Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reviewing the Past, Planning the Future

Today, I'm spending a few moments remembering the last growing season as I continue to plan for the next one. Here are some of my favorite images from 2014's garden along with some things I was particularly happy about last year:

The garden was "thrown to the wolves" and managed to fend for itself, making a huge leep into becoming self-regulating with little maintanance beyond "chop and drop" mulching and mowing.

Almost no watering was necessary. Beyond the obligatory "watering in" at planting time, our garden was completely self-watering last year. 

A year of harvests--we ate something out of the garden almost every day from mid April through the end of the year. A great number of meals came 99% from the garden (salt and oils being the exception.)

Growing money on trees: Through most of that time, we purchased almost no fruits or vegetables. 

For the next growing season, I'm looking forward to planting the last of our major woody perennials to complete the overstory of our food forests, adding even more diversity to our collection of over 200 useful plants, finding new ways to share and distribute our "yields," and increasing the number of "open garden" days when we can share the wealth of knowledge this young ecosystem is capable of teaching us. And most importantly, finding new "chores" to leave "undone" in the garden as the ecosystem takes over more work for us. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

True Permaculture in "Zone 0"

As yet another round of Michigan snow forces us inside, perhaps like me, you're warming up by the fires of imagination, dreaming elaborate Permaculture fantasies then widdling those down into concrete and careful plans for the next planting season.

This time of year is when I find I'm most attached to the garden we're building. I too easily get stuck in daydreams about its future, and even when I'm outside in the garden now, I can fail to see the beauty of the winter landscape through my visions of a mature, prolific food forest.  

I'm reminded that there are a million ways I could easily lose this homestead through natural disaster, man-made catastrophe or even simple, human stupidity--as families have lost their homes and all their possessions only to prove later that it was all over nothing more than a small bank error. 

One of the benefits of "Perma-culture" is that buiilding a more resilient, enduring "culture" confers a more resilient, secure life for those building and investing in it. It gives us practical strategies to build REAL wealth that's less susceptible to the whims of a financial system built on elaborate fantasies. 

And yet, any of us could lose our possessions in the blink of an eye. 

So a "Permaculture" that's mindful of that impermanence would do well to focus on the things that can't easily be taken away. Here are some things that help me when my mind turns to the fragility of what we're building:

1. Invest in community. At Lillie House, we're especially proud of our large collection of edible and medicinal perennials and self-sowing annuals. By helping our community learn to value and adopt these plants, and sharing when we're able, we ensure that we'll continue to have access to them if we lose our garden. And it provides us with access and support if we ever need to rebuild. 

2. Focus on skills and experience, not possessions. The three years I've spent watching our young food forest, experimenting with guilds and learning from nature have been the most valuable education I've ever had. There is no school that teaches the skills I've built in rennovating and improving the sustainability of our old home in accordance with the principles of Permaculture. 

3. Emphasize wildcrafting and invest in public commons. If I were to lose my income and gardens today, I am confindent that I could easily forage my food for the year from within a short distance of my home, and probably even create a source of income from wildcrafting value-added products. Projects like community coppice lots, guerrilla gardening and food forests create more security and opportunity for everyone. 

4. And finally, while its official status as a "zone" is controversial in Permaculture circles, I appreciate the traditions that teach us to work on "Zone 0," or the self as we work on the other "zones" of our property. Because ultimately, what's left when everything else is taken away? As a non-religious person, there are a few tools that I find particularly helpful as I work on Zone 0: Yoga and Tai Chi for the body-mind connection; the philosophies of Sotto Zen (the most secular form of Buddhism) Daoism, and Epircurianism (which is quite different than the popular conception and very similar to the other two philosophies) because they are all studies of how to live a happy life; and daily seated meditation, as a way of getting to know my mind and be at peace with myself, the only thing that's truly left, when everything else is taken away.