Archive for August, 2010

Permaculture reflections

August 31, 2010

It was just a year ago this week when I struggled up a long, steep driveway in suburban Heathmont to begin 13 weeks of a Permaculture Design Course with Forest Edge Permaculture. In retrospect, probably the most important thing I’ve done in recent years. I’ve just been reading back through the posts I wrote as the course unfolded and re-enjoying the memories. (I wonder what they’re all doing now?).

What did I learn?

  • A much greater understanding of the permaculture concept and how useful it’s going to become as we enter the era of energy decline. Particularly, a greater appreciation of the design element of permaculture; it’s not just about organic gardening, but about designing sustainable systems to minimise energy use and maximise yield.
  • An appreciation of the concept of a food forest. I’ve lived alongside a couple of acres of remnant natural forest for 10 years and although I saw it as a collection of elements (plants, animals, fungi and bacteria), working and interacting as a complete functioning ecological system, I never thought to use that system as a template for designing a similar system, but one which would concentrate on providing a maximum of food and other resources. So now, a formerly traditional garden—a collection of annual vegetable beds, herbs and fruit trees—is being reworked into a permaculture food forest.
  • An appreciation of the value of holding up water flows on a sloping site so that water doesn’t run off, but is retained and more effectively absorbed into the ground. Hence the ongoing construction of swales behind every fruit tree. It has made an enormous difference with the rain we’ve had this year—after every rain event the swales were full of water and I could see the results in the winter-ripening citrus trees; larger and jucier fruit than usual. (I’m pleased to say the novelty has worn off; I’m no longer rushing down the back, often in teeming rain, to watch the swales filling up!). I’m now continuing to dig swales behind the stone fruits, apples and pears. It will be interesting to see the effect on the summer-ripening fruit. Even with no or minimal summer rainfall, I will no longer have to put a slow sprinkler (gravity-fed from the tank) onto each tree in turn, but will simply fill each swale on a regular basis with the hose. It should save a  lot of time and get the water where it’s needed most.
  • That I was simply wasting good greywater by running it on the ground and using reeds and rushes to absorb it, when I could have been using it to grow more food.

If there’s a downside to all this new learning, it’s this: finding out that the average person hasn’t the slightest understanding of the fact that business-as-usual is over; that an energy-constrained future is going to be very different from the energy-abundant past we’ve all enjoyed and that we need to prepare while we still have some of the energy from that past remaining. Thus, the anger I’ve encountered in trying to get people to understand and prepare has been disappointing. Maybe the only way to go is to encourage people to grow their own food simply because it’s cheaper and healthier, rather than trying to get them to accept reality and put aside their cherished fantasies of a greater and more glorious energy-rich future.

Swale behind the orange tree

 

Not buying…..growing

August 20, 2010

It occurred to me recently that when I go food shopping, I’m not buying much now; just a bit of meat and a few groceries, so I decided to make a list of all the food plants I’m growing at present and was more than a little  surprised at the result.

I put a piece of scrap paper on the kitchen bench and every time I thought of something, wrote it down as I passed. I soon filled that scrap and started a second. When that was filled, I thought I’d reached the end of the process…..until I went for a walk around the garden and realised what I’d missed!

I should stress that not all these foods are present at any one time or in huge quantities and some things, like seed crops, or annual vegetables, I may not grow every year. Of course the fruit trees are perennials and so are there all the time, as are most of the herbs. Many of the herbs are dried so that I have them even when they might die back in winter, and I dry, freeze or bottle whatever I can to extend its season.

I try to eat what’s there and not buy things out of season. For instance, I never buy french beans or tomatoes (thick-skinned and tasteless at any time), out of season.

So here’s the full list. Species marked with * are those that have been recently planted and aren’t bearing yet.

Fruits
Most are planted in multiples, e.g. I have 6 apricots—all but one grown from seed, and over a dozen feijoas—also from seed. To save space, I usually plant a group of 3 fruit trees close together—this aids cross-pollination and fruit set.

Alpine Strawberry—these are poked in wherever there’s a space
Apple
Apricot
*Avocado
*Blueberry
Cape Gooseberry
*Chilean Guava
Cossack Pineapple
Feijoa
*Grape
*Japanese Raisin Tree
Lemon
Lime
*Loganberry
*Loquat
Mandarin
Nectarine
Orange
*Passionfruit
Pear
Pepino
*Persimmon
*Pomegranate
Plum
*Quince
*Redcurrant
*Strawberry Guava
Tamarillo

Vegetables
Asparagus
Beans—broad & french
Broccoli
Button Squash
Capsicum
Celery
Cucumber
Peas
Pumpkin
Sweet Corn
Tomato
Watermelon
Zucchini

Greens
These are mostly winter crops. I’m eating these almost every meal at the moment.
Bok Choy
Chicory
Corn Salad
Dandelion
Kale
Leaf Amaranth (summer crop)
Lettuce
Nasturtium
Nettle
*Orach—Mountain Spinach
Silver Beet
Sorrel
Spinach

Herbs
Basil
Comfrey
Curry Plant
Dill
Echinacea
Gotu Kola
Herb Robert
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena (really a large shrub, but used as a herb)
*Lovage
Mint
Oregano
Parsley
Pennyroyal
Purslane
Rocket
Rosemary
Sage
*Tansy
Thyme
Valerian
*Wormwood
Yarrow
Zaatar

Seeds
Barley
Caraway
Dill
Fenugreek
Grain Amaranth
Linseed
Millet
Poppyseed
Wheat

Tubers
Jerusalem Artichoke
Oca
Potato
Yacon

Onion family
Garlic
Leek
Shallots
Note: I don’t grow onions; leeks are easier and need less room

Roots
Carrot
Kohl Rabi
Parsnip (not overly successful with this I’m afraid, but I’ll keep trying)
Radish

Edible native species
Dianella longifolia—Pale Flax Lily (edible purple berries)
Austromyrtus dulcis—Midgin Berry (edible berries)
Tasmannia lanceolata—Mountain Pepper (peppery, spicy leaves—dried, pulverised and used as a pepper substitute)
Mentha diemenica—native mint (used as herbal tea)
Warrigal Greens—aka New Zealand Spinach

Nuts
*Gevuina avellana—Avellano or Chilean Hazelut

I don’t buy tea (I use a variety of herbs for herbal tea) and I make my own bread (although I do have to buy the flour and yeast).

I also have a source of fuelwood and 18,000 litres of stored potable water, but I’m still nowhere near total self-sufficiency (no sources of meat). Eggs come from the free-range egg farm at the end of our street and one day I will get some chickens of my own, which will mean some meat (if I can bear to kill them), but on the whole I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve achieved. It’s a really good feeling to wander down the back each evening and pick something for dinner.

Oh, and I almost forgot about the mushrooms!