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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sustainable Living in May - Gardening

A small addition to the table - young beets planted in February in a protected spot
So much in permaculture is about growing food, working with the land, that it is frequently confused with some type of gardening technique. Naturally, permaculture has lots to offer in that aspect, in addition to such subjects like green building, water harvesting, community building, restoration of diminished landscapes and more. In the month of May, so lovely with its display of life and blossom, our lives revolve around gardening no matter where we live - either though active work with the land, or through passive enjoyment of greenery for those not engaged in planting and yard work. 

Child's potted edible garden includes lettuce (forefront), chives, horseradish (in white cylinder), chard, geraniums, potatoes and lambs quarters in the metal tub, green peas in the largest pot with wire support for climbing. A large tub with water is nearby, as are several watering cans. A very easy way to grow a few yummy things. As the season grows warmer, cucumbers and tomatoes will join peas in the large tub. Pretty incredible!
What can we do in May to make our lives more sustainable? Plant a garden is a good way to begin. Permaculture adage of "Start small, let your success carry you forward" stands true, here and always - but don't let your small scale gardening attempts to keep you from experimenting. Plant things throughout the summer to see what works best in your situation. Use vertical gardening methods to increase your growing space, if not much gardening area is available. Remember, "Everything Gardens" in permaculture - which means that a roof supplies rainwater for the garden via a rain barrel, and a wooden bench can serve as a shade structure for young plants shall they need it. A garden wall casts shade and absorbs heat (if made of masonry) which means it gardens in its own way, making a little micro-climate that will help heat-loving plants to thrive. A symbiotic garden design includes all its "gardeners" in the plan, gives each one a role to play.

Potted edible plants work in many settings, lovely and productive on a small scale - cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, stir-fry greens, edible flowers all grow very well in pots. Potted garden is good not only for urban dwellers with small growing spaces, they are also very friendly for older gardeners and for children. A potted garden can be grown right where you want it, in close proximity to the home and hearth - and with a comfortable arrangement for watering (a very large water tub that is regularly refilled + several watering cans of different sizes make it easy to water even with a barely walking toddler - no hoses involved, easy to do and child's participation is guaranteed). That type of setup is similarly comfortable for older people. It is easy to keep soil moist and well composted, weeds out, and plants in tip-top condition on such a small scale. Careful selection of location is a must. For the Southwestern gardener, southern side of the house is not the best location for a potted garden, as it will most likely will eventually fry in the heat of the summer. The pots tend to get warm and warm soil spells trouble for plants (around 87F plant roots begin to die). A location in light dappled shade is ideal.

If lacking dappled shade around the house is an issue, perhaps it is time to plant some shade! Many people say that they don't want to invest money into a rental situation, yet at the same time they mention feeling a strong need for a garden, for trees, for shade. An investment of little love and money (as little as $2 for Forest Service tree seedling) can be actually healing to the soul (and soil) and no doubt is an act of good will and easy to do, yet so many renters are reluctant to do it. Plant trees, dot on them, even if renting your yard. An investment like this may give you more pleasure than you expect.

When planting trees, it is good to think about solar aspect of your house (i.e. not to screen winter sun from entering the building), or windbreak needs (one tree is not much of a windbreak, but it is a start), or how to provide habitat (evergreen trees are more appealing to song birds than fruit trees), or how to keep the house a little warmer in the winter (windbreak or a large evergreen tree will eventually shelter the house from the elements to some degree).  There is a saying that in permaculture there are only two answers to any questions: "It depends" and "Plant Trees".

1 comment:

Bananal, my history, my city, my life. said...

We loved your blog, we are new on permaculture and got a lot of ground to learn. Best wishes from Brazil.