Permaculture: A practical and sustainable method of growing food

by Paul Burdziakowski

When 20-year-old Colorado native TJ Maddock began an internship on a farm in Wells, VT during the summer of 2016, his focus was on learning various sustainable agricultural practices. During the internship, he met some new people who introduced him to some new agricultural concepts. By the end of the internship his focus had shifted toward an endeavor that involved a system of agriculture known as permaculture.

Maddock said he was introduced to permaculture by another intern, Jeffrey Jackson.

Maddock said Jackson was able to effectively incorporate some basic permaculture principles and techniques within the standard farming system that was already in place on the farm they were working on. Maddock recalled that by the end of the internship everyone on the farm was amazed at the amount of crop that was harvested from only two to three acres of land.

“When we first started, there was nothing but a grassy, hilly field,” Maddock said. “In just a few months’ time the results were dramatic.

Maddock recalled two important steps, the first one being a thorough analysis of the plot of land that you will be planting on.

“You need to get to know the land, the organisms that live on it and the influences that act upon it,” Maddock said. “By understanding the land, you can work with it to make the changes that a permaculture garden will need to flourish.”

Maddock said the next step is to shape the land in order to maximize the retention of the water and nutrients on site. In their case, Maddock noted that they created swales.

“The first thing we did is map out the contour of the land,” Maddock said. “Then we shaped the land into swales along the contour of the slope already there…if you can shape the land along the contour of the slope then you can control the flow of water and if you can control the water, then you can make productive soil.”

Maddock said following the internship he was invited by Jackson to take part in a business venture that involves creating a permaculture food forest on a small 1-acre plot of land. Maddock said they have already begun the initial planning stages and hope to begin getting into the meat of the project later this spring.

Maddock explained the reason a food forest works so well is because once it is established it is a self-supporting system that requires very little space and minimal human labor.

“A food forest can be grown on an acre or less of land and still produce valuable amounts of food and resources,” Maddock said. “When the entire food forest is complete, every layer contributes to the whole and it slowly becomes a self-sustaining system.”

Maddock said he and Jackson plan to follow a seven-layer food forest model. The top layer will consist of tall, mature nut trees. Below this is the low-tree layer which is made up of smaller fruit trees such as apple and pear. Next is the shrub layer which is composed of fruit bushes like blueberries and currants. Following this is the herbaceous layer consisting of perennial vegetables and herbs. Next is the rhizosphere layer that includes root crops and tubers. The sixth layer consists of ground cover which helps prevent the growth of foreign weeds, helps retain soil stability and attracts bees for the trees.

The final layer is called the vertical layer because it consists of vines and climbers like grapes and string beans.

“The majority of a food forest is perennial plants with annuals mixed in,” Maddock said. “The key component is the stack functions where you are putting one plant in one area and creating multiple results.”

Maddock points out that animals can also play an important role within a permaculture system as they are often used very successfully for fertilization, weeding and even pest control.

“Our food forest wouldn’t be complete without some animals being involved,” Maddock said. “We plan on using chickens as our main composting agents. They will be eating all our food waste and turning it into manure that we will reuse back into our garden as a high nitrogen dense fertilizer. We are also thinking of using ducks or geese to patrol the garden and keep it free of insects such as beetles.”

Maddock said he and Jackson would like to pass along their knowledge and experience in permaculture to other people through a variety of different ways.

“The hope and goal is to have a fully functioning system in place at a high enough capacity three years from now to where we can offer people the opportunity to come here and learn,” Maddock said. “We want to offer daily tours so people have the opportunity to see how this works and learn how to do this in their own environment. We also want to provide an internship or apprenticeship program where people can get some hands-on experience.”

Maddock said that once their food forest is up and running he and Jackson hope to get their produce out on the market by starting a CSA. Maddock said they also want to process their fruits into jams that they hope to sell along with their produce at farmers markets and to various restaurant supply chains.

Maddock notes they also currently have a website in place which consists of permaculture courses, permaculture designs and an informative blog. To learn more about their upcoming project or permaculture in general visit www.involvepermaculture.com.

2018-02-09T13:46:53+00:00February 9th, 2018|New England Farm Weekly|0 Comments

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