Integrate Don’t Segregate, Stacking Functions In Permaculture

When it comes to designing your property using permaculture principles one of the many areas of consideration is stacking functions by integration rather than segregation. When I started implementing this design element into my homestead it increased productivity and efficiency and even added an element of beauty to my property.

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Photo of stacking functions in an urban backyard garden

What does the phrase “Integration Rather Than Segregation” mean?

This design principle takes the teaching of stacking functions (each element in a design having more than one function) into practice through the integration of those elements into the system design.

One way this is put into practice is through the use of guilds. In Permaculture, a guild is a grouping of plants, trees, animals, insects, and other components that work together to help ensure their health and productivity. 

A perfect permaculture guild would have 7 components although it can function as a guild with less.

A guild should provide food for people

Many ecologically minded people sometimes tend to forget that humans are also part of the ecosystem, and as a part of it our systems should provide for us as much as the environment surrounding it. One or more components of the guild should provide food or something useful to you.

Kids working in garden

A guild should feed the soil

A guild should have one or more components feeding the soil in one way or another. This could come in the form of a plant such as beans or legumes which can provide nitrogen for the soil. A soil feeding plant could also come in the form of a dynamic accumulator of nutrients (plants with deep tap roots that accumulate nutrients into the plant) that will supply the soil as the organic matter of the plants die back and put those nutrients back into the soil.

A guild should have components that dig and mine the soil

Plants such as trees and other deep-rooted plants dig deep into the soil and bring up valuable nutrients for the other components of the guild. Insects and animals like worms, ants, beetles, and rodents can also function in a guild to work at aerating and benefiting the soil as well.

A guild should offer groundcover

Groundcover is important because it protects the soil from the sun, helps retain moisture in the soil, and provides a place for microbial activity. Groundcover can come in the form of low crawling plants, broadleaf plants, or mulch made up of bark, straw, or other similar materials. It can even come in the form of non-organic materials like weed block ground covering.

Climbing plants can be another useful part of a guild

Climbing or vining plants can greatly increase food production, especially in places with limited space for growing. Things such as pole beans, cucumbers, grapes, and squash work well in a guild to fill this role. Climbing and vining plants can also thicken up an area creating privacy and protection serving other function stacking possibilities.

A supporting structure is another important part of a guild

This too can be a plant such as a tree or a large tall plant such as corn or sunflower. A structure such as a building or a trellis can also function in a guild to do this job. These supports supply a place for climbing plants to grow up onto enabling them to fill their role in this symbiotic relationship.

Protectors are yet another part of a guild

This can come in many forms, it is basically anything that functions in any way to protect the guild as a whole or any part of it. Plants with strong odors which repel destructive insects are one form of a protector. A protector of a completely different kind may be a fence that keeps animals away that can destroy a plant in the guild or a building that blocks the wind from damaging the guild. This can truly be anything that protects you in any way. I actually consider my small dog as part of my guilds as she protects my plants from things like rabbits, squirrels, and birds.

The concept of integration, not segregation goes further than just planting guilds on your homestead, it has a part in the whole design system, as in where you place things for efficiency, support, and productivity. Here are a few examples.

Example 1.

Placing an herb garden close to a kitchen for efficiency but also using those herbs as a support species for your garden as an insect repellent.

Herbs growing in pots

Example 2.

Placing flowers like marigolds throughout a garden is another example also serving a similar purpose of drawing in pollinators and repelling destructive pests.

Bee on marigold

Example 3.

Placing dynamic accumulators strategically throughout a garden to be used in support of the garden for chop and drop fertilizer and ground cover, These plants usually also have culinary or medicinal purposes as well. My comfrey is an example of this located at the ends of raised beds and at other useful locations in the garden.

Comfrey growing next to raised garden beds

Example 4.

Placing livestock forage plants or trees strategically on your homestead to make them useful for the animals.

On my homestead, I have a mulberry tree, comfrey, a lettuce bed, sunflower, grape leaves and various weeds and grass available for forage within a few feet of my rabbit and quail cages.

Mulberry tree in a function stacked setting

Example 5.

A chicken run could be built around a large mulberry tree which could function as shade, protection, and food for the chickens. The chickens could in return provide fertilizer for the tree, control insect pressure, and make use of the mess a tree like the mulberry creates with dropped fruit.

Utilizing water on a property through integration rather than separating it from the property.

  • The integration of a water catchment system that saves water that can be used later.
  • Installing swales (a ditch on contour) that can capture the water and slowly dispersing it throughout the property.
  • Installing creek beds or tile that can move the water to a more useful location on the property.

Placing or using buildings and other structures strategically to be used for multiple functions.

  • a building could be used for storage, wind protection, water collection, trellis, and/or a thermal mass
  • a compost bin could be placed for convenience in the garden area making it more useful and requiring less energy and time.

Integrating insects in your system design

packages of ladybugs and praying mantis eggs

Ideally planting things within your system that draw in beneficial insects that do the work of pollinating and protecting the plants within your system is best. However, the process can be accelerated by purchasing beneficial insects and releasing them on your property. This is what I have done in the past and it has served me well.

Integrating animals into your system design

Animals such as chickens or pigs could be placed over a future garden area to work and prepare the soil. Chicken or rabbits could be run over garden beds to inject nitrogen into the soil. Chickens could also be used to decrease insect populations in an area. All while your system is supplying the food to feed the animals, again working in a cooperative manner with one another.


These are just a few of the ways in which the permaculture design principle of “Integration not Segregation” can work to make your homestead more efficient and productive. I hope this has given you some ideas in which you can apply this concept in a big way to your Permaculture Homestead.

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