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I teach, maintain and install ecological and edible organic gardens. This past summer, I took a shot at applying some of the permaculture principles I utilize to an allotment style community garden located in the centre of Historical Markham. A hundred years ago, the land was part of a dairy pasture, now there are over eighty allotments that take advantage of the thick top soil.


My allotment was situated in full sun and had not been cultivated since the abandoned raspberry patch, dandelions and weedy-grasses were tilled-in last summer. Staying true to ecological-gardening principles, I had soil fertility, increasing pollinators, attracting predatory insects, and minimizing work in mind. Blog Picture 2- Permaculture Trials at MCG 2013What ended up happening was a beautiful annual version of permaculture chop and drop that filled in half the plot. Chop and drop is a technique which involves pruning fast growing plants to provide leafy material used to mulch the soil around favoured crops. Daikon radishes were used as one of the main "chop and drop" materials. The white Daikon flowers were food for various species of bees and wasps and after breaking up the subsoil, the large ground- penetrating tap roots were left to decompose in place to add fertility to the soil. With the help of my dad, tomatoes, borage, tomatillos, basil, carrots, amaranth, parsley, endives, corn, cucumbers, tobacco, sunflowers, yarrow, lettuces, Red Malabar spinach and a cardoon were planted for the purposes of yield, diversity, and attracting predators. The plants also acted as a living-mulch, assisting a thin layer of straw to shade-out unwanted plants. At the far end of the plot, a repurposed net was used to support Red Malabar vining spinach, drawing in both people and spiders with pink flowers and tropical allure (see below).

 

Blog Picture 3 - Permaculture Trials at MCG 2013

 

I acquired the other half of my 11' by 24' plot once grass seeds had germinated and were well established. Busy setting up clients' gardens, there was no way I would be able to invest time and labour resources needed to battle quack grass of that magnitude! Also I was running low on traditional mulch materials. The one resource I did have was knowledge. I blanketed the area with a single layer of cardboard. Lacking a moisture holding mulch on top of the cardboard, I did not expect the cardboard to degrade.

Blog Picture 4 - Permaculture Trials at MCG 2013

The "naked cardboard" mulch still conserved moisture and led to large increases in earthworm, centipede and cricket populations, while allowing the establishment of visible fungal networks. All these things increase the amount of nutrients available in the soil to plants. Three varieties of kale, a dozen heirloom tomatoes, Purple Podded pole beans and discarded yarrow were transplanted into holes made in the cardboard.

 

With all of the great opportunities that came with this plot, there were a couple organizational practices I took issue with as a gardener with permaculture at heart. I was unsettled that there was no onsite compost system: the garden is on private land and composts are considered non-aesthetic. Resources the gardeners wasted had to be trucked off-site by city subcontractors to be mixed with green bin refuse and gutter sweepings; delivered back to the garden as compost. This year's tilling fell on the third week of October: acting on mistaken advice, I put a fresh layer of leaves over my plot on closing day, about a week before. What I would like to see would be untilled plots covered with neighbourhood leaves during the fall and a singular till in spring. A by-product of "tilling in" organic surface matter is the indiscriminate kill-off of bug populations. In ecological garden design, the vast majority of bugs are "good guys" and they are necessary to keep the "bad guys" in check.


From a permaculture perspective, at the end of the day this beautiful garden is ultimately operating within a man versus nature ideology and could use a permaculture makeover. Maybe the garden isn't ready for permaculture, as many members continue to have faith in soil-depleting shake and feed synthetic fertilizers. Next year, I will generate curiosity and possibly controversy, as I tuck a worm barrel into a corner amongst sunflowers, converting plant wastes into yields of vermicompost and "worm urine".

 


About Bryan:
Blog Picture 5- Permaculture Trials at MCG 2013Bryan graduated from Guelph University with a degree in Plant Biotechnology. He's worked in nurseries and as a tree planter. Bryan is the founder of Backyard Groceries, a budding suburban business that seeks to connect people with each other, their communities, and Mother Earth through the common desire to be closer to our food. His services are available to homeowners, community living residences, schools, businesses and community groups/gardens throughout the GTA. Backyard Groceries is always on the lookout for new opportunities to network, speak, coach and educate in the areas of edible organic gardening, sustainable community food systems and permaculture. Bryan's goal is to get as many people and communities as possible growing their own food! Visit www.BackyardGroceries.com for educational articles and videos and to learn more about Backyard Groceries. You can contact Bryan directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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