You are a Seed Keeper — that’s a pretty cool job title. Can you tell us more about what you do?
I come from a place called Akwesasne, which is an indigenous Mohawk community near the Canadian border. Traditionally, we are an agricultural nation so caring for seeds and for the Earth in general aligns with our cultural values and has been handed down from one generation to the next over millennia. There’s a lineage of people cultivating relationship to their food and to the Mother Earth. We have quite a number of heritage and traditional varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, tobacco and other plants that have been specifically handed down through many generations over the last several thousand years as a part of our traditional food ways. I have the great honor of being one of the seed keepers of the Mohawk people which means that, together with others, I am making sure that the seeds stay alive and healthy and that they’re given freely within our community, as well as passed down to the next generations.
Sounds like a true passion.
It is a real passion. Due to the impacts of colonization and acculturation many of native North American food systems have been dismantled and unfortunately, they are not a part of our everyday life anymore. As a teenager I didn’t really have access to a lot of the traditional foods and to the cultural memory that goes with them. As a young woman I became interested in traditional farming and wanted to learn more about where our food comes from and to create more sovereignty and freedom through cultivation. That’s how I opened this Pandora’s box of the world of heirloom seeds… and wow!
It turns out that not only do seeds have this incredible diversity — a prism of different colors and shapes and sizes and places where they grow best and communities that they come from — but that they also carry stories and beautiful lineages of relationships.
For Mohawk people agriculture was historically at the center of our culture and I was very curious why it no longer was a significant part of my life and how I could reengage and restore that relationship and connection to the land. So I began to ask people, gather seeds and learn more and more about my responsibility to care for them. It led me on a 20-year-long path to being a seed keeper. Being an educator and a mentor constitutes a central part of this role. I am helping people who are in a similar situation I was 20 years ago — curious but not having access to knowledge or seeds. I am passing this knowledge I received from the elders and mentors of mine within the community because I honor the importance of keeping these traditional seeds alive together with the cultural memory that is attached to them.
It is. I run a seed co-operative. We have a 10-acre farm that focuses on stewardship of seeds and education of people about seed care and growing food in holistic ways. I am also the national program coordinator for the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network — a program of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which works with a number of different tribal communities to create seed libraries and banks and also to build mentorship networks to leverage resources around policy for protecting our seeds against biopiracy, biocolonialism and patenting. I travel all over North America to see tribal communities and facilitate workshops and conversations around how communities are creating these resources in their lives. So that’s my work in a nutshell. It’s complex and multilayered but it’s also a beautiful path to follow. The seeds have guided me well along my path.
So would you say that seed keeping could be seen as a decolonization
To me decolonization is the foundation of the seed sovereignty movement. But I also like to put a positive spin on it: it’s re-indigenising.
We are claiming back our traditions and rehydrating those original agreements that we had with the plants and with our ancestors but also with our descendants. It doesn’t happen only in Native American nations. Across the globe communities start to recognize the importance of durable, resilient, local food systems. Local engagement has been growing the incredible momentum in the last several decades. The Seed Freedom Movement is a part of it because we recognize that we cannot have a durable and resilient local food system if we don’t have locally adapted seeds that are a part of it. Seeds are the foundation of agriculture but they also encode a memory of the land, the climate, the weather, as well as people’s cultural values, aesthetics and stories. And now people of all generations are coming together to recognize the importance of seed heritage, to create new ways to counteract the globalization and industrialization of our food systems, to resist monocultures. At the heart of what I do is the creation of the seed literacy. Even if you’re not a farmer or a gardener, seed is a vitally important thing in your life because we all eat.
Among Mohawk people the women were traditionally responsible for seed keeping. Is it still the case within this modern growing movement?
Historically in most cultures — although I can confidently talk only about the Mohawks — seeds were considered feminine. It relates to our own reproductive system — it’s the woman who carries the seed. If you look botanically, it’s the female part of the plant that is creating the seed, so this is a feminine expression of the plant’s life cycle. In our tradition and in many cultures and traditions across the globe seeds have traditionally been considered a feminine aspect of the agricultural system and largely it’s been the responsibility of women to care for them.
In your writing you are using this beautiful word — rematriation.
We’ve been using it in a lot of different contexts. Primarily it’s about restoring the feminine back into our lives through our food systems and recognizing that many of the industrial global food systems are very patriarchal, so it’s about creating that balance. Our traditional knowledge wasn’t about women being more powerful than men or the other way round. The point was to maintain that egalitarian balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Rematriation in relation to seeds is about bringing the seeds back home into their original context and into their communities of origin. Speaking more broadly, rematriation is about restoring that feminine energy back into our lives and our communities.
I learned of the word through a man named Martin Prechtel. In my latest blog post I quote a piece from his book “The Unlikely Peace of Cuchamaquic” — he speaks very eloquently about the idea of rematriation, about that holy feminine being restored back into our lives. Among native peoples we talk a lot about repatriation of things back into our communities. So in this case we decided to use a more feminine word. It’s inspired by the work of Martin Prechtel but also by the legacy and lineage within indigenous communities.
Is it relatively easy to engage young people in such work?
For many years there had been this generation gap. Older people were keeping traditions and seeds alive but younger ones didn’t engage, didn’t see it as relevant. But now I’m witnessing a resurgence of the movement among the younger folks in tribal and farming communities but also in a more mainstream culture. People are waking up to the fact that the monocropped way of life and industrialization of everything is damaging not only to the nature but also to our relationship with the world. Young people these days are inheriting a world that is deeply troubled. In a way they know they have to do something and they are enraged. Stewarding seeds is such a powerful, beautiful and inspiring path to follow. It’s a hopeful form of activism. It’s very tangible and it creates something positive to work for instead of working against something else.
We have to be good future ancestors and responsible descendants, so it’s our responsibility to care for the seeds to make sure that younger generations and future generations that we might not know yet have them.
I have a teenage daughter who’s been growing up on a seed farm so this way of eating is her life from day one. She has a great passion for the culinary arts. She wants to be a chef. There’s a spectrum of ways in which young people can engage in this kind of work. If you’re interested in farming or gardening, that’s great but you might as well be a chef, an artist, an activist, a public speaker. There are many different ways to contribute. A lot of our work in the seed sovereignty movement evolves around inclusivity — how we can acknowledge the gifts that different people can bring to the table and how to make sure that a well-rounded resilient food system has many people contributing in various creative ways so it’s not only about growing food.
You also say that seeds are living beings and our relatives. Can you unpack it a bit for people who haven’t grown up within a Native American community and may have a problem with relating to it?
Sure. All of us — and that includes everyone who is reading it now — descend from a lineage of people who had a very intimate relationship with plants. It’s just in the last couple of hundred years of human history we’ve been looking at seeds and food in general as a commodity as opposed to something that was an integral part of our life that we shared. It used to be a commons, a collective inheritance. A long time ago our ancestors — mine, yours, everyone else’s — made agreements with plants that they would take care of each other. There is this intimacy, there are familial relationships that are encoded in creation stories that are held within many different ancestries and bloodlines.
So when I say that seeds are sacred because they are living relatives, I mean it wholeheartedly. That’s how I view seeds and that’s how pretty much all of humanity saw seeds up to a certain point.
Then it started to get industrialized and commodified and our collective view of what seeds represented has changed. I like to remind people that 200 years ago in the United States and in Europe there were no seed companies. People shared and traded seeds instead. I like to tell people to think deeply about their relationship with their food and with the seeds that make this food. If you trace back different cultural lineages, you’ll see that plants and seeds played significant roles in cosmologies and worldviews. In the Mohawk creation story such foods as corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and strawberries figure prominently. They grew from the body of the daughter of the original woman as a gift to her sons. These foods would then sustain them for the rest of their time here on Earth and they literally grew from her flesh and bones. So in our cosmology we see them as our relatives. We have an agreement with them that they would nourish us every day but we have to give back. That’s a reciprocal relationship.
So now, in North America but also globally, we need to rethink and rewrite the narrative of our relationship with food and seed. At the moment there is a dominant narrative in the Western world that sees plants as dead inanimate objects that we just grow, harvest, mechanize and exploit. But that dominant narrative is really just a shallow facade around a much deeper relationship that humans have had with plants for a lot longer. So in our educational seed co-operative Sierra Seeds we challenge that dominant narrative.
This is a radically different view to the one held by mainstream agricultural companies. You are promoting it now not only through Sierra Seeds in the US — recently you joined the faculty of over 40 women who teach the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course where you run a module on seed keeping. It is not a regular part of the PDC curriculum, is it?
It isn’t indeed. Permaculture is a fantastic curriculum and a beautiful pedagogy — a wonderful system of knowledge that has been distilled down from a much larger traditional ecological body of knowledge originating all around the world and I think many of us within the movement acknowledge that. There is a very particular curriculum of 72 hours of teaching that accompanies the PDC and seed stewardship isn’t a part of it but then… how can it not be a part of it? Seed stewardship should be an integral part of every farmer’s garden and it was — until a hundred or two hundred years ago. So when we’re talking about permaculture and creating holistic food systems, the seed has an inherent place within it. People need to know how to steward seed and how to cultivate seed that’s regionally adapted to a very specific place and to their own unique low input permaculture system. So I approached the creators of this course and said: “Hey, what if we include a module on holistic seed stewardship?”.
The seed is the beginning. It’s so vitally important to the foundation of all food systems but at the same time most seeds available now aren’t adapted to low input polyculture or permaculture systems.
They have been bred and selected for monoculture in a very different farming system. That’s why I think that for people who are meant to obtain a certificate in permaculture design it’s important not to forget about saving seeds. I feel super thrilled to contribute to this course and hold a little corner of that space to really honor the seeds and all that they give us.
One more thing… I’m sure that everyone who got to this point of our conversation feels like me. I buy the majority of my vegetables from a local farming co-operative so the veggies I eat are local, culturally appropriate and organic. But as a city dweller with a small garden I throw away most of these really good seeds and now I feel super-bad. Any advice for folks like me?
The beautiful thing about this growing seed sovereignty movement is that there are many different community projects and initiatives that are springing up wherever people come together to think creatively about how we can develop more access to good seeds within our communities. So in a lot of places, especially in urban environments, there are seed libraries and seed exchange — places where people help to facilitate the distribution and collection of these seeds. So I would recommend that folks, who don’t have a lot of capacity in their life to do a lot of seed stewardship in their own garden or allotment, connect with the wider community. Seed libraries are popping up — it’s worth to look for a local one and share your surplus of seeds there.
The beauty of a seed is that it multiplies exponentially. It is a wonderful example of the natural abundance of the Earth and I think it is also a beautiful expression of the gift economy. Even keepers like myself always have more seeds than we need. It inspires me to be generous and to give seeds outside of my own home farm. The seeds teach us to be generous and to share our abundance with other people and this is really the true nature of things. We live in a society where the dominant narrative is based on scarcity and austerity, so we need to start paying attention to seeds because they remind us of the inherent generosity of the Earth and of our own inherently generous nature.
#seedstewardship #permaculturewomen #seedsaving #decolonization
To find out more about Rowen and the projects she’s involved in, have a look at the Sierra Seeds website. Rowen is also one of the tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
On placemaking, true diversity and intercontinental cross-pollination: a conversation with Ridhi D’Cruz
You call yourself an “intercontinental cross-pollinator”— could you unpack it a bit?
I’m originally from India and have been living in the United States for almost eight years now. In 2010, I moved to a continent that I’d never been to before. At the same time I feel like American culture and Western European culture are pervasive and set aspirations in the “global South”. And as a result, there is a familiarity but also a dynamic I wanted to investigate . Knowing that I had taken on aspirations that weren’t really my own, coming to the US was also partially a journey of decolonization. I also wanted to give perspectives from other places some kind of a parity.
For example during sustainability conferences or university gatherings at Portland State University — where I studied in America — some folks would say: “So you’ve come to Portland to learn about sustainability” — insinuating in a way that people in India have nothing to contribute to the sustainability movement. And that really pissed me off. I’ve definitely come here to learn but also to share because a lot of what happens in other parts of the world is of an absolute and imperative importance to be honored and integrated.
And did you manage to get your message across to your peers?
I think so. These are small and slow solutions, right? When I first came to the US, I had a lot more anger and fire in me. I may have scared off some people. I came across as this angry Indian woman. But my discipline — and I trained as an anthropologist — is in a way built on a foundation of different ways of knowing and understanding. Especially social and cultural anthropology. But this knowledge is not on a level playing field.
There are geopolitical forces at play that make different types of knowledge weighted unequally. I would say that the established order in the sustainability movement feels very white-centric, middle class, academic.
I know this may not be true around the world, perhaps, but I still don’t feel that enough support, resources and listening are given to some of the stories and case studies that are coming from other parts of the world. And I don’t mean to over-romanticise because there is a fine balance here. But goals, aspirations, and credit typically go to a certain group of people and I’ve been actively working to dismantle this white supremacy within the movement.
I would think that the permaculture movement shouldn’t be a place where white supremacy prevails — on one hand this is quite surprising, on the other — I spoke to Rowen White who is an Indigenous American woman and she expressed her feelings very strongly as well.
I feel like here there is much clearer ethnic boundary between Indigenous and non-indigenous. Being Indigenous in India is a very different thing to being Indigenous in America. People often ask me: are you Indigenous to India? Well, as far as I know, all my ancestors are from there but I don’t see myself as Indigenous in the same way as they do here. I feel that in the United States there is a deep rift between native or Indigenous permaculture and the Western-centric, Euro-centric permaculture. In my experience, most times, Native communities don’t even want to use the term “permaculture”. They have their own words for it including Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Sometimes I see it being bridged but I think there is a lot of unpacking that we have to do on this continent in terms of whiteness and patriarchy. The longer I stay here, the more apparent it becomes.
You said you wouldn’t expect it from the permaculture movement. But how can it be any different? Despite our efforts to dismantle these systems of oppression, we must not forget that we are embedded within them.
It’s more important to me to see how we respond to it. If we really dig into the teachings of permaculture and put the overarching goals first instead of our egos, we’ve got everything we need, even if it’s Eurocentric. But instead of concentrating on social justice we find ourselves divided, defensive, unwilling to grow. For me the biggest point of transformation is the need to set up robust mechanisms for giving each other feedback. We don’t have a culture of accountability and we don’t have a real commitment to growth.
That’s a good point. And it’s a difficult thing to build, there is a lot of resistance towards it.
Yeah. To use a permaculture metaphor: we know that we need to capture rainwater but we’re arguing how to do that. And in the meantime… Dude, the water is just dripping! All we do is talk about divisions: people of color versus white people, feminists versus patriarchy. I’m thinking a lot about metaphors. One of them is a cell membrane which is semipermeable. It keeps the cell intact but it also has means of exchange.
I feel like there’s sometimes too many functions are being stacked and that over-integration is a real thing: we are diluting and homogenizing and therefore replicating the dominant paradigm in a way. And I’m more interested in understanding how to keep things distinct to retain the diversity but at the same time make the relationships between them beneficial — to keep them intact inside but able to exchange value.
It’s a very nice metaphor. But let’s talk practical — your work revolves around regenerating public places in Portland. Was it something you were doing as well in India, or did you get involved in it when you moved to America?
It’s something I was actually dabbling in when I was living in India. A friend of mine started something called “The Wall Project” in Mumbai. Mumbai is a crazy, scary city. I don’t know how I survived there for two years. She started painting public walls in collaboration with other people. When asked why she was doing it she said: “We barely have any greenery and everything is so densely packed. But we have a lot of walls so rather than looking at walls as a separation maybe we should look at them as points of connection.” It all started very informally and I loved that. I took part in one painting action and it felt so wonderful. I got to meet neighbours. There were many people walking by as we still have a lot of walking culture in India. I felt really inspired. And as a young twenty-something really apathetic, middle class, privileged person I didn’t know how to respond. Together with a couple of friends — one of them was an artist, the other was studying journalism with me — we decided to paint some walls in our own city, Bangalore.
I talk a bunch about Bangalore during the module I teach within the Permaculture Women’s Guild Permaculture Design Course because I feel it’s so essential — this is where I came from and this is why I do what I do. So in Bangalore all our hang out places, non-commercial public spaces were eroding so quickly and were driving us into such isolation — at least I felt that. I didn’t want to go to the mall, to just keep buying things to be able to inhabit space. So we started painting walls in Bangalore and that was really meaningful to me.
Sounds like a great project — a combination of art and saving the public space. It is also a part of what you are doing now in Portland with City Repair. Is the local community responsive? Who is getting involved in it?
At this point there are over 65 intersection paintings in Portland. The organization has been around for 20 years and has been growing steadily. We’ve got probably over 20 different communities who are painting and it’s a mixture of repainting the old ones to renew them every couple of years and creating new ones. I feel like the predominant workforce are the usual suspects in the permaculture movement — folks who have a strong critique of capitalism and modern development. I say it carefully because I don’t want to overly homogenize but it feels like they’re mostly white middle class folks who’ve chosen to live in voluntary simplicity.
The more I meet people within the permaculture movement, the more I have a feeling that it’s exactly as you are describing — people choosing to live that way because they are privileged enough to do so. And the communities everyone seems to want to include… don’t get included as much in the end.
The divisions between people run deep. When I was in India I had to make many choices. I grew up middle class so I had a lot of class privilege and I had to fight to go down a route that was not the usual “I’m gonna do an MBA.” There’s a lot of social pressure to keep maintaining the status quo. I have had so many biases because of this, so many prejudices. And one of my favorite ones was involving education. Education was a big deal to me for a variety of reasons. And I’m not saying that education is not important but I don’t think you need to have a degree in anything or to be a high school graduate to be profoundly wise.
I met a shepherd once who just blew my mind. We were talking about metaphysical things, the cosmos, the purpose of life and I was astounded: “Wow, you think about these things?” And he said: “Yep, I’ve got a lot of time, I’m a shepherd.” The fact that he was illiterate didn’t mean that he didn’t think about awesome things. We’ve got a lot of divisions and opinions that we replicate. One of them is that uneducated folks hold problematic beliefs. And I’m not saying it’s never true — really problematic beliefs do exist as a result of a lack of access to education. For example, I worked in a red light area with a non-profit organization and I was told that one of the myths they were trying to debunk was that the cure for HIV was to have sex with a virgin. But at the same time there are different sides.
Sometimes, we’ve got this romantic notion that in rural India, for example, everything is idyllic and we just need to return to that lifestyle. And that’s not all true in the same way that cities are not all bad. To me permaculture is not only about harvesting rainwater and building physical eco-infrastructures — it’s a design philosophy and approach, right? So we have to define a challenge, its context and the goal and design the process to meet this goal. And it applies to social structures as well.
And how do you integrate this approach within the module you’re teaching — the placemaking?
That’s a good question. I think I try to share some things, to come from a personal narrative perspective instead of blanket statements like: “People of color this…”, “Indian women that…” I do not want to be tokenized or be a representative of any of those identities. I wear all of them. I try to own my experience and I also admit that some of these institutionalized ways of oppression do constrain various other people. So I chose a personal narrative approach because I feel like the biggest potency for transformation is in personal growth opportunities. People hear about the effects of capitalism and globalization in other places but many don’t get a chance to meet someone who grew up there.
So I’m talking about Bangalore and how my whole world changed and I dedicated my life to being a part of an empowerment-based approach. I really believe in place-based power. Placemaking is never just about the material stuff, about painting the streets or the cob oven on the corner. All those things are great, they foster the sense of coming together and being in community with one another. But for me it’s also a deeply personal journey: what’s my role within this? What’s my place?
I feel like if we had an ability to root in places deeper and cultivate a meaningful conversation not just with the land but with each other — without being scared to show some vulnerability — I think many problems on the surface would kind of melt away.
Your place started in India, now it’s the United States. How does your middle class, educated, Indian family feel about the life choices you’ve made?
I love my parents. I realized that although as a teenager I thought I was fighting against them, actually I was enacting exactly what they taught me. I’m such a product of them. And I told them that. I said: “You know dad, I’m making these choices because of the values you’ve instilled in me.” And he just smiled and said: “You’re so smart, you know how to get to me!” But I was telling the truth. And I think this is when I started to understand that things don’t exist in duality but in between, in the grey area.
While my parents still don’t fully understand what I’m doing and why, we have conversations. They are surprised that I’m struggling, that I find it expensive to go to India and rarely have time. They say: “You’re working very hard but you’re not rolling in the dough, you’re not comfortable. You’re not even financially stable, forget comfortable! Why are you doing this?” I performed well at school so it’s definitely by choice and they really try to understand it. Over time, they get more snippets.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years so they know it’s not a phase I’m going to grow out of. And it’s really important for me to bring them along because they are true inspirers of this whole path that I’m walking. Recently my dad bought me land in India that I will return to and turn into a permaculture-inspired place. To me is a symbol that although he doesn’t fully understand what I’m doing, we’ve got this understanding and trust. He says: “I don’t know how you’re going to do this, there are wild animals and stuff.” And I say: “You’re right, I’m terrified, I don’t know how to do this but I know I will die trying.”
He doesn’t need to be a permaculturist and I don’t need to be a business person but we can develop a relationship of mutual respect: although it’s not my path, I see it’s yours and I respect it and in ways that are aligned with my own values I will support you. And I think that such respect fosters so much possibility for collaboration, mutual benefits and a truly diverse community where we are all walking our own paths.
#placemaking #permaculturewomen #socialpermaculture
To find out more about the project Ridhi is involved in Portland, USA, check out The City Repair Project website. Ridhi is also one of the 40+ tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
by Heather Jo Flores
Growing food at home is hardly a new idea. But in this culture, where more people know how to take the perfect selfie than how to grow a potato, urban agriculture has become a form of activism. The slogan “Food Not Lawns” is spreading like wildfire.
Here are some reasons why:
Lawns are the largest agricultural sector, covering more than 40 million acres of land and consuming more than 800 million gallons of fuel each year in the U.S. alone, according to Duke environmental professor William Chameides. The cost of organic produce is prohibitive for many families. Growing their own gives them access. Eating fresh produce improves health and increases vitality. Gardening brings a family closer together and sharing surplus produce, seeds and plants builds community with neighbors and fellow gardeners. Growing food creates a sense of empowerment and gives gardeners the feeling that they have control over their food supply.
These are just some of the ideas that sparked the Food Not Lawns movement. I started the original Food Not Lawns organization in 1999 in Eugene, Oregon. Three of us who cooked for the local Food Not Bombs chapter started calling ourselves Food Not Lawns and hosting workshops in our garden. Our vision was to share seeds and plants with our neighborhood, to promote local awareness about food security and to learn about permaculture, sustainability and organic gardening.
Within two years the project had expanded to include dozens of gardens around the neighborhood, and Food Not Lawns was rewarded with a Neighborhood Development Grant from the city of Eugene. From there, Food Not Lawns continued to blossom. Now, 16 years later, Food Not Lawns is an International network with more than 50 local chapters.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from people who want to turn their lawns into gardens:
How do I get rid of the grass?
There are a few options, each with pros and cons:
Sheet mulching is a technique where you cover the grass with cardboard and then pile on organic matter — straw, leaves, food scraps, soil. It’s basically like building a wide, short compost pile all over the yard. The top layer is covered with fine mulch and then nursery plants and seeds can be planted directly into the mulch. This is the preferred method of most permaculture aficionados, as it is the least harmful to soil communities and can be a quick way to build up garden soil for growing food. However, sheet mulching can pose multiple problems.
If you have the kind of grass that spreads through underground rhizomes, there is a good chance those roots won’t die under the mulch, and will eventually create a hard-pack of thick roots that your plants won’t be able to penetrate. Also, the piles of un-composted materials can tie up nutrients and make it hard for your veggies to thrive.
Garden boxes, aka raised beds.
This can be a great way to build gardens quickly, while still maintaining paths and patches of your lawn. Spread a layer of landscape cloth or cardboard on the ground to suppress the grass, and then build boxes in any shape on top. Fill with organic garden soil and you’re ready to plant. This is a great technique for people who have back problems and prefer to garden in beds that are up off the ground. Problems with garden boxes include the continued growth of grass rhizomes, as I mentioned above with sheet mulching. Also, the soil in the boxes gets stale over time and will need to be replaced and/or amended. Garden boxes also tend to decay and fall apart over time, and will need to be repaired.
Roto-tilling (or hand-digging).
By far the most effective way for permanently removing your lawn is to dig off the top layer of grass and then till up the soil underneath. This presents a blank slate for designing your garden layout, and new plants will be able to send deep roots into the ground. Tilling can be problematic, however, if you have lots of rocks or toxic soil. Tilling also disrupts micro-communities in the soil, so it’s important to mulch over the new beds with good organic matter. Once you’ve tilled and established a garden, you probably won’t need to till again as long as you maintain the garden and keep the remnants of grass roots from re-establishing themselves.
Does it have to be in the front yard?
Of course not! In my opinion, the transformation of any lawn to a garden is always a good thing. However, growing food in the front yard becomes a statement to your community, telling them that you value homegrown food. Front yard gardens invite community dialogue, and bring fellow gardeners in the neighborhood out of the woodwork. Front yard gardens can also provoke complaints from the neighbors, however, so follow these four basic guidelines to help ensure those neighborly reactions are positive:
1. Be creative. Spend some time designing a garden that is beautiful and unique. Get some books on edible ornamentals and create a landscape people will see as a work of art.
2. Be consistent. Don’t let the front yard get overgrown and unsightly. Keep up with weeding, mulching and pruning. Be ruthless with dead and diseased plants. If your energy for gardening wanes, scale back your plans and only grow what you can maintain.
3. Be charitable. Offer surplus produce, plants and seeds to your neighbors. Invite them to share in the harvest and offer to help them with their garden ideas. Neighbors who value you as a friend are much less likely to cause problems.
4. Be considerate. Understand that not everyone in your neighborhood will be as excited about growing food as you are. Don’t leave piles of soil or cardboard in the driveway for weeks on end. Consider their needs and they will consider yours.
I’m overwhelmed! Do I have to rip out the whole lawn?
Not at all. In fact I recommend starting small. Remove a section of the lawn and plant a little bit of food or a herb spiral. Or remove the lawn around the edges and plant an edible hedge of raspberries and currants. Or just carve out a few circular spots and plant some peaches and figs. These small changes will provide a delicious inspiration for you and your neighbors, and when the time is right to take out the rest of the lawn, you’ll be ready!
p.s. You’re invited to be a part of a whole new kind of online permaculture course, taught by more than 40 women from 13 countries.
Want to learn more, post your pics, and get/give garden advice? Check out our Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/foodnotlawns.official
Heather Jo Flores is the author of Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, and a co-founder of the original Food Not Lawns organization in Eugene, Oregon in 1999. She lives in Spain, where she spends her time managing a Mediterranean Food Forest and teaching online workshops for women writers. http://www.heatherjoflores.com
How to Learn Permaculture for Free, a handy guide from somebody who learned permaculture for free...
by Heather Jo Flores, author of Food Not Lawns and director of the Permaculture Women’s Guild
My goal with the #freepermaculture project is to give people access to the resources I wish had been available when I first started learning permaculture, way back in the 1990’s. We didn’t have much in the way of internet then, and Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet. So we used the library and good old fashioned hands-on trial and error to figure stuff out.
If humanity has a snowball’s chance at survival in the coming climate cataclysm, it will be permaculture tools and techniques that get us out of this mess. But we need to get on it, NOW, and it pains me to see finances preventing people from experiencing the joy and fascination that comes with learning permaculture. So I’m doing something about it.
Here you’ll find suggestions for learning permaculture for free, and also for finding ways to fund your permaculture education. I only make suggestions based on what I, myself have done and continue to do.
I hope you enjoy the work, and thanks for being here,
7 ways to learn permaculture for free
Want a PDF version of this entire article? Go here.
1. Enroll in our yearlong online permaculture course.
Designed specifically for folks who don't have a lot of time or money, this course will give you one bite-sized class per week for a full year, taking you step-by-step through a permaculture design process, focused on your own home, garden, and community. Check it out at
www.freepermaculturecourse.com. Tell all your friends!
I know, this is so obvious. And you already know there are a bunch of amazing permaculture books that you can get at the library. But did you know you can download a ton of excellent reading material, including some full-text PDFs of the best books about permaculture? Ok maybe you know that too. But where do you start? It’s overwhelming.
To help cut out the noise, I’ve selected a handful of super-value texts to get you started.
3. Form a study group.
Food Not Lawns was born out of the “Sustainable Horticulture” study group we had going at our house in Eugene. We met up every week and discussed texts--like a book club, but with more dirt! We often had our meetings in somebody’s garden, where we could discuss ideas while pulling weeds. Stacking functions! Now that we have the internet, there are so many excellent study groups online. Again, it’s overwhelming, and some of the Facebook permaculture groups aren’t really that helpful. (In fact, as bizarre as it seems, several of the largest Facebook permaculture groups are run by internet trolls, unfortunately! So be careful!)
Here are the ones I recommend (and help moderate!)
4. Find a local mentor.
If there is someone in your community whose work you admire, approach them and volunteer to help. We can learn so much from help each other, and through respecting and seeking out the wisdom of our elders.
And, if you are are a wise elder, consider looking for an young’un to pass your skills on to.
Maybe you know alot about something besides permaculture, but you want to learn permaculture? How about setting up a skillshare with somebody?
Most of the permaculture teachers I know LOVE doing exchanges like this. If you can’t think of anyone in your own area, start hanging out at the farmer’s market. Or, check out our faculty and see if one of those folks inspires you to reach out.
5. Trial and error.
This one is obvious too, but it cannot be overstated. You can take a dozen expensive design courses and still have no idea what you’re talking about. You have to get out there and start designing! Beyond designing, it’s important that you get dirty and do some serious implementation. Only through years of hard-won experiential knowledge will you ever truly master the fine art and science of permaculture design.
The good news is, implementing permaculture design projects is pretty much the funnest thing ever! This #freepermaculture blog is packed full of hands-on ideas to help you find new ways to get your hands dirty with permaculture. Type any keyword into the search box and see what you find!
6. Raise funds in your community to do a Permaculture Design Certification Course together.
In 2001 the Food Not Lawns collective raised enough money to pay Toby Hemenway and Jude Hobbs to teach a permaculture course for our whole neighborhood. It wasn’t very hard to raise up the money, and the results were completely awesome.
Ok, I know this whole article is supposed to be about learning permaculture without having to attend an expensive design course. And I’m a very critical, skeptical person myself. But I have to say, a good permaculture design course, taught by knowledgeable people who have taken the time to learn not just how to do permaculture but also how to teach it...well it can completely change your life.
And there are ways to pay for it. I’ve known tons of students who did a gofundme with friends and family to come up with tuition money, offering the reward of teaching free workshops to funders afterwards.
Others, like myself, leveraged existing community projects to get funding from the local municipality. Back in 2001, after two years of being super visible and growing gorgeous gardens all over the neighborhood, Food Not Lawns got a grant from the City of Eugene to pay Jude Hobbs and Toby Hemenway to do a 72-hour certification course for myself and twenty neighbors. It was awesome!
Most cities have little bits of funding for stuff like this, and if you frame it right, you can raise money to hire top-quality teachers and still be able to offer training for free to yourself and your friends.
What I am saying is: think outside the box!
You’re a designer now, you can do this.
That being said, I recognize that not everybody has access to the time and resources to attend a PDC, regardless of the cost. Not everybody can get ten whole days (plus travel time) to go to an immersion course.
So, just in case you didn’t already know, I’ve collaborated with 40 women to create a low-cost, go at your own pace online permaculture design course that includes an extra certification in advanced social systems design.
We offer the entire first module for free, PLUS, we offer discounts for survivors of abuse and for women of color, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support and want to get serious about becoming a certified permaculture designer.
7. Write for the #freepermaculture blog.
This blog is a hub of skills, resources, and information, brought to you by a collaboration of some of the brightest minds in the movement, and it might just help save the world.
And, as you learn, what better way to solidify your knowledge than by writing about your experiments?!?
We’d love to feature you on our blog and get to know you better through your designs. So, if you fancy yourself a writer, come on! And if you already have your own blog, I’d love to do a guest post there as well.
Also, connect with me directly if you’d like to do a writing work-trade for a partial tuition waiver in our online permaculture design course.
And check out this program for Permaculture Women Writers. It’s not free, but it’s focused on helping you turn your garden writing into a cash crop!
P.S. Does the idea of writing for publication terrify you?
If it helps, I can share that when I wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, I had never published a single article! And honestly, sometimes I cringe when I read my writing in that old book (it was published back in ‘06), but it has changed a lot of people’s lives and empowered them to grow food and build community, so I am glad I pushed through the apprehension and just shared what I had with the world. And now that I’ve spent the last 13 years honing my professional skills as a writer, we’re doing a new revised edition! It’s due out in Spring 2021.
Alrighty? I hope that’s enough to keep you busy, and if not, then check out more resources for learning permaculture for free, right here.
by Priya Logan
Over the past five years I have been simultaneously studying to be a Birth Doula and working my way through a diploma in permaculture. I attended my first birth just one month ago, which was a truly magical and consolidating experience. To my advantage, integrating my concurrent pathways has proved itself to be seamless in many ways. The common ground between the two is rich and fertile. Abundant in ideals and practice, they can complement each other. Permaculture is an umbrella term that encompasses many design solutions and systems that seek to realign the balance between nature, others, and ourselves. Permaculture looks to integrate human solutions with what nature already provides. Doulas add a layer of humanity and reverence to the most natural, innately human, and momentous happenings of our lives.
“Doula” is a Greek word, which means female caregiver. It is an ancient role that, traditionally, encompassed preparing people for, and accompanying them and their families through, the two greatest rites of existence: birth and death. A doula is a layperson that does not need any particular credentials. Formal training is not an absolute requirement, but for those wishing to embark on this meaningful path, there are some excellent courses that will prepare, inform, and encourage. A broad knowledge of current practices and an awareness of wider cultural and historical practices can be a valuable awareness to have, but a doula always works from the bottom up — with people, on their terms — not in the world of theory. A doula does not offer medical care or expertise, but they can assist a person in navigating through the medical world by supporting their intrinsic right to do so.
Before the last couple hundred years it would have been common for us all to be well acquainted with the ritualistic, spiritual and physical aspects of our closest ones birthing and dying. These events would also have, for the most part, taken place in intimate, domestic settings. Since the move towards a professionalized medical culture, beginning roughly 250 years ago, care has been largely outsourced to hospitals and specialized centers’. Rather strangely, birth and death have become, in industrialized societies, considered as separate from normal experience. They are treated, widely, as abnormal events that require intervention — often in hospitals with only medically trained staff considered fit for attendance.
The renowned obstetrician Michel Odent has long championed the role of birth doulas in the delivery room. He proposes in: Birth and Breastfeeding,one of his many books, that simply having the calm, steady presence of a trusted woman in the vicinity while a woman labours will have myriad benefits–including increasing the woman’s natural flow of oxytocin,a powerful bonding hormone often referred to as the love or shy hormone. High levels of oxytocin are an essential component of natural birth and it increases in great quantities during labour. Physiologically, we have much in common with our mammalian relatives, who like to birth in hidden, dark places. When we feel protected, safe and undisturbed, our bodies and minds are better prepared to birth. Synthetic versions of birth hormones are sometimes administered when natural supplies are low, which in some cases may be necessary or even life saving — but they can also have undesirable side effects. An increased need for interventions of this type could be seen as an indication that the birthing environment is not as conducive to a woman’s wellbeing as it could be.Instead of placing medical intervention at the top of the list of solutions, her emotional state should be prioritised. This is just one example of the imbalance, liable to be overlooked in a highly medicalised system, that doulas can help redress. Doulas can attend all types of births and birthing environments such as at home and hospital births; planned caesarian or non-surgical vaginal births.
Birth doulas “mother the mother”. Many women would attest that having the support of a doula has been invaluable. If a person has a trusted friend or relative to fulfill this role, then it is so much the better. As not all of us do, doulas take a valuable place in the wellbeing of society.
A birth doula will typically meet a woman (and her family, if applicable) a few times before birth to talk through expectations, build relationships, and sort out practicalities. They will attend the birth, supporting the woman and family in the way they want and will often follow on with one or two visits afterwards. There are also postnatal doulas that help with the transition of the mother after the birth, as well as with practical matters such as cooking and cleaning. In addition there are prenatal doulas that support a woman in finding her own approach to the birth beforehand, but do not attend the event itself. There are many roles doula can fulfil depending on how they work and their preferred specialty.
There are also death doulas. On the opposite side of the spectrum, at the end of our lives, it is not very difficult to imagine that a steady, strong, and caring presence would be endlessly soothing in the universally inevitable journey across the threshold of the unknown. To be in an indifferent environment with no attention or regard given to your very unique and precious humanity at the very end of all you were seems the ultimate insult and loss — a sad crescendo in a throw away culture — and yet a reality for too many. There has been, as with birth doulas, a rekindling of the age-old tradition of death doulas in recent years and many are rediscovering the value of tangible human support at this very vulnerable time. A focus on building a relationship and being sensitive, receptive and present will also be at the forefront of what a death doula can offer.
Doulas respect that the human body is an exceedingly intelligent system, one that we will never come close to understanding in its entirety; one that is nestled in and interacting with many other complex systems — both naturally-occurring and institutional. A doula can help a person ascertain and understand their choices, advocate for them, and also help them reflect on past experiences. Just as Japanese farmer/philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka espoused the ideology of: “do-nothing farming”which encourages less toil and a cooperative attitude towards the land. Doulas know too that being is vital; a strong presence in the whirlwind of life is what we search for in times of need.
There is a well-known axiom in permaculture: Everything Gardens. This means all of our actions and opinions ripple outward to have an effect on the environment. It is important, therefore, that a doula becomes an emblem of self-care. They need a network of support along with the tools to self-reflect, download, and recharge.They need the space to fill their wells so that they may give again. They must ensure the lenses through which they view the world are as clear, compassionate, and open as they can possibly be.
Doulas, of all kinds, are enjoying a renaissance. It’s not difficult to understand why. We add a layer of nurturing and unconditional support to humanity’s most cherished and sensitive moments. We do not coach. We do not advise or project our own prejudices. We do not try to solve or change. We seek to empower a person to navigate through and understand their options, to feel empowered and heard. Our role is to observe and respond to the individual, their environment, their family, and their cherished hopes. Our job is to listen — deeply, with more than just our ears — with our whole beings — always without judgments and to just stay “with”.
by Marit Parker
Is rewilding a way of off-setting normal life?
Rewilding has become a bit of a buzzword recently. It seems to have caught people’s imaginations. However, it might surprise you to learn that, in many rural areas, rewilding can be quite controversial. In this article, I hope to explore why rewilding has become a “thing,” explain why it might be problematic, and who knows? Perhaps I can suggest an alternative way forward.
When people talk about rewilding, they are usually thinking about somewhere remote and far away. But these are not empty spaces. There are already communities here: of plants, animals, and people. However, rewilding projects rarely seem to consider who or what is already there, nor ask what impact the “rewilding” actions will have on existing (often fragile) ecosystems.
Rewilding and biodiversity in the UK
In Britain, upland areas of Wales and Scotland are popular for rewilding, but the sites for rewilding projects often seem to be chosen by people who are unaware of their existing biodiversity. Phrases such as “degraded ecologies” and “green deserts” are used, yet the uplands of Britain contain large areas of blanket bog. These wetland habitats have protected status, because they are home to unique ecosystems.
Blanket bogs consist of peat which can be several feet deep. It acts as a sponge for both rain and carbon. They take thousands of years to form, especially to the depths found on British uplands. This means it is thousands of years since these areas were forested. The names of different aspects of the landscape reflect this, such as Moel Hebog, a mountain in Snowdonia whose name means Bald Hill of the Hawk.
Rewilding projects generally involve planting trees. In this case, “rewilding” means destroying the bog to plant a forest. Nature doesn’t stand still, so reforesting those peat bogs means losing species that have evolved to fill this rare niche.
Before trees can be planted on peat bogs, the bogs have to be drained. This means rainwater is no longer held there. Instead, heavy rainfall rushes straight down into the rivers, often resulting in flooding downstream. This is why there has been severe flooding in the lower reaches of the Severn Valley, for example.
Destruction of peat bogs also releases carbon into the atmosphere. Peat bogs are considered to be the most efficient carbon sink on earth, storing up to 30% of the planet’s carbon despite covering only 3% of the surface.
Reforesting peat bogs also means disturbing the soil. Our knowledge of the soils beneath our feet is limited, but one thing researchers are discovering is that fungi play an important role in soil ecology. Any soil disturbance damages fungi, whose mycelium may stretch for miles. A recent study in Sweden suggests that fungi may be far more important than trees in terms of storing carbon.
It may also come as a surprise to many people to learn that maintaining peat bogs is best done by mixed grazing of native sheep and cattle. Ensuring that this is an economical option for farmers is the simplest way of protecting upland habitats and their capacity for storing water and carbon.
Rewilding and people
Places earmarked for rewilding often have a strong local culture as people depend on each other to survive and make a living in harsh conditions. Their skills, experience and expertise in managing the land may span back generations and this is reflected in the local language or dialect and in the culture, all of which are often deeply intertwined with the climate and terrain. These are resilient communities — yet at the same time they are fragile, because the loss of one or two people can have a big impact on the whole community.
In both Wales and Scotland many feel that rewilding is a continuation of colonialism. There is a long history in both nations of the mountainous landscapes being used as a playground for the rich and for resource extraction, be it slate, water, coal or more recently, renewable energy. Rewilding can be seen as yet another grand idea imposed on the land and on the people with little thought or consideration for local opinions or concerns. Promises of economic benefits through tourism may be greeted with dismay: the lack of affordable housing due to a combination of second homes, holiday cottages and low paid seasonal work means tourism has already resulted in significant rates of homelessness in rural areas, and in the loss of young people to cities.
Including local people and their views in discussions about rewilding means thinking not just about other people’s perspectives but also about how we see other people. Much has been written about the “othering” of people who are different from “us”. We tend to see people who are different from us as either scary or exotic, or simply not see them at all.
In rewilding debates, the opinions of local people are often dismissed or simply ignored. The assumption that local knowledge and expertise is irrelevant is familiar within a history of colonisation: the name “Wales” comes from a Saxon word meaning foreigner or barbarian, with connotations of inferiority and “otherness”.
What I find intriguing is how rewilding effectively labels nature as “other”. Some wild things, such as sharks, are scary, and some, such as plankton, are invisible, but rewilding seems to be exciting and exotic.
The problem with this way of seeing the world is that we forget that humans are part of nature. And if humans are part of nature, then where we live and what we make are also part of nature. High rise office blocks may be ugly and power stations are undoubtedly polluting, but they are not in a separate bubble: they are made from and are still part of the earth.
But why does this matter?
The danger is that labelling certain areas as wild allows unlimited development everywhere else: off-setting nature, instead of carbon. Believing that a place is being restored to its ‘pristine’ wild state means that, in the city, life can carry on as usual.
Is rewilding simply a way of off-setting normal life?
If so, it is not really beneficial; it’s a convenient package that masks the real problem.
Is this why rewilding is popular?
These scenarios suggest that rewilding may actually reinforce the idea that humans are separate from nature and not part of the wild.
Cities feel very different from the countryside but is this because nature is absent, or because we are distracted by other things?
What if, instead of trying to recreate an idealised pre-human landscape, we start seeing cities as habitats and ecosystems in the same way as we see mountains and forests?
Trees are an important part of the cityscape, and each tree supports a whole ecosystem. But glued to smartphones, we forget to notice even our human neighbours, so what chance does a caterpillar or ladybird have, much less a spider? Yet many creatures have evolved to live alongside us in cities and inside our homes.
We can spend days unaware of the sunshine, the rain and the changing seasons, yet the air we breathe, the water we drink, even the sand in the concrete and glass are all part of this earth. A teaspoon of soil can contain more living creatures than the total number of humans alive today. Our own bodies contain even more: we carry whole ecosystems with us on our skin and in our digestive systems wherever we go!
Are we obsessed with rewilding places far away from us because we are so separated from our own natural-ness and wild-ness that we do not see human spaces as places where nature exists?
If humans are as much part of the natural world as every other creature, then human cities are also as much a part of nature as anthills or seabird colonies. What if we look again at how we see cities, and how we see our place within cities?
The Welsh word for habitat is cynefin (pronounced cunn-e-vinn, with a short e as in nest), but it means much more than that: it’s a place you know intimately, a place that you feel safe in. It’s a place you care for and look after because it nurtures you: it’s your home, and the foundation and source of your life.
Rewilding and food
Arguments for rewilding also seem to ignore the whole question of food. Like it or not, cattle and sheep are grown for food. If the hills are cleared for rewilding, what will people eat instead? This is a serious question, because the lowlands are already in use for both arable and livestock farming. While some advocate growing only fruit and vegetables, it’s important to be aware that large scale arable and horticultural farms generally offer far less in terms of biodiversity than permanent pasture. It does puzzle me why upland areas are chosen for rewilding, rather than arable areas where huge fields have been created, and the hedges and shelter belts that used to edge smaller fields have been lost.
Another factor that needs to be considered is what can be grown, because in the UK’s temperate climate, growing sufficient protein from plants alone is not straightforward. Most vegetarians and vegans rely on imported soya and other pulses, some of which is grown in what was rainforest. Un-wilding one part of the world to re-wild another part makes little sense.
Vandana Shiva says that instead of seeing nature as something wild and separate, we need to see it as essential for life. She suggests that making sure the food we eat is grown in ways that don’t damage nature — or us — is a way of reconnecting with nature. This connection becomes more immediate if we grow some of our food ourselves. This might seem impossible for those living in densely populated areas, but in this free mini-class Becky Ellis suggests a number of ways of finding space to grow things in cities.
Instead of convincing ourselves that modern life can be offset by segregating nature and keeping it safe, and at a safe distance, and segregating food-growing so it’s tidied away and unseen, why not ask ourselves what the real difference is between cities and places we think need rewilding?
The main things people notice when they come to the countryside are the quiet, the clean air, and the different pace of life. Instead of trying to preserve parts of the countryside and return them to an arbitrary point in time and evolution, is it not better to tackle the noise and air pollution and the frenetic pace of life in cities?
For example, what would happen if we stopped always looking for new stuff? What would happen if we questioned the endless need for more economic growth, and for profit at any cost? What would happen if we refused to accept work environments with inflexible schedules that erode our well-being, and increase our separation from each other and from the outdoors?
There is a phrase in Welsh, dod at fy nghoed, which means “to reach to a balanced state of mind,” but it translates literally as “to come to my trees,” suggesting that to be well, we need to be connected to the natural world.
Perhaps if we become aware that the wild, the natural world, is all around us, even in towns and cities and on industrial estates, we will start to realise that these are habitats too; that humans and all we do, for good or ill, are part of an integrated, interconnected ecosystem. And perhaps, we will become more connected, or re-connected, to our own wild-ness, our own habitat, our cynefin.
Because perhaps it’s not nature that needs rewilding, but us.
Marit Parker is a hill farmer in South Wales.
One of my passions is looking at what sticks in our minds like glue and takes away the space we need to step ahead and live our lives in line with our passions. So, I set out to talk to people, who have overcome some of the sticky parts and others who are still struggling with overcoming them. Here, I’ll start sharing my findings. Let’s start with the most well known. Impostor syndrome.
Originally labeled by Dres. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, the
Impostor syndrome has been described as “[t]he psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions.”(1)
It’s always nice to question hypotheses, so I was happy when one of my respondents provided this insight:
“Hear me out. Achievement takes hard work, but it also takes a decent amount of luck. We know ourselves enough to know our whole story and where we got lucky….but we can’t see that in other people. So, we start to think we’re less capable or less deserving of being at a certain place than those around us, because we don’t really internalize that EVERYONE got lucky.”
What a great observation! Surely, I could expand my research to talk to those people who have actually failed in their businesses to see how much of this holds true. At the end of the day, though, it is important to understand that success is not the absence of failure. It is through failure that we succeed. The question is, do we define ourselves by our failures or do we accept them as part of the way?
I watch my baby girl everyday as she attempts to get up and walk. She will never think of herself as ‘fraud’, because only she knows how many times she fell before she finally walked. We all fell a thousand times. That is why we walk now.
In summary, my respondents define impostor syndrome along the same line as fear of being ‘found out.’ The fear of not being good enough. And although the concept was originally studied as a phenomenon prevalent among high-achieving women and continues to be used in relation with entrepreneurship and high achievement, it is actually not limited to this context. It is only much more pronounced here.
The origin of not good enough
In his wonderful book “A New Earth”, Eckhart Tolle writes about the ego’s “deep seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of ‘not enough’.” With some very few notable exceptions we are all identified with our ego, hence the underlying fear of not being (good) enough permeats our whole lives.
For example, if we dare take a closer look at our relationships, we may discover that the feeling of not being good enough is the underlying cause of most of our anxieties, expectations and — if the latter are unmet — our conflicts and resentments. How many of us cling to our ‘loved’ ones in the hope they will give us the feeling of being enough or make us complete. How many of our disappointments are derived from the other person’s failure to assure us of our worthiness. They come late. They bought the wrong present for our birthday. They don’t give us the promotion. They don’t become our clients. They say something that offends us. Maybe they even tell us right out that we are not good enough.
Does this mean we are not good enough? Good enough for what? Good enough by whose standards? What or who is good enough anyways?
When we leave the mainstream, that feeling of insecurity and insufficiency becomes much more pronounced. Why? Because we leave the great masses. We dare step out and we feel ourselves in the spotlight. We think we are alone, ‘free floating’ as another respondent called it. That is why the impostor syndrome has become a term of its own. The feeling behind it is not unique to entrepreneurs and high-flyers, though. It is, indeed, almost universal.
So, what do we do about it?
Just keep going
Patricia Madson wrote a book called “Improv Wisdom”. There are thirteen great maximes, the most relevant here being this one:
“Just show up. Move your body toward your dreams. Go to where they’re happening–the gym, the office, the yoga class. Be there physically.”
So, what does this have to do with our impostor syndrome? Just keep going. Accept that it is there. Don’t fight it or ponder it too much. Everybody feels it. Just. Keep. Going.
Being brave sucks
One of my respondents put it beautifully:
We all talk about being brave, but when you’re in the middle of it, it feels horrible!
And yet, we need to proceed even if we are scared. Keep going even though we just want to cuddle up in front of the TV and forget about the challenge.
What helps again is what helps in almost everything: become aware. Put it in perspective. What happens if we get a no from a potential client, funder, supporter? Remember: we are not our failures. Our failures are the way to success. Steve Chandler, coach and co-author of the book “The Prosperous Coach” says “Yes lives in the land of no… No means you are in action.”
The more we do what scares us and face our fears, the smaller it becomes. Another respondent said this: “After six months it didn’t feel weird anymore to say the name of my own company. After some four or five years I had overcome the impostor syndrome.”
Just keep going.
For those of us who are starting out, the major concerns are not having enough capital or savings, not enough skills or training, not enough experience in the market. Here come the good news: None of my respondents, who are all people who have built up their businesses by now, mentioned any of these when I asked them what they would have needed most in their beginnings. The common theme of what they would have given themselves looking back to their early beginnings was peace of mind.
Many said they would have joined a mastermind group much earlier. Sharing your experiences, your highs and lows, your fears and hopes, your failures and successes with like-minded people takes you very far. Holding each other accountable ensures that you don’t chicken out or get lost in busy procrastination (i.e. doing all those things that allow you to feel busy, but don’t actually take you closer to getting clients or customers).
Some of my respondents have mentors. People who understand your trade and have made the experiences from which you can learn. You don’t have to make any official statement or agreement to have or be a mentor. Don’t ask anyone to ‘be my mentor’. Find people you admire and ask them specific questions. Most successful people are very happy to share their experiences if they know exactly what you want to learn.
Some said, they would have gotten a coach much sooner. What does a coach do? A coach walks the walk with you, believes in you, strengthens your self-confidence. They help you believe in yourself, in your dreams, in your passion. They support you when you have to overcome your limiting beliefs, your fears and obstacles.
Overall, the message is clear: you are not alone. So keep going. Impostor syndrome is there for almost all of us. Accept it as you would a constantly chatting parrot in your backyard (no, don’t shoot it!) and it won’t hold you back from pursuing your dreams.
Share your thoughts — leave a comment or talk to me.
(1) Joe Langford, Pauline Rose Clance. “The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality and Family Patterns and their Implications for Treatment.” Psychotherapy. Volume 30/Fall 1993/Number 3.
At the end of the growing season last year, one of my volunteers remarked, “I think you have given us hundreds of dollars worth of vegetables this fall.” Indeed, growing your own garden often means that you are saving money on produce that would normally cost a lot of money in the grocery store, especially if it’s organic.
However, with the money you invest in compost, seeds, and plants each season, not to mention the time, sometimes the vegetables or fruit that you’re harvesting from your garden seem like they are worth their weight in gold. Granted, there are so many intangible benefits to having a garden and I would never give up gardening because the ‘numbers don’t pencil.’ But, it is also possible to grow delicious and healthy food without breaking the bank.
In my video below, I go over my Top Ten Tips for Gardening on a Budget. These are recommendations that I practice myself that not only allow you to save money but have the added benefit of building soil, conserving water, cutting down on pests, and creating a more ecological garden.
Want to see more gardening and permaculture related videos?
Go to Broken Ground’s youtube channel here.
Also check out Broken Ground’s online gardening courses here.
#gardeningonabudget #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #permaculturedesign
with Klaudia von Gool
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Climate will vary more locally through human structures, topography, altitude, vegetation and water masses. This is called microclimate. By observing and analysing our microclimate we can design strategies to modify it.
Let's look at some of these factors in more detail.
Topography is the shape of the landscape and includes aspect and slope. Hills, mountains and valleys affect how wind moves through a landscape, as the wind moves around hills, speeds up near the top of hills, and funnels through valleys.
Aspect, the direction land faces, affects the amount of sunlight on a site. For example, a south facing site in the Northern Hemisphere will be a sunny site and can produce more biomass/vegetation.
Slope, the gradient or steepness in the land, will affect wind speed; this increases towards the top of a slope. Turbulence will be experienced just past the top of a slope. This is important information when situating wind turbines, as they work more efficiently without turbulence.
Cold air will sink and move down the slope. Accordingly, the slope will impact thermal zones, and a cold sink may occur just above structures or vegetation lower down the slope or in slightly depressed areas. In colder areas this can create a frost pocket.
Altitude. Temperature decreases with higher altitudes. We also find higher wind speeds and more moisture, because of rain or other precipitation at higher altitudes.
Studying existing vegetation can give us clues to rainfall, wind strength and direction and soil fertility. A way to discover the prevailing wind in our local landscape is by observing trees.
This picture shows how the wind has shaped the trees, restricting growth on the side that the wind blows from, so that there's more growth on the other side.
As well as trees being affected by wind, trees themselves can also affect the wind in the landscape and other microclimate factors. For example, in temperate climates it is cooler and less windy in a forest while it's hot outside of it, as trees provide shade and a more moist microclimate and act as a windbreak. At night it stays warmer in a forest compared to out in the open, as the trees create shade from the wind and trap warmth. This does depend on the season and vegetation/leaf cover.
On a larger scale trees contribute to the creation of rain through evapotranspiration.
Urban environments create warmer microclimates through the "heat island effect," as concrete absorbs more heat than the surrounding countryside. In general it is warmer in the centre of a city.
The hard surface of buildings, roads and straight lines of streets also create a wind tunnel effect, where wind speeds up. Tall buildings can create wind turbulence. Buildings can create a rain shadow, so there is a drier and a wetter side.
Microclimate and niche.
Microclimates are directly connected to ecological niches, where organisms occupy a space where they can thrive optimally. Creating, or being aware of having, a variety of microclimates, means you can have a wide variety of niches for more diverse planting, keeping animals, and thus increasing yields.
We can make modifications to a microclimate to reduce and direct wind flow, as wind has a growth limiting effect on vegetation. On a windy site, planting windbreaks and shelterbelts is one of the earliest modifications needed. These create more sheltered areas and can direct the flow of air, including cold air coming downhill. Using plants to reduce wind is more effective than solid structures, which create more turbulence. In addition, we can choose species for multiple functions, which again creates more yields.
We can modify our local climate or microclimate by adding water storage, which can modify temperature fluctuations. On a larger scale, we can introduce lakes or ponds to modify heat and to add light reflection. On a smaller scale, adding water storage inside a greenhouse or polytunnel will help buffer extremes of temperature.
In hot climates, planting trees and adding vegetation gives a cooling effect. This is as a result of shade and evaporation, which creates cooling.
We can modify climate and microclimate through buildings, like adding a greenhouse. When we place a dwelling to the North of a greenhouse (in the Northern Hemisphere) we can make use of surplus heat and protect plants. We can paint walls white in darker, shadier areas to direct in more light and improve growth and ripening by reflecting light. Dark walls reduce frost risk by keeping warmer.
We can use thermal mass like rocks or stone walls to absorb heat and plant more tender plants close up to it. We can also use the cooler temperature of the Earth, whilst it’s warmer at the surface, to create a root cellar for food storage into the Earth, without energy based refrigeration.
In cooler climates, you can create sun traps. These designs are sun-facing and wind-still, creating shelter from cold and destructive winds by capturing maximum sunlight all day. In the Victorian era in the UK, walled gardens were built on large estates to create microclimates for tender crops. Fruit trees were trained up against the walls in fan or espalier shapes.
Hot beds are created by placing small glass frames on top of piles of manure, which generated heat as they rotted down. This is a form of season extension.
Start making some notations on a basic sketch map of your design area. Notice how microclimates work with both intentional and unintentional design. Note other microclimate factors: buildings/structures, landform, altitude, aspect, slope, larger vegetation; sketch these onto your map.
Make a very basic notation of the microclimates with colours or symbols.
Note areas that are driest, wetter, windiest, most wind-sheltered, where it might be warmest in the morning and evening, and anywhere that would be cool all day.
What different needs and opportunities are associated with these microclimates?
This miniclass is excerpted from the Climates, Biogeography and Microclimates module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Klaudia von Gool.
Klaudia draws on over 20 years experience and study to express her lifelong passion for the environment through facilitating people care and social design programs across the UK, Europe and the Middle East. She’s an Environmental Scientist, Consultant, Parent, Mentor, Coach, Permaculture Teacher and Designer and student of healthy intact cultures and indigenous wisdom. Using her many practical and ceremonial skills, her work focuses across land-based, community and inner sustainability in order to fully activate the human potential in service of life, culture repair and rebuilding the village.
Further information on this topic:
Cloud catchers. In an arid climate in Peru the people are harvesting fog for water as a low tech method of irrigating crops.
Regenerative Agriculture, Beyond Sustainability.
An inspiring film about regenerative agriculture. For the microclimate relevant part, watch from 12:35 to see the story of one farm, known as 'Dry Lands', that was destroyed by its previous owner. When the new owner replanted, he found that slowly the temperature on the land dropped, the climate changed, soil 'grew' as he added organic matter from vigorous pruning, water was retained, drought conditions were reversed and water started to run in the streams year-round.
#microclimates #ecologicalniches #freepermaculture #permaculturedesign #permaculturewomen
with Marjory House
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
What is season extension?
In industrialised nations we have become used to being able to buy every type of fruit and vegetable all year round. When you grow your own, you quickly become aware of the limits to what you can grow in your area because of the seasonal nature of gardening.
Different crops are ready at different times of the year, with summer being the main season for the majority of crops. The further you are from the equator, and the higher your altitude, the shorter that precious summer season will be, and you may experience a hungry gap when few fresh vegetables are available.
A super simple cloche or cold frame can work wonders for extending the season. But truly, if you want to create a beautiful, productive, inspiring, and multifunctional space on your site, you simply must build a greenhouse. Whether it’s a tiny makeshift hothouse you can barely stand up in, or a hundred yard high tunnel filled with mature trees, a greenhouse will increase the diversity, yield, and enjoyment of just about any site.
Top ten reasons to build a greenhouse:
Start seeds early (and late!) Many seeds need warmth to germinate and develop into healthy seedlings. If the growing season is short, getting ahead can make a big difference.
Protect tender perennials and grow exotic plants. Increase your yields by extending the range of plants you can grow in your climate!
Protect early blooming fruits (like apricot) from heavy rains. Flowers on fruit trees are often quite delicate and can be damaged by rain, wind or frost, resulting in big losses to your fruit crop for that year. Choose dwarf varieties and plant them right inside the greenhouse.
Covered space for propagation and transplanting projects.Some plants respond well to a bit of nurturing, resulting in stronger, healthier plants. And gardeners also respond well to a warm place to work on a cold day! Choose a corner of your greenhouse to double as a potting shed and you’ll spend less time carrying seedling trays around.
Channel heat into your living space in winter. Build a lean-to greenhouse built against the sunny wall of your house and enjoy the extra warmth in the house.
Indoor/outdoor space for messy projects. Leave an open area in a section of a larger greenhouse and you’ll find that you use it all the time, for all sorts of projects.
Zen gardens! There is nothing like a high-ceiling greenhouse full of blooming, tropical, edible, aromatic, and succulent plants. Build your own mini-arboretum and escape to it when you’re feeling down. A mentor of mine even had a tiny office in his greenhouse, where she would go to get away from the family and write.
Secure medicinal and high-value plants. A well-built greenhouse with a locking door helps keep both animal and human marauders from making off with your crop.
Increased humidity for mushrooms, aquaculture. Some greenhouse designs include extra moist, dark, humid zones for cultivating edible mushrooms. Aquacultures also enjoy a more humid environment, and doing something inside a greenhouse could also allow you to add powered pumps, lights, and other features.
Guest housing! Sleeping in the greenhouse when it’s full of plants is the best!
You can plan space for propagation (seed starting) in a larger greenhouse, or build something intended especially for getting a jump start on the season. For convenience, or for simple ergonomics, this should be a bench or shelf. Extra lighting can be installed and/or heat mats are needed in more Northern climates. In temperate climates this may not be necessary.
Generally your greenhouse should be attached to your home or nearby, in your zone one area, because you will need (and want) to go there every day.
Larger greenhouses used for preservation crops such as tomatoes, peppers, or fruit trees, should be placed in zone two, unless it is more of a kitchen garden, then it should stay near the house. On a larger scale it is possible to have all three.
When a greenhouse is in constant use throughout the seasons, in particular if it is filled with more permanent perennial crops, other factors need to be considered year round:
When choosing or designing a greenhouse or polytunnel, it is important to ensure there are sufficient doors and windows that can be opened on warm days. It is surprising how quickly it can get really hot inside, often way too hot for both humans and plants!
On the other end of the spectrum, (unless your greenhouse is heated in winter) if you live somewhere with extreme cold, or if you have particularly delicate plants, more heat can be captured by insulating the greenhouse with a double wall plastic or glass. Recycled bubble wrap can be used for small areas, and combining techniques such as white walls, rock mulches, and even a cold frame or some cloches inside your greenhouse, can make a difference to whether your plants live or die.
If you live in a zone with high elevations, where winter weather sets in early and the permafrost levels go deep, the most energy efficient way to capture heat is by digging well below that permafrost level, preferably into a south facing hillside. Then, make raised beds within the greenhouse using compost.
For most homestead type greenhouses, raised beds are a good option for efficiency, either filling them with a good quality, bought compost, or ideally with your own homemade compost. I prefer French double dug beds integrated with high quality, on farm made biodynamic compost. Others prefer no-dig beds.
Another option for very cold zones is to put heat coils under the beds. These can be heated by either geothermal heat or via a closed loop hot water system fed by a solar hot water heater, wood boiler, or on demand water heater.
Airflow is very important for any greenhouse situation. Air flow is linked to temperature control. When the vents are open, air flow increases. But what happens on colder days when the doors need to be kept closed? Not only do plants need C02 for growth, they need airflow to prevent molds and fungus.
TIP: The biodynamic preparation called 508 can help regulate moisture and keeps fungus down in the soil. It is quite simply Equisetum arvense (field horsetail). This is an ancient plant full of silica. Pick in Spring, dry, add one ounce dried equisetum to four gallons of boiled water. Let this concentration cool then put it in a bucket and let it ferment for a week to four months. Strain off the plant material and store in a glass jar until use.
In my experience, the best greenhouses and polytunnels include a pond. This helps with pest control because it provides habitat for predators, e.g. frogs. It also improves the air quality, so may be part of the answer to the previous question.
Because greenhouses and polytunnels are confined spaces, it is possible to turn them into exclusion zones. For example, Alice Gray of Tyddyn Teg, North Wales, has excluded slugs from the farm’s extensive polytunnels. She did this by laying a strip of bran all around the inside edge of each polytunnel. As long as the bran stays dry, slugs are unable to cross it, and as she laid it inside the polytunnels, it does stay dry. Then she applied nematodes within each polytunnel. These ate all the slugs inside the polytunnels, so the polytunnels are more-or-less slug free.
The main disadvantage of greenhouses and polytunnels is that the rain can’t get in, so plants do need to be watered regularly. Doing this by hand may be time-consuming, but it does mean you get a close look at the plants while you are watering them and may spot problems early, such as pests or mineral deficiencies.
However, irrigation systems are very useful, and can be designed to use rain water gathered from the roof of the glasshouse or polytunnel, or can be part of a wider system of channels from a pond or dam. Whether you use overhead sprinklers or soil-level drip feed depends partly on what you are growing: For example, some plants are more vulnerable to moulds if their leaves get wet, especially within a humid glasshouse.
Soil & Fertility.
You can plant your greenhouse plants in pots on the ground, on tables, or on landscape cloth. Or you can just plant directly into the ground. As always, consider your soil’s needs, and make specific choices based on the geography and climate of your area.
Within a rotation system, fertility is managed at least partly by the different needs and gifts of different plant families. For example, the pea and bean family feed the soil via the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. When planting perennials, in particular within the confines of a glasshouse or polytunnel, it is worth putting some thought into this before planting.
Do some research into the needs and gifts of different perennials and companion planting. Mulching works well, but remember it may introduce or encourage the pests you have just excluded!
Here are a bunch of examples of greenhouses in use in the temperate Willamette Valley of Oregon. Here in zone 8, a simple greenhouse can extend the growing season by two months on either end and makes a huge difference in our annual yields.
If you need ideas and inspiration you could go find a greenhouse! This could be in your local park or botanic garden, or in a community garden or on a neighbour’s patch. Notice the differences between what is growing inside the green house and what is growing outside.
Re-visit the greenhouse at different times of the year, and in different weather conditions (e.g. on a warm sunny day and a cold wet day). What changes do you notice, both inside and outside the greenhouse? Talk to the gardener(s) and ask them what they value most about the greenhouse.
This mini-class is excerpted from the Aquaculture and Season Extension module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Marjory House, Marit Parker, Tao Orion, and Heather Jo Flores.
Marjory House has been gardening and farming in the Willamette valley of Oregon for over twenty years. She currently owns and operates a seven acre farm with over 450 apple trees, and over an acre of vegetables grown for restaurants, farmers markets and Serro biodynamic seed company. She has maintained a fruit tree pruning business for fifteen years and a biodynamic consulting business for the last seven years. She can be reached through her website www.gobiodynamic.com .
Further reading on this topic:
The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, by Niki Jabbour. Niki is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She gardens year round in the cold north and hosts a weekly talk radio garden show.
Pool, Kristin. Introduction to Season Extension in Organic Vegetable Production Systems
#seasonextension #greenhouses #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
By Heather Jo Flores
No garden is complete without a yummy patch of edible, perennial shrubbery! Even a small garden can squeeze in a few brambles, berries or 'chokes. To create a low-maintenance food forest with a year-round harvest and multiple layers of plants, a mid-sized perennial understory is an essential piece of the design.
Shrubs connect the canopy to the ground and create habitats for birds and insects. The shrub layer also shelters smaller plants and creates boundaries and microclimates.
I picked a baker's dozen of my favorites that are easy to grow and disease-resistant while providing a reliable, perennial harvest. Plant them all and you'll be well on your way to the food forest of your dreams!
I have a particular fetish for artichokes grown either in a wide hedge or placed at random across a mowed grassy lawn. The spiny leaves look like something out of Jurassic Park and the flowers are a giant, delicious thistle. Artichokes are water-thirsty and gophers love to eat their roots, so plant them in a bent chicken wire "gopher basket" and irrigate during the dry season.
This seems like a no-brainer — who doesn't love blueberries? But they aren't for every site, nor for every gardener. Blueberries need sun, regular pruning and fertilizing, protection from birds, acidic mulch and other forms of special attention. So do your homework and consider whether blueberries are really your best choice.
Pretty much everything in the genera Rubus (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) is edible and easy to grow. I enjoy using cane fruit hedges to create "rooms" in a large garden area, sectioning off zones for napping or secret fountains. Prune canes annually, in the fall when fruit is done. Cut branches that fruited this year to ankle-height while retaining the young shoots, which will be the ones that set fruit in the spring. Like any plant, cane fruits love a top dressing of rich compost. Harvest ever-bearing varieties daily to provoke a sustained harvest of up to six months.
Not all types are edible but canna lilies are such a beautiful, stunning addition to any garden. Canna edulis is an edible species that can be used much like tapioca. Break apart the corms and plant a patch near the house so you can watch the show of insects and birds attracted to almost year-round blooms.
There are about 150 species of edible currants, but my favorite is the classic flavor of the red currant (Ribes rubrum). I design site-specific gardens to meet the needs of the client/homeowner/gardener, but pretty much always include currants. Regardless of which species you choose, currants grow well as an understory shrub in marginal areas with part shade and acid soil. The plants can be susceptible to rust and mildew, so weed and rake around them once in a while and give them some nice composted manure every year.
Most fig varieties are tree-sized. Except 'Petite negra', which only grows 4 or 5 feet tall and does quite well in a temperate climate.
Because of their bittersweet flavor and super thorny stems, these aren't my favorite choice for small gardens. But as a hedge to deter animals or create privacy and security, gooseberries are an awesome edible alternative to barbed wire. You can "coppice" them by establishing the plant then cutting it all the way to the ground and training the forthcoming tall, straight shoots into a fence.
Pineapple guava seems to do best in a temperate climate, but if you have a greenhouse or a hot, south slope, try strawberry guava too. The flowers and foliage of both species are visually stunning, making them an excellent choice for a low hedge across a front yard or in an intimate courtyard garden.
Filberts can be grown in a wide range of shapes and situations. Plant as part of a mixed-plant guild or in rows along a large boundary and coppice into tall, permeable hedges. Filbert makes the best bent-wood outdoor furniture — it lasts longer than wicker or even plastic!
Attractive to hummingbirds, bumblebees and a zillion other pollinators, rosemary is known in folklore to repel bad energies from the home and garden. There are two basic types: shrubby, upright rosemary, and prostrate types that will spill down slopes and terraces. I love the way rosemary looks in a front yard garden with other Mediterranean plants like figs, brussel sprouts and oregano. Once established, all types of rosemary are resistant to deer, drought, and disease. Too easy!
With shimmering, silvery foliage and tiny, abundant, bright-orange fruit that tastes like sour-patch candy, seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides) add a yummy, nitrogen-fixing conversation piece to the garden. Fruit has seven times as much vitamin C as lemons, ripens in September and can go until mid-winter.
Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichoke)
These will grow in otherwise undesirable garden areas, such as the alley behind your house or that strip of land between the garage and the neighbor's fence. The more you dig them, the more they grow, so place them with intent and plan to leave them in that area forever. The starchy, edible tubers can cause gas but if you soak them in water overnight and rinse them before cooking, that really seems to help.
These lanky perennial brassicas will provide year-round nutritious greens, even in a foot or two of snow! Did you know that Brassica oleracea is one of the oldest cultivated species of plants? I love to imagine the rich, rocky banks of the Fertile Crescent, terraced and stacked with blooming collards!
Most of the plants in this list will do fine when grown together, as long as everyone has enough elbow room to mature. Use them as companions for larger trees, planted close together in a guild to support each other's needs. Or plant them in a line or long curve to create boundaries and microclimates. A well-placed hedge can also serve as a windbreak, privacy barrier, or conceal an ugly area. Make a raspberry spiral with a small lawn of clover in the center and it becomes a secret fort for naps and playtime. Do your own experiments and let me know how it works out!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to compost kitchen scraps. The end product of the composting process is sometimes referred to as Black Gold because it is one of the most nutrient rich sources of fertilizer available. The best thing about worm composting is that it is easy, fun, and cheap and can be done indoors — even in an apartment.
Vermicomposting uses manure worms (not earthworms) to break down decomposing food scraps. The most commonly used manure worms are called red wrigglers and can be bought by the pound online — look on kijiji.
These worms are smaller than the earthworms we are used to seeing when we dig in our gardens.. In the wild they live in forests and work at decomposing the decaying materials on the forest floor. They can also be found — as their name suggests — in steaming piles of manure.
Red wrigglers, the manure worms commercially used for vermicomposting, originate in California so they are not cold‐hardy. This means, in regions that get a cold winter, they are best suited for indoor bins and are ideal for people who do not have access to a backyard for composting. Vermicomposting is also great for folks who want to supplement their outdoor composting in order to quickly create amazing fertilizer for their gardens and plants.
Here’s how it works: Red wrigglers can eat half their body weight of food scraps each day. They eat the food and quickly pass it through their body. The result — worm poop or vermicompost — is the amazing black gold that is filled with beneficial bacteria and nutrients.
Starting a worm bin
Red wrigglers don’t live deep in soil like earthworms. They live in decaying materials at the surface so they can easily live in small human‐created composters. You can make a simple worm composting bin out of two plastic storage containers. Drill holes in the sides and bottom of one storage container and put it inside the other one. Drill holes in the lid.
When you first receive a package of worms, they will come with some vermicompost and their egg cases. You will need to add some bedding - I use damp shredded newsprint and some grit (sand or ground up eggshells). When you first set up a vermicompost bin, wait a few days before you start feeding the worms kitchen scraps. Start with a small amount — about two cups. Remember to always bury the food under the bedding.
A pound of worms can contain up to 1000 worms. The worms will regulate their population depending on the amount of room they have and the amount of food they are being given.
Under ideal situations, a pound of worms can eat up to ½ pound of food scraps every few days. The best way to determine if your worms are being over or underfed is to feed them food — remembering to bury it under the bedding ‐ and check in a few days later. When it looks like the worms are breaking it down, add more. If there are still a lot of intact food scraps, wait a few more day before feeding them. You will have to replace the bedding periodically. Simply rip some newspaper into strips, soak them in water and wring them out. Fluff them up and put them on top of the worms.
Amazing facts about worms!
1. All worms are intersex. They have both male and female parts and can freely reproduce with each other
2. Worms do not have teeth but have powerful muscles in their mouth that take in the food and move it down their digestive tract.
3. Worms lay (release?) an egg case out of which about 5 baby worms emerge. Looking for egg cases in your worms bin is an easy way to determine how healthy and happy your worms are. They look kind of like dill seeds.
4. Worms do not have eyes but they move, find food, and find each other through their skin, which is sensitive to both touch and light.
5. Some people claim that composting worms can live up to three years!
Feeding your worms
Harvesting the worm poop
When your worms are healthy and happy they will produce lots of castings. How do you separate the worms and their castings to put this amazing fertilizer onto your garden/plants? You can take a handful and pick out the worms and egg cases but this is a time consuming endeavour.
Here’s an easy way to harvest the castings: take the lid off the bin and put all the bedding and food to one side. Make sure the bin is in a place with bright sunlight or turn on the lights. Most of the worms will eventually crawl over to the side of the bin with the bedding and food. Most will migrate to the bottom of the bin to escape the light. This makes it much easier to get worm‐free castings (I still pick out any extra worms and egg cases).
You can put the castings directly on your garden or houseplants. You can also make a nutrient‐rich worm tea for even more impact.
How to make worm compost tea
1. Fill a 5 L bucket with warm water
2. Mix in 1/3 cup of molasses and stir well
3. Put a cup of castings into a nylon and tie it closed
4. Put the “tea bag” in the water
5. Take an aquarium pump and attach to an air stone (you can buy both at pet stores). Put the stone into the bucket and let bubble continuously for 48 hours. This is crucial as it helps the good bacteria to grow.
6. Dump the tea on your garden and plants for a bacteria and nutrient rich feeding or put in a spray bottle and spray on foliage.
I am a permaculture educator, feminist and anti-racist activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.
Want to know more?
I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at email@example.com.
#vermicomposting #wormcomposting #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #permaculture
Re-Imagining Economic Systems: Untangling the tongue-tied transition from capitalism to cooperation.
It is so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the term “economic systems.” As the words roll off my tongue I envision millions of pieces of string binding everyone in the world together: the laypeople to the mega corporations and governments, to the mom n’ pop store down the street, to the big banks, to friends and family — each string representing an economic transaction of some kind. In the middle of it all, it’s easy to feel tangled up.
From talking to my peers, I have found that quite a few people share these sentiments. So then how can we get ourselves untangled? How can we tug at those strings in such a way that causes the least harm to others and votes for thriving interdependent economic communities rather than mammoth oligopolies? Many of us involved in alternative lifestyles, activisms, and social movements — of which permaculture is one — are often searching for innovative and place-appropriate ways to do this.
One of my favourite professors at university — a feminist activist who was fighting alongside people threatened by multinational corporations in Guatemala and elsewhere — once said something along the lines of, “When we study capitalism, we tend to focus on IT and its negative effects, to the point where we sometimes limit our ability to even recognize the myriad non-capitalist forms of economic exchange that we and communities around the world engage in every day.”
This simple statement was definitely an awakening for me. Yes, it is important to analyze and actively oppose capitalism, especially since it is arguably the most powerful force shaping global society, but it is equally important to value and lift up the alternatives that already exist and have in many cases existed for millennia!
Let me ask you this: have you ever swapped clothes, seeds or services with a friend? Have you ever been given or have issued an IOU? Have you ever shared the story of a small business or non profit with your social network because you believed in what they stood for?
If you answered YES to any of these, then you have already engaged in non-capitalist forms of economic exchange. Perhaps you leveraged your social capital to help a friend, or perhaps you have engaged in reciprocity, gift giving, or bartering in order to meet your needs or the needs of your loved ones.
For many of us, when we think of the word “economics” our minds might quickly jump to flows of dollars and cents, however, The Free Dictionary defines “economics” more broadly as that which “deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or human welfare.” For myself, I like to think of economics as “the ways that we meet our needs through the exchange of goods and services.” With this wider definition in mind, we can really expand and explore what it means to participate in economic exchange.
By doing case studies on economic traditions, such as the reciprocity-based Potlatches of the Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples, local currencies which promote the circulation of economic energy within a specific region, or credit sharing which helps all parties involved in a deal determine what constitutes a fair exchange of goods or services rendered, we can observe diverse culturally and historically rooted economic stories. These stories offer lessons for ways that people have engaged and can engage within economic circles, ways that promote the ethics of caring for people and the earth, as well as fair share.
In my life, I have had the opportunities to study permaculture, work on a community currency project, participate in time banks and mutual credit initiatives, and work within the Degrowth and Transition Towns movements.
All of these experiences have gifted me with invaluable tools for navigating my economic reality. I have calculated that during the past 12 months I have participated in the exchange of over $5000 Canadian Dollars worth of goods and services without the need for any Canadian Dollars. As someone who works within the non-profit sector and qualifies as a low-income person, having the knowledge to access and identify wealth through alternative means has enriched my life greatly.
Alternative approaches to designing our economic systems which engage with concepts like local currencies, basic income, credit sharing, and interest free loans, can help vulnerable communities become economically stable, they can help people reduce stress and improve mental health, and they can help people express their gifts and talents in ways that are not exploitative.
I think the greatest boon that rethinking economics has given me, is the increased sense of agency in my life — feeling like I am able to meet my needs and experience abundance even if my economic profile might suggest otherwise. If we are able to engage in more of the kind of work that allows us to redefine, reimagine, and critically redesign what terms like ‘currency’, ‘wealth’, ‘capital’ and ‘economics’ can mean, then I think that the potential for positive change is truly great.
Want to know more?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you are interested in learning more about alternative approaches to economics as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught by a group of 40 women from around the world, check out https://coursecraft.net/courses/z9Thn/a/cpmYFEtTE.
My name is Lucie and I live in Kelowna, Canada, where I run a permaculture group and work as a coordinator in a non-profit organization that empowers community members facing hardships by teaching cooking, farming, and employment skills. I have a masters degree in the social dimensions of sustainability from Lund University and a background working in social sustainability, community building, writing and mixed media art. To find out more about me and what I do please visit luciebardos.net.
#rethinkingeconomics #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #peoplecare
By Heather Jo Flores
Some of our favorite foods are fermented, such as beer, wine, bread, cheese, pickles, salami, yogurt, tempeh, vinegar, kombucha, kimchi and many more. And whether you are a devoted foodie with a well-stocked fermentation station on your kitchen counter or just somebody who loves a Reuben sandwich, one of the simplest and most satisfying fermented foods to make at home is good, old-fashioned sauerkraut.
If you've never experimented with home ferments, sauerkraut could be the gateway. It is easy to make, hard to mess up, and once you've got the hang of how to make a good kraut, you'll be set up with the tools to branch out into more complex recipes like kimchi and kefir.
Myself, I prefer kraut to all the rest. I learned this recipe during a hands-on workshops with fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. For a labyrinth of delightful fermentation recipes, visit his website www.wildfermentation.com.
All of your supplies should be freshly cleaned in hot water. Don't bleach them but make sure they are free of dirt and debris.
Large stainless steel bowl
Sharp kitchen knife, not serrated
Large cutting board
A ½ gallon Mason jar, wide-mouthed
A smaller glass jar, narrow enough to fit easily into the mouth of the larger jar
A sanded and boiled 2-inch-wide, 10-inch-long wooden dowel or a clean, empty Tabasco bottle with the label removed
A clean, lightweight cotton cloth, such as a dish towel or pillowcase.
Ingredients and method:
1 large head of green cabbage
1 medium head of red cabbage
3 tablespoons non-iodized natural sea salt
(Optional ingredients could include juniper berries, radishes, daikon, carrots, garlic, horseradish, bok choy, onion, goji berries, currants, hot peppers or any range of small fruits, seeds and veggies, but I recommend starting with just a simple kraut of only cabbage and salt and then experimenting with other ingredients later on down the line.)
Wash the cabbage, remove the largest outer leaves and set it aside. Slice the cabbages in half and carve out the small, hard core. Some people include this in the kraut, but I find it doesn't ferment as well as the rest.
Taking your time, slice up the cabbage into very thin strips. Mix both colors into the large bowl, adding a dash of salt to each handful of cabbage.
When all of the cabbage is in the bowl, sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the top.
Squeeze and rub the cabbage with your hands, using your thumbs to work the salt into the leaves. Keep doing this until the cabbage feels wet and slippery, and the colors darken. This is the "cabbage massage" — the most important part of the kraut-making process.
DO NOT add water, vinegar, or any other liquid. This will cause your kraut to mold. Use only vegetables and salt.
Pack the cabbage into the large Mason jar, using the wooden dowel (or Tabasco bottle) to smash down each layer. If you have been thorough with your cabbage massage, a foamy liquid will start to form around the leaves as you pack them into the jar. Keep smashing and packing until all of the cabbage is rammed into the jar. Leave an inch or two of space at the top.
Rub salt on both sides of a few of the large cabbage leaves set aside at the beginning and place them over the top of the packed cabbage to create a leaf-lid that sits just under the top of the liquid level.
Now fill the smaller jar with water and seal it with a tight lid. Place this jar inside the mouth of the larger kraut jar to weigh the large leaves down on top of the kraut.
Wash and dry the steel bowl and place it under the jars to catch any liquid that overflows during the fermentation process. If you have ants, put a little water in the bottom of the bowl to trap them before they can crawl up into your kraut.
Drape your cotton cloth over the whole contraption to keep out bugs but allow in the happy ambient yeasts and bacteria that will help your kraut thrive. Keep it in a cool, dark place. Warm temperatures speed up the fermentation process, cold weather slows it down and super-hot weather could kill it.
Once or twice a day, uncover the kraut and remove the smaller jar and large lid-leaves. Smash the cabbage down. Smash, smash, smash! Wipe away any overflow liquid, replace the lid-leaves and smaller jar, and re-cover.
After about 5 days, begin tasting the kraut. My preferred flavor usually happens around 7 to 10 days. Longer fermentation time will usually yield stronger flavor and softer kraut.
Shorter time means lighter flavor and crunchier kraut. But if you let it go too long, it will get mushy and not so yummy. When it gets to the place where you love it, cap the large jar with a snug lid and refrigerate it.
If a murky film or fuzzy mold forms on the top or sides of your jars, don't worry. Just wipe it away with a clean cloth or carefully remove it with a spoon. If the kraut seems too dry, smash it more and perhaps add a pinch more salt.
That's it! My favorite way to eat it? Try mixing 1 part fresh kraut, 1 part chopped avocado and 1 part grated beets. Scoop this mixture into a boat of Romaine lettuce for a delectable, rainbow-colored, crunchy raw food snack.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #fermentation #sauerkraut
with Kareen Erbe
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Appropriate technology and permaculture design go hand in hand. Remember that permaculture is a design approach that meets our food, energy, shelter and other needs. Through appropriate technology, we are engineering ways in which to meet those needs in the simplest, most locally based ways possible.
The ecological crises that we are facing today is very much related to the fact that our economy, our agriculture, and our technologies are out of scale with what the planet can support. When entities are out of scale, natural patterns in the landscape are disrupted. In fact, it is our advances in technology that have led to a lot of that destruction. For example, combine harvesters have allowed us to cultivate large monocultures that have led to soil erosion and topsoil depletion.
Advances in cell phones and computers, coupled with consumerism and a global economy, have not only mined the earth of natural resources, but have created tons of electronic waste that fill our landfills.
Understanding and using appropriate technology is about bringing things back into scale and applying the permaculture principle of using small and slow solutions.
As mentioned in the video, appropriate technology is technology that is suited to the social and economic conditions of a particular region in which it is to be applied, is ecologically sound, and promotes self-reliance on the part of those using it. It is:
Often labor-intensive but energy efficient.
Reducing our consumption first.
Before you think of applying appropriate technologies, think first about reducing your consumption. Though it’s heartening to see advances in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, it seems like many of these advances are designed to meet society’s current needs, without addressing our overconsumption.
For example, people choose to put solar panels on their roofs to power their TVs, dryers, multiple appliances, and possibly even multiple cars.
While it may be a step in the right direction, alternative energy technology often prevents us from taking a good look at our consumption. What’s more, these technologies contain a lot of embodied energy. From the extraction of the base materials to the manufacturing and the shipping, the energy involved in producing a product like a solar panel or a wind turbine is substantial.
Chances are that if you live in a developed nation, you are likely consuming at a level that is not sustainable for the rest of the planet. The challenge is not to find an energy source that will support that lifestyle, the solution first lies in our willingness to reduce our consumption.
Then, we can look at appropriate technologies to meet our reduced needs.
The most obvious way to reduce consumption is through growing your own food. Reducing our transportation miles from farm to table immediately reduces our impact.
Household strategies for reducing consumption.Simple strategies in your home can go a long way. For example, though we have a permaculture homestead, we do live in a conventional home. However, before putting solar panels on our roof, which is perfectly aspected for that technology and in a climate where it makes sense, I am going to look at ways to reduce our energy use first.
This is what we have done so far:
In the coming years, our plan is to attach a greenhouse to the front of the house. This will not only provide passive solar heating, which is key in our cold climate, but serves the additional function of growing more food and extending our short growing season. Only after we’ve added a greenhouse, will I then consider solar panels. However, I’ll evaluate our energy bills at that point, balancing the expense of the panels and their embodied energy versus the energy produced.
Again, using small and slow solutions that take minimal resources is your primary goal. Below is a checklist for easily reducing your household consumption in a conventional home.
Checklist for easily reducing household energy consumption in a conventional home.
Cooking and food storage
Heating your home, cooking and food storage are some of the most consumptive ways in which we use energy. According to the aforementioned report, lighting and other appliances (e.g. toasters, ovens, blenders) comprise 30% of energy consumption in a home, and refrigeration accounts for 5%. In my video, I cover one simple and easy appropriate technology that you can start using within minutes, and touch briefly on several other technologies to consider.
Here is a link to the photo album on Facebook that I reference in the video. This will take you through the step-by-step process of building a cob oven.
Here’s some activities you could do to use what you’ve learned:
Make a blanket box for your household and cook something with it. If you need a reminder on how to make a blanket box, go back to the Cooking and Food Storage video in this module. Make a note of how long it took your meal to cook and how much energy you saved.
Invite your friends over to share a blanket box meal and get them to commit to doing the same! During the dinner, share ways in which you will be using appropriate technology and reducing consumption around your home. Ask them to commit to one action.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Appropriate Technology module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Kareen Erbe.
Kareen Erbe is the owner of Broken Ground, a permaculture business in Bozeman, Montana, USA, that teaches people how to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. She has taught hundreds of students through her workshops, both live and online, and offers consultations and permaculture design services. She and her family live on a ¾ acre suburban homestead with large kitchen gardens, a food forest of fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse, a pond, beehives as well as chickens and ducks. Kareen is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine and can be reached through her website brokengroundpermaculture.com. She also has an online course platform at brokenground.teachable.com.
Further reading on this topic
Bubel, Nancy and Mike. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 1991.
Kerr, Barbara. The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers. Self-published. 1991. - A 79 page book with plans/diagrams for solar cookers. Here is a link to the text of the book and info about purchasing.
#appropriatetechnology #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #blanketbox #reduceconsumption
with Crystal Stevens
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
When you begin to look at your own site with a permaculture lens, you begin to see your home as a system in which the zones and sectors can provide a foundation for your design. Zones are a tool for organizing and laying out a site so that energy, time and resources like water are used efficiently.
In classic zone mapping, the house is referred to as the centralized hub of human activity. The home is more efficient and functions better when everything has its place, when items are organized, and when clutter is minimal. Our homes are the places we retreat to. The home system is where we can reduce our carbon footprint while building a legacy of green handprints.
It is important to start at home when designing the home system since the home is the central hub for our activities. If our home functions well as a permaculture system, then our other permaculture endeavors will be more successful and we will have overall better organizational and design skills. In this mini class you will learn to view your home and its immediate surroundings through a permaculture lens.
Zone One: Home sweet home, the domestic zoneZone one includes the home, the central hub of our activity. A place where we rest and recuperate, eat, sleep, gather, dream and create.
Everyone’s home is different. Some people prefer quiet, minimalist spaces while others thrive in busy chaos. Within the shared and different preferences of the household, there is space for creating systems that reduce the amount of work needed to keep the home as you all prefer it. So often, time and energy (and tempers!) are lost looking for things. Mapping the zones and sectors inside the house can serve as a useful observation tool and help reveal fresh insights into how the house and its occupants function.
An example from my own home system:
For the last several years, I have been eliminating things that no longer serve me in my home. Each month, I dedicate a day to go through old bins of paperwork, fill a few bags of donation items, re-organize spaces that are not functioning efficiently, etc. Through this process, I have been able to organize zones of my home by categories. Because my husband and I are multifaceted and have way too many hobbies, we have several functioning zones throughout our home.
We have an area that functions as an art studio with shelves for clearly labeled art supplies.
We have an area designated to our gardening resources, which houses our seed library, gardening books, and small gardening supplies, such as small tools and gloves.
We also have a home apothecary, stocked with homegrown dried herbs, tinctures and oil infusions in process, herbal medicine making supplies, and a resource library for herbs and herbalism. We have a huge farm table in our dining room that serves multiple purposes; as a place to have family meals, an arts and crafts area, and a seed starting workspace. This table is located in a room where we host workshops.
Growing and storing food in Zone 1.There are a surprising number of things you can grow indoors, especially if you have a sunny windowsill or two. Sprouting seeds and growing microgreens can be done all year round, and are a great source of vitamins in the winter months. However, sprouting seeds works best in drier climates. In humid areas mould can be a problem so you may find you need to sterilise glass jars in the oven between crops.
Houseplants don’t have to only look nice! Spider plants are renowned for cleaning toxins the air, but they are not the only ones that do this as this poster shows. Some of these plants, such as ferns, prefer not to be in direct sunlight, leaving that sunny windowsill free for other things.
Aloe vera is a useful plant to have in the kitchen as a living part of the first aid kit. Dab some of the goo from a leaf on a burn for instant relief. (Hold the injured part under cold water first.)
There are several edible plants you can grow indoors which means that even in an apartment you can grow some of your own food. Herbs are a great addition to a kitchen windowsill, especially as you only need a small amount to transform a dish. Don’t forget to water them! Keep an eye out for aphids. These can be squished or else brushed off with the help of soapy water. Or simply swap the pot with one outside, and let the ladybirds enjoy the aphids!
A sunny windowsill is also a good place to get seedlings off to an early start in Spring. Don’t forget to protect them from frost on cold nights, especially if they are behind thick curtains, and keep the soil moist with a fine spray mist.
A pantry or a cupboard where you can store preserved food is a way of extending the season and enjoying the harvest long after the fruits have gone. Bottling or canning is a useful skill to learn, as is making jam, pickles and chutneys and also fermentation.
Zone 1 can also include the area immediately outside your house. Consider how to make best use of this space. Take advantage of the fact that it is so close and you pass it regularly. It’s worth taking time to sit or stand at the door as you make your plans.
Zone 2: The home orchard zone.This zone is fairly near the house, so is easy to keep an eye on things. You might not go here every day, but perhaps most days of the week. Think through what you want to grow that will need regular attention, such as vegetables, soft fruit and herbs.
Other components that need to be relatively close to the house include the worm bin or composting area, chickens and other small animals, the woodshed, tool shed and workshop. A greenhouse or polytunnel, and cold frames also need to be in this zone. You will learn more about these n the Aquaculture and Season Extension module.
This zone could have animal housing, rotational grazing, small pastures, cover crops, permanent raised beds, permaculture guilds, nitrogen fixers, pollinator attractors, grazing between rows, interplanting of vegetables, and ponds.
Use a big piece of paper to roughly map out zones 1 and 2 of your home system as it is today (a base map). Create a sector analysis map to understand the external influences on your home, make sure to include arrows showing the direction the physical sectors enter the space. Draw a zone map which describes how spaces are currently used either inside or outside the immediate living space.
Your current zone map could act as a real time inventory of your property, your activities and the things in it. Be transparent when creating the current zone map. Include the clutter, the chaos, and the things that are not working, and work toward eliminating those things in real life and in your dream scenario. Be sure to label the current zones.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Home Systems module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Crystal Stevens.
Crystal Stevens is an Author, an Artist/Art Teacher, a Folk Herbalist, a Regenerative Farmer, and a Permaculturist. Crystal is the author of Grow Create Inspire and Worms at Work, published by New Society Publishers. Crystal speaks at conferences and Mother Earth News Fairs across the U.S.. She has been teaching a Resilient Living workshop series for over a decade. She is the Garden Manager at EarthDance Organic Farm School in Ferguson, MO, where her husband, Eric Stevens, is the Farm Manager. They have two children and live along the rolling hills of the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Visit them at www.growcreateinspire.com, on social media @growcreateinspire and @earthdancefarms
Further reading on this topic:
Here is an article that describes how Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine, transformed her site from grass to garden! Harland, Maddy. “How we made a garden of edible delights: monoculture to permaculture.” 9 July 2014. The Guardian
I highly recommend watching the Inhabit Film to greater understand the need for permaculture in our home systems. http://inhabitfilm.com/
#freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #thehomesystem #growcreateinspire
By Heather Jo Flores
I can't stop eating them. There's a fig tree at the place where I am staying and I can't seem to keep them out of my mouth! It's a huge tree, maybe 50 years old, sprawling across the low wood fence and dropping down into the neighbours' yard. They don't mind. Every October, both houses get more figs than they know what to do with, just from the one tree. It's a Black Spanish, and it's famous among fig aficionados as being one of most prolific, cold-hardy and easy to grow varieties.
If you don't have figs in your garden, you should plant one immediately! Plant 10! Figs are not only beautiful, delicious, nutritious and easy to grow, they also provide shade and privacy, create habitat for birds and insects, and are star players in food forests from Vermont to Arcata to Spain and back again.
The sprawling nature of a fig leaves space between for annuals and perennials. Try currants, comfrey, seaberry, canna and blueberries, for starters.
Fig trees can definitely take up a good amount of space, so give it to them. If you live in town or space is limited, plant the figs on an edge, against a back fence or on the parking strip. In the country, plant a patch to create a circular grove or establish a border. I have never had problems with deer eating figs, though your results may vary.
But not all figs are created equal. Many types of figs will literally drown in a wet winter and/or die back all the way to the ground every time it freezes. Here are my four favorites. Each of these bears fruit at different times, so plant one of each and you'll have an extended bounty. These are available online and at most of the local nurseries.
Black Spanish, as mentioned above, is always a winner. It loves hot summers and wet winters, and can be quite prolific, even in a marginal site. The fruits are medium-sized, dark, firm and juicy, and delicious fresh or dried. Naturally smaller than other varieties, in the right spot it can produce two crops a year.
Desert king is one of the best varieties for maritime gardens because it resists late spring frosts and ripens in mid-summer, even in cooler microclimates. Trees can get quite large.
Lattarulla, aka Italian honey fig, is more of a golden color, excellent for drying and can bear two crops in one season, one ripening in late July and the second in mid-September.
Vern's brown turkey fig, not to be confused with plain brown turkey, was developed by Oregon gardener Vern Nelson and is widely known as reliable, productive and prolific in temperate gardens from British Columbia to the Bay Area. It bears large, sweet brown figs and will often produce two crops a year.
Neverella, also called Osborne prolific, makes stunning, opalescent fruits. Naturally a smaller tree that is more shade-tolerant than other varieties, this is an excellent choice for urban gardens.
Petite negra grows only 3 to 4 feet tall — perfect for your container garden! Medium-sized fruits are reddish black and come twice a year.
You could also just take some cuttings from an existing tree in your neighborhood. Figs are super easy to propagate. If you know of one that does well where you live, just wait until it's done fruiting and then ask to take a few cuttings, either from the tips of the young branches or from the suckers around the base of the tree. If you get lucky, some of those suckers will already have roots growing! Get the cuttings established in pots and plant out in early spring while they are still dormant, or if you can keep the soil evenly moist for a month or two, then you can just stick the cuttings directly in the ground.
Once established, figs can be extremely drought tolerant, but, as with most trees, they need to be watered regularly for the first three years. Use this young-tree time to establish companion perennials before the shade canopy of the fig begins to spread. They respond well to an annual top-dressing of rich compost, but aren't especially needy when it comes to maintenance, fertilizers or pruning. In my experience, figs don't take kindly to being pruned, and whole sections can rot if a cut is made improperly. Prune if you must, but be sure to do it only when the tree is completely dormant: after Thanksgiving and before Groundhog Day.
Fun fact: Figs are an inside-out flower, and some varieties are pollinated by the aptly named fig wasp. Other types of wasps don't pollinate but simply use the figs as a nursery for their larvae. These wasps are also known to hunt insects that are harmful to plants, so having figs benefits your whole garden. "I wish I wouldn't have planted that fig tree" said no one, ever.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
By Heather Jo Flores
If you're a gardener and you feel like melons are easy to grow, please, message me! I want to learn your methods. I have found this crop to be one of the most challenging of annual vegetables. If it were anything else, I'd probably have given up by now. But nothing can replace the sweet sticky pleasure of a summer afternoon spent eating a perfectly ripe garden-fresh melon.
I tried a dozen different varieties of melons, and grew them in twice as many ways, and sometimes all I got was a single melon, small and underripe, barely edible after four months of work. Finally, I found a few great varieties and developed a system for getting the best melon harvest possible.
If you're anything like me, you enjoy coming up with systems and structures to increase the yield and functionality of your garden. Anyone who has spent time and resources building trellises, cold frames or cloches will find it easy to agree that it was worth the effort, and this could not be more true when it comes to growing melons in a climate that is prone to late frosts (however brief) and early rains. Use the advice and devices below and you'll be serving up a honeydew salsa by Labor Day!
Choose locally bred, short-season, small-fruit varieties.
When it comes to temperate gardens, the best and most reliable melon variety, a million times over, is the Ha'ogen, a small, tangy-sweet, green-flesh fruit that ripens in about 75 days and falls into the honeydew category in terms of looks and flavor. I have also had good success with Hoodoo melons, a.k.a. "Hearts of Gold," which are more like a cantaloupe. I encourage you to visit www.rareseeds.com and take a chance on whatever appeals to you.
What about watermelons, you ask? I don't recommend them for a temperate climate. It's just not hot enough. But don't let that dissuade you from trying! Just be sure to choose varieties that fruit in 90 days or less.
Do the math.
Read the seed packet and count backwards from when you want to be eating melons. Consider that one quick frost is enough to kill melons, so make sure your harvest will come in well before that. Also consider that melons need as many hot sunny days as possible to grow big and ripen, so if you plant them too early, they will languish in the early summer rains. All of that being known, I think the second half of August is a realistic time to expect your crop. So, if you want to start harvesting August 15, and your seed packet says 90 days, you will need to get your seeds planted around May 15. But don't plant them before Cinco de Mayo. Remember what I said about melons needing those hot summer days to boost the yield!
Set them up to succeed.
Amend with fertile garden compost and thoroughly work up a garden bed 36 inches wide. Melons like sandy loam, and they must be spaced at least 30 inches apart, so decide how many plants you want and plan accordingly. Twenty plants should give an average family a decent harvest, with some to share with the neighbors, so you will need a bed about 25 feet long. You can plant lettuce, spinach or cilantro between the melons, but avoid other cucurbits or heavy feeders like tomatoes or brassicas. Let the melons have the space and resources they need and they will reward you for it.
Don't skimp on water.
Melons love water. Don't go to extremes, but do establish a frequent, consistent routine. Erratic watering can cause fruit deformation, so set up a schedule and stick to it. But don't water overhead when the sun is shining! The leaves will blister and, while it probably won't kill the plants, they will spend energy healing instead of making your fruits. Hand water deeply into the base of the plant with a hose at least four times a week just before dusk. I don't trust drip or automatic watering with my melons, and neither should you.
Keep the melon zone clean.
Throughout the season, keep the entire area meticulously weeded. I don't mulch melons because they rot so easily. Keep the beds clean and free of debris so that slugs, grubs and mold spores don't have anywhere to hide.
Direct sow and use a cloche system.
Most plants in the cucumber family do not enjoy being transplanted. They tend to spend several days in shock before they begin to grow again. When we're talking about melons, this 6-12 day period could make the difference between getting a harvest or losing semi-ripe melons to the first frost. So, to avoid having to worry about frost either at the beginning or at the end of your melon adventure, build a series of cloches and row-covers for your melon patch. That way you can sow the seeds directly into the ground (avoiding transplant shock and growth-delay) and, if you design creatively, your cloches can double as trellises, to keep the ripening fruits off the ground where they easily rot and get munched by a wide array of garden marauders. (Everybody loves melons.)
Here's my cloche system for a 90-day melon:
Days 1-15: Sow seeds in small hills under individual cloches made from gallon-sized milk jugs. Cut off the bottom, remove the cap and punch several holes in the plastic. Sow three seeds in each hill and fit the jug over the top to create a tiny greenhouse. Keep evenly moist until seeds sprout, and when seedlings are five days old, remove the two smaller seedlings and leave only one plant on each hill. This is essential. You must thin your seedlings. Water often, removing the milk jugs during hottest part of the day, as needed.
Days 16-44: Remove the milk jugs, wash them, and stash for next year. Use handi-mesh half-circles to make row covers (see photo). Cut the mesh wide enough to form a low dome over the young plants. Position the covers so that all of the plants are on the inside, about 3 inches from the wire. Now cover the mesh covers with greenhouse plastic and clamp it the plastic to the wire with small spring-clamps. Don't worry about closing up the ends, it's better to have the extra ventilation. If it gets extra hot in June, you might need to remove the plastic or punch holes in it. Keep an eye on the little plants; if they wilt or turn yellow, it's too hot. Pull off the plastic but leave the handi-mesh in place.
Days 45-90: Remove the plastic and convert the row covers into horizontal trellises by gently pulling the tendrils of the melon plants from the inside to the outside, letting them grow a bit more, and then poking them back through. As fruits start to form, make sure they aren't getting too heavy for the trellis. You might need to tie a few branches. If fruits are laying on the ground or on top of the mesh, turn them over periodically so that they ripen on all sides.
Feel free to try variations on this system and, as with all gardening techniques, connect with your neighbors to see what works for them. Let me know how it goes, and feel free to ask questions and offer suggestions for future articles. Contact me at www.foodnotlawns.com.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
with Tao Orion
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Permaculture design is all about mimicking natural systems. It is possible to work with ecological succession to create biodiverse and functional landscapes. In order to go about this, it’s helpful to understand the ways that natural systems organize themselves. This mini class will explore the details that will help you to make the best decisions.
Mimicking the forest at home: guilds and forest gardening
When we’re designing the home landscape, we can think of fruit and nut trees as the late successional species in our garden ecosystems. In natural ecosystems, there are generally many types of species assemblages that lay the groundwork, allowing for these larger, longer-lived species to thrive.
Using the permaculture principle of working with and enhancing succession, we can mimic this process by planting different types of plants that enhance the ecosystem that the trees will grow in. This type of planting is known as a guild, which refers to an association of plants that are all working together toward a common purpose: In this case, enhancing the growth of the fruit or nut tree. In permaculture we are always looking to maximize yields, so these support species always have their own intrinsic value and yields.
In the pear tree guild pictured above, the pear tree is the central element. It is surrounded by fruiting shrubs including gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa) and currants (Ribes sativum). Nitrogen-fixing plants including autumn olive (Eleaganus umbellata) and Siberian peashrub (Caragana arborescens) add fertility to the soil, and provide nectar for pollinators. Autumn olives are edible (and delicious!), and Siberian peashrub pods are great forage for chickens.
Underneath the straw mulch, comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and rhizomes are planted. Comfrey makes an excellent perennial living mulch that can be chopped and laid down around the base of the plantings. Over time, this aids fertility and keep grasses and weeds at bay. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is also planted under the mulch. With its deep taproots, horseradish helps penetrate compacted and heavy soils, allowing water and organic matter to move deep into the soil, right where the pear roots need it most. Horseradish is also delicious!
In summary, this guild consists of pear, gooseberry, autumn olive, Siberian peashrub, comfrey, and horseradish.
Each of these plants is multifunctional, and all together they create a very diverse ecosystem centered around the pear tree. Eventually, many of these species will die or become less productive as the pear tree canopy grows and the leaf shade deepens. But in the meantime, there are plenty of yields!
Guild plantings are part of the concept of forest gardening, which mimics the layers of a natural forest ecosystem with species people want in their home garden spaces.
Layers of a guild:
Another key element of forest gardening is keeping the soil covered at all times. In a natural forest ecosystem, there is a deep layer of mulch laid down over time from decomposing leaves and needles. This mulch layer maintains fertility and moisture, and provides habitat for microorganisms that contribute to the health of the forest.
Many permaculture-based gardens employ this deep mulch strategy in beds designated for annual production. Pioneering gardener Ruth Stout popularized the deep mulch system for annual gardens, which eliminate the need for tilling or otherwise exposing the soil.
A permaculture-based approach to food production seeks to meet our needs for food, medicine, fiber, and building materials, without diminishing the natural world. Planting guilds and forest gardens are part of the solution, but examining how annual crops are grown is also important.
Identify three or more plants you would like to include in a guild or forest garden section of your permaculture design. What are their functions and / or level in this section. How do these plants support each other and the broader system around them?
This miniclass is excerpted from the Plants, Forests and Cultivated Ecologies module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Tao Orion.
Tao Orion is the author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration. She teaches permaculture design at Oregon State University and at Aprovecho, a 40-acre nonprofit sustainable-living educational organization. Tao consults on holistic farm, forest, and restoration planning through Resilience Permaculture Design, LLC. She holds a degree in agroecology and sustainable agriculture from UC Santa Cruz, and grows organic fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and animals on her southern Willamette Valley homestead, Viriditas Farm. She teaches the “Plants, Forests and Cultivated Ecologies” module in the online permaculture course offered by Permaculture Women’s Guild.
Further reading on this topic:
Orion, Tao. Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.
Stout, Ruth, and Richard V. Clemence. The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book. Rodale Press, 1975.
Anderson, Kat. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources University of California Press, 2013.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #guilds #forestgardening
with Lichen June
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
Plants are active participants in the vibrant and diverse community of soil life. There are more than 50 million genera of bacteria in the soil, and more than 50 million genera of fungi. Humans haven't named more than a small percentage, and we know very little about those which we have named. Thus, the vast majority of life in the soil, along with their relationships and functions, are unnamed and unknown.
By some accounts, humans have destroyed 50-80% of earth's topsoil. I find this so troubling, I almost don't know what to write next. However, this is a very clear case of, “the problem is the solution.” There is so much land devoid of life, so many layers and niches just waiting to be filled with diversity, life cycles, and carbon. Soil is an incredible and established reservoir that is ready to hold carbon, if only we nurture it back to life.
One method for improving the health of your soil is adding compost. Your food is only as healthy as the soil that it was grown in, so you'll want to give your soil biota something good to eat. In this mini class I will show you how to create your own compost.
Compost recipes and variations.
This recipe is a variation of the, 18 day Berkley method, and can teach you the basics. As you gain more experience, you can change the recipe. The greater variety of matter you put into your compost, the richer your soils become. You'll need 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Some examples:
Sawdust is 500 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
Fish is 7 to 1.
Urine 1 to 1.
Chicken manure 12 to 1.
Rabbit manure 8 to 1.
Horse manure 20 to 1.
Green weeds 25 to 1.
If you can increase surface area by chopping or shredding, it will speed up decomposition. You will need a lot of materials. Don't go over 4 feet high or it will squeeze the air out. You can use a gravity fall pile, or a piece of wire fence. You'll need a long handled pitch fork with 3-5 prongs, a rake, and a cover to maintain moisture.
You need 1/3 of your materials to be manure, 1/3 high carbon material, or browns, and 1/3 fresh greens. Pitch them all together and mix them up. Then water the hill until it starts to leak water. If you have food scraps, those can be incorporated into the layers and covered. Make sure to avoid: meat, bones, grease, and dairy products. Avoid materials that have come into contact with: Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotic medications, and anything that will take your pH to one extreme or another.
Once you’re more familiar with this recipe, you can put an activator in the middle when you start the pile. These could include: Dead animal, fish, chopped comfrey, yarrow, nettle, or old compost. You have to be certain that you know your recipe, so your pile will cook and not go putrid. Some people urinate on their compost piles to increase the nitrogen. Some add menstrual blood as an activator.
Other common activators, by % of Nitrogen:
Alfalfa meal 2.4%.
Blood meal 15%.
Bone meal 4%.
Chicken manure (dry) 8%.
Coffee grounds 2.1%.
Rabbit manure (fresh) 2.4%.
Rabbit manure (dry) 12%.
Once you have built your pile, you will want to cover it if you are expecting rain. Place branches on top of the pile to hold the cover off the surface, allowing air to pass through. You can also build the pile inside to heat a greenhouse. If conditions are very hot, place your pile in the shade.
If you want to look at your compost activity under a microscope, put a handful of compost in a jar with water and shake for 10 minutes. Then get a pipette and drop one drop on a slide, under a cover sheet, to view under the microscope. Take five minutes to look at this and you will see thousands of organisms every second.
Carbon is more of a fungal food. Nitrogen is more of a bacterial food. Non-woody plants and pasture prefer bacteria rich soil. Trees prefer fungal/carbon rich soil. Flour, paper, cardboard are all fungal food. If you want more fungi in your compost, you can add something like oat flour on every turn.
You can test the temperature of your pile with a good quality compost thermometer. If the pile is hotter on the inside than the outside, then your pile is too dry. If your pile is hotter on the outside than the inside, then your pile is too wet. Compost kept between 131 – 140 degrees for 15 days will kill pathogens, parasites and weed seeds.
If you want to speed up the compost turning process, you can turn your pile every day for 10 to 12 days and get it done faster, but it will be more work. Make sure you put the outer layer in the center when turning your pile, and the inner layer on the surface.
Step-by-step guide to fast composting:
Day one: Create the pile.
Day four: turn it over, ideally putting the outer layers in the middle and the center on the surface, as you move and rebuild the pile. Replace branches and cover.
Day six: turn.
Day eight: Turn every two days.
How do you know if the moisture in your pile is adequate? Squeeze a handful of the matter from the compost pile. If one drop falls, it is perfect. More water than that, and the pile is too wet. No drops, and it is too dry.
The pile should also be very warm. If you put a glove on and push your arm into the pile up to your elbow, it shouldn't be so hot that you say, “Ow”.
Turn the pile on day ten, day twelve, day fourteen, day sixteen and by day eighteen it should be done. When it is just warm, dark brown, fine with only a few chunks, and an earthy smell, not putrid, then it is done.
How do you fix problems with your compost recipe? If you get to day 6 or 8 and your compost is not hot enough, ask yourself:
If the pile is too wet, you've got to put a hole in the center with your pitchfork handle and place a chimney in the middle to let it steam off. If it is too dry, just water it.
If you have too much nitrogen it will loose volume fast and smell very bad. Carbon is your sponge and carbon will slow it down.
If your compost goes a little anaerobic in places for lack of air, it will present a white moldy looking powder. That is the first indicator that you've gone over the line in temperature or moisture and need to make an adjustment.
You want 10 compost heaps to an acre if you want to kick off an organic crop garden system.
Your soil will hold more water at the end of this process.
When you get skilled at turning your pile, you can do it in 20 minutes. That's 3 hours of work total for this 18 day recipe. One compost heap this size, spread around a garden, will grow vegetables for one year, for one person.
Slow compostTurning a pile every two days is not for everyone. If you are too busy, you can turn your pile once every 7-10 days. At that rate your compost will be finished in 1-3 months.
If you need to go more slowly, that's okay. You can always assess what your compost needs are when you turn it, and add accordingly.
Alternately, you can make an add as you go pile. This requires even less effort, as there is no need to separate your kitchen waste, yard debris, and clippings. Unfortunately, it decomposes at a slower rate of 3-8 months. It is prone to odor problems because the lack of turning allows it to go anaerobic. It doesn't heat up well, which means it does not kill weed seeds and pathogens. It will be less nutrient dense. It might attract pests if uncovered.
If you mix your sieved compost with sharp river sand from the inside bends of creeks or rivers, you can make your own potting mix. The smaller the seed the more sand you want in the mix, for example, carrot seeds, etc. With large seeds you can use 50/50 compost and sand.
You can also extend your compost by making compost tea.
One way that you can measure the success of your compost is to use a refractometer.
The refractometer measures refracted light through plant fluid. Inside is a gauge, and in that gauge is a blue line. It is used to measure the starch and sugars in fruit. If the starch goes up, the plant is probably feeding and happily using your compost. This shows an increase in the nutrient density in food. Caution: If you use this to measure the nutrient density of food from the supermarket, you won't find it easy to spend money on commercially grown produce ever again.
Now that you’ve seen different methods of creating compost all that’s left is to choose the method that is right for you and to do it! However, if you want to be energy efficient, make your compost near where you are going to use it! Have fun!
This miniclass is excerpted from the Soil Basics module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Lichen June.
Lichen June is a writer, speaker, educator and stuntwoman. Raised on a dairy goat farm by a naturalist mother and gardening father, Lichen was given a profound sense of ethics and relationship with the natural world. As an activist Lichen has been producing educational events and doing publicity on environmental issues for over 20 years. Teaching communication and ethics since 2008, and permaculture since 2013, Lichen studied permaculture with Geoff Lawton and Toby Hemenway, and received her certificate from PRI Australia. Lichen is the Executive Director of the NW Permaculture Institute, and co-founder of Elephant Head Educational Designs, creators of regenerative learning materials.
Further reading on this topic:
Darwish, Leila. Earth Repair: a Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes. New Society Publishers, 2013.
Hosking, Rebecca. Building Soil with Regenerative Agriculture. Permaculture.co.uk: Permaculture People/Permaculture Magazine, 2015.
#compost #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns
1 cup water
2 cups of liquid castile soap
4 tablespoons melted coconut oil
10–15 drops lavender essential oil or essential oils of your choice.
Never use clove oil or oregano oil directly on the skin as they will burn. If you choose peppermint essential oil, use only half of the suggested number of drops. To be safe, stick to gentle essential oils such as lavender and rosemary. Small amounts of peppermint, tea tree or other safe essential oils can be used as well.
Whisk all ingredients together in a measuring cup. Using a funnel, fill a reused body wash bottle or squirt bottle. Be sure to label. Use 1 or 2 squeezes per wash.
1 cup water
1/2 cup liquid castile soap
8 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons coconut or calendula oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil
Whisk together all ingredients in a measuring cup. Funnel into reused shampoo bottle. Be sure to label. Use 1 or 2 squeezes per shampoo.
Natural Mint Toothpaste
6 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
5–10 drops peppermint or spearmint essential oil
1 tablespoon water
Mix together ingredients in a small plastic container with lid. Be sure to label. Use ½ teaspoon per cleaning. Use within three months.
1 cup water
½ cup vodka
10–15 drops of peppermint or spearmint essential oil
2 teaspoons aloe vera gel (optional)
5 teaspoons liquid vegetable glycerin (optional)
Bring water and vodka to a boil and then let cool. Add 10–15 drops of peppermint or spearmint essential oil and mix well. If you like, add in aloe vera gel and liquid vegetable glycerin. Transfer to a recycled mouthwash container and shake well before each use. Be sure to label. Use 1 capful per rinse.
1 cup coconut oil
½ ounce beeswax
1 ounce shea butter
1 tablespoon vitamin E oil
40 drops lavender essential oil
1 tablespoon zinc oxide
Mix coconut oil, vitamin E oil, beeswax and shea butter together in a double boiler. Let cool. Stir in essential oils and zinc oxide. Store in small recycled jars (baby food size) jars with tight fitting lids.
Natural Baby Wipes
Medium stack of heavy-duty organic cloths (30)
2 cups water
½ cup aloe vera juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons calendula oil or vitamin E oil
1 tablespoons liquid castile soap
2 drops lavender essential oil
Whisk all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Gently press down cloths into liquid so it is all absorbed. Place wet wipes in a reused wipe box with lid. Be sure to label.
1 cup coconut oil (infused with 1/8 cup dried calendula flowers, 1/8 cup chamomile flowers and 5 plantain leaves,)
¾ cup shea butter
1 tablespoon vitamin E oil
15 drops lavender essential oil
1 tablespoon zinc oxide
Infuse coconut oil with flowers and plantain on low heat for 20 minutes. Strain. Mix coconut oil and shea butter together in the top of a double boiler. Let cool. Stir in essential oils and zinc oxide. Store in recycled shallow jars with tight-fitting lids.
#naturalbodycare #herbalbodycare #herbs #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #DIY
By Heather Jo Flores
In a forest, the plants collaborate. They take turns blooming, share space, distribute different nutrients and succeed each other over generations. In our home gardens, we can create diverse, low-maintenance food forests by mimicking these patterns. In its most basic form, this is called companion planting, and gardeners have been doing it for millennia.
You probably know the classic "Three Sisters" example. Native Americans grew corn, beans and squash in a shared space because together they repelled pests and provided a successional yield. I have heard from some old-timers that there was actually a fourth Sister: lupine, a self-seeding, nitrogen-fixing biennial that was planted all around the corn patch to repair the soil.
Ironically, as much as I am a true believer in perennial polyculture gardening, I don't grow the Sisters. I like to hill my corn (like potatoes) and that disrupts the baby beans and squash. I also find that the corn patch needs more than just the beans (and/or lupine) to repair the soil. So I plant the corn, let it get a few inches high, then plant potatoes in between the stalks. Every week or so, I hill up the dirt around the corn and potatoes with a hoe. I do plant squash, but only on the ends of the rows, so that they can sprawl out away from the patch.
Then, after harvesting corn and potatoes, I cover crop the whole thing with fava beans over the winter to repair and hold the soil for the next rotation.
In permaculture, we use food forests to grow as much as possible on a small piece of land. Using those principles, we design garden beds with a collection of complementary perennial trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, roots and annual vegetables called "guilds" that are placed in a microclimate landscape best suited for the group. The idea is to group plants together for specific reasons, encourage them to spread into permanent, self-managing landscapes, and thus reduce the amount of effort it takes to grow food.
You don't have to plant a whole food forest at once. You can carve out niches and build one guild at a time. As they grow, these plantings will attract birds, pollinators, microorganisms and fungi. Over time, as you add more and more guilds, your entire space will yield to nature, becoming your own handcrafted Eden.
How to Build a Guild
So exactly which plants do we group with which other plants? It takes a lifetime to learn all the differing functions, get familiar with the size of plants at maturity, with their growing patterns and individual needs. There are some great books on the topic, and any search for "companion planting," "food forests" or "perennial polycultures" will keep you busy reading and designing all winter.
For now, I offer you a handful of my personal favorites from years of experiments with hundreds of plant combinations that yielded mixed results. These are the guilds that I continue to plant in every food forest I design.
Blueberries, strawberries, valerian, yarrow, spinach/lettuce/orach
Blueberries are slow-growing, water-thirsty and thrive in an acidic mulch like sawdust. Strawberries also enjoy the acidic mulch, and can get well established as a ground cover before the mature blueberries shade them out. Valerian and yarrow are clumping, blooming medicinal perennials that attract beneficial insects and help build soil for the berries. Together they look great and share space without much intervention. Sow the spinach between the spaces and alternate with patches of lettuce and orach.
Apples, horseradish, clary sage, kale
Apples cast deep shade and only a handful of plants will thrive under them. Horseradish repels diseases common to apples, and the two are a classic pair. Because I often use it in my apothecary, and because it doesn't mind a bit of shade, I add clary sage. The fuzzy, aromatic biennial, which grows up to 6 feet tall, glimmers throughout year two with huge plumes of purple flowers. Interplant a few different kinds of kale and you will have a rainbow of foliage.
Figs, seaberry, canna, comfrey, squash
If you have space, this guild is epic in every way: year-round harvest, giant flowers, mulch crops and vegetables. Visually, it's Jurassic. Figs can get quite large at maturity and tend to sprawl. Between those sprawling shoots you can plant comfrey, which will fill the space with fuzzy foliage and tubular flowers that pollinators love. Seaberry fixes nitrogen and also produces a tart, seedy fruit that can be dried or added fresh to a wide array of dishes. The canna has edible roots (similar to tapioca) and needs a bit more sun, so plant it on the southern edge. Poke in your squashes around the border to give the tendrils room to run.
Peaches, rosemary, marigolds, arugula, zinnias, cucumber
Peaches don't cast a ton of shade. They tend to be sparse with skinny leaves. This means that companions that wouldn't do well under other fruit trees will do just fine under a peach. I like the way rosemary looks, especially when joined with annual plantings of marigolds, arugula, zinnias, and other tall, showy annual flowers. Cucumbers do enjoy full sun, but smaller varieties can thrive in mottled shade, and I have grown some beauties as a ground cover in this guild.
Pears, echinacea, beets, poppies
There is something about a pear tree in bloom that always reminds me of the iconic Virgin of Guadalupe image that I grew up with. To me, the way a pear tree holds its blooms looks like an angel. As a sort of tribute to that beauty, I plant echinacea with pears. Echinacea is a clumping perennial with fancy daisy-like coneflowers in purple, green, white and pink. It's medicinal and beneficial to gardens, with a network of thick roots that help to break up the soil and increase nutrient distribution. Beets fit perfectly in the spaces between, and the foliage is visually splendid in this combination. If you want to make it really beautiful, add some poppies, but keep in mind that poppies are heavy feeders, so you'll need to compensate the soil.
Generally speaking, as a nitrogen fixer, I habitually sprinkle white subterranean clover seed, both as a cover crop and as a living mulch in beds and paths. It makes an awesome cover, attracts pollinators, and can be easily removed when you decide to plant something new. For best results, mix organic clover seed — coated in bacterial inoculant — with fluffy, finished compost and keep it in a bucket for easy access. If there's a spot with bare soil, sprinkle the seeded compost around and make sure it gets evenly watered until the clover is established.
Finally, please remember that just because plants in a guild support each other, that doesn't mean they don't need your support. You need to weed, prune, mulch and clear. You need to harvest the food, save the seeds and participate in the cycles and seasons. A food forest is an ecosystem, and the gardener should be a part of that. In fact, for the first three years, your newly planted guilds might need some extra attention. Think of the baby plants like little puppies — you have to train them, nurture them, and raise them, but if you do a good job, they will be your best friends for many years to come!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
Using Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit to as a tool to design my journey to Andalucía
The meaning of spirituality I connect with is one which is Earth based and includes being guided by, grounding in and celebrating the different moon and sun cycles, which in turn determine our patterns of days, months, and seasons. Central to this form of spiritual experience are the 5 elements — Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Spirit. These aspects are deeply linked to my permaculture life, work and activism.
This year I have undergone a big life change from being a hill farmer and palliative care nurse in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales, to moving to the hills of Andalucía, Spain with my partner, dogs and cats, to a house with just under 2 acres of land. This post shows how I have used the 5 Elements to explore how my knowledge and practice of permaculture can be transferred and adapted to my next life chapter design.
In the Dales I spent years using permaculture tools to improve the health of the soil on the farm. Carefully designed grazing systems with a wide diversity of agricultural animals made big differences to the biodiversity in the grazing land and the edge with forestry land. I used animal manure combined with structures such as raised beds, hot beds, polytunnels, and then lots of successional planting. This greatly improved the fertility of the soil and also generated extra heat to be able to grow a range of species and variety of both annual and perennial plants I never thought possible.
Here in Andalucía, the soil is dry, rocky, dusty and steep. I won't be farming any agricultural animals so I need to design how I am going to create and maintain the highest level of soil fertility as I can. Many different perennial and annual plants grow here that I have no experience in growing, so there is much learning to be done.
The Earth Element is also about ensuring life force and motivation is given to other aspects of life, and I intend to use the specific qualities from this element to design and carry out some of the ideas and projects on my ‘to do list for my move here. This will include looking at what I will do in terms of my right livelihood, creativity and taking responsibility for my own health. Designing for this diversity should help to ensure that my life here is as resilient as possible.
Winters were long and cold in the Dales. Soon after we arrived there we invested in a heating system that heated the cottage there well, provided hot water, and allowed us to be able to cook slow stews and soups through burning local wood. We often needed to keep one stove lit for most of the year, so we needed a constant supply of dry wood. We also designed a storage system for the large amounts of wood needed, to be as effective of human energy and time as possible. Our outdoors fireplace was also a really core part of our lives, providing a focus to cook outdoors and celebrate events.
Sun hours in our remote part of the Dales were very few and we designed food growing, animal care and our own holistic health to maximize the use of the available sunlight.
We need to heat our house for the coldest months of the year here in Spain and are already planning a wood burning system and accessing local wood to burn. Wild fires are also a very real danger in the summer months and how to avoid them and then protect our home and animals if they do occur, is something that is really key to our future life here.
The sun shines for about 340 days of the year at our new home which is a really big change for us. Yields we can obtain from that amazing energy include growing a much more diverse and abundant range of food and the potential for heating water and generating electricity for power. The strength of the sun can also be damaging in the hottest part of summer, and creating shade for both our food growing and outdoor living spaces will be part of the design.
Energy and action are also inspired by the element of Fire and I am in the process of using this inspiration to explore how I am going to take my permaculture work (lots of energy and action!) forward from here. I plan to finish my Diploma soon, but then what? And how will it integrate and balance with the other aspects of my life to make sure my energies are used as efficiently as possible?
It rained a lot at our North Yorkshire home, with the yearly average being over 100 inches. Improving the compacted soil, and planting trees, (especially willow) helped to improve the impact of excess water on the grazing land. The raised beds and a human made drainage channel (which used a wide water pipe, perennial plant growth and a mesh outlet, to avoid soil erosion) had a really positive impact in avoiding plants being damaged by excess water.
Water here in the hills of Andalucía is precious. There is virtually no rain between April and September, and the winter rains are often short and very heavy, with potential for damage to land through flooding and erosion. Systems such as capturing and dispersing rainwater, utilizing grey water, optimizing organic matter in the soil, mulching and growing drought tolerant edible plants are already being considered as part of our design.
Water in the non-physical aspect guides our emotional selves. Water flows, as do our emotions. Healthy emotional health can mean working on aspects of our mental heal that we are ‘stuck’ in, so that positive flow can take place. How can I use permaculture principles and tools to promote my emotional well being during this transition time? Starhawk talks a lot about the connections of grief and the water element, (‘the well of grief’). Being mindful of the loss I have experienced over recent months and years will also feature in this part of my people care/self care designing.
The exposed location and height of the farm meant that there could be damaging winds throughout the year. Restoring many of the barns and dry stone walls on the farm and planting trees along field edges improved the shelter and then health and welfare of our agricultural animals. Also choosing native hardy breeds of sheep, cows, pigs and poultry ensured they would thrive well despite the weather conditions that the strong gales brought with them.
Where we chose to site the various edible gardens, raised beds, polytunnel, planting further windbreaks and then choosing type and variety of edible plants designed for short growing seasons, meant we could protect our growing spaces from winds that contributed towards limits to maximum potential.
The winds at our new home can also be strong, and especially so in the winter. Designing our food growing areas to include shelter against strong winds will make a huge difference to the varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs we can grow and the length of the growing season they will have.
Communication and connecting is the inner strength from Element of Air, and here in Andalucía there is an abundance of different factors emerging for this — making beneficial connections with new friends, community and neighbours. Sharing permaculture knowledge and experience with them: Finding systems to have positive communication with friends and family now many miles away, and engaging further with parts of the global permaculture community, particularly those who are undertaking permaculture work in the local area or in similar geographic and climatic locations.
Glennie Kindred describes the Fifth Element, Spirit, as ‘the force that unites all the actions of the elements together, so that there is no separation….’ Back in the Yorkshire my spiritual practice mainly focused around celebrating the Wheel of the Year sun festivals, alongside the cycles of the moon, in connection with patterns the farming seasons. My nursing work and interest in using permaculture in designing how we die, also links deeply to spirit and that same cycle flow of life an death. In addition I spent time on a daily basis appreciating my spiritual connectedness with the land I worked on and grounding myself in the present, while honouring the power and energies of the five elements.
It feels reassuring and comforting to know that in Spirit, the patterns and practices that have given me so much meaning and peace in the past will transfer to my future. There will be changes of course, open outdoor fires will be saved for winter months for example, and I can already see that the arrival of rain will be a time for celebration and gratitude…but fundamentally the wheel will keep turning just as it has done, and within it there is much here to connect to.
Using the five Elements has been a really useful tool in my move here to Spain. As well as exploring the differences in using permaculture principles and ethics in our two homes, its also really helped me to identify some really beneficial connects between the knowledge and practice I feel confident about in my life in the Dales and my design for our resilient future here in Spain.
The following resources have helped with this post
The Earth Path — Starhawk
Sacred Earth Celebrations — Glennie Kindred
Earth Pathways Diary 2015
Earth Activist Training PDC, California 2013 — Starhawk and Charles Williams
Growing food In a Hotter, Drier Land — Gary Paul Nabha
This article is also published on my blog at Kt Shepherd Permaculture
The text from this post is published as an article “Permaculture and The Five Elements” in Permaculture Magazine Winter 2015 No 86
#spirituality #ecofeminism #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #permaculturedesign
By Heather Jo Flores
It's the middle of May and time to plant sunflowers! There are many beautiful varieties to choose from, and they are easy to grow — just work up a spot in the soil, poke some holes with your fingers, and toss the seeds inside. Generally, the more space you leave between them, the larger the sunflowers will grow. My favorite varieties are the Tarahumara heirlooms, with their giant white-seeded flowers and multi-headed, long-living plants.
If you have kids, try growing a living playhouse out of sunflowers and scarlet runner beans. Even if you don't have kids, this is a great way to create a shady seasonal hideout for gardeners of all ages. It's easy: All you need is about 25 square feet of garden space and four types of seeds: sunflower, amaranth, scarlet runners and white clover.
1. Till or sheet mulch the area you plan to use for the playhouse. This can be round or square, 5 to 8 feet across.
2. Around the perimeter, scratch out a furrow 3 inches deep and place your sunflower seeds in the bottom, about 10 inches apart. Spacing is important because there needs to be enough room for the stalks to get big and strong to form the "walls" of the playhouse. Choose a variety that grows at least 60 inches tall, such as Giant Sungold, Holiday or Soraya (all available through Johnny's Seeds) Be sure to leave a 2-foot gap to create your door.
3. Plant one scarlet runner bean on each side of every sunflower seed, about 3 inches away. These will grow up the stalks of the sunflowers, enclose the playhouse in brilliant orange flowers, and eventually, the trailing vines will cross over the top.
4. In the space between the scarlet runner beans, sprinkle a few amaranth seeds. These will fill in the mid-high zone with bright color.
5. Carefully go around the perimeter and close up the furrows, covering the seeds with soil without disturbing their position.
6. In the middle of the area, inside the sunflower walls, broadcast a generous amount of subterranean white clover and chop it into the soil with a metal garden rake.
7. Pay special attention to the babies as they sprout, and keep the whole area well watered and weeded so the sunnies and beans can get as big as possible and so that the clover in the middle can grow fast and form a soft, luxurious floor for your playhouse.
8. When the sunflower stalks are about 3 feet high, train the runner beans to climb the sunflowers. When the bean vines start to grow longer than the sunflowers are tall, train them towards the center of the playhouse and eventually, hook vines together across the top to create your "roof."
That's it! By midsummer you will have a beautiful and edible secret garden hideout that should continue to bloom and thrive until late fall. This plant combination can also be used to create a privacy screen across the front of your lawn, or if you want to get really creative, build an intricate labyrinth across a large area.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
Free Mini-class: No Such Thing As Waste In A Garden, Closing the soil and food nutrient loop: reducing and reusing food waste
with Mandy Merklein
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
We love food. Let's make sure it doesn't get wasted! In this mini class we’ll look at how gardening cuts down on waste and ways to eliminate waste while gardening.
By growing your own food, you can cut down immensely on many forms of waste. This is true throughout the whole cycle from seed to plate and back into the garden. What waste can be avoided by simply growing tea herbs and sprouts on a windowsill or in the garden?
Here are just a few ways gardening reduces waste:
Here are some more ways to reduce waste in your food system:
Take a look at your garden set up and think about ways you could be closing the loop to create no waste. Create a repurposing project such as using toilet paper rolls to grow your starters. Make a worm bin or compost for organic waste, i.e. food scraps etc. Invite friends/family to help. Document. Extend the idea of repurposing and not wasting into other areas of your life.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Waste, There's No Such Thing As Waste module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Mandy Merklein.
Mandy Merklein studied permaculture for her thesis in environmental studies at Wells College. She has worked as a field biologist and environmental consultant in the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, Pacific Northwest, South Pacific, South America and Europe. She currently lives in Mallorca, Spain. Mandy received her PDC from Darren Doherty, and her teaching certification from Rosemary Morrow. She is a founding and active member of Permacultura Mediterranea (PermaMed.org), Youth in Permaculture, Gaia Youth, Community and Ecology Resources LLC, and Escola Kumar, a permaculture education demonstration site, where she lives, practices, and shares permaculture with her family, friends and students.
Further reading on this topic:
Harland, Maddy. Fertile Edges. Permanent Publications- 2017. Harland is co-founder and editor of Permaculture International magazine. This book covers a wide range of topics including regenerative culture, earth restoration and social permaculture.
Shiva, Vanadana. Seed Sovereignty, Food Security. Women in the Vanguard of the Fight against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture: North Atlantic Books. 2016. An anthology of women writers on protecting seed biodiversity and food.
#waste #compost #repurpose #sharetheharvest #permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
This resource is brought to you by
Food Not Lawns,
Permaculture Women's Guild, and Heather Jo Flores.
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