So I admit it… I tend to be deeply interested in way too many things, but I’ve decided here in the Year of the Dragon, that it brings a particular richness in my life that I wouldn’t think of living without. While we were in Southern California, with the weather hinting at Spring there, I began dreaming of our garden for the coming year. This will be the first year in many where we won’t be in transition during the summer months, so I’m incredibly ambitious as to what we can attain. Perhaps a little over-ambitious… Our experiment last fall was, on the whole successful. We got a substantially sized garden in, knowing full well that it would likely be overtaken by winter, as it was, but were happy with out successes and learned an awful lot. For example… pulling weeds sucks! Eager to build on our successes and employ the lessons from our failures, I began planning this year’s garden on December 26th. Since we didn’t have a long enough season for most of our plants to go to seed, I started with the Seed Saver’s Exchange 2012 seed catalog! How delicious! What I like to do with any project, is DREAM BIG, then reign things in as is needed. Case in point was my excursion through the above mentioned catalog. When all was said and done, I’d picked the following which I organized in to the document you see here:
See the full PDF here - 2012 GARDEN PLANS
I used to be a production manager, so I like things to be organized, but I admit, this might have been a little over the top, but then I saw a new App for the iPad, which, in a much sleeker form was setting up garden organization in the same way. Here is the link for all that are interested from Mother Earth News, which is admittedly a bit of an obsession these days when it’s too cold to work with wet clay in the studio. Behold… the Grow Planner Gardening App. Now, as I am trying to limit the amount of stuff I buy in the name of Artful Simplicity, I am not going to go and buy an iPad in order to use this App (though the little consumer devil on my shoulder says that I should). But I was very excited to see that the documents I had already created on my own were essentially the same templates being used by these incredible resource and organization tools.
To explain how I am using this document a little more, it may help if you know a little about the concept of Square Foot Gardening. Mel Bartholomew wrote it all down years ago and has revised his practices recently in the All New Square Foot Gardening book released in 2006, which you can likely pick up at your local library. The basic idea is that by planting different plants next to each other in easy to access raised beds with good soil mixtures that help with water retention you are cutting down on the amount of work per square foot and increasing the yield.
Knowing what to plant, and how much is a consistent problem for beginning gardeners such as myself, so like I said, I like to DREAM BIG and reign things in. The document I shared above let me start with what I wanted in my dream garden, then think about how much (i.e. how much do I get from a square foot and how many square feet will I need), then lay it out into potential beds. I started by making a square (1″ X 1″) for each vegetable, herb, or grain including the various varietals. Then notated in the box, when they should be planted in my zone and how many square feet I intended to plant. Then color coded the various types of plants for easy reference. Now, armed with an icon for each square foot I intended to plant, I could plan out my raised beds. I decided to go with 3′ X 3′ beds or 9 square feet per box. Then began playing with the tiles until my boxes looked like this…
See the full PDF here - 2012 GARDEN Layout
In the end, this comes out to be about 250 Square feet… Like I said, perhaps a little too ambitious, and honestly, I’m looking at places I can cut down, not to mention the fact that since we do not have seeds
from last year, I’ll need to purchase the seed for most of this, which makes for a fairly substantial capital outlay. This of course got me thinking about how I can cut down on expenses, and while I probably don’t need 7 varietals of Melons, I’m eager to test as many varietals as possible to see what works well for us here. So how else can I cut my expenses? With 26 raised beds needing to be constructed and filled with good soil, it started to look like I was going to have to start the daunting task of reigning it in. My spirits were lifted as I started combing Craigslist’s free page for materials and started in on some more research through a couple of Permaculture websites suggested by a friend while visiting him in Durango, CO on our way back from California. He pointed me towards Paul Wheaton’s work in the permaculture community which I’ve been aggressively consuming since arriving home. His work with Hugelkultur is inspiring and I highly suggest taking a look at his article on the subject in Make It Missoula here.
That said, there are many fantastic people around the world working with this technique and it’s worth falling down the rabbit hole if this does indeed spark your interest. Essentially, this technique uses old wood (though fresh cut works as well) as a base layer, upon which, your raised bed is built. The decomposing organic material (i.e. tree branches and other discarded wood, leaves, etc.) creates a rich environment that replenishes the soil’s nutrients constantly and creates air pockets for roots to grow into. Even more impressive and important, especially here in arid Colorado, the decomposing matter acts a sponge, which holds on to water and provides the plants growing above a consistent source of moisture. It’s a raised bed ecosystem, not just a pretty place to put some flowers. There are a number of different ways to employ this method, one of which is pictured above in the construction of a berm, which is most efficient because plants from all around the decomposing wood have access to the store of water, but it can be done in the ground as well as in bordered or more traditional raised beds, like the one directly above. I will be implementing this method in my raised beds which will reduce the amount of soil I need to use (most likely what I dig up as a bed for the wood to go in to will be enough when layered back over the top along with some compost) and it will reduce the amount of irrigation needed throughout the drier months in our growing season, not to mention, the decomposing matter will create a heat bed that will keep the root systems warmer, providing a longer growing season in my own little micro-climate. And how about this for an added bonus… By burying felled wood and decomposing it underground, I am not only using the nutrients the earth has already provided eliminating the need for synthetic, or even organic fertilizers, I’m also… get this… sequestering CARBON! Yes, I’m helping reduce the amount of off-gased CO2 from decomposing matter! Beat that if you can!
AND THAT’S NOT ALL… As I fell in free-fall down the rabbit hole, I stumbled, rather quickly, on to the father of the whole Permaculture Phenomenon. Though the term, permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the mid-1970s, Sepp Holzer has been doing it all his life. In this video, he gives an overview of his life’s work, which is his vibrant mountain-side farm in Austria.
What’s clear in watching this, is that slowing down and really observing our own ecosystems brings a true wealth of knowledge, and that permaculture will be different from one side of town to the other. As Sepp Holzer says, we must work in cooperation with nature, not against it. I realize that I may be a little late in coming this man and his ideas, but he is none-the-less, my new hero!
Not to be lost in all of this is the beauty of the absolute simplicity and harmony with nature’s carefully crafted rhythms. That beauty brings me full circle to the concepts I regularly spout here. By rescuing materials from the dumpster or from Craigslist and reusing them artfully in my garden through the creation of miniature ecosystems that harness nature’s simple designs, we have another embodiment of life lived with Artful Simplicity!
Now… I’m off to rescue tree branches from yesterday’s wind storm! Permaculture to the rescue!!!