Every so often I read Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution to remind myself I sometimes have very little idea of what I’m doing in my garden - and my life.
In some ways it’s a troubling reminder while in other ways it’s quite freeing.
Troubling because I teach gardening so I’m supposed to know some things about that, and because I live my own life so I’m supposed to know some things about that, too.
But freeing because I see that it’s okay to not have the answers to most of life’s questions, to admit that at times I have no idea what I'm doing.
I love digging in a garden and I also love walking through a forest.
Most people think of forests and gardens as two separate things, but forest gardening combines the best of both worlds.
In this video, I show you the mini forest garden I'm developing that's only about 2000 square feet (you can do this in a small area).
Feel free to ask your questions down below...
If you’re interested in learning how to grow organic food, I have some tips today.
Admittedly this post is a little bit all over the place, but hopefully there’s something in here that will be useful to you.
The video is worth watching, and at minute 3:57 I explain the ‘3 sisters’ that I was planting in the video last week.
(At the beginning of the video, I say ‘Back from Amsterdam!’ - that’s because I shot this video last year when I had just returned from my trip there where my sister and I had made a bunch of videos on container gardening.)
Are you ready to do some planting yet?
Most of us plant between March and May.
I'm towards the end of that time frame, but I think today's a good day to give you some tips anyway.
I’m doing some seedbed preparation, then sowing seed, then planting vegetables and flowers.
You can learn more about the organic fertilizers and inoculants I use in this video right here.
Feel free to ask questions down at the bottom of this page...
If you have any questions this week about my:
...my sister is going to do her best to answer them for you.
That’s because I’m currently in the middle of a 10 day Vipassana course.
As some of you will know, what that means is that I’m in a place with no access to phone or internet or even a pen and paper.
And I’m meditating.
I actually wrote this post early last week, a couple of days before leaving, and scheduled it to go out to you today, so by the time you’re reading this, I’m probably sitting as still as possible, trying to not let my mind wander.
Click for video transcription
You can join me and my sister over on Sm.....(laughing).
Hey guys its Phil from Smilingardener.com. If you haven't checkout out my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the homepage of Smilinggardener.com.
Today we're talking about home landscape design. If you're designing your own landscape one thing that a lot of people will do is just go to the garden center and buy all the plants that look nice and then get back home and start placing them and hope that it works out okay.
A much better process is to figure out your goals and do some designing first and a whole bunch of things are going to work out better if you do that. So I'm going to give you about 6 steps today. First very important step is to set some goals, and it doesn't have to be a big process you could do it in 5 or 10 minutes if you're in a rush, but there are 3 parts to this and the first part is the look and feel.
How you want it to feel, how you want the aesthetic of your garden to look like. So that could be certain flowers, certain plants, certain design features. Maybe if you want to have more of a relaxing garden you're going to use more curvy kind of plants and designs which is what I do in a lot of my gardens.
If you want more of an invigorating kind of party garden you might go more formal, straight edges, diamond shapes and you know, brighter colors - things like that. So you want to think about what kind of a garden you want to be in. I'm just working on a very small section of the garden for this little video today. So what I'm going to do here is put it what's called the three sisters guild.
I'm not going to talk about it too much today but it's basically a Native-American way of planting corn and beans and squash together. I'm going to put that in here and I'm going to make it a little more interesting with some other parts that maybe they would have used too like sunflowers and cleome - if I can find them and if I have the time. Maybe I'll talk about that a little more in another video.
But that's really my main goal here is putting together that aesthetic of that 3 sisters guild. The second part is usage - how you want to use your garden. So you may need a big area for playing sports or maybe you need a big area for having parties for dining outside, maybe a big area for actually gardening, potting and things like that.
And then you also need to think about paths through the garden because a lot of times, you know the paths don't work you can't get wheelbarrows in and out and things like that. So it's really the layout of the garden based on what your goals are and the goals are of everyone in the house.
Again, for me right here my main use I'm trying to put in this very cool kind of food garden. It's, you know it's a way to grow food and actually grow kind of a balanced diet all in one little space. The third part of this which isn't talked about as much in conventional garden design is the ecosystem. How can we really improve our ecosystem here and create a healthy environment.
For me, what that means is a lot of the things I've been talking about in other videos like composting, mulching, using microbial inoculants - all these are ways of really improving my soil and improving my ecosystem health. I'm also doing crop rotation by bringing the corn and squash in here because last year I had tomatoes in here and peppers so I'm doing a different plant family this year. So that's another thing.
And then I also at the very back of the bed I have some English Ivy that I really need to keep at bay because it can become kind of invasive. So those are just some, a few ecosystem goals. You might need to control erosion, or you might want to be capturing rainwater in a certain part of the garden or attracting beneficial insects, butterflies, pollinators.
You know we have many goals that we can think of to improve our ecosystem but it's a really important part of planning your garden. Step 2 is to actually draw the site and I'll show you because I've done it here. This one's obviously very simple which is good for this example. So you can see what we're looking at here, the house.
And here's my drawing. Here's the house, I have this little 240 square feet. parcel that we're looking at today. Off to the left is a Burning Bush standard which you can see over there. There's a Rose of Sharon which I've drawn right here and there are a few other shrubs here and the English Ivy is back here.
So what you want to do when you do this is use graph paper. And because this is such a small garden and I could make it so that one square is one sq. ft. but often one square would be 3 feet by 3 feet. So 9 square feet. In this case I didn't need that. So the key here is to draw everything to scale as much as possible. So I measure everything with a tape measurer or pacing off is a little bit easier way of doing it, but not quite as accurate.
And then that's going to become important when I'm choosing plants because then I know exactly how big a plant or approximately how big a plant is going to get - I can design appropriately.
Other than that it's basically you know, even if you just had a lawn here you just want to draw it to scale and anything there like the buildings, pathways, whatever is already there or plants, and utilities too you could put utilities on here if you have an irrigation line, a gas line, hydro wires over head.
So that's the site plan and when you're done with that you want to make some photocopies because we're going to be doing a few different things with it. Step 3 is to do a site analysis and that's when we look at the different energies that are coming onto your site and I guess again I'll just show you. This time I'll show you a different drawing.
This is the forest garden area that I ended up putting in last year. But before I put anything in I had to see what was going on. The main thing I often look at is the sun so I wanted to see where the full sun was in this area because I was going to plant fruit trees.
I saw down here was shady, up here was shady, and so that's a really you know, we really need to know where the full sun is and the part sun and the shade is because that's going to be really important for the health of our plants. Putting them in the right spot! I looked at the wind, I saw the wind was coming from up here - that's important because you don't want to put fragile things in a wind break and things like that.
It's really important to...or maybe you want to block the wind, or maybe you want to harness the wind. So we really want to know where the wind is coming from. We want to know where the slopes are. This was a slope down here which resulted in a seasonally wet area. So that was really important for how I ended up planting.
We want to know where the good views are. In this case it didn't matter that much to me but there might be a view you want to block or there might be a view you want to accentuate. So all those different kind of things that you might want to think about that are happening on your site this is where you want to put them on there and that's really going to inform the design.
Step 4 gets to be really fun and we call it functional diagrams. It's where to get to start dreaming about what you might want to do but there's really no pressure there's really a fast way to do it. And that's using bubble diagrams. So I'm going to show you yet another part of my garden because again, for a spot like this right here I don't really need to do too much bubble diagramming because it's just a little area.
But for something that's bigger you can do this and it's just a lot less work then trying to get too detailed too fast. So what I do is I look at my site plan that I already did first and my site analysis, I'm looking at those and I'm making decisions based off that. So I'm just roughing in things - where might I want a cistern?
Where obviously coming off the house I capture the rainwater, throw it into a cistern. Near the cistern I want things that need that water occasionally like herbs. So I have herbs in containers on my patio right outside my kitchen door. So that I can harvest them daily, because you use herbs often.
I have a dining area over here, herbs over here, and so you just starting to dream with kind of bubble diagrams and then you're not having to get freaked out about measuring and using rulers. Here's the full sun down here so I put a lot of food plants and flowers down there.
I drew in a retaining wall that I never built and I knew I wasn't going to build it anytime soon but that's where the slope is. Compost bin is uphill that means I'm always bringing the compost downhill when I need it. Here's a windscreen which means that this is a nice protected zone if I need it.
And I draw in the water source so I know these food plants here are going to be able to get water very easily. I ended up building a raised bed over here because I have to water that thing regularly. It's nice to have a water source right there, So the nice thing about doing it like this is that you can - and I know I'm flying through this guys, but I have to keep these videos short for youtube.
You can do a few different entirely different options when you're just doing bubble diagrams and you don't want to get too detailed. That's what I really like about that, just start dreaming. You don't have to draw plants when you're just doing these bubble diagrams because that gets way too detailed.
What you want to do is just say Hey, where might my compost pile go? Where...is this is place for a hedge? Is this a place for a pond? Is this a place for some annuals? Just, you know, the dining area? You don't have to grow an exact table yet just really think fast and it's really a fun way to do it.
The other thing about the bubble diagrams is that's really when you're...last time I was talking about permaculture design and so the bubble diagrams are when you're looking at all these elements like pond, greenhouse, compost pile and you're trying to get the integrations between them and kind of draw them out, figure out how they can related to each other and help each other out so bubble diagrams are great for that.
The fifth step and this may be optional for you is called a concept plan. And what this is, is where you're taking those bubble diagrams and you're starting to draw them a little more accurately. You're not necessarily going in and choosing every individual plant yet.
This is especially done by landscape designers when they want to present something to the client but they don't want to go in and draw dozens or hundreds of plants in detail until they've seen that the client really likes the overall concept. So you can see what I've done here. Again this was that other part of the garden. I'm drawing the beds in more detail.
I'm drawing things that I know, for example this dining table - I measured the size of it and I drew it. But I'm not drawing individual plants yet. This might be a case where some of the main plants could be drawn in and drawn to size. Or maybe, there's kind of a lot of ways to do it but you really don't have to draw in all the individual plants. Now you might not need to do this, you might go right to the last step which I'll talk about in a minute.
I actually like to do this in my vegetable garden because I like to work from this as my final plan. Because if I'm planting forty different kinds of vegetables throughout the garden I like to have a lot of flexibility. I just like to know in general where I'm thinking of putting things. So that's kind of what the concept plan is.
The sixth step, the last step is the planting plan and that's when you're designing exactly which plants you're going to be using and you're drawing them in to size. And what happens with a lot of gardens in they're planted way too densely because you buy these little plants that are one or two or three gallons and you plant them and the garden looks so sparse so things get planted too close together.
But what happens is these plants get a lot bigger. So what you do, on a planting plan is you draw them the full size they're going to get to, or at least the size they're going to get to in say ten years. It kind of depends people have different methods but really I like to draw them to the full size they're going to get to.
And what that means is I plant things far enough apart. So, in a vegetable garden I don't necessarily go to this step but in my orchard, my forest garden, I did because those are perennial plants they're going to stay there I want to make sure I give them enough space. So you can see I've drawn them the full circumference of how big they're going to get.
And I've obviously used everything that I've already been looking at - my bubble diagrams and my concept plan and I'm just drawing them in here and the nice thing then is when I go to the garden center I have a planting list - however you want to do it there's many ways you could do it - but I have a planting list.
So you can see from this particular garden that I put in last fall the sun is coming from the south down here shining like this. Down here I'm keeping some of these trees a little more dwarf and some of these fruit trees I'm letting to grow a little bit bigger, kind of how nature intended.
Down here where the wet area is, is where I planted my pears as I mentioned in the permaculture video because they can take more wet feet whereas up here my apple trees don't like the wet feet so much so that's where they are. And then here's a Stella Cherry, it's happy to be in this little bit more of a sheltered spot in my area. So many different...I can't get into too much detail in these videos because I want to keep it short but I try to think of many different things by the time you get to this point that are really going to make for a good design.
And I guess I'll briefly show you my little "design" for this garden here even though its not really a design so much as laying out the three sisters. The corn and the beans go where the "C"s are, the squash goes all in between them. So that's it for home landscape design.
If you have any questions at all ask them down below and I'll be sure to answer them. If you haven't signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below and you can also come and join me and my sister over on Facebook at Facebook.com/smilinggardener.
For many people, it’s getting to be time to figure out how to plan a landscape design for your organic garden.
I show you how in the video below - and I’d love to get your questions in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Your landscape design plans might mean putting in new gardens entirely, or maybe just coming up with a planting plan for this year.
You could just go out, buy a bunch of plants, and then decide where to plant them when you get home.
But doing some good old fashioned proper landscaping design planning will result in a much better garden.
Here are 6-ish steps to getting it done...
I’m a big fan of organic liquid fertilizer.
But there’s also an important use for organic dry fertilizer.
I use liquid fertilizers mainly to provide small amounts of 80+ nutrients directly as a plant fertilizer, and also as a soil fertilizer.
Doing this plays a big part in helping me grow nutrient-dense food.
And yet some nutrients we need in the soil more than others, the big three in the organic world being calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).
We need to have enough of them in the soil, but not too much.
(I know that npk fertilizer is stressed in the conventional world, and yes, nitrogen fertilizer is sometimes useful too, but it’s really not all that hard to get enough nitrogen - calcium is much more important to get right, so that’s my focus today).
The benefits we get when we move those three minerals in our soil towards the ideal amounts are many: healthier plants, fewer pests and weeds, better soil structure, etc.
That’s where dry fertilizer comes in...
Before we get into products that you can purchase to bring into the garden that are microbial inoculants I wanted to talk briefly about how we can culture our own micro-organisms.
The easiest example of that would be to go into a nearby forest and get a little bit of soil, bring it into the garden or the compost pile and what you're doing there is you're bringing in a different set of micro-organisms. Or if you went also to a, like a pond - a marshy area- that would be a different set of microbes, too and you can bring that to your compost pile or just kind of spread it on your garden.
And that's a great way to bring in a different set of microbes. Now we don't want to be bringing in wheelbarrows full of soil from other ecosystems, but just a little bit is a great idea. What I want to show you today is something else that I've done a few times just for fun mainly, is to culture my own lactobacillus which is a very important group of bacteria that do a lot of good things in the soil.
I don't tend to do it that often because they are in the product effective micro-organisms along with another group, another couple of groups of microbes that are really important, really beneficial when you get them altogether. Whereas this is just mainly the lactobacillus.
But, I like to do it because it's just neat to show you how you can culture your own microbes and beneficial ones at that. It will also be useful for - it's great for kids - but it's also good if you don't want to bring in too many external inputs but you want to do something beneficial for the garden this is useful. So, what I'll do here is I'll turn the camera down to the table here. And I'll show you.
Ok. So what I'm going to do here - it's a couple of weeks it takes - but there's not much. The first step is to take a small amount of rice. I don't know I have about a quarter cup of rice here and I'm going to rinse it in a little bit of water. And I'm just rinsing it, getting all that, you know when you rinse rice it gets to be a nice murky water and I guess that's kind of a going to be a substrate for microbes to grow on also maybe there will be some microbes in there, on the rice, too.
And then what I'm going to do is strain that into another container - into this container here - and I'm just going to put it into a maximum of fifty percent full. I'll do more about twenty-five percent full so really you want the container to be fifty to seventy-five percent empty.
Now what I'm going to do is loosely cover it up, make sure some air can get in there and leave it at room temperature for about a week and then we'll see what happens next. It's been a week and there's some yellow showing up in the water which is the rice bran and I want to kind of separate that out and just take the underlying part and that's what I'm going to do now. I may need to strain it out, I don't have the best strainer.
And what I'm going to be doing is I'm going to be adding 10 times as much milk, so I guess I should have said at the beginning if you're vegan you're not going to want to do this. And my family none of us drink milk anymore so I had to go borrow some but what you probably want to do is put it in a bigger container. What I'm going to do is just take not too much.
There that worked pretty well to strain that out. So what's going on now is we have various micro-organisms in here, some of them will be lactobacillus. When I add the milk it's going to - it's not going to feed the other ones - but it's going to feed primarily the lactobacillus.
I think you can use like skim milk, powdered milk things like that, but I think real milk is best. I'm guessing cows milk is best for this. So I'll stir that around a bit and then I'm going to leave this for another week or so.
Just again with a loose lid. Here we have the finished lactobacillus, it's only been a couple of days but it's pretty warm out so it happened really quickly and you can see what happens here is there's some white stuff floating on the top here, it kind of smells like cheese because that's lactic acid bacteria or the main micro-organisms in cheese and I don't really want that stuff I just want to throw that into the compost bin or something like that.
So what I'll do here is see if my strainer works, strain it out. Can you see underneath there's kind of a clear, yellow liquid? That's what I'm looking for. That's what I want to try and pour. I hardly even need the strainer. Nice. So now I just have that. And this is what I want.
So here's my lactobacillus and I can mix this week equal parts molasses, if I want to try and store it for a while and use it over a longer period of time. Obviously that's a lot of molasses. You don't have to use the full amount of molasses but a little bit's nice.
The other thing is you can put it into the fridge and that will help it store even better but the molasses just helps to give some sugar to the microbes if you want to store them. In terms of using it, what I would do is I would take my lactobacillus or my lactobacillus/molasses mixture and put it into twenty parts water when I'm ready to use it.
And you know, in the past what I've done is I've actually used that, that one to twenty ratio, but I think what you're supposed to do is take that and further dilute it one to sixty if I'm understanding it correctly. So really, you're diverting this about one to twelve-hundred parts water, or, I guess simple would be a little less than a teaspoon in a gallon of water.
And then you can spray it onto your organic matter, your compost pile, lactobacillus are great at getting into any anaerobic pockets and decomposing, getting to the ammonium and really decomposing it, controlling odors and things like that.
Also just onto your mulch, onto your plants. Lactic acid bacteria create enzymes and hormones and antibacterial substances and all kinds of good stuff, they're just really microbes. I'll be talking about them more when we get into EM because they're in effective micro-organisms, too.
Incidentally when we do mix this with water we want to do it with non-chlorinated water, nice clean water and I'll talk about that a lot when I get into compost tea because that's really important for brewing compost tea, too.
Hopefully you get a chance to do this just as a, if not just as an interesting experiment but also a very, very inexpensive way to put some of the most important micro-organisms out there into your garden.
A garden inoculant is really just anything we use to bring beneficial microbes into our organic gardens.
These microbes are often deficient for various reasons, but if we can get more of them back in there, they:
Plus there’s a whole list of other services they provide for plants and soil. Pretty cool...
I recently started selling my favorite organic liquid fertilizers, the same ones I use at home.
But I also like to make my own homemade liquid fertilizer when possible, and that’s what I’m excited to show you today.
Many of our best liquid fertilizers come from the ocean.
But there are ways you can approximate them, if like me, you don’t live near the ocean.
All of these can be used as a liquid lawn fertilizer, liquid plant fertilizer and liquid soil fertilizer.
You might even make enough for multiple applications (such as monthly or weekly).
For all of these homemade fertilizers, I suggest mixing with at least 10 parts water before you spray.
That will allow the fertilizer to cover more area, and will ensure we don’t burn our plants.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt to mix with even more water...
This is what my organic garden looks like today.
Not quite ready to start planting yet, haha, but I’m gearing up for spring.
I’ve been making sure I have my seeds and organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants all ready to rock when the soil warms up.
(Speaking of which, I’ll have an exciting new announcement at the bottom of this post.)
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