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The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
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Spring

Jill Cockram, feeling inspired by the change of season.

Once again, Mother Nature is about to throw off her winter mantle in favour of her flower-power Spring suit, and like practically everyone else in the southern hemisphere, I am greatly looking forward to her promise of productivity and warmth.

It’s a good time to take stock of past successes and failures in our attempts to live more sustainable and self-reliant/sufficient lifestyles. From that stocktake we can design strategies not only for providing for our short term needs, but also to plan and implement as many long term strategies as necessary to simplify our hectic lifestyles and lessen our dependence on fossil fuel-based products and services.

Having worked out your long-term goals makes it easier to effectively design a system which will adequately sustain you - body and soul - in the years to come.

Permaculture is based on goals and design. One of my long-term goals is to see how far I can cut back my current "first world" excesses (goods that I consider to be needs, but that a third world person would consider luxuries). And I am not talking LUDDITE here, either! I know that I could cut out a lot of items from my lifestyle before any real hardship is incurred and I consider that I live a reasonably simple, non-extravagant life!

A CHALLENGE? YOU BET!

To this end, I have been pondering some of the basic Permaculture principles and related strategies that we can apply to our Spring gardens and activities.

1. Use of microclimates

We can take advantage of existing warm microclimates (north-facing walls, areas surrounding ponds, wind-protected and frost protected sites) or create some new microclimates such as cold frames, cloches, glass houses, etc for propagation.

These micro-climates can help us grow our early Spring vegies or later in the season, allow us to grow fruit or vegetables that are only marginally successful in our cool temperate climate (citrus for example).

2. Maintenance of Biodiversity

* How many varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, etc should I grow this year, rather than just the one?

* Will I grow only non-hybrid vegies, using open-pollinating seeds?

* Is it wise to grow plants that are not climatically suited to this area?

* Have I planned for as wide a variety of food/herb species as possible, taking into account that it is less wasteful to grow only those foods that will readily be eaten by the family members?

* Will I gain enough knowledge of seed-saving to effectively save my own seeds for next season (understanding that some species readily cross, resulting in seeds that will not come true to type when planted, whilst other seeds are easy to save.)

3. Using Biological Resources

Permaculture defines pollution as simply resources not being used within the system. We all send materials off site on a regular basis via the Council waste disposal services, who, in turn, despatch them to landfill sites. Most of us are now aware that we are all contributors to the waste/pollution problem and we can make a difference by observing the following strategies:

* Use up kitchen scraps and garden refuse in composting systems (via the chook pen also).

* Save jars and bottles for jams and preserves and storage of dried fruits, etc.

* Cut down the purchase of products packaged in plastics, cans and jars by producing home-grown/home cooked fruit and vegies.

* Take advantage of the Council Clean Up days - recycle other people’s perfectly useable throw-outs! Even newspapers and wool carpets and underfelt can be used in sheet mulching (but be aware that some of them may have been sprayed with insecticides.)

* With Spring comes the mowing season and therefore the opportunity to mulch and compost the clippings into recycled nutrients.

* As a last resort, use existing Shire green waste and container recycling depots if you really can’t recycle on-site.

4. Integrated Pest Management.

Yep!!! Spring cleaning time so ...... that Roundup in your cupboard has got to go!!!!! We can accidentally kill the good bugs along with the bad bugs when we use proprietary brands, and the world is already choking on insecticides without us adding to the problem.

What should I use instead?

* Companion planting to attract predator insects - of particular use are the umbrelliferacaea family such as carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace , dill etc. Research it now!

* Decoy planting to lure pests away from your true crops.

* Plant flowering and thorny native bushes and trees to attract and protect insect-eating birds.

* Buy/borrow a snail-eating duck.

* Buy/borrow a few free range hens. (My next major task - the henhouse!)

* Use rotation cropping in your vegie patch to minimise soil-borne pests.

* Build a pond - encourage the bug-eating frogs looking for a Spring feed.

* Make some lizard hidey holes around the yard - they’ll be coming out of hibernation soon.

* Use home-made non-toxic products like garlic & chilli sprays, white oil, water jets, rhubarb spray, etc. on pests.

* If you have a plague of aphids or other pests, buy some lady birds from one of the companies dealing with biological pest control.

6. Small-scale Intensive Systems

One thing I have yet to master is planning successive plantings of vegetables so that I produce a continuous supply of the staples like carrots, lettuce, cabbage, silverbeet, etc, instead of which I suffer from either "feast or famine", feast being preferable of course! Around Autumn, invariably we are feasting on the Spring/Summer bounty, but by the onset of the following Spring, the cupboard is bare and the garden depleted.

To bridge that boom/bust cycle we can:

* plan small successive fortnightly plantings of picking vegies like lettuce, silverbeet and staples.

* preserve (bottle, make jams, dry freeze or cold store) the Autumn bounty of fruits and vegies.

* be more creative in the way we prepare the foods that are bountiful. ("Not pumpkin soup again!")

* learn to grow and eat vegies "in season" and allow plenty of garden space for successive plantings.

7. Community Issues

We humans are social animals - with the onset of Spring we can leave the comfort of the warm house and head into the great outdoors to appreciate the beauty of the natural environment (from Zone One outwards). We might even feel strongly enough about a local environmental/social/community issue to stand up and be counted! After all, Permaculture is about appropriate land use for the development of sustainable systems.

Let’s contribute!! And don’t forget to smell the roses along the way......

J19 Spring