Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Permaculture: Observing

An introductory permaculture class at The Resiliency Institute has heightened my years-long interest in permaculture. And now that we are in our new house, we are ready to start thinking about a landscape design that incorporates our interests as a family, food producing plants, and my favorite perennials, shrubs, and trees.

The word permaculture comes from a combination of two words – permanent, and agriculture. It’s about designing a space in a way that provides for people, wildlife, and plants. It’s about creating a sustainable landscape, yes, but takes that to a completely different level with ethics and design principles that help move us from mere consumers to responsible producers of food.

So, while it’s more in my nature to rip out plants and ask questions later, I’m taking it slow and applying the first principle of permaculture.

Principle 1 – Observe and Interact
They say gardening is all about “trowel and error” (har, har, har). I’ll be the first to admit that once I get an idea in my head, I’m off to the nursery as fast as I can get there, the plants in the ground before I ever get a chance to sleep on it.

David Holmgren, a student of Bill Mollison, the "father of permaculture", said, "Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration."

Permaculture Principle 1 teaches us to engage with nature so as not to make hasty design decisions that we will regret later, costing us more time, more money, and produce loss. We need to take the time to look closely at our environment and take note of what’s already happening before we decide to change it. What are the sunlight patterns? How does water flow through the site? What wildlife is prevalent in the area? What kind of microclimates exist? Where does traffic flow through the space?

The part of my yard that I’ll be focusing much of my attention on in the spring is the south-west side, where we get the most sun - a necessity for most food production. It includes part of our front yard, all of the side yard, and part of the backyard closest to the house. I’ve been watching the sun patterns since we bought the house in May, and most of those areas receive at least six hours of sun. It’s a relatively flat area, so water does not pool in any one location, but I do want to incorporate a rain garden where my downspouts let out that will filter rainwater back into the soil (I don’t use rain barrels – here’s why) and attract beneficial pollinators. While the main use for the space will be food production, we do need to create a path to get to the backyard, and reduce the lawn. We also need to design the space in a way that will discourage visits from deer, which are numerous in our area (this article is good inspiration for a deer-resistant design).  

So for now, I’m observing and interacting – not acting. And I can’t say I’m all that patient, but I want to be sure I’m making the right choices that will result in max food production and ecological health. Keep following the blog to watch the transformation of this space and others in my yard, as well as more landscape design client before and afters. 

If you'd like to read more about permaculture, some books that I've enjoyed include Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemensway, Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier, and Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. Enjoy!

Front yard herbs and veggies, coming soon.

Not sure what plant this is, but I observed that bees love it.

Need to incorporate a path to the backyard, which will make enclosing
the garden with a fence a challenge.

Oh deer. They come from here. 

A place to grow food, right by the back door. 

While there is shade in the area where I want to grow food, there is mostly sun.
Japanese painted fern.

Gratuitous kid shot

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