A little over two years ago my wife and I purchased our first home. By American standards it is modest at just under 900 square feet and while not exactly a fixer upper, it does need some work–kind of like me! The front yard is tiny, approximately 100 square feet, and had been contaminated by an unscrupulous handyman who cleaned his paint brushes with thinner there which he spilled onto the soil. The previous occupants of the house mowed this space and used the area behind the house as both parking and a place to work on cars. It too was contaminated by oil and other automotive products. It is heavy clay soil that retains a lot of moisture and needs some TLC.
Since moving in, I spent some time observing my tiny yard, and also stopped mowing the front yard and the strip of vegetation along the east side the borders the alley. Letting nature take its course revealed a profusion of morning glories in the front of the house which created a gorgeous natural shade for the front porch which faces south,. Along the fence, a beautiful vine regrew that covers the fence with deep green vines and pretty white flowers late in the growing season. I let the dandelions grow because they are an important source of bee food early in the spring, not to mention their edible and medicinal benefits (I would not use them from my yard, however, due to the aforementioned contamination). My neighbor asked me if I wanted him to mow it all for me our first year here which provided a great teaching moment as I extolled the virtues of all the “weeds” growing in my yard!
Last season and early this spring, I added spent mushroom grain to the front yard as a means of hopefully cleaning the contamination (see the work of Paul Stamets and others using mushroom mycelium as a form of bioremediation) as well as to add fertility to the soil. This myceliated grain came from friends of mine who grow edible and medicinal mushrooms by inoculating logs the grain and mushroom spawn. I also added it to a bed in the back that had two stumps in it, both of which are now myceliated thoroughly, which will eventually decompose the stumps while adding nutrients to the soil. It was also added it to the small pile of brush and green “waste” that hides behind my car. It too will help break down the pile into valuable compost. The mushroom grain has added a thin layer of humus to the soil and judging by the abundance of flowering plants growing, it has increased the fertility. I pulled up some wild onions a few weeks ago that were spreading too quickly. The size of the onions was astonishing in comparison to the ones I have foraged in the past. This is likely due to increased fertility from the mushroom grain and other permaculture management strategies.
I planted some perennial and annual flowers to the pollinator garden in front to increase diversity of species and add even more color. Likewise, in the back yard, I converted the space closest to the kitchen door into a container garden for growing more flowers and herbs. This year, I decided to grow more leafy greens to have them at hand, instead of walking the half mile to my community garden plot for them. I saved those community garden beds for tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, all of which take up too much space for my back yard. I rearranged the pots this year to take better advantage of the morning sun because the back yard is on the north side. This slight adjustment also gives the plants better evening sun as well as the shadows move along with the sun as it makes its way over the horizon.
Permaculture is about working with nature. Sometimes that means letting nature get on with it and seeing what happens. Sometimes it means rearranging pots to get better sun or selectively weeding when a plant is becoming over abundant. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of space to increase diversity and create a cultivated ecosystem like the miniature meadow ecosystem I have co-created with the plants, insects, and a tree in my front yard. We need less lawns and more organic gardens that increase diversity, foster life, and build community.
Some shots from our wild gardens and kitchen garden.