Five Permaculture Tips for Gardening in Metro Phoenix

Last week we talked to Vynnie the Gardener about what kind of edible plants he is putting in this month. Today we continue that conversation with how he plans to keep those plants alive.

The Valley Permaculture Alliance says that permaculture is a portmanteau between "permanent" and "agriculture." It is the ethos of sustainable living applied to the growing and harvesting of food. Practically, it means creating a garden that makes sense ethically, economically and ecologically.

Vynnie came to permaculture by way of his local farmers' market. As he started expanding his own garden he asked sellers there what and how they were growing. While this might not be a sexy as using a fancy webpage to design your garden, it does give access to practical local advice.

In one case, Vynnie noticed that a seller was offering beautiful tomatoes far outside of the normal growing season. A few simple questions later he learned that they were being grown in a greenhouse and he had some tips on how to start his own. Vynnie says to choose your gardening guru carefully and make sure they actually grow the produce locally rather than ship it in from neighboring states.

Another good tip: "Look for ones with callused hands."

More tips after the jump!

5. Observe
This may seem easy but Vynnie said that many people go into their garden with inflexible views of what they want. Tree there, grass here, etc. Rather than digging up everything and starting over, he suggests you look at what is already doing well in your garden and go from there. If a tree is growing extremely well in a particular spot, you should ask why that is. Perhaps there is a leak in your pipes, perhaps that tree is getting a little shade from your house, and so on. Seeing what is working now and selecting plants to fit those microclimates can take a great deal of the struggle out of keeping your garden happy.

4. Build your soil
"The soil is the kitchen of the garden," Vynnie explains. If your "kitchen" is well stocked then your plants will have everything they need to thrive. If your soil lacks essential nutrients you will need to "eat out" and add those to the soil yourself. The easiest way to add nutrients and build your soil is to start composting. The simplest way to do that is to take all of your yard waste in throw it in a convenient corner of your yard. Vynnie says that you likely already have all the ingredient necessary to improve your soil, you just need to start composting them down. The added benefit her is that you can skip a trip to the local home improvement shop for some foul smelling fertilizer.

3. Select the right plants 
"Right plant, right place," Vynnie said. This goes back to observation. Look at what is growing in your yard, or your neighbor's yard now. If you see your neighbor has an awesome patch of tomatoes growing, ask them what variety they're using. If you're lucky they might even hook you up with some seeds! As mentioned earlier, if you pick plants that like growing in the areas you have available you won't have to fight with nature constantly to keep them alive.

2. Maintenance
Shockingly, once your garden is planted you need to go in there and spend sometime taking care of it. This means clearing out dead things, crushing bugs, and so forth. The permaculture twist on this tip is that you shouldn't be working yourself too hard. Why spend an afternoon raking up leaves or cutting branches down to put in a trashcan? Why not just put all those clippings on your compost pile? How hard you work should be balanced against the final tip to happy gardening....

1. Sanctuary

"The Done Factor," is how Vynnie describes this final and possibly most important tip. He likens gardening to remodeling a house: It is an ongoing process that never seems "done" because there is so much work always left to do. The sense of hopelessness an endless task list can create is a leading causing of gardener burnout. So find a place in your garden where you can just quietly and enjoy what you have accomplished.

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