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Permaculture in Denver Colorado
Organic Landscape Design is a precursor business for a Community Investment Enterprise in Denver, Colorado. The Base Pair I am starting with is an organic kitchen garden based on no till, perennial plantings mixed with annuals, that is drip irrigated for low maintenance and water efficiency. See the latest updates on our gardens at OrganicLandscapeDesign.org
As a business offering a service, I can join the local trade exchange, the local Balle group, the sustainable business alliance and other community groups, as ways to seek out opportunities for sets of transactions that could be internalized in the CIE.
Building Organic Matter in the Soil
The front range of Colorado is semi-arid with long periods of drought and extremely low humidity levels. Retaining water availability for plant roots is critical. Tilling the soil "burns" organic matter and should be kept to a minimum - deep mulches of green matter are highly recommended. Grass or Hay contains roughly the right balance of nitrogen and carbon to decompose without tying up the nitrogen needed for plant growth.
Traditional sheet mulching to start:
- - chop down existing growth
- - water thoroughly the night before assembly
- - organic fertilizer
- - 1/2 inch cardboard or newspaper
- - some more organic fertilizer
- - 12" of hay
- - cover with soil or compost for aesthetic purposes and to keep the wind from blowing the hay away
- wait eight months before planting
- - Chop down existing vegetation
- - water thoroughly the night before to loosen soil
- - organic fertilizer
- - plant perennials
- - cover the rest of the bed and up to stems of plants with 1/2 inch card board or newspaper
- - cover with organic mulch
- - cover with soil of compost for aesthetic purposes and to keep the wind from blowing the hay away
- - at planting season for annuals cut through to soil
- - add newspaper to suppress weeds and mulch to build soil
A source of free information:
Each drip system will require a back flow preventer, a filter, and a pressure regulator ($20.00 at the Home Depot). If someone is around to turn things on and off that will suffice. In most systems we will also install a timer (battery operated in line model ~ $30.00). There are ways to "convert" a zone of an existing sprinkler system to drip.
In a standard key hole bed (see below) you will need approximately 36 feet of 1/2 drip line and 24 emitters spaced at 18" plus the piping to the bed from the water supply. The 1/2 tubbing runs $10.00 per 100 foot. Where we want to water the entire bed, drip line with emitters pre-installed on 18 inch centers will save time. (still need to look up prices.
Emitters come with variable rates - the slower the better up to the capacity of each line - so that the water is absorbed into the soil before evaporating. 1/2 gallon per hour is the slowest. If you wanted to water a lot of different zones in sequence, you might choose emitters that discharge faster - up to 4 gallons per hour that I saw.
The really cool thing about no-till systems is that you can include perennials and ornamentals in the design - since you won't be plowing them under every year. If you have only one key hole bed, as a low maintenance kitchen garden, you can plan for the basic cooking herbs, some tulips, day lilies (edible flowers and tubers) and mums for season long color, and some annuals like basil, lettuce, tomato and a squash plant or two. If you leave your lettuce to go to seed after it bolts you will have volunteer lettuce the next spring that will sprout earlier and grow as well if not better than the seeds you plant. (The carrots you forgot to dig last year will bloom this year and you will get volunteer carrots next year). I usually leave room for a volunteer sunflower or two - which will bring Gold Finch into your design around harvest time.
Of course, the more key hole beds you have the more plant species you can include. I have six beds primarily devoted to vegetables with tulips and iris bordered with my small fruits. I have a quarter bed by the kitchen steps with my cooking herbs and four more beds out front with the perennial flowers. (See companion planting below).
- - sage
- - oregano
- - chives
- - tarragon
- - fennel
- - marjoram
- - mint
- - Thyme
Perennial edible Flowers
- - day lily
- - basil
- - rosemary (not hardy in Colorado)
- - anything you can grow in a traditional garden
Composting has always been a quandary to me. I almost never have enough nitrogen to do a proper "hot" pile and I am always short of mulch to keep the ground in the garden protected from the effects of rain hitting the soil directly and the drying effects of sun and wind.
A large portion of my half acre is in native grass that I cut once a year as the primary source of mulch. I also get large volumes of leaves that I don't want to put directly in the garden because they will tie up nitrogen and that are almost all carbon so will not readily decompose in the compost pile. Finally, there are the kitchen scraps that have to be composted - because I am not going to grind them up and send them down the sewer line.
I am experimenting with using a portion of the leaves in the kitchen scrap compost and the balance of the leaves in a slow compost and deep mulch, to keep the grasses out of my small fruits. A worm compost of the kitchen scraps and some of the leaves is another option.
Key Hole Beds
A key hole bed is designed to maximize planting area and minimize pathway. The standard version is a circle with a ten foot diameter. A one foot wide path way leads to the center of the bed and, at the center of the bed, a smaller circle of two feet diameter is left as a place to stand while working in the bed. Imagine a 4 X 12 bed bent into a circle.
Key hole beds can be arranged in groups. The lay out can be varied depending on the plants to be grown and the physical requirements of the gardener. As I get older, it is easier to have access to the outside of the bed as well as the inside. My six vegetable beds are arranged in two lines of three with the path ways to the center of each bed connecting to a main path way between the two lines - the path ways form a leaf pattern. The small lawn I maintain is on one side and there is another path way around the other side with small fruits on the outside of that path.
One attractive design runs a walkway down the yard about ten feet from a fence line - and the beds lined up between the walk and the fence.
Much of what you will read about companion planting is an attempt to remedy the problems associated with monocultures. Where there is a large block of a single plant species the pest species for that plant can take hold and take over. In the type of permaculture design we are talking about here that particular problem is uncommon.
Still, you will want to observe your plants for signs that two species like to be near each other or don't do well when next to each other. In addition, there should be habitat in the vicinity for beneficial insects and insect eating birds. (shrubbery, tall grasses and trees). NEVER USE POISONS - that kills all your friendly species and gives the (now poison resistant) pest species a free lunch.
Full Season Gardens
Grey Water and Rain Barrels
Use of grey water and rainwater harvesting are generally illegal in Colorado. In the arid west the use of water is governed by the doctrine of prior appropriation. The first person to put the water to beneficial use has the right to keep doing that until someone buys the right from them. And that includes all the water that falls on your roof and would flow into the stream but for your rain barrel. Gray water systems are generally prohibited for health and safety reasons.
The saying in the west is that water does not flow down hill - it flows toward money.
There is a way to make use of gray water and rain barrels without changing the entire legal system around water use in the west. I call the concept "pay it upstream". As a down stream user, as we all are, it is in my interest if the up stream user takes out less clean water and puts back less dirty water. The solution is for me to license my right to "divert" the stream to those up stream using gray water systems and rain barrels. (There is also a lot that could be done with biological treatment of sewage).
If every community committed some of its water resources to conservation up stream, the entire stream becomes less polluted and fewer resources are required to clean the water for domestic use. Another step in the direction of looking up from our individual projects to see how all the parts fit together.