with Klaudia von Gool.
By observing and analysing our microclimate we can use permaculture design strategies to modify it.
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Climate will vary more locally through human structures, topography, altitude, vegetation and water masses. This is called microclimate. By observing and analysing our microclimate we can use permaculture design strategies to modify it.
Let's look at some of these factors in more detail.
Topography is the shape of the landscape and includes aspect and slope. Hills, mountains and valleys affect how wind moves through a landscape, as the wind moves around hills, speeds up near the top of hills, and funnels through valleys.
Aspect, the direction land faces, affects the amount of sunlight on a site. For example, a south facing site in the Northern Hemisphere will be a sunny site and can produce more biomass/vegetation.
Slope, the gradient or steepness in the land, will affect wind speed; this increases towards the top of a slope. Turbulence will be experienced just past the top of a slope. This is important information when situating wind turbines, as they work more efficiently without turbulence.
Cold air will sink and move down the slope. Accordingly, the slope will impact thermal zones, and a cold sink may occur just above structures or vegetation lower down the slope or in slightly depressed areas. In colder areas this can create a frost pocket.
Altitude. Temperature decreases with higher altitudes. We also find higher wind speeds and more moisture, because of rain or other precipitation at higher altitudes.
Studying existing vegetation can give us clues to rainfall, wind strength and direction and soil fertility. A way to discover the prevailing wind in our local landscape is by observing trees.
This picture shows how the wind has shaped the trees, restricting growth on the side that the wind blows from, so that there's more growth on the other side.
As well as trees being affected by wind, trees themselves can also affect the wind in the landscape and other microclimate factors. For example, in temperate climates it is cooler and less windy in a forest while it's hot outside of it, as trees provide shade and a more moist microclimate and act as a windbreak. At night it stays warmer in a forest compared to out in the open, as the trees create shade from the wind and trap warmth. This does depend on the season and vegetation/leaf cover.
On a larger scale trees contribute to the creation of rain through evapotranspiration.
Urban environments create warmer microclimates through the "heat island effect," as concrete absorbs more heat than the surrounding countryside. In general it is warmer in the centre of a city.
The hard surface of buildings, roads and straight lines of streets also create a wind tunnel effect, where wind speeds up. Tall buildings can create wind turbulence. Buildings can create a rain shadow, so there is a drier and a wetter side.
Microclimate and niche.
Microclimates are directly connected to ecological niches, where organisms occupy a space where they can thrive optimally. Creating, or being aware of having, a variety of microclimates, means you can have a wide variety of niches for more diverse planting, keeping animals, and thus increasing yields.
Microclimates and Permaculture Design
We can make modifications to a microclimate to reduce and direct wind flow, as wind has a growth limiting effect on vegetation. On a windy site, planting windbreaks and shelterbelts is one of the earliest modifications needed. These create more sheltered areas and can direct the flow of air, including cold air coming downhill. Using plants to reduce wind is more effective than solid structures, which create more turbulence. In addition, we can choose species for multiple functions, which again creates more yields.
We can modify our local climate or microclimate by adding water storage, which can modify temperature fluctuations. On a larger scale, we can introduce lakes or ponds to modify heat and to add light reflection. On a smaller scale, adding water storage inside a greenhouse or polytunnel will help buffer extremes of temperature.
In hot climates, planting trees and adding vegetation gives a cooling effect. This is as a result of shade and evaporation, which creates cooling.
We can modify climate and microclimate through buildings, like adding a greenhouse. When we place a dwelling to the North of a greenhouse (in the Northern Hemisphere) we can make use of surplus heat and protect plants. We can paint walls white in darker, shadier areas to direct in more light and improve growth and ripening by reflecting light. Dark walls reduce frost risk by keeping warmer.
We can use thermal mass like rocks or stone walls to absorb heat and plant more tender plants close up to it. We can also use the cooler temperature of the Earth, whilst it’s warmer at the surface, to create a root cellar for food storage into the Earth, without energy based refrigeration.
In cooler climates, you can create sun traps. These designs are sun-facing and wind-still, creating shelter from cold and destructive winds by capturing maximum sunlight all day. In the Victorian era in the UK, walled gardens were built on large estates to create microclimates for tender crops. Fruit trees were trained up against the walls in fan or espalier shapes.
Hot beds are created by placing small glass frames on top of piles of manure, which generated heat as they rotted down. This is a form of season extension.
Start making some notations on a basic sketch map of your design area. Notice how microclimates and permaculture design work with both intentional and unintentional design. Note other microclimate factors: buildings/structures, landform, altitude, aspect, slope, larger vegetation; sketch these onto your map.
Make a very basic notation of the microclimates with colours or symbols.
Note areas that are driest, wetter, windiest, most wind-sheltered, where it might be warmest in the morning and evening, and anywhere that would be cool all day.
What different needs and opportunities are associated with these microclimates?
This miniclass is excerpted from the Climates, Biogeography and Microclimates module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Klaudia von Gool.
Klaudia draws on over 20 years experience and study to express her lifelong passion for the environment through facilitating people care and social design programs across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. She’s an Environmental Scientist, Consultant, Parent, Mentor, Coach, Permaculture Teacher and Designer and student of healthy intact cultures and indigenous wisdom. Using her many practical and ceremonial skills, her work focuses across land-based, community and inner sustainability in order to fully activate the human potential in service of life, culture repair and rebuilding the village.
Further information on this topic:
Cloud catchers. In an arid climate in Peru the people are harvesting fog for water as a low tech method of irrigating crops.
Regenerative Agriculture, Beyond Sustainability.
An inspiring film about regenerative agriculture. For the microclimate relevant part, watch from 12:35 to see the story of one farm, known as 'Dry Lands', that was destroyed by its previous owner. When the new owner replanted, he found that slowly the temperature on the land dropped, the climate changed, soil 'grew' as he added organic matter from vigorous pruning, water was retained, drought conditions were reversed and water started to run in the streams year-round.
#microclimates #ecologicalniches #freepermaculture #permaculturedesign #permaculturewomen #microclimatesandpermaculturedesign
with Marjory House.
Season extension with greenhouses is the best way to extend your growing season and increase yield, diversity and overall enjoyment.
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
What is season extension?
In industrialised nations we have become used to being able to buy every type of fruit and vegetable all year round. When you grow your own, you quickly become aware of the limits to what you can grow in your area because of the seasonal nature of gardening.
Different crops are ready at different times of the year, with summer being the main season for the majority of crops. The further you are from the equator, and the higher your altitude, the shorter that precious summer season will be, and you may experience a hungry gap when few fresh vegetables are available.
Season Extension with Greenhouses
A super simple cloche or cold frame can work wonders for extending the season. But truly, if you want to create a beautiful, productive, inspiring, and multifunctional space on your site, you simply must build a greenhouse. Whether it’s a tiny makeshift hothouse you can barely stand up in, or a hundred yard high tunnel filled with mature trees, a greenhouse will increase the diversity, yield, and enjoyment of just about any site.
Top ten reasons to build a greenhouse:
Start seeds early (and late!) Many seeds need warmth to germinate and develop into healthy seedlings. If the growing season is short, getting ahead can make a big difference.
Protect tender perennials and grow exotic plants. Increase your yields by extending the range of plants you can grow in your climate!
Protect early blooming fruits (like apricot) from heavy rains. Flowers on fruit trees are often quite delicate and can be damaged by rain, wind or frost, resulting in big losses to your fruit crop for that year. Choose dwarf varieties and plant them right inside the greenhouse.
Covered space for propagation and transplanting projects.Some plants respond well to a bit of nurturing, resulting in stronger, healthier plants. And gardeners also respond well to a warm place to work on a cold day! Choose a corner of your greenhouse to double as a potting shed and you’ll spend less time carrying seedling trays around.
Channel heat into your living space in winter. Build a lean-to greenhouse built against the sunny wall of your house and enjoy the extra warmth in the house.
Indoor/outdoor space for messy projects. Leave an open area in a section of a larger greenhouse and you’ll find that you use it all the time, for all sorts of projects.
Zen gardens! There is nothing like a high-ceiling greenhouse full of blooming, tropical, edible, aromatic, and succulent plants. Build your own mini-arboretum and escape to it when you’re feeling down. A mentor of mine even had a tiny office in his greenhouse, where she would go to get away from the family and write.
Secure medicinal and high-value plants. A well-built greenhouse with a locking door helps keep both animal and human marauders from making off with your crop.
Increased humidity for mushrooms, aquaculture. Some greenhouse designs include extra moist, dark, humid zones for cultivating edible mushrooms. Aquacultures also enjoy a more humid environment, and doing something inside a greenhouse could also allow you to add powered pumps, lights, and other features.
Guest housing! Sleeping in the greenhouse when it’s full of plants is the best!
You can plan space for propagation (seed starting) in a larger greenhouse, or build something intended especially for getting a jump start on the season. For convenience, or for simple ergonomics, this should be a bench or shelf. Extra lighting can be installed and/or heat mats are needed in more Northern climates. In temperate climates this may not be necessary.
Generally your greenhouse should be attached to your home or nearby, in your zone one area, because you will need (and want) to go there every day.
Larger greenhouses used for preservation crops such as tomatoes, peppers, or fruit trees, should be placed in zone two, unless it is more of a kitchen garden, then it should stay near the house. On a larger scale it is possible to have all three.
When a greenhouse is in constant use throughout the seasons, in particular if it is filled with more permanent perennial crops, other factors need to be considered year round:
When choosing or designing a greenhouse or polytunnel, it is important to ensure there are sufficient doors and windows that can be opened on warm days. It is surprising how quickly it can get really hot inside, often way too hot for both humans and plants!
On the other end of the spectrum, (unless your greenhouse is heated in winter) if you live somewhere with extreme cold, or if you have particularly delicate plants, more heat can be captured by insulating the greenhouse with a double wall plastic or glass. Recycled bubble wrap can be used for small areas, and combining techniques such as white walls, rock mulches, and even a cold frame or some cloches inside your greenhouse, can make a difference to whether your plants live or die.
If you live in a zone with high elevations, where winter weather sets in early and the permafrost levels go deep, the most energy efficient way to capture heat is by digging well below that permafrost level, preferably into a south facing hillside. Then, make raised beds within the greenhouse using compost.
For most homestead type greenhouses, raised beds are a good option for efficiency, either filling them with a good quality, bought compost, or ideally with your own homemade compost. I prefer French double dug beds integrated with high quality, on farm made biodynamic compost. Others prefer no-dig beds.
Another option for very cold zones is to put heat coils under the beds. These can be heated by either geothermal heat or via a closed loop hot water system fed by a solar hot water heater, wood boiler, or on demand water heater.
Airflow is very important for any greenhouse situation. Air flow is linked to temperature control. When the vents are open, air flow increases. But what happens on colder days when the doors need to be kept closed? Not only do plants need C02 for growth, they need airflow to prevent molds and fungus.
TIP: The biodynamic preparation called 508 can help regulate moisture and keeps fungus down in the soil. It is quite simply Equisetum arvense (field horsetail). This is an ancient plant full of silica. Pick in Spring, dry, add one ounce dried equisetum to four gallons of boiled water. Let this concentration cool then put it in a bucket and let it ferment for a week to four months. Strain off the plant material and store in a glass jar until use.
In my experience, the best greenhouses and polytunnels include a pond. This helps with pest control because it provides habitat for predators, e.g. frogs. It also improves the air quality, so may be part of the answer to the previous question.
Because greenhouses and polytunnels are confined spaces, it is possible to turn them into exclusion zones. For example, Alice Gray of Tyddyn Teg, North Wales, has excluded slugs from the farm’s extensive polytunnels. She did this by laying a strip of bran all around the inside edge of each polytunnel. As long as the bran stays dry, slugs are unable to cross it, and as she laid it inside the polytunnels, it does stay dry. Then she applied nematodes within each polytunnel. These ate all the slugs inside the polytunnels, so the polytunnels are more-or-less slug free.
The main disadvantage of greenhouses and polytunnels is that the rain can’t get in, so plants do need to be watered regularly. Doing this by hand may be time-consuming, but it does mean you get a close look at the plants while you are watering them and may spot problems early, such as pests or mineral deficiencies.
However, irrigation systems are very useful, and can be designed to use rain water gathered from the roof of the glasshouse or polytunnel, or can be part of a wider system of channels from a pond or dam. Whether you use overhead sprinklers or soil-level drip feed depends partly on what you are growing: For example, some plants are more vulnerable to moulds if their leaves get wet, especially within a humid glasshouse.
Soil & Fertility.
You can plant your greenhouse plants in pots on the ground, on tables, or on landscape cloth. Or you can just plant directly into the ground. As always, consider your soil’s needs, and make specific choices based on the geography and climate of your area.
Within a rotation system, fertility is managed at least partly by the different needs and gifts of different plant families. For example, the pea and bean family feed the soil via the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. When planting perennials, in particular within the confines of a glasshouse or polytunnel, it is worth putting some thought into this before planting.
Do some research into the needs and gifts of different perennials and companion planting. Mulching works well, but remember it may introduce or encourage the pests you have just excluded!
Here are a bunch of examples of season extension with greenhouses in use in the temperate Willamette Valley of Oregon. Here in zone 8, a simple greenhouse can extend the growing season by two months on either end and makes a huge difference in our annual yields.
If you need ideas and inspiration you could go find a greenhouse! This could be in your local park or botanic garden, or in a community garden or on a neighbour’s patch. Notice the differences between what is growing inside the green house and what is growing outside.
Re-visit the greenhouse at different times of the year, and in different weather conditions (e.g. on a warm sunny day and a cold wet day). What changes do you notice, both inside and outside the greenhouse? Talk to the gardener(s) and ask them what they value most about season extension with greenhouses.
This mini-class is excerpted from the Aquaculture and Season Extension module of our double-certificate design course.
Further reading on this topic:
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour. Niki is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She gardens year round in the cold north and hosts a weekly talk radio garden show.
Pool, Kristin. Introduction to Season Extension in Organic Vegetable Production Systems
#seasonextension #greenhouses #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #seasonextensionwithgreenhouses
Marjory House has been gardening and farming in the Willamette valley of Oregon for over twenty years. She currently owns and operates a seven acre farm with over 450 apple trees, and over an acre of vegetables grown for restaurants, farmers markets and Serro biodynamic seed company. She has maintained a fruit tree pruning business for fifteen years and a biodynamic consulting business for the last seven years. She can be reached through her website www.gobiodynamic.com .
By Heather Jo Flores
There are plenty of good reasons to develop a skill set for growing food in small spaces. Maybe you only have a tiny balcony with sun for half the day? Or a hot, paved driveway but no other yard? Perhaps you're in student housing? Or maybe it's more of a time constraint: You'd like to have an expansive garden but you really only want to work on it for an hour a week. Or perhaps you just don't really eat that many vegetables and you'd rather just keep it small and simple.
Design Strategies for a small garden.
Thoughtful, specific design is the primary way to get the most yield from the least square feet. Once you understand the principles of building living layers in time, space and function, you will be able to pull more out of gardens of all sizes. When it comes to designing small and/or container gardens, the three most important strategies are using microclimates, creating vertical space and avoiding waste.
Make use of microclimates.
A microclimate is a spot that is hotter, wetter, cooler, sunnier, drier, shadier, more sheltered from the wind or a combination of any of these. This information is crucial to the design. For example, when you have determined where the hot spot is in your space, you will know where to plant the tomatoes and other summer vegetables like squash, beans, peppers and basil. Into the shady, cooler spots will go the peas and salad greens. Spots with mottled sun? That's where I'd put the kale.
Learn the microclimates of your site. Don't assume that a sunny patio is sunny in every spot, or that it's all the same temperature. The shady backside of a large south-facing rock will be a different microclimate than the space on the other side of the rock, and plants of different needs will thrive in each spot. Or not. You can also change microclimates by painting things white (to reflect the heat), or by placing rocks, bowls of water and other sun-absorbing items next to plants. You can make shade or build a wind break. Use your imagination to create new opportunities.
Maximize margins and vertical space.
Google "vertical gardens" for a fun-filled evening of geeked-out garden inspiration. Build shelves, boxes, hangers, free-standing salad walls. Make note of microclimates up high, in corners, hanging from trees. Make vertical plans. Make plans in every direction. That tiny ledge you didn't notice before might be the perfect spot for a pot of oregano.
Think of the garden in 10 layers: roots, ground-covers, annuals, biennials, canes, vines, herbs, shrubs, small trees and tall trees. You don't have to use every layer but it helps to consider them all. Remember air circulation is just as important as soil and water, so don't congest the vertical space, just use it the same way you would a horizontal garden, leaving plenty of elbow room for plants to mature.
If you already have a garden and are revamping it to make it more efficient, clean out as much as you can so that you can come close to creating a blank slate. Be experimental but don't waste space or time. Make realistic attempts to raise food that already grows in the area. Keep the garden weeded, swept and free of clutter that infringes on the growing area.
In an urban area or a college housing situation, you might discover that gardening in built boxes and found containers is the best approach. You can grow food in just about any kind of container, as long as it has drainage and isn't made of something toxic that could leach into your food.
I do NOT recommend growing food in tires, railroad ties, painted lumber or treated wood for that last reason. I also do not recommend using terra-cotta pots unless you paint both the inside and the outside of the pot with a water-based latex. (Spray paint works great.) The clay pulls water away from the plants and, unless you live a super rainy place, you don't want your containers to dry out so quickly.
There are many pros to container gardening. They're temporary and easy to move, they can be done on any porch, patio, terrace, rooftop, houseboat, flatbed or driveway. If you include beneficial herbs and flowers in your containers, they will beautify your life year-round. I don't see any actual cons to container gardening but there are a few important things to consider:
Soil and Fertility.
The more yield you pull out of a section of soil, the more often you need to replenish that soil with fresh nutrients. This is especially true in container gardens because they are isolated and don't have access to the subtle yet powerful and extensive microbial network in the ground. Top-dress containers twice a year with fresh, finished compost and/or composted horse manure, then mulch on top of that with a mulch appropriate to the crop.
Container plants need excellent drainage or the soil will get anaerobic. Drill holes in the bottom of the container and spread a layer of gravel to help the water percolate. Then layer in your fertile soil, plants and mulch. Containers dry out quickly, as do hotter microclimates, so keep that in mind and water about twice as often as you would with plants in the ground.
It might seem like you can get away with it, but container gardens that don't get enough water will not yield. Visit them daily with the hose and tune yourself into the needs of your little garden. And that's one of the great benefits of having small gardens: You have the time to really get to know each plant.
Weeds and Companion Plants.
It makes sense to plant a few different things next to each other in a pot, to create growing guilds that complement each other. Try tomatoes, marigolds and carrots together. But keep in mind that too many plants in one pot will cause all of them to suffer. As a general rule, try to provide at least two gallons of soil for each guild of three to four plants, layered in space and time. Meanwhile, all containers should be weeded meticulously so the chosen crops don't have to compete for water and nutrients. We'll get more into guilds and companion planting next month.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
Subscribe to this blog via email and get fresh articles every week! This does not add you to other lists, but you can opt into those below.
You're good to go!
FREE yearlong permaculture course
Tiny classes delivered to your inbox every week for a year to guide you step by step through designing your ecological life and landscape.
Join the #freepermaculture public discussion group
Writers! Let's Crosspollinate!
We'd love to feature your article here and/or swap guest posts with you.
FREE Permaculture Coloring Book!
FREE Permaculture coloring book when you subscribe to our (monthly) email list.
We'll send you the info.