RATES & INFO
IN OUR GARDEN
By: Mark Hoffman
Over the past few years we have integrated
principles into our garden. Since a picture tells the story better than anything
I might write, this page is comprised of photos with accompanying descriptions
of how we
have applied these principles.
Check out the antics of our pet goat
Permaculture design encompasses all aspects of
living in one's environment. It touches the way we garden, how we construct our
buildings, the placement of our buildings and plants, our transportation
options, and even how we shape the land. Because our B&B property is flat and
our buildings are already established, we have less flexibility in fully
utilizing the principles than if we were to start from scratch or have land that
slopes or has natural water features. Therefore, we
have worked primarily with the simple concept of harvesting maximum sunlight.
Although we built our sunroom to 'harvest' sunlight and thus provide
supplemental heat for our home, most of our permaculture ventures involve
innovative means of raising plants.
Thank you so much for the great food and conversation! I feel like there is something magical and familiar about this place and the people here. Thank you for sharing that with me!
Sarah – Indianapolis, IN
Many plants do not need full sun in order to
be productive, and in fact, perform reasonably well in partial sun. See our shade
plantings page for highlights of our experiments planting
vegetables, flowers, and herbs in shade. By integrating plant
systems into guilds, observing the cycles of nature, and experimenting with
extending structures, we have increased
the productive capacity of our gardens. Read on....
Click on each photo
below to expand the view.
The photo on the left is of
horseradish growing at the base of a sour cherry tree. For 17 years, this
cherry tree had never produced well, and birds normally ate its few
cherries before we could harvest them. In 2004, one
year after planting the horseradish, this tree produced an abundant crop of cherries that the
birds did not eat. For the first time, we were able to harvest and
preserve all the cherries we wanted. The large cherry crop may have been
coincidental with the planting of the horseradish, however, abundant crops
have continued from this tree over the subsequent three years. There are
other advantages to planting the horseradish in this location. For
The area under this tree
previously required regular weeding. This is no longer necessary since
the horseradish chokes out almost all weeds.
Horseradish is more
compatible with trees than is grass because grass exudes chemicals
intended to suppress tree growth. Having horseradish in this location
keeps grass further from the tree roots.
We now have a horseradish
crop that can be harvested at any time, and it requires virtually no
In early summer the
horseradish produces an attractive white flower that can be used for
The young horseradish leaves
add a tangy flavor to a green salad when used in moderation.
As you can see from the photo,
horseradish is a broad-leaf plant. Broad-leaf plants generally tolerate shade or partial shade since
their leaves allow the plant to harvest more sunlight.
Therefore, it is not surprising that horseradish grows well under this
tree. In fact, this horseradish was transplanted from a full sun location
and its growth is at least as hardy, if not hardier, than in its earlier
full sun location - while utilizing a heavily shaded location that was
previously unproductive. Note the dark leaf color. This allows the leaf
to absorb more sunlight. The leaves were a much lighter green when the
horseradish was planted in full sun.
The photo on the right (above)
displays a similar situation. In this photo, cannas are growing under a
half-grown persimmon tree. Cannas are tropical plants with wide, dark
leaves and colorful flowers at their top. The cannas grown in this location far outperformed those grown in
full sun and did not seem to have any negative impact on the persimmon
tree. The only disadvantage to this location was that the leaves of
the persimmon tree hid the canna blossoms.
These two examples illustrate
how the area beneath trees can be utilized for food or flower production.
The next two photos are similar applications of this principle.
The photo on the left
demonstrates a plant guild. Under this young 10' persimmon tree grows a bed
of oregano (lavender colored flowers). Interspersed within the oregano, four
eggplants are growing. All members of this guild experienced healthy
growth, and much fruit was produced by the eggplants (the persimmon is not
yet in production as of taking this photo.) Not only do these plants
perform well together, but the combination is attractive (click
here for a close up of the oregano and eggplant).
The photo on the right shows
eggplants surrounding a tall pear tree. This particular pear tree has been
pruned to have minimal upper branches, therefore the area below it is
relatively sunny. These eggplants produced very well and
planting in this location did not require garden bed preparation since the soil
was weed free due to years of prior weeding and mulching. Planting in this
unused location, we were able to expand our eggplant production without the
need to create new garden beds. An added benefit was that the tree trunk
served as a pole in October to which a sheet was hung for frost
protection, thus extending the growing season of the eggplants by a few
weeks. This tree/vegetable guild produced both pears and eggplants for
serving our guests as well as for our own consumption.
The concept of guild planting represents
what in permaculture is called 'stacking functions'. 'Stacking' means to
multiply the production of a location through integration of
components, be they plants, animals, or structures. In these examples, the
stacking is vertical. Stacking can also be time based, such as when
planting early bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths under
fruit trees. By the time the fruit trees produce full leaf structure,
the bulbs are nearing the completion of their spring growth cycle, and
their sunlight needs are significantly reduced.
This row of green beans had
completed one cycle of mid-summer production when Guia cut back the tops
of the plants. Since the roots were well established, removal of the old
tops stimulated the plants to sprout new leaves, branches, and flowers.
This led to a new crop of beans that produced well, although not as
well as the first production cycle, and did so quicker than if we had grown
new plants from seed. The beans on the right were harvested on Nov. 16. By
covering the plants a few times to protect from frost, we were able to harvest green
beans through Thanksgiving (2004). This approach to raising beans provides
the advantages of minimizing the space needed to grow crops in succession,
minimizing the amount of seed required, reducing the need for bed
preparation, eliminating the need to weed a second bed, capitalizing on an
established root system, and extending production later in the season. The
second crop was just as tasty as the first. We attempted this same method
in 2005 with poor results, largely due hot dry conditions in August and
September. We may have also waited a little too long to cut back the
tops in 2005.
|These photos illustrate
companion and succession planting. On the left is a row of lettuce
growing in between rows of garlic. The garlic is planted in mid-November
and harvested in mid-July. The lettuce is planted in mid to late April and
harvested in May and June, thus allowing harvest of two crops from the
More commonly, we plant carrots in between
the garlic. We plant the carrots in mid to late May and they grow all
summer and through the fall. After the garlic is harvested, mulch is added
and the carrots are allowed to grow into the area previously occupied by
the garlic. This is illustrated in the middle photo (taken in August),
although this particular bed of carrots did not sprout completely.
The carrots can be harvested at any time,
but we prefer to leave them in the ground as long as possible. Carrots are
biennial plants, which means they go to seed in their second year. To
determine the best time to harvest carrots, it is helpful to study their
lifecycle. In our climate, carrot seeds won't sprout until late April -
early May after the soil has warmed somewhat. Since they are slow to grow, it is
difficult to obtain large carrots early in the summer, however, they grow
quite well during August - October if they have adequate moisture. In preparation for winter, carrots
increase their sugar content. The sugar serves two purposes -
one is to provide an energy source for the next spring when the carrot rapidly
sprouts and produces seeds. This expends its stored sugar and hardens the
root into inedible cellulose. The other purpose is to
protect the carrot from freezing temperatures, since a sugar solution
freezes at a lower temperature than pure water. Therefore, based on the
carrot's lifecycle, it is apparent that the time to harvest the largest,
carrots is during the winter months after the plant has gone dormant. In
our cold winters, carrot roots will normally freeze and rot if
unprotected. To protect them, we cover the plants with a foot or more of
mulch. We use loose hay, but anything will do as long as it doesn't blow
away. We then harvest carrots all winter long (as you can see in the photo
above on the right taken at the end of February). They are normally sweet, and because they have grown
for such a long period, they are oftentimes very large. I have harvested
carrots up to 16" long and 3" in diameter that were sweet and crunchy
throughout. There is one caveat, however - the carrots must be harvested
before the warm spring weather arrives, otherwise they will sprout seed
tops and quickly use up all their sugar. Also, the longer they stay in the
ground into warm weather, the more likely they are to rot or be eaten by
underground insects. Typically they will only rot if the top of the root
has partially frozen. It is very easy to grow carrots
in this manner - and a pleasure to dig under the snow for a healthy meal.
Try it sometime.
Click here to see the mulch covering
the carrot row in late January.
One final note on the photos above: You will
notice an unusual plant in between the carrots in the middle photo.
This plant, Euphorbia Lathyrus L. - a.k.a. 'Gopher Purge', which is in the milkweed family, exudes a sap that is
distasteful to voles. We have occasional challenges with voles eating our crops. It seems they
have a sweet tooth preferential to carrots, sweet potatoes, and strawberries.
Including this milkweed plant in our garden has significantly reduced crop
loss due to voles. Interestingly, we still have voles in our yard,
however, they now generally stay out of the garden. The Gopher Purge reseeds itself, so rather than replant, we simply allow it to go to seed,
then while weeding, leave enough of these plants in strategic locations to
keep the voles out of the garden. This method of 'vole prevention' sure
beats trapping and poisoning.
|Unlike what I described
in the garlic and carrot examples above, the true permaculture
approach, would not annually replant if the plant could reseed
itself. With some plants in our northeastern Illinois climate, the
reseeding approach works well. For example, we never plant dill
anymore. It faithfully reseeds itself every year. We seldom replant
sunflowers, and we have let our parsnips (photo above left of
parsnip seeds ripening) reseed themselves too. If plants seed to
thickly using this approach, we simply thin them as desired while
performing normal weeding. Garlic can also 'reseed' if bulbs are
left in the ground instead of being harvested. The photo in the
middle above show garlic bulbs that were not harvested from the year
before. These plants are crowded but looking healthy already in mid
February. In theory, they will fill in the entire space around the
fruit tree at the middle of the photo. Once established in this
manner, fresh garlic can be harvested when needed. The advantage of
this approach is that, once established, the only work required is
to harvest. The disadvantage is that the cloves tend to be much
smaller than if the cloves had been planted individually. Planting
the individual cloves 4-5 inches apart in November results in fully
developed bulbs without the crowding observed here. With continued
spreading, this garlic can become very thick, and in this example
serve to crowd grass from the base of this fruit tree.
A similar plant that provides better
results when planted in this manner is the winter, or 'Egyptian'
onion seen in the photo above at right. This onion variety is very
hardy and requires virtually no care. It begins to grow in early
February and by June goes to seed. It's green shoots as well as its
white base can be harvested from February till April, after which,
the onion becomes hard and very strong tasting. This onion is a
great option for harvesting onions when practically nothing else is
available in the garden. It spreads readily when its seed heads fall
the the ground in July and August. It will readily take over a
garden area if allowed.
The photo on the left is of an
'upo' vine growing in a plum tree. Upo is a tropical gourd that produces a
2 foot long edible fruit (seen in photo). Guia planted one of these vines
below this plum tree and another vine below a 15 foot tall maple tree. By end of summer, both of these trees were covered by the vine and together
produced over a bushel of gourds. Using this method, we eliminated the
need to build a trellis; however, there is some risk to the growth of the
trees since their leaves were largely covered by vines for about two
months in late summer. The photo on the right is of a muskmelon vine
growing in our red raspberry patch. Spring raspberry production was
complete before the melon vine began vigorous growth. In late summer this patch
produced a second crop - this time it was muskmelons instead of
raspberries, while causing no growth reduction to the raspberries since
the raspberry leaves remained above the muskmelon vine.
These two photos are of tomato
vines that we planted directly under a 20 foot pin oak next to our house.
Tomatoes are vines that in nature grow under the forest canopy.
Apparently, these tomatoes received enough light because they produced
some beautiful yellow tomatoes (looking out our kitchen window, there
appeared to be oranges growing in our oak tree!). These tomatoes had no
insect or sun damage, and the tasty fruits were the size of tangerines.
These vines had morning sun exposure for ~ 4 hours, and apparently that
was enough for them to produce a healthy crop. An added bonus was that,
because of protection by the tree, these vines did not need to be covered
for frost protection. As a result, they produced later into the season
than our other unprotected tomatoes. To learn of an even more successful
season extending innovation, check out the page describing our
It was great to finally visit the Greenhouse and to see the
wonderful oasis you have created here. After hearing about Guia
for ~25 years, it was a pleasure to finally meet you! Your
cooking was fabulous and your hospitality unmatched. Mark – it
was good to see you again and to reconnect again.
and Angie L. – Bay City, TX