Here are my highly personal notes on the first of four case studies, Case Study A: Renaissance Farm, Bloomington, Indiana, in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.
“Year four (2009) was also the year of the fence, when garden yields had grown to the point of attracting significant predation by deer, a herd of which loitered in the neighborhood, smoking cigarettes and comparing notes about their favorite organic vegetable snacks (Renaissance Farm being the best salad bar for several miles around).” — Peter Bane
The property for this case study (2006) was a .7 acres property on flat land, in an established suburban neighbourhood two miles from a city, at elevation 820 feet, USDA zone 6b-7a, with 44 inches of precipitation, in Indiana. The two small houses (and “decrepit shed”) and land were located in a 1-mile neighbourhood of 54 houses, none of whose owners gardened (one had a couple of small fruit trees) and most didn’t even grow ornamental plants. It was transformed into a garden farm selling bedding and nursery plants, seeds, salad greens and herbs, some veggies; other services were also offered, including consulting, teaching/apprenticeships, and publishing.
The purpose with this property — owned by the book’s author, Peter Bane, and his partner, Keith Johnson — was to “establish a permaculture demonstration and achieve a good measure of household self-reliance emphasizing perennials.”
They started with a yard that was lawn and pasture grasses, with some mature trees on the property. The two houses need a lot of repair and renovation, which took about three years. (Bane details their financial situation and loans.) Because the houses took a lot of time and money, the garden farm was slow in developing.
First year (2006): The front yard was “recontoured … into raised beds [with] … drainage ditches to divert runoff from the building foundations.” Salvaged fruiting shrubs and small trees they brought with them from North Carolina were transplanted. They planted out salad greens and flowers and some perennials. A small pond was built and eventually stocked with goldfish. Neighbours began to notice.
Second year (2007): Removal and major thinning of existent trees ( = four cord firewood in new woodshed). Cleared a weedy neglected area and installed a 10,000 gallon cistern (plus underground plumbing and hydrants) for water collection and irrigation. Built a 20′ x 48′ high-tunnel greenhouse for salad crops and herbs and hardy greens for winter. Continued to bring in mulch, wood chips, compost, and straw to build the soil.
Year three (2008): They had enough garden surplus to sell some at the local farmer’s market and to neighbors who stopped by. Installed new metal roofs and gutters for a water catchment system; using water from rain for the yard, the laundry, and one toilet, they reduced their water use from 8,000 gallons/month in Year One to below 1,000 gallons/month. Planted 23 fruit trees (apples, crabapples, pears, Asian pears, plums, peaches, cherries) and fruiting shrubs (thornless blackberries, black raspberries, currants, gooseberries, plus a large mulberry, and some fig trees were already present on the property). They began to be able to harvest and store a variety of vegetables, though the soil was still developing.
Year four (2009): A wetter and cooler spring and summer than previously meant some yields decreased (e.g., tomatoes) and some increased (e.g., berries). First yield from some of the fruit trees. An intern spurred the keeping of bees, with some colonies making it through winters (to 2012, when the book was published) and others dying and being replaced. Garden yields were now attracting deer, so fences were installed, and 200 saplings of small-medium trees were planted 18″ apart on three sides of the lot (eventually to become a dense hedge). They built another woodshed, which they filled by foraging in their neighborhood. They extended an above-ground root cellar near the cistern.
Year five (2010): Building a large covered front porch with a solar array on it. Added four small ponds in front of the greenhouse.
Year six (2011): Plans included major expansion of outbuildings — barn, potting shed, workshop, quest quarters, another cistern, sauna, animal housing, composting toilet. (Bane notes that they did erect the barn that year and started on the cistern.)
“How does all this add up? And what lessons can we learn from this relatively young system?” Part of his response is that “[w]e are debt-free, firewood-rich, and approaching carbon-neutral. We have both excluded our main garden pests (deer) and increased connectivity with our neighbors.” Small mammals, however, “remain troublesome.” Weed pressure is still high and there’s not enough ground cover yet. They hope to add rabbits (meat) and poultry (meat and eggs).
Bane notes that other people think they’ve done a lot in a short time, but it doesn’t feel that way to them. Their challenges included having jobs already (one full-time home-based, one part-time), and “[b]eing middle-aged when we started here (and coming with a certain reaction to primitive living from too long in the woods), we chose to buy low-cost existing housing.” That meant “we got the liability of compromised design [e.g., the houses are situated the wrong way for solar gain] and worn-out infrastructure.”
But their example has changed things in their suburban neighborhood: Their neighbors started a vegetable garden in 2009 and got 30 chickens; the woman with fruit trees also planted vegetables, got bees, and built a chicken coop; and the neighborhood now includes a grass-based livestock farm with 9 or 10 cattle from time to time.