Permaculture: the future for agriculture?



Queensland, Australia. In the middle of a tropical fruit jungle I look around in amazement: 17 kinds of bananas, 3 kinds of passion fruit, oranges, mangoes, star fruit, lychees, grapefruits, tangerines, jackfruit, Japanese cherries, edible bamboo, pineapple, etc. I stand in one big edible jungle. Besides my amazement, there are also many animals that enjoy the same jungle. Possums on the hunt for bananas, bush turkeys eating the fallen passion fruit and butterflies the size of my hand flying by. It is strange to hear that this oasis was still grassland 10 years ago. The neighbors neighbors' neat, short-cut lawn shows exactly what this tropical fruit forest must have looked like in the past. The owners explain to me that they built the piece of land with the help of Permaculture. “Permaculture… ??” I ask.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is an abbreviation for permanent agriculture and permanent culture. It was developed in the 1970s at the University of Tasmania, Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The inventors developed permaculture to find solutions to a large number of problems that monoculture agriculture entails.

The biggest problem of today's agriculture is the enormous consumption of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas. For every calorie output of food produced, 10 to 100 calories of fossil fuel input are required. With fossil fuels becoming scarcer and therefore more expensive, this agricultural system is therefore not sustainable in the long term.

But there are more problems. Monoculture systems are extremely susceptible to disease due to the great lack of natural diversity in the system. This problem has often manifested itself in the Netherlands in both crops and livestock in recent years, resulting in preventive mass destruction of millions of chickens, pigs, goats and cows. In Australia, desertification and soil erosion also took alarming proportions. And finally, problems such as fertilizers that pollute the groundwater and the use of too many pesticides, resulting in bee deaths, are a major problem worldwide.

Permaculture has found solutions to these problems by studying the ecological laws that apply to a natural ecosystem. On the basis of these principles, a system is designed that has functions for humans, eg food supply, with the resilience of a natural ecosystem. Permaculture differs from organic farming in this respect. Permaculture is a design system. You literally design nature around people and see people as part of the entire ecosystem.

How does it work?

A permaculture system is created by looking at the three main ecological factors: sun, water and wind, and how these can be integrated into the system while respecting soil structure and relief. In the Netherlands, it is important to make permaculture design in such a way that a lot of sun is captured and that strong winds are diverted. In dry countries, the designs are mainly made for optimal water collection and conservation. In Jordan near the Dead Sea, they are greening a piece of desert using a well-designed permaculture system and with success. This can be viewed in the short film “Greening the Desert”, see below.

A detailed explanation of the ecological principles on which permaculture is based can be found on the website where a free downloadable course introduces interested parties to the main design principles of permaculture. The following examples also come from this website:

The solar circle. In this way, the sun is used as effectively as possible.

The Solar Circle

This top view shows a number of trees surrounded by shrubs in a semicircle oriented to the south. As a result, the trees compete with each other for the light as little as possible. In addition, the north wind is led around the system, so that the heat is collected where the water is. As a result, the water heats up faster and can serve well as a swimming area for people. By smart design, this permaculture system yields profit for the plants in it and for the people who use it.


Another typical permaculture concept is mulching. Mulching is the covering of the black soil with organic matter. Because the soil is covered with organic material such as leaves, straw, dead plant remains, sawdust, etc., no light can reach the ground, which means that weeds sprout less quickly and grow less quickly. In addition, the dead organic material retains moisture well, so that the soil dries out less quickly when the sun is shining brightly. In winter, this layer protects the roots from frost damage. Finally, microorganisms start to digest the dead organic material and this waste is converted into nutrients for the plant around it. Mulching has many advantages and it also saves a lot of hoeing.

Old, local and new knowledge

Permaculture is a new term, but it is a design system that integrates both old and local knowledge into the design. The Romans planted hazelnut bushes, sweet chestnuts, fruit trees, etc. in the areas they had just conquered. Thus, they set up newly conquered areas for long-term survival.

Another interesting technique was already used by the Aztecs and is aimed at grouping together plants that have positive effects on each other. First corn seeds are planted, when they are around 30 cm high, beans are added, beans have bacteria in their roots that bind nitrogen, an important fertilizer, from the air. This nitrogen fertilizes the maize, the beans use the maize as a climbing stick. Finally, pumpkins are placed between them, they crawl over the ground and with their large leaves they ensure that little light reaches the ground so that weeds cannot grow properly. In this way, all these plants help each other in growth.

New knowledge is also usefully integrated into permaculture systems. Grapes, kiwis or other climbing plants can be well placed near a greenhouse. In the summer they have a lot of leaves that prevent too much sun from shining in and thus prevent it from becoming too hot. In winter, these plants have lost their leaves and the sun can heat the greenhouse very well. In this way you include plant growth in the system and the house is literally part of the ecosystem.

Permaculture also certainly uses new techniques that offer sustainable solutions. Solar panels, efficient water collection and distribution systems are good examples of this. Permaculture is not only limited to growing food but also has branches in the construction of houses, neighborhood development, social interaction, etc. After all, it stands for permanent agriculture and permanent culture.


Permaculture has been an established concept in Australia for some time, but it is also well known in America and England. Permaculture is slowly but surely gaining ground in non-English speaking countries. Partly because it is seen by the scientific world together with agroforestry as a realistic solution to the environmental issue that humanity will be pushed deeper and deeper into in the coming years. Sustainable solutions are no longer a choice but are becoming necessary for survival.

Houses incorporated in the landscape are an inseparable part of ecological agriculture.

A number of very interesting example projects can be found in the Netherlands. The first project is located near Culemborg station, covers 24 hectares, and offers space for 250 sustainably built homes; the project called Eva Lanxmeer uses, among other things, the knowledge from permaculture. It is in full development and well worth checking out.

Another great project based on permaculture is the Bikkershof in Utrecht. This project was started in 1979 after two old garages left and the neighborhood joined forces.

This is now a beautiful green area where residents often meet each other in the communal greenery. It is a pleasant village in the middle of the city.


Ah .. so that's permaculture. After Rene and Lorraine van Raders' clear explanation about permaculture, I get to hear something completely different. Before he was involved in permaculture, Rene was the chief manager of the largest McDonald's in New Zealand, in Oakland. Lorraine was a secretary. They made the switch of lifestyle after traveling the world by bicycle for five years. When they arrived in Australia, Lorraine turned out to be pregnant and they settled here at the Atherthon Tablelands in Queensland. Both now have a part-time job with the local fire brigade, are committed to many green development projects in their neighborhood and have two cheerful sons. It's funny to think that people who had such a different lifestyle have made a completely new choice and are now engaged in things that they really care about and enjoy. “Yes”, says Rene: “How we had to break down ecosystems we already knew well, but with the help of permaculture we now know how to rebuild them and that is very positive. ”

A free downloadable course that explains the basics of permaculture and a database with around 400 edible plants and mushrooms that grow in the Netherlands can be found at

Douwe Beerda


Source credit:

Literature sources:

Title: Introduction to Permaculture

Authors: Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay

ISBN: 0-908228-08-2

Title: Earth User's Guide to Permaculture

Author: Rosemary Morrow

ISBN: 0-86417-514-0

Title: The Earth Care Manual

Author: Patrick Whitefield

ISBN: 1-85623-021-X

38 thoughts on “Permacultuur: de toekomst voor de landbouw?”

  1. Hazelnuts grow on trees, and the nice thing is that it also attracts squirrels and other animals, in so many types of crops, fruits and vegetables. I think it's a shame if they start shooting rabbits.
    Can they have them cared for by children?

  2. Rabbits and hares can do a lot of damage in your kale field, so I can imagine farmers wanting to do something about it. but idd .. is there no more animal-friendly method for that you may ask.

    1. Sprinkling manure from ferrets, polecats or mink between the plants will ensure that rabbits no longer show themselves because these animals are enemies of rabbits.
      when the rabbits smell the manure, all alarm bells ring.
      Very effective and animal-friendly.

  3. Rabbits can also be eaten just as well as any surplus squirrels by the way. Permaculture builds an ecosystem around people in which many animals also feel at home. There is nothing wrong with using some of the animals that live on it yourself. Certainly not if they are able to maintain and reproduce well in your system. What is pathetic or not is of course a personal question, but from a natural point of view there is nothing wrong with harvesting pieces of meat from your permaculture system every now and then. Also prevents any inconvenience.

    1. Douwe Beerda,

      I completely agree with you, and if you are careful with skinning you can also have a nice warm fur blanket made of it once a year or something.

  4. Isn't a fox also an animal-friendly solution?
    (for the fox ..) Foxes are shy, so here they are useful and not threatening, and a natural balance will emerge. I'm afraid keeping ferrets and mink (wherever) isn't just because of the dung, and kids don't want to eat rabbits, (neither do I).

    1. Julie,

      A fox is certainly animal-friendly… and certainly not human-friendly, a rabbit with myxomatosis will not attack you easily, a fox with rabies can cost you your life.

    1. I think it's an interesting story. However, the reality as it now stands is that oil is centralized in the hands of a powerful elite and I do not think that will change that quickly. While the story is true that it would not be scarce, they are able to raise the price and cause food prices to rise worldwide.

      I think if you want to build a sustainable agricultural system you don't want to be dependent on those kinds of resources and or groups that have them under control. The more independent you can be, the better according to permaculture principles :)

  5. A good permaculture system also consists mainly of fruit and nut trees and shrubs. It distinguishes 7 layers of plants and tries to include all these layers in the system. A rabbit eats a maximum of 3.4 of these 7 layers. Furthermore, you consciously try to stimulate diversity in crops, which actually makes it difficult for any organism to become a real pest. If you get a woodland garden-like permaculture, your rabbit infestation may disappear on its own. In addition, I have heard that human urine also keeps rabbits away. By the way, there is also a forum and a google group for permaculture where you can ask these kinds of questions to a large group of people (currently around 300) with an active interest in permaculture. This is stated on the site already mentioned in the article and you can become a member if necessary.

    Incidentally, adapting your cultural barriers in permaculture is also a useful way to increase your resources. It sounds a bit strange to me that the killing of a rabbit by a hunter is pathetic, but if a fox tore a rabbit to pieces isn't that a problem? The rabbit is dead for a moment at the end and I wonder which death the rabbit suffers the most from. Permaculture sees people as part of the ecosystem and not as an element above or below it. Perhaps you can ask a neighbor or someone in the village who might like to eat rabbits. Humans can be just as natural enemies of rabbits as foxes. :)

  6. We are omnivores, foxes are carnivores. What we do is define territory; the rabbits are not allowed to eat our vegetables. This by means of aggression by shooting. A fox is not considered aggressive when it catches prey through hunger. We humans also have alternatives namely livestock, poultry and fish.
    And game hunts game :)
    We are not in a survival situation or in a war that makes this necessary? Moreover, someone can trade with it, who owns it? And are weapons really desirable in a society?

  7. Everyone should especially know for themselves what he or she wants to eat or not, but good. Is eating a fish or a chicken less pathetic than a rabbit? Is the death of a rabbit by fox natural than by a human?

    But let's keep it positive. A permaculture system should be able to maintain a few rabbits very well :) Permaculture also tries to reserve part of the harvest for the fellow organisms that also use it and fulfill important functions in it. There are also some people working on vegan permaculture for enthusiasts. They are ecological guidelines used as design tools. Everyone can then set to work to build a system according to his or her wishes. :)

  8. There are differences in animals: an animal that gives birth to live young is on a higher level than an animal that lays eggs. an animal with lungs is “higher” than an animal with gills. That is why the animals with a skeleton are ranked above the animals that do not have this. We mainly eat vertebrates and not unicellular animals, cavities, echinoderms, molluscs, worms and arthropods (invertebrates). Some unicellular animals can transmit diseases, but so can ticks, rats, parasites, for example. We must protect ourselves against this. Harmful animals do not have to be dangerous and have “natural” enemies. Almost every animal has some kind of safety mechanism to protect itself against this, such as sharp nails, teeth, poison color or markings. But why do animals with fur have such a sweet face? Not to deter a hungry fox. But maybe to look at people sweetly?

  9. How can animals be higher than others? This sounds a bit like a remnant of a Christian worldview where the people are below the angels and above the animals. I strongly disagree with that. I don't see why a person should be higher or lower than a rabbit, chicken or woodlouse. All organisms play a role and that is often largely dependent on each other. Without many bacteria and fungi, no decomposition of materials, for example, and the entire circle of life would come to a standstill. Humans transmit diseases just as well as other animals and what people can do to each other does not seem to me to be evidence of a higher species.

    But this may be more of a discussion about how you view yourself and the role of humans in their natural environment. :)

  10. Very interesting I must say. I think the following piece summarizes the gist:
    Permaculture has found solutions to these problems by studying the ecological laws that apply to a natural ecosystem. On the basis of these principles, a system is designed that has functions for humans, eg food supply, with the resilience of a natural ecosystem. Permaculture differs from organic farming in this respect. Permaculture is a design system. You literally design nature around people and see people as part of the entire ecosystem. '
    So you create a sustainable self-functioning mini-ecosystem. It is an artificially designed system, but it should eventually function without human intervention if I understand it correctly. That there really is a natural balance.
    Organic farming or organic gardening is obviously better than regular farming or gardening. (Then you also seem to have vague shapes such as biodynamic gardening in which the position of the stars still play a role.) But human intervention is still required. After all, it is a completely man-made natural system. In which you have to remove harmful elements such as 'weeds'. This can be very labor intensive. You also only always work with annual plants, while in a permaculture garden these will of course be perennial plants. It also seems to me that you are not walking around with a hoe all the time to weed the weeds.
    So all artificial human interventions will also be less necessary such as hoeing. After all, it is a natural ecosystem. Permaculture therefore also seems less labor-intensive to me, in contrast to the regular vegetable garden. Or am I wrong? And is compost also necessary? Does not seem right. As part of an ecosystem you have to deal with a system that should be self-sufficient and so the natural waste residues will be used again.
    To what extent is human intervention still necessary in permaculture over time? And what kind of human intervention? And to what extent can you still use regular crops such as potatoes that are only annual?          

    1. Douwe: Would you also like to respond to my message. Thanks in advance. I would like to know if I am in the right direction in terms of thinking.

      1. What you say is largely correct, but only in zone 5 will a person never intervene again. In zone 1 you always keep doing a lot, in zone 2 a little less, etc. But permaculture does see people as active users and part of the total ecosystem. If you have a woodland garden, you will have little work after a while, but you will also have to prune a bit and stuff every now and then. You mainly put annual vegetables in your zone 1, where you naturally spend a lot of time and in addition, permaculture also focuses on a polyculture of perennial vegetables, so that you also have relatively less work. 

        On you can find a really nice and useful series from Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton.  

  11. Always something

    What I always see when I watch those videos is that there is always a vegetable garden with regular crops such as corn and potatoes and tomatoes. Does that fit in with permaculture thoughts? And how do you take care of things like grain, which by definition need human intervention, I think. I sometimes have bread on a half based on nuts. I wouldn't want to sacrifice my sandwich for something like that, especially when you consider that there was still half of plain wheat flour in it. How does permaculture solve such problems?

    1. Permaculture also works a lot with zones, so you should ideally grow annual vegetables in your zone 1. I believe grains are in zone 2 or 3. But permaculture is mainly a series of design principles, it is not a kind of dogma. But if you are interested I would recommend that you check it out and if you search permaculture via torrentz you can also find various films and presentations. 

      In the Netherlands there is now also a google group with over 400 people, you could also ask the question there.


  12. Always something

    I have already looked at that site and also that explanation with the solar circle and different zones and stuff. But most of all I wonder how permaculture deals with grain, because that is one of the most important food sources for humans. And about that film Green gold. Is that really permaculture? Isn't that more landscaping? Because, in my opinion, agriculture just looks like traditional agriculture there. Large fields of corn. Or is that permaculture after all, and if so why?

    1. Permaculture is primarily a set of design principles. So how do you effectively collect water in your system, or how do you keep the wind out, or how do you make optimal use of the sun. In addition, another principle is, for example, the 7 plant layers, and another is the three function rule. If you look at the techniques that Green Gold applies to collect water, etc., it fits completely within the permaculture principles for this, just like the trees they plant etc. 

      Grain and Maize can be grown very well, but not on hectares of the same because you then need a lot of fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides and you actually start to grow fossil energy again. 

      On you can find a very extensive presentation series about permaculture if you have extensive interest.  

  13. Douwe,
    My compliments for the course. It is well designed and therefore enlightening. It is a very good introduction to permaculture. What particularly appeals to me is the system theoretical and its practical application. That is stimulated to design on the basis of ecological principles and is therefore functionally creative. The best challenge seems to me to make the system work for you as much as possible. I can already see it for me as a sustainable and diverse system that is much more resilient than regular agriculture or vegetable garden.
    Permaculture is actually nothing more than the development of a functional landscape. You are actually your own landscape architect with the aim of meeting your own needs, those of nature and making the ecosystem work for you as much as possible.
    The assignments are also good. I can also imagine that layers 5 to 7 are the most labor-intensive. Especially as you indicate the annual plants like potatoes and onions. Micromanagement is also interesting. However, as you already indicated, this is knowledge intensive.
    The plant guide is good too. I can imagine that it took 1200 man hours. The sowing and planting time can be deduced from it itself. After all, that is the period before the flowering time. And if you have general knowledge of plants, you often know quickly whether they are annual or perennial plants.
    Also chapter 6 was interesting of the course that permaculture is actually a practical philosophy of life without being connected to religion and the like. Cradle 2 cradle would therefore suit permaculture, I think.
    I do think that harvesting could take a relatively long time. After all, you want to keep your system intact. My expectation is that the yield will certainly be lower compared to a regular vegetable garden. Or am I wrong? Organic gardening can therefore be combined well with permaculture. You could then do this in layers 6 and 7.
    What still seems difficult to me is applying it in practice. I think it is best to do this step by step. I can imagine that there are people who start very enthusiastically and become less enthusiastic about it after a while. You just have to be patient before you get results. Knowledge, expertise and patience seem important to me. The right support and having an affinity also seem very valuable to me.
    Uncle T.

    1. On you can come into contact with people who are already busy with permaculture. It may be interesting to agree with what practitioners talk about and how they feel about these points. 

      Permaculture also makes a lot of use of perennial crops, for example I built a woodland garden with minimal effort. It takes some time and space, but by giving trees and fruit bushes an important role, you will need less and less labor, etc. over time and you will mainly be left with harvesting. For example, I currently have a stewed pear tree with raspberries underneath and a Siberian kiwi climbing through it. 3 times harvest from the same surface :-) 

      And many animals also like that there are so many different niches in the same place. Good for biodiversity. :-) 

      1. Certainly not a bad idea to do that. I think it's a good idea to talk to people about it themselves. Incidentally, recognize what you say with regard to the woodland garden. I don't have a woodland garden, but a small vegetable garden with some vegetables in it, grown and sown myself. In the beginning it does indeed take some extra effort and attention, but if you carry out good maintenance it will be much less. What you invest in the beginning for prevention, you will clearly benefit later. You also learn to be patient. The advantage of a woodland garden is that it is perennial. 
        By the way, what you describe with 3 times a harvest of the same area is the ideal, of course. Really make good use of the space. Siberian Kiwi? I've never heard of it. I think it will taste good :-) As far as those animals are concerned, I also like to believe that. With birds for example and maybe also some other smaller animals.  

  14. Erik Schippers

    can someone tell me what functions a rabbit can have for the garden.
    I now have a wild rabbit living in my zone 4 and I don't know what to do with it. I can of course eat it, but before it gets that far I first want to know the alternatives.

    1. Give and leave space and possibly allow something to eat with the harvest. Or supplement yourself. Who knows, a tame rabbit of the opposite sex may be a solution. ;)

    2. Put a fence with mesh around your garden, and let that mesh run a long way into the ground.
      A count like rabbit gives up or I have read, in my large handy handbook.

        1. Maybe demonstrate, or show alternative energy extraction to those dam planners.

    3. Rabbits:

      eat (like) weeds
      are edible
      multiply quickly :)
      you can compost feces and straw
      feces are nutrients for plants
      faeces can be eaten by other animals (eg ducks, chickens)
      produce heat that you can use
      coat is well insulating


  15. Hey Erik, maybe you can ask your question on one of these permaculture platforms. I would keep the grass short outside and at Christmas time I would not be able to think of a lot of other functions for your rabbit very quickly. But more people are members of these groups and they may have better ideas. 

    Permaculture communication platforms in the Netherlands
    • Permaculture Action Forum:
      A forum where people can discuss all kinds of permaculture matters and exchange tips. From snail control to receiving feedback on permaculture designs. In addition, viewing the forum is often a useful source of information.
    • Permaculture Google Group (currently around 500 members):
      An e-mail discussion group where people can exchange information and ask each other questions. The archive can also be read on the group itself and is now also packed with information. It is easy to become a member, you can set how many mails you want to receive and it is also easy to unsubscribe.
    • Permaculture Facebook group (currently around 800 members):
      Those interested in permaculture exchange tips, ask each other questions, place requests for local cooperation, etc. The speed and ease of exchange at a facebook group are unprecedented, but the information storage function is considerably less than with the other two platforms. You can become a member with the push of a button, and you can also become a member.
    • Overview of permaculture activities:
      In this action agenda people can announce their own activities with permaculture and you can find an extensive overview of where courses, workshops, information days etc. are given. So if you want to go from information via the internet to practice, the action agenda is an ideal way to find out how and where to meet other permaculture interested parties.

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