Functional Analysis of Elements

After the site assessment and general focus stage is done, you should hopefully have a long list of desired elements. Now the fun part comes– figuring out where to put everything for optimum functioning of the design. This is the heart of permaculture, right here, and correspondingly permaculture offers up some wonderful tools for the process.

Using zoning and sectors together provides a kind of revolving wheel, narrowing placement down to a general area of your property. A list of inputs and outputs, or functional analysis for each element is the next step– finding the right relative location enables the web of relationships so crucial to a natural systems. All three of these tools require an intimate understanding of your desired elements.

I have been reading, researching and practicing gardening for many years, and have gathered in my head a pretty good general knowledge of most of the plants and other elements in my design list, but I wanted to re-examine everything from a permaculture perspective– really delve into the character of each element, with a focus on relationships and functions. I also wanted to compile all the scattered information into one place so that hopefully patterns and epiphanies would surface.

I’m honestly kind of annoyed that there isn’t a book for this part of the process. I’m imagining a reference book–a long list of all the most common elements in a permaculture design, with a few pages of good detail on each element. Wouldn’t that be so helpful? Instead we all have to reinvent the wheel.

In the absence of such a book, I have been drawing on lots of different sources, as well as my own knowledge, to build my own personalized functional analysis. And really, I suppose, this will give me a far better, deeper understanding in the end. But it’s a lot of work!

If anyone else is interested in such madness, here are some great links for researching–

First of all, Plants for a Future’s unbelievably huge plant database of over 7,000 edible species is the answer for plant elements. Although each species’ details are not thorough enough for my (granted, insatiable) appetite, they do list all the necessary basics- sun requirements, preferred soil type, hardiness, mature plant size and propagation details as well as edibility and medicinal qualities.

Temperate Climate Permaculture is another great resource– a work in progress, with dozens of plants already thoroughly detailed, a few pages of information for each. It appears to be largely based on Plants for a Future, though more detail/species.

Here’s a great chart of dynamic accumulator plants from Oregon Biodynamic Group. They also have a very handy planting chart for annual vegetables as well as perennial herbs and flowers– with seeding details, mature spacing and rooting habits for each plant. I also found their chart of soil indicator weeds quite interesting– defining my yard as solidly ‘wet, acid hardpan.’

Having given those links for detailed species research, I have to say that, although I have moved on to an analysis of each individual plant, I started with an analysis of plant groups– e.g. annual vegetables, perennial berry crops, support plants, etc. And really I think that’s all I would recommend for the average backyard permaculturist. Unless, like me, you just enjoy running information through your head for fun. Consider yourself warned– creating a functional analysis for each individual plant is an exhaustive and exhausting process.

Don’t forget the other elements! Equally important is to list out inputs and outputs for things like ‘the woodshed’ and ‘duckhouse.’ I haven’t found any source for analysis of non-plant elements, apart from the ubiquitous ‘chicken’ diagram from Mollison’s book. If you know of anything, please leave a comment! In the meantime here is my first, broad analysis (before I got in too deep listing individual plants….) I’m attaching it in PDF form,   which I just barely know how to do. I think if you click on it, it will download onto your computer. Anyone know how to share a file so that it just pops up as viewable on the web?

Functional Analysis of Elements

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One Response to Functional Analysis of Elements

  1. Michelle says:

    Hi, I´ve been working on the permaculture design for our land and ran across this great source– if you read Spanish… check it out… It´s kind of a long link but it´s a Power Point Presentation that lists the elements as cards.

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