Thursday, December 9, 2010

Considering Permaculture in My Garden 1

Dear  Aunty,

I recently came across 'One Straw: Be The Change' Blog.  The'One Straw' title drew my attention as it is intended to refer to the book "One Straw Revolution'  by Masanobu Fukuoka.  This pioneer of sustainable agriculture is a hero of mine and  I use this phrase on my msn and keep an eye out for any references to it whether looking through blogs, You Tube or Google.  If I had discovered his presence earlier I would have made the journey to Japan to meet him.  Unfortunately, he has passed away but his legacy of ideas and actions live on with his family and property, around the world in print, in people's hearts and in their attempts to implement his insights into their own particular environments.

The owner and author of 'One Straw: Be the Change' lives in Southern Wisconsin, USA and generously shares his love of permaculture and his efforts on his suburban property on this very interesting blog.

Another hero of mine is Jackie French, the author, cook, gardener and sustainability exponent.  Living on acreage she has a sharing attitude to the native wildlife.   Many of her stories revolve around these same animals. 

My own efforts in the yard over the last 18 months have been informed by Masanobu Fukuoka and Jackie French.  Now that the basics have been established I am delving again into my two favourite gardening heroes and exploring permaculture a little further afield.  Hence the interest in 'One Straw: Be the Change' as he shares his reading and learning.

Considering Permaculture means considering Care of the Earth, Care of People, Dispersal of Surplus and a Life Ethic as well as advocating 'Re-design, Re-duce, Re-use, Re-use by modifying, Repair then Re-cycle'. It also calls for the use of greywater and waste water, making no dig gardens, biological cleansers, getting rid of toxins, social behaviour and individual effort. In a system where everything is connected to everything else every element has many functions. Taking the first step leads one on a merry dance down the path of sustainability........

My initial intention to grow anything in the garden came because I just thought what I had was just plain ugly!  Everything snowballed from there and before I knew it I was knee deep in gardening books from the library, blogs and websites, composting techniques, design ideas, sustainability, fertilisers, chemical dependencies, vegetable growing, logs, dirt, mulch, potting soil, seeds and seedlings and permaculture.  The garden has grown like Topsy with some severe restrictions.

These restrictions included a complete lack of funds, no transport, solid clay soil, waterlogged lower area,  not a worm to be seen, no top soil, granite a few feet down, the vegetable growing area being in a frost zone, a block that is mostly house, bitumen and concrete, difficult neighbours and my own limited labour and knowledge as well as the existence of huge council pipes down one whole side and across the bottom of the property....areas where I would have normally put dozens of trees.  Theoretically, nothing is supposed to be grown there but the previous owners had some trees and some shrubs that have endeavoured to become trees in these two areas.  There is also the apricot and plum suckers from the neighbour's yards that have resisted all my attempts at destruction.  I have since given up trying to kill them and am this season looking forward to my own apricots and plums.  I just have to be prepared to have everything ripped up if the council wants to work on the pipes. 

Fukuoka's 'Four Principals of Natural Gardening' and French's 'Wilderness Garden'  inspired the lazy gardener in me with their no attention principals that fit perfectly with my gardening limitations and inclinations. Tiered planting of trees, Grove Planting for Jackie French for my trees and other plants to survive frost, heat and drought, then shrubs, then ground covers, lots of vines, shade area plants, animals allowed to roam, no digging, no chemical use, no fertilisers, mixed plantings of flowers and vegetables, mass planting, companion planting, digging up the lawn for beds, use of eaves, micro systems, self seeding, covering fences and walls, using plants to shade other plants in Summer or to protect from frost in Winter, natural pest control, no prepared compost and returning the debris directly back to the beds/land became my mantra.

Although only in my second year of growing I can already see the 'magic' Jackie French promises from planting in groves.  The magic includes weather control, drought protection, wind protection, pest control, weed control, easy mulchability, longer fruiting times, possum and bird control, and self sufficiency.

Groves cool the air when it is hot and warm the air when it is cool.  More shade means less evaporation with the multi layers of leaves catching what moisture there is and passing it to the grove floor.  Planting in a grove also protects the trees and other plants from the worst of the fierce winds I can get living on the side of a hill.  Pests are finding it harder to seek out favourite crops when everything is mixed together and when vines cover the trees and shrubs disguising shape and scent.  Weeds get less of a foothold when denied space and sunlight and with more growing in less area there is less mulching needed.  Apparently fruit trees produce over a longer time period .  Possums and birds find it harder to negotiate vine covered groves to find fruit.  Finally grove planting promises more cropping.

As far as permaculture (emulating nature) is concerned I am keen to incorporate what principals I can and to make each element multi functional. These include how I want to build up the soil then preserve it, how I want to structure the planting in place and time with tiered planting and successional planting, whether to use the 'edge effect' which I am not sure I fully understand yet, consider microclimates, use vertical planting, mono cultures or poly cultures, incorporate a water garden, include crop rotation and considering the basics of sun, wind direction, land orientation, space, water availability, size, closeness to amenities and soil condition.

Lasagne layered raised beds made from hardwood timber were constructed on the waterlogged frost prone bottom of the garden. Decent garden soil, mushroom compost, potting mix, straw, newspapers, calcium and blood and bone soon came together in four vegetable beds with wide pathways between them.  Bark was laid on the pathways and is presently maintained with hand chopped prunings....bark being too expensive to buy.   I have also added rubber piping frames for plastic covers or shade cloths.  The beds have worked out well as I have discovered that the plants are above the frost level and are safe even without frost protection and have a good supply of water trickling down from the slope above. Drainage is also good now as a faint slope was kept under the beds.  As I am thinking of more beds it is possible that two lots of beds might be joined together to make two larger beds instead of the four smaller.

All of the beds in the yard have had to be made from scratch as raised beds of differing heights. All were constructed in the no dig lasagne method and over time I have added compost, mulch, blood and bone, calcium, lime, straw, good soil and returned prunings and old plants directly back to the garden beds.  Seaweed mixture has been used on some of the plants as well.  Kitchen scraps, paper and other household composting  items are added directly to the beds.

Bed shapes have included rectangular for around the fences, on the bitumen and bricked areas and in the middle of the lawn, circular around the lawn and triangular or loosely curved around the unit in the middle of the property.  Containers have been used for cuttings and some seed raising as well as experimenting with potatoes in pots.

I have endeavoured to use tiered or forest guilds/gardening for plantings. In permaculture there would be seven tiers of planting: the largest trees: nuts and fruit, the smaller trees: dwarf fruit trees, shrubs: currents and berries, herbaceous: herbs, comfrey, beets, then ground covers on the surface and a rhizone layer of deep rooted plants. A vertical layer of vines and climbers completes the guild where the plantings support each other in their own little microsystem.  I have more plants to add but the basic trees are established.

Guilds include:
The far lower and the top back of the  yard which is on two levels and includes a large unknown variety of ornamental tree and a plum on the lower level with a Mulberry on the higher level. A dwarf pear an apricot and a nectarine make up the lower trees. Shrubs of gooseberries and others have yet to be added.  Mustards, lavender, coriander, parsley, flowers, spinach, strawberries, clover and iris make up the surface layer with parsnips and comfrey providing the deep rooted plants. More vines of passionfruit and grape will be added to the beans, nasturtiums and cucumbers that exist already. This area will be extended around the pear and apricot with the addition of comfrey. Trees branches here give shade in a hot area of the garden and also some shade for the neighbouring garden and vegetable beds in the hot Summer.  The larger trees are also found in the lowest parts of the yard such that they are open to all water runoff from the property. They also supply a windbreak and protection from frost in Winter.  Leaf drop from the large deciduous tree falls exactly where it is required in this guild: the paths and the vegetable beds. Edible mushrooms and other fungi are also encouraged here along with canna lilies, agapanthus and lilies as well as blackberry canes now tied to the back fence and an extension of this guild.

Large tree, plum next to it, mulberry, pear and apricot on the top side.

Mulberry taking off.
Apricot Tree

 Following around from that guild and going along the fence to meet up with a larger area are the cherry trees, underpinned with raspberry canes, grape vines, lavender, spinach, garlic, parsley, flowers, alpine and ordinary strawberries, mustard, comfrey and parsnips and broccoli and brussel sprouts.

Cherry trees underpinned with raspberry canes etc.
Looking towards the top guild. Raspberries and Cherries.

First cherries and raspberries are being picked.
First Cherries

First Raspberries

Illegal Immigrant Blackberries

The top guild extends across the top of the lawn and along one side. It includes a peach tree, a clothes line acting as a tree/pergola, three minature column apples and two nectarines with a boronia, lavender and some shrubs acting as low trees. Raspberry canes grow along the fence and are underpinned with lemon balm, strawberries, coriander, parsley, oregano,mustard, clover, garlic, spinach, sage, agapanthus and lillies, daisies, rhubarb and nasturtiums.  Comfrey and parsnips make up the root crops.  Vines include natives flowering climbers, kiwi fruit, grapes and passionfruit that grow up the clothes line and along a trellis across the back of the bed.

Climbers up a Makeshift Pergola

Largest Bed
Largest Bed
Rhubarb and Climbers/Vines under Clothes Line.
Raspberry bed

Completing the circle of the lawn area the unit garden includes a lemon tree, two olive trees with lavender, rosemary, roses, nasturtiums,  native grevilleas, geranium, and other flowering shrubs, as middle sized bushes; strawberries, lamb's tongue, oregano and violas as ground cover, comfrey and broad beans as the root crops and kiwi fruit, passionfruit, grapes and native climbers for the vines.

Climbers/Vines, Lavender and Rosemary

Olive and Lemon Trees

Other plantings behind the unit, along the back and side fences and in the other far corner will eventually qualify as guild plantings as I add more plants and cuttings to the mix.  Behind the unit I have vines of grapes, kiwi fruit and nasturtiums with hollyhock, dahlia and geranium to attract bees.  Mint is the herb of choice here and I plan on adding comfrey fro compost.  Broad beans have come and gone in this bed as compost and nitrogen fixers.


Along the back fence will be native trees, shrubs, blackberry, mustard, climbing beans, pumpkin and mint as ground cover and bergamot as well as rosemary.  These are all either cuttings or small at this time.   This area will then move into the apricot trees, lillies, cannas, mustard, iris, sweetpeas, daisies, lavender and english box in the other far corner. Keeping back the weeds and brambles from the back property looks like it is going to get out of control.


A rain bed needs to be further developed in this corner as it receives the last runoff on the property.   The shaded southern side of the unit and the side fence opposite are also grown from cuttings. Climbing roses, climbing beans, shrubs, hydranger, daisies, roses, geranium, oregano, lemon balm, sage, lavender and mint are starting to fill this area.  Further up the fence are more climbing roses, agapanthus, passionfruit on the fence, corn, parsnips, cannas, freesias, iris, kangaroo paw, blueberries and grevillea.


The top half of the yard is kept tidy but not added to that much at this stage.

A container guild that contains fig and avocado, passionfruit, lemon balm, parsley, sage, dianthus, pond, roses, english box, grapes up pergola, nasturtiums, strawberries, spinach, coriander, basil, tomatoes, lavender and mint sits in the centre of the bicked area.  Grapes and nasturtiums twine up to the deck not far from them. 

The mixed plants give great pleasure.

Other permaculture thoughts on water conservation, tillage, raised beds, swales, sunlight, postiton, chemical use, composting, education and more will follow.

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