Permaculture: Growing Food in a Small Space
When I returned from the EAT course, one of the first projects I completed was converting a small area of land in our garden into a productive growing space.
In the Beginning: Start with Observation..
One thing we permaculturisits like to do before designing a system is to observe it – and an aspect of observation involves recognising potential ‘threats‘ or ‘constraints’ to the site. Through creative design, we might then consider how to work around (or within) those constraints. This cute creatureseen basking in the sun lived above us. She enjoyed certain activities on our small piece of land. Although she probably didn’t realise it herself, her digging holes to relieve herself was seen as a bit of a ‘constraint’ in getting some things growing on the land! So, I wanted to find a way around this…
To work around her behaviour, (or intrinsic characteristic), I decided to protect the site with netting. This actually had the added beneficial effect of preventing snails from getting to the veggies! I also put a layer of compost onto the soil, which you can see in the photo, the idea being to increase soil fertility and further cover any existing cat poop. Some of the compost was bought, and some was worm compost that we produce from organic kitchen waste.
Additonally, I chose to work on the site without digging,which would otherwise disturb the soil layers and microbiology, and would bring weed seeds to the surface. This would inevitably increase the need to dig in the future, setting up a viscious cycle. Instead I would hoe out any weeds at the surface,and let them lie on the soil. Letting the weeds rest on the soil in this way better mirrors principles in nature, and allows the weeds to breakdown where they directly feed the land.
Permaculture Principle: Make the least change for the greatest effect
I then covered the compost with a layer of straw. This was for a couple of reasons: firstly, to help prevent the compost drying out, and secondly to reduce the chances of any weed seeds that may be present near the soil surface from germinating.
Maximise growing space by ‘Stacking’
Here’s a few of the purple french beans being harvested. The plant is high yielding and the beans are delicious! They also have this unusual characteristic that while purple when raw, they turn green when cooked! The plant also has wonderful tiny purple flowers that you can see more easily by enlarging the photo.
Here is a close up of a perpetual spinach plant (protected by netting). What I love about perpetual spinach is, you plant it once and it provides yield for months on end. I’m surprised more people don’t grow it. Even with just a fewplants we often had more than we could eat, and would often enjoy sharing the harvest with our neighbour.
Permaculture Pricniple: The Problem is the Solution
There is a permaculture principle that ‘the problem is the solution’. To make good use of space, I managed to secure some unwanted usedtyres (the ‘problem’) from a local store, and used them to grow the potatoes (i.e the solution!).
As the potato plants grew, I would put another tyre on top of the existing ones, added some compost and topsoil, and thus made greater use of vertical space. This meant getting a greater yield for the same land surface area.
If you feel permaculture could be useful for your group and are interested in a workshop with Wisdom In Nature, click here for more information.
Here’s a short selection of books that I’ve found useful and inspiring alongside course that I’ve attended…
The Permaculture Way / Also, The Permaculture Garden: Both by Graham Bell
Two very readable books by the same author. Both are useful in their own right.
Permaculture: A Beginners Guide, By Graham Burnett
A wonderful little book provides an excellent introduction to the permaculture approach.
The One Straw Revolution: By Masanobu Fukuoka
Not explicitly about permaculture but an inspiration to many permaculture practitioners.