Eric Toensmeier  @  ChelseaGreen

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Evolution of Our Home Garden

Posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 8:11 pm by Eric Toensmeier

The garden I developed (and manage) with Jonathan Bates is in its sixth year and some pretty exciting things are happening. Here’s a little history of the garden featured as the case study in Edible Forest Gardens Volume II and featured in many photos in Perennial Vegetables.

Original mission:”Our urban forest garden is an intensively managed backyard foraging paradise, a megadiverse living ark of useful and multifunctional plants from our own bioregion and around the world. The forest garden is the unifying element of a larger permaculture design for food production, wildlife habitat, and social spaces that encompasses the entire property.”

Thanks to all the people who participated in our work parties and made this garden possible, especially to members of Western Massachusetts Permaculture Guild.

Here’s what we started with in March 2004:

And here is the process of sheet mulching to create a nursery bed. We brought plants with us from our previous garden, so we needed a place to put them while we did our design. And start improving that soil!

Here is spring 2005. Later this year we did a lot of work!

Here’s 2006. Tallest plants in garden are annuals! Also our strategic materials depot.

2007:Snow pattern showing winter sun/shade pattern (reverse of summer); Installing trellis and pond; Keith and Lisa dig bamboo rhizome barrier; path and bed layout.

2008 was a big year in our forest garden. We definitely went from sleep and creep to leap and reap. Here are some photos: spring yields, persimmony polyculture; pockets of production; sea kale coming into maturity; Marikler with pawpaw polyculture and chicken run; bamboo barrier polyculture.

In 2008 we came up against some problems and solutions. Our main problem was too much darn vegetation - plants, foliage, and dried stalks and prunings. We solved this issue of excess growth with:

1) Chickens. Our cut-and-carry system turned weeding into feeding! They turn our excess foliage into manure and eggs and make a very high quality compost, much better than we had before.

2) Nursery. Started selling all those excess plants, raised funds for an irrigation system.

3) Firepit. We got a metal outdoor firepit which became a great place to dispose of large stalks and prunings which did not compost well. We get roasted marshmallows, social time outside, and ash for fertilizer.

In 2009 the system started to really take off on its own. It was not a good year for grapes due to excess moisture, but great year for berries, Asian pears, much more. We removed the mini-dwarf apple and peach, also the bush cherries. Too many pest problems for all of those! They were replaced with Badgersett hazels and dwarf sea buckthorn, anchors of a new sun-loving early-succession polyculture in meantime featuring lots of sylvetta, sorrel, prostrate birdsfoot trefoil, alpine strawberries, and green and gold.

Photos include early summer berry harvest, kiwi trellis (still mostly tomatoes), understory richness, Asian pear and bamboo, pockets of production, bamboo corner.

Stay tuned to this blog for posts about our revamped “next generation polycultures” which are going in spring 2010. At first our goal was maximum biodiversity. We currently have around 175 species on our 1/8 acre and have tried many more. But we now know what grows well for us that we like to eat. Now we want to focus on those species and how to grow them in functional polycultures, which may decrease overall diversity somewhat but will increase functional interconnection and useful yields.

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