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The G Word

The G team blog on all things green

Permaculture basics

permaculture

Use a layering of compost, newspaper and mulch around your vegies to help hold in soil moisture and prevent weeds. We've just planted some new leeks (bottom right) after harvesting our first crop of broad beans which I cooked up into Richard Cornish's Pasta Primavera (G's Sept. issue).

Credit: Sarah Wood

permaculture

Have a patch of grass you're sick of mowing? You can even start your own permaculture garden in your front yard, and inspire onlookers. Designing your garden with winding paths and raised beds directs rainfall.

Credit: Sarah Wood

permaculture

We've planted shallots and lettuce in this patch. There's so much that we can hardly keep up - so we share some with our neighbours. Organic salads are so yummy.

Credit: Sarah Wood

permaculture

In this area we've planted garlic, lettuce, a hazelnut tree and new eggplant seedlings. The broad beans behind are ready to be picked and sugar cane mulch ready to be laid down.

Credit: Sarah Wood

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About a year ago on a sunny Saturday morning I wandered down my front steps and to my amazement discovered a rather odd collection of tomato plants and of all things three giant Japanese pumpkins taking hold in my front yard.

Previously a grassy wasteland of dry clay soil, it seemed the plants had sprouted from a load of compost my mum had dumped there a few weeks earlier.

I found it astounding that there were so many types of tomatoes, from the hydroponic looking types, to Roma, ox heart and cherry tomatoes. It seemed the seeds had sprouted in their true form from the supermarket hybrids we usually buy and boy did they taste amazing!

Left to their own devices they were the first plants in our rather accidental organic permaculture garden.

The term 'Permaculture' was coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970's meaning 'permanent agriculture'.

In a nutshell, permaculture is about using a set of design principles based on ecology to plan the layout of a garden to create an environment that's essentially self sustaining - where each area and layer of the garden plays its role in the ecosystem.

You can find an extended definition here. And here's a great video where you can see an example:

If you ask me, one of the fundamental problems about convincing people to grow their own permaculture gardens is the complex, almost academic, principles that underline it. My thinking is if you take the core ideas and have a go for yourself without becoming tied up you'll find it much more enjoyable.

One of the essential ingredients for any organic permaculture garden is a good supply of compost so make sure you top yours up with food scraps and grass clippings and turn it regularly. Check out this great guide to composting.

You can also use newspaper and mulch to build up around your new seedlings this prevents weeds poking through and as it breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil.

We use sheets of cardboard on our garden path covered by wood shavings to kill off weeds and it works a treat no chemicals needed.

Although mulching will help hold moisture in the soil, a healthy garden still requires water. We have a rainwater tank installed that we use for watering however by planting fruit trees or taller plants in your garden water will naturally drip water to plants below and drop their foliage to return nutrients to the soil.

The basic structure of our garden is a series of built up mounds (consisting of a soil/compost mix and covered in sugarcane mulch to surround our seedlings) with a network of pathways that funnel water to the beds when it rains.

Mum usually orders seeds from the Diggers club catalogue when they are in season. However, most of the seeds we have planted we simply take from any vegetables we eat, dry them out on some paper towel and replant them when it's the right season.

We'd love to hear your tips on organic or permaculture gardening.

-- Sarah Wood