Today I bought starts of Italian parsley and bitter salad greens. In Portland it isn't at all too early. As I chose my little plants, a voice behind me said, "Soooo, it begins!" Amused, I turned to see a slender woman about half a generation younger than I am. She turned out to be at least a generation more innocent and enthusiastic.
"Will they survive the frost?" she asked. "Indeed they will," I answered, "but they are not very happy about being buried in snow." (Ours turned mostly to mush under that challenge.) I launched enthusiastically into an explanation of parsley's biannual nature. The second season it soon bolts and goes to seed, so it is wise to keep first-year plants coming along.
She gazed at me with her guileless eyes. "Do you teach? I really want to take lessons in permaculture!" I answered that I do not teach, all the while wondering to myself, "Exactly what is permaculture?" Too vain to admit I was vague on the subject, I asked her about the course she wished to take.
What I would like to learn is how to deal with the voracious snails and caterpillars - my approach has been hunting them by flashlight at night and by grubbing about in likely hiding places by day. My new acquaintance volunteered that her ducks took care of all the snail, slugs and other pests. Ah, ducks... and chickens. Now my memory began to dredge up some notion of permaculture - chickens fertilizing the ground for crops and clearing out pests, cattle fertilizing the fallow land and so on, returning to the ancient cycles of agriculture before we began to believe chemistry would make everything better.
"But, the raccoons ate all my ducks," she continued.
Our little urban garden is too small and too formal to sustain flocks of ducks and chickens, much less a cow. Alas, my simple organic practices will never be self-sustaining. That doesn't stop the garden being our little bit of Eden, assuming that Eden had snails.