How to make your home garden work! | Daily News

How to make your home garden work!

Permaculture is a guiding life principle or philosophy that has everything to do with nature. This philosophy can be used to great effect in your home garden. Basically the idea here is - Good for the planet, good for people. Green Thumbs speaks to Manager of Amuura, Carlotta Tafel, on the interplay of various activities used in gardening that ultimately contribute to a flourishing home garden - in other words Permaculture Gardening.

Permaculture has many branches including ecological design, ecological engineering, regenerative design and environmental design. But we need not complicate things by delving into these extremely complex concepts! From the start Tafel said – ‘If you do this you will get much too deep into theory and lose that connection with what you actually want to do - work in your garden.’ So in this article we are only concerned about how to make our home garden work! After all we are not writing a thesis!

“Pesticides and artificial fertilizers will boost your vegetables to a selling size or a size fit for consumption by the members of the household. They grow huge and puffy due to the chemicals inside, but they have no nutrition. The big sized chemically grown ones have huge amounts of chemicals in it along with water, but they have no nutrition and will cause cancer eventually,” said Tafel.

Healthy food

Carlotta Tafel

When you are growing organically, no poison in the form of chemicals is added to the soil. The resources are recycled and there is minimum disturbance for the fauna and flora. This is because you always care about their well-being. Then in return no poison from the garden comes into your system. The food in your garden is healthy. You are also supporting biodiversity and both plants and animals are happy. Soil erosion is minimized mainly due to the grass we leave on ground. So run off water will not flow with high pressure or speed due to the ground cover. Also when chemicals are there the runoff water is contaminated with the chemicals.

“Permaculture is about seeing the whole picture, from growing your fruits and vegetables to avoiding overuse of electricity. It’s basically always maintaining good practices. It has everything to do with our behavior. Permaculture is not just one action. All actions are interconnected. When you practise permaculture, you become very conscious about the natural resources we are not supposed to overuse. We are supposed to plan everything in our garden in a very sustainable manner. So, once you gain that habit you automatically respect the Earth. Then you tend to be careful of your electricity consumption,” explained Tafel.

“Old traditional agriculture practices are the main principles of permaculture. In Sri Lanka the change from traditional techniques to big scale fertilizing farming is much more recent than in western countries. Some of the old generations still have the knowledge of farming without pesticides and unfortunately this knowledge is not given enough attention,” added Tafel.

Different techniques

Tafel’s comment can be attributed to the home garden as well. There are many techniques. Growing by following the moon cycle, composting all-natural left over, not burning inside the garden, always mulching the surface not exposing to sun light, talking to plants and touching them to get rid of pests, not much tilling, worshiping before taking the mammoty to start work and then using methods like companionship planting and using neem solution or soapy water for harmful insects are some of them.

“When using permaculture principles you mix different plants, planting them next to each other which directly supports each other when it comes to nutrition and pest control. It’s a symbiotic principle at its best. Some examples are roses and garlic, or potatoes together with beans,” pointed out Tafel.

Companionship planting

We call this Companionship Planting. One plant may be good at absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere and it nourishes the soil while the others can’t. So automatically the other one too gets nitrogen (Beans and Okra). Some plants have broad leaves which can block sunlight coming on to the ground controlling weeds. Narrow leaved plants next to it can also benefit, having less competition by weeds for nutrition. (Cabbage and Chilies). Plants like garlic, marigold (dahas pethiya) lemon grass and basil produce a strong smell so pests don’t come close to them. All plants in the vicinity get protection from those pests.

98 percent of weeds in Sri Lanka are either herbs or medicinal plants or plants that can be used as manure. Only alien invasive plants are the real problem. All weeds are part of the biodiversity which help other animals. So normally we take out the weeds inside the beds, but they should be left alone in other areas.

Use natural methods

“It can be said as long as you don’t work against nature you’re doing good. This can be said for every country in this world. Work with what naturally grows in your region including the animals. If you have some chickens in the garden use them. When you prepare a vegetable bed, use your chicken to walk on it, they will eat the seeds and weeds, dig the ground loose and poo in between giving an amazing natural fertilizer,” explained Tafel.

Tips for preparing beds

When preparing beds, better bury banana stems, green leaves like Gliricidia cut into small pieces before you add compost as a top layer. They will slowly release nutrients to plants when growing. Also, another method is using coconut husks - coconut husks lining along the beds. They will help to keep moisture and also add nutrients into soil. Adding charcoal to beds when preparing is another good practice.

“Through Permaculture the immune system is boosted. If you eat nutritious food your body can use the food to get stronger. Also you will be less likely to develop sicknesses like diabetes or cancer. What I have experienced is that people who start to change their lifestyle will get ‘sick’ at first. This is a natural reaction of the body. It will start to get rid of all the unhealthy stuff in the body which at first will be seen as pimples, fever, cough and unhealthy skin. But if you reach that point it won’t be long before you will be feeling much more active healthy and fit,” explained Tafel.

Growing according to the climatic factors

Permaculture is simply going with the flow of the landscape in design and growing according to the climatic factors of the land. It is basically what we had in Sri Lankan traditional agricultural practices or in home gardens. We never flattened the land to grow. We did not go for square beds. It was all either curved or round or just wavy according to contours. We allowed bushes or vines which love shade to grow under the big trees and let the vine like Kiri Ala climb the big Jack tree. When there is a sunny spot on the land, we planted sun loving crops and flowers for bees and butterflies. We had chicken, ducks, cows and goats in our land who naturally nourished the garden. We did not want to make a chicken tractor (Chicken tractors are movable pens that you can use in your yard or farm. They are just a movable cage that chickens live in part or full time) like in modern permaculture practice. They were everywhere. In the night chickens climbed the hut made up on coconut trees and stayed there till next morning, until the farmer put up the ladder for them to come down, so they would loosen our soil and provide poop for manure. So it’s basically what our grand parents practised on Earth, growing with minimum harm to nature.

Though there is a slight difference when it comes to an organic farm and a home garden the principles are the same.