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The permaculture gardener: year-end wrap up

bench with fall leaves

Photo: pugetsoundphotowalks.

November has been quirky: it started warm, then got quite cold and windy, followed by falling leaves, brilliant blue skies, then heavy clouds, even snow. Did I leave anything out?

Then, of course, there’s the raking that accompanies the falling leaves. At this point I’d say I’m the only person in my neighborhood who still uses a rake to move leaves around; everyone else uses a leaf blower. The noise and the waste of energy irritate me, so I have yet to bow to the seemingly inevitable.

The many uses of dead leaves

I decided to rake up the leaves around the bases of all the trees in the front yard, with the exception of the mimosa. (It’s basically a weed and doesn’t need much help.) I’ve patted down the piles with the flat side of the rake, so the wind doesn’t catch the leaves and undo all my hard work. My hope is that the rotting leaves will provide a source of nutrition for the trees. Hardly a new or revolutionary idea, just something I’ve never done before.

This year I’m leaving plant foliage where it is, rather than removing it and putting it in the compost pile. It can enrich the soil right where it lives. Mostly I’m talking about daylily foliage, although the red yarrow is still in place, too. The mallow pretty much dies back and disappears. The skeletal remains of cone flowers and zinnias still adorn the front flower bed, whereas the catmint’s lovely blue flowers persist.

The climate change garden

The vegetable garden is best described as a bust, sorry to say. Intense spring storms and hail did quite a number on the tomatoes. The heritage roma tomato plants died off one by one, with the lone survivor producing fruit that was extremely dry. No seed saving this year! The container grown plants fared much better, but since they were cherry tomatoes, sauce just wasn’t happening at our house.

The pitiful excuse for potato eyes that were sold to me by a vendor (who shall remain nameless) of organic products located in southern Indiana did absolutely nothing. I should have kept them in a dark drawer until the white parts looked a bit more robust. My first attempt at growing red cabbage ultimately produced very loose, leafy plants without much “there” there. The blue leaves were strikingly handsome, nonetheless.

Berry, hairy

While the raspberry and blueberry bushes – new this year – cannot be accused of overproducing, they 1) did produce a little fruit, and 2) didn’t die. I need to get an acidic fertilizer for the blueberries. One of the raspberry bushes has already parented an offshoot, which I’ve planted where the elderberry bush used to be. The elderberry, a huge disappointment, was pampered with urine, comfrey tea, and even a dead chipmunk, and still offered us completely flavorless fruit.

The cucumbers and green peppers loved the wet weather. Both produced bumper crops – six quarts of pickles!

Late in the summer I planted hairy vetch in two of the three vegetable beds, having learned it’s a nitrogen fixer of colossal proportions. Woe was me, then, when I later found out the nitrogen fixing phase of vetch’s life doesn’t occur until spring! Since I cover the beds with leaves and pine needles every fall, I assumed that would be the end of the vetch. However, in visiting my now-dormant garden, I’ve noticed delicate vetch vines curling up amongst the dry leaves, so maybe they’re not a lost cause, after all. In the bed where no vetch is planted, I turned the considerable comfrey crop under the leaves and needles. Comfrey packs its own punch as a fertilizer; I think it’s a must-have in the permaculture garden.

Revolutionary new seed starter

I’ll leave you with a thought I have thus far not acted on. It came to me as the result of comments I received on an article in which I mentioned I’d used peat pellets for starting seeds. Because peat is a non-renewable resource, suggestions for sustainable seed-starting materials were made.

Then it came to me: comfrey is so easy to grow, and so full of nutrients – why not?

Though comfrey is pretty fibrous, it could be cut or torn up into smaller pieces. Would it be possible to run it through a food processor, so it was wet and pliable? If the food processor didn’t get tangled up with fibers, the green mess that resulted could then be packed into toilet paper rolls and allowed to dry. Probably not a whole toilet paper roll; maybe one cut up into thirds? The idea is that the resulting comfrey pellet would make a great little seed starter. Or not. The idea undoubtedly needs refining, but there it is.

Enjoy the time off, gardeners. And dream big!

– Vicki Lipski, Transition Voice

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