“Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems,” according to wikipedia. What does that mean for us?
We are in the process of preparing and developing our piece of land, to provide an abundance of thriving life and beauty. This past summer, we replaced the green lawn with a field of bee and butterfly friendly wild flowers. Within only a couple of months the back yard was teeming with flying bugs, butterflies, buzzing bees, and we started noticing more birds. There was even a wild bunny hopping around from time to time.
We are bringing the top soil back to vibrant life, encouraging a bacteria, bug and worm friendly environment. This living microcosm in the topsoil, breaks down minerals into organic forms that plants can absorb. When plants can absorb the nutrients they need, they are healthier, more resistant to disease and pests. They are also more nutritious for those of us lucky enough to eat them, more nutritious and tastier!
We have started and are continuing to recondition the soil, to make it as healthy as can be. Some of what we planted were nitrogen fixers, plants which breath in the nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. We will be adding ground up kelp to replenish the minerals in the top soil. We are doing this in a nature friendly way, leaving out the harsh fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that so many farmers and gardeners seem addicted to.
As we restore and recondition the topsoil over the next year, we will be developing our raised bed gardens. We will be forming hill gardens, better known by their German name, Hügelkultur. These hills assist with the long term aeration of the soil as well as water management. Rather than rain water flowing down the driveway to the sewer, it will get absorbed into the hills – available to the plants when the rains have stopped and our neighbours grass is turning brown in the hot summer sun.
We commonly think of a vegetable garden as a row of lettuce, between a row of beans and a row of tomatoes. Orchards are typically a row of one type of tree, then a row of a second type. The rows are typically surrounded by dirt, and involve lots of weeding to keep out the unwanted weeds. That is certainly an easy way to harvest, just walk down the row picking all of the crop when it is ripe. Even better for big ag, where tractors and other machinery are used to plant, maintain, and harvest. With a farm of our scale, a few baskets and a glorified kids waggon will be more than sufficient to pick and carry our crops.
To get a better idea of what our gardens will be, picture a stalk of corn, climbing six or seven feet to the sky. When you plant that corn, plant a climbing bean too. The bean plant will climb the stalk of corn like a trellis. Two plants in the space of one, but we are not yet done. Plant a squash seed as well with the kernel and the bean. As the squash grows, its leaves will spread out, covering the ground around the thee plants. The squash leaves collect rain water and direct it towards the root system of the three plants. The squash leaves also choke out those unwanted weeds. In the fall, they drop a few of their seeds, and replant themselves for next year. Then take it a few steps further.
On and between the hills, we will begin planting our food forest. We will have berry bushes under our fruit and nut trees. Vines will crawl up the trunks and branches, while other plants sprawl across the ground. Plants will be flowing across the ground, going around small shrubs and under bigger bushes. Plants will be separated from others of the same species. If a pest finds its favourite alpine strawberry plant, it will not be able to walk from one plant to the next, eating its way through the crop. By separating the like plants, a pest that finds one plant it loves, is less likely to find and wipe out the whole crop. Again, not easy for a large scale operation where a combine must pick and choose what to reap next. Perfect for our little farm.
By designing our gardens along the lines of what nature has been doing since life started on this ball of dirt and water, we are restoring the natural harmony. We are creating a place of raw beauty, health and vibrancy.