Life in a forest garden puts you in direct contact with sanity grounded in the earth, in the soil. The mysteries of life, death, and food become the backbone of everyday wisdom in a way that rewrites your whole understanding of life, nature, and our place in it.
While other gardeners, like farmers, are in a battle against nature to fend off “pests” and “weeds,” in the struggle to get “our slice of the pie, the forest gardener works with nature, revving up the entire chain of life to grow the size of the pie!
While the conventional farmer removes the ecosystem in order to convert ecosystems into people, the forest gardener creates beautiful, healthy, FUNCTIONAL ecosystems, and lives sustainably off the surplus produced by ecosystem function. It is an entirely different paradigm of production.
This month I am most struck by this “revving up” of the whole system. The garden has come to life with birds, insects and other wildlife contributing their share to the ecosystem. And the soil itself has truly come to life! In the oldest parts of our garden, once-dead soil has become as rich, black, and beautiful as any natural forest soil I’ve seen!
“Beautiful.” Yes, soil can be beautiful. I’m quite convinced that we humans have a built-in, ancient, hard-wired appreciation for soil that is rich and fertile, in the same way as we recognize the beauty of healthful produce. And we feel “just right” in rich natural ecosystems that can provide for all our needs! How much more beautiful is a healthy, diverse ecosystem than a dying field of corn and dusty soil?
Unlike the warzone of conventional agriculture, the Permaculture garden is as beautiful as it is productive, a place that speaks to the soul: “here you are secure, here you are home!”
The month of may brought many pleasures, including some of our favorite vegetables and flowers. But it also brought our biggest work load, with rampant growth to convert to productivity, lest it be let to convert into chaos, as unusable energy will necessarily do. The “hunger gap began to present itself, and although we had plenty of salad crops and vegetables, calorie crops became scarce, and will remain so to mid-June, when the season’s first potatoes will appear. Figuring out a good source of plant-based carbohydrates for this season should be a priority project.
This month, we also had a few minor setbacks. Our entire first planting of peas was eaten by wildlife, which was fairly predictable. In our first year, we had a very good crop of peas in that location, which is completely unprotected, but since then wildlife have taken an increasing toll. We had planned to move the peas to the front yard where they would be better protected, but simply didn’t purcahse appropriate trellises. A small second succession is just beginning to produce in our front yard.
For some reason, this year we had 0 germination with our pepper seed, which were from last year and possibly became over dry in storage.
Aronia berries have been heavily pruned by both deer and rabbits, who seem to favor this plant over all others in our zone 3 “wild-life friendly” food forest. Meanwhile goumi, currants, gooseberries, elder, blackberries, black raspberries, and Romance cherries have had little to no browse damage.
May and June are the months of most increasing rampancy in our garden in Michigan. After the solstice, our garden tends to start naturally thinning with the hot and dry weather of summer. This means that May is typically the busiest month in the garden, with the exception of harvest season.
Week 1: Work – 3 hours, weeding, grass, thistle.
Week 2: 13 hours mowing, nursery work, watering, mowing grass and doing “chop and drop.”
Week 3: 14 hours chop and drop, mowing, pruning, selecting canes for blackberries and raspberries, weedwacking and “edging” garden beds.
Week 4: 2 hours, watering seedlings, planting.
Total: 8 hours/week average
Overall, May was lower-yielding than other months, providing a huge amount and diversity of fresh vegetables for us, but little in the way of extra for sales. Best-case-scenario, our May yields likely provided $1,000 worth of potential value in plants, materials and food. At high market rates, perhaps as much as $1,500 worth of potential.
(almost) daily asparagus for 3 weeks (Approximately 4 lbs)
4 boxes arugula
10 bundles scalions
1 dozen allium unifolium shoots (vegetable)
6 boxes sorrel (priced as spinach)
24 bundles “rocketini” (priced as baby broccoli)
12 packages salad mix
7 bundles mixed fresh herbs
7 heads butter lettuce
5 heads oak leaf lettuce
1 pint strawberries
1 package baby radishes
2 pints radish “rat tails”
1 lbs winecap mushrooms
3 dozen green garlic
Equivilent 1 dozen fennel bulbs (actually 15+ small bulbs, 5 medium bulbs.)
Dried herbs for teas.
Minimum value: $350.
Harvested 72+ plants $400+
Mulch materials, compost, rabbit food, etc.
Actual value of Total May yields: $850
Approximate hourly rate: $26.5/hour for garden work.
As a final word, that is not a bad ROI. This is much better than the $3/hour many farmers bring home for their long hours. Again, the key to that profitability and to Permaculture, is lower work and input investment, letting ecosystems do the work for us.
(Note: photos from late May-June.)