Catch & Store Energy.
All matter is energy is a law of physics. Another, related law of physics is that energy is neither created or destroyed but exists in a perpetual state of entropy. In other words it is continually breaking down into lower or less usable forms of energy. Every action will have a net energy loss.
The idea behind the principle of catching and storing energy is to hold it for the longest possible time in a form in which it is useful to us. For example we can catch and store sunlight in plants. These may be food for ourselves or for animals or it could be trees grown for timber or as carbon sinks to help replenish & stabilise the carbon lost or converted into pollution through the use of fossil fuels.
We could also catch & store sunlight using solar panels & batteries to convert it to electricity. Whilst this may seem to defy the second law in that electricity is more useful to us than unconverted solar rays, the process of conversion has a loss of energy overall. There is also losses in the form of friction and heat in relaying the electricity from the battery storage to the end use product such as a toaster or electric jug and in the manufacturing of the panels in the first place. Plus solar panels only convert about 20-30% of available solar energy in the first place.
Another most valuable form of energy is water. It is essential for all life therefore the catching & storing of water should be a priority for everyone. Maximising the catchment & storage of water will depend on what you want to use it for. It can be as simple as improving soil structure & mulching so water is caught, stored and used in situ by plants. If water is wanted for later use then longer keeping facilities need to be used such as rainwater tanks, wells or dams. Don't stop there with initial capture of water when greywater such as from bathing can be caught, purified and reused again for things like toilet flushing, clothes washing or watering trees.
Swales are depressions dug into the ground across the flow of water such as along the contour of a slope. These will catch the water for a time allowing it to concentrate along the length of the swale. This makes an ideal planting area for plants which benefit from a bit extra water. Swales also tend to catch and store leaf litter, debris, seeds, dust etc which increase the fertility of the soil in the base of the swale. In this way it is also a devise to catch & store nutrients which is yet another form of energy. Whether intentionally created or not the effects of swales can often be observed along roadsides where the water runs off the hard surface of the road to collect in ditches alongside. Even shaping a small pan around the base of a plant when planting it into the ground will help to catch & store additional water & nutrient.
It is with the smallest applications of a principle that change is made. As with any change it will affect everything else in the web of life.
To read other articles on Permaculture visit the archives.
If you want more in depth information on Permaculture look at any of the books available on the subject particularly those written by David Holmgren or Bill Mollison who were the original co creators of the system.
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