We are not making a garden; we are designing the landscape…we are planning a new homestead. We will observe, plan, and build according to the limitations and the blessings that nature grants us. Forcing ourselves upon nature is like a house in the way of a tornado…who’s going to win? Keeping a garden is more than going out back and digging a spot and putting some tomatoes in the ground. That’s A-OK, and I ain’t against that kind of gardening (because you’ll find that model incorporated on our homestead, too).
How about an approach to planning a new homestead and to gardening that incorporates many aspects of gardening, as well as keeping animals, and having all these aspects work together without trying to fight what nature “insists” upon? When the dandelion or the button weed pops up in our nicely manicured garden bed, the first thing we want to do is pull it up. Why? Not only are these plants a favorite of rabbits and chickens, they also pull nutrients from way down deep and move them up into their leaves. They also work as a great moisture retainer thanks to the thick foliage these “weeds” produce. There’s every reason in the world to USE these plants rather than just pulling them and trashing them (leaving them in the garden is the right choice; pulling them and feeding them to your animals (or yourself) is the right answer, too).
Permaculture is a paradigm that describes a method of gardening as “permanent agriculture.” But we all know that gardens are not “permanent,” right? What if the garden COULD be permanent? What if you could plant both perennials (come back each year) and annuals (comes from last season’s seeds each year) in a manner of inter-variety support rather than extra-variety competition and struggle?
I’ve lived on my homestead since the fall of last year. I have not had a spring or a summer to fully engage this new homestead. Nonetheless, during the past few months, we have observed our property, we have interacted with our property, and now we plan on working within the confines of the property in order to strategically plan and design a homestead that produces my family’s food without the struggles of modern gardening techniques.
Have you ever asked yourself why so many gardens have only rows, and the plants struggle to produce, yet the little lady next door plants her tomatoes in her flower bed, and the plant produces 5 times what yours does? Her beds flourish because they have become integrated in her homestead and welcome plants from different varieties, if even just for a season. She’s observed her beds over the years and knows which beds get the best light, have the best water, and catch the most energy that her property allows. Rows are okay for some crops. Trying to mimic the 1,000-acre farm that makes rows because of the massive machinery that tends them may not be the best idea for your 1,000-square-foot garden.
You’ll see in our video where we have created a tentative design for our homestead. “Tentative” is the key word. We are looking for a self-regulating garden design that “talks” to us and “tells” us what is “okay” and what is not. Planting some tomatoes near our sunchokes and other tomatoes near our carrots may result in puny tomatoes near massive, shade-casting sunchokes and a few huge tomato plants near our carrots. Nature is “telling” us a lot and helps us decide what annuals we should plant where.
Over the next few weeks of this spring, on nearly every street, in every city, and in every state, you will see so many garbage cans FULL of last year’s garden debris. People are throwing away their land…literally. Likewise, come fall, much of the topsoil-creating resources will find their way out to landfills all over the world. Not condoning hoarding here, but we save just about everything. From planting seeds in cottage cheese containers to composting the remains of last night’s meal, there is very little that leaves our homestead. And, if we can’t use it, I find someone who can. Sure, there are items that we send to the dump. But, in any given week, it’s about a fourth or a third of our pre-permaculture mindset.
Drug growers use permaculture concepts and don’t even know they are using them. They tend to plant with attention to patterns and details gleaned from their observation of the landscape. Confused? Let me explain. Here in the high desert of Southwestern Idaho and Southeastern Oregon, we have a bit less than 12 inches of rain per year (and about 19 inches of snow). Water runs at the point of least resistance, so the moisture gathers itself in the crevasses of the hills. You’ll see these areas from the roadside — they are greener than the peaks. The drug grower will cultivate seeds in these areas during the spring and come back later for the harvest. Brilliant, right? I don’t suggest that you start growing anything that your government deems illegal. But you have to admit that this is pretty ingenious. The drug growers will work within the confines of nature to grow their “crops” and maximize profits by designing from patterns in nature and working with these limitations.
When we are trying to decide what to grow where, we are taking our edges to the next level. I want to maximize the garden beds around the whole property. If we consider that our fence line is 277 feet x 172 feet and if we planted out about 6 feet from the property’s edges, we’d have a total of around 5245 square feet of growing space, and it will feel like much less used space. It will actually allow more usable space.
First you will observe, second you will plan, and third you will plant. Learning all the aspects of permaculture design before planting is not necessary in order to get started. As you grow each year, you’ll learn more and modify your design accordingly. The main thing is to get started…then stick with it. Don’t give up. Do you know when I find the most coffee grounds at the coffee houses? Winter? Sure ‘nuff. What about summer? Tons! Yes, I find a great deal of coffee ground in the summer months because that’s when folks give up. They take all the grounds during the spring as the “bug” bites them, and they have big aspirations for a garden. The ground gets tilled and the rows made, and the plants start to come…along with the weeds. And when the “fun in the sun” turns out to be “work in the heat,” they give up. Not you though, right. That’s because you’re tough…and are becoming a permaculture designer. When will you perfect this? Never. Will you enjoy the journey? YOU BET!