I wish every book or podcast or video on permaculture would lead off with something like this:
Things Take Time. Polycultures take time. Just sticking a lot of different things into unprepared ground is not a recipe for short-term success. Quit watching videos of properties that have been established for several years and wondering why your garden seems to be failing in comparison. Meanwhile, go play with your growies in your irrigated, fertilized raised bed until things have had a couple of years to get sorted and then you can start to have some fun.
I planted several things two full years ago and now that they are entering their third year, things are actually starting to work.
I had planted garlic around my roses and it has multiplied to the point that I now have fresh garlic as long as I live on this property with no work. I had planted strawberries in that area but they looked pretty dismal the first couple of years but with enough mulching and daikon growing, they have gone crazy this spring and I should have a bumper strawberry crop with no work. I interplanted a few cabbages in this area and the soil is good enough and there is enough of a polyculture in this area that it looks like I will finally be able to throw in a few annuals here and not have them be stunted and inedible.
I have more lemon balm and catmint than a person could possibly need to self-medicate herself (ha!)...no work. And many other medicinal herbs coming up. Currants are FINALLY growing. Raspberry patch is FINALLY sizable. Goumi will actually be worth harvesting this year instead of just grazing. Calendula...self-seeding...great for skin care. Daikon continues to self-seed and improve the soil. Perennial flowers are coming up beautifully and will make the bees very very happy. Lupines self-seeded like crazy this year, so nitrogen fixers are just popping up for free all over the place.
Fruittrees? Meh...I may have given up in Western WA. This is the second year in a row that we've been hit with a major storm just as they've blossomed and it had been too cold for pollinators yet....just not a good solution west of the Cascades. So...meh. That's fine. Fruiting shrubs do great here.
But this took three annual cycles before it even *started* to really become a thing. The mistake I made was not growing enough food in my raised beds because I was trying to "do permaculture" out in my various guilds...and it did not work. So I wasted a lot of good growing opportunities because I thought I should ditch traditional gardening techniques. Mistake. Should have gardened my little heart out while waiting for the other areas to settle in and start to do their thing. I sure would have had a lot more fresh food. Now I'm finally getting fresh food without having to do anything at all. That is awesome. But it took time. I shouldn't have expected things to grow well early on just because I mulched them and planted them in polycultures. They just simply needed time.
It seems like three years may be the magic number in permaculture. That's how many years Joseph says it takes for a landrace to really take off. That's how many years before most people start seeing great results from their hugelculture. It sounds like you're saying that's how long it took for your results to start showing a good return.
There's even a traditional gardening saying about perennials "First year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap."
Location: Unincorporated Pierce County, WA Zone 7b
I live just to the south of you in Lewis County, WA. I feel your pain on the fruit trees and the bad weather. It's definitely affecting my tree production as well. A friend of mine mitigates this by planting a lot of late-blooming fruit trees in addition to her normal stock. She always has a bumper crop of something. I have yet to get my orchard that well established, but it's something to think about. I'm glad you're growing Goumi too It's my favorite fruit
When you reach your lowest point, you are open to the greatest change.
Grateful for you sharing! This is what I needed to read today! I have been reading and learning up a storm for the past four months and this spring is my first dip into growing stuff seriously. I am trying to rein myself in and be realistic about my expectations. So helpful to know this ahead of time
How long does it take to significantly increase the % of soil carbon through heavy mulching, cover-cropping, and chop and dropping? About three years.
How long does it take for trees to develop deep roots and draw moisture up from deeper sub-soils? About three years.
How long does it take for hugelculture mounds to break down and be filled with fungal life? About three years.
How long does it take for you to observe your micro-climates, make a few mistakes, and finally figure out which plants grow best in the various areas of your land? About three years.
How long does it take for nitrogen fixing trees to begin pumping N into your soil so that other adjoining trees can get access to it? About three years.
How long before you see the visible results of swales and other earthworks, as they hydrate the land and help build soil? About three years.
How long does it take to build up a healthy variety of host plants to attract suitable predator insect populations to take care of your aphid problems? About three years.
How long does it take for a perennial plant guild to grow to the point where it really contributes meaningfully to the growth of your fruit trees? About three years.
And then every year thereafter, things just get better.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
I have mixed feelings look at this photo. This is a bed I inherited with my front yard right as I bought my house. The property is covered with landscaping fabric covered in river rock. Maybe this works in Arizona but it is the worst possible idea in Western Washington. I've incurred enough back injuries at this point trying to move it and rip it out that I've largely given up. It certainly is "tidier" than what I have now, but I'm fairly certain it was never maintained by the previous owners, just put down to try the make the yard look interesting for a sale. But I digress...
When I took this picture, I had just bought this property and hadn't even really heard the work 'permaculture" yet. It was the end of June, so I was feeling bad about not having much of a garden that year so was super proud of myself for finding some native costal strawberries and planting them. Into terrible soil. Which then got completely blitzed by the summer heat. And clawed up by the chickens. And died. Except one lone crown must have survived because three years later, I have this...
Admittedly, this looks like a giant mess. I can't capture what the whole area looks like now on my phone camera. This is the ground cover of my shade garden, which is actually my early-spring pollinator garden. It is planted with tall Oregon Grape (mahonia X aquifolium) and other early spring bloomers. Mid-summer it takes the back seat to the sunny side of the yard. What is interesting is that the lone costal strawberry and its brethren spent the first two years sending out a million runners and new plants with tiny leaves. This spring, all of the sudden, there are large-leaved strawberries everywhere and they are blooming for the first time. I don't expect this to be productive like my conventional strawberry patch but it would be fun to get a little production out of it. Strawberry experts, why now?
I'm definitely am right here along with you...except growing a vegetable garden is also new for me, and so it was three years of not much of anything producing!
Our year three wasn't that amazing, either (It probably didn't help that I was pregnant for the first year and managing a colicky baby the second...and now this year I've got another little one to watch). But, but, we still DID get a LOT more from our garden compared to the previous two years. Our blueberries were finally producing enough for us to eat (but not enough to store) and we managed to grow an insane amount of radishes and some other food in our garden, and our apple trees gave us about 30 apples total (versus the 4 apples the year before). This year--year four--we're still mostly eating from the land ends up being native plants we've just encouraged. We ate cooked dandelion greens and chives, as well as nettles...and only the chives we purposefully planted! Most of the calories we get are from the native salmonberries, blackberries and thimbleberries that I mulch and prune.
Now that it's year four, things do seem to be doing much better. I've learned to fence my garden beds from my ducks so that they eat the slugs and not the veggies and strawberries, and I've learned how much to feed my ducks to actually get them to produce. My raspberry plants have finally grown large enough to withstand some deer munching, and I was actually able to transplant some out into my native salmonberry hedges for more delicious berries. I have high hopes for my strawberries and my garden beds and my net potato bed, as well as my fruit trees.
As for fruit trees not being pollinated, I guess this is one area where I'm lucky to live on a north-facing slope. My apple trees still have yet to open up even one bud! The cherries did bloom, and I actually hand-pollinated those to be on the safe side...maybe I should hand pollinate my peach, too!
Your strawberry story reminds me a little of my walking onion story. I bought about 30 of them and planted them around my fruit trees. With accidentally weeding them when I thought I was weeding grass, and them not liking the damp soil, I ended up with only two surviving plants, two years later. Last year I dug them up and transplanted them to my raised keyhole garden, and they actually grew bulbils! I planted about 30 bulbils and I've got another 5 plants growing (they didn't like the deep mulch and the cold winter, I think...). I'm HOPING this year they will finally take off!
Oh, and you're strawberry pictures aren't showing . I think I read somewhere that it often takes a year for strawberry plants to mature enough to make fruit. So, it might be that all those runners last year needed a full year to mature enough to start making strawberries? I hope they are productive for you. I don't have coastal strawberries, but I have the woodland ones, and I really like them. They are the first to produce, and they give me little strawberries all the way into October some years. The slugs also don't seem to eat them as much as the larger strawberries, because I didn't get to eat any large strawberries last year due to ducks and slugs, but got quite a lot of the little wild strawberries!
A good friend said that he had heard the general rule of thumb when starting a farm is it takes 3-5 years to be self-supportive. In Jewish literature, they say that a fruit tree is a baby and not to be eaten of for the first three years of its life. Ironically, I found that puts seed grown at about the same productivity as grafted. It takes asparagus three years also to establish. So, I'd say there's something to that there year thing.
Unfortunately, that means getting into farming is very difficult because you need to work two jobs or be rich enough to live about three years without income while accruing huge expenses. Which probably explains a lot of the U.S.'s totally unstable food system.
I'm beginning season three here and I am finally seeing fruit. I've grown in other places and gotten a yield after only a year, but I also got lots of loss and didn't focus on long-term production gains. So a significant yield that would make up for money spent on perennials and soil health and structures has yet to come, but the baby nectarines are making me hopeful that this will be the year. Last year annuals I estimated $200 on gardening. That's something, but not good enough to live off of!
Work smarter, not harder.
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