Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact

I have to admit that I’ve done lots of interacting with my garden based on what I WANTED to see and not what was actually there to be seen. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to create a flower bed on the front boulevard only to find a thriving weed bed by August.

It was helpful when a friend and master gardener came by and pointed out that what DID grow on my boulevard were plants with red leaves or silver leaves. There was something about the soil there that was conducive to those kinds of plants. Why didn’t I plant more of those? So I did and they grew well and in time other things started to grow there, too. Now that corner is wildly exuberant.

Observing How I Work Best in My Yard

Two years ago my back went out and I have not fully recovered. It has really interfered with my ability to get down on the ground to weed so last year we added four tall raised beds, three half-barrels and eight lower raised beds. It was a lot of work installing them but this year I had NO difficulty keeping them weeded. I like being able to spend a quick 15 minutes weeding a box whenever I walk by. (I didn’t love hours on my hands and knees.)

This year lots of rain guaranteed a bumper crop of weeds, despite mulching. My tomatoes were completely overgrown with weeds. I realized that despite my love for tomato jungles, I would actually have better yields (Principle 3) if I set limits (Principle 4) and gave each plant the attention it deserved. We added more raised beds.

I won’t be able to jam 75 tomato plants into the space I’ll have next year, but I can set up a nice trellis system and I can keep them weeded and pruned better and it will be so much easier to walk on well defined paths.

Observing Where I Actually Go in My Yard

My husband has always wanted the kind of house that has pretty flowers in window boxes so this year we added window boxes to the front porch. We planted vibrant flowering plants and within a month they were dead.

It turns out that although my space isn’t large, there are places I just never go. The front porch is one of them. My husband loves to get the mail so I let him. And that’s the only reason we ever open the front door. I never saw those flowers so I never remembered to water them.

I’m a slow learner. I should have remembered that two years ago, when I was desperate to find more space for vegetables, I dug up some space in the front flower garden and put in collards and kale. That was pretty much the last I saw of those plants.

My front flower garden has lots of hardy native flowers.

My front flower garden has lots of hardy native flowers.

I just don’t take much care of things in my front yard. They need to survive on their own – and basically they do because they are a hardy mix of native flowers and hostas. The best I’m going to do is weed them twice during the season and water if we have two weeks without rain. Vegetables need more care than that. Unlike children, they can’t yell for what they want so they need to be within easy viewing every day.

Observing Natural Processes in My Yard

When the ash tree came down in the side yard, in advance of installation of solar panels and the onslaught of emerald ash borer, we took out the grass that had grown under the tree and created a circle garden.

It was a lovely idea but that was a mistake. We didn’t know what the sun/shade pattern was for that part of the yard. We had not seen it without a tree. We also didn’t know what the soil was like.

Soon enough we could see the problems. Even in the height of summer, half of the circle was in shade. And soil deficiencies resulted in a lack of chlorophyll in some plants and lack of growth in others. Top dressing with compost was not enough. It just not ready for prime time. So this year we began the work of undoing that work. I’ll be looking for shade plants and flowers.

I’m much more thoughtful now about sun and shade patterns across the seasons. Plants that require a long season can only be grown in one narrow strip in the back yard. All other areas of the yard are shaded from September onward by the boulevard trees. Sadly, I have limited opportunities for 2nd plantings because of that shade.

I’ve made up my mind to work with my yard’s reality for a change, and to make it the best reality I can.

About thinkofitasanadventure

We are a 50-something couple living in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We attended a sustainability conference at our local high school in November 2010, with keynote speaker Richard Heinberg from the Post Carbon Institute. What we heard shocked us deeply. We finally understood the need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. We immediately began to change the way we live. We joined together with other folks in our neighborhood to learn more, to do more and to have fun doing it! We're part of Transition Longfellow. We're choosing to change now and to "think of it as an adventure." If you are on this journey too, we'd love to hear from you.
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One Response to Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact

  1. Pingback: Reflections on Two Seasons of Permaculture | Think of It As An Adventure

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