Principle #1: Observe and Interact

K. Ruby Blume reflecting on the permaculture principles, one by one.

Permaculture principles

Principle #1 Observe and Interact

This is just about my favorite and most easy to remember permaculture principle. And although it seems obvious, it is so often the step that is left out of the equation when we start a project. We can see this especially when we look at larger developments, which haven’t taken into consideration important features in a landscape like passive solar gain, or rainwater flows, or wind, or the neighborhood in general.

When you take the time to slow down and simply observe something—a plot of land, a group dynamic in your office or in your chicken flock, it gives you time to reflect on what is actually happening right in front of you. This gives you information that can be useful as you move forward in creating better, more efficient, and abundant designs for living.

The classic exhortation in permaculture is to observe your land for ONE YEAR before placing any permanent features (such as fruit trees or hardscaping). This gives you time to observe microclimates, the path of the sun, different types of soil in your plot, rainfall, neighbor impacts, and so on. When every action is a response to what you are actively observing, your efforts become more effective and there is less need to undo mistakes.

Here’s an example from my own farm: The first year I was here I placed a beehive in the back end of the garden. It was a great spot for humans because the bees were out of the way. But these bees only got direct sun for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. They were always more aggressive when I managed them and they never thrived. It took me a while, but finally I saw it—this was simply a bad spot for the bees. I moved them to a sunny west fence line and they thrived. That shady spot in the back is where my rabbitry now sits—a much better use for that back corner.

And finally here’s a tip from John Muir Laws, an amazing California naturalist who published a wonderful field guide to the Sierra: When you observe, allow yourself to notice out loud. Start with “I notice…” Then as you get more curious, try starting with “I wonder….” Verbalizing what you are seeing can deepen your capacity to see and move you more easily from observation into problem solving.

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