The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Touring an urban homestead

Garden ecology lectureI told you yesterday that I wouldn't write a reaction post to lectures 3 and 4 until next week, but it turned out that those lectures (especially the latter) were much more interesting and took me less time to finish up.  So here's a rather rambling series of thoughts on those lectures and the associated readings.

The third lecture in the online permaculture course is about garden ecology, and I felt it was a bit light (even after the first 35 minutes of student observations ended).  The only useful tidbit I came up with was the idea of focusing on multiple-kingdom guilds in our climate rather than on the plant-plant guilds that you read about in tropical books (like Mollison's).  I think Hooker is spot-on with this assessment --- mixing chickens and trees or fungi and plants has worked much better for me than companion planting.

Greywater catchment systemLecture 4 is where the online course begins to really shine, since it's basically an overview of the professor's own urban homestead.  Hooker shows us his Belgian fence of apples, a grape-covered chicken run (allowing him to shake the vines to feed Japanese beetles to his flock), and a great rainwater-collection system (pictured to the right).  On the other hand, you also begin to get a feel for Will Hooker's limitations in this lecture, especially when you learn that he doesn't eat his chickens (giving away the roosters and presumably letting his hens die of old age).  Hooker also puts a lot more effort into aesthetics than into producing an edible harvest.

Most of the reading that went along with these lectures was information I already knew, but there were a few gems in Mollison's Introduction to Permaculture:

"Although permaculture may seem to be labour-intensive to start with, it is not a return to peasant systems of annual crops, endless drudgery, and total dependence on human labour.  Rather it focuses on designing the farm (or garden, or town) to best advantage, using a certain amount of human labour (which can include friends and neighbours), a gradual buildup of productive perennial plants, mulching for weed control, the use of biological resources, alternative technologies that generate and save energy, and a moderate use of machinery, as appropriate."

****

"The golden rule is to develop the nearest area first, get it under control, and then expand the edges.  Too often, the beginner chooses a garden far from the house, and neither harvests the plants efficiently, nor cares for them well enough.  Any soil can be developed for a garden over time, so stay close to the home when placing the garden and orchard."


Finally, your reading assignment before enjoying lectures 5 and 6 is:

  • "Orchards, Farm Forestry, and Grain Crops" in Introduction to Permaculture.  (The book I finally tracked down is the first edition, in which this is chapter 5, but I understand it is chapter 6 in later editions.)
  • "Growing a Food Forest" in Gaia's Garden.

If you're watching and reading along with me, did other parts of these two lectures jump out at you?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Trailersteading shows how we ended up with a liveable structure for $2,000, and how other trailersteaders have turned mobile homes into vibrant homesteads.


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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.



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