Permaculture Systems - BHT201

Learn to prepare plans for permaculture systems

A permaculture is a unique type of landscape contrived and built so  plants and animals live balanced in a self sustaining ecosystem. 

Permaculture commonly involves developing a garden or farm where the plants and animals are put together in such a way that they

support each others growth and development. The garden or farm may change over years, but always remains productive, requires little input onceestablished, and is environmentally sound.

This is an "intensive" foundation course. If you are only going to do "one" permaculture course do this! If you do this, do not do Permaculture I, II, III or IV as well (Permaculture Systems contains parts from the others).


Develop the student’s ability to independently prepare plans for a permaculture system appropriate for particular environments and sites.


The course is divided into eight lessons as follows:

  1. Permaculture Principles
  2. Natural Systems
  3. Zone & Sector Planning 
  4. Permaculture Techniques
  5. Animals in Permaculture
  6. Plants in Permaculture
  7. Appropriate Technologies
  8. Preparing a Plan

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted, marked and returned with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Course Duration   100 hours

Lesson Aims 

  • To explain the principles of permaculture
  • To explain the concepts of natural systems.
  • To explain permaculture techniques - involving zones and sector planning.
  • To explain a range of permaculture techniques: (forest plantings, mandala gardens, etc).
  • Explain the significance of different animals in a permaculture system.
  • Select plants appropriate for inclusion in a permaculture system, to supply a useful and sustained harvest; explain their husbandry.
  • Select appropriate technologies for use in permaculture systems.
  • Draw permaculture designs (plans) to scale.


  • Differentiate between Permaculture and other sustainable systems.
  • Explain the procedures followed in practicing different techniques which are sympathetic to permaculture, including: No-dig gardening, Companion Planting, Biological control, and  Sustainable harvesting.
  • Explain the interactions that occur between living and non-living components in five different  natural environments, including: Forest Systems, Aquatic Environments, Soil Environments, and Arid Environments.
  • Evaluate different Permaculture designs against the nine Permaculture principles.
  • Distinguish between different garden zones in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain sector planning in a specific garden design.
  • Design a mandala garden for a specific site.
  • Determine the appropriate use of swales on a sloping site.
  • Investigate distinctly different Permaculture systems.
  • Explain three different cultural techniques used to minimise the maintenance requirement, in Permaculture systems you study.
  • Determine different animal breeds, which can provide a useful  and sustained harvest from a permaculture system in your locality.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from different types of animals in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the success of different types of animals, in a Permaculture  system, including: Poultry,  Aquatic animals, Domestic farm animals, Insects, Earthworms.
  • Describe the husbandry of one specified type of animal, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Determine different species of plants which can provide a useful, sustained harvest from a Permaculture system.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from twenty different plant genera in a Permaculture system.
  • Compile a resource file of fifty information sources for different plants which can be incorporated into Permaculture systems.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the survival of different types of plants, including those used for: Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, Fibres, Building materials, and Fuel.
  • Explain the husbandry of one specified type of plant, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Explain the relevance of appropriate technology to Permaculture design.
  • Compare three different waste disposal techniques which may be used for kitchen scraps in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare different waste disposal techniques which may be used for effluent in a Permaculture system.
  • Evaluate the suitability of different building techniques in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the application of two different systems of alternative energy in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare differences in the impact on a Permaculture system, of three alternative technologies designed for the same purpose (e.g. three alternative sources of electricity).
  • Evaluate the use of technology in a house (your choose the house).
  • Determine more "appropriate" technologies to replace currently used technologies, in a house you evaluate.
  • Illustrate on a plan, twenty different components of a design, including: Plants, Buildings, and Landscape features.
  • Transpose a simple Permaculture plan to a different scale.
  • Represent an existing site, drawn to scale, on a plan.
  • Describe the stages involved in the process of producing a Permaculture design.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a Permaculture system surveyed by you, which is between five hundred and one thousand square metres in area.
  • Prepare a detailed design for a Permaculture system of between five hundred and one thousand square metres in size, including:  Scale drawings, Materials specifications, Lists of plant and animal varieties.

How to Create Harmony in an Environment

Permaculture designers work with all different sized properties, from small gardens to large farms.

Understanding how to create a harmonised permaculture ecosystem on a larger property may be easier; but the truth is the same principles apply on any sized property. Small gardens will be influenced heavily by what is nearby; but sections of large properties also contain transition zones with the same complicated interactions between different segments.

Edge Effects

In the discipline of permaculture, experts often talk of "edge effects" referring to the transition zone from one environment to another. At the edge of a forest, where forest changes to grassland; there will be a section of grassland sleltered to some degree by the forest, and a section of forest where light, rain and ind will penetrate a little. In that transition zone the soil and water conditions are unlike what is found deep inside the forest or out in the open grassland. Because conditions are differnt, the plants and animals in that "edge" are also different.

To understand edge effects and the interplay between the components of any permaculture system.

You need to study soils, water, climatic conditions, plants and animals, and how all of these things interact with each other. This course lays the foundation for understanding such interactions.


Consider Water

It is easy to understand the importance of water to our lives so it can be an interesting exercise to see how water is cycled through our environment. The accompanying photocopy entitled "The Hydrological Cycle" shows diagrammatically what happens to the rainfall we receive.

If we consider first the rainfall (or precipitation) that we receive we can see from the diagram that three things can happen:

  • The bulk of the rainfall falls onto the land surface.
  • Some of the rain is intercepted (i.e. something stops the rain from directly hitting the land surface, such as vegetation. 
  • Some of the rain falls directly into water bodies (e.g. creeks, rivers, lakes, oceans).

Direct fall onto the land surface

Water falling directly to the land surface can do one of four things:

  • Infiltrate (move into) the underlying soil.
  • Be evaporated back into the atmosphere.
  • Sit in depressions on the soil surface (from where it is later evaporated or slowly infiltrates into the underlying soil).
  • Run off to lower lying areas (known as overland flow). - If rain is heavy or the soil is hard to infiltrate, then there will be greater runoff. If rain is of low intensity or for only short periods, or the soil has good infiltration characteristics (e.g. sandy soils) then there will be little surface runoff. Heavy surface runoff that is a major cause of soil erosion of unprotected land surfaces. Therefore, reducing the effect of this runoff or protecting soil surfaces is a major need for effective permaculture systems. If possible capturing this runoff in some way (e.g. dams) for later use, will make much more effective use of natural rainfall.

Intercepted rainfall

Three things can happen at this stage:

  • Some of the water is evaporated back into the atmosphere before it even reaches the land surface.
  • Some of the water will slowly drip to the land surface (e.g. off vegetation).
  • Some of the water will flow down the surface of the intercepting body (e.g. tree trunks and branches) until it reaches the land surface (this is known as Stem flow). This has two major effects, firstly slowing down the rate at which some of the rainfall reaches the earth's surface, and secondly concentrating what rainfall does flow down the branches and trunk, at the base of the trunk.

Water falling directly into water bodies

This will generally not have much effect on water use in your permaculture system. The amount that falls directly into such bodies is usually small in comparison to what falls onto the land (much bigger area) except in the larger water bodies (e.g. oceans) where it will have little effect (directly) on your permaculture system. If you have a dam there may be a small but significant increase in water volume from direct rainfall, but most will come from surface runoff.

Infiltration into the soil surface will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The type of soil - Well-structured and sandy soils will have much higher infiltration rates than heavy, poorly structured soils (e.g. clays).
  • The intensity of the rainfall - If rainfall is heavy then the amount of water reaching the surface may be greater than the amount of water that can be infiltrated. This means that the water either sits on the surface until it can infiltrate into the soil later once rainfall has stopped or has reduced in intensity, or be evaporated back into the atmosphere, or it will runoff (overland flow).
  • The water that passes into the soil can also do several things:
  • It can be held in the soil (as "Soil Moisture Storage") where it can be utilised by plants and animals (with some being transpired back into the atmosphere via the plants. 
  • It can pass through passages in the soil (e.g. cracks, animal burrows, cavities created by decomposing plant roots) and pass out into lower areas as surface runoff. This is known as "Through flow". Passage of water in this way can be very rapid, and it can be a powerful cause of erosion in soils that are easily dispersed (e.g. tunnel erosion).
  • It can seep deeper into the underlying soil to an area known as the "Aeration Zone Storage". The water here can be utilised by plants during very dry seasons. Water from this zone can also pass out to the surface down slope (into lower lying areas). This is known as "Interflow". Some water will also percolate down deeper into "Ground Water Storage". In areas where ground water levels meet the soil surface then water flows out (e.g. springs) reaching creeks, rivers, etc. It is this generally slow, regular flow of water from groundwater areas that keeps permanent streams flowing in dry seasons. This is known as "Base flow". Base flow is one of two components to a streams flow, the other being "Storm flow", which is the water after rain from Overland Flow, Through flow and Interflow (see diagram). It is the often sudden surge of water after heavy rain that gives this component of stream flow its name. These components of Storm flow can often be diverted or slowed down and used for providing water at a later date (e.g. heavy vegetation or mulching reducing the runoff rate, increasing the water holding capacity of the soil that more moisture is retained there, terracing, banking or in some other way forming slopes to catch the runoff or slow it down).
    It can percolate even deeper into deep storage (e.g. aquifers, major artesian basins). Water from here can flow out to the surface in much lower lying areas (e.g. saline affected areas). This water can also be utilised through bores.



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