Permaculture I (Permaculture Foundations)

Course CodeVSS104
Fee CodeS1
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Do you wish you knew more about permaculture, but don't have the time to study? Well now you do!

  • Learn more about the concepts of permaculture.
  • Understand the theory and ethics of permaculture, before putting it into practice.
  • Understand soil management and cultivation.
  • Learn more about the climate and water cycle.
  • Understand forest systems and agricultural systems.
  • Increase your knowledge of the rapidly growing field of permaculture.
  • Take further modules with ACS and gain a Permaculture Design Certificate (more information below).
  • ACS is a member of the Permaculture Association (UK) and The Alternative Technology Association (Australia)
ACS student comment:
"This course was a valuable learning experience.  My workplace is slowly changing to a 'greener' approach to managing every aspect of their parks, flowerbeds & trees.  I'm trying to learn and find new ways to go 'greener' in the landscape as are many other individuals working in municipalities in Ontario.  Your course provided me with a basic foundation to start and I'm looking forward to the rest of the Permaculture course.  Feedback was very specific and easy to follow." Bernice Radtke, Canada - Permaculture I course.

Comment from an ACS student:  "Thank you for your support and help with this course.  I have really enjoyed the assignments and I have learned a lot about the principles of permaculture." Ned, Vietnam - Permaculture course


Lesson Structure

There are 5 lessons in this course:

  1. Permaculture Concepts
    • Life Ethics
    • Permaculture Defined
    • Guiding Principles -relative 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


  • Discuss the nature and scope of Permaculture.
  • Apply an understanding of environmental systems to considerations given to how a Permaculture system is designed.
  • Describe soils and the impact their characteristics have upon natural and man made environments.
  • Explain the application of this knowledge to Permaculture.
  • Describe characteristics of climate and water, and the impact their characteristics have upon natural and man made environments.
  • Explain the application of this knowledge to Permaculture.
  • Describe forest systems and their relevance to Permaculture design.

What You Will Do

  • Develop a good understanding of the scientific system of naming plants.
    • Discuss some of the aspects which play a part in permaculture.
    • Describe how permaculture is different to other forms of horticulture and agriculture.
    • Visit an outdoor environment area determine what relationships the living and non‑living things might have with each other.
    • Explain how a permaculture system operates. Considering: -Relative location -Multiple functions-Multiple elements-Elevational planning -Biological resources-Energy recycling -Natural succession -Maximise edges-Diversity.
  • Determine some of the characteristics of soil samples collected by you.
  • Explain contour maps and how this information can be used to estimate potential effects on plant growth.
  • Explain the relationship between soils and plant growth.
  • Research different ecosystems such as arid deserts, savannas, mangroves, etc.
  • Explain weather patterns in your local area. Determine why this knowledge may be important to the permaculture practitioners.
  • Explain water within an ecosystem or permaculture garden and its application.
  • Describe the microclimate of arid classification.
  • Describe the differences between the three main types of climate zones such as Tropical, Temperate and Desert and briefly give your views on what major differences would need to be taken in establishing a permaculture system in each climate zone, compared with the other two.
  • Consider the impact of plant communities on each other and to the rest of the ecosystem.
  • Determine the effects of light, rainfall, wind, leaf litter, etc, on the growth of the plants you observed.
  • Explain the importance of trees in a Permaculture system.












ACS Distance Education is a member of the Permaculture Association (UK) and The Alternative Technology Association (Australia)



There is one very good reason -if we don't manage our land sustain-ably; it degrades, and as degradation continues, small problems enlarge until eventually the land becomes unproductive.

Just consider what can happen if we let it:

  • Deforestation: this is caused by land clearing for agriculture, quarrying, housing construction materials, for fuel and also furniture creating a loss of habitat for animal life and a decrease in species diversity, both fauna and flora. Deforestation creates bare land exposed to wind and rain which leaves the area open to erosion as the top (organic) layers of soil may be washed away.  Deforestation contributes to climate change - when land is cleared, stored carbon is released into the atmosphere as (mainly) carbon dioxide.
  • Desertification: the degradation of drylands into deserts (in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas) through human actions such as intensive agriculture i.e. monoculture, overgrazing, excessive land tillage, removal of vegetation, irrigation causing salinity, depleting aquifers through over use of groundwater for agricultural purposes and using already fragile or marginal land for agriculture.
  • Waterlogging: the rising of the water-table close to the surface of the soil (or in the case of ponding above the soil surface) through bad irrigation management practices, thereby lowering land productivity. Waterlogging can also be caused by floods or prolonged inundation of low lying land.  When soils are waterlogged there is also an increase in the release of greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O).
  • Loss of nutrients: nutrient depletion in soils is common on irrigated, eroded and intensively farmed lands. Nutrients can be lost through run-off, leaching and overuse of land and bad management. Nitrogen is also lost from soils through the natural process of denitrification.
  • Erosion: the loss of soils through wind erosion and water erosion, sometimes as a result of excessive tillage or incorrect land management, especially of sloping lands, resulting in soil structural decline - but also as a natural occurrence.
  • Salinization: the increase of soluble salts (calcium, magnesium) in the soil - both through naturally occurring processes and through agricultural activities (e.g. over-irrigation). Salinization can also occur in coastal regions through the encroachment of sea-water into coastal lands, due to the over-use of groundwater from coastal water sources (rivers, lakes etc.).
  • Acidification: soil acidification is naturally occurring (especially in areas of high rainfall) and is influenced and varied according to the character of the landscape, the minerals present in clay, the soil texture and its buffering capacity i.e. the soil’s ability to stop changes in pH and nutrients by absorption (drawing them up) and to release them (cation exchange capacity).
    Although a natural process, soil acidification is increased through agricultural activity.  Acidification changes the chemistry of the soil which can result in restriction of available nutrients (i.e. they are ‘locked-up’ in low pH soils e.g. phosphorus and molybdenum);
    Soil acidity can also:
  1. Increase vulnerability to soil structural decline.
  2. Increase the availability of toxic elements (e.g. aluminium and manganese).
  3. Influence soil biological functions (e.g. nitrogen fixation); Rhizobia bacteria fix nitrogen in legumes and although they prefer slightly acid soil environment in highly acidic soils they cannot function; earthworms and other soil microorganisms also die in highly acidic soils.
  4. Decrease crop production as pH falls below pH5; decrease in potential crop diversity (some crops won’t grow in acid soils and adverse effect on plant health (slow or lack of root development into salinized sub-soils).
  • Soil structural decline: the soil’s physical properties i.e. its texture (sand, clay, silt, loam etc.) and structure (the aggregation of soil particles i.e. the way soils bind together and the pore spaces between the aggregates), relate directly to water infiltration, permeability (both air and water), and the water-holding capacity of the soil. Land use practices such as excessive cultivation, overstocking, use of heavy machinery, poor soil tillage methods, etc., can all result in structural degradation; they can compromise the stability, porosity and infiltration characteristics of the soil making them compacted, cloddy or turning the soil into a fine powder and lower organic matter levels. This can trigger soil erosion through wind and water, run-off (through compaction), soil crusting and lower crop yields and is often seen on areas where dryland pastured areas have been turned into irrigated cropping land. Salinity, sodic soil and the use of saline water may be contributing factors.
  • Contamination: Throughout the world many areas including industrial sites, home-sites, farms, adjacent waterways and the natural environment are degraded due to chemical residues: pesticides, builders’ rubbish, landfill, industrial waste, over use of fertilisers, industrial accidents or a natural disaster (sewage contamination and chemical leaks);  any of these may contribute to contamination. It may be that management practices have changed drainage patterns, or increased the amount of water or waste moving onto or across a site. Or it may be as a result of poor practices in the past. Chemical soil contaminants include arsenic, benzene, paint containing lead, fuel such as petroleum and aviation fuel, heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium found in batteries, pesticides and herbicides etc. Other contaminants include fertiliser run-off, animal faeces in waterways etc.
  • Urbanisation: creates a loss of natural environments and agricultural lands. Rural areas close to large cities are often carved up for urban expansion. Land degradation in some poorer countries is the result of mass migration (of impoverished people) from rural to urban areas; the need for housing creating huge slum areas that are often devoid of sanitation and water management. Urbanisation also creates a loss of habitat for animal life and a decrease in species diversity, both fauna and flora.
  • Overpopulation: this has an indirect effect on land degradation as natural areas are cleared (deforestation) to meet the increased need for crop growing to support increased populations. This can be the result of urbanisation (as above) but also as populations grow in existing urban or rural areas; increased population increases the need for more food, which in turn increase the need for more agricultural land and groundwater to support crop growing. The land that is used to support increased populations is also prone to over-cropping and over-irrigation and excessive tillage, resulting in loss of soil structure, soil fertility and on marginal and drylands it also contributes to soil salinity.  
  • Decreased species diversity and habitat loss: a result (not usually a cause) of land degradation. In some cases, species may become fragmented into smaller populations rather than entirely lost – some scientific research suggests that fragmentation in itself does not contribute to overall species loss and can also be a form of species protection; others suggest that fragmentation may directly affect species genetic diversity. Loss of species (plants, animals, insects, soil life) can also cause imbalance that can contribute to soil infertility, pest, weed and disease plagues.
  • Weed/pest invasion: when lands are clear-felled or soils are disturbed, or cleared land has an excess of nutrients from prior cropping, the first species to colonise an area will be those that are the genetically strongest; this is most commonly weed species (they typically produce large numbers of seeds aiding rapid spread). Weed invasions also compromise the habitat of native species (both flora and fauna) as they displace the native plant species (and compete with them for nutrients, moisture and sunlight) and threaten the survival of animal and insect populations by changing the natural balance of local ecological communities. The increased and repeated use of pesticides and herbicides can also create resistance in pest species.


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