We have never had a proper garden before. Just a few mediocre attempts in pots on our old balcony, some basil, tomatoes, a few successful pea-pods. In the back of my mind, I’ve always planned on becoming a farmer. Perhaps not on any large scale. But to have land someday and grow all the food we need to live. You know: the typical self-sufficiency dream that urbanites like us start contemplating with the first homegrown cherry tomato. “We could just GROW our own food!” As if it were a novel idea. But why not? Most small-scale farming is done the traditional way: growing one crop, all in rows, on a tilled field by itself. Monoculture. It’s the way humans have grown food for millennia. A farmer can cover acres in one particular crop, keep some and sell the rest in order to get other crops from other farmers – since you can’t just live on one crop, right? Which doesn’t seem very self-sufficient. What if you grow everything you might need (as a vegan, of course 😉 together in one small area? A food forest, where fruit trees shade vegetables, made with the intention of eventually becoming an entire ecosystem of various edible plants. That’s what Permaculture is all about, an attempt to emulate natural systems. Instead of battling with insects, animals and weeds in your garden – you allow nature to do its thing. When there are varieties of plants together, they develop symbiotic beneficial relationships that make each plant stronger. In typical agriculture or monoculture, plants are far more prone to attacks by “pests”.
In Permaculture, “pests” can be seen as part of a vibrant ecology, since most insects are actually beneficial, most all plants require them to pollinate. To keep the insects in control, however – it’s a good idea to invite some birds into the garden with a feeder, they will gladly munch on some caterpillars for you. And the caterpillars that survive soon become the beautiful butterflies that pollinate your food. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The Goodship Garden is no where close to being a food forest, nor are we planning to make it one. We currently rent our space short-term. We got very lucky that our landlord is fine with us digging up a bit of his yard for this experiment.
I have been reading about Permaculture for awhile, about Permaculturalists like Sepp Holzer, Paul Wheaton, and Geoff Lawton. One permaculture technique that struck me as pure genius is called Hugelkultur (the Austrian Sepp Holzer is the originator). Garden beds are created using mounds of logs in trenches. The wood slowly rots under the soil, holding moisture like a sponge and encouraging fungal growth which feed nutrients to the roots of your plants. Geoff Lawton has created oases of green in the desert of Jordan using this technique. So the drought-stricken dirt yard we live on in the San Fernando Valley shouldn’t be that difficult in comparison. I built four small Hugelkultur mounds for the Goodship Garden. I found some logs and odd pieces of wood from a cut tree at the side of the road and bought some organic soil from the garden store.
First I dug trenches a foot-deep and lined them with cardboard. Cardboard initially helps the mounds to retain water. I piled up the logs with random twigs, leaves and branches – anything I could find around the property. Then I covered the piles with the poor quality dirt I had dug out of the trenches, topping them off with good store-bought organic soil. I also left a small space at the beginning of the garden for a compost pile. I probably bought 8 bags of soil, but hopefully I won’t have to buy anymore as my compost pile matures and gives us some homemade soil.
Everyone’s first question here in drought-stricken California, is “how much water are you using?” And this question lets me brag about the coolest part of the garden…it is being irrigated 100% by our own recycled grey-water. The convenient thing about living in the Goodship is that we already have tanks in place for retaining our grey-water (shower and sink water). So all of our water gets double use. As long as we use natural soaps and detergents (such as Dr. Bronner’s) the plants in the garden will thrive. In fact, our grime and food scraps is exactly what the plants love.
So now the experiment has begun. We’ve sown corn, squash, spinach, arugula, chard, cauliflower, sunflowers, marigolds, tomatoes, a few kinds of kale, jade beans, green beans, other greens and herbs. We shall see what happens and we’ll post harvests here. There will always be more plants to plant and different things to try.
Early on, we planted a head of organic butter lettuce from the supermarket, the kind that come with the roots still attached. It soon began to flower and the bees went nuts. We’d never seen a lettuce bloom before. Little yellow flowers came out in tree-like formation. In no time most of the flowers were pollinated, they turned to seeds much like dandelion seeds, with wispy hairs to carry them on the wind. But we took them, dug up the old lettuce and planted it’s next generation in the same area. Now we’ve got a bunch of the next generation growing. And so it begins, custom Goodship lettuce. By Taylor Flannagan