The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 3rd Day of the PDC….

Like every big question in life (let alone the morePDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLER important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’m trying to explain what is talked about and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

Click here to head to Day 1.

Click here to head to Day 2.

This is the third in the series.

So here we go with ….. Day 3

Hold onto your hats people. We introduce a number of new ideas across the course of this day and by the end we’re starting to appreciate the tip of the ‘tool iceberg’ at our disposal as a designer both in thinking about new house designs and methods to improve conditions in existing houses.  Such tools range from the building of ‘man made’ structures/shade to plant based cooling, changing habits to suit the seasons and using the free energy to limit our use of ‘non-free power’.Day 3

Let’s learn about some of the tools we can use to design both our house (new or with limited changes to optimise) and garden to make the ‘easy option’ where money and energy (grid power) is saved too.

Session 1 – Recap and Qns – Discussed previously

Session 2 – Passive Solar, Sun, Season, Shade, Thermal Mass, Breezeways and ‘rooms’ –

We have a quick reminder of sectors with a detailed look at how this fits into the orientation of the house (Zone 0) and garden elements (typically in Zone 1 for urban design) that impact upon it.  Later we’ll look at other influences on Rural Landscapes.  We look at the suns angle and intensity and seasonal change (sun, wind and water (ocean currents, evapotranspiration and rain) influencing our design.

One of the key aspects in a Permaculture design is in the approach of an opportunity from at least two sides.

Take for example keeping a house cool.  You can act to prevent the heat from entering in the first place and you can set your self up for efficiently removing what heat makes it in (especially after a few hot days in a row). (e.g. eves, window location or insulation versus late afternoon breezeways combined with cleverly positioned ponds)

Alternately you can consider the two sides as (a) the use of nature’s energy as a priority, then thoughtful use of non-renewable sourced energy as secondary to bring the temperature down in addition to (b) considering the other side of the coin which asks “how cool do we really need it to be?”.solar passive copy

Often the ‘easy option’ is perceived as the one where money takes the place of effort – run the air conditioner all day and night every day over summer to achieve a wind chill factor of 18 Degrees C.  However with clever use of water features, breezeways, shading, etc it is possible keep a house cool over most of the Perth summer capitalising on our dependable south westerly and, even on that fourth day of 40+ degrees, the use of air conditioning only when solar panels are functioning can take the heat out of the house in preparation for a comfortable night’s sleep.

This thread runs through the whole day.

(Illustration from Your Home –

An excellent case study of Urban Solar Passive Home design is Josh Bryne’s – Josh’s House, look it up on the internet.

Session 3 – Buildings and Structures

This session looks at different building materials (including local examples) and typically one is selected for a power point, video or photo diary of a home construction.  We talk about public resources for getting information and specific regional information to consider.  Designing buildings, as well as the garden, for a climate is the key message here.  Passive solar design principles can be seen as a methodical way of assessing what we have and what might be able to be modified to achieve an optimum use of our location and free energy sources.

A PDC needs to teach you how ecological home design changes with location (so we can’t just cover Perth), in tropical areas we don’t want thermal mass, and chasing breeze to help with the humidity is priority number 1. In frozen climates (homes even need to be insulated from the frozen ground) and in desert climates (the ground is used as a temperature moderator day and night) are all discussed and the suitable building designs given these climatic conditions become are a logical progression.

The bit I found most interesting in this discussion when I was the student, was the different building materials and their strengths (or not) in various ‘catastrophes’ – e.g. fires, earthquakes etc.

Session 4/5 – Tours – with multiple discussions

We always ensure the location selected for this day has a large number of practical examples of both the day’s topics as well as the Permaculture principles in general.  Discussions of buildings – their design, materials, installed and retrofitted features, man made versus plant (perspex pergola versus plant covered)…. then garden features – ponds, shade plants and fruit/nut tree examples, large scale trees as well as forest layering, veggie patches and the relationship that might be built between them all….  This tour can take an hour, but typically we can’t get back in under 3 hours as the paths and conversations always wander further than expected.

Session 4/5A – Seedlings and Cuttings Hunt

This is one of many opportunities to get seeds and propagation materials to kick start your patch.  We tend to look at the shape size and root behaviours of trees informally during this and the previous combined session.

Session 4/5BAppropriate Technologies –

As we’re talking about structures, buildings and other man-made equipment, we tend to run through the options and use of appropriate technologies.  Generally these fall into the topics of heating (space and water), cooling, cooking (solar, steam, …), water harvesting, transport and energy in general (solar, gasifiers, wind,….).  Information Technology is also discussed in the light of David Holmgren’s assessment.  Making the most of open source software and building upon it supports developers rather than commercial companies.  Sharing information freely across the internet is the express option for dissemination of information, but speaking face to face builds community.  Combine the two and you have information getting to the people who wish to see it and will share it in their local community through action and expression.

Session 4/5CPlant Retrofit –

(Photo from  As mentioned earlier trees can be located in a design to perform many functions.  From shade and cooling to breaking up destructive winds to visible screens and noise dampening all to create a more appealing zone 0 (the house).  Re-writing a notable third law…. for every function there are multiple and often co-operative options.  We discuss the combinations and some examples which cover multiple roles.

A key teaching of Permaculture and one I magnificently failed to cover in my Day 1 discussion of elements is that for a system to function well it needs redundancy.  An assessment of each element identifies its needs, products and inherent characteristic.  This not only allows you to position elements together that can work in a complimentary fashion, but also to ensure that you have multiple elements performing similar ecological functions.  In this way, should one element fail within a given set of circumstances, then there are a number of other elements preventing the function from failing to be performed.  E.g. a pond in combination with a deciduous vine over a patio and trees beyond the pond…. pond, trees and vine cooling in summer breezes and creating shade in summer, but in winter letting light in and buffering winter storms …. not to mention habitat creation in many elements for garden predators, fruit production, mulch….

Session 6 – Rainwater, Greywater, filters and toilets

The key to a good integrated water system is understanding what sources you have already as well as your water use habits.  Once again we attack from two sides.  In an urban environment that fresh water from the tap takes a fair amount of energy to treat, pump and quality control.  First plan of attack is to determine just how much of this valuable commodity we need to use.  In a rural setting this luxury may be present or rainwater tanks are the source for the house in which case this process of assessing the ‘how much’ has likely already been done.

Once you’ve looked at your habits and determined what needs pristine water and what can be achieved with a slightly lesser quality source, then you can to look at what water is present on your property apart from tap…. rainwater, bore, grey water etc.  This is generally known as the process of conducting a Water Audit and that in itself is a good way to look at the value of water on your property.

As we walk through the water audit it is interesting to note that as you look at reducing your use of fresh water ( for example with larger washing loads per wash or a more efficient machine), then you are limiting your ‘tap water’ use (a hugely undervalued commodity in our climate!), but also you are lowering your grey water production.  Consideration of the adjustments you are willing to make on the initial water audit should be factored in so that your final installation of what ever system suits you actually reflects the value that you based the decision on. Grey water code for WA (Note, your main resource for grey water info for WA should be:; specific attention must be paid to the local regulations before any recommendation of grey water systems are made!)

There are so many warrens we could (and do) venture down in this discussion as their are many opinions and motives involved, but when it comes to each option there are some facts which can be presented and then the decision of the option is up to the client.  For example rooftops can be assessed for area and hence catchment volume based on location annual rainfall information.  Tank locations can be suggested based on the gutter and down pipe locations, with tank sizes based on household consumption and rain event expectations.   Having said that, fix your soil, avoid gutters and minimise your hard surfaces (which allow water to run off your property to the storm drains), and your topping up the aquifer.  So you might consider soil filtration and natures subsurface tank so a bore becomes a eco-logical option for garden retic.

Considering Perth’s rainfall pattern and hence duration of the year when a rainwater tank might be filled, you might instead like a grey water system which has the consistent year round water delivery.  We’ll consider rural water catchment later in our Topography and Contour discussions as well as on our Rural expedition.

So much to consider…. as you can see IT DEPENDS!  Considering the options within specific household environments and regional climates under the guidance of an iterative water audit is seen as the  challenge for the Permaculture Designer.  Just remember that the tap is just one source and as mentioned above multiple elements performing the same function meets the systems needs even if one fails…..  I love this topic, nothing like a bit of controversy to get the fact hunting juices flowing!  Move on SH, move on!

Session 7 – Urban Animals

Chicken with Indi smallWe covered this a little in the Nutrient Cycling and to be honest we need to work more towards a variety of animal information.  The problem is, that in most urban areas, chickens and rabbits the only ‘livestock’ permitted and …. well…. those chickens are amazing machines.  We look closely at the urban allowed ‘livestock’ considering them in an element type analysis, but with detailed examination of their needs.  Cows, sheep and goats are discussed especially in respect to the nutrient availability in the soil which in some instances can only come via the path of something’s digestive tract.  However it is important to note that, while there are many other animals we can purchase and cultivate in our system, there is a huge variety of ‘wild life’ we can attract to our garden and which do a huge array of jobs in the system to earn their keep.  Setting up our system to cater for the habitat needs of birds, insects, reptiles and other creatures is critical in designing one that can cope with predator attack.



And that, my dear friends, is Day Three – this day is one of the most eye opening when it comes to what we can do and how we observe a property when we enter a clients design environment. By now, we’re just starting to understand the magnitude of what we’re in for……

Day Four, we come back to our comfortable base camp to look at all things planty as well as a community adventure to look and discuss the features (and mental climate required for) school and community gardens.  Unfortunately at our last course, it was not even nice weather for ducks as the rain bucketed down, which was such a shame – there is nothing quite so magical as seeing a group of strangers caring for each other and a garden in a purely giving capacity.

Until next time, enjoy


PS Apologies for delay in issue of this blog, as I Canberra for a Soil, Big Data and Agriculture Conference for a couple of day – Will write a little about it at some point, was an intriguing angle from which to observe the players…..

1 thought on “The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 3rd Day of the PDC….

  1. Pingback: The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 4th Day of the PDC…. | The Soil Hugger's Journey

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