Thursday, 12 February 2015

Permaculture Principle One: Observe and Interact

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"

Today I will be sharing my thoughts on Principle One Observe and Interact. Some of this may resonate with you or you may find the principle meaningful in a different way.  For expert information on this and other permaculture principles you may want to check out David Holgrems site.

Good permaculture design is developed through careful observation of, and reflective interaction with, the natural systems present on a site. This process happens both over time and through learning experiences which are formed by repeated interactions with those natural systems.

Over time a knowledge base of increasingly effective interactions with those natural systems is developed.  However we can observe the same thing as someone else, yet “see” it differently - from our own perspective and through the lens of our own values. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder acknowledges there is no right or wrong in nature just difference.

Like the other permaculture principles this principle can be applied to a range of systems including; organisational development, social development, interpersonal relationships, education, and of course food production.
A couple of examples of this principle in action around our property are:
Our property is in wallum country. We have sandy soil that runs down to a hard rock surface that gets waterlogged in the heavy rains and the water sits between the rock and soil. Shortly after we bought the property a six month drought ended with very heavy rain. A few weeks later we needed to hire someone to slash our property, as we had yet to buy a ride on mower. After observing the person we hired to do the work bog his tractor on our property, we have been very careful since buying our own not to use it on certain parts of the property directly after heavy, soaking, rain.

 On our property I have observed the plants (and so called weeds) that grow in the different areas. These plants can communicate what my soil is lacking and what nutrients I might have too much of. Where I observe Drosera (Sundews) growing I know the soil in the vicinity is poor in minerals. In one garden bed where I have applied sugar cane filter press (mill mud) and various mulches I have Bidens pilosa (Cobblers Pegs) growing. Cobblers Pegs like nitrogen, so it could indicate the soil is healthy. But I need to be aware it could be that the “Farmers friend” as they are also known could be 
nature’s way of soaking up excess nitrogen. The plants in the garden appear healthy. However I will continue to observe their progress and be aware that if plants begin to look sickly it could be an indication of excess nitrogen. If this did happen, I can interact with the process by planting some plants that will take up the excess nitrogen. Squash, cabbage and broccoli could be used as “doctor” plants rather than food plants to correct the imbalance. Sawdust could also be used to lower the nitrogen. Bidens pilosa also has the reputation of hosting root knot nematodes, and tomato spotted root. Yet despite this, some gardeners compost the plants.

Bidens pilosa

Are you familiar with permaculture? How do you apply the principle Observe and Interact in your life?


  1. As you already know, I am indeed familiar with and practicing permaculture. One way that I observe and interact is when it comes to deciding what my kids are ready for and what they are not. I observe their maturity and coping and interact by setting appropriate boundaries on an individual basis. I frequently walk the land making observations similar to yours as I go. I choose to be very careful about the interacting aspect, sometimes nature will take care of itself if we wait. Other times I employ the appropriate and least disruptive tactic to solve a problem and this is where, frequently, the problem becomes the solution. As I have read before "you don't have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency." Is that a weed or is it food or livestock fodder? That is the way I try to approach it. Many times with careful observation and patience, a disadvantage can become an advantage.

    1. Brittany I really appreciate that your comment shows how the principle can also be applied within our relationships. Yes patience is key isn't it. Observing and planning take time and stops us throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

  2. I have a lot to learn on this and I like the principles you demonstrate here, it makes sense and explains why I'm rubbish at growing things ;)

    1. I am a "L" plater gardener myself, with still a long way to go before I can move onto my "P" plates. But I am enjoying the learning.

  3. Observing.....oh the impatience of it all. Yes, this particular discipline forces me to slow down and let time pass. Having only moved house a few months ago I am still do my 12 months of observing ..... very character forming. Loving your wider application of the wisdom too

    1. Yeah it really is hard holding back and waiting especially when I am at the plant nursery or when I am given plants. But waiting will save me the trouble of moving plants later on.