How to Start a permaculture garden in Worcester (Part 1).
If you follow our journey, you might have known that we decided to not sell our house but to stay and start a “permaculture” garden here, in Worcester.
Besides the fact that we really like gardening, we thought it would be important to build towards some semblance of food security. Why? The collapse of the economy from a local, national and international perspective has placed a lot of assumptions we take for granted into question. Will the price of food skyrocket? Will we be able to access adequate amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables? Living in flush times for so long most of us take all of this for granted and we did not want to be caught totally unprepared. This is why we took the steps to ramp up our permaculture garden plans.
Note that we haven’t done much “permaculture” gardening ourselves, but are striving for it with the hope that eventually, the garden will thrive by itself with very little maintenance. So let’s start. Know that you’re in the game long-term. If you will stay at your current place for at least 5-10 years or you know that is your forever home, then this is for you. Start as soon as you can.
The First Year plan:
Test your soil, cover your designated lot for gardening with wood chips and just let it sit for the first year (if you have patience). Then, build a fence.
- Test your soil: In Worcester, you can have your soil tested for lead and nutrients through UMass or UMaine. As we are both work from home and with a toddler, it is not easy to take the samples as required from the instruction. We did the soil test through Worcester County Conservation District. Joel Betts (conservation planner) who will come to your house, take your soil samples and send them to the labs. He will also interpret the results and recommend action and next steps based on your results as well. We highly recommend this way for young families like ours. Super convenient and easy. You will have to pay extra 40$ per test compared to if you do it by yourself. For us it is worth it.
- Cover your lot with wood chips:
Arborist or tree-cutting companies are your friends: Try to contact all arborist or tree-cutting companies in your area, telling them that you want to take wood chips off their hands. Send them texts from time to time help so they remember that you are their dumpster in that area. Since we do not have a truck anymore, this is a perfect way to have wood chips delivered to your house (For FREE). Those are the pros of having wood chips, but what are the cons? The wood chips might look very messy. When you lay them down, they won’t look pretty like mulch with all the sticks. Here are some contacts in Worcester we used:
- Chipdrop (my husband registered our home location at https://getchipdrop.com/. We got two dumps from them so far and we can get more from them if we want)
- Young Tree company in Worcester. John is very responsive through text. I found his contact on the app called Next Door.
- Local Facebook Market Place: Sometimes the tree cutting companies advertise on this platform. Just type free wood chips and you might find some. I found one in this way. I got three dumps from him whenever he works in our area.
If you have a truck, I would suggest contacting lumber yards around you. They would be glad to give you fine, clean wood chips. Maybe even for free, but I don’t know if it is really for free since we do not have a truck to do this yet. However, we got a guy in Leicester who delivered wood chips to our house. One full truckload was $100. To be honest, if he continues to deliver for us, I would use him forever. Their wood chips are old, black, and a mixture of several types of woods (which is what we want). They are already decomposed and will look very nice in your garden. We saw a lot of earthworms in their wood chips. Eventually, our Leicester guy stopped responding to my text so that is why I use the tree-cutting companies. I think he was too busy with work (according to him, people are ordering more than ever the lumbers for raised bed this year. Well, we need to use what we have. Oh, I found him through Facebook Market Place as well.
3. Building the fence: We found this guy on Youtube, named James Priogioni. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4vR8XcBAJA&t=423s. He did a great job to demonstrate how to make a fence using T-Post and Rabbit fence/Chicken wire. You can find a good price for fencing supplies on https://www.critterfence.com/. They are fast with delivery and prices are much cheaper compared to Home Depot or Lowes.
The Second Year:
Build the raised beds and choose your seeds and fruit plants. Start a compost bin as well. You can actually start a compost bin as soon as you can. Next, build a rainwater catching system.
1. Build the raised beds: We chose hemlock cause it will last us up to 7 years and much cheaper than cedars. Hemlock is native to NorthEast US so we have an abundance of hemlock here. You can find the lumber yards around you and they will give you better deals if you order in bulk. We built 10 raised beds. It cost us $107 per bed. The bed measurement is 4x8x18’. You don’t have to build the bed that high. We bought it from Goose Bay Lumber in NH (the shipping fee is $350 to deliver so obviously if you order it locally this will be much cheaper). The instruction to build raised beds is also here.
2. Fill the dirt: We order 27 yards of topsoil and 9 yards of compost to fill our 10 raised beds. We still have 3 yards of compost plus 4 yards of topsoil left (we used it outside the raised beds). So safe to say it will take roughly 2.5 yards per bed. We ordered it from Echo Brook Nursery from Worcester. $41 per yard for topsoil and $46 per yard for compost. Best price so far in the Worcester area.
3. Choose the seeds and fruit plants: After researching the price and everything, I found that Baker Creek Heirloom (rareseeds.com) provided better prices and higher quality seeds than Johny Selected. But obviously, Johny’s is from New England Area (Maine) so it is your call. I went with Baker Creek and I am happy with their seeds. 99.9% germination rate. Very impressive.
Fruit plants: We bought apples, plums, and pears (bare roots) from Home Depot’s online nursery. They are all alive and have green leaves by now (we put them down in early May and it is a month and a half, all of them have green leaves already so we know they are alive). We bought berry plants, asparagus crowns, horse radishes from Nourse Farm https://www.noursefarms.com/
Worcester Conservation offers a cheap and local source of fruit bushes and trees, strawberries, asparagus, and perennials. (https://worcesterconservation.org/buy-seedlings/)
4. PLANTING: in Worcester, I recommend starting seeds from February. I started seeds late March and my seedlings are very small compared to others that started seeds in Feb. So I have my lesson learned. Choose the sunny spots, for the plants/veggies love the sun. Planting all the seeds that say “start in Spring” and not need “the frost has passed” in Mar when the calendar said it is SPRING. What I learned is they are very cold-tolerant and as soon as there is some sun, they will produce better in cold weather.
(To be continued)