Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 3.15 –

The Establishment and Maintenance of Permaculture Systems

Insert Here

Every design is an assembly of components.

The first priority is to locate and cost those components. Where our resources are few, we look closely at the site itself, thinking of everything as a potential resource (clay, rock, weeds, animals, insects).

We can think of labor, skill, time, cash, and site resources as our interchangeable energies: what we lack in one, we can make up for by exchange for another (e.g. clothes-making in exchange for roof tiles).

Insert Here

The best source of seed and plants is always neighbors, public nurseries, or forestry departments. From the early planning stages, it pays to collect seed, pots, and hardy cuttings for the site, just as it pays to forage for second-hand bricks, wood, and roofing.

The planning stage is critical. As we draw up plans, we need to take the evolution in stages, to break up the job into easily-achieved parts, and to place components in these parts that will be needed early in development (access ways, shelter, plant nursery, water supply, perhaps an energy source).

Thus, we design, assess resources, locate components, decide priorities, and   place critical systems. Because impulsive sidetracks are usually expensive, it is best to fully plan the site and its development, changing plans and designs only if the site and subsequent information forces us to do so.

Insert Here

On a rural (and sometimes urban) site, FENCING or hedgerow, SOIL REHABILITATION by mulch (or loosening by tools), EROSION CONTROL, and WATER SUPPLY are the essential precursors to successful plant establishment, for we can waste time and money putting out scattered plants in compacted, impractical, and dry sites.

Any soil shaping for roads, dams, swales, terraces, or paths needs to be finalized before planting commences.

For priority in location, we need to first attend to Zone 1 and Zone 2; these support the household and save the most expense. What is perhaps of greatest importance, and cannot be too highly stressed, is the need to develop very compact systems.

Insert Here

In the Philippines, people are encouraged to plant 4m squared of vegetables – a tiny plot and from this garden they get of their food! We can all make a very good four meters square garden, where we may fail to do so in 40 square meters.

Similarly, we plant and care for ten critical trees (for oils, citrus, nuts, and store-able fruit). We can take good care of these, whereas if we plant one hundred or one thousand, we can lose up to 60% of the trees from lack of site preparation and care. Thus, ten trees and four meters square, well protected, manured and watered, will start the Zone 1 system.

Starting with a nucleus and expanding outwards is the most successful, morale-building, and easily achieved way to proceed. Broad scale systems have broad-scale losses and inefficiencies.

As I have made every possible mistake in my long life, the advice above is based on real-life experience.


To sum up:

  • Design the site thoroughly on paper.
  • Set priorities based on economic reality.
  • Locate and trade for components locally or cheaply.
  • Develop a nucleus completely!
  • Expand on information and area using species proved to be suited to site.


Precisely the same sort of planning (nucleus development) applies to any system of erosion control, rehabilitation of wildlife or plants, writing books, and creating nations.

Break up the job into small, easily achieved, basic stages and complete these one at a time. Never draw up long lists of tasks, just the next stage.

It is only in the design phase that we plan the system as a whole, so that our smaller nucleus plans are always in relation to a larger plan.

Insert Here

Instead of leaping towards some imaginary end point, we need to prepare the groundwork, to make modest trials, and to evolve from small beginnings.

A process of constant transition from the present to the future state is an inevitable process, modest in its local effect and impressive only if widespread.


We seek first to gain a foothold, next to stabilize a small area, then to develop self-reliance, and only after these are achieved, to look for exportable yields or commercial gain.”

Even in a commercial planting it is wise to restrict the total commercial species to 3-10 reliable plants and trees so that easier harvesting and marketing is achievable, although the home garden and orchard can maintain far greater diversity of from 25-75 species or more.

Thus, our design methodologies seek to take into account all known intervening factors.

But in the end it comes down to flexibility in management, to steering a path based on the results of trials, to acting on new information, and to continuing to observe and to be open or non-discriminatory in our techniques.

The success of any design comes down to how it is accepted and implemented by the people on the ground, and this factor alone explains why grand centralized schemes more often result in ruins and monuments than in stable, occupied, and well­ maintained ecologies.

Insert Here

We can design any expensive, uncomfortable, or ruinous system as long as we do not have to live in it, or fund it ourselves.

Responsible design arises from recommending to others the way you have found it possible to work or to live in a similar situation.

It is much more effective to educate people to plan for themselves than to pay for a permanent and expensive corps of “planners” who lead lives unrelated to those conditions or people for whom they are employed to design.