Monday, June 13, 2016

Diversity and potential at the edges

In permaculture, we notice that edges are places in the world that offer huge diversity. Have you ever noticed how fence rows between fields, or tree lines between fields and woods, or the marshy areas between dryland and wetlands are teaming with a wide variety of plants and animals? This is because these in between parts benefit from qualities of both sides of that line, and therefore are able to support a huge variety of life. Walking down my driveway recently, I noticed an edge I had not considered before.

We have a cement driveway between our house and our neighbor's house. It collects a lot of solar gain and moderates the nearby temperatures. On either side of the driveway is a three-foot strip of dirt. When we moved in, our side of the driveway was a shabby garden bed with trumpet vine (still digging it out four years later) and an invasive little bulb that just won't quit. It gets a lot of mid-day sun and I turned half the 60-foot length into a perennial herb garden, and the rest of it is our kitchen garden with one cherry tomato plant, basil and other annual herbs.

The other side of the driveway is technically our neighbor's property. She doesn't use the driveway and it's on the north side of her house, so it was nothing more than a mass of daylilies that didn't bloom because it didn't get nearly enough sun. With her permission, I created a raised bed with low retaining walls, mimicking our side of the driveway. For several years I have successfully grown grow kale and other shade tolerant plants.

In between the wood wall and the driveway, on both sides, is a sliver of dirt, in some places no more than a quarter inch wide. Here is the edge where I noticed an amazing diversity of plant life. Following are photos of what I discovered in this "edge." All of the plants below are "volunteer," seeded from last year's stock - evidence that truly we can cultivate food anywhere - to think I had once considered "weed eating" this edge.

Volunteer lettuce from last year's plant that went to seed in the vicinity. Time to harvest!

Borage. I can't believe I started some this year, I've got it everywhere, including the crack between the cement and the retaining wall. I'll leave it for the pollinators, and I love the little flowers.

Dill! I'll let this grow tall and then harvest the fronds or the seeds for pickles.

Cilantro. Going to seed. I'll harvest some and let one seed for next year.

Fennel. The bulb won't get big, but we'll eat the fronds and later, the seeds.

A wide-angle shot of everything except the lettuce, which is on the other side of the driveway.