How to Plant a P-Patch

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The magnificent Laura Sweaney conducted a workshop at Sustainable Renton Community Farm recently, titled How to Plant a P-Patch using Permaculture Design.  This was perfect for those of us that want to incorporate permaculture techniques but have a small space to do it in. Typically, permaculture is a large scale philosophy to be utilized by the designer in vast amounts of space, but the plots available at the farm are 10’x 20’ so what is a gardener to do? Well, Laura was able to show us a beautiful design that we can use on a small scale that not only increases yields, increases water retention, increases soil health, decreases pest and disease vulnerability but also increases the overall aesthetics of an ordinary P-Patch plot.

For a more detailed explanation of Permaculture principles you can go here.

We began with a blank slate. Granted, the soil at this location is absolutely luscious, so we did not have to do a lot of amending. The plot was empty save for a few pea starts that were struggling to come up after our heavy rains that all but laughed in the face of our enthusiastic gardeners trying to get something in the ground in March.

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The first thing Laura did was to create a pathway through the space. Permaculture is not an advocate of planting in rows. The overarching idea is to mimic nature as closely as possible. For anyone who has studied nature, perhaps one description would be a sort of “ordered chaos”. The path was a curved line that ran through the patch in an s-shape leaving no further than 3’ for one’s arm to reach for harvesting, while maximizing the amount of space to grow in. She made a couple of keyhole beds that were connected by the two ends of the path. A keyhole bed is a space where the gardener can walk into the circle for harvesting. This creates a microclimate where the sun comes in from the south at the beginning of our path and saturates the circle where we have some of our more heat loving plants.

We then began to plant the starts and seeds that we had available to us. We planted lettuce, kale, cabbage, chard, collards, leeks, chives, onion sets, strawberries, carrots, parsnips, rosemary, thyme, lavender and cilantro.

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We placed a bean teepee in the SE corner of the plot with a cabbage in the middle so that as the heat comes on us the cabbage will be protected inside the bean teepee. This structure will be ready for us to plant beans next month. Also we placed a structure for our indeterminate tomatoes to climb on when the time is right for planting. This should prove to be an amazing site when the summer is in full swing.

Permaculture comes from joining the ideas of permanence and agriculture or permanence and culture. As Laura stated, what we are doing at a P-Patch is really about permanent culture. We are building connections with our community to create resilience within our culture, within our city.

This plot is on display as our Permaculture garden plot. So, if you are in the area, stop by and take a look at what we have done to this plot. Up at the farm you will find that there are beautiful things growing, people laughing and making connections. Come and join us. We do have a waiting list for plots coming at the beginning of May, however, there is no need to have a garden plot to come by and hang out for a while. If no one is there, you will be amazed at the peacefulness available. If someone is there you can introduce yourself and make a friend. Bring your lunch, have a picnic with your family. There is a play structure and a sand box for the kids.

Tess the Gardener

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Here is a brief introduction to Tess, the Gardener. I first met Tess at the Meaningful Movies of Renton events; she has been a loyal supporter of them from the beginning. Over time we have come to know each other as like minded neighbors that want to make a positive change in our community.

 

 

 

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I had the pleasure of visiting Tess’ house the other day. When I parked in front of her house located in the Renton Highlands area, I was immediately struck by how the yard has been replaced by garden space to grow things. She had a multitude of berries and bulbs, kale and collards. She confessed to having been influenced by the recent permaculture workshop, led by Laura Sweany, to change the shape of her current garden bed into something a little more in tune with nature-she went from planting in a traditional row pattern to creating a spiral gardening bed. This shape lends itself to more cohesion towards how plants might grow in the wild. This is also a great strategy for confusing pests that may want to attack one crop, for if that crop is sprinkled together with other crops, than the damage is greatly reduced.

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Of course, I noticed the peace sign made from brick that had been incorporated into her walkway through her yard. My kids loved it too.

Tess had chickens in her back yard and two compost systems-one used for kitchen scraps and the other for chicken manure.

I was also blessed to get a taste of Tess’ homemade chili-yummy.

I have to say that this is a shining example of one of the products of being involved with Sustainable Renton-community.

Although it was a short visit I was left with the feeling that we were more connected to one another and how absolutely grateful I am to belong to an organization that fosters a healthier community through fostering healthier relationships with our neighbors.

Priceless.

Laura Sweaney shares her wealth of knowledge in Permaculture

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Recently, Sustainable Renton hosted an excited group who were eager to learn more about the nuances of permaculture. Laura Sweaney was kind enough to share the knowledge she has obtained from two decades of experience in the field. The seminar drew a sizeable crowd at the offices of Sustainable Renton which focused on strategies for individuals to implement at home, including: sheet mulching, composting, zoning and layers, hugelkultur, herb spirals, and plant guilds.

The ethics of permaculture stress a holistic approach of limiting consumption, caring for the earth, and caring for people. It is a method of growing which incorporates traditional ecological knowledge with whole systems design. The general idea is to become productive towards natural systems as opposed to continuing the strain of our current consumption cycles.

When beginning a permaculture garden, Laura noted the important things to consider include planning for future yields, diversity, input & output, energy, wild-soil, a multi-dimensional design, and relative location. Minimizing the amount of non-replenishing resources used such as petroleum based products and precious metals allow scarce energy to be redistributed towards other projects.

Microclimates were also discussed as another aspect to consider when choosing the location of your plants. Laura emphasized, “If you have a corner of your yard that’s a bog or wetland, let it function as a bog or wetland.” It is almost instinctual to want to dig ditches or add soil from outside resources to change the landscape, but many plants love the excess moisture including rhubarb, celery, and fuki.

One of the last things covered in the class was the invisible structures of permaculture. Cottage industries, intentional communities, political and monetary systems, and farmers markets are all elements that play a role in a successful permaculture operation. However, personal relationships, the most tangible and critical structure, was immediately present in the room of enthusiasts. At the end of her talk, the space was adherently fervent and ready to begin networking with each other and working together towards a common goal.

by Joshua Reasoner and Steven Nguyen