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Pizza Permaculture

One of the main principles of Permaculture is to grow by chunking, or to start with a manageable piece of a site and build off of it so as to connect each area within the larger context.  In other words, pick a spot that makes sense to you and go from there.  “There” can be the back door of your new home in late Spring, where you only have space and time for a small kitchen garden.  It can be a barn that holds your front-burner project.  Whatever you choose, once you start working Permaculture into your site, it becomes easier in a way.

For my intern, who is building a cob pizza oven for this year’s Village Building Convergence on a double lot in Northeast Portland, Oregon, a Pizza Permaculture garden made sense.  We assembled a design team and met on-site several times to assess and prepare the space for holding the workshop. 

Design considerations were limited by other activities and features sited nearby:

·    Sun exposure needs for the plants differ from that of the mushrooms, so I sited the tomatoes next to the “crusts” (burlap bags containing mushroom spawn & growing medium at the tops of the beds) without the use of cages.  This will allow the tomatoes to drape over the burlap bags and shade the spawn inside, creating a microclimate.
·    Proximity to the cob oven makes it easy for owners and their guests to bring fresh ingredients to the prep area when the pizza dough is ready to be topped.
·    Leaving adequate space for movement around fire pit seats and the wildlife tree bench ensures a welcoming and comfortable space as well as a functional garden.
·    Narrowing paths between beds allows for such a small garden to inhabit this special sun-drenched spot amidst other activities and gardens.
·    Visually linking the garden to pizza via shaping the beds like slices is a fun way to key potential users into the social side of Permaculture.

Permaculture principles adhered to included:

A.    Observe over time & design for specific site & client.  The owners have lived at the site for six years & have been able to witness & cooperate with site microclimates, as well as weave the pizza garden in with other design elements, namely the cob oven.  In addition, following the installation, they will be able to observe its success and make adjustments over time, extending the observation period.
B.    “Start small with intensive & productive systems that are manageable.”* The design is for a very small overall area, but inside it much is happening.  From soil layering to mycoremediation, the pizza garden allows for growth by chunking.
C.    Obtain a yeild.  Herbs will continually produce, and so will mushrooms.  Plants like Basil and tomatoes are fun to plant each year and widely available.  Giant zucchini can be shared with neighbors or provide potluck dishes to help the owners continue to build community with their neighbors and the Permaculture network of Portland.
D.    Connect using relative location.  We’ve placed the pizza garden in useful relationship to the wildlife tree bench, firepit, and cob oven.  This means being able to walk between all of these areas, carry produce fresh-picked from the garden to the oven’s prep counter, and sit comfortably on the bench and around the firepit.
E.    Use biological & renewable resources.  Donated plants & organic compost & mulches, & volunteer design & labor contribute to social as well as natural capital, or the long-term establishment of beneficial relationships & stored energy.
F.    Turn problems into solutions.  When we recognized that the beds had been sited 12” too close to the bench in an effort to give room for firepit seating, we were able to plan for narrowing the bench around the wildlife tree as well as move the beds out.  This solved the problem of people not being able to lean back against the tree before when sitting on the bench.
*paraphrased by Tom Ward

Watch this video from one of our site prep meetings:  Beds Are Dug, Now Let’s Talk A Bit

Here are the steps of the workshop:

1.    Scrape to bare clay earth, about 4 to 6 inches depth
2.    Lay down a thick layer of innoculated hardwood chips (6 months’ old Alder, Maple, Birch, Cottonwood, Ash = no more than 20% of pile)
3.    Spread a compost layer on top of wood chips and mix with chips
4.    Layer with cardboard that is 3/4 wet and has been punctured with holes for each plant

5.    Plant and topdress with compost

 

 

 

Following the installation of the mushrooms and plants, children immediately began playing a guitar and swinging near the new garden, and a chicken hopped in next to the smallest Basil plant.  We erected a chicken fence.

I wanted to make the workshop replicable, so that anyone not familiar with Permaculture could use it to get started in a manageable way, or show their grandparents how fun and useful Permaculture can be.  A young woman from San Francisco wanted to use the workshop to introduce her summer camp group to sustainable gardening.  A designer from Montana took inspiration from the lively discussion during the workshop for seeking a more deeply satisfying niche.  Look for the workshop again soon.  And start preparing your spiel to your grandparents.  🙂