I've been thinking recently about the design of a potential new permaculture garden project. It suddenly occurred to me that one of the underlying principles of permaculture, awareness of the limits and resources of your site and what you have to hand, also implies the consideration of your own limits, resources, and reality.
Like many people, I have a tendency to make decisions (in life in general as much as in gardening) based on what I would like to be true about me, or what I believe is true, rather than on reality. I would like to be the sort of person who is very efficient in the mornings; so I make plans that assume that, then get irritated at myself when things don't pan out as I envisaged. I would like to be the sort of person who can tend carefully to brassicas to nurse them through to harvesting, so I put them in, then kick myself when I don't net them in time and they disappear to the voracious appetites of caterpillars.
So in the context of this potential new project, I'm asking myself: what do we actually use in our existing spaces? What would we actually want from this new space (and, indeed, the existing ones)? And why?
For example, currently I have a variety of herbs out on the balcony, which even at this time of year are largely doing pretty well. However, they don't get used for cooking nearly as often as I'd like; instead the dried herbs in the cupboard tend to be used instead. Why is that? I think there are two main reasons:
- Convenience. The dried herbs are right there; no need to walk through the house to get them.
- Concern for the plant. Mostly it's someone else (the non-gardener in the household) who does the cooking, and he is nervous about accidentally killing the plants.
So, how can I solve these problems in the current space, or in a new space? There's a few possibilities:
- I can make sure that the herbs are as close to the kitchen door as possible (convenience).
- I can consider whether they'd be better off on a suitable (again, nearby) windowsill rather than outside.
- I can grow larger plants, so they're more obviously healthy and can have large quantities taken from them. That would also solving the problem that there's just not enough to cook with regularly.
- I can grow more or large plants, dry them myself, and fill up the containers in the kitchen.
- I can grow more plants; perhaps some on the windowsill and some larger ones outside.
- I can be a bit more discerning, ask which plants we need most, and grow more of those and fewer of the others (to balance out the space taken up by larger plants).
In the immediate term, thinking about this has led me to decide that I'm going to upgrade the rosemary, thyme, and oregano to larger containers, and plant lots and lots of basil seedlings to get as big a crop as possible this year. Those are probably the most useful of the herbs, so it's worth focussing on them.
In the longer possible-project term, I'm going to take all of these ideas into account when planning, and see if I can come up with any more clever ideas to make the herbs easier to use.
And in general, I'm going to keep thinking about the gap between belief and reality, and look for ways to bridge that gap and make it easy to do what I want myself to do.