What is a permablitz?
A permablitz is when a group of friends visits one of their home gardens on a single day, and creates a productive system with edible plants (annual veggies, perennial plants including fruit trees and shrubs), and potentially animal products – like eggs, and even honey. You may have seen Alan Titchmarsh doing gardening on the TV, or if you have heard of permaculture before, perhaps you watched Alys Fowler’s Edible Garden series a few years back.
Community driven garden transformation
What we’re trying to create is closer to the latter. We’re essentially taking a regular suburban garden, with “traditional”, i.e. pretty, but not useful landscaping, and turning it into a productive one, but still keeping the pretty bit. What we’re not doing is turning it into an allotment. There will be no straight rows here. Lastly, we’re doing this as a group effort – greatly assisting the family that owns the garden.
This is the layout we’re working towards:
The grey area is the footprint of the house. The main entrance is from the north, and the kitchen door is facing the southern sun.
What’s the big deal – it’s just planting veggies, right?
It would be, but there are a few differences – mostly to reduce the human workload:
- We’ve looked at where the house residents are most likely to go by. This means, that we’ll be putting the most used plants closest to the kitchen, and the driveway on the opposite end. This will allow to harvest the dinner salad, right after stepping out of the car. The strawberries for their breakfast cereal will be growing just outside the kitchen.
- The family faces modern issues – both parents work, leaving little time for tending the garden. What we did, is we created plant guilds, that will hopefully make it more resilient to pests, diseases and drought than just the row of one type of plants on their own.
- Building on the point above – the transformation will be a community effort, and those who participate, can expect that the favour will be returned in their garden. Many hands make light work.
- We’re working with nature rather than against it. We’re taking all lessons from ecosystemic design – attracting pollinators, predatory insects, root – fungi for enhanced nutrition. We’ll be stacking layers and timing of planting to get the most of the space available. There will be no chemical additives used.
- Kitchen scraps will have a very simple disposal system – a bucket with many holes drilled through, dug into the one or two of the beds near the kitchen. We will put some composting worms with bedding for them, and they will not only break down the “waste”, but distribute the resulting nutrient directly to the plants – so that we don’t have to.
- Although the garden owners wanted to focus on annual plants, there is an opportunity to introduce perennial support plants. I personally like to have my cake and eat it too, so we will be planting EDIBLE FLOWERS. A lot of flowers that are used in the more traditional gardens are actually edible. (marigolds, pansies, day-lily…). We will encourage hardy fruit bushes, and perennial veggies that will extend the growing season whilst reducing the work to harvesting only.
- We will use self watering, and water saving solutions to avoid the need for constant monitoring.
Are you saying that they won’t have to do any work?
No, but we aim to reduce human inputs in gardening – nature has been around for a while even without us, and didn’t need tending to. This family chose to focus on annual vegetables, but the designs can range from annual to low input perennial systems. Additionally we want to mesh harvesting with other activities, so that no EXTRA time is taken. Also, by reducing the need to go to the shops, this time-saving can be used to spend time close to the home, in the garden. Building the garden is the most labour intensive part, hence having the permablitz makes it easy for each participant to see the effects quickly. Wouldn’t you want to spend a day in good company, feeling productive, and getting a free lunch, all the while knowing, that all these people will come to your aid when you need it?
Does that mean that I can have it too?
Yes, I’ll get to that. Before I do, I wished to list a few benefits of having a productive garden, be it designed with permaculture ethics and methods or not:
- Healthy food – you can get that in the store right? Sure. If it’s organic. Even that has limitations. When you eat a radish which you’ve just pulled from the soil, it screams at you – it’s that alive! All foods that go to the stores are varieties bred for storage, and toughness in transport…
- …which means that taste comes last – there are literally hundreds of VARIETIES of the tomato that can be grown in a garden, but the shops are limited only to the few that store well. Every bite into one of the paper-like “salad tomatoes” from the grocery store, is a nudge to buy more seeds to plant this year.
- The food is ultra-fresh. Not only it will give you more storage days than some of the store-bought produce, but you won’t be losing any nutrients. All produce starts oxidising immediately losing some of its properties. Eating freshly picked food gives you 100% of the nutrition
- have you ever thought about exercising? Have you, like me, thought that driving to the gym to run on some machine was counter-productive? Or that running in rain is no fun? In my opinion, stacking functions has more value, than separating them. The example here is that, whilst tending to my food, I will be getting pleasant, low strain exercise (and no, I probably won’t be doing any digging). My GP approves 🙂
- pick a food illness scare – your carrots will keep you safe. You still need to remember to cover the potatoes whilst they’re in the ground – if they go green, they become poisonous. Therefore unless you decide to eat the pigeon in retaliation for ravaging your blueberries – there’s no worry about bird flu. Cook it well first 😉
- do you have children? If you do, I would go out on a limb and guess that, like me, you would want the best for them. Can’t get better than home grown. Grandchildren? If you are retired, you are actually in a better position to grow food for them, than their full time working parents.
- It’s better for the planet. I want to focus on direct benefits in this list, but since we mention children – it’s a good idea to be wise about planetary resources that we use, so that our kids have a chance to have a go too – don’t you think? The majority of food produced for the western world contributes to climate change, deforestation, resource depletion and chemical poisoning of soil and water.
- economical – recently I saw baby carrots for £6.48 per kilo – that’s as much as chicken! A packet of carrot seeds will set you back a whooping £2.12 for FOUR HUNDRED seeds. It’s like printing money!
- speaking of money – there’s no better investment of money than seeds for our gardens that I could ever think of. Carrots are cheap. Let’s say you need a hundred seeds to grow one kilogram of baby carrots. You probably need less. But the four kilo of carots you could get, would then (according to the marketing department at the retailers) add up to £25.92. That’s a %1200 return of investment. Sure you need to pick it yourself, but you’re not going to the gym anymore – remember? That’s another 60 quid a month saved 🙂
OK, I’m sold, but I wouldn’t know where to start, would the perma-thingy make it easy for me?
YES. It goes like this: I make the design based around your experience, time available, and aspirations. We get the community involved to help you build your garden, and get you started using their experience and knowledge. There are people in your town, in your street that have done it for ages, and would be very happy to share what they know over a coffee and a garden fork. I will say that it would be easier for you to get support from others if you do it first for someone else.
Great, when is the first permablitz?
There is no date yet, but we’re aiming at the first or second weekend of March 2016. Please keep it open if you are interested. There will also be a meeting in February to work out the details. Please use the contact form below if you live in the area and wished to participate. In the meantime, come to the free screening of a brand new, fantastic documentary called “INHABIT – the Permaculture Perspective” on the 20th January 2016, 7pm at the Woking Borough Council. Click here for more details. We’ll have a chat about it then. Thank you for reading, and speak soon. Regards, Daniel