Saturday, November 26, 2011

Putting Your Garden to Bed the Permaculture Way

Yep, it's that time again

Allowing your garden to sleep is particularly important in the cycles of growing things. One of the central tenants of Permaculture is to waste nothing and I have a wonderful tip for you this fall/winter - one word: LEAVES!

Leaves are a blessing from nature in the deciduous areas of the Earth, but we have forgotten their worth. Leaves are a natural insulator and fertilizer for the soil they fall on and we can utilize this gift in our veggie gardens as well! So this year instead of carting off your leaves, pile them on your garden beds.

As the leaves break down over the long winter months they add precious nutrients to your top soil effectively replenishing the energy and vital minerals such as carbon and nitrogen that your garden consumed during the spring summer and fall. We hear consistently that top soil quantity and quality around the world diminishes each year, this year I challenge you to help reverse this process and use the gifts that fall at your feet to nourish your home garden.

In addition to adding nutrients leaves help to keep your soil at a higher average temperature which may allow you to start your gardens earlier in the spring than you would have otherwise. Another tip is to layer your garden beds with leaves, then un-inked/soy-inked cardboard and then biodegradable landscaping cover (black fabric-esque material). This will attract worms and help to break down the leaves and cardboard for the spring!

Love your gardens and give them something to snack on all winter long!

My Permaculture Wordle

In this time of thanks and gratitude, I wanted to give some love to Mama Earth! This is my first wordle!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Permaculture: Plant Propogation

From one, come many

Nature has had billions of years to perfect it's strategy for survival. Plants especially are capable of fascinating reproduction. For example by clipping the leaf from a Snake plant, such as the one pictured below, cutting it into three pieces and planting it in soil, a new plant will emerge in 12 weeks.

Spider plants and Mt Hood variety strawberries have a different strategy. They send out shoots of baby plants that have the ability to either cling to the mother plant and function as a part of the whole or they can be rooted themselves as entirely new plants! I have spider plant babies and would be happy to share a few with anyone who is interested.

Propagating plants is a wonderful way to give presents and promote sustainability.  Check out this article on how houseplants actually keep you healthier! House Plants Keep You Healthy!

Permaculture Design Tools

From Pattern to Detail

We design from pattern to detail. In other words make general plans, sketch and re-sketch, find the optimal balance of space for your needs and fill in the nitty-gritty details later. If you know where your herb spiral will be, then move on, no need to know where each herb will go right away. We can learn much from nature, seek out patterns in the natural world and imitate them in your design process.

Value the Marginal - Edges!

Throughout the universe, marginal areas are often the most productive places by any means of measure. Think of a shoreline or where a forest meets and open plain. In these regions there is a disproportionate amount of productivity that supports both human and animal needs. As we design in permaculture the marginal value is a by-product of juxtaposition in your plant/system placements. For example, a pond in your garden should have as much edge as possible so that it can interact more with the systems around it.

Permaculture Zoning

  • Zone 0 - Although this zone is not outside, nor is it a garden, it is essential to the overall design. Zone 0 is your home, the heart of your living space. The key permaculture principles that we can put to use here are in energy and water conservation. Indoor plants are also part of your permaculture system and help to clean the air inside your home. Snake and Spider plants especially are amazing for this reason - and you can propagate them easily!! (I will talk about plant propagation in my next posting)
  • Zone 1 - Physically the zones are in order distance-wise from your kitchen door. This zone is the closest to your kitchen and should include the plants you use most and the plants that need the most attention/care. An herb spiral, soft seasonal fruits and berries, and salad greens are good examples of things you might like to have closer to your door.
  • Zone 2 - is designated for perennials that require less attention, but still may need occasional weeding or other maintenance. Also plants/trees/bushes that need occasional pruning might go here such as currents! Note of interest: most bee keepers tend to put their hives in Zone 2!
  • Zone 3 - your 'bread and butter'. Zone 3 is very important because this is where your main crops will grow. Main crops are those that sustain you throughout the year. Hardy greens such as Kale, squashes, beans, corn, etc may all go here.
  • Zone 4 - Further away than zone 3 and requires no maintenance whatsoever. This is a semi-wild area where you might grow raspberries, st. john's wort, edible ground covers such as trailing thyme, feverfew, etc.
  • Zone 5 - is completely untouched. We allow nature the space to breath and live. This does provide utility however. Remember observe and interact? Well this is the observable portion of your zoning. We get our inspiration from natural systems. Honor zone 5 and do not disturb it's cultivation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Permaculture Guilds and the Legend of the Three Sisters

A central idea in permaculture is capitalizing on mutually beneficial combinations of plants, we call these combinations 'guilds'. Examples of guilds include: Carrots-Tomatoes-Basil, Radish-Cucumber-Strawberry, and the classic Three Sisters Guild (Corn-Beans-Squash). These guilds not only help eachother grow by providing structure and/or nutrients for eachother, but they also protect eachother from pests and help to keep more moisture in the soil during hot weather and drought.

The Iroquois Nation that thrived on the east coast of pre-colonial America believed that corn, beans and squash were precious gifts from the Great Spirit. Their planting season was marked by ceremonies to honor the sister spirits and thank the Earth for providing them with fertile soil in which to cultivate this ancient gift. By retelling the stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of how to grow and honor the Three Sisters from generation to generation. Now it is up to us to continue using these gifts.

What's the Big Deal?

Corn provides natural structure for bean vines to climb, and in turn the bean vines help to strengthen the corn stalk in the case of high winds or a storm. The Beans fix nitrogen into the soil by absorbing it from the air (Nitrogen makes up about 3/4 of atmospheric content) and releasing it from the root system. The Squash and Corn both LOVE Nitrogen-rich soil and will produce more edible harvest when it is readily available. The squash also plays a critical role. The roots of the squash plant are shallow but spread wide, they deter weeds from growing with their large leaves and roots that absorb much of the surface nutrients and most squash vines have thorny protrusions which deter animals from approaching the corn and beans. The Squash also provides ground cover that helps to keep moisture in the soil by shading the top layer and absorbing most of the sunlight. When grown together the three sisters produce nearly 50% more than when grown separately.

In addition to the benefits in your garden and for the plants themselves. The nutritional benefits of the three sisters is a tri-fecta of healthy goodness! The corn provides carbohydrates, the beans are rich in protein and the squash is high in vitamins and minerals, and the squash seeds can be pressed for oil as well!

Planting Instructions

Plant corn 2ft apart, when they reach a height of 1ft plant beans from seed, or when the corn reaches plant bean starts directly at the foot of the plant, 2 bean plants for each corn plant (using a variety of beans will further deter pests). Plant the squash starts between corn plants when the corn is 1.5ft tall (this is to ensure that the corn still gets enough sunlight because the squash leaves grow very fast and the leaves tend to get large quickly and have the potential to smother smaller corn plants.

Try this in your garden and experience the wisdom of the Iroquois in your garden! Grow your own!