Permaculture Principle 6: Energy Cycling: Quick Summary
Permaculture systems intend to stop the flow of energies off-site and instead turn them into cycles. The interaction between plants and animals produces energy, which is caught, stored, used and re-cycled. Incoming energy –sun, water, wind, manures– are used at its highest possible use, then its next highest, and so on.
- “Source to sink”: moving water across the landscape in a series of interlinking ponds to prevent erosive runoff.
- Cascading nutrients: turning the waste of one product into a multitude of other products using various life kingdoms- i.e. plants, animals, bacteria, and fungus.
- Kitchen wastes to compost, animal manure to biogas, greywater to the garden, etc.
Energy can either degrade or build depending on our orchestration of life kingdom interactions. It is our obligation to direct energetic exchanges to create soil, feed animals, recycle wastes, harvest water, and produce power to name just a few. Imagine the energetic exchanges within natural systems to produce forests, for springs to flow, waves to crash, and clouds to form. These patterns of flow need to be emulated when looking at how to deal with wastes such as vegetative scraps. This mix of carbohydrates and proteins could be taken straight to the chicken pen and feed to them directly. Alternatively, we could feed these food scraps to a worm bin first and let those materials be converted into microbe-rich soil and protein based biomass known as the worm. These worms then could be fed to the chickens and there will be no need for the chicken to convert the protein from the carbohydrates. By putting the food scraps through extra kingdoms of nature, the food scraps have taken their original photosynthetic exchange to create useful byproducts. This can be applied to farmscapes or business models which can mean the difference between profit and economic survival of small businesses.
P.A. Yeomans first inspired Australian farmers to cycle energy through his brilliant farm design called Keyline. This principle seems to originate with his innate understanding for
drought proofing farms. He understood we need to slow the cyclic nature between flood and drought. He did this by following the age old African tradition of building dams in a highly efficient spot called the keypoint. From there he was able to move water around his farm in a cascading fashion from keypoint to keypoint from the earthen impoundments and interconnecting channels. These storages allowed for a once a moon cycle flush of water to be distributed out into the land through a series of riplines done with a specific plough. This essentially interrupted the drought cycle allowing the micro-organism and plant interaction to continually build energy between their symbiosis and alchemy with the sun. This was atypical of other farms that wilted, dried up, and landscapes browned under the heat of the Australian countryside. The soil became richer through this rhythmic pattern which held the water longer as well. Yeomans’ held the source, the rainwater, from reaching its ultimate sink, the ocean, in a rapid fashion. Rather by holding it, he created an abundance of photosynthetic energy and abundant flocks of sheep and healthy profits.
Above you can see the movement of water in the drawing representing Yeomans’ system which explains the source to sink phenomena and degrading energy cycles. On the other side, the swale, a ditch and mound on contour, shows the slowing of that source of energy, the rainwater, and is giving it a chance to slow, spread, and sink. Instead of this water becoming a degradation force to the below forest and watershed, the water is filtered through the ground as it is given a chance to infiltrate. The water emanates a brown color showing how the water above the swale had been a transferrer of energy. The color represents centuries of weathering of rocks and minerals and decomposition to produce soils of varying composition of sand, silts, clays, and organic matter. The last is a complex energetic cycle that when washed away has a tremendous shortening effect on our natural capital reserve. Thus by giving the water a chance to infiltrate we are building long-term capital on the farm and not wasting photosynthetic and soil creation cycles.
The above picture shows one of our ignorances as a society. People see leaves in the suburbs as a waste product rather than a blessing. Here the author is seen stuffing leaves into a vehicle to take back to his permaculture garden for fall mulching. Upon
application, we were able to increase organic matter more rapidly due to the carbon rich input. The leaves represent a years worth of photosynthetic energy catapulted by the 60 or so years of the age of the tree. The landowner was even nice enough to rake them up and put them into nice brown bags which got sheet mulched as well. Instead of them going to their ultimate sink, the dump, they were cycled and built fungal rich soil on a permaculture swale.
The work of the ZERI corporation gives us one of the best examples of how creating more functional interconnections or creating more cycles of energy benefits the system in a triple bottom line fashion. One of ZERI’s best examples is the work they did with a brewery to put the wastes through more life kingdoms. They grew mushrooms off the spent brewery waste which in the past had to be dumped at cost. however it is also perfect substrate for mushroom inoculation at that stage. The mushrooms were cultivated and then sold and the by-product was fed to pigs. The pigs produce waste which can then be put into a bio-gas digester and fermented to make methane. It’s more of a closed-loop scene as the initial process requires heat!!!!!! These extra cycles make the system stronger and more environmentally friendly and best of all create more jobs; now that is a blue economy!!
Gunter Pauli, who wrote the book A Blue Economy, is a visionary for trying to work with different scales of production on this permaculture principle. That is what we need, different scales, different clients, and diversity. Its like creating a guild but with small businesses, none by themselves have a huge commercial viability but when each ones wastes are leveraged then each one achieves a greater profit margin and increased jobs. One of the reasons we have such high unemployment in the world is because of our lack of carbon cycling, which has been replaced by industrial production. A bio-regional economy based on interconnected businesses cycling carbon will help to build soil, save CO2 from going up in the atmosphere, and create jobs. Thanks for the great model of cascading nutrients and see below a graph of a business model of the family land which will be totally interconnected but shown at a basic model of how to capitalize on the lands natural capital. Using mind maps is a great tool for seeing the connections.
Mollison, B. & Slay, R.M. (1991) Introdcution to permaculture. 2nd Edition. Sisters Creek, Tasmania, Australia. Tagari.