Tuesday, February 24, 2009

getting somewhere with design

"Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being proceeded by a period of worry and depression.” John Harvey-Jones

While it’s certain possible to over intellectualize the process of design, it’s also just as likely that doing without thinking can lead to failure. Brainstorming about garden design is easy enough for most people. Many of us can conjure up images of gardens or at least thumb through online images of chicken tractors and victory gardens and dream about doing that in our own yards. The difficult task seems to be translating these visions into successful projects- taking information and putting it to work; the result of which will be the experience you will need to be successful in the long run.

As a place to start we’re going to discuss the process of design needed to organize the gardening/farming efforts of entire property. The first step is the brainstorming mentioned above. It helps to get an idea of what you want out of your outdoor efforts. To that end we used a questionnaire to organize your Needs & Wants. The second step is to take a Site Inventory of your property. The next step is to begin deciding what might go where. Of course this is the part that requires an understanding of how garden and growing food works.

At this point let me put you at ease by suggesting that you are definitely going to make some mistakes. Don’t let a fear of failure paralyze you at this point. Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough knowledge to know where the chicken coop should go or if a particular spot will be sunny enough for your vegetable garden. The best you can do is to read and ask questions of knowledgeable people regarding these issues. At some point though you’re going to have to make a decision and get at it. One thing of which I am certain is that if you do not move forward with your gardening project, you will never eat food from it.

So now is the time, right or wrong, to begin making decisions about what is going where. Bubble in your decisions on a copy of your Base Plan, the plan you came up with as an inventory of your property. All your Needs & Wants should be represented graphically on this Bubble Plan. It is going to change as you share it with people and they offer constructive criticism. It’s going to change as your Needs & Wants change. It’s going o change as your budget dictates and for a whole host of other reasons but at least for now you need to have a starting point from which to begin- a point from which to begin the actual change. This Bubble Plan will offer you something else as well. It will help you organize and further design the individual areas or sites of your property.

Say for instance you have designated your front yard as the primary place for your vegetable garden. At this point you have a large bubble encircling the front yard with the words, “Veggies Go Here,” written across that bubble. Once you’ve finished bubbling your entire property you can revisit the front yard bubble and begin to refine its design. Ask yourself, What does that garden space actually look like? Where are the paths? How wide are they? Where does the tall stuff like corn go so as not to shade out the short stuff? Do you need water beyond what rains? If so where will it come from? Will the hose reach? How many tomatoes will you grow? Peppers? Kohlrabi? Do you need a fence? Once you’ve established an over all plan for your property you can drill down into the design of these specific sites without feeling overwhelmed. This strategy breaks the design process into a Master Plan for the overall property and Site Plans for individual sites throughout your property. Your Master Plan is just a refined Bubble Plan. Here, let’s draw it. If you haven’t figured this out I’m more of a visual person.

It’s important to remember that Design is not a noun, not in this context at least. Design is a verb and refers to an ongoing process. A Plan (Bubble or Site or Master) is the noun, the product of the design process. The arrows that loop back to the beginning of this diagram represent the fact that both the needs & wants and the site conditions relevant to a particular garden or farm project will constantly change. It’s alright to stop along the way and consider a Master Plan or a particular Site Plan to be “finished” so that you don’t go crazy with constantly redesigning your property. But recognize that over time your Plans will change while the process of design will continue.


anna banana said...

Aaron, I have a question about design and soil health. Say I want to plant corn so that it doesn't shade the rest of my veggies. It goes to the north of everything else in my plan, but I can't plant corn in the same bed year after year after year without depleting the soil. I want to rotate my "crops" without sacrificing my design plan. Any general suggestions to that end?

Anna in NYC (working with a tiny backyard over here)

nulinegvgv said...

Hello Anna,

Yes ideally you'd have several locations for corn, all of which would be north of other vegetables and you would rotate. You could try finding somewhere else to plant it in conjunction with other people in your neighborhood or in a community garden. You could double crop and follow the corn with a nitrogen fixer like soybeans all within the same season. You could also alternate years and grow a nitrogen fixer in that area every other year. Or you could try a 'three sisters' approach and grow beans op the corn in an attempt to feed the soil while the corn is growing.