Permaculture Systems

Course CodeBHT201
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Understand How Nature Informs Growing Systems

A permaculture system is a unique landscape where all the plants and animals live in balance in a self sustaining ecosystem. Permaculture has an ethical approach to designing land use and community systems, to provide food, ecological habitats and other essentials needed for human survival. Learning to develop plans for permaculture systems (ie. a unique landscape where plants and animals live in a balanced and self sustaining ecosystem) is a crucial part of the permaculture process.

The term 'permaculture' comes from the words 'PERMAnent' and 'agriCULTURE', and implies the permanence of culture. The term was first devised in 1978 by Bill Mollison (an Australian ecologist) and his student David Holmgren.

It embraces three main ethical principles as follows:

  • "Care of the Earth" - this includes all living things and non living things which together comprise the environment (i.e. animals, plants, land, water and air).
  • "Care of People" - permaculture systems should be developed to promote self reliance and community responsibility.
  • “Fair Share” - set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus - pass on anything surplus to an individual's needs (e.g. labour, information or money) in an attempt to pursue the above aims.

Towards permaculture expertise

Study this course to learn about permaculture design principles, natural settings, zones and sector planning, plants and animals in permaculture systems, appropriate technologies, and how to prepare a permaculture plan.

The Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC)

To obtain the PDC, the permaculture tutor must be satisfied of your knowledge and understanding of permaculture. To that end, we require that students wanting to achieve the PDC take the ACS DE exam at the end of the permaculture systems.

ACS is a member of the Permaculture Association (UK), the Alternative Technology Association (Australia) and many other industry bodies.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Permaculture Principles
    • Permaculture principles and ethics, Principles of Design (Relative location, Multiple Functions, Multiple Elements, Elevational Planning, Biological Resources, Energy Recycling, Natural Selection, Maximise Edges, Diversity); Permaculture Relationships to other Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Growing, No Dig Gardening, Sheet Composting, Not Till Planting, No Dig Raised Beds, Crop Rotation, Cover Cropping, Composting, Companion Planting, Pest and Disease Prevention, Biological Control
  2. Natural Systems
    • The Ecosystem (Abiotic and Biotic components), Ecological Concepts, Biomass, Climate, Microclimates, Water, Water and Plant Growth, Maximising Plant Water, Arid Landscapes, Irrigation, Swales, Waste Water Treatments, Reed Beds, Aquatic Environments, The Hydrological Cycle, Rainfall, Evaporation, Infiltration, Effective Rain, Soil Environments (Micro organisms, Organic Matter, Soil Degradation and rehabilitation, Erosion, Salinity, Acidification), Managing Wildlife in a Permaculture System, Structure, Structure of a Permaculture System, Stacking, Successions.
  3. Zone and Sector Planning
    • Five Standard Zones, Sectors (sun, Cold, Windy etc), Site selection, Pre planning information, Staged procedure for concept design.
  4. Permaculture Techniques
    • Forests and trees, Trees as energy transducers, Forest types (Fuel, Forage, Shelterbelt, Animal barrier, Structural, Conservation), Establishing a forest, Sector/Zone Analysis, Firebreak, Windbreak, Mandala Gardens, Keyhole beds, Water bodies, Pond design, Pond construction,
  5. Animals in Permaculture
    • Locating animals in a system, Function of animals in Permaculture, Bees, Poultry, Mobile Tractor Systems, Pigs, Grazing animals, Fencing, Water supply, Shelter, Birds, Earthworms, Aquaculture
  6. Plants in Permaculture
    • Vegetable Growing Hints, Soil Management for plants, Organic fertilizers, Animal manures, Liquid feeds, Rock dusts, Legumes (Nitrogen fixing), Mycorrhizae, Mulch, Weed Management, Pest Control, Culture of a large range of plants suited to permaculture, in different environments (including: Asparagus, Black locust, Cassava, Chicory, Dandelion, Endive, Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Horseradish, Leek, Mint, Okra, Pigface, Rhubarb, Sweet Potato, Taro, Warrigal Greens, Water Cress, Water Spinach, Yam, Apple, Apricot, Cherry, Citrus, Fig, Loquat, Nashi Pear, Olive, Peach, Pear, Plum, Quince, Avocado, Banana, Carambola, Coconut, Custard Apple, Guava, Mango, Paw Paw, Pepino, Pineapple, Grape, Passionfruit, Kiwi fruit, Strawberry, Raspberry, Currant, Gooseberry, Mulberry, Blueberry, Brambles, Elderberry, Cranberry, Nuts, Fodder Trees, etc)
  7. Appropriate Technologies
    • For example; Solar energy, Wind Energy, Methane, Bio fuel power, Composting Toilets, Energy efficient housing, Living fences (hedges, hedgerows etc), Water recycling (grey water and constructed wetland).
  8. Preparing a Plan
    • Design for natural disasters, Drawing a Plan, Preparing a final design
    • Several plans will be prepared by the student, including one major design.
    • This is an ideal starting point for anyone who already has professional
    • training in a related field such as agriculture or horticulture


  • Explain the principles of permaculture.
  • Explain the concepts of natural systems.
  • Explain permaculture techniques involving zones and sector planning.
  • Explain a range of permaculture techniques: (forest plantings, mandala gardens, ponds etc).
  • Explain the significance of different animals in a permaculture system.
  • Select plants appropriate for inclusion in a permaculture system, to supply a useful and sustained harvest; explain their husbandry.
  • Select appropriate technologies for use in permaculture systems.
  • Draw permaculture designs (plans) to scale.

What You Will Do

  • Differentiate between Permaculture and other sustainable systems.
  • Explain the procedures followed in practicing different techniques which are sympathetic to Permaculture, including: No-dig gardening, Companion Planting, Biological control, and Sustainable harvesting.
  • Explain the interactions that occur between living and non-living components in five different natural environments, including: Forest Systems, Aquatic Environments, Soil Environments, and Arid Environments.
  • Evaluate different Permaculture designs against the nine Permaculture principles.
  • Distinguish between different garden zones in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain sector planning in a specific garden design.
  • Design a mandala garden for a specific site.
  • Determine the appropriate use of swales on a sloping site.
  • Investigate distinctly different Permaculture systems.
  • Explain three different cultural techniques used to minimise the maintenance requirement, in Permaculture systems you study.
  • Determine different animal breeds, which can provide a useful and sustained harvest from a permaculture system in your locality.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from different types of animals in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the success of different types of animals, in a Permaculture system, including: Poultry, Aquatic animals, Domestic farm animals, Insects, Earthworms.
  • Describe the husbandry of one specified type of animal, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Determine different species of plants which can provide a useful, sustained harvest from a Permaculture system.
  • Describe the harvest, treatment and use of various products derived from twenty different plant genera in a Permaculture system.
  • Compile a resource file of fifty information sources for different plants which can be incorporated into Permaculture systems.
  • Explain the factors which can affect the survival of different types of plants, including those used for: Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, Fibres, Building materials, and Fuel.
  • Explain the husbandry of one specified type of plant, in a Permaculture system visited by you.
  • Explain the relevance of appropriate technology to Permaculture design.
  • Compare three different waste disposal techniques which may be used for kitchen scraps in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare three different waste disposal techniques which may be used for effluent in a Permaculture system.
  • Evaluate the suitability of different building techniques in a Permaculture system.
  • Explain the application of two different systems of alternative energy in a Permaculture system.
  • Compare differences in the impact on a Permaculture system, of three alternative technologies designed for the same purpose (e.g. three alternative sources of electricity).
  • Evaluate the use of technology in a house (you choose the house).
  • Determine more "appropriate" technologies to replace currently used technologies, in a house you evaluate.
  • Illustrate on a plan, twenty different components of a design, including: Plants, Buildings, and Landscape features.
  • Transpose a simple Permaculture plan to a different scale.
  • Represent an existing site, drawn to scale, on a plan.
  • Describe the stages involved in the process of producing a Permaculture design.
  • Prepare a concept plan for a Permaculture system surveyed by you, which is between five hundred and one thousand square metres in area.
  • Prepare a detailed design for a Permaculture system of between five hundred and one thousand square metres in size, including: Scale drawings, Materials specifications, Lists of plant and animal varieties.

Choosing Plants for a Permaculture Landscape

When selecting a plant there are two decisions to make:

1. What you want the plant to do? (eg. impact on the environment, other plants or animals; or provide something to harvest. In permaculture systems there would be normally multiple purposes).

2. Which plant species will best acheve what you want it to do?

The health, growth and establishment a plant is largely determined by three interconnected factors:

  • The suitability of selected plants to the conditions in which they are expected to grow.
  • The use of optimum plant establishment techniques.
  • The maintenance regime or its ability to grow with little further input after planting. 

A well-selected plant is more likely to survive establishment and be easily maintained.  

The first thing to consider with plant selection is the conditions where the plant is expected to grow.  Environmental factors that influence the selection of plants include:

  • Climate – plants that originate from the same or a similar climate will be suited to the conditions.  Extreme conditions such as snow and drought will prevent some plants from being grown in a given area.    
  • Latitude – the closer to the equator means that temperatures are likely to be hotter and day lengths will be more even (variation in day length triggers flowering in some plant species).  
  • Altitude – areas at higher altitudes generally experience cooler temperatures.
  • Oceans and lakes – large bodies of water alter growing conditions by moderating temperatures.
  • Soil – soil type, drainage and nutrition.
  • Winds – strength and direction.
  • Microclimate – factors that influence growing conditions in a specific area such as shade from large trees, reflected heat from hard surfaces and buildings, protection from winds by fences
  • Water – rainfall and irrigation.
  • Pests and diseases - some plants are more resistant than others.
  • Weeds - these compete for water and nutrients.
  • Human activities – pedestrians walking on turf, children playing ball games, vehicles, etc. 

There are many reasons why plants do not grow well in a particular place.  Most of these are caused by a combination of local climate and soil conditions.  Some common problems include:

  • Alkaline soils – these are soils with a pH greater than 7.
  • Waterlogged soils – where drainage is poor, generally due to the site being in a low lying area, or because of poorly structured soils, such as heavy clays.
  • Salinity – in some parts of the world, this is a problem not just in agricultural areas, but increasingly in urban fringe areas.
  • Strong winds, poor soils and salty conditions associated with coastal areas.
  • Windy areas.
  • Hot, dry areas.

There are two main ways to overcome such problem areas:

Modify local conditions to better suit the plants you wish to grow, such as providing irrigation in hot, dry areas; or growing or building a windbreak in windy areas, improving drainage, or lowering soil pH in alkaline soils.  Such remedies can often be very difficult to achieve, time consuming, or expensive especially when rehabilitating large degraded sites.
Grow plants which suit, or will cope with the conditions present.


How This Course Could Benefit You

This course is suitable for:

Anyone interested in learning permaculture design theory and practice
Anyone who wants to gain the Permaculture Design Certificate
People interested in permaculture and self sufficiency
Anyone interested in increasing their knowledge of agriculture and sustainability












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



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