Category Archives: Permaculture Design

Processes in Permaculture – from 3D to 4D designing

Some chimpanzees have created a toolbox of 4 different tools to get honey. One to open the hive, one to enlarge the hole and two different spoons to access the honey. A toolbox with standard tools they carry with them when  intending to perform the process of honey harvesting. This toolbox is multi-functional and find a purpose in the different steps of a process. A multi-functional element (toolbox) is a static view of a dynamic process(es), a hologram of a process lacking one dimension; Time.
When we design a site with zones we intend to integrate this dynamic perspective using a simplification (optimization of logistic by shortening the routes of the processes) projected over the set of processes performed within the farm.
When we do composting the objective is not to obtain compost, it is to use the compost to grow better vegetation with value addition.
We have to understand that beyond the spatial relationship between elements (one of the most praised concept of Permaculture) exists as well a chronology, meaning a relationship based on time. Understanding these relationships, designing them and monitoring them will transform a 3D Permaculture design in a 4D design.
If we want to mimic nature by design we need to recognize the importance of understanding processes in the design of the farm and connect functions in order to picture and streamline the flow of resources . Let’s mimic chimps :). Read more about design development in Permaculture

Checklist for site survey before Permaculture design on simulation platform

Site-Design-simulation-PermacultureThis list is intended for preparing the workshop dedicated to site design using the simulation platform.

  • Clarify  your main entry access point and transportation means toward the next food market. Your connection to the world is important

  • Clarify the access to electricity and water.

  • Identify Google maps satellite exact location. And possibly create your spot boundaries in Google map customization

  • Define the area (square meters or acres)  with photos on extreme spots ; the  most humid and  the driest. If extreme seasonal variation ; make photo of the rainy and dry season of the same spot.
  • More about photos

    • Identify 10 referential points as a source and target for photos distributed on the area. From each spot take a photo of the 9 other referential points always directing your camera horizontally in order to identify the difference of level between your source and target referential points.

    • If zone 0 is already identified make sure to integrate it as a referential point and make additional photos inside and in direction of this area

    • If an infrastructure already exists take photos showing the size and shape and state of the elements and their path to the route infrastructure.

    • Make photos of particular spots raising concerns
    • Make photos of the sectors you have identified
    • If you have this possibility on your phone/camera take videos and 360 degrees photos. Either orientate your camera always horizontally  during shooting or edit the photos and videos so that they will appear horizontal (it will save time) when compiled for the platform simulation.

    • Bring with you some USB sticks to store the photos you will make of your design and to copy Aflorestanova video materials (at least 8GB capacity)

  • Apart from land regeneration and food and Habitat autonomy what are your points of focus. It can be specific food production, training center,  consulting, green building,  children education on sustainability or anything which motivate you and may create beneficial opportunities. This will drive the design along time and help defining priorities.

  • Find witnesses or archives about your spot 100 years ago or more before the local Anthropocene impact.

  • Do you have access to mulch ? Usually a layer of 30cm of mulch is needed in tropical condition in order to provide with heat protection, resistance to wind and water erosion and give nutrients and humidity  to the microorganisms in the soil ecosystem. (Be aware as well that mulching a dry area will prevent its humidification if initially dry when only small rains happen after mulching). Knowing your mulch capacity over time will orientated your zone 0,1,2 and reforestation strategies.

  • Collect local know-how  detrimental or beneficial to the ecosystem

  • Verify the capacity to get local and well adapted fauna and flora species. Usually if they are abundant it means they are well adapted to the context. For animal try to identify the sustainability in the choices neighbor farmers are making.

  • Map with contours (showing altitude lines) is extremely useful to prepare the terrain of the simulation platform before design

  • It may happen that the platform will be used with 2 perspectives (in case of large properties)  sequentially from the global to the more complex sub ecosystem requiring fine design.

    • the entire property in order to identify main sectors and zoning,

    • a focus on strategic zones, usually 0,1,2 , to focus on the complexity of more domesticated zones.

Example of site design simulation using the output of this survey list

Biomimicry and Permaculture

Showing the intrication between Permaculture and Biomimicry requires some digging.

Permaculture is not solely a replication or an inspiration of, and from, natural functions, it is as well “using directly and intensively nature”, integrating the functions and cycles of nature in the processes of food and habitat production.

This usage is based on the respect of biodiversity, qualitatively and quantitatively.

This respect of biodiversity finds its foundation;

  • In Permaculture; as a wish to recognize the human genesis and biology as intrinsically related to nature. This way biodiversity becomes a constituent of human ethic. Permaculture is an eco-friendly interface between human and the environment. The ethic dimension requires here the dedication of an area (zone 5) to the development of an autonomous biome, not invaded by human domestication.
  • In Biomimicry; as considering nature an inspirational reservoir, a knowledge database of materials and functions and eventually a way to develop eco-friendly (here in the sens of economy and ecology) solutions. Biodiversity is a capital the corporate world should preserve. Biomimicry is (mainly) an eco-friendly  interface between corporations and the environment. In some cases, of course, non-profit applications may be developed.

If Biomimicry is the observation and replication of natural functions then Permaculture goes further and transform human into an element connected to natural cycles. Permaculture could be seen as a Biomimicry way to integrate back human into nature, together with its technological background.

To approach this subject in more technical terms we will need to divide Permaculture epistemology in its different dimensions;

  1. Design methodology of functions and landscape including spacial integration and scheduling of functions and resources
  2. Systemic approach as a framework for ecosystem observation, analysis, tuning and optimization
  3. Processes hybridization (integration of technical functions in biological cycles)

And see how the biomimicry perspective is related to these different domains of Permaculture.

1) Design methodology of functions and landscape including spacial integration and scheduling of functions and resources

Let’s differentiate

  • the design of a specific function
  • the design of a landscape (spacial integration of functions including earth shaping, fauna and flora)
  • the design of a process (scheduling functions and flows)

The design of a function is typically associated with the possible usage of biomimicry as would do an engineer wanting to create an efficient and eco-friendly mechanism. Here biomimicry applies fully and Permaculture literature reminds his students about the shapes of nature; lines, curves, structures, volumes, fractal and the inherent physical properties of the various geometrical forms.

To open the scope of the relationship with biomimicry;  a design should include the optimization of recycling. For example we may design an object based on the size, shape, life spam  and particularities of the materials found in the commerce, in landfills or in natural systems. E.g. The size of the roof I’ll do is a multiple or easily adjusted to the size of the roof sheet I may find available in order to have no waste. Here biomimicry methodology is kind of constrained to certain obligations that may not exist in the industrial world; some dimensions of nature properties (elimination of waste and recycling of resources) should be always part of the process of design inspiration.

The design of a landscape, meaning mainly the architecture of the ecosystem, with its  various biotic and abiotic elements, will respond to 3 factors; human logistic, flows of energy, nutrients and pollution, and the synergies between elements.

If human logistic requires optimization, the tracing of the routes will be done avoiding erosion and make a good usage of gravity in its design, the periodicity of attendance of the different functions will require zoning  (a way to simplify a “graph theory” mathematical problem in finding the shorter path in accessing the different activities) and finally access path to critical resources will have to be secured in the sense of having 0 down time (always available). Here biomimicry may help in the analysis of the notion of niche in various species, with various locomotion modes and the way priorities are given to different moving behaviors. Biomimicry can help as well in finding synergies for transportation. In this area we cannot prescribe how biomimicry can play a role and options are really open from landscape shape design to energy efficiency in transportation.

The Flow of energy, nutrients and pollution has a very organic dimension, system wise. The contribution of Biomimicry may come from direct analogies in the different elementary functions, meaning the optimization of each specific materialized flow (water,  wind, rain, dust, nutrients, noise, etc.) or it may provide some topological solution in a more global perspective, considering these flows as a circulatory problem within a complex organ. This dimension of Permaculture requires particular attention. Systemic approach plays inherently with the notion of “Russian dolls” and every ecosystem can be considered as an interrelated set of subsystems. For example the soil can be considered as a substrate including microorganisms and a complex food web or it maybe be considered as an organ, our planet organ, in charge of digestion and recycling, giving life to the fauna and flora on top of it. In this perspective Biomimicry may give clues to optimize the circulatory flow of nutrients, energy  and toxins inside an ecosystem as it would best fit in an organ.

Synergies between elements. Synergy and emergence could be compared to the egg and the chicken, who appeared first ? An emergence is a byproduct of a complex structure however it will create a synergy, meaning a productive event, only if having a supportive value in the initial realm (prior substrate giving birth to the emergence). A synergy is in itself an emergent relationship which will change the structure of a system in a richer level. Biomimicry capital could be compared to the sum of the successful genetic transformation where the link between an ecosystem seen as a substrate and the emergent functions from this system create a relationship increasing the inner structure quality of the initial ecosystem. If biomimicry applies in the most impacting way in the different ways to handle agroecology it is in this domain. Synergy is maybe the cornerstone linking Permaculture and Biomimicry. In Permaculture the emphasis is put on relationship between elements to create synergies, in biomimicry it includes with emphasis the notion of structure (which is actually the same thing considering the spatial juxtaposition of even or odd elements).

An illustration of biomimicry is the creation of a food forest. It replicates the forest structure, the best adapted to tropical climate, and includes in the fauna both productive trees (fruits, nuts, useful wood, …) and supportive trees for the ecosystem. Studies show that the choice of species (assuming enough biodiversity) is not determinant in the viability, carbon productivity and resilience of a forest when there is an equivalence in the variety of shapes. This capacity allow a certain degree of domestication and orientation of the forest toward food and habitat production. Here the replication does not encompass “a priory” the understanding of the mechanisms at work for each element but consider the forest structure as a productive system for human.

2) Systemic approach

Permaculture is an instantiation of agroecology using a customized systemic approach. It shares with Biomimicry a strong drive consisting in observing ecosystems (mainly single organisms) to identify determinant and positively impacting functions. From there the scope of types of analysis between the 2 disciplines may vary, Permaculture focusing on a systemic value addition and Biomimicry focusing on the determinant function reproduction. We may assume more correlations in the different set of tools used by both approaches in the future when Biomimicry will mature and complexify the scope for design of its platform.

3) The process design and hybridization.

Here again versatile Biomimicry includes in its scope any kind of spacial and scheduled series of events that may occur in nature. In both discipline it seems more difficult to understand processes than elementary functions. Most of the time applied Biomimicry will focus on determining the value addition of a limited process close to the function to avoid the replication of systemic complexity. Permaculture will empirically play with a set of elementary functions to create an hybrid platform where nature and technology are integrated. The process perspective is certainly the most uneasy (although normative) method of development Permaculture may explore in a farm development. The common denominator between the 2 disciplines is the identification of specific natural cycles and techniques to externalize certain steps (and make a technological function from them) to help managing an hybrid cycling. Permaculture will then focus on closing the loop, Biomimicry on replicating the externalized function.


From this analysis we may project the idea that in front of the profusion of nature creations Biomimicry will naturally use more and more systemic tools and integrate a cradle to cradle quality to its creations. We may assume as well that Permaculture will benefits from the technological pool of functions coming from Biomimicry to optimized its hybrid processes.

We may say that Biomimicry is consubstantial to Permaculture.

Obtain a yield; 3 development methods

Obtain a yield is principle number 3 in Permaculture as defined by David Holmgren.

A yield is a value addition, either intended to generate a revenue or settle a value added service for the ecosystem. A yield is a transformed (actualized) opportunity.

Here are 3 methods to accomplish this goal


Prototyping is a methodology concomitant to systemic approach. It is used either to test a solution and gain a know-how  or to develop a technical platform or process to produce a desired outcome at small scale. In both situation the prototype’s goal is to

  • validate the feasibility of the solution, technically or economically
  • analyze the impact and the scaling up capability of the solution (it could be a negative impact, unforeseen, or a positive impact showing new opportunities)

Prototyping is a very pragmatic approach adapted to the development of functions which did not exist in a specific context before. Prototyping may have different levels of completion, from the basic proof of concept to the beta version which modules will be enhanced over time with an evolving and best of breed design.

Usually the solution is settled at very small scale keeping in mind the possible impact of an up-scaling choice. The goal is to learn both on the validity of the function; does it produce quality and the expected quantity ? and the ease of integration of the function into a larger scheme, business (or operation) process orientated.


I wish to raise chicken for egg, compost and meat production. I never cared about chicken before but I assume they need an habitat and a space to move and find food. First step will be to build a chicken coop and let the chicken go errand to find their food. I will start with 10 chicks and build a 2 m2 house to protect them from the rain at night. After a while I notice that; predators catch my chicks during the night and they go errand far away either in dangerous places (dogs of the neighbors) or in places where they cannot find their way back. I decide to secure the chicken coop and close the errand area. The latter could become an important financial impact. I choose for a  cheap metal fence. Etc… I’ll continue to add new versions to the first prototype as long as they comply with my goals. At some point I’ll maybe choose to go for a complete redesign of an enhanced solution and recycle the prototype as material or as a structure for another feature.

Projects or Functions implementation

This second method implies a certain degree of self insurance assuming that no risks can be taken considering the simplicity of the feature to implement. Let’s include the same example ; I want to raise chicken and produce eggs, which is the most sustainable way to produce animal proteins. And I want as well to produce various fruits, which is a long term strategy for the farm… What methodology Permaculture will provide to streamline these targets ?

The main methodology to accomplish this goal is, practically; to define a  correspondence between the functions I want to implement and the necessary resources. What chicken (more specifically egg production), mango production, banana production, etc. needs?

Then you construct a matrix of relationships;

Chicken needs habitat, food, both vegetarian and insects or arthropod based, specific requirements like dust, perch to seat and feel secured and aerated, contemplating the world as a bird, clean water, a stable group with one roaster for approximately 10 females, space to go errand and test their leg and wings muscles, a protection against predators, a controlling fenced to prevent them to invade Zone 0 or Zone 1 for the least. Then you go further and define what is needed for mango trees to thrive and produce, the same for Banana trees. You obtain this way a list of resources and functions or projects you’ll need to settle and operate to accomplish your wishes.

This method has the advantage to define a Memorandum of Understanding of your program, highlighting the main resources (material, space and time-lapse) you’ll have to manage to reach a more or less precise goal.

The disadvantage of it is the lack of temporal structure. It will help having an idea on the spacial design and functionalities but will lack precision on the integrating processes; the “How to operate”.

This method is project oriented in the sense that it defines a scope of development and provide naturally with a Gantt of resources including critical path, labor (human resources) and material resources.

Business or Operational Process Implementation

This is the most precise and error free method but it requires an existing experience to be able to design a process in an accurate way.

The idea is very normative; defining a sequence of steps (events or functions) that will form a process with a specific operational or business goal.

Coming back to the egg production I have identified 3 sub processes;

  1. producing eggs with adult chicken “happy” in my farm
  2. raising chicks who will be the main actors of this production
  3. producing value added products with adult chicken which do not produce eggs anymore

Immediately the “time” dimension appears, putting us in a much more reality based experience, projecting us in the reality of future operations. This projection has an immeasurable merit ; to define or roughly assess the workload necessary to perform each step of the process from start to end, designing the associated logistic, the optimized route and emphasizing the necessity of sub contracting ( in a circular economy mode for example) some functions because out of reach. The visualization of this dimension is important in order to minimize labor. For example if some steps require a lot of (fossil) energy or labor it will be necessary to “re-think” the process and find different functions/steps or resize them. Sizing will as well take place in comparing the different functions (steps) of a process to be sure that the quantity of output produced in a step will be manageable as an input of the next step.

It will be a way as well to project your mind in the hybrid biological/technical cycles which rule Permaculture, a way to be more systemic in the way you manage your ecosystem.

Once familiar with this perspective you’ll not think so much in term of “function engineering”, instead you’ll start to think in  term of “processes and functions integration”, equivalent to biological cycle relationship and exchanges, finding synergies between natural and technical functions.

The process design allows to play the role of ecosystem architect using a transposition of biological cycles. Not only it helps to integrate the functions into a normative series of steps toward a specific goal but it may as well help to manage the evolution of functions. For example; if a swale is used at start for re-hydrating an area and stop erosion, once the vegetation is settled and handle the erosion on its own then the swale can be transformed in a diverting function for filling a reservoir with rain water. The ditch is mutating from the reforestation process as a swale to a channeling function of rain water in the process of fish production.

Comparing the methods

You will note a hierarchy in the 3 methods described here from basic to more sophisticated. The conclusion is that being non-experienced in the setup of a specific goal the best approach will be to use the 3 of them in sequence,  starting small with prototyping and using the process one only when (if) it becomes a business or operational focus for the farm.

Biomimicry and the inspiration from natural processes

If Biomimicry is the science of inspiration from nature we may consider

  • a scale in the levels of inspiration;
    • from pure inspiration (re-use or re-think a concept)
    • to transposition (replication of a function or structure using different materials or processes)
    • and duplication (direct use of natural functions to perform an activity)
  • and in the levels of integration
    • focusing on a simple function (being inspired by a natural function, e.g. producing humus with a warm farm)
    • or a set of activities; a Process …

Let’s develop this last possibility. Most of Permaculture examples are founded on functions settlement; create a dry toilets, a clay house, a garden bed using hukelkultur, etc… It is more convenient to develop such a perspective as it helps to create a Lego platform where all functions can be chosen and integrated as required depending on the elementary priorities, resources, means and objectives. However it may hamper the exploration of more complex biomimic replication.

An example where we do not only produce a function but few steps to reach a goal;

The creation of compost.

You’ll find many documentation on production of compost. Usually is start with; “how to make a compost pile” assuming that you already managed to gather nitrogen rich material, carbohydrates and green stuff as a microorganism inoculum. Already you may wonder; but how, where and when can I get these ingredients ? then start the questioning of a more complex process in charge of the production of these ingredients. Then after 18 days, following the hot composting recipe presented to you, you may encounter a doubt; how can I use this compost, where , on which plant in which quantity and when ? in the plant life cycle. There again some steps of a more complex process are hidden to your view and you may take the risk to misuse this compost and fail to get the most of it. A step by step view of a more interesting goal is missing; from resources production to plant production constrained by time dimension (life spam of biological resources, planting and harvesting periods, schedule of priorities).

Going further in the process vision

Let’s consider now a very synergistic process; the “Terra Preta de Índio” (Literally ; the black earth of the Amerindian)

or the creation of an hybrid soil made of earth and biochar, one of the most fertile and stable substrate on earth.

It is important first to differentiate charcoal (pyrolyzed carbon) from Biochar (enriched charcoal with nutrients). An interesting feature can be found here which raises a debate on the properties of Black Carbon and Biochar (it is necessary to read the comments of the article to tamper the study).

The following example is , I hope,  illustrative on how the research for synergistic processes can change the way you plan functions and better focus on yield and strategic opportunities.

Along the amazon basin in the settlements of Amerindian civilization were found deep black and fertile soil. The production of such a soil may be explained by the lifestyle of this population with the following activities part of various processes related to habitat settlement, food and utensils processing, and agriculture ;

  1. The use of fire for food cooking but as well in the process of clay cooking to produce dishes. This last activity has the particularity to require a long burning process with contained fire partly producing a pyrolysis type of combustion.
  2. Another burning activity was for the nomadic way of life to put fire to a new place before to settle, an easy way to remove vegetation and get rid of an aggressive fauna, thriving in the amazon. This kind of practice was sustainable (even beneficial by favoring the propagation of pioneers plants) since done with adequate periodicity (superior than 10 to 20 years) letting time for nature to recover through the different stages of succession.
  3. Another particularity of these activities was the fact that it was happening under rainy weather, confining locally the production of dioxide gas (dissolution of CO2 into the droplets of rain) and above all interrupting the combustion , which would have end up in ashes (highly soluble and removed by heavy rains)  if completed, to the production of a byproduct; charcoal, associated with partly burned wood. We may wonder, and it has to be tested, if the presence of non-burned wood had the advantage to help the transformation of charcoal into biochar by the attraction of bacteria and fungus, its degradation and its migration to the charcoal.
  4. Charcoal has a hygienic and curing effect by absorbing microorganisms and helping the erosion and absorption of greasy and carbon rich materials. Naturally it is a material of choice to absorb human and animal excrement (urine and feces) and food remains from the kitchen. It may have been used empirically for this usage, helping once again the transformation of charcoal into biochar.
  5. Another supposed technique was smoldering agricultural waste (burning agriculture waste and covering them to obtain a slow combustion).
  6. There is the hypothesis as well that an earthworm was the main agent in breaking and incorporating charcoal debris into the soil in the amazon.

Here we cannot define if this process of biochar production was desired or only a side effect of human behavior in a specific ecosystem. I tend to believe in the former hypothesis since a holistic way of life produce empirical knowledge and item 5) shows a sense of purpose . What we may agree with is that we remain in the paradigm of Biomimicry when getting inspired by these activities since the human behavior producing this biochar was entirely integrated into biological life cycles. The discovery (or let’s say the control) of fire was very close to natural functions, a superior animal would use to distinguish himself in the food web.

Now that the various activities at the genesis of biochar are defined (there are maybe more) we may go on and walk into the path of creativity and inspiration. These activities were part of a long and ancestral process with many outcome certainly impacting social and civilization aspects. What is important now is not to reproduce the same behaviors but to define the adequate process, adapted to our own way of life, in order to produce Charcoal, Biochar and cycle it into the production of food. The fact that biochar production is now becoming a byproduct in the fuel industry shows that the industry has already mimicked a very old process. We may just hope that charcoal production will not become a business goal in itself but remain a value added byproduct in a circular economy, as growing biomass solely for its mass production could represent an oxygen sink as described in the article cited above.

As we position ourselves in a tropical agriculture where the food forest is central we may count on an abundant production of wood, therefore the capacity to use this material for cooking purpose. The objective is not to be a “producer” of Biochar but more to mimic partly the ancestral process and consider biochar as a byproduct (a synergy or an emergent opportunity in the vocabulary of Permaculture) of our way of life to improve or regenerate in many cases the soil of the farm. (Adding charcoal to a rich humus has a negative impact and release carbon more than it sequester it).

Let’s consider the various elementary (Lego) functions available that we can use to create an operational process or hybrid natural/technological cycle to produce Biochar;

The question is not any more to define the elements that we need (function oriented approach) but the Processes at the source of these elements. I will give examples here which are context dependent and everyone will have to find its own process based on its local context, available functions and resources.

We need wood; how do we obtain wood ? We are here in a reforestation process, meaning that we have planted a lot of leguminous and specifically Acacia Mangium , a tree well adapted to pruning and wood production. We are now in the phase (the trees are 2 to 4 years old when this article is written) where pruning and collecting wood becomes necessary for;

  • clearing the paths
  • give some light to the young productive species (fruit trees mainly)
  • gather dead broken branches

Let’s note that the outcome of these activities (gathering wood) is a byproduct. The main purpose is not to get wood for fire but as cited above to improve path logistic and help forest succession. It is an example of synergy in Permaculture; often phases of transformation create an opportunity. We stick here to the philosophy of Amerindians; the process of Biochar production start by  using a byproduct.

We need a burning process; since regenerating the soil of Zone 1 (the closest from the center of the farm) becomes now the priority in order to produce sophisticated food and process these nutrients (both cooking and smoking) we decide that we will make a wood burning stove using clay. We already have experience in Adobe building and plenty of clay/sand mixture on site. Efficient designs are now common in Portuguese (we are in Brazil) and shared on Internet.We will make sure that the stove includes a chimney to avoid breathing smoke. That’s maybe the only new function we will add to the farm in order to complete this process. In the design of the farm we have located a large quantity of trees in the top of the hill making easier to transport logs to the center of the farm. The stove will produce a large spectrum of carbon derived byproducts from ashes to more or less pyrolyzed carbon and pieces of wood. This variety of sub products will either have a neutral effect on the end result compared to pure charcoal (qualitatively) or a positive one assuming that diversity usually has a positive impact (e.g. ashes rich in potassium, wood stimulating fungus development). We will still name this end product charcoal for the rest of the article to ease the reading and considering it contains charcoal.

Once again we may consider charcoal production as a byproduct of the food processing function.

We need to transform the charcoal into biochar prior to its addition to the soil to avoid negative impacts on yields; we may use;

  1. Nitrogen and other minerals rich nutrient
  2. Carbs
  3. Microorganism inoculum

There are 2 intensive sources of nitrogen in the farm; the chicken litter and the dry toilets litter.Another source is the waste coming from the kitchen which acts as well as an inoculum. The 2 litters are rich as well in carbohydrates, especially the one coming from the dry toilets since we operate a separation of urine and feces, reducing the Nitrogen/Carbs ratio in the compost pile.

When cleaning the chicken coop and gathering the litter on a pile to make compost we add the remains of stove combustion and the kitchen waste which are not intended to end up in the worm farm (fruits having a tendency to arm the worm farm because of their sugar concentration and acidic or aggressive nutrients). We add as well weekly some charcoal in the dry toilets pile and in the banana circle adjacent to the dry toilets where is diverted the urine.

Logistic wise the distribution of charcoal does not represent an important workload, either in gathering the charcoal or in distributing it to the different locations already visited frequently.

The rest of the process which consist in using the compost remains identical. We assume that the density of nutrients in the chicken manure (very rich in nitrogen and minerals) will quickly feed the charcoal and speed up the frequency of usage of the compost. The humanure from the dry toilets is used after a much longer period (large compartment filled in only after few months) in adequacy with the time necessary for charcoal to absorb nutrients in such an environment rich in carbs.

We may experience giving composted chicken litter with charcoal to the worms to help the “biocharization” meaning; speeding up the absorption by the charcoal of nutrient and beneficial organisms coming from the worms and possibly its fragmentation if we refer to the hypothesis that Pontoscolex corethrurus (earthworm) was helping to do so.

We may see that the implementation of such a process has influences on;

  • The landscape design; location of the trees up the hill, respective locations of the wood burning stove and the chicken coop. We could have as well imagined to develop more the giant bamboo vegetation as they are extremely efficient in biomass production or coconut trees as their nut is a wood product we may use in a sustainable way, without impacting the forest.
  • The choice of functions; for example if we would have made only a biodigestor we would not have had the potential of humanure to produce biochar
  • The road map of the farm development; we first decided to handle reforestation in zones 2,3,4 and 5 before to develop Zone 1 which could have been made in parallel and would not have benefited from this new soil amendment.

We may imagine as well that the setup of a wood burning oven will modify the way we prepare food and add some functionality to the transformation processes in the farm. For example since we have planted coffee trees in the young forest we will now have an adequate tool to manage roasting and produce our own coffee. There is a huge difference between coffee found in the commerce and fresh coffee, as explained in this video;

We will have a pretty good tool as well to smoke foodstuffs and improve our food preservation process. More than focusing on specific examples we may consider here than a biomimetic approach to settle processes will naturally create the emergence of connected  processes since we introduce elements having stacking functions in the natural world (here it is explained how.)


The objective of this example is mostly to show how the “Process thinking”, here using biomimicry as a drive, may lead the instantiation of the farm functions in a more integrated and global goal oriented perspective (business or operational wise).

Biomimicry usage (being inspired by the Terra Preta De Indio) helped as well to show the equivalence between natural cycles and Processes,  functions connected through time by flows of events and nutrients.

Read more about processes in Permaculture

Permaculture Design in the Tropics

We focus on tropical Permaculture and have started since 2011 the  regeneration of a land depleted and compacted by slash and burn techniques.

We already experience after few years of involvement in a rapid ecosystem succession, the intense pleasure of seeing a young forest growing. A forest made mainly of fruit trees, fertilizing trees, wind breakers, soil breakers, timber trees and endemic species. This young forest provides not only food but as well the fertility and the biomass which can be used for vegetable production.

Systemic approach is particularly important in the tropics since we  cannot rely on soil fertility (bacterial activity and organic matter degradation is 3 times more important than in temperate climate creating the need for constant regeneration) and every aspect of design is necessary to build a resilient ecosystem.

Our ambition is
– to explore as many Permaculture methods and techniques as possible in our current context,
– develop a concrete and usable know how on the field and
– share this know how by showing its genesis in the concepts of Systemic Approach using the Permaculture framework,

Permaculture is per essence an open and dynamic vision of the world, reason we include in our training a high level review of related concepts and domains; sustainability, thermodynamic, bio-mimicry, Cradle to Cradle and circular economy, soil microbiology, project methodology, information management, systemic simulation, economics.

Permaculture and New Technologies

internet-of-thingsBefore to develop the tight relationship between Permaculture and technology let’s consider what make the strength of Permaculture;

Permaculture is intricately related to a domain of science based on systemic approach. Systemic approach relies mainly in the control (modeling) and management (computing capabilities covering end to end processes) of information coming from complex system.

On the other hand what makes human specific ? may be it is not intelligence or consciences, we seem so close to our cousins the apes on this matter,  maybe it is a higher degree of conceptualization, emerging jointly with language and design formalization, which makes us so eager to learn, for our survival.

The capacity for conceptualization makes us intuitively aware that information processing is what differentiate us from the animal. If we appreciate advertisement as a mixture of information and human organic drives used by marketing, pushing for agro industrial products (humor and consumption of sugar, salt, drugs and sex…), we, as an enhanced animal, are still focused in looking for the right information, the one sticking to a realistic description of our ecosystem, making us able to better thrive or survive. Of course the modern world tends statistically (I personally think that there is no pilot in the plane) to change the context and create a reality where the marketing is fiercely informative; Knowing that the last Porsche XXX is able to reach the 100km/h in Y seconds becomes the right and useful information only because we are in a context where roads and traffic and the speed competition represent more than 50% of our reality. However with the constraints emerging from the fact that our planet is limited and the finance model is based on infinite growth (which is mathematically and physically absurd) some more pragmatic reality appears that compete with this artificial model and start to impose other perspectives.

2 factors become apparent;

  • a change in the way we process information, passing from an analytical reductionist way to a systemic approach and the identification of patterns and relationships. It is interesting to note that the expert in trans-humanism and artificial intelligence see the main threats not in the IA themselves becoming conscious but in the usage by corporations of these IA (which already start to think better than human on practical problems) using them in conjunction with the big data to develop competitive hegemony. If you have a critic mind you may as well wonder why Google and Facebook, the big data owner, manipulate the opinion and fuzz about IA.
  • a modification of our ecosystem where we cannot rely anymore on the externalization or resources (mainly air, water, biodiversity) by the economic sphere.

Permaculture benefits from these 2 factors and is not, as some may think a conservative way back to the old time, but more the embracing and fusion of technological progress into the biological  sphere. Technology may them be scrutinized, in the view and respect of ecology, in its real dimension as progress or digress.

Apart from the direct benefits of technologies designed for sustainability (solar panels, wind mill, …) here are some domains which could reveal useful in Permaculture farm design.

Fab lab and 3D printing; Since Permaculture relies heavily on a library of established tools and functions, having a virtual library of Permaculture tools and their variations based on local context would be very useful. Metal 3D printing is now on the rise and some cooperatives could afford such tool in the close future. (read more about Permaculture and 3D printing)

– Sun light management; Nanotechnology allows now to be embedded in transparent panels in order
* to filter light polarity, intensity and frequency (/ light wave). It may permits for example to reduce infrared spectrum of light (thermochromic), meaning reducing heat in order to improve photosynthesis for most of temperate climate adapted plants
* to harvest light energy and use it later for increasing plant photosynthesis over longer period of time.

– Hologram; Many structural features (hedges, habitat, pathways) are design to help define animals schedules. By using holograms (maybe associated with sound, smells and hormones) we can imagine the digitization of the design setup. For example define boundaries on chicken path by preventing them on certain areas thanks to virtual predators (the same applies with chasing away unwanted predators).

– Issue with nanotechnology is the limited production capacity associated with high cost. However new materials appear which use small quantity of nano-structures for panel re-enforcement. The final products can be obtained at much lower costs. By having light, very strong and connectable panels we can imagine easy functions portability (animal habitat, fences, etc.) opening the possibility for flexible design.

– In case of large farms The Internet of Things (IoT) is a connectivity solution for sensors and data gathering for decision making (humidity, image recognition of animals and plants, temperature) and monitoring device for water and nutrients infrastructure, gates, etc. to pilot alarms and the automatic flows in the farm. IoT is already a reality in industrial farming (see external resource about John Deere). Extract from the press : Data help farmers discover when crops are reaching optimum moisture levels for timely irrigation decisions…

– In the future, ecosystem simulation software (see external resource : Moorea) will allow to optimize farm design (setup and evolution). The behavior of elements and their relationship with other elements (human, plants, animals, sectors and flow of resources and energy, terrain shape and constitution, water elements, …) will be weighted to help find the best combination/interactions within the ecosystem. These software will come with libraries of elements with dynamic description built over an open community sharing repository. These libraries will integrate as well designs of man-made functions to support the farm setup; e.g. green roof building (see external resource), dry toilets, dehydrators, chicken tractors, keyhole gardens, …

The 2 knots you need to know

What is a good knot ?

It is a knot designed in a Cradle to Cradle philosophy, meaning;

– have a good functionality : therefore will hold whatever the load you put on them

– are easy to disassemble in order to reuse the rope (and not cut it because it has been totally locked under tension): therefore easy to untie, even if you have put a tension of 20 tons on them

The knots you may use in the 2 most occurring situations are;

Bowline knot


The bowline is used to attached something loose at the extremity of the rope. You can not do it if the rope is under tension. Once done you may apply the tension, it will just lock immediately. Once the tension is released you can untie it very easily.

Clove Hitch knot

clove hitch

This one may be used to create or maintain a tension between 2 elements you tie together. It is the knot the sailor use when docking a boat. In construction it can be used to stretch a cord for leveling a wall for example. More than 2 loops can be made to increase the adhesion to the support.

Biodiversity management in Permaculture

The term Biodiversity encompass 3 perspectives;

– The number of species
– The genetic diversity
– The ecosystems variations

These 3 perspectives are 3 different paradigms with different natures, epistemology and complexities.

A species is the set of animals having the capability to interbreed and give life to fertile offspring. Bacteria species definition is different because of their character asexual. Viruses are excluded as well due to their specific nature.

Genetic diversity is the variation in alleles of genes within and among populations of individuals.

Ecosystem diversity is the variation in the complexity of a biological community. It represents the largest scale of biodiversity due to its systemic dimension. Complexity emerging from the multitude of relationships between the elements, biotic and abiotic.

The main focus in Permaculture is the ecosystem diversity, the relationship between elements being more important than the elements themselves. However the design of the domestic part of the ecosystem relies on the knowledge of the species introduced or attracted taking into account their specific functions and behaviors.

The design of the domestic biologic community in Permaculture may be influenced by

– The cost, capability and quantity of individuals of a species to fit inside a specific sub-ecosystem (adapted niches and schedules)
– The number of functions and positive interrelationships a species may have within the sub-ecosystem (positive relationships includes collaboration with productive elements and competition against counterproductive elements)
– The autonomy (including breeding) of the species (reduction of human monitoring)
– The opportunities the species may bring (food or resources production)
– The architecture and the potential niches of the ecosystem
– The permeability and ecotones between the sub-ecosystems and in particular with Zone 5

In every of these considerations we must have conscience of the possible lack of knowledge and the necessity to step in very carefully every time we introduce a new species.

The mechanisms at play in biodiversity related to the species and their environment are;

– Speciation : mechanism of life differentiation through evolution. (specialization, adaptation to a niche, emergence…) Mobility of a species and time spent in a specific environment are the two predominant factors of speciation
– Extinction : due to niche change, competition with more adapted species, food chain or food web perturbation (new predators, diseases, lack of food and resources, …)
– Migrations : immigration of new species in a specific ecosystem, emigration to other ecosystems .

Here are some drives in the construction of a biologic community in Permaculture;

– Use local species (species found in local ecosystems similar to the type of climax we may direct our ecosystem to).

– Limit the organisms introduction to few individuals at start and observe the group evolution and the impact on the environment. The early identification of niches allows as well to monitor the best ratio population size / allocated area.

– Time of reactivity after the emergence of an invasive species (extinction hosting) is an important factor to consider in order to reduce future maintenance.

– By favoring the introduction of perennials plants and large elements (trees) we facilitate the control of possible invasions (e.g. competition against grass or easy management of invasive perennials due to their slowness of propagation), multiply the number of niches (3 dimensional ecosystem) therefore the number of species (speciation hosting) and introduce a factor of stability favoring species settlement on the long term.

– Permaculture farms usually gives a preponderant role to aquatic ecosystems by their capacity to distribute water, produce resources and increase biodiversity both in the aquatic ecosystem itself and through its interface (ecotone) with connected ecosystems . Water ecosystems plays an important role in wild life attraction therefore biodiversity through natural (im)migration.

– Acceptance of balance in the impacts. A recent studies showed an increase of plants health in an ecosystem after bear introduction. The animal being a predator of ants themselves impacting negatively plants through different type of fungi culture. If introducing a bear in urban Permaculture for example is maybe not the best idea other examples can be found where accepting some impact can open bigger opportunity in the global balance.

– Increase the variations inside and in between species to enlarge the scope of opportunities. E.g. Having different fruit trees species or varieties spreads production over time.

– Get inform about or test the settlement of guilds.

– Resources about the benefits of biodiversity in ecosystems functions (services) :


The function of a dehydrator is to dry food (fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, …) for conservation or food preparation purpose. It is a very sustainable solution since using sun energy and having a very low footprint with recycled materials.

The principle is relatively simple; a wooden box (drying chamber with trays) connected to a sun heating chimney.


Once again check the relative location of your dehydrator with the context. Here the summer and winter sun courses and the vegetation around which could cause shade are the main elements to take into consideration. Check as well the windy rains sector to avoid humidity on the drying chamber. This can be avoided having a vegetation wall (here giant bamboo in the back).

The sun heat the interior of the chimney through the glass. The hot air circulate then up into the drying chamber to dry food.

If you want your system to be efficient you need 2 additions to this design.

A wavy corrugated metal sheet to increase the heat exchange with the circulating air inside the chimney:


This will make a huge difference since the increased area of heat exchange will boost the temperature of the air flow.

The second feature to incorporate is 12 volts ventilators to speed up the airflow. You can get this into a computer hardware shop. The one in the photos cost 2 US$ each since they are second hand. It comes with a small transformer to 12 volts.



These 2 easy to add features will make the difference between a poorly design solution and a very efficient drying system. If you want to slow down the capacity of the system and monitor either the temperature or the air flow speed you can switch off the ventilators and/or remove the corrugated sheet (therefore they should be easily removable) and/or add a sun filter on the chimney.

Some precision on the air flow : the bottom of the chimney has a trap to manage the quantity of airflow going in and the chamber has a trap to manage the quantity of airflow going out.

You may put a kind of mosquito net inside the chimney to prevent insects like ants climbing to the chamber and protect the basis of the structure as well with ants traps. The airflow going up, there is usually no food smell attracting insects on the basis of the structure.



A man built swale is a low tract of land following a contour line made to harvest rain runoff on a slope.

Here is a swale filled in by rain water run-off;


View of profile ;


Swales are the most convenient way to store water in presence of a slope.

When a land has been deforested no tree can prevent erosion any more. The water run-off remove in few years the top soil. The vegetation may then take decades or even centuries to settle again, constantly removed by new run-off and by the difficulty to settle roots in a hostile subsoil.

Swales, by creating a water channel help the process of water capture and infiltration in the soil. After only few years the vegetation settle again and the topsoil regenerate.

Swales are not eternal and erosion will still impact this earth-shaping architecture if no trees with deep roots are planted to take over with the erosion prevention. Various methods exist with regards to the location of the trees and the swale. Planting the tree on top of the bern of the swale allow quick root settlement since the soil is soft. However this location tends to dry rapidly so this needs to be done at start of the humid season. Planting the trees just below the swale allow to use the bern as a platform to access the swale and harvest the fruits of the trees.

A swale follows a contour line meaning that its construction needs to be done using adequate leveling tools. Two tools are mainly used;

– a “A” shape tool. In this case you need to tare it initially using a horizontal surface and mark the position of the vertical string on the horizontal bar of the “A”
– a transparent hose filled with water which is the most convenient tool if your swale is longer than 5 meters.


In some cases you need first to remove the vegetation to access to the most probable point on the contour line. In order to avoid removing too much vegetation not being very sure where to go horizontally, the best way to assess this with your eyes alone is to locate yourself in a perpendicular position with regards to the contour line. Only in this position you may have a good guess of the horizontal plan. Trying to evaluate the horizontal position of a line looking in the same axes that the line infers mistakes.

The swale by capturing water will deeply modify the humidity and structure of the soil down the hill. A water lens or water plume is created which shape depends on the geological layer composition and the angle of the slope. Here is a description of the typical evolution of the water storage inside the ground.


If you need to control and reduce the level of humidity generated down the swale the best way to do so is planting trees to monitor the water plume. This is a sensitive matter if you build a swale up the hill of a house. The humidity concentration could provoke water infiltration in the soil of the house.

Swale Overflow

Swales may include an overflow channel to redirect water to another swale or into the existing overflow network.

Water overflow channel needs to be covered using a non erodible material (e.g. plastic, … see picture below). Excavating the overflow channel without a protection from erosion will have the effect of the channel being dug up by the rain when overflow happens. The erosion will deepen the overflow channel until its bottom goes at the same level than the bottom of the swale, making the swale ineffective in holding the water.

Swale Overflow

The stones (as shown in the picture) ensure that the flow of water will not pass underneath the sheet to create erosion. The water level of the swale will be defined by the lowest border of the swale, in this case the channel protected by the sheet. To increase the swale water volume capacity the channel needs to be leveled up, taking care that it remains always the lower point of the pit borders.

 Swales customization

In places with high erosion the swale will gather a lot of sand and sediments. This earth can be used either to be transferred in locations where soft soil is needed or even be used as sand for construction. A third solution is to use this earth to transform the shape of the swale in order to create a terrace. Sediments will help create a light and humid earth bed showing potential for growing crops.

The following section mainly the different types of swale you may create depending on the situation.

First of all it is important to differentiate a swale harvesting water run-off from a sandy sector or from a vegetation established situation.

The former will be filled over time by sand, silt and organic matter. As shown on the picture below.


The erosion has brought sand (seen in the middle of the photography) and silt (on the down/right side) which are being harvested and brought to another location where sandy soil will help root development.

In this context it is necessary to let the swale empty of vegetation or mulch in order to have easy access to the sand and silt and shovel the accumulated materials for different usage. In this case the swale plays an additional role which is harvesting certain textures of soil (sand and silt) which can be very useful, for example;

– to add sand in banana circles shape in a compacted soil. Or any earth-shaping requiring good drainage(e.g. Biodigestor evapo transpiration).
– to get sand, in certain cases pure enough, to use with cement.
– to get silt to mix with earth for additional fertility.
– to transform the swales into terraces by moving the sand down hill (see the photo below)


A secondary swale (e.g. located down from the former) will not receive sand because the first swale make a barrier for the sand. In this case the swale can be filled in with mulch to better keep humidity and help reconstitute the top soil on the bottom of the swale or can be used as a German pit (HugelKultur in pits). In this case the vegetation settled there will need to be adapted to a swamp ecosystem with long periods of water logging depending on the rain water accumulation. (see photo below)


The sand and silt accumulated from the upper swale can be mixed with the earth taken to make the terrace.

A swale always need to follow the contour line in order to keep the water in. However it may play as well a different  role and have an additional specificity;

– Channeling water, to a pond for example, (see photo below)
– Have a depth variation in order to monitor the quantity of water infiltrating the soil. (see photo below)


In case of channeling it may be necessary to add gates to monitor the overflow debit to the desired location. If let open the water flow will most of the time fill the pond and not stay at swale level. The priorities between pond level and water accumulation in the swale can be managed through simple gates. Once the water reach the top of the gate the overflow starts to fill the pond. The overflow of the pond can be avoided if necessary by having a water overflow evacuation point on the swale at the same level than the maximum desired pond water level.

Location of the plants on the swale system

Trees root system allow to fix the earth shape against erosion over time. It is then important to plant perennials, big enough to fix the swale. Over time the swale will disappear and the perennials will play the erosion control function (roots, mulch, humus, cover ground). If the slope is important deep tap root trees should be preferred.

Trees can be planted down the swale so that the mount can be used as a platform to access the fruits. In this case medium fruit trees can be planted (see photo below)


If planted on the mount the fruit trees may be smaller to compensate the elevation (see photo below). The mount is usually soft since the earth has been dug up from the swale. The root system will develop easily there. The only drawback is the tendency of the mount to quickly become dry.


It is unadvised to plant trees inside the pit since the soil is usually less fertile and very compacted. The bottom of the swale suffers as well important hydrometry variations which could impact the tree. To resolve this you may create a German pit as described above (only on secondary swales).

When defining the contour line before digging the swale it may happen that you encounter a tree on the way. It is then not necessary to remove the tree. You may dig the swale down or up the tree on the specific portion where it stands. By doing so you must make sure that the bottom of the swale and the top of the berm stay at the same level. When the slope is sharp the best alternative is digging the swale up the hill to skirt the tree. In both solutions a previous analysis of the tree root structure is necessary (size, resilience, age).