There are many ways to set up a vegetable garden when you have the right space – but have you ever considered using permaculture principles?
The permaculture movement began in the 1970s by Australian founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who combined the terms permanent agriculture and permanent cultivation into one. The basis of the idea was to take into account the essential needs of the natural ecosystem, the local climate and the people who depended on the specific piece of land.
The three basic tenets of permaculture are: caring for the earth, caring for people, and consciously consuming (which means taking only what you need from the earth and giving back any surplus). Unlike traditional forms of gardening or agriculture, permaculture emphasizes the intersections of needs between these three different groups.
So how do you actually plan your vegetable garden? We’ll walk you through the five important steps before you get your hands dirty.
Learn more about your environment
The first step before going to nursery is to sit down and observe what you currently have available to you. Whether it’s a huge lawn or a small balcony, take the time to learn about the environment you’ll be using to grow your vegetables. Here are some questions to consider during this process:
- How much direct sunlight do different parts of the earth receive in different seasons?
- What type of sun does the earth receive? What is its strength in the afternoon compared to the morning?
- What is the topography? Is it on a slope?
- Is there a tree or plant growing wildly?
- What kind of animals – pests and pets – use the space?
Considering the answers to these questions will help you make informed and well-equipped decisions, based on what you have and what you can reasonably accommodate. This process can take anywhere from a week to a few months, depending on the seasons and climate in your area.
Design your garden
Step away from InDesign and grab your paper and pencil. Draw the approximate shape of the lawn and mark how you want to divide your garden. This is a particularly useful exercise to help you decide how much of each type of plant can grow in your garden.
This is also a great time to analyze the conditions you have and what kind of plants would grow well. For example, if you have a partially shaded area under a large tree, you might consider growing herbs like sorrel, oregano, and thyme. While areas with brighter, direct sunlight can be used to grow edibles like pumpkin, cucumbers, and eggplants.
Feed your plants
Plants function optimally when all their basic needs are met: water, sun, fertilizer. Two of these factors depend on the nature, however, you can also install water systems in the case of extreme weather conditions like droughts.
Consider building a small ditch where natural water is pooled and then redirected to your garden beds, or alternatively, install sprinklers that are on for a specific period of time during your day. Alternatively, if you think you’ll be watering manually every day, consider collecting rainwater from your roof to store in barrels or buckets and then use them when you need to.
Permaculture principles promote the use of natural fertilizers through composting, so you can feed your plants with compost straight from your compost bin to enrich the soil to eliminate food waste from your home.
Permaculture encourages the growth of native and mutually beneficial plants between humans and the systems around them.
You can segment the type of plants to grow into three sections: perennials (plants that grow year-round), annuals (they grow seasonally), and natives (edible or non-edible plants that occur naturally in your climate).
Related: From Root to Fruit, Here’s How to Grow Vegetables From Food Scraps (Yes Really)
Related: Composting Doesn’t Need As Much Maintenance As You Think – Here’s How To Set One Up At Home
Visiting a local nursery is always helpful as the plants there have already acclimatized to the country’s climatic conditions and will therefore suffer less shock when repotting in your plot.
Another thing to consider is companion planting, which involves growing different plants together for mutual benefit. Some examples are tomatoes with basil, beans with beets and squash with dill. Discover the official Sustainable gardening Australia page for more information on this.
Maintenance is key
In the end, the work of a garden is neither punctual nor intense; it’s about careful and conscious day-to-day efforts to nurture your garden to ensure it thrives.
Check the condition of the soil and if it is too dry, arid or has developed fungus, consider mulch leaves rather than stripping the grass and tilling the soil. This keeps microbes and nutrients rich in the soil and does not sprout basement weeds.
Check the leaves, stems and roots for signs of pests, insects or any type of irregularity from day to day. Just like our body, a garden has different parts that we need to maintain and repair over time.
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