permaculture 3 – obtain a yield

It’s about time for another permaculture principles post, don’t you think? If you want to catch up, here are links to the first two posts:

1. observe and interact

2. catch and store energy

Today I want to talk about the third principle: obtain a yield.

This principle says ‘ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing’. In simple terms, that’s often taken to mean growing vegetables rather than ornamental plants, but there’s more to it than that.

I want lots of things from my garden. Food, yes, but also flowers to look at and cut for the house, privacy, and a nice place to sit, whether I’m working or just reading a book.

IMG_8401I want somewhere to compost food and garden waste, and somewhere to collect rain water. I need somewhere to store plant pots and compost, and space to dry the washing.

DSCF2842My garden, small though it is, yields all those things, as well as providing a nesting place for blue tits, a resting place and food for all kinds of other birds, and supporting a large woodlouse population. Now I have a living willow fence, there’s also the potential for me to make my own baskets, although I’ve not got round to it yet.

DSCF3399The thing I like least about my garden is that it’s so exposed and open to the street, and yet that’s what’s brought one of the biggest benefits – by pottering in the garden, I’ve got to know my neighbours better. (I have a long term aim not to have the scruffiest garden on our street, although given the competition I might be 70 before I meet this).

So there’s plenty of yields to be had from the garden. But what about other areas of life?

I’ve been thinking about this principle for a while, and I keep coming back to three (closely related) things: (1) choosing where to put your time and energy, (2) recognising what yields there are, and (2) being organised.

Choosing where to put your time and energy

How do you spend your time, and what are you getting out of it? We all have at least some time to spend how we please – what do you yield from that time?

I potter in the garden, of course, and from that I get all those things I listed earlier. I sew and knit, and that gives me presents, useful household things, repaired clothes, and occasionally even new clothes, as well as something to do with my hands while watching a film or on a train, and a way of using up the large amount of wool and fabric I’ve acquired over the years.

DSCF1169I volunteer with my local transition towns group, and we have a small community garden. This yields a small amount of food for us, but also gives people who haven’t grown food before a chance to have a go.

DSCF2790I also benefit from the immense knowledge and wisdom of the other people in the group, and their energy for growing and doing. And we’ve helped others to start growing in their own gardens too. Smiles all round.

DSCF2699I also volunteer with our city wide transition group. What I get out of this is a little harder to define – at times it seems to be nothing but sending emails. But in a few weeks we’re hosting Rob Hopkins, founder of the transition movement, who’s coming to launch his new book, ‘The Power of Just Doing Stuff‘. There are three of us organising an afternoon workshop, a procession to hand a copy to the Lord Mayor, and an evening event too. It feels scary and exciting (and a little bit too much like ‘work’) all at the same time. I don’t have much experience of organising events, so here’s a good chance to get some, in a supportive, encouraging environment.

I also run, albeit in a haphazard fashion and with no real commitment. What do I gain? Well, fresh air and exercise. A chance to explore the local countryside. Friendship and encouragement from my online running pals. I learn new things about my ability to push myself. Now my sister runs too, and we laugh our way round races, and compare training plans and how much we’ve ignored them.

DSCF2818In the past I’ve signed up to things and later regretted saying ‘yes’. But right now, everything I do with my spare time is something I want to do.

Recognising what yields there are

I commute to work a couple of days a week, and sometimes when I tell people it takes two hours to get from home to the office, they’re astounded, and ask me why I bother.

I could be annoyed at having to spend those four hours commuting, but I’m not, because they’re not only spent commuting. I walk 40 minutes at the start and end of the day, which gives me fresh air and thinking time, as well as a bit of fitness. It wakes me up in the morning, and clears my head at the end of the day. I’ll often talk to people on the phone while I’m walking too.

Fifty minutes on the train gives me time to slowly wake up, talk to a friend I often travel with (about work, or not), read (again work, or not), plan my day, stare out of the window, or knit. My friend often listens to podcasts about interesting subjects. I suppose I could learn a language, although I don’t intend to.

I always carry a notebook, so if I’m stuck waiting for the dentist, or my train is delayed, I can think about what I’d like to achieve in the next month, or work out through writing how I feel about what’s happened that day. It makes me feel like that waiting time is time for me, rather than wasted time.

Being organised

I’m not naturally organised. It’s taken me a very long time to realise that being organised actually makes my life easier, and it’ll take me even longer to be properly organised in everything.

I bet most of us actually use this principle in our lives every day. Think about it – do you go to the shops, then go home, then go out again to the doctors, then go home, then go out again to the post box? Or do you post your letters on the way to the doctors, then go to the shop on the way home?

I should confess I have plenty of days where I am very much not organised, and I’ve been known to the same shop three times in one day. But when I take time to think and plan before I leave, things usually run more smoothly. Sometimes, for me at least, being ‘busy’ is just the result of poor planning.


I like this principle. It reminds me not to be grumpy about things I have to do, but rather to recognise what else I’m getting from them. It reminds me to plan to make effective use of my time. And it makes me think clearly about when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’.

What things do you have in your life? What do you get from them? Is there anything you’d like to change?

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4 Responses to permaculture 3 – obtain a yield

  1. Heather says:

    This is such a great post and very close to my heart at the moment. For some reason, people think I am a very organised person but I’m really not, I just give a good impression of one!
    But at the grand old age of 33 I’m starting to realise I could be a lot better – we have lots of plans for our home that could be done so much quicker and cheaper if only we were more organised. I am certainly going to take a leaf out of your book and spend my time much more wisely than I have so far!!

  2. Love this! Recognising the yield, and that it may arrive in all sorts of different ways, if you can but recognise them, starting with the garden, but branching out to all kinds of things. I think with a long journey like that each way, but only for a few days each week, you have a real gift there, potentially, and you’re obviously using it well – the variety of things you do with that time absolutely proves it. I try to apply this principle in my life all the time – if I fall down at it, its usually because I leave the last 5 – 10% of something undone, and it just takes up space without being useful – I had a purge this week, and got a lot of projects finished, which was brilliant, so the next aim is to get each one finished to the point of usefulness (I’d never say 100%, lol) rather than hanging-around level 🙂 And it makes me think of something very wise you said to me one time when I mentioned watching a tv programme that was funny, but didn’t take me anywhere, so to speak – it was a pleasant use of time, but not the wisest, or with the most potential. So true! And here’s the principle behind that, its great. Thanks for posting this in one go, I’m going to read back on the other posts now.

    • Oh you are SO right about leaving 10% of something undone. That happens SO often round here, and it really does just sap energy! Persistence is the key… I can do it at work and am often found finishing off loose ends, but at home? Er…

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