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Permaculture - Integrate rather than segregate

Its time to consider the next principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability.  This month we're up to "Integrate, rather than segregate".  As I said last month in  "Design from patterns to details", these last few principles are about how to achieve a successful design and an optimised system.
an established food forest that we visited,
complete with several beautiful Australorp roosters
The other principles that I've reviewed have been:
Observe and Interact
Catch and Store Energy
Obtain a Yield
Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
Use and value renewable resources
Produce no Waste

This principle is so important to the permaculture concept, it reinforces the idea that we are designing a system and a system consists of parts that interact.  The two key ideas in this principle, which were first articulated by David Holmgren and Bill Molison in "Permaculture One", are:
  • Each element of a system performs many functions
  • Each function is supported by many elements
The typical method to analyse and design a resilient system is "functional analysis of elements" (great example here).  This is done by listing all the elements in a system (or proposed system) and considering their functions.  For example, the functions of chickens might be:
  • producing eggs
  • production meat
  • scratching the garden (this could be used for good or evil, but listing it lets consider how to harness this for turning the soil and how to prevent unwanted scratching)
  • eating bugs
  • producing manure (again, this could be an annoying waste, or a useful fertiliser)
Another example is the worm farm, its functions are:
  • accepting food waste
  • producing manure
  • worms to feed the chickens and aquaponics fish
  • worm wee fertiliser
This is then followed by considering desirable functions and ensuring that they are covered in a number of elements, for example production of meat could be achieved by chickens, other poultry, wild game, beef, goats, sheep etc.  Production of compost can be achieved by the worm farm, or by the compost heap.  The chickens can eat the worm farm worms or meal worms that I grow too.  And then considering how undesirable functions, such as chicken manure, may be used as an input to a system, for example by using a chicken tractor the manure can be spread over the garden or pasture.  Here is a wonderful example of a complex interaction of elements and functions on a food producing farm.

David also points out the integration is not always appropriate, for example, its a good idea to separate chickens from your vegetable garden when you're trying to grow vegetables (but they might be used in the garden at times when the crop is finished). Appropriate separations must also be considered as part of the overall design, and may change over time.

This principle of integration is also represented by the permaculture concept of plant guilds and food forests.  Guilds are groups of plants that grow well together, and food forests are a mix of trees, herbs and vegetables grown together.  The idea of an orchard full of herbs, vegetables and even small animals (chickens, rabbits, sheep) is a perfect example of integration.

This chapter also discussed integration in community, which I found very interesting.  David encourages self-sufficient communities, rather than individual self-sufficiency.  That means that we don't all have to be doing everything ourselves, but by working together we achieve what we need.  Of course this is more difficult to design!  I feel that by blogging we are contributing to a global community too.  On that subject, I think its important not to rely too strongly on the internet to supply all our information, I also buy books, new and secondhand, that cover topics we might need to know about, in case we can't use the internet one day, this is an example of having several elements provide the same function.

How do you integrate elements and functions at your place?  And what do you separate?


  1. Thanks for posting this series. You are doing an enormous service to permaculture by providing these articles around each of the principles in turn. It is often only after seeing a number of practical "interpretations" of a principle that I can grasp its full significance, and I am sure many others are in the same boat.

    1. thank you Gordon :) I am forcing myself to try to interpret the principles for my own benefit and sharing what I manage to figure out, I'm teaching as I learn myself!

  2. Interesting reading Liz! We use chickens for eggs and also use the manure they produce for the garden. They eat our scraps of leftover foods and scratch out some of our vege gardens. The worm farm takes care of a small part of our scraps and gives us worm juice. The veges we grow are used to feed us and also the chickens.
    We have a mini forest where we have plum trees, herbs and some vegetables such as capsicum, tomatoes and garlic. I can understand the community part but it doesn't happen although it would be terrific if it did!

    1. Hi Lynn, it sounds like you have plenty of integration!

  3. Hi Liz,
    Great article!! Like Gordon, I would like to thank you for making David Holmgren's Permaculture Principles accessible. Integration of systems is such a basic, obvious principle that it is often overlooked; people just forget that the home around them is a system as well as a place. Humans seem to have developed a bad habit of separating elements in everything as we have become more 'civilized' which means we have to then become the link between these elements and if we can't be the link, the system falls over. For example, using chook manure on the vegetable beds by cleaning out the chook pen and barrowing the manure to the compost pile, then taking it to the garden when it is composted. If you don't have time to clean out the chook pen the whole system ceases to function. Why do you think we have developed this habit?

    1. Thanks Jude. I think it might be a lack of creativity that's the problem, when we are new to something, we often just follow the leader instead of thinking of new ways to integrate things. This principle is a good reminder to look for appropriate connections.

  4. Excellent information! Thank you for sharing it!

  5. I am very excited to find you and this series! I am just learning about permaculture, though it appears we have been practicing many of its principles just out of our own trial and error (which means, permaculture is what works)! I look forward to getting caught up on all your other articles!

    1. Glad you found me too Bee Girl. So much of permaculture is common sense, you will be surprised how much you are doing already :)

  6. Interesting. I really do need to do more reading on permaculture. Thanks for sharing!

    Please join us again Thursday at:
    The HomeAcre Hop



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