With the recent expansion of the kitchen garden, it was time to start the new planning for the expanded patch.
The expansion was always part of the plan, but we had given ourselves a 10-year implementation plan for the design. This allowed us to fine-tune as we go. It brings in new learnings and aligning the system to our own patterns which ultimately makes it more sustainable over the long term. It not only helps grow food and regenerates our landscape, but grows and adapts with us as we grow and change.
While I have seen many people use a spreadsheet (and ultimately all of this will go on a spreadsheet), I always start with pen and paper. It allows me to get creative and move things around in a visual space rather than just lines on a screen.
We began by working out how much we eat for the year in our household, using averages and then fine-tuning to our specific needs. (How much do I need to grow to feed my family over a year?). We then break it done to when in each of those plants can be seeded (Garden to-do lists). This makes it very easy to expand the planting regime as the number of beds available expand as well.
For ease of use I have found and been using for years has been the square foot gardening method, talked about by Mel Bartholomew in his book – Square foot Gardening.
We do use many different methods for feeding microbes in the soil, from compost (Home Composting), Natural Farming (Natural Farming), No Dig Gardening (No Dig Gardens), Home made fertilisers (Home Made Fertilisers), Wicking Beds (Wicking Beds), Home made Insecticides (Home Made Natural Insecticides), Organic Health Management (Organic Health Management) and understanding the water needs of the plants (Water in the Garden), which helps inform us what we need to have a successful patch. Then we add the final layer of planning how much we can plant to maximise the space.
We now have 24 raised garden beds and 14 wicking beds for annuals we have a total of 744 square feet to be able to grow in.
That 744 square feet will use approx. 350 litres of water per day in the middle of summer. While this might sound like a lot (and it is) we need to remember that this is in an extreme case (January, February for us). We are not using this amount of water all year.
It is much less in the colder months. It is also far less than what is used growing more commercially, and the food miles is just at our back door. These figures are also based on having zero carbon in the soil, and we have far more than that (again designed for the extreme)
We have two 10,000 litre tanks dedicated to keeping the soil moist over the year, which even with current rainfall patterns is enough to keep it all flourishing.
Using Mel Bartholomew's methodology, it is amazing how much someone can plant within a small space. I recently had an exercise with my current PDC (permaculture design course) participants where they had to plan out a garden bed with 12 squares. They were astounded in how much food you can really plan in that space. So back to the planning. Below is just a sample of what we are planting this month in both the wicking beds and the raised garden beds. In one is 2 Zucchini, 48 radishes, 4 eggplant and 18 shallots and the other is 135 bush beans, 27 mustard greens, 81 spinach and 96 carrots. And that is just 2 out of the 38 potential beds.
Each bed is planned out for the year, and yes, there is a bit of planning at the start, but once done, I do not have to do it again.
This is how we were able to grow 2.5 tonnes of food per year in our small space for the last few years. With expansion and time, I am confident it will increase exponentially. The plan is having enough to feed 20 people in the next few years.
All for approx. 45 minutes a day (30 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon). I do not have staff or volunteers to help, and for the most part, that is from seed to harvest.
There are definitely other methods to seriously increase the productivity in your garden (bio-intensive for example). Still, I have found for the time I have available, and the yields I am currently getting, the square foot gardening method is more than enough.
Good enough for now, safe enough to try.