Forest Gardening: foray into permaculture

Permaculture is sorta-kinda my latest obsession. I have had a growing interest in the principles and concepts of permaculture and have, as I am prone to do, researched it to “nth” degree over the past couple of years. And I have taken tiny baby perma steps in my garden beds. But recently, I’ve begun to move from researching to planning and putting into action.

For the uninitiated, permaculture is a relatively (as in the last 25 years or so) new term that combines elements of a stable or “permanent” nature to “agriculture”. But it’s also very much a way of life and a way of looking at and valuing life defined through symbiotic relationships within the natural world, conservation of resources, elimination of “waste” (not as in pooping, but as in using all outputs so that nothing goes unused – though poop comes up in that equation a lot!), working with and not against nature, and community (as opposed to rugged individualism).

This summer, I took an online course on permaculture design offered free of charge by Oregon State University. The design project I chose was my own yard which is roughly 1/4 acre. (Design pictured above.)

My vision is to turn my lawn, which consumes resources, into a forest garden which produces resources. Converting grass to a fruit orchard with perennial herbs and other edibles, a small meadow of wildflowers (to encourage pollinators and insect predators), a berry patch with blueberry bushes and strawberries, and garden spaces for annuals like tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies.

One of the really cool things about permaculture is the use of plant guilds or grouping plants together that are mutually beneficial. But, I’ll get into that in a later post as my own food forest develops.

I should explain here the concept of a food forest or forest garden. The concept is pretty straightforward, looking to nature – a forest – and applying those same features to a designed, food-producing garden.

Upper canopy tree layers can be nut and tall fruit trees; the secondary layer is made up of smaller fruit trees; the shrubs and brush layer can consist of blueberry bushes; vining plants such as raspberry and blackberry can grow vertically in the forest garden; with a ground cover that can consist of strawberries, alpine berries, and culinary and medicinal herbs and spices.

Another key feature of the forest garden is using perennial plants that, once established, take less labor and cost to maintain. The plants also work together to reduce the need for both fertilizers and pesticides.

It truly does sound like a fairytale forest, and though I’m experienced enough to realize it will be anything but a fairytale, I’m looking forward to being able to tell my forest garden story!

 

 

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A trip to Helen, Georgia: Who Says Adulting can’t be fun?

Remember when you were a kid riding in a car with the windows down and feeling wind on your face and catching the air currents with your hand? Or what about having a sleepover with your best friend? What if we did that more as adults?

I recently got to take a week-long vacation with some very good friends. We went for drives and walks in the woods, watched fireflies twinkle in the night, ate ice cream, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Sometimes as adults, we need to take the time to just have fun.

We had a great time in North Georgia and next time you’re up in the vicinity of Helen, you might want to take the time to check out some of these stops.

The Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria is a great place for a quick meal. I had the 12 IMG_9381inch Sweet Green pizza made with basil and pine nut pesto, fresh tomato and mozzarella. The server recommended adding ricotta and it was a good call. There was plenty to eat and plenty to save for later!

For a completely different kind of dining experience, there is the Stoval House B&B which offers farm to table dinners and brunch on Sundays. Our service was a little more homey than expected, but I don’t want to say anything too negative about the older gentleman who waited on us… let’s just say I’m pretty sure he was just filling in for someone or something.

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But our dinners were good, I had the pan fried trout. For those not accustomed to Southern cooking, you may wonder why the vegetable sides come as “vegan optional”; but for those of us who grew up eating some peas with our side of ham, well, we kind of wonder why anyone would want the vegan option.

While our service left us all a little confused, the views were fabulous, the weather was perfect for eating out on the porch, dinner was good and the desert was amazing. Definitely worth a visit. (Get the Buttermilk Pie!)

Habersham Winery is a nice stop if you enjoy a little wine tasting! Be sure to try Granny’sIMG_9365 Arbor if you like a good dessert wine – it was definitely my favorite. Coffee lovers will enjoy the Jumping Goat (chocolate covered coffee beans are must-get treat while you’re there). You can pick up your Southern cooking essentials at Nora Mill Granary – the Spoon Bread mix is worth the trip all on its own.

Support local artisans and get a truly unique souvenir by purchasing something special from one of the many local potters. I brought home a few things from The Willows Pottery which features the work of several artists who you may get the chance to meet while you’re there.

For those of you who have never been to Helen, it’s a bit of a tourist destination most known for its Oktoberfest celebrations. The town is built to resemble an alpine village and is a little over the top for my taste, but there are still some shops and places worth checking out.

IMG_6801If you have kids to shop for, or if, like me, you are a big kid yourself, check out Tim’s Wooden Toy Shop. I love the spinning tops and have a collection of them myself! 🙂 If you’re one of those people for whom everyday is Christmas, you’ll want to check out the Christmas Shoppe on the North end of town (Santa and his sleigh are out front so you can’t really miss it). To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop in the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen for hand crafted chocolates that are worth the drive.

For eats, The Meeting Place serves breakfast all day… the country fried steak hit the spot for me. I also had a really great bison burger at Cowboys and Angels (though I was beginning to wonder if they had to saddle up and ride the range to hunt down the buffalo, it ended up being worth the wait)!

But enough about shopping and eating, the area abounds with natural beauty that can’t be missed. There are more parks, waterfalls and stops than I can mention, but be sure to check out the State parks in the area. It doesn’t matter what time of year you go, you won’t be disappointed with the views.

Just remember when you head out hiking: wear comfortable supportive shoes, pack a snack, stay hydrated and you might want to pick up a hand carved walking stick while you’re at it.

Some of the places featured in the slide show below are: Anna Ruby Falls, Brasstown Bald, and the Sautee Nachoochee Indian Mound. (Slideshow also features photos from two separate trips to the same area, some were taken during the summer and some in fall).

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