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Newbie permaculture for a neglected garden

 
Posts: 14
Location: Munich Rubble Plain
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This evolved from a question in the "gardening for beginners" forum, but I think this place is better suited for it.

To recap: in 2007 I bought a house on a leased plot close to Munich in Bavaria together with my wife. A major factor for the decision to buy it was that the annual lease is very low and the plot is very large, over 1500 square metres. In this region, you'd have to pay at least a million euros for such a plot.

Over the years it has become more and more clear that the garden is much too large for gardening in the traditional way. I have to do most of the work because my wife's schedule doesn't leave much time, on the other hand I am working from home, so I am more flexible. The garden was altready quite necglected when we bought it, and it hasn't got much better. There are a couple of "wilderness" areas slowly but surely eating away the useable space. The vegetable section was completely overgrown with brambles and all kinds of other weeds. I managed to clear about a third of it to grow some vegetables, but I had to do it over and over again. I consider myself a gardening underachiever because I never really had the enthusiasm to take on the herculean task of taming nature on this scale.

In hindsight I could have done a lot better because I never questioned the "dig, dig, and dig again" approach. So with every year I had less enthusiam for gardening. But I still didn't want to give up completely, so I began looking around for alternative ways of gardening. It was almost an epiphany when I recently learned about no dig gardening and subsequently got to know the philosophy of permaculture. This has sparked my enthusiasm again because I see a real perspective to overcome the constant blood, sweat and tears (and the avoidance thereof) of the past.

I would like to ask you for advice how to tackle this. Here is the plot on Google Earth. The picture is a few years old but it's early spring here, so everything is visible.



It's a narrow plot stretching from East to West, about 70 x 25 metres. It's completely flat. The soil is fertile but riddled with pebbles because this used to be the end zone of an ice age glacier. There is no sand, clay or silt. The good thing about this is that there are now drainage issues. The bad thing is that the soil is still not a lot of fun to work with.  Main wind direction is from West to East (left to right on the picture), average annual rainfall is 900+ mm but there can be longer dry spells in the summer.

The blue area is a fenced-in outdoor area for our cats. We decided to build the fence because we lost a cat to car traffic a few years ago. This is mainly lawn with a nice old apple tree, a yew tree and a few shrubs. This area has the lowest priority and I don't think there is a lot of permaculture that can or should be done here. It's really just about giving the cats a bit of nature to enjoy. They also use a small part of the lawn as a toilet. Any eventual terraforming should have the needs of the cats as a priority. Of course this is clashing with classic permaculture, as this would be Zone 1 in a standard setting. But there's not much you can do about this here.





This is the pathway towards the back garden. The yew tree is on the left. The cats love to hide under it.



The orange areas are "mini orchards", fruit trees surrounded by a very mossy "lawn".





The tree stump in the first picture is from a cherry tree I chopped down on February.



On the right of the picture is the remnant of a huge juniper tree we chopped down shortly after moving in because it overshadowed everything. Sad in a way, but there was very little sunlight in the evenings.



The green area is the vegetable section. The central part of it is sunny, the eastern part is overshadowed by a huge hazelnut and a buxus tree.  





There is also a combination of a large oak and two smaller maple trees on the neighbor's plot right next to the border. It's to the North, but part of the branches are above our ground. The house was inhabited by an old lady who died last year. It's been empty since. There might be a redevelopment in the not so distant future. The stems of the maple trees are actually bending into our plot. I am tempted to chop them down. They have not been deliberately planted but grown from random seeds.



On the eastern end there are branches of a magnificent walnut tree growing over from the neighbour's plot. I hesitate to cut it because I have already made some winderful nocino liqueur from the gren nuts I picked from this.

The brown square is the compost heap wich is massive. It looks steep on the picture but it's actually a rather gentle slope. You can see that hedgehogs have foraged for the gold beetle grubs that are sleeping in there.... There hasn't been any compost management so far. It's esentially just years worth of grass clippings and shredded branches. It will be my first task to reorganise this, collect the mature compost and start a new heap with this year's waste.



There is an ash growing right next tothe garden shed. This needs to go before it can damage the structure. Ashes grow like weeds here. It's almost impossible to eradicate them all.



The pink area is essentially an extension of the vegetable section but it is separated from it by an apple tree. It's covered with raspberries that don't bear fruit anymore and baby ashes. This needs to go soon. sorry, no picture of this.

The purple areas are wilderness. Trees and shrubs trying to choke the rest of the garden, floor cover is mainly ivy that also creeps into the "lawn". There is a plum tree crashed from a storm that I didn't have the time to remove yet.




At the western end of the plot there are massive thuja trees that we decided need to be cut down. Any plants right next to plot limit are not allowed to be higher than 2 metres, and my wife is a bit anxious about possible consequences. But they really are very dominating and make the area very shadowy. So it might actually be better to replace them with something smaller.



It will be a lot of work, but I am sure it will be worth it in the end. I have joked to my wife that I will give myself 10 years to accomplish this. I am 52 now. So with a bit of luck I still might have 20 years left to enjoy the revamped garden.

I haven't mentioned the front garden yet. I don't have pictures here, but I have already been tackling the wilderness here by cutting down a few smaller yew trees and two giant hazelnuts The hazelnuts are not dead yet. They keep growing new branches. I have labeled two small areas with H1 and H2. I think this might be a good place for H├╝gelkultur over the stumps. I have a lot of wood lying around, and there will be more, so to me this looks like a good idea to try out this concept. Especially the east-west mound wouldn't get much sun, so the choice of plants will be tricky. Maybe you can help here too. But remember this is Europe, so I might not be able to source "exotic" American flora here. ;)

For the vegetable garden I am considering Charles Dowding style no dig beds. The question is just if I sould treat my soil to a lucerne green manure phase before because of the many years it has been neglected. I have managed to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes and zucchini to some success, but I also had many disappointing crops. Then again I haven't done it properly in the past, so maybe the green manure phase might not be necessary at all if I go 100% compost.

The lawn outside the cat fence is not sacred. There are nice wild primroses in spring which might be a loss if the lawn is sacrificed, but I honestly don't need to have it because I don't want to fight the moss that is taking it over. As I understand it, this would also be against the ethics of permaculture. Maybe some kind of forest garden approach might work here.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
 
gardener
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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Wow! There is great potential here, but such things do come disguised as hard work! Trying to make a plan for the whole area so you can try and set priorities seems appropriate.

One of the principles of Permaculture is to choose the right plant for the right place. I don't know if there's a good European source, but here, Jacke's "Edible Forest Gardens Vol 2" has charts that tell you the average heights and widths of trees and shrubs and can help you choose what plants should go where as well as what would be a bad idea if it is allowed to grow fully. For example, you mention a huge Hazelnut. This can be a useful tree if you get enough nuts compared to the squirrels! However, it is a tree that can be coppiced from the ground to keep it a reasonable height and can still produce nuts - you've noticed the ones you cut down sprouting back and this characteristic can be used to your advantage if you need organic matter or firewood or simply want to limit height.

Once you've got a plan, focusing on a specific problem long enough that it is truly under "self-control" rather than half-doing everything so that nothing is complete may also be important. An example of that may be the raspberry patch. Normally raspberries will "travel" by sending out suckers to a nearby suitable home. I've allowed mine to do so, and used woody mulch (which raspberries seem to adore) to support the new growth resulting in an ongoing supply of berries for the last 25 years. Occasionally, this has included actually potting up some of the runners in the spring for replanting in the fall - I'm doing that this year as a patch that's become largely exhausted and whose supports need repair will either get the transplants and repairs in the fall, or I'll actually choose a new home somewhere I can still protect them from the deer. So your plants may need serious pruning with the creation of rows and supports and lots of woody debris on the ground (I use straight branches to make a path to walk on with leaves or newspaper underneath to discourage weeds) rather than replacement.

Hopefully some of our good planners will suggest lots of ideas you can consider.
 
Oliver Klimek
Posts: 14
Location: Munich Rubble Plain
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I am really just beginning to switch to the permie mindest. The hazelnuts are a good example. We have lots of them to the level of them being a nuisance. This is also why I had chopped down two massive ones in the front garden because everything was just too shadowy. But more often than not I just shredded the branches into our compost bin that is collected weekly. It's been only recently that I suddenly thought "This is all biomass you give away and makes your garden poorer." I consider not caring about compost my biggest mistake of the past years.

And furthermore I haven't really appreciated the nuts as such until recently. I still don't enjoy eating them as they are. But I've been doing some baking and patisserie lately, and for this they are very valuable ingredients.

Coming back to the raspberries: They have spread quite a bit but only manage to grow very tiny fruits, if at all. I'd be more than happy to revive them if it's just the exhausted soil that keeps them from producing fruit.

The same could be the case for the strawberries that have grown as weed in some places for many years. If there is a chance to revive some runners with fresh soil it sure will be worth a try.
 
pollinator
Posts: 405
Location: Vermont, USA
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Like Jay, I am very excited by what I see here.  Unlike Jay, I'm inexperienced in permaculture and quite impulsive, wanting to accomplish everything at once.  So my advice will probably be much less useful.  I'll try to avoid giving any, and stick to observations.

A couple of random thoughts:

- This is beautiful land, an in the city!  Amazing.

- I would pay large amounts of money for that compost pile.

- (amateur here, remember) It seems there is plenty of fertility in the land.  With the addition of that compost, and probably a soil test to see what might be missing, I imagine you could grow quite a bit in that garden.  The raspberries, too, will want a taste of that compost.  You're going to be so pleased with gardening once you start using deep mulch.  It will make such a difference - the soil gets better and better and there is so little digging, and when you do have to dig a bit or pull a weed, the soil is incredibly cooperative.

- Shade is hard on typical garden vegetables, but there are many plants that thrive in it.  This will take some research, but you'll be pleased with the results.  Water is important - heavy trees often result in "dry shade," where the rain almost never reaches the ground.

Congratulations on making such a good choice with that big piece of land (complete with orchard and nut trees!) in Munich.  Wonderful!
 
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I have three large gardens I lay cardboard down kills the weeds and no weeding for me I leave a 2 to 3 inch space and plant there. Then all the clipping and compost items I pu on top of the cardboard after 6 months either till everything in or lay more cardboard and shift the rows after a couple years of this s you will have a super rich garden bed without all the weeding the the compost I s done in the garden so you do not have to move it
Tim
 
Oliver Klimek
Posts: 14
Location: Munich Rubble Plain
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Anne Pratt wrote: This is beautiful land, an in the city!  Amazing.



To clarify, this is a suburban setting, not inner city. Munich city centre is about 15 km away. But yes, this is pure luxury to have. This was part of a larger plot that was converted from grassland in the early 1950s. Back then they didn't focus solely on building as densely as possible. I do enjoy this immensely even though the ever growing wilderness also has an intimidating aspect. I think of it as my "green hell" ;)

The garden is not very rich in a floral sense. But it has some nice assets I'd like to keep. We have a few lilac trees for example, and apart from the hazelnuts there are a lot of wild cherry plum shrubs. The fruits are not really sensational, but I have made jam and even naturally fermented vingegar from them.

Then there are a few dog rose shrubs which are nice but sometimes they grow as weed and are better removed. And I haven't mentioned the blackberries yet that would probaby conquer the entire garden over time if I hadn't cut them back significantly. because they started to smother the apple and plum trees. Right now they are concentrated around the compost heap apart from popping up anywhere else in the garden where they generally are not welcome. You really have to find a way to arrange yourself with them because in the long run they will always win.

The nicest time is early spring when all the the fruit trees and the lilac are blooming. there are also some tulips, crocuses and some other small flowers in the front garden that make the lawn look nice in that period. I also planted a buddleia two years ago and a baby magnolia tree in last autumn which will prpbably flower next spring for the first time. But after May the entire garden is predominantly green. A few years a go I planted a hydrangea in a shady corner inside the cat fence. Unfortunately we had to remove a wonderful wisteria from the garage wall because one of our cats used it to escape. There was no other way of solving this problem because it's a tricky situation where the wall has to replace the fence. I had first tried to put the fence directly inf front of the wisteria stem but it was not safe.

There is a half dead yellow plum tree next to the compost tree and another plum tree now conquered by the wilderness that suffered storm damage last year. I would like to keep them partially and use them as pillar for vines.

So yes, I see a lot of potential here as well, but it won't come easy. I should mention that we are not in a position to throw large sums of money at the garden. Current investment priority is  to replace the front fence that has become quite unsightly and flimsy, but something proper will not be cheap.
 
Oliver Klimek
Posts: 14
Location: Munich Rubble Plain
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Here is a small update. I have now built a "compost lounge" with 4 bins, about a cubic metre each. I am currently filling the first bin with the grass clippings that I had put on the large pile a few weeks ago, along with shredded trimmings of shrubs that have accumulated in the past weeks or which I shredded on location.

Unfortunately the process of digging up the old compost pile is slowed down because I discovered that the previous owner had dumped some plastic and metal waste. I even found an old battery that luckily had not disintegrated yet. Also there is a bottom layer of soil mixed with pebbles. This is appears to be our regular soil (a somewhat sandy loam with glacial pebbles) without humus, so I suspect they disposed of this when they were digging up something, probably for paving.

This essentialy means that I have to check every shovelful fur undesired content, and I also have to remove the pebbles. So far I have liberated about 200 litres of useable compost. I suspect the final volume to be 1 to 2 cubic metres.

Things are further complicated by the fact that I found a slowworm wiggling just below the top layer of grass clippings. I had already noticed slowworms before in the garden, and it turns out the compost has been their hiding place. I now have to find away to get rid of the pile without harming the slowworm and potential companions. My original plan was to build a small hugelkultur bed on the site of the heap after it's been removed. But I guess I need to relocate the slowworm(s) first, so they have a place for hibernation. Any suggestions? I know that slowworms are not partcularly picky about choosing a hiding place, and the "wilderness" part of the garden might provide enough shelter, but maybe there is something I can do to help them anyway.
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