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A beginners take on Permaculture - National Allotments Week - Plotting for the future

Talked about here:

- Permaculture - (Permanent Agriculture) - plant once eat forever and do as little as possible, a systems thinking approach to ecosystems

- No Dig gardening - seriously the clue is in the title

- Mycelium explained - the world wide web of plants but more altruistic

- Some practical tips on how we can think globally and act not just locally but individually, taking stewardship of the land we influence be it a garden, an allotment or a window box.

- Keyhole Mandala garden design

My friend Paul asked me what is the purpose of my blog, and who is it for? As a coach I like good questions. So in transparency it is really for me to capture my learning as a first time allotmenteer and for anyone who likes to follow a journey. There is no selling here, there is also no big ego, just sharing what I’m learning as I go along; so there will be some theory (and links to where I am learning from), some practical application (what I am trying), some reflection and lots of lessons learning.

Who knew allotments had a week? Not me, but then I didn’t know much about allotmenting either - can it be a verb?

The theme for the week this year is ‘Plotting for the future - celebrating the contribution that allotments make to a sustainable future.’ For me, this really resonates with the research and learning that I’ve been doing as a first time allotmenteer around Permaculture. Now, along with my learning about the allotment in the first year, I know very little about Permaculture but what I am learning feels fascinating. There is a lot to learn and most of my learning is what I’ve found on the glorious university of YouTube along with a few books and articles so I am coming from a place of learning not knowledge or expertise. But in this week of Allotments I think the permaculture principles (yes it has principles) give us a lot to think about when we manage our land - whether it is an allotment, a garden, a window box, a community garden or big agriculture.

Developed in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgen in Australia Permaculture is a whole systems thinking approach to ecosystems. It takes some of its inspiration from Indigenous knowledge in caring for the earth in sharp contrast to Western industrialised methods which are harming our soil health, ecosystems and the planet. There is a marvellous Wikipedia page [1] which I’ve put a link to at the bottom rather than re-writing a well written article which gives a good overview and background.

As a former leadership and management trainer I am a real sucker for some sound ethics and principles (which is what I want to explore in my initial steps in this article around Permaculture).

The three foundational ethics of permaculture are:

  • Earth care: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.

  • People care: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.

  • Fair share: Setting limits to population and consumption so that people do not take more than what is needed. By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.[1]

For me at my allotment I am concentrating on Earth Care which is particularly relevant I feel for the ‘Plotting for the future' theme.

Earth Care - looking after the soil first. In starting my research about the allotment I discovered ‘No Dig’ developed by the prolific grower and generous teacher Charles Dowding [2]. Simply put this is the concept that by not digging the soil we preserve the mycelium [3] which is a bit like the world wide web for plants. - their organic way of communicating, sharing nutrients, and managing the breaking down of materials to create food for plants. Maybe it is the ‘mother’ in mother earth.

In practical terms how you do no dig is covering the earth with a natural weed suppressor (I’ve used cardboard and cardboarding is now a verb to me), which when topped with compost suppresses light and so kills off the less pernicious weeds and gives you time to root out the more tricky ones over time like bindweed and couch grass. The beds are then topped with organic compost about 15 cm in year one which can be planted in straight away and then mulched every year after. The theory being that you are feeding the soil first which then feeds the plants, and in turn you rarely need to add plant food. Anecdotally (and from what I’ve also noticed is) it also means much less watering than conventional double digging in manure.

Permaculture takes this much further with food forests, permanent agriculture (plant once eat forever) and zoning. Very briefly if it was your house then zone 1 would be the nearest to outside your door so stuff that you would want to just nip out and harvest so includes things like herbs and immediate food stuffs that you eat regularly. The further away from your property you then start considering fruit trees, things you harvest less often and replicating a natural forrest floor approach where plants support each other - but that is an entire other set of learning in itself (and I am finding that quite exciting too) [4]. I am treating the allotment as a zone 1 (as it is only half a plot)