Permaculture elements

A fundamental building block in Permaculture is the “element.”  Every element is either a plant, an animal, or a structure.  Each element has inputs, outputs, functions/behaviors, and intrinsic qualities.

The “inputs” are things that element needs in order to function or survive.  For example, all animals need food, oxygen, and shelter of some sort.  All of these are “inputs” in one form or another.  A “dirt road” might need gravel in places where ruts are causing erosion, in order to keep the road maintained and reduce or prevent further erosion.

The “outputs” are things that element provides naturally, that may be used by the system.  Chickens provide feathers, meat, eggs, and heat, for example.  A small flock of chickens in a greenhouse in the winter can help keep the grow space warm on cloudy days.  A barn might provide water as a side effect of its intrinsic property of having a roof with gutters that drive water to a storage tank during a rain.

A chicken “functions” as a natural tiller due to its intrinsic quality of needing to scratch at the ground in search of food.  Roads “function” as both access to important areas of the property, as well as providing hard run off to direct water to swales or other catchment devices to keep ponds topped off.

Trees provide shade, act as wind breaks, produce food, and lumber, and give shelter to wild animals on the property.

Sometimes qualities of a specific breed might come into play.  Some breeds of chicken do well in cooler climates than others.  Some lay more eggs.  Some produce higher qualities and quantities of meat.

A barn with a steep almost A frame style roof holds up to lots of heavy snow seasons better than a shack with a flat roof.

All of these characteristics are important when choosing when and where to use an element in design.

First day of Spring was this week

The first day of Spring was this week.  The equinox marks the season change, and the date was March 20, this year.

Spring brings with it new growth.  The spring beauties have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and other early starters have cropped up.  The daffodils have bloomed for some, but not the ones in our front yard.  The magnolia tree has been in bloom for a while, but it’s just now starting to get leaves again.

The birds are back, too.  We’ve seen a couple of cardinals, some robins, and a few bluejays hanging around.  Hummingbirds should just start showing up, but we haven’t put our feeder out, yet.  We need to make sure it’s sterilized well before hanging it, since we don’t want them to get sick.

It won’t be long before the lemon balm takes over the little mint plot in our back yard.  It’s already peaking out, but a week or three from now and it’ll be trying to prove that it’s a shrub instead of an herb.  I need to rescue the peppermint plant from the bed before it does.  It needs to move to a location where the lemon balm won’t dominate, so it can grow better.

It’s a bit late to be planning for the kitchen garden, but I’m thinking I’m going to start some Jerusalem artichokes and probably some chinese artichokes this year.  There’s a reddish variety of sunchokes that has caught my eye, and I’ve been wanting to try the chinese artichokes for a couple of years, now.  I just haven’t pulled the trigger, yet.  This year should be the year.

I hope everyone is paying attention to the beauty that’s unfolding as Spring wakes up and says “hello” to the world.

The importance of mentors

This site will mostly cover topics revolving around Permaculture, but that is by far not my only hobby.  Other hobbies WILL be discussed, so now is a good time to mention the subject of “mentors.”

No matter what your hobby, profession, or interest, the best thing you can do to improve yourself is to find a mentor.  In HAM Radio, we call our mentors “Elmers.”  Other hobbies don’t necessarily put a label on the name, but they all have them to some degree.

A mentor can be someone you know intimately.  You’ve met them face to face, maybe shared a meal or two with them, and possibly gotten physical (such as on a training mat in martial arts, for example.)  A mentor can also be someone who doesn’t know you from Adam or Eve, and you observe from afar.  People who have taken the time to set themselves out there as mentors for anyone interested in the hobby can be found on social media sites such as FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and so on.  They can also be found on personal websites or social blog sites such as,, or

No matter how you feel about a subject, you need a mentor.  There is always someone who knows more than you about a subject, and even students bring learning to their teachers over time.  You will grow in your field or hobby much faster if you don’t try to teach yourself everything.

A few of my mentors are below:

  • Shirley Pratt – Wildcrafting and plant identification.  Also a good friend.
  • Jack Spirko – Owner of  He’s got a small duck based permaculture farm in Texas.
  • Geoff Lawton – My instructor for my Permaculture Design Certification.
  • The members of the Faulkner County Amateur Radio Club (FCARC) – HAM radio related issues, questions, and insights.
  • TheCombat KnifeThrower and Xolette – Two YouTube mentors that have great content for beginners to advance knife throwing topics.

There are many more.  I look for multiple mentors in every discipline I decide to pick up, and you should, too.

Find something you think might be fun.  Go find a mentor or three.  Learn the subject, and enjoy!

Permaculture – Indicators and Function

In my Permaculture Design Course (PDC,) my mentor (Geoff Lawton) mentioned that if you take a patch of ground, and you mark it into quarters, then damage each quarter a different way, you get different seeds that germinate based on the needs of that damaged ground.  These pioneer “weeds” are what pop up to repair the damage.  That is their “function.”  In his example, he said in the quarter that we burn, plants like bracken fern would pop up.  These are pot ash (potassium) accumulators that thrive in low potassium environments, and gather it from deep in the soil.  When they die, they provide that potassium back to the soil for other plants to use in succession.

The “over-cropped” patch would have legumes pop up.  Plants like peas, beans, lupines, and vetch produce nodules that interact with soil bacteria, and provide nitrogen to the soil.  When animals come along and graze on these, those nodule fall off inside the soil for a burst of nitrogen that also invigorates the plants around that legume.

The “loose” soil patch would have plants that have a hair root system spring up to help hold the soil in place, stabilize it, and rejuvenate it over time.  These plants prevent erosion from wind and rain.

Finally, the one I wanted  to talk about today, is soil compaction.  When soil is heavily compacted, and possibly clay heavy, it makes things difficult for most plants to take up residence.  The water hits this compaction and runs off as a hard surface, and roots struggle to gain a foot hold.  Plants that pop up here are things like dandelions, wild carrots, and other deep tap root plants.  These plants help break up the compaction, and when they die, it creates carbon pathways for soil life to get in and interact with other plants that come along in succession.

The reason I wanted to talk about indicators today is I wanted to share an example of how true this theme holds.  A couple of years ago, we tore down a small shed in our back yard that we deemed hazardous since it had severe roof damage, and was not worth the cost of repair.  The ground under this shed was heavily compacted, clay like material.  We went ahead and tried to aerate it a bit before we planted some hazelnut shrubs in the location.

Today, I went to check on my hazels, and the area is lush with plants.  It’s the most lush area of the yard, probably because we did add a large layer of organic compost to the spot before planting the hazels.  This year, about fifty percent of the space is taken up by wild carrots.  The soil is too compacted there, and I am ecstatic to find these “weeds” in my grow space.  They will help break up that clay heavy compaction, aerate the soil, and given the lushness of the other plants that have found a foot hold, the ground will maintain a good level of moistness through the summer months, because it is a thick mat of natural ground covers in with those wild carrots.

The hazels all have healthy buds, by the way.  That was the purpose of checking on them, so I thought I should share since people might want to know.

Knowing the indicators that plants provide helps determine what is going on with a patch of soil, without having to try to dig there first.  Learn the indicators, and you can see at a glance what’s going on with your property.

I’ll be sharing some of these indicators over time.  Until next time…

Thanks for reading!