Hello! I have to say I am pining for Spring. I have been working on building my permiculture yard as I mentioned in this post last spring, and continue to do so this year. When Realeyes Homestead asked for help to spread the word about their wonderful Indegogo project, I asked them to write a guest post and share with you all about permiculture. If you can find it in you to support them please do and enjoy!
Spring is fast approaching so many of us are starting to plan out our gardens, getting our seeds and trays ready, and generally longing for the warmer days with our hands in the dirt.
Here at Realeyes Homestead, we’ve been learning a lot of great concepts to increase the productivity and efficiency of our homestead from Permaculture. For those not yet “in the know,” Permaculture (Permanent – Agriculture) is a design science for creating sustainable human settlements that work with nature instead of against it. “…of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only one yield of them; and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.” – Mollison.
The best way to “get” Permaculture is to hear and see a lot of examples of it. So, as I share the applications below, I’ll point out the permaculture principles that are being displayed.
1. Overcome the Obsession with Straight Lines
How often do you see straight lines, and 90 degree corners in nature? Not often. Usually we see long sweeping curves, spirals, or waves. This is because these patterns tend to use space better, and harvest resources more efficiently.
We increase the “edge” by making it wavy.
Another example is creating a pond with a wavy convoluted edge instead of a simple oval. This will create more micro-habitats for fish and other water dwelling creatures to live in.
Permaculture Principle: Use Edges and Value the Marginal “The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”
2. Add Support Species to Increase Ecosystem Health
A well functioning plant community, or ecosystem, is just like a human community. You need many different members performing many different functions for everything to run smoothly. But instead of a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker, a plant community needs;
- Groundcover – Plants that spread and creep along the ground to shade the soil, reduce erosion from rain drops, and shade out aggressive weeds. A great one for the garden is White Dutch Clover. You can even put it in your garden paths since it can tolerate some foot traffic.
- Insectaries – Plants that attract pollinators like bees and butterfly’s help keep your veggies pollinated too. Some examples are Yarrow, WD Clover, Asters, Hyssop, Bee balm, Umbels, and Mints.
- Pest Deterrent – Plants that repel problem pests in the garden with their strong aromas. Garlic planted near roses repels aphids, and deters codling moths, Japanese bettle, root maggots, snails, and carrot root fly. Chives repel just about everything! And who doesn’t love their Marigolds and Nasturtiums!
- Nutrient Accumulators – Some plants have deep roots that mine for nutrients in the soil and bring them up into their leaves. These can be “chopped and dropped” many times through the season to provide nutritious mulch to your garden beds. Comfrey is king here, just be sure to get bocking 4 or 14 which don’t produce viable seed, otherwise you’ll have a Comfrey swarm on your hands. Also look into Wild leeks (ramps), Astragalus species, and Stinging nettle.
Just be careful where you put them, many of these plants are perennials and will come back every year, and some are particularly hard to get rid of once they’re established. (Comfrey, Horseradish, Bamboo)
I like to plant my perennials at the ends of my rows so they don’t interfere as much with cultivation, and don’t spread out into the paths because trampling keeps them in check.
Permaculture Principle: Integrate rather than Segregate “By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between them and they support each other.”
3. Install your Garden Beds on Contour
Contour lines are the lines you see on a topographic map. They are imaginary lines that run at the same elevation across your landscape; thus they’re on a level plane. Water has this funny tendency to always run perpendicular to the contour lines. We can use this known behavior by building our raised garden beds on contour. This means that any water that collects above the beds will spread out and soak in, as opposed to running in one direction leading to run-off and erosion problems.
This will slowly charge the groundwater table creating a permanent lens of water beneath the beds which the plants can drink from. (Depending on soil type)
Permaculture Principle: Catch and Store Energy “By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.”
4. Build a Compost Bin with Free Pallets
Pallets (wooden shipping platforms about 3x3ft) are an excellent free resource to tap into. They are available in abundance in almost any metropolitan area. Just look for big box stores that move a lot of merchandise. We use them for firewood, building quick pig shelters, steps, you name it! You can also use them to create a quick & free compost bin! Just get four pallets and bale-wire them together as shown.
It’s good to have a lid to cover the pile so you don’t get a lot of leeching/run-off during rains. It’s also a good idea to put it in a shaded area so the sun doesn’t dry out the compost pile. It should be moist, but not wet, and not dry.
The basic ingredients to a compost pile are greens (high in nitrogen) and browns (high in carbon). The greens are things like veggie scraps, manure, etc that is “wet.” The browns can be straw, woodchips, sawdust, leaves etc. It’s important to have a balance between the two. Some sources say the ratio should be 30 parts brown to one part green, but we get away with about 10:1 without any problems.
We like to start it with a layer of straw (our “brown” of choice) then deposit the greens into the center, then cover them with another layer of browns. Always keeping the greens covered with browns on all sides will cut down the smell to almost zero. If it does smell, simply add more browns.
Turning the pile isn’t necessary but it will speed up the process greatly. (From about a year, to a couple months) Just get in there every week and turn it all up with a pitchfork.
Another idea is to compost directly into your mulch in the garden, or have one of your garden beds be the compost pile each year, so you’re returning the nutrients directly back into the soil where it’s needed. Follow up the compost bed, with heavy feeders like brassicas the following year.
Permaculture Principle: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services “Make the best use of abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.”
5. Make use of Vertical Space
If you’re limited on space, you can fit more productivity into a small area by making use of the vertical space above the ground. You can achieve this in several ways. One is with trellises. Why not get a few more free pallets, hook them together so they stand up, and voila! a free trellis for climbing plants. You can use this in your garden for annuals like Squash and Beans. Or, on your garden fence you can have perennial vines climb up like Grapes or Hardy Kiwi. You would want to keep one side clear and open to the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this would be the southern fence of the garden.
If you have some space around your garden, you can plant a mixture of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and perennial vegetables and herbs to create additional low-maintenance crops, and block out harsh winds.
Shape the canopy to slope towards the sun (usually South) so that you are producing on many layers. For some ideas of what species to plant, check out our Desired Species List.
Permaculture Principle: Use and Value Diversity “Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.”
Realeyes Homestead – Permaculture Farm, Research, and Demonstration Site
Hope you enjoyed the tips and found some useful ideas to put into action in your garden this year! There’s a lot more to learn about Permaculture on many other useful websites and books.
Realeyes Homestead is a kind of proving ground for Permaculture ideas, to find what works, and what doesn’t in our region (Northern Michigan, USA). We’re also building up a diverse nursery of useful plant species that provide many ecosystem functions as well as a crop for us, or our animals. We’re working to restore the ecosystem to health while learning to produce our own needs from it. As we make this journey, we’re sharing every step and mis-step of the way on our Blog. 🙂
If you support this work, please consider making a donation to our Indiegogo Campaign to help get us up and running. Or simply spreading the word would be a huge help as well!
If you are interested in Permaculture Design Consultation please contact us and we can helpyou get your food forest growing!
Happy gardening to you all this year!
-Levi Meeuwenberg, Certified Permaculturist @ Realeyes Homestead
Image sources: http://www.compostjunkie.com/build-a-compost-bin.html, http://www.provisionspermaculture.com/1/post/2012/05/permaculture-in-maui.html, http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=38367.0, http://www.permies.com/t/31046/forest-garden/Small-permaculture-project-kindergarten-yard, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Raised_bed.jpg,
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