Even if a piece of land appears to be dead, there is as good as always a possibility to give it new life. One just has to understand what went wrong and how one can work out a method to change it.
This is one of the reasons why I’m fascinated by Permaculture. People like Sepp Holzer and Jeff Lawton prove over and over again that it is possible to do that which many say is impossible. Sepp Holzer grows exotic fruits and an abundance of crops high up in the Austrian alps, on land that people claimed was good for nothing else than pine forest. Jeff Lawton has turned barren lands into highly fertile soil all over the world, but the project that really inspired me is the one where he traveled to Jordan and turned a piece of desert into a green oasis. What inspires me with that project is that he proves that if it is possible to do it there, it can be done just about anywhere.
So many people are focused on all that is going wrong with the climate and our environment, instead of seeing that there is huge potential to do something and that it actually is a relatively quick process to change things for the better.
I have some experience of this type of process myself. In less than two years I changed parts of the land on a farm near Mafra in Portugal from having been a dry, rocky spot where hardly even weeds wanted to grow, into a wildly growing kitchen garden. I experimented with different parts of the plot and fought hard conditions such as very stern winds in an exposed setting, extreme rains, cows barging in eating the whole herb crop and much more. But I learned a hell of a lot! Sure, there were many critical voices raised who thought that the whole thing seemed strange since I was doing things in a different way compared to what’s “traditional” over there (= using kilos and kilos of pesticides and chemical fertilizers). Others didn’t understand why I moved some crops to another spot and largely moved my whole cultivation from one spot on the land to another, even though I had put in a lot of work on the first section. That’s part of the “charm” with Permaculture. Instead of forcing things one analyzes and changes one’s plan when needed. In some cases you need to consider if it means less work in the long run to make a physical impact on the land, such as digging a pond or building up raised growing beds to reach a good result. But the basic idea is to read the patterns in nature and create micro climates and collaborations between crops and other elements through impacts that are as small as possible. Not run everything over with a bulldozer and plant out vegetables in rows straight as an arrow.
These images above give an idea about what some thought and reflection and some runs with a wheelbarrow can achieve. The only thing I invested money in was plants and seeds. Everything else I took from the nearby surroundings. Discarded furniture, horse manure from work, stones that had been dumped by the side of the road. Reutilization as far as it was possible.
Now, after a couple of years where I have lived on places where it hasn’t been possible to grow more than what fit in the apartment window I’m now trying to build up a garden on the terrace at home. That means I have many limitations to take in account, mainly because it is a rented property and because a roof terrace can’t take the same kind of load as a piece of land. But I’m in the process of sketching up a plan for a functional terrace which is both pleasant to sit on and which also offers some extra fruit and vegetables to the household. In the short months that I have been living here I have already had the chance to harvest herbs, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, tomatoes and blueberries, and the idea is to expand it during the next season. The difference is that this time I’m trying to dedicate more time to the analyze of what would work, since the space for experimentation is smaller.
It takes a while to get to know a place. How much sun shines through over the surrounding rooftops during different times of the year? From which direction does the wind blow more often? How warm and how dry does it get? Which plants do we wish to incorporate and which ones like growing together? How can we build growing containers that don’t weigh too much, since we’re on a rooftop? Such questions need to be considered and combined with how we wish to use the terrace for other purposes. I will keep on writing about this process here. I hope that you will find some inspiration for a project of your own through this, be it large or small. Everyone can grow something!
A dream for the future is of course to have an own plot of land again, but that can wait a couple of years. In the meantime I will spend some time learning more about this region and what works well to do here. The plan is visiting courses and do some volunteering on farms who are also working with Permaculture and/or ecological methods.
Another point with this post is that I wish to inspire you to apply this way of thought to yourself as a person. However “dead” or “drained” you may feel, or stuck in a certain situation or attitude it is possible to change this. Halt for a bit, analyze what’s missing and work out a plan for going in the direction you want to go. This is also a very important part in Permaculture. It is not only the land that needs to be cultivated, but also the person – to its full potential.