Here is my presentation from the Sustainability Festival on the 20th ..... Something I forgot to say and would like to add. When you first start out not mowing and you aren't used to it, it's going to look a bit like the beginning phase of a beard. Rough and scraggly, just hold on. It's going to be a colorful ride. (P.S. I have no idea why blogger is making the font big in some places and small in others?)
Picture in your mind the Garden of Eden - a paradise. I imagine an ancient place dripping with fruit and nuts, food at my finger tips and I don’t imagine a place where people are slaving away. It’s what we dream of, but gardening the common way is so labor intensive and expensive. Much of the time and effort is spent adjusting for our poor Earth stewardship. When I think of paradise, I never think about acres and acres of mowed monochromatic grass. Imagine a garden that each generation in a family can build on for the next and the quality of life and land value for each generation is improved.
When I started gardening, I did it the way we were all taught. I tilled, planted annuals in a row using crop rotation, hoed, watered a lot, fertilized, sprayed for bugs, weeded and started over the next year. When we started out as organic gardeners none of that changed. Then I started learning about permaculture and was hooked. Permaculture isn’t a new way of gardening, it’s the oldest way.
Once their setup, permaculture gardens are low maintenance and produce high yields. You build on your work every year.
o Plants grown this way have provided for people for thousands of years w/ less input than what people do today.
o They can provide shade, wind blocks, water storage, food and medicine.
o Our food forest and gardens are just in the beginning stage. We hope in 5 years we’ll have a good amount of produce and materials with much less work than in a traditional garden.
o In Just two seasons, already there has been so much improvement over our traditional gardening ways and we were able to harvest the first year.
· Permaculture is a word used to describe design principles in permanent agriculture.
o It’s a system based on observing and imitating nature. A way of looking at the whole system 3 dimensionally from the tallest tree to the deepest rooted plants. Nature doesn’t till, but it grows a garden every year. You look at how the landscape flows, where the wind blows, what is already growing and where. You reduce your need for watering, weeding and fertilizing. You learn to stack functions, maximize space, condition soil and store water. Our goal is to have minimal garden work in a few years, especially in our old age. Mainly just cutting or mowing in the winter and adding that to the gardens every year as mulch along with pruning and saving seed.
o Gardens can be designed using the same principles that nature uses by creating plant communities that are interconnected and benefit each other.
· I can’t get into all the basic concepts today
o I have Handout (at end of this blog post) with information on classes, books, links and wonderful online videos.
o Last 2 years we’ve transitioning to permculture based system and today I want to share about what we’ve been doing – what has worked and what hasn’t.
I now think of myself as a soil farmer. If the life in the soil is happy, the plants will be healthy. 1 tsp of good soil can contain a billion bacteria, a million fungi & 10,000 amoebe. It’s full of life. For a great garden, taking care of these microbes is the most important job. They shuttle nutrients around and break down matter that plants can’t digest on their own. They are crucial to a self-sustaining system. These organisms can furnish almost all the fertilizer plants need, they keep the soil light and fluffy and help the soil store water. Using products like herbicides and pesticides kill your microbes and leave you having to add fertility.
o One of the reasons we didn’t want to till is because it actually compacts soil and kills the top layer of microbes and earth worms. It does release a flood of nutrients for temporary fast crop growth, but that’s only for the short term. You release more nitrogen and carbon than you can use at one time, and it washes away because the soil is unprotected from tilling. Fertility then has to be continually added and crops rotated. Tilling ruins the soil structure and increases the chance of erosion. So instead, we tried different ways of creating an area to plant.
The first things we did was create no-till or lasagna beds. It’s called Lasagna gardening because you add materials in layers like in lasagna.
o This picture shows what it looked like immediately after we built it. This is just the first small patch and I keep adding to it. You’ll see pictures later of how it’s progressed.
o First I mowed the area and then laid down non-colored cardboard or newspaper and if you have it put compost on top of that and then I covered that with a thick layer of straw – NOT HAY. Some people wet this down, but I never have. Don’t fluff the straw at this stage, lay it on thick in flakes. Then add other things you have as you have it like cooled wood ash, grass clippings, leaves or sawdust – get creative. There is a book called lasagna gardening on my handout that explains how to do it properly, but I used what I had.
|After 7 months|
o In about 7 months there was a dry top layer of straw, but when I pulled that back, there was dark crumbly, moist humus. The heavy mulch reduces the need to water and helps suppress the unwanted plants. Permaculture isn’t fast, but you are building on something every year.
o We’re planting as many perennials as we can for a permanent garden that won’t need much watering and some annuals are stuck in here and there. Especially those that re-seed easily. Perennials are plants that last at least 3 seasons, but some last much longer than that.
o When planting seeds, make a hole in the straw, put a little compost if you like and put in the seed. Don’t pull the straw back over it until the seed germinates so you can watch it and keep it watered till it does. For a root crop, pull the straw back and just put the root down in the light fluffy new soil under the straw. I planted Jerusalem artichokes with just my hands and later harvested the same way.
o After the seed is a plant, it’s a lot easier to mulch around them with cut grass that has turned brown, than it is with straw. I don’t put green grass at the base of plants in the summer because it’s hot. I put it in the pathways to dry and brown some and then it’s handy and is the most pleasant thing to add to the base of plants. It’s easier to shape around the plant and our straw has some prickly vines that I don’t like to touch. When you are mulching around the base of plants, put the mulch on fluffier to let more moisture through.
o Otherwise add fresh cut grass to compost piles and to the tops of new beds you are building.
o There’s not much weeding in the no till bed. Grass pulls up very easily. But most plants that grow there, even those traditionally considered weeds, have a benefit. The first year there were almost no unintended plants, but I didn’t heavily add mulch this winter and I’m glad for it. This season there have been a lot of great volunteer plants that probably wouldn’t have come up if I had.
o But you should keep adding to your no till bed every year because the straw will break down.
o To imitate nature, you build light fluffy soil from the top through plant matter and from underground by deeply rooted plants that die and compost. Think of cover crops and weeds as humus builders.
o The most active growing parts of a plant are the root hairs, sometimes only living a few hours and this decaying organic matter builds humus deep in the soil continually. Some plants send roots 10-15 feet deep. On plants I truly want to limit, I cut them at the base right before they go to seed and leave the cuttings in place or put them on the pathway. That way I benefit from the root decay.
o The only plants I pull from the root are vines, anything that will hurt to the touch or grass.
o There are all sorts of cover crops that are annual or perennial. In the book Gaia’s garden that I brought with me there is a chart listing different plants you can use and you’re welcome to look at it afterwards.
o If you plant a variety of cover crops, the soil life will be more diverse. The more diverse the soil life, the healthier the soil. Just balance the nitrogen fixers with non-legumes like annual ryegrass. The organisms in the soil use a lot more carbon than nitrogen - so you don’t want just legumes.
o Nitrogen fixing plants extract nitrogen from the air and change it to a form other plants can use. Some people think you have to till these plants under for them to work. But that’s not true. Some common nitrogen fixers are peas, beans or clover. It’s been found that clover can feed nitrogen to the surrounding plants through their roots. We’re also growing other perennial nitrogen fixers too like false indigo, buffalo berry, and sweet fern. I couldn’t live without sweet fern because I get poison ivy all summer.
o Some plants can punch through and improve hard compact sub-soil below the surface like rapeseed, mustard, mullein, and burdock. You can even grow daikon radish and leave it in the ground to compost. Some plants bring minerals to the surface like chicory and buckwheat.
o If you are using really old straw or hay, watch for white powder in the air, it probably isn’t good to breathe that in. Be upwind of it and I try to use the oldest of the spoiled hay after a rain and it’s slightly wet. Seems to keep the powder down. It’s better to use Straw than hay because hay has seed that you don’t want in your garden. But if the hay is really old, it’s probably OK.
o I do prefer to cut pathways around the property to harvest grass for mulch instead of buying straw and we’re transitioning to buying less and less straw now that many of the gardens are setup.
o In the fall and winter just cut more grass and dead wildflowers and keep adding it (or straw) to your gardens. During the summer we cut pathways, during the fall and winter I make a once over sweep of the pasture to take out baby trees that we don’t want. This also helps wild flowers to germinate more easily in the spring.
Here are some shots of the garden the first year. This is the pumpkin that ate the garden. The garden is surrounded by wild and planted perennial flowers. Some of the produce from the garden below that.
o In an area of the garden where clover volunteered, I did like the famous Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka and had a clover garden. He’s famous for not plowing his fields, using no agricultural chemicals or prepared fertilizers, not flooding his rice fields and his yields equaled or surpassed the most productive farms in Japan. The clover plants are a living mulch and to plant in it, just open a hole within the clover. All the greenery suppresses weeds, holds moisture, blossoms attract beneficial insects, their nitrogen fixing boosts growth for plants near it and it can be used for medicine.
|Clover garden, annuals marked with stick to find|
|Cabbage in clover|
|Bean in clover|
o At the end of the season, I cut, not pull the old tomato stems and lay on the side of the garden to compost along with the Jerusalem artichoke stems and use for a snake house because they will help keep mice out of the garden.
o Some plants that people consider weeds accumulate nutrients from underground and deposit in on top of the soil through leave litter. Plants like Yarrow, purslane, lamb’s quarters, chicory, dandelion, plantain, and sunflowers. I leave all of these as they show up in the garden. They also help attract beneficial insects and yarrow may speed up the growth of some plants from metabolites it releases into the soil.
o We don’t usually plant the same types of plants together or all alone like you do in a typical monoculture planting. As much as possible, plants get all mixed up just like in nature and that’s called polyculture. One of the benefits to keeping alike plants spaced apart is It reduces bug problems since bugs can’t simply walk from their favorite plant to another easily in a bug buffet. There are other benefits as well and you can learn more by reading some good permaculture books.
· There are many ways of making a no-till bed. Another way by laying down a sheet of black plastic for a while until the grass underneath was dead. An added benefit is that it fluffed the soil, especially if you do it in the fall and winter because of frost heave. This made planting so easy. In one bed I scratched the surface to broadcast seed and didn’t use much mulch. In this bed I planted mostly perennial flowers like sweet William, butterfly weed and coreopsis. Among them, I planted watermelons. Wildflowers and perennial planted flowers grew together and are beautiful, the watermelons grew very well. With zero effort, the flowers are all coming back this year.
Some pictures of the garden made with black plastic.
|Guara Biennis and wild and planted wildflowers and perennials. Watermelons in there somewhere.|
|Another shot, same garden.|
o When you are done making the bed, get the plastic out of the sun as soon as possible and store to use later. It’ll deteriorate quickly in the sun. In another bed I made with black plastic like this, I laid down thick flakes of straw like in the no-till bed.
· When we first moved here, our property had a ton of debris piled up and an excessive amount of rose bushes, so we did have a few burn piles. Nature hates exposed soil, so after burning, pioneer plants move in quickly to take care of it and you can plant a cover crop here also. This created a space that was also very easy to plant. Peas planted here were twice as big as peas planted elsewhere and it was very easy to push the pea into the ground.
o So Pioneer plants quickly cover exposed soil, and are usually plants that create fertility. Deep tap root plants also move in like mullein or burdock will break through hardpan soil. Their leaves create a lot of nutrient rich plant material that composts on the surface. The plantain, dandelion, chicory, clover and sorrel type plants keep the soil covered and bring nutrients to the surface also. Left alone they will improve the soil and make way for other plants. I have entire raised beds that I’ve left to clover and other weeds because the soil is so dense and will try them again next year.
|Lemon Sorrel quickly moved in|
|Peas grown here twice as big as other peas|
|My favorite Mullien|
o Succession is nature’s way of taking bare earth to forest. First short annual pioneer weeds come in, cover the soil and prepare the way for tall perennials, then in a few years perennial shubs and under the right conditions, the shrubs prepare the earth for a young forest. You can use this to your benefit and create a woodland landscape with sunny openings with a blend of trees, shrubs, and plants requiring little input from you.
· My first intro to permaculture was a video on Food Forests also called Forest Gardening - it has been my passion ever since. I knew about the no-till and no weeding methods, but I didn’t really find out about permaculture until I discovered this video which led to some permaculture books. For Thousands of years people learned to work with the natural systems in a way that met their needs for food, water, medicine, fiber and building materials. Food forests have been found that are still productive today that are between 2 – 3,000 years old.
Pictures I found on the internet of Food Forests and home forest gardens.
o A forest recycles its nutrients and they’ve found that they typically only lose 2% of minerals to run off each year. Traditionally tilled and heavily fertilized fields lose 25 – 60% of its minerals each year through run off.
o Permaculture uses each layer of a forest to help other plants, create protection, fertilize naturally, provide food and build up soil. Each layer is important.
o The layers are top Canopy, understory tree, shrub, herbaceous layer, low growing ground cover, vines and deep roots.
o In our woods we already had persimmons, hazelnuts, oaks, and then closer to the open spaces and the edge a variety of shrubs like sumac, berries, herbs and wildflowers. Those existing trees that can be used for food or medicine will get more space if it needs it and gardens created around it of shade loving perennials and support plants.
o Also we’ve been planting many more fruit and nut trees in the woods. Along the edge we have planted more berries, medicinal herbs and other perennial plants that are either for food or are nitrogen fixing or both.
· We’ve started a new food forest in an open grove that’s surrounded by a perimeter of tall oaks and that has been planted with fruit trees.
o Expanding out from each tree base are no-till beds created with cardboard or natural fiber cloth or straw. They will be continually expanded till they are large enough to meet each other with pathways winding through.
o In the smaller planted areas, to keep chickens from scratching the straw away, I cover it with easy to carry rocks slightly spaced apart. Rocks also are a mulch and condense and drip morning dew to the soil under them. It doesn’t help the tree much, but will help other support plants planted under the tree. It’s easy to move the rocks and add new mulch as you need it.
o Perennial support plants are being planted around the trees. Beneficial plants like Comfrey will be planted for the “chop & drop” method to build fertile soil. It’s a nutrient accumulator and produces a lot of plant material. It’s strong tap roots break through clay and hard soil. It can also be used medicinally and attracts beneficial insects. Along with Jerusalem artichoke, this is also a fortress plant that will keep down the grass and other plants from moving in.
o Different trees have what are called guilds. Those are plant and tree communities which are mutually beneficial. In a guild you’ll have plants for food, herbs, insect and bird attraction, soil building, fortress plants and sometimes nurse plants that take care of the baby trees till they are more mature.
o In an apple tree guild could be Comfrey, legumes, globe artichokes, nasturtium, dill, fennel. At the drip line of the apple tree; bulbs like daffodils can be planted to suppress grass and deter dear from eating your apples. Just outside of the daffodil circle, comfrey plants will attract bees and other beneficial insects. The artichokes planted with the comfrey will provide soil building mulch for the apple tree and the other members of the guild.
· We are transitioning from mostly annuals to mostly perennials or plants that easily self-seed. This will stop the work of focusing on starts every year and greatly reduce the need for water and fertilizer.
o There are perennial greens (like perennial Kale, Good king Henry, French Sorrel, Malabar spinach, Turkish rocket and even spring dandelion greens), perennial veggies (like root crops, asparagus, artichokes, Chinese mountain yams, ground plum, milkvetch, sea kale, lovage, Japanese parsley, wild leeks, and watercress) and there are perennial herbs (oregano, sage, rosemary and many others).
o There are annuals that re-seed easily like arugula, chard, lettuce and kale.
o Picking plants that are multifunctional is called stacking functions. A medicinal herb can also be a nutrient accumulator, fertilizer and reduce weeds (like comfrey or mullein). Or edible plants that provide shade to the house.
· The prior owners left behind piles and piles of old decaying wood. We’ve been stacking that wood into what is called hugelkultur beds. It’s an ancient form of sheet mulching using wood waste to build soil fertility, improve drainage and for moisture retention. I started by killing the grass using cardboard and straw. On top of that I lay the wood down in a wide bed and then start layering with bad or good soil, rotting straw, animal manure, cooled wood ash and more decaying wood. The beds can be several feet high and are covered in dirt. Or create a compost pile on it and use the bed the next year. The rotting logs will retain moisture feeding it to your plants and as the wood decomposes it changes even the most infertile soil into fertile.
Here are some artist renditions of Hugle beds from www.richsoil.com
|Our Hugle beds. One to the left being built, one on right finished|
· The newest garden beds I’m creating by composting in place. When the compost pile is ready, it then becomes a garden bed and another is started usually right next to it. I steal a little compost for starting seeds and then plant in it. Moving compost kills worms and much of the good stuff is washed into the soil below, so composting in place makes sense. You could even do it with raised beds.
· We started just mowing the areas we need for pathways and work space. The grass is harvested and used on the no-till beds or in the compost pile. The first year all around the garden grew so many beneficial plants and insect traps. In an area near where we live grew a huge patch of a beautiful purple flower called self-heal that I harvested for herbal products, and butterfly weed and many other wonderful flowers grew.
o There were no baby trees growing in the area so I didn’t mow it again last fall. This year, no self heal is growing there and it is now only growing on the pathways that were mowed. So it was a learning experience and through observation I learned that if I want those particular plants to continue to grow, I need to mow down the tall stuff in the fall.
o In the areas around the garden that weren’t mowed in the spring, there was a sea of beneficial plants that grew which I’ll talk about later. But one I discovered was Gaura Biennis and though it was covered in Japanese Beetles, there were none in the garden. It’s a nice tall plant that gets covered in little white and pink blooms. When it first started growing, I had no idea what it was but left it. It took a while to identify it. I’m so glad I didn’t mow around the garden, or those Japanese beetles would have been eating our food.
· Some of our planned permaculture projects involve water storage, though No-till and heavily mulched beds require much less watering. Typical home landscapes consume more water, fertilizer and pesticides than industrial farms, so it’s something everyone can do.
o We catch rain water from the roofs of different outbuildings and use for the garden.
o But the cheapest way to store water is in the soil. Soil w/ humus and organic matter acts like a sponge and can hold several times its weight in water. Soil with just 2% organic matter can hold 75% more water than poor soil. So Again, soil building is the most important part. Some people that live in a residential area don’t know this, but many times the builders strip off and sell the top soil when building the homes. To start from scratch in that case, some people have truckloads of compost from yard waste programs and peat moss brought in.
|Store Water underground in swales. Image from : http://tcpermaculture.blogspot.com/2011/06/permaculture-projects-swales.html|
|Image from: http://wn.com/Permaculture_Water_Harvesting_Through_Swales|
o You can make swales and contours, even minimal ones and the water is stored in a lens in the earth below the swale. Good soil can hold a lake underground that feeds the plants from below. Place plants with their water needs in mind.
o We’re going to start routing our gray-water from the house into a marsh with filtering plants and overflow into a pond next to the garden. Around the pond will be water loving perennials. You can even run a marsh under gravel if you’re worried about mosquito larvae. In several good permaculture books, you can read about creating a habitat for waterfowl, putting in the correct plants like cat-tail (which you can eat) and vegetation density which will help eliminate mosquito problems.
o Even if you don’t have a gray-water system, water can easily be routed from the washing machine into a gravel bed near a tree. Do a little research on what you can put down your drain when using gray water. You don’t want things like bleach or mineral oil going to the base of your trees. Definitely avoid detergents that have softening agents because those are usually made of salts that build up in the soil over time.
· A permaculture system has a lot of ways to deal with pests and disease. But 90% of the bugs you see in the garden are beneficial or harmless. I bought a bug identification book and was surprised how many we had that were the good guys. A garden should support predator bugs and pollinators.
o I create obstacle courses in the garden. Nature doesn’t have solitary plants of the same height, type and root depth creating a bug superhighway where they can easily travel from their favorite plant to favorite plant. By mixing up the planting, no two plants that are the same will touch and it creates a bit of an obstacle course for certain bugs. I also have an obstacle course of very tall grass between the two gardens plots. Some permaculturist I know say if you are going to plant a tomato for example, then 75% of the rest of the plants in the bed should not be a tomato. I’m not quite there yet.
o Around the garden in the un-mowed areas, Beneficial insect attractors like Queen Anne’s lace, Butterfly weed, clover, Dandelion, cinquefoil, yarrow, and bergamot grew. Even though our garden is still in the very early stages of permaculture design and is really lacking, I wasn’t being wiped out by squash bugs like others I knew. I didn’t see any squash bugs till the very end of the season when all the pumpkins were finishing up and it didn’t affect the harvest. We had a few horn worms on the tomatoes, but not so many we couldn’t pick off and eventually I saw a hornworm with the white larvae of a wasp that kills them. I talked a little about how Guara Biennis attracted ALL of the Japanese beetles and so did the wild multiflora roses which also grow near the garden. There were no Japanese beetles in the garden only a few feet away.
· Permaculturists design for maximum use of space. Wide beds reduce the number of paths giving you more area to plant. Planting in a triangle pattern and using keyhole beds maximizes space also.
o For example, to get 50 square feet of planting in a typical garden layout with single rows of plants requires 40 square feet of pathways. Changing to wide double reach beds can cut that to 10 square feet of pathways and using a keyhole bed can cut it to 6 square feet of pathways. A double reach bed is one where you can only reach to the center of the bed from either side.
o A keyhole bed is shaped like a U and maximizes space. We have just started building keyhole beds this year. You can combine several of them together pointing the central path south to create interesting shapes in a yard.
|(can't locate source)|
o Another cool space saving design is called the spiral. You can create a tall cone shaped bed for different climate types depending on the location. Plant in a spiral up the cone. Plants that like hot and dry would be on the top and south side. Plants that like it shady and moist would be on the bottom on the North side. It’s a great idea for an herb garden near the kitchen. You can put Rosemary, dill, oregano and thyme towards the top and cilantro, parsley and chives towards the bottom.
· There are so many types of perennial plants to grow for different garden types and locations and whole books written about it.
o I’m learning I do have to work a little harder getting some perennials to start from seed and had a large number not germinate this year. Many need to be cold stratified in the fridge or the seed needs to be scratched – for many I didn’t do either to see how it would go. It didn’t for a lot. Many seed packets gave instructions to plant directly and they aren't germinating either. More research needs to be done on each new seed in the future.
o Some new perennials we are trying this year are focused on food and improving the soil.
§ Cucumberberry vine which can grow in any soil and shade creates edible cucumber type fruit.
§ Groundcherry grows in worn out soil, has a deep taproot, grows in sun or shade and very tall. They say you can use the fruit like a tomato.
§ Blue False Indigo as a nitrogen fixer, medicine and dye. It can take any moisture level as long as well drained, can be mowed in the fall and can take full sun to partial shade. (eyewash, sore tooth, immune system, ulcers).
§ Bundleflower and Red Autumnberry as a nitrogen fixer and for fruit.
§ Buffaloberry is a drought tolerant tall shrub that makes edible fruit and is a nitrogen fixer.
§ Wild Ginger and leeks which grow well in the shade under trees.
§ A Korean Nut pine which makes ¾” pine nuts and you can start harvesting in 5 years. The tree can get to 80 feet tall!
§ Ground nuts, ground cherry and perennial Kale.
· Books -
o “Invasive Plant Medicine” – TimothyScott (Not about permaculture, but great book that will open your eyes to using plants that are considered Invasive weeds.)
· Classes, these are the closest I can find, but I have not attended these.
· Videos/ Links:
o 2,000 year old food forest in Morocco:
o 300 year old food forest in Vietnam
o Free online webinar series on intro to permaculture
o Double reach mounded beds with rocks for lizards, little pools for frogs and tall sturdy plants for birds to perch on - no pest problems.
o A walk in Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden
o Paul Wheaton, owner of permies.com, creates lots of permaculture videos. Look at his yourtube channel:
o An interesting link about how Masanobu Fukuoka grew rice:
For Perennial plants, my favorite place to order from is Oikos Tree Crops. The plants come perfectly packaged and in great shape. www.oikostreecrops.com
· I have had a lot of trouble with the company Quick Growing Trees. They didn’t send me everything I ordered and paid for, they won’t call back for a refund and there is no way to email them.
· Interesting links
o About Guilds:
o Interesting conversation on “What is permaculture”
Cedar-Pinon Guild: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_rm/rm_gtr236/rm_gtr236_143_145.pdf&embedded=true&chrome=true