The old way
the way we did it before
when I was six, when I had no purse
when I spun rock teacups under the porch
and decorated with weeds
my sand-spread table.
Continuing on with my Revolution Theme Mini Film Festival. I'm preparing to make a big step in the next few months, and now I'm in the brewing and stewing stage. Doing research on better ways to live and permaculture is really eye-opening. It seems to be filled with a lot of down-to-earth people, level-headed I mean, who talk sense. It seems to offer a direction we can all take, wherever we are, whatever our living circumstances, to improve the environment and return health to the earth and ourselves.
Making Gardens of Eden, even of balconies in the city, or city lots in ugly urban areas, the idea of re-greening and working with nature rather than against her is old and new and the kind of revolution that we can all participate in, no matter our ideologies or differences of ideology about which green products to support, or whether to travel by air or not, or how to live responsibly.
We can all make gardens. We can grow fresh air and fresh food. And we can save money and decrease food miles by doing it. And it's not as hard as you think.
When I came here there was a pile of sand outside. A small round pile where flowers had been growing and died off. I cleaned it up and made a small raised bed. Really small, maybe 2-3 feet across. First I tried vegetables but the soil was not good enough to support them. They were mostly things that I was accustomed to putting in a garden in Canada, lettuce, carrots and radishes. They grew but were too tiny to be much good to eat. Then I tried herbs. I tried all kinds both in the bed and in pots but I found that the hardiest were Rosemary and Apple mint. At first my Rosemary bush was tiny and didn't seem to grow much. Finally after a year of it looking puny I decided to cut a little for cooking anyway. Surprise. When I trimmed it, it expanded. Shoots surrounded the cuts and the bush stretched up and filled out. From that I learned that plants heal from being trimmed by producing more branches. Makes sense ecologically. And today I have a wonderful almost chest high well-established aromatic and useful bush. This past Christmas I trimmed it and all the students in my adult classes made mini wreathes for their homes. And I used it to fill the vases in the shrine in my room, make fragrant bouquets with that resin scent so reminiscent of Christmas evergreens, and so absent in Japan, since almost everyone uses artificial trees. And of course sometimes I use it for cooking.
I also have a self-renewing Apple Mint patch which is full of scent and makes great tea or can be used for recipes using mint or delicate bouquets. Since the vines grow up and mostly die in the winter, they form a roof with warmed air space to shelter the new plants which grow all winter underneath. When the weather gets warm enough, perhaps in April , I just cut off the dry upper layer and compost it, and have a lovely new green garden already established underneath. Because of the shelter of the Rosemary and mint (a kind of mini greenhouse) I can also grow Lemon Balm all winter. It snuggles among the branches of the Rosemary and under the canopy of mint.
And in the summer my garden is filled with small lavender butterflies.
But even if you aren't as lucky as me with an outdoor garden space, you can grow on a balcony and in pots. You can create a green "bubble" with either a lattice, or as my friend Terrie used to do by putting up a criss-cross of string or net. If you make a "roof" of vines, it will increase the heat and moisture so that you can grow longer and earlier. The concrete also absorbs heat which is great during the colder months. I remember she had mature basil plants very early, maybe in April.
And you can grow tomatoes, green beans, herbs, cucumbers and maybe even squash this way. Organically.
When I started gardening here I didn't have a clue. I tried lots of herbs that really didn't like it here very much though they grew well for awhile. I've had a lot of plants I bought at a plant store or nursery die on me. But as Terrie used to say "The plants will tell you what they need". I used to think she was a little loopy. But now I understand. She meant trust yourself and experiment, because no one knows what will work in any given environment without trying it. Just try and pay attention and you will, after awhile, discover what works in the environment you live in. What the plants like and what you like. You will adapt to your environment and make it more friendly at the same time. Happy discovering and happy growing, in all ways.
For inspiration take a look at these videos with Bill Mollison showing a balcony garden. It's at the very end of the first video and the beginning of the second. But the six-part series, called "The Permaculture Concept" from Australian TV, is so good you might want to see them all. In that case, you can click the Youtube name inside the video frame, go there, and find the others in the sidebar.
The Permaculture Concept, Part 1
The Permaculture Concept, Part 2
12 January, 2008
The old way