2014-06-20 / People

Garden features self-sustaining system

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Julie McLeod poses in her garden next to thriving sea kale. McLeod has been practicing permaculture in her backyard for a year. Permaculture is essentially a type of environmental design. The goal is to create a small ecosystem that can sustain itself without much maintenance. McLeod grows fruits, vegetables and spices using the self-sustaining technique. (Alex Acquisto photo) Julie McLeod poses in her garden next to thriving sea kale. McLeod has been practicing permaculture in her backyard for a year. Permaculture is essentially a type of environmental design. The goal is to create a small ecosystem that can sustain itself without much maintenance. McLeod grows fruits, vegetables and spices using the self-sustaining technique. (Alex Acquisto photo) ARUNDEL – “Permaculture is ultimately a design process,” Julie McLeod said as she plucked a piece of sea kale from her garden and ate it.

McLeod has been practicing permaculture in her spacious backyard on Old Post Road in Arundel for about a year. She became interested in the progressively more popular self-sufficient method of farming while working as an apprentice on Wolf Pine Farm in Alfred.

She began carving the soil to make raised beds. That way, McLeod said, when rain comes, it will not flood the plants.

Using this method – raised beds surrounded by gullies – allows for the rainfall to collect in the gullies so it can slowly seep into the roots of the surrounding beds. In other words, it’s about recognizing the threats that can hinder the plant’s growth and actively designing a solution that will benefit the plant.

Aside from the threat of too much rainfall, the other major threat to growing fruits and vegetables is pests.

A method of polyculture, which is a subset of permaculture, calls for the natural mitigation of insects infestation by planting complimentarily.

In McLeod’s garden, she planted violets and welsh onions at the base of a large sea kale plant. The violets and onions act as “good acrobat pest confusers,” McLeod said.

The idea is that, instead of devouring the sea kale, insects and the like will instead be drawn to the more pungent smells.

“It is important to build in the needs of primary plants. It’s (permaculture) about the relationship between plants and the placement of things,” McLeod said.

The implementation of permaculture is mostly front-loaded, meaning once a gardener has crafted the permaculture space and completed the initial planting, very minimal labor is required.

The soil does not need to be tilled; it is an intentionally self-sustaining grow system.

“The low maintenance was really a big appeal,” McLeod said.

The idea of devoting several hours each day to maintaining her yield was unrealistic, as McLeod and her husband have two daughters, ages 7 and 10, and both attend Kennebunkport Consolidated School.

Because permaculture is lowmaintenance, it works perfectly with her schedule. It also gives her the time to use the garden as a teaching tool.

“I want the kids to be interacting more, outside,” McLeod said. “They learn by watching and playing. I want them learning about food, but also learning about the earth.”

McLeod is involved with the Seacoast Permaculture Group and The Resilience Hub in Portland.

She also worked as one of two permaculture consultants this past year at Traip Academy in Kittery as students learned and implemented permaculture techniques in the school garden. During the year, McLeod taught an Introduction to Permaculture course.

When someone decides to practice permaculture the surrounding layout must be taken into account, McLeod said.

On a school campus, permaculture takes into account the location of the buildings, wind speed, even the direction of the sun’s rays. “A designer would look at everything,” McLeod said.

As for her own garden, McLeod is focused on expanding her crop and growing perennial vegetables, and while she would like to eventually yield enough produce to sell at a nearby farmer’s market, her primary objective is to keep learning.

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