15 Things to Observe Before Starting Your Permaculture Design

When you first start considering turning a site into a permaculture garden, you need to do a thorough analysis of the plot. You need to get to know the land, the organisms that live on it and the influences that act upon it. By understanding the land, you can work with it to make the changes a permaculture garden will need to thrive. One of the primary means of analyzing a plot is observation. Looking at the land, watching how it changes with the season, and how it reacts to events, will be a great bedrock of knowledge on which to base your subsequent permaculture design. The longer the period you can simply observe the land before altering it, the better, as you will see how it changes over the seasons. Here are some of the primary things that you should observe when analyzing your site.

Shade
Different species of plant require different amounts of shade and direct sunlight. Observing how the sun falls on your plot will help you decide which plants to site in which locations. It could also help you orientate your garden beds to allow for the maximum amount of sunshine to hit them, and also demonstrate where shade might provide relief for livestock.

Wind
The wind is a significant factor in the growing potential of a plot. It can affect the evaporation of moisture from the soil and from plants, can impact upon soil erosion and even damage or destroy plants. By observing how the wind acts upon a site you can design windbreaks to protect your plants and animals from the negative effects of the wind.

Temperature
Temperature affects everything from plant growth and soil moisture to evaporation from water bodies and the comfort of animals. Record temperature high and lows across the seasons, remembering that temperatures won’t be uniform across the whole site – different conditions will create niches and microclimates within the site. Noting the first and last frost of the season is also a good idea.

Sun
Observe when the sun rises and when the sun sets across your land. While these times are fairly predictable in geographic locations (they are published by government agencies, for example) the specifics of your site may mean that the times vary. For instance, if a neighboring property has a border of tall trees, the sun may tot ‘rise’ to hit your plot until later in the morning.

Microclimates
Microclimates are locations within the garden where features of the land, such as topography, materials and water bodies create variations in temperature. These microclimates can provide niches in which to cultivate certain species of plant that thrive in specific conditions. You can also plan in your permaculture design to modify microclimates where doing so may be beneficial, such as placing rocks to store and diffuse heat, or planting tall species to provide extra shade to ground cover crops.

Moisture
Moisture is key to plant growth, and the more you can harvest from the weather, and reduce your reliance on water supply systems, the better. Observe rainfall patterns across seasons (you can also access official figures of annual rainfall expectations across your region). Analyze where snow and hail settle and where it melts most quickly. Try to discern the reasons for this.

Soil
Look at the soil. This is the foundation of your permaculture garden, so you want to understand it as best you can. Look at how loose or tight the soil particles are. This will help determine if you have a clay or sandy soil, which in turn will affect how well it retains moisture.

Flow
How does water that falls on the land move across it? Are there gullies and creeks that direct the flow? Are there areas of the site that are prone to flooding after heavy rainfall? Observing how water flows across the land will, enable you to design features that make use of this flow – by diverting it to other, drier areas of the site – or slow it down so it can seep into the soil, by building swales, for example.

Views
A permaculture garden is designed to work in harmony with the land surrounding it, including the visual aspects. The views you have from your land, particularly those you wish to preserve for their natural beauty and the pleasure they give you to look at, will impact upon your garden design.

Neighbors
Observe any aspects of your neighbors’ properties and lifestyle that may impact upon your permaculture garden. It may be that they do activities that are noisy so you might want to plant trees in a position to shield yourself from that noise. They may have a tall fence or building that casts shade onto your plot, which will affect what you plant in those shaded areas.

Government
Local government ordinances and procedures will also impact upon your site. Observe whether the council undertakes spraying on vegetation in public locations near your plot. Consult zoning regulations and recycling collection schemes. You will also need to observe how public utility services are represented on your plot, be it power lines above ground or sewage systems below.

Structures
The manmade structures on a site will also influence the growing conditions. Houses, sheds and fences can affect how sunlight is reflected, how heat is retained and diffused, the shaded areas of a garden, and which views are available.

Vegetation
Before you start planting your garden, observe the vegetation that is on the site already. Which species appear to be thriving and what is it about the areas where they are growing that seems to be the reason? Which species are native and which are introduced (you may want to preserve the native plants in your design)?

permaculture designAnimals
Look at the wildlife that visits the site, from the smallest insects to large mammals. Each is being attracted for a reason, typically the availability of food. If there are certain species you wish to deter, and other you want to attract, you can plant accordingly.

Local Resources
Consider if there are businesses locally that could provide sustainable organic materials you need for your permaculture garden. These could include a farm to source manure and sawmills to attain woodchips for mulching.

34 comments

love all the info you provide….thanks

Thank you fr sharing valuable information on permaculture practices. I am trying to design my paddy field into a permaculture farm.

thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge. Great day to you #bnpeace

Courtney Rush, helps when designing a garden 😉

Robyn McLeod Yeaman

Cristina Sanguily

Brian McCauley

Simrit Maali

I am considering having a wwoof.intern come to my place in Wenatchee to help with my Permaculture goals.

I would give a lot more emphasis on soil. It tells you a lot about the history of the site and what are the best plants to grow, and also water patterns

Winter sun, slope and aspect too.

Yonakwala Scow

we are digging in huge amounts of organic material especially larger logs or what ever we can prune from the garden. This mounded over by rich compost and topsoil, well shaped for swales where necessary and then mulched with wood chips, straw or cardboard. we have then planted ground cover as well as nitrogen fixing plants to help even out all the carbon mulch with the hope that ultimately the the plants will take over for the mulch.this has happened in a few places but the hard part is finding balance where annual planting occurs.

Romano Morson

I am making sure that the density of my plots is very high and it seems that this assists the soil in retaining moisture. I also grow a very large amount of Amaranth and this plant is very drought tolerant and also shades the smaller plants, helping delay the onset of drought-related stress.

Go to permies.com this is all free

Liz Hallen, Something to check out.

We tried water boxes and they worked well have a few things to do differently this year but looking forward to an even better yield.

So I go to sign up for the free e-book and it asks for my name and email. then it tells me I need to sync with facebook and I am sure hand over all of my and my friends information. Fortunately I have blockers on that so no. Either it is free or it is not, don’t be rude. Now I want pretty much nothing to do with your company.

we permed our backyard space. so glad. no mowing. only cultivating what we can eat. our edible backyard has longevity spinach, an herb mandala/keystone hybrid garden, a small winter veg crop, starfruit tree, peach tree, elderberry trees, papaya, banana, cranberry hibiscus, wooded sorrel, aloe, and now katuk will be added this week.

find out what is an edible native to your habit and go with it. variety is good too.

Here the deer would distroy it all, unlesswhole yard is fenced.

or you have dogs…jus sayin

Yes I am as soon as I get ‘home backyard’

I haven’t had a single day off in four and a half years so the answer to this question is an obvious “no.” LOL

Matthew Hatter

Madison Osoba

My backyard is hundreds of acres of Idaho mountains. Nature has been teaching me every day of my life about what is already there, though I have been trying to replicate that in my orchard.

Kate Curtis 🌿

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