Friday, December 05, 2008

Permaculture Zones :
With so much going on, and so much to do, I’m sometimes guilty of not following up on a project or experiment I’ve started, which can lead to a disappointing conclusion. An example from this summer is my attempt to propagate some dwarf box hedging plants (Buxus sempervirens "Suffruticosa") from cuttings, the idea being to make a knot garden, filled with herbs some years hence. (photo ref) I took advice from the nurseryman who sold me the original plants, I read instructions in Peter Thompson’s book, Creative Propagation and I took care in taking the cuttings and planting them in two pots of differing media, covered them with tented polythene bags—which act like mini-greenhouses and keep the moisture in—left them in the polytunnel … and promptly completely forgot about them.

Zoning is one of your permaculture basics, David Holmgren describes them thus: “Permaculture zones are more-or-less concentric areas of intensity of use … The closer to the centre [i.e., the dwelling], the more efficient and intensive is our use of the land; the further away we go, the more or less we must rely on self-maintaining elements that require little input from us …” (Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability p 138). So, you plant your herbs by the kitchen door, your annual salad leaves not much further—so you walk past them often and notice when they need watering or cropping—and your fruit orchard much further away. The explanatory diagrams in some permaculture books look as neat, as regular and as organised as the photo of the beautiful knot garden above but even David Holmgren, co-originator or the permaculture concept, accepts that one has to compromise “due to the nature of the site and effects of title boundaries.” (ibid.) It's the idea that's important.

So you have already worked out the answer to my problem, or problems more like: having too many things on the go and a short-term memory already fading as middle age takes hold … now what was I saying? Adapting the zoning idea, I need to put important stuff along the paths I regularly walk, which is why you see me inspecting a Prosciutto-style ham hanging above an oft-used route, drying in the winter air. The ham has already spent a month in a brine of salty water, flavoured with apple juice, cider, sugar, juniper berries, bay leaves, cloves and black peppercorns and must now slowly dry over the next few months, before we can pare off tasty slices to eat with next summer's tomatoes and melons. It’s all a bit touch-and-go though, as if it’s too humid (winter in Northern France!) the meat could go rotten, yet if it dries too quickly, the dry surface locks in a wet middle, which goes rotten. When we tried it last year, we were told by more than one French friend that this was not possible in Brittany. Happily we proved them wrong, see photo of last year’s ham. The point of all this is that vigilant surveillance is what’s needed, hence all the chat about zones …