We come from families of farmers and gardeners and they are, like everybody else, growing old.
They’ve always managed their gardens the same, traditional, way ; carting in wheelbarrow-full of composts and manures to enrich the soil, ploughing with a rotary hoe, planting densely, weeding by hand, etc. The older they’re getting, the lesser the area is cultivated (and the weeds colonize the vacant land), and the more reliant they have become on synthetic fertilizers, slug pellets and weedkiller too.
They’re now clearly finding it hard now to manage their 200m2 veggie patch the way they’ve always had:
- The rotary hoe has become impossible for them to handle,
- Watering by hand with a watering can has become a weight-lifting challenge,
- Planting heavy pickets with a sledgehammer to support tomatoes requires Olympic strength and
- Bending low to harvest bush beans has become a balance-threatening hazard.
- They still have a cold-compost pile but well away from where it is needed, away from the veggie patch.
- As for the fruit trees, they were never pruned to stay at reachable height and the kiwi fruit trailing on the tall barn’s wall grow into the roof rafters, well above safe height level for anyone on an extension ladder…
Visiting their garden now that they are in their mid to late 80’s made me wonder how my garden would look like when I am 80 plus.
Design from patterns to details
In permaculture, we like to design from patterns to details. This aims at:-
- observing existing patterns and utilising/mitigating them,
- creating sturdy functional connections between patterns or between elements in a system (say the compost bin, the backdoor and the veggie patch),
- saving energy, a lot of energy (i.e. wrong placement of elements often causes many unnecessary footsteps and lifting),
- being resilient (working against a poorly understood pattern means many headaches -or backache!).
So, in the case of growing old as a gardener (that is the pattern), and for my garden to be sustainable and resilient, my garden must be able to evolve with my physical abilities as well as my needs (these are the details).It also means that I must be willing to regularly learn and practice different gardening techniques or different cultivars (i.e. no dig vs. bio intensive, climbing bean vs. bush beans) to try them, and hone my skills… it’s not when I am old or incapacitated that I will be willing (or able) to learn new tricks.
Gardeners, do revisit your crops and your methods regularly or come learn with us how to design a flexible and evolving garden.
See you at one of our courses to learn more about permaculture and how to design a truly sustainable garden!
- Part-time Permaculture Course held on our farm in Jilliby (NSW Central Coast) – 6 August to 12 November 2016 (registration closed)
- Residential Permaculture Course held with John Champagne and Megan Cooke at Garden to Table in Pacific Palms, NSW – 19 November to 1 December 2016
Recently published in The Rural Grapevine August 2016