My nails have never been dirtier but I’ve never felt happier. There’s something extremely satisfying about taking a tiny seedling, unearthing it from it’s birth-pot, burying its little roots in a small hole on top of a big, mulchy, earth bed and watching it grow. And then eating it! We spend our days at Carraig Durla, (www.dulra.org) a smallholding owned by Suzie and Michael Cahn up on a small stretch of Irish farmland with a beautiful view of Wicklow County – endless rolling hills, puzzle-piece fields, scattered forest and, finally, the sea in the distance. Mike and Suzie have spent the last few years creating an organic veggie and fruit farm using permaculture methods. Permaculture is an alternative form of farming that looks very different from the monoculture farming that we are all used to. Instead of bulldozing land to make flat, square fields, planting a single crop and fertilizing it or spraying it with pesticides to make it grow, permaculture lets nature do the work. It is a system that resembles nature and is based on natural cycles and ecosystems.
So for instance, the Cahns situated their garden to face south to get the most benefit from the sun. They use stone walls to absorb heat during the day and release it slowly during cold nights. Instead of planting directly into the earth, they built long, hump-like raised beds made of a layers of seaweed, manure and sod to create a loose, compost-rich, soil that holds water better and makes great habitat for useful earthworms and other beneficial insects. Plants can be grown on top or on the front and back of the raised beds depending on their need for sun and moisture. The areas between the beds become pathways or catchments for water run-off or areas to accumulate compostable materials. Plants are either hand-watered or fed through an irrigation system using a ram water pump that doesn’t need electricity.
I won’t bore you with more details because it’s one of those stories that you really need to see to understand. On YouTube, watch “Farming with Nature – Permaculture with Sepp Holzer”. He is a legend and has been doing this for 40 years at amazingly high altitudes and has changed the views of many skeptics! Another amazing permaculture story is “Greening the Desert” – Australian Geoff Lawton converted 10 acres of salty arid land in Jordan into a viable, food-producing garden. It’s taken him 10 years to change local attitudes but the local population is starting to change their farming practices now. Amazing stuff!