In a few weeks, I will begin design work on a new property – mine – a little less than an acre in a suburban neighborhood. It has been a year since completing my PDC and I have been scouring the Internet for software tools appropriate for permaculture design. I haven’t really found any. For a practice that is nearly 40 years old, I am surprised and a little disappointed that we don’t have any permaculture-aware design software yet.
In my repeated attempts to google for such software, I have found a few folks describing their toolsets, usually cobbled together from desktop publishing, computer-aided drafting and/or landscaping software. While these help solve the visual aspect of the design problem, they aren’t much help for the information side of permaculture design. So I was intrigued when I found three projects that seem to come close to meeting my needs. One covered the design/layout side, and two more dealt with the more information-intensive side of permaculture – polycultures, plant/pest/beneficials interactions, climate/yield/etc.
The first, Synergy, was written about in April 2012 and is still getting stray comments as of last week, but there doesn’t seem to be any progress. The second, at OpenSourceEcology.org, was last modified in April 2012, so not much happening there, either. And the third, on Permies.com forum, had a great spurt of activity in a three week period in Jan-Feb 2013, but seems to have died off, too.
What would the ideal permaculture design software do for you? How much would it help create the base map? Would it have layers and let you develop “what-if?” scenarios? Would it make it easy to introduce micro-climates by dragging from a palette of patterns? Would it do yield calculations over time? Would it do solar aspect over seasons and years? How about water handling in deluge conditions and hydration in drought? And, perhaps the holy grail, would it track the function stacking, the plant interactions, plant/animal interactions, and human/system interactions.
You might also want are a rich plant database, or at least access to one or more via the Internet. But you also may need to work disconnected with no internet for maps or plants or updates. You might need to work in the field, having only a smart phone or tablet (think iPad) or old school paper and pencil, then synchronize with a desktop or the cloud – or possibly run it all on a tablet. And what about sharing patterns you’ve created, and other information about your designs and ongoing production with friends, colleagues and clients.
Now, what about getting even more ambitious? What about doing full functional analysis and having multiple views like some tools I use for systems engineering? Functional decomposition, mechanism mapping, requirements mapping and tracing, and system qualities mapping? These might at first seem like overkill (or at least not be obviously useful), and they probably are for designing a garden. But as we more fully embrace permaculture as a life design system, we will greatly benefit from the lessons learned in decades of systems engineering, too.
[reminder]What do you want to see in permaculture design software?[/reminder]
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