Garden Planning

Having announced that we will rebuild the garden along permaculture principles, I am now realizing that I am in way over my head. I was thinking just to redo the garden, but with minimal research, it is clear that one must think in terms of the whole ranch, nay really, the whole valley as a system. This then interlocks with the entire Eel River water ecosystem and on out into the Pacific Ocean. How to manage the parts as forming part of a bigger and bigger whole.


Nature left alone is a regenerative and progressive or regressive system. Ancient farming methods were sustainable until recent agribusiness and petro-chemicals took over. In the transition to legality, cannabis farmers have a unique opportunity to return to sustainable  practices.


Just recently, while serving on a panel discussing organic farming, I had the realization that we cannabis farmers as a group need to move beyond the idea and practice of expecting to solve any growth deficiency or other problem by just sprinkling something on and the plant will jump up, problem solved. This is,of course, what we expect from modern chemistry and medicine.


Over the years the garden has progressed to where it is now certified Clean Green and the soil is tested for mineral and nutrient content. Lately I have been moving toward veganic cultivation, since finding out that bat guano harvesting endangers the bats nesting and reproduction. Likewise, sea bird guano harvesting disturbs bird habitat, besides being a hostile and toxic environment for the workers in Peru.


So the question is, “What to feed the plants?” To begin with, add mycrorhizole. I still think that various manures from vegetation eating animals can be added, as well as  alfalfa meal and cotton seed meal, along with neem seed meal, and then perhaps Grower’s Secret soy based 12-0-0 powder, but this is tough to get the dose right. Remember to always do your research and follow the recommendations of the soil test report.


The real answer, however, lies in compost teas and in soil building with local organic matter. Beyond soil testing for nutrients and minerals and pH, there is bio-microbial testing to gauge the living matter and fertility of the soil. The farmer builds the soil.  The soil grows the crop. Part of the crop is grown just for compost, so the crop feeds the soil.


Crucial to this is water management. The first step is observation. Where, how, how much and when does the water flow? How can it be managed to benefit all in the watershed who wish to use it: plants, animals, fish and humans? Now, as we get legal, each farm is going to need a water discharge permit along with a water waste management plan.


But this permaculture thing is really a bit overwhelming, the totality of it all. I acquired a battered old copy of Bill Mollison’s ground-breaking book Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual. Taking this as gospel, it seems now the full farm needs animals: chickens, ducks, cows, pigs, goats. Windbreaks are needed, fish ponds, swales, orchards, grain crops, pasture and crop rotation. And now it is way beyond just redoing the garden, but this is the way farming has been done for eons.


Still, before anything else is done, it is clear that the smart pots are not working and the plants need to be put in the ground so as to protect the roots from heat and reduce lateral evaporation. Just to focus for now on the garden, the question with mound building or Hügelkultur is one of termites in the buried wood and, as the wood deteriorates, what of subsidence?


The latter can supposedly be remedied through repeated applications of compost and mulch, especially if one is doing an annual crop. For the former, some say that the termites are just part of the process. The rotting wood at the bottom of the trough three to four feet deep seems to act like a sponge and retain water, but once it is gone what acts as the sponge? Presumably, the super fertile soil. Instead of wood, one can also use straw bales in the bottom of the trenches, or use straw bales as the sides of a raised bed. Over time the straw breaks down to become soil.


Other additions to the trenches and later mulches are tree leaves, grass cuttings, wood chips and cannabis stalk chips, as well as water hash leaf residue. Bio char and bokashi are current fads, and they can be made cheaply in bulk, if you take the time.


At the moment, in between bouts of rain, I am laying out the new garden so the trenches can soon be dug and am gathering the ingredients to fill them, while I continue the research as to how to best go about doing it.

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