Category Archives: Permaculture

“Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape, people and appropriate technologies, providing good shelter, energy and other needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture is a philosophy and an approach to land use which works with natural rhythms and patterns, weaving together the elements of microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, water and soil management, and human needs into intricately connected and productive communities.”
Bill Mollison, founder of permaculture and Scott Pittman, founder of the Permaculture Institute.

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #8 – Keep an eye on the EDGES!

In gardening the edge is the intersection of two environments. For me in life it is where my artwork and studio intersect with the planning and caring for the gardens. This blog is an edge where my gardens and orchard intersect with readers who want to know more about permaculture and might be curious about garden inspired art. Edges are rich with possibilities.

As I plan my spring and summer gardens I’m reviewing the edges in my gardens and orchard. I’m asking myself where do I want to increase and decrease edges.

Sometimes I decrease or even eliminate an edge. This week I decreased and eliminated edges by sowing carrots, peas and spinach in the same bed. I maximized space by interplanting carrots that grow underground, spinach that grows on the surface and the peas that vine over the carrots and spinach. Interplanting confuses pests which normally have a field day attacking the traditional straight rows of peas, carrots and spinach of monoculture planting. Also it is said that carrots exude a substance that enhance the growth of peas, peas in turn fix nitrogen in the soil and provide shade for the spinach which keeps it cooler and prevents it from bolting. Decreasing and eliminating edges can have many benefits.

permaculture design principles_permaculture design principle 8

Edges in my garden!

Where the vegetable garden and the paved patio meet on the south side of my house is an edge where I can maximize the heat that collects in the shelter of the house. I use sun heated walls and the heat coming off the patio pavement to start plants earlier than I could in the back of the garden which is cooler because the edge there is in the shade from the hill behind the garden. In the cooler back part of the garden I plant lettuce in early summer for a late summer crop of lettuce that doesn’t bolt.

In the orchard I’ve planted raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, currants, elderberry along the necessary fence that keeps the deer and wild turkeys out. The leafy foliage of vines and shrubs helps to block the harsh Santa Ana winds we get in Southern California from drying out the fruit trees and summer vegetables I grow in the orchard. By not allowing the orchard to dry out in the late summer and early fall I can conserve water and cut back on irrigation during the driest of months.

The edges in and around my gardens and orchard are messy; they are where stuff accumulates and change happens. Oak leaves piled up along fences get harvested for compost piles and mulch. Mixed plantings of chard, kale and arugula thrive in the somewhat shaded south east corner of the garden while the asparagus patch that never took off gets slowly converted into a productive raspberry patch from the raspberries planted along the east fence.

Not all edge action is encouraged. Bermuda grass in my garden beds is a source of frustration for me. If I ignore it for a month I find it

Bermuda grass_calendula_permaculture_ permaculture design principle 8

Bermuda grass creeping into the garden beds

creeping its way along the edges of the garden and choking garden pathways, insidiously sending out underground runners that infiltrate garden borders of calendula. The edge is where transition takes place even if it is transition from productive garden to covert Bermuda grass take over. Poison oak is another edge jumper I have to keep an eye on and remove from edges to close to the house even though I appreciate its fall beauty on the forested hillside behind the house.

Remember when planning your gardens that straight lines and smooth shapes (like perfect oval shaped ponds) reduce the amount of edge, while curved lines, berms, swales, dips and mounds increase edge. Edges are also increased by varying the height and depth of plantings and the addition a water source whether it is irrigation lines or ponds.

Have fun with your edges, be creative and remember to keep your eye on them. Watch for the unexpected!

 

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #7 – Start small, figure out what works, then repeat with necessary modifications

hugelkultur bed, broccoli

Broccoli currently growing in hugelkultur bed

Following this principle:

  • Reduces gardener overwhelm
  • Saves time, energy and money in the long run
  • Gives a feeling of accomplishment as one section at a time of the garden and/or orchard becomes functional rather than having a huge unfinished project that may or may not work when it’s done

Following this principle requires: PATIENCE!

I believe I have mentioned that patience is not one of my gardening virtues so the application of this principle was a challenge for me! I wanted to do it all, vegetable and native plant gardens, food forest, edible landscaping, berms and swales, a pond, livestock, solar panels …  All of this I wanted done in my first year at Green Owl Gardens!

sheet mulch

I really wish I had used 1/2 inch aviary wire under all the lovely sheet mulch!

Here are a couple of examples of when I have and have not practiced this principle starting at the very beginning when I started work on the vegetable garden. We moved to Julian on December 1st, 2009. I felt like I was already a month behind in getting the vegetable garden prepped for spring planting so instead of gathering data and talking to neighbors I jumped right in and laid down 500 feet of chicken wire over the grass lawn. I then laid down flattened cardboard boxes to smother the lawn, some green clippings, a six inch “layer of straw, an inch or two of compost and another thick layer of straw. THEN I met my neighbor who gently informed me that the land I live on is heavily populated with gophers who will squeeze right through the regular one inch mesh chicken wire I had used.  I did not tear it all up and start over; I went into denial and hoped for the best and consequently my first year vegetable garden was overrun by gophers.

Since then I’ve been digging out the original chicken wire and experimenting with raised, sunken

sunken beds

My friend Alden helping to dig sunken beds in the vegetable garden

and hugelkultur garden beds diligently lining each of the new beds with ½ inch wire hardware cloth or ½ mesh aviary wire (which looks like chicken wire but with a ½ inch mesh).  What I’ve learned from redoing my beds I will now apply this spring when I work on expanding my developing food forest down in the orchard.

Remember -“Use small scale, intensive systems. Start at your doorstep with the smallest system that will do the job … then repeat it with variations” Toby Hemenway – Gaia’s Garden

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #6 – Make MINIMAL CHANGES to achieve MAXIMUM EFFECT when working to improve a system

pop-up sprinkler conversion

Chard and tomato plants benefitting from sprinkler to drip line conversion

This principle makes great time and energy saving sense, but first, before I could put it into practice I had to understand what was meant by a “system”. To understand the term “system” in a gardening context, it helps me to think of the human body and the integrated systems that keep it functioning.  The digestive, nervous and immune systems all work together to sustain one living organism. Gardens, orchards, neighborhoods and cities flourish when viewed as integrated living systems rather than isolated, separate, unconnected components.

After wrapping my brain around what a “system” was I started experimenting. Observation of those experiments made it possible to identify key leverage points. I then made a few changes to get the maximum benefit from each system. These changes altered how each system worked together to support the productivity of the whole garden. This is not a onetime deal. I’m always looking for ways to simplify, improve and streamline systems to create sustainable integrated gardens, fruit tree guilds and wild lands.

Pop-up sprinkler conversion

Pop-up sprinkler converted to drip line irrigation

Often, when moving to a new garden location the systems that have been installed before our arrival are not designed to support sustainable gardening efforts. This was the case when I converted the existing 660 square foot backyard lawn into a vegetable garden. The lawn had a conventional pop-up sprinkler system installed which sprayed precious water into the air to be carried away by evaporation while creating an unhappy environment for veggies that do not like wet leaves. Happily, through the UC Master Gardener program, I had a class on irrigation options. I discovered I could convert the existing sprinkler system to drip line irrigation. With limited expense, using the existing pipes and timer, I was able to revamp the system to meet the needs of my vegetable garden. Considering the effort and waste of installing a whole new irrigation system I was happy to make this relatively small change that had a big effect on the amount of water being used and the overall health of the vegetable garden.

Identifying systems, observing them and making minimal changes for maximum benefit has made gardening easier and more productive for me overall!

 

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #5 – REDUNDANCY in the Garden is Good

Gardens that are riddled with redundancy thrive!

orbit timer_irrigationWHEN a key function such as getting water to the garden is supported by multiple elements such as:

  • Drip lines on timers
  • Rain barrels
  • Hoses, with adjustable spray nozzles, that are long enough to reach all parts of the garden

OR the key function of enriching your soil is supported by the elements of:

worms_red wigglers_ compost bin

Compost bin made with old wood pallets and red wiggler worms in a worm farm

  • Compost bins for kitchen scraps and shredded paper
  • A worm farm
  • Using poop from your small (or large) flock of chickens, geese or ducks

Then, if any one of these elements or functions fails, the whole system does not fall apart.

Even as I write I realize this principle planted right in the middle of the ten Permaculture design principles is in some ways redundant because I have already talked about some of these things in the first four principles.

Redundancy improves our chances of success. If I need to get up a 6am to get to the airport on time I set my cell phone alarm, the alarm on my nightstand and I raise the shades so the sun shines in my window. This insures that I will get up at 6am. The same applies in the garden.

When choosing plants and trees for gardens and orchards plant three or four different varieties of the same fruit or vegetable just in case one or two varieties fail. I also plant different varieties in different locations on our property so if one type of tomato in the garden gets a bad case of powdery mildew or an infestation of the tomato hornworms and the crop fails I still have the tomatoes I planted in the orchard. Of course if all goes well then I end up with a bumper crop of tomatoes and I am very busy canning, dehydrating and juicing!

Araucana_chickens_hens

Ameraucana Mix with Attitude

If you start a backyard flock of chickens for producing eggs and manure consider getting a variety of hens rather than just one breed. I have a Barred Rock, a Rhode Island Red, a Black Star, a Swedish Flower Hen, a Welsummer and two Ameraucana mixes (also called Easter Egger chickens)! Why have so many different breeds? Some of the hens lay later into the winter (the Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red), some lay blue eggs (Ameraucana mix) which are pretty, some of the hens are unique looking and are good layers (the Swedish Flower Hen) and so it goes. If you are not breeding chickens why not have a few different breeds?

Redundancy multiplies and strengthens the connections we build so our gardens thrive and produce abundant harvests.

 

 

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #4 – MULTITASK

elderberries

Example of Multitasking – Deciduous Elderberry bush shading the front porch in the heat of summer and early fall, providing elderberries, leaf drop for mulch and branches cut during pruning are used for staking young plants next spring

When designing your garden or edible landscape choose elements that overlap and fulfill as many necessary functions as possible.

An element is a feature of the garden that is incorporated into the overall design. It can be:

  • a tree, shrub or vine
  • a trellis, fence or chicken coop
  • a rainwater holding tank, a raised garden bed or pathways leading through the garden

Functions are what the element contributes to the whole. In what I think of as, conventional landscaping practice, a tree has only one function which is to create shade or to just look pretty which is fine BUT it can go so much further, be so much richer and exciting!

Yes, a tree can create shade AND if it is placed thoughtfully in the overall landscape design it can shade the sunny southern side of a house during hot summer months; if a deciduous tree is chosen the leaves will drop in the winter allowing the sun to warm the home during chilly winter months. Thoughtful placement saves energy and creates savings in air conditioning and heating bills. The leaf drop in the autumn creates mulch which holds moisture under the tree or goes to build compost piles of rich compost building material. If the tree chosen is a fruit or nut tree then, when it flowers in the spring, it attracts pollinators to pollinate not only its own flowers but other garden plants.

brandywine_Amish paste_principe borghese_sweet million

 

When the tree bears fruit or nuts it feeds you and wildlife. Sometimes we have to do things to encourage balance so the wildlife does not get all the fruit, but more on that in later posts. In permaculture, what I’m describing, is called “stacking” functions. In other words, each plant or structure does more than one job.

The, equally important, flip side of this coin is that each “function” or job to be done should be supported by more than one element. So if one fruit tree is good maybe three would be better! Plant three varieties that bear fruit early, middle and late in the season or if space does not permit buy a dwarf tree that has three fruit varieties grafted on to it.

Other examples of this side of the coin in my garden are:

  • I have rain barrels to water the plants on my patio but when the rain barrels are empty I have 1 gallon bottles of water I have saved when I run the water until it gets hot in my kitchen. I use this water to water house plants, my chickens and to water the patio plants when the rain barrels are empty.
  • This year I started with four varieties of tomatoes in a variety of locations. I planted Brandywine tomatoes in the vegetable garden, Principe Borghese tomatoes in the orchard (aka the budding food forest), Sweet Million cherry tomatoes in the front herb garden and Amish Paste tomatoes in the pear tree guild.  The tomatoes in the orchard were raided by squirrels and I had some problems keeping the tomatoes in the herb garden watered enough but the Brandywine and Amish paste tomatoes have done great!

Creating interwoven connections and stacking elements, both in time and space, builds a web that supports the whole gardening effort. Break one strand and the other threads hold the web together.

 

PERMACULTURE ** Design principle #2 – CONNECT

sustainable gardening_permaculture_organic gardening

Y-Star Patty Pan Squash – Connections: produces yummy edible; vegetable, provides lots of leafy bio mass for mulch, seeds and skins go to the chickens, compost pile or worm bin

Permaculture Design Principle #2. Connect

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”  – John Muir

In permaculture gardening terms this principle reminds us to place all the elements of our gardens in relationship to each other.

For example:

– Put rain barrels, grey water collection systems, watering hoses, irrigation lines and/or ponds in locations close to where you will need the water. If you don’t do this, you will end up hauling water in buckets, or lugging heavy long lines of hose, all over your property. If this happens you will quickly discover that water is heavy (and so are long lines of hose). I learned this one the hard way!

– Plan pathways strategically so they take up the least amount of space, but are wide enough for what you need. You may only need a simple walking path, or room for wheelbarrow maneuvering or something wide enough to accommodate a truck to load a crop of apples or oranges.

– Place plants in locations where they benefit each other. Flowering plants that attract bees and other pollinators can be located next to fruits and vegetables that need pollination. Plants that can be slashed and left on the ground to provide a water conserving, cooling mulch, can also be grown next to the tree or garden where it will be used.

-A trellis can be built where it will frame a gateway, provide shade over a too sunny corner of your home or be used to screen off a less than beautiful part of your or your neighbor’s yard.

Remember “the number of connections among elements creates a healthy diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements” – Toby Hemenway , Gaia’s Garden – A guide to Home – Scale Permaculture.

Permaculture design and principles can be more than gardening practices; they can become a way of moving through life. As I write I’m looking at the connections between gardening, creating art and blogging. Some of the connections are obvious and some are more subtle. I’m looking at the connections between the three elements and finding ways to create a healthy connected endeavor not just three fragmented activities that seem to be related.

Permaculture_sustainalbe gardening

Examples of Permaculture Design Principle #2 Connect
Trellis with beans growing on it frames the entrance to the garden, rain barrels connected to rain to gutters provide water for patio plants, and pathways wide enough for wheelbarrow manuvering where needed

PERMACULTURE ** Design Principle #1 – OBSERVE

This afternoon this wild turkey was just outside the fenced portion of the area I will be gardening in. Turkeys are one of the many critters that want to eat the food I grow!This afternoon this wild turkey was just outside the fenced portion of the area I will be gardening in.

This afternoon this wild turkey was just outside the fenced portion of the area I will be gardening in. Turkeys are one of the many critters that want to eat the food I grow!

The 10 permaculture design principles I’m posting about are applicable to all sizes of gardens from the very smallest to full on farms. I’m revisiting them now because I’m expanding my gardening efforts (again) and it’s good for me to go back and review before I start new projects, otherwise I tend to get carried away with enthusiasm and do things that may or may not work!

Permaculture design principle #1. Observe 

Before starting a project whether it’s big or small, acres and acres or a new patio container garden, take time to observe thoughtfully and carefully – the longer the time taken to observe the better. Observe how each season interacts with your environment or if you just can’t wait (I couldn’t) than observe for as long as your patience (or winter) holds out and then start small (I didn’t) and learn from what works or doesn’t work on a small scale. I’m learning that moving mountains before I understand the lay of the land is counterproductive!

[Side note . . . these principles work great for ANY project whether it’s a garden, a business or a blog. It amazes me how universally applicable these principles are.]

I went out today and spent time on the land where I intend to expand my gardening and orchard growing efforts next spring. I took some took notes and photos of possible locations. I noticed what plants, birds, insects, and mammals are living there now at the end of summer. This first principle is a challenge for me. I want to jump right in and start doing the project. I’m still learning that thoughtful observation is much more rewarding in the long run than thoughtless uninformed action.

I tell myself all this as I realize that I still jump into projects head first without a lot of informed observation like deciding I’ll start doing stained glass windows and then figuring out that it’s a very challenging art form that requires lots of time, tools, materials and yes, patience, or blogging – talk about a steep learning curve! Good thing I have a hard head since I keep landing on it! When I back up and apply the permaculture principles to all my projects I find the results are much more sustainable and rewarding.

Here’s a list of questions I made before I went out today:

  •  Where is the sun? Where do I predict it will be throughout the day? Is the garden in shade in the afternoon or morning? Is it in full sun all day?
  •  How does the water flow and where does it collect? How will I deliver water to this space during the dry summer months? How will I conserve water?
  • What might work best large pots, raised beds, sunken beds, a “hugelkultur” bed? I’ll be talking about hugelkultur and other new (and some very old) ways to garden in later posts?
  •  How much time will realistically be devoted to this new garden?
  •  How often will I be leaving this new garden in the hands of friends, family or neighbors?
  • What kind of soil is in the area to be gardened? Will it need lots of nutrient rich compost and mulching? Can I produce this on my property or will it have to be brought from off site?  Does the soil need to be tested for possible contaminants?  Will I have to do a lot of clearing?
  • Where will paths go? How will I get the harvest out of the garden? Am I leaving room for a wheel barrow or if needed a truck to get to the produce?
  •  What critters will I have to deal with? How will I keep them out of the garden?
  • You could try this with a project you are looking to start. Jot down your answers. Post them here on the blog to share with others. Your observations may spark insights for others. If you have questions please ask. If you want to share gardening adventures please do!

You could try this too with a project you are looking to start. Jot down your answers. Post them here on the blog to share with others. Your observations may spark insights for others. If you have questions please ask. If you want to share gardening adventures please do!

Location shots for possible garden expansion project…

organic gardening, raised bed gardening, permaculture, seed saving, growing heirloom vegetables, herb gardening, planting fruit trees, edible landscaping and water harvesting also garden art, mosaic, stained glass

First possible location for vegetable garden expansion for next years summer garden

permaculture

Second possible location for vegetable garden expansion for next years summer garden

permaculture

third possible location for vegetable garden expansion for next years summer garden

 

 

PERMACULTURE ** An adventure in lifestyle change…

lawn_irradication,organic gardening, raised bed gardening, permaculture, seed saving, growing heirloom vegetables, herb gardening, planting fruit trees, edible landscaping and water harvesting also garden art, mosaic, stained glass

February 5, 2010 Doing away with the backyard lawn!

Our journey towards living a more sustainable lifestyle started four years ago when my husband and I decided we wanted to live a little more off the grid. I was curious as to how much of our own food we could actually grow and I wanted to experiment with alternative energy. I was looking into solar hot water heaters and using solar panels to supply household electricity, as well as water harvesting techniques.

I was somewhat familiar with organic gardening practices, composting and the idea of using rain barrels but I hadn’t had a much long term success with any of it so I figured, since I was planning on doing something on a larger scale, I should learn a lot more about it. I did a bunch of research and discovered the term “permaculture”. While still living in a one bedroom apartment I started checking out books from the library and reading lots of articles on the internet. I decided that permaculture was the way I wanted to go when we finally found land somewhere. Once we bought our four and half acre property, permaculture design principles gave me a framework to work within that was both practical and in alignment with my wish to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Without the permaculture design principles I would have been completely overwhelmed. I was about to begin gardening on a large scale, in a four season climate, in the mountains and it turned out that there was a lot of competition from hungry critters for just about everything I grew to eat. I could make lists of things I wish I’d known before and after we purchased land in the back country! I would do it all over again but I would be a lot more prepared and do more than a few things differently right from the beginning. At the very least I would know what questions to ask, questions I never thought of until after we moved.

So in an effort to both remind myself as well as share with others I’m doing a series of posts on 10 permaculture design principles based on what I’ve understood from the book Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. When I use these principles I’m productive in a ways that are more sustainable for myself, others and the planet and I achieve an overall saner existence! I would love to hear from you about your experience  if you have started using these principles and if you haven’t yet I’d like to hear what questions you have. I invite you to subscribe and be part of discussion about what we are all doing to have an environmentally friendly sustainable lifestyle.

 

PERMACULTURE ** Definition

 

Calville Blanc d'Hiver Apple Tree Guild- Guilda are a new way to grow fruit trees

Apple Tree Guild –  Fruit Tree Guilds are a different way to grow fruit trees – think of it as companion planting for trees.

Definition of Permaculture:
Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of cultivated ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape, people and appropriate technologies, providing shelter, energy and other needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture is a philosophy and an approach to land use which works with natural rhythms and patterns, weaving together the elements of microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, water and soil management, and human needs into intricately connected and productive communities.” –  Bill Mollison, founder of Permaculture and Scott Pittman, founder of the Permaculture Institute.