Geoff Lawton's 2015 Online Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course

Christopher H
By Christopher H on Wed, Feb 18, 2015 - 10:26am

I am currently in my second week of taking Geoff Lawton's online PDC, and it is literally blowing my mind so far.  This is not my first exposure to a PDC -- I took an on-site one locally in 2012, and it was definitely a valuable experience.  But Geoff's PDC is a whole other order of magnitude -- the depth of understanding of natural patterns he brings is unique, and he has the talent of taking a complex and complicated subject and distilling it down to its simplest elements, so it is easily understood.  It is informative AND inspiring, and I highly recommend to anyone who has not yet taken at PDC, to sign up for his the next time it's available (which, sadly, won't be until next year).

Are there any other PP members taking Geoff's PDC this year?  If so, please chime in so we can find each other on the boards.  I'm registered there under my full name, "Christopher Harrison".


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Wendy S. Delmater
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dang; nope

I was planning on taking Geoff Lawton's 2015 Online Permaculture Design Certificate Course, but we are in the middle of an IRS audit so I have to get that resolved first (bummer).

Please share some of what you learned.

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Will do, Wendy

I'm compiling my own notes on Geoff's course, and I'll post them on to this thread as the course moves along.  I don't want to post any of the course materials since it's all the property of PRI.

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I wanted to take it, but time

I wanted to take it, but time didn't allow for this session.  Hopefully I'll be able to jump into the next course. I'm slowly working on starting a small backyard nursery as a sideline business with the goal of providing edible perennials, nitrogen fixers, bio-dynamic accumulators, medicinals, fiber/fuel plants, mulch plants and a few of my favorite herbs and ornamentals.  I see a lot of value in being able to market myself as a certified permaculture designer.  I look forward to hearing your reports!

Side question: Does anyone else get the impression there are more certified permaculture designers out there than there are customers at the moment?  It feels like permaculture is making the turn in its' charted exponential growth graph (finally a positive trend!), but I still wonder if a $975 course is an investment or an indulgence at this point.  I do believe we are building towards a critical mass (the 100th monkey moment) when permaculture is going to break into the mainstream hard and fast at which point demand will probably take off too, but can anyone more involved in it comment on the current level of commercial demand?  The time when I'll get really excited is when I see montsanto come out with a PR campaign against permaculture!

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My Notes on Chapter 1 -- Intro to Permaculture

What role do ecosystems play in permaculture design?

There is no such thing as a simple ecosystem, so there is no such thing as a simple permaculture....  "You've got to let your systems complicate themselves, and demonstrate their evolutions."

One hunting pair of jaguar in the Amazon need 35000 hectares (2.4 acres = 1 hectare) to support them as a top predator.  (This helps to demonstrate the amount of ecosystem support required for top predators, and we as humans are top predators in the ecosystem)

Forests are energy capturing entities, as evidenced by their fertility

Forests act as climate buffers -- as we have removed forests, climate has become more erratic.

CARBON --->  PROBLEM = SOLUTION (Problem is excess carbon, so put it to work building forests


What is the role of ethics in permaculture design?

Ethics ---> Methods ---> Patterns.  Anything beyond patterns is "just information," details.

Without ethics, science and human behaviors inevitably trend toward destruction.  Forming an ethical basis at least gives a chance of breaking that trend.

Mankind has never created anything, we have simply taken things provided by the earth and assembled them in different ways.


What is sustainability, and what is its place in permaculture?

Sustainability is basically and energy audit.  You are looking for energy input (other than sun) is lower than the energy yield from the system.  This requires a link to living systems.

"A sustainable system produces more energy than it consumes, that there is enough surplus to maintain and replace that system over its lifetime."

You must go way beyond sustainability in order to generate sufficient yield for sale or trade.


What is permaculture, and what possibilities does it offer?

"Permaculture is a design system that supplies all our needs and benefits the environment." 

Permaculture inevitably changes human society because it forces us to understand where all our resources come from.

By spreading abundance throughout a community and society via permaculture, we can increase stability and reduce real estate turnover -- because when you live in a place of abundance and are happy, why would you want to sell?  Can also increase family stability by decreasing the divorce rate.


What kind of work would people do in a permaculture system?

People would be much better off having portfolios of 5 careers going on concurrently (i.e. 1 main, 2 part-time, 2 occasional) than the kind of mindless activity made up by many modern jobs.

Permaculture Careers

  • Primary production of the land
  • Secondary use of materials from above
  • Providing a valuable/needed service
  • Arts & entertainment


What are some examples/features of micro- and macro-scale permaculture design?

Advantages of urban permaculture:

  • Minimal transport needed
  • Less labor (small space)
  • Convenience
  • Access to abundant waste streams
  • Intensive rather than extensive work

Loess Plateau Project (large-scale land restoration project, see John D. Liu's "Green Gold" and "Hope in a Changing Climate")

  • Hilltops reforested
  • Grazing during restoration period was restricted to pens with forage trucked in.
  • Slopes >20 degrees were reforested and kept off-limits for growing/grazing
  • Slopes between 10 degrees and 20 degrees were planted with fruit trees and bushes
  • Cultivation only in "flat" areas (2 degree slope maintained for drainage, terraced into slopes
  • Dams placed in gullies to form ponds
  • Project took 10 years, $500M ($600 per acre), area larger than Belgium
  • Results were 3 times the yield (measured in farmer income) on 40% of land base by re-establishing ecosystem services
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Thank you so much for taking the time to post some notes on the permaculture course!  I will probably never get to take it, so I am following your comments with great interest.

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Thank you!

Keep the notes coming please.  This is great stuff!

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'Spreading abundance throughout a community'

You're certainly living up to Permaculture Principles by sharing your notes with other members of this group.

I did the PDC in Australia with Rosemary Morrow in the 1990s, but I've always wanted to do a course with Geoff Lawton, especially after seeing John Liu's film that included Geoff's work in the Jordan Valley.

Thank you so much. I'm really looking forward to 'following' you.

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Permaculture Student textbook and synchronicity

I read this thread today, and then stumbled across this kickstarter campaign, raising money (it has more than surpassed its goal) for  introductory materials to permaculture, inspired by the work of Geoff Lawton and Bill Mollison. These materials are appropriate for beginners and/or middle-school-aged children whether homeschooled or public schooled.

"The Permaculture Student 1

The first installment in the Permaculture student series is the middle school volume. It is also for beginners of any age or for anyone wanting a simple, direct and academic reference for permaculture design science. It is a reference manual rather than a traditional textbook of units and assignments. Much of this textbook and workbook is inspired by the work of Geoff Lawton, Geoff’s online permaculture design course and the work of his predecessor, Bill Mollison, one of the co-founders of Permaculture. It is designed such that anyone can setup their site safely and begin their education in permaculture on a solid foundation based in science. 

The Permaculture Student Workbook

The workbook is a guide with recipes to help anyone analyze and plan their own home site. Whether you need to make a topographic map, create a series of climate analogs, arrange the zones, or plot the sunpath or sun angles, this workbook will safely guide you and help you to stay on track. "

I'm going to kick in for these materials myself. With a couple kids approaching middle school, and the desire to learn permaculture myself, I'm excited about this resource.

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Thanks a lot for this link.

Thanks a lot for this link. Isn't crowd-funding great?

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Notes on Chapter 2 - Concepts and Themes in Design


What is the definition of “balance” in a system and how is it used in design?

A balanced natural system builds soil in order to bank its surplus.  When you take from it without a return, you are raiding the system’s bank account.

Hierarchy of soil producing natural systems:

  1. Shallow marine (salt marshes, mangroves, river deltas)
  2. Shallow lakes and ponds
  3. Forests
  4. Prairies and savannahs
  5. Mulched crop gardens

A properly-functioning natural system should function as an ecosystem unto itself.

Model of natural systems:

  • Many connections
  • Diversity
  • Nothing lives forever – everything cycles through

Observation must come first in order to approach design from a thoughtful perspective.


What are elements and how do they work within a system?

Elements are:

  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Structures

An element has needs that are provided by the system, and products that are used by the system.

Imposing force on natural systems is inevitably destructive.  We end up destroying the elements that fill the gaps.  Then, when different species come in to fill the gaps opened up, we don’t “like” those and wage war on them (e.g. “weeds”).

What currently supports us is a model that has broken everything down into individual components.  The result of this model is high energy inputs, significant inefficiency/pollution, and extreme fragility.  This only works on an expanding resource base.

As you force the function of an element, you may increase yield but you shorten its lifespan.

The key to abandoning the component model is to try and imitate natural systems – diverse connections between multiple elements.

Current "industrial" model:

  • Singular elements with additional energy added, and money taken as a product
  • Short energy path
  • Vulnerable to shock, fragile
  • Avoids living systems

Net or web of life model:

  • Multiple elements with multiple connections between those elements
  • Long energy path that can vary depending on multiple factors
  • Resilient to shock -- can lose 40% of connection between elements w/o any loss in yield, or 80% loss of connection while still providing a yield
  • Favors living systems

Every element performs many functions.  Every function in performed by many elements.  Aim for 3 functions for each element in a designed system.

By observing our systems, we can look for ways that energy leaks out toward the sink, capture it, and put it back to the beginning.  And this “reclaimed” energy can take a totally different path and move through different elements.

The industrial model has sped up entropic loss for the purpose of short-term profit with very long-term damage, and without any end-game plan of how to deal with that damage.



  full employment                                  scarcity mindset

  de-centralized                                     centralized control

“The more diverse we plant, the more secure we can be.”

“Cycles in nature are diversion routes away from entropic ends.”  More cycles = more opportunities for yield.


What are niches and what role do they play in natural systems?

Types of niches

  • Niche in space or territory (nest site)
  • Niche in time (cycles of opportunity)
  • Niche in space and time (schedules)

In order to design a complete system that is easy to maintain we have to think in terms of niches in time and space.

It is more advantageous to over-stack your niches to bring them up to climax faster.

Weeds = Niche Openings (holes in an ecosystem)

“[Weeds] are cauterizing the wound of damage.”

There are no weeds in a complete ecosystem because it does not have any open niches.  A complete ecosystem closes all the holes.

Weeds show up because damage is so extensive that no native species are capable of repairing it.


Patterning as an approach to system design

Patterning a system is what provides interaction between elements.




Diversity for diversity’s sake is just a collection, it does not guarantee a positive outcome.  We need interactive diversity.

Design for energy/fertility to move naturally downhill in a system.  Example: Chicken house and straw run uphill from a garden. (Note: I have a graphic showing this system in my original notes, but cannot post it to the message.  If anyone knows how to post an image from a hard drive, please send me a PM explaining how so I can include the graphics here)

It is often that soil health indicators are perceived as a problem – and from there men particularly can be drawn to “battle.”  It is this drive to “go to battle” that often precipitates thoughtless action.


How do energy and ecosystems interact?

Rules of use of natural resources (p34, Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual by Mollison):

  • Reduce waste hence pollution
  • Thoroughly replace lost minerals
  • Do a careful energy accounting
  • Make a biosocial impact assessment for long term effects on society and act to buffer or eliminate any negative impact

Any system that is oversupplied with energy goes into chaos.

On the edge of chaos is the ultimate opportunity for a creative form.

“Ecosystems are like giant batteries of life energy.”

It is the depletion and destruction of our natural ecosystems that has fueled the increasing energy in the climate.

Potential energy and entropic loss are just different phases of the same process.  Entropic loss is the “spending” of energy. (my words, not Geoff’s).

When a drop of water hits high in the landscape and joins with other drops, eventually ending up in a hill/mountain stream, it is high-energy, but low in life.  As the water droplet moves through the landscape, its energy decreases, but life steps in to "take up the gap."  Finally, at the river delta at sea level, there is very little energy left in the water, but life is abundant.  In this sense, Geoff says that although it does not match with what we know from strict science, it appears that life is anti-entropic within a natural system (IMAGE showing the path of water moving over the landscape included in my notes here).


Wise use of resources in permaculture design

Categories of resources:

  1. Those that increase with modest use (e.g. pasture)
  2. Those unaffected by use (e.g. fruit trees)
  3. Those that disappear or degrade if not used (annual garden plot)
  4. Those reduced by use
  5. Those that pollute or destroy other resources – AVOID

Understanding and managing your resources is key to whether landscapes are stable/regenerative or slip into decline (e.g. Mediterranean slipping toward arid)

A Policy of Resource Management: A responsible human society bans the use of resources which permanently reduce yields of sustainable resources (e.g. pollutants, persistent poisons, radioactives).

Dispersal of yield over time:

  • Selection of early, mid, and late-season varieties
  • Early and late ripening situations
  • A general increase in diversity (e.g. leaf, root, seed and fruit are all product yields)

As a designer, you always look uphill for water and downhill for heat.

Mollisonian Permaculture Principles:

  1. Work with nature rather than against it.
  2. The problem is the solution.
  3. Make the least change for maximum effect.
  4. There is no limit to richness in design, only the imagination of the designer.
  5. Everything gardens.


Example of designing for elements: Tagari Farm

Bill Mollison started Tagari Farm on 5 acres.  Lot was rectangular, on a hillside (solar-facing), 2-story house about 1/3 way up lot, road on downhill side which was also solar south.  Vegetation was grass.  Rather than graze/mow the grass or plow/spray/burn to get rid of it, Bill built ponds/swales to grow forests.  (Another image here that shows this graphically)




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Christopher H
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The Permaculture Student

Thanks so much for sharing this link!  I wasn't aware of this project but definitely will throw some $$$ their way now.

I'm fortunate to live in a school district that pushes something tiltling toward a mixed-age Montessori model in elementary school, and my daughter's school also has a thriving school vegetable garden.  My goal this year is to bring permaculture into the discussion by establishing a food forest on campus as a "legacy garden," where each 2/3 class will help establish a new "patch" that they can then see grow and evolve through the years that they attend school, and it will also provide an excellent science-teaching tool for the faculty.  It can also help teach the kids the value of establishing something under a long-term plan, and I can even see this kind of effort eventually leading to work/study opportunities depending on how we can expand the operation.  I'll definitely have to get my hands on this set of books when they come out, and hopefully find some sympathetic ears within the school administration and faculty to start using permaculture as a teaching tool.

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