Permaculture - Page 2
Check out my friend Kiva's inspirational journey to growing her own fruit and vegetable garden as well as a wild flower meadow in Ireland. I love Kiva's honesty in this piece, showing what we can all do once we put our minds to it.
Sitting at my office desk in early March 2020, with chatter of the looming COVID pandemic rising in Ireland and watching trolleys of toilet roll been hauled out of Lidl across the road from the office window, myself and my co-worker were in deep conversation about possible food shortages.
I always enjoyed basic gardening, but to describe myself as even a novice gardener would be an exaggeration. Every summer I would get my bedding plants from the local garden centre, pot up a few window boxes and enjoy the vibrant colours until the first frosts told me it was time to put the pots back in the shed. I would buy fresh herb plants in the supermarket only to have them shrivel into a dried sorry mess a week later, so as far as I was concerned, I would have no business growing my own veg. And up until March 2020, the thought never crossed my mind.
As myself and my co-worker continued to chat, the reality of just how dependant I was on supermarkets for all our food came to light. If the supply chains to supermarkets stopped in the morning I was screwed. At this stage in the majority of our local supermarkets, there wasn't even a bag of pasta to be had due to the panic buyers. My co-worker began to tell me how his dad had dug a little garden for vegetables a few days before. His dad had bought a few seed potatoes and cabbage plug plants along with some other staple veggies “just in case”; a task that didn't feel daunting to him as this would have been the norm for him growing up, as most of his generation would have been self-sufficient. It really started me thinking and as the afternoon wore on I realised as much as I knew potatoes grew in the ground, I had no idea what a seed potato was or looked like, I really would be screwed.
On the 25th of March, we were all called down to the main office at work and one by one told we were being let go due to the COVID pandemic. To this day I don't know why but the first thing I did when I got home (after explaining to my partner why I was home so early), was to ring my local garden centre and order one of every vegetable plug plant they had, along with some fruit bushes and compost. This is where my organic growing journey starts and my view and relationship with the earth and nature changes.
So here I am a day later on the 26th March looking at these beautiful healthy veggie plug plants and wondering what do I do now. At this stage I had no veggie beds, polytunnel or even a little greenhouse. After some googling, specifically for vegetable growing in Ireland, I found some brilliant Irish sites with tutorial videos. After a trip to the local DIY store, I had bought a cheap little greenhouse to store my new veggies in and hoped it would buy me some time to plan a more permanent home for them.
By this stage, through the various garden websites and Facebook groups, I was aware there was now a seed and plant shortage due to the excessive demand that came with the pandemic lock downs and supply issues. It seemed the gardening bug had hit many homes in Ireland along with the need to bake banana breads and with the unseasonably good weather on our side it had made us all look at our outdoor spaces a lot more closely.
As the weeks went by, my little plug plants were starting to get too big for the greenhouse so I took a notion to go all out and order a Polytunnel. I went for a cheap and cheerful one as I honestly thought my new gardening hobby wouldn't be a permanent thing and at least if I got bored of gardening, I wouldn’t be at too much of a loss. My partner kindly put the tunnel up for me and I got to work digging and organising the new layout. This is where the growing addiction really started for me.
As I planted all of my now huge plug plants into the ground, added a bit of feed and watered them in, I felt so proud. I went up every day to the polytunnel, weeding, watering and watching my veggies grow. For the first time in a long time I felt so peaceful, so mindful and at ease. With Ireland in lock down, our usually busy road was pretty silent, I could hear the birds singing and the bees buzzing and would often sit for a while just watching all of nature go about their day. For the first time since moving to the area we heard a cuckoo. Once we stopped, nature began to thrive and it was beautiful to watch it thrive in our garden.
We planted a wild flower meadow, a wild flower side garden and made a wildlife pond. The benefits have been unbelievable. When I compare this year to when we started out last year, the amount of wildlife in our garden has trebled. This year I did a little research into beneficial creatures in the garden and have left a lot of weeds or “flowers in the wrong place” as I now call them in my garden. I found interesting nuggets of information such as ladybirds use nettles for nesting. Usually I would have weeded all the nettles out but by leaving the majority of the nettles in my garden, I've discovered so many lady bird nests. I have some nettles in my polytunnel that always has a ladybird or two, they have been great helpers eating up the pesky green fly this year. I heard a great term for my wild weedy style garden and I now call it my eco garden.
I find time stops when I am in the tunnel and in the garden. When I started my garden last year, I found for the first time in a long time I relaxed, my life was no longer scheduled. I listened to music as I carefully tended to my plants' needs. I never needed a watch, I could do what I wanted to do in my own time and at my own pace. Despite life beginning to return to “normal”, I still feel a great sense of peace and stillness in the garden.
The first vegetable to grow for me was a Mangetout Pea. I proudly picked it and ran down to my partner to show him with great pride. I was so amazed that a small plug plant had created something so nourishing and full of flavour. Later that week there was an abundance of peas for the dinner table, from tasting that first pea I was hooked.
As the summer went on I watched my vegetables grow in amazement. I shared all my spare vegetables with family and friends. It was the most rewarding feeling to be able to feed friends and family with fresh vegetables. The flavours from fresh vegetables is second to none and making tea and drinks from your own fresh herbs is joyful, there really is nothing like it.
In my new-found confidence from growing my plug vegetables, I decided to be brave and order seeds which has since become a bit of an addiction. Now, most of my post and deliveries are seeds and bulbs. I have had some great successes and some epic fails but overall I’ve been fascinated by how much grew, considering I really had no clue what I was at. I have found great support through local and Irish gardening groups which had many beginners like myself involved. I ordered books from Irish growers and watched any programmes I could on growing.
This year more and more local growers have connected and have set up a seed swap and plug plant group. This has been invaluable. As the seed shortage continues we have been able to use up left over seed ensuring nothing has gone to waste. Some of the seeds have been saved from the growers themselves, a process that fascinates me as I am learning more and more about healthy seeds.
An amazing group, Seed Savers Ireland, have been working for years in saving seed from Irish heritage crops that were on the way to becoming extinct. They have set up an initiative this year to sending seeds to community groups all over Ireland with the aim of everyone saving seeds to build up the seed banks. We rely heavily on importing seeds at the moment. I have learnt that when seeds are saved, they have a memory bank on the climate and conditions they are saved from, meaning for example, pepper seeds from a pepper grown in Spain will remember a beautiful warm dry climate. This may explain why I had such a struggle and an epic fail growing my peppers this year. Cold wet rainy Ireland is a far cry from sunny Spain.
This year has been a completely different growing year so far. We had an exceptionally cold late spring with frosts up until late May and we seem to be getting an early autumn, so it has been a short growing year. It has been interesting to watch some plants thrive and do better than ever such as the roses and cottage garden plants while also unfortunately losing a few plants and seedlings due to late frosts. We also have no cherries this year on our tree but we have an abundance of blueberries.
The warm spring and summer last year gave a great starting point for a beginner gardener but equally the cold year this year has been a great learning point for me as well. My peppers are a no go and my beans, etc. aren't as abundant. But my winter veg is flying along. I am well aware I am far from being self-sufficient but I love the little bits I am getting this year and I get so much enjoyment from my efforts.
Growing my own veg has also made me look at where our food is sourced, the quality and the ethics. Luckily, we have an amazing organic vegetable farm on our doorstep who have the most amazing veg grown on site, they are also are having great success with peppers this year.
I have found since starting my gardening it has had a ripple effect on the majority of things in my life. I am more aware of what I'm eating and where it has come from. I am also passionate about organic locally sourced food after researching how harmful preserving and pest control chemicals can be. Overall, I am at a slower pace and enjoy life. I finally feel I have balance, something I am determined to hold on to.
I am convinced starting to grow has a ripple effect. I have noticed people around me and within my family, who were convinced they could keep nothing alive, are giving growing a go and having great success. We have had strangers call to the house to ask about our wild flower meadow as seeing ours has inspired them to start their own big and small wild flower areas.
As I am writing this, the news is filled with the horrible realities of climate change. Wild fires are causing deadly destruction in parts of California and devastating floods destroy parts of Europe. Now more than ever, I am so aware of change being needed. I used to look and think what can I do to help? I am one woman. What difference can I make to the world? and I would put it to the back of my mind with a defeatist attitude. Since starting gardening, I am so aware that my small changes are making a huge impact. With less air miles for food, no chemicals poisoning myself or the nature around me, providing a safe little wild flower habitat and pond for wildlife and nature to thrive, I am making a difference. If everyone makes small little changes, the ripple effect takes place inspiring others to make a small change bringing huge positive impacts for our climate.
After my own growing experience, I would encourage everyone to give growing a go. No matter how big or small your space is, a trip to the garden centre for a few herbs for the windowsill or plug plants for a small veggie crate or bed. A small pot of wild flowers will bring so much joy and make such a difference to wildlife. Growing has brought me a peacefulness and calm that I had lost, a new attitude towards our climate and a new appreciation for nature. It has also given our family satisfied tummies. Every day is a school day in the garden and I can’t see myself ever not wanting to learn more. Our earth and nature is such a magical mystery. What happened last year in the garden is a totally different story to this year but it is equally as fascinating, it brings so much excitement to think what wonders mother nature will bring to our garden next year.
Happy growing everyone.
Recommendations for additional reading, youtube channels and information on permaculture classes can be found below:
Bealtaine Cottage - Permaculture Ireland - Colette O'Neill interview.
You can hear the story of how Colette transformed a barren 3-acre strip of farmland to a permaculture paradise over 17 years in the link below.
What is composting?
What is Permaculture? By Bill Mollison, David Holmgren https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBLKuYDh5S8
Permaculture principles https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/
What is Permaculture - Earth Haven Learning https://earthhavenlearning.ca/what-is-permaculture
Heather Jo Flores has a youtube channel about permaculture and offers some free classes which are well worth looking at. You can check her work out in the links below.
Heather Jo Flores - https://www.youtube.com/c/heatherjoflores
"What is this permaculture thingamajiggy?" by Heather Jo Flores https://medium.com/permaculturewomen/permaculture-what-it-is-and-what-it-isnt-834266a54d20
Bret James also teaches permaculture classes.
Recommended book:"Gaia's Garden - A guide to home-scale permaculture by Toby Hemenway.