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the best way to garden

March 14, 2011

Since our last post, we decided to prolong our stay in Hamilton for two additional weeks. We have been learning so much from our host Judy, and she is such a gem! The main reason we came to stay with Judy was that she advertised on her HelpX profile that she gardened according to permaculture principles. We had been hearing a lot about permaculture, and as the Kiwis would say, we “were keen on” learning about it.

The word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as the joining of the words permanent and agriculture. The core principles of permaculture have to do with growing according to nature and having a closed loop system, meaning that you grow, recycle, or forage for the things you need to maintain your gardening system.

Where organic gardening falls short, permaculture steps up to the plate. Many garden or farm organically because it is a niche market, not because of any conviction or persuasion. According to Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the USDA permits certain chemical fertilizers and synthetic food additives to be used in “organic food”. This is a result of what originated on hippie communal farms but due to the lure of capitalism became a financially viable market.

Local, sustainable food systems are what those who are concerned for their health and the health of the environment are moving towards. We have learned a great deal from Slow Food, the Hamilton Permaculture Trust, and our host Judy and her myriad of helpful books!

Here are some other interesting things we’ve learned about:

No-Dig Gardening: Though there are many variations on no-dig gardening, the basic concept is to build layers on top of existing soil so that old weeds die out and new weeds cannot take. The theory behind this is that soil is best left undisturbed.

Mulching: Mulching conserves water and soil, adds nutrients to the soil, and also serves as a weed suppressant. You can use newspaper, seaweed, cardboard, grass clippings, untreated sawdust, and compost to mulch, just be sure to leave a little room around the plant itself, as mulch right against the stems causes them to rot. Mulching is one way to add nutrients to your soil. Other methods include companion planting, crop rotation, and liquid “manure”, all of which you’ll read about shortly.

Companion Planting: This creates an environment where your plants are supported by each other, producing and receiving nutrients for and from each other. Other benefits of companion planting are repelling certain insects that harm and attracting certain bugs that are beneficial. the companion planting rule of thumb is “marigolds with everything.”

Crop Rotation: When gardening it is important to know the needs of the plants you cultivate. Soil needs, water needs, sun needs, nutrient needs, all of these are good to know about pre-planting. Crop rotation reduces pest and disease problems by rotating in one garden bed different plants each year that have different needs than the ones planting in the previous year. Legumes for instance, are able to fix nitrogen from the air and bring it into the ground. Leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale have high nitrogen needs, so it the following year, you would want to plant leafy vegetables where you had legumes the prior year. Fruiting crops such as tomato and zucchini have high phosphorus needs, and root crops like carrots and garlic have high potassium needs. Though incredibly detailed, crop rotation can be summed up by- legumes–>leaf–>fruit–>root and back again.

Composting: Compost can be made from anything that is organic. Composting in my mind is the ultimate version of recycling, and is a huge part of permaculture. You would be amazed at how long it would take your garbage can to fill up if you made proper use of composting! Any scraps from the kitchen can be utilized in compost. If you are a meat-eater, there is a device called the Bokashi Bin, which is small, can be stored in the kitchen, and decomposes meat scraps. Anything vegetable or mineral can go into a compost bin in your kitchen, then once near full, taken outside to go into your compost pile. To make compost for your soil you need 25 parts brown material (carbon-rich) like leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, to 1 part green material (nitrogen-rich) like vegetable scraps, garden waste, and grass clippings. If you feed a lot of people and have more kitchen waste then this, don’t fret-just toss it in! It will just take a bit longer to break down. Now all the nutrients from your newspaper, kitchen waste, and mowed grass will all be put into the food you are growing…no waste!

Liquid “manure”: though you can utilize animal manure in these, the only way we’ve seen it done (and would prefer-I don’t want any feces near my zucchini, thank you very much) is with steeped plants and herbs. Our favorite and one of the most nutrient dense is comfrey. You can fill a container half full with comfrey leaves, then fill to the top with water. Cover it and leave it to steep for 2-3 weeks, stirring weekly. After that time dilute it to 1 part concentrate to 5 parts water. Then you can use this as a “fertilizer” in your garden. Comfrey is rich in nitrogen, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and silica. This is just one example!

Worm Farming: Worm farming is a method for recycling food waste into extremely rich soil conditioner. It can be utilized outdoors or indoors, making it ideal for colder climates and apartment dwellers.

This is only a brief synopsis (this stuff is gold, people!) but there is alot of information to be had out there! If you want to learn more, check out the following resources:

You Can Have Your Permaculture and Eat it Too by Robin Clayfield

Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren

Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte

the Permaculture Institute in New Mexico

City Farmer News-



love to all,

a &  j

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2011 3:50 am

    Awesome post! I really like the natural cycle permaculture promotes and practices. It seems like the system will do well for gardens all over the world!

  2. March 17, 2011 12:02 am

    Thanks for sharing! Thought you might also like to know of another book I pulled out the other day from our current hosts’ shelf: Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture. Just starting to dig into it now 🙂

  3. March 17, 2011 12:54 am

    Love, love, love the concepts of permaculture!! Looks like Drew beat me to telling you about the book we just discovered at our current host. 😉


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