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How to apply the princiles of permaculture in daily life
by Ruth Robinson

Firstly, I should explain why I want to try and do this. I have begun an Applied Permaculture Design Course in order to get more design experience and to deepen my knowledge of this fascinating and life changing area. One of the designs can be made up of changes applied to everyday life.
Sounds like a good place to start.

So what is the ‘everyday life’ that I am applying the principles to? Well, I live in an upstairs Housing Association flat with my 8-year-old daughter in a fairly densely populated urban area, close to parks, an allotment, school and local shops. The landlord insulated the loft but we do have an old 1800’s converted flat so the rooms are big and wind whistles through the windows on dark winter nights. I haven’t carpeted the place yet or draught-proofed, DIY not being my favourite pastime.

We don’t have access to a garden and I travel by bike or train. I don’t fly any more (and don’t plan to) and we try to recycle as much as possible. I am trying to grow food on my allotment on a hill but it is difficult due to the heavy London clay soil, which is also a bit eroded.

So what are the principles of permaculture? These vary but overlap, according to the emphasis of the teacher or practitioner. I will refer to Bill Mollison’s original context, as they are succinct:

  • Work with nature rather than against.
  • The problem is the solution.
  • Make the least change for the greatest possible effect.
  • The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited (or only limited by the imagination and information of the designer).
  • Everything gardens (or modifies its environment).
    (From Permaculture, a Designers' Manual, by Bill Mollison)

    Work with nature. This is the whole point of permaculture. Many of us have lost touch with what ‘nature’ is and fill our time with distractions (TV, newspapers, computer games) instead of relaxing in nature, observing it both out there in the world and also within. Permaculture talks about patterns in nature: spirals, apple core shapes, figures of 8, human languages, waves, rhythms, archetypes… the list is very long. If we work with these patterns rather than against we would use up less energy and get more favourable results. I would be able to apply this in my own life to parenting for example. My child is a fun-loving easy-going person who is not ambitious it seems and so I would be using up a lot of energy trying to convince her to do activities she’s not into, such as karate (even though I firmly believe it would give her more confidence when older perhaps). I could also pay more attention to synchronicity, meeting certain people at certain times often when I have been thinking about them is often a mystery and a thrill. I don’t intend to look for meanings in everything that happens but I won’t discount serendipity as an indication that I’m on the right track. On a gardening level working with the nature of the soil on One Tree Hill will be a challenge. As mentioned it is made of heavy clay and is nutrient poor. This I am working on but it will take time. So for now I plan to just grow things that survive there and use them as green manure (if they are not edible that is!)

    The problem is the solution. Masanoba Fukuoka says that if there is a ‘problem’ it is a symptom of something being out of balance, so problems are really nature’s feedback system in action. I like the way this can be applied to almost anything. As a parent I sometimes get grumpy through tiredness and relentless responsibility. My solution would be to prioritise social life and fun on a regular basis, this is not rocket science! Often problems are things that actually need more attention, just like naughty kids! I’ve already mentioned we don’t have a garden, however, this does mean that we go out to parks more often and are able to bump into friends and interact with the real world. Meanwhile, back at the allotment and the soil again, it is hard and dry in summer and very inhospitable. The stuff that I can grow there, broad beans, grass, clover for instance, can be used as mulch or can be dug in to improve its quality. I can attend to it also by adding compost on a regular basis.

    Least changes for greatest possible effect. Small changes meet with less resistance than huge overhauls. I can’t afford to retrofit my flat and moving is big upheaval that I am not ready for yet, so I can start by draught proofing by using old materials that I have at home, pillows, unused itchy blankets for example. If I want to cut down on food miles and packaging I could grow salad on my windowsill, it would also cost me a lot less.

    The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited. This may be a difficult one to grasp in our current consumption-based society as we are encouraged to act upon our cravings for the latest style, model, or invention and consume even when we don’t really need it. Having the latest thing has become associated with social status and acceptability. However if we did more sharing and swapping (i.e., LETS) we would potentially have access to limitless skills and items whenever we needed them. In my allotment there is a finite space of course, but viewed over time, there is no reason why, If I manage it well, it cannot continue to produce food indefinitely. The same applies to ideas, there is a theoretically limitless store of ideas generated by people, especially when they get together and share. So this principle works best when resources are pooled and co-operation is in action. This brings us to the final principle.

    Everything gardens. To me, this is about interconnectedness. Everything we do has an effect on our world, on others. So if we take a positive action it will create positive results. If its negative we could actually spend quite a while unpicking the damage done. Personally I wish to reduce the impact I have on the environment as much as I can and am working towards becoming a vegan. (I just need to adapt to life without fried eggs and pizza first!) My welfare overlaps with the welfare of others. I know the problem is that in our global times, I can’t always see the damage I might be inflicting on others by my lifestyle choices, which makes it easier for me to continue shopping at Primark and Tesco’s, buying heavily packaged goods etc…
    So what would be my small-scale action plan to apply permaculture principles to daily life?

    Work with nature – listen to my body, try not to fill my time being busy and distracted. Use meditation and breathing as a grounding space-making tool.

    The problem is the solution – See problems as feedback. My child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is a warning sign. Do I need to do something differently? Pay more attention or let something go?

    Least change for greatest possible effect – use my energy wisely and economically based on what I can comfortably do. Weigh up options before taking action (Observation). Start small – grow salads and sprouts on the windowsill, and draught proof the doors.

    Yield is limitless – use resources already in existence. Borrow a neighbour’s ladder, offer my time in exchange for use of their tools, bake a cake (people rarely have time to cook). Use LETS for outstanding DIY jobs at home. Cut down on consumption. Become a vegan. Holiday in the UK or even London!

    IF you have any (polite) suggestions please email: Ruth.

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