by Chuck Burr
Here is the Spring collection of permaculture tips and tricks from the Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute. Enjoy. The top photo is the winter Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course students getting a little help from the chickens to establish a block-rotation intense veggie garden in Zone 1 at Restoration Farm.
1) Let the sunshine in. Replace your opaque covered deck roofing with greenhouse plastic. This brings in much more light and passive solar gain into our farm house. Previously a first floor bed and bath were cavernously dark and now they are bright and sunny. Another benefit of the change is that now we have surplus metal roofing to be used on a future project. Photos before and after:
2) Conduct trails before full-scale production. Here are 48 different rooting trials for cloning our non-licensed blueberries. Before committing to 2,700 clones we wanted to know if there was a difference between varieties, humidity, temperature, rooting medium, root growth hormone use, tenting and cutting type. All in all the only measurable difference was from tenting which induced earlier budding from higher humidity and temperature. However, the earlier leaf budding was not matched by earlier rooting, so we decided to go without tenting. We did not notice until after production that although larger woodier cuttings were slower to bud, they had more energy and budded well later. We used new growth tips with success for our cuttings this year. Read more about blueberry propagation at the Northwest Berry & Grape Network.
3) Side-beds extend food forest production. We found that linear spaded (tilled) rows on either side of the food forest circulation paths optimizes yield and stacks functions. The SOPI food forest is divided into several mini polyculture orchards. The circulation paths wind customers through and between these orchards. The initial part of the food forest is a two-acre U-pick blueberry patch. But we found that we needed to double our blueberry plants from 2,000 to almost 5,000 to be economically worth while. So we cloned our prunings before bud break and will have new plants ready in two years. The new blueberries will line the circulation paths and pull U-pick customers into the orchard system. In the mean time we will take advantage of the linear layout of the side-beds to grow organic heirloom tomato seeds. The linear layout gives us variety separation that we ordinarily would not have in a typical row crop fashion.
4) Direct clone with a jig. Here Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course students get hands-on experience cloning blueberries. We made several jigs with 5” screws to make nine holes for clones all at once. The cuttings are planted directly into the ground of our movable greenhouse. They will stay there for two years. When mature enough they will be forked up and planted direct into the side-beds shown above. They will be transplanted as bare root stock without ever being potted up. Growing directly in the ground gives the young plants the best root structure and increases their vigor and chance for success.
5) Give free garden and homestead designs as part of your permaculture teaching experience. The PDC group design project is an ideal opportunity to do permaculture outreach to your local community. Offer a free garden design to home owners who will lend you their sites as a learning tool for your class. This is a win win for the students and the home owners. Here is one of the group design teams having too much fun presenting their design for a new Farm to Kids summer camp
6) Beavers vs. Ducks. Have fun with inclement weather. When the fruit and nut tree bare root stock arrived during the winter PDC it was raining cats and dogs. We broke into two groups. After a rain break, the Beavers went into the greenhouse to plant 700 blueberry clones while the Ducks went back out to brave the elements and plant another 40 trees. The teams tied and finished at the same time. Everyone had a lot of fun on a rainy Oregon Spring day.
7) Learn the headwaters of your watershed. Here is a picture of the local irrigation ditch being drained into the creek that runs through our farm. Note the boards on the left in place during the winter to block the normal flow from right to left and to divert it “down the drain” as shown. This however about doubles the natural flow of the creek during heavy rains. If your creek seems exceptionally “flashy” during heavy rains, it is worth while to explore upstream to understand the cause of the flooding.
8) Try covering seeded raised beds to improve sprouting. This idea came out of our improved carrot seed germination rate from covering beds with burlap bags. The covering prevented the seedlings from drying out and being eaten by birds during the critical germination phase. So we extended the concept to the whole raised bed. We used the same row cover cloth that we use to protect the beds from frost in the Fall. Our cover test showed at least a week head start in seed sprouting from higher humidity and temperature.
9) Get your Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) at a real working independent permaculture institute or farm. An investment in yourself and permaculture education will change your life. You won’t look at the world the same after you have your PDC. Permaculture allows you to see with whole system eyes as never before. Suddenly everything is connected and you cannot think of things in isolation again. New ideas for your life and livelihood spring to mind.
10) Perennialize taproot crops. If you replant the top of beets, onions and carrots, they will grow a new plant for you again. The new root wont be a pretty as the original but regrowth will also be much faster than if you stared from seed. Cut leeks about 1 inch above the ground and the plant will grow a new leek. Here is a new fennel plant growing back after the bulb was removed, left. On the right is a new beet plant growing. The beet root below is missing. Be sure to leave enough of the top to vegetative re-growth, in total leave about 3/4” or 2 cm of root and leaf. This processes in an extension of steckling seed carrots. Steckling is the method of pulling seed carrots for root trait selection an then after a brief vernalization period replanting them to grow seed. For more on steckling read Principles and Practices of Organic Carrot Seed Production in the Pacific Northwest (PDF) by the Organic Seed Alliance.
11) Plant your potatoes in empty raised beds. After digging potatoes out of the ground by hand last year again I vowed, “never again”. Not only is digging potatoes out of the ground a lot of work and a game of hunt and seek but you are also competing with the rodents for your harvest. Here are four old raised beds with 1/4 inch wire hardware cloth nailed to the bottom to keep the rodents from digging in from below. We planted the potatoes in 2-3 inches of compost and then covered with old straw. We will continue to add alfalfa as the potato plants emerge to increase our yield vertically. Alfalfa is preferable to straw because of its slight nitrogen content. I estimate we will at least double our yield per square foot from not only deeper beds but easier harvesting and reduced rodent loss. After the potatoes are removed this Fall we will toss the alfalfa in the compost pile and start with fresh covering next Spring. This will prevent the buildup of potatoes pests by replacing the growing medium.
12) Try ducks. We love chickens and enjoy their eggs for our use and selling at our farm stand but ducks have a few advantages over chickens. First, ducks do not dig as much as chickens. Ducks will explore with their beaks under your sheet mulch but they will not dig the whole place up. Try an above ground pond. My friend Cynthia Care suggests using a 200 gallon stock tank as a raised duck pond that can easily be gravity drained into orchards or appropriate gardens. Do not directly drain your nutrient duck poo-pond into your veggie patch because your veggies are in contact with the ground.
13) Stack your greenhouse functions. This Spring in our 48 x 30 foot movable greenhouse are 7,000 nursery starts, 2,700 blueberry clones plus our over-wintered veggie crop. This greenhouse will be rolled off this site by June 1 to the next bed requiring shaded intense veggies. Last summer we rotated in hot house tomatoes and peppers. SOPI board president and organic farmer extraordinaire Michael DiGiorgio sowed winter crops at a “micro-greens” high-density. A month ago we thinned them by planting out at least half the plants to new beds. This will double our yield by allowing more space to each plant to grow to mature size now that full sun is here. One other tip, the benches in the background are hinged on the greenhouse wall and flip down when propagation season is over.
14) Avoid the rodent motel. We found that the traditional sheet mulching technique of placing a layer of compost under cardboard was inviting a rodent party during the winter. Rodents would come from far and wide to nest and over winter in the sheet mulch and eat the bark off our young fruit and nut trees. So, no more compost under the sheet mulch around trees. Now we just put a piece of cardboard down to suppress the grass and call it good. Make the covering out of one piece of cardboard with a slit to a hole in the center. Place the slit downwind. The traditional technique works well in no-till garden establishment but not around trees.
15) Think long-term time horizon. What are pecan trees doing in a blueberry field? The answer is simple, the blueberries will be here for only 15-20 years while the pecan can be for over 100 years. By the time the blueberries need to be pushed out the pecans will be coming into mature production. Pecans have two other advantages, first their shade is a dapple light allowing some light in. Second, the pecan tree is the mother of all tap root nut trees which compete very little with neighboring trees and shrubs. Pecans are not allopathic like black walnuts. The last benefit it that the pecans need a “clean orchard floor” to be harvested. Our blueberry field is mowed unlike the shaggy old-field food forest. This design gives the pecans a 20 year head start at Restoration Farm.
16) Develop signage. Make your site a permaculture demonstration model. We made inexpensive signage describing our mini-orchards and the vegetative layers of our young food forest. The signs are simply laminated printouts mounted on plywood. That in turn is screwed on the end of a 4 inch round treated posted. It is easy to refer to the permaculture benefits of your design and the variety qualities of your plant selections. Make self-guided walking tours fun and easy.