20 steps has been my home design, quite experimental. And I won't lie, I made some big mistakes here, but probably the biggest ones have been the cultivation types and the shapes.
Here I'm going to talk about the shapes.
If you read my articles about it, you know that I've done a lot of keyholes, with the idea of having annuals the first 2-3 years and then slowly shift to perennials. How did it go?
Lookwise it was decent, and the soil has improved, but I had some major problems:
- It was difficult to take care of, being in a weird shape and in some points quite difficult to reach;
- People didn't go much there even to harvest, as it looked too "untidy";
- And anyway, production was so low that there wasn't much to harvest in the first place;
- I had to use a lot of soaking tube to irrigate it all, and it was less efficient and difficult to maintain.
So I basically redesigned it down-up.
This was messy even just to draw
Now, that's better
Have an edge on your garden
You may be familiar with the edge effect: the idea that at the edge between two ecosystem there is more life, and that edges should be maximised, not reduced. I found this to be usable in a garden in a very limited way.
First, you do not really want all that biodiversity in a garden: you want stuff to eat, and if possible some beauty. And you want to do it with a minimal effort.
Maximising the edge, usually with weird shapes like mandala garden or keyholes, brings a lot more expenses on the maintenance (unless you have mandala shaped tools), materials (fencing is doubled, and try to build a polytunnel for a mandala garden), watering and in establishing them. I found that it also makes it difficult for others to understand that edge, therefore giving an obstacle in helping you.
I'm not saying I'm against making more edge, but it has to be balanced very carefully against the practicality of a garden. Do your accounting of how much more input has to be given to maintain such a shape.
An hour and 20 bucks
Climate change is a thing, and weather variability was an issue forever in agriculture. Having a simple, understandable pattern makes the possibility of adding a polytunnel, a greenhouse and other season extension/weather protection structures way easier. Also, having a high edge effects is naive in the sense that there is not only a bed-path edge, but you have many edges inside the bed, if it's big and regular enough, so for example you can plant small bushes at the sides to better protect plants from wind.
Goes without saying that you are going to save on the irrigation system too, both in terms of tubes and effort in placing/moving them
Have you tried using a broadfork on a keyhole shaped garden? It's a nightmare. Right now the cultivation, being no till, will likely be opened up once a year for a while to bring forward that nice soil texture I'm looking for.
The areas that were previously part of the path have been double digged (I'm so happy I don't do biointensive, couldn't do this every year...), and I've removed many branches and pieces of wood from immediately below the surface of the soil, that were giving many troubles to tools and to some crops (carrots, for example). Now working is way easier.
Still a bit complex, but a breeze to work with
That is something I thought a lot lately, and I'm going to write another article about it. But I'll tell you: I'm going way more on the annuals side, and I removed mulch from most of the productive area (Gasp!).
Starting small is crucial. This garden is small and easy to fix, which makes it a perfect playground, but if I had applied the same very complex design to big areas now I'd have to sweat for quite some time to fix everything.
It is way easier to move around the garden now, and the structure of the pathway is the same as before: digged, slightly mulched, to collect rain and produce more soil.
I had a very, very strong cold wind in the past few days. I lost half of my harvest, which is more or less alright right now, as it was still very young, I have time to replant my plants... and there is a supermarket. But at one point you must ask yourself: am I doing this to get food in a sustainable way or just to toy around? Having a high yielding garden where protection structures can easily be built upon is essential.