Monday, June 16, 2014

What is permaculture?

Still a newbie in the gardening discipline, I recently stumbled onto a group here in the Upstate that has been a real eye-opener to gardening in relation to community and sustainable living. Through South Carolina Upstate Permaculture Society (SCUPS) resources I have gained new appreciation for Southern gardening, as well as inspiration for my garden and our life here in the Upstate. My vocabulary has grown as well; I had not even heard the word “permaculture” until a discussion with friends last year.

Permaculture is a systematic method of ecological and environmental design that develops sustainable systems modeled after natural ecosystems. The term was first coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978 and originally stood for permanent agriculture as a sustainable farming philosophy. To me it means sustainably utilizing local resources including our physical yard and neighborhood, as well as the knowledge, seeds, plants and materials within our community.

Lucky boys were in charge of gathering eggs from the neighbors coop for a week!

SCUPS was started by Eliza & Nathaniel Lord. Eliza is a self-proclaimed “proud sustainahilbilly, urban farmer & blogger” who runs a ¼ acre urban farm in downtown Greenville with her family. In addition to organizing urban farm tours & open houses and managing the blog Appalachian Feet, she also teaches classes, many of which are taught just down the road at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery. I had the privilege of briefly meeting Eliza during their recent “open garden,” as well as taking a tour of their incredible urban farm.

Another new vocabulary term - “hugelkultur.” Basically a raised bed filled with rotting wood, the website describes the benefits of this method of gardening – “This makes for raised garden beds loaded with organic material, nutrients, air pockets for the roots of what you plant, etc. As the years pass, the deep soil of your raised garden bed becomes incredibly rich and loaded with soil life. As the wood shrinks, it makes more tiny air pockets - so your hugelkultur becomes sort of self tilling. The first few years, the composting process will slightly warm your soil giving you a slightly longer growing season. The woody matter helps to keep nutrient excess from passing into the ground water - and then refeeding that to your garden plants later. Plus, by holding SO much water, hugelkultur could be part of a system for growing garden crops in the desert with no irrigation.”

Hugelkultur beds in action

The Lords had some great examples of hugelkultur on their property, along with a number of other demonstrations of the application of permaculture to city living. These are just a few:
Lawn-free edible landscaping
Unusual perennial food crops for the southeast
Water catchment swales in pathways
Edible mushroom farming
Pallet gardens
Farmscaping (organic pest control through hosting a complete ecosystem)
Chickens, chicken coop, & run
Black soldier fly waste composting and chicken feed
Worm bin and cold composting
Bee hives
The beginnings of what will be a duck run and pond

I found a few of their approaches to gardening in this area applicable to our yard, and although I don’t see adding a chicken coop, duck run or beehives to our backyard anytime soon, I do see incorporating more local species to attract pollinators, as well as possibly building additional raised beds to accommodate more plants. I also hope to become a bit more active in SCUPS, and not just watch their activity on facebook but also participate in some of the permablitzes (a talka where a large group comes together to help permaculture someone’s site) and meetings.

There was talk of possibly re-queening, to gain a more peaceable hive

Also on my mind are several other permaculture concepts, such as rain barrels and gardens. Recently a subject to come up repeatedly in local news are rain gardens, areas planted with native species meant to absorb rainwater runoff from impervious urban areas like roofs, driveways and parking lots. Discussions among friends have brought up topics like foraging, with many of the local parks and forests home to pecans and mulberries that would make for some fun excursions in the right season. And settling into our home has prompted me to think about how best to utilize several areas of the garden that don’t see much traffic, but would be perfect for more food plants with just a little work on soil quality.

Yesterday's harvest - tomatoes and basil were tossed with oil and mozarella for a fresh salad, squash and a zucchini baked with herbs for a side

As I’m hardly an expert on permaculture or any of these topics, I suggest you instead turn to Eliza Lord’s website Appalachian Feet, an invaluable resource on permaculture, here. You can join SCUPS by searching facebook for “SC Upstate Permaculture Society” and requesting an invitation. I found easy-to-understand information on hugelkultur here. And finally a virtual tour of the permaculture-setting example of a garden right here in Greenville can be found here

Thank you to the Lord family for the tour of their farm as well as patience in answering my questions, and for their gracious permission to share my photographs of their gardens in this space.

1 comment:

  1. Looks interesting ---and I'm sure you learned a lot... I have a blog friend in Missouri who uses rain barrels--for watering her yard/plants....



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