Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Designing a Kitchen Garden, An Alternative Way of Thinking

Welcome to my newly designed blog.  What gave me inspiration to change it up?  A class I attended at the LA Arboretum.

My normal weekend companion (my husband) had an unusually heavy travel schedule for work this summer.  Taking advantage of my new free time I ended up taking weekend cooking classes.  Many, many cooking classes.  I think I overdosed on cooking classes!  I needed something different; I needed a new twist. 

On a whim and suggestion from an acquaintance a couple of months back, I looked up horticultural classes since gardening is also a passion of mine.  Our local arboretum offered an introductory class on Permaculture.  I had never heard the term before.  The outline described learning how to create a sustainable food forest in my own backyard, identifying why growing my own vegetables can be so difficult, and learning how to work with nature, not against it.  Class cost:  $25.  Sold!

I have written before about preconceived notions.  Here I go down the rabbit hole again!  The class I walked into was not a "how to" gardening course.  It was something completely different and absolutely fascinating.  In fact, it wasn't really about gardening at all but rather a study in connecting with your house, community and natural areas as it relates to designing a perennial food garden.

So what is the definition of Permaculture?  According to Bill Mollison, a researcher, scientist, teacher, naturalist and father/co-developer of Permaculture:
Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all of their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system. 
If you think about it, fruits and vegetables don't naturally grow in neat rows.  Think of a forest or jungle!

Diagram courtesy: Graham Burnett

The design approach Bill and his partner David Homgren developed in the mid 1970's was an outcome of analyzing the growing dependence on industrial-agriculture methods resulting in the poisoning of land and water while removing topsoil from previously fertile land due to the reduction of biodiversity.  Their solution was published in their book "Permaculture One" in 1978.  Since then, the concept broadened from agricultural design to designing sustainable human habits.  There are even Permaculture Design Courses (PDC).

Design starts with examining one's normal, everyday patterns.  When you go home, do you pull into the driveway and walk straight to the front door?  Or do you daily linger through all parts of the front yard?  My guess is it's likely you make a bee-line to the front door.  Does that mean you hardly ever visit the far reaches of your backyard where most people plant their vegetable gardens?  How likely is it you'll care for your vegetable patch if it isn't under your nose?  Why not plant an herb garden in the flower beds along the walk way instead?  You'll smell them every time you brush by.  This is just one example of rethinking where you plant your annual vegies.  And why does it need to be in neat rows?  Get creative!

Courtesy: Lyons, CO Permaculture Design Course

To take the concept further, there is an emphasis in perennial edibles (trees, bushes, vines, etc.), native to the area while analyzing where the perennial should be placed for maximum benefit and synergy.  By going native, there is less labor involved.  I love that idea!

Being a complete newbie to this idea, I encourage you to Google "permaculture" for further understanding.  In the meantime, what has this meant to me?

Tangerine Tree
I look at my existing yard and realize I am already lucky in that we inherited a lovely, heavy producing tangerine tree when we bought our house.  With our abundance, we can barter our fruit with our neighbor who has an over producing lemon tree.  And now, when I think about what else I can grow for ourselves, I aim for a perennial such as the starter Blackberry bushes I purchased last weekend.  Come May, we should have enough to cover us through July.

Young Blackberry Bush
 Conceptually, this has caused me to reexamine other things in my life that may need redesigning.  This blog was one of them.  The template I had been using was okay, but wasn't necessarily me or user friendly.  This one I designed from the ground up.  I hope you find it a nice place to visit as much as I enjoy playing in it.

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