Interplanted garden bed with southern exposure
You may have heard something about permaculture. The book Gaia’s Garden brought this type of gardening to many. What is it and can I apply the principles in my garden and yard?
How Permaculture Works
Permaculture is creating a synergistic garden; one that is symbiotic and supporting. It includes enriching the soil, planting for nutrients, planting for shade, planting for food, landscaping for water, planting to attract beneficial insects, planting to repel bad bugs, planting to optimize your harvests. It is all of this combined to create a self sustaining garden and yard.
You can go big and do it all or start small and work your way into a full permaculture yard.
If you are just getting started, the first step is planning. For planning, I would join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to find out what grows well in your area and what you like to eat that can be grown locally. You will get fresh nutritious food while supporting your local farmer. It was amazing how well we ate and how small our grocery bill was when we first joined a CSA! We also discovered many vegetables that we loved but had never eaten.
Assessing Your Yard for Permaculture
Before placing your garden bed, look at how your water drains. Create small swells/berms to move the water to where you want it to go-like your vegetables. Utilize rain barrels to capture water. There are some quite attractive rain barrels available on line and even at big box stores. Together these will significantly reduce your watering needs.
Next, determine how the sun traverses through your yard. You will want to put the sun lovers where they get southern exposure. Add shade to reduce your utility bills and give relief to your plants. In the spring, all of your vegetables love the sun. Come summer, many appreciate some shade and cooler temperatures, particularly greens. Even peppers get sunburned when temps get in the 90’s in full sun all day. Some relief from afternoon soon is appreciated.
When you are thinking of where to place those shade trees and bushes, consider adding fruit trees and bushes that you and the birds will enjoy. Planting trees and bushes provide shelter for birds that love to eat insects. Look for trees and bushes that also provide food for the birds, including winter berries. Birds help to keep the garden in balance. Don’t forget a water source so they can get a drink. Make sure the water stays clean or the birds can get sick just like we do from contaminated water.
Now you are ready to place your garden bed. For prepping the soil, a super easy method is to do sheet mulching which I outlined here. You are basically composting in place, building incredible rich soil, alive with microbial and worm activity, which provide all the nourishment plants need to thrive. The great thing about this technique is that no tilling is required! Prepare in the fall and by spring, the bed is ready for planting.
When the garden bed is ready for planting, do a soil test, add the nutrients indicated. I also add minerals to the soil as most soil today is depleted of their minerals. After getting your soil in balance, you will be able to grow the right crops in the right rotational order and compost to keep the soil fertile and in balance without outside inputs.
Daylily border in front of vegetable and herb garden on south side of home
Beneficial, pollinating insects love the herbal flowers and the ornamental flowers. The pollinators insure the vegetable flowers are pollinated to produce their fruits. If the flowers are not pollinated, they will just fall off. We garden organically and only use organic insecticides in dire times. Insecticides don’t know the difference between a good bug and a bad bug; it kills them all. If you can wait, the bad bugs will attract the good bugs that eat them. Then, you will have balance. The first year, I bought insects that feed on the bad insects (lady bugs, parasitic wasps, and preying mantis). It takes them a year or two to get established.
Attracting Beneficial Insects and Warding Off Pests
You can add beekeeping to your yard. Or if that is not feasible, just placing mason bee homes on trees will attract these natives to your yard for pollinating.
You can plant flowers that naturally repel the bad bugs like nasturtium and wild marigold (tagetes minuta). Even deer do not like the fragrance of marigolds. Sometimes just surrounding your garden with marigolds and fragrant Mediterranean herbs is enough to keep the deer out of your garden. I put nasturtium in pots and circle the garden bed with marigolds.
Interplanting vegetables and herbs that support others is a win-win. An example is placing “nitrogen fixers” next to plants that love nitrogen. You can also place nitrogen lovers in the spot the nitrogen fixers were. Be conscious of how you interplant and succession plant your vegetables to keep the soil in balance and give each vegetable the nutrients it needs. Well known nitrogen fixers are peas and beans. Clover also does the job and it is edible.
By having a variety of plants mixed in your garden, the bugs that prey on one type of plant will not be able to just hop next door for their next meal. This keeps uncontrollable infestations from occurring.
A couple of common plants that bring an assortment of nutrients up from deep in the soil is mustard and dandelions. If you want a larger leaf dandelion, the French dandelion is the ticket. You get great salad greens even in the heat of summer and an auto nutrient fertilizer.
There are even plants that are good for breaking up your soil. These are ones that go deep, like daikon, chicory, dandelion, and mustard.
This is just some of the highlights of permaculture to give you an idea of what it is about.
For more tips on organic gardening in containers and small spaces, see Melodie's blog at www.VictoryGardenOnTheGolfCourse.com.