Permaculture magazine editor Maddy Harland on the fine art of being more productive with less effort
Lockdown has forced most of us to slow down. It has made us all aware of how ‘just in time’ our food system is and how we are at its mercy. Many people have turned their hand to growing a bit of food in their gardens and discovered the joy of cultivating a little patch of soil and leaning on a fork, downing a cup of tea in the sun.
Others have dug deeper into permaculture, which is a framework that helps us to design an ecologically sound way of living. It’s not just about gardening. Permaculture is about households, communities and businesses whose signature values are all about cooperating with nature and caring for the earth and its people.
Permaculturists will say that by thinking carefully about the way we use our resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs – it is possible to get much more out of life by using less.
We can be more productive for less effort, reaping benefits for our environment and ourselves, for now and for generations to come. Bring it on! Over many years, I have observed how permaculture encourages us to be more resourceful and self-reliant. It is an ecological design system which helps us to find solutions to the many problems facing us – both locally and globally.
A key strategy is indeed observation. Instead of rushing to fix problems, we spend time observing and immersing ourselves in our environment. This often allows a solution to arise with minimum intervention. Alternatively, the time to think may also provide a simple solution that requires minimal effort … idling in effect.
I love to wander around our garden – taking in the buzzing wildflower meadow, drifting through the forest garden with its dappled shade and eagerly checking no dig veggie beds, hopeful of new harvests. It’s a time to observe – what is going well, and what can be tweaked next time.
During lockdown our kids, aged 27 and 30, have wisely come home to our ‘edible’ sanctuary and we are now feeding five adults. The veggie garden needs to be at full capacity.
Most years, we grow our runner beans outside the kitchen window. This helps to cool the south-west facing glazed kitchen in the heat of summer. This year, we’re growing tomatoes in the kitchen (to maximise yields as our greenhouse is only small) and the beans will cause too much shade for the tomatoes, so a new spot is needed. After a few days of ruminating, I checked my ‘odds and ends’ timber pile, which awaits my next DIY project, and found inspiration.
We’ve previously grown runner beans in wigwams but the dense foliage made picking a chore. The solution was an overhanging frame. The beans will simply hang from the horizontal part of the structure for easy picking while casting shade on the bed below – a perfect spot for summer salads or spinach that tend to bolt when things hot up. This simple method of stacking means we can also harvest two crops from one bed.
The frame is built and the runner beans are planted. Now I wait for the summer months, when the beans have climbed high, twisting around the frame to create a shady space for the crops below. It will also be the perfect spot for relaxing nearby with a cup of tea, gazing out into the buzzing garden and for reaching up to collect the beans as they dangle above my head, calling out to me, ready to be picked for supper.
Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture Magazine. The Permaculture Prize 2020 is now open for applications: click here for details.
You can follow Graham Burnett’s permaculture gardening columns in the Idler magazine.