Designing the Designer

This version of the Design will not be maintained or updated. The current version can be found by clicking on the PERMACULTURE DESIGNER link.


Right from the outset, I wasn’t sure if I should bother with the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, or whether it would be of benefit to me. After completing nine of the ten designs, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve done, to look at what I want to do next, and to design a way towards that. The design is also an acknowledgement that completing the Diploma may be the end of a cycle, but is also the beginning of a new one.


This is my only ‘people centered’ design, and I wanted to use the Design Web from ‘People and Permaculture’ as my design process. This is to allow me to evaluate its usefulness to me, and to familiarise myself with it. Doing so also means that I will have used three design processes in my portfolio, which helps me to meet the accreditation criteria. Having looked at the process, I decided to customise it, to make it more relevant to me, and my situation.


I wanted to start this design with a review of the time spent recording the designs for my Diploma portfolio. At the outset I wasn’t sure whether the diploma would be of any value to me. I have to report that it has been of more use than I could have anticipated at the outset.

Recording of Designs

At a simple level, the diploma process has forced me to record much of the work that I have done. That doesn’t affect the outcome of the designs at all, but having those designs available to see through this blog, creates a useful resource for others. Recording the designs retrospectively has also persuaded me that there is a benefit to recording new designs as I go along in future. This will only add to the usefulness of my blog.


In people and Permaculture, Looby Macnamara describes a competence cycle with five stages. Many diploma apprentices will begin at stage two in this cycle, which is Conscious Incompetence. My realisation that I had been creating effective designs without following a recognised design process not only led me to creating my own Design Process, but also to realise that I was beginning the Diploma at Stage four, Unconscious Competence. The value of the diploma has been to nudge me into the fifth stage, Reflective Competence. By analysing what I’ve done, how I’ve done it, and evaluating the results, I know far more about the design process, and my own methodology, and have improved as a designer. I have gone past the point where I need to use any specific process to design, but can mix and match segments and parts of other processes to create a customised, freestyle process, suited to the design project itself. A good example of this is my Chicken Scavenging design. This uses elements of my own design process, and that from Edible Forest Gardens. This design reflects that competence too. If I was less confident in my ability as a designer, I would have stuck with the original Design web, especially as this is the first time that I have used it. Instead, I’m happy to tweak it to suit my needs, and the needs of the design.


In ‘The One Straw Revolution’, Masanobu Fukuoka describes poetry written by farmers in days gone by, suggesting that their work practices gave them time to think. I find that too. Repetitive manual work frees the mind to think, and with much of my thinking turned towards Permaculture through the Diploma, it has given me the time to think about what I want to do when the accreditation is over. In fact much of the content of this particular design has been thought through whilst weeding, scything, or watering pots. The introspection isn’t new, but the focus has been.


The Permaculture association has about 1500 members, and around three hundred undertaking the Diploma. I’m not sure how many diploma graduates there are, but I suspect that the 20% of members who are apprentices, will have a higher proportion of people who will be actively using permaculture to create things. More importantly for me is that it may also have¬† a higher proportion of people with similar interests to me. By networking with them, I am far more likely to come across people who are serious about the same things that I am.


Not one of Looby’s headings, but important to me, so I’m using it. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to do for the next year of two, but that tends to include a whole lot of stuff that I ‘ought’ to do. By concentrating on what I am passionate about I can trim that down slightly.


I really love showing people what I’ve done, and what I’m up to. Whilst doing that for non permaculturalists is nice, the feedback from permaculturalists has been fantastic. I want to do more of that, but I need to get something in return (obtain a yield) other than enjoyment.


Most people don’t realise how mundane the day to day running of a smallholding can be. I love it, but much of what I do is repetitive. What makes it exciting is the experimentation and research projects. These keep me focused, and make it easier to keep working if I feel a bit lethargic.

I love to tinker with ideas and theories in order to test them for myself, and then push them further. I really love to share this with others, which is a contradiction, as I am resistant to teaching. Perhaps this is something to look at more deeply at some point in the future. I think that it is strictly academic teaching that I’m resisting, rather than the sharing of practical skills and knowledge.


I love learning, acquiring new skills, and then sharing what I’ve learnt.


My dream is to turn my smallholding into one the best examples of Permaculture Design in the country. One that is a ‘must see’ for permaculturalists, and that continues to push at the boundaries of what can be achieved. Included within this vision is a research strategy that helps to shape the research carried out by the Permaculture Association, and acts as a place where people can come and see trials and experiments taking place, and learn how to take part.

I want to give permaculture teachers good examples to use in their teaching.

I want to add to the knowledge base, and the practical application of permaculture. There is a lot of talking, and talking about doing, and not enough actual doing going on. That needs to change, and I want to help change it.

I want to use my blog to help to disseminate what I’ve learnt, and what I’m doing, and make it a really valuable resource.

I want to acquire the skills that will help me do all of the above most effectively.


My vision is helped by the fact that the project is already becoming known, helped by magazine articles, visits, and a talk at the 2012 Convergence.

My interest in research corresponds with a new focus on research by the Permaculture Association, and my workshop on grains may have helped to prompt the Association to include a grain project as part of their research.

The biggest help is likely to be my own determination. I do push myself hard, and that helps me to achieve much of what I aim for.



I already work harder than I should. Any new project or undertaking  must be preceeded by a reduction in my current workload. The biggest loss of time comes from my bees. These are central to my project, but also take up the most time. The lack of time has meant that areas of the project have been neglected, which will mean more work (time again) to rectify. Other drags on my time include watering (mainly potted trees/shrubs/plants for bees), weeding, animal care, and other routine chores.


The biggest draw on my time during the growing season is my paid work as a beekeeper. Not only does it use 2-5 hours per day, but it is tiring, involving 2-3 hours of walking in the hottest part of the day. The money has paid for most of the recent infrastructure work, but has led to an increase in weeds, pests, and untidiness, as a result of the time used.


My morals limit what I can achieve.

I am a natural beekeeper as I feel that it is the right way to keep bees, but it increases the amount of time that keeping bees takes. I don’t want to keep bees conventionally, even though it would take less time, as I believe that it contributes to poor bee health. The only solution is to stop keeping bees, or put up with the additional time.

I use a scythe to avoid using fossil fuels to cut grass. This takes a lot of time. I have to get up early to cut grass at the optimum time, but cannot go to bed early, as we have old incontinent dogs, who need to be let out late. A midday snooze would be a solution, but that’s when I need to be out checking bees, to earn money. The scything also aggravates an elbow problem. So do I use fossil fuels a bit more to save time, and help my elbow? Do I stop keeping bees, and quit my bee job to get a chance for a midday power nap, and do without the money?



My rabbit/deer fencing around the growing areas are now compromised, and this is creating damage to my crops. I have insufficient netting for pigeons and cabbage whites, leading to further crop losses.,


Many of the things that I would like to achieve involve people, who would need to spend time here. We have no accommodation, toilet/washing facilities, teaching space. Providing those would take time and money, which are in short supply, and would need to be justified by a demand.


There are two areas where I lack sufficient skill. The first is digital. I am not yet competent with digital imaging software, and this limits my ability to ‘show’ what I mean online. The second is collaborative working. I prefer to get on with stuff myself, but realise that I need to participate in group working, particularly with my research.

Perennial plants

Using perennial plants and polycultures increases the amount of work that it takes to weed, harvest food, and reduces my options for reorganising space. Many of them are taking up far more space then they justify. The reality is that we just don’t eat them.


Reading this back to myself I sound like a right whinger. All woe is me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I achieve lots, grow lots, do lots, but it comes at a price. Removing these hindrances to my efficiency should lead to a huge increase in productivity. This design will only work if I am totally honest about the problems that need to be solved.


If I reflect on my interests, a pattern is clear. I get enthused by something, add it to what I do, and keep on adding more new things until it is clear that some things are not getting done. Then after a period of feeling guilty, and trying to make it work, I shed some of the things that I am less interested in, and consolidate. I am more comfortable about this than I used to be, and just need to get through this cycle more quickly before it becomes a ‘guilt trip’. I was going to include this as an unhelpful pattern, but just realised that it isn’t. If I didn’t keep trying new ideas it would get pretty boring, and I wouldn’t have discovered so many hobbies and interests. By regularly adding things, and removing things that are less interesting/exciting, I am maintaining my enthusiasm better than plodding on at something that excited me less.

What I have to do is be careful about committing to anything long term, where people are relying on me. As long as I am realistic about what I can achieve,and upfront about how long I can commit for, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Time is clearly a major issue. Without enough time spent, areas become less well managed, weeds and pests increase, this takes up more time, which means that I have to concentrate on the most important areas, so I get more weeds and pests in the other areas. This is a pattern of erosion which needs to be broken. Another pattern of erosion is pest damage. My fences and gates need replacing, but I’m short of money. To earn the money takes up the time which I would use to make the repairs. Not doing the repairs leaves me with crop damage, which discourages me from gardening/weeding, which then leads to further deterioration.

I do a lot of research, which increases my knowledge, which feeds into my research, which I really enjoy. That encourages me to do more research. This is a spiral of abundance, and I need to make what I learn from it more widely known.


During the last six months I have had a number of ideas about what I want to do next. The ones that have ‘stuck’ are:

Research Hub

I would like this place to be a hub for research, for the time being concentrating on grain/vegetable growing. Perhaps identifying potential subjects for, as well as participating in wider trials. It could also act as a training center where people could come and learn about how to grow these things, or how to conduct research. This would need some infrastructure projects to be completed first.

A Free Permaculture Design Course

I am short of time and money, but have an abundance of practical knowledge and skills. There are people who would like to do a full Permaculture Design Course, but cannot afford it. One of my ideas is to run a four week, free design course for a small group of students/interns. The students would stay for four weeks. They would get four hours of tuition a day, and would pay for it by working for four hours. Providing that the work that they did was more than I lost by teaching, it would save me time. A further benefit would be that students would gain some real practical skills, and spend four weeks doing some manual labour.

Nestled within this idea there are a few more. The students could be given a choice of infrastructure projects to design and build. This would create the infrastructure that would be needed, over time, prioritised by the students, and would give them all their first fully implemented design.

Teaching could be shared with trainee/new teachers, who might not have access to space of their own. This would reduce my workload, give them teaching practice, and perhaps help to show them a bit more about permaculture at a scale larger than many are familiar with.

Diploma Support

There is no support for independent diploma students, as they haven’t paid for it. This is OK for students like me, who have done much of their design work already, but is not so good for those who are forced to work independently through lack of money, or living outside of the UK. If I were able to train to be a diploma tutor for free, I would like to use the opportunity to give free support for the independent students who might need it. To obtain tutor training for free depends on the generosity of others, so may be unrealistic, but giving ‘unqualified’ support should still be possible.


There are a few themes which have kept surfacing during this process.


The biggest need that I can identify is to save time, or work more efficiently. I am doing too much already, and want to add more research work. I clearly need to do something to give myself more time.


One of the biggest ‘leaks’ of my time is my bee work, my bees, and all of the watering of bee plants and trees that I am growing to fill the gaps in my bee forage. Reducing or stopping these would free up more time to concentrate on my growing and research projects.


I am spending a lot of time, growing a lot of food, to feed rabbits, rats, pigeons, and other pests. A consolidated effort to replace my old fences and posts with new, making some proper gates, and investing in some ‘proper’ netting should enable me to harvest most of what I grow, avoiding working for little return.


Whilst I love showing people around my project. It takes up time. If the LAND project Group Visit Scheme does not continue, I will need to make visits pay for themselves. I am not sure how to achieve that yet, although there may be a way to exchange my time for theirs (see next paragraph).


With so many people wanting to learn how to grow their own food sustainably, or to get inspiration for their own designs, it would make sense to make them ‘pay’ for that with some work to help me. This fits in nicely with the third ethical principle of permaculture Reduce consumption and redistribute surplus. I share my surplus knowledge in exchange for what I am short of, which is time/help.


My aim is to save time. To be doing less things, but doing those to a higher standard, and more efficiently. The benefit to me will be more time. This can give me some ‘me’ time, or allow me to look at other projects that interest me. Other benefits will include making the place nicer to look at, and more productive.


The first thing that I am going to do is to stop keeping bees, and looking after bees for money. I will quit my bee job (done September 2012), and give away my own bee colonies. This needs to be done by mid April 2013, before they start to swarm.
Over the course of this Winter (2012/2013) I will sterilise all of my bee equipment, and store it away. I will evaluate how this is doing at the end of Summer 2013, to see if the other changes that I make leave me enough time to allow me to keep a couple of hives. If not, I will do the same each Winter until I have time, or no longer wish to keep bees.

Without bees, there seems little point in growing so many bee trees/plants, and so I can compost many of the ones that i have been growing and watering for two/three years. This will be a considerable saving in time spent watering, weeding, potting on, etc.


Lots of work to do here. I need to do some serious maintenance to the vegetable growing areas. This will mean reducing the amount of overwintering crops this year, other than grains.


The fencing and gates need replacing. I will start by removing the pernicious weeds from around the perimeter, and then create a new outer fence. This will allow me to maintain the rough protection that I have. I can then remove the inner fence, and weed along the existing fence line, which has been difficult to do with buried fencing preventing the removal of all of the creeping roots. This job is weather dependent as my clay soil is not workable when too wet/dry.

I will also enclose two new areas which are set aside for a polytunnel/greenhouse, and an extra area for growing more grain.


I will remove most of the perennial plants, and bee plants, only keeping those which I regularly eat, like asparagus. Most of the others are never eaten, and should go.

pernnial plants and bee plants

Perennials and bee plants

This job is also weather dependent, but should be finished by Spring. I need to maintain an area for growing next years grain crops, which are already (September 2012) sown. Rather than increase the grain area now, I intend to prepare the growing space, and then ‘frost seed’ clover during the Winter, so that it can establish prior to planting next year’s grains.

All of these beds, with the perennials removed, can then be maintained with less time by a combination of living mulch, and a hoe. I will consider lowering the beds, in order to make them less attractive to rats.

I intend to have this complete by March 2013. This is ambitious, as a wet Winter will make this difficult.

Crop protection

There are a number of plants that I grow that need protection, and others that I no longer grow due to the damage that they receive. Before I buy nets etc. I want to spend some time analysing which plants need protecting, and when, to see if I can provide a permanent protected space, with a crop rotation of the plants that need protecting organised within it, as opposed to constantly putting up, and taking down nets, posts, etc. With so many other things to do, I don’t expect to have this done by this Spring, so it will probably have to wait until next Winter (2013/2014).

Pest habitat

Each year we get an incursion of rats and rabbits using our ‘wilderness’ space around the vegetable growing areas as a ‘beach head’ from which to operate safely. The picture below shows one of these areas.

Zone 5

Zones 1 and 5 collide

To the left of the fence is supposed to be vegetable growing space, but it has been gradually colonised by Borage and Musk Mallow (bee plants!!!!). To the right are nettles which I am unable to scythe as the space is full of wood, which never got cut and stacked with the rest of the firewood.

We have lots of wild space further away from the growing areas, so I am going to clear away all of the debris, level them, and then maintain these areas with a scythe. I am also going to see if I can utilise the nettles and ground elder better, as food, liquid plant feed, and composting/mulch material. I normally do this early in the season, but do not have enough time once swarming season starts, and rarely use the feeds that I have made later in the year. I would like to commit to having this completed by next Spring (2013), but realistically it will probably be an ongoing task.


I intend to use the longer Winter nights to design a research strategy for my grain/vegetable research. This design may contribute towards a wider design project to be undertaken by the Permaculture Association. I will have this completed before the national Diploma Gathering, at the end of the year.
I am going to use this blog as an archive for my research projects, and the results. This will make the blog more valuable, and catch and store some of the knowledge (energy) in my head. It will also help to prevent data loss.


This may be the most important area of all for this design, as this design project is to Design Me, as well as what I am going to do. All of the actions above, except for the Research paragraph, are there to free up time. This is to allow me to focus on my passions, and particularly the research. In addition I will teach myself to use at least one new presentation software program, and one Mindmap program this Winter. I will use the presentation software for my Diploma Accreditation. (Assessors take note!).

My research design, mentioned in the previous paragraph, is partly to continue my progress as a designer, but also to expand the range of designs in my portfolio.


Much of what is needed is time, and a decent Winter. It seems ironic that I need to spend time in order to save time. I have all of the tools that I need, and have done quite a bit of fencing work, so know how to do the work. The biggest need is the fencing materials themselves. This will be an expensive job, and I need to measure up accurately before ordering. I also need to decide what height to fence up to. My latest chickens are good flyers, so a six foot fence would be needed to try and keep them out. This is very expensive. A four foot fence would be adequate for everything else, and cheaper. So far the chickens have shown no desire to fly into the vegetable growing areas, but that might change once I start using them in there for weed control. Having gotten used to feeding in there, they may be more likely to try to get in on their won.


I see this action plan as the primary way to develop and increase momentum for itself. Each saving of time, or increase of efficiency/productivity, gives me more time to devote to saving further time. This should generate a spiral of abundance, with time saved making more time available, to save more time.

I may need some additional help with the fencing work, as it is much easier to do with a second pair of hands. My wife is reducing her work hours at the end of the year, so may be able to provide that help.


The ability to create a space for myself to get off of a treadmill of my own making, is dependent on the success of this design. The alternative is a much harder cull of what I do, and would then include things that I would really prefer to keep.


The Design/Action Plan

It is too early to evaluate the success of the design. I have only just finished it, and it will be a year before I can judge how successful it has been. However I already see some progress. I have started to cull the least healthy of my potted trees and shrubs, as a first step towards cutting back significantly. Perhaps of more significance is a change in attitude. I have accepted that I don’t yet have time to get everything done, and so am more relaxed about that, accepting that there is little that I can do about it until I have made myself some time.

The Design Process

I have enjoyed using the Design Web, but my logical, linear way of thinking may not have made best use of it. I have had to work hard to stop myself slipping back into my own design process. I think that this method would work well as an ongoing process, monitoring progress, and then adjusting plans (action).

I missed out the Principles anchor point, as it felt like it was trying too hard/forcing the connection between what I am doing, and the principles themselves.

The Layout/Format

The design/blog page lacks images. I felt that as most of this was introspective, images were not really appropriate. It does make it less easy on the eye, and I may add some pictures from my library, just to make it more visually appealing.

I liked the design case study example in people and permaculture. It showed the ‘anchor points’ with numbered captions relevant to each. It clearly showed that each anchor point could be used at any time, and not tied to a particular sequence.

Design web

Design web example

The picture above shows this. The little icons arranged around grey circle are the design headings. The numbered balloons around them are the steps and sequene in which the design was completed. To type this up all you would need to do is ‘unwind’ it all and write it up following the numbered sequence.

This would be a good way to explain a design,which rarely follows a linear sequence. By depicting and numbering the steps in a diagram, the text explanations can follow that sequence, allowing the explanation follow the actual steps in the design. This could be used for any design process. I think that I’d like to try this for a design, but using my own process for the anchor points.

Second Evaluation November 2012.

The implementation of this design has begun. One good thing to emerge is that a beekeeping neighbour of mine wants to take on my hives. This means that I can be paid for them in honey, which will please my wife, and that if I decide to recommence keeping bees, I can have them back.

One change to my plan is that I have rather impulsively, and at short notice, decided to undergo training to become a Diploma tutor. I hope that this will help to replace some of the income that I have lost as a result of stopping my beekeeping job. It will also give me a chance to help people with their diploma studies. I feel particularly excited at the possibility that I might get to do some design support for people, as it’s a way that I can help to pass on some of the practical knowledge that I have gained.

4 thoughts on “Designing the Designer”

  1. Hi Deano
    What a change – so much info.
    I really like the “ideas” on this page – especially “Obtain a yeild from the caught and stored energy in my head”
    Hope all well – looking forward to catching up next month.

  2. Hi Jo
    Not sure if this page will make it into the diploma portfolio, but it is something that I am thinking about. How do I make myself more useful.
    It’s OK to keep on gathering new information, thoughts, and ideas, but how do I get that stuff out to people who might also find it useful.
    I’m looking forward to it too. So much to show, and to catch up on.
    Love as always

  3. I’m fascinated by your thoughts here . Have you considered running shorter courses than a PDC in exchange for work? Something like ‘building a compost loo’ may be popular and would give you a specific output at the end. Short courses to achieve a clear goal for you and the participants may make the process more manageable (small and slow solutions?).

  4. Hi Jan. Not really. To do that I would need to find people who knew about that stuff, and get involved in all of the booking stuff etc. as it’s unlikely that somebody else would teach for free.
    I agree that shorter lengths of time would be more manageable, but I am particularly drawn to the idea of helping people who cannot afford what is a very expensive course, to do so. I also like the idea of getting a proper ‘practical’ side to the experience, and giving the opportunity for people to find out just how much hard work this way of life is.
    Perhaps shorter courses would be a good way to get the infrastructure built, and maybe to size up potential candidates for a longer stay.
    Thanks for taking the time to read this

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