“I am an old man, and yet a young gardener.” —Thomas Jefferson.
It was a not-so-stellar garden year (though it was my own fault), but in the end it turned out fine, due to some accidental permaculture. Let me explain…
Despite a very wet spring, I got the garden in. We have ten or eleven raised beds, most of them 4 x 12 feet. I planted them per my usual rotation pattern, with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, beans, and other typical vegetables, all annuals. But, then I got busy, and for one reason after another, I didn’t spend much time in the garden all summer long. It was a vicious cycle—too little time in the garden equated to not enough compost, which in turn equated to me not mulching much, which made the grass and weeds worse. To make a long story shorter, the lack of attention resulted in smaller potato, onion, and bean harvests than normal. For example, with beans we plant mostly pole beans, but I never even got the poles up, so the beans had to do the best they could, a few managing to climb the sunflower stalks, but most intertwining with each other until they were a tangled and decidedly not-elevated mess.
But, here comes the perennial wonder—despite my gardening inadequacies, the perennial crops planted over the years all went gangbusters; bumper crops all around. First came asparagus in the spring. The long asparagus bed that began seven years ago as a single row of shoots has spread, and we were picking a huge bundle nearly every day. Then came the horseradish greens, irrepressible even crowded with heavy grass. Then came the peaches in mid-summer; bumper crops on our 6-year-old Reliance trees, juicy and plump and heavenly on a hot day. Then the four grape vines, planted four years ago, became loaded with fruit and kept it through an incredibly long picking window, perhaps eight weeks or more. Then the apples in the wild apple in the yard; more than I’ve ever seen. Thousands, all on one large tree. Finally, the hickory trees were having a mast year, and my son and I have picked up thousands, all from two large trees in the yard. (I went up into the woods to see the hickories there, but the critters had absconded with nearly every nut, leaving only the husks behind. I think the dogs inadvertently protect the ones that fall in the yard.)
All of this on top of rosemary, sage, chives, and other herbs that either over-winter or re-seed themselves.
Now, we planted all of these before I started reading and writing about “permaculture”. But now that we have them, they help prove some of the concepts I’ve been reading about. The food we got from these perennials was, essentially, labor-free except for the harvesting.
As I’ve written before, this sort of permaculture makes the mono-cropping of annuals look like mountaintop coal removal by comparison. The genetic diversity, the resilience, the wildlife habitat, the soil-building capability, the erosion protection, the permanence, and so much more make these permaculture systems, in my opinion, a critical part of our path forward. I’m excited about my little corner of that future permaculture world, and am eagerly awaiting spring so that I can dig in the dirt again. And that part is nothing new, but perhaps my dirt-digging can be put to better effect with permaculture design in mind.
Top image credit: kakisnow / 123RF Stock Photo