Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From Patterns to Details

Planting bulbs and mulching
One thing that Neal and I learned in our permaculture design course was to start with the big picture before worrying about the smaller details. We used this principle when planning our network of fruit and nut tree guilds. Our big picture goal is to rely mainly on perennial foods that are able to fill the needs of the other plants in the area with minimal human intervention.

This last year in the gardens at Casa Maria, we were providing for many of the plants' needs by hand. For example, we needed to mulch the bed to keep out weeds and slow water loss (so we carried loads of straw and leaves to the raised beds at different times during the season. Ugh.) Another need of those finicky annuals was nutrients- so we carried buckets of compost to our raised beds. (Hey- it was great for building arm muscles, but we'd like to create a system that eventually provides for itself.)

Raking takes forever!
There must be a better way...
Here are some the plants we've put to use in our garden so far:
Major calorie providing perennial plant: apple, pear, oak, hazelnut, nanny berry
Grass suppressing bulbs: Daffodils and Garlic
Mulch: Comfrey, rhubarb
Nitrogen fixers: Bundleflower. Hopefully clover and chicory later
Beneficial insect attractors: Hope to plant yarrow, lemon balm, alfalfa, and buckwheat

The patterns from nature that we decided implemented so far were the web and circular patterns. We planted the trees in a network that we hope fill provide a food forest in a few years. (Think of the support and strength in a spider's web or mycelium). Around each tree we mulched and placed supportive plants below the circle of the plant's drip line.
A network of polyculture circles

We want to see if we can get away from the traditional method of gardening in large squares or rectangles with a path between every row of plants... We are concerned that it seems efficient at first because of the ease of having like plants by each other and that tractors can easily navigate the rows, but in the long run we might be able to conserve more water on our land and take advantage of positive plant interactions if we use other designs. We'll try it out and let you know!

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