I live in a neighborhood with a HOA. When my house was built, the scraped away all of the topsoil, and neglected to replace it. I'm left with a flat area with only clay under my feet. Its a blessing and a curse. I live in the central coast of California and we just had our driest January in history. So whatever rain soaks into my back yard, stays in the clay for a while.
I've already established the whole path as a 'wild zone', i never step foot in it. There is a nice natural poly-culture that I didn't plant including; vetch, curly dock, dandelion, various grass, and some tall weeds with a huge radish-like taproot, and a few more. I plan on introducing alfalfa to the wild zone because I heard it will do well in clay, and drought/soaked conditions.
I have several sources for spent mushroom compost that I can get for free. Our HOA uses a local landscaping service who come to work weekly. They rake leaves onto tarps, mow the grass, and trim trees/shrubs. I have built a relationship with the workers, and i'm encouraged to take as much material off of their hands as i wish. Its a win-win, they have fewer tarps of stuff to haul away, I have an unlimited supply of local organic matter to add to my garden as mulch or compostables. Every fall, i gather as much leaves as I can from the neighborhood and lay it thick on my raised beds.
I haven't produced much food on my plot yet, I feel like I should be more focused on investing in my soil before I focus on production. Can anybody suggest a few essential edibles you feel should be in every permaculture plot? Does anybody have pointers? Or before/after photos for inspiration?
I don't think it's entirely an either/or; I think you can produce while you're building soil (and also then whatever you produce will have some non-edible biomass to go back into your compost piles!).
The soil-building you're doing sounds great. When I moved into my current place, the garden was entirely under paving slabs, and when I yanked those up, underneath was good solid compacted London clay I went for raised beds and just dumped lots of stuff on top without bothering to open the clay up at all. 3 years in, you can get a fork in pretty easily a fair way down, so the soil does fix itself over time as the soil health improves. Are you seeing much soil life (worms and multi-legged beasties) in there?
I'm not so familiar with your climate conditions (being UK-based), so some of my essential edibles might not work so well. I love rocket (arugula), and it self-seeds like a champion, but that might bolt very fast in your summer? Over here, comfrey is a favourite: edible (though to be honest I rarely eat it), a good insect plant, and has amazing long roots that pull nutrients up from a long way down in the soil. It is pretty heat- and drought-tolerant over here so might be good?
How about some fruit or nut trees? Give a bit of shade in hot conditions which can be good for both humans and other plants...
Annoyingly I don't have a proper 'before' photo for my garden, but this album has a couple of photos from 8 months - 2 years in. (It's 3.5 years now; need more photos!) In one of them you can see next door's fully-paved garden, so my 'before' photo basically looked like that!
(edit: aha, partner has come good with a photo from the month before we actually moved in. Only greenery was a single rose tree!)
Thanks Miles! Just a few days ago, before a rainy weekend, I cleaned out my seed stash of old seeds and just threw them into the wild zone. I never thought I would do anything with those seeds, but whatever grows there is welcome.
I did think about growing some deep rooted vegetable like parsnips, just to break up the soil. I heard of one soil conditioning technique where they just left the root veggies in the ground, to break it up, then add organic matter.
Juliet, you've got a nice looking backyard, i'll see if i can manage a few pictures which illustrate my situation. It's funny that you mentioned rocket, i just scattered some seeds a few days ago. They might be popping up now, i'll have to go check when I get a chance.
I made a little raised bed out of straw bales and filled it with mushroom compost and composted horse manure mixed with bedding, and just about 2 years later, i can stick my hand into the ground where I was never even able to stick in a shovel.
I'm amazed at the amount of worms I have in my back-yard. I have a ton of pill bugs, my HOA doesn't allow chickens so i don't really know what to do about those. I have many different kinds of bugs; spiders, centipedes, crickets, aphids, various beetles, bees, and hover flies.
I'm in a mediterranean climate. I'm actually in a town called Watsonville. We grow most of the worlds strawberries and raspberries (Driscolls is the big brand you might recognize). We are also famous for our Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. I live in a big agricultural community, I have a climate in which I can grow year round. Its the beginning of February and I have 2 artichokes the size of big grapefruits ready to harvest.
I have two terraced beds filled with topsoil. In the picture below, you see the lowest bed with goji berry supported by a tripod, artichokes at either end, and you see the highest bed planted with perennial ground cover, lupine, various sages and salvias like greggi, african sage, microphylla, cleveland sage, and phigellium. I just planted a bunch of sunflower seeds on the top bed. I raise african nightcrawlers in the blue bin you just to the right of the goji. I keep them on the retaining wall because it acts as a thermal mass to keep the worms warmer. They like a much hotter and humid environment than the red wigglers.
[img]<a href="http://imgur.com/L97CqmY"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/L97CqmY.jpg" title="source: imgur.com" /></a>[/img]
Below is my wild zone. I have an area flagged off to the right, i'll be putting some sort of patio to that sliding glass door. Mostly following that flag line is a path, that is the right most border of the wild zone and it extends in a meandering line all the way to the back fence. This photo was taken 2/09/15 at around 11am. As you can see, most of the wild zone is in shade this time of day and year. There is more sun available toward the fence. Just at the base of the hill in the top left of the picture, I planted a cotoneaster, it will bring birds to my house to keep the aphids and pill bugs away. Just 8 feet up the hill, I planted a madrone about a foot away from the fence.
[img]<a href="http://imgur.com/n0AwpW9"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/n0AwpW9.jpg" title="source: imgur.com" /></a>[/img]
Here, you see a successful experiment, at the base of the lowest retaining wall is a long pile of mushroom compost mulched with leaves. There are a few canes of raspberries to my right I just planted 2 weeks ago with borage at its base and some freshly sown chive seeds. This row is about 20 feet long, 3 feet wide and maybe 8 inches tall at its peak.
[img]<a href="http://imgur.com/hajEEql"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/hajEEql.jpg" title="source: imgur.com" /></a>[/img]
Here is a view of the bed from another angle. You see calendula to the left, california poppy in the middle, nasturtium behind the bed, an artichoke experiment in the pots on the bed, and above, you can see an artichoke plant, with a patch of borage to its left. I spread rocket seeds all to the artichoke's right side.
[img]<a href="http://imgur.com/ikJfoMT"><img src="http://i.imgur.com/ikJfoMT.jpg" title="source: imgur.com" /></a>[/img]