03 August, 2009

Permaculture Tips

As you know, I like doing things that are closer to nature, things like gardening with less fertiliser and less soil preparation - stuff that reads a lot like permaculture, in fact.  I've been experimenting with my vegetable garden here, and in previous places I've lived, and come up with a few thoughts:

Huegelkultur:  Translates from German as "moundculture" and as you can see from this article it's pretty much just that - pile up biomass and pile a mound of soil over it.  I'm Austrian, like the guy Sepp mentioned in that article, and I'm an admirer of doing things in a low-impact low-footprint way.  But I'm not so sure.

  • One: raised beds are anathema to permaculture.  They are a way of taking the land's natural lay - and then altering it.  But I do agree that raised beds are better, just please don't call them permaculture.  
  • Two: It's a bit ironic to use a tractor to do all this while burning a shitload of fossil fuel and causing pollution.  
  • Three: Where did the dirt for the mound come from?  You probably need more than comes out of the ditch, and in fact all the pics I've seen show the logs piled on the ground, and then some "dirt ex machina" appears to cover the logs up.  
  • Four: The claim is that the rotting trees cause "natural tillage" by leaving air pockets that you'd otherwise have to plough.  But maybe the superior tillage also has to do with the fact that you dug up a mound of dirt, stuck some logs down, then piled the soil on.  In that process, you've given the soil a "superploughing" to considerable depth. 

Personally, I'd dig a trench, put the biomass in, and then pile the soil back on top, for the same effect.  Oh guess what? I already do that.  I take stuff that's too big to compost or feed to the worms, and dig holes in the garden and bury it.  My grandfather did that, and so did my parents. It's nothing new Sepperl, it's what we've been doing for generations.  

My method uses up all sorts of waste that would otherwise just rot in some midden somewhere.  And I don['t know either why it doesn't create a nitrogen deficient area of soil, but that perhaps comes from the other bits I do which aren't mentioned in the article and perhaps aren't being done.

Another problem in Australia is that summers get too hot to allow plants to be without a source of water, or you lose in one record heat day what took you three months to grow.  Just not worth it to have such deeply-held permaculture convictions.  And the same heat kills off worm farms unless you keep them under a wet blanket (there goes your brownie points for not wasting water) and turns what might have been promising compost into dry water-repelling dust.

Here's the things I've always done in my gardens and which improve any soil.

  • DO dig your beds from time to time.  As I said, kitchen scraps, branches, leaves, feathers and bones and skins, all go to the garbage pit under garden bed "F" or wherever I'm currently burying.
  • DO fertilise and condition the topsoil and subsoil layers.  Just not with chemicals.  I have compost that I wrap in old carpet pieces in the winter to keep them a bit warm, I have straw and hay and poo from the rabbits and the chickens, and I have worm tea and the leftover worm castings from worm farming.  These need to be dug into the garden bed and that tends to raise the bed enough, and probably encourages nitrogen fixation, water retention, and filters down decay bacteria to the stuff buried lower down.
  • While I'm at it.  My excrement is no good in that particular situation, although rabbit chicken goat sheep cow horse and pig poop are okay.  We humans tend to concentrate too many toxins and bacteria that will just turn around and bite us, so our excrement needs to go lay in a trench somewhere dark for a year to decompose further, and then you can dig it under.  
  • Urine?  Yes please!  Nothing more satisfying than going out and getting that wee among the veges.  Our urine is sterile, generally, and contains great trace nutrients including some that help in the fixing of nitrogen, thus solving the nitrogen-consuming decomposition problem.
  • Hair. I've taken to sweeping up at hairdressers and bringing that to the garden.  Hair contains even more material that breaks down and provides growth factors.  You can dig it into the top/subsoil layers along with the upper material, in among the biomass lower down, or feed it to the worms, in particular, who will find it very filling and tasty.
I also have my garden beds laid out to a width that's the same as the rabbit hutches and chicken runs.  And those have wheels...  I can wheel a hutch full of rabbits over a garden bed and their wastes drop directly onto the topsoil, their urine contains more calcium than an application of lime, the scraps of oaten and lucerne hay form a mulch on the surface to keep moisture in and insulate the soils from the heat.  Two or three initial hand waterings washes the organic waste down into the soil where you want it, and if you were smart you ran poly drip tube in rows so you can now have the advantage of buried drip irrigation.

That 's how I started here last year, but I had to use bought potting mix.  This year, I've gathered all the composted and compostable materials, have a worm farm in production, and got a long job ahead of me digging over a few dozen meters of garden...  But it will produce a top crop this summer.



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2 comments:

eag said...

First tip for water conservation - don't grow veggies in some parts of OZ over Summer.Or use shadecloth on frames(or tree branches) on frames and greywater.Use your local Farmers' market or start one.
Just because Permaculture was invented in Oz doesn't mean it has all the answers or is right for all areas.Adapt,improvise,invent!
So raised beds are a no,no! What about disposing of a leaking rain water tank..where does it go?Chook-house,wood-shed or cut in half for raised beds for someone who is not bending so well these days?
Happy gardening!

teddlesruss dat who! said...

yep or use your rainwater or grey water to do the watering. I am building a dual 200litre grey water system to recycle my laundry water, and so far calculations are that it will do the job nicely using covered drip hose.

Shade cloth is a brilliant idea but I try and use the trees and bushes to cut the summer heat a bit. Also by planting vine crops on the sunward side of the vege patch and leaning them slightly over.

I'm not against re-use of manufactured stuff such as the tanks you mention, as long as people don't then go manufacturing them specifically to make raised beds or whatever... which unfortunately is what's been happening...

I salvaged and re-used a heap of material from a local renovation to make rabbit runs and so forth, only had to buy a roll of wire netting and a few screws and nails, but I wouldn't have done those if I'd had to use new material throughout I think, and would probably have used local branches instead.

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