When you embark upon the journey of setting up your permaculture plan/food forest/ market garden or any sustainable type of garden, there is a sense of fun and joy that fills your mind and heart and you very often find yourself pumped for the task you are about to begin. All the planning and the choices of plants and flowers can be an absolute pleasure overload for the soul and the dream where you see yourself walking down a floral path under the shade of one of your trees that you planted a few years ago is just a boost for your soul.
In setting up your patch of soil/backyard/plot or land – you can very quickly find yourself inundated with a myriad of technical challenges that all too often can leave you with a feeling of disappointment and which often lead to simply throwing in the towel and notching up the failure to some excuse such as “I guess I don’t have two green thumbs”.
Well, there are a few clear pointers that could completely make or break your gardening attempts, and if you implement these basic thought processes while embarking upon your green adventure – the majority of the time you will find yourself having a higher success rate and not falling into those pitfalls most beginners often find themselves in.
1- Survey the microclimate, when you start working out your layout, first and before anything else gets planned you need to take note of the following. Which side is South facing – this will be crucial for when you want to plant your row beds, setup your tunnels, create your tree forest of fruits and nuts and for the more invested folk – its critical for those bee keepers and mushroom growers.
2- Test your land – it might seem an odd statement, but please get both your soil tested in various parts of the property and also your water. What would seem wiser? Paying to get your soil and water tested and thereby knowing in advance what potential issues you might have to deal with? Or working hard to set up a field, plant things, labor with love to weed and nurture your crops only to find out after all that expensive effort that your soil has too much iron which caused root rot or there is a bacterium in the water that wiped out your greens? Work smart, not hard. A test might seem costly to start with but the pain of losing a harvest for not having tested your soil would be far more expensive.
3- In nature there are no lines or corners – observe the lay of the land and study the naturally growing plants – these will often determine the best course of action to take when setting up your endeavor. If the plants are grassy and hardy – these are signs that the plants don’t have regular water cycles, likewise if the area is thorny the chances are there are deep water systems that thorn tree root systems work deep down to gain access to water. Study everything from wind patterns, rainfall, peak readings of heat and cold. Once you have clearly formed a map of the lay of the land you can now think through the planting process.
4- Find your contours. These should be spaced around 7 to 15 meters apart, when you plan to grow tall vegetation, the contours need to be wider in order to consider the shade that the trees throw between each contour. Shorter contours work for bushy plants. All your contours must work in unison to control the flow of water and capture any remainder off flow into a large catchment basement (pond or dam).
5- Create microclimates by implementing swales and berms in your design. Swales become the trenches to slow down water flow and promote water to seep down into the aquifer. Berms are raised mounds upon which you plant your trees and shrubs to encourage the roots to hold the soil together and prevent soil loss.
Before you have even thought of the types of plant and trees you’ve dreamed of having, before the ideas of fountains and shallow canals and before you’ve thought about where to place your gazebo for future days of relaxation – you need to adhere to these five golden rules. Should you wish to have healthy plants, an abundance of fruits and flowers. If you dream to hear birds chirping and bees buzzing and scents of lavender and rosemary wafting through the air – you need to plan smart and work in a structured methodical manner. Should you decide to just throw everything you possibly can into the ground without proper planning and careful attention to detail – you might discover fairly quickly that you are caught up in an expensive mistake that doesn’t bring you any joy or fulfillment.