I'm in Georgia, north middle, because that is important info, the piedmont region. I struggle with gardening in general here. I live on severely eroded cecil sandy loam, but in places it's just super cement hard clay. Like it's been kiln fired. So I've made raised up beds. I compost, I add manure. I don't want to buy bags of lime and stuff, if possible. My current garden location does not get much morning sun but is full sin from 10-11am until 8pm in summer.
I currently run drip irrigation and an occilating sprinkler from my well (I don't like doing this). it doesn't seem to matter how much I water, it still gets dried out. And the field grass is so voracious! my garden spot is all grass again. It's the tall johnson grass type.
The other thing is the bugs that come in droves from some where. Stink bugs, some squash bug looking this with leaf legs, squash bugs, pickle worms, squash vine borers, tomato horn worms, and moles. There are so many I can't manage them organically, so I just leave them to it. I didn't get any tomatoes this year. It just really takes any enjoyment out of it.
My garden is set up in rows, and isn't really permaculture. I'm just now learning about permaculture.
Other issues here are invasive plants like privet, bradford pears, and kudzu. I particularly struggle with Bradford pears, they sprout back from topped sprouts and root systems. You can cut down a tree, treat the stump and they will sprout from the root system. If you try cutting down small sprouts or saplings they come back even more aggressively and thornier than ever. It's the 2" thorns that are what makes this difficult to deal with. Thank you USDA for this tree. But will they come clean up the mess it's made? No.
Anyway, how do you permie in GA? I've revised my goals from dreaming of growing enough to sell, to just wanting healthy fresh food for my family.
I've faced some of the same challenges here in TX. I had to abandon my original garden site because it was too exposed and dried out in the summer no matter how much I watered. My soil is also heavy, cracking clay, super dense. In my new kitchen garden location right out the back door, the site is protected by trees especially on the West side. I dug out the entire garden and put in buried wood beds (below ground "hugelkultur"). This has made a tremendous difference. Even though I still need to water more than I want to, I've been able to keep the garden alive even through very hot (100F) dry periods. I think as I improve the soil I will not need to water nearly as much. I just need to add literally tons of organic material, and this will take some years. I personally see bug problems as indicating plants are stressed or poorly adapted to the conditions. It could be they're too dry, or too hot, or the wrong variety. I never have significant bug problems on healthy plants. I can't speak to the weed problem because I don't have many actual weeds - I'm usually so thrilled to have extra plants to feed to the chickens or to use as mulch, I can't think of them as bad. I think if you can't keep up with the weeds it's possible either the garden is too large for you to properly maintain, or there is too much space between the plants, and you might want to look into growing a cover crop like some kind of clover to shade the soil. This will also help keep the soil cooler, reducing evaporation. Biointensive gardening uses closely spaced vegetables to cover the soil completely. I consider what I do a variation on Biointensive. http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html
I'm down in Atlanta, and god do I feel you on the clay! My plan isn't 100% permaculture, but I'm hoping to see some soil improvement by the winter. Here's what I've done thus far:
1) Tilled the first couple of inches of soil and immediately sowed sudan grass, red clover and rye. That ran on its own for a few months.
2) Flagged down the guys trimming trees back from the power lines and had them dump two truckloads of ramial chips on my yard. I inoculated the wood with king stropharia mushrooms and spread it 6 inches thick across the majority of the yard. The mulch is holding in an enormous amount of water, and the sudan grass is already starting to poke back through. I left two spots unmulched - a 10x10 space where I'm letting the sudan grass grow to its full height (10ft) to see what the effect of just the cover crop mix is on the soil and a 10x15 space where I've planted sweet potatoes in amongst the cover crop.
I'm planning to sow some buckwheat in the mulch once I see it starting to break down. That should die back once it gets cooler, and then I can assess whether I've built any soil worth writing home about. There's a large tree in my yard that will be coming out this fall due to unfortunate placement above my sewer line, and that should open up sun for a small orchard and more garden space. I did a few raised beds this summer with the lasagna method for soil building, and while I'm hardly eating a full diet out of it, it supplements things nicely and I may be able to sell some of my excess shiso to some local restaurants. Bugs haven't been a huge issue, I think because everything the bugs would want (tomatoes, squash, etc) is hidden in the explosion of shiso!
Making fresh food affordable by growing artists and entrepreneurs.
Thank for replying to me. This is helpful! I'm going to make a new spot off the back of the garage, it does get hot there, but I successfully grew kale and broccoli there over the winter with no effort. I literally chucked some seeds after clearing the periwinkle. The dirt there is black from the plastic they put down years ago. I doesn't get much sun until mid day, so I'm not sure how it will work. Something to try. Gotta keep trying. I've got tones of downed pecan limbs and some hard wood I could use for Huglekulture.
You might want to use a mattock or use an excavator to dig into the clay layer and see how thick it is. In my front yard, the only sunny spot I have, there is 8-12" of reddish sandy clay which won't percolate water and efficiently sheds rainfall over a yellow clayey sand which does slowly percolate. I had to chop through the red clayey layer with a mattock and then started my hugel a foot below ground level. I generally build my hugels 3' above ground level with pieces of rotten wood and bark packing soil in as I go. I save the red clayey soil to build 6" or taller ledges to create terraces up the sides of the hugel to hold compost or well rotted mulch in place to give the plants something to start in. The red sandy clay will soften if broken up and soaked overnight and then can applied to build little walls that bake into almost adobe in the sun to create a temporary ledge. It's not quite a traditional hugel but it works for me.
I border the hugels with either bricks, old test cylinders, left over pavers, ect. to create a well defined border that helps a lot to keep the tall Bermuda out of the hugel. I am also vigilant about keeping the tall Bermuda out of the hugels.
Grab all of the shredded wood, leaves, old newspapers, and non treated wood you can. Ask the neighbors if anyone has rotten firewood to get rid of, that approach has worked well for me. I pile all of the found rocks nearby the hugel for snake and toad habitat.
I wanted to add that in my experience, raised beds have to be at least 1' thick of organic material to work and still dry out quickly, although my tall hugels have the same problem during the long dry spells that we get.
I'm in Augusta, so I have seen these problems, and here is how I deal with them:
1) Kudzu is the best animal fodder out there. If you don't have goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, horses, cattle, or chickens, get some. With enough livestock grazing it, kudzu can be kept under control.
2) Make your place friendly to insectivores: chickens, lizards, toads, songbirds, etc. They will take care of most infestations. I had 3 tomato hornworms this year. They made a nice chicken snack.
3) There are two ways of dealing with squash bugs: (1) check every leaf of every plant every day and remove the egg masses or (2) the way that takes less work, grow varieties that squash bugs don't like. Butternut is one that I have had success with.
4) Lime is useless as a soil amendment. But if you see some construction site that wants to dump a load of scrap drywall, take that. After a few rains, the paper rots off and the gypsum is a decent calcium amendment for the soil. What's better is wood chips. Next winter, when the local power company is doing their line maintenance, see if you can get them to dump loads of wood chips on your land. To fix this sidewalk that our thin topsoil sits on you need some MAJOR addition of organic matter. Not just a sprinkling here or there, or a couple inches of mulch, I mean keep backing up the dump trucks and unloading them until the chips are a foot thick everywhere. I'm getting some nice squash and gourds this year growing on wood chips that have been decomposing for two years.
5) If you don't have one, get a sturdy lawnmower. One that can turn a thicket of Bradford pear sproutlings into mulch in one pass. Let the livestock munch on what you've bagged up, and then recycle their manure.
6) Since September is right around the corner, you might try broadcast seeding some tillage radish. That will punch some holes in the clay, and they are pretty tasty to have during the winter.
This takes a while, but when you've given the soil organic matter its first boost, worms can return and start to take on the clay. If you are not seeing a lot of worm castings (usually in the cooler months) as you walk the garden, then there is nothing fighting compaction except the moles (and being lazy, they usually stay in the topsoil, so they are not neatly as helpful as worms).
Though I'm not there now, I spent 20 years growing in GA, twelve of which were in just the sort of Piedmont situation you describe. I agree with all the advice above and would add a few more tidbits:
1. Try sheetmulching to control grass. Lay cardboard and paper a couple of layers thick, overlapping, and preferably directly over the growing grass and weeds. You can trample these down or roll them down with a barrel or something if you need to, but don't mow it. This triggers some grasses to grow back with sharp points that will punch through. When the cardboard is down, follow with a top-mulch like wood chips if you can get them, or even cut grass and weeds from another area. Some literature advises piling compost and topsoil and manure on top of this and planting into that.....but I never had that much additional composts to work with, so I would let it mellow for a while, or even till then next planting season, and then plant through it. Works well with vigorous, transplanted veggies like tomatoes or sweet potatoes, and of course for new trees and perennials.
2. Old scraps of carpets can be used to smother stump sprouts from things like bradford pear and other weedy trees and shrubs if they are first cut as flush with the ground as possible. Leave them over the stumps for a year, if possible, then move to the next area and use the first. I believe the Bradford pear can be a rootstock for edible pears, including Asian pears, so you might want to keep a few well-positioned ones and try grafting. For a large "bush" of "invasives", goats are excellent. They will turn stuff you can't eat into something you can.
3. A good way to encourage beneficial insects and other pest predators on a site is to create some permanent water....a small pond. It doesn't need to be large....even the size of a kiddie pool will do in a pinch. Start an ecosystem in there with some water plants and a few fish for mosquito control and let it go. Frogs, toads, dragonflies and other things will quickly find it and start hanging out and breeding in it....and then these offspring will disperse over the nearby landscape, eating bugs as they go. Counterintuitively, a balanced pond like this is a good mosquito control....since the predators not only control mosquitoes in the pond but in the surrounding area. Mosquitoes prefer ephemeral, not permanent water.
4. Try biochar. That climate just eats up organic matter, and you will end up locked into sourcing large amounts every year just to keep an area of garden improved. The microbes in the soil just break it down. This is even worse on the sandy soils than on the clay. But if you char that organic matter first (lots of info about how to do it both here on these forums and elsewhere), it will decay much much more slowly and your improvement in soil structure and nutrient capacity will be more permanent.
5. Persevere. Connect with other permies and see what they're growing and how. Traditional gardening advice sometimes doesn't work, and it often relies on chemical solutions, annual tillage, and other undesirables. Insect problems like squash bugs can often be avoided by planting at odd times....earlier and later than "traditional" planting time, and some varieties are more tolerant than others.
If I had to survive in Georgia and could only have one domestic plant, it would be the sweet potato....
Wow so much great advice! Thanks everyone! I get hung up on the Bradford pears, but permaculture is about working with what's there. Anyway. I did notice that since this year I had a lot of Zinnias and sunflowers that there where lots of birds coming and that I didn't have as bad of a horn worm situation. I still have other bugs. I'll just need to plan for next year and really focus on amending, and mulching. I might try some winter stuff out there this year. And definitely growing radishes. I planted some this summer too, because I heard they draw sulfur up into the soil?
Suzy, you just described what's happening at my place in GA to a tee. I have tried the Back to Eden gardening method and it does seem to help, but stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs have really done a number on my tomatoes and any type of squash I try growing.
Oh yes, that wonderful Cecil sandy loam. That's what I have here and it is the perfect combination of clay and sand if you are wanting to build cob. Just add water and hay and you are ready to go. During the Battle of Ninety-Six nearby in the Revolutionary War where the Continentals were sapping a Tory star fort, they referred to the soil as "soft stone". Perfect for digging when moist, but rock hard (can't even drive a T-post through it) when bone dry. I've found the best way to keep the soil hydrated through the hot days of summer is by furrow irrigation with the plants located higher or lower along the sides of the furrow depending on their water requirements and root run. During the winter when the soil is moist you can handle it like any other soil. Adding plenty of organic matter helps soften it up. 30% shade cloth suspended over the beds reduces water loss and helps heat affected plants make it through the summer. For grass weed control, dig and fork through each bed in the winter to remove Bermuda and Johnson grass rhizomes, then keep weeding out any stragglers spring and summer. Bug control by free-ranging chickens through the garden. You'll have to keep them fenced out of your carrots, small leafy greens, strawberries when bearing. Trellis your tomatoes to keep the fruit above chicken reach. But they've eaten 99% of the bugs out of the parts of the garden that they can reach and greatly reduced the number in the parts that they can't reach. Sheep are great for controlling invasive plants, eating privet, Bradford pear, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, kudzu, poison ivy, and their manure can be collected and used in the garden.