Eight years ago, when we were still living in Prince Rupert, I took my Permaculture Design Course (PDC), and created a design project for our home there (called Creag Faoiltiarna Fitheach). Not too much later, we moved to Port Neville Inlet, and so the Prince Rupert project was never completed. I had intended to make up a new design for our home in the Inlet, but life got in the way, as they say, and it’s only this year that I finally got around to that task.
What really got me thinking about permaculture again was the really ugly weather we’ve all been through this year in British Columbia. For us, it started as a cold, wet spring, which resulted in poor germination for many of my garden plants that prefer a little warmth. Then we got a blast of hot weather, which stalled the garden further. Finally, the “heat dome” arrived, thoroughly cooking any survivors. While our annual garden was depressingly poor, except for some plants which I had in containers, the tree fruits and berries did surprisingly well.
All of this got me to thinking about how we need to be doing things in a better way. The implications of climate change were further driven home by wave after wave of “atmospheric rivers” dumping immense amounts of rain on our heads, which were finally followed by six inches of heavy, wet snow and yet more rain. Clearly, status quo has gone up in smoke (quite literally in some places this summer).
Although we have weathered the “storms” here in Port Neville very well, compared to many other people in the Province, still, it has been a learning experience. We will need to find better ways towards sustainability than we have currently been practicing. In particular, our annual garden is not going to be able to survive on sandy sloping soil with a southern exposure in the “new” hot summers that we’re going to see more often. Soil erosion from both wind and rain, poor retention of water and nutrients, and intense exposure to the summer’s sun are all things that we will need to deal with if we would like to continue with our experiment in self-sufficiency. And we need to recognize that the ecosystem that fares best here is a forested one, not open, exposed fields.
“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”
— Bill Mollison, the “father” of permaculture
At the end of my pondering, I returned to a concept from permaculture that I had touched on in my Prince Rupert plan. What we need here is a food forest. A food forest (or forest garden) is a garden that mimics the structures of a natural forest, with multiple layers of plants stacked vertically to increase overall production. Forest gardening is a low-maintenance, sustainable, plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Making use of companion planting, these can be intermixed to grow in a succession of layers to build a woodland habitat.
Not only can a food forest provide sustenance, it can deal with the multiple issues of soil erosion, loss of fertility, water retention, and increased warming. Furthermore, it mimics what we have observed to be the most successful ecosystem in the region, and it also creates a habitat for both domestic and wild animals. Sounds like a “win-win” solution to me.
My first step in getting this new permaculture design project underway was to research a number of useful plants which would be suitable to our local climatic conditions. For those who are interested in the details of this research, the table of contents, which links to the pdf document, is given below. In the linked document, you will see yellow highlighting, which indicates plants that we would like to get, and blue highlighting, which indicates plants that we already have.
Edible Permaculture Plants for Port Neville
Table of Contents
Part 1 – Contents
Part 2 – Conifers
Part 3 – Nut Trees
Part 4 – Fruit Trees and Bushes
Part 6 – Edible Trees
Having selected some trees and shrubs that we would like to plant in our food forest, the next step is to map the locations where these trees should be planted to make the best use of our site’s microclimates. Check out the permaculture design at the Tir Ceòlmhor Food Forest Project page.