View Full Version : Anyone else into Permaculture?

January 20th, 2011, 09:58 PM
Glenn from Olomana Gardens was kind enough to give me a seed pod from his Moringa Oleifera tree. I got one seed to sprout, so its got my full attention at the moment. I used a tooth brush on an early infestation of aphids. Gonna prune it when it gets larger, to encourage it to take on a bushy form. I'll be happy if I can grow more seed pods.

I still need to decide on/get nitrogen fixing shrubs and trees.

Will probably buy some Comfrey plants from him for their deep tap roots and useful foliage. Also been using Daikon to loosen up the heavy clay soil in our yard. Of course the Daikon is doing best in the parts of the yard which are already loose :p

We've got a sugar apple tree that's infested with scales, but the upside is they're supporting a colony of ladybugs (black ones and the occasional grey one with black spots). I've been planting Cosmos and Mustard around the tree to provide pollen and nectar for the adult ladybugs. Those two plants are growing very well for me.

I've sheet mulched a section of the front yard. It's definitely keeping the weeds at bay. The yard is south facing, so it gets the most sunlight but also heat; we'll see how well I can establish stuff there. I'll go with my sure bets, Cosmos and Mustard, to try and get some shade and predatory insect habitat going. Mustard is water hungry though, so not sure how well that will go (I want to do minimal watering).

Debating introducing Dandelions back onto the property.

For those who haven't heard of Permaculture, you can check out these websites:


And I'd recommend these books to start:

Gaia's Garden
Teaming with Microbes

January 21st, 2011, 10:00 AM

Does strawbale gardening count?

January 21st, 2011, 01:22 PM
Does strawbale gardening count?

Of course! :D

It all depends on how you garden within your strawbale garden. Though Permaculture has some signature techniques, the most important thing is the philosophy and the attention towards purposeful design. You can practice Permaculture with the potted herbs you put in your kitchen window.

Do you use mulch to suppress weeds and prevent water evaporation from the soil (instead of herbicides and excessive watering)? Do you provide habitat for lady bugs, spiders, frogs, etc. who prey on pest insects (instead of using pesticides which kill all your beneficial insects, whose populations recover slower than pest populations)? Do you return as much organic matter (trimmings, vegetable peelings, etc.) as you can back to your soil to improve its fertility (instead of over reliance on chemical fertilizers)? If so, you're practicing Permaculture.

I don't believe in an all-or-nothing approach. Start with your favorite gardening techniques and slowly experiment with a Permaculture design idea here or there. There's a concept called Polyculture: the growing together of plants which benefit or at the very least do not interfere with each other. For example:

You can grow onions, lettuce, and carrots very close together. First of all, their roots don't compete: onions have shallow roots, lettuce intermediate roots, and carrots deep roots. They take nutrients and water from different levels. Their leaves also don't compete. Onion has tall leaves, but they're narrow, so they don't hog all the light. Carrot leaves are bushy, but they don't cast dense shadows. Lettuce leaves cast very heavy shadows, but they are low to the ground, below the onion and carrot leaves.

There's a more sophisticated intercropping of plants called a Three Sisters Garden: corn, bean vines, and squash. The corn stalks provide a trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans are nitrogen fixers which add nutrients to the soil to feed the greedy corn. The squash leaves spread over the ground providing shade (i.e. living mulch) for the soil and helps protect the beans and corn. This technique was developed by the Native Americans. They also buried fish remains when they planted the corn.

Another technique is a banana circle. You dig a pit and fill it with mulch. Around the pit you grow banana plants. As you trim off leaves, throw them into the pit. As you harvest bananas and cut down the banana tree, throw it into the pit too. The pit is one big compost pile which holds a lot of moisture. Since the compost pile and the banana plants are right there, you don't have to waste energy carrying stuff around in a wheel barrel. You just "chop and drop". Instead of watering individual trees, you just water the pit. Some people put an outdoor shower over the pit (while using biodegradable soap, of course). They throw kitchen scraps in there. Some people even use it as a urinal, with the urine providing nitrogen for the plants.

There's so many things you can try, at your own pace. It's a lot of fun.

Thanks for pointing out strawbale gardening, SusieMisajon. Speaking of straw, check out Masanobu Fukuoka's book "The One-Straw Revolution". Very inspiring.

January 21st, 2011, 10:45 PM
As I get time and education, I will join you in permaculture. I like it!

January 24th, 2011, 02:53 PM
As I get time and education, I will join you in permaculture. I like it!

You'd enjoy it. I find hanging out in the garden to be a good way to relieve stress. I spend a lot of time walking around, not doing much physically, but my mind is very active. I'm observing/absorbing every little detail. I'm imagining/simulating what's going on in the soil (the more you learn about soil ecology and insects, the more you'll realize the amazing amount activity going on in a "peaceful" garden). It's a lot like meditation, but not as boring.

Some tips for people just starting out:

1) No matter how large your yard is, keep your initial permaculture projects small. You want it to be easy to manage. Don't bite off more than you can chew, otherwise you'll set yourself up for failure and disappointment.

2) Keep your projects in places you naturally visit daily (by your front/back/patio door, by the walkway to your garage, the most pleasant part of your yard). Out of sight is out of mind, so you want your experiments to be easy to see and easy to visit.

3) Plant things that are easy and cheap to grow. It's important to have early successes, to get your momentum going. Ask your neighbors what grows for them. Going to a store and buy a variety of cheap seeds and try them all out (after researching how to grow them). I highly recommend growing Cosmos. It germinates easy and flowers quickly. It looks beautiful and is drought tolerate. It actually performs poor soil. Give it as much sunlight as you can.

Another reason why you want cheap and easy is because when your plants fail, and they will, you won't be so heart broken. Learning requires going through a lot of mistakes. As long as those mistakes are cheap, they'll be easier to take.

4) Start more than one project, to keep yourself from getting bored. Nature is pretty good at taking care of herself. Often times we mess things up by trying to "help". Over watering is one of the common mistakes.

Growing things takes patience. If you get impatient, you're liable to start mucking around too much. So get yourself several small projects going.

5) Your primary goal is to grow our soil, not grow your plants. If you take care of your soil, your soil will take care of your plants. One nice thing about this philosophy is if your plants fail, you still win, because you throw the dead plant onto the mulch pile and it will enrich your soil with organic matter.

Here are some easy experiments that don't require you to plant a thing. They'll show you the power of mulching (mulch being dead plant matter). Go buy some mulch or better yet pick up free mulch (if you're on O'ahu, you can try these places out http://www.opala.org/solid_waste/curbside.htm#free_mulch ) There might be a risk of introducing weeds, but it hasn't been a problem for me (besides, our property has all sorts of weeds and permaculture teaches you how to use weeds instead of fighting them).

1) Find a spot in your garden that is very dry and pour a pile of mulch on it (it doesn't need to wide, just make sure it's 4-6 inches thick). Water the spot before you dump the mulch and water it after you dump the mulch. After leaving it alone for a week, the mulch will look very dry on the surface, but if you dig a few inches down, odds are it'll still be very moist. That ability to protect water from evaporation keeps your plants happy.

2) Find a spot that has a lot of tough weeds. Once again, dump a 4-6 inch layer of mulch on it. The weeds will have a hard time growing in the mulch. The few that do poke through will be easier to pluck out. Each time you weed, there should be less and less weeds to pluck. What you may find is a lot of weeds growing around the mulch, because the mulch is keeping the soil under it moist.

Another variation is to drop a piece of cardboard on the weeds first, before adding the mulch. The weeds won't be able to pop through the cardboard. Over time the cardboard will biodegrade. If you want to plant on top of it, use a sharpened shovel to poke out an X so the roots can grow through it easier.

One downside to mulch is slugs, but you can sprinkle some organic slug "poison" around. Make sure it's made out of iron phosphate, because that stuff is safe around kids, pets, and plants. The iron phosphate makes the slugs loose their appetite. The crawl away to hide and die.

January 24th, 2011, 08:58 PM
...permaculture teaches you how to use weeds instead of fighting them...

Fighting them? Weed varieties are the whole purpose of my garden. ;)

January 25th, 2011, 01:25 AM
Get to know Ruth Stout.

January 25th, 2011, 07:15 AM
Fighting them? Weed varieties are the whole purpose of my garden. ;)

Haha. You can tell irate neighbors that you're doing research for a major university, and that your garden is a demonstration plot for various weed cultivars.

Get to know Ruth Stout.

Thanks for pointing her out, Susie. Looks like some people call her the "Mulch Queen".

Her no-till, mulch heavy system sounds good. Pretty much what Masanobu Fukuoka does with his rice/rye system. "no-work" means working with Nature and letting her do most of the heavy lifting.

Mulch is awesome; I love it. My neighbor isn't maintaining his yard, which is waist high with weeds. I still don't have the courage to use weed hay, but when I do, I'll offer to trim my neighbor's yard.

For those who are wondering:

hay = stalks + seed heads
straw = stalks - seed heads

January 25th, 2011, 10:52 AM
Irate neighbors? They're all lookin' for freebies! [Mangoes 4 sugar trim?]

January 26th, 2011, 01:49 AM
don't worry about pesky volunteer seeds sprouting...just lob a handful of compost on em and bury em alive.

I start with a goat to eat the weeds down a bit, then lots of cardboard, then straw and old leaves, and finÓsh with sawdust, which holds the water in very well.

January 26th, 2011, 01:02 PM
don't worry about pesky volunteer seeds sprouting...just lob a handful of compost on em and bury em alive.

Mulch and compost are wonderful stuff.

I start with a goat to eat the weeds down a bit, then lots of cardboard, then straw and old leaves, and finÓsh with sawdust, which holds the water in very well.

I hear goats and pigs are great at managing weeds (as long as you can manage them!). Do you have problems with your goat getting sick from eating toxic weeds?

January 27th, 2011, 08:55 AM
The only problem I have with goats is that all they think about is escaping and eating the rest of the garden.

March 28th, 2011, 03:28 PM
This sunflower will pass 6ft before it flowers:

This mustard is gianormous (this picture is AFTER I trimmed its three largest leaves a few weeks ago, to give the plants behind/under it more sunlight):

Despite being the hottest spot on the property (south facing, close to the asphalt road), the plants are doing well. The mustard leaves are actually cool to the touch. They also shade the ground, reducing evaporation.

It's all thanks to a thick layer of spongy compost covered by a thick layer of wood chips. The surface is bone dry, but you only have to dig an inch or two down to feel moisture. I just give the area a deep watering once a week, plus whatever spotty rain we've been getting.

Another thing that's helping this group of plants to thrive is the lack of aphids. I suspect the "desert" area immediately surrounding this patch is acting as a barrier. I've got a younger sunflower about 10ft to the left, in the cool shade of some bushes, that has a few aphids.

The plants in the backyard, where it's cooler and with more vegetation, do well at first until the aphid plague finds them. Then they get their leafy butts kicked. The only plus side is they attract a variety of interesting looking parasitic wasps. It's encouraging to see carnage inflicted on the aphids:

The bloated brown aphids are "aphid mummies", where baby wasps burst out of.

Since mustard and daikon are very easy to grow and attract aphids, they're a quick way to test which areas of my property are prone to aphids.

My neighbor claims marigold repels aphids. He grows them in a pot and moves them to areas that need protection. I'll have to give that a try.

March 28th, 2011, 10:44 PM

March 29th, 2011, 08:46 PM
Thanks for the link, Susie :)

I like Paul's article which compares a rotating paddock system with chicken tractors. He also talks about Sepp Holzer and hugelkultur. I built a small scale one in my back yard with palm tree trunks. Plants seem to grow fine on it, but I have a feeling their roots can't go down too deep (yet). They say give it a year for the wood to decompose enough. Anyways, the surface has developed this hard, dry crust; but seedlings still manage to pop out and find water deeper down.

May 4th, 2011, 05:51 PM

I planted another sunflower (left), near the thriving one (right), and I've gotten interesting results. Not only is the growth of the left sunflower stunted, it's also infested with aphids.

My current theory for the difference is what's behind the fence. Behind the right sunflower is a raised bed that my mom used to throw all sorts of kitchen scraps into. Perhaps the nutrients from the bed are leaching out into the front. I guess one way to test this is to plant a line of sunflowers, which should grow taller when you go from left to right.

As for the aphids infesting only the left sunflower, I'm thinking about what a coffee farmer told me on the Big Island. I had asked her what they were doing about the coffee beetle outbreak. She said they're not using pesticides to fight the beetles, but rather they give the plants more fertilizer. Apparently the plants can fight off the beetles themselves and just need more nutrients to keep their "immune system" strong. This makes sense to me.

Another thing that seems to support the strengthened immune system theory is the mustard plant that's growing in front of the right sunflower. It's a huge juicy target for aphids, but it's bug free. It also suffers from no fungal diseases...except for right now, while it's flowering/seeding. Now the leaves are covered with dusty mildew and all droopy. I'm guessing since the plant is putting all it's energy into making seeds, its "immune system" has weakened. Perhaps like salmon who die after spawning.

Once again I left the red Coke can in the picture as a reference. This little garden has been fairly low maintenance, thanks to the thick layer of mulch and compost. Occasionally some nut grass pokes out, but they're really easy to pluck out, thanks to the soft compost. Runner type grasses/weeds love all this mulch, though. You need a barrier around the perimeter, to keep them out.

May 4th, 2011, 06:48 PM
You ought to come out to the next meetup at Olomana Gardens! We just had one last month, it was awesome! We should be having another one for my aquaponics group sometime before the end of summer.

I need to find a Moringa tree, I just got a sayote squash from them, there were tons lying around!

May 4th, 2011, 07:45 PM
You ought to come out to the next meetup at Olomana Gardens! We just had one last month, it was awesome! We should be having another one for my aquaponics group sometime before the end of summer.

Cool. What's the name of your group? When I mentioned permaculture to Glenn, he didn't seem too enthusiastic.

I need to find a Moringa tree, I just got a sayote squash from them, there were tons lying around!

When I took Glenn's tour, he was telling me about the virtues of Moringa's seed pods and gave me one as he described the various parts and their uses. After the talk, I was about to toss the pod but realized he had given me a gift. The seeds sprout and establish easily. There are two baby ones in the picture above, though they're hard to see. One's to the right of the left sunflower, in front of the comfrey (which I bought from Glenn). The other one is to the right of the upside down clay pot.

If I run into you, I can trade you some Moringa seeds in exchange for some sayote squash or something :)