Sunday, May 25, 2008

Patterns in Permaculture

In Permaculture we make observations to try to understand connections between nature and her inhabitants.We look for natural rhythms and cycles between seasons and plant and animal behavior to determine a course of action that will best suit a design.Patterns play a very important role in nature and we see them everywhere we look and most times they reoccur in smaller detail within a bigger pattern.

At Fuji Eco we try to use patterning where possible for the benefit of the design as well as in structures that are pleasing to the eye.A favorite pattern used within Permaculture is the 'Herb Spiral'.Spirals occur in nature in so many different applications.Try looking closely at a fern leaf.The tip of the leaf is curled up in a spiral.Whirlpools are another form of the spiral.A herb spiral can be constructed from many different resources including timber,tires,
soil,rocks,tiles,straw bales just to name a few.Using your imagination can come up with so many more.

There are several herb spirals on the farm and keeping with my philosophy of spending extra energy initially for less energy or maintenance later,gave us the opportunity to rebuild one herb spiral using this philosophy.

The herb spiral is close to the center house and was is bad shape.It had been constructed out of Masa's favorite resource,'roofing tiles'.There is nothing too wrong with roofing tiles as long as they are used effectively.Here they weren't and the garden had to be stood on to harvest herbs which compacted the soil and made the tiles fall over.Another high maintenance activity with the original design was the introduction of lemon balm and mint.They had both taken over the garden and created a nightmare to weed.All the tiles had to be removed just to get to the roots as they had gone everywhere.I set about redesigning the garden to be easier accessed, more esthetically pleasing when viewed from the house,a reflection of Fuji san in the way plants were located and to be of solid construction.

I drew up a quick sketch in my journal of how I saw it looking and we all set out to gather resources.Waka san was going to teach me how to build a stone wall without cement.I had my reservations about this as I wanted to be able to stand on the wall without it collapsing.So the lesson started.

We were going to use rocks again as there were lots left over from the key hole garden and they were very close.I really like using rocks because the gaps between them are homes for creatures and plants and so much edge is created.The original spiral was about 1.5 meter diameter and maybe .5 meter high.Not a lot of dimension to it but things were going to change.Because we were using rock the wall was going to be thicker so we had to compensate and make the whole foot print wider or we would have had no room to plant.I dug the trench in which to place the footing rocks and as a guide and set about removing the grass so it would not grow up into the garden later.We didn't remove the grass sod completely,just turned it upside down so the grass would rot and the roots couldn't penetrate the soil.It is good to do this as it saves a lot of headaches later when weeding.

We assembled the rocks in a way that small ones went first working around to larger ones to give the dimension of spiraling up as well as spiraling flat.We didn't need to use cement here as the rocks were only single height.As the rocks were placed,smaller rocks were wedged in behind to fill gaps and to support larger ones.Then soil was back filled to the edge so the rocks retained it.

As we now had a wider foot print we were going to need more soil.We are slowly running out of soil to use like this on the farm but we are planning to build a composting bay system into a slope ,so we took the soil from there in preparation for that job.More on that later when we do the design.

We had made it right around to the start and it was time to start spiraling up.We had to use medium size rocks here as large ones would have covered too much planting area and were too heavy to carry.Work smart not hard.It was time to test Waka sans no cement concept as we were going to stack rocks two high.Two truck loads of soil were brought in to the garden to get a good and even effect for the dimension.We compacted the area where the rocks would sit and put in the trench for them to rest.Once each rock was in place soil was compacted behind them to secure them into place.A three tier bed system was created and the job was almost complete.

With all the heavy lifting done it was time to dress the spiral up a bit.As it was now much bigger,we needed to put in the paths or stepping blocks as per the design.We used timber blocks 200mm X 300mm as the paths and a little bit spaced apart so that ground covers could fill the spaces.Six access points were put in so as either side of the path could be reached with ease.The entire garden can now be accessed with minimal surface area lost for planting.No soil compaction here and definitely no mint or lemon balm.We took the old mint and lemon balm plants to area where they could run free without maintenance,close to the kitchen for a brew when needed.

So then it was time to plant.We already had herbs in the nursery that Masa had brought.A mix of things like basil,sage,oregano,thyme,nasturtium,chicory,echanasia,artichoke,margarum and borage to name a few.Lettuce,cucumber,beans,peas and rocket were also included.Teepee structures were added for the cucumber and peas to climb which will shade the lettuces from the hot sun during summer.

The plants were laid out in a design that would resemble Fuji san when fully grown.By this I mean that low growing plants at the outer edge of the wall,medium height plants in the middle of the bed and higher plants at the inner base of the second level wall.I am hoping that it will perform this way.Mediterranean type herbs like thyme and oregano are situated at the edge of the rock wall and on the south face to get warmth from the rocks.Yarrow is planted at the base of the entire spiral to act as a ground cover.When it is stood on it will release an odor that may repel unwanted pests.

The complete garden was mulched heavily with straw to suppress weeds and given a good watering for the following couple of days.Looking at the herb spiral is now is very pleasent to the eye as it is uniform in its construction and it really stands out.I took us 1.5 days for 3 guys to build.A bit of effort for a long term low maintenance garden.


Michael said...

Below are some basic gardening tips to get you started on creating your dream garden

Gardening Tip 1. Consider your plants health as well as your own. Ensure you keep yourself well hydrated whilst gardening. As most gardening is done in the sun, involves physical labour and is very engrossing, it is easy to work away for hours on end without noticing the time flying by. Keep drinking lots of fluids and make sure you are wearing adequate sun cream and a hat. Your garden will only suffer if you are in bed for a few days with dehydration or sun stroke. Remember, skin cancer is still one of the top killers so dress appropriately.

Gardening Tip 2. Design your garden before you start digging. Your time and energy is precious so don’t start digging holes and planting plants without having a garden design first. You may choose to employ a professional garden design or you may just want to draw your desired garden on a piece of paper yourself, depending on your budget. Either way if you have a plan of what you are doing and what you want to plant where, you will save yourself many back breaking hours digging and planting unnecessarily.

Gardening Tip 3. Make a list of the tools and materials you will need. After creating your garden design, list the tools and materials that are required to create your masterpiece. You may need specialist equipment like heavy earth moving machinery that needs to be hired and booked in advance or you may wish to plant exotic plants that need to be ordered and grown specially. You don’t want to get half way through your project only to find you cannot get a piece of equipment on hire for 2 weeks. When this happens it is very frustrating and can sometimes hold up the entire job.

Ringo's Blog said...

Thanks for the info Michael.This material is really great and I hope the viewers also take heed of your advice.Please feel free to leave comments on other posts with similar good advice.