As a homesteader, you find yourself working almost all day, and sometimes into the night. It’s a great lifestyle, but you have to work efficiently if you want to get all your chores done every day. One way I found to save time is by using Permaculture growing methods.
Not only is Permaculture a time saver, but it has helped us to have much fewer pest problems, better harvests, improved soil, and has brought me closer to the land. I even have my Amish neighbors asking me how I grow my berries so nicely without any watering or use of commercial fertilizers.
I started homesteading about 15 years ago with a typical garden. I used to buy cow manure and till the garden every spring. Then, 6 weeks later, I’d be battling weeds and would usually end up tilling down my rows to get rid of them. By July I would have to deal with blossom end rot and powdery mildew. I never used any pesticides, so growing this way was costing me crop after crop. I felt like I was wasting my time just feeding the insects.
I was having some serious troubles with my garden, and all of my neighbors were telling me to dust everything with “Sevin”. After looking it up I really thought that was the wrong decision. I see many of my farmer neighbors coming down with all sorts of medical issues, so I decided that I didn’t want to use any pesticides in order to avoid the risks.
I was so protective of my garden that I would hide in the shed and shoot the birds that came in to pick on my started plants! I was no longer a gardener, I felt more like a guard. I would even chase through the garden with an electric fly swatter to extinguish the life out of every cabbage moth and butterfly I could find. Neighbors would just stare at me through the windows, watching me snap at nature.
One day I looked at my cabbage, surrounded by towering lambs quarters and amaranth. To my amazement they had almost no damage, but in another row, perfectly weeded, the cabbage looked like Swiss cheese. I thought I may have been onto something, I just wasn’t sure yet what I had discovered. It was time to search the internet. That’s when I found Permaculture.
Permaculture went against everything my farmer friends had told me. When I ran a few ideas by them, like not tilling the soil, they would literally fight with me. Yes, nowadays no-till has caught on with factory farms, but it’s nothing like the hidden gem of Permaculture.
Every year since that day I have moved more and more towards Permaculture. It has some great benefits, even if you don’t follow all of the Permaculture rules. I don’t like rules, but I do like results. Sometimes I have to put my own spin on things.
Traditional Permaculture is set up in concentric circles, starting with a tree in the center, with each layer having different types of plants. I like to intermingle plants depending on sunlight needs, size, and looks. I don’t believe that Permaculture needs to be so stuffy that you have to follow every detail. Sometimes I find great companions, but other times, with some plants, I fail. Year after year I get better and find other ways to help grow food.
I love my plants, but my pride and joy is my soil. My soil is my black gold, but it didn’t start out that way. This is my second homestead and I’m starting over with my soil. When I started, you could not find one worm and my soil was what I call dead! I tried to put an apple tree in the first week and had trouble making a hole for it, even with my pick.
Plan one was to give my soil life. The fast way would have been to till in some manure, but I would have lost my best soil to rain. Instead, I chose to take a lesson from nature: cover the soil and shade it. I put a combination of wood chips, leaves, and straw all over my property, which took quite some time. Then, I spread out all sorts of seeds randomly. I used radish, carrot, kale, cucumber, zucchini, squash, and more. I also planted some tomatoes and went around the perimeter of my land with berry bushes, grape vines, and strawberries.
Once everything came up it was hard to walk through my yard. It really was a jungle. I started to notice some worms, snakes, and moles showing up a few months after planting. There were tons of birds going through the garden and picking out pests, though they also ate some strawberries. I got the birds to lay off of my strawberries by putting in a bird bath. Somewhere along on my gardening journey I went from garden guard to working with nature.
I don’t have enough land to completely sustain it’s soil inputs, so I have a small rabbitry and chickens to help the soil. One day my neighbor was burning her leaves and I just felt awful. I spoke to her about taking her leaves and it really made her day. She wouldn’t have to burn them anymore. Now I have enough leaves to cover my soil and share some eggs with my neighbor from time to time.
Our property is on a slope and water runoff was a real issue, but our mix of wood chips, leaves, and straw slows the runoff and holds the soil in place. I also use some hügelkultur to hold more water where I need it.
Hügelkultur is a way to use wood buried underground to hold water and nutrients. Plants can be grown on the mound without the need for watering. Hügels can be built in many ways, but they all use this basic concept.
My soil is becoming very fertile after only two growing seasons. I can even dig using my hands now. I’m able to collect worms to feed the fish in my aquaponics system. This is just the beginning of what we will do on our ¾ acre homestead.