My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Food

My interest in food escalated about five years ago when I changed to a vegan diet. I spent a lot of time reading about food, in particular food ethics. As I began to realise that something was askew with how we raised animals for their meat and by-products, I started to see the flaws in how everything else was produced. I read Singer’s “Animal Liberation” and “Practical Ethics”, Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma”, and the film based on it, “Food Inc”, and “The Botany of Desire”. I even read Keith’s “Vegetarian Myth” which made some very interesting points about industrial agriculture.

I became more choosy about what I put in my mouth. I started to grow some of my own and saw the benefits not only in terms of taste and freshness, but to my wallet. Guerrilla gardener, Ron Finley said in his TED Talk, growing your own food is like printing money. But the benefits don’t stop there: it’s great fun. I love nothing more than pottering in the garden for hours. In the morning, a cup of coffee in hand. In the evening, a glass of wine. At my old place in the Adelaide CBD I helped establish a guerrilla community garden. I loved having such an expansive space in which to tinker, think, and grow fantastic produce. Where I live now I am limited in what I can do. I yearn for having the space to become more self-reliance for food.

Near my town in Murraylands there isn’t exactly much choice on where to do one’s grocery shopping. The town itself has a post office—which I am lead to believe sells milk, newspapers and gas bottle refills—and a pub. A few towns over there is a general store that stocks some groceries and your usual greasy takeaway foods. Within 30km, in both directions, there are IGA supermarkets. 70km west is Murray Bridge which has a wider range of stores, including fruit and vegetable shops, butchers, bakeries, and major supermarkets.

I wish to grow most if not all of my fruit and vegetables and to have some left over to preserve, give away, and sell.

Growing My Own

I am fortunate enough to have 2000-square-metres at my disposal. Of course, I am not going to just go out and crop the whole space. I, true to permaculture principles, will first observe and interact. I will pay attention to how the land lays in a broad sense—how sun, rain, wind, heat, cold, frost; birds and mammals all interact with it—and the tiny detail too. This will inform me where I should place the elements of my design, and where best to place my food growing zones. As mentioned in the first post of this series, Shelter, Zone 1 shall be located near to the house and will incorporate plants that are commonly used and require regular attention. I will grow grape and passionfruit vines over a structure attached to the north face of the house, creating shade from the hot summer sun and letting in light, as the vines lose their leaves, during winter. Incorporated into the outdoor living area will be a small raised garden bed, no more than a couple of metres from the indoor and outdoor kitchens. The surrounds of this bed will also double as a seating area—true to Mollison’s principle of “Each Element Performs Many Functions”. In this bed will grow commonly used herbs—basil, parsley, dill, chives, thyme,—greens—various types of lettuce, spinach, silver beet and Asian greens like bok choy,—and every day veggies like cherry tomatoes and chillies. I may also place a lemon tree in this space; handy for creating a quick salad dressing.

A path meanders through the native scrub and arrives at a sunny clearing which is home to Zone 2. To the west of the path, under the shade of a big Callitris, is the chicken house. A guild of deciduous fruit trees to the north, provide shade in summer and let light in during winter. What’s more, as the trees mature and start to fruit, some of it will be allowed to fall into the chicken house adding to the girls’ diet. On the other side of the path is a trio of compost bays. The Zone 2 growing area is a maze of interplanting, a la Alys Fowle. No rows here. A diverse range of species will be grown in a way that is complimentary and supportive. The soil as I write, is poor—sandy and unable to much water or nutrients. The soil will be worked for as long as it takes, with clay and manure and compost and loam, and straw. In order for anything to grow in Zone 2, the soil will take work. Hence, I intend to start small—perhaps borrowing from Lolo Houbein “One Square Metre” method—so as to not immediately bite off more than I can chew. Eventually, I want to get this cottagey food garden to around 100-square-metres. I certainly have the space.

Further on still, in Zone 3, will be a conventional orchard, full of the fruit and nut I love to eat. It will be watered by drip irrigation. The orchard will be interplanted with beneficial species in the understory to help feed and protect the valuable productive trees. A small vineyard may be established as I would love to try making my own wine. A general purpose cropping area—yes, rows—will also be established here for seasonable surplus. Plants I want to grow to sell / trade, such as summer tomatoes and corn, and winter brassicas.

Zone 4 will be experimental. It’s where I will work on a little project. I want to—try to—establish a native ‘bush tucker’ food forest, within a patch of existing native vegetation present on the eastern ¼ acre block. Probably in the northern corner.

Zone 5 will produce no food. It will be left as is, save a little clearing to keep the CFS happy and my straw bale house safe.

I have no interest in raising animals for consumption.

Buying Food

Once established I hope to produce all my fruit and vegetables. Vegetables are realistic in the first year. Seasonal eating will be key and surplus can be preserved to consume in the off-season. Most fruits, apart from things like strawberries, will take a while longer and shall be bought in the meantime.

It would be expensive and time consuming to commute to Murray Bridge or Adelaide every week to do my grocery shopping. I intend to make a trip to Adelaide at least once a month to buy bulk items from good wholefood supplies like Goodies and Grains. It might even prove cost effective to buy some bulk items online and have them posted. My weekly or fortnightly shopping will be done in one of the nearby service towns (Tailem Bend and Lameroo). Both towns have full-range IGA supermarkets (Lameroo has two, a few doors away from each other for some reason) which are reasonably priced. I will buy my food in bulk so that I don’t have to make regular trips into these towns. After all, my means of transportation is coach—I am better off filling up a 50L hiking backpack and having a few carrier bags—than making lighter, more regular trips. Perhaps these supermarkets can do home delivery? That’s not something I have looked into yet.

Occasionally I might cycle into the next town across, which has a general store, to pick up bread or a cheeky pasty.

Playing Domestic God(ess)

Cooking almost entirely from scratch will be vital in terms of cost and is also something I want to do as a meaningful activity. I want to bake my own bread, hence the cob pizza oven I propose for Zone 1. During summer most cooking will be done outside on the BBQ or in the oven. During winter the gas hotplates in the internal kitchen and the wood fire will be used. Meals will be fresh, hearty and primarily vegetarian. If I have good layers, eggs will be a good protein source for many meals. A days menu might look like this:

Breakfast: Espresso coffee with an omelette made with fresh veggies and herbs from the garden.

Lunch: Garden fresh salad with lentils or chickpeas. Sandwiches made with home-baked bread.

Dinner: Curry or stew or pasta or soup or pizza, made with whatever is available in any given season and a few grains and meats brought in from outside. Greens will be picked from the garden every day to have as a side salad.

Snacks: Fruit, nuts and the odd bit of store-bought dark chocolate.

I want to preserve my surplus. I want to grow enough of my favourite things so that I have some in the pantry for the off-season. Pasta made with home-made passata from the summer tomatoes. Yum. I intend to buy a Fowlers Vercola (Gumtree always has them second-hand.) I want to learn how to make preserves and pickles and sauces and jams. On my Adelaide trips I will visit the Adelaide Central Markets and buy in bulk produce that’s cheap, in season and that I don’t grow at home, to keep me busy around the preserving pot. Hey, there might even be some people in or near my town that are willing to swap or sell me some of what they grow?

That’s Food done. I am hungry now. Stay tuned for Transport tomorrow.

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8 thoughts on “My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Food

  1. Pingback: My Permaculture Design: An Overview – Transport | Permaculture in the Mallee

  2. I’d like to suggest another great perennial vine to add to your grapes and passionfruit, one that grows a mindblowing amount every year, produces prolific amounts of fruit (it goes all out every 2-3 years from my memory of it as a child) and it’s easy peasy to grow too. Meet another oft forgotten member of the curcurbitaceae family, the choko, also known as chayote. They don’t like the frost but I remember ours as a kid and it must have grown up the reo mesh trellis which was probably 5-6m tall every year, not to mention 6-8m out each side too. The fruits can be steamed, probably baked or roasted (not done so but no reason why not) and they can be used to stretch other foods like apples a lot further. I read a story of how chokos were used to stretch the apples in apple pies in sub tropical/tropical areas where cold climate fruits like apples are pricier (clearly before we started shipping foods everywhere like today) as choko will take on the flavour of whichever foods to which you add it. 🙂 I’m planning 4 of them which will just about feed the town in which I live but I’m sure the chooks will love them and likely the goats too. And I reckon apples and choko in custard would go down a treat for my kids. 😉 I want them for the fruit but primarily for their phenomenal growth and shading properties in Summer.

    • Thanks so much for alerting me to their existence, Rabidlittlehippy. My research into plants is still in its infancy. I am always to hear about a new “wonder plant”. I watched Lawton’s latest video yesterday, “The Perfect Permaculture Fishpond”, and he introduced me to “Kang Kong”. Sure, it requires a lot of water, but it seems to yield abundantly. Perhaps the pay off would be worth it.

      • As long as evaporation isn’t a concern, water vegetables like kang kong and water chestnut will be a very useful addition to your garden. They require a great deal of water to live in, but that water is more like a one-off deal instead of something like lettuce or coriander where you are constantly adding water to the soil to keep them happy. Think of water plants like an investment – once you have put a relatively large amount of resources down it will keep paying dividends for a long time provided that you maintain a minimal level of care.

      • I’ve just planted a taro in my greenhouse. It too is a majorly water loving plant and it loves the warmth too but even in our icy climate I hope to keep the greenhouse warm with 2 composting strawbales (which will go on the garden in late spring) and 2 x 500L water butts inside too. Taro are well worth the effort with their roast chestnut flavoured potato-like flesh and mega easy, almost weed like proliferation. 🙂 Just make sure it’s an edible variety should you give taro a try. 🙂
        Geoff Lawton is amazing and I eagerly await each and every video he puts out. His pond video was great but I loved the bamboo one.
        I think we are all still learning our plants but I figure if we all pool our knowledge then our commmunities can only prosper, whether they are online communities or in the flesh. 🙂
        I look forward to following your journey.

  3. I think you should forgo the Fowlers Vacola set in place of something else, unless you can get it cheaply enough.

    A pressure canner will allow you a much greater range of canning options because you won’t be bound to ensuring the acidity level of the canned food is enough to stop botulism and you can also pressure can a greater variety of foods. Pressure canners also require less energy to can (provided that the pressure canner is full and you aren’t running it for just one or two jars.) From my research, the best option for a pressure canner is the All-American brand because it is a gasket-less design, meaning that as long as you take care of the pot itself (which isn’t very hard to do) then you won’t find yourself needing to buy new gaskets to replace them every couple of years as the bust. Look on amazon for reviews of pressure canners with gaskets to see the frustration people experience by having to regularly replace their pressure canner gaskets. One might say it’s enough to blow a gasket over.

    The other thing that a pressure canner allows you to do is to make sterile mycelium products – substrate, liquid mycelium media, etc. – this is an absolutely crucial piece of equipment if you want to do some intensive mushroom production either for food or for mycelial soil remediation. Given that your location won’t be well-suited to meat production, and maybe not even to egg production, it would be a perfectly suitable alternative and it might even be essential to a mostly self-sufficient lifestyle. It may even become a revenue-source for you.

    If you want to have a regular water bath canner, you could just as easily go to Gaganis Brothers on Bacon St and buy a very large pot to use as the water bath, and you can pick up a wide range of jars and lids very cheaply there. It would definitely be cheaper than buying a new Fowlers Vacola unit, and it might even be cheaper than a second hand one. Also by having a very large pot, it will allow you to do other things (I should say ‘stack functions’ shouldn’t I?) like making passata or brewing a mash for beer making as well.

    As a final note, I think that given your situation and the local climate you should seriously consider the place of alternative vegetables and native vegetables. Warrigal greens will likely thrive in your conditions where spinach or lettuce will suffer and struggle (and thus require a great deal of time and energy input from you and something like amaranth will be better at producing leafy greens – or otherwise something from the chenopodium family at any rate,) and things like Boab trees or Moringa trees can provide you with some less-conventional but far more suitable sources of food which require less inputs and care, and are absolutely capable of surviving in your location.

    If you don’t already have purslane growing on your property, you should seriously consider employing it as a pioneer plant due to it’s hardiness and it’s ability as a dynamic accumulator and soil moisture moderator. It’s perennial, can be used as a chop and drop plant for very marginal land in places like SA, and it’s even a valuable food plant to boot. In fact, if I were in your situation, I would immediately contact any arborists anywhere near your location and ask them to dump as much woodwaste as possible in your zone 1 (and maybe zone 2, depending on how much woodwaste you can get your hands on.) Over the next three or so years, depending on rainfall, the woodwaste will break down into a rich dark loamy soil much like the coveted leaf mold, and it will retain a great deal of water and nutrients. For first couple of years before the wood has broken down sufficiently, you can dig holes and place suitable media (a mix of worm castings and sand, potting mix, composted manure etc.) to grow plants in. This will speed the process of breaking down the lignin etc. in the wood mulch as well. You could even consider the broad application of mycelia to speed the process up, perhaps shaving a year or two off the overall time it will take to break the wood mulch down. This is a process much like hugelkultur but is more appropriate for a property where there are few trees which are too valuable in their current place to consider cutting down (this is especially important as large well-established trees are crucial for ensuring that the water table in the Murraylands doesn’t seep up into the topsoil during periods of heavy rainfall and deposit salt) and it is also faster to break down than large logs, plus you can choose where to apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer to speed decomposition rather than having to (attempt) to grow N-fixing cover crops to provide the necessary nitrogen, which is almost impossible without a cooler climate and a higher rainfall. Your own urine is probably going to be the best nitrogen rich fertilizer that you can get your hands on for free, so I would seriously consider using it in this application.

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