Permaculture embraces symbiotic living – Sea Buckthorn embodies it.Permaculture gardening has gained widespread popularity for many reasons that resonate with contemporary global concerns and desires for sustainable living. At its core, a permaculture garden offers a holistic approach to agriculture and design rooted in principles that mimic natural ecosystems. It promises to produce food while regenerating land, conserving water, and promoting biodiversity. In an age where climate change, soil degradation, and concerns about food security are paramount, permaculture farming provides tangible solutions. Moreover, beyond just agriculture, it fosters a philosophy of life that emphasizes community, sustainability, and the interconnectedness of all things. This alignment of practical solutions with deeper ecological and social values has drawn a diverse array of individuals to embrace permaculture as both a method and a movement.The best part about this way of growing your own food is that it doesn’t take a large plot of land. Even a small back or front yard can be designed with permaculture principles.
An Ideal Commensal Specimen in Permaculture Design.
In the vast repertoire of plants available to the permaculturalist, sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a resilient, hardy shrub with much to offer. Native to the temperate zones of Europe and Asia, sea buckthorn embodies the foundational permaculture principles of care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. Let me explain why sea buckthorn shrubs are the best choice for a commensal specimen in permaculture designs.
Permaculture farming emphasizes the importance of multi-functionality, where each element in the system serves several purposes. Sea buckthorn exemplifies this principle brilliantly:
- Edibility: Its berries are a powerhouse of nutrition, brimming with vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. In some traditional cultures, it’s revered as a medicinal plant beneficial for skin health, digestion, and immunity.
- Soil Health: The plant is a nitrogen fixer, meaning its roots harbour beneficial bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can absorb. This not only boosts the fertility of the surrounding soil but also reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.
- Wildlife Habitat: Its dense thickets provide shelter and sustenance to various birds, insects, and other wildlife, fostering biodiversity.
- Windbreaks & Erosion Control: When planted in rows or clusters, sea buckthorn can act as a windbreak, protecting more delicate plants from harsh winds. Additionally, its deep root system helps stabilize soils, thereby preventing erosion.
- Resilience in Adverse Conditions:
A key facet of permaculture is designing systems that are resilient and adaptive. Sea buckthorn thrives in a range of conditions:
- Saline Soils: As the name suggests, sea buckthorn can flourish in coastal areas with high salt concentrations, making it a unique asset in such challenging terrains.
- Drought Tolerance: Once established, the plant’s robust root system allows it to extract moisture even from arid soils, making it an invaluable asset in water-scarce regions.
- Cold Resistance: Sea buckthorn has evolved to withstand extreme cold, proving useful in temperate to sub-arctic climates.
Symbiosis at heart
An important best practice in permaculture is to create a symbiotic ecosystem. Symbiosis refers to the coexistence of two distinct organisms. When two different entities cohabitate, it’s a symbiotic relationship, regardless of whether they have advantages or disadvantages or don’t impact each other. Symbiosis can be categorized into three types:
- Parasitism: In this relationship, the parasite gains benefits at the expense of the host, causing it harm.
- Commensalism: Here, one organism benefits while the other remains unaffected—neither advantaged nor disadvantaged.
- Mutualism: In this symbiotic relationship, both organisms experience benefits.
Animal agriculture also provides examples of symbiotic relationships between animals and plants. For instance, when snails take hold of a fruit plantation, hungry ducks can quickly come to the rescue. Periodically allowing grazing animals, like cows or sheep, to roam between the alleys and rows of an orchard can do wonders for maintaining grass levels and leaving behind natural fertilizer to add vital nutrients and organic matter back to the soil.
Interplanting & Companion Benefits
As mentioned above, commensalism in ecology refers to a relationship where one organism benefits without harming another. This can be likened to plants’ beneficial relationships with their neighbours in permacultural design terms. When interplanted with other crops, sea buckthorn can protect neighbouring plants, enrich the soil, and attract beneficial insects and birds – and feed us humans!
Interplanting sea buckthorn with various species can offer mutual benefits by taking advantage of its unique properties. Here are some plant species that can benefit from interplanting with sea buckthorn:
- Fruit Trees: Apple, pear, and cherry trees, among others, can benefit from the nitrogen fixed by sea buckthorn. Furthermore, sea buckthorn can act as a windbreak, protecting delicate blossoms during windy seasons.
- Soft Fruits: Plants like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries can benefit from the improved soil fertility of sea buckthorn. Additionally, the dense growth of sea buckthorn can offer some protection against pests.
- Leafy Greens: Spinach, lettuce, and kale can use the nitrogen-rich soil.
- Root Vegetables: Carrots, beets, and radishes can benefit from the loose, aerated soil that results from the deep-rooting system of sea buckthorn.
- Legumes: Although beans and peas are also nitrogen fixers, they can benefit from the windbreak capabilities of sea buckthorn.
- Grains: Crops like barley, wheat, and rye can benefit from the increased soil fertility and protection from winds.
- Medicinal Herbs: Many herbs, such as echinacea, mint, and calendula, can thrive alongside sea buckthorn, taking advantage of the rich soil and the microclimate created by the shrub.
- Flowers: To enhance the pollinator-attracting potential, flowers like marigolds, sunflowers, and nasturtiums can be interplanted. These attract beneficial insects and can act as pest deterrents for specific pests.
- Grapes: In windy or exposed sites, sea buckthorn can protect grapevines, creating a more hospitable microclimate.
- Tubers: Potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes can benefit from the aerated and nitrogen-rich soil.
- Companion Shrubs: Currants and gooseberries, which require similar growing conditions as sea buckthorn, can be planted nearby to benefit from their protective and soil-enriching properties.
When considering interplanting with sea buckthorn, it’s essential to note spacing and the potential for competition. While sea buckthorn offers many benefits, it can also be vigorous. It may overshadow or outcompete smaller plants if not managed. Proper design, pruning, and management are crucial to ensure that all plants in the system can coexist harmoniously and benefit from one another.
To me, Sea buckthorn stands out in the permacultural landscape not merely as a plant with numerous benefits but as an emblem of what permaculture aspires to achieve. Its multi-faceted roles in promoting ecological balance and human health make it an ideal choice for those seeking to design holistic, resilient, and productive systems. The adaptability of sea buckthorn and its generosity to the land, humans, and fellow plants underscores its place as an ideal commensal specimen in permaculture.