While not a new concept, permaculture is seeing a revival and we couldn’t be more excited. We grew up in a farming community (Cormack) and thought we knew the only way to grow potatoes and carrots and thought that growing tomatoes and basil was impossible. Then we travelled in New Zealand, did some WOOF’ing, and learned that there are more ways to grow food then what we grew up with. Permaculture was introduced to us. We had been homesteading for over 5 years and seeing little results but after returning home and doing a lot of research and investing sweat equity our little homestead as grown into a small sustainable farm. We started growing enough to feed ourselves, than started to provide enough for friends and family, now we are contributing to producing food for our community. We hope as we grow we can help contribute to food security in the province.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of permaculture, how to do this method in Newfoundland and share some tips we’ve learned along the way.
Ready? Let’s go.
What is permaculture gardening?
Permaculture gardening is an approach to gardening that aims to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that mimics natural systems. Permaculture gardening seeks to create a garden that is not only productive but also regenerative, by incorporating ecological principles such as diversity, interdependence, and natural cycles.
Permaculture gardens are designed to minimize inputs such as water, energy, and fertilizers by creating a closed-loop system where waste is turned into a resource. For example, instead of throwing away kitchen scraps, they are composted to create nutrient-rich soil for the garden. Garden waste and weeds are fed to animals as nutrient dense feed supplements and in return they turn the unwanted waste into rich amendment for the soil. Permaculture gardening also emphasizes the use of companion planting, where plants are strategically placed to help each other grow and repel pests.
Permaculture gardening techniques include:
Polyculture: growing multiple crops together to increase diversity and reduce pest and disease pressure.
Mulching: covering the soil with organic material such as straw, wood chips or leaves to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil health.
Companion planting: planting crops that complement each other and help each other grow.
Integrated pest management: using natural predators and other non-toxic methods to control pests and diseases.
Water harvesting: capturing and storing rainwater to reduce the need for irrigation.
Permaculture gardening is a sustainable and holistic approach to gardening that can benefit both the environment and the gardener. It can create a beautiful and productive garden while minimizing the negative impact on the ecosystem. A great starting point for research is The Permaculture - Market Garden.
Benefits Permaculture Gardening
Permaculture gardening and farming is a sustainable way of growing food that mimics natural systems. It helps create a resilient and diverse ecosystem that promotes healthy soil, conserves water, and supports a variety of plants and animals. Permaculture also provides fresh and nutritious food while promoting community involvement and physical activity. By using this approach, we can build a better food system for the future.
Sustainability: Permaculture gardening aims to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that mimics natural systems. By incorporating ecological principles such as diversity, interdependence, and natural cycles, permaculture gardens and farms can be maintained without relying on external inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.
Resilience: Permaculture gardening creates a diverse and resilient ecosystem that can adapt to changing conditions. By planting a variety of crops and using techniques such as companion planting and polyculture, permaculture gardens and farms can better withstand extreme weather events and pests and diseases.
Soil health: Permaculture gardening focuses on building healthy soil by using organic materials such as compost and mulch, avoiding tillage, and encouraging the growth of soil microbes. Healthy soil leads to healthier plants and better yields. The microorganisms in the soils are what work to break down the organic matter to create nutrients to help food plants.
Water conservation: Permaculture gardening uses techniques such as water harvesting, mulching, and drip irrigation to conserve water and reduce the need for intensive and wasteful irrigation.
Biodiversity: Permaculture gardening creates a diverse ecosystem that supports a variety of plants, animals, and insects. This biodiversity can help to improve soil health, control pests and diseases, and create a more resilient ecosystem.
Community building: Permaculture gardening often involves community involvement and can be used as a tool for community building and education. It can bring people together around a shared goal of creating a sustainable and resilient food system. Our Honesty Market provides fresh produce to our community. Our partnership with WWOOF.ca creates meaningful experience for individuals looking to grow their skills and understanding of organic farming practices.
Health benefits: Permaculture gardening can provide fresh, healthy, and nutritious food that is free from synthetic chemicals and pesticides. It can also provide opportunities for physical activity and outdoor recreation, which can have positive health benefits.
Permaculture gardening and farming offers a sustainable, holistic approach to food production that can benefit both the environment and the people who rely on it.
Principles of Permaculture
Permaculture can be a valuable approach to gardening and farming in Newfoundland, with its unique climate and environmental conditions. The principles of permaculture can help gardeners and farmers design and implement sustainable and regenerative systems that work with the local environment.
The first principle of permaculture, observe and interact, is particularly important in Newfoundland. With its short growing season and unpredictable weather, it is essential to understand the local climate and soil conditions before making any changes or interventions. On our farm, we plant our herbs and tomatoes in our greenhouse and near the house where it is warmer and closer to monitor.
The second principle of permaculture, use and value renewable resources and services, is also relevant in Newfoundland. By using renewable resources such as sunlight, compost, comfrey tea, animal manure, allow chickens to eat pests, rain water capture and gather animal fed from the local LOOP program, we use what we have in our local area. Many of these actions lower the need for shipping and processing of necessary inputs for our farm. By reducing our intake of processed and shipped inputs we can lower our carbon footprint in our food production.
The third principle of permaculture, design from patterns to details, can help gardeners and farmers in Newfoundland create more efficient and effective systems. By designing systems that reflect the larger patterns in the environment (forests, meadows etc.), permaculture practitioners can take advantage of natural processes and create systems that are better adapted to the local environment. We allow our chicken to forage in the woods, eating bugs and pooping to nourish the soil. We also mimic the forest in our lettuce beds when we interplant multiple varieties into one area. We have also designed our orchards so that tall trees stand in the North and lower bushes and fruit bearing trees are towards the Southern sun.
The fourth principle of permaculture, integrate rather than segregate, can help gardeners and farmers in Newfoundland create more resilient and regenerative systems. Integrating means interplanting, interconnecting and allowing our animals to graze in certain areas to support new gardens, clearing the land, or simply picking pests from harvested or infested garden beds. Integrating berry plants and herbs among our orchard in strategic patterns allows various crops to flourish while attracting beneficial insects. Planting asparagus and strawberries together maximises the soil nutrients since each plant blossoms at different times of year and occupy different levels of the soil. Strategic integration is important in permaculture and regenerative farming.
The fifth principle of permaculture, use small and slow solutions. This is particularly relevant in Newfoundland where the growing season is short and unpredictable. By starting small and taking the time to observe and evaluate the results, permaculture practitioners can create more effective and sustainable systems. Mark has been monitoring each area of our farm and rotating crops assessing the soil each year to plan for the following year’s crop rotation, amendments and harvesting. Water harvesting is a timely process that takes time to research and study the land, plan and implement the techniques having the least impact on changing the land. This is a slow process but in the end when the systems are established you will lower your need for irrigation and increase your supply of water during drought seasons.
The sixth principle of permaculture, use and value diversity. By incorporating diverse elements into a system, permaculture practitioners can create more resilient gardens. Diversity can look like planting clover to provide nitrogen with your greens or herbs, adding mulch around crops to keep weeds at bay and hold moisture, or adding flowers around the garden to encourage bees and butterflies to support pollination. Diversity can also look like leaving root crop in the ground so they flower the following year, some practitioners will even encourage self-seeding of many crops like carrot and spinach. Diversity means growing several varieties so that if one particular season the conditions are not right for your preferred crop, you have a chance to still harvest a yield, you may even find you produce bumper crops with different harvest intervals.
Finally, the seventh principle of permaculture, creatively use and respond to change, is essential in Newfoundland, where the weather can be extreme. The snow stayed around pretty late last year, so we shovelled out the greenhouse and fired up the woodstove to start planting on time. We are trying 3 methods to keep cabbage moths away - marigolds, netting and salt spray. We have noticed that the Spring of the year has been progressively drier each season, so we creatively utilize our water retention that the ducks use as a pond to water our carrots and other seedlings during this vital time of year.
Want to learn more about these principles? Join our Permaculture Farm Tour to see first hand how we do this in Newfoundland.
Newfoundland Planting Zone & Climate Considerations
Newfoundland is located in Canada's easternmost province and has a subarctic to humid continental climate. The climate is characterized by cold winters, mild summers, and high precipitation throughout the year. As a result, gardening in Newfoundland can be challenging, but it is still possible with some careful consideration of the local climate and soil conditions.
Here are some important considerations for gardening in Newfoundland:
Short growing season: The growing season in Newfoundland is relatively short due to the cool temperatures and late frost dates, usually June 1 - Oct 1. Some old farmers will religiously vow to never plant before Father’s Day (3rd week in June). It is essential to choose crops that are well-suited to the local climate and can mature quickly or are better after the first frost. In addition it is essential to start many crops, even winter groups, early in a greenhouse. If you plant to plant tomatoes or peppers it is essential to either heat the greenhouse or start seedlings inside where there is no risk of frost.
Soil conditions: Newfoundland's soils tend to be acidic and low in nutrients, making it essential to improve soil quality through the addition of organic matter such as compost and manure. To rectify acidic soil and neutralize the ph levels for most desired crops it is essential to amend the soil with limestone. You will need to apply the limestone annually or every four years depending on your crop rotation and the type of plants you plant to grow in the space.
Frost dates: In Newfoundland, frost can occur as late as June and as early as August, which can damage or kill tender plants. It is important to plant frost-tolerant crops or use techniques such as season extension methods like cloches or row covers to protect plants from the cold. We grow our tomatoes in our greenhouse to ensure they get the heat required to grow full and delicious. Tomatoes grown outside are a shorter variety that will ripen before the expected frost dates.
Windy conditions: Newfoundland can be windy, which can cause damage to plants and make gardening challenging. It is important to choose plant varieties that can tolerate wind and use windbreaks to protect plants. As you drive up the Northern Pensinsula, you will see road side gardens - this is why they are there! Plant your garden strategically so that strong plants and infrastructure protects tall and vulnerable plants.
Rainfall: Newfoundland receives high levels of precipitation throughout the year, which can lead to waterlogging and poor drainage in some areas. It is important to choose plants that can tolerate wet conditions or use raised beds to improve drainage. The use of swales and water harvesting methods can also be beneficial during periods of high rain followed by periods of drought.
Perennial crops: Perennial crops such as rhubarb, asparagus, and berries are well-suited to Newfoundland's climate as they can survive the winter and produce early in the growing season.
Gardening in Newfoundland requires careful consideration of the local climate and soil conditions. Choosing the right plants, improving soil quality, and using techniques such as season extension and windbreaks can help to create a successful garden in this challenging climate.
What grows well here?
The climate in Newfoundland is considered humid continental, with cool summers and cold winters and lots of precipitation. The growing season is short, lasting from late May to early September, which can be a challenge for some crops that require a longer growing period. However, with proper planning and techniques, many plants can still thrive in this climate. Newfoundland spans hardiness zone 3b-6a depending on the region.
Here are some examples of plants that can be successfully grown in Newfoundland:
Root vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, turnips, and beets all do well in Newfoundland's cool, moist climate. They can be planted early in the season and are typically harvested in the fall. Plus they are better after a frost which sweetens them. These veggies can also be covered with straw/mulch and left over winter if need be, with the exception of potatoes.
Brassicas: Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all cold-hardy and can be grown in Newfoundland. They are typically planted in the early spring and harvested in the fall. I recommend starting these plants in a unheated greenhouse to ensure the season is long enough to produce a good yield.
Leafy greens: Lettuce, spinach, and kale can be grown in Newfoundland's cool climate, either in the spring or fall. They are also good candidates for season extension methods such as cloches or row covers. In addition, it is wise to use succession planting for this short season crops to ensure a healthy harvest all season long.
Peas & Beans: Peas are well-suited to Newfoundland's cool climate and can be planted early in the season. They are typically harvested in the summer. Beans must wait until after the last frost for planting. You can either grow bush beans and peas which are great for windy areas or pole bean and peas which produce a higher yield but require trellises.
Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries all do well in Newfoundland's climate. They are typically planted in the spring and harvested in the summer. These plants also winter well and provide fresh fruit in a very fruit deprived region. They typically do well in acidic soil, so be mindful of lime applications for certain plants. It is always essential to look up oh requirements before planting a new crop.
Rhubarb: Rhubarb is a perennial crop that does well in Newfoundland's climate. It can be planted in the spring and harvested in the summer multiple times.
Herbs: Parsley, chives, sage, thyme, cilantro and mint can all be grown in Newfoundland. Many herbs are also perennials, meaning they can survive the winter and come back year after year, such as tarragon, mint, chives, sage, thyme and oregano.
Our Herb Spiral (year 1)
A system that replicates and meets the requirements for various herbs.
While the growing season in Newfoundland may be short, there are still many crops that can be grown successfully with careful planning and attention to the local climate and soil conditions.
Permaculture Gardening Tips
Permaculture is a method of sustainable agriculture that seeks to mimic natural ecosystems and create self-sustaining, regenerative food systems. Here are some permaculture methods and practical tips for gardening:
1. Companion Planting: This is the practice of planting different plants together that benefit each other in some way, such as providing shade, attracting beneficial insects, or improving soil fertility. In permaculture, companion planting is often used to create diverse and resilient ecosystems.
Tomato and Basil are great campinion plants, especially in Newfoundland since both require warm weather to thrive in the region and short season. Aromatic basil helps to repel pests. Interesting enough, tomatoes planted with basil in the same bed or nearby also tend to produce more fruit. Ironically, the two plants are often used in the same recipes!
The Three Sisters is when you plant corn, beans, and squash together. This creates a mutually beneficial system where the beans provide nitrogen to the soil, the corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, and the squash provides shade and weed suppression. This unique planting strategy was originally practiced by the Iroquois Indigenous People and has been used to teach peoples about working together to better all within the community.
Strawberries and asparagus are two crops that do well in acidic soil, making them good companions. Strawberries are shallow-rooted and prefer a moist environment, so planting them with deep-rooted asparagus can help to create a more diverse root system and prevent waterlogging.
Cabbage and Marigolds are one of the most well know and common companion planting techniques. Marigolds repel the cabbage moths, however, it is only a deterrent and a small part of a pest management plan . Marigolds can be planted with many other crops making them a valuable asset to any garden. Bonus! They also attract beneficial insects for your other garden vegetables.
3. Composting: Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. In permaculture, composting is used to improve soil fertility and reduce waste. To compost effectively, you can create a compost pile or use a compost bin, and add a mix of "brown" materials (such as dried leaves or straw) and "green" materials (such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings). Over time, the compost will break down into a rich, dark soil amendment that can be added to your garden beds.
4. Salt Spray for Pests: Cabbage worms can be a common pest in cabbage plants. A natural remedy for this is to make a salt spray by mixing a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of dish soap in a gallon of water or get some water from the cold Atlantic ocean. Spray this solution on the cabbage leaves every few days to control the pest.
5. Mulching: Mulching involves covering the soil around your plants with a layer of organic matter, such as straw or leaves. This helps to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and improve soil fertility. In permaculture, mulching is often used to mimic the natural forest floor, where organic matter accumulates and slowly breaks down over time. This also creates a great environment for mycelium to thrive, which is essential in permaculture (new post coming soon).
6. No-Dig Gardening: In permaculture, no-dig gardening is the practice of creating a garden bed without tilling or disturbing the soil. This helps to preserve soil structure and minimize soil erosion. Instead of tilling, you can create a garden bed by layering organic matter such as leaves, straw, and compost on top of the soil. Over time, this will create a rich, fertile growing medium that is full of beneficial microorganisms and mycelium. Using a broadfork is a great way to aerate the soil without disrupting the soil structure and diversity.
7. Comfrey Tea: is a hardy perennial which grows quickly and the green leaves can be harvested multiple times of the year. It is a highly nutrient rich course which can be steeped into a fertilizer tea to feed garden crops.
If you enjoyed reading this, please go check out our other blog post on permaculture by clicking here.
Come learn with us!
Upper Humber Settlement in Newfoundland is offering a unique opportunity for individuals to learn about permaculture farming through our permaculture farm tour. The permaculture farm tour will provide visitors with an opportunity to see permaculture principles in action, including soil building, water conservation, and biodiversity. Visitors will also be able to see how permaculture farming can be applied to a variety of crops and livestock, and how it can benefit the local community. This farm tour is an excellent opportunity for individuals to learn about permaculture farming practices and gain insights into how sustainable agriculture can help to build a healthier and more resilient community. If you’re interested to learn where your food comes from or want to get your hands dirty in your own garden this tour is for you.