When we set our bags down at our new “home” we found it came with a large, overrun garden. The need to connect with this land was almost instantaneous: there was no doubt that we suddenly wanted to care for the land and grow our own, organic food. Needless to say, we were totally inexperienced when we decided to begin gardening. We can hardly believe we’ve completed a year working with nature!
We knew before we even began that our “end goal“ is to have a food forest, which cares for itself, produces enough not only for us but also the animals and is a place for relaxation and connection with nature. This is a long road but we’ve taken the first few steps.
In preparation, we decided to dig as little as possible. We see the whole earth as one big being and there are probably not many beings who’d like their skin peeled. We also resorted to using no motor driven machines, no chemical fertilizers and to plant as many old seed varieties as we can find. We obtained our seeds from other food growing, seed collecting individuals.
The land was already terraced and was home to several fruit and nut trees and berries previously planted. We had an abundance of cherries, raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, blueberries, wild strawberries, elderflower, asparagus, plums, pears, grapes, figs, persimmons (kaki), kiwis, walnuts and a few more lovely gifts this year that we did not work for.
However, the land was long uncared for and so the garden was an entangled jungle. The first thing we did was to collect the plastic and metal debris, which lay strewn across the property. Then we cared for the existing plants: i.e. pruning the grapes that had conquered two terraces.
Once finished with the overgrowth we built our compost, the heart of the garden, which hopefully produces a lot of nutritious compost in the coming years.
Our next task was creating the herb bed, which is divided into two parts: the higher and drier area mainly for the hardy Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, oregano and thyme varieties and the lower section for the water lovers like basil, sage, dill, parsley, chives, coriander, and fennel. We collected stones from around the property for the border. With the border in place, we covered the inside of the space with small branches and other composting material, followed by a 15 cm layer of a soil and compost mixture. We used earth dug from another area of the garden, our future pond, but this meant that the soil mix wasn’t seed free. Therefore we covered the soil with Kraft paper as a “weed” barrier and as sun protection. Finally, we cut X’s in the paper and planted our young herbs through.
Ironically, later in the season, we had to remove the Kraft paper and replace it with straw. It did a wonderful job with suppressing weeds and neither did we need to water much as it protected the exposed soil from drying out. However, it provided a lovely home to a large slug population right beside their food source and so we found most of our initial herbs devoured overnight. Slugs love fresh coriander! Who knew?
For experiment’s sake, we decided to do the foundation of our vegetable field in reverse to the herb bed. We first lay the Kraft paper, on top of which we placed branches and other organic material and then added a layer of soil and compost mix. We divided the field into two sections. For one side of the field, we sorted all the seeds into two simple groups: seeds that germinate in the dark and seeds that germinate in the light. We simply threw each batch into the prepared field and let nature decide. On the other side, we planted our germinated seedlings in fixed positions, placing supporting plants next to each other.
During the course of this year, we bought no vegetables (or fruits) for more than one month and we’ve spent the rest of the summer purchasing only small amounts.
Looking back the “wild“ field seemed more “productive“ and due to more dense growth, we had to water it less. However, we did not know what was growing where and if it was a “weed“ or a wanted plant. This is not optimal for inexperienced gardeners.
We also attempted germination using seed balls with wildflowers to provide food for the bees and butterflies and some deep rooting flowers to loosen up the soil. Most of these seed balls germinated but were then overgrown by other plants and died. Next spring we will try the same only earlier in the season so the seedlings hopefully have enough time to get established. Furthermore, we planted potatoes wildly over the land, which we will not harvest, to loosen up the compressed soil of the terraces. We have now dried and gathered seeds of most of our plants and have begun preparations for the following year.
We managed to grow pumpkins, zucchinis, chillis, chickpeas, seven varieties of tomatoes, four varieties of potatoes, five varieties of basil, several salads, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, kohlrabi, beetroot, onions, and amaranth. Gardening has changed us in numerous ways. We now cook a fresh, hot meal every day (for most of this year) with things we’ve harvested – it may sound irrelevant but we were the people who seldom cooked whole meals, let alone regularly. We even pickled (aachar) our tomatoes and bake our own bread!
All in all, we are happy with our first gardening experiences. We learned about soil, animals, plant care, the plants themselves, the micro and macro cosmos of a garden, permaculture and countless subtler lessons from nature, for example: “How to behave without harming others“.
Plants are such special beings, so full of love. If you cut a fruit tree it will not get angry, sway, scream and maybe harm others. It will try to protect itself not with physical force but with kindness by bearing even sweeter fruits.
Thank you, Mary Reynolds, Morag Gamble, Sepp Holzer, Masanobu Fukuoka, John Kohler and countless others for sharing your wisdom in your books and on Youtube: we learned so many invaluable things through you.
Here are a few more links we’d like to share with you: