Baby Stepping Back into Permaculture

Before. Door on right, forest on left.

Unbelievably, it’s been a year since I returned from Earth Activist Training, permaculture design certificate in hand and permaculture pipe dreams in my heart. Until last month, I lived in a second-floor apartment in a sea of concrete, where my only permaculture outlets were a few containers on a balcony and a sparsely-populated worm bin in my kitchen. I didn’t even have a yard – it was all pavers behind the house, with unruly and unwanted plants growing between them, which I was supposed to have pulled out per my landlord’s request. Now I’m in a forest with some patches of Earth that could possibly hold a garden, most of which will be eaten by deer, if history is any indication of the future.

Today I spent a blissful morning mowing the lawn here; the forest encroaches fast in the heat and regular soaking rain we’ve been getting lately. I finished the backyard, the side of the house that is mostly gravel until the forest begins a yard from my front door, and a bit along the path from the street to the house. The battery-operated weedwacker ran out of juice before I could finish, and there’s a glorious meadow of lady’s thumb, burdock, and knee-high grass with a gently winding path cut through on the other side of the house. Baby steps.

I also took a step into a realm of gardening which I am completely unfamiliar with, and started building a shade garden next to my front door where invasive weeds had taken over. My hands ache from pulling vines from the trees and the ground. The cardboard I’d saved from the Ikea futon we got last month is pressed over the area, with rotting logs holding it down. The cardboard will melt into the ground over time, and keep the weeds from returning while the new plants take hold.

Tomorrow I’ll put down a layer of compost over the cardboard, bags that had been abandoned by the landlord and are in various stages of disintegration. On top of that will go a thick layer of cedar mulch. If I had access to a woodchipper, I could certainly have made many times more mulch from the wood around the edge of the forest closest to the house. Instead I went to Valley View Farms and bought the mulch and an assortment of shade-loving, hopefully deer-resistant plants: mints and lemon balm, a rainbow of coleus, and patchouli.

After I put down the compost and the mulch, I’ll lay out the plants where they go and one by one I will make an opening in the mulch and cut an X in the cardboard underneath. I will plant them all in the mulch over the cardboard and then water them.

I’m writing this all here now, both so I can share how easy this is and so I will remember how easy this is when I’m in the moment. Sometimes overthinking happens and easy things become confusing. Last year at Earth Activist Training I was taught and shown many things that seemed easy at the time but now seem much more difficult and some things that now seem impossible.

No photos yet, since it’s dark outside, but the coleus is a delicious deep red that will be beautiful against the white wall, cedar mulch, and light green herbs.

Next I’ll make one of those compost bins out of pallets. I wonder where I can get a truckload of manure?

Baby steps.


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