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Permaculture - Use and Value Diversity

This month we are up to the tenth principle from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, Use and Value Diversity.

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
Design from Patterns to Details
Integrate, Rather than Segregate
Use Small and Slow Solutions

I was also very excited this month to find another blogger who is currently reviewing the permaculture principles from their own perspective, see more here.  If you know of any other good permaculture blogs, please do let me know :)

Diversity is a really important principle to consider from a farming perspective because so much of agriculture is anti-diversity.  The ideal conventional agriculture concept is to use herbicide to kill everything in a paddock and then plant one crop, the plants will all grow to similar height and ripen at the same time, so that they can be easily harvesting mechnically.  Then paddock is sprayed again.  With livestock, again the ideal is to produce animals that all look the same, and most farmers stick to one type of animal only.

Last summer we planted cow pea with our forage sorghum and the guys at the produce store thought we were mad, I would have liked to plant even more diversity, but we are experimenting gradually.  What it comes down to is recognising that we can obtain a better yield overall by encouraging diversity.  Sure we might not have grown quite as much sorghum or as much cow pea as we would have done if we planted them separately, but together they both seemed to thrive and the cattle ate the whole lot.  Generally if you have a diverse range of plants growing, any pest or diseases can't get established and wipe out the whole lot, the way they can in a monoculture crop.  For that reason, we don't worry to much if we end up with some weeds or other grasses in the paddock, its all part of the diversity, as long as they don't take over. 

There is of course a fine line between competition and synergy, as discussed in Integrate, Rather than Segregate, you can have too much of a good thing and end up choking out a weaker species that does need its own space, or some extra nutrients.

I found it interesting also that David discussed diversity within a breed and damage done by stud and show breeding.  Where animals have been breed for particular physical attributes and not for practicality, for example show chickens that no longer lay well, we have lost an entire breed and virtually have to start again to create a breed that has the atributes that we as permaculture farmers need (this was also discussed in my favourite chicken book).  The ideal chicken lays well, has a large body suitable for eating, is able to forage, avoid predators, and survive in our climate, I don't care what it looks like!  Braford cattle were originally bred for their hardiness, but after our bull got eye cancer recently we realised that some studs seem to be breeding for aesthetics and using too much Hereford, so that the animals are not as resistent to eye cancer as the original Braford breed.  We need to value the diversity in animals so that we can establish breeds with desirable attributes in our own climate. 

In my garden, I like to use diversity by planting both edible plants and few flower plants and by also letting most plants go to seed.  This encourages beneficial insects, both pollinators and predatory insects that feed on nectar, and reduces pest problems in the garden. 

How do you use and value diversity at your place?


  1. The best diversity I have, is what's already growing here. The only attention I need to give it, is not to pull it out when it's serving a purpose.

    Take our sapling trees and lantana for example. Both are growing wild, and while we should take out the saplings when they're small, we'd lose their beneficial shading capacity. It's a lot harder to take them out when they're bigger, but by then, the plants we've planted and want to grow, have adapted and can cope on their own. The lantana though is providing habitat for the colonies of wrens and finches, which have to compete with the Maggies, Kookaburras and Carawongs.

    The small birds keep the insect pests down and fertilise the ground - all without our input. I'm attempting to plant dense shrubs to replace the lantana, so we can eventually remove it. I cannot see the benefit of killing large colonies of insect predators today, just so I can say I eradicated a noxious weed. It's days are numbered, but I hope to keep the small bird population housed safely, until my native shrubs are a decent size.

    There is plenty of diversity in nature, we just have to stop removing many of the elements we don't like.

  2. We allow a diverse range of natural pasture species flourish rather than improve the pasture. This way there is a range of broadleaf herbage for the animals to eat, they can also choose different plants for self medicating. Our mandala garden is very diverse with fruit trees, annuals, flowerings plants and herbs. The beds are planted with a wide variety allowing for stacking in time. We also have a very diverse number of animals that call our farm home. This gives us a lot of advantages such as a range of manures for our composting. These animals all favour different foods and conditions so they generally have different niches and eat slightly different things.Diversity is certainly a key element of our farm not unlike the traditional family farm of old. A little bit of a lot of things!

  3. Hi Kate, we're have started to take some baby steps on our 25 acre property in Grafton. The mandala garden is going, the grove orchard is still struggeling but in, the kitchen is nourishing and I have three young but very enthusiastic kids. Next step would be the paddocks. We're on a hill, horrible poor clay soil. We would like to improve it before we start digging dams and add cattle to the mix. I'm looking at native grasses and a variety of scrubs to help it along and keep better cover throughout the seasons. But I could use some good info to start me off. Can you (or anyone else out there) recommend some good reads? Cheers!

    1. my two favourites are Permaculture Home Garden by Linda Woodrow (review on my blog) and Gaia's Garden by Toby Henenway.

  4. Great post, this was really interesting. I especially liked the ideas about lack of diversity in animals and how breeding for certain ascetic qualities is damaging for the breed as a whole. I love the look of flowers in among my vegetables and mixing a variety of seeds together and scattering to see what comes up, what thrives and what doesn't is such fun too.

  5. Thanks for sharing, I read David's book last year and it is good to have a refresh, things tend to get a bit fuzzy around the edges!

    I just did a design for a Forest Garden and the requirement for diversity was very much a keystone to its success, :) Look forward to reading more.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone, I really enjoy the discussion, lots of interesting thoughts on diversity...


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