Saturday, June 25, 2016

Suburban Permaculture Project: The Vegetable Garden, Philsophy and Application

2015 polyculture: kale and flowers jumbled together

The Philosophy

Permaculture is all about designing human systems based on natural systems.  When I initially began studying permaculture, I took this to mean that my food growing spaces should look like wild spaces:  like nature.  Permaculture also follows three ethics:  care for people, care for the earth, and care for the future.  I took this to mean building a sustainable lifestyle.  Having gone down the natural systems route:  mixing trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals;  throwing together as many different plants as possible, I've learned and observed many things, particularly about sustainability.

In a very small space such as mine, my positive impact on the globe is negligible.  I'm storing carbon in my plants and soil, but on a miniscule level.  I'm providing habitat for native animals and insects, but not on my own--they need a much wider area than I can provide.  The greatest impact I can make with the tiny space I have is to provide as much food for my household as possible.  Think how much more energy and fuel is saved if our family's food isn't grown halfway across the world, the packaging manufactured, and all of it shipped to various warehouses before finally making it to our local supermarket.  How much less pollution that food will create if I produce it myself.  How much native habitat can be retained if it's not needed to grow our food.

The best permaculture use of my own space is to grow my own food--as much as I possibly can.  My food growing design is modeled after natural systems, caring for the earth, for people, and the future--and the bottom line for me is to produce an abundance of food.

The Application

A design choice was to relocate the vegetable garden from the far corner of the property to the area closest to the back door. Though the previous location was not really very far--maybe 8m away--it was still far enough that I couldn't see it from the house, and did not visit it every day.  As a result, I would miss signs of infestions and damage, or simply fail to harvest things altogether. 

Having the vegetables right outside the back door means less work for me, and more vegetables eaten. Instead of having to put on shoes and a jacket to pick kale in the mud (in which case I just wouldn't bother), I can dash out onto the patio in my slippers, grab some leaves, and be inside before getting more than five raindrops on me. 

I also garden on deep beds;  they are never stepped on--and compacted--so thus never need digging/tilling.  I cover them thickly with chicken bedding (straw and manure) over winter both to enrich them and suppress weeds.  This has resulted in fantastic growth compared to enriching with compost, pre-chickens.  I never had enough compost to go around, but I definitely have plenty of manure!  The worms do all the work of digging it in for me.

For now, my main vegetable patch is composed of three adjoining beds approximately 1m x 2.5m each.  Every year I add a little more space, according to my burgeoning gardening abilities.  A little less lawn, a little more vegetables.  Perhaps by the end of five years, the entire space--maybe even the shady bits--will be a productive food growing haven.

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