We have always managed our land and gardens organically and we started applying permaculture principles in 2011, when we took our first permaculture training. Permaculture - permanent (agri)culture - is about working together with nature in order to create sustainable and productive systems. Care for the earth, care for people and fair share are core principles. One fine aspect of permaculture is collaboration : we work together with nature elements, spirits, and other people. We do what we are good at and what we love doing and then we share with others.
This is what permaculture looks like in Bois-le-Comte right now:
FLOWERS & HERBS
- Front garden: lots of roses, lavender, jasmine, lilac, butterfly bush, honeysuckle and other beautiful perennial flowers that support each other and attract bees, butterflies and birds. No edibles here because it is along the street (not busy at all but we have plenty of space elsewhere). All recently planted but we hope to welcome all visitors with an abundance of beauty and colours and scents within a couple of years.
- Courtyard: beds with (edible) flowers, herbs, and because of the very sheltered location an apricot and along the walls grapes, pears, a fig and hardy kiwis. Besides benches and tables for eating outside, reading, gathering, ...
- Lawn: spots for sitting, sunbathing, badmintonning, frisbeeing, a fireplace, swing, sandpit, clothesline, and more rose bushes.
The 'perma hill'
The practical project of our first permaculture design course, 2011 - 2012: a steep hill invaded by grass and stinging nettles is transformed into an attractive example permaculture garden. We planted 16 small fruit trees: apples, sour cherries, pear, nashi (Asian pear), medlar, saskatoon, pawpaw ('European banana'), cornus kousa (chinese dogwood), red-, white- and blackcurrants, gooseberry, and jostaberry. We then added specific edible groundcover plants, forming 'guilds' with the trees they support: ramson, walking onion, nasturtium, borage, strawberries, lemon balm, sage, coriander, marigold, comfrey, violets, ... Finally we made a beautiful insect hotel for solitary bees (which don't sting) and other useful insects.
Besides the fruit trees on the perma hill and in the courtyard we have redcurrants, buckthorns and raspberries along the old vegetable kitchen garden, redcurrants behind the deck of the temple room, strawberries, a good old apple tree and a walnut tree. There is also a long edible hedge with loads of currants and berries. On a south facing hill slope we planted a big orchard / forest garden full of apple trees, pears, plums, cherries, a couple of peaches and apricots, some medlars, quinces, paw paws, walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts. We planted a mix of fruit trees, currants, edible and ornamental flowers, herbs and perennial vegetables on the terraces. Beautiful, wild and each year different.
We inoculated oak logs with shiitake and oyster mushroom spores, and straw with oyster mushrooms. Inoculated straw will give a quick harvest (a few weeks later) and will last a couple of months, the logs need more time (one year) but will give a long harvest (five years).
We want to grow most of our own vegetables (because we want to reduce food miles and we want our food to be the best quality). As we and our visitors generally prefer annuals and biannuals (onion, carrots, squash, leeks, fennel, kohlrabi, chard, radishes, ....; all common vegetables), we grow our vegetables in a large vegetable plot, a kitchen garden and a polytunnel; in all more than one acre. Of course we garden organically. We also work as follows:
- Crop rotation and combined crops
- Diversity: different vegetables, different varieties, successive plantings (also for winter harvest). We intend to save some seeds as well.
- Keep the soil coverd so that nutrients are not washed or blown away.
- Permanent beds so as not to compact the soil by walking on it.
- Wooded banks as windbreaks, shelter for insects and slowly composting soil nutrients.
- We made a "Hügelbett" by way of experiment: big trunks and on top of them compost and dirt; south-east oriented suntrap. At first we were not sure if it was worth the trouble but from the second year onwards it became a very productive spot.
Soil fertility & closed cycles
A good soil is invaluable, it is the basis of everything. We try to always keep the ground covered and add as much organic material as we can manage to find: home-made compost, manure from our horses, fallen leaves, comfrey, grass clippings, green manure, ...
Agriculture, forestry, wilderness
- 90% of our grounds are pasture. Our horses keep the grass short and provide excellent manure for the vegetable garden. They are beautiful to see and we love riding them. Their large winter pasture is a meadow, it is hayed once a year. There is a treehouse in the summer pasture and a sweat lodge in the winter pasture.
- Coppice groves, the long edge of the wood (as well as all the woods around) provide wood for banks and paths and lots of stinging nettles for compost and mulch.
- Here and there we leave small patches of woodland (blackthorn, haythorn, brambles, ...) and only observe.