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Permaculture - Use edges and value the marginal

The permaculture principle that I'm reviewing this month is Use Edges and Value the Marginal.  This is an ironic principle, because permaculture itself is marginal, on the edge, not mainstream, so if you're using permaculture, you're probably already in the right frame of mind to apply this principle!

one of our dams... notice the perfect edge!
When I think of this principle, I immediately picture the edges between a dam and pasture, or between forest and pasture, but that is a simplistic interpretation of this principle.  By marginal, David means both "things on the edge" and "things that are not valued".  An example in the book is wild foods, which we often forget can be useful.  The idea is that things on the edge are more dynamic because of the cross-over of two systems.

Some examples of edge and marginal aspects from our farm life:

  • Our farm itself was marginal (not valued) because of all the trees, but we see value as firewood, fence posts, fertility and shade
  • We tend to buy secondhand (including our house!) because it creates less waste, but it also makes use of things that are not valued by others
  • On our farm we do things differently to our neighbours, we used different fertilisers and dont spray herbicides, which makes us marginal :)
  • I value weeds in the garden because they help create awesome compost
  • I like to grow unusual vegetables to find out what grows well, even if they aren't something we would normally be able to buy from the supermarket
  • Pete and I are an edge, I'm from NZ originally, and he's very Australian, we cross-over our two cultures and accents in daily life, I'm not sure if that makes us more productive, but its does make us keep an open mind and maybe we find new ideas more accessible as a result
In terms of actual edges, we are not making as much use of the edges on our farm as we could be.  All our dams are perfectly round, there's no scalloping to increase edge!  And actually I'm not sure if we want to encourage yabbis, as their holes can damage the dam wall.  I am interested in planting edible water plants in the dams though, particularly lotus (I'm not sure if that's related to edge or not).  We have plenty of edges between pasture and trees, and lots of small clearings (I think a previous owner was a bit sneaky in clearing where he shouldn't), so that creates extra edge.  I think we could use the contour banks in our cultivation areas to grow more tree legumes, which would be a use of edge.

The other principles from David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability that I've reviewed have been:


  1. Sounds like you are really living life on the edge. I have been thinking alot about the edges of my garden yard lately if that fits in . My aim is to plant an olive tree hedge around the edges to create a more enclosed naturefriendly area around the garden that encourages creatures to feel safe and become part of the garden eco system. We have just discovered after planting an olive tree in unbearable heat and it not being affected by the weather at all that this is the perfect tree for this job plus we can feed the leaves as fodder to the sheep and pick the olives.Our next step is to integrate tagaste into this edge as well.
    We have one yabby dam which we love . Our son tranferred about 20 yabbies into it and they haven't affected the wall after 3 years.We are almost at the point where we could have yabbies for lunch.

    1. Great example, thanks Kim, I didn't know you could feed olive leaves to animals, and sounds like they are perfect for your conditions. I think the yabbi thing takes a long time, it was just an observation of our neighbour when our dam wall busted, that maybe it was a) badly compacted to start with and b) weakened by a yabbi tunnel, but its at least 20 years old, so it could have been anything.

  2. For me, the greatest edge we could be contemplating on our property is the crossover between flood and drought. These two completely contrasting system do have an overlap, most assuredly on the edges. We have been looking for species of plants which can survive these two extremes. In terms of permaculture plants, the humble pigeon pea has been a literal lifesaver.

    The wallabies have been living off the leafs of the pigeon pea treas, over the very long and dry winter/spring period this year. The grass was cooked under the heat and with no water, there was no nutritional value in the grass. They don't normally graze our pigeon pea trees unless they're absolutely desperate. I notice they've been leaving lovely fertility nuggets (poo) around the place as thank you. As we don't have moving livestock of our own, so we appreciate the value they add.

    This is why we find the pigeon pea trees a fertility magnet. Where we plant them, every living thing seems to radiate around them. They also throw a nice amount of shade without being too shady, so evaporation is less underneath their branches. Great in a drought.

    Another interesting crossover for us, has been learning the benefits of hard and soft scaping in the landscape. That is, the hard scaping of the earth and the soft scaping of the plants which grow on the edges. We have been developing small ponds around the property and where we plant pigeon peas on the edges, the birds come. They love the branches as security after having a drink and quick dip in the ponds. They leave their fertility on the edges where it can be transferred down the property with the next downpour.

    Because we have such extremes in our climate here, we really value the edges and those organisms which can link up between them. I imagine a great edge for you to contemplate on Cheslyn Rise, is that cow fodder which can grow naturally without your attention, but will see them through and extended dry period. You could even grow these plants on contour, so it spreads fertility down the slopes to improve your pasture. On our dry continent with even greater climate extremes, open paddocks are pretty useless. They really need strips of tree and shrub corridoors on contour. The grass on thee edges of these foliage bands will be the crossover between flood and drought.

    Anyway very interesting subject. We're always thinking about these things.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Chris! I have some pigeon pea seeds and I haven't been exactly sure what to do with then, so you've given me some ideas there. I love your interpretation of edge. There's so many ways to look at these principles!

  3. Our farm itself is on marginal land, so of little value to anyone else. But organic matter added to the soil fixes most ills over time. the advantage of our farm is that it is peri urban. Our mandala gardens emphasises the edge with circular garden beds.Our windbreaks provide an edge to the unproductive land surrounding us and our very productive piece of land.

    1. Yes, our land is marginal too, it has too much forest to be of value to other farmers, but we were looking for that. Often if we value the marginal, we get something for cheap because its not valued by others!

  4. The idea that I have permaculture pots still sounds funny, but I do, (well I hope I do) that sit in an otherwise unused tiny concrete space. definitely marginal and on the edge.


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