Tag Archives: Permaculture Design Principles

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.