Here in Denmark, housing and living spaces are a bit different than in other places. Concepts like "sommerhus" (summer house) or "kollektiv" (comune) have a very specific meanings that are not exactly what one might expect from the name. One of these concepts/phenomena are the "koloniehaver", or colony gardens: modest plots, originally provided with small sheds (nowadays also with small houses), to which city Danes would retreat from time to time to relax and maybe even grow some flowers and vegetables. Today, some people even live permanently in those plots. What started as a temporary escape from the urban environment is becoming yet another way of living.
It is in one of these small plots with a cabin that a permaculture initiative is being implemented. One of my PDC (permaculture design course) classmates designed her tiny piece of land according to permaculture principles, and this spring is the moment chosen to bring the theory into practice. Thus my plan for last Saturday was to aid in contributing ideas, adjusting the design and helping with some of the physical work.
Generally, when planning for this type of effort it is advisable to start thinking about the factors that are most difficult to change and work on them first. This means that, since the local climate usually cannot be directly influenced, in a small scale permaculture garden it is the buildings, the accesses and the geographical features (like hills and depressions, inclination, orientation, etc.) which are the first factors to address. Any action taken on these features must be oriented to energy saving, water management and nutrient accumulation.
The easiest of these tasks is the reshaping of the accesses to accommodate the flow of people and animals (in this case, a cat named Perle) and to allow space for the raised beds. Usually, these flows will run along the least resistant parts of the landscape, which in this small plot is greatly affected by the location of doors in the building and the property limits. Both water harvesting and efficient drainage are becoming more and more important, as predictions for the climate change in Nordic countries suggest an increase in the intensity of rains coupled with a decrease in their frequency. In the present case, a water collection system was easily implemented by connecting a big barrel to the cabin’s gutters. Stored rainwater will be used to appease the thirst of the plants in drier seasons. On the eastern side of the plot, however, water tends to accumulate and form puddles too close to the main building, clogging the soil, endangering the wooden structure and potentially drowning any crop that might grow there. Therefore, actions such as soil levelling, channelling and the construction of a small pond might be viable solutions to redirect and productively employ that excess water. A raised bed system all over the plot will also ensure the right amount of moisture for the crops.
Secondary to the water management and accesses are the microclimates generated by the existing geology and geography, the present vegetation and the buildings. A wind tunnel seems to form in the corridor that runs along the main building and the hedge, with one proposed solution being to plant broadleaved, edible tree (such as lime tree, Tilia sp.) that will slow down the flow of air, thus protecting the crops that will one day inhabit the raised beds.
Regarding raised beds and microclimates, these beds themselves will contribute to the protection of the trees around them, while at the same time their inclination and orientation will provide proper sunlight. It's a huge bed; a fantastic way to ensure nutrition and moisture for the coming crops. In order to avoid nitrogen losses, it is convenient to protect it with some mulch and/or some cover crop, such as clover, strawberries, skovsyre or any other low, expansive plant but not too invasive, or problems with the crops will arise!
Finally, considering the annual cycles, both autumn and spring are the right seasons to plant trees and bushes. High soil moisture and mild temperatures will allow them to get established in the soil before the most intense period of photosynthesis comes. And so, during the weekend we planted a dwarf lemon tree (protected by the shed), berry bushes (relatively close to the hedge, again for protection) and some strawberries as a soil cover.
Saturday night caught us working. It was the perfect time to get in the house and prepare a plant nursery. Improvised pots can be prepared by rolling newspaper. Adding soil, water and some seeds will kickstart the growing season. When the temperatures rise and the seedlings are big enough, it will be time to bring them out to the (hopefully finished) raised beds.
I headed back home, happy for the intense workday and looking forward to the next session.