Straw mulch is covering every square inch of surface, protecting seeds, young plants and soil life underneath.
Pollinators and beneficial insects love to feed on nectar from flowers that are shaped like little umbrellas. Here, a bee is visiting a carrot blossom, which will soon drop its seeds in the garden soil for next year's harvest.
Blue is not only a pretty color, it attracts bees, bumble bees and a whole plethora of native pollinators. Increase floristics, suggest Bill Mollison, founder of permaculture.
One secret of succesfull gardening is to plant things that are suited to the climate and growing conditions, and forget about pushing crops that don't belong. For us the list of good producers includes garlic, tomatoes, onions, leafy greens and many other things.
How 50 pounds of onions look like?
Cherry tomatoes about to be dried and canned.
Harvest Time: Arina's Favorite Recipes:
Farm Peach Chutney Recipe
Farm Sauerkraut Recipe
Grapes are easy to grow in many climate zones, but our plants struggle. We harvest grapes at friend's garden instead.
Onions, planted from sets, are very productive in a well mulched garden.
What started as a grid of straight rows and furrows is now a 60’ diameter mandala garden. Keyhole bed approach, popular in permaculture, did not work for us, so the planting spaces are shaped in concentric circles with paths throughout.
Narrow path are demise for any garden. Gardens need to accommodate gardeners and their friends, wheelbarrows full of mulch, and even possibly strollers or wheelchairs - all without getting things entangled in plants. The paths are all at least 24” wide, with thick layer of sheet mulch: a combo of weed-suppressing cardboard (or newspapers) with a layer of free wood chips from the local landfill.
The garden, while still mostly dedicated for annual plant production, has a beginning of a perennial polyculture ecosystem. A few fruit trees are carefully planted in the areas where their shade is welcomed in a hot day, while a windbreak adds protection from the elements. Mixed in are perennial herbs and plants, for food, medicine, forage, mulch and to shelter younger annuals from sun, wind and exposure.
The entire land holding is registered organic by the NM Organic Commodity Commission. The registration (unlike the certification) means that there is no commercial production of agricultural commodities (we don’t sell our surplus outside of a small group of friends), it is more of a symbolic gesture of adhering to organic practices. The organic movement has been receiving a lot of criticism lately, with its blatant departure from such values as local economy, preservation of biodiversity and protection of soils, so our registration has some questionable component in it and speaks mostly to our neighbors about not using chemicals around the farm.
Why Mandala Shape?
Besides its aesthetic appeal, non-linear gardens have greater productivity due to the fact that there is simply more gardening space when using non-linear geometry. Linear gardens have their origin in division and ownership of land (easier to mark and measure), and in use of mechanical soil cultivation (easier to drive a horse or a tractor down a straight row). Since neigher one of these elements applies to a vast majority of home gardens, there is absolutely no need to make them straigth! Any shape that respects the landform, works with the flow of water and with the way humans move make more sense.
Mandala Garden as a permaculture design approach is overused, just as is the Herb Spiral. The reason for this statement? Permaculture is not about cookie-cutter solutions that fit all conditions. If you are gardening on a gentle slope, your mandala will not look like mandala anymore (if you are paying attention to the flow of water, and your orientation towards sun) - the shape of the beds will follow the contours, resulting in a geometry both more beautiful and functional. Mandala Shape worked in our conditions, though, and is very beautiful.
Practices We Use
Our area receives 9” of annual precipitation, so gardening must be done with focus on building soil and eliminating water waste.
In our garden we use goat bedding for mulching planted areas, while wood chips cover the paths. There is no open soil surface to be found in the garden. Mulch allows to conserve soil moisture, keep the root zone cool, and is a host for a number of good critters. Mulch also protects compost and other nutrients from frying in the hot intense sun of high desert.
Birds are invited to the garden by offering perching places that double up as plant supports or shade structures. Vegetarian songbirds raise their young on nearly exclusively meat diet, meaning that doting parents will gladly keep your garden pest free.
Not much time is spent in the garden - the mulch allows to suppress most weeds, there are no pests to fight, no need to fertilize, and the activities are evolving around harvesting, occasional weeding and giving tours to admiring friends.
Plants We Grow
Besides the assortment of veggies, we grow a number of other plants that work to keep the garden pest-free, productive and full of life. These are plants that open the soil with their root system (amaranth, mullein, daikon radish, lamb’s quarters); mineral-mining plants (comfrey, stinging nettle, purslaine); pollinator forage perennials and shrubs (spirea, cardoon, carrot & dill flowers, yarrow); habitat plants for beneficials (comfrey & rhubarb). These are interplanted throughout the garden, and also have their own dedicated bed that surround the entire garden. There, they are standing guard against winds, weeds and pest.
As to actual veggies, we focus on growing things that match our micro- and macroclimate, and our resources (time, money, quality of soil, amount of water). The point in sustainability (and in having a garden for self-sufficiency) is to understand that there is no need and no way to grow and produce everything you need! Grains are ill-suited for fragile environments of arid and semi-arid regions. No need to push your garden to produce grains. Happily buy these, and focus your energy and resources on growing what really grows well.
An important thing for drylands cultivation is to understand that perennial polyculture is by far more sustainable than annual production of food. Therefore, focus on establishing orchards & food forests. Garden only in wet years, and in dry years support your local farmers situated on richer soils with ample water.