Twelve Principles for twelve months – March – Efficient energy planning

Throughout 2015 I will be looking at Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Principles. I have allocated one principle per month at random. I will aim to find a relevant image, some quotations around the subject, some possible applications and a challenge for myself that relates to the principle and the Permaculture activity I am involved in at that time. March – Efficient energy planning


It was hard to find an image that demonstrates the principle of ‘efficient energy planning’!   I finally settled on this one, of the abundant fresh produce harvested from my garden one day in August, and here is why… Years ago we used to have an allotment. It was about a mile from our house, so we used to walk or cycle there which took 30 mins at least. We began by spending whole weekends tending our plot. After a while we started renovating our house and this squeezed our available time to devote to the allotment. A few more years passed and we had our first child, by this point our free time to spend on the plot was minimal and by the time we had travelled there our daughter was fed up of being in her pushchair and needing our attention. So the allotment got more and more neglected and eventually we gave it up.

Soon after that we moved house to our current home with a huge south-facing garden. We now grow our fruit and veg in the garden, so we have only to step outside the back door to tend to our plants. We now have three children so there would be no way we could make the two mile round trip and devote the time required to the upkeep of an allotment, but by growing our food where we spend all our time, the garden gets attention little and often, And the results are wonderful! This demonstrates the importance of efficient energy planning in terms of Zoning, placing items used most often, closest to your home. The purpose of this is to minimise wasted energy in your system.


Zoning is a conceptional design tool used for managing our own energies. Radiating out from the centre are zones one to five. Zone 00 is the self at the centre. On a land based design, elements that are in need of the most attention are placed nearer to the home and yourself than those that require less frequent attention.                                                                                                                 L. Macnamara. People and Permaculture 2012

Efficient energy planning is all about three things: zones, sectors, and slope. Using these three categories, you can set up your homestead so that you will need to use the least energy possible. This means energy from people and energy in other forms such as wind or water. In order to get the most accomplished in the least amount of time, increasing efficiency you should follow these ideas.                                                                         New England Permaculture Homestead blog


We make every effort to put in structures that will produce or conserve energy, rather than structures that will continuously consume energy. Our aim is to catch, store and use energy before it is lost from the system.                                                                                                                  Ross and Jenny Mars. Getting Started in Permaculture 1994 


1. Putting items needing to go upstairs into a basket placed on the bottom step and carrying them all up in one go at the end of the day rather than making multiple trips up and down the stairs throughout the day.

2. Storing water close to where it is needed, ideally at the top elevation of your site so that it can be moved with minimal effort using gravity.

3. Planting your herbs just outside the backdoor, so you can easily grab a handful while cooking dinner, ideally without even needing to put on your shoes!


I knew that this month would be a hectic one for me, as I am embarking on a number of different training courses and projects that are demanding of my time. So in order to efficiently plan my energy, I decided to get a leg-up on this challenge by completing it a few weeks ago. I wanted to look at my Permaculture Diploma in terms of Zoning and ensure that I had a good handle on what my diploma designs were going to be and how they fitted into the zones of my life. The diagram below shows zones in my life and ideas for related designs slotted into the relevant zone. This can help me decide which designs to prioritise by indicating how closely they are related to the centre of my life, my Zone 00.



My health and wellbeing design SURVEY



I have been working on a diploma design since early summer 2014 about my health and well-being. I wanted to do a design at this stage of the diploma that was about me and improving my life. I have learnt that in order to head out and make positive change in world, you first need to have your own life well-managed and running smoothly. I have also learnt that my children are only as happy as their least happy parent, so to help my household be happy, smooth and successful, any change needs to begin with myself and work outwards.

To help me begin the design process I looked at zoning in terms of my life. I used the principles involved in zoning that are normally applied to gardening. The areas you interact with most are located directly outside your backdoor, such as herb pots. Moving out in stages to places visited less regularly located further away from your house. IMG_5500

This is how I classified Zones in relation to my life; Zone 00 myself, Zone 0 my family, Zone 1 my house, Zone 2 my garden, Zone 3 my friends, Zone 4 my community and Zone 5 the wider world.

I then looked at the frequency of use for each of these zones. I also noted down all of my ideas for diploma design projects into the correct zone. Finally I wrote in the circle in pen designs I have already undertaken and in pencil ideas for designs. I wanted to ensure an even spread across all the zones to provide a balanced approach in my diploma journey.

The design I am currently working on, My health and wellbeing design,  falls into Zone 00- MYSELF. It seems important to address the centre of the circle at this stage in my diploma studies, to give me more energy to commit to other designs that I have planned for the future that will take me away from the home and out into the wider world.

I find writing up a vital part of the design process, not only does it count towards my Diploma, it also allows me to re-think over all my actions and decisions and makes the design much clearer in my mind and therefore more likely to be implemented effectively.

For this design I have been using the design process SADIMET but I have added a ‘L’ for ‘learning’, so the process acronym becomes SLADIMET. I will be writing a post on each stage of this design process over the coming weeks. Today I will be looking at SURVEY.


When using the design web for my last design, I found Vision, Helps and Limits to be useful places to begin. I feel all three of these tools fall within the SURVEY stage, so I have used them in this design too.

VISION – To design some tools that help me to achieve my aims of losing weight, improving my fitness levels, improving my food choices and providing me with some time to devote to myself.

HELPS- I am interested in this area, I enjoy cooking and love cook books and healthy eating blogs. I have a goal in mind of my friend’s wedding in June 2015, so that gives me a year to work on and implement this design, a good timescale I think. My husband is a health-nut. He cycles everyday and is running 8 marathons during 2014. He will encourage and help me with my exercising. He is supportive with the children. My brother and sister and both pretty healthy too, so I have plenty of people to discuss ideas with. My oldest friend is a nutritionist and currently on maternity leave, so she should have some time to advise me. The Eat Smile Live course I have signed up for should be very helpful and the FB forums another support network I can use.

LIMITS- I have a limited amount of free time each week to spend away from home exercising. I do not have much money to spend on this design, so for example joining a gym is not possible. I want any food related changes to be suitable for the whole family, I am not willing to cook multiple meals each day. The kids can be fussy eaters and may be unwilling to try unfamiliar foods. I am breast-feeding so can’t take a big cut in my calorie level. I love food and am not interested in a ‘diet’ that is about restriction or meal replacement. It has to be truly healthy to work for me. I must have goals to aim for to help with will-power. Any options taken have to fit with the Permaculture ethics of earth care, people care and fair shares.

SURVEY – I began the design in May 2014. I focus me and assist the design process I signed up to take part in ‘Eat, Smile, Live’ nutrition and lifestyle coaching 6 month plan. I completed a thorough health history, looking at my baseline weight, measurements, food diary and exercise levels,  health concerns and desired outcomes.

To briefly summarise the health history, I was 15 months post-natal with my third child.  11 stone eight pounds, breast-feeding and woken up 2-3 times each night, feeling tired, not exercising and feeling unfit. My diet was vegetarian, around 60% home cooked with 1 meal out and 1-2 take aways per week. I struggled to find time for cooking in the evenings. I drank 3-4 black coffees per weeks and lots of cups of decaf tea with sugar each day. I craved chocolate and salty curries. I drank alcohol 3 to 4 times per week, usually red wine or real ale. I enjoyed swimming and yoga but couldn’t fit these into my life. I wanted to make changes.

I set myself four goals to address;

1. To learn about nutrition and healthy foods for myself and my family

2. To exercise and improve my fitness levels

3. To lose the excess baby weight

4. To take time out for myself without feeling guilty





The four questions- Reflections on 2014 and looking ahead to 2015

As we approach the turning of the year, I thought it would be the right time to reflect on how 2014 has been for me and set myself some intentions for 2015.

In January 2014, I spent some time planning my diploma journey and considering new years resolutions and things I wanted to achieve. I divided these into eight categories; home, family, friends, health, work, diploma, leisure and other. My planning is detailed in the  image below, the ticks indicate what was achieved. I did manage quite a lot of the things on the list, but various tasks were left unstarted or uncompleted due to lack of time, money or energy. These tasks will be carried forward into 2015 and are listed under ‘next achievable steps’ at the bottom of this post.


What is going well?

2014 was a great year overall, we had lots of happiness, three close friends had new babies, as did my sister and her partner. My brother’s jobs went well, my mum enjoyed her retirement. Joe got on well at work and his company will be moving to a larger premises early in the new year. My eldest is getting on well at school and is enjoying her hobbies, especially cross county running. My middle daughter started full-time school, which caused us lots of anxiety but she settled quickly and loves it now. She has a ‘Frozen’ obsession which has been fun! Little S is becoming a real rough, tough boy now, obsessed with trains and tractors. He is very loving and fun to spend time with.

I have been surprised by my new-found love of running this year. I have just completed 100 miles since I began recording my runs back in August. I am proud of myself and have seen my fitness improve dramatically. I took part in a Muddy Run and enjoyed it immensely, so have signed up for another in March. It’s lovely to have this hobby in common with my marathon running husband. I have taken part in a 6 month on-line course in health and nutrition. I have learnt loads about whole-foods and have made some positive changes in our diets. My diploma continues to be a big part of my life. I work on it almost every thursday and enjoy writing up my thoughts and activities on my blog. I have helped out on the local PDC and intend to take an even more active role in 2015. I looked at one permaculture Principle each month, which was great and taught me a lot.


What are you finding difficult?

As always, the difficulty come in allocating my time and finding the balance between managing family life and finding opportunities to pursue my own interests and diploma work. Walking out the door is difficult, the parent guilt is a killer. however, I do feel I have found a slightly better balance this year. I almost always have one day a week 10-2.30 free, without my children to work. I have also fitted in a regular exercise class one a week and frequent runs either early morning or afternoon when was OH is around. As my children grow up, I think this balance will settle more and more. As I am still breast-feeding little S, nights out or sleep-overs are not possible, but by this time next year I expect this will have changed again.

I find not having any money OK most of the time but occasionally stressful. I would quite like to take on a little more work in this coming year, either photography teaching, making Muddy Boots into a business or something else that has not yet presented itself to me as a opportuniy. I am open-minded and would quite like to try something new.

The constant clutter and housework gets me down. I don’t enjoy it and resent how much of my time is taken up with moving things from place to place. I did a lot of de-cluttering in 2014 and plan to do even more in 2015. I want the children to use and value what they have rather than being over-whelmed by stuff and not realising how lucky they are.

What are your long-term goals and visions?

This brainstorm shows my plans for 2015, lots of the themes from 2014 arise again!


I decided to use the permaculture tool of Zones and try laying out my aims for 2015 in terms of Zones.

Zone 1  Daily activity – Self, home, health

Zone 2  Weekly activity – as above plus immediate family, close friends, diploma, blog

Zone 3  Monthly activity – as above plus wider family, wider circle of friends, training, work

Zone 4  Annual activity – Once only activities, yearly overview, outlines and aims

Zone 5 Long term plans and visions and steps taken towards these.


What are your next achievable steps?

* Arrange more one-to-one time with each of my children and my husband.

*More sunday lunches and meet ups with old and new friends

* Find a yoga class and attend regularly

*Get down to my ‘happy weight’

* Drink more water

* Organise my photography teaching notes/ resources so workshops are easier to plan.

* Attend workshops to learn new skills in areas that interest me.

*Be an active member of the local PDC planning group

* Look into Forest schools training and TOT training.

* Spend less time using screens! Reduce Facebook/ internet/ I-player/ Netflix usage and encourage my OH and children to do likewise.

* Further de-cluttering of the house.

*Get better at planning meals and shopping according to my ethics and budget

*Work on my diploma and aim to complete three additional designs during 2015.



My garden design – Design process part two.

My Garden design is coming along well. I have done lots of work on it over the past months. The rapidly approaching spring is pushing me on, as I need to be ready to begin planting by the beginning of next month. This post follows on from the post entitled ‘My garden design, beginning the design process’. This post will detail additional stages in the ‘Think’ stage of the Permaculture design process.

Base map. The Base map below shows the dimensions, orientation and major features of the garden as it was in January 2014. The set of six beds in the centre of the garden were put in last summer with a view to doing this design and upping food production.




Overlays. I created overlays onto acetate. These are useful as they can show different aspects of the garden on different maps, keeping the original base map simple.


This overlay shows Zones and Desire linesIMG_0897

IMG_0899This overlay shows Sectors

Additional client interview                                                                                               

I have spoken lots to the other members of my family in an informal way about what they wanted from our garden. However, on reflection, I thought maybe I had made some assumptions about their wants, needs, likes and dislikes. So I went back over this with each member of my household and recorded their thoughts. For the children I did this in the form of a mind-map and for my husband we used an adaptation of the 4 questions tool, where he spoke and I wrote, then read his answers back to him. Photos of my notes are below. The blue building blocks are just used to cover their names and ages for reasons of privacy.IMG_0910IMG_0912

Key functions. The next stage was to decide upon Key functions. They were taken from considerations of the client interviews along with the work detailed in my previous post such; observations, boundaries, resources, functions/elements/systems and mapping. I decided to focus on five key functions for my design; food production, attracting beneficial insects, water capture and sustainable usage, soil improvement and places to sit and enjoy the garden. For each of these key functions I have set SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bounded.

1. Food production. I aim for the garden to provide something to eat four days out of each week from May to September 2014. I will record what I pick, cook and eat in a diary. I plan to grow annual and perennial vegetables and add more fruit trees and soft fruit.

2. Attracting beneficial insects. I will research and grow suitable plants to attract pollinators and beneficial insects to help my food crops be successful. I will add these plants to my planting plan by the end of March 2014. I will make a special effort to observe the garden insects and keep a record of what I see. I will use companion planting and guilds in my garden.

3. Water capture and sustainable usage. I will add guttering and water storage tanks to my sheds by May 2014. I will use drip irrigation in some of my vegetable beds. I will set up an overflow system from the rainwater tanks to keep the pond topped up. I will try not to use mains water at all this summer to irrigate my plants. I will record in a diary anytime my tanks are dry and I have to use mains water in the garden.

4. Soil improvement I will research sheet mulching and use this technique to improve the keyhole beds where the chicken run previously was. I will sheet mulch by the end of March 2014. I will use green manures on available beds to cover the soil throughout the year. I will continue composing the chicken bedding and our food and garden waste. I will aim to get horse manure for free in the autumn to cover the beds for the winter. I will aim to not buy in more than five bags of compost this year. I shall hope to reduce this consumption each year.

5. Places to sit and enjoy the garden I will move the position of the table and chairs to where it gets the evening sun. I will aim to eat dinner outside with my family at least once a week from May onwards, hopefully many more times. I will have at least six meals or BBQ’s in the garden with family and friends during the warmer months.


Remedial actions. The most pressing things to be addressed seem to be; the muddy paths, the lack of water capture on the sheds; developing a new run for the chickens and moving the table and chairs into a sunny spot.  I have created a new sectional chicken run, more on this in a later post. I am hoping to address the water capture and storage issue one weekend soon. I was be laying some stepping stones initially from the terrace to the main path, to avoid the muddy patch. The table and chairs are easy to move but I am waiting until after giving the lawn its first mow of the year when it has dried out a little more.

IMG_0901                                 This overlay shows some initial ideas about areas requiring attention.

Our cabin in the woods. Observations using design tool ZONES


Zone 00 – The person or people involved. – My family, the other family and visitors. The cabin sleeps up to 7 or 8 people at a squash in 2 double beds and a large sleeping platform for numerous children to squeeze into together. We usually use the cabin as 2 families of 5 people each. We can fit 5 people around the table and on the sofas.

Zone 0 – The centre of activity – The cabinIMG_6821Part of the inside of the cabin, zone 0 (More photos of the inside are below)

The cabin has basic facilities for sitting, eating, cooking, washing and sleeping. The toilet and showering facilities are a short walk away. The cabin sits on a pot approximately       46 X 30 ft and the cabin itself measures  26 X 11 ft. It faces south-west.

Zone 1 – Close to the house and intensively used – Deck and sheds.     IMG_6815The cabin, zone 0 and the deck, zone 1

We store all manner of useful things in the sheds, bikes, BBQ, building materials we are hording that will come in useful one day. The deck is used for sitting in the sunshine, watching the children playing, reading the paper etc. There is a bench (rotten and falling to pieces) and a table and chairs where we eat meals if the weather is kind to us. The deck is made of wood, it is slightly too narrow to seat us all comfortably and it is un-edged, leaving us anxious that baby S will crawl over and fall down the 4 foot drop to the front garden. The deck is open to the sky providing no protection from the rain or sun. We store our boots and shoes here in a huge plastic box with a lid.

Zone 2 – Close to house, managed and used regularly – Front garden.                 The view from the deck looks out to a tiny front garden where we have a fire-pit. The area has scruffy grass, numerous trees on the boundary (See map) and some rambling roses. We have a paved path up one side of the garden leading from the gate to the steps up to the deck and further along the side of the cabin to the sheds and back door. There is a dry stone wall that requires attention along one side with the neighbours. We have put up a washing line alongside the path.

Zone 3 – Semi-managed and used less often – Immediately outside our boundary. IMG_6819Zone 3 looking towards zone 4

There is a space to park our car and a few trees where we have made a swing for the kids. There are neighbouring cabins on either side, one is well used, the other is well-kept but I have never seen anyone there.

Zone 4 – Semi-managed/ semi-wild area. The grassy area and young woodland. Then an open aspect sloping grassed area, a line of trees then a larger sloping field that has recently been planted with lots of native trees. This slopes down gently for maybe 500 metres to a stream, then gardens and one row of house then the road.

Zone 5 – Wilderness. – The woods.                                                                                The woods are a 1 minute walk away from our front door. It is a mixed woodland surrounding an old slate quarry. the quarry pit is filled up with water and fenced off from visitors. The woodland consists of lots of oak trees, brambles, honeysuckle, some holly, silver birch and hawthorn trees. The woods are carpeted by bluebells in May. The woods are open to the public and well used by dog walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders and walkers.

IMG_6830 IMG_6829 IMG_6825IMG_6823