculture and new technologies

Foodweb

Foodweb is a set of organisms related by predator-prey, consumer-resource interactions; the entirety of interrelated food chains (including symbiosis) and territory management in an ecological community.

In the old time things were much simpler ! We were talking about food chain. A maybe narcissistic but working vision were human were at the top of the food pyramid. Herbivores, carnivores, carnivores of carnivores, then finance and market, a very hierarchical and predatory perspective.

However what made human successful was not the capability of an individual to be the strongest but of humanoid groups to work in collaboration. This ecosystem rule is supported by the concept of food chain, a much more realistic and complex set of interactions.

A virus can kill you and they are not on the top of the pyramid, bacteria can be good guys or bad guys, plants may work together with fungi, human stomach requires bacteria for digestion, scavengers do not exist in the food chain, etc,

It is about ecosystem and complexity, it is about biodiversity and the necessity to rely on different forms of life to maintain the system operational.

The interactions are intense and multiple; repellents and inhibitors, toxins, parasitoids, pathogenstraps baited with pheromone, jasmonates, enzyme-substrate interactions, volatiles and soluble chemicals, entomopathogens … the list is endless. Relationships between organisms may include competition, symbiosis, commensalism, parasitism, collaboration, etc.

The soil ecosystem is a perfect example of the foodweb complexity with bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematode, arthropods, worms, mollusks, etc. and the plants which orchestrate this biodiversity through their exudates.

The Foodweb is part and is related to the complexity of an ecosystem (see systemic approach).

Permaculture intends to understand and/or integrate the complexity of the foodweb to create a sustainable ecosystem.

Glomalin

Glomalin was dicovered recently. It is a glycoprotein produced abundantly on hyphae and spores of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in soil. Glomalin is a significant component of soil organic matter and act to bind mineral particles together, improving soil quality. Glomalin is located on the outside of hyphae, and scientists suppose this is how the hyphae seal themselves so they can carry water and nutrients. Glomalin has been investigated for its carbon and nitrogen storing properties, including as a potential method of carbon sequestration.

Higher plants

Plants of relatively complex or advanced characteristics, especially vascular plants.

Permaculture favors the establishment of higher plants since they form the structure of a more perennial and sophisticated ecosystem.

Humanure

Manure coming from human. See Dry toilets, Biodigestor evapotranspiration, Banana circle.

Permaculture intends to recycle this type of manure.

Humus – Described here

Hyphae

Each of the branching filaments that make up the mycelium of a fungus.

Keypoint and Keyline

The keypoint is the transition part of a slope between the convex and concave curbs.
keypoint-and-keylineA keyline is a design using the adjacent set of keypoints following a contour (sometime formalized by a swale) and distort the contour lines to introduce a gradient to force a light water runoff (ditch) in a way that water will reach the drier zones by gravity. Drier zones being at the top of the ridges. The keylines will compensate the usual behavior of water runoff to find the quickest way to the valley.

Keypoint is used in Permaculture to locate water run off reservoirs for zone 0. Up the hill from the keypoint the construction of a dam would demand high quantity of resources to build a dam and little result in water storage. We assume here that Zone 0 is located on the upper part of the concave slope just beneath the water storage for landscape architecture optimization (See zoning in Permaculture).

Leguminous

Plants forming a symbiosis with nitrogen fixing bacteria (most of them have this particularity). Leguminous by there action of soil fertilization are qualified as support species. Certain leguminous may be considered as well asproductive species since they produce edible beans and peas, high in proteins.

Leguminous plants occur naturally in depleted areas since they are able to compensate the lack of nitrogen by their symbiosis with nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vigor (dynamic building capability) given by the nitrogen allows them to efficiently harvest and make edible the remaining minerals necessary for their growth.

In Permaculture they are important elements used to regenerate the soil ecosystem and may be planted in a proportion of 90% of the total plants (over stacked) in the first years of rehabilitation. In a mature and more sophisticated ecosystem this ratio may be reduced to 10% to 20% of the biomass by pruning and removing of the leguminous plants for mulch production and nitrogen release.

Lignin

A complex organic compound that binds to cellulose fibers and hardens and strengthens the plants. Lignin is a polymer consisting of various aromatic alcohol (non-carbohydrate). Fungi is the most efficient microorganism for lignin degradation.

Loam – Described here

Mulch

An organic material (such as decaying leaves, bark, paper, …) spread over the soil to enrich and insulate it from hit and drought.

Permaculture makes an intensive use of mulch, both for soil ecosystem enrichment and water conservation.

(Human) Microbiome or Microbiota

The human microbiome is the set of microorganisms that resides on or within any of a number of human tissues and fluids. The microbiome is now considered a human organ with much more genetic complexity than human genome, with genetic transfer between human genome and the microbiome and genetically imprinted human mechanism participating to microbiome settlement (e.g. a mother milk may contains substance not intended to support directly the baby but instead to support its microbiome).

Permaculture give genuine importance to the microorganisms activities considering the set of microorganisms to be the foundation stone of an ecosystem (here the human body may be considered an ecosystem integrating billions of interactions between organs and the microbiome). In this perspective the biodiversity produced by agroecological farming applies at microorganisms level with the necessity to enlarge the spectrum of nutrients necessary to sustain microorganisms.

Mycelium

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network like structure. The diameter of a mycelium branch is micrometrical, giving to the fungus the capability to navigate in the soil structure where plant root may encounter obstacles due to their much bigger size. (See Mycorrhiza)

mycelium.jpg

Permaculture favors the development of mycelium (fungus) in many instances ; composting, mycorrhiza, mulching, …

Mycorrhiza (plural noun: mycorrhizae)

From Greek; Myco : fungus and Rhiza : root. A fungus that form a symbiotic association (through mycelium) with the roots of plant. Most higher plants have developed this capability (Read more about this amazing symbiosis.) Mycorrhizal help in the nitrogen cycle by transferring liquid carbohydrates to nitrogen fixers and transport biologically fixed nitrogen to plants in organic form.

Permaculture relies in a great extend on the synergy produced by this association allowing the sharing of soil ecosystem resources and improving plants growth and resilience. The development of mycelium is respected by non disturbing the soil structure (non plowing, non tilling). Mycorrhiza reduce nitrification, de-nitrification, nitrogen volatilisation and leaching. Additionally, the storage of nitrogen in the organic form prevents soil acidification.

Optimization

Finding an alternative with the most cost effective or highest achievable performance under the given constraints.

Agro-toxic is the iconic example of a non optimized process, spending 10 to 20 calories of petrol equivalent to produce 1 calorie of plant.

In our limited world “given constraints” means “sustainability”, meaning using what we need of our planet assuming our children will have enough to survive and … hopefully … to live and thrive, themselves, on a sustainable way. It is a cycling process.

If you want to go quick and dirty use fossil fuel (which is maybe a solution in some limited cases) if you want to go securely, planet wise, you need to integrate environmental constraints in your system of rules.

Permaculture is about optimization and interacts with the flows of energy (sun light, photosynthesis, wind, ..) and resources (water, natural fertilizers, mulch, minerals, etc.) in a sustainable and optimized way. The optimization comes from the design of functions and interactions in a way that will help develop closed biological loops for human food and the environment. The biological processes would be maybe 1000 times more effective in energy usage (assumption impossible to verify but my own guess in average) than technical closed loops and can be made perennial per design.

Organic agriculture

Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.

It is evolving to rely on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions.

It still uses inputs (organic) to boost production, and has a limited dimension of optimization.

Permaculture may be seen as an optimized way to do organic agriculture. Permaculture is said “Information intensive” since it aims to understand and design the ecosystem and its complexity. Organic agriculture is said “labor intensive” because not really optimized and architectured in a way so to use all natural leverage for food production. Agro-industrial or agro-toxic agriculture is said “fuel intensive” since it is based mainly on oil consumption.

Perennial plant (Perennial for short)

A perennial plant is a plant that lives for more than two years. Perennials have long cycles of growth and form the permanent structure of an ecosystem . They produce more than annuals in comparison to the labor and input required for their growth. They have a strategy of living based on slow growth and fertilization of the ecosystem they belong to through systemic mechanisms (sugar release, carbon sequestration, symbiosis with fungus, animal habitat, moisture harvesting, etc). (Perennials are opposite to Annuals)

Permaculture farm built their ecosystem on a biological structure favoring perennials.

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants mostly create biomass. It is a chemical process that uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars (a biological source of energy and nutrient material) and release oxygen.

Permaculture intends to maximize the photosynthesis capability of a farm and conserve the biomass produced through closed loops.

Recycling

Convert (waste) into reusable material.(See closed loop)

Down-cycling (an anthropomorphic concept) is recycling a product into another one with less value. When recycling paper the cellulose fibers get shorter inducing a lost of paper quality therefore it can be considered as a down-cycling process.

Up-cycling is recycling a product into another one with more value. E.g. Using the byproduct of digestion (manure) we may create compost which will fertilize a vegetable garden.

Permaculture aim is to apply Up-cycling as much as possible in every step of transformation.

Resilience

The ability to self recover from illness, negative impact or wound.

Permaculture relies on the resilience of natural and bio-diverse ecosystems to ensure food production and habitat stability. Examples of negative impacts; pest, climate change, fire, flood, drought, extreme temperature, air and water pollution, etc.)

Rhizosphere

The region of soil in the vicinity of plant roots in which the chemistry and microbiology is influenced by their growth, respiration, nutrient and phytochemicals exchange.

Permaculture gives a preponderant attention to the soil which fertility is orchestrated by the plant root system and its associated rhizosphere.

Root exudates

Root exudates are mainly sugars, amino acids, and organic acids produced by the plant to maintain and support a specific diversity of microorganisms in the rhizosphere. They play a major role in the mobilization of scarce soluble nutrients in the soil. Sugars and other nutrients feed the bacteria and fungi which in exchange store and/or provide with various resources needed by the plant.

Root exudates prevent as well pathogen attacks by the direct secretion of phytochemicals that repel, inhibit, or kill pathogenic microorganisms in the rhizosphere and by orchestrating the symbiosis with fungi which participate as well to the process of plant healing by gathering adequate biochemical resources.

Root exudates are not only diverse in their composition, but also very dynamic, adapting to the plant needs depending on plant or context cycles (disease, seasons, weather, fruit production, etc.)

Permaculture gives special attention to the mechanisms at the source of soil fertility and emphasizes the importance of perennial plants, the most productive in root exudation and soil ecosystem stability due to the permanence in maintaining and supporting the soil ecosystem .

Silt – Described here

Schedule in Permaculture

A schedule is the presence and utilization by animals, microorganisms, plant and optionally human of an area of the ecosystem for a certain period of time. A schedule may represent an opportunity in the sense of a service or value added product. E.g. Eggs laid by the chicken harvested by the farmer in the chicken coop; Dragonfly eating a mosquito close to the pond; dragonfly larvae eating a mosquito larvae inside the pond, etc ….

A schedule is an event in a sub-ecosystem agenda.

Convergent point of niches and cycles in a certain point of time and space, creating opportunities.

Initially defined by Bill Mollison and described more in details here.

Permaculture is about creating opportunities through Schedules management and optimization.

Sectors in Permaculture

A sector is the main tool used in Permaculture to identify and harvest natural flows (of energy and resource) entering the property. It is used as well to identify negative impact and mitigate them. In term of design a sector is the 4 dimensional angle taken by an input flow in the ecosystem of the farm. A flow of energy (e.g. sun) or resource (e.g. rain) will enter the property having a spatial angle. Angle which may vary over time. The most used example is the course of the sun. The sector “winter sun” has a specific horizontal and vertical angle and vary during the day. The constituents of the farm ecosystem will be located in order to optimize the energy intake and resources distribution and deviate the pollution.

Stacking Function

An elements in the farm serve more than one function. E.g. Chicken produce eggs, manure, control bugs, etc… . By favoring the more multifunctional elements we increase the quantity of positive interactions and incidentally the yield per specific area. More about stacking function

Permaculture orientates (in zone 1 to 4) the biodiversity in a way as to maintain a “natural” number of elements and increase the number of positive interactions. The idea is not to overwhelm the system with an artificial biodiversity which could be difficult to maintain but find the best ecosystem “skeleton” based on the synergies produced by the interactions.

Sustainable agriculture

Sustainable agriculture (including silviculture) is the production of food and plant and animal byproducts using farming techniques that respect the environment and that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to produce their own food and associated byproducts.

Permaculture proposes a concrete model for sustainable agriculture development, both in countryside and in urban areas.

Swale and Contour line

A long depression in the soil (of a slope, usually) following a contour line, designed to collect or redirect water and reverse erosion. Read more here.

A contour line is a line on a map joining points of equal height above or below sea level.

Permaculture farms are usually built on lands having slopes in order to take advantage of the gravity in harvesting water and other resources (mulch, sand, manure, etc…). In many instances if the land has been deforested the water run-off has removed the top soil through erosion. Swales are the main tools to reverse this erosion and recreate the top soils.

Synergy

The interaction of two or more elements to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. Synergy is the spontaneous apparition of a value addition and often described as 1+1=3. An example is the association of a leguminous and a fruit tree. The fruit tree will grow better thanks to the nitrogen fixing of the leguminous and maybe its wind break and moisture capability. The fruit tree will produce fruits which surplus falling on the ground will provide with sugars to the soil ecosystem and attract birds producing manure and controlling the bugs. The result is not 1 leguminous + 1 fruit tree, it is the sum of them + additional growth, fruit production, health, increased biomass and fertile soil.

Permaculture is a synergistic agriculture

Systemic approach

Domain of science design for complex systems (ecosystems , virtual systems, economical systems, …) analysis based on observation, experimentation, simulation and pattern recognition. Read more here about its used in Permaculture.

The Systemic approach is an holistic approach, meaning applying to the whole set of constituents interacting with the studied object. It is fundamentally in opposition with the reductionist approach which as driven the development of western science till now. The reductionist approach has given birth to extraordinary developments in science like quantum physics but fails to support and give tools for the analysis of complex environments where elementary objects have numerous relationships creating a phenomenon called emergence. The systemic approach is not intuitive and has been created artificially together with its methodology and analytical tools in the objective of handling complexity. To do so it’s methodology is essentially based on observation and simulation (experimentation) of systems considered as “black boxes” in the initial steps of analysis.

Systemic approach is not to be confused with Systematic approach which is “Done or acting according to a fixed plan or system; methodical”.

Permaculture uses a systemic approach to design productive ecosystems . Analytical approach is used at element level and less determinant in the global strategy of landscape architecture.

Thermodynamic

Thermodynamics is a branch of physics related to heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work (2 different notions at the source of modern science). It defines measures such as internal energy, entropy, and pressure used to describe a system and the flows of energy it exchanges with its context.

The first law of Thermodynamic is : Nothing is lost, nothing is created, all is transformed.

This principle may be seen as the main revolution in the history of science, first as an emancipation from religion and metaphysics, second by its implication in every domain of science, quantum theory and General relativity included.

The second law of Thermodynamic (Entropy) is : a system tends to find the lowest state of energy in average.Entropy is related to chaos, meaning the destruction of the structure and the dissolution of the world. In modern physics some theory stipulates that Time dimension is less fundamental than Entropy and could be a sub-product of Entropy when passing from the quantum world to the statistical, macroscopic one. Scientists agree on a more subtle notion; the conservation of information. While entropy (chaos) dilutes the world, information still remains present, you would just need to reverse engineer its previous structure.

Since Permaculture aim is to optimize the transformation of sun energy into food and habitat mainly through photosynthesis, thermodynamic is used as a conceptual support to understand the management of flows of energy (mainly sun and derived products like organic matter) and resources (water, minerals, etc…). Permaculture yield can be seen as equivalent as its capacity to slow down the effect of entropy in a human perspective.

Entropy cannot be reversed, it is the human/universe destiny (dilution through universe energy consumption and expansion), only slowing down its effects can be tempted to make our planet more sustainable on the long run. For example Agro-toxic farming is an “orgy of entropy”, champion of short term production through fossil fuel consumption leaving the planet more depleted each and every day resource wise and not renewing energy availability.

Urban Permaculture

Urban Permaculture is an adaptation of Permaculture to cities environment. It gives design guidelines to ensure proximity, public transportation, energy efficiency using natural mechanisms, food production, vegetation introduction and social, cultural and economic values based on ethic.

Vascular plants

Plants that have lignified tissues for conducting water and minerals.

Permaculture : See higher plants

Zones in Permaculture

The main objective in farm zoning is to optimize the location of the functions and elements in order to ease human logistic and energy and resources distribution. More about Zones

Zoning is one of the main farm design tool in Permaculture, together with sectors and slopes

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