Thursday, April 30, 2009

Biodiversity at home

When I was first doing research on permaculture as a basis for our garden/landscape plan here in OKC, I ran across Bob Waldrop's website where he listed all the kinds of plants he was growing (or that Nature was growing) on his small property in urban Oklahoma City. I was so inspired that someone else, here in my very same city, was using permaculture. I loved his list and thought I might be able to replicate his success here on my property.

Biodiversity is important for so many reasons, not only to benefit nature/our ecosystem, but also to add resilience to our own food systems. Having a larger variety of plants in your area provides different kinds of nectar and pollen and food to provide for more types of animals, birds and insects. Having a thriving population of insects balances the ecosystem and ensures that there are predatory insects around who will dine on your aphids and squash bugs (maybe).

Growing different varieties and kinds of fruits and vegetables makes it more likely that one variety will be suited to the weather conditions of that particular year, or will be particularly resistant to the bugs or diseases that are active that season. For instance, in one year lettuce might do very well, but spinach crashes. In another year, four out of seven varieties of tomatoes fall prey to spider mites, but three resist the infestation. In another year, only the okra survives a horrible drought.

Keep in mind that I live in an urban area - although our lot is about 1 1/2 to 2 times the size of other urban lots. We also have a lot of shade from my pecan trees in our back yard, which limits the space for our garden. Here's my list of things I'm currently growing (not necessarily harvesting yet!):

Fruits and nuts (fruit trees are semi-dwarf):
2 Kiwi
5 Blackberry (Apache, Arapaho, Navaho)
1 Persimmon (Nikita's gift)
2 Peach (JH Hale and Hale Haven)
3 Plums (Italian, Beauty, Santa Rosa)
2 Apples (Enterprise and Liberty)
2 Pears
2 Pecan
1 Goumi
1 Elderberry
1 Grape
1 Fig

Rosemary (Trailing and BBQ)
Sage (Purple)
Oregano, Greek
Lemon Balm
Mint (Chocolate and Peppermint)

Knock Out Roses
Flower Carpet Roses
Daylilies (5 kinds)
Salvia (2 kinds)
Bridal Wreath Spirea
Eunymous, evergreen
Eunymous, burning bush
False indigo
Crape myrtle (3 kinds)
Creeping Phlox
Virginia Creeper

Bean, Purple Pod
Bean, Golden Wax
Bean, Hyacinth
Bean, Rattlesnake Pole
Bean, Old Kentucky Pole
Bean, Chinese Red Yard-Long
Malabar Spinach
Tomato, 7 kinds
Pepper, 4 kinds
Butternut Squash
Sunflower, 2 kinds
Bull's Blood beets
Okra, Red Velvet
Zuchinni, 2 kinds
Swiss Chard

"Weeds" (some of which are edible):
Bermuda grass
Lambs quarters
Wild strawberry
Dwarf white clover

One aspect of biodiversity I am completely missing is animals. Right now, there's only humans, squirrels, several kinds of birds, and of course insects, living on our property. No chickens, honey bees, ducks, captive worms, rabbits, fish, etc. Nada. I think it would add a lot to our plan to have one or more of these animals here.

One of my problems is that I can't see us killing any chickens, ducks or rabbits for meat - I don't eat meat except for fish, although I don't rule it out in an unpredictable future. Animals definitely take time to care for, every day without fail. So it may be awhile before I am able to add animals to our urban home - but I'd like to do it in the next five years.

I would also like to expand my medicinal garden. Although I currently don't know how to use any of the herbs, it would be nice to have them available. I also plan to double the size of my vegetable garden - so I can have more tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cantalopes, strawberries, and squash. I believe this is the year to accomplish that goal!


Tara said...

You'd be surprised how little time and effort animals take. There is an investment of time and money at the front end to acquire them and get them set up with housing and fencing, but once they're in place, the time is minimal. Far less time than tending all your plants, probably. Caring for our chickens takes about 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening, and we have fresh eggs (and we do kill for meat - we do a bunch at a time, about twice a year). Rabbits take about 5-10 minutes a day. Our goats take a bit more time, but still not much. Mostly because we enjoy spending time with them. We spend about 10 minutes a day feeding and watering them, and about 30 minutes milking (including prep and cleanup). All the rest is just fun hangout time. Bees and worms need very little attention. All of that together would add up to a significant amount of time, but you could easily incorporate one or two things and not notice much difference in your routine. Worms, rabbits and chickens are ultra-low maintenance, and even if you don't eat them, your garden will love the endless supply of manure and castings!

Verde said...

I find the same as Tara. We have killed chickens but if you get hens, you don't have to. We don't plan on eating our rabbits unless our lives change drastically - then they're available.

We enjoy the cirtters, make pets out of them, and they in turn feed us, and provide lots of mulch and fertalizer for the garden. I am amazed how much manure a giant rabbit produces - let alone a garage full ;-)

Lewru said...

What's a goumi and how do you grow it? Also - where and how are you growing all those beans?! Wow!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Tara and Verde - Thanks for the info on animals!

Lewru - A goumi is a nitrogen fixing shrub with small red berries. If I had to do it over, I wouldn't :). The beans - I found some space along the fence for the pole beans and hubby helped build a bean teepee. The bush beans I just planted in small patches - 4 four-foot rows. I'm looking forward to seeing them grow!

Chile said...

I vote for "captive worms". They'd be fun to watch, good for making rich castings, and edible in a dire emergency.

debra said...

this year we added rabbits (4), ducks(2) and chickens(2) and worms (seems somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion). they take far less time than you might think. the worm bin is in the far corner of what used to be our formal dining room and is now where i keep my seeds, seedlings and supplies. it's a few qucik steps from the kitchen to the bin for scraps that the chickens won't eat and the compost bucket is too full to hold. the rabbits are on the side yard just outside the kitchen window and in the same area as my raised beds. it's the kid's responsibility to make sure the rabbits are fed and watered daily. right now we have all bucks and they pay for their keep by providing the manure for my beds. we did have an incident recently where 3 of them broke free while i was working (my own fault for leaving them in the grazing pens with loose locks). they ate the leave off 2 corn plants, took good sized chunks out of the romain lettuce and polished off 2 cauliflower plants. won't make that mistake again. the ducks are pretty self reliant and the most i do for them is let the garden hose run for a bit to make the ground nice and soggy. my front garden is virtually slug and caterpiller free thanks to the ducks. the chickens are still too young for eggs and spend most of their time waiting to be fed. they go absolutely bananas for grubs from the compost pile and when a fly wanders by, the chase is on! it's very entertaining. all in all, i think we spend less than 20 minutes feeding everyone in the morning and again in the evening

BOG said...

Our goat does valuable service by eating brush on our rural acreage.I need to fence more of the property around our house so the goat can maintain a firebreak.I had a coworker lose their home to wildfire recently.

Ron Strilaeff said...

It looks like you are in about the same stage of yard/garden development we are: quite a few perennial trees and shrubs that are not quite producing food yet. And no animals except the wild ones, but we do have plans for chickens and bees. Good luck and keep writing! btw: what kind of kiwi plants do you have and how old are they?

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi Ron - We have one male, one female of the hardy kiwis from Burnt Ridge. They were just planted a few months ago, but are definitely alive and will need a trellis soon - as soon as the ground dries out enough for us to make one.