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Looking around at my fruit trees and bushes, flowers, vegetable beds, and ornamental and fruiting vines makes me wish I had a catchy name for the kind of gardening I do. A catchy name like, for example, “permaculture,” which is all the craze these days.

Everyone loves permaculture. Many budding young as well as experienced permaculturalists have visited my garden to see what I’ve been doing here for the last 25 years. Yes, I have integrated edibles right into the landscape, as do permaculturalists. And, again like permaculturalists, I try to maximize use of the 3 dimensional space in my garden, with, for example, my shade-loving black currants growing beneath my pawpaw trees. I am also permaculturalistic in maintaining the integrity of my soil never tilling it, and by utilizing mulches. And we all try to grow plants adapted to the setting so as to minimize pest problems. And . . . I could go on.

Yet I am not a permaculturalist. I part ways with permaculturalists by growing my vegetables rectilinearly, in straight rows within rectangular 3-foot-wide beds. Ah yes, the idea of organically-shaped beds and keyhole-shaped beds is so appealing – on paper. Same goes for the idea of tucking lettuce plants beneath fruiting shrubs and trees. But I eat a lot of vegetables and there’s nothing like straight rows running down straight beds for packing a lot of vegetables into a given area, and making it quicker and easier to plant, weed, and harvest. When I go out to pick some vegetables for a meal, I don’t want to have to remember where I tucked the lettuce and then crawl beneath some shrub to get at it.

Permaculture originated and thrives in the dry climates of Australia and our Southwest. Over much of the country, and especially here in the Northeast, rainfall coaxes very exuberant growth of both crop plants and weeds. Growth is quite exuberant here even in a dry summer such as we’ve had this year; rains eventually come. Too many permaculturalists are liable to spend their first few permaculture years admiring their efficient and attractive use of space and all the years hence cursing all the cutting and weeding needed to keep growth of various plants in balance. What I need are some straight lines and a little elbow room.

“Forest gardening,” growing and eating from your planted forest, is receiving growing interest within permaculture circles. As you might guess, I’m also not a forest gardener, despite my integration of fruiting trees, which do come from forests somewhere, as well as chestnuts, English walnuts, black walnuts, buartnuts, and other nutty things, into my landscape. But a forest I have not. And the ground beneath my trees is not planted with herbs and vegetables on which I can nibble. It’s mowed grass or mulch.

I grow my own fruits and vegetables because I want quality, quality in flavor and quality in nutrition. I’m growing my own fruits and vegetables because I think it’s not environmentally sound to grow these foods on distant farms, often in monocultures, and then ship them to stores where they sit before being purchased and eaten. I grow my own fruits and vegetables so that I can eat them fresh, very fresh. (Lettuce left over from dinner? Into the compost pile it goes.) I don’t even want to have to drive to a local farm for my produce. I want to grow enough to be able to heap my plate. I don’t want to grow a nibble here and there.

So what could I call my method of gardening? “Pitchfork gardening?” A large part of what I do begins with my soil, and the secret to good soil is plenty of organic materials, such as compost, straw, leaves, and kitchen scraps. These materials and the humus they become feed soil microorganisms, act like a sponge to cling to moisture, clump together soil particles to help aerate the soil, decompose to release nutrients to feed the plants, release compounds that release nutrients from native minerals to feed the plants, and have other wondrous and beneficial effects known and unknown.

Some people like to use compost tea and various “liquid humus” products. Fuhget about it! Much of the benefits of organic materials come from their bulk, and the way to move these materials, on a garden scale, at least, is with a pitchfork. Now, if only “pitchfork gardening” was more euphonious and didn’t sound like work. Suggestions for other names are welcomed.


One Comment

  1. may
    Posted February 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    As a long time gardener, back to being a kid gardening with my grandparents, and working in the gardening biz for many years, I am glad to read your experienced perspective! I hear about permaculture all the time and now know a lot about it but as far as I can tell it’s only for the naive new gardener. Much of what is sold as permaculture just sounds nice or poetic but in practice falls flat. There are things that do work in the right scenario but those ideas/practices have all been around forever and are now just being sold as permaculture to young trusting gardeners with little experience, and for a tidy profit I might add. I have never seen a ‘real’ permaculture garden, mostly just abandoned messes that became too much work to keep up or beds of annuals with a few trees just like many home gardens that have been around forever. It doesn’t help that most permies are never going to actually try to sustain themselves on their garden, they are likely going out for most of their dinners or eating from the supermarket shelves (or their parents tables) and will never have to support themselves through their efforts. Nice pictures of plants on Facebook or Instagram won’t fill your belly. As much as permaculture sounds nice as with most miracle products that are sold for money it falls very short of its proclamations while creating garden zealots that are just annoying for the rest of us simple gardeners. I’m all for anything that gets people gardening but have a hard time swallowing the rhetoric of the zealots.

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