Permaculture is a real solution, something we can all do and it can "pay for itself" by making our lives healthier, wealthier and wiser. It's not about sacrifice or arguing over politics. It's getting down to work on our own gardens, homes, neighborhoods and communities.
This season, we'll be documenting our "inputs" and "yields" from our one, small urban Permaculture site on a monthly basis.
For March, normally a "lean time" in the garden, here's what we harvested:
Produce20+ lbs jerusalem artichokes. (some were replanted and given as gifts without being weighed.)
4 large belgian endives (or equivilent.)
10 packages cress, oregano and other herbs. (similar size to those sold in stores.)
4 bunches green onions.
1 box spring greens mix (sorrel, lettuce, salad burnet, kale, etc.)
1 bunch chives
16 heads of heirloom garlic
And one of the biggest benefits of a perennial garden or forest garden is that it also produces plants. This March, we've harvested at least $300 of perennial plants at low-end market rate, including salad burnet, anise hyssop, hyssop officialnis, variagated comfrey, monarda, turkish rocket, Belle de Boskoop Sorrel, a dozen crosnes, thyme, oregano, yarrow, walking onions, chives, garlic chives, blackberries, elderberries, black raspberries... but that estimate does not include sun chokes we've transplanted.
And it doesn't include valuable plants that have self-sown and spread for us, including some rather expensive edible plants. This month, we've found whole new patches of ramps, claytonia virginica, mayapple, and ostrich fern, chives, garlic chives, etc. that we didn't have to plant.
2 dozen large rabbit chew sticks,
2 new mushroom patches (kits typically cost $50 each)
5 bags of mulch, organic,
4 small vermicompost systems, 1 new large bin.
Our garden has also provided us with seeds, including Arugula, carrots, lettuce, salad cress, squash, corn, poppies, jerusalem artichokes, chives, garlic chives, bulbing fennel, cilantro, chicory, egyptian onions, turkish rocket, leeks, tomatoes, mache, chop suey greens, marshmallow, etc. Easily $60+ worth.
Estimated total Yields in Dollars:
It's difficult to fully estimate the cash equivilent of a lot of these products, as market values are often VERY high, probably somewhat inflated for many of these Permaculture veggies. Produce like sorrel, endive, cress and sunchokes often sell for very high prices. For example, at "market rate," the prices I've seen online and at our local food coop, we harvested a few hundred dollars in chokes alone!
So, we've low-balled this estimate, rounding down items and using "lowest market rate" on some of the high-priced items, to come up with a really reliable minimum market value number:
Total minimum market value: $840.
Here, we'll move away from "hard numbers," to speculation. Keep in mind, we were not harvesting for the market this month, and could have harvested 3 or 4 times this quantitiy without disturbing the system. If a reliable market could be found to accept all of what our system could produce, I believe we could have sustainably harvested $3,000 worth of plants and produce at fair market value this March without compromising the stability of our system. It's possible that with clever marketing and value-added products, our monetary yield could have been substantially higher than that, but that would have also required much greater time inputs on marketing and production.
Through most of March, we did very little other than harvest food.
Last year, we recorded and found that we spent an average of 2 hours per week in the garden doing maintenance work, with some weeks getting no non-harvest labor. However, this year, we expect to be putting in significantly more time because we're significantly increasing the yields from our system. To me, this is an ideal system, where you can put more in and get more out, but if you don't have the time, it largely takes care of itself. Kim and I spent one whole day, probably 8 hours for a combined total of 16 hours doing garden work, potting up plants, thinning raspbery cains, and mulching. Most of this was probably aesthetic, but some of it will increase our yields this year. In addition, we both spent a few hours together doing work on a couple of week nights.
Total March work time: 24 hours, 6 hours/week.
Minimum hourly return on investment, or "hourly rate:" $38/hour
We also brought in one load of wood chip mulch from the Kalamazoo City mulch pile to start a new garden bed. This was the only off-site input so far this year. We anticipate that wood mulch for starting new beds will be the only off-site input for the year.
Additional Farm Income:
This month, we also had significant farm income for our Community Supported Forest Gardening program. So far, we've had a lot of positive support from the community and generated a lot of interest, making this an encouraging model for others operating a classic homescale Permaculture system. However, because of the complexity of the program, I will be reporting on that in depth at a later time.