In a lot of ways, this year is going to be like starting from scratch in the gardens.
We’re moving our primary vegetable garden to occupy the space previously home to our chickens. Our iconic (to us) purple chicken coop is no longer in service, as we could not keep it entirely predator proof, and the former fenced chicken run is now our veggie guild garden.
I’m really prioritizing guild planting this year for a couple reasons. The first is that it worked tremendously with the plants we tried together around our swale fruit trees. The second is that we MUST maximize output and minimize input as, God willing, I will be delivering a baby at the height of the gardening season. You know the month of May/June, where if you get behind in weeding and pest control, it’s all downhill for the rest of the season? Yeah, that’s the height of my “maternity leave” on the homestead. So, knowing at least what the future proposes for our family, I’m planning ahead and trying to save us on labor (pun in tended) while also increasing (or at the very least, breaking even) on our yield.
I’ve broken down our projects in terms of goals with parallel objectives- I know, how nerdy of me. The goals are where we want to ultimately end up in the gardens this year, and the objectives are tasks we must complete in order to get there.
1.) Yield greater than or equal to last year’s produce harvest.
2.) Minimize intensive labor (weeding, pest control, watering, mulching)
3.) Increase accessibility/ make child-friendly (so that Mom isn’t the only one who can tend the garden)
4.) Reduce maintenance required (staking, weeding, thinning, fertilizing)
5.) Enjoy the garden space, and its natural beauty
1.) High intensity, rotational succession planting; diligently harvest; start seeds indoors so that seedlings can be transplanted with ease; lay composted manure and green manure before spring planting;
2.) Lay down base layer of mulch (DONE!) Plan and map out garden layout so that things are neat, organized, and easy to find; Set up water catchment on old coop, so that watering, if necessary, is easily accomplished. Companion plant with guild plantings to reduce pest issues, sow thickly so that weeds aren’t given a fighting chance.
3.) Map clear walking paths; label all guilds clearly and visibly (pictures? stones? wooden plaques?) Keep fence up, so that dogs and toddlers can’t run and squash baby plants; consider adding pots/grow bags for temporary or annual growers; establish perennial guilds so that year to year maintenance is less
4.) Woodchip on top of base mulch layer; plan guilds and plant ACCORDING TO THE PLAN!; STICK TO THE PLAN!!! Pay attention to the weather and adapt as necessary.
5.) Choose beautiful plants; incorporate flowers, medicinals, and edibles; Get outside to take in the beauty and really give thanks for it- choose to take in the joy.
There are a LOT of resources on permaculture guilds and even diagrams and designs- People have literally done all the work for you. That’s not to say I think you should print off a drawing, order those plants or seeds and just stick them in the dirt. I actually recommend doing some research into the various guilds, the 7 layers of a permaculture food forest, why and how the plants work together forming a symbiotic relationship. I also recommend knowing your location, lay of the land, sun patterns, cardinal directions, weather patterns, and local barriers to fruitful harvests. If you want an organic permaculture garden to grow, don’t seek the advice of farmers growing things on massive scales in green houses using Miracle Grow and hybridized seeds, and chemical pesticides. Use common sense and study what it is you wish to emulate. Generally speaking, botanical gardens are a great place to visit and see how they use different species of plants to accomplish a visual aesthetic, thriving habitat, and overall ecosystem. They often times incorporate those concepts into a kitchen or vegetable garden as well. I recommend paying a visit to University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Garden if you’re in or around the greater Knoxville area. There’s a lot to be learned from the design, function, and maintenance there- also, it’s gorgeous to get out and often times inspiring to take a peek at things other people have made beautiful through hard work and a little know how.
This year’s Shaggy Maple garden will be the result of 5 years of patient waiting, observing, failing, and trying many different methods for growing things, utilizing the best and most successful of them, and praying God gives growth and supplies the harvest.