Permaculture Principle 1 – Observe & Interact

This principle, observe & interact encourages us to take the time to observe a situation before applying a solution. Through observation, we are able to understand the patterns and relationships between various elements of the situation. Our modern education has trained us to specialise and dissect things into manageable pieces but in so doing we can miss the connections which lead us to incorrect or less effective solutions. Important to understand is that every solution is dependant on a person’s unique situation, therefore, there is rarely a one size fits all and there might be many possible solutions for your unique situation.

After observation, you might be ready to implement a solution, observation continues once you have implemented a solution, continued interaction with the solution and observation can lead to course correction which improves the solution.

For example, on Mellow Farm, we identified an area that we wanted to turn into a fruit orchard. It seemed like the perfect position had we spent a little more time observing particularly the soil and its drainage capability we would have noticed that just below the topsoil was a clay layer which prevented drainage and given the high rainfall on the Farm, the fruit trees we wanted to plant would struggle and ultimately die which is exactly what happened. So although we did some observation, we did not interact sufficiently with the site. We did not apply real critical thinking to our observations.

The key to using this principle successfully is to improve your observation skill and apply critical thinking to your observations. How can you become better at observing and interacting with your environment to ensure that you have effective and sustainable solutions? Below some ideas on improving your observation skills and applying critical thinking.

It is important to understand that as human beings our brain has certain protection mechanisms to ensure that we are not overwhelmed with information thus the brain filters out what it believes is non-essential and this can make us miss pertinent information. It is therefore very important to focus the mind during times of observation. The way to do that is to identify a list which you can go through and make observations around that. For example, now when I want to establish a native garden or orchard anywhere on the farm I go through the following checklist:

  • Soil (type, ph, drainage, analyses)
  • What is currently thriving
  • Are there birds, frog, insect & other wildlife observed in this area
  • How much sun, wind, shade, water
  • How is the area affected during storms or droughts
  • What do I intend planting here & what do they need
  • What weeds are present

Thus focusing your mind and telling it what is important to observe is how to improve your observation skill. Writing down your observations is the first step then move on to thinking critically about what you observed, what are the relationships, do you see patterns, if there are plants that are thriving what does this mean, what are the weeds telling us about the soil etc.

Observing and interacting will save a lot of time, effort and costs when developing solutions for your unique situation. This process can be used in any situation.

If you want to know more about Permaculture join our Permaculture field trip on 3 April 2019. To book click here

Melanie Marx – Permaculture Designer