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
|No of Days||151|
* (one week into the month of March only)
Here’s a list of what the garden produced:
|potato (russet burbank)||5,018|
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…