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Things I Balk At

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Posted by Ann Cantelow about 11 years ago

As a beginner, I have some strange hesitations in planning my garden.

A winter musing:

There are 2 perfectly normal permaculture practices that I am having trouble getting my head around.  It will be fun to see if I eventually come around to doing things the normal permaculture way!

First- sheet mulching.  I stubbornly don't want to do it, because I'm worried about the existing creatures in my soil.  From studying this wonderful site describing the soil food web - http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/soil_food_web.html, I have developed a real fondness for the world of creatures that already crawl and grow beneath my feet.  This year, I'll try growing my own mulch and proceeding at a more measured pace than the sheet mulch approach.  Hope I can make solid progress, however, via dense planting.  I'll save sheet mulching for a later time, assuming it's still needed.

And the other thing I balk at- keeping animals.  I would not be able to eat animals that I raise, because I would become too emotionally attached to them, I'm sure.  So, this garden will have to have a vegetarian approach for now.  I'm hoping to attract plenty of small wildlife into my little urban realm to leave manure and possibly bring other benefits.  This may be a general limitation with urban food forests.  People who did not grow up as farmers or hunters- and their children- would often, I think, not be willing to eat their own animals.


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Ute Bohnsack
Ute Bohnsack : I can second what Jason is saying about sheet mulching. As to animals - you could keep some hens without a rooster or keep a proper family flock of a breed of which the hens rarely, if ever, go broody. That way they can be integrated into your garden, supply you with eggs and live out their lives while you won't have to deal with surplus cockerels.
Posted about 11 years ago

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Carolyn Payne-Gemmell
Carolyn Payne-Gemmell : Hi Ann, Sheet mulching is definitely the way to go. Have a look at my Warrnambool community garden story. Think of it this way, suppressing the grass will cause it to die, the rotting of the grass and their roots in this moist environment, without exposure to UV rays will be a great boon for the existing soil life. Then really thick cardboard layers 10cm thick will create a big supply of food for fungi as cardboard is basically wood fiber held together with tasty, starch rich glues. Then put on a big combination of different manures and this will already have lots of different types of bugs, fungi and microbes, effectively increasing the variety on your site. Top all that off with a few different sorts of straw, wheat , barley, oat, pea, alfalfa, will again increase the diversity of microbes and fungi. The biggest thing about mulch in general is that it has a very large surface area, all those tiny cylinders with moisture and air around them, its almost like a high rise apartment! And don't worry about the existing creature dying, they are very short lived, and they move around fast. The spiders and beetles will rejoice first at the new habitat. Fungi will begin to grow within hours of the cardboard getting moist,(make sure you saturate each cardboard layer as you build up to 10cm, this may be 5-6 flattened boxed deep) The sheet mulch demonstration bed I made broke down into rich humus within about 4 months, so by the time the second crop went in it was soil, maybe some of the cardboard was still present but it acted like a big sponge holding just the right amount of water. The area I did was fairly large to do all at once but you could start with a metre square or so at a time, working your way across the yard. I think the secret also lies in planting a few different plants at the one time together, like a salad mix or the three sisters combination. You will see in my plot though that I didn't put straw down initially as I planted it all with seed and they needed the suns warmth to germinate, these days I do a very sparse light sprinkle of soft straw when I direct sow my seeds, then I add lots more straw later as things grow bigger. For animals, Ute is right, and for the record, I don't think a lot of people do actually eat their poultry, not typically first world people in my experience. The great bonus with chickens is that they produce a stronger manure as they are omnivores (eating meat in the form of bugs) If you like to be attached to your animals then guinea pigs or rabbits are great little manure producers and they eat lots of things chickens don't, like surplus root crops and corn stalks. To bring in the wild birds bang in a sturdy garden stake with a little platform on top, do a few at different heights over the whole back yard. But definitely do not all any sort of additional food like bird seed, you want to attract insect eating birds, putting down seed will create an artificial and dependent bird population. Hope all that helps. Yours Abundantly, Carolyn
Posted about 11 years ago

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Ann Cantelow
Ann Cantelow : I am humbled by the great advice, thanks Jason, Ute and Carolyn! I'll indeed come back to check the advice here from time to time, to find details I'm bound to miss or forget with time.

On sheet mulching, it's a perfect time for an experiment, come to think of it. I can't really afford to mulch the entire place, but it's very reasonable to start with one or two beds. I'll do that this year, to see how results compare. I'm inspired!

I love chickens. I love visiting the ones my sister raises. They make such great sounds and they seem so alert. Maybe someday, I'll make a home for one or two.

Interesting point about attracting insect eating birds, Carolyn. Some years ago I used to feed house finches, and they did become pretty domineering in my yard, I remember. They seemed to me to resemble miniature street gangs. And later, I tried feeding bigger birds- jays and crows. It was fun to see how intelligent and social they were, but eventually I realized that their increased presence kept all smaller birds away. I can see how you wouldn't want to upset the balance by feeding.

Thanks again, all!
Posted about 11 years ago

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