Friday, March 12, 2010

Food for thought Fridays - Organic gardening course

I made it to part one of the organic vegetable gardening course taken by Cheryl Noble at Waimarie Community House on Wednesday. L played happily on the floor for the first hour, but lost the plot after that so I missed a lot of the second half.

I'll share what I did get out of it.

Cheryl Noble

Our presenter was great - Cheryl is an incredible example of someone living a wholesome, organic life. She first got into permaculture when she moved to Golden Bay. The house she and her husband lived in had no electricity so they cooked everything over a pot belly stove, which also heated their water. In summer they swam in the river to wash. 

They milled and ground their own wheat for bread and became vegetarians, growing organic vegetables on their property. It was a lot of hard work, but rewarding.
Cheryl and her husband raised their three sons as vegetarians until they were old enough to decide for themselves. They also chose not to vaccinate them, and instead fed them the best diet they possibly could so they would be healthy and able to build their immune systems naturally - by getting sick.

Cheryl is the only paid employee of the Hamilton Permaculture Trust so she does everything, from organising events to running courses. On Wednesday she introduced the concepts of organic gardening and permaculture, asking us why we were interested in them. 

Why garden organically?

  • Care for the environment
  • Utilise available resources
  • Cut costs
  • Improve health
  • Protect food variety
  • Protect food security
  • Grow GM free food
  • Grow better tasting food
  • Grow food with more nutrients
  • Take responsibility for our environment
  • Garden using natural methods
  • Reduce food miles
  • Eat seasonally
  • Build self sufficiency
  • Empower ourselves by learning to feed ourselves
Permaculture is a mixture of the ideas permanent agriculture and permanent culture. It encourages thinking globally and acting locally by creating stable agricultural systems and encouraging a simpler, better quality of life. Permaculture is for everyone, even businesses.

WWII changed things

Food production hasn't always happened the way it does now. After World War II, a lot of factories and technologies that had been developed to build weapons were modified to produce pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. Monoculture began, where farms started producing the same crop year after year, just feeding the major minerals back in and depleting soil of the other nutrients, bacteria, microbes and fungai needed for soil to live. 

Peak oil

Oil supplies are coming to an end, and when they do it simply won't be possible to ship food all over the world. We will need to come up with alternative ways of feeding ourselves - by growing food in cities and eating in season again.

Green depression

It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the negatives facing the environment. The term for it is 'green depression', which tends to effect people working in environmental jobs and who see firsthand the havoc that's being wrought on the environment by big industry, monocultural plant growth, pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and genetic modification. However, it's important to empower ourselves to do something about it. Start by planting a garden so you can feed your family. Then you can pass that knowledge on to someone else. 

Getting started

Observe your garden site and carefully plan your requirements
  • How much time do you have to maintain a garden?
  • Do you want a quiet area for reflection?
  • Do you need an area for entertaining?
  • Do you need a lawn or play area for children?
  • Have you got a hot spot against a north-facing wall (in NZ) that could be used to grow subtropical plants?
  • How much can your family eat and preserve? 
  • What will you and your family want to eat?
Assess site
  • Sun and shade (in all four seasons) - most plants need a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. Spots that are sunny in summer may be in full shade in winter. Check out where the shadows fall in your yard in all the different seasons so you can establish your garden in the sunniest spot.
  • Wind - plants don't like strong winds but they need a light breeze to prevent fungal infections. Hedges can be planted to block prevailing winds.
  • Water is heavy to carry - is their a tap handy to your potential garden site? If not, you could look at setting up your own small water tank for watering the garden.
  • Landscape. If your yard slopes, plant across the slope to form mini terraces and prevent soil erosion to the bottom of the slope.
  • Soil - is it mostly clay or sand? Whatever it is, compost will improve it.
  • Frost - where does it hit? It moves like treacle so you can protect plants from it with frost cloth or old net curtains.
  • Infrastructure and underground pipes - Check out with your Council where these are so you don't accidentally dig them up. If they happen to be where you want your garden to go, build a raised garden instead.
  • Microclimates - check out where your garden may have hot, sunny areas as well as damp, shady ones so you can plant the best plants for each spot.
In permaculture, resource-efficient design is used to conserve the energy of people, machines, wastes and fuels. Elements are placed in zones according to frequency of use, access and time. The more frequent the visits, the closer the component needs to be to your house. The number of visits will depend on how often the component needs your attention, as well as how often you need to visit it to access its yields. The more land you have, the more zones you will have - see the following diagram.

Zones in Permaculture Landscape Design
While adaptation to your site is never quite so neat in reality, permaculture zones can be thought of as a series of concentric circles radiating out from the site’s activity centre.

Zone 0: Home
The innermost circle represents the focal point of activity - the home. To achieve energy efficiency, this should be designed to maximise available resources such as recycled materials, sunlight and rain. 

Zone 1: Home garden
Regular daily visits. Placed within six metres or so of the house should be elements that require close observation, frequent visiting or high work input. Elements such as rainwater tanks, a lemon tree, other dwarf or espalier-grown multi-graft fruit trees (to conserve space and maximise food production), chicken laying boxes, small ponds, culinary herbs, worm farm, vegetable beds of quick growing annuals and seed raising areas can be kept close at hand within the home garden. 

Zone 2: Home orchard
Attended every few days - Zone 2 is a little less intensively managed. Suitable elements to place here are home orchards, longer cycle vegetables, main crop beds (for trading), and forage ranges for closely managed livestock such as poultry and milking goats or cows. 

Zone 3: Farm
Attended weekly to monthly. Broader scale commercial crops and animals raised for trade, along with natural trees, dams, windbreaks and barns belong. This area is managed with soil conditioning, green manure crops and manure from Zone 2.

Zone 4: Managed forest
Attended infrequently. Hardy, self-care forests and woodlots that are only visited for wood collection, log harvest and wild harvest belong in far flung corners of the property and can act as buffers to protect Zone 5 wilderness areas. It may also be used to occasionally pasture animals.

Zone 5: Wilderness
Visited occasionally for recreation and appreciation. This zone is left for nature. It comprises native forest and rehabilitated flora and fauna and can be linked to the home garden by a wildlife corridor extension.

There was so much more that Cheryl spoke about, but I think that gives the gist. 

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