Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Four

Here are my highly personal notes on Chapter Four: Permaculture Principles in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“Much of the distress of the modern world comes from moving and acting in strange and distant environments, from the loss of the familiar, and from speed. … Multitasking may bring a certain exhilaration, but a constant diet of it ultimately exhausts and fragments the mind’s capacity for attention.” — Peter Bane


Permaculture Principles:

1- Observe and interact. Alertness, observation, patterns awareness.

2- Catch and store energy. Cycling and re-cycling. Build soil, store water and solar energy, plant forests, save seeds and other life.

solar panels on Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens education center, May 2014.

3- Get a yield (or a harvest). Redundancy. Yield is “an expression of surplus in ecosystems.” The yield doesn’t have to be for humans — though humans have legitimate claims on yields of managed ecosystems; it can also be for the birds, insects, fungi, etc. Imagine the sequence of yields (p.31-32). Example:

“Grasses produce seed, a potential yield, only after they have germinated, rooted, grown, and photosynthesized over a period of several months. We may be interested in the grain, but there are also straw, root biomass, and a host of grain-eating animals, birds, insects, rusts, fungi and other organisms that represent potential yields from the same cycle. We must stretch observation and imagination to recognize the other yields of this and similar growth cycles.”

spouse and friend chipping/shredding neighbour’s tall grass stalks for our use as mulch, May 2016

4- Self regulate and accept feedback (ethics). “Maturity is about good judgement and appropriate restraint of the exuberances of life and growth.” Consider down-stream impacts; we all live downstream (there is no such place as “away.”)

5- Use and value nature’s gifts. “The current economy recognizes nature primarily as a resource base and a dumping ground for wastes. Permaculture … expands our awareness of the many services that nature provides. … Many of the least appreciated and therefore most abused environments are also the most important ecologically.” Wetlands and swamps, e.g.

swampy bog area, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013

6- Waste not. Waste = food for someone. “Structures invariably break down, whether they are the ephemeral walls of cells, the delicate tissue of leaves, the bones of animals or the very rocks of the Earth’s crust, but none of the parts are lost (save a few molecules of hydrogen and helium that may float away from the outer reaches of the atmosphere).” Maintain things. All things on Earth except radioactive materials (“which we should forswear producing or distributing”) can be consumed by some life form. [Plastic?]

Exploitation (using the resources we’ve carefully built up)
7- Design from pattern to details. Cultivate an awareness of patterns in nature, and also in culture: “Natural patterns are widely applicable and have their genesis in the very nature of matter itself. However, more complex, specific and human-oriented patterns can also be observed —- for example, in the optimum shape and size of public spaces or the relationship of settlements to their surrounding topography. Successful buildings follow well-established cultural and architectural patterns …. Because they engage the right side of the brain which perceives form and spatial relations, patterns access our organic or body intelligence. They are inextricably rooted in form and thus are grounded in the body’s experience of the world.”  Design is iterative, “best done in a series of thoughtful stages where each new layer of the work grows out of the previous ones.”

hosta spiral patterns (May 2007)

8- Integrate, don’t segregate: Connections and relationships are at the heart of permaculture: “The mind may separate elements, species, or categories of things, but in the physical world they exist together.” In designing, we need to consider things as components of integrated systems. Look for multiple functions of each element and in the placement of elements in relation to each other.

9- Choose small and slow. There’s no need for haste, even with the urgency of “civilizational decline.” Small and slow is how life and nature move (e.g., photosynthesis, which “captures trillions of megawatt hours of energy every year but takes place one cell and one plant at a time”). Local, human-scale, familiar. “Much of the distress of the modern world comes from moving and acting in strange and distant environments, from the loss of the familiar, and from speed. … Multitasking may bring a certain exhilaration, but a constant diet of it ultimately exhausts and fragments the mind’s capacity for attention.”

gourd leaf capturing energy (Sept. 2016)

10- Cultivate diversity. Today, “only 20 plant species make up 90% of the human diet” (cites UN Food & Agriculture report from 2011). Always include native plants, which make valuable connections to local pollinators, beneficial insects, and soil organisms. “Most gardeners are doing very well if they raise 30–50 types of fruits and vegetables and a handful of herbs, but 300–500 species would be typical in a working permaculture.” Cultivate diversity as a basic approach. Push climactic limits. Spread your bets. Concept of deep diversity, including plants from every known taxonomic order in gardens whenever possible. “Worldwide, 2/3 of seed production is in the hands of fewer than 10 giant multinational corporations” (he cites here).

11- Mind the margins and look to the edges. Push the edge – the edge is where the action (productivity) is. Edges (ecotones in landscape) blend resources of two or more environments. Sensitive indicator species often dwell at the edges. Systems with the most edge — estuaries, swamps, and forests — capture the most solar energy as biomass.

forest wetland, where lots of wood frogs are in the spring, Concord, NH (March 2016)


12- Cultivate vision & respond to change. Refine our systems.


Featured image (top image) is a diversity of 40-plus tomato varieties grown at Spring Ledge Farm in NH and available for tasting in Sept. 2016.


One comment

Leave a Reply