Making the Bed

 

A tiny raised bed near my friends' front porch with new starts for the season ahead.

A tiny raised bed near my friends’ front porch with new starts for the season ahead.

When you’ve been gardening for more than a week you realize that the vigor and beauty of your plants, and the success of your planting schemes, relies entirely on the quality of your soil.

The Rodale Press gardening books I poured over as a novice in the ’80s always had chapters devoted to soil preparation.  Double digging was recommended “back in the day.”

Tilling was the common practice then, especially for vegetable gardeners.  It was years on that biologists and botanists came to realize that mechanical tilling, and even double digging, totally wrecks the ecosystem of the soil.

Countless small worms and insects are ravaged.  Long dormant weed seeds are brought to the surface and given a chance to sprout.  Delicate colonies of fungi and bacteria are disrupted.

Tilling is no longer recommended for the long term well-being of the soil; even in traditional vegetable garden culture.

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur bed near the bottom of the ravine in my friends’ back garden.  This two year old bed grows potatoes, herbs, and an Oakleaf Hydrangea on the far right.

Double digging, done once when land is first dedicated to a garden, might be useful in some cases.

If the double digging includes the addition of lots of organic matter, and possibly some minerals such as greensand, gypsum, or super-phosphate; it can be a useful way to break up clay soils before initial planting.  Once the bed is established, annual double digging is terrifically disruptive to the soil’s ecology.

More recent practices eschew the digging entirely and focus on constructing raised beds of various materials.

My friend has been working on this large Hugelkultur vegetable garden for several years now.  It is already planted with peas, spinach, and many types of herbs.

My friend has been working on this large Hugelkultur vegetable garden for several years now. It is already planted with peas, spinach, and many types of herbs.

There is no one right way to make your garden bed.  So much depends on variables; like your soil, your climate, and what you plan to grow in a given area.

This lovely bed, made with stones, is at Forest Lane Botanicals near Williamsburg, Va.

This lovely bed, made with stones, is at Forest Lane Botanicals near Williamsburg, Va.

I learned very quickly that our new garden had terribly compacted hard clay soil over much of the property.  Nearly all of my early attempts to plant anything in this new garden left me somewhere between underwhelmed and downright depressed.

It wasn’t until I began building raised beds, and bringing home bagfuls of compost, that we began to make progress on this property.

My Hugelkultur stump garden this spring, with its border of slate roofing tiles found at the Re-Store here in Williamsburg.

My Hugelkultur stump garden this spring, with its border of slate roofing tiles found at the Re-Store here in Williamsburg.

There are so many beautiful and creative ways to create raised beds.  Budget isn’t so much an issue as is imagination.

Notice the variety of matierials my friends used to form the border for this one bed.

Notice the variety of materials my friends used to form the border for this shallow bed around her Crepe Myrtle tree.

I’ve made raised beds from many different materials over the years.  I started out when railway ties, landscape timbers, and even 2×10 boards were at the cutting edge.

Soon enough someone figured out that the chemicals in all of that treated wood leached into the soil and then got into the food grown in the bed.    Building a bed of untreated wood meant a very short-lived border on the bed.

A very innovative friend introduced me to Hugelkultur.  This practice originated in Europe and incorporates downed trees, limbs, compostable materials of all sorts, and topsoil  to build very thick raised beds.

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Sometimes built into a trench, sometimes mounded high above the ground, these raised beds retain water, produce heat, and slowly release nutrients into the soil as the materials break down.

This Hugelkultur bed is full of healthy strawberry plants, and has peas planted on a little trellis. This area is a steep drop off, but my friends leveled it with downfall wood to construct this bed.

This Hugelkultur bed is full of healthy strawberry plants, and has peas planted on a little trellis. This area is a steep drop off, but my friends leveled it with downfall wood to construct this bed.

My friend is going into her third growing season with Hugelkultur beds.  Her garden is on a steep slope at the edge of the forest.  There is an abundance of  downfall wood and stumps on her property.  She is using them all very creatively.

This Hugelkultur bed is full of healthy strawberry plants, and has peas planted on a little trellis.  This area is a steep drop off, but my friends leveled it with downfall wood to construct this bed.

A mix of vegetables, flowers, and herbs grows in this Hugelkultur bed.  My friends use netting to keep deer out.  The plants in the foreground are Astilbe.

I have also experimented with Hugelkultur, building around a stump over its root system, with a base of wood left from our downed trees last summer.  My bed is not quite a year old yet, but already I’m pleased with its progress.

The basic requirements for a good planting bed are adequate drainage, abundant organic materials, rich microbial life, and an adequate balance of minerals.   The most effective way to feed plants is to feed the soil.  Chemical fertilizers, such as “Miracle Grow” and other non-organic commercial products not only burn plants in high concentrations, but may also kill the microbial and invertebrate life required for  healthy soil.

Good soil has the loose, soft texture which only comes from plenty of organic material incorporated into the mineral content.

Another bed at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Another bed at Forest Lane Botanicals.

Finding earthworms living in soil is always an excellent sign.  Their digestive process helps release nutrients plants need, even as the movement of worms through the soil opens it up and creates the loose texture roots need for growth.

One way to achieve good beds, without all of the heavy lifting of building Hugelkultur beds, is simple sheet composting.

To begin a new planting bed, cover the entire area with brown paper grocery bags, plain white or brown wrapping paper,  torn cardboard from boxes, or several thicknesses of newspaper.  This initial layer smothers grass and weeds to form a barrier for those first crucial weeks, and then it decomposes into the soil.

Pile a variety of organic material onto the paper or cardboard base.  These layers can include grass clippings, coffee grounds, tea bags, chopped leaves, shredded paper,  straw, rinsed egg shells, fruit and vegetable peels, and sea weed.

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If the straw is mixed with rabbit or chicken droppings, all the better.  Bags of topsoil or pre-made compost can be piled on top of the organic materials the first year to speed the process.  Although the organic materials need to be dampened,  they do not need to be turned and mixed in sheet composting.

The frame of this bed can be made from many different materials, depending on what you have at hand.  This can even be made as a rounded, raised row without a border.

One popular technique uses bales of hay as the borders or walls of the bed.  I’ve done this.  It isn’t pretty, and there are the sprouting hayseeds in the bales to contend with all season.  Eventually the hay will mold and begin to fall apart.

You eventually get good soil, and vegetables will grow well in such a bed if you keep the whole bed and hay bale wall moist.  Some organic gardening resources even offer instructions for planting into the hollowed out and soil filled bales….

A container is still the easiest way to control the soil plants grow in.  This is my newest hypertufa trough, planted up with a Eucalyptus tree and geraniums.

A container is still the easiest way to control the soil plants grow in. This is my newest hypertufa trough, planted up with a Eucalyptus tree and geraniums.

Over time, these “sheet composted” beds decompose into the original soil beneath them.  The organic materials attract earthworms, which begin to mix the soil during their travels.

The moisture in the raised bed softens the soil below, and after a season or two you have a fine bed for planting, without the digging.  Continuing to add organic mulch to the bed once or twice a year keeps these beds “cooking” and rich in nutrients over many years.

Hostas here are planted in their own nursery pots, and then the pots are sunk into this bed at Forest Lane Botanicals.  This is a useful technique to control the specific soil a plant grows in, protect the root ball from insects and voles, and to provide a slightly moister environment for the plant.  This is a much easier, and less expensive way to create a bed than trying to adequately ammend the soil in a large area.

Hostas here are planted in their own nursery pots, and then the pots are sunk into this bed at Forest Lane Botanicals. This is a useful technique to control the specific soil a plant grows in, protect the root ball from insects and voles, and to provide a slightly moister environment for the plant. This is a much easier, and less expensive way to create a bed, than trying to adequately ammend the soil in a large area.  Notice the use of cinder blocks for these miniature Hostas.  Cinder blocks used as the border for a raised vegetable bed may be similarly planted with herbs, Nasturtiums, garlic, etc.

I’ve learned on my property that digging into the soil is extremely difficult.  And plants put directly into the ground may be at risk of vole attack.   I still do it, though, and did it this past week.

When I dig to plant a shrub directly into the ground, I make a far bigger hole than the root ball requires, and add copious quantities of compost. And gravel.  And I try to surround it with poisonous daffodil bulbs for good measure.

This littleAlysia virgata, or Sweet Almond Tree Verbena, is planted directly into the soil.  It will grow to 8' tall with sweetly fragrant white blossoms.  I dig out a very large hole, mixed in lots of compost, and added some Espoma plant tone.  I'm hoping it will grow well here.  I will most likely build a raised bed around this site.

This little Aloysia virgata, or Sweet Almond Tree Verbena, is planted directly into the soil. It will grow to 8′ tall with sweetly fragrant white blossoms. I dug out a very large hole, mixed in lots of compost, and added some Espoma Plant Tone. I’m hoping it will grow well here. I will most likely build a raised bed around this site.

I was able to feel the improvement in a bed begun four years ago, when I dug into it to add some little rose bushes this week.

The texture of the soil has completely changed, thanks to regular additions of compost and pea gravel.   I found earthworms.  I dug out space for the root balls easily, added yet more compost, and planted the little potted roses, blessedly growing on their own roots.

Then I added a border of slate roofing tiles to the sides of the bed, and piled more compost into the bed as fresh mulch.

However you make your planting beds, you’ll find that plants grown in raised beds grow bigger, healthier, and more productive than beds planted directly into  the ground.

Even a bed just 4″-6″ high, made with loose organic matter, give plants a huge advantage, because the roots are able to develop more fully and find nutrients more easily.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

Hypertufa In The Stump Garden

April 20 2014 hypertufa 017

The stump in the stump garden has been bugging me.

When the tree guys cut this  broken oak tree last summer, leaving me a stump as instructed, they didn’t make an even cut.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 001

It seemed trivial at the time, given the enormous task of cleaning up the mess three downed oak trees left in our front garden, and restoring what we could of what little was left behind.  I planted up a large glazed ceramic pot and we balanced it on the uneven stump last summer, just to try to make things look a little better.  I knew we needed to do better this summer.

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The stump garden in October of 2013

We’ve worked on this area ever since, building up the Hugelkultur  bed around the stump, planting  the bed, pruning away dead wood from the shrubs, repairing the deer fences and spreading mulch.

The entire area looks worlds better, but there was still the issue of the uneven stump.

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I decided back in the winter to make a new, much larger pot for this stump from Hypertufa; and I ordered a Brugmansia, “Cherub,” which will grow very tall, to grow in the large pot.  I expect a 5′-7′ tall shrub covered in huge, pendulous fragrant flowers growing from the new pot on the stump by late August.

The large hypertufa pot I've made for our stump garden.

The large hypertufa pot I’ve made for our stump garden.

But there was still the small matter of the uneven cut on top of the stump.  And the even uglier matter of the missing bark.  Left as it was, I knew rot would set in, and soon this pedestal would begin disintegrating.

April 20 2014 hypertufa 005

I decided to transform the stump into a work of art; a fitting pedestal for the beautiful hypertufa pot and blossom covered Brugmansia.

Using a fairly wet hypertufa blend, I first covered the entire top of the stump, leveling it out as much as possible.  The top is decorated with bits of glass.  I expect the glass to help hold and stabilize the pot, holding it up a little to allow for drainage.

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After the top had a chance to set up, I came back with a second batch of hypertufa to address the torn and peeling bark.  I was careful to seal the top edge of the bark all the way around the stump under a coating of the concrete hypertufa mixture.

The top was already dry to the touch when I finished the patch on the side.  We’ve had a bright and windy day, which has helped the concrete to set up quickly.

I’ll give the stump a good 36 to 48 hours to dry before placing the pot on its new pedestal, where it can remain indefinitely.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, and Sedum.

Brugmansia growing from the center, this pot is planted with Coleus, Dusty Miller, Creeping Jenny, and two varieties of Sedum.

The tiny Brugmansia start  grows now from the center of the pot.  It is flanked with Dusty Miller on the ends, and sun tolerant Coleus on the sides.

All of these plants, except the Sedums and Creeping Jenny, will grow at least 18″ tall, helping to hide the “knees” of the Brugmansia as it grows.

These plants will do well in full sun to partial shade.  These plants are a mix of annuals and perennials.  The Brugmansia  is rated to Zone 8, so I’ll most likely cut the plants back in late autumn, and bring the pot inside for winter.

two large drainage holes are important so the plants' roots don't get too wet when it rains.

Two large drainage holes are important so the plants’ roots don’t get too wet when it rains.  Wine corks held the drainage holes open as the pot dried.

Creeping Jenny  and cuttings of two different Sedums will fill in around the base of the Brugmansia to cover the soil, helping to hold in moisture.  The Creeping Jenny will trail down the sides of the pot, tying it visually to the stump and garden below.

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A piece of netting covers the drainage holes, and a layer of pea gravel holds the netting in place.

Brugmansia is a heavy feeder and needs daily water.  I mixed a good handful of Plant Tone fertilizer into the soil before planting.  I’ll top the soil with some Osmocote, and a pea gravel mulch once the pot is lifted into place on its stump pedestal on Tuesday.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

Espoma Plant Tone is mixed into good quality potting soil before planting.

It will be interesting to see how the hypertufa and the wood come together over time, as the concrete cures.  I expect this will prolong the useful life of the stump indefinitely, keeping moisture and bacteria out of the wood.

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I expect this to be a beautiful focal point, visible from both the street and the house.

All of my plantings in this front area this season are chosen with their size in mind.  I’ve chosen large plants, with the expectation that they will create a lovely display, and re-create some of the  the privacy we lost when our trees fell last summer.

Even though these plants are tiny now, they will grow quickly to fill the pot.  This should be a beautiful summer display of interesting foliage, with flowers developing by late summer.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Hypertufa Pot Ready For Action

Hyper-What?

UPgrading the Stump Garden

The stump garden, with newly planted Iris, Violas, chives, and Geranium cuttings.

The stump garden, with newly planted Iris, Violas, chives, and geranium cuttings.

The new stump garden, begun in July in the aftermath of losing our oak trees, continues to develop.

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Late July, five weeks after the tree was toppled in a storm, the newly built stump garden begins to settle in.

We built it around the stump of one of our lost oaks, on top of its root system, using the Hugelkultur method of building a raised bed on top of scrap wood and leaves.  This method, pioneered in Europe, conserves water because the organic matter in the base of the bed absorbs available water when it rains, and then releases it slowly to growing roots as needed.  Further, the decomposition of the base material not only produces heat for growing plants, but also slowly releases nutrients to the soil.  The principles of “sheet composting” are combined here with raised bed gardening practice.  Hugelkultur also recycles waste wood and leaves, which was what we needed after the clean up of our downed trees.

After building the bed in July, we first added Sage and chives.  This is now an area of full sun.  Potted plants were moved in from other areas to brighten the newly build bed.  Shade loving Hellebores were moved out of the bed to shadier areas.  Azaleas, growing around the tree before it fell, were badly broken, as was a Dogwood tree, lost in the storm.  We left them in place, and were careful to not pile compost too high around the remaining stump and branches.

The stump garden before this week's upgrade.

The stump garden before this week’s upgrade.

In August, we added a few more Sage plants, and some kale.  Our problem with deer has been ongoing since they gained access to the garden in June.  The deer have made multiple visits to the garden, munching the azaleas, purple heart plant, and finally the kale.  The Sage have grown extremely well, most tripling in size.  We expect these to take hold and grow here indefinitely.  For the time being at least, we are planting more herbs to discourage the hungry deer.

Three months after we built it, the bed is ready for more development.

Recycled slate roofing tiles make a more attractive border for this bed.

Recycled slate roofing tiles make a more attractive border for this bed.

First, we added a border of slate tiles found at our local Re-Store, salvaged from someone’s roof.

Sunk a few inches into the ground, and reinforced on the backside with scrap wood from the bed, we expect these to make a sturdy and long lasting border.  Once the border was in place, we added more compost, and also the contents of all but one of the pots.  We had hardy geranium and variegated St. John’s Wort growing in the pots, now added to the stump garden.  The annual Allysum from the pots will add a little color until a hard freeze.  Daffodil bulbs are nestled into the empty spots between the Sage plants.

Topped off with fresh compost, and planted with Iris, Violas, and other new plants, this garden will be attractive through the winter and into spring.

Topped off with fresh compost, and planted with Iris, Violas, and other new plants, this garden will be attractive through the winter and into spring.

Finally,  I finished this stage of the planting with Iris divisions around the stump, some little Violas, cuttings taken from scented geraniums, more chives, and the dried blossoms of chives.  The dried chive blossoms have a strong odor that we hope will deter the deer.  The seeds will drop, and eventually grow into additional chive plants.   After a good shower of a dilute fish emulsion to water them in, and a good spray of Plant Skydd to discourage the Bambis, we expect this little garden to take off and look full and beautiful throughout the winter months.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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Visiting Friends

My closest friends are also gardeners.  Although we have many shared interests, the conversation usually gets back around to how our gardens are doing. We share plants, we share ideas for how to grow things better, we share ideas for how to foil the neighborhood deer and squirrels, and we often share our harvests with … Continue reading

Perma Culture

 

tree of life 3A forest, by its very nature, is very old.  The largest trees may have grown in the same spot for more than a century.  The Earth around these trees has been disturbed very little over the years, allowing a complex colony of fungi, bacteria, insects, worms, snails, reptiles, and even small mammals to live peacefully among the roots of the trees. Sept 11, 2011 after the storm 007 A wise gardener tends the garden while disrupting these ancient communities as little as possible.

stump and amyth

Mushrooms, bacteria, and small insects help this stump decay back into the Earth.

The roto-tiller has no place in a forest garden.   Gardening is done more around the edges of things than in rows; either with individual plants tucked into their own planting holes, or raised beds constructed on top of the existing soil.  In a forest garden, the roots of existing trees and shrubs fill the soil in their own lacy network.  Every attempt to dig will be met with resistance. Every new hole must be carved out between existing roots, or the roots running through that hole must be sacrificed to make room for the new addition.

Garden Oct. 21, 2012 032

Ginger lilies, lavender, and roses grow in a new bed along the edge of an established forest.

The gardener seeks balance between the old and the new, adding new plants gently into the existing forest community.  fern and hostaWith that in mind, it is wise to add plants that will live more than a season, plants with strong roots that will branch out and seek their own spaces and sustenance.  The essence of “perma-culture” is based on this idea of introducing useful plants who will dig in, find their own way, live indefinitely, and provide an on-going benefit to the gardener.

A newly planted fig tree is surrounded by Rosemary and Iris.  Planted once, these will grow happily here for years.

A newly planted fig tree is surrounded by Rosemary and Iris. Planted once, these will grow happily here for years.

The most obvious choice, if there is space and sunlight, is a fruit or nut bearing tree.  A tree which is beautiful, adds to the landscape, and produces a useful crop is a good investment.  Care must be taken to give each new plant the space it needs to mature and get adequate sunlight.  In the tropics, trees produce staples such as coconuts, dates, breadfruit, mangoes, papayas, and avocados.  These crops are reliable year after year and provide a steady food source.

In Zone 7b, there is still a wide range trees to plant in a forest garden which produce a reliable edible crop.  For an initial investment of $10.00 to $30.00, healthy, well grown trees can be purchased either bare-root or in pots.  Most will produce a first crop within 1-3 years of planting, depending on the variety and maturity of the sapling.

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50' a year and produces edible fruit.  Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

The Passion Fruit vine can grow up to 50′ a year and produces edible fruit. Grown throughout warm climates, this perennial vine is beautiful and productive.

Good choices include fig, apple, pear, peach, pomegranate, persimmon, plum, paw-paw, cherry, pecan, walnut, hazelnut, and hickory. 

A peach tree grows in the edge of the forest.

A peach tree grows in the edge of the forest.

Orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees are hardy further south, but can be grown in large pots and kept inside during the coldest months in winter.  Banana trees can similarly be grown outside in summer, dug and stored inside in winter.  Choose varieties carefully, as fruit trees often require a companion of another variety for cross-pollination.

While some of these trees, like fig, will produce a crop with minimal care, others, like apples and peaches, do require spraying.  All benefit from an annual gift of finished compost sprinkled around their roots.   The biggest problem I’ve experienced is loss to birds and squirrels, which begin attacking the fruit long before it is ripe.  Netting offers some protection.

A forest grows in layers, and many understory shrubs also produce fruit while thriving in partial shade.  Cherries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and currants can be planted in full sun or partial shade.    Many of these can also live permanently in large pots.  Vining crops such as grapes and kiwi can be grown on pergolas or trellises in patches of sun.  Most of these need a male and a female plant for fruit production, but cover large areas with beautiful vines which also provide shade.

A raised bed garden with herbs, perennials, peppers, and tomatoes.

A raised bed garden with herbs, perennials, peppers, and tomatoes.

Peaches and figs grow along the edge of the forest

Peaches and figs grow along the edge of the forest

Finally, if there is space for a raised bed in a sunny spot, crops like asparagus, rhubarb, running onions, and Jerusalem artichoke bear for many years after planting and offer a reliable crop with little labor.  Perennial herbs, like Comfrey, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, Oregano, Marjoram, Chives, Bay, Thyme, Monarda, and Mint will come back bigger and better each year. This is an understatement in the case of mints, which grow aggressively by underground stems and can become invasive.  They are best planted where they can spread without harming other crops.

Mint

Pineapple mint and lavender are planted together on a slope to hold the soil against erosion.

Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Bay, and some Lavender remain evergreen in zone 7b and south and can be harvested for cooking all winter.

Weeding, watering during dry spells, an annual topdressing of compost, and careful harvesting after the plants are established sums up the needed maintenance.  Some crops will need more protection from hungry wild life than others. Crops like asparagus and rhubarb should be allowed to grow for at least 2 summers before any harvest.   If space is left in the raised bed for annual herbs and flowers, any harmful insects will mostly get eaten up by birds or other insects.

This raised bed garden is edged with chunks of rock and cement.

This raised bed garden is edged with chunks of rock and cement.

Raised beds can be built from a variety of materials, including bricks, stones, hay bales, fallen branches, logs, and the prunings from trees.  A method of building raised beds, pioneered in Europe, actually begins the bed with a thick layer of logs, branches, and leaves.  Similar to sheet composting, this layer of wood is expected to break down slowly over several years.  It absorbs available water from rain and watering, holds the moisture like a sponge, and releases it to thirsty roots as needed.  The wood is covered with leaves and grass clippings, along with other compostable materials, and finally topped with two to three inches of topsoil or finished compost.  The bed can be allowed to settle or season, or can be planted immediately in pockets of deeper soil.  The building materials slowly decompose into compost, making the soil richer and deeper each year.hugelkulture

This Hugelkultur method, (http://www.diynatural.com/hugelkultur-raised-garden-beds/) is the ultimate form of recycling in the garden.  Leaves, grass clippings, branches, and fallen trees can be used in building beautiful raised beds which bear abundant crops for many years.

Stump garden

A “stump garden” in its fourth season. New plants have been added each year in an ever widening circle. A small Camellia is planted at the center, shielded from hungry deer by other, less desirable plants.

A variation of this method is my “stump garden”.  My garden is dotted with large stumps from a former owner’s efforts to remove large trees near the house after Hurricane Isabelle, and smaller stumps left from where a neighbor’s oak fell across my orchard during Hurricane Irene.  Each of these stumps has become the nucleus around which I’ve built a raised bed.

The stump which serves as the nucleus of this garden is still just visible in the center of the bed.  Compost was spread around the stump, and then plants were added each season in an ever widening circle

The stump which serves as the nucleus of this garden is still just visible in the center of the bed. Compost was spread around the stump, and then plants were added each season in an ever widening circle

The method is simple.  I spread a few inches of finished compost around the stump, and plant.  The stump breaks down in the center of the bed; holding moisture; providing food and cover for the worms and insects who enrich the soil; and initially creating a focal point.  Eventually the plants grow up higher than the stump, and it disappears as it returns to the Earth.

I’ve also used this method for recycling the still living contents of pots when time comes to plant for a new season.  Plants and their soil can be emptied and “replanted” around stumps, or in depressions in the ground which need filling.  The plant, if perennial will continue to grow, sinking its roots ever deeper.  If an annual, the roots and soil remain after the plant itself dies back.  Over several seasons, this builds into a new planting bed.

These ferns grew in pots last summer, but died back over the winter.  They were planted along the edge of a bank in depressions to help hold the bank against erosion.

These ferns grew in pots last summer, but died back over the winter. They were planted along the edge of a bank in depressions to help hold the bank against erosion.

I normally plant shallowly to avoid established roots.  In other words, I dig a small hole for the new plant, usually only deep enough to accommodate half to three-quarters of the depth of the root ball.  Often the roots of the new plant can be untangled a bit and spread out to cover more space but use less depth.  I settle the root ball into the new hole, and then mound compost around the root ball to cover it.

Rosemary can be harvested year round.  It is evergreen, and has small blue flowers in late winter.

Rosemary can be harvested year round. It is evergreen, and has small blue flowers in late winter.

A newly planted Camellia, surrounded by compost.  Violas and sea shells will help hold the compost in place as the shrub grows.

A newly planted Camellia, surrounded by compost. Violas and sea shells will help hold the compost in place as the shrub grows.

When planting into a new raised bed, the entire bed is covered in several inches of compost so the top of the new bed is level after planting.  When planting a specimen shrub, like a camellia, the compost around the root ball is extended out a foot or more from the trunk, and can be planted with bulbs, ferns, and small annuals to hold the compost in place as the shrub gets established.

Perma-culture is an economical, sustainable approach to gardening in a forest.  Fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and fruiting vines not only produce an edible crop, but are beautiful “bones” in the landscape.  They attract all sorts of wildlife, including beautiful butterflies, and bees.  They offer a food source for wild bees and other nectar seekers.

Tri-colored sage is a tender perennial which usually survives the winter in Zone 7b

Tri-colored sage is a tender perennial which usually survives the winter in Zone 7b

Of course, “perma-culture” can be practiced as easily with ornamental plants as with food producing ones.  New trees and shrubs don’t need to produce an edible crop to provide beauty and stabilize the soil.  Raised beds can be planted with perennials, ornamental shrubs, ferns, and herbs which aren’t intended to end up on the dinner table.

This approach requires less labor from the gardener, and more watchful appreciation.  We do less digging, and more “helping along”.  An initial investment pays off over many years.  The harvest, once it comes, is reliable, and grows more abundant year after year.  We have food for ourselves, food to store, and food to share with friends and loved ones.

A few good sources for information and plants:

http://homesteadgardencenter.com/

www.starkbros.com

http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection

Another stump garden with iris, a Rugosa rose, thyme, Lantana, Lavender, and coleus.

Another stump garden with iris, a Rugosa rose, thyme, Lantana, Lavender, and coleus.

www.gurneys.com

UPDATE:  Since initially posting this article, I found a reference in something I was reading online to a recently published book on Perma Culture by Rick Austin called, Secret Garden of Survival.

Mr. Austin’s book is full of interesting ideas and useful tips, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to explore Perma Culture in more depth.  His approach is very different from mine.  He appears to be living in a wooded rural area in the mountains somewhere on the east coast of the United States, and wants a sustainable food supply on his own property which is camouflaged from visitors. I am living in a suburban neighborhood, on an established property, with close neighbors.

Mr. Austin clear cut a portion of his land and brought in heavy equipment to build terraces, a water filtration system, and a large pond stocked with fish.  He is raising small animals for meat, keeping bees, and growing a huge variety of food.  His goal is to grow and preserve all the food his family needs.  This entire process is explained and illustrated in the book.

While I am not re-configuring my land or trying to create a survival garden hidden away from the world, I found lots of useful ideas for protecting plants from hungry animals and for companion planting.  Mr. Austin illustrates how grapes grown up fruit trees grow much more strongly and bear better than grapes grown on fences and trellises.  He uses blackberry bushes as a fence to protect his garden, and offers many useful suggestions for organic gardening and companion planting.

His system of planting circular gardens in concentric rights around fruit and nut trees is a fresh approach to companion planting.  These “guilds” of plants include both perennials and annual crops, trees, shrubs, vines, root crops, herbs, and vegetables.  I appreciate Mr. Austin’s reflection on the nature of “weeds” as the closest of any author’s to my own, and I appreciate his courage to publish the truth.

This is a short book, but is packed with information, useful illustrations, and the sort of wisdom only born of hands on experience.

Secret Garden Of Survival- How to Grow a Camouflaged Food- Forestby Rick Austin

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Garden-Survival-camouflaged-forest/dp/1481839772

Seek and you will find….

Another excellent resource for growing permanent, food producing gardens in a forest or a suburban lot:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gaias-garden-second-edition-toby-hemenway/1103622562?ean=9781603582230

 

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