Two potatoes in an Ikea bag

Four years ago my grandfather gave me two potatoes. I had no idea what to do, so I put them in bought soil in a big blue Ikea bag on the balcony and with a bit watering, they turned out great and I got hooked on growing food for my family and me. It is really magical if you think of how much you spare our planet with growing your own food: You need to get a job to make money so that you can spend that money on buying food which was produced and delivered close to you by large, complex and very inefficient industries. This system spends incredible amounts of resources (time, energy, labor) which you can save by simply growing your own food. And it doesn’t stop with food only: People grow plants for medicinal uses, to help the nature and wildlife around them, or just for their own pleasure.

The Problem

This season I really tried to scale up and created raised beds all over our small urban plot in Berlin, Germany. I wanted to do it sustainable and close to nature, so I read Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden, which is probably the most widely read book on permaculture. While it is a good base to start and there are a lot of resources around online, it is actually pretty hard to make all that info useful for my own garden. Most of the time I found myself random googling just to answer simple questions like

  • What plants in the herb layer are available in my zone?
  • What are the best companion plants for Tomatoes?
  • What is the best time to sow peas in the garden in my zone?

I fell back to having a spreadsheet, a collection of browser bookmarks, and a few books to look up what plants I can grow and how they could fit together in my garden. This took me a lot of time, I’d rather spend in the garden. After the garden was planned, the next challenge was where to find seeds, seedlings and plants to start the garden. Mostly I googled the plant name I wanted to buy and ordered in whatever shop came up but it would be so much easier to buy it directly from other fellow gardeners. The season started and another thing I did was writing a diary of all my garden activities. The idea was to learn from past mistakes to grow better next year. It worked well for me but true learning comes from sharing experiences with others, which was not possible with that. While this worked for this year, I wanted to have something better next year so I started building a platform around all these topics.

A Platform for Everyone

Most of the resources about growing plants you find online are either anecdotal or very scientific. There is no place where a gardening enthusiast can share their experiences, see what other enthusiasts learned already, and collaborate on everything related to growing plants. I think to achieve that, we need:

A permaculture plant database which everyone can search easily by common permaculture plant attributes like Layer, preferred light and soil conditions, times when to plant and harvest and benefits for animals, human and the environment. In addition everyone can look up advanced topics like companion planting and guild design. To make this info useful, it needs to be verified by others through ratings, comments and linked sources. If someone could see that most people were successful with growing that specific variety of a plant in your area or that a certain guild really works for a lot of others, that would be a huge help for everyone.

A permaculture marketplace where people can share/trade/buy/sell seeds, plants and everything else they might need like equipment, books, courses. Others can use it to sell products from their permaculture gardens to make an income for themselves. Everything happens directly between fellow gardeners.

A permaculture garden log and planner where everyone can log their past garden activities, learn from each other and plan their next season or project. If this info is combined with all other gardeners, then it becomes citizen science and we can improve everyone’s gardening results. Imagine you could be notified when all the more advanced gardeners start their tomato seedlings in your area, so you could do that too.

Make the planet a better place (for real)

There are many people who want to grow plants for many reasons but don’t know how. There are also many people already growing a few plants in their garden and learned it the hard way. I believe we need a platform where they can come together and share their experiences and learn from one another to help improve the life of eveveryone. If we would all start growing a bit of our own food, we could help the planet and ourselves in so many impactful ways.

There is a lot to write about the implications of having such a platform, which I will do in future posts.

In the meantime, you can check out the plant database here and if you are interested, either sign up, write me an email to hello at permapeople org or sign up for the newsletter where I am posting regular updates.

Thanks for reading 🌱✌️,