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Between the Rows: Find harmony in permaculture



For The Recorder
Friday, July 08, 2016

Bill Mollison, who is considered the Father of Permaculture, said permaculture is, “... the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

Nancee Bershof of Greenfield became interested in permaculture after her husband’s death and her departure from medicine. She was looking for new interests and permaculture fascinated her. She took a course that led her down a new road — supplying food and fulfilling non-material needs, like community and friendship.

She moved to a new house eight years ago, setting about to create a permaculture landscape. Using Mollison’s description, she has created gardens that provide food, energy, shelter and some non-tangible benefits, as well. Of course, starting any new garden does not happen in one year.

The house sits fairly close to the road, so most of the acre of her property lies in the back of the house, where Bershof began my tour by showing me around the personal ornamental garden, with its shady covered deck and a sunny patio ringed by shade.

This garden had changed radically two days earlier, when a large limb of an old and very tall willow came down during the night.

While Bershof told me that she planned to leave this arching limb as a work of art, it was clear that it changed the garden. Where there had been shade there was now bright sun.

We then walked through the gate into what was a very different sunny garden that gave me my first real understanding of what a permaculture garden looks like.

Bershof said that she did not create this alone. Dave Jacke, author of “Edible Forest Gardens,” created a site plan.

“That plan got me started, but not everything happened as planned.”

That sounded right to me. I have never known a plan that was carried out in every detail.

She also said, “Esthetics are important to me. What looks good, feels good. I wanted it to be lovely.”

The view from the gate was not that of manicured borders, but it was lovely. There was a multiplicity of garden beds, but also a greenhouse in the center of the space.

Bershof began by walking me through the gardens, but made me wait for a tour of the bioshelter.

An important element of permaculture is the planting of perennial crops. It is easy to name off raspberries, blueberries, peaches and other fruit- bearing shrubs and trees, as well as many herbs that we grow in our gardens. It is not so easy to come up with perennial vegetables. And yet they exist.

Bershof pointed out the sea kale, perennial arugula, skirrit, ground spinach and Turkish rocket. We nibbled as we went along, and there was nothing weird tasting that would deter most people from eating them.

Tom Sullivan, whose business is Pollinators Welcome, helped Bershof lay out quadrants of pollinator beds that would attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. These beds teach two lessons.

Pollinator beds need to have masses of any particular pollinator plant to make them easier for pollinators to find, and they need different varieties of plants to provide food all season long. Many of these plants, like bee balm, are also native to our area.

We walked past a perennial asparagus bed that was interplanted with annual tomatoes and basil. Bershof explained that this was a good companion planting, much like the Three Sisters garden she grows composed of corn, beans and squash.

Unfortunately, she was battling the moles, who were eating her corn roots, killing them and leaving the bean vines no way of climbing.

From this garden I could see a large planting of Jerusalem artichokes and fruit trees, including peaches, persimmons and paw paws.

We were also at the chicken yard, where eight hens are currently penned, although they are free-range when garden crops are not at risk.

The chicken house is a part of the bioshelter, which is much more than a greenhouse.

Keith Salzburg of Regenerative Design designed the building, which includes the large greenhouse. Right now, raised beds hold cucumbers and a tall fig tree. Covered bins dug into the ground contain worm farms that handle kitchen scraps. There are also the beginnings of a hydroponic project.

The long interior wall of the greenhouse is lined with black barrels filled with water that heats up when the sun is shining and then moderates temperatures when outside temperatures fall.

The other side of that wall is the tool shed, where many well-maintained tools are hung.

The third and final section of the bioshelter is the hen house. There is separate space for feed. The rest of the space has egg boxes, a ramp to the outdoors and an automatic chicken door that opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m., after the chickens have tucked themselves in for the night. Bershof was especially pleased with this particular labor saver.

The bioshelter is a part of Bershof’s goal to use less water, less energy and have a smaller carbon footprint.

As we concluded my tour, Bershof showed me what she calls the community garden, where friends have their own plots.

“Right from the start, one of my goals was to share this site,” she said. “I didn’t want to garden alone, but wanted space where we could work together.”

I think that counts as the important non-material need for sharing and friendship.

Pat Leuchtman had written and gardened in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. She now lives in Greenfield, where she continues to write and do her gardening.Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com