Thursday, February 19, 2015

Planning My 2015 Spring/Summer Garden

Let me tell ya folks, I made things hard on myself this year. Planning out my spring/summer garden this year was a real bear. I gave myself a lot of big goals for one patch of land:
  • Use succession planting to keep the garden going at full production from early spring throughout the end of summer. (Anyone remember the domino disaster from last summer? Let's avoid that happening again, shall we?)
  • Experiment with using okra to shade tomatoes throughout the whole summer, keeping the delicate little darlings going so I can get a second batch of tomatoes out of them in the fall. (Tomatoes are the delicate darlings here, by the way. Okra is an indestructible summer warrior.)
  • Make the most of companion planting to help ward off nasty bugs.
  • Squeeze in a lot more varieties of vegis than previous years. (I've got a big garden--17 by 24 feet--I ought to have room to experiment with some exciting new edibles, don't you think?)
  • Add flowers to spruce the place up.
  • Work around the existing plants that I have (like gazanias and artichokes) that will keep going throughout the spring.
  • Incorporate more of my beloved ollas into the garden. 
Needless to say, it took me a little while to work this all out, but I was up for the challenge. So how did I do it? 

Planning the Okra and Tomato Patch

Let's start with my okra and tomato patch. I won't tell you how many iterations it took me to get to this, but here's the final plan. I started by building a ring of okra plants around ollas. I needed to make sure I would be able to reach the ollas to water them (hence the gaps in the ring), and that there would be plenty of room in the center of the ring for the tomatoes. I also wanted to make sure to cram the okra as close together as possible to create a nice humidity zone during the summer:


Next, I added tomatoes in the middle. I didn't worry too much that the tomatoes would be hard to reach, because tomatoes don't produce in the middle of an Arizona summer anyway. (It's too hot.) The whole point was just to protect them through the summer so they could start producing again in the fall. I also added a few marigolds in there to help keep away the nasty buggies. 



So now I had my tomatoes taken care of, but that wasn't quite enough okra for my taste, so I added another row for good measure. I also planned for a few basil plants in that row to help ward off more bugs (and because it's tasty): 



Lastly, I surrounded the whole thing with a few lines of cosmos. Cosmos is also supposed to be a good companion for okra. Plus it's just plain pretty. (You'll notice a line of carrots in there too. Those were planted before I started my planning.) 


In my area, the ideal planting dates for all these beauties are: 
  • Okra: Mid-March through May
  • Tomatoes: Mid-Feb through March
  • Marigolds: February through May
  • Cosmos: March through June
  • Basil: February through May
For my plan, March seems to be the common denominator for all of them, so I'll just plant the whole kit and caboodle then. Excellent! Okra and tomato patch planning, done! Next up, corn and green beans. 

Planning the Corn and Green Bean Patch

Corn is a pretty high maintenance crop for the home gardener, but my family loves, loves, loves it when I grow it, so really, it's a must have on my list. My daughter has also recently informed me that she really likes green beans, so that's another must have on my list.

In my area, the ideal planting dates for my family's must-have vegis are:
  • Corn: Mid-February through early April, then again in mid-July through August
  • Green Beans (bush variety): Mid-March through April, then again in mid-July to mid-September
  • Green Beans (pole variety): All summer
Beyond planting dates, I have a few other requirements for my corn and bean planting:
  • Contrary to popular advice, I don't plan to plant the corn and green beans together. (I've never been able to make that work.) Instead, I'll plant them in succession. 
  • Again, contrary to popular advice, I don't want to plant the corn in large blocks. People commonly advise this to help with pollination, but I always meticulously hand pollinate my corn, so it's not necessary in my case. I'd rather grow corn in small batches to have a steady supply of fresh corn for dinners. Fresh corn straight out of the garden is the real goal here--not so much that I end up freezing it. 
  • I don't have enough ollas for the corn patch, so these will be grown with drip irrigation. That means tidy little rows. 
  • I want to make the most of companion planting. For the corn, that means I'll plant it with sunflowers (to make the corn sweeter) and dill (to ward off bad bugs). For the green beans, that means I'll plant it with rosemary, radishes, or petunias (depending on when I plant) to ward of the nasties. 
Phew! Are are you tired yet? That's a lot of requirements. Let's see how the puzzle pieces come together. First, the corn:


OK, this is relatively straight-forward, right? I've got seven rows of corn (plus its companions, sunflowers and dill) being planted at periodic intervals throughout the growing season. The first row was planted on February 15th and the last row will be planted on August 15th. So far, so good. Now it's time to start layering in green beans.


On March 15 (the beginning of planting season for green beans), I'll add a row of green beans and its companions (radishes in this case) where corn is planned for later in the season. The idea is that the green beans will have a chance to grow, produce, and be done before it's time to plant the corn on July 15th in the same spot. I've got a couple more rows of green beans planned to finish up before the corn ever gets planted as well:


And then the rest of green beans will be planted after the corn is finished. For instance, I have a row of corn that I planted on February 15th. I plan to plant green beans in that same spot a few months later on July 15th.



Planning the Rest of It

The rest of my plan is going to be pretty anti-climatic after all that. The remainder of my garden has a lot of existing plants in place that I had to work around, so I just squeezed in a few extras where I could. There's not a lot of complicated succession planting or plants protecting other plants. If any of them need extra shade, I'll just construct something and put some shade cloth over it. No permaculture ninja stuff here.

So here's my starting point. I've got some existing snapdragons, gazanias, artichokes, carrots, green onions, cilantro, parsley, and a peach tree to work around. Some are being watered with ollas, some with drip irrigation: 


So I just decided to fill in the gaps with what I could--zucchini (a good old summer staple), armenian cucumber (something new and exotic), cantaloupe (one of my daughter's favorites), sunflowers (gorgeous!), butternut squash (I've got a divine soup recipe for it), peppers (why not?), another tomato or two (you can never have enough), and marigolds (to ward off bad bugs). Here's the final look:



And here are the three plans all put together to make up the whole garden:



Now there's just the minor matter of planting it all! Let's see how that works out!

Monday, February 09, 2015

It's "Go Time" in the Garden

Seasons change fast here in Arizona (except for summer, which drags on foreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeever). A month ago, I was showing you pictures of frosty vegis. Since then, I've frantically been trying to keep up with all the garden chores associated sudden onslaught of spring. Here's what's been going on since I last talked to you:

Planning

First and foremost, I had to plan my spring vegi garden. This took me quite a while, because I had a lot of big goals for one patch of land: 
  • Use succession planting to keep the garden going at full production from early spring throughout the end of summer.
  • Experiment with using okra to shade tomatoes throughout the whole summer, keeping the delicate little darlings going so I can get a second batch of tomatoes out of them in the fall.
  • Make the most of companion planting to help ward off destructive insects.
  • Squeeze in a lot more varieties of vegis than previous years. 
  • Add flowers to spruce the place up.
  • Work around the existing plants that I have (like gazanias and artichokes) that will keep going throughout the spring.
In other words, I was being high maintenance. (I literally lost sleep trying to figure it all out.) I'll admit that I've been putting off posting the plans, just because it will take a while to explain all those complex relationships (it's like a little garden soap opera!), but I will post them soon. 

But now that I've figured it all out, I have ordered my seeds and started the appropriate ones under grow lights in my home office. Here are the little darlings on their way now. Bless their little hearts. 

They're so cute when they're young

Weeding

Meanwhile, while this was under way, we got a good deal of rain, which was lovely. Unfortunately, the weeds thought so too. Weeds popped up EVERYWHERE. I used to pay people to pull my weeds, but alas, I've decided to do it myself now. Times like these are when I have to decide how committed I am to that decision! (We can eat Ramen for dinner every night, right? It would be worth it not to weed that garden.)

Don't you hate it when guests come over uninvited? 

I am resisting my temptation to go at it all with a gas mask and a huge canister of Round Up. Instead, while the ground is still soft, I'm gently digging under the weeds so I can get the full roots and then pulling them all up, roots and all. Soon, I will douse the whole area with preemergent, a weed blocker made from 100% corn gluten. (Apparently, weed seeds are gluten intolerant.) 

Preemergent doesn't kill existing weeds, but once you weed an area, it should keep new ones from popping up for 3 months. I'm sure in May when it's 100 degrees outside and the weeds start popping up again, I'll wish that I had gone for the Round Up, but right now, it seems like a good option.

Fertilizing 

Honestly, I never remember to fertilize my fruit trees at the right time. Maybe it's why I never get fruit. (Or it could just be that they are young trees.) But I've been experimenting with a new way to get them some nutrients, considering my forgetful nature. Instead of using fertilizer, I've been planting nitrogen fixing plants like peas, mayo indigo, and desert lupine around the fruit trees. It's not any less work (in fact, its more), but I actually remember to do it because I see the plants there, reminding me to get to work. 

With the peas, I cut them down once they start flowering and plant some new ones. (Once the peas start flowering, the nitrogen starts moving out of the roots and up the plant to get ready for vegi production. If you don't cut the plant down, you loose the nitrogen-fixing benefits.) I've just gone through a cycle of cutting down the peas and planting new ones. Now I need to add some structure for the new peas to grow up so they reach the branches of the trees. Otherwise, they will turn into a tangled mess on the ground.

Ug. Bad hair day!

Pruning 

I'm afraid that I may have missed my opportunity for pruning some of my fruit trees and bushes. I think that the idea time to prune them is while they are still dormant, but some of them have already started sprouting new growth. Still, I think there's still a chance with my pomegranate tree, so I'll need to get on that soon.

Repairing Winter Damage

The brief flirtation we had with freezing weather did cause a leak or two in my irrigation system. Between hand watering and the rains, I've been able to avoid fixing the leaks up until now, but I can't avoid them forever. It's time to turn on the system, walk around while it's on, look for all the leaks, and get to work fixing 'em. Ah, the glamorous life! 

So how about you? What are you up to in the garden? 

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Baby, It's Cold Outside! (At Least By Arizona Standards)

I'm sure my East Coast friends would scoff when I say it, but boy, oh boy, it's cold outside! Yesterday's low in my neighborhood was 26 degrees. That's not really so unusual for my neck of my woods, but it still catches me off guard every time. When I go outside in the mornings, the plants are looking distinctly chilly.

Frosty the Snow Herb


Luckily, the only ones that seem to be worse for wear so far are my nasturtiums, which have pretty much bit the dust. Everything else seems to be making it through just fine. In fact, some of them look downright lovely with their frost-tipped leaves.

Isn't the usual routine to freeze the vegis AFTER you pick them? 

But one of the nice things about Arizona is that the really cold weather doesn't last long. In the next few days, things should be warming up.


Which means, it's time to start thinking about what to plant next! Maybe I'll plant some peas. (I've never been particularly successful with them, but maybe this is the year I'll make them work.) I may plant some multiplier onions outside. I may even be really ambitious and start some tomatoes and bell peppers inside to be ready for spring. After all, it's the new year. We're all full of ambitious ideas, right?  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Winter Olla Update

Seems like all the garden bloggers I follow are starting their posts by apologizing for the lack of posts. Everyone is busy with the holidays, busy with work, busy, busy, busy. I guess I'm no different. Sorry for the delay folks.

I did think I'd give a quick update on how things are going in the garden. Specifically, I thought I'd show you how the winter olla experiment is doing. So far, things are going really well! The plants really seem to like being watered from the ollas.

However, some plants are doing better than others. For instance, my broccoli plants are doing fantastic around the ollas. Look at these beauties!



One of them is even forming a head of broccoli already.


Compare that to the broccoli on the drip system and the difference is startling. Poor sad little broccoli.


However, it's a slightly different story with my artichokes. The artichoke next to the olla is doing pretty well.


But there's really no denying that the artichoke on the drip is doing better. Sure, the difference isn't as startling as with the broccoli, but the difference is there.


So far, here's what the olla bed is looking like:


And here's what the plants on the drip are looking like:


I'd say that overall, the olla-watered plants are doing better, wouldn't you? Still, I'm going to keep watching. I haven't actually harvested any vegis yet, so it ain't over til it's over. I'm going to keep watching and see how things go.

Happy gardening folks!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Using Ollas in Your Garden (Take 2)

The last time I checked in with y'all, I had learned a very valuable lesson on how NOT to plant ollas the garden. It was all very educational (if not a little embarrassing). Armed with what I have learned from that little adventure, I have embarked on "take 2" of my fall garden olla experiment. Last weekend, I tilled up a patch of garden that's on higher ground than the last time around and enlisted the other Gilbert Garden Girl (my daughter Chloe) to help me mix in some nice soil with the native soil.


The Proud Gardener

This time, the whole patch is fully integrated with the same type of soil instead of having abrupt shifts in soil types. (No more bobbing ollas!) Then, we buried the ollas and got planting. Here's the plan we used for our planting. First, we started with five (somewhat) evenly spaced ollas. (In the diagrams, one square = one square foot.) 


Our plan started with big plants (broccoli and an artichoke) clustered around the ollas. (When we went to the nursery, I found some cauliflower plants that I just had to have, so a couple of those broccoli plants in the picture turned into cauliflowers instead. You know how it goes.)


Next, we added some medium size plants (lettuce, herbs) around the big plants. (We mostly planted these from seed.) When the cold weather hits, these should be protected by the leaves to the big plants. (That's the theory anyway!):


Next up: Nitrogen fixers (peas and fenugreek, also from seed). These are scattered throughout:



Last up, we scattered a few flowers throughout to make things pretty. The youngest garden girl got to pick the flowers (of course). She picked snap dragons and petunias:


The hardest things about making this plan was leaving enough room to reach the ollas to add water. It's easy enough now, but when the plants get bigger, it could get challenging. We'll see!


What do you think? 3 months from now, will I be able to see the ollas at all?


Right now, it's a mix of nursery plants and seeds. So I'm filling up the ollas to water the seedlings, plus using a watering can for the seeds. Once the seeds sprout and develop some roots, I'll be able to switch to watering just the ollas.

Can you see the little seedlings up front? Or is it like playing where's Waldo?

Want to learn more about ollas? Maybe from someone a little more trustworthy who seems to have some actual experience? Ha! The best information I have found is the FAQ section of the Dripping Springs Ollas site.

This Week's Permaculture Principles: 

What?!? Am I still on that permaculture kick? Why yes, yes I am!  And here are a few permaculture principles that influenced my little olla plan above:

Observe and interact. I first grew broccoli in my garden a couple of years ago. I had the plants all lined up in tidy little rows on a drip irrigation system. I also had a few spinach plants crammed into the same raised bed because I was low on space. That year, we had a lot of cold weather. When the first frost hit, I panicked a bit when my broccoli plants got all droopy, posted pictures of the broccoli on the Tucson Backyard Gardener's Facebook group, and asked if there was any hope. The smart people there told me it would be fine (it was) and also mentioned what a nice job the broccoli had done of shielding the spinach from the frost too. So I've learned my lesson. Broccoli withstands frost well and is good at shielding other plants from it.  

Use small and slow solutions. I am in love with the idea of ollas, but as much as I want to, ripping out all my drip irrigation and replacing it all with ollas probably isn't smart. I just don't know enough about ollas yet to know that I can make it work. So I started my experiments with ollas this summer with just two (one "real deal" and one DIY version). Convinced I could make the "real deal" work, I have now branched out with five. Assuming I can make five work, maybe next spring I'll get more ollas. I'll keep building up slowly until I get to the right amount.


Integrate rather than segregate. As you've probably noticed, my little plan is all about integration. (Or as my husband says, "It's going to look like a big mess, but in a good way.") I've packed as many different plants and purposes around five little ollas as I possibly can. Chances are some of them won't do so well. (For instance, I haven't traditionally had a lot of luck with peas, although I am trying a different type that's more suited to this climate this time.) But by including so many different types of plants in there, not only are some of them bound to succeed, hopefully, they will also help each other out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How NOT Plant Ollas in Your Garden

It is officially fall, my favorite season in Arizona, and my fall garden plans are well underway. One of the big things I've been planning for this season is to take my olla experiments to the next level. So about a month or so ago, I tracked down a bunch of ollas for sale in Tucson and decided to take a little day trip down there to pick up four of them. (I visited some of my other favorite nurseries while I was there too, of course!) Since then, when I've had time, I've been preparing the garden to put these little babies into action!

First, I dug an individual hole for each of them, leaving space around them to add the plants:


Then I hollowed out the areas between the holes because I wanted to plant there too:



Next, I placed the ollas and filled the hollowed out area with some really good dirt:


To pretty things up a bit, I added a nice border around the edges where the native dirt met the "good" dirt:


Now, before you look at the next picture, who can tell me what's wrong with this design?

Give up? Well, water will be absorbed by the two types of dirt at drastically different rates. The native dirt (which has a lot of clay) absorbs water slowly, but it does absorb it. The "good" dirt doesn't absorb water much at all. Instead, the water just runs right through. When this design is hit with a lot of water (say, by one of the big rains that we had recently), the whole thing acts like a big bath tub with a clogged drain. (It doesn't help that the whole setup was in the lowest part of my yard.) So during the rains, the ollas started floating in the dirt like plastic toys in a toddler's bath tub:


Oh well. Happily, this all happened before I ever planted anything. So I didn't lose any plants. I'm already working on "Plan B" that will work better. I expect I'll have it implemented in a week or two. Stay tuned!

This Week's Permaculture Principles:

Hey, remember how I'm obsessed with permaculture? I thought I'd talk about the permaculture principles I observed in this week's exciting episode of Gilbert Garden Girls!

Observe and interact. As you can see, I put a decent amount of work into making my little olla design work. That was a lot of digging. It was tempting to be stubborn jackass and stay the course. ("Rainy season is over, right? It won't flood again soon. I can make this work!") But it didn't take much observation at all to see that staying the course wasn't a good long term solution. Rather than sticking with what I wanted to make work, based on my observations, it was clear I needed to take action and move onto a different plan.

Catch and store energy. One of the reasons I really love the idea of ollas is I think they are a great way to catch and store energy in our desert environment. They are a perfect way to distribute rain water--the best type of water for plants--exactly where it's needed (directly to the roots). And they are so efficient! Plants use exactly as much water as they need and no more!

Optimize the edges. This is a clear example of how I did NOT optimize the edges, isn't it? By having such a stark contrast between the native dirt and the "good" dirt, I created a real problem. I'll have to learn from this when I implement Plan B!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Freezing Okra for the Winter

The unbelievable has happened. My family and I are actually getting a little tired of eating okra. (I know. I can hardly believe it myself!) A couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking, "Well, I think okra season is nearly done anyway."

I took this picture this morning: 


Look at all those flowers. I don't think okra season is nearly over.

If you're in the same boat as me--so much okra, you don't know what to do with it--you might want to think about freezing some of it for later. I'm guessing you'll be happy to have it in the middle of the winter to put into jambalaya or stew or something. (I know I will!)

Here's the article I found for freezing okra: WikiHow: How to Freeze Okra. I found it very useful and have used it a couple of times now when my family couldn't face one more okra dish! It seems a lot more constructive than making them eat it until they hate it with a passion, doesn't it?




Sunday, August 24, 2014

Permaculture Baby Steps: Learning Permaculture Principles

Since my last post, the idea of permaculture has really wormed its way into my consciousness. I must admit, I'm a little obsessed. I've been doing a lot of reading about it, trying to get a handle on the idea. I love this idea that you can solve problems in the garden using natural solutions. Even better, I love the idea of creating a little ecosystem that not only produces great stuff for you, but also creates a nice little wildlife habitat as well.

Let me clarify, a wildlife habitat for animals, not children

But during my research, I must admit, I also got really overwhelmed. When looking at books and websites about permaculture, most of them talk about massive installations (food forests) that use plants that won't necessarily work here in Arizona. Trying to think about creating all those symbiotic relationships is hard enough, but trying to translate all those examples to use plants that will work in a desert environment and my garden in particular was really, really daunting.

So I decided to go back to square one and stop looking at all those examples, and focus on the basic permaculture principles instead. When I did, I realized that (unlike what many of these books and websites had lead me to believe), you don't need massive acreage to make this work. You're not required to create big food forests. Permaculture centers around a set of principles, not a set of techniques. Those principles hold true if you have acres and acres of land to work with, but they also work if you only have a patio with some potted plants. 

So let's talk principles. As best as I can tell, they aren't completely etched in stone. Some books and websites have them boiled down to 10 principles. Others list as many as 14. But they seem to (mostly) cover the same ideas and themes, just in their own ways. In that somewhat loosey-goosey spirit, I've given my take on them below. (For a professional's take on them, see chapter one of Gaia's Garden or the Permaculture Association's website.)

The idea here is simple: You should base your actions on what you see going on in your surroundings, not based on a bunch of preconceived notions. Sadly folks, this means that you shouldn't necessarily start your garden planning with "I really want tomatoes this summer." If you observe that your tomatoes die every summer in a blaze of desert glory, you may have to stop being so darn stubborn and come to terms with the fact that summer isn't the right time to plant tomatoes in Arizona. Perhaps you should look around you and see what is doing well in Arizona in the summer and plant that instead. (Yes, there are things that grow well here in the summer. You just have look around to find them.)

I think this principle goes hand-in-hand with the previous principle. If you observe that something isn't working in your environment, and choose to act to fix it, you need to keep the scale of your action small so you can really determine if your chosen solution worked. If you throw too many variables in the works, you really will have no idea what solved the problem or caused the failure. What I like about this principle is that it always leaves the door open for more tinkering. Because you need to work on a small and slow scale, it means there will probably always be more to do.

There are all sorts of energy you can catch and store. One of the biggies that I think about in a gardening context is water. Luckily, there are all sorts of great methods for catching and storing water--berms and swales in your landscape, rain barrels or rain tanks under your gutters... I have even heard of one ingenious soul taking an old water cooler and putting it under his gutter. Whatever works! In the winter, heat is a great type of energy to think about catching and storing. (Yes, we have to worry about it getting cold in Arizona too, just not the bury-your-house-in-snow type of cold.) For instance, you can plant your vegis close together to create little microclimates. The plants can huddle together, creating a little extra warmth for each other. Maybe they'll even tell each other a few stories and roast marshmallows while they're at it too!

This one should be second nature to most of the people reading this post. Gardens aren't just for looking pretty. They should also be for producing something useful (food, medicine, firewood, a cure for cancer... something like that). Considering that most of us are usually trying to find a way to squeeze one more raised bed into the yard, or sneak edibles into the front yard without the HOA noticing, I don't think we need to be lectured on this one, right?

There are all sorts of ways to use renewable and biological resources in the garden. One of the most obvious ways is to improve your soil using things like compost, compost tea, composted manure, worm castings, chicken droppings... the list goes on and on. If you want to get creative, you can also expand this principle just a bit (remember, we're getting a little loosey-goosey here) to include using recycled resources too. When you do that, you can start thinking about doing things like using items off craigslist to create aquaponics systems, using reclaimed wood to create raised beds, or reusing almost any old container to create planters for your patio.


Variety is the spice of life, my friends. It's also a good insurance policy in your garden. If you plant nothing but corn in your garden, and it's a bad year for corn for some reason (too hot for it maybe? swarm of locusts?), guess what? You're not getting anything out of your garden. If you plant a variety of plants, chances are at least some of them will survive. The same holds true for variety of types. For instance, if you love, love, love tomatoes (and really, who doesn't?), it's probably a good idea to plant a few different types of tomatoes to see which ones will work best. For instance, I planted full size tomatoes and cherry tomatoes this spring. The full sized ones were pretty much a bust, but the cherry tomatoes were producing well into July. If I had only picked one type to plant from the outset, I probably would have picked the full size tomatoes. And then where would I be? Tomato-less and destitute. It's just too sad to contemplate.

Up until now, I've been throwing you soft balls, but this is where the permaculture principles get trickier. This principle advocates that creating segregated little zones--one for your flower garden, one for your vegetable garden, one for your fruit trees, etc.--weakens the system. To reduce your work load, make plants healthier, and produce more from less space, you have to integrate these things together.

For instance, by planting flowers next to your fruit trees and fruiting vegetables, you help attract bees to help with pollination. (Otherwise, you might be out there hand-pollinating, which can be a real pain.) Or by planting nitrogen-fixing plants like peas and beans around trees and plants, you can avoid fertilizing them.

This process of making plants perform more than one function is frequently called "stacking functions." And this is where permaculture gets a little hard, because trying to devise a system where every plant is multitasking and connected to one another is complicated. (One of my favorite bloggers, Erica Strauss at Northwest Edible Life, recently talked to Michael Judd, author of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, about easing your way into this. It's a great podcast if you want to listen to it.) By all accounts, it sounds like it's really hard to get the hang of, but once you do, it makes life a whole lot easier.


The idea here is that edge where two different environments meet is the most diverse, and possibly the most productive place in the ecosystem. The examples I've read talk about woodland meeting meadow, but since that really doesn't happen in most of our backyards, I'm more inclined to think of edges being where a fruit tree (or trees) meet the vegetable garden. That's going to be really productive because the fruit tree will shade the vegetables, and the vegetables will shade the roots of the tree. I'm sure there are other edges to consider too. For instance, I certainly know that weeds are very productive at the edges of my lawn because of sprinkler run-off. Perhaps there's a way to take advantage of that? (Anything to avoid all that weeding!)

Last, but not least, permaculture advocates that you need to turn problems into solutions. Also, you need to turn hay into gold and get your daughter a real live flying pony for Christmas. (OK, you don't have to do those last two, but my point is this sounds impossible, right?) I think that once you get the hang of it, this last principle probably isn't as hard as it sounds (at least, I hope not). I think achieving this one is a matter of mindset. For instance, my rain gutters empty into a "dead end" that pools up at the edge of my house. It doesn't drain away, which means that water is just gathering at the edge of my foundation, which is a problem. To turn it into a solution, I just needed to think about it a different way: "What can I do with all this water gathering by the edge of my house during rain storms?" When I think of it that way, the answer of course is "Gather it and save it." So a new rain tank is definitely in my future. If you think about other problems this way, maybe solutions will present themselves.


So there it is--my take on the permaculture principles. I'm going to try to apply them going forward to my little piece of Arizona suburbia. Let's see how it goes!