This permaculture principle seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I find that it generates some of the most powerful questions I can ask as a gardener.
- Have I devoted too much of my garden space to plants that aren’t producing much yield? How might I better use my limited space?
- Are there things I’m not doing that I could be doing to maximize my yields?
- Are there yields my yard is already producing that I’m not using? Can I use them or should I give them to someone else to use?
- What other yields could I pursue?
Who’s Not Pulling Their Weight
My husband and I took a walk-through of the garden and asked ourselves, what plants do we have that are just not performing. Our eyes immediately fell on the strawberries. They don’t produce very many and competition is fierce for the berries that make it to ripeness. Birds, bunnies, visitors … we’re lucky if we get a few.
We could double our efforts — add soil amendments, new plants and netting. Or we could decide to meet our needs with the berries that are already growing well in our yard: raspberries, serviceberries, currants and chokecherries (for jelly).
We decided the strawberries could go.
You Can Do Better
The next plant to come under investigation was the squash. It takes up a lot of space. Last year we moved them into boxes with tall trellises behind them. In the fall we had eight butternut squash hanging behind the trellis – the leaves got plenty of sun and air and the squash were easy to harvest.
We also had some surprise squash that grew in the compost bin! Squash easily cross-pollinate so these were not true to their type. We knew they might not taste good but hey, they were free. We let them go all summer and in the fall we had 25 squash. If I recall, five were not good, 10 were okay but not particularly full flavored and 10 were very good.
So … hmm, should we be using the compost bin for growing?
What’s This For?
I’ve lived here for 20 years and in all that time there have been chokecherry bushes in the front yard. I never knew those berries could be used by people until I started talking to folks at Transition Longfellow who like to forage. I now harvest about 10 lbs. of berries from these bushes each summer and use them to make jelly.
Last year we learned that the horns of sumac can be used to make lemonade. We dropped the horns into a pitcher of water and left it out in the sun to steep. It’s a weak, but natural and local (!) lemonade. Now I want to learn how it’s used as a spice in Persian cooking.
We also grow Echinacea and yarrow, mint and bee balm, which I know can be used for medicinal or herbal purposes. I just don’t know how. So my next goal is to either learn what to do with them or to find someone who can use them.
Lucky for me, the Transition Group is going to be exploring herbs in 2015.
Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture
This principle led to a particularly good discussion in our 1st Saturday group when we looked at applying permaculture principles in other areas of our life. Are we “obtaining a yield” from our time?
- Are we generating joy or drudgery from how you use time?
- Is your space organized in such a way that you can be productive of the things you actually want to produce (not dust :))?
- Are there things you could do to maximize your productivity – ways you can leverage your time or resources or space? For example, can you rent a room in your house to bring in extra money?
- Are you obtaining yields from your activities that you just haven’t recognized yet? For example, if you are volunteering in your local community, you may be expanding your social network, learning about available resources, building new skills and making new friends. On the other hand, you might be filling your time with busy work, not making any lasting friendships and not stretching yourself.
This principle gets at one of the biggest questions in life: What do you want to achieve?
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I forgot to add – some of the “yields” we plan for in our yard are social yields. How can we increase positive social interactions with the design of our space? Can we design a space that encourages relaxation?