By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Since this is the dog days of summer, I thought I’d resist the tyranny of the urgent and talk about gardening, since my garden is now fully fledged, and there’s nothing left for me to do but sit back, enjoy, and let the living system entertain all my senses; and give away the vegetables to friends.
Of course, this is Maine, and not only is our growing season short, but many of us — the undiligent who don’t start seeds indoors — got a very late start this year, partly because of a horrific winter, but also because it was miserably cold and rainy around Memorial Day, the traditional time to plant. So all my annuals are racing against time even more strenuously this year. Winter is coming. Again. But I hope for a long, warm Fall and a late frost first!
Making me rather envious of this permaculturalist in Houston, TX. (He loves the seasons, forsooth. The guy grows bananas!) The title of the video attracted me, because it suggests how much one can do in not much space, and I don’t have much space. The quarter-acre (10,890 square foot) lot of the title seems to have been the median lot size in the 70s, since decreasing, although that will vary by jurisdiction. (It is, apparently, possible to become self-sufficient on that little land, with a level of effort.)
Most of this lengthy video is a rather wide-eyed tour of the garden, which is incredibly dense with many kinds of vegetables and especially fruit trees, and it’s all worth a look, especially if you live in a humid subtropical climate like Houston, but and so I’m going to transcribe tips and principles that I think will be useful to gardeners in all climates and add timecodes, so you can skip through the video if you like. So herewith:
(The speaker is John Kohler; the gardener is Dr. Bob Randall.)
6:30 KOHLER: One of the cool things he’s doing here is his stakes, when he needs tall stakes, he basically gets the standard inexpensive T-posts, not the heavy duty ones, that have a U-grove on ’em, as you guys can see, and what he does, and I actually just started doing this, he actually uses just a bolt, and he bolts it together, and it makes it twice as tall.
Lambert: And he just drives the T-posts into the soil. This would be one way to make an arbor; I was thinking rebar. Presumably, since these look like fence posts, they’ll survive the Maine winter.
7:35 Another cool thing is that he collects all his rainwater. There’s over 4,000 gallons of storage potential here, with this big cistern tier catches all the water off his roof, so he doesn’t have to use city water to water his garden; I recommend using rainwater whenever possible, because it doesn’t have added chemicals like chlorine and in some places fluorinate, and it’s what would water the plants naturally, so in this way you’re using a resource that’s free, especially during the hurricane season.
Lambert: Collecting rainwater is attractive to me, since my own town water is full of chemicals. However, I collect it with sheet mulch — I haven’t watered at all since the middle of June.
Raised Beds Made from Blocks
11:30 And he’s using these bricks, the blocks; he found these blocks to be the most efficient way to grow in the raised beds; he used wood and pressure-treated wood, before he found that was really bad because it does leach, and so now he uses the blocks, and while it might be an investment to buy the blocks once, once they’re here they’re pretty much not going anywhere, and you’ll have a garden forever.
Lambert: I have always disliked raised beds because the wood frame into which the soil goes seems rigid and linear, and having gotten rid of one rectangle, the lawn, why replace it with another? Also, constructing the frames is work, and I don’t like work. But the concrete blocks are modular, so not only could I simply place the blocks where I want the border of the bed to be, I can configure the blocks how I like; I could have a curved raised bed, for example, impossible with wood. Maybe I can find a source.
14:30 As you guys can see, we’re at the fence boundary here, I always encourage you guys to grow up to your fence boundary, make the best, make the best use of your space. So what he’s growing at the fence boundary is really cool, he’s making the best use of the space, because not only is he growing down on the bottom as a ground cover, instead of using mulch he’s growing a living mulch… These guys here are called Sweet Potato Spinach.
Lambert: Check this stat from Jackson Hole:
— David Wessel (@davidmwessel) August 22, 2014
Granted, the government was much smaller then, so the statistic sounds a little skewed. Nevertheless, permaculture seems very comfortable with words like “the property,” or “fence boundary.” Now, I know permaculture comes from a place of beginning with where you are and what you have, and private property is all that, but I could wish that permaculture had more to say about the third form of property beyond public and private: Common pool resources. For example, is soil a common pool resource?
31:00 The last thing I want to show you guys, in the back there, it looks like a big tree, but that’s not a tree, it’s a giant clumping, not a spreading, of bamboo. Bamboo is a great crop to grow. Some varieties of bamboo can be edible and actually quite tasty, and even so, just growing the bamboo there, it’s an incredible resource, it grows relatively fast, and he has bamboo stakes for free!
Lambert: Bamboo stakes wouldn’t rust! I’d love to grow bamboo, but I’m not sure it’s possible in Zone 5a.
Lastly, Kohler interviews Randall: What’s the one most important thing you want to share?
34:01 RANDALL: Every single thing you put in a landscape you can get many uses out of. Many uses. And every time you add a use to something you are reducing your work [yay!], you are getting ore out of it, you are saving materials and energy. You can get more uses of space, you can get more uses out of relationships between two things, more uses. Some of them can be decorative, but you can get all kinds of uses.
… I often give as an example the tangerines that we grow here. Tangerine of course produces good fruit, and excellent juice, much better than orange juice in the stores. But it does other things; it has fragrant blooms in the springtime. It’s an evergreen plant, so it looks good in the landscape, but it also can shade a wall, and in this climate, with our 90-degree summers, keeping the shade, keeping the sun off the walls is a big deal. And then they have somewhat thorny trunks, and the leaves make things dark, so birds like to nest in them, it’s a very safe place for a bird to nest. The leaves are a larval plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in North America. And then they’re trees. Trees absorb carbon. Trees stop soil erosion. Trees keep water on the property. Trees create mulch. How many uses did I come up with?
Lambert: My raspberry patch stacks far fewer functions: Food by the raspberries, privacy by the height of the canes, protection from animals and drunken students by the thorns, bait for Japanese beetles from the leaves (so they don’t devour plants I really care about). But stack functions it does!
I find this weaving together of functions into new systems far more congenial and lively than optimizing existing systems for single functions, like debt-to-GDP ratios, for example. Or never-satiated greed.