This page describes our permaculture pilot project and the ideas behind it.
The aim of permaculture is to work with nature to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that mostly looks after itself, with only minimal maintenance. In the process the soil is enriched, so producing a good crop yield every year while greatly improving biodiversity.
A wide range of plant species is chosen, to encourage beneficial relationships so that all become more resilient and less susceptible to pests and diseases. The plants chosen have different functions which can enhance each other’s growth – for example some may deter pests while others fix nitrogen. This can also create habitats for wildlife, which also enhances diversity.
Working with nature means taking account of and using the attributes of the site, such as water availability, sun and shade, wind direction and soil variation.
Once the site is underway, the aim is to create no waste (or as little as possible). Nothing should have to be removed from the site and thrown away. And after the initial planting stage, nothing should have to be brought in.
Some suggested sources of further information are given at the end.
Aims of the project
The main aim of our pilot permaculture project is to create a small forest and orchard garden. This will:
- produce fruit, perennial vegetables, herbs and wood
- provide a good habitat for wildlife
- be a beautiful and pleasant place to visit
- educate by demonstrating long-term, sustainable methods of growing
- try out ideas such as companion planting, to see how well they work
The Woodway Permaculture Project
The plot for the project is 0.4 acres of open field. It has not been cultivated in recent years, but has been used for occasional grazing by horses, and before that for Tamworth pigs. It is quite exposed and windy, with chalky, alkaline soil. The first photo shows the plot (looking west) before any work had been done.
The shelter-belt hedge
The project began in February–March 2011 by planting a mixed, native-plant hedge on the south and west sides of the plot. This is meant to provide a shelter belt from the wind, helping the plants that will be added later. Some of the 400-odd plants in the hedge will provide edible fruits and berries. They will also provide nourishment and shelter to wildlife. The leaf fall from the hedge will begin to add organic matter to the soil, improving its structure and making it less alkaline.
The main planting day, in February 2011, was a wonderful occasion that saw most of the hedge planted by an enthusiastic group of helpers. A huge mound of compost, made from the contents of brown garden-waste bins, had been provided. We planted hawthorn, hazel, crab apple, wild plum, blackthorn (sloe), dog rose, purging buckthorn, elder and guelder rose. We also planted a small, separate hazel grove, for coppicing to produce wood.
See our photo gallery for a full set of pictures before, during and after planting the hedge.
The first year provided some tough conditions for the hedge, with an exceptionally dry spring. However, all but a few of the 400-plus plants survived, despite the field being exposed and having poor soil. The last photo shows the hedge in May 2013, after two summers of growth.
Fruit trees and bushes
The second stage was to plant some fruit trees and bushes. We started in October–December 2011 by mulching the upper area of the field to suppress the grass and to enrich the soil. We spread cardboard and covered it with horse manure from the neighbouring farm and the local stables. On 11 December we planted a dozen fruit trees, including (among others) cherries, medlars, quince, gages, pears and apples. We also planted a wide variety of soft fruit: raspberries, currants (black, red and white), gooseberries, etc. (Photos below, and more in our photo gallery.) There is a separate diagram (pdf) of the trees and soft fruit that have been planted to date as well as some explanation (pdf) about the different types of trees we chose.
In April and May 2012, including a planting and weeding working party on 7 May, we planted a wide variety of perennial herbs and ground-cover plants in the cultivated areas (photos below: whitecurrant bush in blossom, weeding, thyme plant). The last photo is a general view taken in August 2012.
In November and December 2012 we added 10 additional fruit trees: two varieties of pears, a purple and a yellow plum, mirabelle, damson, crab apple, cobnut, sweet almond and black mulberry. We also planted a low hedge using rosa rugosa, which produces large edible rosehips, across the middle of the field to give some shelter as well as divide up and decorate the plot.
In March and April 2013 we added lots of autumn raspberries and asparagus, as well as a wide variety of perennial herbs and other ground-cover plants.
We have built compost heaps from scrap wood, filling them with the large quantity of leaves collected during the village clean-up days in the autumn. The leaves will be used to mulch areas of plant beds to suppress weeds.
In February 2013, aided and guided by the expertise and hard work of Lawrence Graham, a living willow shelter was constructed. The willow will grow and give a shaded, green space where we can sit and enjoy the site. The photos show the shelter being constructed ready to grow, and a view of it taken in May 2013.
At the end of June we had a working party to clear the ‘flourishing’ weeds – the first photo below shows the working party, the second one an Austrian scythe in action, and the third one a view in August including our new sign. From July to September we had some soft fruit to sell at the Blewbury Garden Market, most notably a good quantity of blackcurrant jam using fruit from the project. We also put up for sale redcurrants, whitecurrants, courgettes and french beans. The herbs have attracted huge numbers of bees and a wonderful variety of butterflies, including the Painted Lady in the fourth photo. In September we had another working party to tidy up for the winter, and a celebration barbecue for our helpers and people who have donated plants.
In December 2013 we planted more trees: two types of cherry, a Bramley apple, an early purple plum, a greengage and a flowering lime; as well as more fruit bushes: two each of blackberry, tayberry, boysenberry, jostaberry and kiwi berry. These are all on our diagram (pdf) and there is more information on our trees here (pdf).
The 2014 season was quite successful. Trees and bushes started to produce reasonable quantities of fruit, and the ground cover on some of the more established plots started taking over from some of the weeds. We sold a variety of things at the Blewbury Garden Market: quite a few globe artichokes, autumn raspberries, French beans, Early Transparent gages, Beth and Concorde pears, and jam (rhubarb & ginger, blackcurrant, and blackcurrant & raspberry). Crops with smaller yields were shared among the people working on the project: recurrants, Japanese wineberries, wild strawberries, Marjorie Seedling plums and medlars. Some of these were from trees in their first year on the plot.
On 7th September we had a very enjoyable and successful open day, to explain to visitors what we are doing and show them how it is going. A number of children who came had a wonderful time looking at the plants and playing in the long grass and willow shelter.
The first photo shows springtime tea in tea in the willow shelter, the second is an early summer view of the plot, and the third the open day.
Plans for the future
Permaculture aims to use all available space, so we will plant multiple layers. We will add more perennial herbs, ground cover, vegetables and climbers, using the trees for support.
For more information about our project in Blewbury, please contact Eric Eisenhandler:
Association website has a wide range of information on permaculture courses,
projects, developments and news. There is also a good ‘Knowledge Base’ which
contains articles about permaculture ranging from the basics to more specialised
Permanent Publications publishes the excellent quarterly magazine Permaculture
– Inspiration for Sustainable Living, and sells a range of permaculture
The Agroforestry Research Trust provides information on plants for forest
gardens, and also supplies them.
Plants for a Future gives information on edible, medicinal and otherwise useful
plants that may not be well known. This is a very useful resource to enlarge
your knowledge about plant varieties and for choosing plants for a permaculture
There is a Yahoo group for people in the Oxford area who are interested in permaculture. Please contact Sarah Deco atif you are interested in joining.