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The four main principles of permaculture
Do not plough

200807_1378 (Large) - copieLe premier principe est de ne pas cultiver, c’est-à-dire ne pas labourer ou retourner la terre. Pendant des siècles les agriculteurs ont tenu pour établi que la charrue était essentielle pour faire venir des récoltes. Cependant, ne pas cultiver est le fondement de l’agriculture sauvage. La terre se cultive elle-même, naturellement, par la pénétration des racines des plantes et l’activité des microorganismes, des petits animaux et des vers de terre.

The first principle is to not plough, which means to not turn over or till the earth. For centuries, farmers took it as a given that the plough was essential in guaranteeing a harvest. However, not ploughing is the basis of natural farming. The earth cultivates itself, naturally, through the penetration of the roots of plants and the activity of microorganisms, small animals and earthworms.

When we work the soil, we change the natural environment to the point of making it unrecognisable. The repercussions of such acts have caused ordeals for innumerable generations of farmers. For example, when we subject a natural territory to the plough, very solid weeds, such as couch grass, sometimes succeed in dominating the vegetation. When these weeds establish themselves, the farmer is confronted with a nearly impossible task, the yearly weed removal. Too often the land is left abandoned.

Faced with such problems, the only sensible solution is to firstly cease the practices contrary to nature that led to this situation. The farmer also has the duty of repairing the damage he has caused. Tilling of the soil should be stopped. If gentle measures such as spreading straw are applied, instead of using machines and chemical products manufactured by man to wage a war of attrition, the environment will then return to its natural balance and even the harmful weeds can be controlled.

Do not use fertilizers

The second principle is to not use chemical fertilizers or pre-prepared compost. To fertilize, it is better to grow leguminous plants as a ground cover and put threshed straw on the fields. Humans brutalize nature and, despite their efforts, they cannot heal the wounds they inflict. Their careless farming practices drain the soil of its essential nutrients and yearly depletion is the consequence.

Left to its own, the soil naturally maintains it fertility, in accordance with the ordained life cycle of plants and animals. (If nature is left to herself, fertility increases.)

Organic animal and vegetal debris accumulates and is decomposed by the bacteria and fungus on the soil’s surface. With the flow of rainwater, the nutritive substances are pulled more deeply into the soil to become nourishment for the microorganisms, earthworms and other small animals. The plants’ roots reach deeper layers in the soil and bring the nutritive substances to the surface. If you want an idea of the earth’s natural fertility, go have a walk one day on the wild slope of a mountain and see the giant trees that grow without fertilizer and without being cultivated. Nature’s fertility surpasses what we imagine. Inversely, if we raze the natural forest cover and plant non-native varieties for a few generations, the soil will deplete itself and open itself to erosion.

So, to grow crops also, we can stop the use of manufactured fertilizers. In most cases, a permanent cover of green fertilizer and the replacement of the straw will be sufficient. (To provide animal fertilizer, we can let ducks free in the fields).

By using this method, high yields can be attained without adding either commercial compost or fertilizer.

Do not weed

The third is to not attempt weed removal, neither mechanically nor with herbicides. Weeds play a role in building up the soil’s fertility and in the equilibrium of the organic community. Weeds should be controlled, not eliminated.

The habitual plan of action against weeds is to plough up the soil. But when we plough, the seeds that are buried deeper in the soil and would never have sprouted rise back up to the surface where they then have a chance to flourish. In addition, under these conditions, we provide an advantage for varieties with a rapid germination and growth period. Thus, couldn’t we say that the farmer who tries to control the weeds by ploughing the soil is literally sowing the seeds of his own misfortune.

As soon as we stop ploughing, the quantity of weeds markedly decreases.

By calculating seeding times so that there is no interval between the successive crops we give the sown seeds a great advantage over the weeds. If we entirely covered the field in straw just after the harvest, we temporarily cut short the weeds’ germination. The soil cover must, however, be permanent.

Spreading straw maintains the soil’s structure and enriches the earth to the point that prepared fertilizer becomes pointless. This is, of course, linked to not ploughing. In this way, the soil’s quality improves each year. This result is due in a great part to the fact that it gives back to the soil everything that grew in the field except the seed.

It is not necessary to prepare compost. If we leave the straw spread on the field’s surface, in six months it will decompose completely.

Do no depend on chemical products

The fourth is to not depend on chemical products. Ever since “weak” plants have developed, itself a result of practices contrary to nature such as selection and fertilisation, disease and imbalance amongst of insects have become a big problem in agriculture. Left alone, nature is in perfect balance. Harmful insects and plant diseases are always present, but do not reach, in nature, an importance that necessitates the use of chemical poisons. The intelligent approach to disease and insect control is to encourage vigorous crops in a healthy environment.

It has to be said that there are still people who think that if they don’t use chemical products their fruit trees and cereal fields will perish right before their eyes. In reality, by using those chemical products, these people have laid the ground, unknowingly, for the conditions under which their unfounded fears can become a reality.

The four principles of natural farming – (no ploughing, no chemical fertilizers nor pre-prepared compost, no weeding by ploughing nor herbicides and chemical dependency) – obey the natural order and lead to the replenishment of natural richness.

From these four main principles stem the approaches and techniques to put first when creating a permaculture garden:

  • It is necessary to integrate rather than to separate by putting the right elements in the right places; relations develop between these elements and they work in concert to bolster each other, and thus the system will self-regulate. That’s why it is essential to favour polyculture and the diversity of plant species.
  • Each element should carry out several functions (a pond can serve to gather and store water, breed fish and plants, store heat, reflect sunlight, provide protection for ducks…) and several elements should carry out a single shared function (Redundancy is a gauge of the system’s stability).
  • The natural resources should be efficiently used and recycled. Resources of industrial origin consume energy just by being made and transported and can create pollution. Natural and local resources increase independence while lessening the ecological and energy costs. We can, for example, use animals instead of tractors, compost rather than chemical fertilizer and, more generally, the sun instead of fossil fuels.
  • Permaculture also favours the “recycling” of energy, water and the nutriments on the site, to preserve its fertility. By finding the worth of each available resource and using all of them, nothing becomes a waste. During each cycle, maximal gathering, storage and use are encouraged. For example, water can be collected at an elevated area and channelled down through gravitation to other locations.

We have to capture and store energy by developing systems that collect the resources when they are abundant and that we can then use when needed.


Permaculture is:

  • working with nature rather than against her.
  • developing the productive potential (hillocks).
  • creating agriculture tailored to respect the environment and other cultivated land
  • replacing the work of people by that of the ecosystem.
  • techniques to be used together: growing on hillocks, organic farming…

The concept of a permaculture garden will lead to the creation of a self-regulating system.