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Richard Kastanie
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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I'm sure if you've read much permaculture literature has come across the idea that dense planting translates to less water requirements. The reasoning goes that it's because dense plantings shade the soil more, which leads to less evaporation from the sun. It's certainly true that shading the soil leads to less water loss, there's a pretty dramatic difference between how fast a garden bed of exposed soil dries out compared to a mulched one. However, I would like to add some personal observations as well as ecological principles that suggest it's not so simple regarding living plants, with an emphasis on trees, because of how much water they use up themselves and then transpire into the air. Mulch conserves so much moisture because it shades the soil without using up any water itself. My observations lead me to the belief that plant competition for water is a more important factor than the permaculture books usually state, but I'd like to see what others think and get some feedback.

If you look first at nature itself, where do you see the densest forests? the answer is in high rainfall areas, and along watercourses in drier zones. Moving from a dense, wet forest through drier climates brings you first to woodland with trees spaced a bit farther apart, then to savanna with patchy trees, until finally the trees disappear. The soil in the savanna is still shaded pretty well even in the sunny spots, since the grass (and other smaller savanna plants) itself as well as the matted dead grass that's present unless there's been a recent fire shades the soil, but doesn't use as much water as most trees. That trees tend to space themselves out where water is limited strikes me as pretty commonsense, since that way each tree has less competition for water. With this in mind, why do many permaculturalists suggest the opposite?

This summer is southern Missouri was very hot and generally dry except for a spell in early July. Until we got a bunch of rain in the past week, it had gotten dry enough that some of the trees in the woods were stressed and losing at least some of their leaves early. I made a bunch of observations about such things as which types of trees and other plants were most sensitive to the dryness and which areas of land were more or less affected by the drought. Like I expected, south facing slopes tended to be more affected than the same trees on  north facing slopes, and other differences among places of similar slope were most likely because of soil type. However another thing I noticed were that trees in pastures were often less affected than trees in the woods. Although grass competition can be tough for the real young trees, ones of any significant size are often real healthy. For example, just about every mulberry tree in the woods that I observed had lost some of it's leaves early, and other leaves often looked a little wilted. However a couple of mulberry trees in the pasture had no problem whatsoever. My thinking is that's just because of less competition for water. A common weed here is perilla, growing in disturbed places both is sunny spots and in the woods around roads and disturbed edges. It wilts easily in drought although typically comes right back when the rains return. Like the trees, the perilla plants with less competition seemed to not get as badly wilted, even if they were in more sun.

How this translates to garden plants I'm not sure, because all my annual gardens are kept well watered and are mostly pretty densely planted. However going with the theory I've been developing, if having enough water is an issue I would think that spacing the plants farther apart while still shading the soil with mulch might be the best option.

Several years ago I spent a week one summer backpacking in the Black Hills on South Dakota. It was a very different climate and ecology than any other I'd been in. There was a drought that year, and the only streams that were flowing were ones that were shown as permanent streams on our topographic map, all intermittent streams were dry, except one that is. This one was flowing at a pretty good clip, as good as some of the streams shown as permanent. Much of its watershed had burned in a fire a few years before. There were lots of skeletons of ponderosa pines killed in the blaze, except certain patches that were away from the other trees which escaped the crown fire because of their distance. So, most of the vegetation in that watershed was the grasses and weeds that had grown up amongst the dead pines in a few years, as well as pine seedlings. This stream happened to be in Wind Cave National Park, and when we were done with our hike, we were at the visitor center of the park, and I asked one of the rangers about that particular stream. He said that it used to be an intermittent stream until that fire, and after the fire it had flowed well all the time. He explained this was because the pine forest sucked up more water than prairie and transpired it into the air, and with the pines gone more of it stayed in the soil and thus kept the stream flowing. He also said that the Black hills forests are much more dense than they used to be because of fire suppression, and that means that fewer streams flow.

A while later I heard a permaculture teacher say that if more trees were planted in drier areas, they would conserve moisture and keep the streams flowing more reliably. I then brought up what I had learned in the Black Hills, that the opposite can be the case. I should mention that this teacher was in a very wet Appalachian climate and didn't have any personal experience in that matter. She just responded that I couldn't be right, because that's not what the permaculture books say, but didn't respond with any counterexamples or anything, which frustrated me. So I just want to throw this out there and see what people's response here is, I don't have much experience in drier climates myself so anything from anyone who does would be appreciated.
 
                                
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I can't speak specifically to what permaculture experts are saying about close plant spacing, but I have read a bit about intensive raised bed annual gardening, which I'm sure many following permaculture practices are using. In John Jeavons' "How to Grow More Vegetables", he makes a case for close spacing increasing yields, reducing water usage, shading out weeds, etc. Steve Solomon brings up many counter points to this in his book "Gardening When it Counts." He says that the majority of water lost is through transpiration, not evaporation. He lived in the PNW and did many years of research on this. He left soil completely bare of any vegetation and observed that over the course of the very dry summer it retained most of its water, other than in the top few inches. Apparently the top couple inches dry out and turn in to what he terms a dust mulch. This inhibits the capillary action of the top of the soil and prevents further evaporation. He suggested some very large plant spacing for growing annual veggies without irrigation in the PNW climate with wet winters and dry summers. His book "Gardening Without Irrigation" is available for free online.

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/030201/03020100frame.html
 
Richard Kastanie
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Thanks for the Steve Solomon link, it was very interesting, and confirms some of my own observations. His idea of the "dust mulch" was new to me, I'd always just assumed no mulch dries out everything faster, but I guess my observations are mostly only of how fast the surface layers dry out. However, I don't think that particular idea would work well in my Missouri climate, because we're both prone to dry spells and real heavy storms in the summer. If you can count on a dry summer, I can see that working well, as the weeds won't come up once the top layer is dried out. The one thing I do wonder about is wind erosion on exposed sites, is there not much wind in the northwestern summer? If I tried that in Missouri however, where we have both dry spells and heavy thunderstorms, the rain on unmulched soil compacts it and can erode it if there's even a small slope. Also, suppressing weeds is another reason why I like to mulch heavily.

I'm probably going to keep on with my pretty dense spacing of vegetables (although not as dense as John Jeavons) as I have reliable irrigation water when it's needed. I'm coming to the conclusion that biointensive spacing are suited to areas where both water and fertility are abundant, hence the fact that biointensive techniques include double digging, creating fertile soil as far sown as possible so the plant roots will have more space down and won't compete as much across.

As for raised beds, I might make another post about them, but my experience is that there's a number of disadvantages, especially the higher and narrower the beds are. It seems to me if your soil is well drained that you can do the same things with flatter beds as long as you have clear paths and don't step on them (they can be "slightly raised beds" to make the bed/path distinction clear) and the flatter beds don't dry out nearly as fast.
 
jacque greenleaf
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Castanea wrote:
Thanks for the Steve Solomon link, it was very interesting, and confirms some of my own observations. His idea of the "dust mulch" was new to me, I'd always just assumed no mulch dries out everything faster, but I guess my observations are mostly only of how fast the surface layers dry out. However, I don't think that particular idea would work well in my Missouri climate, because we're both prone to dry spells and real heavy storms in the summer. If you can count on a dry summer, I can see that working well, as the weeds won't come up once the top layer is dried out. The one thing I do wonder about is wind erosion on exposed sites, is there not much wind in the northwestern summer?


Where Steve conducted this experimentation there would be very little rain from around May to around October. In a usual year between May and October, any rain would be just enough to settle the dust, and it would be a rainy summer if there was more than one or two such showers a month. The nights usually drop down into the low 60s by 10 pm or so. And, I don't know for sure, but that area is near the coast, and might have some summer fog. Also, I don't know whether his garden was in a bottomland or an upland. An upland soil here is usually clayey, acidic and cool, and is usually several feet above the water table in the summer. A bottom land will usually be lighter, and of course have a relatively high water table right through the summer.



I'm coming to the conclusion that biointensive spacing are suited to areas where both water and fertility are abundant, hence the fact that biointensive techniques include double digging, creating fertile soil as far sown as possible so the plant roots will have more space down and won't compete as much across.

As for raised beds, I might make another post about them, but my experience is that there's a number of disadvantages, especially the higher and narrower the beds are. It seems to me if your soil is well drained that you can do the same things with flatter beds as long as you have clear paths and don't step on them (they can be "slightly raised beds" to make the bed/path distinction clear) and the flatter beds don't dry out nearly as fast.


I think you are right about this. I know that in deserts, a traditional way to plant is in basins, to conserve any moisture that does arrive and to provide a bit of shelter from wind and heat. There are probably ways to amend the soil in the basins to increase water holding capacity, but then you would likely be destroying the capillarity of the native soil and possibly creating a bath tub effect sufficient to drown your plants. (I've personally never tried to  garden in a true desert, and know little about the details.)

I live in a transition area between the lush Pacific Northwest wetside forests and the drier scrub lands to the east. We get between 20 and 25 inches of precipitation annually, mostly rain, some snow. As in Steve's area, rain starts sometime in October and ends sometime in May. It gets chillier here at night because of the higher elevation, and is also notably windy. I decided to stick with raised beds because it takes quite a while for the native soil to dry and warm in the spring, and also because that's what I know how to do. But it was a tossup, I also considered trying the basin approach, and will probably experiment with it eventually. Ten miles to the east, and I would definitely have tried basins. (The precipitation gradient in the Columbia Gorge is very noticeable, and one of the reasons why it is so scenic.)

Keep in mind that Steve Solomon is one of the world's most competent gardeners! He can make things work that many of us would struggle with.
 
john smith
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Castanea wrote:
My observations lead me to the belief that plant competition for water is a more important factor than the permaculture books usually state, but I'd like to see what others think and get some feedback.

if having enough water is an issue I would think that spacing the plants farther apart while still shading the soil with mulch might be the best option.

He explained this was because the pine forest sucked up more water than prairie and transpired it into the air, and with the pines gone more of it stayed in the soil and thus kept the stream flowing.


barefooter wrote:
His book "Gardening Without Irrigation" is available for free online.

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/030201/03020100frame.html


Thanks for sharing the ideas and the book.
 
Heda Ledus
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I find Steve Solomon's methods very helpful; I have even found someone (Ryan from Peakmoment) who mixes Steve's, Jeavon's, and inlists some aspects of Lanza's gardening beliefs aswell for his Quadra Island homestead.

http://ryansgarden.com/blog/?p=1116

I think people don't remember most common vegetables decend from solitary or small colonizing herbs/"weeds". As weeds are opportunistic they will grow well with great additions of water and nutrients but that does not make it an ideal cultural practice nor completely efficient (for 7/8ths or 87.5% more planting you get only a 50% greater yield than planting and efficiently spacing 1/8th or 12.5% the amount of seeds in soil.)

An initial double digging with worm towers, a fine mulch (crushed leaves and the sort) and light surface tillage seems even better to me. Not only are the deep capilaries left undisturbed by tools, worms tunneling and adding worm castings allow for better soil health aswell as plant growth. It works with permaculture and I think works in the plants true nature.

In a book called Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, the author mentions how permaculture farming methods (Not sure if he said the term exactly rather than say holistic farming practices) were mostly created/utilized by people with no real knowledge of traditional agriculture and that the practices of no-till, focus on trees and other seemingly unorthodox methods gained popularity because of its relative  ease in learning and teaching when compared to the (in Solomon's case) decades worth of knowledge one gains from growing food in more traditional ways.

Permaculture more and more seems like a subtropic/tropic climate practice; one for regions with relatively spread out rains when applying to vegetable growing (The orchards and animal polycultures however are great for any region or climate).

However when dense permie-style planting is applied to food forest edge or shifting agriculture type settings dense plantings seem to work well (with protection from the full sun, extra organic matter, and cooler/more humid microclimates.)
 
                                
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one thing to make note of is about root partitioning. just how plants partition light in a temperate forest, savannah, or any biome, the roots of the plants partition available water in the soil in many different ways.

plants of varied forms can be spaced closely together if they are not all competing/filling the same niche. there are flat rooted plants, tap rooted, heart rooted, fibrous, etc. for example, the roots of densely spaced 350 foot tall coast redwoods on the california coast only go 6 feet deep! (they are flat rooted) this is because they need a year-round supply of moisture which is given by the condensation of fog in the summer months. the roots of these trees interlock with other specimens to share the niche of water and nutrients. this also allows for shade tolerant plants with different root patterns to take up water from the deeper soil niche.

on a cultivated level we can space plants while being conscious of the different soil niches. thats why comfrey (tap rooted) and spring ephemerals (bulbs) do not compete for water/nutrients with most fruit trees (flat rooted). while a living mulch to shade the soil is important, it is also necessary to design for diverse root partitioning (this would be considered a resource partitioning guild).

another thing that i am fascinated with is about root grafting and interlocking. similar to the example about the coast redwoods. some species of conifers will actually merge roots with other trees. some recent studies in the boreal have shown that the whole forest is connected underground and the unified organism can share nutrients, water, hormones (communication). 

since we know so little about what is under the surface of the earth there is much to be researched about roots. some good books out there that go more in depth on what i have said: roots demystified by robert kouric and edible forest gardens by dave jacke and eric toensmeier.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ahipa wrote:
Permaculture more and more seems like a subtropic/tropic climate practice;


I'm not sure why one would think the ethics and principles of permaculture (the foundation of permaculture) can't be adapted to desert climates.  Have you read the chapter about dryland permaculture in "Permaculture: a designer's manual" or watched Mollison's dryland permaculture videos?

I'm just not seeing why one would think permaculture is not suitable for any climate, when it is practiced in diverse climates at the present time.

Permaculture relies on the observation of natural systems.  One observes systems in one's locale and adapts the concepts observed to growing edible and other useful plants.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Dryland permaculture strategies:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W15RRvKyJSk

More dryland strategies:  http://www.harvestingrainwater.com/


Greening the desert:  http://permaculture.org.au/2009/12/11/greening-the-desert-ii-final/
 
                                
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Ahipa wrote:
An initial double digging with worm towers...


What are worm towers and how are they used?
 
                                
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a worm tower is a little vermicomposting chamber in a garden. you add straw, manure, and kitchen scraps as needed to feed the worms in the tower. the worms spread their castings around the tower to actively feed the surrounding soil/plants.

WormTower.jpg
[Thumbnail for WormTower.jpg]
 
Richard Kastanie
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plants of varied forms can be spaced closely together if they are not all competing/filling the same niche. there are flat rooted plants, tap rooted, heart rooted, fibrous, etc. for example, the roots of densely spaced 350 foot tall coast redwoods on the california coast only go 6 feet deep! (they are flat rooted) this is because they need a year-round supply of moisture which is given by the condensation of fog in the summer months. the roots of these trees interlock with other specimens to share the niche of water and nutrients. this also allows for shade tolerant plants with different root patterns to take up water from the deeper soil niche.


That's a very good point, and more skilled use of polycultures takes advantage of that. I do notice in the ozarks at least where there's a more mixed forest the trees can often be closer and still be healthy as compared to a single species stand. I notice such things as a large healthy oak with a medium sized maple, also healthy, growing right underneath it, the trunks a few feet apart. If the smaller tree was another oak, especially the same type of oak, it wouldn't be doing too well because of competition. Honeylocusts often have healthy oak and hickory trees under their light canopy. Our dominant trees on most sites are a number of species of oak and hickory, and even though they have more similar growth patters than say the maple or the honeylocust, which are less abundant here, I still see hickories and oaks able to grow more densely in a mixed forest than in a pure stand.

However, it still stands that even in a naturally diverse ecosystem, the trees are generally farther apart the drier the climate. The polycultures can work better just because the roots of different species are often in different patterns and able to exploit niches the others cannot, not because more tree cover conserves water in the soil.

Permaculture more and more seems like a subtropic/tropic climate practice; one for regions with relatively spread out rains when applying to vegetable growing (The orchards and animal polycultures however are great for any region or climate).


That's where I disagree. That's true about certain people's (including some permaculture teachers) narrow definition of permaculture. However as Ludi mentioned the ethics and principles of permaculture, as stated in David Holmgren's "Principles and Practices Beyond Sustainability" are useful anywhere, even if very different methods need to be used on the ground in different places. I don't think using Steve Solomon's methods to grow vegetables if they work well in your climate is anti-permaculture.

Permaculture relies on the observation of natural systems.  One observes systems in one's locale and adapts the concepts observed to growing edible and other useful plants.


Yes, exactly, and sometimes actual observations and experience contradict someone's idea of permaculture, but I'd say the one doing the observations is more in the real spirit of Permaculture.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Castanea wrote:I don't think using Steve Solomon's methods to grow vegetables if they work well in your climate is anti-permaculture.


Is there a permanent element to Solomon's plantings - that is, does he include perennials in his designs at all, or does he only grow annual crops?  (Sorry if that's an ignorant question or has already been addressed somewhere  ). 

Traditional methods of farming can certainly be an aspect of permaculture but I think relying on annual crops alone might not be in the spirit of developing resilient systems that emulate natural ecosystems.

 
Paul Cereghino
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I'd propose that the 'permaculture' comes in the actual energy and organic matter dynamics of the system, not in the particular technique used -- permaculture is what permaculture does.  Its just that we have to remain mindful of the costs of how tillage systems source their organic matter or nutrients.

Forest ecology researchers use 'Leaf Area Index' as a measure of how much leaf area a tree puts over an area of ground... a measure of its drying influence.  There are other strategies trees use to minimize water loss, but keeping leaves small and sparse is one of them.

I don't think there should be any question that competition occurs among individuals for the scarcest resource (often water in our ecoregion), and that plants growing under competition don't yield as much of what we like to eat.  I figure that in a perennial, permanent mulch system, that the human influence is spent selecting who grows and who becomes mulch.  The action of mulching one individual for the benefit of the other is a way that we shape where the energy flows (into our dinner...).

Regarding summer stream flow... deforestation often reduces rainfall percolation... water runs off rather than soaking in.  So there is interaction between winter climate, summer climate, vegetation, surface geology, and groundwater dynamics (so much for having it all figured out in 2 weeks  )

There seems to be lots of magical thinking about gardening in our wholistic community... I read a book recently that told me that if your just add rock powder that nature can synthesize the necessary elements (so much for limits around atomic fusion!).
 
Tyler Ludens
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Paul Cereghino wrote:

Regarding summer stream flow... deforestation often reduces rainfall percolation... water runs off rather than soaking in.  So there is interaction between winter climate, summer climate, vegetation, surface geology, and groundwater dynamics


Definitely.  Here in my region (South Central Texas) the "deforestation" has  primarily been overgrazing of what used to be prairie (Tallgrass prairie in deep soil areas).  Runoff and flooding have caused gullies, the water table has dropped quite a bit, springs have dried up, and streams often go dry in the summer.  Droughts are much more severe.  This could all be gradually repaired with removal of overgrazing livestock and installation of earthworks, etc.  Some folks are trying to do this work, but they are few, as far as I know.

 
Richard Kastanie
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Is there a permanent element to Solomon's plantings - that is, does he include perennials in his designs at all, or does he only grow annual crops?  (Sorry if that's an ignorant question or has already been addressed somewhere  tongue).

Traditional methods of farming can certainly be an aspect of permaculture but I think relying on annual crops alone might not be in the spirit of developing resilient systems that emulate natural ecosystems.


The link that barefooter gave was the first I'd read from Steve Solomon, and I haven't even read all the specfics he gave for each vegetable, just his ideas in general. All I read is dealing with annuals, but I'll leave it to someone more familiar with Solomon to answer what he does overall. I just said that I don't think iit's anti-permaculture to grow your vegetables using that method, I agree that we shouldn't be totally dependent on perennials and should be growing more than just annual vegetables. However, since most permaculturists I know consider some intensive raised bed annual vegetable cultivation to be compatible with permaculture, I'm just saying in situations where water is more of a limiting issue than space that wider spacing could work for your "zone 1" vegetable garden. Different techniques for different situations.

The larger issue is certain people equating permaculture with particular techniques only adapted to particular situations. David Holmgren mentions this problem himself, one example being sheet mulching. I too have met someone who thought all gardeners needed to use sheet mulch. It's a method that has it's place, I have used it with success, but I don't use it now because with the scale I'm doing things it's just way too much mulch material needed to do it on any but a very small part of the garden. It's a good method if you have tons of mulching material readily available relative to the size of your garden, which is the case now in many places because of our throwaway society and a good use of resources that would otherwise be wasted. However if it weren't for fossil fuels, how much of sheet mulching's advantages would disappear? If you had to cut that hay with a scythe and transport it without fossil fuels, would covering your gardens with a foot of it start to be more labor than cultivating them?

Regarding summer stream flow... deforestation often reduces rainfall percolation... water runs off rather than soaking in.  So there is interaction between winter climate, summer climate, vegetation, surface geology, and groundwater dynamics


Definitely.  Here in my region (South Central Texas) the "deforestation" has  primarily been overgrazing of what used to be prairie (Tallgrass prairie in deep soil areas).  Runoff and flooding have caused gullies, the water table has dropped quite a bit, springs have dried up, and streams often go dry in the summer.  Droughts are much more severe.  This could all be gradually repaired with removal of overgrazing livestock and installation of earthworks, etc.  Some folks are trying to do this work, but they are few, as far as I know.


Of course there's lots of variables and different ecosystems react differently. The example in South Dakota I gave was an ecosystem that's naturally a mixture of prairie and pines, and the fire just paved the way for the grasslands to start to return (although the burn zone was by no means a mature prairie having been only a few years since the fire). However I think the percolation was probably fine, or if there was any loss of percolation it had to be less than the loss of transpiration from the trees.

On the other hand, in a wetter climate where dense forests are the natural ecosystem, I do believe that keeping the majority of the land in forests is needed for sustainability. After all, transpiration is good when there's plenty of water in the soil anyway, it's eventually the source of new rain somewhere else, and getting water from the soil onto the air in a rainy climate also means there's room for more to soak in during the next rain rather than running off.

Continual overgrazing is a very different situation, as would anything that leads to that much soil degradation. Ecosystems are adapted to  a "pulse" of heavy disturbance such as a fire or a herd of bison moving over the area, but there has to be enough time to recover before the next disturbance. Allan savory-style holistic management of the livestock along with those earthworks you mentioned would probably be one good solution, along with diversification of the agriculture in the area.
 
Heda Ledus
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oaktree wrote:
one thing to make note of is about root partitioning. just how plants partition light in a temperate forest, savannah, or any biome, the roots of the plants partition available water in the soil in many different ways.

plants of varied forms can be spaced closely together if they are not all competing/filling the same niche. there are flat rooted plants, tap rooted, heart rooted, fibrous, etc. for example, the roots of densely spaced 350 foot tall coast redwoods on the california coast only go 6 feet deep! (they are flat rooted) this is because they need a year-round supply of moisture which is given by the condensation of fog in the summer months. the roots of these trees interlock with other specimens to share the niche of water and nutrients. this also allows for shade tolerant plants with different root patterns to take up water from the deeper soil niche.

on a cultivated level we can space plants while being conscious of the different soil niches. thats why comfrey (tap rooted) and spring ephemerals (bulbs) do not compete for water/nutrients with most fruit trees (flat rooted). while a living mulch to shade the soil is important, it is also necessary to design for diverse root partitioning (this would be considered a resource partitioning guild).

another thing that i am fascinated with is about root grafting and interlocking. similar to the example about the coast redwoods. some species of conifers will actually merge roots with other trees. some recent studies in the boreal have shown that the whole forest is connected underground and the unified organism can share nutrients, water, hormones (communication). 

since we know so little about what is under the surface of the earth there is much to be researched about roots. some good books out there that go more in depth on what i have said: roots demystified by robert kouric and edible forest gardens by dave jacke and eric toensmeier.


How can you compare the structure and survival mechanisms of very specialized trees to an herb?

The shady microclimate, oceanic macroclimate, heavy seaonal rainfall from autumn to spring, dense mulch, mycorrizal associations, and fog capturing ability all must be in consideration when looking at and comparing such a tree to common vegetables. Ferns, oxalis, firs, madrones, etc.. do take up/share space with redwood trees, but most of those plants benefit from the condensation occuring from the redwood leaves, there own leaves themselves or other coping mechanisms rather then simply having deeper roots.

There are reports of Redwood forest dealing with more and more drought stress as the rate of fog dwindles along the coastal regions of northern caliofrnia. The dense growing habits of Sequoia can't cope without the additional waterings receieved from the summer fog.

However when the trees are spaced out or planted singley they can and do adapt quite well; sending roots deep into the soil to absorb and collected ground water. They'll even grow in some elevated lands above a creek system near my hometown in Solano county.

In gaia gardens I saw a polyculture drawing of a lettuce, a carrot and a onion with each plant having a slightly different root spread and depth. However those drawings are not really correct. When spaced out far enough the plant's root structure extends and delves deeper into the soil than when stunting the root growth through dense plantings. Also the drawing of the carrot's root system is very wrong as the storage taproot doesn't really do much in taking in water past the initial plant growth into a more mature planlet; rather its the fine hairs surrounding it that do the work and the taproot simple keeps in that energy.

Another example; a dandelion root may have a deep taproot but from what I gather, the taproot in the root that mines the subsoil for moiture and nminerals while the surface roots with the water and minerals now available start the process of turning those minerals into water soluble nutrients (which benefit the dandelion and the plants around the dandelions surface root mass.)

Whole systems like that of forests with its many variables and still unknown abilities to work together should not be seen as possiblities when creating a vegetable garden, although influences can be taken from such systems it can't be nessacarily copied in a garden setting.
 
Heda Ledus
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Ludi wrote:
I'm not sure why one would think the ethics and principles of permaculture (the foundation of permaculture) can't be adapted to desert climates.  Have you read the chapter about dryland permaculture in "Permaculture: a designer's manual" or watched Mollison's dryland permaculture videos?

I'm just not seeing why one would think permaculture is not suitable for any climate, when it is practiced in diverse climates at the present time.

Permaculture relies on the observation of natural systems.  One observes systems in one's locale and adapts the concepts observed to growing edible and other useful plants.


Permaculture is not perfect nor is any horticulture practice or study. There are many good applications of permculture in desert and temperate settings; dryland orchards and animal polycultures. However I am saying climate-wise/percipitation-wise most Zone 1 & 2 permaculture applications require eithier (a) fairly spread out yearly rains and/or (b) irrigation from what I have seen, read and observed.
 
Heda Ledus
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Castanea wrote:
That's where I disagree. That's true about certain people's (including some permaculture teachers) narrow definition of permaculture. However as Ludi mentioned the ethics and principles of permaculture, as stated in David Holmgren's "Principles and Practices Beyond Sustainability" are useful anywhere, even if very different methods need to be used on the ground in different places. I don't think using Steve Solomon's methods to grow vegetables if they work well in your climate is anti-permaculture.

Yes, exactly, and sometimes actual observations and experience contradict someone's idea of permaculture, but I'd say the one doing the observations is more in the real spirit of Permaculture.



If simply observation is your idea of permaculture than all forms of agriculture and horticulture is are permaculture.

Every planting and food growing system works by observation and experience. Isn't Big AG's observations that plants grow better when there are no weeds with a response of kill weeds by pesticides just as observant as using IPM when using your own idea of permaculture.

Isn't Steve Solomon's observations on dryland gardening just as permacultre as dense plantings.

Permaculture principles and pathways is a great book but for thousands of years many peoples have been following those same ideals, thoughts and processes. Can Holmgren and Mollison seriously claim to have come up with these principles rather than simply appropriate them from individuals and societies across the world ?

If permaculture is not a practice but a set of principles than it is too broad to be a practice in growing food; rather this very discussion should be null and void because we are arguing which is better; permaculture or permaculture?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ahipa wrote:
Can Holmgren and Mollison seriously claim to have come up with these principles rather than simply appropriate them from individuals and societies across the world ?


Have you actually read their books?  Mollison states there is nothing new in permaculture, it is a synthesis of existing practices and ideas.

"Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new.  It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes.  What is novel, and often overlooked, is that any system of total commonsense design for human communities is revolutionary!"

- Chapter 1, "Permaculture: a designers manual" by Bill Mollison

Is what Steve Solomon does a system of total commonsense design for human communities?  I'm pretty sure it isn't - I'm pretty sure he's talking about raising food only.  Permaculture isn't just about raising food. 

 
Paul Cereghino
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So if I've got this right... 'permaculture theory' looks at a Steve Solomon garden, that has inputs, outputs, and intrinsic qualities, and says how does this pattern called 'Solomon garden' fit in the landscape and relate to other elements and patterns.  How can its inputs be provided by creating a new relationship, or how can we integrate a new component into the garden so that the whole system performs better based on a set of ethical and philosophical criteria (care for others, care for land, share surplus, advantageous emulation of natural dynamics).

Solomon's very effective temperate annual system requires inputs of rock powder and compost, and tillage labor and operates in a climate where you have a margin to burn organic matter through tillage.  So how can we tweak that system?  Elliot Coleman has been playing with that by limiting tillage to the surface and occasionally using a broad fork to increase oxygen penetration, and maximizing intercropping and unit area production, inspired by the turn of the century french market gardens (who built a golden relationship with a horse-based transportion system...)  The Evan's polyculture sowing is a exciting direction.. Hazelip's permanent mulch suffers from slugs... The chicken or duck tractor could come into play...

So the methods and techniques that arise from these musings are prehaps not as important as the strategies that lead the mind of the gardener in the direction of musing, AND the musings are useless unless they change individual behavior and relationships.  Mollison simply had the courage (among many) to stop making excuses for bad lazy ecological habits which lead us to 'I don't have a choice but to live this way' and say instead, 'we need to take individual responsibility for our needs, and build a right-relationship with the earth from that foundation'.  And now poor ole' Bill has a messianic cult full of on-line wacko gardeners 
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ahipa wrote: However I am saying climate-wise/percipitation-wise most Zone 1 & 2 permaculture applications require eithier (a) fairly spread out yearly rains and/or (b) irrigation from what I have seen, read and observed.


Ok.  I'm still not sure why permaculture can't be applied under those conditions.  Is there some idea that irrigation is not used in permaculture?  Not sure where that idea comes from, if so. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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Paul Cereghino wrote:  And now poor ole' Bill has a messianic cult full of on-line wacko gardeners 


Permaculture = religion.  Didn't you know? 
 
Heda Ledus
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Ludi wrote:
Have you actually read their books?  Mollison states there is nothing new in permaculture, it is a synthesis of existing practices and ideas.

"Permaculture as a design system contains nothing new.  It arranges what was always there in a different way, so that it works to conserve energy or to generate more energy than it consumes.  What is novel, and often overlooked, is that any system of total commonsense design for human communities is revolutionary!"

- Chapter 1, "Permaculture: a designers manual" by Bill Mollison

Is what Steve Solomon does a system of total commonsense design for human communities?  I'm pretty sure it isn't - I'm pretty sure he's talking about raising food only.  Permaculture isn't just about raising food. 



Simply because he himself has only written books on food doesn't mean he isn't thinking about the human community.  If you look at his website solandhealth.org you will notice not only is there a section of horticulture but also health, economic self-sufficiency, social criticism and spirituality. I feel all these influence him and his own personal philosophy and look at all the titles, reading a few of the books, and comparing it to Permaculture; they seem pretty much alike.

In this context the word permculture is about the food growing aspect of permacultue; it seems in most cases when the word permaculture is used the food growing aspect seems to be the only aspect mentioned. (It wasn't until I started working at a permaculture site that I saw/heard of  permaculture based work structures in use)

With that in mind permaculture although they can differ even drastically given the many definitions by Permaculturists seem to have a few things in common as to what permaculture growing methods are or can include/be; mulching, no-till, perennial based, with the belief of heavy plantings to try a simulate a forest which is most often seen as the peak or apex of the natural world.



Ludi wrote:
Ok. I'm still not sure why permaculture can't be applied under those conditions. Is there some idea that irrigation is not used in permaculture? Not sure where that idea comes from, if so.


  Using the permaculture chicken model; don't you think getting water from a former valley in yosemite national park that was dammed is too much of an input than say rainwater collection? As with black plastic tubing made in china, used for drip irrigation?

Steve Solomon talks about dry-land gardening as a way to not be so reliant on municipal water and from what I get to free yourself from the burden of buy the water, finding out ways to distribute it, and to create a better; more self-sufficient garden and home.

 
Richard Kastanie
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If simply observation is your idea of permaculture than all forms of agriculture and horticulture is are permaculture.

Every planting and food growing system works by observation and experience. Isn't Big AG's observations that plants grow better when there are no weeds with a response of kill weeds by pesticides just as observant as using IPM when using your own idea of permaculture.


No. permaculture is not only observation, it includes a holistic form of observation with the goal of designing sustainable systems. We all know that big AG's methods are unsustainable, so by no stretch of the mind can they be considered permaculture. Steve Solomon on the other hand, clearly has similar goals as the permaculture movement.
 
Brenda Groth
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i find that where i have the densest planting things always are healthier even in drought. we had a drought here this year and i planted densely. When you walk into a forest in the middle of a drought, it will be cool and moist in the forest..shading the ground by densly planting you have less evaporation..
 
Tyler Ludens
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Brenda Groth wrote:
i find that where i have the densest planting things always are healthier even in drought. we had a drought here this year and i planted densely. When you walk into a forest in the middle of a drought, it will be cool and moist in the forest..shading the ground by densly planting you have less evaporation..


Keep in mind you're in a wet climate, even in drought.  During one of our droughts, there is no moisture in the forest.  Your drought might be about the same as one of our normal years. 

But the densely growing grass in our fields does seem to be a little more moist then the overgrazed parts, which dry out very fast.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Do not fight the native vegetation. Use it for food, organic matter, new top soil.
Grow as much perennials in the garden. Vegetable patch is monoculture, imo.
To build soil for veggies, let the patch grow wild for one year. Intercrop with beneficial plants. What grows, grows. Let it grow to maturity and leave it there.
What we need is soil, then humus, then mulch.
Space plants further apart, leaving native vegetation and beneficials inbetween. Lots of food most of them. Everything else can be used for mulch.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Paul Cereghino wrote:Solomon's very effective temperate annual system requires inputs of rock powder and compost, and tillage labor and operates in a climate where you have a margin to burn organic matter through tillage.


Kind of. His inputs are seedmeal, bloodmeal, kelp meal, lime/gypsum, and soiled animal bedding. He's also very plugged in to the seed catalog system: most such businesses disgust him, but there are a lot of species he wants to grow & it makes sense for him to buy, others (like snow peas) which his system produces an over-abundance of seeds for each year. He says the cost of his inputs is covered by sale of parsnip seeds; these, and leek starts, go to his neighbors.

He uses perennials as a cover crop, sowing a pasture mix for a five-year fallow period, and uses his excess peas as a cover crop in between fallow periods.

He reduces wind erosion with windbreaks and by mixing enough compost into the top layers of soil.
 
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