Thursday, 24 May 2012

Permaculture in Iceland - An example of Arctic (Polar climate) Permaculture

Here in Iceland, we are aware of the limitation of climate, to grow food.

On the past, Icelandic people were self-sufficient by being reliant on birds, fish, sheep and angelica roots. Of course, you dont want to live like that nowadays, but its proof its possible to survive even on the Icelandic highlands, during winter, just on wild foraging (as outlaws stories show us).

Wild edible plants
There are a few wild herbs you can eat, cooked dandelion (tunfífill) and nettles leaves, some sorrel rumex acetosa (tunsura) leaves. I haven't tried yet to cook northern dock, rumex longifolius (njóli) leaves or chickweed, stellaria media (haugarfi). Besides this, mjadurt (meadowsweet, filipendula ulmaria), blodberg (iceland thyme) and birch/birki make all excellent teas! There are other plants I haven't tried but I read somewhere you can eat them, silene acaulis (lambagras) and mertensia maritima (Blálilja) but I have to read more on their edible uses.

Nettles grow wild in Iceland, and can be replanted to provide nutricious greens for a very tasty soup. See a recipe here

Conventional vegetables
Now back to Permaculture you can grow some conventional crops. Its easy to grow carrots, turnip tops, oriental cabbages such as pak choi, potatoes and broccoli. If you have good soil you can also try kohl rabi. You must grow these first indoors! Otherwise forget about it. Except carrots and rucula, that you can sow outside.
Here is Pami happily harvesting some swiss chard, kohl rabi and beets.

Indoors you can grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, bush beans, and you can start squash indoors and transplant outside in late June. The squash will crop well outside if you plant it with lots of compost!

Spinach and radish are not possible to grow, because they bolt in response to the 24 hour daylight of the Icelandic summer. Radish can be grown if you sow in late July to reap them in September (when nights are longer). These you can also sow outside. I was never lucky with lettuce or peas, so I must try it again. Also easy is onions (but did not grow large).

This year we are even growing gourds and corn indoors!

Perennial vegetables - the common choices
Perennials you have kale, lovage and rhubarb, all survive very well the Icelandic winter and are tasty. Carrots also overwinter easily, and I guess similar roots like parsnips, rutabagas, salfisy, skirret and scorzonora would also grow well as root crops in Iceland (and some of these are perennial).

Very easy are berries. Strawberries, blueberries and currants. I also grow jerusalem artichokes, easy to grow, but I'm trying them first year. You can buy the roots sometimes even in our Bonus supermarket! Alternative to onions are chives (perennials) and spring onions (overwinter quite easily). But I start these first indoors.

Strawberry spinach is a striking plant that has edible fruits and leaves, but not very tasty. It is an annual but self-seeds easily. 

Perennial food - the less obvious choices
Speaking of extra Permaculture species, I plan to try mulberries, siberian pea, cornus mas, certain hardy bamboos, elaeagnus and hawthorn species, sea buckthorn... Most of these are fruits which are hardy to cold climates such as the UK, so them can be attemped in our sub-arctic climate too.

Lovage is a beautiful vegetable used like celery to give amazing flavour to food. And it is very tough and resistent to cold and dry conditions. 

Wildlife garden
Much easier than food is flowers. We can grow a lot to make our garden colorful and attractive to bees, birds and wildlife. By planting cornflowers, poppies, marigolds, daddofils, tulips, crocus, anenoma, buttercups. Here I only had luck starting the seeds first inside and then transplanting outside, as weather is so often dry and windy, that even seedlings die sometimes. But poppies also grow wild in Iceland, and self-seed freely, and my poppies survived the winter and are going to flower just now again (they were perennial types).
A patch like this is sure to attract lots of wildlife, birds and bees are everpresent in our garden

My conclusions
I don't expect self-sufficiency, even partial in food, yet. Its hard and challenging. It's a hard challenge to try, so I want to see how far we can get in Iceland, using Permaculture principles. It will need several years of learning and trying. I am getting more and more interested into perennials, as annuals are difficult to grow in Iceland, and once perennials are established they are tough and adapt well. I think they are the key. I believe in the long term we can establish the first world forest food garden in the world, on a Arctic setting!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

How to start a garden from a lawn - Permaculture in Iceland

Here in Iceland we started our Permaculture garden from a lawn.

Our soil was very compacted, full of clay and sand (almost no organic matter), and thick grass on the top, and big rocks just a few cms below. This is how I recover it, and how I recommend doing:

1) First its best to remove the top 5-10cm of soil, which is full of grass, and till the other 30-40cm of soil.

2) On top of this add plenty organic matter, such as tree leaves (not conifers), dried yarrow, compost, hay, manure, and grass clippings. Perhaps add sand if you plant carrots or other crops that require good draining. Make sure this is at least 30cm of this mix. Just after a couple of months it will be full of worms, and it will be a very light and aerated layer of fertile soil!

3) Finally, spread some normal soil on top of it. Let's say 5 cm. If you don't, birds will mess your organic matter mulch, and seedlings might rotten under the mulching. I actually did this mistake last year. If you prefer, you can add mulching later, when plants are past their seedling stage.

4) Plant your seedlings here, or even sow seeds (if you can water them often). In the end of the season, avoid messing up with this new soil, by pulling plants, just cut them.

5) Swear never to till this new soil ever again! Or walk over it!

This is how it was:
May 2011. I started preparing beds with organic matter and planting vegetables and flowers

This is how it looks now:

May 2012. Edge of daffodils, tulips and currants surrounding the vegetable garden

The plan is now to established more wild flowers and perennial vegetables, besides the usual annual veggies.