Permaculture - Relative Location

SUBHEAD: Part 3 of a 6 part series on Permaculture Design Guidelines.  

By Birgit Bradtke in Tropical Permaculture in 2010 -

Image above: The tree Haole Koa (Leucaena leucocephala) is considered a weed tree in Hawaii. They rarely get more than an inch or two in trunk diameter. I removed many of the immature trees, but left several in certain places. The oldest of these trees are about 25 years old and are as big as 10" in diameter. They grow easily in the dry clay of Hanapepe Valley. As mature trees they provide a light shade that helps delicate leafed food plants (in wooden tubs) and on the ground keep from burning. They also provide support for chayote and other climbing food plants. The haole koa helps them with its efficient nitrogen fixing. When its life cycle is over its a handy source of dense, hard, firewood. I've noticed that our young hens when first out of the coop seem to relish the tiny leaves of young haole koa they can reach. Photo by Juan Wilson.
The permaculture principle of relative location is where that whole permaculture design thing starts to come together.

Here we look at the location of your garden elements in relation to each other. The aim is to place the elements in your permaculture garden so that one fulfills the needs of the other. It's all about connections.

If there is a task in your garden that is laborious, repetitive, or in any other way not much fun, there is probably a better way of doing it, or arranging for nature to do it for you.

The easiest way to explain this is again with examples:

On the previous page I looked at the multiple functions of each permaculture design element, and for an example I used one of my compost piles. Now let's look at how relative location makes the most of those functions and saves me a lot of time and work:

Whenever I start a new compost pile I put it under one of my favorite fruit trees, under the edge of the canopy.

Every time it rains, valuable nutrients get washed out of the pile. It's the same effect that you use when making compost tea by soaking compost in water. Instead of that valuable liquid fertilizer being lost in the ground, the tree will take it up and thrive (the edge of the canopy is where most of a tree's feeder roots are located).  

I saved myself fertilizing the tree.

I use a circle of wire mesh to enclose my compost piles (it's flexible, can easily be moved and doesn't rot). Because the pile sits on the edge of the canopy, the outside gets enough light to grow plants. I usually grow a couple of tomato plants on that side.  

I just saved myself building a tomato trellis AND fertilizing the tomato.

Of course the tomato will help itself to all the goodness in the compost.
When I empty the compost bucket onto the compost pile I pick the tomatoes that are ready.  

Just saved myself an extra trip into the garden.

When the tomato plant is finished I pull it up and throw it on the compost.  

Saved myself another trip.

To return for a second to the multiple functions:
The tomato plant...
  • gives me tomatoes,
  • gives my chickens the odd bug eaten or rotten tomato (which they love),
  • shields the ugly compost pile from view (a loaded tomato bush is much prettier),
  • shades the sunny side of the compost pile, you don't want a compost pile to dry out,
  • and in the end it provides nutrients for the tree when it is turned into compost.
The tree...
  • shades the compost pile and prevents it from drying out,
  • salvages the nutrients that leach out of the pile, and turns them into leaves that will eventually turn into mulch on the ground,
  • is home to lots of birds that help with insect control, so I end up with more tomatoes than the chickens get.
The tree, compost pile and tomato bushes in this example all work together and look after one another, and that means less work for me.

Remember, I'm so intrigued with permaculture design because I'm lazy. All I do in the end is pick what I need for my pasta sauce and salad. I only wish I could find somebody to cook it for me!

Here is some more permaculture design inspiration:
Herbs like dill and coriander attract predatory insects ("good bugs" that eat the "bad bugs"). Those herbs also self seed every year, so they are great for growing under fruit trees. They don't need to grow in rows there, you can let them self seed.  

That's one less task for you.

The good bugs, which love the flowers of the herbs, will save you spraying, and nobody likes spraying.

My kitchen garden is located between the house and the chicken pen. I collect garden refuse on one way (chickens love caterpillar riddled greens), and on the way back I pick the salad for dinner, (caterpillar free leaves, the chickens and me usually end up going halves that way).

Grow messy fruit trees inside the chicken yard. Pick what you want, and don't worry about the rest. Saves on feeding the chickens, there's no need to clean up fallen fruit and no need to fertilize the tree.

The chickens take care of all that.

I put my bird bath where I can see it from the kitchen sink. Doing the dishes is one task that I haven't managed to outsource to some garden creature yet, so anything that makes it more pleasant needs to be done.

Making the gardener happy is an important function of garden elements too!

Let me repeat my opening statement. If there is a task in your garden that is laborious, repetitive, or in any other way not much fun, there is probably a better way of doing it, or arranging for nature to do it for you.

The list above gives examples for permaculture design in bigger gardens, but even if yours is much smaller, this should get you started thinking in the right direction.

Can you see how, if you think things through ahead, everything can beautifully work together so you have less work?

Make yourself a cup of tea, sit down in your favorite garden chair, (that's what gardening is all about) and brainstorm some outsourcing strategies.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 1 - Growing Zones 3/22/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 2 - Multiple Functions 3/29/10
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 3 - Relative Location 5/24/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 4 - Problems into Solutions 5/24/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 5 - Design Diversity 5/24/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Permaculture 6 - Use of Space 5/24/12 .

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