Gardening often feels like magic, but it’s not magic enough to make something out of nothing.
The trouble with many gardening systems is that the something that you have to put in ends up costing as much as what you get out. Smart gardening is as much about minimising what you have to put in as it is about making what you get out as luscious and prolific as possible. Really smart gardening – which is what I reckon permaculture is – is about finding resources that you get paid to take away – problems that you can turn into fertiliser.
An example of a problem that makes a really good garden resource is the problem of getting rid of your kitchen refuse. If you keep a box of earthworms, or a couple of chooks, you can turn the problem of what to do with all those container gardens that need cleaning out of the fridge, into the resource of nice sweet smelling rich garden soil, for next to no effort.
You can do it for so little effort that it becomes economical to take on other people’s problems, and dispose of kitchen scraps for your neighbours, your workmates, your local school, even the neighbourhood snack bar.
Another great problem to have is what to do with lawn clippings and garden refuse – your own and more interestingly, your local lawn mowing service. He probably has to pay to dump lawn clippings, and in the bigger towns he has to do an expedition to the outer suburbs as well. He’s likely to be very pleased to find a free, handy disposal site. He may well even have a mulcher to chomp up the garden prunings.
Again there’s an IF. Lawn clippings tend to matt down if you use too many without anything to balance them. But if you can track down a good local source of animal manure to go with them, preferably some that is a problem where it is, then this is compost that is worth the making.
Another example is the problem of a local creek or waterway that is clogged up with waterweeds. If you take on the job or clearing some of them out, you get a free, easily collected bulk compost ingredient, or worm food, and the credit for environmental clean-up work.. Or a local park or playing field or vacant lot that needs mowing. These resources take effort to collect. But at least you get paid double for the effort – once in kudos for the clean-up job, and once in compost for the vegetables.
The trick is to of have an eye for the resource value of everything that was once living. You need to identify every bulk source of organic matter that is within your normal range. Nothing you have to go too far out of your way for, because then it ends up costing more effort than its worth. But in every locality I’ve ever come across, there is somewhere that organic matter is accumulating in such bulk that it’s causing a problem.
Designing your gardening system around the kinds of organic matter that represent problems in your local area, is the first step in setting up a garden that operates at a profit – where what you put in doesn’t need carrots made of gold to justify it.