Friday, March 27, 2015

What is Permaculture? Our Farm Goals

I've always been interested in homesteading. I'm sure it is partly the result of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books over and over as a child. Milk a cow? Preserve jam? Make cheese? Yep, that sounded like fun to me from a young age. I clipped articles out of magazines on growing citrus trees in pots and sighed over the descriptions of the heady scent of old-fashioned roses that I read about in library books.

And now that I am an adult with a few acres of my own to play with, I've already made quite a few of those childhood fantasies come true. The plan our permaculture designer (Steve Moring of Vajra Land Management) came up with will take us to the next level.

Some readers might be unfamiliar with permaculture and I think the easiest way for me to explain it will be to list the farm goals Lee and I gave Steve as we started the design process. Permaculture will make all of these possible.


- To create a resilient, food productive landscape. We know that through good design it is possible to work smarter, not harder. We want to use our land to the utmost, especially from the standpoint of water conservation. With the climate growing hotter and drier, we believe this is critical.

Our current kitchen garden is composed of raised beds surrounded by chicken runs. The chickens
really help keep bugs down and they benefit by the close proximity by getting lots of garden goodies. 

 - To create a more sustainable system that utilizes our poultry. Currently we are buying lots of inputs (poultry feed, fertilizers, compost, etc.) We'd like plants we could use as forage for poultry (and possibly the cattle we are getting in the future). Once we sort out fencing arrangements we plan on allowing our geese to free-range full time and our other birds (ducks and chickens) part-time. Since we breed several rare varieties some birds will unfortunately will not be able to free range (I refuse to allow coyotes to eat expensive birds), but most should get at least some range time.

The barn we built in 2014. The breeding pen fencing will also serve as a trellis for
grapes. The grapevines will provide summer shade and of course food.  

 -To create pond area for the waterfowl.

There will be a small pond that will be fed via a swale system through the orchard.

 - Going along with the idea of working smarter, not harder: to create areas for perennial vegetables as well as more areas for annual vegetables, compost crops, etc.

Geese in the garden eating weeds

 - To continue to develop our orchard, adding both more of the types of trees we have now as well as new varieties. I have been following the spray protocol established in The Holistic Orchardby Michael Phillips.

Spring-time cherry blossoms

 -While we'd like to have a long harvest season, I'd prefer plants that yield their harvest all at once. For example, everbearing strawberries drive me crazy; a summer of harvesting a handful of strawberries every week is not my idea of fun. I much prefer June bearing strawberries. I can, freeze, and dehydrate the surplus before moving on to the next berry, fruit, etc. that is ripe.

Cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage from our kitchen garden

 -To provide habitat for beneficial/predatory insects and pollinators. We hope to keep bees in the next year or two.

We had five of these spiders take up residence in our raspberry patch last year. They definitely kept bug damage to the
fruit to a minimum and helped me work through my arachnophobia. 

-To minimize the effects of wind and our colder microclimate. We don't have the time or desire to cosset plants that are not hardy.

- We confess that we both like plants in straight lines and everything looking neat and tidy and that sometimes permaculture landscapes look rather unkempt to us. I would like the plantings to be neater and with a bit of an eye towards ornamentals close up to the house and driveway.

Borage planted with tomatoes is beautiful and useful. Bees love it and it is a truly effective
repellent for tomato hornworms.

Our farm goals encompass the ethos of permaculture: using land in a way that is productive, good for the earth, and good for the inhabitants.

A gorgeous summer evening

I will share the plan Steve Moring came up with in detail in a future blog post. In the meantime, here are some resources that I have found helpful as we go through this process:

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