Kia ora koutou. This may be the first blog post on the planet celebrating International Permaculture Day. (Please note it is Sunday the 4th in New Zealand.) There are good waves this morning, so I’ll make it short and sweet.
In my practice of permaculture, the principles take a back seat. In other words, I never consciously think about the permaculture principles (Mollison’s or Holmgren’s) when designing and building systems. Instead, I engage what I call permaculture habits of mind, which can also be described as systems thinking.
All that said, one of Mollison’s principles is almost always on my mind: multiple functions. In brief, elements of a system should serve as many functions as possible. Mollison uses chickens as his example. I’ll use ducks, and specifically our duck tractor.
For six months – from autumn equinox to spring equinox – we tractor our ducks in our ‘back yard. They mow and fertilize the lawn for us.
I move them everyday. It takes 22 days to bring them back to square one. This is a small-scale of what may be called “rotational grazing” or “holistic land management.” Running the ducks on the lawn has improved the mix of grasses and decreased the unpalatable ‘weeds’. In other words, the ducks have improved the health of the lawn, and in return the lawn is producing healthier grasses for the ducks to eat.
During the six months from spring to autumn equinox, I scythe the grass and use it to mulch the garden. In this way, the ducks are indirectly feeding the garden. Over time, vegetable scraps from the garden feed the ducks.
Additionally, one day when I was in a hurry to hang the nappies, I found that the duck tractor came in very handy as an airing rack.
Our first intern, John, built this tractor over three years ago from scrap wood. That’s when our ducks we still fuzzy.
Keeping ‘multiple functions’ on your mind as much as possible is a great way to practice systems thinking and to develop good permaculture habits of mind. Give it a go.