About the “Permaculture In Action” series
As I travel often and practice nomadic permaculture, I figured I would start a series of periodic blog posts describing the practical permaculture work I volunteer in various places that I visit. I would call this series “Permaculture In Action”.
Intro: Anthony & Brittany’s
The first article of this series is at Anthony & Brittany’s, a lovely couple that we met as part of our MindAHome network. Anthony & Brittany travelled overseas to visit some family in December and so as house-sitters, we stayed in their home on the Central Coast for 4 weeks to look after their dogs Axel & Mervyn.
The garden consisted of a lawn, a young mango tree and 2 tiny garden beds of about 1.5 sqm each. Obviously, the purpose of our stay wasn’t to rehaul the whole space to turn it into a permaculture place. And that’s okay. Permaculture doesn’t have to be complex; it can reside in the little things and actually be quite simple.
Simple thing #1: Upcycle your veggie scraps and condition your soil
For Tobi and I, the most important thing was to avoid wasting our food scraps in the red bin. They are such a rich source of nitrogen, vitamins and nutrients; it would be a pity to burn it in the landfill. So whenever we can, we choose to bury them and turn them into compost.
In order to maintain the adequate ratio of carbon vs. nitrogen, we dispose of our veggie scraps in those mushroom paper bags when we cook.
As a side note, I never use the single use plastic bags from the fruits and veggies section of the supermarkets. I have got a few mushroom paper bags from previous shopping sessions and which I reuse a few times, until they get too dirty or overused. That’s when I use them to collect the scraps in the kitchen.
Going back to our carbon:nitrogen ratio, the food scraps are mostly rich in nitrogen; while paper is mostly rich in carbon. So by using paper bags and adding a couple of used kitchen towels to your scraps, you will already be pretty good to bury them ‘as is’.
Now here is the process to turn your scraps into rich humus:
- When the bag is full, just take a shovel or hand trowel (need a trowel? check-out the one from our eco-store)
- Choose any spots in your garden that doesn’t have a septic system, cables or pipes buried underneath
- Dig a small hole the size of your bag
- Place the bag in the hole, and use the shovel or trowel to pierce and break-down the bag and any bigger bits of foods into smaller pieces. It doesn’t have to be a fine work, just break it open a few times.
- If more carbon is needed, add a handful or two of dead leaves, dry straw or dried mulch in the hole
- Put the soil back in place, and ideally, cover it with a bit of mulch and water it down.
After 3- 4 weeks, your food waste will have mostly turned into dark brown matter, fertilising your soil and nourishing the microbial life.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think about taking photos there and then; but I will next time we come across a situation like this one.
Simple thing #2: Upcycle your grass clippings and mulch
Most of the garden is lawn and needs mowing more or less frequently depending on the season, sun exposure and rainfall. When Tobi mowed the lawn, I asked him to keep the grass clippings for me.
Instead of disposing of them in the green bin, we placed some around the mango tree which showed signs of struggle. We also covered the bare soil in the garden beds, to protect it against the scorching heat of the Australian summer. I normally wouldn’t apply fresh grass clippings as mulch because it can be quite rich in nitrogen and “burn” the plant. In this case however, it seemed that plants were really craving for some conditioning and anything is always better than bare soil, especially when it’s so hot.
We piled the rest of the clippings in a corner and left them to dry.
Grass clippings will decompose overtime and by the time the lawn would need mowing again, the layers around the mango tree and garden will have significantly shrunk-down. We could then apply the now dried grass from the previous mowing session, and pile-up the new fresh stock on the pile to repeat the cycle.
I also used some of the fallen leaves from the palm tree in the front yard to cover the bare soil in one of the beds. There, I didn’t use the grass clipping as mulch because I planted a few seeds of golden everlasting daisy, a rare Australian native; and I didn’t want them to suffocate underneath the grass. On the contrary, palm leaves provide shade without preventing the seeds to shoot.
Simple thing #3: Keep and regrow herbs and some vegetables
Whenever I can, I buy at the supermarket the fresh herbs and lettuces that come with their root ball. This way I can plant them in the garden when I get home and give them a long life. In return, they give me a regular supply of leaves.
There are also some veggies that you can regrow again and again. These include basil, lettuce, leeks, garlic, coriander (aka cilantro), bok choy, lemongrass, ginger, celery, sweet potatoes and onions.
The first time I did it with a basil however, it died of climatic shock. It was stored in the refrigerated shelves of the supermarket and I potted it on a deck in the Australian summer. The poor thing didn’t make it. Not very smart of me. But we learn from our mistakes, and the second time I kept it home for a couple of days, watering it abundantly with fresh water. Then, still keeping it inside, I placed it closer to the window where it would get more light; but would take it out of the sun in the afternoon. After a week or so of buying it, I eventually placed it outside. And this time, it thrived !
After 4 weeks, the mango tree and garden beds are coming back to life. New shoots and fresh healthy leaves have shown-up on the mango tree; and lots of things are coming-up in the veggie patches. You can notice on the last photo that I left the old and overgrown parsley and celery stalks. This was intentional for 2 reasons:
- These were the only flowers in the garden and I noticed many bees, spiders and insects either pollinating them or using them as habitat. And I didn’t want to take from them the only home or source of food there was in the garden.
- The celery stalks were tall enough that they provide partial shade to the basil planted right behind, protecting it from burning in the hot afternoon sun.
Simple actions like these can improve the tiniest of spaces. And for the very few plants and wildlife that live there, it makes all the difference.
It didn’t take us any external materials, any money, and barely anymore time than we had to spend maintaining the lawn.
And when Anthony and Brittany came home, they were happy to see the results, as well as some basil, leek and flowers growing in their garden.
We explained what we did with food scraps and grass clippings, and said they might keep doing it.