Learn the fundamentals of permaculture with this introductory online course. Lay a more solid foundation than many other shorter courses might.

Course Code: VSS104
Fee Code: S1
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Develop a better understanding of the principles that underpin permaculture.

Permaculture aims to create a self sustainable ecosystem that  is productive. It should be a garden or farm like environment that contains animals and plants, living in harmony with each other. Produce can be harvested (eg. food, fuel, construction materials); and waste recycled back into the environment.
Permaculture is intended as an ethical concept and environmentally friendly approach to gardening or farming.  It respects the earth, promotes a sense of community and responsibility.
Permaculture is a system of agriculture based on perennial, or self perpetuating, plant and animal species which are useful to man. In a broader context, permaculture is a philosophy which encompasses the establishment of environments which are highly productive and stable, and which provide food, shelter, energy etc., as well as supportive social and economic infrastructures.
In comparison to modern farming techniques practiced in Western civilisations, the key elements of permaculture are low energy and high diversity inputs. The design of the landscape, whether on a suburban block or a large farm, is based on these elements.

Lesson Structure

There are 5 lessons in this course:

  1. Permaculture Concepts
    • Life Ethics
    • Permaculture Defined
    • Guiding Principles -relatve location, multiple functions and elements, elevational planning, energy recycling, etc.
    • Ideas and Techniques from around the world
    • Natural Gardening
    • Organic growing
    • No dig gardening
    • Crop rotation
    • Biological control of pest and disease
    • Integrated pest management
    • Living things vary from place to place
    • Understanding plant names
    • An easier way to identify plants
    • Pronunciation of plant names
  2. Understanding the Environment is Key to Permaculture Design
    • Introduction
    • Ecology
    • Ecosystems
    • Abiotic Components
    • Biotic Components
    • Ecological concepts
    • The Web of Life
    • Replicating Nature
    • Successions
    • Starting a Permaculture Property
    • Cost, Location, Size
    • Information required
    • Structure of a Permaculture System
    • Choosing a Site
    • Permaculture Design
  3. Soils in Permaculture
    • The Role of Soil
    • Soil Components -gravel sand, silt, colloids
    • Peds
    • Naming a Soil
    • Soil Management
    • Cycles
    • Fertilizer Application
    • Nitrogen
    • Factors Affecting Nitrogen Release from Organic Sources
    • Microorganism population
    • Heat and chemical treatment
    • pH
    • Soil temperature
    • Cultivation and Cover Crops
    • Drainage and Erosion
    • How to Measure Soil pH
    • How to Measure Organic Content of Soil
    • How to Measure Water Content of Soil
    • Determining Solubility of Soils
    • How to Test the Affect of Lime on Soil
    • Taking Soil Samples for Laboratory Tests
    • Measuring Salinity
    • Colourimetry
  4. Climate and Water in Permaculture
    • Site Types
    • Degree Days
    • The Hydrological Cycle
    • Infiltration
    • Rainfall
    • Evaporation
    • Effective Rainfall
    • Temperature
    • Frosts
    • Extreme Hazards
    • Permaculture Microclimates
    • The Greenhouse Effect
    • Water and Plant Growth
    • Climatic Influence on Production
    • Frosts
    • Climate Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Production
    • Climatic Zones
    • Humans and Water
    • Minimising Plant Requirements
    • Household Water
    • Xeriscaping
    • Interpreting Weather Reports and Predictions
    • Precipitation
    • Wind
    • Weather Maps
    • Weather Map Patterns
    • Interelationships between Climate, Soil and Plants
    • Estimating Water Requirements of Plants
    • Ways to Improve Water Quality, from any Source
    • Water Impurities - sediment, impurities, colour, chemical impurities
    • Water Hardness
    • Alkalinity
    • Corrosion
    • pH
    • Iron
    • Salinity
    • Tastes and Odours in Water
    • Biological Impurities in Water -algae, bacteria
    • Other Water Chemistry Factors -dissolved gasses, nitrogen cycle
    • Fish for Ponds
    • Other Animals in Water
  5. Forest Systems
    • Biomass
    • Components of Biomass
    • Plant Associations
    • Pinus Monoculture
    • Eucalyptus Association
    • Deciduous Forest
    • Alpine Communities
    • Myrtaceae Plants
    • Australian Legumes
    • Rockeries
    • Rain forest Systems
    • Wind, Light and Rain in Forests
    • Forest Productivity - fuel, food, forage, shelter belt, structural, conservation
    • Establishment of a Forest
    • Creating a Rain forest
    • Maintenance and Upkeep of Forests
    • Plant Application -trees, shrubs, ground covers
    • A review of how to grow a variety of different plants for Permaculture

What You Will Do

  • Visit an outdoor environment area (eg. a natural garden, wilderness park, farm), observe and describe the various elements that make up the ecosystem (ie. the abiotic and biotic components).
  • Identify and describe three plants specimens with nutrient deficiencies and outline steps to overcome the problems.
  • For at least one week, collect the local newspaper and cut out the weather map and details and explain how they relate to your local climate.
  • Research and describe different ecosystems such as arid deserts, savannas and mangroves.
  • Describe the differences between the three main types of climate zones (ie: Tropical, Temperate and Desert) and briefly give your views on major differences that would need to be considered when establishing a permaculture system in each climate zone.
  • Visit a rainforest or heavily treed garden and observe:
    • the ways that trees grow inside a clump compared to the way they grow on the edge
    • the ways that trees or other plants grow in different parts of the forest of group of trees.
  • Based on your observations, discuss whether different types of plants grow differently (better, worse, or in a different shape) in different areas; and differences from place to place in terms of light penetration, amount of leaf litter, leaf litter, ground moisture, soil type, density and type of undergrowth, insect life.
  • Collect samples of soil from three different locations and use given tests to identify the soil types.
  • Explain how what contour maps indicate and how this information can be used to estimate potential effects on plant growth in a permaculture environment.
  • Report on the production and increase of biological factors such as plants and animals (biomass) and how they interrelate to, and affect one-another.

Try thinking of a Landscape in terms of Biomass

Biomass is basically all biological matter mass, with respect to a particular part of the environment or part of an organism. 

  • A tree could be regarded as having many biomass zones such as the trunk, the canopy, the roots and the interface between the tree and the soil surface.
  • A forests biomass would incorporate trees, shrubs, all plants and animals, microbes, etc. In fact, anything that can be regarded as biological (ie. living or once lived) which exists within the forest would be part of it's biomass.
  • The biomass of a garden is made up of all the plants, insects and other animals, that occur within that garden.
Biomass is the term used to describe the mass of living matter (plant and/or animal) in a particular area. One of the principal goals of the permaculturist is to increase the productivity of their system (i.e. to maximise the soluble biomass produced).
Generally in most eco-systems the greatest percentage of the biomass consists of plants, with animals often representing only a few percent of the total biomass. The total rate at which plants in an ecosystem assimilate solar energy by photosynthesis is known as "gross primary productivity". Much of this is lost as heat, however, through respiration. the rate at which plants store energy in a form soluble as food by other organisms is known as "net primary productivity". It is measured in terms of the amount of organic matter (food) that is produced per unit of time either in terms of mass (weight) or energy equivalent. For example, it may be measured in dry grams per metre squared per day, or in calories per metre squared per day.
Knowledge, therefore, of which plant and ecosystems types have the highest productivity can enable us to decide which plants (crops) to grow and in what manner to gain the highest net productivity. We should also, however, have an understanding of different ecosystem types to understand which factors in the environment will limit the productivity of any particular ecosystem type.
Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

Alternative Technology Association Member

Member of the Permaculture Association

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Marie Beerman

Marie has over 10 years in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie has been a co author of several ebooks in recent years, including "Roses" and "Climbing Plants".
Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M.Hort. Dip. Bus. Cert. Lds

Maggi Brown

Maggi is the classic UK "plantswoman". She can identify thousands of plants, and maintains her own homes and gardens in the Cotswolds (England), and near Beziers (in Southern France). Maggi is regarded as a leading organics expert across the UK, having w

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

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