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Best Gardening Strategy  RSS feed

 
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Hello!

So, I'm looking to seriously expand the garden. I've read lots of books about mulch, no till, etc. I've read books about soil biology and building the soil.

It all sounds lovely. But there are so many different strategies. Some of them require huge amounts of compost. I love reading the books on how you can do better by not weeding, not tilling, saving the planet, etc. Who wouldn't want to NOT weed? Sounds lovely, but what have you found to actually work?

Practically, what gardening strategies have you found to actually work best?

Thanks!
 
pollinator
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While each strategy has a different "reason why" i suspect that they all center around organic matter. No till leaves roots in soil (organic matter). Mulching adds organic matter directly. Soil biology involves direcly feeding the organic matter.

So it would seem organic matter is the goal. The type you have may dictate how it is used. If its manure i would till it into a new bed. If its woodchips i would mulch. If its sticks i would bury it.

The real question might be what type of organic matter you have available and go from there.
 
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The best approach I have found is to :

1)  Goto your local gardeners near  you and find what plants are working for them and clone what they are doing.     If it works for them there is a good chance of it working for you.

2)  I am a big fan of deep mulch gardening either with a heavy layer of mulch of hay or wood chips.   Much work at the start but pays back in less weeding / watering.

3)  "One Straw Revolution".    Excellent book and excellent insights of how to conserve on resources.

4)  70 % of your effort should goto things  that have a history of working,   30%   should go into method that might work and you can afford to loose if it does not work out.      Trying new methods is key for greater success, but expensive it does not work for you.

5)   Save seeds and plant, and save the best seeds from the plants you grow,   after a few years you will have plants that are genetically adapted to your growing conditions, and you should have plenty of  seed so you can plant multiple times to insure your success that will skip bug damage or weather problems.
 
garden master
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Adding coffee grounds to my caliche dirt is turning it from gray to brown.
 
pollinator
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These are great suggestions.

It depends on what you're talking about when you say "seriously expand." You're on a permaculture site.

That said, there's a lot that can be learned from looking at successful market garden techniques that people have permaculturalised. I will try to find the video I was watching earlier that covered a number of good examples of how resilient design can have good effects on an intensive gardening scale.

It was a point-by-point response video to someone claiming rather loudly that permaculture can't work in the real world, and because it was geared towards answering five common practical issues with implementing permaculture in a market garden scenario, I found it rather effective.

By far one of the best gardening strategies is to grow things that you love, and if you're growing edibles, try to strike a balance between things that are easy to grow and things that you enjoy.

I like incorporating perennials into my foodscape and making garden beds raised to some degree and with some buried wood content a la hugelkultur. There is a lot to be said for fruit trees and bushes, and the density and volume of natural life in your garden can be increased by having something like a food hedge on the poleward boundary of your space (away from the sun, so as to not shade things out).

But the strategy that will make the most difference is to find out what your soil life needs and feed it. If your soil is positively roiling with the fungi, microbes, springtails, nematodes, worms, and other necessary soil organisms, they will be doing most of the heavy lifting for you.

It's they that will take the kitchen scraps or coffee grounds or whatever you drop under the mulch atop the soil, decompose and digest them, and make them bioavailable for plant growth.

So I suggest lots of organic matter atop the soil, and perhaps tilled into the top six inches of the soil, if you don't have much.

If you don't know how much organic matter you have in your soil, get a soil test done. It's far from a complete picture, but it's a good starting point.

I would make compost, and then make oxygenated compost extracts from it, along with fungal slurries, and I would inoculate the garden with these. I would keep bare soil covered with either a mulch layer, living plants that shade it out, or some combination of the two, and I would keep the moisture levels constant.

I think if I had to narrow it down to one strategy, babying the soil life would be my choice. If the soil is working for you, the effort of gardening is all in the planting and harvesting. Oh, and maybe some tending, with giant plants threatening to topple standard support structures.

If you can give us more info, Becky, that would help. But let us know what you decide, and good luck.

-CK
 
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I think this is the video you are talking about, Chris.

 
Chris Kott
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Exactly it, Dave. Thanks.

-CK
 
pollinator
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Becky Isbell wrote:
Practically, what gardening strategies have you found to actually work best?



The single most important strategy I have learned is to put my food gardens as close to the house as possible, actually surrounding the house.  I keep moving everything closer and closer in.  This has allowed me to integrate gardening as part of my life rather than something I "go do."  This is where, I think, permaculture and farming (aka agriculture) are very different.  Typically farmers go, and have gone for millennia, to "the fields" to work at growing food.  In permaculture, the house and food-growing are integrated, all part of a living system.

The method of gardening I use in my kitchen garden is a variation of Biointensive.  In my other food gardens I'm exploring other methods such as forest gardening, water gardening, and dryland gardening.
 
pollinator
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It depends on what you can get a hold of!

The book and associated website for "How to Grow More Vegetables" is one I have been looking at again recently- there is a whole biointensive section to the Growies forums. Its a complete sustainable system that requires very few or no outside inputs. So if your budget is a rake, a spading fork, and a spade and a dozen or so packets of seed, this is the method I would use.

If you already have a rototiller and a seed stash like I do, and tons of space, then my solution is often to rototill up a new area or reclaim an old area thats gone fallow for more garden space. I use a shallow rototiller section to avoid damaging the deeper soil. I also have been either periodically fallowing those areas usually just because of lack of time, or adding mulch and compost later.

When I had time to care for chickens I loved the chicken tractor book.

Ruth Stout's No Work Garden book is great for ideas about deep mulching.

Pat Lanza takes that a step further and basically turns it into sheet composting- though I am basing that on articles that preceded her book.

Here I can get sawdust cheaply- I used to have a cheap source of sand. So I have purchased a number of truckloads of both.

I have a lot of area in grass (I have 8 acres, 3.25 of which is cultivatable, but time to cultivate a maximum of about half an acre. So I have tons of grass- but need a way to harvest it as my family went to mulching mowers. Scythes even nice ones are relatively cheap as are electric bagging lawnmowers. Gas bagging lawnmowers on craigslist are inexpensive. I do have a sickle bar attachment for my rototiller.
 
Tyler Ludens
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William Schlegel wrote:
The book and associated website for "How to Grow More Vegetables"



Here it is!  http://www.growbiointensive.org/
 
pollinator
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If you can begin to pull back from the specifics of the various gardening strategies and look for broader patterns, I think that you'll find people talking about the same thing but with slightly different language and emphasis.

I've read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos.  Here are the things I notice in common.

1.  The basis of healthy soil is carbon based and biologically driven.  What do I mean by that?  Whether its compost, mulch, or cover crops, people are all trying to increase the organic matter within their soil and feed the soil microbiology with decomposing carbon of one sort or another.  So people may argue about the kinds of mulch they use (wood chips, straw, knocked-over cover crops, etc.) but in the end, it's all about increasing carbon.

2.  Permaculture is all about designing a system where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.  Its more than just a few techniques about how to get larger veggies or better eggs from the chickens.  It's creating a system where each part works interactively with the rest of the parts.  This isn't a new concept.  People used to talk about companion planting or creating plant guilds.  Any old farmer can quickly take a look at another persons "operation" and notice good design or poorly planned design.  They'll tell you, "Well son, if you put your water over there on that side of the barn, you're going to have a problem with this or that."  So my point: don't get caught staring at smaller and smaller details, while missing the big picture of design.  

3.  Observe.  Interact.  Assess.  Rinse and repeat.  Sometimes the best "strategy" is to do nothing but sit under the shade of a tree with a beverage and just observe.  Watch the way the sun moves across the land.  Stand out there in the pouring rain and watch how water flows, infiltrates, pools and moves.  Get down on your knees and smell the soil.  Taste it (seriously).  Learn the names of the weeds.  Learn the names of the birds.  Observe and interact.  Pragmatically, you need a teak bench out in the corner of your yard, under the shade of an avocado tree (where my bench is) where you can sit and observe.  Accompanying that thoughtful spot should be a garden journal where you sketch ideas, write down your observations and note the things that you are inspired to try.

4.  Make mistakes.  A package of seeds is $1.69.  That's not a big deal -- go ahead and try it (whatever it is).  Try hugelkulture.  Try biochar.  Try grey water recycling.  Try Back to Eden sheet mulching with wood chips.  Try raising chickens.  Try grafting.  The "best" strategy is one that involves making mistakes every year.  It's taken me 10 years to figure out the best cover crop for my garden and the best time to get it into the ground.  I'm new with bees and I'm learning so much about them.  I just built an underground water system to drain grey water away from the house and out to the very thirsty almond trees.  Give me 5 years and I'll be able to report on the relative success or failure of that.  My point: try new stuff, keep learning, keep reading and keep growing.

5.  Start small but do something.  Perfection is the enemy.  Don't try to improve the soil on the entire plot.  Do what you can and gain a yield.  Next year you can do a bit more.  People over-estimate how much they can get done in a year, but underestimate how much they can do in 10 years.  So don't be frozen by the enormity of the task.  Start with an herb spiral, a couple of raised beds and 3 chickens.  Go from there.  In 5 years, you'll be selling dozens of eggs a week and have more apples on those 5 trees than you can dry on your newly completed solar dehydrator.  


Pull the weeds.  But if you've got a healthy layer of mulch, that won't be a problem.  Pull them and add them to the compost pile or throw them into the chickens.  I like a neat garden and orchard.
 
Marco Banks
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Just one more thought -- read a couple of good books.

For a one-volume book on Permaculture, go with Toby Hemenway's "Gaia's Garden".  Don't let the title fuzz you -- it's not some new-age-y weird book.  It's principle driven, pragmatic and well written.

I recently finished Gabe Brown's new book "Dirt to Soil".  It's really good stuff and a quick read.

I also like Ben Fauk's "The Resilient Farm and Homestead".  Ben's book isn't as universally adaptable, but it's inspirational and there are a lot of ideas there that I've not read anywhere else.  What he does well is illustrate the idea of creating an entire system that is based upon things in concert with all the other various elements therein.  
 
pollinator
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I really like my chicken tractor and broadfork.

Any new area I want to turn into garden, I just move the chickens onto it for a couple of weeks, throw in as much mulch as I can spare (fallen leaves in autumn, straw in other months), the chickens remove all the sod and other weeds, manure the soil, I go over it with a broadfork, add some lime if it needs it, and it's ready to plant.

My chicken tractor is a 4 metre (13 foot) diameter circle, so it gets a good-sized area ready for planting at once.

This method does attract a few slugs where I live, but I find if I collect a few slugs every night and throw them to the chickens, then there's not much slug damage to plants.
 
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The two best strategies that have worked for me, and probably the simplest as well, are...

1) observe nature, and work with it rather than against it

and

2) mulch trees and bushes with mainly leaves and mulch the garden with mostly annual plants, which help them grow best from my experience!
 
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