System Diversity

We all know that the bio-diversity is the utmost important model of growing edibles. I want to draw your attention to the system-diversity as well dear reader.

I call myself a backyard farmer. While I cram things into my back and front yard, I make sure that I don’t rely on one single system for my food production. If one system stops producing, I should still have others to produce an edible crop for me. Also pest pressure sometimes decimates a tree or vegetables and if I have other things producing food, I will be okay.

System diversity is the key to food security. The more systems you have, the more secure you are in case of a crisis. Let’s have a look at these different systems and what we can grow in them.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics grows fish and vegetables in a closed loop system. Production is continues and intense. Gives you omega 3s and good source of proteins. I grow trout and silver perch as fish.

Tomato, chili, chives, hibiscus, aloe vera, mushroom herb are some vegetables I grow. Practically, I can grow anything in AP.

System Diversity 01

Beehive

A beehive produces honey as you know. Good source of carbohydrates. A Topbar would be my choice as it is the best hive for bees. I don’t harvest pollen or wax.

Figure 1 - My Topbar design
Figure 1 – My Topbar design
Figure 2 - My topbar hive
Figure 2 – My topbar hive

Soil veg garden

A vegetable garden close to the house in soil would produce good amount of vegetables and herbs. Make sure they are out of the reach of tree roots. I think out of all the systems I tried, bio-intensive gardening produced the higher amount of veggies but fertilizer input is also larger.

Figure 3 - My soil veg garden gives me lots of vegetables
Figure 3 – My soil veg garden gives me lots of vegetables

Wicking beds

Depending on the size, you can even grow trees in them. Wicking bed is perfect for balconies or terraces. If you have contaminated soil, this would be your only option. Google Colin Austin the inventor of wicking beds and see how they are built.

You can incorporate wicking beds with aquaponics and grow nutrient hungry vegetables or things like grape, passion fruit or dwarf trees in them.

Figure 4 - I grow ginger in this wicking bed
Figure 4 – I grow ginger in this wicking bed

Perennial vegetables

A perennial garden would produce food for years without much work. Once established, it only requires seasonal weeding, fertilizing and harvesting. Make sure that the space you are building your perennial garden is getting ample amount of sun light. I have thyme, oregano, marjoram, perennial basil, some garlic that I don’t harvest, horse radish, strawberry, olive herb, comfrey, sorrel and some other medicinal herbs. Perennials also help soil building by attracting the mycelium in their roots.

Shrubs, wines

I put these in a different category than the perennials as they are requiring different treatment. Berries, little shrubs, grapes and passion fruits as a hedge would produce food and supports the wildlife and bees. Make sure the fruit ripening times spread across the season. I have some jostaberry, black and red currant, logan berries, some passion fruits that I am growing from seeds, goji berry and blueberries.

Figure 5 - Logan berries from a 2 year old wine
Figure 5 – Logan berries from a 2 year old wine

Trees

Trees are a long term investment. Mix stone fruits with poms and make sure ripening times of fruits spread through the season. I wouldn’t recommend buying dwarf or semi dwarves. Get normal growing ones for a longer investment. I have more grafted trees than the bought ones at the moment.

Figure 6 - My fruit trees, though they are small, they produce well.
Figure 6 – My fruit trees, though they are small, they produce well.

Chicken – Quail

Feathered friends can be looked after in small spaces with a deep litter composting bedding like shown here with beneficial microbiology. Quail egg although small, packs lots of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and would be much better than the store-bought chicken eggs.

Figure 7 - Courtesy of Salih Elik (permission acquired)
Figure 7 – Courtesy of Salih Elik (permission acquired)

Hydroponics

Hydroponics can be done with natural worm juice or compost tea fertilizers. You can grow virtually any vegetable at any space. All you need is a large enough pipe, a reservoir and a nutrient rich liquid fertilizer.

Vertical spaces

Vertical spaces can be utilised either with aquaponics or hydroponics. You can also hang containers with soil and use this space to produce food. Are your fences empty?

Greenhouse

It can be used to extend the season and to exclude pests. Especially good for places with unpredictable weather patterns. Also, best for starting seedlings for the coming season.

Rabbits

If you can catch wild rabbits and house them, it will be a good source of protein as well as source of fertilizer. Make sure you do this off breeding season; you wouldn’t want to catch mother rabbits and kill the babies in the nest.

Pigeons

Wild pigeons are another option. This one produces food without any input as they forage somewhere else. You can scoop a strong fertilizer out of it too. All you need to do is to build a pigeon tower and collect the young chicks before they leave the nest.

Guerrilla grafting – gardening

Graft wild or council trees like wild pear trees (Manchurian pear I think) with pear, nashi or apple. Or take up a space and make a vegetable garden, see what happens. Grafting is a skill which you can learn quickly. I collect seeds of apple, pear, nashi, peach, plum and nectarine in summer. Around autumn, I saw the seeds in large root pouches and keep them moist. Come spring, many of them sprouts and I separate big ones to their own root pouches. Next year around end of winter, I graft apples, pears and plums with good cultivars and label them. Peach and nectarine don’t require grafting.

Figure 8 - This is a pear graft made on a wild manchurian pear growing at a green spot in Canberra
Figure 8 – This is a pear graft made on a wild manchurian pear growing at a green spot in Canberra
Figure 9 - An area where trees can grow near to our place.
Figure 9 – An area where trees can grow near to our place.
Figure 10 - My seeding tool for the above area.
Figure 10 – My seeding tool for the above area.

Container gardens

Get some containers, line them with plastic and fill them with soil, start growing vegetables. If you are short of space or your only option is your balcony, this is the only way. You can also utilize concrete covered spaces with containers.

Figure 11 -$5 containers turned into growing gardens
Figure 11 -$5 containers turned into growing gardens

Root Pouches

A product produced using recycled PET water bottles. They are UV treated and thick enough to handle. There are different sizes from 3.8L to 375L sizes for any sort of application. I have 10 of the 39L ones where I am growing some citrus, apples and pears I’ve grafted and herbs. Good for portability if you are renting. Root pouch also allows a perfect root growth for the trees with air pruning.

Figure 12 – My root pouch micro food forest
Figure 12 – My root pouch micro food forest

The more food production systems you add to your design, the more resilient you become in terms of continues supply of food. There shouldn’t be any empty spots on your land.

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3 thoughts on “System Diversity

  1. A succinct enumeration of all the different ways we can grow our own food. Thanks, Gurkan!

    Like Ange, I too liked the slingshot idea. It got me wondering if your germination rate for the peach and other trees would be higher if you made each pit into a sort of seed ball, with clay and compost, and then used the slingshot to disperse them.

  2. One thing missing is annual vegetables. If you truly want food system diversity and robustness, then you MUST include annual vegetables, especially the ones that can be stored in some form. Unfortunately, permaculture teaching emphasizes perennial vegetables and, by omission, says that annual vegetables have no place in permaculture design. This site has run a number of pieces on annual vegetables – https://permaculturenews.org/2014/01/14/learning-permaculture-design-organic-annual-vegetable-farmers/, https://permaculturenews.org/2016/11/18/rotate-annual-crops/, and one by Geoff Lawton himself – https://permaculturenews.org/2014/06/12/pri-zaytuna-farm-morning-harvest-pick/. I would love Geoff to continue on from that story to include annual vegetables in food system design. He knows that systems evolve but sometimes need a helping hand. Hint, hint, hint. ;)

    We need to get past the rigidity of no annual vegetables and incorporate them into system design in ways that improve the soil as well as minimally disturbing it or not disturbing it at all. Emilia Hazelip figured it out yet she rarely is mentioned in permaculture discussions except in passing.

    The focus on perennials because they are less work is too limited. One must consider the nutritional yield also. Perennial greens are great but how do they stack up against root vegetables and how filled to they leave you feeling? I’m not saying no perennial greens but rather add to your perennial vegetables with additional nutritional choices. On a pure less work basis, I’ve always found it easier to harvest potatoes than Jerusalem artichokes.

    If you are growing bio-intensively, you should not need to add fertilizer if you are also growing to feed the soil as well as yourself and are never leaving the soil uncovered – green cover crops or mulch. (Don’t use grass clippings as a mulch unless you want want grows in your lawn to grow in your veggie patch).

    Thanks for a very comprehensive article.

    DG

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