Starting a permaculture garden

For the permaculture garden, I began by choosing the best site in the yard. Most vegetables and herbs prefer full sun. This section gets a little morning shade, but full sun from late morning through early evening. I decided to make two long mounds with a trench in between. No one is ever supposed to walk on the beds, so they have to be narrow enough for easy access. I laid out a plot 10 feet wide by 26 feet long. That means Van’s feet, a more organic system than metric or Imperial.

The trenches should be as level as possible so water won’t all run down to one end (irrigation, if necessary, will be applied to the trenches). I had a hard time because the garden slopes considerably down toward the back fence. Instead of levelling it all out I decided to make dams, but for now the shovel will do.

Digging a garden is hard work, especially when you are out of shape. I worked for a few minutes at a time whenever I had some to spare this week, edging my way into it. I was grateful for an early spring so I do not have to finish it all in a rush six weeks from now. This afternoon the trenches and mounds are finally finished.

Now the fun begins. And I mean fun, because the worst is over with all that shovelling. The rest feels much more creative. Next a layer of manure goes on top of the mounds, as thick as you can make it. A sprinkling of bone meal helps balance nutrients and soil pH. Over that goes a triple layer of wet cardboard. This smothers any grass and weeds and stabilizes the mounds to prevent erosion. The cardboard should cover the bottom of the trenches, too. Finally, a layer of straw mulch goes on top. Leaves would work as well.

Brock Road Nursery gave us two old bales of straw for free, a sensible and neighbourly thing to do. Today I ran out of manure, bone meal and disposable cardboard, but there is more to come. For now I have enough space to start planting some early crops that tolerate cool weather and soil: radishes, spinach, peas, chard and bunching onions.

Years ago I started a permaculture garden by a similar method. I made holes in the cardboard and planted tomatoes, squash and other seedlings in the compost underneath. I never planted seeds until the beds were established and I had soil to work with. Geoff Lawton recommends making the holes just big enough for taproots to go through the cardboard, and planting seeds and seedlings in pockets of compost in the top layer of straw. They need to be watered vigilantly from above until the taproot grows through. I’m nervous about that, but will give it a try.

Next nice day, I will plant seeds.

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