“In this society, gardening is a big business burdened with experts telling you what you need to do and most importantly, what you need to buy, spray, spread, and plant, and so on ad infinitum. Balls! – It is your backyard and gardening is not about feeding the economic machinery.
Think of gardening as contemplative fun, productive and meaningful labour, and a place to escape the manufactured stresses of everyday life.
Go and sit in it, and get a feel for it. Before you know it you are starting to evolve the plan.”
– Mal McKenna in Transforming Your Urban Backyard available at http://permaculture.org.au/
Knowing your complete site (or garden), its conditions and constraints, helps a lot in coming up with the best spots for food gardens. You need to look at your property as a whole and get to know it better before making decisions about where to grow your food.
Activity 1: Make a Site Map
Within a border of 3-5cm from the edge of your paper, draw a map of your whole property (A3 paper is best – tape/glue four A4 pages together – or use graph paper if you want).
Be sure to include all ‘fixed elements’ such as your house, pool, sheds, paths, trees, existing beds, etc.
Next look at the climate and microclimate influences, draw them in on the outside of the border (using coloured pens and symbols is fun).
Please note: Your map does not need to be pretty or resemble an architect’s drawing. A simple freehand sketch will do. Use the checklist below to ensure that you’ve included everything
|#||Site Map Checklist||Check|
|1||Property lines, fences.|
|3||The scale used and measurements, even if it is just rough.|
|4||The slope of land – using arrows to show the direction of surface water flow.|
|5||Location of existing landscape features: house, garage, buildings, trees, walks, driveways, patios, pool, pond, etc.|
|6||Shadows, sun, wind and rain patterns.|
|7||Underground services (if known): water points, sewerage, etc.|
|8||Views – point arrows in the direction of good and bad views.|
|9||Undesirable features of your own or adjoining property.|
Beware of Analysis Paralysis…
When observing and making your site map, beware of analysis paralysis. It is not always easy to separate the process of observation from the analysis. We almost automatically combine our raw observations, such as ‘this is a shady spot’ with an analysis ‘therefore it will be cold and not suitable for herbs and veggies’.
But when making your site map, it’s important to retain a childlike quality of wonder without moving immediately to analysis. You are not looking for ‘solutions’ at this point in the planning process, but simply an understanding of what you have to work with.
Activity 2: Identify the Best Spots
Have a look at your site map. Where do you think will be the best spots for food gardens?
Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture, offers some guidance. He says:
“When you get up in the morning and the dew is on the ground, put on your woolly bathrobe and your fuzzy slippers. Then walk outside to cut some chives and other herbs for your omelette. When you get back inside, if your slippers are wet, your herbs are too far away.”
Looking at your site map try to find a few spots that, in order of importance:
- It is near the house, preferably right next to the front or back door.
- It has good access.
- Receives sun in the winter, sun or partial sun in summer.
- Is reasonably level.
- Is close to a water source.
- Is sheltered from cold winds and frost.
- It is protected from pets.
- Has reasonably good soil.
If you can’t find spots that meet all the above criteria don’t despair. As stated in The South African Herb Growers Guide:
“Most of us have a very limited choice when selecting a location for our food garden. Knowing how to use what you have and turning that to your advantage spells the difference between success and failure.”
Hear the late Henry Ford on this:
“You say I started out with practically nothing, but that isn’t correct. We all start with all there is. It’s how we use it that makes things possible.”
But what if?…
The best spot in your garden is currently occupied by your partner’s prize roses.
Then don’t let the threat of an expensive divorce – obviously assisted by your threatening behaviour with the spade – stand between you and that prize spot.
We all know. Roses are lovely. But herbs and veggies are simply wonderful.
Tip: Use Several Gardens You can have several food gardens, or food growing spots, for different purposes and types of crops. Near the patio door (perhaps back and front doors too) you can grow the quicker growing crops which you eat most or use as garnishes. This includes plants in containers.
Further away you can provide for your ‘staple’ or main crops that take up more space and need less tending.
Don’t forget the vertical zone – up a fence, the house, tepees, etc.
Activity 3: Pick the Best Food Gardening Spots
Find the best spots for your food gardens. Use the checklist below to make sure that each spot you’ve chosen measure up to our criteria. Also, make a note of the dimensions (measure these as accurately as you can) of each spot. This will help you determine the size and layout of your food garden(s).
|#||Checklist – Food Garden Locations||Check|
|1||Are you happy with the access to the spot?||yes / no|
|2||Will the spot receive sufficient sunlight?||yes / no|
|3||Are you happy with the drainage of the spot you’ve chosen?||yes /no|
|4||Do you know what effect the slope will have on the spot?||yes / no|
|5||Will the spot be sheltered from cold winds, frost, and pets?||yes / no|
|6||If you have answered “no” to any of the above questions, are you aware that your plants might need more care?||yes / no|
|7||Are you prepared to give them the extra care they might need?||yes / no|
|8||Measurements of spot: ________ x _________|
1. Do not proceed to the next Unit unless you’ve completed the three activities in this Unit.Only registered students can access all the units. TAP to UNLOCK the Beginner Class Units.