Category Archives: Garden Advice

Property Planning with Permaculture Zones

Many permaculture enthusiasts choose to design their garden and property based on a zone system. The premise of this system is to layout your property in as efficiently as possible. Using this method to plan ahead can help ensure your property is easily accessible and productive. Even if you live on a tiny, already established property you can still utilize permaculture zones to help organize your garden or farm.

Typically there are 6 different zones with zone 0 being the home. While there is certainly variations based on personal needs and property characteristics often zones 1-5 go from outward from the house 1 being the closest and 5 being the farthest. Areas in a zone 1 require the most frequent care while zone 5 requires no maintenance.

Zone 1

Zone 1 is typically the closest to the home or areas you visit most frequently. For this reason features in zone 1 should be those that you use most frequently or need the most care. Good examples include small greenhouses or cold frames which house tender seedlings or have to be carefully monitored, culinary herb gardens, worm farms for processing kitchen scraps, etc.

In this example zone 1 is a small area around the southern side of the home containing a worm farm, small hoop house, and an herb and salad garden.

Zone 2

While it may not be accessed quite as frequently as zone 1, zone 2 is probably where you’ll grow the last majority of your food. Zone 2 areas typically include things like perennial plants, annual vegetable plantings, and food forests with a combination of plants, shrubs, and trees. Other items often located in a zone 2 include compost bins, chickens coops, beehives, ponds, and potting sheds.

In the example zone 2 has a food forest with smaller sized fruit trees, annual plants, and perrenials all intermingled. It also features a duck coop and small pond.

Zone 3

Zone 3 can still be productive agricultural land but needs less tending than zones 1 and 2. These areas may include livestock pastures, orchards of larger fruit and nut trees, and possibly large areas of staple crops.

In the example there’s and large fruit and nut orchard that partially extends around the southern side of the home to offer shade in the summer as well as a wheat field.

Zone 4

This area is a lightly managed piece of the property. It can be used for foraging, encouraging or growing woodland medicinals and mushrooms, harvesting timber or firewood, and even occasional grazing.

For this is example zone 4 is used to harvest wild mushrooms and firewood as well as cultivate a woodland medicinal herb patch.

Zone 5

This is your wilderness area. It’s typically left untouched and pristine for the benefit of wildlife, nature, and your enjoyment and recreation. For many zone 5 will be the farthest away from your home, a place to take relaxing walks but not necessarily visited as frequently as areas that require management. On the other hand some may choose to have a section of zone 5 extend right to their house to offer more frequent opportunities to observe and enjoy nature.

 

If you have a property of any size you can utilize some of the permaculture zones planning method. Breaking your property into sections can help ensure you create a space that’s productive, functional, beautiful, and good for wildlife.

 

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5 Ways To Increase Your Gardening Wisdom This Winter

If you love gardening it can be really tough to stay in the moment and enjoy winter. It’s much easier to look at seed catalogs, dream of next season’s garden, and mope that it’s still too cold to go plant peas. But winter is actually a great season too. It’s a good time to relax, reflect, and learn.

Visit an Agricultural Event

There’s many agricultural events that go on across the country each winter. Most offer awesome workshops or classes that can really help you become a better gardener. Plus they’re great places to network. Especially if your event is local you can make friends with people who share your passion for gardening and learn about their ideas.

Southern Exposure attends a variety of events over the winter like the PASA Farming for the Future Conference or the Mother Earth News Fair. Be sure to check out SESE’s Event Schedule.

Read a Gardening Book

Curling up by the wood stove and reading a good book is a classic winter pastime. It’s easy to reach for that new novel from your favorite author but this winter make sure you grab a couple nonfiction gardening books too. You can find a lot of great, educational books in Southern Exposure’s store that are sure to up your gardening game. You can find the book section here.

Subscribe to a Gardening Blog

We’re may be a little biased but we think SESE’s blog is pretty awesome and you can sign up for our newsletter to get notified when there’s new content to check out. There’s a lot of other great, informative blogs out there though. Some of our favorites include Mother Earth News, Rodale’s Organic Life, and Modern Farmer but there’s a lot more great ones out there especially if you’re looking for a specific niche.

Go Through Your Garden Journal or Get One Set Up

Keeping a garden journal is a great way to learn all on your own. Plus its the only educational material that’s focused on your actual property. Getting advice from other sources is great but no two properties are exactly alike. If you have a garden journal from last year set aside some time this winter to go through it and check out what worked well and what needs improvement. Maybe make some resolutions for the coming year.

If you haven’t started a garden journal set one up for the coming year. You’ll probably be more likely to use it and get more out of it if it’s well organized. Consider setting up sections for planting dates, notes on specific varieties, weather conditions, and more. You can also surf the web for free or cheap garden journal printables if you need some ideas.    

Take an Online Class

There’s a surprising amount of online courses available for gardening related topics and many are cheap or free. Find something that suites your interest like a class about herbalism, permaculture, or even short, simple classes like how to set up drip irrigation.

Watch a Few Videos

While spending all winter in front of the TV or computer isn’t a great idea if you like to watch anyway maybe you can swap some of your viewing time for educational movies or shows. SESE has a few DVDs available or browse Youtube for some great free options.

Just because winter is an off season for many gardeners doesn’t mean you can’t still be working towards the garden of your dreams. Spending time learning this winter will help you to beat the winter blues and get a better harvest next year.

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Planning a Fruit Tree Guild

For those who aren’t familiar a fruit tree guild is a permaculture method of planting a fruit tree in combination with other plants that will grow together to create a mini ecosystem around the tree. While there hasn’t been a lot of scientific study of tree guilds they do show a lot of potential. Research has shown that intercropping (planting more than one species together) can be a valuable tool for increasing yields and crop health. Plus, tree guilds, in stark contrast with monoculture orchards are space saving and great for wildlife.

Selecting Plants

The first step is to research the type of tree you’d like to start with. For an example I’ll be talking about a peach tree guild but you can use any type of tree whether it’s an existing tree on your property or one you’d like to plant this spring. The important part is that you do some research into the tree such as its growth pattern and mature size. Also consider what soil types it prefers, where you’ll be planting it, and if it’s prone to any disease or pest problems.

Based on your research you’ll select companion plants. Tree guilds are typically made up of six categories: suppressors, attractors, repellers, mulchers, accumulators, and fixers though there are variations and there’s no rule that you have to plant all of these or can’t plant more than one species from each category. If you see a need you can even make up your own category!

If you’re planting a particularly tall tree or working with a mature tree you can include perennial shrubs on your plant list. Just be careful with smaller, newer trees that they don’t compete for light.

Suppressors

These are plants that suppress weed growth through there own growth habits. Good examples include vining winter squash which shades out weeds, mint or buckwheat which outcompete weeds through rapid, thick growth, or strawberries, pennyroyal, or thyme whose vines form a thick mat of ground cover. For a peach tree guild I would choose strawberries partially because I enjoy eating them but also because they’re an excellent suppressor and their early flowers draw in pollinators.

Attractors

Mona’s Orange Cosmos

Attractors are plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insect to the tree. Examples include yarrow, buckwheat, butterfly weed, and mustards. Many other species can also be used but it’s important to find something that will work well for your chosen tree. For a peach tree guild I would choose to plant cosmos as they attract trichogramma wasps which are a helpful beneficial insect and a natural enemy of oriental fruit moths which can severely damage peach trees.

Repellers

These plants job is to repel unwanted pests from feeding on your fruit tree. Lemon grass, marigolds, lemon balm, and almost any allium like garlic, chives, or perennial onions are all commonly used to repel pests. Knowing your specific tree’s common pest issues will allow you to best select a variety. For the peach tree example I’d use garlic as there’s some evidence that planting garlic around peach trees helps repel peach tree borers.

Fixers

Red Clover

Fixers refers to plants that are nitrogen fixing meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow. Great examples of these plants include white clover, red clover, beans, alfalfa, lupine, and peas. For a peach tree guild I would choose red clover. It attracts pollinators, beneficial insects including trichogramma wasps, and makes a wonderful tea.

Mulchers

Probably the most commonly used mulcher plant in permaculture designs is comfrey. It’s hardy, perennial, easy to care for, and its leaves do in fact make excellent mulch. Hostas have the same benefits. You can also use annual cover crops like buckwheat that winter kill and provide good mulch. Buckwheat also has the added benefit of self seeding. For this example comfrey will be used because it doubles as an accumulator.

Accumulators

These are plants that “mine” nutrients from deep in the soil and bring the to the surface where other plants will be able to access them. Good examples include alfalfa, comfrey, borage, and chicory. For more ideas look at deep rooted perennial plants. For my peach tree guild I would opt for chicory as it offers medicinal benefits for both humans and livestock.

 

Once you’ve got all your plants you can begin planting. Obviously it’s easiest to start with the tree and work your way out. You should consider how much space it will need and shade it will create as it grows when selecting locations for other perennials.

Utilizing this permaculture method can help you make the most out of your orchard space by incorporating other edible, medicinal, or flowering crops into your design and keeping your trees healthy and productive. It can also make your space more habitable for beneficial wildlife like birds, pollinators, and beneficial insects which lose habitat when space between trees is mowed. Lastly it may even help reduce erosion when compared to traditional orchard set ups. What’s there to lose?

 

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