Permaculture works


Photo: THE Holy Hand Grenade!/Flickr.

Based on the latest maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it appears that the eastern third of the country should be in good shape this year insofar as rainfall is concerned.

For someone saddled with completely infertile soil, that’s good news. In my opinion, it’s bad enough to have to deal with unending amendment of the soil, without having to feel guilty because I’m watering all the time! I just closed the spigot on my rain barrel last week, with hopes I’ll accumulate lots of the wet stuff before too long.

Strictly speaking, of course, I actually have pretty good soil, and getting better every year. My circular vegetable beds now have years’ worth of straw, leaves, pine needles, comfrey and top soil, layer upon layer, working together to build a wonderfully fertile growing medium. Oh, and worm castings – I mustn’t forget about them. The wooded area in the back of the yard affords my beds some protection from the sun. They get direct sun during the middle of the day, and then the shade from the house takes over.

And so it grows

I got my tomato seeds started indoors this past weekend, along with oregano, borage, and nasturtium. The oregano and borage are what I’ll call “aspirational” plants; I’ve tried the oregano once before – from a plant – without luck, and I tried sowing borage seeds outdoors once before, without results. We’ll see if indoor growing conditions (peat pellets and a plastic “greenhouse”) work any better. I’ve grown nasturtium many times successfully, and love adding the leaves and flowers to salads. Their mild peppery flavor is good for adding interest, as is the beauty of the flowers.

The coming weekend sounds perfect for planting seeds. Lettuce? Check. Spinach? Check. Snow peas? Check. Potatoes and onions? Not so much; I just got an email from my supplier (who shall remain nameless in order to protect the guilty) who WAS promising delivery ten days ago, but who is NOW promising delivery during the last two weeks of April. They have generally proven themselves to be more reliable than this.

Any connection with the cold spring we’re having? I suspect so.

Uninvited guests

Then there are the sonic, solar-powered mole repellers to put in place. By the time I’d purchased one last summer for a test run, the marauding moles had pretty much run thoroughly amuck amongst my strawberries and green peppers. The repeller seemed to keep them away from my tomato plants, however, so I’m adding two more this year.

Whether or not deer repellers will be necessary remains to be seen. For the first time in the nearly nine years we’ve lived in Loveland, Ohio, the deer discovered our bird feeder. I stopped filling it, so they didn’t get in the habit of jumping the fence in order to steal the seed. The plan is that they’ll have lost interest in the feeder and its contents by this weekend!

My fertilization program involves a three-pronged approach this year: purchased, organic vegetable fertilizer, comfrey tea, and human urine.

I discovered last summer, to my absolute delight, that comfrey tea is one powerful fertilizer. The tomatoes just loved it. My recipe consists of half a bucket of comfrey cuttings covered with water to the top of the bucket, which I allow to stand for three days. That recipe is hardly written in stone, and could probably be varied a good deal without any lasting harm being done. I’m going to scatter some more divided comfrey plants around the yard; it’s a pretty plant that can adapt to different growing conditions easily.

As for the human urine, suffice it to say it’s plentiful and cheap. I’ll cut it with water before application so I don’t burn my plants.

Putting the perma in permaculture

I plan on purchasing my Roma tomatoes and green pepper plants from Granny’s Garden sale at the elementary school in June. Sometime between now and then I’ll get my cabbage planted. I’d like to learn to preserve sweet and sour red cabbage this year.

Lastly, I’m adding blueberries and raspberries to my perennials. I dug up an elderberry bush from under a pine tree last year and moved it into partial sun. It produced berries like crazy, but they had no flavor at all. My hope is that amended soil, along with my various fertilizers, will make all the difference. Wish me luck!

— Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice

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  1. Charmian Lake says

    I am an avid reader of the Voice and have learnt much from the various contributors, some of which I pass on to others. However I am concerned at today’s offering on a permaculture garden. Your contributor is using peat in the garden.

    This is totally contrary to organic and permaculture growing as:-
    — peat is a non renewable resource
    — cutting peat destroys a major carbon sink and leads to high greenhouse gas emissions as the peat bogs degrade with cutting over much greater area than is cut- due to the drying effect of cutting
    — peat bogs are major repositories of biodiversity and they a rare habitat.

    There are plenty of other sources for seed growing such as leaf mould and ordinary garden compost ( after sieving)

  2. says

    Hi Charmian –
    I was unable to see your posting at Transition Voice, so I thought I’d respond via email. You’re absolutely right; I don’t disagree at all. Perhaps a little explanation would go a long way.

    Here in the United States, esp. in the suburbs, we have good-sized yards. Mine is 3/5 of an acre. I garden organically, or as nearly so as possible. Taking care of that much property in a labor-intensive way (i.e. organically) uses up lots of time. I work full time, so I have to keep my gardening time commitment under control.

    For instance, I have to keep the dandelions at bay – my neighbors get upset if I don’t. I like a product called Iron X for killing dandelions, but you have to spray each weed (!) because it costs too much to spray the whole yard. It took me 4 hours to apply the darn stuff! Not only do I run out of time, at 60 I run out of energy.

    So the little bit of peat that winds up in these peat “pellets” is pretty much going to have to be all right. They’re sure fire, when it comes to starting seeds, and they’re easy. I’ll spend lots of time coddling the little darilngs once they’re outside, but for right now, the efficient way wins hands down. After 35 years of gardening, I’ll be the first to admit there’s always something new to learn. Thanks for the reminder about how precious those peat pellets are!

    Best, Vicki

  3. says

    I’ve been using coir instead of peat. It comes from a great distance, but is annually renewable, versus the hundreds or thousands of years it takes for peat to regenerate.

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