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Fifteen to the dozen

By STUART MERELIE [email protected]

Stuart Merelie, Landscaper, Ecological researcher and Permaculture fanatic, shares his passion for correct and sustainable landscaping in the Algarve and is the Algarve Resident’s permanent garden and landscaping correspondent. This is part in a series of 24, exploring Permaculture and its importance and uses in today’s world.

ONE OF the good things to come out of the current credit crunch is you can now watch daytime TV without that affable Geordie jumping out of the television screen and offering you a nearly new car at an unbeatable loan.

What has happened to the real world? What has happened to proper adverts like milk and Mars bars? Well, the real world is back and, ignoring the Helter Skelter FTSE and bankety bank, life is great. Suttons Seeds now sell more vegetable seeds than flower seeds, allotments have 30 year waiting lists, and Jordan (Katy Price) now has four legs!

It is time to take stock, to look, to learn where we should be going. To observe natural cycles, the circle of life, accept the mistakes and develop strategies that will prolong our happiness, our lives and relationships, and sustain this wonderful planet we live on.

Permaculture is a term coined by Australian Bill Mollison in 1978. If the initial set up is right – like a mature forest garden, then it becomes self sustaining, plants grow in five dimensions, forwards and backwards, from side to side, upwards, and listen to this, the dimension of time and the pièce de la resistance, the relationship with all the other plants (like us with our neighbours) is that some are helpful and others are poisonous. Bill summed up three things very acutely. Look after planet earth, look after all the people on this wonderful planet and share the surplus. No point in dying with buckets of cash or the answer to the universe if you haven’t shared it a little – I actually rate the free dispersal of information, teaching, training and helping a lot above writing a few extra lines in your will giving money to charity.

Bill Mollison, in his mid seventies, is still teaching people and has established a series of principles that we should all follow:-

Work with nature rather than against it

Artificial fertilizer kills nitrogen fixing bacteria. A lot of the weeds in your garden will actually produce nitrogen nodules and naturally enrich your soil. Mulching, compost heaps and good planting will enrich your soils on a long term – no wonder Bayer, Monsanto and crew recommend fertilizing your garden three times a year, it doesn’t work in the long term!

Everything we do alters nature

On a small scale, walking across a flower bed repeatedly in your garden compacts the soil and generally makes it less fertile, less likely to produce and less likely to hold rainfall and become more barren. Take this on a national level, like the removal of ancient Ficus in Seville and more traffic and I leave the answer to you. On a human level, accepting food that has been microwaved, nuked, reconstituted, rehydrated, etc, is hardly likely to make us more healthy, is it?

Make the least change to create the biggest effect (synergy!)

Ever wondered what synergy means? Synergy (from the Greek syn-ergo, meaning working together) is the term used to describe a situation where the final outcome of a system is greater than the sum of its parts. We Permaculturalists spend a lot of time carefully planning our next project. Don’t run like a bull into a china shop. The removal of one big olive tree may make a dark and unyielding corner come alive.

The yield of the system is theoretically unlimited

If I plant a tree south of my vegetable patch, it will give me more shade for high summer, needing less watering. If birds sit on that tree, they might fertilize the vegetable patch. It may attract worms that aerate my vegetable patch, I can harvest the wood, I can grow an edible climber up it, I can eat the fruit. Think big – this is just one tree!

Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in close physical proximity, on the theory that they will help each other. It is a form of polyculture. Polyculture is agriculture using multiple crops in the same space, in imitation of the diversity of natural ecosystems, and avoiding large stands of single crops, or monoculture. It includes crop rotation, multi-cropping, intercropping, companion planting, beneficial weeds, and alley cropping. Polyculture, though it often requires more labour, has several advantages over monoculture:

The diversity of crops avoids the susceptibility of monocultures to disease. The greater variety of crops provides habitat for more species, increasing local biodiversity. Companion planting is used by farmers and gardeners in both industrialised and developing countries. Many of the modern principles of companion planting were present many centuries ago in the cottage garden.

Big ideas, life continuing ideas. Sometimes the best hopes and inspiration for the future are closest at home – like going to my local market and asking for a dozen lettuce seedlings and being given 15.

With over 23 years experience in garden design and construction, Stuart is available for design, consultation and construction of all types of landscaping. He lives near Estoi and is developing a low energy farm which will soon be open as a hostel for likeminded souls with residential courses in low carbon construction and lifestyle. For enquiries, please contact Stuart on (00351) 917 814 261 or send an email to [email protected]