Permaculture Farm Design – Fazenda Tomati

There are many reasons to do a Permaculture Design before starting work at a farm or garden. Putting in the hours designing your farm on paper before you start making permanent changes on the ground will save you many hours work in the future as you know that the changes you are making are permanent and will not need to be altered or moved at a later date.

A Permaculture Design will take water that previously flooded your land, and use it productively for wildlife habitat, irrigation, leisure space, energy production or otherwise.

A good design will create roads and pathways that join spaces most efficiently according to their planned use, and follow the landscape in such a way that water is slowed and diverted to where it is most useful.

Trees will be planted where they have most benefit to the ecosystem as a whole, whether cash crops or nature belts. They will be used for water management, wind protection, wildlife habitat and more.

But firstly, in order to achieve a completed design like the one below we must first observe and record necessary data from the farm.

First we look at the land form to produce a contour map

Next we can look at how water interacts with the farm in terms of run off, streams and water bodies

After the water we can plan the access routes, and finally the trees and buildings.

All this information combined gives us the opportunity to plan a site that works with nature, reduces energy wastage and increases biodiversity.

Contour Mapping

It is important to first map the contours of a site, as this will clearly show where water will run from and to. This will give you a view of points at risk of flooding as well as ideal points for access routes, dams, ponds and structures.

The reason we look at the shape of the land first is because it is something that we have the least control over. Although we can level areas, we cannot and maybe should not move mountains, so the land shape, displayed using contour lines is where we begin in a design.

Water Map

Once the contours have been mapped you can see where water is going to flow (always at 90 degrees to the contour lines). The water map will show you how water moves from the highest point to the lowest point of your farm, and will also show wells, ponds tanks and how water moves between each element.

We can influence and manipulate water flow through the farm to our advantage but water will always be trying to get to a lower point, till eventually it reaches the sea. Water is the most essential but potentially most destructive element on a farm so the correct management of it is the highest priority.

Access Map

Next up is the access map. This comes after the water map as the water will really dictate where your roads and pathways go. Roads can be used to slowly and direct surface run off towards ponds and other water bodies. Building roads just off contour with good drainage above will mean they never get washed out.

Even if you do not want heavy vehicles on your farm in the future it is worth leaving a 2m access route across the farm in case of unforeseen or emergency situations. This does not have to be a maintained route but it is good to keep it free of large trees, rocks or other heavy objects that could impede large vehicles.

Trees and Buildings

When we know the access routes at a site we can then plan trees and structures. The trees will work as shelter from wind and sun and as such can be planned at the same time as structures.

The placement of trees will also be largely dictated by the exposure and quality of the earth in a particular part of the property. For example we would place water loving trees below a pond, and drought resistant trees on higher south facing slopes.

Using all of the information and maps above we can create a final colour design, which as well as being nice to look at, is incredibly useful in helping us to imagine what the farm or garden will look like when implemented. This makes the hard work during the implementation phase much easier as everyone has an idea of what they are aiming for.

For more information or to contract Tom Keeling for Permaculture Design please email


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