Permaculture Garden: Will It Work for Us

Reader Contribution by Michelle Martin
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Why do we want a permaculture garden? Living here in sunny Spain, trying to become self-sufficient becomes problematic when the rains do not come. This past year (2013) has been particularly hard with next to no rainfall. Our land and garden are so dry and watering is becoming a massive problem as we only have the water we can collect in our store.

Another problem for us is our soil. It’s light sandy soil, not very deep, with outcrops of bedrock dotted around. We have a mixture of bedrocks, sandstone, limestone and some igneous rocks too. This bedrock allows the rainwater to run off of our land at record speed. The igneous rock does not allow the water to penetrate and so we can see dips in our garden where the water runs, carrying the fine soil with it.

We tried breaking the bedrock up (back breaking work) to ensure our plants had enough depth of soil to grow in. We added lots of sheep and goat dung to the raised vegetable beds we built. This did improve the soil to an extent but we will have to keep adding every year to keep the nutrient levels up.

We also have strong winds here, blowing across the garden in every direction. Our plants get damaged through breakage, or even wind burn. But we live in the middle of nowhere…with no buildings to stop the wind. We sit here and watch the wind carry our soil away leaving just the broken up bedrock that is too heavy for it to carry.

We had already started to develop parts of the garden, using raised beds in shaded areas, hoping that the shade would allow our plants to survive the hot summer. We built three small beds in front of the shed and water store. Last year they were the best producers of the whole garden, as more shade meant less evaporation. However, these  beds are not big enough to feed us and our animals and there are no more shady areas to use.

On researching our problem we came across permaculture. We realized that we had already started using some methods as a means to produce more food. When learning about permaculture design we were amazed at how much we had taught ourselves from all the disasters we had lived through.

What we have learned from researching permaculture gardening is that nature knows best. If you spend the time observing nothing is a problem … nature has an answer for everything. We observed the scrub land next to us. It had shoots appearing after the lightest rainfall. How was this possible when our garden produced nothing unless copious amounts of water were spread over it?

Permaculture teaches organic matter in soil is the most important part. It aerates the soil, holds water and provides nutrients for plants to grow. Our biggest problem is … we have no organic matter in our soil…only the sheep dung that we have added. It also develops the idea of how to preserve water where it is needed enabling the plants to use it.

This is the beginning of our journey. We are hoping to develop our soil, using permaculture designs, so keeping the water in our garden longer, using as much of it as we possibly can. I shall be posting regular updates to share our progress, problems and successes as we venture into the world of permaculture.

If you want to learn more about permaculture, the aims and principles, take a look at the links below.