Monday, 12 September 2016

Integrate rather than Segregate

Many hands make light work

This is part eight in my discussion of the 12 principles of permaculture.

The relationship between elements in a permaculture system are as important as the elements themselves. A permaculture design is a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent elements acting together as the one unit. Without integration of the different elements we cannot create a permaculture system. So what I am aiming for is as system of elements that support each other. Good placement of elements is extremely important, and to do this I need to understand the needs and outputs of each element. Then I can place supporting elements around the initial element so it can gain the benefit of what is around it.   Each element within the system should provide at least three functions. For example; the earthworm opens up the soil, provides worm castings to build up the soil and breaks down organic matter.

A Cosmos seedling putting forth flower buds. The flowers will attract
beneficial insects to the garden.

Elements are combined within the design so that the needs of one element are supplied by another element. For example Chris from Gully Grove gave me a great tip on planting casuarinas and blueberries in close proximity, as the litter from the casuarina is a great mulch for the blueberries, and if they are planted as neighbours or as a 'guild', then it saves me time carting mulch around. The outputs of one element, in this case the casuarina  support the needs of another ( the blueberry bush).  When there are many elements working together we can see the evidence of this principle, - the many hands making light work as it were - in action.

I apply mulch to plants to help retain soil moisture and which feeds the soil as it breaks down. The mulch also provides habitat for predatory insects as well as a food source from the decaying mulch. To attract and support additional predator insects I can also plant more nectar and pollen producing plants in particular plants in the daisy family – cosmos, aster and yarrow; the carrot family – cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley and wild carrot;  plants in the mustard family – alyssum. Other plants that support predator insects are – sunflower, morning glory and elderberry.

Another recently planted Cosmos seedling. The Cosmos seedlings are growing quite fast and this one also has flower buds on it. On the left of the seedling we have some bromeliads, which are a habitat plant for froglets.

In the future  we want to build a hen run on our property adjacent to the orchard so that the hens can free range during the day, eating pests and spreading manure. I want to grow fruit trees such as mulberries and fodder plants that are accessible to the chickens whilst they are in the hen yard. Thereby creating another self-supporting system.

Integration of house and garden can be achieved through thoughtful design. Deciduous trees can be planted to block hot summer sun but allow warming winter sun. Pergolas can allow residents to enjoy a cooler spot outside during summer and can be used to grow deciduous vines such as grapes so that the pergola is also inviting during winter. A trellis placed to the western side of a house can create a living green screen to help keep a house cooler. 

Two elderberry cuttings waiting to be planted out into the garden. Elderberry
is another plant that supports predator insects.

These are just a few examples of how we can integrate elements rather than segregate them.  


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post as I'm so interested in permaculture, and have read one or two books, but like your summaries of the different principles because they are easy to understand. I love seeing things self-seeding in my garden, how things 'pop' up in places and typically thrive because they are obviously in a spot where they have what they need to grow. In our garden, we have two compost bins with holes in bottom where the "juice" can drain out. Around the compost bins, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, allysium and and calendula have popped up and are growing healthy and strong. Close by too is our very healthy, young avocado tree. I think it also likes the goodness from the compost but also it shades some little lettuce seedlings come the afternoon. It all works well together! Meg:)

    1. That sounds like a great system you are working with there Meg. I too love watching plants magically appear, and discovering the areas and conditions they seem to prefer. Just this past weekend I took the time to have a really good look at the grass trees appearing on the property and they seem to like spots that are slightly higher than the surrounding ground. During the week I saw Bunnings had many potted grass trees for sale starting from $69, and mine just keep appearing for free. What a blessing!

  2. It was this very thing that attracted me to permaculture Sherri. Elements working together to create a harmonious system. It just made sense to me....also the fact that it can be applied to all aspects of our lives. Wish it would catch on!!

    1. Many hands making our workload lighter - it is so important for those of us wanting to produce more of our own needs and reduce our dependence on the consumer rat race. Hutchy I think it is so hard to gain head space in today's busy world and permaculture is a deliberate way of living that takes much observation, reflection and design that requires a lot of thinking time. However I see a lot of people who love gardening, cooking from scratch, keeping chickens etc, etc. Perhaps what is needed is more exposure to the benefits of good systems design.

  3. This is definitely good thoughts on integration. I have found it's imperative in nature, where extremes are not always forgiving.

    Plants need other plants, like people need animals and plants too. We always have plenty of people for other people, but do we consider the animal and plant populations we need in our sphere as well? We can't lay people manure everywhere, but animals are happy to spread it around for us. Just like a plant is happy to cast it's shade, and drop it's leaf litter to feed an under story plant, which might be fixing nitrogen or developing fungi the tree can use.

    When we start to see through integration, we see the possibility for so many working and beneficial relationships. Which, as you said, lightens the workload. We need to let nature do more for us. :)

    1. You're right Chris we do need to let nature do more for us rather than ignore how we might use nature in designing productive systems.