If you're not super gardening-centric, it might be a little challenging to wholly get what Spiral Ridge Permaculture does. "Regenerating land and culture by integrating innovative technologies within the field of regenerative agriculture" can sound a little heady.
In common parlance: They design gardens, farms and landscapes the way nature would if we weren't in the way — as an ecosystem, with plants and land and materials working in harmony so everything stays hardy and resilient. It's smart, really, to follow nature's lead when working, y'know, with nature. But if we're going to recreate a sustainable harmony somewhere after it's been stripped, and aim it at specific results, it takes intention, planning and know-how. Which is where Spiral Ridge Permaculture comes in.
And Davis' expertise, here, isn't just book learning — he's completely immersed in permaculture, having spent 10 years traveling and farming (from a Midwestern organic flower farm to a Costa Rican permaculture site) before taking over a clear cut, near-seven acre homestead in Summertown, Tenn., and beginning work on restoring the landscape.
Davis comes back to Nashville to share his hands-on expertise on April 20, during The Skillery Grow Down: He's set to teach classes on EcoGardening and Companion Planting at Hands On Nashville's Urban Farm (tickets are still available). Ahead of those classes, we talked a little more about Davis' background and what those classes will cover. Take a read.
The Skillery: How did you get into permaculture?
Cliff Davis: "Permaculture came into my life as I traveled after college to search for positive solutions to the many problems we face on earth. I lived and worked on many projects in the U.S. and abroad.
"As a permaculturalist, I am a generalist with skills in solar, natural building, design, gardening, farming, animal husbandry, greenhouse management, rainwater harvesting, tree crops, mechanics, etcetera."
Did you grow up working with plants, or is it something you learned as an adult?
"I grew up growing food, fishing and hunting, in a semi-rural community in Southern Illinois."
You're putting permaculture processes to work on restoring your own land — what's that process like, and how long do you imagine it'll take to get to where you're aiming?
"Our intention is to regenerate the landscape using permaculture. We have been implementing our design for four years now; it will take another six to really see how the systems are working.
"Off-grid homesteading at any level can be very stressful and rewarding at the same time. It is humbling, to say the least."
One of the workshops you're teaching for The Skillery Grow Down is Companion Planting — what kind of mishaps would a newbie gardener see if they group plants that don't get along?
"Companion planting, in permaculture terms, is guilds and polycultures. We focus on growing useful perennials instead of energy-intensive annuals. Perennial systems are self-renewing, self-fertile and usually very complex. The architecture and habitat layers mimic the chaos of natural systems as well as their resilience.
"Feedback is inevitable in all gardening systems. There are really no mishaps, only feedback. 'The problem is the solution.'"
Your other class, EcoGardens, centers on focusing your garden into a mini-ecosystem. Won't that just naturally happen as your plants grow in? Do you have to plan for it?
"It depends. If you have only two species of plants growing on one acre, that is not very ecological and is destined for failure. Edible ecosystems are carefully designed to take advantage of sun, water, nutrients and habitat. Ecological gardening is where sustainability meets conservation."
Learn more about Cliff Davis' work at the Spiral Ridge Permaculture site.
Backyard Sustainable Gardening: EcoGardens
with Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture
Saturday, April 20, 9AM; $35
Gardens function best when they work as mini ecosystems. During this workshop, you'll learn how to increase the health, diversity, and yield of your garden by thinking of it as a whole system, with every living and non-living piece fine-tuned to work together. Plus, you'll learn to build a raised bed for that ecosystem.
Backyard Sustainable Gardening: Companion Planting
with Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture
Saturday, April 20; 2PM; $35
Some plants don't have the right lifestyles to live on top of one another. You'll maximize your garden's success by growing plants that complement each other, and this class will show you how to build the friendliest of plant neighborhoods. Plus, you'll learn how to make a trellis for your beans and peas using sustainable materials.