Permaculture Principle: Obtain a Yield

One of the most rewarding things about gardening is learning to see the connections between things in the garden system. It’s amazing how everything in nature shares and cycles energy streams, “catching and storing energy” and cooperates to enrich the ecosystem for the whole.

Autumn Olive Pasta Sauce–Delicious!

What makes that investment of each individual’s time and effort possible is that they are rewarded for this activity. Everything that lives has to “obtain a yield.” For those of us who are natural “do-gooders,” inclined to give freely of ourselves, this may be the most important Permaculture principle.

When we “only give” we do work that is ultimately unsustainable. But it’s also potentially dangerous. There’s a wisdom inherent in the collaborative “enlightened self interest” of natural communities, which keeps everyone working a niche and obtaining a yield from it. When we create systems or communities that bypass this, where we give without obtaining a yield, there’s a danger that we will disrupt a natural connection where someone else could “help themselves” and obtain a yield in doing the work we did for free. Often times, such as in our well-meaning interventions in low-income or natural communities, we end up hurting the people we intend to help, preventing community members from starting businesses and enriching the ecology of their community.

I believe our garden will be a “good work” that will build the ecology of or community. And it’s a joy to do. But I have to admit, it makes it easier to commit the time when our garden “pays” us in some very tasty things to eat!


Mushrooms Note

Hello to all who attended the mushroom cultivation workshop at the KNC this weekened. Please feel free to search the blog for food forest design notes and information on some of our “guilds” here at Lillie House.

As I have been “under the weather” over the last few days, I haven’t gotten around to posting additional mushroom info and resources yet. I will make sure to get them up as soon as I’m feeling up to snuff.

Thanks again for the fun time,


Early Fall Garden

Well, besides very nice crop of peas, and a few tomatoes and peppers, we really never got around to “putting in” our garden this year. And most of what we did put in became lunch for wildlife. We never tilled or dug any garden beds. We did hand cast a few seeds now and then, but we never dug in seeds in any traditional way. We never watered, almost never weeded, certainly never added fertlizer.

And yet, we have harvested fruit, herbs and vegetables almost every day since sometime in April. We’ve hardly bought any vegetables during that time. And we’ve had large salads out of the garden available pretty much every day, though sometimes these just go to the bunny or the worm composting bin. At least a few times a week we make meals that almost entirely come from the garden, minus things like oils and salt. To be honest, even though we didn’t do much gardening this year, our garden has done almost too much for us, we certainly didn’t use all of what it produced for us. 

That’s the beauty of Permaculture design based on perennials and self-sown vegetables, fruit and herbs. And our garden is only getting started. each year will add a greater yield and variety of fruits and vegetables, even if we never do another thing in the garden other than mow paths and harvest.

Easy Sidewalk Garden with Sheet Mulching

So here was the slope to our sidewalk. Ugly, eroding, and nearly impossible to mow or maintain. 

Figuring out what to do with this has been a major challenge for us, as the conventional wisdom is to repeatedly spray with poisons to defoliate the slope, then plant it with a garden. 
But we don’t use chemicals at Lillie House, so we had to find a different way. 
Our way also had to be easy, cheap, and easy to maintain long-term. We dont’ want to have to spend any time weeding, watering or maintaining this slope. 
On top of that, it would be nice if it were multi-purpose, as we don’t necessarily want to eat food grown next to our high-traffic street, but we also don’t want to “waste” the space. 
Anyway, we will come back to add some finishing touches and plant this new garden in the Fall, so that it’s ready for next year, but this is what it looks like after a day of work:

It’s pretty self-explainitory, but keep reading if you’d like the details of how we did it. 
Our strategy begins with installing 2″*8″ edging to hold mulch in place and prevent erosion and then “sheet mulching” the slope. (Sheet Mulching is basically putting down a weed barrier, in our case newspaper and cardboard, then layering a thick pile of mulch on top of it with a good balance of “green” and “brown” material such as you would with composting.
First, we edged the sidewalk:

Next, we installed Edging
We explored several different techniques, but we basically just needed something that would keep the sidewalk clean and clear and help hold on our mulch. 

Then we began sheet mulching. We cut a large amount of organic material from our hedgerow, including comfrey, grass, yarrow and sunchokes to help fertilize the soil. We also added a little finished compost. Then we started putting down the newspaper and cardboard. The only trick to this was installing a few horizontal rails and sticks pinned down with ground stakes to help hold the cardboard down and hold the newspaper in place. Finally, we mulched over the cardboard with whatever organic matter we had on hand and then finished that off with a thick layer of wood mulch from the free municiple mulch lot. 

Now, we’re ready to come back and plant this slope this Fall with a special mix of ornamental plants that will be low maintanance and still provide us with a good “yield” that we can harvest from this garden. We’ll post more on that when it’s planting time!

Tour of Lillie House

Welcome to a virtual tour of our home, built by the Lillie Family sometime in the mid 1800s.

For many years now, we’ve been looking for a better way to live. For us, that meant a lot of what we’d read about in the “back to the land movement,” more freedom, more simplicity, a lighter footprint and a deeper connection to our ecosystem. 

But coming from the suburbs, we missed the rich connection to culture, education, friends and community of living in the city. So we found an acre in a college town with a beautiful old house. 

In our three years here, we’ve started transforming the place through the tools of Permaculture design. You can learn all about Permaculture here.

Unlike the “hard work” gardens we had in the past, our garden works for us now.

We don’t till, we don’t spray or fertilize, we rarely weed, and hardly ever water.

Yet It provides us with fruit, herbs, vegetables, and salads virtually every day of the year, and a true relationship with nature and our food. 

Ecologically modeled “food forests,” as well as edible hedgerows, and perennial guilds, conscript plants and wildlife into doing much of the work for us. 

And creating diversity not only saves on garden work, it brings in a wide variety of wildlife into our lives.

And Permaculture has taught us the value of using “restoration” to save money and time. Old houses can be the “easiest” houses for the same reason that they can be the 
greenest houses: materials.

They evolved in a time when things were made with quality materials meant to last, with designs intended to be maintained indefinitely and lived in comfortably with low energy inputs. 

On top of that, they were made in a time when everything was made to be beautiful. 
A strategy of finding the steps that yield the greatest return on investment has helped save us time and money we can return back to our projects, creating a “positive feedback loop.” 

According to Consumers Energy, simple, low-cost steps have made our big old victorian home one of the top 15% “most energy efficient homes” in the city. 

And, of course, all of this has allowed us to easily transform an empty city lot into a place of beauty and plenty.