The thing that impressed me with the concept of mandala gardens was the way the elements work together, a synchronicity that makes the whole much greater than the sum of the parts.
The mere fact that in a mandala garden the paths are reduced by half of a conventional garden allows for greater edge, and the continuous polyculture incorporates guilds where individual elements benefit from the existence of the other elements. It allows for a harmonious interaction between the components for the benefit of the productivity.
An example of this is the fruit trees that also provide shade for the beds in summer and supplement the diets of the chickens as well as providing a crop for us. The fruit trees are surrounded by herbs which we pick, while providing a deterrent to insect pests and attracting others like the predatory wasps.
Areas around the fruit trees are used for compost piles six months of the year and beds for the long term or selective crops for the other 6 months.
Things such as onions and garlic as well as tomatoes and peas, carrots and capsicum are grown in the soil that has just been used for compost or for another crop according to the nutrient demand of the crop.
Dwarf oleanders are used in this area as 'over wintering' sites for beneficial insects such as lady beetles.
The centre circle of the mandala is given to providing ecology for the garden. The pond at the centre of this circle is used to provide a microclimate for the other beds by absorbing temperature during the day and radiating it at night. As well as a place to grow water chestnuts, it provides a drink of water to birds and lizards and is home to frogs. All these things play an important part in balancing the ecology and minimising the impact of pests. Stepping stones are besser blocks and the cavity is used as a home to lizards. The bed provides a crop of perennial herbs and plants such as Thyme and Rhubarb.
The 6 beds around the centre circle are planted with annuals. A chook dome is placed on the bed for 2 weeks. For the first week the chickens scratch and eat either the grass or remnant crop. The bed is then covered with mulch which the chickens scratch through for insects and weed seeds while spreading manure and cultivating the ground. When the dome is moved to the next site the bed is ready for planting out with seedlings raised in the propagation house. Seedlings are set out according to the growth size and rate, as well as the needs of harvesting. Things such as cabbages are interplanted with bok choy, at the centre of the circle. They both need harvesting only once and the bok choy is harvested long before the cabbage, giving room for the spread the cabbage will need. Beetroot and hearting lettuce are also planted in this zone.
The area towards the edge is planted with plucking plants like open lettuce, silverbeet, tatsoi, parsley and rocket. Similar attention is given to setting out, so plants that mature more slowly get the room they need when faster growing plants have finished producing. As the dome is moved each fortnight, a continual succession of cropping is achieved. With the dome rotating between 2 mandalas, it will be 6 months before the chickens are back on the same ground. Some weeding and replanting is possible on the beds with bush beans used to add nitrogen and pumpkins and sunflowers as a second crop.
Attention is paid to crop rotation to avoid pest build-up associated with similar types of plants. For example, areas planted to lettuce will be planted to beans or Asian greens in subsequent plantings. Care must be taken to plant second crops that will mature before the chooks are back on that bed.