• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Giving up on some of the permaculture strategies...  RSS feed

 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi folks,

I've been reading/learning/practicing permaculture for around 5 years. It has been permeating my experiments in the garden, and in my bee keeping. However after a number of years of trying to grow vegetables of various sorts I've concluded that some of the permaculture methods just are not working out for me.

First of all: I live in the UK on chalk soil, in a wet climate. The soil is free draining, but the chalk also acts like a sponge at depth. Weeds grow incredibly fast, and we have bindweed in every part of the garden.

I have experimented with woodchip sheet mulching, and had some success establishing strawberry patches and other perennials like rhubarb and berry bushes. However after just a year the bindweed comes back in force requiring intensive hand weeding and root pulling. This disturbs the soil and with wood chip cover can lead to nitrogen shortages in some crops.

Elsewhere, we have a veggie garden of annual plants - beans, onions, salad greens, potatoes, etc... We have tried leaving the more benign plants as cover crops and pulling/cutting them back when needed. The reality is that beds take a lot of time to prepare for planting, and the cover crops hide the bindweed and grass as it gets re-established. Seedlings get swamped by the weedy cover crop plants and everything ends up tangled in bindweed.


Bare earth and hoeing
This year I have done things a little differently. We dug out the worst of the grass clumps and weeds in the spring and have been regularly hoeing throughout the area. This leaves more bare soil than I would normally like but otherwise we have loved the results. 10 minutes of hoeing of tiny baby weeds deals with most of the area, and the veggies are doing noticeably better. We have basically traded a few hours of chop-n-drop every month, for 10 minutes of work with the hoe every week - and the hoe work is more comfortable and easier than hands and knees chopping and weed pulling. Ultimately I expect to be able to manage vastly more area now than I did before, with less time and effort., and for substantially greater yields.

Getting Rid of raised beds
When we inherited this garden area it was divided up into 12 raised beds with grass paths between and wooden boards on the edges. This has been a huge waste of time to maintain. We consider edge effects a lot in permaculture, and in this case the edge effect is working heavily against me. I have ripped up the wooden boards, and dug the grass paths in. Where I used to spend hours weeding the edges along the boards - defending against bindweed, grass and buttercups that were always invading - I now have the same bare soil everywhere. When I hoe the beds I also hoe the path areas, disturbing the grass and plants before they get established.

In addition, my paths now move from season to season as I need them to, and are much narrower so there is less wasted space. As I weed the beds I chuck the weeds to the path areas so they can break down in place and increase fertility.

The old wooden boards used to also be prime slug habitat.

Observations of local veggie allotments

Recently I have made friends with some local allotment holders and take a few visits to see what they are doing. In their site they have around 40 different allotment holders, and probably 40 different styles. Some are rather wild affairs (rather as mine used to be), others have carefully cultivated soil and not a weed in sight. Rather obviously to me, working on the allotments where the whole area was given a fairly regular light hoeing looked much more enjoyable and productive than the others. Elsewhere, planting potatoes would involve spending hours double digging to break up thick grass and bury it. The areas that were kept under control would barely need the soil disturbed to plant rows of seeds, or make a hole for transplanting seedlings.

Having walked the whole area I saw no noticeable difference in soil fertility from patch to patch - other than that the areas that were overrun with grass grew very little else, fruit trees looked stunted, berry bushes were not thriving. Earth worms were abundant everywhere, and all the soil looked rich, dark and full of organic material. The tradition in the UK in these kind of market gardens is for bare earth row cultivation and I think I'm finally getting my head around why.

Our climate is so favorable to pioneering annual weed plants and grasses that, without regular mechanical weeding, desirable plants just get lost, and within a year a prepared bed is pretty much unusable. Getting used to the hoe has taught me the advantages of row crops. If the rows are spaced sensibly to accommodate the blade of the hoe, then I can weed the whole row in a fraction of the time compared to any other method. In areas where I have allowed plants to grow any old way even the hoe moves much too slowly.

Ultimately gardening for me is about producing a yield for the kitchen, and some of the much advocated permaculture techniques have - in my climate and conditions - actually been getting in the way of that.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1322
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
55
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm finding some of those same issues here.  Unless you mulch 18 inches deep here, the quack grass invades from all sides and will overrun a garden in a summer, two at the most.  Even my perennial areas are constantly being overrun by quack.  My entire strawberry patch is so overrun with it that I'm going to kill it off and start over.  My asparagus is the same.  My little food forest area is constantly under attack from quack.  Meanwhile my father starts new garden areas with Roundup, tills his garden every year, and uses commercial fertilizer and his production is great.  Meanwhile I have shoveled, hauled, unloaded and wheel-barrowed about 200 pickups loads of mulch, only for it to be invaded again in no time.  It seems an uphill battle sometimes. 
 
Dale Hodgins
gardener
Posts: 6795
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
266
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think the only way this could be done without hoeing or excessive hand work, would be if animals were used.

If chickens were held on a particular spot for a few weeks, without excessive feed, they might eat or destroy every living thing. Easier to do with annuals than with perennials.

If every weed were gone, how badly infested would your garden be at the end of a growing season?


 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Todd Parr wrote:I'm finding some of those same issues here.  Unless you mulch 18 inches deep here, the quack grass invades from all sides and will overrun a garden in a summer, two at the most.  Even my perennial areas are constantly being overrun by quack.  My entire strawberry patch is so overrun with it that I'm going to kill it off and start over.  My asparagus is the same.  My little food forest area is constantly under attack from quack.  Meanwhile my father starts new garden areas with Roundup, tills his garden every year, and uses commercial fertilizer and his production is great.  Meanwhile I have shoveled, hauled, unloaded and wheel-barrowed about 200 pickups loads of mulch, only for it to be invaded again in no time.  It seems an uphill battle sometimes. 


I don't have quack grass, fortunately, but have some similar issues with our regular grasses. Windblown seeds can set even if you are guarding the edges. Minimising the edges seems to have been a huge help on this front. By taking out all the grass paths I have fewer boundaries to defend and less work.

We still don't do any spraying or fertilising - and I'm pretty sure we won't need to any time soon, but we do have a good sized compost heap. I have a few comfrey plants that are this year looking properly established. I've noticed they do a pretty good job of shading out grasses and weeds beneath their leaves, and when my hoe is sharp I can cut them down easily with a couple of blows.
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1322
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
55
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dale Hodgins wrote:

If every weed were gone, how badly infested would your garden be at the end of a growing season?


I do kill every weed, every blade of grass, everything, before I start a new area.  Depending on the size, by the end of the growing season, the area can be completely overrun.  In food forest areas, it's very hard to manage because everything is planted so closely together, you can't weed an area effectively.  Quack is almost impossible to weed regardless.  If you try to pull it, it simply breaks off at the ground.  In areas that are heavily mulched and the quack is easier to pull, you can pull out roots that are over 6 feet long, but you can never get all of it.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Dale Hodgins wrote:
If every weed were gone, how badly infested would your garden be at the end of a growing season?


I think we are dealing with a very well established seed bank, and plenty of windblown seeds. I'm hoping that hoeing as I have been this year will deplete the seed bank considerably. I'm not really sure how things would look if we got chickens in to nuke an area, really, but given the propensity of stuff to grow here I imagine something would fill the void.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
dog food preservation forest garden trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Great to read about this! I think you're right about the wet climate causing most of the trouble. Did you ever try a thick cardboard layer under the mulch? I would think that might smother the weeds sufficiently to keep it under control.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 246
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
23
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am continually reminded that permaculture is about designing a system for your particular location. 

In my maritime climate, I am still finding mulch works great.  Areas that I have mulched for the last few years are doing substantially better than the areas I did not mulch.  In unmulched areas, I might as well be trying to grow vegetables on Mars.

However, I regret digging swales.  I think a rainwater catchment system is going to be more appropriate for water management in my area than swales.  Right now, swales are just drowning my plants and trees instead of "storing" water.  It turns out to be a bad design feature for my area.  Pretty sure a swale killed off a perfectly healthy plum tree this spring. (sigh)  In a drier climate, I'd probably go back to swales.

I did not used to have deer.  I made my property more wildlife-friendly and now deer are decimating my young fruit trees.  I need to get cages up fast, though it may be too late at this point.  Design for wildlife brought wildlife, wrecked unprotected plants. 

It is all about design and, unfortunately, that takes observation and time and probably some mistakes and endless shifting along the way.



 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, the cardboard layer, topped with compost and woodchip, was one of the earliest methods I tried.

It worked well for reclaiming patches of turf, as it was able to smother the grass very successfully. It is fairly easy to hand pull weeds in a layer of mulch like this, and I think it works well for getting (for example) fruit trees established where you want to prepare a spot then not come back to it for a while. However I've seen that usually creeping weeds and windblown seeds means the area needs weeding with a couple of months.

Additionally, woodchip actually seems to make it harder to hoe - at least while the chips are breaking down. The hoe would normally slide easily through the top few millimeters of loose soil. In the wood chip it hits big chunks of wood. You sort of end up digging with it, instead of cutting plant from root.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
K Putnam wrote:
However, I regret digging swales.  I think a rainwater catchment system is going to be more appropriate for water management in my area than swales.  Right now, swales are just drowning my plants and trees instead of "storing" water.  It turns out to be a bad design feature for my area.  Pretty sure a swale killed off a perfectly healthy plum tree this spring. (sigh)  In a drier climate, I'd probably go back to swales.


I still haven't got around to digging any swales here, and I don't think I ever will. The chalk is very good at taking in water, and even in heavy storms we don't see any surface runoff. I think this is in part because our garden was levelled in it is past. With no flowing water I don't see what benefit it would bring.

On the other hand I have dug a few micro swales when planting trees away from the main garden. Just a ditch and berm a few inches high, so that when I come out in mid summer with a bucket of water I can pour it in and it stays put soaking in next to the tree.
 
Rene Nijstad
Posts: 184
Location: La Mesa, Cundinamarca, Colombia
27
dog food preservation forest garden trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for the answer Michael. We're in a wet-dry tropical climate. However, we irrigate the garden we're starting now so there it's always wet. Your post reminds me to watch out for signs that all the watering might result in the same problems you encountered.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
184
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It's taken me a long time to actually apply the information in the Designers Manual.  Mollison writes about and illustrates the idea of zones, but it took me years and years to finally implement the ideas in any meaningful way.  In the illustrations, there's lots of fencing around each area, to keep the gardens protected from animals.  I didn't do this sufficiently - I should have started out by fencing around the house.  I've lost loads of plants and trees to deer because of inadequate fencing. 

Look at all the fences in this design from the manual:

 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1322
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
55
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tyler Ludens wrote: Mollison writes about and illustrates the idea of zones, but it took me years and years to finally implement the ideas in any meaningful way. 


Count me in as another person that didn't start in zone 1.  It seems more like I started everywhere else   I worked on that very thing yesterday, building a small garden area right next to my house.  I'm kind of starting over in that regard, but I do have a good start on some of the areas farther out.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9742
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
184
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think I had a vision of some naturalistic paradise.  And some folks seem to be able to do that - geoff lawton, for instance, doesn't seem to have any fencing except for the domestic animals - his food forests are just out there in the world. Try to do that here and everything would be eaten down in one night.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 246
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Count me in as another person that didn't start in zone 1.  It seems more like I started everywhere else


I think I had a vision of some naturalistic paradise.  And some folks seem to be able to do that - geoff lawton, for instance, doesn't seem to have any fencing except for the domestic animals - his food forests are just out there in the world. Try to do that here and everything would be eaten down in one night.


Me three, to my regret.   Having so many invasives (blackberry, bindweed) encouraged me to start out in Zones 3 and 4, but I really should have spent that time starting near the house and working my way out.   I am working on that now.  Rebuilding my outdoor spaces right near the house so that I *want* to be out there, which puts me closer to maintaining the area right by those spaces.  And, keeping the planting / mulching simple in those spaces so they are easier to maintain.  The fruit tree guilds can be more complicated and wild.

Sometimes we have to learn things for ourselves...hahahahahhaha (sigh)
 
Galadriel Freden
Posts: 364
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Michael, I'm doing it this year too in my veg garden, and I'm basing my general method on John Seymour's, in The Complete Book of Self sufficiency.  Not a permaculture book, but I'm finding his methods mostly permie-friendly. 

I wrote about this recently in a blog post, http://gardenofgaladriel.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/suburban-permaculture-project-vegetable.html,
which was inspired by toby hemenway's view that the more food I grow in my (urban) space for myself, the better for the environment as a whole:  it cuts out all the energy intensive production which gets my food to me, in the growing, packaging, manufacturing, transport, etc.  So whatever I can do to maximize food production for myself and family makes a bigger difference in the world than say providing habitat for local wildlife--which need a much bigger area than I have anyway (I still provide habitat, but it is a secondary concern). 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think you are still doing permaculture
 
chip sanft
pollinator
Posts: 427
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
33
bike books dog urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Galadriel Freden wrote:
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think you are still doing permaculture


I agree with Galadriel here. I also will be interested to hear how you go forward. We have aggressive grass ("Johnson grass" I call it; "damned Johnson grass" others call it) here and I usually plant to shade it out, then hoe-pull-mulch-repeat when it bugs me (not that often, to be frank). It gives lots of organic matter and headaches. I'll be interested in learning about other methods that blend and adapt the usual permie approach for local conditions.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1681
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
54
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think I'm still doing permaculture as well, just that my permaculture looks quite different from others permaculture.
 
Gilbert Fritz
pollinator
Posts: 1340
Location: Denver, CO
25
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I used heavy wood chip, cardboard and manure mulches only to loose my garden areas to bindweed and grass infestations that couldn't be hoed or dug. Bare soil gardens are much easier to keep the weeds out of. And they warm up earlier in the spring.

Tradition is the democracy of the dead . . . ALL of our ancestors can't have been fools!

I leave wood chip mulched permanent paths to keep down mud and provide a refuge for fungi that can quickly spread back into the beds after digging.

And I think when one looks at it, a small bare soil plot that does not slope dramatically will not actually loose much soil to erosion.
 
K Putnam
pollinator
Posts: 246
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
23
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I just reread this thread and I am happy to report that I did just come in from working in Zone 1.  It did get overrun in the endless rains this spring, but reclaiming it is going surprisingly well.

Last year, when I was writing my posts, I was in the process of planting sedge has the base mosaic of my perennial-food-polinator-hedge.  Even without enough time to really be a ground cover, it did start to appreciably reduce the reappearance of grass.  I had to help somewhat, but I've gained a huge amount of ground over the year.  Within that I have currants, blueberries, raspberries, goumi, yarrow, nodding onion, goldenrod, a bunch of native flowers, and plenty of flowers that I like.  Zone 1, doing lots better. And it's pretty.

I have, however, completely abandoned any attempt to grow annual vegetables in a polyculture.  It's just been a slug-riddled mess.   Maybe in drier areas you can get away with this, but in our damp climate, it's been nothing but disaster.  Uncle.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2614
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
507
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

No polyculture for me either. I'm definitely a row-cropper.

row-cropping.jpg
[Thumbnail for row-cropping.jpg]
Row cropping vegetables
 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1322
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
55
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I like polycultures very much for fruit tree guilds and the like.  For annual crops, it seems needlessly cumbersome. 
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 2990
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
243
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
What great observations and adaptations by everyone speaking up in this thread.

Permaculture is Permanent Agriculture, it is perhaps unfortunate but true that most people fail to first observe long enough to gather enough data for moving to that second step of design.
Geoff took two years to come up with his design I'm told. That is probably why his farm looks and is so well laid out.

Location is probably the most critical factor when it comes to designing, then it would be what do you want in the order of food plants, then it becomes a matter of adjusting to 1. the location, 2. the environment being dealt with, 3. soil conditions.
So if you want to be "food Independent" you will need to be able to grow a very wide variety of plants, animals, trees, etc. There are not many locations that this can be done without some manipulations.

Swales are great, unless your land is too steep for them to work properly, in which case terraces might be the best choice, perhaps neither will work properly on your land or perhaps it will be a combination that works best.
If you don't live where you can grow citrus trees easily, they would not be a good choice for example.

It seems to me that flexibility is the best method.
 
I do some of my very best work in water. Like this tiny ad:
Complete Wild Edibles Package by Sergei Boutenko (1 HD video + 10 eBooks)
https://permies.com/t/70674/digital-market/digital-market/Complete-Wild-Edibles-Package-Sergei
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!