Permaculture is a design system that aims to create sustainable human settlements by following nature’s patterns. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture, and agroforestry to create symbiotic, self-sufficient systems that provide for human needs.
Permaculture allows us to meet our needs for food, energy, shelter, and more while caring for the earth and future generations. By working with nature instead of against it, permaculture allows us to live abundantly and sustainably.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover the basics of permaculture and how to apply it in simple ways, using Tantai Eco Farm Stay in Khao Yai as an example.
Tourists love what we share with them, kids learn about nature and where their food comes from. Family with kids also enjoy spending time on our farm.
What is Permaculture?
The term “permaculture” was coined in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It comes from “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture”.
The core principles of permaculture are:
- Care for the earth – Work with natural systems, value biodiversity, use resources responsibly
- Care for people – A support system that cares for the people involved in the community
- Fair share – Set limits to consumption and reproduction, redistribute and share surplus
The goal is to create systems that are environmentally sound, economically viable, and socially just.
Permaculture takes a “whole systems thinking” approach. It looks at the connections between components rather than isolating them.
For example, in a permaculture orchard, chickens live beneath fruit trees. Their scratching reduces pests and fertilizes the soil. Their eggs provide food, and fallen fruit that they don’t eat feeds back to the soil. Nothing is wasted.
Tantai Farm also operates a volunteer program where we share our farming skills and allow volunteers to practice what they learn.
Permaculture ethics guide the design process:
Permaculture aims to care for the earth by:
- Restoring damaged landscapes
- Conserving resources like water, soil, and energy
- Promoting biodiversity
For example, at Tantai Eco Farm Stay, they use branches, leaves, grass clippings, and manure from chickens and cows to make biofertilizers. This enriches the soil with nutrients and beneficial microbes instead of using chemical fertilizers.
Caring for people in permaculture involves:
- Sharing knowledge, skills, and surpluses
- Supporting self-reliance
- Building community
Tantai Eco Farm Stay shares its abundance. They believe that by caring for the earth and people, they can produce enough for themselves and share any surplus.
- Consuming less
- Setting limits to consumption
- Redistributing surplus to those who need it
For instance, Tantai Eco Farm Stay limits the number of guests to keep the farm peaceful and quiet. They don’t overproduce more than the land can sustain.
We are sharing the dehydration dome with our neighbor so she can dry her Banana and sell it on the market.
There are 12 principles that guide permaculture design:
1. Observe and interact
- Take time to observe nature’s patterns and interactions
- Look at elements in the context of the whole system
For example, at Tantai Eco Farm Stay, they planted over 200 varieties of roses. By observing the different plants, they learn which varieties grow best in their climate.
2. Catch and store energy
- Capture and preserve natural energy flows like sunlight, wind or rainwater
At Tantai Eco Farm Stay, they could install rain barrels to collect rainwater for irrigation. Solar panels can provide renewable electricity.
3. Obtain a yield
- Design for efficiency and productivity
- Get multiple yields from elements like “chop and drop” plants for mulch
For instance, Tantai Eco Farm Stay uses chicken and cow manure as a yield to make biofertilizers. They get fruit and trimmings from mulberry trees to feed back into the soil.
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
- Allow systems to self-regulate with minimal intervention
- Respond to feedback from the environment
If yields decline, this signals the need to re-evaluate the design. For example, Tantai Eco Farm Stay avoids using pesticides so that nature’s system can self-regulate.
Recycling “waste” on the farm by repurposing them. Weed from the garden can be used as compost, and “chop&drop” allowed our Chicken to pick on the leaves and branches.
5. Use and value renewable resources
- Rely on renewable resources like plants, animals, sun, wind and rain
- Make the best use of nature’s abundance
For instance, Tantai Eco Farm Stay uses branches, leaves, and grass clippings instead of chemical inputs. Their chickens provide manure to fertilize the soil.
6. Produce no waste
- Turn waste into resources
- Eliminate pollution
Tantai Eco Farm Stay recycles all farm materials and makes biofertilizers from manure. There are no waste outputs from the farm.
7. Design from patterns to details
- Observe nature’s patterns like branching trees or spirals
- Use patterns as the framework for design
In permaculture, zoning is a very important task. Zones are organized by use frequency and need for intervention, with Zone 0 as the house and Zone 5 as the wilderness.
8. Integrate rather than segregate
- Create connections between components in the system
Tantai Eco Farm Stay uses polyculture, meaning they grow many different plants together. For example, nitrogen-fixing plants can grow next to fruit trees to fertilize the soil.
9. Use small and slow solutions
- Start small and simple
- Slow incremental solutions are more sustainable
A family in the city could start with a small raised garden bed or worm composting bin before gradually expanding.
10. Use and value diversity
- Value biodiversity for resilience
- Use a variety of plants and animals that fulfill multiple functions
Tantai Eco Farm Stay has diverse varieties of plants. They also keep chickens and cows which provide manure, eggs, and more.
11. Use edges and value the marginal
- The “edge effect” is where two ecosystems meet, which is abundantly productive
The edge of a forest has more diversity than the deep forest. Permaculture uses “edge zones” like ponds that support aquatic plants and animals.
12. Creatively use and respond to change
- Be adaptable and innovative
- See challenges as opportunities
If climate change causes drought, designers could respond with water harvesting systems and drought-tolerant plants.
Food scraps are given to our Chicken or made into bio-fertilizers. There is no waste on the farm.
There are many ways to apply permaculture in your life:
In the garden
- Replace lawn with diverse edible plants, shrubs, and trees
- Use zones, sectors, and stacking for efficiency
- Add chickens or ducks for pest control
Tantai Eco Farm Stay has chickens that live beneath fruit trees and help fertilize the soil.
On balconies and patios
- Grow food in containers
- Install trellises and vertical gardens
- Set up worm composting systems
Urban permaculture maximizes space through vertical and pot gardens. Compost worms can recycle food scraps in a small bin.
In the yard
- Plant a food forest with fruit trees, shrubs, vines and herbs
- Build rain gardens to absorb rainfall
- Add bee-friendly native plants
Instead of grass, yards can support diverse ecosystems with edible and habitat plants.
For energy needs
- Use solar, wind, or micro hydropower systems
- Cook with rocket stoves that use little fuel
- Air dry clothes instead of electric dryers
Renewable energy reduces the consumption of fossil fuels. Simple appropriate technology like rocket stoves uses resources efficiently.
For water usage
- Install rain barrels or tanks to harvest rainwater
- Take short showers, and baths, and use low-flow fixtures
- Reuse greywater from sinks and washing for irrigation
Water conservation is key. Rainwater provides a free, pure source for gardening so less is taken from municipal sources.
- Compost food scraps and yard waste
- Avoid waste through reduced consumption and packaging
- Reuse and recycle materials like glass, metals, and paper
Composting organic matter like kitchen scraps returns nutrients to the soil, completing the nutrient cycle.
In community planning
- Design neighborhood gardens, rooftop gardens, and public food forests
- Create bike lanes, pedestrian pathways, and efficient public transit
- Support local food systems and farmers’ markets
Urban permaculture makes cities more livable through green spaces and sustainable systems.
Permaculture for Families
Doing permaculture with children provides a wonderful learning experience as they engage directly with nature. Here are some fun activities:
- Plant a garden together – let them be hands-on digging, planting seeds, and watering
- Explore the park and watch how plants grow over time
- Observe insects and bugs up close with a magnifying glass
- Make a worm compost bin and learn how it converts food scraps to soil
- Build fairy houses from sticks and leaves found in nature
- Make flower presses from garden clippings and fallen petals
- Go hiking and have kids collect natural items like pinecones, acorns, colorful leaves
- Grow sprouts and microgreens on the kitchen counter
- Bake bread together using homegrown herbs
- Forage for edible weeds like dandelion, plantain, and lamb’s quarters
- Make natural art from foraged flowers, leaves, and plants
- Cook outside over a campfire or rocket stove
- Make natural cleaning spray from vinegar and essential oils
The hands-on experience helps kids understand nature’s cycles and instills a sense of care for the earth from a young age. Outdoor play and engagement with the natural world are important for children’s development and happiness.
The ultimate aim of permaculture is to create abundant, regenerative systems that care for the earth and its people.
Though permaculture takes planning and work, the results are incredibly rewarding. Working with nature creates beautiful, synergistic systems that provide sustenance while restoring the planet.
Start small and slow – every little bit helps. Focus first on the ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share.
The path to living sustainably is different for each person and place, but permaculture provides guiding principles rooted in ecological wisdom. By thoughtfully observing nature and then integrating its patterns into the design, we can transform our homes and communities.
When designed with care and intention, our yards, gardens, balconies, and neighborhoods can blossom into vibrant food forests and ecosystems. Places that sustain, inspire, and nourish all life.
The choice is ours – will we work with nature to nourish the planet and ourselves, or continue to ignore our impact on nature?
Permaculture offers hope and a positive vision of living lightly from the abundance that Earth provides.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the core ethics of permaculture?
The ethics are earth care, people care, and fair share. Permaculture aims to create systems that are environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and economically viable.
What’s an example of a permaculture technique?
Keyhole gardens, herb spirals, sheet mulching, rainwater harvesting, composting, chicken tractors, and forest gardens are some examples of permaculture techniques.
How much space do I need to practice permaculture?
You can apply permaculture on a balcony or patio by planting in containers and composting food waste. For larger gardens and food production, you need more space. Start small then expand.
What are some kid-friendly permaculture activities?
Planting a garden, observing insects, building fairy houses, foraging for edibles, baking with homegrown food, cooking over a campfire, and pressing flowers are great hands-on permaculture activities.
What are the benefits of permaculture?
It’s ecologically regenerative, provides fresh organic food, creates habitat for wildlife, uses resources efficiently, gives back to the community, connects you with nature, and is deeply fulfilling.