The Permaculture Design Pathway

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The Design Framework


So what is going on here regarding the Iso-orvokkiniitty Permaculture design process? So far I have been (and should have been) mostly in Observation mode but now I’m going into Evaluation. At the same time there is a Learning Pathway (to be defined) and Tools. I believe it is good to go through the process in a iterative fashion and therefore I allow myself to jump a bit ahead in the process even if there is still work to do in the earlier stages. I wrote about this in the Diary in August 2020.

The most commonly used design frameworks in permaculture design are

  • CEAP: (Collect site information, Evaluate this information, Apply permaculture principles to this information and generate a design, Plan a schedule of implementation, maintenance and feedback)
  • SADIM(ET): (Survey, Analysis, Design and Implementation; Maintenance, Evaluation, and Tweaking)
  • OBREDIM(ET: (Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Evaluation, Design, Implementation, Maintenance, (Re)Evaluation, and Tweaking)
    • (3)

The basic idea is always the same: first you collect information and observe; then you evaluate; then design; then plan and implement. After that maintain and possibly tweak. Before any of that – or at least before design – there should be an idea or vision of what you are up to. If you are designing for a customer you need to interview her/him, but if you are designing for yourself you need to figure it out yourself – interview yourself. If you are doing something together with your partner you can interview each other (we did that).

My plan is to use the (V)OBREDIM(ET) design process because I like that it is divided in several steps. However I would like to underline the iterative nature of the process – especially when it is your own project that will not have a clear end and maybe not even a clear starting point. Also a vision needs to be defined.

What I am trying to express in the (V)OBREDIM(ET) Graph is:

  • When observing you should be as objective as possible. Don’t evaluate yet and especially the vision has nothing to do with observation.
  • You have a vision: try to define what it is.
  • Evaluate the observations in relation to what you want – your vision.
  • 1st iteration: The evaluation will affect your vision (what is possible).
  • Design (apply Permaculture principles and design).
  • 2nd iteration: Evaluate your design and tweak if necessary and repeat iteration (credit to Dominik Jais Obr3dim).
  • After 3 evaluation cycles, plan and implement the design.
  • 3rd iteration: While planning and implementing observe, evaluate and design/tweak if necessary. Be sure to evaluate the tweaks before implementing (maybe you did get it right originally).
  • 4th iteration: While maintaining observe, evaluate and design/tweak if necessary. Be sure to evaluate the tweaks before implementing (maybe you did get it right originally).

A few days ago (23.6.2021 in Diary) I developed the Framework further into the DPA Flowchart below. It emphasises that in the Observe stage you need to observe also yourself (Zone 00), your Needs and the Vision, Mission and Goals. Maybe not about Life itself but relative to the Design task at hand.

DPA flowchart

My Permaculture Design Matrix

The previous article THE MAIN ELEMENTS AND SYSTEMS was a Prelude to this article and originally I was writing it as one. Then (24.6.2021) I realised that I am writing about the Design Pathway and decided to split this into a separate article – actually a pretty important one. In the previous article I developed a Design Matrix which helped me understand which sub-designs I should do and at the same time cover all the important aspects. I realised I had to add some other perspectives coming from outside the analysis I had made. The Matrix would become more complex.

Yeomans’ Keyline Scale of Permanence (KSOP).

As this is a land-based design it makes sense to take into account the Scale of Permanence as defined first by P.A. Yeomans (2). All the factors in his Keyline Scale of Permanence list are interrelated but the higher the factor is on the list, the more energy is required for changing it – i.e. the more difficult it is. Probably Yeomans was not thinking about Climate Change in the 1950’s but even with climate change there is not much we as individual designers can do about about Climate – including the Change part. Climate change is happening and that change is inevitably trickling down to the factors lower in the Scale of Permanence.

Here is Yeomans’ Scale of Permanence. I will add it to the Matrix in order to be sure those aspects are covered.

  1. Climate 
  2. Landshape
  3. Water Supply
  4. Roads/Access
  5. Trees
  6. Structures
  7. Subdivision Fences
  8. Soil

One might question why Soil has the least scale of Permanence? Her we have heavy clay soils and in field scale I don’t see how we could change that. Although fertility loss due to erosion, compaction and humus loss are relatively fast to cause, they are not easy to fix. Personally I would put Soil higher up on the list. (Maybe Yeomans has a good reason for putting Soil last – I need to check that.)

In any case right now it seems to me that this would be more logical:

  1. Climate 
  2. Landshape
  3. Water Supply
  4. Roads/Access
  5. Trees
  6. Soil
  7. Structures
  8. Subdivision Fences

Planetary Boundaries

For me the concept of Planetary Boundaries has been very important to remind myself and others that it is not only Climate Change we are facing – it might even not be the biggest challenge we have. As someone working in the organic food sector for decades it is also important to note that Planetary Boundaries relate starkly to the Food System. All the Earth-system processes described in the model are connected to the Food System and solving those challenges is not possible without changing the food system.

I’m borrowing from the Wikipedia article: ”Planetary boundaries is a concept involving Earth system processes that contain environmental boundaries. It was proposed in 2009 by a group of Earth system and environmental scientists, led by Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Will Steffen from the Australian National University. The group wanted to define a ”safe operating space for humanity” for the international community, including governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, the scientific community and the private sector, as a precondition for sustainable development. The framework is based on scientific evidence that human actions since the Industrial Revolution have become the main driver of global environmental change.” See also the table below.

Earth-system processControl variable
1. Climate changeAtmospheric carbon dioxideconcentration (ppm by volume)[31]See also: Tipping point (climatology)
2. Biodiversity lossExtinction rate (number of species per million per year)
3. Biogeochemical(a) anthropogenic nitrogen removed from the atmosphere (millions of tonnesper year)
(b) anthropogenic phosphorus going into the oceans (millions of tonnes per year)
4. Ocean acidificationGlobal mean saturation state of calcium carbonate in surface seawater (omega units)
5. Land useLand surface converted to cropland (percent)
6. FreshwaterGlobal human consumption of water(km3/yr)
7. Ozone depletionStratospheric ozone concentration (Dobson units)
8. Atmospheric aerosolsOverall particulate concentration in the atmosphere, on a regional basis
9. Chemical pollutionConcentration of toxic substancesplasticsendocrine disruptorsheavy metals, and radioactive contaminationinto the environment

The most important Earth-systems from the Food system point of view are below. Those should be considered in any land based permaculture design.

  • Climate Change
  • Biodiversity Loss
  • Biogeochemical cycles
  • Land use.

Not all Earth-system processes can be used in all Designs. I will consider the relevant Earth-system processes for each design separately and check at a later stage that all Earth-system processes are taken into account.

Permaculture Ethics

The Permaculture Ethics: Earth care, People care and Fair share will be integrated in each design. Therefore they do not affect the Matrix at this stage.

Permaculture Design Principles

There are different sets of Design Principles that are used in Permaculture Design. Probably the most widely used are the 12 principles of permaculture as described by David Holmgren (1).

  1. Observe and Interact – “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder”
    • By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and Store Energy – “Make hay while the sun shines”
    • By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield – “You can’t work on an empty stomach”
    • Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the working you are doing.
  4. Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children of the seventh generation”
    • We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well. Negative feedback is often slow to emerge.
  5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – “Let nature take its course”
    • Make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce No Waste – “Waste not, want not” or “A stitch in time saves nine”
    • By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design From Patterns to Details – “Can’t see the forest for the trees”
    • By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate – “Many hands make light work”
    • By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use Small and Slow Solutions – “Slow and steady wins the race” or “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”
    • Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and Value Diversity – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”
    • Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal – “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path”
    • The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change – “Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be”
    • We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing and then intervening at the right time.

Not all Design Principles can be used in all Designs. I will consider the relevant Design Principles for each design separately and check at a later stage that all Design Principles are in use.

The way forward: the sub-designs

So now I have pretty much done the site analysis including sectors and zones. I have divided the site into 11 planning areas and I have identified the main elements and systems that influence the functioning of the whole site. I am taking into account the Scale of Permanence, Earth Systems, Permaculture Ethics and Permaculture Design Principles. Now the next steps should be to do actual designs – or what I have earlier called sub-designs in the Iso-orvokkiniitty permaculture design. I should decide what are the priorities and what are the 10 first sub-designs I should do that make up my Permaculture Diploma Portfolio. It would be good to have designs made from a few different perspectives: 

  1. Purely land based designs of the planning areas
  2. Designs of the main elements (household, cultivation, forest garden, forest) or sub-elements (beekeeping, fungi, forest) 
  3. Designs of the main systems (energy, water, food, mobility, people) 
  4. Designs on different levels in the Scale of Permanence
  5. Designs using different Design Principles

The Permaculture Pathway
Main Planning area (linked to the design)Main element and sub-element(linked to the design)Scale of PermanenceMain System (linked to the design)Main Zone linked to the design
1. Our house (including sauna, earth cellar and storage building)Household6. StructuresEnergy, PeopleZone 0
2. PA- 2: The Social spaceSociety7. StructuresPeopleZone 2
3. PA-7: The PondNature, Cultivation2. Landscape; 3. Water Supply
6. Soil
Water, NatureZone 3
PA-34. Perennial vegetables(Cultivation)6. SoilFoodZone 2
PA-35. Composting (Cultivation)6. Soil, 7. StructuresFoodZone 2
PA-86. Forest Garden5. TreesFoodZone 3
7. Beekeeping (Other elements)5. Trees (?)NatureZone 2-4
8. Fungi (Other elements)6. SoilFoodZone 1-5
PA-109. Forest (Other elements)5. TreesEnergy, NatureZone 4
Roads, paths, access4. Roads/Access10. Mobility, PeopleZones 1-3
FencesCultivation8. Subdivision, FencesFoodZones 1-3
All: FinancingFinancing
All: Interaction with NatureNature
1. Climate

I am highlighting in red the sub-designs I plan to do as part of the Diploma Pathway. Three of the Designs will be linked to a Main System meaning that while the focus is on the Planning Area (or House) or Main Element, the design will take into account the connected Main System for the whole site. 

There are a couple of perspectives originating from the Scale of Permanence and the Main Systems that don’t seem to have a dedicated Design:

  • Main Element: Nature
  • Scale of Permanence: 1. Climate
  • Scale of Permanence: 7. Subdivision, Fences
  • Main System: Financing

Certainly they deserve a Chapter somewhere but probably it works best to integrate it in every Design. While working through the Designs I will check that all Design Principles and all Earth-system processes are taken into account. I will still consider Financing as a separate Design.

So after this I will start working on individual sub-designs. It makes sense to start from the Designs higher up on the Scale of Permanence and with the House which in reality was the first design that we did and implemented. The below might not be the final order in which I will publish the designs.

  1. Our house (including sauna, earth cellar and storage building) including the Energy System
  2. The Water system including the design for the Ponds
  3. Mobility, including connections to Society
  4. Social Space with focus on PA-2
  5. Perennial vegetables in PA-3 including description of our Food system
  6. Forest Garden with focus on PA-8
  7. Beekeeping
  8. Fungi
  9. Composting
  10. Forest management including PA-10

(1) David Holmgren: Essence of Permaculture /

(2) / Planning for Permanence with Yeomans’ Keyline Scale

(3) Have a look at f.ex. ”Permaculture Design by Aranya – A step by step guide”, page 23.

First created as part pf Previous article THE MAIN ELEMENTS AND SYSTEMS

  • First published as separate article 27.6.2021