Our journey into Permaculture continues as we enter into summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in Costa Rica the changes of the seasons may not be so evident, but the cycles of nature do indeed turn. As the rains pour, the ylang ylang and frangipani trees blossom, and the avocados, papayas and pineapples ripen. Yum!

Frangipani in Bloom

Flowering Papaya

Moving forward from our previous post on Permaculture, let’s now take a look at 3 more of the twelve principles that organize the practice of Permaculture.

Catch and Store Energy
Catch and store energy refers to the natural law of “energy output is energy returned.” It also encompasses the practice of utilizing the energy that is available so that the maximum amount of energy can be flowed back through the system. For example: Here at the farm our water supply is 90% provided by a rainwater catchment system.

In the southern Caribbean jungle, where it rains nearly 140 inches a year, rainwater proves to be the best way to catch and utilize this most obvious energy resource. So how can we best create a sustainable system to “catch and store” this vital energy? Things to consider, for example, are the specific physical sustainability of the system: the size of the rainwater catchment platform and the holding tanks, gravity for water pressure, pipes that are sufficient size and strength, the direction of the water output, where the water should go, and what it will be used for.

Punta Mona’s Holding Tanks

We can understand this concept through an analogy with Chi. In Traditional Chinese Medicine Chi, or Qi, is the life force or vital energy that flows through all living beings. This energy runs in very methodical pathways throughout the body, similar to what a map of the circulatory or lymphatic system may look like.

Chi meridian lines

To best cultivate and support this energy in the body for optimal health we need to maintain the natural vivacity of Chi through healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual lifestyle and practices. How we support Chi in the body in turn determines vital energy output. We can influence that output on a daily basis in a variety of ways: through nutrition, movement/exercise, yoga, conscious breathing, meditative practices, etc. The stronger our internal life force is, the more energy we have available to give externally.

Obtain a Yield
This principal refers to the cycles of opportunities within a living system and is concerned with the potential of obtaining the most optimal yield. Looking back to the rainwater catchment system, we see as long as there is rain there is potential water for the system. However, as in most climates, there are times of no rain. It is important to make sure that there is still a yield of water in the drier months and consider what other potential alternatives there are available to obtain a yield in the most optimal, efficient, and sustainable way. One alternative method we use on the farm is through the creation of Chinampas. This is a system where swampland is dug into channels so that the water is diverted, the topsoil piled in mounds to the side and then used for planting beds. The new water channels are then used for aquaculture.

The Chinampa system
The Chinampas serve multiple purposes, the most valid being that they provide a way we can water our greenhouse plants even during water shortage. They also naturally provide a consistent water source for the plants within the Chinampa area.

The Chinampa System at Punta Mona

Let’s return to our analogy with Chi and to our ability to direct and re-direct this life force to obtain the greatest potential of health. In conjunction with cultivating and supporting Chi, it may also be necessary to employ other vital energies, from plants for instance, to assist in the movement of this energy. We can direct or re-direct Chi to aid or prevent energy excess or stagnation that may be causing dis-ease. Since we are looking at water systems, let’s look at the urinary tract for example. To maintain a healthy system we must incorporate nourishing foods into our diet that support the kidneys and bladder and of course drink an appropriate amount of water. However, if for instance an infection or UTI occurs we can use appropriate plants to direct assistance to the system and recalibrate the health of the urinary tract so that the vitality of Chi returns.

Applying self regulation and accepting feedback
We have established how we can work with these vital forces to best utilize them. However, before we get too carried away in the manipulation of any system, we must return to the following question: how is the system working and  is it self-sustaining?  One very important aspect of the Permaculture view of life is accepting feedback and always returning attention to the first principle of observing the essential nature of the organism for answers. This helps us remember that how we choose to manipulate the system must consistently be in harmony with nature to obtain the most vital results.

Look to nature for answers
So how are my methods self regulating and following natural laws? Are there flaws in my interaction with the system and what is the feedback that I can learn from? We will investigate these ideas more as our journey continues…

By Katie Browning, Clinical Herbalist