Wednesday, June 17, 2009

introducing permaculture

A great book just hit the shelves at your local bookstore -- one that is valuable for anyone learning to garden. It's called Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Second Edition, by Toby Hemenway.

The idea of permaculture is probably new to most readers of this blog, so here is a brief definition: The word "permaculture" is a contraction of the words "permanent culture" and "permanent agriculture," and it describes a set of principles that create a sustainable, interdependent form of gardening. Through the use of annual and perennial plants and gardening techniques that fix nitrogen, ward off pests, attract pollinators, conserve water, and so on, you are creating a ecological space that (theoretically, at least) is self-sustaining and therefore requires less work.

Gaia's Garden goes into all sorts of information that would be valuable to any gardener, whether you decide to pick up permaculture techniques or not. The book has charts on various nitrogen fixers (in other words, plants that take nitrogen, an essential nutrient, out of the air and put it in the soil), plants for birds, plants for pollinators, and so on. The sorts of gardens that Hemenway advocates would be perfect for spaces like those behind Stanmore or around the Rodgers Forge apartments -- places that could accommodate some lush growth.

Hemenway is also an advocate of neighborly cooperation, particularly in city and suburban gardens, an ethic that we at the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative wholeheartedly endorse. This passage -- about Hemenway's dilemma of having not enough garden space in a suburban or urban area -- struck us, and we offer it to you as food for thought for what's possible in the Forge:

"The great strength of any city -- the reason people go there -- is the social capital: the synergies and opportunities generated by creative people working together. As I've noted, a major weakness, particularly for gardeners, is the paucity of land. Fortunately, if we play it right, the social resources are exactly the force needed to make up for the scarcity of land.

"Here's an example. In moving to Portland, Kiel and I traded our ten rural acres for a 50-by-100-foot lot. My first thought was, 'How am I going to fit all my favorite fruit trees into this tiny space?' The back yard was almost a blank slate: mostly grass, some bark mulch hastily installed by the seller to mask formerly weedy spots, and a dog run. The sole trees were a sapling Japanese maple and a mature European prune plum that straddled the property line. The plums came ripe just after we arrived. One morning I was chatting with my next-door neighbor, a retired electrician and fervent gardener named Johnny, while we harvested plums on our respective sides of the fence. Johnny asked me if I liked figs. My strong affimative resulted in a plastic tub brimming with ripe mission figs wobbling my way from his side of the fence. For the next few weeks, whenever I returned the empty basin to Johnny, it came back moments later loaded with fruit.

"I had also met my neighbor Theressa, who lived across the street, and because I had a surfeit of plums, I carried a bag of them over to her. She smiled ruefully and said, "Sorry, I don't need plums -- I've got a tree of my own." Theressa then told me that I had just missed peach season, when she had been giving fruit away. But in a few weeks, she said, her Granny Smith apples would be ready, so I should load up on those. The neighbor next door to Theressa, a computer guy named Will, overheard us and said if I needed fruit, I should come right over and help him harvest the enormous Bartlett pear tree in his backyard. Will got my bag of plums, and I came home with twice as many pears. My neighbors' yards had become my orchard.

"I realized I didn't need to plant all my favorite fruit trees. I just needed to plant the ones that were missing from the neighborhood...."

We're already working with neighbors to share land to grow gardens. How can we incorporate this idea to create an orchard in Rodgers Forge?

1 comment:

Po said...


Just stumbled across your blog. Love it.

Have you had a look at yet?

Lots of people there who would appreciate what you have to say. Over 1000 food gardeners and locavores networking together.

Ooooby is an acronym for Out of our own back yards.

Hope you like it.