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Permaculture principles - Obtain a yield

In January I wrote about "Observe and Interact", in February it was "Catch and Store Energy" and March is dedicated to "Obtain a Yield".

The distinction between "Catch and Store Energy" and "Obtain a Yield" can be a little confusing at first, and they do overlap, but the first is more about long-term planning, such as water storage and growing trees, whereas the latter is about planning for immediate returns from the property.  Both principles need to be considered in planning our garden, pasture and animal husbandry. 

This principle is also about maximising the returns from our effort.  David Holmgren writes about the "maximum power law", which states that there is a point where you obtain optimise return from effort and/or money, if you put in more effort your returns on an energy basis decline, with less effort you do not obtain the maximum efficiency.  For example, if you plant potatoes there is an optimal amount of effort to be spent when digging the potatoes.  You could spend too long trying to find every last tiny potato and waste your time on a kg/hr basis, or if you're lazy and don't dig enough, you may miss some large potatoes resulting in lower kg/hr of potatoes.  This is also true when comparing vegetables, some take so much effort for a small crop (in my case tomatoes need daily attention), while others seem to grow in spite of complete neglect (silverbeet).  Unless you really like tomatoes, its probably best to focus on those plants (and activities) that produce the most with the least effort or input from you as the gardener.  This is also true when designing buildings or landscaping, we should aim for low maintenance and fit-for-purpose.

In particular, David suggests that we use hardy varieties or breeds that are well- adapted to our local environment.  For example the Brafords are more tick-resistant than English breeds, which means we don't have to spend as much time looking after them or spend money on chemicals.

Another interesting aspect is the efficiency that can be achieved in the home garden compared to industrial agriculture.  We can use all our produce in some way, even if it ends up in the compost or the chook pen, it eventually contributes to our yield, whereas industrial agriculture produces vast amounts of wasted food that is not up to supermarket standard.  Sometimes we need to think creatively to see how we can obtain a yield, and part of that is preserving food during gluts so that we can use it later.

An excellent resource on the subject of eating local is Arabella Forge's Frugavore.

How do you obtain a yield?

Each month in 2013 I reviewed a principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability:


  1. I am enjoying this series, Liz, as you seem to take what can often seem to be a very complicated process and break it down into manageable parts. I am hoping my rosellas will be ready to harvest soon as I really love to dry the calyxes for tea. At the back of that bed is sweet potatoes, which will also be ready to harvest at the same time. As soon as they come out, I will be planting leafy greens in that bed. My aim is to try to grow food year round. Funnily enough cherry tomatoes grow like weeds here, but silverbeet needs to be nursed along. Luckily I like tomatoes more than silverbeet :)

  2. Well, I love pretty much all vegetables and my yield from the garden isn't just about the physical things I carry into the kitchen. It is so much more.

  3. Thanks so much for your series, I have really enjoyed it. I am on a similar amount of land to you and just starting out so I often come to your site for some inspiration. On the topic though... this is our first summer here and thus my garden is really only just starting. So I have been doing a lot of gleaning from the roadside trees around and about. So far I have gleaned yellow plums, red plums and apples. These have been eaten as they are or stored as jams, sauces, purees and used in cakes etc. Such wonderful free food, unsprayed, hardy plants dripping with fruit just sitting there.

    1. oh that's great, yield with almost zero effort, nice one!

  4. As I'm selling this acerage and moving on to another, I haven't much in the ground atm but one way I get excellent yeild for physical output is mulch for the gardens... We have a water course at the bottom of our 4 acre block and when we get the kind of rain we have had lately then we get a fast flowing river through that area... Grasses, branches, reeds etc all get caught in the fence wire and sometimes it is so heavy the fences fall over... We wait for a few weeks for it all to dry out then we hitch our 6x4 trailer with a cage and off we go.... This last time we got 3 trailer loads and we then cover areas that have weed problems with a thick layer and not much grows through... Free mulch and weed mat all in one... My two kids and I take about 3/4s of an hour per load and we enjoy doing it.... Cheryle xxxx

  5. We have only just bought our property and had to wait for the wet season, before we could start the beds. Luckily we have rain now and of course we are harvesting water. Our garden beds are a combination of hugelkultur and raised beds so that we can deal with the very high rainfalls and also with the very very dry dry season. We are harvesting all the fallen trees (there is lots) to make the base layer, then sugar cane mulch from the cane farm next door for the second layer. Top that up with the sand/white clay that was scraped off when our road was made and out compost icing over the top. Should be right to start planting before the wet season stops.
    We have lots of vegys in oots as well as vanilla and dragonfruit. Last years tomatoes are all bottled up and ready to use and my pots of herbs have aniseed myrtle, gotu kola, comfrey, rosemary, basil and lemon grass. We buy all our other vegys from the local farmers all over town, but I can't wait to harvest our own.

  6. for me, obtain a yield is a key point of difference between permaculturalists and conservationists. Once you know your goal is to be productive it changes a pretty view into your playground :)

  7. Organic soybeans and removing the skins and no beany taste at all.
    Eggplants are delicious

    This post is particulary pertinent to what we are about to do on Serendipity Farm in Northern Tasmania. We haven't had a serious rain event since early November and everything is starting to flag. We have a serious food forest planned for Serendipity Farm and have small saplings to plant out this autumn but consider us forwarned with the extended summer and lack of water we just had to deal with! We will be ensuring that our trees have the best chance of survival along with the least amount of water usage come next summer (shall we just be done with it and call it "The Long Dry?" ;) ). We will be planting our chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, avocados, figs and carob trees with watering tubes that will extend down into the soil. We are now considering water wicking the areas to ensure the maximum amount of soil moisture is retained and available to the growing trees. After we install the watering tubes and plant the trees we will put 4 haybales around them and will insert 2 pieces of irrigation pipe interconnecting in the middle over the haybales to form a protective barrier that we will then put ex fishfarm netting (free from the local salmon farm down the road) over the top to protect the trees from the mass hoards of hungry natives hell bent on destruction. We will then plant directly into the hay bales most probably herbs and edible ground covers like strawberries and the haybales will both increase the growing area and keep the soil moisture around the roots of the small trees we just planted. Food us once! I will also be researching food plants (of all kinds) that are actually happy to grow in our endemic conditions. I think part of the problem is that we try to adapt plants to our conditions because we want to eat specific things. That's fine, so long as we are willing and able to ensure their survival in the most ecological ways (a bit of thought and prep goes a long way...) BUT most of our property is going to have to do it tough and the food choices that we are making need to encompass the natives as well. We will be planting cherry plums and Washington hawthorn around the perimeter of the property as nothing touches them (until the fruit) and their survival rate with absolutely no intervention is very high. There are so many edibles that are completely hardy that we ignore to our own peril and the perimeters will also hold jerusalem artichokes, day lilies, fennel, asparagus (incredibly hardy and growing all over the place here) and globe artichokes. I think its really important to get a feel for what your soil is like at all times of the year as if you can't afford all of the soil ammendments to improve all of your soil (who could?!) you have to work with what you have. I am really enjoying this series of permaculture posts and love that you are sharing with us all :). I already own Frugavore and won't be entering the draw but it's great to see local Aussies doing the "Give away" thing :).

  8. Opps! Sorry about the maniacal couple of sentances at the top of my comment...they were meant for me ;)(Note to self...check before you control A, copy and paste! ;) )

  9. Love these posts!
    We are at a point nearly five years after moving here and working with a predominately blank canvas that many of our favourite things we don't even have to plant! Cape gooseberries, dill, strawberries, coriander, parsley, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, spinach all grow themselves. The trick is letting enough go to seed that you don't have to plant any, but not so much that you spend the next year weeding the parley lawn....

    1. haha, yes, I thought parsley was hard to grow until I let one go to seed and now I am pulling them out everywhere! But at least I have plenty of parsley!

  10. I'm gong to have to re-read this post of yours :) Wiring has fused in my brain and even my own typing has needed serious editing to post lol

    Love the cow pic, by the way. In season produce? Well I guess mass bakes, mass cook n freeze, and sharing with friends/neighbours, family. My favourite so far, as small as it is relatively speaking, was about 4 bags of lemons, juiced by hand and slowly turned into ice blocks, now in the freezer. (Almost) Every morning I have my lemon juice in a glass of water and I am still going on those lemon ice blocks lol. They are there for fish (when we catch some), pancakes, baking... and not an imported lemon or fake juice in site. Best of all, these were picked from a (willing!) friend's tree so free free free and I know exactly where they come from and the type of garden they are in. (Ginormous lemons and no nasties used on the tree).

  11. Wow great post!

    I love hearing and seeing so many people so keen to learn and hear more about permaculture and ways to grow food and so much more. Love it!
    I preserve everything and anything i can when it is in excess. Pickles, jams and chutneys are big in our home. I think is a beautiful art to reducing waste.
    Where are you based? You and I could be the bestest of buddies i think. Beautiful.

    1. Hi Amber, we're in Nanango, QLD, too far away to be real-life buddies, but blog-buddies is good too :)

  12. Great blog you have. We like to use fresh seasonal produce in as many meals as we can for as long as we can continue to bear the same thing. It is amazing how many weird and wonderful ways you can use the same ingredient. We have found that it really makes us look forward to the next season!

  13. We try to grow some produce and get the rest for our local farmer's market.

    lovelydomesticdiva (at) gmail (dot) com

  14. I love to read you blog as it makes me think! I think that I have been obtaining a yield by planting lots of seeds in gardens and pots that are easily accessible so that all vegetables and herbs can be cared for and harvested with ease. I have also found that saving seeds produces strong, easy to raise seedlings that don't need to be babied along wasting my time and resources (like water). At present I am in the process of planting vegies and growing mushrooms that will be ready to eat in the first week of April for the Local Harvest Challenge. I also plan to do a little foraging of weeds as part of the challenge.

  15. Great comments everyone, lots of different yields, I love the discussion, thanks so much for joining in. I'll draw a book winner on Monday.

  16. Well I can't enter the draw but I loved this post and everyone's comments. People are so creative in how they address their specific climate issues. After this summer I have decided not to try and grow tomatoes again. My yield cf key growing time isn't worth it. I'm better to grow carrots and zucchinis that will feed us year round.


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