Tag Archives: garden planning

Permaculture Principle 9: Use Small and Slow Solutions

Make the least change for the greatest possible effect. – Bill Mollison

Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, make better use of local resources, and produce more sustainable outcomes. – David Holmgren

Small and slow solutions will be increasingly important in an energy-constrained future. Large, fast solutions typically use more energy and are more expensive. It may be appropriate to use a lot of energy to set up a system, but in the long run the system should be self-sustaining.

I think an example of a slow solution – maybe the only example I can think of, since I’m bad at doing things slowly – is our raised garden beds. We now have 18 raised beds but we didn’t start there. We started with four.

The latest installation of raised beds

The latest installation of raised beds

They worked well and helped us achieve the goal we were seeking: making it easier for me to keep the garden weeded even when my back was acting up. I quite enjoyed weeding them. I could sit on the edge and reach everything. It takes about 15 minutes to weed one bed. I can easily do three or four in a day.

The next year I added five more. It continued to work well, so in the fall of 2014 we went all out and added nine more. Now we’re done. I hope this investment proves to be, as Bill Mollison would say, appropriately scaled. We’ll know if I can maintain them without feeling overwhelmed.

If I were to do anything differently, it would be that I would not have added more beds until I had figured out the best way to keep them watered. But that’s not a new problem. I’m always struggling with my water setup.

For the Love of Perennials

Perennial plants are the epitome of slow and small solutions. In my garden, rhubarb and raspberry took a bit of time to get established but once they are contented, I do nothing for them but harvest!

I want MORE of these kinds of crops – more sorrel, more asparagus, more horseradish, more dill (evidently I’m not going to have any trouble getting more of those last two). I’m hoping that next year I’ll find that the ground cherries have reseeded themselves.

The Big Picture of Slow Versus Fast Solutions

Soaking and fermenting food takes a few days or weeks before it’s ready to eat but the food then requires no cooking – not fossil fuel inputs for cooking or for storing!

Biking takes more time but is so much more enjoyable than driving. I check out gardens. I can say hi to neighbors. I can observe more of what is going on around me. Because I was biking, I have stopped at small shops in our neighborhood that have become new favorites.

Slow and small has some very big advantages.

Permaculture Principle 7: Design from Pattern to Detail

Permaculture is a design method and like all design methods it looks at the “big picture” first. It does that with zones, sectors, and functions. Zones, in particular, have been really helpful to me in finding the right place to put things.

Warning – this is a long post. If you are just starting to plan your space, or if your existing space isn’t working for you, I think it will be useful. This method of thinking of space has really helped me put things in their proper place.


Zones are defined by the space and the lifestyle of the person who will be caring for the space. (It could be land or it could be a patio or even indoor space). Zone 1 is the place you visit most frequently and zone 5 is the place you never get to.

It really helps to draw a picture and then be honest with yourself about what area is in what zone. If you don’t know, go to Principle 1 and observe. Where do you go multiple times a day? Where do you go once a day? Where do you go once a week? Where do you never go?

Don’t put things in zone 5 that will require care. It will never happen, no matter how good your intentions. I know I am NEVER going to pay attention to the space on top of the hill by the back of the garage. It’s going to be wild. I am also never going to spend a lot of time in my front yard. Obviously, I can’t let it go wild but anything I plant there had better be able to take care of itself with little maintenance.

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Permaculture Resources

foodBefore we dig into the 12 principles, one last general post. Permaculture is a huge topic and there are a lot of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are a few I really like (I have no financial relationship with any of the companies or websites mentioned below. I receive no remuneration for mentioning them on this blog.)

  • The website Permaculture Principles talks about the principles and also has a lot of resources you can purchase or download.
  • peppersPermaWiki: A collaborative effort to exchange information about permaculture, sustainability, environmentalism and organic gardening.
  • Worldwide Permaculture Network: An interactive database showcasing permaculture projects and practitioners worldwide.
  • We The Trees: A crowd-funding platform that lets you help make permaculture, endeavors become a reality.

amaranthBetter yet, plan to visit a permaculture farm this year:

  • Harmony Park in Clarks Grove, Minn., is a wonderful example of permaculture principles in practice.
  • Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista may not talk about itself as a permaculture farm but it uses a lot of the practices. They give tours in this teaching space.

Seed Suppliers

It’s all about the seeds with us gardeners, isn’t it? I buy my seeds from only a few companies, which are NOT subsidiaries of the largest seed companies in the world — Monsanto, DuPont, Sygenta, Land O’Lakes, etc. You can get non-GMO, organic, heirloom and non-treated seed from them.

ground cherriesLooking for local businesses to help you move your permaculture designed garden to the next level? Just love to browse garden stores? These are my favorites. (Again, I have no relationship with these stores other than being a customer and loving them!)

  • Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave., St. Paul. They offer plants, tools and classes.
  • Mother Earth Gardens, 3738 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis. They have organic seeds and plants, native plants and classes in the dead of winter to whet your appetite for spring.

If you are looking for a larger collection of native plants, try these:

Next week, we’ll begin looking at the permaculture principles.

The Second Permaculture Ethic: Care For People

Permaculture puts care for people and community on equal footing with care for the environment. Human beings are PART of the system, not apart from it. We have a vital role to play in caring for the earth and by doing so we are also caring for each other.

How Does This Ethic Apply in My Yard?

Our yard provides benefits to the people in our house and the people in our community.

  • We grow food. When I plan what food I want to grow I plan for health needs, to please people, and to share. I add cherry tomatoes for my husband. I add ground cherries for my nieces and neighborhood children. I grow greens for my health.
  • The act of working with the earth by gardening an act of caring for the earth and for myself. It’s a healthy outdoor activity. It’s a good excuse to move around and gets me out in the sunshine.
  • Gardening leads to many great opportunities to talk with neighbors, especially seniors and stay-at-home moms out walking the babies. Everyone wants to talk when they see you in the garden. It builds community networks and an active street life makes the neighborhoods safer.
  • The flower garden brings beauty to passersby and makes our whole neighborhood more pleasant.
  • The garden is a learning place. Last fall a 2nd grade class visited from a nearby school. I gave the children a tour and taste.
  • When planning how to fit everything into our small space, we made sure to include an area for rest, relaxation and enjoyment of nature.
  • We enjoy having friends and neighbors over in the evening to socialize but we noticed that our plastic lawn chairs were flimsy and possibly unsafe. This year we built a really sturdy bench, just in time for National Night Out. We had 30 neighbors here that night!
  • Our little free library allows us – and lots of our neighbors – to share knowledge and entertainment with others. At least a handful of people stop to browse every day.

What’s Next in Caring for People?

little free library

Our little free library is busy every day

We’re eyeing the space by the little free library as an area where we can continue to share and care for our community.

  • We want to build a bench so people can sit and look at the books.
  • We’d like to add an information area where we can post information about the neighborhood sustainability group.
  • I’d like to add a couple of cherry tomato plants right by the library post.
  • I’d like to put a dog watering station there, too, but it’s so far from the house that I don’t know how I’d keep it filled with water. So that’s just an idea for the time being.

Reflections on Two Seasons of Permaculture

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the past two years, I have participated in a monthly conversation about permaculture, hosted by Transition Longfellow and facilitated by Hennepin County Master Gardener Theresa Rooney (and me). That conversation comes to an end this month. Since I haven’t written about it before, I thought now would be a good time to take a look back at what I’ve learned from the permaculture principles and ethics, what I’ve put into practice in my garden, and how the principles have played a larger role in my life.

The thoughts expressed in the blog posts about permaculture that will follow may or may not be “from the book.” It’s my take on what I’ve learned in the discussion group, in classes at the Permaculture Research Institute for Cold Climates and at gatherings like the permaculture convergence in Harmony, Minnesota that I attended in 2013.

What Is Permaculture?

Permaculture originated from the work of David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. It is a landscape design method and it’s a philosophy. It takes its cues from natural systems, which are extraordinarily abundant. Every year nature manages to produce multiple yields for plants, animals and people. How does nature manage to do that? It’s regenerative. It’s cyclical. It uses “waste” to create anew. Permaculture is also called “regenerative design.”

Permaculture recognizes that the benefits we obtain from our environment cannot, for long, come at a cost to the natural world. Unlike a company or a country, a planet cannot run a deficit. The well simply runs dry. So permaculture principles guide human activity in a way that seeks abundant yields, that acknowledges limits,and that recognizes the need to provide inputs into the system to rebuild natural resources like the soil and water – and people. We’re part of the natural system, too.

I’ll do one post each on the ethics and the principles, which are these:

Permaculture Ethics

  1. Care for the Earth
  2. Care for People
  3. Fair Share

Permaculture Principles

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from pattern to detail
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the margins
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

This month I’ll post about each of the ethics, then beginning in January I will do one post a month about one of the principles. I welcome comments on what these ethics and principles have meant in your life and practice.

Experiments in Square-Foot Gardening

This month the mini-challenge is localizing our food.We’re paying attention to where our food comes from at the coop, choosing Minnesota or Wisconsin-grown, rather than California or Mexico. At our last trip, 24% of our purchase was local.

raised bed garden box

One of our square foot garden boxes

The other big effort – especially this time of year – is in the garden.

Last year we worked with the Permaculture Institute for Cold Climates and had an urban farmer create and work our veggie garden. This year we’re back to doing it ourselves, but with a twist. We’ve planted several square foot gardens in addition to a more traditional vegetable plantings directly in the dirt (the circular bed). The square foot layout is intended to maximize yield while minimizing space, to virtually eliminate weeding, and to generally simplify gardening.

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