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... Permaculture, continued from page 11

pigweed at our farmers market stand and including it in our CSA bins. We have a fairly large clientele who use our greens to make smoothies and they’re con- stantly looking for a non-kale flavour. They loved the new greens. And although I couldn’t market any of the thistle, I suddenly found myself looking at it more positively as I cut it off at the base. The “chop & drop” technique saved my sanity.

Limiting Factor #2: Water

Although we have the most beautiful, loamy soil I’ve ever worked, our farm has only a shallow 20-foot well which supplies just the house. We have two 5,000-gal- lon cisterns that collect rainwater but despite the fact that we only use drip irrigation, they ran dry at the end of July this year. Calling in the water truck is a $150 cost each time.

I was initially growing transplants and spacing them along the dripline, thinking that this was the most ef- ficient way of using the small amount of water I had. The transplants would struggle along, often with the surface of the soil drying out between them. I’d then turn to the carrot bed, full of carrot and chickweed, and marvel at how moist the beds were as I harvested the chickweed for salad mix. The weeds really helped trap the moisture in the soil much better than the straw mulch I was using.

So began my first experiment with polyculture. Be- cause I still have a bias of plants competing with each other if they’re too close, I decided to take some baby steps. I planted my peppers normally, and in alternate rows I planted watermelon. As the watermelon grew, it crawled in and around the peppers, never actually crawling up them. It seemed to be a good combination of plant architecture.

I tried a similar experiment with leeks and New Zea- land spinach, this time in the same bed, with two rows of leeks growing in the middle and the spinach on ei- ther side.

The added benefit of the polyculture was that I had less weeding to do! Stacking benefits is another principle of permaculture and I was especially happy to see this principle in action.

Saving Seeds…

Although seed saving isn’t just a principle of permac- ulture, I hadn’t really looked at it seriously until I put my spring seed order in. I have some history in the

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seed business, having worked for West Coast Seeds a decade ago. I had always thought of seeds as a fairly cheap input. And then I put in my first full-season or- der. Over $800 later, I realized that the price of seed has increased considerably in the last decade. I can’t say that the price of vegetables at market has followed.

So, even from a solely economic point of view, seed saving made sense. I decided to try seed saving from just a couple of the overwintering vegetables: Im- proved Siberian Kale, and a patch of green salad bowl lettuce and magenta spreen which had survived the winter of 2012. I diligently clipped off any brassica flowers from the other spring greens to ensure there was no cross-pollination in the kale, and by August I had some fairly dry pods to begin harvesting. I was pleasantly surprised to end up with 3 pounds of kale and a pound of lettuce seed. I’m still trying to clean the spreen but that’s a good winter project.

One of secondary benefits of seed saving is that you get a carpet of seedlings around your mother plants. So not only have I got a nice supply of seed that I can sell, but I also have baby greens to add to salad mix through the fall and winter.

Other experiments on my farm have included planting strawberries in between our fruit trees, sheet mulching with coffee sacks and seaweed around the base of the fruit trees to keep weeds down, and planting comfrey as a nurse crop under the apple trees. For the latter, I actually had to dig up comfrey from another farm, as I didn’t have any growing on mine.

With every experiment, I ask myself how it will im- pact my two limiting factors of water and labour. The strawberries went in because I was sick of mowing in between the widely spaced fruit trees. Sheet mulching was also a labour saving device to cut down on mow- ing, and it helps to conserve water.

… and Saving Sanity

Although my vegetable rows may not be weed-free and the farm may look chaotic, I’ve saved my sanity and I’m actually looking forward to the next season. Permaculture principles continue to impress me and I think I’ll be experimenting with new techniques in the years ahead. BC Organic Grower, Volume 17, Number 1, Winter 2014

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