Imagine walking out into your yard and harvesting cherries from a towering cherrie tree, and then meandering to pick figs and raspberries from the cherries drip line. All around your feet are a polyculture of herbs, flowers, berries, and root crops. The edible landscape is a polyculture of plants. Plants that thrive on different levels of light and soil. Tree’s roots go deep into the subsoil to find nutrients and water. The shrubs roots access a shallower portion of the soil, while the herbaceous layers roots are near the surface in the topsoil layer.
The average tomato travels 1500 miles to reach our diner plates. With agriculture’s tendency towards monocultures, we can assume each ingredient of every meal travels that distance from a different direction. This baffling reality convinces us at LEL that the first step in reducing our personal carbon footprint is to change the way we feed ourselves. Local farmers’ markets and food coops are gaining popularity showing that people understand the environmental and nutritional importance of local foods. However, for the sweeping change needed to reverse our environment’s future, these food sources should be second choice after our home’s harvest. Home produce gardens do not need to be time and labor intensive. Perennial producers such as fruit and nut trees, grape, currants, asparagus, and perennial herbs feed us every year with minimal maintenance. Food forests act as though a natural forest would providing food and shelter. Wildlife will also benefit from the flower and fruit. Backyard bee-hives form an amazingly beneficial, symbiotic relationship with the backyard growth.
Monoculture lawns can become food producing guilds, which require less effort and water to maintain and provide more beauty and interest in return. Instead of a tree in the corner of the property, a couple shrubs here and there and some flowering plants by the entrance way, we promote dense plantings. We install passive rainwater catchment systems before we plant, directing water to the root zone of trees and shrubs. In those areas, we plant in layers. A tree creates the backbone of a planted area, pulling water and nutrients from deep in the soil. Shrubs at the trees drip line benefit from the extra water there and shelter the tree’s root system with roots of medium depth. Flowers and ground covers throughout the area further shade the ground from the evaporative sun. Their shallow roots help absorb rainwater into the soil quickly, eliminating standing water after a storm. This type of mass planting, called a “guild” in Permaculture, creates a mini-ecosystems that circulates moisture in the air, shades the ground from evaporation, and holds moisture in the soil through adhesion of the layered root system. The last step in creating a moist microclimate is a thick layer of organic mulch, which further increases water absorption and decreases evaporation. It also stimulates the soil’s natural ability to create its own nutrients giving plants the ideal environment to thrive.