A Guide To Protecting the Soil in a Permaculture Garden

Permaculture Erosion Protection
Permaculture Erosion Protection

It is important for all gardeners to remember that the soil is one of nature’s most precious resources. We rely on the soil in our gardens in order to grow food. Without the soil ecosystem, plants simply would not be able to survive – and neither would we. This guide to protecting the soil in a permaculture garden will help you ensure that the soil is safeguarded now and for the future.

Protecting Soil Through Planting

One of the main ways that we, as gardeners, can protect the soil is through making the right planting choices. There are several different ways in which plants can help to protect the soil. These include:

  • Stabilizing slopes and loose soil with their roots.
  • Preventing water run-off and erosion.
  • Encouraging the formation of beneficial bacterial and/or fungal networks below the soil.
  • Providing biomass (leaves & other organic matter) which improve soil structure and nutritional content.
  • Creating shade or ground cover to reduce moisture loss from the soil.

Protecting Soil Through Organic, ‘No Dig/ No Till’ Gardening

In addition to taking care to make the right planting choices for a given location, gardeners can also make sure that the soil in their gardens is protected by choosing to avoid damaging gardening practices.

In organic gardens, no pesticides or herbicides are used. Rather, natural methods such as companion planting are used to retain and good balance and keep pest numbers down. By keeping the soil ecosystem free from pollutants that can damage it, organic gardeners help to maintain good soil health.

In addition, many permaculture gardens operate a ‘no dig/ no till’ system. Rather than digging in organic matter and disrupting the fragile soil ecosystem, permaculture gardeners disturb the soil as little as possible. Instead of digging in fertilising material/ organic matter, permaculture gardeners lay materials on top of the soil.

Protecting Soil Through Mulching

In a no dig garden, the main way to add nutrients to the soil is through mulching. Mulching is simply the practice of adding organic matter, compost or well-rotted manure onto the soil surface (also known as top-dressing). When the soil ecosystem is left undisturbed, the biota contained within the soil are able to do their job. Over time, they will draw the nutrients down into the topsoil and incorporate the material for you so there is no need to dig and disrupt the processes at work below.

In a forest garden, much of the work is done for you as a natural mulch will begin to form below your trees and shrubs, as deciduous trees and other plants drop their leaves. Organic material from the forest garden can be simply chopped and dropped where it stands to build up the ‘forest floor’.

The problem with many modern farming and gardening practices is that they neglect or even actively do harm to the soil. In a permaculture garden, protecting and enhancing the soil should always be a top priority.

Related References

A Guide To Mulching in a Permaculture Garden

Raised Bed With Mulched Paths
Raised Bed With Mulched Paths

Mulch is merely the name given to the layer or layers of organic material that is laid on top of the existing topsoil in your garden. Mulching is an essential practice in a ‘no dig,’ permaculture garden. This guide to mulching in a permaculture garden will help you understand why we mulch, what materials can be used as mulch, how and where they should be applied. Read on to get a better understanding of this important permaculture gardening technique.

 Why Mulching in Important in a Permaculture Garden

An understanding of where and how we use mulches begins with an understanding of why we mulch in the first place. There are some reasons why mulching is important in organic gardens. These include:

  • Mulching protects the soil surface from erosion and disruption.
  • Mulching can add nutrients to the soil.
  • Mulching helps the soil to retain moisture.
  • Mulching can help to suppress weed growth.
  • Mulching can be beneficial to a range of wildlife.

 Natural Mulch Materials

Some different materials can be used to mulch your growing areas. These include:

  • Wood chip or bark
  • Straw or ‘Strulch’ (Composted straw)
  • Fresh leaves (from a variety of different plants)
  • Leaf mold (Rotted-down Fall leaves)
  • Grass clippings
  • Compost
  • Well-rotted manure

The benefits of using natural mulch materials are that these materials can often be found for free in your garden or the surrounding area.

Shredded Office Paper Mulch
Shredded Office Paper Mulch

Choosing the Right Mulch

When it comes to applying mulch, it is always important to consider where the growing area you are mulching is located, and the plants that are being or will be grown there. The mulch that it is best to use will depend on these factors, as well as the local availability of natural materials.

Each of the mulches mentioned above has strengths and weaknesses in a given situation. While each may be excellent for some applications, the same one can also have a detrimental effect when placed in the wrong location.

For example, wood chip or bark can be an excellent choice for mulching beneath trees or large shrubs but may be detrimental when used around younger plants or annual vegetables. As the wood decomposes, this takes a lot of nitrogen from the soil, so may be harmful to small, leafy plants that need a lot of nitrogen to grow. Grass clippings, on the other hand, are very high in nitrogen, so a mulch from your mowed lawn could be ideal for members of the cabbage family, or other nitrogen hungry plants. This mulch may be too rich in nitrogen for other crops, however, so should be used with caution.

Creating a New Planting Area With Sheet Mulching

One of the great things about the techniques used in mulching is that they can be used to create new growing areas, as well as being used in existing garden growing areas. No matter what you wish to plant, you can create a fertile, moisture retentive place to grow in by sheet mulching an area with layers of natural mulch materials. Sometimes, these sheet mulch beds are called ‘lasagna gardens’ since the layers are built up in much the same way as you might make lasagna in your garden.

Mulch wisely and you will create a thriving garden ecosystem that can serve you and your household for many years to come.

Related References

A Permaculture Garden Guide To Composting

Aging Compost Heap
Aging Compost Heap

One of the key skills any permaculture gardener should learn is how to create good compost. Creating a good compost is key to creating abundant, productive and sustainable permaculture gardens. If you want to be able to grow your food using permaculture principles then creating compost is one of the foundations upon which your garden will be based. This guide to composting in a permaculture garden will help you make your garden the thriving, resource-rich ecosystem that it should be.

Why Composting is Important

 Composting is an important element of gardening because it allows you to adhere to the permaculture ethic of returning the surplus to the system. It allows you to eliminate waste, and make full use of the natural resources at your disposal. It enables you to care for the soil of your growing areas, and to make them rich, fertile places to grow a range of fruit trees and other edible and useful plants. When you create and use compost in your garden, you are completing the natural cycles and creating systems that can endure and sustain for many years to come.

Black Compost Bin
Black Compost Bin with two compartments, which tumbles

Composting Methods

 There are some different ways to create compost. The main methods used in a permaculture garden are:

  • Composting in Place (Sheet mulching with organic materials and allowing them to decompose on top of the soil of your growing areas.)
  • Cold Composting (Creating a heap or large bin in which compost is slowly created.)
  • Hot Composting (Creating the conditions for faster, warmer decomposition in a bin or other container.)
  • Vermiculture (Creating compost with the help of special worms.)

Mushroom growing in Forest Floor Compost
Mushroom growing in Forest Floor Compost

Creating Compost in a Permaculture Garden

 No matter which method you are using to create your compost, the principles at play remain the same. You are taking organic materials that are considered to be ‘waste’ and creating the conditions for their decomposition. Once decomposed, the compost is used to conserve or enhance the fertility of the soil.

Creating a good compost involves a basic understanding of the different sorts of material in a compost heap. The materials are grouped into two categories – carbon-rich ‘brown’ materials and nitrogen-rich ‘green’ materials. Both types are necessary to create a good-quality compost. Brown materials include cardboard, straw, twiggy material, wood chips, and bark. Green materials include green leafy matter, grass clippings, and fruit and vegetable scraps.

To get a good mix in your compost, you should add ‘brown’ and ‘green’ materials in thin layers. Adding in thin layers allows for the right conditions for aerobic decomposition and helps to ensure that your compost does not become too wet or too dry.

In addition to thinking about getting the right mix of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials in your compost, creating good compost also involves thinking about getting a good balance of the main nutrients that plants need to grow: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as the various micro-nutrients needed by plant life. Adding a good mix of different ingredients to your compost will help to create compost with a good nutrient balance.

Creating compost is not rocket science. Anyone can create good, crumbly compost for use in their forest gardens or polyculture vegetable beds.

 Related References

 

Asparagus a great perennial garden crop

Asparagus ( Asparagus aficinalis L.), Perennial, #perennial, Perennial Gardening,
Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus aficinalis L.) is one of the great perennial garden crops. Originally, from Western Europe, Eastern Asia and throughout Africa this crop is favored by many. If properly planted and cared for, asparagus can last 25 to 30 years and garden.  So, well care for Asparagus beds can be a lifetime investment with a high-value return. Asparagus has been part of the human diet at least since ancient Greek times which is where the word comes from. The American colonists brought asparagus over with them when they landed and it has been a consistent part of the American diet ever since.

Asparagus is prized by many

Asparagus is prized by many and can be found in nearly any grocery section at your local department store sometimes but very interesting prices. With just a little bit of work, and the asparagus bed can provide for your families table 4 years. So, if you’re looking for a high-value low maintenance long-lasting perennial vegetable to put in your vegetable garden asparagus is one of your friends.

Planting Asparagus

General Guidance For Planting Asparagus

Despite the often touted guidance of deep digging to plant asparagus, asparagus likes to grow approximately 4 inches below the soil surface. So normal cultivation to create your asparagus bed will work just fine. However, when you start your bed, you should mark your bed boundaries and place it in a location that you can live with for the next couple of decades. As far as soil preparation goes, the soil should be well cultivated have plenty of humus and rich manure and compost. It helps some if the soil has a slightly sandy character is not overly compact. As usual, I recommend drip irrigation and plenty of good well-aged garden mulch. The site of your asparagus bed should be a well-drained and sunny location.

Starting From Asparagus Seed

If planting seed, start transplants about 80 days before last spring frost. Sow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in a sterile growing medium, water and keep temperature 65 to 80 degrees. Germination can take up to 21 days. Transplant to a well prepared, fertilized bed after danger of frost, deeply dug with lots of organic matter. Set plants 12 inches apart in a 6 inches trench, 2 inches deep. Fill in the trench as asparagus grows. Begin harvest in 3 to 4 years.

Starting From Asparagus Root

If Planting Roots. Planting roots reduce harvest by at least 1 to 2 years. Plant roots shortly after receiving them in a well prepared, deeply cultivated, fertilized, garden bed with plenty of organic matter. Asparagus Prefers light, loose soil. Set roots in trenched rows 12 inches apart, in rows 3 to 5 feet apart. The trench should be 4 inches deep. Cover roots with 2 inches of soil. Backfill the trench as asparagus grows. Keep moist. Fertilize again next spring. Begin harvesting in 2 to 3 years.

When to Plant Asparagus

Asparagus roots can be planted in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked in your area.  Dig a trench 4 to 5 inches deep and space the plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row. Then cover with a good mix of your local soil, compost, and manure. If you go easy on it, a little bit of slow release fertilizer won’t hurt.  If more than one row is planted, space the rows 4 to 5 feet apart. This wide spacing is necessary because of the vigor of the fern growth during the first season and promotes rapid drying of the fern in the fall to prevent disease problems.

How much Asparagus to Plant

You will need 8 to 10 plants per person.

Care and Maintenance of Asparagus

Asparagus requires little care once it is established. The biggest problem faced by gardeners is weed control. A weed control program should be started early. Weeds can be kept under control by carefully hoeing, cultivating, or using a rototiller. Cultivation deeper than 2 or 3 inches can damage the roots.  Also, the use of a nice deep layer of mulch between rows can aid significantly with the reduction of weeds in your asparagus patch.  In the spring when the spears begin to appear, a nice fresh layer of compost mix with a slow release balanced fertilizer is very beneficial. Also after applying the fertilizer, a new layer of protective garden mulch should be applied. Stop harvesting when about 3/4 of the spears are about the diameter of a pencil. These should be left to replenish the food supplies to the roots.  Because the tops of asparagus plants produce and transfer food to the roots, they should be allowed to grow all summer. The tops can be removed when they die after a killing frost in the fall.

Harvesting Asparagus

During the first year after planting, you should be able to harvest several times,  depending on temperatures. There is no need to wait until two years after planting before you harvest. In fact, harvesting the first year after planting will stimulate more buds to be produced on the crown which means greater yields in later years. Spears can be harvested for a period of 2 to 3 weeks the first year. In succeeding years, the length of harvest increases to about 4 to 6 weeks, or for as long as the spears are large.

Select spears that are 6 to 8 inches tall with light tips. As the tips begin to loosen, known as “ferning out”, the base of the spears will begin to get tough. Stop harvesting when about 3/4 of the spears are about the diameter of a pencil. These should be left to replenish the food supplies to the roots.

Asparagus is harvested by cutting them off with a sharp, well sanitized, knife just below the ground. Care should be taken not to damage other nearby spears just below the surface. Asparagus should be used as soon as it is harvested, but it will remain fairly fresh for up to a week if kept at 35 degrees to 38 degrees Fahrenheit with the cut ends in water.

Ask The Gardener: Is it too late to plant pumpkins (Halloween style), in hardiness Zone 8?

The Question

Is it too late to plant pumpkins (Halloween style), in hardiness Zone 8?

Answer

Yes, there is still time. However you will be racing the frost dates (about 15 November) and the squash vine borers.

Advice to help you beat the frost date

  • Keep in mind that the C. Pepo & C. Maxima (most of the Orange roundish varieties) of pumpkins are, generally, very susceptible to the squash vine borer.
  • Here is an accelerator approach to give yourself an added advantage on the frost date:
    • You may want to start the seeds indoors, they may not germinate with current ground temperatures.
    •  It would be best to get an early maturing variety (e.g. Montana Jack Pumpkin {90 days}).
    •  Soak your seeds overnight between two moisten towels, not overly wet, then plant them.
    •  When you plant your seedlings make sure your soil is rich and add a fertilizer stake near (large ones—not the minis), but not too close to the plant.
    •  Grow your pumpkin horizontally on the ground – not vertically.
    •  Bury the vines as soon as possible and a much as possible with loose dirt, until a couple of feet before you want the pumpkin to set.
    •  A couple of inches of loose, light, mulch on top and around the vines and plant base would be a good idea.
    •  Once the vine starts to grow side dress the leaf/vine joints with a slow-release fertilizer (before you cover with dirt).
    •  I would also add a fertilizer stack near each leaf/vine joint as well, again not to close (before you cover with dirt).
    •  Use drip irrigation aimed at the plant base and each of the leaf/vine joints and, then, deep water. You are after consistently moist soil and, hopefully, down to about 18 – 24 inches.
    •  You can, also, added some clay pot basins near the plant base to keep them full and covered.

Can I put Cedar mulch in my vegetable garden?

Can I put Cedar mulch in my vegetable garden?

I would not use Cedar mulch in the vegetable garden, except, in permanent pathways. As a general rule, vegetable garden mulches should be able to be cultivated into the soil and/or composted to improve ground quality during site preparation or at the end of the growing season.

Related References

Composting

What is Composting

I’m sure there are is a formal definition of composting, but to me, compost is really an organized approach to taking advantage of the natural process of decomposition to recycle organic materials and using the product of the process to aide my garden and yard. Composting can be accomplished on a scale as small or as large as may be needed, provided you have the space to do so.

Why Compost

the reason gardeners compost can vary as widely as the character of the gardener and maybe for a combination of reasons. Among the common reasons are;

  • Free dirt.
  • Soil amendment and improvement.
  • Recycling and not wanting to at the local landfill.

How Can Compost be Used

Compost is a  versatile material, which can be applied to your garden and yard. Among the more common uses of compost are:

  • As the soil amendment and fertilizer, where the compost is cultivated into the garden patch and/or bed to improve the soil nutrition and characteristics.
  • As much, we can be used to help retain ground moisture,  control weeds, and more.
  • As planting soil for new plantings in the landscape.
  • As seed starter soil in a greenhouse.

Where to place Your Compost Heap

If you’re going to start a compost pile or bin, please consider carefully where you place the compost heap. Consideration should be given to:

Local Regulations

If you live in a community ( urban or suburban parentheses), your local community may have some rules, regulations, and/or guidelines to which you may need to confirm.

Placement

Placement is important not only for you but for your neighbor, as well. You really don’t want the heap to attract unwanted guests (e.g. snails, slugs, bugs) into or near your home and vegetable garden. Also, even a well-groomed compost Heap may give off some older, which may not be appreciated in the patio, in the garden, or in the children’s play area and swing set. So, please be mindful in advance, it may save you from moving the compost heap later.

Convenience

Easy Access in good weather and bad will make your compost heap easy to use and keep you from collecting unwanted kitchen scraps longer than necessary.  Also, easy access to the compost heap with a hose or other convenient sources water may be helpful, as well.

Appearance

While compost heaps can be as simple as a pile of material, constructed of some old pallets secured together, or commercial bins, you really don’t want your compost heap to be an eyesore. So, you may need to camouflage the heap with a small section a privacy fence or shrubs.

How to Get Started

Getting started can be easy and does not require a lot of equipment. To get started you need to select your compost method, location, and items you desire to compost.  If you are starting with some occasional kitchen scraps, then a small pit in a future planting location or the bottom of a new newly constructed raised bed may be a good start. However, if you plan to start with more bulk items, such as green grass clippings, then you will want to build or acquire your compost bins in advance. At least two bins are recommended: One bin starting and/or current use and the second bin for finishing/emptying.

Useful Tools

Composting is simple and does not require a lot of tools. However, a few things are helpful.

  • A compost bucket or a sealed bucket for kitchen scraps is invaluable.
  • A potato fork for turning or emptying your compost bin is, also, useful.

Related References