NOTE: Make sure you read the first three posts (in order!) before tackling the rest, or it could be confusing: Post 1 is Designing the future, Post 2 is Setting up the problem, and Post 3 is Estimating basic requirements.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Defining the garden

As promised, I pulled together a list of unordered requirements for the “Peak Oil Garden Project”. These are intended for general use, rather than a specific size garden in a specific area. We’ll deal with that later.

So, here are what I consider important requirements for an easy-to-maintain, productive organic garden. Feel free to comment on these, as my domain expertise in the field of gardening is very limited.

The garden shall ensure all plants are within X inches of a walking point.
Your value for “X” will vary depending on your own arm reach or if you want it to be accessible for children. A typical value (per Square Foot Gardening) is 24 inches.

The garden shall have walking paths greater than X inches in width.
A good rule of thumb would be about twice the width of your foot at a minimum.

The garden shall be mulched to a depth of X inches. Mulching specifications are found in the document “Mulching Guidelines” [TBD later].
I’ll work on putting together an actual mulching guidelines based on my readings and your comments.

The garden shall reuse all organic waste, excepting diseased plants or soil.
This can be accomplished using a compost pile, turning dead plants back into the soil, or simply using the plants as mulch directly.

The garden shall use only organic pesticides and fertilizers as defined in the document “Specifications for Organic Gardening” [TBD later].
Hard-wiring this idea into your requirements should help keep your hand firm every time you have an urge to reach for a bottle of commercial bug spray. (I’ll try to find a ready-made document to fill this niche – I’m sure some exist.)

The garden shall have no less than X different plant species.
The garden shall have at least 2 varieties.
These requirements help ensure biodiversity in the garden.

The garden shall be enclosed with a barrier per the document “Garden Barrier Specification” [TBD later].
This requirement is for guarding against critters. If something like a fence is impractical (e.g. a large lot), you can rewrite it so that you can use natural barrier strategies such as putting peppers on the garden perimeter. If you don’t have or anticipate such a problem with hungry animals you could probably exclude this requirement.

7 Comments:

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Emme said...

peppers would be a great idea to keep away the rabbits. I am planning edible landscaping for my front yard and have been trying to figure out how to keep away the rabbits.

I also read that having onions on the perimeter may keep them out. We will see.

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger RobTzu said...

Garlic is good for bugs, and stinging nettles is good over winter home for lady bugs that eat pests, marigolds are good..the list is endless! Pests breed faster than predators, when you spray pesticides both types start from scratch and the pests will recover first and have no natural controls!

 
At 1:26 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

I would think direct access to sunlight would be a requirement (not planting a garden in the shade), as well as the availability of irrigation to withstand periods of draught. Irrigation may fall under a watering requirement, but I'm unsure of the proper way to set up requirements.

Also, the requirement of reusing all organic waste doesn't seem to be a requirement of the garden, but more a requirement of the environment in general. Composting would be a requirement of a vegetable garden, where the specs would restrict the materials used be only organic.

Lastly, vegetable gardens prefer bacteria dominant soils as opposed to fungi dominant soils. Here again I'm uncertain if this should be a stand alone requirement or placed in the specs of composting. Composting with bacteria dominant humus will eventually create bacteria dominant soil but I'm uncertain how long a transformation would take if starting with fungi dominant soil when compost alone is used to change the soils composition.

I’d very much like to go through the process of setting up an ORD for the Peak Oil Garden Project. Because of my enthusiasm for learning this, I am willing to create the ORD myself to get things started. If your time doesn’t permit to lead something like this, maybe you could just mediate, tweak and guide the rest of us through this process. I’m more than willing to play a lead role and having my content filtered through you. Let me know what you think.

Here’s what I propose. We create a serious of ORDs, completing each one before moving onto the next. Each consecutive ORD incrementally adds complexity to both systems engineering concepts and the final garden requirements.

The first ORD focuses just on the basics of systems engineering and calorie output and would make the following assumptions:

1. A weekly output of 63,000 calories is needed to support one non-vegetarian family. 50% of the calories will come from the garden in the form of fruits and vegetables – a total of 15 plant species.
2. Crops can be grown year round so fresh produce is available at all times. This avoids having to plan for dormant seasons that require saving and preserving food.
3. Irrigation is readily available year-round.
4. No backup plan – we’ll assume all diseases and pests can be dealt with and that all plants thrive.
5. A boxy garden is used.
6. The proper compost and mulch is readily available year round.
7. The garden is planted now in 2006/2007 and we have sufficient funds and access to materials and supplies.
8. The garden is 100% organic.

 
At 9:21 PM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Emme and Rob. It's really amazing what you can do to make your garden work for you--and without poisoning your food.

 
At 9:31 PM, Blogger PeakEngineer said...

Jeff, that's exactly the kind of thing I have in mind for this site. The more heads we put together on these problems, the better off we'll all be in our designs.

I would caution you on a couple things: Each example (and ORD) we explore is based on a different set of assumptions and will therefore not apply directly to everyone (or perhaps anyone). So, as you know, no ORD we develop can hope to fully encompass all that's needed for a "general" garden and there is of course no right answer for any given set of assumptions. Given this, just always bear in mind when you're developing your project that even the best work may have little universal applicability.

Regarding the specific assumptions you mentioned for your project, make sure you're not artificially limiting your design choices. For example, specifying 15 plant species or a boxy garden seem more like design solutions rather than assumptions or requirements (unless, of course, you truly have only 15 plant species available to you). Most of your list might end up being a fine design, but such things should fall naturally out of your requirements in order to ensure an optimum design.

By levying a year-round growth requirement, you could be designing yourself into a corner. If you don't live in a tropical area, the likely solutions are either a greenhouse or grow lamps, both of which can be expensive. However, if you're balancing that against the time and resources it takes to preserve food (including the investment it takes just to learn how), it may be a very prudent decision. I suggest you write out a quick trade study before making that determination -- even if you've done so in your head, it often helps to see the trade-offs side by side.

So (to everyone), just be careful that you're not starting out with a design already in mind before even writing your requirements. In short, make sure your assumptions are truly design constraints and not an imposed limit.

 
At 3:10 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

Thanks for the advice. The reason for the assumptions/constraints I recommended was to put the focus on learning systems engineering, not so much what’s being engineered. I'd be perfectly happy learning systems engineering concepts by creating a lemonade stand.

So, boxyness would have made calculating land area easier, a small number of just fruits and vegetables would have excluded herbs, grains and orchards, and year round growing would have eliminated estimating long term storage needs. These assumptions would have made it easier to put more emphasis on learning the concepts of systems engineering with less focus on what's being engineered. More realistic projects could have been created in the future once people had a firm understanding of the basics of systems engineering. But this is pretty much in the past now because of your next post. I'm ready to get busy.

 
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