Garden and Yard Care

Published on May 23rd, 2019 | by Scott Cooney

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Permablitz in Paradise: Before and After pics of a one day permaculture garden party

There may be no better sense of sustainability and resilience than to grow one’s own food within walking distance of your kitchen. With a permablitz garden party event, we can transform a backyard into a food-producing, pollinator feeding, low maintenance landscape. The term permablitz is basically permaculture, done in a one day “blitz”. Recently, I hosted a permablitz event at my house in Honolulu. When I moved into my house, the yard had no food producing plants and was full of rubbish from its construction days, about ten years ago. I spent many hours pulling out debris as diverse as you can imagine: everything from rusted tools to car parts to road signs to bottles/cans to chain link fence. Once the trash was gone, it was time to blitz.

I think permablitzes are one of the best local solutions we have in our toolkits to fight climate change and build sustainability and resiliency. It’s not just about food miles–building soil in your yard helps lock away carbon in the soil itself. Bringing in biodiversity in your yard also helps fight loss of habitat across the world. Pollinators like bees are finding refuge in cities because there isn’t widespread spraying of agricultural chemicals. And to top it off, you put in food-producing perennials (shrubs, bushes, trees, etc.) that not only produce food, they fix carbon as they grow.

In another article I’ll go into how to set up a permablitz and run it. For now, though, I’ll just say that it was amazing, my yard looks incredible, and the potential for people in my house to feed ourselves from our own property took a great leap forward….all in one day.

Planning a permablitz

When thinking about a permablitz, it’s important to understand the resources, setting, and exposure. My house is on a sloping hillside about a 20 minute walk from downtown Honolulu. As a result, it has 4 levels. Each of these has different resources of sun exposure, rain exposure, soil depth, etc. The top level has thinner soil and tends to be a bit more rocky, a function of how the house was built (literally, a bulldozer pushed all the dirt into the lower level). Thus it was important to build the soils there a bit more than in the backyard. The Honolulu Zoo, like many zoos, has a poop problem. Elephants produce a lot of it, and they need to dispose of it. Thankfully, they compost the poop of their herbivores and allow residents of Honolulu to pick it up for free two days a week. (If you’re looking for info on that, hit the “Ask GLI” tab above). So I got three bins and picked up two runs/loads of “zoo doo” to supplement the soil at my house.

I broke down an overall permaculture plan into a set of actionable tasks. Permaculture is not a simple science, but it is also not something you need to overthink. Sometimes it’s basically creating garden spaces and giving plants what they need to thrive.

Task 1: choose and buy plants you want to eat

The garden store by me carries a lot of stuff that grows well in our climate. Note that big box stores carry things that do well…in their supply chain. So if you buy plants there you’re likely to get stuff that won’t thrive in your environment. I chose a whole slew of things just by walking around the isles of the nursery.

My house went from having zero food producers to, after some permablitzing:

  • meyer lemon
  • 3 calamansi
  • 2 moringa
  • 4 kale
  • 3 peppers
  • swiss chard
  • 2 collards
  • 5 lettuces
  • dill
  • parsley
  • 4 bananas
  • 2 coconuts
  • lime
  • navel orange
  • mandarin orange
  • plumeria
  • thyme
  • 2 lilikois
  • 5 tomatoes

Grand total about $300-400 worth of plants, including the trees which were about 2-3 feet tall each.

Task 2: build garden beds and plant stuff

This basically meant clearing weeds and debris, creating a border wall (in true permaculture style, you try to use materials that are already on site, which in our case means rocks!), and then adding soil amendments and plants.

Before

After

 

Before

After

 

Before

After – bananas in ground, coconuts still in pot

 

After (no before pic, sorry). Note there’s a banana and a meyer lemon freshly planted along this wall, which will grow up to hang over the wall and feed people who are walking by…my way of paying it forward, as anything hanging over the wall is fair game for people on the street.

 

This is lilikoi (AKA passionfruit). It’s a vine that will climb along the fence you see there and create a visual barrier as well as fruits and really cool flowers. We used rocks from around the yard to create a barrier so no one would step on the plant.

 

This piece of random metal we found in the backyard was turned into a modified tomato cage (see the five tomatoes along the base there? those will climb that cage and help make our pizzas taste better)

Task 2: clear space for future plantings

I have a lower level terrace that was a pile of trash at one point. This is the last phase of its preparation before putting in a deck and some row crops.

before

The wall there has rebar pieces haphazardly sticking out of it. I cut those and ground them down, then put concrete over the top before letting people work in my yard, for safety’s sake. Note the trash- including chain link fence, rusted metal parts, plastic and more. All of that needed to come out before permablitz could happen. But the reward is clear, for all that hard work:

After. Note the wall has concrete on top and the whole lower level is now fresh and clean, with soil ready to plant.

Task 3:Β  don’t forget the indoor plants

Hawaii is a great place to live, if a little on the pricy side (we call it the price of paradise). That includes the fact that there are no poisonous snakes, no poison oak, no tick-borne diseases…in other words, a lot of good things for gardening. One challenge we do have that is unfortunate is rat-lung disease. Basically, where rats and snails exist, there is the possibility that eating raw and unwashed produce will give you a parasite that can kill you. Or worse. So, well, that’s a bummer. So to counteract that, growing some lettuces inside is a great way to produce salad (literally right in your own kitchen). So I just bought some lettuce starts and put them in zoo doo in pots in my kitchen where they can get some sun. That plant on the right is moringa, a plant long considered a food of peasants but now being seen as a superfood. It’s literally a salad that grows on a tree–you can eat the leaves of this perennial and it has more iron, calcium and protein than most animal products, without all the health detriments of dairy and meat.

Task 4: irrigation – in this case, set up rain barrels.

My house has no plumbing in the back yard, so it was imperative to capture rainwater and use it to water all our new plants in the yard. This required clearing some space, buying cinder blocks and rain barrels, and changing downspouts. I don’t have a before picture of this space–it was just a wall, so you can use your imagination. πŸ™‚

Still in progress–the second smaller unit is to catch spillover from the bigger one, and the piping still needs to be attached, but this set up gives us 150 gallon capacity.

Task 5: bring in art and beauty

A part of permaculture is people. Creating a space people will want to be means that people will spend more time there, noticing nature, noticing opportunities and threats to the ecosystem. So bringing in some art is a great way to make it feel more like a living, breathing ecosystem.

This is Lauren Hana Chai, local artist. This was not part of the one day permablitz event, but I consider it all part and parcel of creating a living, breathing, functional permaculture yard.

“Live Pono” is a saying we use here in Hawaii–pono being a Hawaiian word without a direct translation, but essentially meaning, “doing the right thing, being a good person and community member”. The gecko and i’iwi bird are significant protectors of the house.

Start a permablitz community in your area

If you don’t have a permablitz in your area, and most places don’t, consider starting one. People are really interested in volunteering, and the transformation is amazing. The pictures really don’t do it justice, but you can at least get a sense of community taking shape, along with resilience – local organic food, created as close to the place of consumption as possible. What could be better?

I’d recommend just starting with a gardening group on Facebook–if there isn’t one near you, consider starting one and recruiting friends to post there. Link this article to it and other permaculture resources, and, well, get going!

 

 

 





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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on



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