I have NEVER been interested in gardening. It seemed like madness, buying dirt every year, buying seeds every year, buying pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, etc. Then you have to spend hours a week weeding and watering. After all that, you end up with a couple of side salads. I don't even like salads!
So I thought, maybe I could plant fruit. I like fruit at least. I didn't think you needed to weed trees either. Sounded like a plan, so this Spring I went to Lowe's and bought a few cherry trees and apple trees, bought some dirt, dug a hole in the dead, hard, packed, red clay that had been under the tennis court, and planted the trees. Then I started looking around for other stuff to kill. I bought some blueberry, strawberry, and blackberry bushes from various places and planted them in holes in the clay too.
I don't even know how I stumbled across it anymore, probably searching around on Amazon, but at this point I found "gaia's garden". I was blown away. The way it explained gardening with permaculture made SO much more sense than traditional gardening.
Anyway, I realized that we started the garden in the worst possible soil, because there was zero, zilch, nada organic material in the clay. Plus it was compacted down, etc etc. BUT, this was the location that made the most sense for us in terms of zones. So, I started moving dirt. I have a UTV and a shovel, and there is a beaver dam on the far side of the property that I have to keep knocking down. After it drains a bit, there is essentially an unlimited (i.e. more than I will ever move with the UTV and shovel) amount of decent soil where the water from the dam floods, plus some soil from the dam itself. I started moving loads of dirt to put around my poor fruit trees and bushes and bought a few hundred bucks worth of mulch to make the delivery fee more reasonable in proportion.
I realized later I should aim for more depth and less square footage with each load, but I got a decent amount of that clay covered up with at least some dirt and mulch. I also found the county landfill that gives out free mulch a few times a week.
Anyway, the trees look like they might make it, who knows if they will ever bear fruit. A few of the bushes also look like they have survived. Hopefully they will take off next year. I made a few side dishes with the amaranth I planted and I somehow seem to have developed a taste for the mustard greens I planted as cover crops. They are really starting to come up, probably the first real success I have ever had with plant life. I'm planning on spending the next month or two of cool/cold months to really get a head start on moving dirt for the rest of the area. I'll try to add pictures the next day or two.
My biggest problem is being unable to identify almost anything. I certainly didn't put stuff down in rows. Is Plant A the garlic onion I planted in that general area 5 months ago, or is it just grass? Is Plant B comfrey, or is it some miscellaneous weed? I planted turnip greens with the mustard, but I don't see any turnips - could I be mixing in turnip greens with the mustard greens and not even know it? Etc.
I did miraculously manage to ID a Jimson weed, and decided to leave it in. What the hell, its flowers are sort of pretty and the insects seem to like it.
Gaia's Garden was 1 of the first books for me too and I can appreciate the " I get it now" factor it brings to most of us
I also have clay soil and I promise you'll learn to love it....over time. 1 of the most important things when planting, other than serious soil amendment is to plant everything proud. You should plant trees' root ball 2" above ground level, bushes a good inch above. Root rot in newly planted, plants is one of the major contributors to loosing them with our soil type. They will settle over time, but the last thing that we need is for them to be below ground level, and to become a water well that will guarantee root rot with our heavy seasonal rains.
When you amend a hole, make sure that you do mix some of your natural soil aka clay in with your good soil. Your roots need to get accustom to the flavor of the surrounding soil, or they will stay in the hole you initially dug. Also, sheet mulch like crazy around your trees and plant an intensive guild, including some annuals that will die in the winter and add organic matter to that area. In the spaces between your plants, you should consider a lasagna approach to sheet mulching; I've used a really thick layer of compost followed by newspaper then straw or wood chips..repeat for 2 more layers and let it lay for the winter and then plant clover, diakon radishes, carrots and other rooty plants. It did take a few years of this approach, but now my soil is now incredibly rich and loomy.
As far as your turnips, there are varieties that do not produce a bulb, like 7 top turnips, but in the south folks love turnip greens without the bulb.
Good luck and I hope this helps. Can't wait to see some pictures.
You can't "go back" to seeing it the old way.
WAY TO GO!
But...it can be a little overwhelming. One of the permaculture principles is to make a small change, and watch what it does, or how it fails. OK, you learned something. Try another little thing, observe.
Learn from the forest (that you are planting). If all the cherry trees die, they don't like it there. Try a different tree or variety that -does- do well in your area and your soil. Or make an educated guess about why the cherry trees died, and change that. Maybe it's pH, maybe it's not enough water, or not enough organic matter, or no active microbiology. Add compost tea and some mulch to pump up the soil biology. Look what grows and looks happy on the neighbor's lot. Observe what grows well in the park, in the abandoned lot, in the woods on the edge of the farmer's field.
Observe, observe, then observe some more. That's a main tenet of permaculture. A significant part of your effort should go into just watching and observing and noticing. After you observe a 100 little unrelated things on your property, suddenly patterns will emerge and you will start to see how the system as a whole works.
Take pictures of interesting plants and then find out what they are. You can post it here, or there are several plant nerd forums around.
It's the same plan as how you eat an elephant, a little bit every day...
Hester Winterbourne wrote:Why do you have to keep knocking the beaver dam down? We don't have beavers here, they were exterminated centuries ago. Except for a project in Scotland and one colony on a river in the south west where they were accidentally (or not?) reintroduced and have been allowed to stay after at first being threatened with removal by the government. We keep being told how their natural management of the ecosystem will have wonderful environmental benefits. So... how does it look from there? Can't you work with them?
Our upstream neighbors get upset when half their yard floods. The beavers still have several acres underwater after I knock it down.
As for the local government, the last I checked it was open season on beavers year round.
As for observing the surrounding area, I don't know enough to recognize what I'm looking at!
I will start posting some pics of various plants, but I don't want to take advantage of everyone here by posting huge numbers of plants.
For the poor start, it hasn't turned out too badly. As of Halloween:
When you go out to the garden next, observe the topography. Do the same going back and forth to the beaver dam. Look at your slopes and consider the direction they face. Look for ridgelines and valleys and think about where the water moves.
You don't need to be able to identify every plant to start making useful observations about your land. And as you look at it, focusing first on one feature for awhile and then on another, the connections will start happening.
And you will start seeing everyplace and everything through a permaculture design lens.
Regarding the advice to observe for some amount of time first, I don't agree. Maybe I'm just not observant enough, but other than the small area I have already worked on, I basically have a patch of red clay. What's to observe? I'm going to do my best to improve the soil over this fall and winter. I know that is going to be a net positive in any event. I'm going to add some fruit and nut trees in January, and after the last frost I'll try to create guilds for them. THEN I'll observe what seems to be working.
This is basically about a 1/5 of an acre, and I'm not going to be able to get even half of it worked on by spring. I'll see what works, if anything (I have always had a brown thumb). If I have success, then I have a few acres on the other side of the house that I will probably bring in some earth moving equipment to make terraces, swales, etc.
Very sorry for the tone of my reply. You were giving good advice and I denigrated it. I think that I am too aware of the scale of my ignorance, and the more I look at things, the more I am at a loss. I think I need to focus on the trees first, and from that work my way up to the forest.
Thanks for the encouragement. I was always a meat and potatoes eater until I started eating paleo. I have eaten more veggies on paleo the last 4 years than I did the previous 10. I think that doing a garden will continue that progression. I'm now not only eating mustard greens that I grew, I'm liking them. Last year I wouldn't have thought that was possible.
Please ask questions, we will be glad to help you.
Do you have a tractor? If not, look around for a good deal on one. We lucked into a 23 HP Kubota with front end loader, disc, box blade, bush hog and forks when we bought our place and I do love my tractor! A shovel will get it done, but you'll be done too. With 30 acres, I heartily recommend a tractor. You will wonder how you ever lived with out one.
I didn't dig any holes, because I thought that would just put it down in the clay. Instead I stood the trees up on the soil I had already placed, and then mounded additional soil around the roots. I also added 4 grape vines.
With the trees for which I had run out of time to prepare anything similar, I basically added a 6-8 inch high circular base of better soil and then, again, put the tree on top of that and mounded more soil around the roots:
I'm sure I need to extend the mounds on the first 4 outwards to accommodate root growth, and add a couple or more tons of soil around the rest, but does this seem workable?
Dave - I'm sure that the location I am using, as it existed a few months ago, would have meant death to anything I planted there. I think that the soil I have been adding will enable these trees to not only survive, but thrive. There should be plenty of sun, enough water and enough drainage, etc. There is IMO no compaction issue. The red clay is packed solid when dry, while the strip I prepared is springy by comparison. However, completely lacking any experience in growing anything, I won't know until I try.
What you need is for roots to sink into the clay, die and start rotting, setting the stage for the trees to spread their roots into the surrounding soil.
i think, mullein would help:
if you do sheet mulch/lasagna mulch, then you could plant deep-rooting daikon-radishes. they ll help break up the soil.
keyhole gardens are a very good thing. you have access to mulch and that soil from the river. perfect. just start with a few herbs and veggies. read the text on the seed packages and just go for it. you ll learn as you go. just try. what plant survives, that survives. if not... no problem, that s the learning. we started our garden last year with heavy wet clay soil that has some topsoil. some stuff just did not grow. but in a keyhole garden you will start out with awesome soil and stuff will grow easily. when you don t know YET how to identify plants, the divide your beds (lay out sticks or stones). sow one seed per section. or make rows. and add labels. just sow the stuff you like to eat and go on experimenting from that. you might even buy some starts (small plants) to plant in your keyhole
composting would help. maybe order some earthworms. they would help to improve your soil.
i wish you best luck and blessings
Tobias, I think I've seen a few of those mullein plants growing wild on the other side of our pond, though not as tall. I'll have to check that out. Having some emergency TP certainly wouldn't hurt!
I brought another load of soil and planted the sunchokes today. From some of the things I've read about them spreading, I put them off by themselves. I'm going to wait on March to plant the various root vegetable seeds I bought.
Here is what it looks like now:
I'm planning on making a low hugelkulture/swale between the trees currently on their own "islands" in the middle of the picture.