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Permaculture food gardens
 
Permaculture, a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978 promotes the concept and practice of 'permanent agriculture'.  By designing sustainable landscapes that mimic natural ecosystems, permaculture enables us to grow food with minimal effort.

The world has changed dramatically since 1978 and many of the ideas associated with hippies, or alternative life-stylers are in fact now mainstream. Solar panels on our roofs, there’s energy awareness, recycling, growing our own food, collecting rainwater, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga and meditation...these are acceptable practices in many households today. Like these, permaculture is no longer an alternative cultural practice.  On a large scale, it has become a worldwide movement, on a smaller scale it is a toolkit for designing vibrant, productive, sustainable edible gardens in our homes and suburbs.
 
Permaculture can incorporate the techniques of organic gardening, biodynamic gardening, no-dig gardening, composting and a myriad of other sustainable gardening practices. It can also use techniques of energy-efficient building design, water harvesting, waste water treatment and recycling for example.
Watercress growing in a Vital Veggies water garden

Permaculture principles are
  • Relative to location
  • Each element performs many functions
  • Each important function is supported by many elements
  • Efficient energy planning: zone, sector and slope
  • Using biological resources
  • Cycling of energy, nutrients, resources
  • Small-scale intensive systems; including plant stacking and time stacking
  • Accelerating succession and evolution
  • Diversity; including guilds
  • Edge effects
  • Attitudinal principles: everything works both ways, and permaculture is information and imagination-intensive
In addition, here are the guiding principles which we at Vital Veggies apply when designing and renovating edible gardens:
  • Everything works at least two ways and quite possibly more
  • See solutions, not problems
  • Co-operation, not competition in work, communications and economics
  • Work where it counts
  • Use everything to it’s highest capacity
  • Bring food production into the cities
  • Help people to be self reliant
  • Minimise maintenance and energy inputs to maximise yields
Start where you are
 
Every backyard garden is unique in terms of its soil, orientation, exposure to sun, existing plants, availability of moisture, fences, heat sinks and the needs and desires of the owners.  The permaculture challenge is to grow as much food naturally and organically within that particular space as is possible, with maximum diversity and minimum ongoing maintenance, to meet the taste preferences of the garden’s owner.
 
Make use of all garden spaces
 

Although our average Aussie backyard spaces have shrunk, there are often more spaces than you realise for  growing food. With a little knowledge and planning, you can create foodscapes that will nourish your family while significantly improving your garden's environmental contribution. 
 
So when you plant, consider planting edibles instead of ornamentals. 
 
Considerations before planting
 
Permaculture aims to emulate nature.  Here are some suggestions to consider in your garden:

 
  • How do you protect your soil - mulches, not stepping on soil, no-dig practices
  • How do you rebuild your soil - compost, green manure, plants with deep roots
  • Layering - stacking in space
  • Succession planting - stacking in time
  • Microclimates - plant appropriately considering sun, heat, shade, wind
  • Vertical gardening - use mesh for vines and climbing plants, espalier trees along fences
  • Water gardens - support edible plant life and diversity in gardens
  • Biodiversity - companion planting, incorporate herbs and flowers
Diversity
 
Where possible choose a diversity of plants and trees that will give a bountiful harvest and incorporate perennials to reduce your workload. There is great strength in this diversity for a multitude of reasons.  Most importantly, it provides a variety of foods, it overcomes problems associated with overuse of the soil by one species, and diversity helps to minimise pests and insects.
 
Layering
 
Layering edible plants mimics nature's ecosystems.   If you walk through a forest you'll notice a canopy or overstorey, then small shrubs as an understorey and then ground hugging plants. In a garden this layering can be smartly used to create symbiotic plantings and to overlap successional plantings which will increase yields from the garden. 
 
One example is the planting of cucumbers amongst sweet corn where they benefit from the shade and climb up the sweet corn plants. Another is the use of soybeans amongst sweet corn plants where the soybeans benefit from the shade and their nitrogen fixing roots provide extra nitrogen for the corn.
 
Cut and come again harvesting
 

Even for home gardeners, there are many ways to grow and harvest plants that will support a more permanent form of agriculture.
 
Instead of planting 'head' lettuces where you must harvest the whole head, plant successive rows of loose leaf lettuces close together.  In a couple of weeks you can start harvesting the outer leaves and the plant will continue to grow, providing ongoing leaves.  Other cut-and-come-again plants are basil, celery, chicory, coriander, corn salad, dandelion, kale, mizuna, pak choi, radicchio, rocket, sorrel, spinach and silverbeet.  You can also snip off and cook up a few of the green leaves from your beetroot and turnips and they'll grow back again.
 
Trees, vines and climbing plants
 
Where possible plant trees and don't be dismayed if your garden space is small - simply erect a trellis and espalier some fruit trees along a fence. Apart from providing you with delicious fruit, they will create a visual greenscape and lower the ambient air temperatures.  
An espalier apple tree
 
Vines are easy to grow and there's a wide selection to choose from; grapes, passionfruit, kiwifruit, and then all the varieties of raspberries, logan berries, boysenberries. For small spaces choose small trees and bushes like goji berries, blueberries and red currants, or the dwarf varieties of fruiting trees.
 
Food, not lawns
 
Why spend money on planting, maintaining, watering and mowing a lawn when you can create a lovely edible landscape that costs a similar amount to maintain and yet you get the immense pleasure of harvesting organic food and eating it.

End note about Vital Veggies
 
Vital Veggies has transformed many static lawn covered back yards into thriving organic veggie gardens.
When designing the veggie gardens, Roger Carthew draws upon the knowledge and understanding he gained during his farming days in the 1990’s along with his extensive knowledge of permaculture and biodynamics. His farm was fitted out with a keyline irrigation system based on an the principle of sustainable agriculture called keyline farming which pre-dated permaculture.  Keyline farming is based on the 1954 book of Australian, PA Yoeman, and a system of retaining water at its highest points on the farm and then growing food and livestock forages using polycultures and biological cultural practices.

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