Permascape

In her recent post, Phyllis alluded to the struggle that every gardener must face – how do we best use the space we have been given? Is it enough to grow things to nourish the body, or do we need to nourish the soul as well? In our case, the decision was made to use a bit of our land to feed the need for peaceful vistas. But what if there was a way to do traditional landscape and still grow good things to eat?

Enter the world of Permascape or permaculture – the concept of creating sustainable yards that are full of beautiful, edible plantings. Books such as Gaia’s Garden and The Edible Front Yard offer tons of inspiration for turning lawn space into food space without losing the peace and comfort of a lovely landscape.

In truth, even our St. Francis garden has elements of permascape. The bush that supplies a background (and often threatens to swallow him entirely!) for the statue of St. Francis is a rosemary. The furthest corner of that garden contains a large lavender plant. And hidden under the fountain and maiden grasses are lemon thyme and Texas tarragon.

Texas Tarragon as landscape plant

As we plant, we are conscious of the role each new addition plays. Fruit trees have taken the place of hedge plantings. Grapes  and berries now adorn the trellises in our courtyard, side yard kitchen garden, and in front of the house. As we mature as gardeners, we seek out plants that serve a dual purpose as well as scoping out new spaces in which we can grow things. The principles of permaculture offer excellent ways in which to find that perfect compromise – a lovely and sustaining yard!

Triple crown blackberries are beginning to grow up a trellis near our front door.

Thomcord grapes, a hybrid of Thompson seedless and Concord grapes. One day the vine will cover the front wall of our house.

What’s in a garden?

Gardening. We love it. Every little scrap of land we have available is dedicated to some sort of plant life or, considering the chicken coop, animal life. We take delight in discovering the daily changes in the garden and thoroughly enjoy the bounty of the gifts the land and animals provide us.

One evening while enjoying our backyard, Annie grumbled about not having any more space to grow more crops. I suggested that we did actually have some space, if we wanted to repurpose our St. Francis garden.  It is so named because of my discovery of a small St. Francis statue abandoned among the pile of weeds and debris left by the previous home owners. It was painted a garish brown, orange, and yellow and we completely understood the desire to hide it. However, with a little gray paint it became quite a respectable statue, and became the focal point of our garden.

The St. Francis garden is low maintenance, only needing part of a day of trimming and weeding once a year to bring it back to its glory. However, it does not provide us with any food.  Annie reluctantly agreed to convert it to vegetable beds and we made plans – deciding what we would plant and how to repurpose some of the existing plants to other areas of the yard.

St. Francis garden in its glory.

Later we came across a photo of the garden displayed in its entire magnificent, wild flowery splendor. We hesitated, could we really destroy this patch of yard that brings us such joy and contentment? If we kept it in its present state, we would never enjoy the gifts of the garden with varieties of vegetables we anticipated growing. However, it currently presents us with the gift of beauty – providing us with pleasure and respite. And in the end, isn’t that just as worthy?

Adventures in Vermicomposting

Worm poop.  Pretty powerful stuff.  It does all kinds of amazing things for the garden. Most gardeners are happy to find an earthworm wiggling through their soil.  It indicates that the garden is healthy, and people who push the dirt know that those worms are leaving fertilizer in their wake.  But an earthworm or two can’t do enough to thrill me.  I need more – more clumps of wonderful, friable soil in which to play – bigger, greener plants to tend.

I am also a total sucker for gadgets that are demonstrated at the fair. Yes, I have orange cleaner, weirdly shaped mops, piles of brightly colored chamois’, and more than my share of shiny knives – all sold by charming, silken-voiced men from behind counter-tops littered with leaflets and accessories.

I know…they almost never work.  A similarly afflicted former co-worker once destroyed the floor of our staff lounge while demonstrating the wonders of a mop that would remove ANY substance from carpeting. She recreated the fair demo by pouring fresh coffee onto the carpet, and proceeded to neatly work it into every fiber over a 4 foot square with the miracle cloth she had just purchased.  Our boss had the stained carpet replaced a couple of months – and several steam cleanings – later. Oops!

Still, when I rounded the corner of the building housing all the demos, and spied the tower of green trays I was hooked. What new garden wonder was this?  Ah!  The Worm Factory 360.  Four trays, a lid, and the potential to quickly create rich compost full of worm castings.  SOLD!

Worm Factory 360 – a thing of beauty!

I brought the giant box home, unpacked it and began to read the instructions.  The salesman had let me know that one tiny element was missing from the setup – worms.  The composter comes without the key ingredient, so I did an online search and purchased 2,000 Red Wigglers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

A sack full of wriggling workers.

I waited a week or so, hoping that the worms would not be left on my doorstep on the hottest day of the year – frying on my steps before I could rescue them.  I have a good UPS guy though – he rings the bell and runs, but only after placing packages in a shady corner.  Honestly, I have never answered my door covered in chicken poop, said anything inappropriate, or threatened him in any way.  NO idea why the running, but, oh well.

I took the sack – which moved in a way that creeped out the 8 year old, and simultaneously fascinated and repelled me – out to the waiting tower of trays. The print instructions read like a rocket manual (too bad I had misplaced the DVD.  I found it later and it is MUCH simpler and more to the point – sigh) but I managed to get the suggested materials arranged to form a nice worm bed.

The instructions indicated that the worms should be left in a pile, rather than spread through the bed.  Dump one sack of worms – check! The manual also hinted that our newest pets might be inclined to, er, slink away and that they should be kept under a light with the lid on for three days or so, presumably until they had decided that we measure up as a host family and um, dug in for good.

I checked them once or twice – an hour – for the first day or so.  Too much fun to see what they were doing and they did tend to slither up to the corners of the lid and then fall onto the table in clumps.  I scooped them up and put them back a couple of times, rearranged the bedding material, and finally convinced them that a ready supply of food would be theirs for the taking should they be inclined to stay.

After about a week I had my first shock. We have chickens.  Chickens attract flies – no matter how often and how well I clean (scrupulously, thank you very much) there will be flies when one keeps farm animals.  Such is life.  What I didn’t figure on was that the flies had found a way into the worm bin and laid eggs.  Yup, I had to work to keep my breakfast down the morning I uncovered the worm tray to find it crawling with fat white maggots.  GAG!!!!!

There was a ready solution at hand however.  I mentioned we have chickens, right?  Chickens LOVE bugs.  And worms.  And, yes, maggots.  I donned some latex gloves and dug through the maturing compost material for a juicy specimen, offering it to the ladies.  MUNCH!  Gone was the maggot and Annie was a happy woman.  Did I love picking through semi-decomposed vegetables and worms to find maggots?  No. I did not. But… I filled an old dog bowl with snacks for the hens and everyone was happy.  It has been a couple of months and the maggots have not returned.

Now the Laughing Place is home to 3 humans, 2 dogs, 6 chickens, and 2,000 red wigglers. The worms may not sit up and beg (neither do the dogs for that matter) but they do one pretty fantastic trick – check out the compost!!

Worms doing their best to make some seriously good fertilizer!