So far, April has been an extremely productive month for us. It began with the delivery of a large straw bale, courtesy of a local farming friend. He had already heard of the term ‘permaculture’ but was quite intrigued by our ‘straw mulch – no dig’ method and showed great interest when we told him how we would be using his straw to grow our potatoes. When neighbours and local friends show curiosity in our garden (which doesn’t look quite like anything they have seen before), it is a real pleasure to show them our accomplishments. Having only had our own piece of land for just over a year, we are still relatively new to the practice of permaculture, even though we have been studying the theoretical side of it for a long time now. We are getting to know our land better, as we continue to experiment with companion planting and different growing techniques. We are, however, very aware that not everybody is as susceptible to change as us, and living in the heart of a farming community who have been working in agriculture for generations, it is in no way our prerogative to criticise or undermine people just because they use different methods. Needless to say, rather than preaching about permaculture and ecology to the locals, we keep our heads down and concentrate on our land, leaving the local farmers to do the same on theirs.
What started as a strip of grass just one year ago, is now an established vegetable plot consisting of 7 vegetable beds, 5 potato beds, 1 asparagus bed, a hugelkultur of berry bushes, 1 herb spiral, 1 strawberry spiral, 1 runner bean teepee, a humanure composting station and a 40m² polytunnel with rainwater harvesting and soon-to-be-installed solar pump irrigation system. Not bad at all for a year’s work! Of course, it did take a bit of prior planning thanks to Garden Planner software, which, on paper, makes everything look pretty immaculate:
Straw mulch may look decidedly untidy to your conventional gardener and it does have one major disadvantage…its attractiveness to slugs, who, in our case, found it the ideal nesting ground for laying their eggs last autumn. However, the beauty of permaculture is that because everything is a balanced eco system, there is always a solution at hand…this time, in the form of our chickens!
In reality, a permaculture garden is not at all about neat and tidy, straight-lined beds, but using the available space to create (or rather re-create) a productive and sustainable environment, in harmony with nature…and so came about the title of this blog, ‘From Creation to Re-Creation’.
Here’s a little look at some of the projects we’ve been working on these past few weeks:
Our Strawberry ‘Swirl’
Inspired by our very successful hugel-herb spiral, we decided to use the same idea for our strawberry spiral.
Polytunnel rainwater harvesting
The polytunnel is quite a distance from the house so we knew we would have to put in place some kind of watering system, and fast. We didn’t want to spend a fortune, so we bought the water barrels second-hand and the guttering cost next to nothing. Only three days later, the first barrel was already full of rainwater (and a week after that, after quite a few wet days, all three barrels were full to the brim). We’ve invested in a new expandable hosepipe and a solar water pump, which will be installed in May, hopefully with a DIY sprinkler system for watering inside the polytunnel.
Potato planting in straw
This year we are growing our potato crop (Mona Lisa and Charlotte varieties) in straw mulch. We are experimenting with three different methods of potato growing, which all involve straw.
1) In an existing bed that had been straw-mulched over the winter, we gently pushed the potatoes into the soil, before covering with a fresh layer of straw.
2) In three recently-prepared beds, we planted the potatoes in the same way.
3) Having used all of our energy preparing the three new potato beds, we still had some leftover chitted potatoes to plant, but no bed to put them in, so we thought we’d try something a bit radical. We took our old, rotting rug and laid it out on the grass, covered it with a really thick layer of straw and simply put our potatoes in the straw…and walked away. Only time will tell which method works best!
We absolutely love asparagus, especially when we dip it in our boiled free-ranged eggs, so it goes without saying that it was top of our To Grow list for this year. We spent longer preparing this bed than any other, as although we can’t begin harvesting them until the third year, a bit of TLC at this stage might well reward us with over ten years of delicious asparagus spears!
Garden activities involving the children
We built a runner bean teepee, in which the kids can play in the summer, and we planted cress heads (cress grown in egg shells) and mini munch toms.
To us, permaculture is so much more than a ‘system of agricultural and social design principles’…it has, in fact, become a way of life…a philosophy, which is why I prefer to call it ‘permaculture-living’. When we left the mountains in search of a simple life in the countryside, we changed so much about our lifestyle at the same time. We outlined the factors making us unhappy and decided we had to change them. Pete has kindly agreed to let me share with you a very personal poem he wrote for me just before we made the decision to quit our jobs and leave Chamonix. It now takes pride of place on the wall of quotes in our composting toilet, alongside other inspirational words of wisdom by Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein!
Since moving to rural France, we have become reconnected with nature, the environment and the very essence of living in the Here and Now. I must add that permaculture is not solely responsible for our new approach to life as there are numerous other influences that have been explored in the past couple of years, but it seems to be the common denominator.
“Through permaculture, people recognise that life has a meaning and they can see the rational; they can legitimise and rationalise why it makes absolute common sense. Then, fear starts to dissipate and drop away and as you make more and more commitments you have less and less fear of all the things you should be doing and what you could be doing because you realise what it is that you can do” – Geoff Lawton
We are on a journey of discovery through permaculture, but we have recently discovered the art of mindfulness, which can be applied to all walks of life, not just those practicing permaculture! If, like us, you’d like to live in the present moment, here are two sites that might spark your interest:
Minimalist Living – 10 top tips to start living in the present
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
Teachings of Arnaud Desjardins – A Festival of Newness
“These teachings are a universal treasure for those of us seeking a life of wisdom and realization, no matter what path we follow”.
I even decided to use my new found passion for nature as a basis for my English-teaching workshops. For children in the local area, I propose Les Pépins (The Little Pips) for 3-5 year olds, and Les Jeunes-Pousses (The Young Shoots, or Sprouts as I prefer to call them) for 6-10 year olds. My adult conversation class is called ‘Le Nichoir’ (The Birdhouse) and my adult beginner’s class, ‘Le Jardin d’Anglais’ (The English Garden). In combining the two, I feel I have at last found a career path that suits family life, where I work for myself, on my own terms, and more importantly, it is a job that I enjoy.
“Like the seeds in a nursery need water and light to develop,
children need knowledge to flourish”
Ateliers d’Anglais en Aveyron