“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” -H. Fred Ale
Design for the Earth and the yield will follow
Many gardens today are laid out in the style of conventional agriculture, with each type of plant in its own row. Of course, plants wouldn’t grow neatly and uniformly in rows if left to themselves. This unnatural design wastes space, uses more water, attracts weeds, and eliminates the natural interaction of the plants with one other, creating an environment with limited diversity.
A good design maximizes interaction between beneficial plants, soil, and other living organisms while preventing weeds and saving water and space.
At the plant level:
Plant biointensively to best utilize the planting area, reduce weeding and watering, and improve quality and yield.
Use nature’s tools to repel pests and attract pollinators by establishing borders of herbs and flowers, e.g. marigolds, nasturtiums, garlic, chives, and others with spicy or stinky leaves.
Companion cropping helps plants grow by feeding the soil, providing shade, creating support for vines, and repelling pests. For example, basil planted with tomatoes both keeps insects away and enhances the tomatoes’ flavor.
At the site level:
Look at all the elements: Maximize sunlight by taking compass directions into account when laying out the garden. Set tall trees and plants on the north side.
Use permaculture design principles: Put high maintenance and frequently used plants near the house (vegetables and herbs). Place low maintence and infrequently used elements like trees and wildlife areas further away. Maximize planting areas by minimizing high foot/vehicle traffic areas such as paths and driveways.
Use existing microclimates in your yard to your advantage. Plant tropicals in sunny but wind-protected spaces and lettuce in naturally cool and shady plots.
Don’t forget the big picture! Leave an area for a wildlife habitat with water, cover, and food. Plant native plants that are food for birds, insects, and butterflies, such as holly, milkweed, and beauty berry.
Resources on the Web:
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
The New Farm Project – sponsored by the Rodale Institute
The Permaculture Research Institute
The Three Sisters Permacultural Farm
Biointensive Workshops with John Jeavons