Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Permaculture Principles: Principle Eight - Integrate Rather than Segregate

Holmgren's Twelve Principles of Permaculture

Principle Eight: Integrate Rather than Segregate
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle:  Many hands make light work.

It is amazing to me that this principle has not been adopted more in modern agriculture.  I understand why.  It has to do with dogma and profit and simplicity.  However, it has been proven time and again that an acre of land (for instance) will produce more total or combined yield if planted in polyculture (multiple species) than if planted in monoculture (single species).  Yet farmers the world over have adopted the idea that they need to produce one item at a time and maximize that single harvest, whether it be corn, wheat, or soybeans.

This principle's best example is the Edible Forest Garden which I have gone into greater detail on previous posts.  Please take some time to review this post to truly understand the benefits of integration from an agricultural perspective.  The benefits that we know of are truly colossal: reduced work, reduced pesticides, reduced herbicides, greater food variety, greater nutrition, greater biodiversity, reduced watering, greater beauty, and the list goes on.  These are just some of the benefits we are aware of; there are likely more that we are yet to discover.

I believe there are two (or three depending on how you look at it) concepts of this principle that were expressed independently in previous iterations of the "principles of permaculture" as the science of Permaculture was being developed.  Each component, while not absolutely required, provides an idealized goal in the design process.  It allows us to critically think about each element we are adding.  If we have a choice between two elements (e.g. canopy trees), then the one that rates higher or contributes more to each of these components should likely be the element chosen.  Here they are:

Relative Location - This components seems like common sense to me.  Place an element where it will be most beneficial to other elements and vice versa.  Very obvious examples are solar panels on the roof or rain barrels at downspouts.  Other less obvious examples would be placing the pond at a higher elevation than your home so we have enough water pressure or placing tall, canopy trees on the north side of the food forest to prevent shading the other plants (or on the south side if you are in the southern hemisphere).

Stacking Functions - This concept is best explained by its component parts below.

Each Element Performs Many Functions - The classic example to describe this component is the chicken.  Sorry if you have read this before (or many, many times before as I have), but it is used so often because it is such a great example.  Here goes:  The chicken can function to provide meat, eggs, feathers, stock, bones, manure, tilling, pest control, heat (e.g. attaching a greenhouse to the hen house), and probably many more functions.  This is just quickly off the top of my head.  The goal of this concept is to make sure we are utilizing all parts or functions of an element, and that we choose elements that have multiple functions.  Again, it is not mandatory, but it provides much greater integration into the Permaculture System we are designing.

Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements - This is really looking at things from the other perspective.  If we want to water our gardens then relying only on city water is less redundant than collecting rain water, having ponds, swales, dew ponds, gabions, and practicing hugelkultur.  Obviously, when there are many elements that are all working toward the same goal, if only half achieve that goal at any time, then that function is sustained.  A four-legged stool is much safer to sit on than a one-legged stool.

"Many hands make light work" reminds us that our Permaculture Design should incorporate as much diversity to create truly sustainable systems.

By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things, and they work together to support each other.
- David Holmgren


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