Permaculture is an ecological system that incorporates 12 permaculture principles to use on the farm and in the garden. The beauty of these principles is that they align with the laws we find at work in nature, and thereby creates a harmonious system by which both people and the planet benefit. The goal of permaculture principles is to respect and use nature’s wisdom to produce the best possible outcome for working the land and growing gardens.

Principle 1: Observe and interact

Our best farm and garden designs are born from our observations and interactions with our land and the local community. When we watch and listen, we connect to and learn from our natural surroundings. Nature shows us the wildlife that visits our farm, where water gathers and flows, the best locations for sun and shade plants, the direction of strong winds and storms and so much more. The more time we spend walking and observing our land in every season, the better choices we will make.

Principle 2: Collect and store energy

This principle relates to the amount of abundance we can ultimately harvest, whether this be edible food, timber, sun, water, wind, compost and more. The land is steeped in energy production, and nature can teach us how to catch, collect, store and use these energies.

Principle 3: Obtain a yield

Abundance is the goal of our farm and garden design. Farming and gardening are hard work, so we want our efforts to produce reliable, sustainable bounty. This requires growing the right plants and trees, or choosing the best crops or animals, all of which will easily thrive in our local.

Principle 4: Apply self-regulation and welcome feedback

Farm and garden design involves good management and organization on our part, and which is subject to constant change and improvement. I am often amazed at friends, family and neighbors who visit my farm, and present fresh ideas that I had never considered. Our capacity to listen and remain open to feedback is extremely valuable.

Principle 5: Value and use renewable resources

Renewable resources are gifts from nature that naturally regenerate over time, and provide enduring, sustainable benefits. Besides solar, wind, water and geothermal energies, we can use plants, trees, soil and animals as renewable resources. The latter, however, demands we do not deplete these resources faster than we use them. The idea is to create living systems wherein all resources work efficiently together to replenish and sustain one another.

Principle 6: Produce no waste

Nature excels at her ability to recycle, reuse and reduce. Everything on the farm and in the garden can be used to regenerate plants, trees and manure into compost, fertilizer, mulch and healthy soil. Home improvement projects can produce doors, windows, wood, stones and pavers to reuse for outbuildings like sheds and barns.

Principle 7: Design with nature

Nature also excels in beautiful patterns and exquisite details. We can design with nature, and use her patterns and details for inspiration in designing gardens and food forests. We can copy the tiered canopies found in the forests, and mimic shapes, textures and colors in our garden design. From drone shots above the land to the delicate details found in leaves and flowers, the designs in nature reign supreme.

Principle 8: Integrate rather than segregate

This principle is all about connection, and the ways in which we weave all aspects of the farm, garden and home into an efficient and beautiful flow. Each of the zones are complete systems that integrate into one another as a whole. We can use pathways, recreation areas, edible gardens, compost and water systems, garden and storage sheds and more to facilitate a connected ease.

Principle 9: Small and slow solutions

Before we embark on big projects, it behooves us to start slow and appraise our ultimate intention. For example, we can start with a small greenhouse and orchard that will allow us to examine and confirm our larger plans. Sometimes small systems surprise us with being more efficient, easier to manage and produce better outcomes.

Principle 10: Value diversity

Diversity is the spice of life and makes life so rich and interesting. The same is true for the farm and garden where diversity creates more resilient and stronger systems. We can explore diverse planting methods, mix flowering perennials with vegetables, grow five types of beans or plant unusual ground covers in the food forests and orchards. The exploration of diversity is where new ideas are born.

Principle 11: Use edges

Sometimes the edges of our gardens and farms hold a world of possibility we have yet to consider. It is good to explore the edges of ponds, creeks, fields and forests as spaces where something can happen. I have planted clumping bamboo along the edge of the south field to serve as a windbreak, but it also offers protection for small birds.

Principle 12: Adapt

Farming and gardening demand that we creatively respond to change. We never know what the weather, the immediate environment or global circumstances are going to bring us. Our prudent observations can help us adapt with a more positive effect. I did not feel very positive last winter when a rare, severe frost damaged my vegetables and fruit trees. I now have to adapt and consider a greenhouse as backup.