Permaculture Principle #2 - Catch & Store Energy

Image courtesy of Adrin Schubach


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.


Independence - Catch and Store Energy

Something that is energy efficient is that which requires fewer resources – human or otherwise. It is important to minimize the need for outside resources to be self-sufficient. A good Permaculture system will be designed to capture and store as much energy as possible with the least amount of effort. 

Renewable Sources of Energy at Home

Renewable sources of energy run the gamut from solar and wind power to micro-hydro and Geo-thermal systems. You may use one of these systems to condition your home and be unaware that you are catching and storing energy.

I think it's important to have a rudimentary understanding of how these systems work because they are efficient ways to condition your home and are great examples of capturing and storing energy.

Solar Power

Image courtesy of Zbynek Burival

To catch and convert the energy from sunlight into electricity, using solar panels which are comprised of several smaller units called photovoltaic cells (PV) that are linked together. Additionally, a solar water heating design can be a very cost-effective way to generate domestic hot water for your home, after all the fuel is free.

Wind Power

Image courtesy of Karsten Wwurth

The conversion of wind's kinetic energy via turbines into mechanical/electrical energy.

Micro-Hydro

Image courtesy of Pavel Gromadchuk

A method that uses a turbine or pump to convert the energy of flowing water into useable electricity.

Geo-Thermal

Images courtesy of US EPA

A system that uses the earth as a heat sink, via a series of connected pipes, buried either vertically or horizontally in the ground. The water or refrigerant is circulated through the piping which absorbs the heat from the conditioned space. The fluid then releases the absorbed heat through the buried piping into the surrounding soil and then starts the cycle all over again.

Although these systems may have a higher first cost than traditional systems they can pay for themselves between 8 - 10 years, depending, of course on the kind of space you are conditioning and the size of the equipment you are replacing.

Garden Examples

You need to observe (Principle #2) your surroundings to decide what forms of energy you can harness. However, landscape design which use safe sources of energy are only part of the story. It is important to begin to see energy as having a much broader meaning.

The Power of Soil 

For example, energy can be stored in healthy soil, check out our post Living Soils - How They Can Save Us for a deeper dive. In addition to being the world's greatest carbon source, good soil will retain more water and produce better crops – both of which are important energy sources.

ADVERTISEMENT

For this reason, deciding on plants that help produce rich topsoil is important. When established with the right plantings, healthy soil can maintain itself. A good scheme will be energy efficient if it is designed so that nature can take over.

Catch and store energy. The following six examples are of plants that are excellent sources for increasing soil fertility.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alfalfa

Beans

Clover

Alfalfa (Nitrogen-Fixing Cover Crop): This plant is commonly known as one of the best nitrogen fixers in a garden. It blocks weeds, gives your topsoil a healthy dose of micronutrients, and a big boost of NPK (nitrate, phosphate, potassium).

Beans (Nitrogen-Fixing): To maximize the amount of nitrogen you can add to the soil you'll need to sacrifice some of your bean pods and your bean plants at the end of the growing season. Just like with pea plants just cut them down and let them decompose.

Clover (Nitrogen-Fixing Cover Crop): Clover is a robust, quick spreading ground cover and is often used as fodder for livestock. Nitrogen accumulates in nodules at the roots of the plant and when the plant is cut or the roots die the nitrogen is released.

ADVERTISEMENT

Comfrey

Oats

Peas

Comfrey (Dynamic Accumulator): Comfrey has long tap roots that can go as deep as ten feet. A dynamic accumulator is a permaculture term that describes a plant that brings up nutrients to the surface so that other plants can benefit. This plant is one of the most common dynamic accumulators recommended by practitioners of permaculture due to its high nutrient value, prolific growth, and that it can create deep healthy soils.

Oats (Cover and Mulching Crop): Oats work well as a ground cover and are popular fodder for livestock. At the end of the growing season and after you have harvested your last yield sow and overwinter a crop of oats. In early spring turn the oat plants back into the topsoil which in turn will release nutrients as it decomposes.

Peas (Nitrogen-Fixing): To properly imbue the soil with nitrogen it’s important to leave a few pea pods on the plants after your final harvest. Leave the plants alone until the end of the season then cut them down, stock and roots, and leave them in place to decompose.

The decomposition of a dead plant is one of the best fertilizers (energy) you'll find in nature. As plants decay, they attract beneficial bacteria and earthworms. The bacteria improve the quality of the topsoil and the earthworms’ castings (poop) introduce essential nourishment for your garden.

The Power of Water

 Water is also an essential source of energy which can also be captured and stored in a variety of ways.  On a farm, rainwater can be held in swales waiting to be directed into a dam.

 It can then be used as needed for irrigation but also held in reserve in the event of a fire. A simple backup that captures rainwater takes up very little space in any location.

Other Site Examples

Other simple examples of captured and stored energy include the wood pile outside a suburban home, the contents of a productive beehive, fruit and vegetable preserves, and vegetables in the root cellar. 

Financial Example

This may sound simplistic but a way to think about catching and storing the energy of money is through US Treasury bills. When you purchase a Treasury bill you capture and store the energy of the money for later use. You spend less now but increase (interest) and the energy (purchasing power) of the money in aggregate.

Image courtesy of the US Treasury

Before purchasing something, ask yourself, would this money be better used if I saved it today for later use?  We all have living expenses to meet and things we like to do for fun so I’m not suggesting that you live like a hermit but just spend less of your money now and let it accumulate power through growth. 

I can’t make it any simpler than that, you will be forever thankful to yourself if you develop the habit of savings.

Health Example

Sleep is a notable example of how you catch and store energy regarding your personal health.  If you are sleep-deprived you are using up energy, focus, and physical ability that should be getting restored during times of restful sleep.  Although this is a short cycle of catching, storing, and using your energy it is nonetheless a cycle that we need to properly manage to function at our best. 

Image courtesy of Mylene2401

Pace yourself - and surround yourself with people who fill you with rather than those who drain you of vital energy. Question what you need and how much energy you are prepared to spend to acquire it.

  • Do I need to work late, or can I get up early and work?
  • How many nights a week do I get less than 6.5 hours sleep?
  • How can I get more/better sleep?
  • What is keeping me from getting good rest?
  • Are there people that are draining me?

Without proper sleep our performance degrades quickly, our decision-making abilities deteriorate, and we can become sick. Again this may seem simple but indeed is an elegant example of this principle. 

Energy is Everywhere

Whenever I share this permaculture principle with newbies I inevitably get responses like "that's it?" or "that's just common sense" and I absolutely agree but the bigger question is how well do you catch and manage the stored energy you are responsible for?

ADVERTISEMENT


Join us

Join us in our quest at blendedtribes.com to save the planet one kilowatt, one therm, one permaculture principle (aka a 'Better Choice') at a time. You will be joining a group of like-minded individuals with a common goal and a common purpose.

Please consider taking action on any of the tips or recommendations found on our site to create a more sustainable, healthy, and abundant life