Category Archives: Permaculture

Permaculture Design

“Permaculture is a design system inspired by nature which is based on ethics and design principles that can be used to guide you, your household and your community ‘beyond sustainability’.
By adopting the ethics and applying these principles in our daily life we can make the transition from being dependent consumers to becoming responsible producers. This journey builds skills and resilience at home and in our local communities that will help us prepare for an uncertain future with less available energy.”
From the website
From Penny Livingston-Stark at RDI
“Is it possible to create more abundance in our lives? Develop an intimate relationship with the natural world? And, at the same time, address our ecological crisis? We believe that permaculture offers a key. 

Simply put, permaculture is a design science that is rooted in the observation of nature. It’s a positive, solution-based way of thinking, using a practical set of ecological design principles and methods. Permaculture principles provide a way of thinking that enables people to provide for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs.
You can apply permaculture to any setting or climate – your garden, your farm or ranch, urban and suburban community structures, watershed systems, and your own inner ecology. Permaculture is focused on taking challenges and transforming them into solutions.

Where Did It Come From?

The idea of designing our lives based on natural systems is not new – our ancestors naturally embodied these concepts for centuries. Indigenous cultures still do, today.
More recently, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, from Australia, developed the concept of permaculture in the 1970s and first taught permaculture as an applied design system in 1981. There was no term at the time for “sustainable culture,” so they coined the term “permaculture” to articulate the notion of “permanent agriculture.” It evolved into the notion of “permanent culture,” since culture and agriculture reflect each other.
How Does It Work?

Permaculture asks: how do we – as a human species – sustain ourselves and provide for our needs and the needs of the environment for an indefinite period of time? Permaculturists are looking for the answers by using the principles and methods to create productive ecosystems that have the stability, diversity, and resilience of natural ecosystems.
The permaculture designer looks for ways to integrate water catchment, human shelter and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennials, self-seeding annuals, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture.
For example, the excess or waste products from plants, animals and human activities are used as nutrients to benefit other elements in the system. Plantings are arranged in patterns that can catch water, filter toxins, absorb nutrients and sunlight and block the wind. Particular associations of trees, perennial vines, shrubs and ground covers known to nourish and protect one another are clustered together. Ponds and other elements are constructed in patterns that maximize their edges to take advantage of the increased biological activity at the intersection of two ecosystems.
Creating a permaculture environment is a gradual and long-range process. To implement a design, the permaculturist looks for the right timing and keeps the design flexible, so that changes can be made as observation of the land and the system, and experience, bring new understanding.
Permaculturists also use “quick-start” techniques, like covering weedy or compacted areas with a “sheet compost” – laying on newspapers, cardboard and straw, watering thoroughly, making little planting holes in the mulch, inserting soil and seedlings, and then letting the worms, bugs, fungus, micro-organisms and roots do the rest.
Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from disciplines and traditions, old and new, such as indigenous land use and food systems, natural building materials like earth, straw, stone and bamboo as well as renewable energy systems.
How Do I Learn Permaculture?

The education system within the permaculture community, still based on Mollison and Holmgren’s first course, is a two-week intensive design course. These courses are offered globally. The curriculum transcends cultural, religious, political and economic boundaries, though no two designs or trainings are exactly the same.
Today, tens of thousands of people around the planet have taken workshops and seminars, forming a loose global network of practicing permaculturists. The global permaculture community actively evolves through workshops, journals, books, web sites, design certification courses, and most importantly through personal experimentation.

People inspired by this exploration manifest a vision of bounty and ecological balance in their gardens, homes, workplaces, and communities. Their work fosters a growing understanding of nature’s patterns and generates models of sustainable living – always with the goal of achieving maximum productivity with minimal labor and other inputs. ”

These courses are taught worldwide in rural and urban areas, for farmers and city folk alike. 

Backyard Permaculture!

Digging the first swale in 2006.

2007.  First year’s garden after our Permaculture design implementation began.

The garden in August of 2013.

It now includes ducks, chickens, honeybee hives, annual and perennial food crops, 20 fruit trees, berries, grapes, fruit-bearing shrubs, medicinal herbs, dye and cordage plants, 3000 gallons of rainwater catchment, a rainwater-fed pond-to-garden system, a greywater-fed garden (left of the pathway), prolific backyard composting operation and an operating greenhouse built with 95% recycled materials.  All on a 6000 square foot lot with a 1200 square foot house and a five minute walk to downtown.   Urban Permaculture! 

Birds Watching

Ours is a permaculture garden. It is constantly evolving. As we observe more we learn more about what grows well in which parts of the garden. Who likes to grow with who and what kind of soil do they like best. We are still building our long-term goal of a permaculture food forest. It takes time to build and a willingness to adapt (just like the plants).

We have been starting seeds in cold frames for many years now. It works well but now we are ready for something more. So, our dream of a small backyard greenhouse is coming to life.

We are not the only ones adapting to our site. We are not the only ones who live here. We live with many birds both wild and domestic. Every one of them is watching everything we do in the garden.

Now, with a new structure being built it is just too fascinating to resist. A new foundation? Rocks! Ooh! Cutting wood! It’s all too exciting!

Next up, the greenhouse comes to life!

Petaluma Urban Homestead Tour

Spring sprung and we have been harvesting, prepping beds, sowing seeds, planting fruit trees, and planning for the glory of the Summer garden. So, that’s where we’ve been if you were wondering. It’s a busy time around here.

In March we had our first official tour of the ol’ homestead. 50 local high school students came through the place on a field trip for their Ecological Economy class. Their day included tours of two urban homesteads and a trip to the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas where they toured Commonweal Garden. All three are permaculture sites on different scales.

The tour here started in the front driveway with the gates to the backyard open to accommodate everyone. The group had brought snails from the previous site for our ducks who upon discovering the gates open walked right out into the crowd and charmed everyone! There was a discussion of the medicinal plants that have replaced the lawn, the communal growing bed we share with our neighbors where there used to be a giant hedge dividing us, the rainwater catchment system that turned a problem into a solution, the cider press and cider making with locally gleaned apples, designing greywater systems, homescale livestock- chickens, ducks, worms, bees, rabbits, compost making, honey tasting, they also got to look at the permaculture design for this site and our neighbors behind us. Then, off they went to Bolinas! Did we even go on field trips in high school? Lucky dogs.



Spring has arrived at the “homestead”. The Sugar Snap Peas are plump and ready. Kids, ducks, the dog and the chicken were all hanging out together today while the laundry dried in the warm breeze above their heads . Dee Dee duck laid an egg in the middle of the yard (luckily it was gathered in time). “Chicken” laid her’s like clockwork in her nest box. Her once-a-day constitution. It was quite a sight to see everyone, humans and animals alike, enjoying the beautiful day. We are truly blessed to have this little bit of paradise.

Our house was built in 1907 on a 6,000 square foot urban lot amongst other Victorians and Bungalows. It’s just a short walk to our wonderful old downtown. Two years ago we got our friends to leave Oakland and buy the house behind us. Our backyards adjoin so we’ve joined forces in this urban homesteading project. We had looked for rural property together before coming here but the long drive to jobs and amenities seemed crazy with the coming end of oil. We wanted a small, tight community that could support itself in a crisis. We are working towards that end.

My neighbor friend and I took a Permaculture Design Course this past year and the re-design for our two adjoining urban lots is the result of that course. We plan a permaculture food forest. We aim for “An overabundance of abundance” as permaculture teacher Penny Livingston-Stark says. That’s the plan. We’ll post our progress here so you can learn with us as we make mistakes, jump for joy, and hopefully live more lightly on the planet.

- Suzanne