07. Analysis & Yields

It’s now time to come up with some hard facts and figures to assess how well this whole gardening exercise is going.

We’ll also see what conclusions we can draw, and what we can learn from what has transpired over the last 5 months.

 

Garden Yields – 7-Oct 2008 to 6-Mar 2009

Summary  
No of Days 151
Yield (g) 65,702

 

Month Yield (g)
Oct 11,252
Nov 6,149
Dec 9,556
Jan 22,203
Feb 10,860
Mar * 5,637
* (one week into the month of March only)

 

Here’s a list of what the garden produced:

Variety Yield (g)
apricots 7,360
babaco 7,557
blueberry 20
broad beans 8,925
carrot 3,760
cucumber 720
garlic 56
globe artichokes 1,372
grapes (sultana) 3,141
lettuce 2,326
mulberry 100
nectarine 594
peaches 189
pepino 1,578
potato (desiree) 5,566
potato (kipfler) 5,413
potato (russet burbank) 5,018
radish 173
raspberry 205
snow pea 901
strawberry 1,302
tomato 6,617
zucchini 2,809
Grand Total 65,702

 

This yield of 65.7kg is produced from 85 square metres of garden beds plus a small Autopot ™ hydroponic setup comprising of fourteen 10” pots and four 12” pots.

As is evident, there is very little fruit here because the twenty odd fruit trees are all too young to be producing anything and will take a further year or two to establish themselves. The mandarin and pomegranates are the only established trees, and they are still ripening fruit. The apricot tree has succumbed to what looks like a fungal disease, and will need major renovation to get it back on track after several years of neglect.

The heatwave, one of the hottest periods in this state’s history, caused a lot of plant stress, which resulted in a loss of flowers/fruits. The dragonfruit which I was looking forward to, all failed, the plant dropped all its flowers, as did the dwarf lime tree. The blackberry was really frugal with its produce due to the dry weather. And a lot of produce was spoiled due to the heat. Many of the first crop of tomatoes were sunburnt severely and were put into the compost bin. A decent amount of strawberries and even more raspberries were literally dried on the stalks.

The watermelons did not even begin to grow at all, and that’s in a hydroponic system of all things. The seedlings are still the same size they were as when first planted, a far cry from the previous year when I planted the same variety in the ground, and ran them vertically up a trellis, where they produced the most delicious watermelons, in a very crowded garden bed too.

The cherry tree did produce a modest harvest of cherries, a big bowl full, that fed four people – unfortunately they ate most of them before I got to weigh them, oh, well… guess the important thing is that people enjoyed them!

The heat completely toasted a fair few of my climbing beans, the pods were perfectly dehydrated and parched from all the heat and wind, so I managed to shell these to use as seed stock, but it effectively wiped out a good part of that harvest.

The hydroponic corn got so battered by the extreme winds that followed a week or so after the heatwave bushfires, I’m dubious as to whether they will keep going long enough to produce a few corn cobs. Luckily, I planted a few spares in the garden beds and these are looking much better, though they aren’t as mature. The weather has taken a nasty turn with very cold nights and mornings, so I’m hoping there will be enough heat to see them through to harvest time.

A banana plant which has been in the garden for a few months has been consistently hacked to pieces by the elements, the sun drying its new leaves, and the wind tearing and snapping them off! This one will take a bit of work to get right, but I got it from another Melbourne garden where they grow and produce fruit, so I know it can be done. It’s just a matter of finding out how.

The saddest part was that I forgot to take emergency action during the heatwave with my two worm farms , and they all got cooked. I extreme heat the recommended course of action is to remove the lids, and cover the worm farms with wet Hessian, which is kept moist. They were established for two years and highly effective little workers in converting all the kitchen scraps into worm castings and liquid for the garden. I’ll miss them!!!

I’ve re-established one worm farm, and will decide if the other one will go back on-line if there’s enough kitchen scraps to support it.

 

Conclusions so far…

There are a few conclusions I’ve drawn from my experiment that’s been running for almost exactly five months.

One, which is an axiom of Permaculture, is that annuals require a lot more effort and work than perennials. Perennials take time to establish before they really produce, so much more so for trees. Patience, and long term investment in the future is what it’s all about. Annuals are a short term investment for quick returns, and a lot of effort. If you want a constant supply from annuals, you need to schedule what will be planted and when, timing when seeds are planted, when the harvest will be expected, what will follow, and use succession planting to ensure that when one plant finishes, another goes in, while employing crop rotation at the same time. With perennials, they go in once and stay there.

Root crops produce the highest yields per square metre in terms of food production goes.

If you want to get decent berry harvests, you need plenty of plants! Only by planting a heap of strawberry plants could I get a decent yield. And with Blackcurrants and red currants, one plant will give you a nice sampling of the fruit, if you want a feed, you need space and lots of plants.

Companion planting really works. The only insect control was the use of some horticultural soap and white oil to take care of some aphids on the citrus trees when the garden was first being established. I don’t have monoculture rows of any one thing, which I’ve seen in organic gardens. At worst, a bed may contain similar plants that are inter-planted with companion plants. At best, one type of plant may be found all over the garden, here and there. The benefit I’ve found is that adverse weather won’t wipe out your whole crop. My most exposed tomatoes got burnt a bit in the heatwave, the ones in the shadier spots look perfect, and are still bearing while the other ones are winding up for the season. The companion plants have brought in so many beneficial insects, from pollinator insects to pest predators. I’ve noticed bees, hover flies, wasps, ladybirds, praying mantis, predatory mites and a host of other insects doing their part to create a stable ecosystem.

Stacking really works! Though most of the trees are too small to form an effective canopy, there are shrubs, smaller herbaceous plants, and ground covers that fit together to create effective microclimates. Even in the extreme heat and wind experienced, the more tender plants were shielded from the elements by their hardier neighbours, and as a result, minimal damage occurred, and where it did, it was not surprisingly at the edges of the garden only.

…I have the potential to capture 21,000 litres of water that would have otherwise washed down the stormwater drain.

Harvesting rainwater can be done cheaply and effectively. My water harvesting system consists of five 220 litre recycled plastic drums @ $25 each, with $15 of fittings on each (though I’ve figured how to do it cheaper!) and the first flush diverter, plus brackets and associated hardware, I figure the 1100 litre storage solution cost under $300, and is completely portable. Capturing water from the 30 sq. metre garage roof, in Melbourne, which has an annual rainfall of 700mm, I have the potential to capture 21,000 litres of water that would have otherwise washed down the stormwater drain. While the garden may use more than that, it’s not an “all-or-none” situation, every bit of effort counts, and ultimately makes a difference. Even during the driest period, I retained enough to top up the water garden, so the fish would stay happy at least with fresh rainwater, rather than chlorinated tap water with chemical dechlorinator.

A garden that embodies Permaculture principles and imitates nature is damn nice and relaxing to be around. People love it, and admire the diversity, as well as the range of useful, tasty and interesting plants. The design philosophy of working with nature is conveyed in the garden’s presence. And, by no strange coincidence, I’ve noticed something quite in stark contrast to this whilst working as a commercial contract gardener in some of Melbourne’s most expensive gardens, designed by award wining commercial designers. I’ve noticed that the “form-over-function”, “fight, control and subdue nature” mentality of mainstream horticulture, with its angular recti-linear designs, heavy overstated landscaping, widely spaced monocultures of purely ornamental plants, rarely with flower in sight conveys a feeling of cold, constrained sterility. A very unharmonious environment indeed to be around. And not surprisingly, the insects and other living things think likewise, as is evident the lack of living organisms in such places. Then again, how many things live in a low, square cut box hedge?

You discover new things through experience! I’ve come across a wonderful but little-known plant that I’d consider a useful “Permaculture plant”, the Tree Mugwort, Artemisia verlotorum. It is a quick growing windbreak (will reach its full size of 4m in three months), is a non-invasive clumping herb, the leaves can be used for animal feed, and the leaves have the same herbal medical properties as common mugwort. Through observation, I’ve learned that it makes a unique habitat for birds, a roost and nesting place that is impossible for cats to climb. Being a herb, it doesn’t lend to being climbed, the stems are thick enough to be rigid, but too thin to get a good hold of, and there are many crossing branches, barring the path up if it were possible, but the perfect size to support a bird’s weight and size. I’ve watched a wattlebird regularly perch it’s baby up there, leave, and return with food for it, and the cats could only look on from below, unable to disturb them.

…Working with Permaculture principles is in essence the process of re-integrating with nature

It’s all one big experiment, a learning exercise, where the learning is life-long! And a natural way to live and exist! Working with Permaculture principles is in essence the process of re-integrating with nature. And when we do, we feel the peace and contentment of nature having providing for us once again, the feeling of coming home…

 

Next Page – 08. The Path To Recovery

 
 
 
 

11 Responses to 07. Analysis & Yields

  1. Michael Kwan says:

    Angelo, I know I have told you already but I thought I would say it again in writing. Your website is amazing and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your knowledge like you have! It is such a valuable resource for people like myself who are starting out with our gardening/permaculture adventures. Whilst I have completed the pdc and pottered around a bit with my vege patch I am really about to let loose on my very own 3 acres so this website will be called on regularly to assist me in my design and for inspiration.

    Cheers mate!

    Mike

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Thanks Mike, glad to know my efforts are inspiring others to give permaculture and gardening a go! I must be great to have a 3 acres for a permaculture design. That’s the kind of space for a real food forest! Let us know if you would like articles on any specific topic, there’s so much to write about!!!

      Regards

      Like

  2. Linda says:

    Angelo: I’m learning so much from these reports about your garden. I appreciate all of the details and insights that you are including. I have an urban lot from which I have torn out the entire front lawn (before I learned about Permaculture just last year). My intention of putting in natives took a great U-turn mid-project and I have been left floundering as to how to proceed now. I have gotten inspiration and lots of helpful input from your site. I need to do quite a bit of adapting as I reside in the US, near Seattle, so have different climate concerns. I love your rain harvesting barrel system and would like to use it here. Deepest thanks for your inspiration and factual reporting, both successes and others. I love that you are sharing your abundance of knowledge and experience with me.

    Like

    • Blackthorn says:

      Hi Linda,
      Thanks for the kind comment! From what I understand you have a fairly cold, wet, overcast climate there in Seattle, but you can still grow a lot of the temperate climate fruit trees if I’m not mistaken, and beries do really well there if my research is correct. You have colder weather but more rain than us, but many of the trees I grow here will work, except for the more tropical ones. Wishing you well with the garden, and it’s always a pleasure to share knowledge and experience.

      Regards

      Like

  3. April says:

    Hey, I’m an Environmental Science student and I am planning my dissertation on the sustainability of Permaculture. I am hoping to collect data from a local permaculture reserve and want to include the yield but despite much research I cannot find an appropriate, clear method. Do I need to weigh all of the fruit and vegetables or do you weigh a sample amount and then extrapolate the yield based on how many of that type of tree there is? There are several types of fruit trees and some vegetables. How do I work out the caloric yield of the different fruits reliably? Is there a scientific resource for calculating the nutrient yield? I have asked my assigned professor but she seems to know less about the topic than I even do, I would really appreciate any pointers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      Hi April, the short answer is that you weigh everything. Yields fluctuate seasonally and also from year to year so there isn’t a simple linear relationship that you can extrapolate reliably. The simplest method is to have some cheap scales and a book for people to quickly weigh and note down what they harvest. It is a lot of work, especially over four years as is the case with my data.

      It is important to know what exactly you’re measuring and for what purpose:

      If you’re talking yield weight, that is one matter, typically that’s the figure they use in agricultural circles, despite the fact that they skew the data intentionally by over-irrigating to get plenty of water in their fruit and vegies.

      The caloric yield (which tells you nothing about really important components of the food such as vitamins and minerals) is best done using a simple laboratory device called a calorimeter, the common type, a “bomb” or “combustion” calorimeter combusts the sample in a closed vessel and measures the heat output to determine the energy content of the food. They’re easy to use but you don’t see them outside of a laboratory. The simple way to skew this measure is to just grow lots of starchy root crops such as potatoes, which are mainly calories and not much else.

      To get a proper nutrient analysis which will give you a breakdown of the nutrient content is a complicated procedure, it’s something you typically pay a commercial laboratory to do, not sure what other departments and facilities your educational institution has available. Here the critical factor is ‘nutrient density’ and typically commercially grown food grown in poor soil with lots of chemical fertilizers has a lower nutrient density that real organically grown food. This is in part due to lower natural inputs and plant health, and in the case of fruit, also because they’re picked unripe and rock hard so they can ship in huge quantities in the back of a truck, not allowing the fruit to store maximum nutrients possible while on the tree, then put into cold storage for several month after which they’re artificially chemically ripened with ethylene gas – hardly fresh food!

      If you’re looking at the “sustainability of Permaculture” then you need to factor energy inputs and outputs of the system. Permaculture is essentially ecological engineering, and it is very concerned with optimising energy flows, and tapping into existing natural systems to improve efficiency. The inputs in terms of human effort and labour (in hours) needs to be considered, and other inputs such as manures, mulch, etc (cost). If you consider the unsustainable practices of agribusiness, you will find that the processes are very inefficient and completely unsustainable in terms of energy. There are lots of published figures out there show that energy required by commercial agriculture to produce a given amount of food is greater than the total amount of energy the food actually provides! (Hint: It’s all propped up unsustainably by once cheap and gradually diminishing fossil fuel!)

      In “Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture” by Dale Allen Pfeiffer he says that “Estimates of the net energy balance of agriculture in the United States show that ten calories of hydrocarbon energy are required to produce one calorie of food.” Of course the efficiency, or should I say inefficiency, differs between different foods.

      If you can show that the garden produces more energy than it uses, which shouldn’t be hard, then it’s more sustainable than commercial agriculture!

      Like

    • Hey April, I work with a start-up, social/ environmental unofficial research and sustainability promotion organization(Haha pretty official title though :)) Anyway I’m super interested in your dissertation and any findings you’ve come to. Please, please let me know. Also, awesome website Angelo! Keep it up. Thanks to you both.

      Cheers!
      Reilly
      and
      The Living Earth Easy Tribe

      Like

  4. Richard says:

    Hi Angelo,

    Great that you give objective figures. This is what permaculture needs, to show its potential.
    I wonder how much time you spend working in the garden over the 151 days. Could you at least give me an indication?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      Thanks for your comment. Being a food forest garden with lots of perennials, it only takes an average of 2 hours a week to maintain, unlike predominately annual food production systems, which are extremely labour intensive.

      Like

  5. blowyourfunnyfuse says:

    Permaculture is so amazing and your backyard is so amazing! What a great yield! Where are you located, are your plants mostly native?

    Like

    • Angelo (admin) says:

      We’re in Melbourne, Australia, and here very few native plants are edible, and most of it is what you would describe as ‘survival food’ or ‘bush tucker’ and a lot of the native staple foods need special preparation which requires specific knowledge of each plant to be able to use them safely.

      Most edible plants and trees that we eat today worldwide only exist because they have been deliberately cultivated by human societies for flavour, size, yield and so on, for up to two thousand years or more, while Australian native edibles are basically wild, uncultivated species, so only very few taste good.

      I do grow some native ‘bush food’ trees and plants as we call them in Australia, it’s not the stuff you would be eating for dinner unless you were an indigenous nomadic bushman who was highly skilled in living harmoniously foraging off the land in the wild. Some of the plants are medicinal and have amazing properties.

      Most of what I grow is exotic to Australia, because most of what Australians eat is definitely not native, other than the occasional Macadamia nuts, which for some reason are very expensive and we’re not exactly flooded with this food in our markets, and strangely enough, the Hawaiians grow our only commercial nut crop and dominate the world market…

      Like

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