Midsummer is always a time of richness, limitless giving and growth. The profusion of life and the variety of available gifts (resources) is astonishing. A second harvest has begun in parts of my garden and the fact that we were under drought conditions throughout April and May has been lost in the more recent month which saw over six inches of rain, fully 1/6 of our annual precipitation average for a year.
ECO-tours of Wisconsin has just a few more days of tree planting before the summer hiatus. This year it seems like everything is at least two weeks ahead of schedule. The edible day-lillies are past peak bloom already. Their first flush of blossoms usually isn’t until the Fourth of July. We have already enjoyed the first few meals of the season’s Puffballs, Asparagus has gone to wispy ferns and the Rhubarb has been picked down to the ground several times. The trees that we labored to keep alive this spring are completely saturated now and it seems that virtually all of our seedlings are well established. July is for mulching and weeding, as well as watching the fruits of many of our garden friends fill out.
People new to permaculture are always curious to know, where do you start? For some it may be getting sick and tired of mowing. For others, they may have always wanted an apple tree. There must be an infinite number of ways to begin. I have met those who started with a winding path through their yard, others a water feature or an old pump. some radiate out from either one or several nodes, colonizing the landscape with a series of concentric rings. Many permaculture advocates rely on a schematic diagram showing, basically a shelterbelt that our grandfathers might have been familiar with. Bushes and brush near the house, small to medium sized trees further out and larger trees further still. My own preference, and it has served me well, is to start with pioneer species trees. Once they establish, I move on to trees that can be found in a mature forest.
Along the way it is well to think long and do little, as our friends in the plant kingdom tend to live long and get larger than we imagine possible when we plant a tiny twig or a handful of rootball. I have trees in our front yard that were barely the size of me when we planted them, now, just a half dozen years later, they arch well over the house, providing welcome shade during the high sun period. Think about variety and try to plant the food sources that you love best or harvest the most closest to the house. If there is an extra special place to watch the sunset, and you love eating raspberries at dusk, plant them where you watch the sun go down. Nature wants to recreate Eden, but we often have to get our own expectations and desires out of the way. I have always wanted to grow my own grapes and make my own wine. I have planted dozens of vines over the years. Many of them went on to produce, but I moved away from them before they could produce in significant numbers. Not until I rescued a few vines from a place where they were about to be cut down did production start in earnest. Within two years I had a well-established arbor, loaded with fruit.
Put the word out to friends and relatives. Let them know that you are interested in creating a perennial garden and you will be surprised at how many gifts show up. Peonies were “discovered”, poorly kept and cramped along the foundation of our home when we bought it. They didn’t even produce flowers because they had little light, terrible soil and stagnant air crushed as they were into a tiny crevice. My wife and I moved the roots to a sunny and breezy place just twenty feet away and now each tiny root that we planted has transformed itself into a giant ball of beautiful and fragrant blossoms each Spring. Don’t let the “rules” overwhelm you but keep in mind a few basics. Keep all greenery, including tree branches, at least two feet away from your home. Many a roof has been destroyed by overhanging branches. Remember that even in winter, a deciduous tree’s branches can block out about half the sunlight. Thinking like a tree, or bush, or vine takes time. Try to understand the water flow, and wind conditions that exist on your property and work with them as much as possible. Things will change slowly as you get things established so remember, as trees mature, they can dry out wet ground as well as keep the sun off hot dry areas, creating more hospitable conditions for plants and animals, including humans.
Equitable distribution of surplus is one of the mantras of this movement. Cultivate relationships with those who might need part of a bumper crop of whatever you may be growing. When you dry or can produce, try to be reasonable about how much you can use. Don’t forget, there are only fifty-two weeks in the year and they tend to pass quickly. Even though some of your preserves may last several years, you will be getting another crop before they will go bad. Don’t hold on too tightly to the harvest. We used to celebrate Christmas in July at the summer camp I worked at during my college years. I never knew the depth of meaning that would grow out of that silly ritual. Gifts freely given have the power to transform the world. As human beings we need to put ourselves in accord with the eternal laws of nature. If you take your time and think a lot, make small changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle, these will in turn lead to more change and in time the recreation of a world which we can be proud to leave our children’s, children’s, children.