Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 2.5 –

Permaculture Yields


Yields can be thought of in immediate, palpable, and material ways, and are fairly easily measured as:



The sum of primary and derived products available from, or surplus to, the system. Some of these are Intrinsic (or precede design), others are created by design.



The sum of conserved, stored, and generated energy surplus to the system, again both intrinsic and those created by design.

Impalpable yields are those related to health and nutrition, security, and a satisfactory social context and lifestyle.

Not surprisingly, it is the search for these invisible yields that most often drives people to seek good design or to take up life on the land, for “what does it benefit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?


Thus, we see the invisible yields in terms of values and ethics. This governs our concept of needs and sets the limits of “enough“. Here, we see an ethical basis as a vital component of yield.

Although all systems have a natural or base yield depending  on  their  productivity,  our concern in Permacuiture Is that this essential base yield is “sustainable“.

Several factors now operate to use the yield of natural systems. In the simplest form, this is the overuse of energy in degenerative systems due to the unwise application of fossil fuel energy.



The energy provided by natural gas and crude oil have had an incredible impact on the productivity of the agricultural sector – with some expert studies indicating Western agricultural practices utilize 10 calories of petroleum energy to produce one calorie of food (other global agricultural regions are not so energy intense). Prior to the Age of Oil the energy input was much closer to the energy output of the food produced. Experts claim that without hydrocarbons the agricultural sector could only feed 3 billion people – less than one-half the current global population of 7 billion.

Poisoning by unproductive use” is observable and widespread.

Thus we must concentrate on productive use, which implies that the energy used is turned into biological growth and held as basic living material in the global ecosystem.

Unused, wasted, or frivolously used resources are energies running wild, which creates chaos, destroys basic resources, and eventually abolishes all yield or surplus.

In design terms, we can find yields fnom those living populations or sorces which are the stocks of the biologist (the so-called standing crop) or from non-living systems such as the climatic elements, chemical energy,  and machine technology.

There is energy stored by extinct life as coal, oil, and gas; energy left over from the formation of the earth as geothermal energy; tides; and electromagnetic and gravitational forces. Cosmic and solar energies impinge on the earth, and life intercepts these flows to make them available for life forms.


In our small part of the system (the design site) our work is to “store, direct, conserve, and convert to useful forms these those energies that exist on, or pass through, the site.”

The total sum of our strategy, in terms of surplus energy usefully stored, is the “system yield of design“.


Definition of System Yeild


System yield is the sum total of surplus energy produced by, stored, conserved, reused, or converted by the design.

Energy is in surplus once the system itself has available all its needs for growth, reproduction, and maintenance.

Some biologists may define yield or production in more narrow terms, accepting that a forest, lake, or crop has a finite upper limit of surplus due to substrate conditions and available energy.

We do not have to accept this, as it is a passive approach, inapplicable to active and conscious design or active management using, for example, fertilizers, windbreaks, or selected species.

Even more narrowly defined is the yield of agricultural economists, who regard a single product (peaches / ha) as the yield. It may be this approach itself which is the true limit to yield!

A true accounting of yield takes into considuation both upstream costs (energy) and downstream costs (health). The “product yield” may create problems of pollution and soil mineral loss, and cost more than it can replace .

The very concept of surplus yield supposes either flow through or growth within our system. Coal and rock do not have yield in this sense; they have a finite or limited product. Only life and now can yield continually, or as long as they persist.

Thus the energy stocks of any system are the flows and lives within it. The flow may exist without life (as on the moon), where only technology can intervene to obtain a yield, but on earth at least, life is the intervening strategy for capturing flow and producing yield. And technology depends on the continuation of life, not the opposite.


The Rule of Life in Yeild


Living things, including people are the only effective intervening systems to use resources on this planet, and to produce a yield. Thus, it is the sum and capacity of life forms which decide total system yield and surplus.

We have long been devising houses, farms, and cities which are energy-demanding, despite a known set of strategies and techniques (all well tried) which could make these systems energy-producing. It has long been apparent that this condition is deliberately and artlfidally maintained by utilities, burcaucrades, and governments who are composed of those sodependent on the consumption and sale of energy resources that without this continuing exploitation they themselves would perish.

In Permaculture, we have abundant strategies under the following broad categories which can crcate yields instead of incurring costly inputs or energy supply.





  • The creation of a niche in space; the provision of a critical rcsourse.
  • The rehabilltation and creatlon of soils.
  • The diversion of water, and water recycling.
  • The integration of structures and landscape.



  • The selection of low-maintenance cultivars and species for a particular site.
  • Investigation of other species for usable yields.
  • Supplying key nutrients; biological waste recycling (mulch, manure).
  • The assembly of beneficial and cooperative guilds of plants and animals.


Spatial and Configurational

  • Annidation of units, functions, and species

(annidation is a design or pattern strategy of “nesting.. or stacking one thing within another, like a bowl in a bowl, or a vine in a tree).

  • Tessellation of units, functions, and species (tessellation is the forming or arranging of a mosaic of parts).
  • Innovative spatial geometry of designs as edge and harmonics.
  • Routing of materials or energy to next best use.
  • Zone, sector, slope, orientation. and site strategies.
  • Use of special patterns to suit irrigation, crop systems, or energy conservation.



  • Sequential annidation (interplant, intercrop).
  • Increasing cyclic frequency.
  • Tessellation of cycles and successions, as in browsing sequences.



  • Use of appropriate and rehabilitative technology.
  • Design of energy dent structurcs.



  • Routing of resources to next best use.
  • Recycling at the highest level.
  • Safe storage of food product.
  • No-tillage or low-tillage cropping.
  • Creation of very durable systems and objects.
  • Storage of run-off water for extended use.



  • Removing cultural barriers to resource use.
  • Making unusual resou rces acceptable.
  • Expanding choices in a culture.


Legal / Adinistrative

  • Removing socio-legal impediments to resource use.
  • Creating effective structures to aid resource management.
  • Costing and adjusting systems for oil energy inputs and outputs.



  • Cooperative endeavours, pooling of resources, sharing.
  • Financial recycling within the community.
  • Positive action to remove a.nd replace impeding systems.



  • Making harmonious connections between components and sub-systems.
  • Making choices as to where we place things or how we live.
  • Observing, managing, and directing systems.
  • Applying information.


This approach to potential production is beyond that of product yield alone. It is theoretically unlimited in its potential, for system yield results from the number of strategies applied, what connections are made, and what information is applied to a particular design.

Now we see that yield in design is not some external, fixed, Immutable quantity limited by circumstances that previously existed, but results from our behaviour, knowledge, and the application of our intellect, skill, and comprehension.

These can either limit or liberate the concept of yield.

Thus, the profound difference between Permaculture Design and Nature, is that in “Permaculture we actively intervene to supply missing elements and to guide system evolution.”


Limits to Yield


Yield is not a fixed sum in any design system. It is the measure of the comprehension, understanding, and ability of the designers and managers of that design.”


Defined in this way, yield has no known limits, as we cannot know all ways to conserve, store, and save energy, nor can we fail to improve any system we build and observe.There is always room for another plant, another cycle; another route, another arrangement, another technique or structure. We can thus continually shrink the area we need to survive.


The critical yield strategy is in governing our own appetites!


Just as we can increase yield, so we can decrease it. The perverse aims of some politicians, developers, and even religious dogmatists limit yield by disallowing certain products as a yield.

Just as one’s neighbours may refuse the snail and eat the lettuce, refuse the blackbird and eat the strawberry, so we may only “allow” certain types of toilets, or certain plants in gardens or parks. And thus people are the main impediment to using their potential yields.





If we take as a condition the “fencepost-to-fencepost” grasslands or crops now developing in the western world, and apply the strategies given, then yields will increase. How these systems interact raises yield even more, but on their own they are sufficiently impressive.

Water Storage

 (11 – 20% of landscape)

1.  Product increase, e.g. animal protein production (water is more productive per unit  area than land; fish more efficient at food conversion than cattle).

2.  Product increase on land remaining due to:

  • irrigation; and
  • water nutrient quality from. manure.

3.  Interaction, e.g. ducks on water to increase yields in and around ponds (e.g. pest        and weed control, manure).

4. Microcalmatic buffering due to water bodies.


Land Forming

1.  Product increase due to even irrigation (no dry areas or waterlogging).

2.  Land stability due to reduction of soil loss from water run-off or salting.

3.  Gravity now replaces pumped water (depends on site).

4.  Recycling of water possible.


Soil Reconditioning


1.  Product increase due to deeper root penetration.

2.  Water infiltration (zero run-off) due to absorption.

3.  Buffering of soil microclimate.

4.  Supply of essential nutrients.

Establishment of Windbreak and Forage Forest

(20 – 30% of landscape)

1. Shelter effects, e.g. increase in plant yields, animal protein, and microclimate      buffering both above and below ground.

2.  Increase in carrying capacity due to shrub and tree forage.

3.  Savings on nutrients recycled via legumes and trees.

4.  Intrinsic products of the forest, e.g. nectar for honey, seeds, firewood from fallen timber).

5. Insect and bird escapement, and pest predator habitat.

6.  Wildlife corridors.


Selective Farm Restorestation :

(not industrial forestry)

1. Increase precipitation due to night condensation, water penetration.

2. Product increase due to superiority of perennials over annuals in bulk, energy savings, and length of yield.

3. Increase in rainfall due to trees cross-wind.

4.  Reduced cost and increased capacity due to selected self-forage browse, e.g.  drought-proof stockfeed,medicinal qualities of some perennial plants.

5.  Reduced cost due to on-farm durable timber, e.g. fence posts, construction material.

6.  Reduced carcass loss due to shivering, sweating, exposure.

7.  Increased crop production in sheltered areas.

8.  Increased carcass weight due to increased food intake in sheltered conditions (not the same as 6. above), i.e.on hot days cattle will graze all day when they are on shaded pasture, instead of sheltering from the sun.

9.  Reduced evaporation from ponds due to less wind over water surfaces.


Market and Process Strategies

1.  Selected crop for specialty market for price/ha increase, e.g. fresh herbs near a  concentration of restaurants.

2.  Marketing by self-pick, mail order, direct dispatch, way-side sale.

3.  Processing to a higher order of product (e.g. seed to oil).

4.  Processing to refined order (e.g.crude eucalyptus oil to fractions).

5. Money saved by processing fuels on farm; plus sale of surplus fuel.


Social / Financial

1. Market stability gained by farm-link strategy, where an urban group contracts to buy specific produce from the farmer.

2.  Income from field days and educational courses.

3.  Rental or income from urban visitors e.g. a guest house or holiday farm.

4.  Direct investment by city people in a particular farm.

5.  Formation of a local credit union and bank for the district, thus recycling money locally.

6.  Vehicle and implement pool with neighbours; schedules of sowing and reaping worked out (capital saved 90%).

7.  Labour exchange with neighbours.

8.  Produce and marketing cooperatives.


Crop Techniques

1. Low or no-tillage farming saves: energy in reduced tillage; soil; water and reduces evaporation; and time between crops.

To put these into practical terms, I have culled from an interview with a farmer (Norm Sims, Weekly Times, 5 jan. 1983) statements on savings due to some site strategies applied.


On land-forming: “We expect to double production over the next lew years, using half the irrigation waters·(4 times benefit)”; “Salinity is reduced“.

In severe drought : “Pasture production has never looked better and water is available”. “It took us six days to irrigate what we now do in two…” and, “Rather  than restricting watering intervals we are restricting the area (aiming to milk 185 cows on 24  ha.)”.

On gradng rotation and electric fencing: “26 paddocks are grazed in a 21 day rotation” (average field of 1.6 ha each with a trough water-point for cattle).


Specific strategies in use

  • laser levelling of fields for even irrigation;
  • water reticulation;
  • water storage and recycling;
  • grazing rotation of 21 days;
  • central access road;
  • crop (or concentrated rations grown; and
  • pasture area reduced to give best watering regime.

It seems obvious from the foregoing that the primary and certain increases in crop yield do not just come from varietal selections (a fiction promulgated by agricultural companies, seed  patent holders, agricultural researchers, or extension officers), but from attention to site design and development, followed by wise enterprise selection to suit the (modified) site, concurrently with a marketing and processing strategy.

As these are often permanent or durable strategies, it is not commercial interest to encourage them, as the continuous benefit is to the farmer alone, and the role of middle men and traders is reduced.

But, In the western world, the (4-6%) of us in essential production are in fact enslaved, while the remaining 96 are deriving secondary or tertiary benefits without adequate return to the primary producers.

This can only result in a weak economy waste, and irresponsibility for life existence based on the expectation that the world owes politicians, students, and middlemen a living.

Benefits, like wastes, must be returned or recycled to keep any system going.

Accumulations of unused benefits are predictive of a colapse at production level; thence, throughout all tiers of the system.



The concentration of yields into one short period is a fiscal, not an environmental  or subsistence strategy, and has resulted in a “feast and famine regime in markets and fields, and consequent high storage costs.”

Our aim should be to disperse food yield over time, so that many products are available at any season.

This aim is achieved, in Permaculture, in a variety of ways:

  • By selection of early, mid and late season varieties.
  • By  planting  the same variety in early or late-ripening situations.
  • By selection of varieties that yield over a long season.
  • By a general increase in diverslty in the system, so that:
    • Leaf, fruit, seed and root are all product yields.
    • By using self-storing species such as tubers, hard seeds, fuelwood, or rhizomes which can be cropped on demand.
    • By techniques such as preserving, drying, pitting, and cool storage.
    • By regional trade between communities, or by the utilization of land at different altitudes or latitudes.


How yields endure is important, for there are unlimited opportunities to use durable yields in terms of season or lifetime.

By a series of preservation strategies, food can be stored for days, weeks, or years.

Water not open to evaporation and pollution, or with natural cleansing organisms, will keep indefinitely.

Shelters may outlast the forests that build them, or can be made of living or durable materials such as Ivy, concrete, or stone. Energy alone (like the food which is part of energy) is difficult to store.

Batteries leak or decay, heat escapes, and insulation breaks down. Only  living things, like forests, incresese their energy store.

Because of seasonal or diurnal cycles, we should pay dose attention to storage strategies. Very little famine would occur could grains, fish, and fruit available in good times be stored for lean times.

The strategies of food storage are critical. I believe that people should therefore mulch their recipe books, which often specify out-of-season or not-in-garden foods, and replace them with books that stress either low-energy methods of food preservation, or how to live easily from your garden in season.



I confess to a rare problem, gynekinetophobia, or the fear of women falling on me-but this is a rather mild illness compared with many affluent suburbanites, who have developed an almost total zoophobia, or fear of anything that moves.

It is, as any traveller can confirm, a complaint best developed in the afflnuent Westerner, and seems to be part of blue toilet dyes, air fresheners, lots of paper tissues, and two showers a day.

It is very difficult, almost taboo, to talk of using rabbits, quail, pigs, poultry, or cows in city farms or urban gardens in the West. They are common·place city farm animals in England, and are ordinary village animals in Asia.


The edible guinea-pig lives comfortably in the homes of South Americans.

Useful animals are effectively abolished from Western cities, leaving the field wide open for a host of others.

So much wasted food breeds its own population of pests. A sensible re-routing of edible garbage through a herd of pigs or a legion of guinea-pigs would abolish much of this nuisance, and a few good Asian restaurants could deal with the cats and dogs.

The gulls would starve if chickens were fed on household wastes, and the besieged Westerner might add a very large range of foods to those now available in cities.

I mention this only to show that cultural prejudices can grossly reduce the available food resources, and that If we refuse to take sensible actions, some gross results can follow, with the biomass of useful foragers such as domesticated animals replaced by an equivalent biomass of pests.





In a fluctuating climatic and market environment, the concept of forcing a maximum product yield is courting disaster. This is, however, the whole impetus of selling (e.g., the “big pumpkin ” and “giant new variety” advertisements in seed catalogues).. or in prizes awarded at agricultural shows.

Better by far are more crop mixes and fall-safe systems that can produce in most conditions (wet or dry, cold or hot), or that hold constant value as subsistence (potato, taro, arrowroot) or have special value (vanilla, quinine, bamboo), or high food value per volume (fish, chicken).

The factors which can increase product yield are these:

  1. Genetic selection;
  2. Increased fertilizer (to a limited extent);
  3. Increased water (too limited extent);
  4. Decreased competition from other non-beneficial species; and
  5. Better management  in utilization of yield and of harvest,timing. and integration.

They are the same factors which cause imbalance, as the selection of types for a particular yield need not be the factor that enables it to produce consistently in field field conditions (whether it be feathering to a “standard“‘ in a chicken, redness in a rose, or weight in a fish).


High-producing hens need biennial replacement (thus a constant breeding program) and may not even set their own eggs, thus needing artificial aids. A water and fertillser dependent crop is liable to collapse when  it is water or nutrient stressed, or becomes too expensive to maintain in any market downturn.

To go for one such crop, and so decrease diversity, is to decrease insurance for yield if one species or variety fails or is susceptible to change. Peasant farmers rightly reject advice based on maximum yield fallacies, and even more so if they share crops with a landlord, for they also “value their spare time“.

In the case of livestock, forced production is eventually limited by insoluble or intractable times, so that in high-producing New Zealand herds, veterinary costs reach $l20 per stock unit (for chronic illnesses such as facial eczema and white muscle dis­ease).

On less stressed pastures and farms, veterinary costs drop away to $20 or so per unit, top-dressing of pasture is reduced, and healthier herds give healthier yields.

In the end, the forcing of product yields creates unique and innexible health problems in plants, soils, and animals. Such yields become economically and ecologically unsustainable, and a danger to public health .

93% of chickens in battery cages develop cancers. If we eat cancer, we must risk cancer, for “we are what we eat‘” in a very real sense.

lnsurance of some yield on a sustainable basis is better than expensive “feast and famine” regimes.

The home garden is one such secure approach. where it is rare for all crops to fail, because of the innate diversity of such a milced system. In fact, it is commonplace for gardeners to find a garden plant or some varieties fail in any one season, but no great harm results, as many other crops or varieties are available.

Thus, species and and  variety  diversity  are what  people  really  need . Plant Variety Rights legislation, plant patenting, and multinational  seed  resource  ownership  has had a disastrous effect on the availability of hardy, adapted local varieties of plants, especially in Europe, where some 85% of locally-adapted seed crops have become “illegal”, or  have disappeared from seed company catalogues.

There are several paths open to us in design, and the least energy path is the one we seek, or evolve towards. There are two ways of producing an egg: the first has become the normal way in the western world (Figure 2.3), and the second is the way  proposed by Permaculture systems (Figure 2.4).

Some ridiculous systems have been evolved in which people, machines, time, and energy are expended in vast quantities on the chicken, perhaps with the aim of maximum product yield, regardless of costs. We can short-cut these systems with great gains in personal and planetary health, and with a far greater variety of yields available for local ecologies.


These illustrations also bring home the commonsense nature of sell-regulated systems.


Figure 2.3 Industrial Method of Poducing and Egg

Figure 2.4 Permaculture Method of Producing and Egg