February often spells the unraveling of the winter blahs. Even casual observers begin to notice the lengthening days, the average temperatures begin to rise as the oceans and atmosphere begin to warm up and the signals that we receive from the world around us begin to remind us that cold winter nights are losing their grip on our imagination. Since the first of last month, the inundation of seed catalogs has occurred, signalling the need for planning the next few seasons of productive time in our gardens and hopefully spurring us to take on another round of growth and productivity. although the frost may not yet be out of the ground where you are, the icy soils will be turning to mud soon enough and on the other side of that will be the warm moist earth that welcomes seed and sprout.
Time spent now, planning and reflecting on what has worked in the past can pay enormous dividends in the coming months when even the longer days become filled with chores, and work that will absorb many hours. Finding just the right spot for our leeks and raspberries, knowing where we will be planting tomatoes or cukes is best decided well before we invest in young plants or seeds. The miraculous blossoming of life that will occur in the next season or two at best can be guided, but as we have learned year upon year, for generations, cannot be controlled. With time on our hands now, we can make decisions that will help prevent overcrowding and disease in our gardens throughout the summer.
One of the joys for me in the garden is to experiment with trying to build on what I have learned so far, pushing the limits of growth and exploring different combinations that make use of different harvest dates and different heights of plants that can increase my output, even though I’m designing my garden plan for a finite space. Sneaking another edible perennial in next to the fence or finding a way to terrace areas that were formerly too sloped or too low and wet so that they become flatter and dry has been fun, but as I made those changes, some extra water is flowing into new areas that, alas will be unable to be used as new space for raising crops. I am on the verge of planting several water gardens which will accept the deluges of summer and still be able to handle the prolonged dry times in between, but that is a whole new realm of study that is perfect for the non-growing season. At least when we have a plan, things seem to go better and our utter failures can be reduced somewhat. there is no reason to reinvent the wheel when others have trod that ground before us.
The oft quoted phrase, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, is not only true, but needs to be understood before we can understand our purpose as seeds of change in our own right. Fertile soil has been developed, somewhat by accident, by the economic and political system that believed in what a good friend called Servo-globe. Technocrats have always existed who thought that one day our entire planet would be an autonomous system of gears, levers and electronic control mechanisms that could be designed to benevolently provide us with a higher standard of living. Think of a giant Rube Goldberg that was “set”, not just to release stored potential energy, but to replicate and intensify the process of life. If it sounds silly, it is meant to be so. Basic physics teaches us that we cannot get something for nothing and the process of getting anything requires a bit of sacrifice in terms of friction and overcoming inertia. No matter how we structure a system, we will always need to “feed” it and maintain some sort of relationship with the process so as to keep it efficient and operational.
Culture, even permaculture, requires this sort of attention, planning and maintenance. Look hard, observe deeply and think about what you are seeing taking place around you. as much as you may want to do things, we are still in a resting phase and reflecting on what works and what won’t is the best thing for your garden right now. The US Department of Agriculture has posted findings that the numbers of new farmers going into the business is at an all time high. young people are beginning to realize that the profit centers of the future will be in the areas of food production and agriculture. Learning how to transform the existing farms into ones that do not contaminate the watersheds of our nation and provide healthy foods without the residual poisons of chemical inputs will be more and more important and more difficult if we do not find ways of spreading the word over that much wider audience. Agriculture is currently more profitable than banking. most people never saw that coming!
Anyone who has seen the rapid escalation of seed prices knows it though. Dollars can only grow by small percentages. Even doubling your money can take decades, but planting a seed and seeing your investment grow by 1,000 percent or more in a few weeks or months will change both the financial and cultural landscape as we begin to harvest the fruits of our labor and share that abundance with our neighbors, friends and family. The time of investing for the next quarter has served to indenture generations of Americans and citizens of the world. Permaculture is a workable solution to so many difficult problems because we invest for life, perhaps on the order of several lifetimes, not for just a few months. The commitments we make today have the power to outlive us and permaculture reflects that long view, honoring the next seven generations rather than cashing in at their expense. Soil will be here long after we are gone, take the time to feed it and treat it well.