First Time Farmers
Yesterday, Tay and I were lucky enough to be able to visit a working permaculture farm. Farming, specifically permaculture and biodynamic systems, is something that has interested us for years. This was our first going past gardening, and doing some actual farming.
I have done a lot of book learning about permaculture. In short, permaculture is about working with nature and fostering life inside and above the soil. Permaculture systems are designed to be sustainable, and they involve a lot of work and planning to get going. They reverse the short term gains and long term degradation that industrial agriculture makes inevitable.
When you learn about this stuff, the inherent logic of it hits you like a lightning bolt. You never see the world the same way again. To see it up close is amazing. I hope that other people can be as inspired by permaculture as I am. This is a brief introduction to a few of the things we discovered in our trip.
Several people have asked us about water problems. With the drought, you’d expect the ground to be dry and dead. Permaculture has a solution. In this picture, the bed that surrounds this fruit tree has been sheet mulched. For about a five foot radius around the trunk, there is a layer of straw. Under the straw is cardboard, and under that is manure. All this is covering the soil above the tree’s roots, and it slowly breaks down each year to add nutrients to the soil.
The sheet mulch acts like a sponge. It collects water right where the tree needs it, and it holds it for a long time. So when droughts come, this tree is protected.
This kale plant is going right under the pear tree. Sure, it won’t get as much sun as a kale in the open, but it’s not about maximizing yields on any one kind of plant. The kale and pear work together. The tree gets water from deep in the ground while fertilizing with fallen fruit. The kale could house an insect that predates the pests that might eat the pear. In permaculture, a group of plants working together is called a guild.
Speaking of insects, the sheet mulch provides a home for billions of them. Dig into it and you’re bound to come out with earthworms, spiders, ants, ladybugs, and so many more that I can’t name. Maybe some of these bugs are bad, but having more life in the soil means those bad bugs have more competition.
Here I am next to a newly planted potato patch. It is a small square footage, but designed specifically to maximize the number of potatoes harvested. As the potatoes grow, the farmer continues to bury them and adds a new wooden frame on top of the first one. The potato will grow more tubers along the buried part of the stem. As you add three and then four frames on top, the potatoes have one foot of foliage and four feet of roots. Simply remove the frames from the top down and dig out your potatoes.
This system isn’t specific to permaculture, but it shows how a lot can be grown in a small space if you understand the plant you are growing. I plan to do this in my garden and will cover it in a future blog post.
The best thing about the farm was the sense of community it had. It was a very welcoming and open place without locked doors or suspicions. The two families living there both pitched in and benefited communally. Everyone worked together to help with big projects like planting trees.
I think that, like a lot of people in our generation, Tay and I miss this community connection. In the city things are more high strung, and people don’t work together. Our society is all about individual success, not shared prosperity. I’m glad there are some places where these rules don’t apply.
We had a great day on the farm. It was an inspirational experience. Seeing permaculture in practice only strengthens my conviction that it’s the way forward for the survival of humanity. I hope people see this and are inspired as Tay and I were.
To Merlin, Dave, and the whole flock: thanks for the eggs!