Posted 01 April 2011, by Robyn Dolgin, Coloradoan.con, coloradoan.com
Along with 11 other community members, I just completed an intensive yet inspiring 12-day permaculture course. It’s an approach to ecological design whose ethics include care of the Earth and people while being resourceful and sharing surplus.
The course, sponsored by the Sustainable Living Association and Home Grown Foods, deepened my ways of thinking about my own garden and the landscapes on which I work. You might be practicing many of the principles already.
The first principle for functional design is to observe and interact. Last month’s column on microclimates addressed a particular aspect of this. Time spent in each season noticing the nuances and patterns in the landscape will maximize your efforts and efficiency as you implement your plans of any scale.
The principle of catching and storing energy and materials can be demonstrated in a number of ways. Digging shallow trenches for soil nitrogen-fixing peas helps collect extra moisture for this water-loving vine. Taking the extra step to aerate our lawns allows us to capture and direct moisture to the root zone while loosening up the soil.
Water harvesting can be taken to the next level by directing water from a downspout into beds or to extra thirsty plantings. Instead of cursing sloped yards, we can work with the situation by creating swales or water distribution channels. Often, the swales are established on contour to saturate the soil and associated plantings instead of letting the water drain into a neighbor’s yard or the street. That naturally puts the principle of turning problems into solutions into practice.
I recently combined the concept of closing the loop, which suggests nothing goes to waste, with that of making the least change for the greatest effect.
Instead of putting ornamental grass clippings in the compost pile, I used it to mulch between the rows of emerging fall-planted garlic to keep the soil from drying out. It was a more direct use of the resource.
I especially love the principle of having each element in the garden serve more than one function. I now fully appreciate how my apple tree produces apples while also attracting bees that pollinate other garden plants, generates firewood from pruned branches, creates a perfect over-story for the less hardy black current varieties, shades the ground keeping it cool and moist and provides leaf litter mulch for rebuilding the soil. It is also home to birds and screens my neighbor’s yard from my back patio view.
Stability through diversity is achieved with multiple varieties of fruit trees or even different varieties of the same species, in the event that one fails. It also increases wildlife and beneficial insect populations.
Mixing herbs, edible flowers and different types of vegetables in the same bed also helps create a healthier, more stable ecosystem. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Third- through fifth-graders will have the opportunity to enhance their photography skills from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. April 17 by capturing backyard ecology while their parent attends a class on edible gardening, covering the kinds of features mentioned above and more. Visit www.WildChildOutdoorPhotoCamps.com for more information.
Robyn Dolgin of Wild Iris Living offers consultations, designs and maintenance for edible and ornamental landscapes, ranging from courtyards to small acreages. She can be reached at (970) 493-5681, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.WildIrisLiving.com.