Permaculture Designers Manual
CHAPTER 3 – METHODS OF DESIGN IN PERMACULTURE
Section 3.14 –
Succession in Permaculture
Evolution of a system
Nature shows us that a sequence of processes arises in the establishment of “new” systems on such devastated landscapes as basalt flows and ice-planed or flood-swept sites.
The first living components are hardy pioneer species, which establish on these damaged or impoverished environments.
Thus we see “weeds” (thistles, Lantana) occupying overgrazed, eroded, or fired areas. These pioneer species assist the area by stabilizing water flow in the landscape and later they give shelter, provide mulch, or improve soil quality for their successors (the longer-term forest or tree crop species).
To enable a cultivated system to evolve towards a long-term stable state, we can construct a system of mixed tree, shrub, and vegetable crop, utilizing live stock to act as foragers, and carefully planning the succession of plants and animals so that we receive short-, medium-, and long-term benefits.
For example, a forest will yield first coppice, then pole timbers, and eventually honey, fruit, nuts, bark, and plank timber as it evolves from a pioneer and young or crowded, plantation to a well-spaced mature stand over a period of 15-50 years.
So many species and individuals of each species are needed to do this that it is usually necessary to first create a small plant nursery to supply the 4,000 – 8,000 plants that can be placed on a hectare . While these are growing in their pots, we can fence and prepare the soil, and then plant them out to a carefully-designed long-term plan.
Unlike the processes of nature, however, we can place most of the elements of such a succession in one planting, so that the pioneers, ground covers, under-story species, tree legumes, herbage crop, mulch species, the long-term windbreak and the tree crop are all set out at once.
Where this approach is used, as it has been by many permaculturalists on their properties, quite remarkable changes occur over two to three years.
Mulch is produced on site for the long-term crop, while weed competition, wind, and frost effects are nullified or moderated.
Cropping can be continuous as the annuals or herbaceous perennials effectively control unwanted grasses and weed species.
Figure 3.13 gives an indication of how a system can accept different species of plants and of animal browsers as it evolves.
For instance, radish or turnip planted with tree seedlings control grasses until the small tree provides its own grass control by shading.