Solutions for Self-Reliance

An Open Source Home Transformation You Have to See

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Here’s a home makeover you have to see to believe.

It starts with a standard backyard in an economically challenged New England town called Holyoke.

overview-before

As you can see, it’s a classic industrial backyard on 1/10th of an acre of land.

To transform it, the owners decided to design and build a backyard scale ecosystem (using principles culled from permaculture).

This approach intentionally combines different plants so that they form a self-supporting ecosystem. One where each plant provides a vital benefit to the rest. Some plants provide shade and pull up nutrients from deep in the soil.  Some add nitrogen to the soil to fertilize the other plants.  Some attract bees and other beneficial insects.   Some help the soil build and retain the structure it needs to capture, retain and manage water better.

The goal is to find the right combination of plants such that the entire system runs itself and the workload/expense required to run a high performance garden shrinks to something manageable.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any single “best way” to accomplish this feat yet.  It requires experimentation.

To do that, it’s best to use and open source approach that combines:

  • use the world as your co-developer by using the Internet to connect with experts/insights/info
  • lots of trial and error (plant something new to see if it sticks or works as expected, if not try another), and
  • if something works, share and package the results for others to copy (from ideas to plants).

sheet-mulch-beginning

It took about five years, using this approach, before they finally found a formula for a bountiful ecosystem that fit into their small, New England backyard.

As the system began to kick into gear, it began to produce a large diversity of food in abundance without nearly the effort required for conventional gardening.

Here’s what it looks like today (they just put out a book to share their experience).

Paradise Lot 2

As you can see, it’s lush.  What can’t be seen is the incredible amount of food this system produces.

It produces a lot:  from the fresh staple foods to unusual, hard to get, gourmet items.

To extend the season, they’ve added a greenhouse to enable them to grow citrus fruits, and lots of berry bushes and fruit.  They also have three chickens that help them maintain the ecosystem by consuming excess organic material while contributing eggs and fertilizer.

Since the ecosystem design they are using contains lots of unusual perennial plants — edible and/or with unique functions/attributes — they’ve been able to use the garden as a commercial nursery to make some income from it.

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So, take a moment to reflect on this.

This type of “open source” approach to home transformation is a very smart way to achieve resilience.

However, as you can see from the above, it may take some time to get it right (perhaps even longer than these guys).  The key lesson is to start the learning, experimentation, and sharing process earlier than later.

I’ll be here to help if you get stuck.

Sincerely,

 

JOHN ROBB

JR Small

PS:  For people that like history.  Holyoke, MA started as a planned industrial community, replete with a rectilinear street grid, which is unusual in New England.  The town was built to support the paper industry (a century ago, it was the world’s leading producer of paper).  The population is 2/3rds of what it was at its peak in 1920.  One of the things that makes Holyoke interesting its capacity to produce lots of hydroelectric power via a sixty foot drop on the Connecticut river.  I suspect that this dam hasn’t been updated much in the last couple of decades.

Holyoke Dam

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