Tropical Leaves

PERMACULTURE

Permaculture was coined as a term in the 1970s by David Holmren and Bill Mollison, two Australians dedicated to the sustainable use of land.

 

Although they were the first to use the word, the ideals of permaculture in the modern sense have been around since at least the early part of the 20th century, and the practices that make up the core of permaculture date back thousands of years.

Farmers Pride International's  Permaculture approach looks at every piece of land in a holistic manner, integrating every animal and plant living on it, and combining that with social structures designed to foster long-lasting agriculture as well. Each element of a food cycle is broken down into what it requires and what it contributes, and then each element is pieced together to form a dynamically self-supporting whole.

Permaculture lies on three ethics: care for the earth, care for people and fair share. They form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. At the same time, permaculture moves beyond simply being a mechanical set of principles for the management of all cultures that can be used in designing sustainable systems.

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Principles of Permaculture:

 
  • Observe and interact – by taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation

  • Catch and store energy – by developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need

  • Obtain a yield – ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work you are doing

  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback – we need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.

  • Use and value renewable resources and services – make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources

  • Produces no waste – by valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste

  • Integrate rather than segregate – by putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things, and they work together to support each other

  • The use and value diversity – diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides

How to Set up a Permaculture Farm in 9 Steps

 

Farm development and whole farm planning using the scale of permanence.

One of the best tools for farm planning and development in our current permaculture toolbox is the Keyline Scale of Permanence. Developed by Australian agricultural designer, P.A. Yeomans, in the sixties, the scale facilitates prioritization and decision-making when planning fertile farm landscapes. There are eight factors in the scale with climate, landscape and water supply on the top, and roads, trees, buildings, fencing and soils being at the more flexible part of the scale. Yeomans used ‘relative permanence’ to discuss the time-scale element for each factor and how much energy we should expand upon them. For instance, roads will last longer and consume more energy to install than subdivisional fences, therefore fencing is lower on the scale.   

How to Set up a Permaculture Farm in 9 Steps

Farm development and whole farm planning using the scale of permanence

One of the best tools for farm planning and development in our current permaculture toolbox is the Keyline Scale of Permanence. Developed by Australian agricultural designer, P.A. Yeomans, in the sixties, the scale facilitates prioritization and decision-making when planning fertile farm landscapes. There are eight factors in the scale with climate, landscape and water supply on the top, and roads, trees, buildings, fencing and soils being at the more flexible part of the scale. Yeomans used ‘relative permanence’ to discuss the time-scale element for each factor and how much energy we should expand upon them. For instance, roads will last longer and consume more energy to install than subdivisional fences, therefore fencing is lower on the scale.​​

Nowadays, there are many different versions of the keyline scale. For example, the Agrarian framework that Darren J. Doherty teaches has some changes to the headings and suggests another two factors: energy and economy. David Holmgren and Bill Mollison in Permaculture One added microclimate, while VEG incorporated crops and animals into the scale.

The bottom line is that these are the components of the farm development you’ll need to consider. Let’s now put them in a logical order and group some of them for the purpose of establishing your farm.

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1. Start with Good Maps and an Understanding of Your Local Climate:

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Geography analysis of my farm.

The most permanent agricultural factor is climate, and it is fundamental to every aspect of your farm. Temperature, insolation, wind, the annual distribution of humidity and rainfall – these are essentially the rules of the game, as Darren Doherty would put it. Geography concerns the location of your farm within the region, shape and form of the land, along with underlying rocks and your proximity to potential markets. If climate sets rules for the game, geography is the board on which you play. These two factors form the environment into which you must place your farm. These are your design parameters – study them, gather the historical information, produce new data, observe, consider your local geography and geology and study its influence on your farm. Most importantly, to obtain good maps depicting your property – here are the steps:

1) Use Google Earth to get a screenshot of your property – it is easy to obtain high-quality images of your property by taking screenshots.

2) Mark the boundaries of your property – create a boundary map on Google Earth. Watch this film for Darren’s explanation on how to do this.

3) Get a topographic map to analyse the landform and develop plans for the property. Ideally, you should have 0.5-1.0m contour maps, but for starters use Google Maps – terrain view.

2. Develop Water Supply First

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In essence, water and rainfall will determine your farm’s development. The harvesting, storage and distribution of water form the foundation upon which you will build, because all the water lines: diversions, swales, terraces, dams/ponds, channels, will become permanent land features that other infrastructure components will follow.

When developing your water systems you will need to consider the storage, harvesting and reticulation of the available water. 

1) Water Storage

Before you start developing your water storage you should think about your needs and work out how much-stored water you’ll need to sustain yourself, your crops and any future livestock. Following this, calculate the catchment area to determine the volume of available water that your farm receives in a form of rainfall to ensure what you’re planning is viable.  The one formula you need to remember is 1mm of rain in 1m2 equals 1L of water.

The best location for your ponds and tanks is high in the landscape, so use your topographic maps to pinpoint the optimal location for your water storage. Then you can use that water for your irrigation purposes whenever necessary. Plastic pipes deliver water very efficiently: following storage in an elevated header tank, it is then moved to where it’s needed by gravity during dry periods.

2) Water Harvesting

Once your water storage is ready, you need to develop and expand upon the methods of harvesting the water. Water wells can tap into underground aquifers; however, before going deep, use the surface stream flows and rainfall-runoff to fill your water storage.

You can capture water with water harvesting drains that will divert the runoff, streamflow or pumping water into your ponds, and subsequently tanks. Swales or ditches on contour can also overflow water into your ponds. Once installed, your roads themselves become a very important and efficient water harvesting system.

3) Reticulation of water

You should always aim to slow, spread and sink the rainfall you receive evenly across the landscape. This can be achieved by using keyline cultivation, a unique cultivation pattern that is an artificial water line, or by using swales. Both capture water, which then slowly infiltrates and hydrates the landscape.

You can also use gravity-powered irrigation to release the water stored in ponds and water tanks when necessary. The best location for your irrigation reticulation pipes is on ridges because, in this way, you’ll achieve maximum coverage of the foothills. Once your irrigation is established, other elements such as farm roads, trees and fencing will follow.

3. Define Access Points

Next, you’ll need to put in access roads, tracks and paths, all of which are permanent features in the landscape and very important to consider early in the process. The placement of access points will define your movement around the farm.

The location of the access points is influenced by climate, land shape and the water supply network you developed in the previous step. On gentler slopes, the location of the permanent farm roads is more subjective. However, as soon as you get into steeper terrain, the sitting of the farm roads is heavily dependant on climate and land shape.

The best location for the main road is on the ridge crests, which divide watersheds – this road will be high and dry, and, most importantly, easy to maintain. Some other potential road locations are along boundary lines and by water channels such as diversion channels, irrigation channels, and irrigation areas.

Farm roads will also change the natural drainage pattern and also serve as hard surface runoff. You’ll want to place your roads on the contour to prevent the erosion and concentration of the runoff.

4. Restore Existing Buildings and Introduce New Structures

 
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Now that you have dealt with water and access and can move around, you can start the placement of buildings and other structures. In most cases, you’ll already have a house with a shed and a yard, so you’ll first need to retrofit and adapt them to your needs.

You should always look after what you start with, then restore what you can, finally introducing new elements into the systems. You can start slowly from your house and work outwards – renovate the house first, perhaps extend it with a greenhouse, introduce a plant nursery and keep on expanding….

When introducing new structures, their placement should follow earlier factors on the keyline scale, as these have already indicated the most suitable locations for the permanent farm buildings. Water supply is determined in relation to land shape and climate, farm roads are guided by the positioning of the water supply, and so on. All of which will disclose the suitable locations for your farm structures, buildings or other elements.

With this in mind, your buildings shouldn’t be overly exposed and they should have good solar access and protection from the winds, ideally on a slope. If you’re building sheds or other structures, try to position them higher than the house in order to utilize their water tanks as a gravity-fed water source for your home.

Another aspect to consider at this stage is your energy needs; the generation and storage of that energy. Every household needs the energy to provide heat, hot water, and power your electrical devices: i.e. to maintain a basic standard of living. You’ll probably require the building or introduction of some energy-producing or harvesting structures to fulfill those needs.

Permaculture Farm in 9 Steps

5. Subdivide Your Farm With Fencing

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Fencing development on my farm.

Fences can be also considered as a part of the infrastructure but they are less permanent than other infrastructure components. Although they come later in the scale of permanence, if you already have an idea where they should go, now’s the time to put down your permanent and fixed fencing.

You can consider flexible and mobile fencing later, once the animals are introduced into the system: you should be adaptable to take advantage of different opportunities as they appear. For the moment, just consider the fences that will be a permanent feature of your farm, along with boundaries that will be permanently planted, such as living fences and hedges.

The easiest way to subdivide your farm is to work in accordance with more permanent infrastructure elements. All such factors will clearly indicate the pattern of the subdivision. Your main fences will generally be closely associated with the roads and follow their pattern, enclosing the paddocks and planting areas. Your farm zones can also offer useful guidance for subdividing your property.

6. Improve Your Soil



















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Improve your soil depending on what you want to grow.

Although soil is the last factor in keyline scale of permanence, because poor soil can be quickly changed into fertile soil, it’s of primary importance in any agricultural development. 

For this reason, when developing a farm, you should be building your soil as soon as you are able. The goal is to improve the fertility of the soil in order for it to provide the maximum benefits when first planting your crops.

Simple techniques can be used to build soil and you can begin the soil conditioning in the earthworks (infrastructure) stage. This can include keyline ploughing, cover cropping, mulching, erosion control, and even the start of microbial inoculation through biofertilizers and compost teas.

This is a necessary step prior to planting because it will improve the growth of your plants. Later, when good grazing practices are introduced, subsoil can be transformed into topsoil even more rapidly and you can increase soil fertility with less energy input.

Soil life requires air, water and minerals, living biology in and on the soil and intermittent disturbance regimes. If you create these conditions the soil’s life will respond, and start creating humus. For a better understanding on how to improve the soils, read my definitive guide on building deep rich soils by imitating nature.

7. Plant Trees and Crops
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Trees are planted in contour strips, following the land shape

Now that you’ve got your soil and water supply ready and ensured an easily accessible property, the next stage is the planting and establishment of the main systems of the farm – savannahs, orchards, woodlots, farm forestry, pastures, market gardens etc.

In most cases, you should begin by establishing windbreaks for the protection of your plantings. Once you have this ready, you can start planting trees, woody crops, and annual and perennial plants. In doing so, you might wish to focus on establishing pastures and annual croplands prior to planting tree-based systems. This will provide a source of income and a quick return on your investment in time and money.

When it comes to tree planting, in general, the pattern should be based on the shape of the land. For example, in the case of the keyline plan, farm forests are contour strips that predominately follow the patterns of water harvesting/distribution channels, as well as the roads, all of which are determined by the land shape. For a typical keyline layout, take a look at Mark Shepard’s New Forest Farm or Grant Schultz’s Versaland.

In a nutshell, your desired tree density determines which of the tree-based systems you’ll adopt. Food forests are denser while savannahs are more open and, for each of these systems, you’ll need a different approach. I have previously outlined the approach for establishing a food forest and, in case you missed it, you can read my step-by-step guide here.

8. Introducing Animals
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In nature, soils are formed in conjunction with herbivores.

Animals are an integral part of the agricultural enterprise and regenerative ecology. They are key to the maturation of any perennial system because no ecosystem can reach its full potential without animals. The natural progression is to introduce your animals once you have established your seedling trees. Nonetheless, animals can be introduced at the same time as your plants, although this will place additional pressure on your funds.

When starting out, consider pigs and chickens. They are easier to care for, have a quick turnaround to get your cash flow going, and are omnivores – giving you more feeding options. Temporary fencing will give you the flexibility to move them around, to protect your trees and other plants, and you can also use them for animal tracking for an additional boost to fertility.

You can introduce big herbivores later and, with good grazing practices such as planned grazing, increase your fertility even further. With properly maintained livestock and living soils, you can complete the cycle and be permanently transforming subsoil into topsoil.

9. Develop Farm Economy
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Once you get your farm up and running it’s time to deal with the financial aspects and expand your influence in the local community. 

Making your farm financially sustainable is entirely dependent on your ability to create a narrative about your farm. You should always aim at developing a personal relationship with your customers. This has never been easier, you can utilize simple and free marketing techniques such as social media tools to make those personal connections.

However, doing this is one thing, and producing a product that the consumer really wants and then delivering it is another. The markets are very dynamic and are constantly changing and evolving over time. However, the good news is that market analysis, and your access to these markets, are also only a few clicks away. Setting up an e-commerce site such as Shopify and selling directly to a consumer really changes the approach to selling.