Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Progress, Late June/Early July 2014 - Applying Permaculture Principles to the Garden, As Well As Other Experiments

It's been a good while since the start of summer, and my garden looks considerably different now than how it did in my last video.  In this month's update, I take a walk through the garden and explain what has changed over the course of the month.  I also talk about different projects I've been working on around the garden, in my pursuit of self-sufficiency.  Take a look:

I tried to fit as much updated information as I could into the video, but I know I missed a few things.  I promise to give these plants and/or ideas some time in the next video.  Additionally, I wanted to go into further detail about the different methodologies that I have been applying, so here are some notes on those techniques that I've taken from my own experience.

"Dry Gardening"

With the arrival of summer and the heat that comes along with it, I've been watering quite a bit more than I was earlier this year when rain was abundant.  Watering by hand gets pretty tedious after a while, so as an experiment, I decided to make one of my tomato plants a guinea pig to test the effects of not watering it.  I also did a quick Google search of "no water gardening" and found a very helpful book called Gardening Without Irrigation by Steven Solomon.

I won't recap all the info here, but the main idea of the book is growing vegetables without any human-produced irrigation by widening the spacing of vegetable plants and ruthlessly weeding any other plants that sprout around the veggies.  Doing this accomplishes two things: It allows the roots of the vegetable plant to expand quickly and obtain nutrients and water much more easily, as well as creating a "dust mulch," which effectively traps moisture in the subsoil.  But reading something doesn't necessarily make it true, so I wanted to try it out to see how it worked for me.

As you can tell in the video, this method works quite well, at least for the variety of tomato I'm growing.  Except for when I first transplanted it into the ground, I haven't watered my "Rio Grande" tomato plant this entire season.  I will admit that my location has a good bit of rainfall, even in our summers, so it has had a fair amount of water from storms.  But I am very impressed by the fact that it is not just surviving, but flourishing and bursting with tomatoes all up and down the plant.

Getting Started With Permaculture

I've also been trying a completely different gardening method after reading a lot of articles posted on /r/permaculture subreddit.  Permaculture has a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask, but I think everyone agrees that, at the most basic level, it is a way of designing things (like gardens, houses, and resources) to work with nature, rather than against it.  That means actually observing nature and taking cues based on what works naturally in the environment.

Permaculture encompasses a lot of different ideas on what can sustain and rebuild the earth, dealing with anything from edible landscapes to energy-efficient building architecture, and everything in-between.  I decided to start small and work on a simple philosophy in permaculture that basically states that the ground should never be completely bare.  There should always either be plants growing or mulch laying on top of the bare ground.  Another simple tenant of permaculture is to keep the resource loop closed.  Don't import resources from other places, and don't waste the resources you have available.

Blueberries ripening in the front yard

Using these two basic principles of permaculture, I have slowly been covering the majority of my garden with mulch that I've "made" by pulling weeds in my yard.  I already knew mulch is great; it slowly decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil, all while retaining moisture and keeping weeds from sprouting.  However, I was inefficiently putting all my unwanted weeds into my compost pile.  While there's nothing "wrong" with doing this, I decided to take a cue from nature and just drop the weeds around the base of my plants.  After all, when leaves fall off of plants in nature, usually they fall directly underneath the plant itself, providing an effective barrier against the scorching sun and pervasive weeds.  I'm also making use of what is available in the local environment, although I've always tried to do that, if possible.

I will continue this simple method and judge its effectiveness over the next few hot months.  I'm going to continue trying to use what's available in my yard as much as I can, but I want to be sure the mulch is not going to cause an increase in slug damage to my plants.  Mulch provides a cool, moist, dark area that, while also beneficial to the plants, is a haven for slugs.

Final Thoughts

One last thing I have been researching is the use of edible perennial plants in the garden and landscape.  While annual plants are usually the staple crops of the average diet here in the USA, perennial crops have very distinct advantages that are very appealing.  For one, they generally only need to be planted once, and that's it.  Once established, perennials will keep producing for you years and sometimes even decades.  They also need very little fertilizer compared to annuals, which need lots of nutrients to grow quickly and spread seeds before dying off.  Perennial plants can also bridge the winter food gap, when supplies from last winter's garden are low or gone.  They are usually the first patches of green to sprout up during the later winter and early spring season.  I've already unknowingly been putting quite a few common perennials in my garden, like table grapes, raspberries, blueberries and pear trees.  Aside from the pears trees, all the others have produced an abundance for the size of the plants, and with very little compost added by me.  That's enough to convince me to start planting more perennials.  I've already sowed some sage and sorrel seeds, hoping to get them established before the first frost of the year.  I'm looking into planting asparagus and sea kale next year, as well as a variety of other edible perennials.  If you're interested in even more perennials, take a look at this article by Eric Toensmeier for additional plants to grow.

Beans are easy to grow, but they need nutrients just like any other plant

Well, that's about all for this month's update.  Keep checking back for more updates on my frugal veggie garden.  I'm preparing to start a new article series about my progress towards food self-reliance with vegetable gardening, so stick around!

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