•  Mustard and Fava bean mix at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Labyrinth Garden, 2013
  •  Zen Garden, 2013
  •  Caspian at his Garden, 2013
  •  Mustard and Fava bean mix at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Mustard and Fava bean mix at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Mustard and Fava bean mix at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Mustard and Fava beans flowering at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Mustard and Fava bean mix at Zen Garden, 2012
  •  Mustard flowering at Everstone, 2011
  •  Tobacco makes for an excellent pest control tea, Risky Farm, 2010
  •  Yellow crookneck squash at Risky Farm, 2010
  •  Purple kale at Caspian Garden, 2013

Self Sustaining Polyculture

Sustainable, Green, Fresh, Eco-Friendly, and a slew of other previously meaningful adjectives have been hijacked by marketing; to increase the success of products which are really none of those things. I tend to shy away from these terms, and the people who use them, as they are very rarely associated with actual ecology, or creative design.

The goal of the methodology we advocate is actually very straightforward: We want plants to go wild. Literally.

Domesticated species of plants are tasty, and presentable, and they sell very well… But these qualities come with the high cost of labor, nutrients, and irrigation to counterbalance them.

A species like Brassica Oleracea can very rapidly diverge into a hodgepodge of supposedly undesirable wild greens, through only a few seasons of crossbreeding with nearby plants. They will (for example) cease to form cabbage or broccoli heads, and “de evolve” or become feral, returning to a state in which they are much more capable of fending for themselves.

In this feral state, they require less nutrient, less water, and less maintenance, yet by volume they produce about the same amount of food.

The distinction between convenience and survival is an important one to make. We are not growing food for convenience, or ease of access. Although those things are included in the design, the primary focus is on survival. Preference is important, as I certainly prefer a nice ripe cabbage to a few handfuls of clover and dandelions, but to a person on the brink of starvation, the difference is negligible.

Realistically, the people in our culture do not have an extra 30 minutes to spend, every morning, watering the garden. They do not have a free afternoon to pick weeds on their hands and knees. Even if they do have a few minutes of free time, they are unlikely to spend it working, unless they have no choice.

The designs implemented by our project subvert the need for frequent maintenance, allowing anyone to have a garden, regardless of their schedule. By letting our vegetables to return (in part, at least) to a feral state, we can not only lower the hours of labor required to grow them, we can also increase their hardiness, and decrease their susceptibility to disease and predation.

Since permaculture has become a dirty word in some gardens, I prefer the term “Self Sustaining Polyculture” which does just what it says on the tin.

It’s a form of natural recycling, in which the decomposing parts of previous generations of plants form the topsoil for the new generation.
Polyculture is a system of growing numerous diverse species in close proximity to one another, just like ma nature.
Instead of being plucked out and replaced or rotated, crops are allowed to go to flower and seed. Just in the course of harvesting those seeds, enough usually fall on the ground to double the quantity that grew there previously.
Hence, the different species sustain themselves by self replicating. Over time, the diversity can be increased intentionally, by adding companion plants to the mix, but also new species will pop up on their own. As the ecosystem around them changes, conditions become more favorable for some, and less for others.

We must learn to let go of our preconceived notions about what food is, to allow those foods which grow well locally to become the staples of our diet.

The Sigma Project is a 501(c)(3) Portland nonprofit corporation founded to grow sustainable local produce for the disadvantaged community while creating independence through teaching the process...

Land cultivation and profit are not incongruous, however, the current methods of maximizing profit have the opposite effect with regard to the maintenance of soil biota and ecology...

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