The University of Massachusetts permaculture garden blossomed over the summer from a pasture composed of a few fledgling plants to a full force garden capable of producing over 500 pounds of food this year alone.
“We have been doing a lot of planting,” said garden spokesperson Nathan Aldrich. “We are shooting for a 1,000 pounds of food, but if I have to give an estimate, I would say we will produce over 500 pounds of food this year. It’s still in its infancy.”
Permaculture is a model of gardening developed in the 1970s to closely mimic nature. A permaculture garden is an organic, ecologically sustainable way to grow food. Many permaculture gardens, such as the one at UMass, focus on pairing plants together to create symbiotic relationships.
“One thing that we are doing is called companion planting, which means different kinds of plants going together. This allows plants to help each other in nutrient uptake, pest control and pollination,” Aldrich said. “For example, basil is grown with tomato, which actually improves the health and flavor of both those crops.”
Another example of companion planting is the orchard section of the garden, which contains peach and Asian pear trees, squash and white clover. According to Aldrich, the fruit trees create a canopy of shade and provide food for the squash that thrive in the created conditions. The white clover fixates nitrogen, stops erosion and keeps the soil moist.
Besides the orchard, the garden has three additional sections – made up of a woodland edge, an edible landscape and perennials and herbs – marked by an engraved wooden sign to make it easier for visitors to tour the garden. All of the plants have also been labeled.
In a few years, the garden should be capable of producing 2,000 or 3,000 pounds of food each year, according to Aldrich. The food will be used in the Franklin Dining Commons.
“All of the produce will go directly to the dining commons to produce fresh local organic food to the campus community,” said Aldrich.
Over the summer, it was primarily the permaculture committee, made up of both undergraduate and graduate students of all majors, who worked to keep the garden healthy. However, several community groups also pitched in to help.
“They come to work and to learn with us,” said Aldrich. “We have had pre-schools, elementary schools and camps come. They will do a tour, we give a talk and then they work with us.”
During the school year, the permaculture committee and students will work on the garden Monday through Thursday from 9 to 10 a.m., and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Anyone is welcome,” said Aldrich. “Just stop by during those times, and we will put you to work.”
The garden will be dedicated to the students of UMass during a ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 29. There will be music, food, tours and lectures at the event, according to Aldrich. For more information on the event or the permaculture garden, people can visit the UMass Permaculture Coalition Facebook page.
Katie Landeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.