Permaculture Design Course Curriculum Overview

Introduction to Permaculture Ethics, Principles, and Pattern Understanding

These introductory topics explore the application of the principles of Permaculture and the social and ecological ramifications of this ethically based design system.  We will discuss the guiding principles that allow us to apply ourselves to the repair of earth systems design and development of sustainable human settlements.  We will explore how an understanding of patterns (including spatial relationships, forms in nature, time, and sequencing of events) informs our relationship with the Permaculture design process.

Site Assessment and Design Methods for Permaculture Property Design

Students will learn site observation and assessment techniques for reading landscapes.  We will cover practical methodologies of design, enabling you to translate your observations into an optimized site plan.  Various approaches to optical surveying for assessing solar angle, slope, and contour will be utilized to plan and construct roads, trails, swales, home sites, and ponds.  Assessment of plant communities, microclimates, soil conditions, water quality, and forest health will be covered.  These assessment tools as well as various Permaculture design methodologies will be used to plan our systems prior to installation.

Climate and Microclimate: Climate Change and Design for Disaster

How does climate and weather occur on the global scale and how do the global climatic patterns inform our climate and weather at the local level?  What changing climatic conditions can we foresee for the Pacific Northwest as atmospheric carbon dioxide climbs to levels higher than any time in the last 100 million years?  What can we do now to prepare for and buffer the impacts of these changes in the way we design our food, water, energy, and shelter systems?  In addition to exploring some of the answers to these daunting questions, we will learn about how we can work with microclimate to take advantage and manipulate some aspects of climate at the local level to extend our growing season, improve the livability of our homes, and increase total biological diversity and crop yields.

Soil Fertility Management, Compost and Compost Tea, and Biochar

All health starts with the soil.  We will explore the ways we can improve the health of our soil and thus our plants through effective compost management, cover cropping, agroforestry and perennial food systems, animal integrations, compost tea applications, fungal relationships, and biochar production.  We will examine the pertinent aspects of soil chemistry in order to gain an understanding of the processes that improve or decrease soil health.  We will learn how we can work with these processes to enhance nutrient availability, moderate soil pH, build and retain soil organic matter, and enhance water availability.  We will also explore the roles of the living members of the soil environment from earthworms to bacteria that ultimately are responsible for the health of the soil.

Forest Gardening

Forest gardens mimic the structure and function of woodland environments at the same time that they provide a supply of food and useful products.   Additionally, we will explore the principles behind the establishment and maintenance of perennial forest gardens.  We will work with Aprovecho’s orchards and forest gardens in both the context of young, intermediate, and mature sites to understand the management approaches and conditions at multiple ages of maturity.  We will cover forest garden management strategies throughout the year from winter and summer pruning techniques and principles, maintaining fertile ground and healthy trees, and managing common pests.

Agroforestry and Sustainable Timber Management

Agroforestry is the science of integrating perennial crops into animal and annual production systems.  This holistic approach to agriculture helps us diversify our yields and increases the overall ecological health of our landscapes.  We will discuss the ways that trees interact with the atmosphere and the soil to cycle water, build fertility, and manage microclimate.  We will then explore the applications of windbreaks, hedgerows, streamside woodland buffers, woodland grazing, and perennial forage systems to gardens and farms.  We will also tour Aprovecho’s forestry operation and learn the principles and techniques that guide sustainable timber management in Cascadia.  We will discuss forest management practices that are both regenerative and provide useful and marketable woodland products.  We will also look at forest dynamics of fire, mixed hardwood and conifer forest ecosystems, restoration forestry practices, and managed old growth systems.

Permaculture Earthworks: Ponds, Roads, Swales, Drains, and other Earth Repair Strategies

During this course we will examine the principles of water harvesting and have a look at Aprovecho’s water harvesting earthworks.  We will discuss considerations for pond placement and design, explore the utility of swales and drains for water dispersion and retention, and explain the legal ramifications of water harvesting in Oregon.  We will also learn how roads, ponds, swales, and drains can be assembled into a pattern of connected systems that enables efficient flow of energy on a site and can be connected with agroforestry, aquaculture, energy generating, and grazing systems to rapidly increase the productivity of landscapes.  Pond, trail, and swale survey and installation will occur as part of this program leaving students with the ability to plan, install, and manage earthworks as part of their future Permaculture systems.

Home Water: Water Purification, Greywater, Blackwater, Raintanks, Wells, and Springs

Students will learn how to actively address and design consistent access to potable water throughout the year, whether you live in an urban or rural environment. Design considerations for different styles of catchment tanks, springs, and wells will be discussed.  We will also have a look at how we can make the best use of water that leaves our home through blackwater and greywater treatment strategies.  We will also explore strategies for the filtration of water for potable use.


Aquaculture, the cultivation of aquatic plants and animals, is one of the most sustainable and high yielding forms of food production.  We will explore the potential of this at once new and ancient food system for both the home garden and the production farm.  Students will have the opportunity to explore a wide spectrum of aquaculture production systems including indoor sub-tropical aquaponic systems, outdoor pond systems, and stream based systems.  Topics covered include design and management of aquaculture systems and plants and animals for aquatic environments.

Sustainable Animal Husbandry

Students will learn about the humane care of chickens, goats, pigs, ducks, and cattle with an emphasis on their integration into the holistic management regimes of sustainable food systems.  Applications of animals for both home and farm scale production will be explored.  Specific topics covered include grazing systems for pasture management and prairie restoration, soil fertility management, ground preparation and tillage, weed and pest control, and approaches to livestock care specific to the animal.

Permaculture Design for Buildings and Appropriate Technology

We will explore the application of Permaculture to buildings and technology. Building design considerations for different climates and purposes as well as the choice of materials will be discussed.  We will also cover the use of technology in Permaculture from alternative energy systems to locally reproducible technologies for heating, cooling, and energy generation.

Political and Economic Strategies of a Sustainable Society

We will cover the practical structures that enable successful development of sustainable systems and communities.  Discussions will cover local currencies, banking, resource libraries, land ownership models, business models, and more.  We will use Aprovecho as a case study as we lay out the structures that have allowed our site to survive over 30 years of change and adaptation in the movement.