Participant Forum: Permaculture?

Applying permaculture to small spaces

 
 
Picture of Melinda Kelley
Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Thursday, October 29, 2020, 12:49 PM
 

Like some of the other participants, I'm findings this week's introductory information to be a bit overwhelming.  My original thinking about the concept of permaculture was, I think, somewhat naive, however I am enthusiastic about the material and the contributions and comments from the group.  Please keep them coming!

One of the challenges I face in being a better steward of the land, is that I do not have very much land with which to work; essentially a suburban backyard, surrounded by what I believe a classmate called "mow and blow" landscaping, widespread use of herbicides and pesticides (though recently ended by our County government), etc.  One of the reasons that I took this class is that while I have been attempting to garden for years, COVID gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I could actually do with the space that I have (vs giving up and moving to a larger property).  I came to the conclusion that I could improve the soil, create homes for more wildlife, and work towards a tiny (< 1 acre) ecosystem.  But I do wonder now (having viewed/read the week 1 materials) how far I can actually move along a true permaculture pathway, given the limits of my property.  I believe I can engage in multiple permaculture-friendly activities, but does more space make it easier to create interconnectedness and a more truly balanced ecosystem?  

Picture of Michelle Cohen
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Michelle Cohen - Thursday, October 29, 2020, 6:29 PM
 

I hear you on the small space issues! I think it will be challenging to figure out how to layer complexity (in terms of interconnectedness) in my tiny plot of land.  My approach will be to imagine the possibilities, though I may not be able to actuate them in my own yard any time soon.  For example, chickens seem like a good and manageable way to add delicate tilling and fertilizer to the land, as well as eggs and some pest control.  But I don't see us getting chickens anytime soon (there is a trampoline for my kids where the coop would go).  But I think going through the process of design "as if" it can all be implemented will help our understanding of permaculture.  And then maybe I can create and/or contribute to a community permaculture garden in the future. 

I did mention "mow and blow" landscaping. I HATE it. 

 

Picture of Melinda Kelley
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Friday, October 30, 2020, 7:19 AM
 

Thanks, Michelle!  You're absolutely right - I should make my plan aspirational, even if it isn't entirely operational at the moment.

Picture of Deb Winther
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Deb Winther - Friday, October 30, 2020, 8:36 AM
 

I'm in the same situation with a small, suburban yard. The neighbors are super close, which makes for great friendships and chats over the fence, but does make it more challenging to break away from the "mow and blow" (love that term"!) culture around here. But, I've had some great opportunities to explain why I don't blow the leaves out of my garden beds, or why I don't rototill, or turn over the soil every spring. What's even more challenging is that all of my available land is in the front yard, so that's where my vegetable beds are. The next step is to further minimize the front lawn to create more growing space - can't wait for that conversation with the neighbors!

Picture of Debbie Sexsmith
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Debbie Sexsmith - Thursday, October 29, 2020, 7:11 PM
 

Hi Melinda

Starting in your backyard sounds great, next thing you know the neighbors are catching on and may want to do it too. I am working on a base map for 65 acres, there are quite a few days that I wished I only had a little backyard to tend :) 

Our farm includes many systems which are complex and can become rather challenging. I think the framework will help and apply to whatever size space is being designed.  

 

Picture of Melinda Kelley
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Friday, October 30, 2020, 7:22 AM
 

Thanks, Debbie!  I'm envious of your space but also realize that managing a property of that size (even under permaculture conditions) is a big responsibility - and that in many ways my small space is way less of a challenge.  I'm not even sure how I would begin a 65 acre base map!

Picture of Kathy Partridge
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Kathy Partridge - Thursday, October 29, 2020, 8:01 PM
 

IMO, urban and suburban/medium and small space systems will dominate the permaculture scene in the future. There will always be a need for farms in our relocalized food systems but there's just not enough land for all of us to own acreage. Most of us will remain in our city/suburban locations I think. We'll need to bloom where we're planted. :-)

There are 40 million acres of lawn in the US. It is our largest irrigated "crop". The entire Adirondack Park in northern NYS is only 6 million acres. Our largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, is only 8 million acres. Americans mow and blow an area five times that every weekend, all summer long! Think how much habitat and ecosystem regeneration 40 million acres would allow!

So much permaculture can happen on small properties, it blows my mind. I thought I'd share my four favorite YouTube videos that I always find so inspiring. (I can't tell you how many times I've watched them.) Most of these people are working on lots as small as 1/4 acre.

Living a Radically Simple Permaculture Life on 1/4 Acre | Creatures of Place 

Permaculturist Rosemary Marrow's 'A Good Home Forever' 

An Interview with Jan Spencer of Eugene, OR 

And finally, the piece de resistance, an in-depth tour of Brad Lancaster's property, Dryland harvesting home hacks sun, rain, food & surroundings 

Two books that I can recommend are: 
The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience by Toby Hemenway
Paradise Lot: Two plant geeks, one-tenth of an acre and the making of an edible garden oasis in the city by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates.(https://paradiselot.com/)








Picture of Melinda Kelley
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Friday, October 30, 2020, 7:26 AM
 

Thanks, Kathy! I started watching the videos last night.  I like the idea of "blooming where we're planted."  That is absolutely what my extra time at home during COVID prompted me to realize (hopefully with the help of permaculture :-)). 

Picture of Deb Winther
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Deb Winther - Friday, October 30, 2020, 8:14 AM
 

Hi Kathy - thanks for sharing the links to the You Tube videos. It's a rainy morning here on the Cape, so I took the opportunity to watch them this morning. They were not only informative, but gave me some inspiration for my tiny suburban yard. While I may not have a lot of room to implement a fully integrated permaculture design system, I think I can do a lot to minimize my impact on the local ecosystem, and maybe even contribute to its regeneration.

Picture of Sarah Evans
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Sarah Evans - Saturday, October 31, 2020, 9:09 PM
 

Dear Kathy

Thank you so much for this. I have just watched the Creatures of Place video and I am blown away. It is so inspiring--and frankly, a little terrifying too! (Though the alternative ie status quo is even scarier when you think about it).

Really appreciate you sharing these resources and I will make my way through the rest of them.

Sarah

Peggy Berk
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Peggy Berk - Thursday, October 29, 2020, 11:37 PM
 

The book that influenced me the most when I began investigating permaculture was Gaia's Garden:"  A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Second Edition) by Toby Hemenway.  The second edition, which is the author's revision after he relocated to an urban environment, is really geared for smaller scale designs focussed primarily on gardening and includes a full section on permaculture in the urban environment.

It makes everything very approachable and is chock full of great information and tables. I would recommend it to anyone but I do think that it is an especially valuable resource    for the design of smaller permaculture spaces. 

Picture of Melinda Kelley
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Friday, October 30, 2020, 7:27 AM
 

Thanks, Peggy!  I will check that book out.  Sounds very helpful.

Picture of Deb Winther
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Deb Winther - Friday, October 30, 2020, 8:21 AM
 

Hi Peggy - I ordered Gaia's Garden a few days ago and look forward to reading it. I'm glad to hear that it's a good resource for a small scale design.

Picture of Andrea Fajardo
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Andrea Fajardo - Friday, October 30, 2020, 11:15 AM
 

I am so thankful for this thread to salve some of my anxieties as I begin to work in essentially a micro space! 

I have been last minute re-considering the use of a backyard space for a base map (and am still hesitant) but feel far more inspired to try and work this out! 

Picture of Sarah Evans
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Sarah Evans - Saturday, October 31, 2020, 9:10 PM
 

Dear Andrea

Just to say--my space is a Brooklyn back yard. So I think we are not alone in the "small space club."

Sarah

Picture of Melinda Kelley
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Melinda Kelley - Thursday, November 19, 2020, 9:07 PM
 

Hi everyone,

I'm back, with more insights now on what's possible in a small space.  Last week, I made my first permaculture site visit to conduct an interview with the owner (and a certified permaculture instructor), Nicky Schauder.  She and her husband operate Permaculture Gardens in Sterling, VA; they teach permaculture and sell seeds from their website: https://growmyownfood.com.  Their property is very small (basically the front and back yard of a townhouse) in a suburban neighborhood in Sterling, VA; the fact that she was growing in a small space, with sun in front and considerable shade in back, made her advice very relevant to my own personal challenges.  In our interview, they offered a lot of useful tips (or at least I found them useful):

  • Their property is so small that they wouldn't be able to move large amounts of soil to redirect water but Nicky had installed a tiny swale through their front yard which allowed them to redirect rainwater across the front yard and into a bed to water herbs and perennial vegetables.
  • Because of their homeowner's association, they were forced to move most of their fruit and vegetable plants to their much shadier back yard.  That was unfortunate for them, but they've actually had quite a productive garden despite the shade, by thinking strategically about their choice of vegetables (growing tromboncino vining quashes up a trellis, for example, to catch more sun; cucumbers on their back fence; etc.).  In my own recent experience (this past summer), vertical growing to maximize sun exposure made an enormous difference in terms of tomato productivity.  I asked Dave (her husband), who was talking about the tromboncino squash, if it would make sense to grow smaller varieties (like patty pan) b/c in theory they shouldn't need as much sun, but he recommended growing up as opposed to growing small.
  • Paw paws, something called jouni berries (I'm not sure I have the spelling correct), tart cherries, and blackberries have also done well in their partially shaded back yard. 
  • Early potatoes have also worked for them, in the partial shade.  He recommended the "Ruth Stout potato method" (which seems to involve tossing potatoes into straw?https://homeguides.sfgate.com/stout-method-planting-potatoes-68189.html) and the pinto and adirondack red varieties.
  • They had a few other interesting recommendations: cardoon (you can cook/eat the leaves), anise hyssop, tokyo bekana cabbage (tastes like lettuce), mushroom logs (which we've of course learned about in the course videos :-)), mung beans (as a cover crop), holy basil, apache blackberries, rhubarb, and mache.  Some of these would need more sun - they had the cardoon growing in her front, south-facing yard, for example.

Hope this is helpful!

Melinda

 

 

Picture of Kathleen Siegel
Re: Applying permaculture to small spaces
by Kathleen Siegel - Friday, November 20, 2020, 5:36 PM
 

Thank you for sharing your experience and information that your learned! I like the idea of the swale! The water on my property runs to the front and into the street, this idea is getting my juices flowing of how it might benefit my own space!!