Seedlings of Purple Podded Pole Bean (left) and Japanese Climbing Cucumber (right)
My boys (age 4 years and almost 5 years old) wanted to help me in the garden this weekend. I decided to try a small experiment. I have a spot that gets a few hours of morning sun, and that is it. It is not an ideal location for typical garden vegetables, but I only have a couple of seedlings to lose if it doesn't work.
There was a mixed variety of plants growing under a rather old Bougainvillea: some perennial flowering bulbs that the landlord (or their gardener) planted years ago, a low-growing mat of wispy little-leaved plants, a few shoots of ferns, and a single, small Stinging Nettle. I cleared a spot, and my boys and I planted the seedlings. I left the bulbs and Stinging Nettle. I shredded the other unknown plant and used it as a mulch for the seedlings.
My thought is that if there is enough light there for these plants to survive, then we just created a mini-Permaculture Guild. The bean is a legume and is a nitrogen-fixing plant... it will provide nitrogen (not a lot, but some) for the fast growing cucumber. The cucumber and bean are both climbing plants. They can be trained to grow up the tall Bougainvillea, which will be putting out beautiful blooms later in the Summer close to when the cucumber and beans will be ready to harvest. The flowering bulbs are pretty and will provide a bit of ground cover until the seedlings are taller. The Stinging Nettle is small, but by cutting out the competing ground cover around it, I have given it room to grow. As it does, it will become a ground cover of its own with edible leaves. When the Stinging Nettle gets a bit too big, which they usually do in places you don't specifically want them, I will cut it back and use its leaves... young leaves to eat and old leaves as mulch. Since Stinging Nettle is a Dynamic Accumulator, its mulch is rich in nutrients, specifically potassium, calcium, sulfur, copper, iron, and sodium.
Seedlings (left), Bougainvillea (back), Stinging Nettle (lower right)
This small patch of soil is now home to a small Permaculture Guild. Our yard is full of very pretty, but not very useful plants. However, this spot with a big, old Bougainvillea with its understory of flowering bulbs, when neglected for a few years so that a few "weeds" spring up, and with the addition of a few annual vegetables, now becomes a very productive spot that requires minimal maintenance.
This is a tiny glimpse of home-scale Permaculture!