PermaCulture Vision Birchhof
Birchhof (598m above sea level) is a biodynamic farm, located near Oberwil-Lieli AG, Switzerland. The farm has founded a special co-operative named Vision Birchhof to further develop its operations and to promote sustainable agriculture. Birchhof is an existing CSA-farm (Community-supported Agriculture), and as such has already put some aspects of permaculture into practice. Members of the co-operative who work on the farm receive organic vegetables from the farm. They can also give financial support to the co-operative to receive the same benefits.
The farm has designated an area of almost 2.7 ha (approx 7 acres), which will now be cultivated according to the principles of permaculture to complete the vision.
An eatable landscape has established itself as a well-suited possibility for the given geographic circumstances. Such a garden also accords well with the views of the farmer and members of the co-operative. It features a combination of polyculture and layered cultivation. Even today, the area is cultivated using yearlong vegetables and herbs with biodynamic methods.
Within four years, we will create a series of areas designed according to the principles of permaculture. The first step consists of planting trees and hedges. Then, we will create the first cultivated area, the first compost garden and the first raised beds in the suntrap.
This project is a first in Switzerland. Permaculture has never been employed on such a large scale in this country before. We believe that this project can serve as an example of the enormous potential of permaculture. By observing and analyzing the methods employed in this project, our goal is to show that this kind of permaculture is capable of efficiently producing healthy and savory food. Simultaneously, it conserves energy and promotes biodiversity. We will also organize courses on a yearly basis, where participants can experience permaculture hands-on and spread their knowledge.
Combination of "tree guilds" and agriculture biodynamique
Three layers of vegetation form a tree garden: the tree layer, the bush layer and the soil layer. Compared to a natural forest, these layers are replaced by various kinds of agricultural crops.
In ““tree guilds””, the elements which together form a tree garden, trees live in symbiosis with wild and cultivated plants, herbs, berry bushes und shrubbery, all of which are usually perennial (more details).
In addition, plants with the following roles are also found in tree guilds:
- Crops for harvesting, including fruit, nut, vegetables, grains, wood and others.
- Supporting plants; some of these, such as leguminose plants, bind atmospheric nitrogen and make it available for other plants. Comfrey, on the other hand, transport mineral salt from deeper layers of the soil to the top.These plants live in symbiosis with rhizobia, a kind of bacteria, which bind atmospheric nitrogen and naturally fertilize the soil.Among these are some kinds of “pioneering plants”. Well-know examples of such plants are those from the leguminose family, such as lupines, beans, peas, lentils and robinias. Some supporting plants are used as green manure. Supporting plants are an essential part of various mixed plantations in permaculture.
- 3. Distractor plants, which protect crops from vermin by attracting them onto themselves or keeping them away. One example for these is topinambour.
Generally, every single element should have as many applications as possible in permaculture. Simultaneously, every single application should be present in as many elements as possible. Therefore, a single plant in a tree guild can have multiple applications, sometimes depending on the current stage of its growth cycle. This results in a large, yet stable and productive, variety of plants.
Costs & Implementation
By implementing permaculture areas, Vision Birchhof will gradually begin trials with the different kinds and varieties of plants. To support them in their experiments, members will also receive recipes involving the various crops harvested here.
With a lot of personal commitment, supported by various workshops, we plan to realize the forest garden in cooperation with “Vision Birchhof” and the permaculture academy “DownToEarth” in four steps. This way, we can use the experience we gather in the first steps while implementing more advanced stages.
Without significant personal commitment and voluntary work by all involved, the implementation of a permaculture project on such a large scale would be impossible to fund, even with crowdfunding. Voluntary work allows for a relatively cost-efficient realization and also helps strengthen the bond of everyone to their garden - the exact goal of the basic ideas behind co-operatives and permaculture.
The proceeds from workshops and harvest during the first stage will be invested into the implementation of further stages. Because the basic planning for the entire area has been finished, and a significant part of the planning stages of future steps has already been done, costs will be significantly lower in the coming years. Furthermore, we will continue to minimize costs in the coming years through our continued, personal commitment, workshops and special events.