Permaculture in Progress- Growing Food While Working with Nature
What is Permaculture?
"Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture." David Holmgren
"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labor; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system." Bill Mollison
At Cedar House Inn we have always looked for ways to live and demonstrate a greener and more sustainable lifestyle. We are not "preppers"- our motivation is all about caring for the Earth.
In 2009 we heard about permaculture, a holistic system that was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren 30 years ago in Australia. We were excited to realize that permaculture encompassed many of the principles, techniques and philosophies we had already been following in terms of sustainability, composting, water conservation and caring for the Earth.
After reading the book, Gaia's Garden, we began to implement more of the design techniques at the inn.
Fred also attended a one day Introduction to Permaculture workshop at Cedar Hill Enrichment Center. At the workshop led by permaculture designers from Georgia, Fred learned permaculture principles and design, and built an herb spiral.
Armed with the new information, he started adding permaculture design principles at the inn with Mary Beth. They are described below.
Retaining water after a rain is vital for water conservation and proper plant growth. Most rain water in traditional lawns and gardens percolates into the soil and then runs off into streets and other hard surfaces.
Topsoil erosion also occurs which is a problem since it can take many years to create good topsoil.
By creating swales the water is retained for a longer period of time and essentially forced into the ground versus staying on the surface. This greatly reduces evaporation of the water by sun and wind.
We built several swales at the inn on downward sloping hills. Each swale is about a foot deep and a foot to 16 inches wide. The dirt from digging the swale creates a berm on the downhill side of the swale.
The swale is filled with leaf litter from the woods which keeps water from evaporating. The swale and berm are covered in wheat straw and planted with comfrey, shrubs, trees and sunflowers.
One of our swales is at the top of the garden area and is planted with peach and pear trees, sunflowers and autumn olives (a nitrogen fixing shrub for the peach trees). This swale retains water for the peaches, pears, blueberries and vegetable garden.
We have another swale near the guest parking area planted with autumn olives and pomegranates. Other swales are planted with fruit and berry bushes mentioned below.
Additional swales and plantings have been added down the driveway (planted with wineberries) and other areas of the property.
Fred is finished with hand digging swales.
In the past we have tried vegetable gardening on the property with limited success.
The soil is hard packed clay with rock near the surface. We thought about hauling in yards of top soil via dump truck but realized that it would be taking soil from other areas not to mention the carbon footprint of using fossil fuels to haul dirt.
We opted for making our own dirt the permaculture way with sheet mulching. The Lasagna Gardening book provided great information.
In the Fall of 2009 we collected cardboard from everywhere we could find it.
Our oldest son and his family moved from Colorado to Atlanta and we took all of their moving boxes. The boxes were broken apart and placed directly over the weeds and bare clay soil.
Then all Fall and Winter we hauled leaves from the woods and built layered beds of leaves and straw. Old rotted logs were also placed in the beds to add decaying matter, worms, lichen, fungi and microorganisms. We mimicked mother nature in the forest.
A worm tower (idea from New Zealand) was also made by taking an old 5 gallon bucket, drilling holes in it and placing kitchen scraps and worms in the bucket. The worms eat the scraps and crawl through the holes to deposit their worm castings/poop.
During this time Fred also saved his liquid gold (urine) in a urinal (after reading the book Liquid Gold) and dumped the gold nitrogen on the beds to facilitate faster composting or breakdown of the leaves and straw.
In the Spring of 2010 we got old weathered salvage decking wood from our neighbor and built boxes around the beds to contain the areas and differentiate walkways between the garden areas.
The garden has been planted with broccoli, peppers, asparagus, lettuce, kale, turnips, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, corn and pole beans.
We are excited that the permaculture sheet mulching method of gardening is producing a vibrant and productive garden. We are enjoying the bounty and also like that the garden requires no tilling, digging or weeding.
We use natural pest control (picking off and squashing the little green worms on the broccoli leaves, for instance) and no pesticides. The Postage Stamp Garden book was a great resource for companion planting information.
Part of the garden also uses the permaculture concept of stacking and guilds. For example the corn and pole beans are grown together to allow the beans to climb the corn. Shade loving vegetables can grow under tomatoes is another example.
In the past we have used a drum composter with limited success.
We also have composting toilets on the property and have disposed of the humanure in the flower gardens in the past.
We built a compost bin system out of discarded shipping pallets and now compost kitchen scraps, lawn refuse and humanure together.
The area consists of two bins. One for the compost and one for the wheat straw we use to cover new refuse material.
When the original bin is full we will let it cure for one year and then use the contents on the gardens.
We also have a compost thermometer to measure the temperature of the pile. When the thermometer reads 100-130 degrees F it is considered active, over 130 is hot. In order to kill any microorganisms in the humanure contents of the pile we need to create thermophilic composting temperatures for several weeks which is over 130 degrees. For more information read Humanure Handbook .
Food Forest- Fruit Trees and Bushes
In 2011 we started adding edible fruit trees, berries and other sources of food for ourselves and wildlife.
It is our goal to grow most of the food needed for ourselves and the inn in three years from the fruits, berries and garden vegetables. In permaculture a food forest provides needed fruits, nuts and berries incorporated with the existing 300 trees and shrubs we have planted since opening the inn.
As of October 2012 we have added autumn olives, pomegranates, cherry tree, nanking/bush cherries, quinces, gooseberries, paw paws, oriental persimmons, blueberries, concord grapes, peaches, plums, apples, pears, raspberries, thornless blackberries, mulberries, mayhaw, currants, medlar, jujubes, serviceberries/juneberries, figs, comfrey, cornelian cherries, mullein, aronias, goji berries, goumis, american persimmons, jostaberry, thimbleberry, wineberries and high bush cranberries.
The owner/innkeepers, Mary Beth and Fred, have completed a permaculture design course to be certified permaculture designers and offer consulting and workshops at Permaculture Lifestyles.
The inn property is becoming known as a permaculture demonstration site to show others how to live in a more sustainable way using permaculture methods.
We provide tours after breakfast for bed and breakfast guests.
Currently we only provide tours to registered guests staying at the inn, our students or consulting clients.
The site plan below shows current permaculture elements that have been added as well as future additions.