The 2 best pages on the internet:
The Permaculuture Design Principles:
1. Observe & interact
2. Catch & store energy
3. Obtain a yield
4. Apply self-regulation & accept feedback
5. Use & value renewable resources & services
6. Produce no waste
7. Design from patterns to details
8. Integrate rather than segregate
9. Use small & slow solutions
10. Use & value diversity
11. Use edges & value the marginal
12. Creatively use & respond to change
Ethics: Care of Earth, care of people, fair share.
My Wild & Responsible Gardening Method
Disclaimer: Stating/describing the obvious/known can often bring unexpected rewards. This little essay is super janky/rambly and something that I’d like to periodically revisit, update, and improve upon, but may be of some assistance. Permaculture, japanese, cottage, and wildlife gardening styles have influenced me the most, but I really enjoy learning and implementing elements from them all (search: Monty Don on Youtube;).
A response to climate change by capturing co2 via photosynthesis / cultivating vegetation, and storing/transferring it to be bioavailable and supportive to the ecosystem. Decreasing my carbon footprint by increasing recreation/exercise time at home. Addressing the anthropocene era by implementing systems/structures which are bio-diverse, respective/supportive of native species, and integrated into the larger system in a healing capacity (watershed, air, hooking up transient critters, etc). Food security and a response to the ills of industrial agriculture by increasing the amount of locally grown food, herbs, teas, spices, medicine, building materials, fuel, “fertilizer” etc. A response to the “actual” location, climate, culture in a macro to micro-ecosystemic manner in time and space (over “rule of thumb”/hearsay type info). A response to my physical requirements of sunlight, exercise, eye muscle relaxation (ha), stress release/mood enhancement, sense of accomplishment/purpose, etc.
Wild as the essential and favorable state/goal - opposite of responsible.
Creation and destruction: Step one is design/layout - Create by envisioning an improved form/function, and destroy by making way for such a vision (utilize the waste products). Layout modular units/grow beds/habitat zones with respect to maximizing space, enabling access, soil conditions, hydrology, topography, beautification, light exposure, etc etc to be implemented in a modular fashion. Step two is to implement the design/layout. Step three is to observe what happens and repeat step one to three.
Implementation/action is design specific, so the following views/process are especially subjective and take shape in a “grand ideal form” by way of “state of the art” grow beds and strip mines on a quarter of an acre in a residential neighborhood. My grand ideal form from out to in on the property goes from street, to narrow public nature strip (tended once a year - the plains) followed by: Densely spaced trees (forest), fencing/snags, fruit tree/hedgerow, foothills, mountains, foothills, valley hillsides, descending into water reservoir/habitat at the center. It feels kinda cool changing so much elevation in a small space. To realize my grand design I work on one module/growbed/feature and one open pit strip mine at a time (protecting it with cardboard or dense mulch if left to the sun or rain). I choose which module to alter (ideally within a day) (old or new), and placement/shape of the mine by wondering how to get the best results from the goals/responses mentioned in the first paragraph. The goals are all intertwined in different ways and forms as are my needs/interests, so my energy expenditure takes many varying forms according to my current priorities but usually boil down to maximize amount and diversity of life (think feedback loops and surface area - sculptural elements almost always create habitat and micro climates for critters), minimize destruction, maximize enjoyment.. Some particular factors I consider to help me focus include: Halting weed propagation while maximizing the “weed’s” amazing benefits/resources by attending to them just before they go to seed, water availability, plant and insect life cycles, seasons, installing urgent functional forms such as fences to keep out predators etc.
What came first the mound or hole? It depends (everything in gardening depends on everything). I’ve distilled my favorite types of a grow bed/mound creations/alteration into 4 grades:
1 Bare bones approach: Hack down, or yank out all plant matter to the nubbns (work around desired plants (it’s amazing what comes up when let a spot go feral)), spread cover crop mix, spread thin layer of soil from the pit over seeds, spread mulch, water, and repeat in 6 months or a year.
2 Install a mound atop an unaltered surface (one of the reasons I like mounded growing beds is the extra surface area - think point a to b on a curved line vs straight): hack down all plant matter to the nubbns, add a layer of mulch along with sticks, lay down soil extracted from the mine, shape the mound, lay down cover crop mix, light layer of soil, mulch, water, and repeat in 6 months to a year, but instead of adding a bunch of soil to the mound it may only be of interest to slightly alter the shape to my liking and I’ll careful to avoid beneficial volunteer native plants and trees startups (thanks birds).
3 Hugel Pit: I Dig large pits in the shape of inverted pyramids for hydrological, structural, and gradient-edge-effect reasons. Not a trench for me (anymore), because that’s biting off more than I can chew in respect to the ecosystem (open wound), and a trench-like form can be formed from a row of pits. The pit is dug with a pitch fork to limit critter casualties and chopped up weed parts and sifted thru to remove weed parts such as morning glory roots. Bad/contagious weed parts go to the compost, and good plant parts are chopped and tossed into the pathway to add to the available mulch reserves. The soil is scooped into a sideways bucket and used immediately to create a new 1,2,or 4 grade bed/mound, or to fill a pot for a plant (that’s where the ying yang create destroy snake eating it’s tail pond hill thing occurs - popping and locking across the topography of the landscape. Excavations are working towards desired forms/elevation changes and fuel incremental change/growth elsewhere). When the large inverted pyramid shaped hole has been fully excavated I’ll dig two post holes in the bottom (about 5 ft deeper - I have very sandy soil), and place a little mulch and thick posts in each (ideally deciduous, at least 15ft tall). I’ll fill up any vacant space in the post hole with branches and stakes if need be. Then I’ll lay down a layer of mulch in the pit followed by logs and branches / mulch / little soil / mulch / logs and branches (packed in relatively tight)(well rotted deciduous is best, but it’s Generally all good)(massive amounts)…. Until the pit is filled to ground/base level. Then the mound is built up in a pyramid shape around the embedded posts without any additional pieces of wood, add a very light layer of mulch with each foot or so of elevation gain, and use the best sourced top soil for the last layer. Sprinkle the surface with a cover crop mix, light layer of soil from “the mine”/best place to remove soil. Pro tip - when covering the seeds with a light layer of soil, start at the bottom and work up to minimize seed displacement from the steep grade. Lay down mulch, water, and reseed in 6 months to a year.
4 Maintain/reinvigorate/reseed a previously established grow bed: When the soil conditions are healthy and right I can peel back all the old plants and weeds from the surface in a continuous mat along a front, then I’ll plop the mess of plants in a wheelbarrow and pick out the desirable plant parts to chop and drop in the rows, and put the leftovers in the compost. I’ll brush any remaining mulch into the pathway, take out any weeds that pull out easy, shape/smooth, seed, soil, mulch, water, and walk away. There’s one very important catch. I almost always work around certain plants when I reboot/maintain a bed - beneficial/friendly plants, edible perennials(an ideal), and trees (an ideal), and sprinkle the seeds in vacant spots.
A few words on materials:
To create mulch I place wood chips, sawdust, manure, pine straw, straw, chopped up branches, twigs, leaves, friendly plant parts, and most spectacularly and in ever increasing amounts - mature compost from the compost pile into low lying pathways throughout the garden throughout the year. The mulch stored/functioning in the pathways is ultimately mixed up and placed atop the growing beds to provide a mind boggling array of mechanical and biological services.
As for “cover crop” seed mixes. I use a bucket and include cheaply bought packet seeds (half off in the fall/winter - heavy on cool season crops and herbs). Sunflowers from bird seed (not added in fall and early spring), microgreen/sprouting mixes, bulk section herb seeds, bulk section beans and flax seed, collected seeds from the garden (I gathered a huge amount of peas, carrot, and kale seeds this year), cheap bulk cover crop mixes (rye, wheat, peas, vetch, clovers - I might rely more on these if I’m short on funds), edible flowers, wildflower mixes, etc etc. My mix is regularly being depleted and added to, so it changes throughout the year. Next year, in an effort to streamline my efforts (so I can backpack), I’ll add the heavy hitters like cucumbers, squashes, and zucchini into the mix - only at the right times - with just a little extra effort you can pick winners and losers by pruning adjacent plants along the way - often creating green mulch machines in the process. The planting time and local conditions are always changing as well, so the plant variety/successions/structures/composition/etc of each module/bed differs greatly and instills a great sense of contrast throughout the garden/ecosystem (I’m stoked for the insects that get thru a life cycle in a bed that awaits a refresh. My entire property is now divided into modules and it currently takes about a year to attend to 2/3rds of the beds.)
Rocks: I like to use them as steps in pathways, and build little dry stacked walls and benches out of them - on the north side of a grow beds closer to the house (they look nice, are heat sinks, habitat, and protect the beds from the hose being drug around). I keep like rocks together in groupings, and place larger and more contrasty rocks closer to popular vantage points. I always place mulch and a track/stack of sticks and twigs on the ground before placing rocks to provide habitat for critters, avoid sinkage, fungi fun, etc. Rocks are good places to put bird seed in the winter. I like the idea of having concave rocks about - found or chipped out to create bird baths and insect watering holes, but are shallow enough to dry out within 14 days (time in water needed for mosquitos).
Fence posts: The recommended raptor perch height is 15 to 20 ft tall. I love the thought of the extra gas exchange occurring in the post hole spaces, the diversity of wood species used in filling the hole and post, ages, and fungus present (doing and providing so much it’s ridiculous, food for critters for starters). When the wood ages it holds onto a ton of water, and transforms into a skyscraper, or a bunker, or the projects for a Massive Amount of great little critters. Ultimately turning into the ultimate soil medium.
Slugs: They definitely do more good than bad - in so many ways, and deserve a lot of respect, so I make sure I give them quick deaths by decapitating them (not just cutting them in half), or if I’m collecting hordes of little fellas at night with a knife and yogurt container I pour boiling water on them and place them in a compost bucket, and pour a little more boiling water on them so they die quick (I’ve seen these things hang on like crazy - yuk).. I’m usually too lazy for night raids and now focus on early morning killing sprees in the spring and fall (when they party and mate), and place their carcasses high upon the mounds. It’s amazing how quickly they’re cleaned up by the critters - talk about nutrient cycling - gut bacteria, atomically dense slime and all. I’ve seen big black beatles tear into a slug like hyenas. Enemies (I try to attract) include frogs, toads, snakes, wasps (I’ve seen one devour a little slug).
Moles: I’m a fan. They don’t eat plants, create a wonderful ventilation/drainage system/ habitat. Gather the rad soil they bring up and use it. I bet it’s also a good idea to plop some mulch on them, but I’m lazy and kinda like the guilt free faintly torn up look and microclimates they provide (I know of a few flying freaks that kickit in straight dirt). When I pick up the dirt mounds I try to clean it so the hole is open - to annoy them off, and also let other creatures gain access.
Voles: suck, but in moderation - they’re cool with me and a wide range of predators and critters. I’ve obsessed over dug out critter dwelling designs, and rapid soil engineering, to ultimately realize that the wildlife is generally much better at those things than I am. There are many beneficial critters that need holes in the ground to live, but can't dig them themselves - Thanks voles!!
One of many missteps I’d like to mention: I let many areas go wild/feral untouched (after being lawn) for years (their shapes evolved, and looked fine because they were distinguished). Often cool trees, plants, and shrubs would appear (I was super curious), but usually alongside the shittiest weeds and grasses which would tend to become entrenched and dominate. I wish I would have at least applied that 1st degree of bed establishment (mentioned above) to one new bed at a time for starters - A newly wild/made bed/growing area with weeds And a seed mix is a big step in a better direction, and when the process is repeated a time or two it can be amazing to see certain weed issues disintegrate with little effort.
Warning: Certain considerations should be made when utilizing/disturbing subsoil for a handful of safety reasons (breathing in bad shit - lead, perched soil effect - acid, heavy metal accumulation in foliage, oh my). In the long run my method, with it’s excessive use of organic matter, addresses those issues with an astounding ferocity (seed mix jungle action,chemical bonds and breakups abound,food chain freak show flow, structural formations,etc), but it takes a little time and care - for instance I limit consumption from the beds composed of freshly dug sub soil until they have time to develop (over a year).
My basic down and dirty bed prep - step by step (this was an explanation for an instagram post)
First I pull by hand all of the "weeds" - If the roots don’t come up easily then they still have good work to do/I’ll get em easily/eventually when the soil conditions improve (don’t sweat scrubby remains/stems). That material is composted and seen as a harvest.
Next I lay down an inch or so of subsoil from an ongoing excavation area (I’m working on shaping the center of the garden into a deep valley). I only dig with a pitch fork (to avoid cutting up roots, like morning glory, and critters), I casually mix in some topsoil with subsoil so prefer a cross cut as opposed to digging a top down pit (I like to think of this as part of “animating”/breathing life into it) - then I push the soil by hand into a bucket which is placed in a wheelbarrow for transport. This layer is to smother/slow down the growth of the weed and grass layer and provide a substrate for the seed mix to get a start. I also enjoy shaping and fine tuning the bed by hand and with the backside of a rake at this time.
I then spread an even and rather dense layer of seeds from my seed bucket which I add to and alter throughout the year. It’s early in the year so I bulked it up with some basic cover crop plants (still lots of kale, peas, and vetch in there) (I should’ve left the buckwheat out for another month, but we’ll see;). I’ll elucidate my seed mix method in a near future post.
Next I cover those seeds with a thin layer of subsoil - sprinkled from a handheld bucket until the seeds disappear (keep pests away and provide a little extra protection from the elements.
I then use a pitchfork to dig up a section of pathway, and lightly mix it together in a wheelbarrow - tossing back larger sticks and branches. I go for a super rich, diverse, dense application of just the right thickness of mulch to let the seedling up and through, but also to provide protection, habitat, and extra nutrition for a year/start.
Last but not least - a light watering. Then I get to sit back and watch like Michael Jackson eating popcorn watching Thriller.
Since it was very weedy and grassy ground (they’ll be back for better and worse) I’d ideally like to redo that process (or install a hugel pit there) in 6 months, but a year would be fine if I do a little bit of weeding/keeping the main offenders from going to seed. I’ll ask the same question day in day out - where is the greatest potential for improvement (more better life) (I do what I want/am not a farmer)- which take into account considering the negatives and positives..