Permaculture Principle #1 - Observe & Interact

Image courtesy of Mohammad Metri


Welcome to my multi-part series on Permaculture. This series is aimed at giving you an introduction to how to apply the principles of permaculture not only in the garden but in all areas of your life.

Watch this space for new posts on each principle as I post them.


Permaculture Principle #1 - Observe and Interact

An informed, good design depends on choices with an eye to future growth, developing good observation skills is a major key to understanding your surroundings and how they work.

This type of careful consideration allows us a pleasant period of reflection and helps us to avoid expensive and time-consuming mistakes overall.

Image courtesy of Jorg Peter

Natural and social patterns. We need to understand what elements are playing out in our landscape, mentally and physically, how these elements work together, change with seasons, and will evolve over time. From building on a piece of land to designing a business, decisions must be made about the introduction of and the7 placement of new elements.

Stacking Features

Permaculture practitioners define that a well-functioning permaculture design will contain the important key of stacking features. Elements of said design will perform more than one function, located in such a way that they support one another.

Meeting both these marks can be as simple as planting a tree which shades the house in the summer but with its branches bare it allows the sun to shine through and warm the house in the winter. Another example of clever design is the use of double duty furniture in small interior spaces so that functions are stacked, and the useable footprint maximized.

Garden Example

Imagine that you occupy a house on a lot in a city with a site big enough for a small urban farm. Before you really take the time to fully observe the effects of the seasons and how they interact with your property you decide to put in a chicken coop.

Image courtesy of Dani Millington

After living there for a year, you observe that you've made a mistake and the coop is getting too much sun in mid-summer.

Realizing this you plant an apple tree near the chicken run that will help solve the problem. It will shade the chickens and, they will eat the fallen fruit preventing the attraction of pesty insects. If insects do become present chickens can be excellent at helping control their population.

We have all seen the scenario where someone wasn’t patient and threw together a makeshift garden structure in an ill-conceived location that eventually was torn down or became a neglected mess.

In our example the garden may have lost some of its practical useable square footage by the planting of the apple tree. It solved the chicken shade problem, but further observation may have revealed that better locations existed.

Experimentation Leads to Thoughtful Interaction

I know asking people to slow down almost seems like an insult in an everybody loves speed world but it’s especially important when it comes to the placement of elements.

Observation seems like such a simple concept but how well most of us practice it? It isn’t always going to take a year to see where elements best fit into a design but first let a little reflection show you the way, then act.

Image courtesy of cat-Eric Matyas

Observing doesn’t mean doing nothing, it means experimentation time. While you are observing and familiarizing yourself with a garden you can intentionally construct temporary mock-ups of your ideas.

It allows you to evaluate your ideas and adjust accordingly. Take the time and find the natural flow of your property in its relation to all the influences it encounters like weather, structures, materials, people, and animals.

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Financial Example

We can easily see how to observe and interact with our gardens but where else can we apply this principle? A place that quickly comes to mind for me is money.

A recent survey by Credicard.com revealed that 3 in 4 Americans make impulse purchases. Of those purchases 26% of them were $500 or more and the reasons reported were because the purchaser being in one of the following states:

  • Excited (49%)
  • Bored (30%)
  • Sad (22%)
  • Angry (9%)
  • Intoxicated (9%)

Men are more likely to buy while intoxicated, women when they are sad. A statistic in the report I found interesting was the difference between generations. Four in ten seniors aged 65 and older said they'd never made an impulse purchase verse only one out of ten millennials age 18-29 stating the same.

Image Courtesy of Rupixen

When faced with financial decisions like investing, making big ticket item purchases or just spending a few dollars at the store a prudent habit to develop is thoroughly observing the situation before handing over your hard-earned cash.

Slow Your Roll

Develop the habit of slowing your roll before you hit the cashier or to saying yes to your broker for 1,000 shares of his latest hot product.

Image courtsey of Roxanne Minnish

Slow down, take a breath and ponder a few of these questions before spending a dime:

  • Can I afford it?
  • Do I need this or is a ‘trendy’ purchase?
  • Am I replacing an item or buying something new?
  • Is this a quality product and will it last?
  • What problem does this solve?
  • Is there a less expensive alternative?
  • Who am I supporting with this purchase?
  • What are the additional expenses associated with this purchase?

This habit doesn’t take long and allows you to be intentional with your purchasing habits while giving you the chance to observe the overall situation.

By taking the time to closely observe your surroundings it opens you to other opportunities. You might spot a special the store is running on a similar but superior item to the one you are buying or benefit from the couple of moments you take to listen to your intuition before making an investment decision.

My Grandmother Was Right

Before the internet came along my grandmother used to complain about telephones. She would say “people use phones to make rash and foolish decisions. In my day, we wrote a letter, so you had to think out what you were going to say not just ring someone up and blurt out whatever’s on your mind.” I used to think she was just being an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud, but I now see clearly see her point.

Image courtesy of Detmold

When you take the time to observe a situation it informs you how to best interact with that given situation before you act.

I know that sounds simplistic, but it just doesn’t seem like enough people are exercising this choice.

Health Example

Another example of a non-garden system where we can apply permaculture is our own personal health care, specifically our diet. There are so many temptations out there to derail our best intentions.

Mindless Eating

Have you ever caught yourself grazing when you aren’t hungry? In an unconscious state of mind stuffing food into your mouth without really stopping to consider if you are hungry or if what you are eating is good for you.

Image courtesy of Photoholgi

Again, it’s the same concept as in our money example, stop and closely observe your behavior and choices. Before grabbing a bag of chips or some other food like product take the time to consider the other options in the isle, on the menu or in your refrigerator.

Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself in the moment before making a choice of what to eat:

  • Am I hungry or would drinking a glass of water satisfy me? Often hunger pains can be confused with dehydration and simply drinking a glass of H20 will subdue your growling stomach.
  • When was the last time I ate? This simple question may remind you that you just ate an hour ago.
  • Why do I want to eat? Stress, boredom, or some other reason?

It’s not about eating less but instead about intentionally observing your choices and taking the time to choose carefully. Adopting this simple behavior will allow you to make healthier choices and will instill in you the sense that you are discerning, and you care about what you put into your body.

Common Sense and Self-Respect

I know these examples seem simple and common sense because they are. This doesn’t have to be complex to understand nor difficult to implement.

Image courtesy of Sigmund

However, as you get more granular and as you start to layer ideas you can create beautifully interwoven interdependent complex systems that make your life simpler and healthier.

Hopefully, you are seeing the possibilities of applying permaculture beyond the garden and are looking for ways to experiment with it in other areas of your life as well.

Go. Observe. Interact.


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