There seems to be a continuing theme around getting things done. In the Marine Corps you hear the word “Motivation” a little bit too many times but over the years I’ve come to realize how important it is in our daily life and not just for those times when one may “need it”. It has come to my attention that motivation seems to find its roots in the environment that you inhabit. All one needs to do to figure this one out is attempt to get something done on the computer when your desk is a mess and its hot and miserable in the office (or for some people too cold).
I believe gardening and even coming up with a good permaculture design/solution usually requires being in the right kind of creative and engaging environment, although it’s not necessarily as simple as cleaning up a messy office or slapping some fun posters on your wall. I think we all kind of get this, that the times that we’ve been really motivated to get out in the garden, or to plant something new, came from when we were exposed to some amazing environments, or designs that people had done that inspired and motivated us. Go visit a commerical eco garden type of place, and see what I mean. You will leave there going “Man I want to do THAT!” I am beginning to believe that this is something that is as critical to living a good life as anything else and after managing a first year “large” garden there are some themes I have noticed about keeping a good productive motivation that I’d like to share.
Theme of Diversity
Diversity I think this is probably one of the biggest things about Permaculture that cannot be railed home enough, and in the case of creating an environment that you want to be in and work in, diversity is probably the biggest thing on the list to do. In general, I think one could describe the majority of my suggestions as being an aspect of diversity, indicating how important this topic is. Having a diverse environment to work in, is intuitively appealing. Sizes, shapes, colors, plant species, annuals/perennials, water, beds, rocks, trellises, etc etc. Diversity leads to having interesting things to look at, interact with, and even provide mitigating effects on adverse conditions. Diversity I believe is a theme that can be rallied around and the more you look to design in functional diversity, the better you’ll be able to achieve an amazing garden space.
Very Different Species
One of the biggest things that has saved my motivation this year has been planting extremely diverse plants, of which next year I will plant an even more diverse fauna. I’m not entirely sure I believe 100% of the Permaculture mantra that planting diverse species “confuses pests” and all that. I have the smelliest, most intense basil plants, right next to plants that had pests all over them. But what I can attest to, is that even if the other plant succumbed to pests, the basil didn’t. I believe its simply a matter of reality that not every year is going to be great for everything. Using permaculture energy analysis one can see and realize that there are always events, and energy pulses that occur. With this knowledge, is quite obvious that we can either ride the highs and the lows, or we can seek to mitigate their effects, creating a more even situation for ourselves.
This year our squashes and tomatoes were completely wrecked due to bad pest management. I was banking my entire garden motivation on the tomatoes and when they were completely ravished by stink bugs, the garden became more of a pain in the ass than something entertaining and life enriching. I would walk into the garden to only see dead and rotting plants. My tomatoes didn’t have that great garden smell, they had the disgusting smell of stink bugs. This created quite the demoralizing situation, luckily my sweet pepper plants saved the day by producing dozens of gallons of peppers!! Woooo!!
Very Hardy Species
Finding out what the very hardy species are in your area is a must. Even if they aren’t the types you desire most, having something that is growing, and just down right kicking ass, is an incredible boost. On the right here I have the first Purple Hull Peas (cowpea) that I planted (as you can see by the date, it was early August).
There was no more demoralizing of a time than July for my garden when we lost our productive tomatoes and squash, so I figured “hey its hot, let me try these purple hull peas I bought”. WOW. This really got us going again. I feel that this single packet of purple hull peas, completely changed our garden. Standing up to full sun in July here, when everything (to include our cucumbers) had failed, is one thing, these peas were like a duck in water. Being able to walk out to your garden and go “HOLY COW these guys are ridiculous!” is a very nice thing.
Sweet potatoes are another common plant that people can use for something that, is just going to work. Here in Louisiana, sweet potatoes are just a must. Louisiana is the #1 producer of sweet potatoes for the country, so naturally it has a good chance of doing well. I have two different areas that are sweet potatoes, (one a large bed, the other a back part of the property) and all I can say, is you’d be stupid not to plant these guys. I haven’t done anything, and I mean anything to these guys, and they’ve survived multiple armadillo attacks, moths eating on them and the whole nine yards. The only thing that kept them back for a bit was the buckwheat I interplanted as an experiment. Every time I go out to the garden and look at this bed, I’m like “heck yeah! Next year I’m going to do even more of these beds”.
Mustards are another plant that have done just so well that I have just got to mention them as a very hardy plant. While I like them, I am not completely in love with them, but I have had the absolute best of luck growing these guys. I don’t have to do anything and they just grow massive, providing a great source of greens for us. Now obviously while these are extremely hardy, I don’t mean that in the sense of warm hardy. By April of this year, our Mustards were completely finished and unable to contend with the.. uhm “warm” weather. But I will be growing the heck out of them this year for sure.
For us Herbs have been a really great thing to put around the garden, and next year we’ll be doing a lot more of them. We have 3 different types of basils, and they appear to basically be untouchable by the elements. They’ve done so well here that every time somebody comes to visit they have to remark about how huge the basil plants are. We placed two basils in the front bed of the house, where it receives only the most brutal summer sun, and no eastern sun, so not much has done well here other than herbs, but these basil plants have made it a joy to walk around and just see how well everything is doing. While they aren’t producing a lot of delicious fruits, they’re nice to have for seasonings, medicine, and just for overall good looks and aroma.
We have also planted Comfry to start getting a good supply of comfry. Comfry is supposedly a fairly cold weather plant that might be slightly out of our “zone”, but I can definitely say it has held up extremely well and just down right prospered. I have grown all of my Comfry from seed. The first time around I was only able to germinate a few seeds, while I was able to germinate an entire try of them. I have placed them in various locations around the garden, and they’ve already grown quite well. I will be looking forward to making comfry tea for both us to enjoy and the plants.
When all else fails, growing cover crops can be a good boost. They just tend to do so well that its nice to look out at them and be like “wow, that stuff is just kicking ass.” You can really over seed them and let them go to town to improve your soil and provide a lot of bio mass so they’re certainly a big help. They also act as a good rest. You can just watch them grow and do well, while you just don’t have to feel the need to be too worried about them. While you can certainly eat a good bit of the varieties, that’s not really their purpose and I can only recommend growing cover crops as a motivating thing, just as a base level of motivation. I have found myself looking over at the beds above and gone “well at least that stuff is doing EXTREMELY well.” After just turning those beds in, and seeing how much they improved the soil in a matter of a month, and how much bio mass I just added, “farming” cover crops will always be in my bag of tricks. In fact it provides an incredible mulch as well.
I won’t go too much on this one since I feel in a lot of different avenues they beat this one to death. Perennials are certainly the way to go in a lot of different scenarios. In fact, a lot of the great things that got me through this year are technically perennials (how many make it through the winter, we’ll see next). Down here in Southern Louisiana there is a ton of perennials that the majority of the country simply does not have access to. Not only do we have perennials that we can harvest each year, but we have perennials that we can leave up to harvest all year long. The big one that comes to mind is citrus. (Oranges, Grapefruits Lemons, Limes, Satsumas, etc). A lot of people don’t know this, but you don’t have to pick your citrus off your plants when they first ripen, you can leave them on all year long until your next year fruits begin to develop. (How do you think you get them at the super market…)
We will be looking into doing Sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke), walking onions, ginger, and asparagus next year. I’d like to try rhubarb, but we might be a little warm for them.
Well hopefully this has provided a few tips for getting through those bad Gardening seasons. I have seen the pattern of the things that have kind of gotten me through the rough patches this year, and I’m going to seek to increase their numbers, and continue to seek out diversity in its many different forms. I think in permaculture circles there is a large placement on perennials and I can understand why, but its pretty obvious that perennials alone aren’t going to solve this issue. But I can certainly say its nice having a diversity where you can walk out, and see a handful of things are just doing great, since it can take the sting off of that one thing that has just become a pain in the ass to deal with. Right now its my Swiss Chard which has been doing amazing but its getting relentlessly attacked by little Caterpillar like bugs. I’ll just avert my eyes and look at the mustards and cabbages, oh and the sweet peppers still pumping out full tilt.
Do you guys have any other go to favorites?