Intrepid housesitter Silvina Lipari learns permaculture techniques while garden sitting in Europe. Read on to learn her top tips drawn from her experience garden sitting around Europe.
7 Useful Tips for Garden Sitting with Permaculture
By Silvina Lipari
House sitting isn’t only about pets. Sometimes, you have to care for a garden. While “garden sitting” in Livanates, Greece and Granada, Spain, I learned about permaculture: It is permanent agriculture, “the conscious design and maintenance of productive agricultural ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems,” according to the Permaculture Research Institute.
According to the Institute, permaculture integrates landscapes with people to provide sustainable food, energy and shelter. So “garden sitting” was a real thing!
What I learned while garden sitting
While garden sitting, I learned how to make compost, how to treat soil with organic materials and how to create a drip watering system.
1. To be successful at garden sitting, you have to know that there are no such things as “weeds”. Weeds can harbor and feed insects such as ladybugs and dragonflies that are natural pest controls.
2. Just like people, plants get along with each other – or not. There are favorable and unfavorable associations between crops in a garden, so understanding which plants are and are not complementary can be very helpful.
For example, some plants extract or integrate a certain mineral in the soil that can help complimentary plants. Other plants repel insects that are harmful to other complimentary plants. This is called “synergistic gardening”.
Enhancing the soil while garden sitting
3. I learned to use a permaculture technique called “mulching”, where I applied a layer of dead plants and dry leaves over the soil. This preserves moisture and improves soil fertility.
4. Composting is another permaculture technique I learned while garden sitting. Compost is made with dry leaves, grass, branches and wet food waste from fruits and vegetables, egg shells, peels, and tea and coffee grounds.
Composting not only reduces garbage headed for landfills, it adds nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the garden.
Additionally, compost retains water, provides supplemental amounts of slow-release nutrients, and increases the organic matter content of the soil, which enhances plant growth.
Garden sitting taught me efficient watering
5. Rainwater harvesting is a simple technique that supports the philosophy of permaculture. The most efficient method of collecting rainwater is to redirect runoff water from gutters of houses into large barrels or drainage tanks that create a water reservoir.
6. I learned to create a drip water system from plastic beverage bottles. I filled a bottle with water, closed it tightly and made a small hole using a needle. I then placed the bottle in the soil near the plant. The water drips out slowly and keeps the plant wet.
While garden sitting, I was asked to refill the bottles once they were empty. The owner explained how the bottles were made and how they worked.
7. Worms play an important role in a permaculture garden as they help keep the land loose and in good health. A well-structured garden consists of populations of worms and beneficial insects that reduce the need for pesticides or fungicides.
6 Tips for creating your own permaculture garden
When I have the chance to have my own house, I will surely use these techniques I learned while garden sitting. I think garden sitting was very useful to learn how to create and maintain a permaculture garden. I will be able to save money, avoid the use of pesticides, and maintain the soil. Here’s how to create your own permaculture garden:
1. Get familiar with the environment
Take the time to observe. Where is the area you intend to plant? Which part of the lawn receives the most direct sunlight and for how long? Where do the winds usually come from and how strong do they tend to be? How much rain falls? Does the soil clump anywhere?
2. Plan the design or layout based on your budget
Decide on your budget. How much can you invest? That will determine how and what you plant.
How will the garden be watered? Will there be an irrigation system? Will you water in the morning or at sunset? Will you use recycled water? These considerations will affect your budget.
3. Choose the plants
What plants are most suitable in your environment? For example, if your garden area does not receive direct sunlight, consider planting leafy greens or other plants that can grow in the shade. If you have areas that receive direct sunlight, you can consider planting tomatoes or other plants that need more heat.
It is important to choose seasonal plants. Seeds cost less than already germinated plants, and future seeds can be obtained from the harvest.
Consider how much time you want to invest in creating and maintaining the garden. If it’s not much, consider low-maintenance plants.
4. Build the garden
Now that you know which plants you’ll choose, it’s time to build! It is important to invest in high-quality flooring. Remember that the soil is also alive, and healthy soil requires nutrients and care, just like plants.
There are different styles of beds you can choose from when building your permaculture garden:
• Horseshoe-shaped gardens are often very aesthetic and favor the “edge effect”. The edge acts like a net or drain.
• The “lasagna” technique consists of layering the soil with different materials that over time will decompose and feed the plants. This structure allows the water and the plants’ roots to penetrate and enrich the soil.
• An elevated patch or bed is a delimited growing area that is never stepped on. It allows cultivation with a maximum of diversity in a minimum of space.
5. Watch the plants grow and enjoy the harvest!
Maintain the garden throughout the months. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you grow. Some plants may not produce; take it all as experience.
6. Annual maintenance
To maintain the garden over the years, it is important to remember to rotate crops. That is, each year make sure you don’t plant something from the same family in the same place as the year before.
Research which plants use which nutrients in the soil and try planting a different crop that needs different nutrients or, better yet, return those nutrients to the soil. Consider what worked and what didn’t, and learn for next time.
I am really happy that garden sitting allowed me to learn permaculture techniques I will apply in my own garden.
Need garden sitters for your property?
One of the best ways to keep your garden and property well maintained and secure when you are away from home is to find house sitters and garden sitters. House sitters and garden sitters, on your instruction, will keep all the home and garden routines going in your absence, and they keep pets cared for too.
FURTHER READING FOR A GARDEN SITTER, A HOMEOWNER AND GARDENER
At Housesitmatch.com we like to offer useful and practical articles on topics for our readers. In this selection we offer you a number of suitable pieces from our own blog on managing a home, garden and pets with the help of house sitters and garden sitters.
Journalist Silvina Lipari is the author of “The Adventures of a Solo Female Traveler” and blogs at viajeconpoco.blogspot.com.
Follow her on Instagram: instagram.com/silvinalipari.