How you organize your permaculture garden will depend upon the analysis your have done of your site, the specifics of climate, topography and dimensions unique to it, and what your wish to produce from it. However, there are some general principles that most designs will involve, one of which is the siting of garden beds within Zone 1 of your site.
Your garden beds are where most of your vegetable and herb crops are planted. (some fruits can also be Zone 1 crops, although they tend to have specific growing needs, and fruits in Zone 1 tend to be citrus planted in pots rather than beds.) These crops are sited in Zone 1 as they are visited frequently to collect food for the kitchen. Different types of crops benefit from siting in different types of beds, suitable to their preferred growing condition, their structure and the frequency with which your harvest them. Here are some of the more common types of beds that can be adaptable to many different kinds of site and may prove useful when making your permaculture design.
The herb spiral has become, arguably, one of the archetypal features of permaculture design. And with good reason. It makes efficient use of space, provides opportunities to create various microclimates and so extending the range of species you can grow in it, it allows for ease of harvesting, and it is an attractive design.
The circular design means that different parts of the spiral get different amounts of sunlight, exposure to wind and vary in temperature. This creates many different niches, which you can also adapt and modify by judicious use of elements such as stones to retain heat, and guild planting to modify soil composition or shade coverage. The top of the spiral tends to be drier than the bottom, as water drains down through the pyramidal structure, while the west side is likely to be the hottest side.
You can grow a large number of both culinary and medicinal herbs (many have properties of both) on a spiral, including all the cultivars of basils, sages, rosemary, oregano, thymes and tarragons. All herbs need at least some direct sunlight, but plant those that can grow in part shade on the southern side of the spiral. You can easily water your spiral with a single spray head at the top, allowing the water to percolate down through the consecutive beds. Because the beds are fairly shallow, they need to be filled with soil that is rich in organic matter.
Clipping beds are used to plant crops from which you will regularly clip parts, such as leaves and flowers. They are typically placed next to paths and the inside edges of keyhole beds. They tend to be planted with lower lying species, including chives, dandelions, mustard greens and nasturtiums, that benefit from protection from the wind but access to lots of sunlight.
Typically placed behind the clipping beds, but still within arms-reach for regular harvesting, plucking beds are planted with taller and faster-growing species than their clipping cousins. Suitable plantings include kales, silverbeet, broccoli, coriander and zucchini. From these types of plants, you pluck fruit, leaves or seeds to eat, and they benefit from frequent harvesting to prevent these edible elements growing too big and so damaging the rootstock.
Species that are most suited to narrow beds include carrots, peas, beans, tomatoes, radishes and eggplant. They are plants that in the main grow vertically and typically require a lot of direct sunlight in order to flourish and produce good crops. For this reason, narrow beds are generally aligned north to south so that they can receive as much sun in both the morning and afternoon as possible. Narrow beds also benefit from the inclusion of some permanent plants, such as asparagus, to help retain the integrity of the soil. Good levels of composting and mulch cover are also recommended for narrow beds.
Broad beds are set further back from paths than the previous beds, and behind the clipping, plucking and narrow beds, as they are generally home to species whose edible parts are harvested only once each growing season, so less frequent access is required. Slower growing species of vegetable make ideal broad bed plantings, and these include pumpkin, cauliflower, sweet corn and cabbages. Other species such as artichokes can be useful as windbreaks and suntraps for companion species within broad beds.
Broad Scale Beds
Broad scale beds are suitable for larger plots as they are used for growing grains. Cultivating grains is a big step towards self-sufficiency as they provide food for people and animals. Corn, wheat, rice, oats and barley are all potential plantings for broad scale beds, depending on the climate conditions of your particular site. There are different options for crowing your grain. For instance, alley cropping involves growing your grain crop alongside an established tree planting (which offers wind protection) while the Fukuoka grain cropping method which involves planting grains crops alongside rice in winter for harvest in spring.
Not all garden beds have to lie horizontally along the ground. There are certain plants that will thrive on a vertical ‘bed’. Using trellises, pergolas, fences and the sides of buildings can dramatically increase the size of your available growing space, as well as provide opportunities to modify microclimates (for instance, by locating a pergola opposite a white wall to gain extra heat) and cultivate different types of plant.
There are several species that you can grow vertically, including climbing beans and peas, kiwifruit, cucumbers and grapes.
As with many aspects of permaculture design, instituting garden beds like those outlined above gives plenty of opportunity to increase edge. The herb spiral is a prime example of this, but avoiding straight lines in the design of your other beds, through a keyhole design or similar non-uniform technique, can help maximize your growing area, increase the number of niches, and ultimately expand upon the harvesting potential of your site.