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Canton permaculture horticulturist aims for less labor, more food with garden designs

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CANTON — Permaculturist Matthew W. Bowman plots gardens so that the plants complement each other in their growth habits, striving for as little labor as possible while pushing for the greatest food harvest possible in an esthetically pleasing arrangement.

“I can help people produce food in a low-maintenance way. The idea is to design out some of our work — to stack as many functions as possible,” he said. “Just the idea of getting people to produce food at home is really important. With perennial plants, you can produce a lot of food.”

Mr. Bowman hopes his business, Oasis Edible Landscapes, and interest in permaculture — an integrated agricultural system that works with nature rather than against it — also will spur excitement in a community food forest, such as one that grows in Seattle where food in the edible portion of the forest is freely available to visitors. That forest includes nut and fruit trees, a berry patch, collectively managed plots, and a children’s area, among other features.

“I think it could bring people to the area,” Mr. Bowman said. “It could be a destination. It’d be great for people to ride this wave.”

A hillside at Mr. Bowman’s family home on Little River Road in Canton looks at first glance like a typical weedy slope, but it is jam-packed with edible perennials — sea kale, Turkish rocket, borage, sorrel, gooseberries, wild Canadian ginger, buffalo berry, white currants, hardy kiwi, hazelnuts, mushrooms, lovage, lemon balm, chives and sea buckthorn, among others — that Mr. Bowman said will take off over the next few years.

Permaculture creates plantings that are both productive and regenerative.

“This system is super young,” he said. “Over time, I’ll put in less and less energy. To the untrained eye, this looks like native forest.”

American Indians who planted corn, squash and beans together had it right, Mr. Bowman said.

The corn acts as a pole for the climbing beans, which provide nitrogen for the other plants, while the squash spreading along the ground keeps weeds down.

“That’s been around for ages,” he said. “We know it works.”

Elements of Mr. Bowman’s sustainable techniques include deep mulches of organic material that keep weeds down and rebuild the soil, no-till methods that avoid stirring up weed seeds, growing plants together that benefit each other with needed nutrients, using cover crops, creating water elements to cut ambient noise, and planting edibles in convenient locations.

“The idea is to get the food closer to home,” he said. “The more intensive stuff is what you use every day. In permaculture, we call those zones of use.”

A number of plants grown for beauty also can be eaten, such as the young curled leaves of culinary hosta or early shoots of Solomon Seal, which taste like asparagus, Mr. Bowman said.

“We have to get them into our food vocabulary,” he said.

He sells bags filled with straw and innoculated with oyster mushroom spawn to grow-your-own and is growing mushrooms on logs and other chunks of wood. A graduate of both Canton Central School and SUNY Fredonia, Mr. Bowman has worked at Birdsfoot Farm in Canton, Miller Farms Adirondack Market in Hopkinton, and St. Lawrence Nurseries in Potsdam. He is a certified permaculture designer and educator.

His work for individuals starts with a consultation, with site analysis and mapping based on their personal goals. A design for homes is typically free but that could vary based on distance. If the homeowner wants assistance in establishing plantings or design elements, he usually charges $25 per hour plus supplies.


To reach Oasis Edible Landscapes:


Owner Matthew W. Bowman is usually at the Canton Farmers Market on Fridays and at the Potsdam Farmers Market on Saturdays.

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