Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway
I found this book today and am quite intrigued by the idea of Permaculture. The concept of Permaculture, as described by Hemenway, is "edible landscaping meets wildlife gardening". I like that idea...as I look every direction at my home, I see rolling hills, wooded sections and green pastures. I live in nature...not particularly a yard even though we have a swing set and this summer we plan to build a tree house....I live more like in a state park - really not much flat land to create that regular garden plot.
I've tried traditional gardening with mixed success. Taking a tiller to a patch of grass hasn't exactly provided a great harvest for us because the weeds always end up taking over. In reading the first couple sections of Gaia's Garden, I now understand why. Turning over soil exposes weed seeds that then explode into growth because it is the natural state of plants to fill a patch of bare soil. Bare soil is in danger of being washed away by rains....and a piece of earth without fertile soil is non productive.
Gardening in the permaculture way means working with the way the natural world was created. Having a variety of plants in any area increases the health of the whole area in general. If you look at any forest, you will see many kinds of plants growing at all different heights and with differing depths of roots too. You don't see long rows of the same plant in the natural world, so why are we gardening that way?
Creating the edible forest garden is now my goal because I can see that a natural ecosystem will help all creatures in my area thrive - and provide us food that is naturally grown. I can plant fruit trees and plant shrubs for berries between those trees and then plant herbs or annuals between the shrubs. That will not only increase the variety of food I can provide my family but also mimic the natural growth patterns in an ecosystem.
Gardening this way will take quite a bit of planning. More planning that just swooning over the offerings in seed catalogs and ordering more seeds than I can reasonably care for. I will focus on perennial plants that I can count on for years to come in the beginning and add those annuals along the way. My plan for those annuals is also to stick with heirloom, open-pollinated varieties so I can save seeds and grow my level of independence even more. Some perennial vegetables I will start with will be asparagus, walking onions, garlic, kale, collard greens, radicchio, rhubarb and horseradish. Fruit and nut trees along with berry bushes and herbs will join those vegetables too. Mushrooms will be somewhere in there as well -- along with the other wild gifts I have already found growing here like ramps and morels.
I have much to learn about the edible forest garden but I've got all winter to draw up my plans. In the meantime, I'll sit back with a cup of tea sweetened with honey from the two hives that are tucked behind the barn. That is one sweet plan if you ask me.
Peace be with you,