I love this principle because it fits with my belief that we should look at every building and bit of land as having the potential to fulfill multiple functions and that each function should be maximized together as a system, not maximizing one discrete function at the expense of others.
For example, this house and yard are not just a place to house people and store things, but can also be a space to:
- Create energy (or reduce energy use through good design)
- Collect and store rainwater for later use
- Move rainwater down to the soil and not into the storm sewer
- Grow food for people, for pollinators, for critters
- Promote learning
- Heal people
- Connect people and create community
- Create beauty and appreciation for nature
Some would say that a green lawn is beautiful and that is its function. My personal belief is that beauty is not sufficient unto itself but that it should be part of each and every function mentioned above. Beauty and function should both inform the ends to which we hope to arrive.
So how does this principle of storing energy inform our decision making? We start by identifying where energy exists in our landscape and then look at ways we can capture it.
The Sun: Our solar panels collect sunlight and convert it to electricity, but there are a lot of less expensive or zero-expense ways to use the sun’s energy. We use solar lights in the garden and on our front porch to bring a bit of enchantment and illumination to the evening. For example, solar heating:
- While we use solar hot air panels on the side of our house to collect heat from the winter sun, any house with a south-facing window can benefit from passive solar heat gain.
- You can use the sun to make sun tea in a large glass jar or to cook food with a homemade solar oven.
- You can dry herbs, berries, fruits and veggies with a solar dehydrator (or the back window of a car).
- You can heat water either with panels for solar water heating or for camp showers. (Check out this kickstarter for a cool on-the-go hot water heater.)
- You can build a greenhouse or cloche to capture solar heat and extend your growing season.
Wind power: A small wind turbine can generate electricity for home or garden use (if it’s not illegal in your area). A row of tall trees can “catch” wind and store it to prevent it from reaching your home or yard.
Biomass: Compost provides a lot of heat at certain times of the year. Our grape vines are planted near the compost, which keeps their roots warmer. I don’t know if that’s good for them but the ones by the compost are twice as tall as the one’s next to them that aren’t by the compost. Of course, little critters also know it’s a warm space and it’s not unusual for a mouse to jump out when we turn it over in the spring.
Biomass-intensive landscaping can also be used to store water in drought-prone areas. Swales and berms can direct the flow of water.
Food is energy, too. We can preserve food using the natural enzymatic process of fermentation. One permaculture website I read talked about the energy of milk being captured and stored by cheese. I’d never thought of it that way, but I quite like that idea.
Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture
Permaculture principles can also be applied in our lives and the folks in the Transition Longfellow Saturday group had lots of ideas for how to capture personal energy when we have it so we don’t need to expend it when we’re tired.
- Prepare food in advance and put it in the freezer for quick reheating.
- Get work ready the night before. Set out your clothes in advance.
- From the women with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, don’t put things off until tomorrow if you have the energy to do it today.
- Work with your personal energy pattern (whenever possible). Plan to get things done during the time of day when you feel most alert and then rest.
Money is another form of energy. It can bring growth or stagnation, depending on how it is used or hoarded. For example:
- Money spent at a local business rather than a chain store stays in the local community and is reused many more times, creating a lot more economic activity. Money spent at a chain store typically leaves the community.
- Money deposited in a community bank is used to lend money in the community, building even more economic activity. Money deposited at national – too big to fail – banks may actually become a drain in the community, especially if that bank is responsible for a large number of foreclosures in your area.