by Heather Jo Flores
Excerpted and revised from Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green, 2006).
French aristocrats popularized the idea of the green, grassy lawn in the eighteenth century, when they planted the agricultural fields around their estates to grass to send the message that they had more land than they needed and could therefore afford to waste some. Meanwhile, French peasants starved for lack of available farmland, and the resulting frustration might well have had something to do with the French Revolution in 1789.
Americans spend $30 billion every year to maintain over 40 million acres of lawn. Yet over 40 million people live below the poverty level. Even if only ⅓ of every lawn was converted to a food-producing garden, we could eliminate hunger in this country.
The lawns in the United States consume 800 million gallons of fuel every year and about 300 billion gallons of water a week. Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland. These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.
In addition, the pollution emitted from a power mower in just one hour is equal to the amount from a car being driven 350 miles. Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural toxins than industrial farming, making lawns the largest (and most toxic) agricultural sector in the United States.
But it’s not just the residential lawns that are wasted on grass. There are around 700,000 athletic grounds and 14,500 golf courses in the United States, many of which used to be fertile, productive farmland that was lost to developers when the local markets bottomed out. Turf is big business, to the tune of around $45 billion a year.
The University of Georgia has seven turf researchers studying genetics, soil science, plant pathology, nutrient uptake, and insect management. They issue undergraduate degrees in Turf. The turf industry is responsible for a large sector of the biotech (GMO) industry, and much of the genetic modification that is happening in laboratories across the nation is in the name of an eternally green, slow-growing, moss-free lawn.
These huge numbers are overwhelming,but they make the point that lawns are not only an inefficient use of space, water, and money; they are seriously contributing to the rapid degradation of our natural environment. If we truly feel committed to treating the earth and each other with equality and respect, the first place to show it is by how we treat the land on which we live.
It is time to grow food, not lawns! The reasons include reducing pollution, improving the quality of your diet, increasing local food security, beautifying your surroundings and improving your mental and physical health. You will save money, help the planet and enhance your connection with nature, your family and your community.
What have you got to lose besides a few blades of grass?
to learn more about the Food Not Lawns network, find a local chapter, and connect with the online community, visit www.foodnotlawns.com
#foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
by Heather Jo Flores
By no means an exhaustive selection of great plants for children to grow, the following twelve plants can all be direct-sown, grow quickly and easily, and are fun to harvest for food, cut flowers, or seeds.
Popcorn is always a hit with children, and many varieties grow quite well in a home garden. There is also a vast array of inter- esting Indian corns available, in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Sweet corn is another option, and nothing compares to a fresh ear right out of the garden as a refreshing snack on a September day.
Small gourds grow fast and dry easily to make rattles or small bottles and containers. Large gourds need a longer growing season but make a magnificent addition to the garden; they can be dried and made into birdhouses, bowls, and musical instruments.
The leaves, flowers, and immature seeds of nastur- tiums are edible and also repel certain insect pests, making them great companion plants. Trailing varieties are a nice addition to a bean tepee or sunflower house, and the bright flowers are a delight to children and adults alike.
Because potatoes can be grown by just throwing them on the ground and tossing some straw on top, they are great fun to raise with children. Also try planting them in a bag or crate: Just fill it one- third of the way with soil, toss in some spuds, and cover with leaves or straw. As the shoots emerge, add more mulch, and in a few months you will have a bagful of fresh sweet spuds to eat.
Large or small, pumpkins and other squash are a favorite for children of all ages. Giant varieties, such as ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’, can grow to up to two hundred pounds and make excellent jack-o’- lanterns. Smaller types are more manageable for small hands and can also be carved or used to make pie, stew, or bread. Some varieties are grown primarily for their seeds, which are a healthy snack and have been known to prevent intestinal worms.
Try making pumpkin tattoos: Use a nail to scratch children’s names or little drawings into the skin of immature pumpkin fruits. Be careful not to go too deep—just scratch the surface. When the fruit is mature, the name will appear as a healed scar on the surface, and the finished product will last months longer than a carved pumpkin.
Radishes are great for children because they grow very fast and can be planted in just about any space, even a small container. The brightly colored roots are ready to eat in just over a month and can be carved into rosettes or other designs.
Scarlet Runner Beans.
Jack and his beanstalk are legendary to many children, and while there are no boy-eating giants at the top of most beanpoles, runner beans are fast growing and produce brilliant red and orange flowers. The seeds are large and speckled purple and can be eaten, replanted, or used for a variety of craft projects, like beads or mosaics.
Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries . . .
Need I say more? Children love to hunt through the berry patch for a juicy snack, and when they’ve planted it themselves they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment with every bite.
They come in many colors, from yellow to orange, white, red, and even tiger-striped. Tall or short, large or small, sun- flowers are easy to grow and are a must for any children’s garden. The cut flowers last several days, and seeds provide protein and amino acids for young bodies and wild birds alike.
Give a child a small shovel and a bagful of tulip bulbs, and when spring comes you will have a yard full of surprises. Tulip flowers are edible and quite delicious, and they help attract beneficial insects into the garden. The general rule for planting bulbs is to bury them twice as deep as they are long, with the pointy end up.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like turnips would be a hot item in the children’s garden, but many varieties grow to be quite large and can be carved and stuffed for a delicious baked meal. John Sundquist grows lots of turnips at his farm, and the children who come out for tours love to see the giant purple, orange, and white roots jutting out of the ground. Fresh turnips smell wonderful, are an excellent source of fiber, and are known to reduce cholesterol.
Last but far from least, zinnias come in every color of the rainbow and are one of my personal favorite plants of all time. They bloom when they reach about three feet in height, just the right height for young eyes and noses to enjoy. One of the many beautiful gifts from Mexico to our gardens, zinnias make excellent cut flowers and can last weeks if you change the water every few days.
#plantstogrowwithchildren #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
by Heather Jo Flores
The number one reason I hear for why people aren't growing food is that they don't have access to garden space.
For people who have their own yard, starting a garden is easy. But for those who don’t have easy access to land, starting a garden takes a little more effort.
In this article we’ll look at how to find places to grow gardens, and how to make the most out of the spaces you find. (This is just the first in several installments on this topic, so subscribe if you don't want to miss anything!)
1. Use the Neighbor’s Lawn
It may seem odd in our modern American culture, but in other places around the world people frequently share yard and garden space with their neighbors. If you’ve been eyeing that nice sunny lawn next door, dreaming of filling it with fig trees and big red tomatoes, what could it hurt to ask? Go on, go over there, bring some seeds and a smile, and ask!
I have seen spectacular gardens come together when a group of neighbors with adjacent yards take down the fences between their lots and share the land communally. All the ideas in this book are most effective when done in community, with the people who live nearby. This doesn’t mean everyone can’t have their own space to do as they choose—only that the natural ecology is allowed to be more fully inter- connected, without plants, insects, animals, and natural flows having to overcome fences and other human-made obstructions.
2. Rent a Plot in a Community Garden
Many cities have some sort of community garden program. Ask at the local university, Agricultural Extension Service, or gardening store, or just google it!
Most of these programs lease ground from the city and rent out small plots to local gardeners on a seasonal basis. If you can’t find a program locally, consider starting one!
3. Volunteer at a Local Farm or Help Friends with Their Gardens
Most organic farms offer free produce to volunteers, and some will lease you a small plot of your own. This gives you an opportunity to learn from the farmer and access to the farm infrastructure, which includes important resources such as irrigation, seeds, surplus starts, et cetera. Some farms also hire seasonal workers, which can be a great opportunity to spend your summer learning, exercising, and eating fresh produce.
If you can’t find a local farm to work with, volunteer to help your neighbors with their small garden. More options usually reveal themselves as new relationships mature, so build community through voluntary interaction and you won’t be without a garden for long.
4. Garden in Pots and Containers
Most annual vegetables are well suited for container gardening. Even a small patio can hold a few planters—get pots out of a garden center dumpster or use other recycled containers such as sinks, bathtubs, wine barrels, and plastic buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Try strawberries, car- rots, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, herbs, and salad greens.
Try a self-contained potato garden: Take some chicken wire and make a round cage. Put a layer of thick straw in the bottom and toss some potatoes in. Cover with straw, leaves, or soil, water often, and keep adding more mulch on top as the shoots emerge. Soon you will have a basket full of fresh potatoes.
5. Use the Roof
If you lack patio or yard space but have a flat, accessible roof, consider building raised beds or planter boxes on the roof. There are fabulous rooftop gardens in big cities all over the world, with everything from small containers of herbs and salad greens to large planter boxes filled with trees and perennials. Get creative with the space you have now and better options will unfold later.
6. De-pave Your Sidewalk or Driveway
Rent a concrete cutter or just get together some friends with crowbars and rip out the pavement around your house. It doesn’t take that much work to convert a driveway or parking area into a garden. I have seen several wonderful examples, and the residents didn’t regret the lost pavement for a second. The broken-up pieces—aptly called “urbanite”—work great as stepping- stones or patio pavers or for building raised beds and terraces. Park on the street and enjoy the extra exercise while walking home through your new garden.
You may even want to tear down a whole building, such as a garage full of junk; recycle the junk and building materials, and grow plants instead. I would much rather have a living, edible garden next to my house than a dirty old box full of consumer crap. Think about it—you probably wouldn’t pave over an orchard to build a driveway, so why choose the pavement over the trees just because it’s there now?
7. Grow Food in the Existing Landscape
You don’t have to turn over a big area or even disrupt existing plantings to integrate some food plants. We once rode bikes around town with a big bag of zucchini seeds, planting them wherever we saw a gap in the landscaping. Later we saw big plants in some of the spots and harvested some delicious zucchini! I have also planted fruit trees into existing beds in front of local businesses or at the edge of a park.
This strategy works well, because the city or property owner main- tains the landscape, and your plants get watered—sometimes even weeded and fertilized—right along with the plants that were already there! The downfall is that whoever is in charge of the site may notice your plant and pull it out or may spray it with toxins. Still, this is a good option for generating more food around town, and it can be great fun.
Also look for good spots in alleyways, along back fences. Often there is a garden on the other side of the fence, and you can plant small beds along the outside that benefit from the surplus water and fertility.
8. Start a Garden in a Vacant Lot
You can do this with or without permission (aka guerrilla gardening!) . Sometimes property owners will let you plant vegetables and fruit trees in a sunny, under- used corner. Others may say no if you ask but won’t notice for a long while if you just do it without telling them.
When the Food Not Lawns collective started our first garden, in an overgrown section of the park, the city didn’t know we were there for almost a year. We got the combination to the gate from a neighbor, cleared out all the trash and debris, and started gardening. By the time folks from the city came along to ask questions, we had a beautiful garden established, and they let us continue to use the space. They even sent park workers to drop off chip mulch once in a while!
There are countless examples like this, where people took over an area, grew food, and maintained access for many years. Some of these squatted gardens eventually gained ownership of the land. Sadly, there are just as many examples of gardens that were eventually bulldozed and paved over. In my opinion it is usually worth a try, and you will probably get at least a season’s reward for your audacity.
As you look for places to grow, ask yourself some important, practical questions:
Will you actually go there to garden?
Will you be inspired by the surrounding space?
Will the plants have an opportunity to reach maturity?
Will you want to eat the produce?
Grow what you love, what you eat, and what you want to look at, in a space that makes you feel healthy and empowered. Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
#foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
By Heather Jo Flores
For the first five or so years that I was a gardener, I never planted anything in August. It just seems so crazy! It's too hot, how would anything grow? And I don't even really want to be out there right now.
But it doesn't take so long to plant some seeds, and if you just squirt a little extra water at them in the mornings (and maybe the evenings as well) then you might be surprised how nicely some of these plants will grow. Not only will you have fresh salad and another round of sunflowers for the fall, but a lot of these veggies are reasonably frost-hardy and could end up providing fresh produce through February. A handful of the brassicas can even endure a hard freeze; it's quite the delight to have tall plumes of purple and green Brussels sprouts jutting up through the snow!
Try it for yourself and see what I mean. Here's a quick list of vegetables that you can direct-sow (plant right into the ground) in August. Because temperate microclimates tend to vary widely and depending on where you live, frost dates can start as early as September or as late as December. I've noted the expected days to maturity in parentheses, so you can plan accordingly and, if necessary, get them in before the average first frost date in your particular area.
The following are not that hardy, but fast-growing and will mature before winter if you get them in right away:
Basil (30-60): Pinch the tops, back to the first node, when the plants are tiny and again a week later, to encourage lateral growth.
Potatoes (80-110): Look for "Irish Cobbler," "Red Norland," "King Harry" and "Caribe." These varieties mature about three weeks faster than others. And don't be fooled by fingerlings! The spuds are small and seem like they'd come on faster, but they actually take longer than large Russets.
Sunflowers (80-120): Check the seed packet to make sure you get a quick variety.
Bush beans (45-65): Bush beans do well in the fall and will die in the first frost but you'll get some snackers before then! Pole beans, not so much.
Nasturtium (40-80): They'll melt in the frost but there's still plenty of time to get some really nice flowers before then. Pickle the green, immature seeds and they're a lot like capers!
Next, some semi-hardy varieties to plant soon, preferably on a south slope or against a south-facing wall:
Peas (70-80): Alderman shelling peas are my all-time favorite, but snow peas do best in fall plantings.
Tatsoi (40-50): Easy, crunchy, frost-hardy and disease resistant salad greens? Yes, please!
Mizuna (40-50): Same as above.
Cilantro (30-60): Personally, I plant cilantro every two weeks from April until November. I just can't get enough of it, and it bolts so fast! Fall plantings in cooler weather are nice, because bolting slows down and the little plants are surprisingly hardy.
Spinach (35-45): Also surprisingly hardy, spinach is best grown in the fall, in my opinion. It yields better flavor and bolts much slower than in spring and summer.
Radishes (30-60): All radishes are easy and fast, but this is an excellent time to plant Daikon radish, in particular, for harvesting throughout the winter.
Loose leaf lettuce (30-60): Lettuce is another plant that I sow habitually, whenever there's a patch of bare soil. It doesn't all make it to maturity, but I always have lettuce when I want some!
Super hardy, and even more delicious after a frost:
Romaine lettuce (30-60): Romaine is just that much hardier than other types of lettuce, and also happens to have a lot more protein!
Beets (50-60): Direct sow in thick patches, then take the time to thin them to three inches apart and you'll be harvesting giant red globes in November!
Onions (60-80): Plant for scallions or roots and harvest all winter.
Parsley (60-110): Did you know parsley is incredibly rich in iron and other minerals? It's also super hardy.
Broccoli and cauliflower (50-90): Days to maturity vary widely, depending which variety you get. In general, brassicas are best grown in the fall. Give them the room they need, water liberally and you will get the ginormous heads you deserve!
Brussels sprouts (80-120): They take a long time to mature, and they need a lot of space, so it makes sense to plant them in late summer/early fall, when summer crops are finished and large spots open up in the garden.
Turnips (50-60): Rich in nutrients for winter stews. Harvest when smaller for a more subtle flavor.
Arugula (30-40): Oh, arugula, how I love thee! So easy and fun to grow with flowers that look like antique lace. Yet another plant that I collect the seed from and toss it around on the daily. Always plant arugula!
Kohlrabi (50-60): Everyone needs to eat more kohlrabi. Try it deep fried. Seriously.
Cabbage (50-90): There's a good reason all those cold places are famous for eating too much cabbage! It grows like a champ all winter long.
Celery and celeriac (90-120 days): If you aren't already growing celeriac, this is the perfect time to try it. Me, I don't like celery. But celeriac? So delicious!
Chard (40-60): Plant a big patch of rainbow chard where you can see it from the kitchen window. To be completely honest, the rainbow variety is not as hardy as good ol' Swiss chard, but those colors!
As always, prepare the ground first — even if you're interplanting with existing plants — to create a successional harvest. Weed the area, then scratch around a little and sprinkle in some nice compost.
The good news about planting in August is that you can be confident that the soil temps are up and your seeds will germinate very quickly. It's much less work than sowing into containers and transplanting, but if you don't keep the seedlings watered while they're getting established, they will die. Cover that base, and you're good to go.
#1: Plant seeds on the edges of areas that are already being irrigated regularly, then just check on them to make sure they're getting enough water.
#2: Soak the seeds overnight first and they'll sprout even faster!
#3: Plant root vegetables in big containers to make harvesting a cinch!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY #foodforest #bumpercrop #plantinginaugust
The following is an excerpt from my book, Grow Create Inspire
Growing medicinal herbs in your garden fosters a relationship of understanding plants and their constituents. Once this connection has been established, herbs serve a purpose in your home system.
Often, medicinal herbs have stacking functions- They provide food and habitat for wildlife, they are helping to aerate the soil with their roots.
They are beautiful and create a peaceful and welcoming oasis in the garden. They provide medicine for humans. There are a number of ways to utilize homegrown medicinal herbs from the garden.
Stocking the home apothecary is a rewarding process which is fun, affordable, and beneficial to our health. Herbs can be easily dried and placed into labeled jars. Tinctures, tea blends, oil infusions, and salves are great herbal remedies to have on hand.
Herbal elixirs and herbal infusions are one of my favorite ways to use herbs. They really embody the essence of an herb through flavor, aroma, energetics and the effect the herb has on the mind, body, and spirit. Historically, herbal elixirs were used medicinally, as a pleasant way to treat a variety of ailments. Essentially, herbal elixirs involve steeping medicinal herbs in honey or, maple syrup, sometimes combining them with brandy or other alcohol, or fermenting them, such as medicinal meads.
Store bought beverages contain a large number of sugars, added sweeteners, artificial flavors, and additives. It’s easy to replace unhealthy beverages with delicious herbal infusions and elixirs.
Basic Herbal Elixir
Simply combine equal parts of herbal honey and herbal tincture. Fill a pint jar with medicinal herbs of your choice. Pour 1/3 pint of honey over the herbs, covering them all the way. Pour brandy over herbs and honey to fill the jar. Place a plastic lid on the jar and shake well. Place on a small plate to prevent leakage. Store in a dark cupboard for about a month. Strain the herbs. Enjoy the elixir 2 ounces at a time. Keep refrigerated to preserve longevity.
Herbal-infused Waters and Cold Herbal Infusions
Basic herbal infusion
An herbal infusion is created by simply steeping fresh herbs in water. Cold water infusions can be made using cold water infusions in the summer. Fruit can be added to the infusion to boost flavor and add electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals.
Cucumber Mint Water
Being out in the sun for extended lengths leaves us dehydrated and thirsty. I try to keep the farm crew hydrated with refreshing infused herbal water creations such as cucumber mint, strawberry fennel dandelion, and lemon balm with citrus fruit. The one that cools us off the most is cucumber mint.
Cucumbers are loaded with B vitamins and electrolytes. Mint has a cooling effect on the body and is good for temperature regulation. Mint also has antiviral properties and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Mint has been used throughout history to treat such ailments as headaches, liver complaints, digestive problems and colds.
Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add one sliced cucumber and 3 sprigs of mint. Let the cucumber and mint infuse in the water for at least 30 minutes.
Raspberry, Raspberry Leaf and Red Clover
Red raspberry leaf and red clover both help to promote women’s health, to tone the uterus and to reduce menstrual cramps, symptoms of PMS and hot flashes during menopause.
Fill a 1 quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 4 tablespoons of fresh red raspberry leaves, 2 tablespoons of red clover and ½ cup of raspberries.
Watermelon + Mint
Watermelon and mint are a refreshing combination for a hot summer day. Mint has a cooling effect on the body and is good for temperature regulation. Mint also has antiviral properties and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Mint has been used throughout history to treat such ailments as headaches, liver complaints, digestive problems and colds.
Strawberries are loaded with antioxidants and high in vitamin C and manganese. Fennel is nutrient-rich and aids in digestion and stomach upsets. Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 3 chopped strawberries and 3 sprigs of fresh fennel. Infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Strawberries are loaded with antioxidants and high in vitamin C and manganese. Dandelions are vitamin- and nutrient-rich, boosting immunity. Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 3 chopped strawberries and 10 dandelions. Infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Blackberries are rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. They are an excellent source of vitamin C. Sage is vitamin- and nutrient-rich and is a good lung tonic.
Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add ½ cup of fresh blackberries and 1 sprig of fresh sage. Infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Lavender Mixed Berry
Soothing and refreshing, rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidant-rich. Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water, mixed berries and lavender. Infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Soothing and relaxing.
Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 2 sprigs of lavender and 10 chamomile flowers. Let the herbs infuse for about an hour before enjoying.
St. John’s Wort
Uplifting and mood-enhancing.
Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 1 ounce of fresh St. John’s wort, leaves and flowers. Infuse herbs for about an hour before enjoying.
Purple Basil, Apple Mint, Echinacea, Tulsi
Uplifting, immune building, cooling, soothing, refreshing, overall health and well-being tonic. Fill a 1-quart Mason jar with purified water. Add 1 sprig each of purple basil, apple mint and tulsi. Add one echinacea flower or 1 tbsp of echinacea root. Let the herbs infuse for about an hour before enjoying.
Lemon Balm Herbal Lemonade
Lemon balm produces a very delightful herbal lemonade. Makes 2.5 gallons
Infuse 1 bunch of mint and 1 small bunch of lemon balm in 1 gallon of purified water and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes.
Add ½ dropper-full of liquid stevia extract. Add 1 cup of organic lemon juice concentrate. Add 3 sliced organic lemons. Add ½ bag of ice. Garnish with fresh herbs (mint, lemon balm, rosemary) and edible flowers. Add echinacea and St. John’s wort.
Nutrient-rich lemonade is high in vitamins and minerals, helps to cool the body and boost immunity and is an uplifting tonic.
Want to learn more about regenerative living? Permaculture Women’s Guild presents a dynamic, online Permaculture Design Course taught by over 40 women from around the world!
#herbs #herbalinfusions #herbalremedies #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #medicinal plants
As we integrate into living, working farm communities, it’s important to remember that permaculture is not a new idea.
It seems to have become popular recently to use the label “permaculture farm.”
I’m a farmer, and I’m also a permaculture practitioner, but I don’t call my farm a permaculture farm. There are a number of reasons why I don’t follow this trend.
First and foremost, permaculture doesn’t teach you how to farm.
Permaculture can teach you how to look at things from different angles and see different perspectives, but it doesn’t teach you how to deal with footrot or liver fluke, or how to lamb. It doesn’t teach you how to lay hedges, repair dry stone walls or put up a fence. I learnt how to farm, and am still learning how to farm, because neighbours and friends have been generous in sharing their knowledge and skills. All sorts of different people have helped and advised me over the years, including women and men who are farmers, smallholders, foresters, engineers, local history experts, vets, cooks, cider-makers, geologists, soil ecologists, conservationists, spinners and weavers…the list goes on and on.
Labelling farms as “permaculture farms” seems to me to be an attempt to set them apart. It’s not the same as calling a farm a “dairy farm” or an “arable farm,” or even an “organic farm.”
The implication seems to be that a “permaculture farm” is superior in some way, which in turn implies criticism of neighbouring farms. Is this perhaps a result of the poor image of farming in media? That people new to farming don’t want to be tarred with the same brush? If so, it demonstrates a lack of understanding that there are many different types of farms and farming, and in particular a lack of understanding that smallholdings, small farms, family farms and hill farms are all very different from large arable farms and from intensive farms.
The second reason I don’t call my farm a permaculture farm is because I can’t help noticing that, with a few exceptions, the label is often aspirational; there’s often not much to see on the ground, and often the people involved haven’t yet built up a wealth of experience.
Farming is a long game. It takes many years to get to know your patch of land. Eventually, you’ll know it like the back of your hand, but initially there are probably neighbours who know it better than you do, who remember where springs have appeared after heavy rain, who know which field is better for lambing and calving. And, when you’re first starting out, those neighbors will be your most valuable resource. Alienating them in the first year by trying to set your farm above theirs, based on ideology rather than action, isn’t wise. And it isn’t sustainable.
It also takes years to build up your reputation, because it takes years to develop a healthy flock or herd, to select healthy seed, to build up fertile soil, to grow or restore hedges, to grow orchards. Farmers gain respect (or not) from others seeing their healthy animals, crops and fields, year in, year out.
In rural areas, people depend on each other much more than in urban areas. Being a good neighbour and having good neighbours, being part of the local community, these all make a big difference to your well-being and to your resilience. Being on hand and offering practical help when there’s a local event, or when a neighbour has an accident or is taken ill, these are all a crucial part of being part of a rural community. Finding shared values and common ground is far more important than setting flags in the ground and highlighting differences. However good your permaculture design, being snowed in still means going out to check, and save, livestock.
And, if you consider the second and third ethics, all of the above considerations are permaculture. And they should be just as important to your design as where to put the pond.
As we integrate into living, working farm communities, it is crucial to remember that permaculture is not a new idea.
It’s a collection of traditional and Indigenous knowledge, from across the world, that has, in many cases, been repackaged for an urban generation that has become disconnected from nature and from each other. Because it is from rural people that the knowledge has been gathered, this means that it is part of the shared common knowledge of rural people. Yes, even in industrialised nations, and yes, still today.
Those of us who grew up in rural areas often grew up with a close connection to our habitat, our square mile, because we need to understand how the natural world works and how we fit in it so that we can thrive in our local landscape. This means that permaculture may not have much to add to the land-based skills of those already immersed in land management. Unless you incorporate the social stuff into your design. Then, permaculture becomes a powerful tool for deeply connecting you to the community in which you live.
Although permaculture is often thought of as being about gardening and farming, it actually applies to any aspect of life.
The three ethics underlying permaculture (earth care, people care and fair shares, plus a recently suggested additional one: future care) mean it is deeply relevant to social issues and to social justice. In rural areas, we face similar problems to urban areas, including homelessness and gentrification, but the problems are often hidden and so get ignored. Pressure on land is also an issue, but instead of being for office blocks or luxury flats, it can be for resource extraction (eg mining, quarrying, forestry plantations, dams for water, wind farms), for investment, for a nice place to retire to and lately, for rewilding. Few realise how fragile rural communities are, and how seemingly small changes can result in loss of resilience, loss of knowledge, loss of key people from the community. Language, dialect and culture hold within them generations of knowledge about how to thrive in often harsh landscapes. When young people move away, the thread is broken and can be hard to repair, and especially if incomers see only a blank canvas.
No land is a “blank canvas.”
There is a tendency for those who have completed permaculture courses to think they now need to move to the countryside and buy some land. Sometimes doing this is great and good things happen. But not always. Sometimes however good our intentions, our actions can have negative impacts. It’s important to be aware of the privileges being able to move freely and buy land entail, and also to be aware of the differences in power and privilege of your chosen location.
Taking all three ethics seriously means asking ourselves some uncomfortable questions:
As an incomer, are you a settler? A new colonialist?
Could your arrival have a negative impact on a minority culture or language?
Although the land may be cheap to you, is it unaffordable to others, such as local young people? Is there some way of helping to address this?
Some years ago, Nesta Wyn Jones, a North Wales farmer and poet, realised that the increasing number of people moving to the area was eroding the local culture and changing the main language of communication. She started holding language classes where students also learnt about the local culture and customs. Nowadays, many incomers across Wales learn Welsh, and the challenge now is to help them move on from being learners to using the language in their daily lives. Part of this is lifting the blinkers so people realise there is a rich diversity of cultures around them, especially as these are often rooted in the landscape, and often reflect much that people moving to the countryside are keen to create.
As is often the case with permaculture, it all comes back to observation: noticing what is already there, rather than what we want it to look like, or think it ‘should’ look like. But it’s important to remember that observation isn’t only about looking: listening is a big part of it too. Observation means taking time to listen to people who are already there, and who know the land and whose lives and stories are an integral part of the landscape. It means realising that traditional knowledge is not static, that rural communities are not homogenous, and that conventions have developed for a reason, which will, no doubt, change again.
Most of all, observation means being open to learn from people with different perspectives, different experiences, different ways of holding and sharing knowledge. Because more often than not, when you take time to observe, to listen, and to learn about what was there before you (and will perhaps be there long after you’ve gone,) then you find unexpected connections and shared values that prove the sum to be so much greater than the parts.
Marit Parker is on both the faculty and editorial collective of the Permaculture Women’s Guild and she teaches the module on Social Justice and Decolonisation in the online Permaculture Design Course.
#permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #farmcommunities
So you want to turn your lawn into a front yard garden? Here's how to stay friends with the neighbors.
by Heather Jo Flores
An urban example of a front yard garden.
The transformation of any lawn to a garden is always a good thing.
But growing food in the front yard isn't just about you. A front-yard farm is a statement to your community, telling them that you value homegrown food more than mainstream conformity.
And that can ruffle some feathers!
Yes, front yard gardens invite community dialogue, and bring fellow gardeners in the neighborhood out of the woodwork. (How great is that??)
But 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:
The 4 C's of Front Yard Gardens
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.
Ok? Trust me, these four simple and easy-to-remember guidelines will make a huge difference in whether your front yard farm unites the neighborhood, or divides it.
Heather Jo Flores wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community.
Visit her website www.heatherjoflores.com
#foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
An easy, circular permaculture design process for gardens, community projects, creative work, and so much more.
by Heather Jo Flores
(excerpted and fully revised from by 2006 book, Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community.)
Whether we realize it or not, all of us are designers; for good or ill, much of what we do is design work. And all design is ecological design in that it either hurts or helps nature, whether it was intended to or not. As gardeners, whether forging paths, building beds, or pruning trees, we are always designing.
Every choice we make affects the whole, and when we become conscious of that fact, we can engage in the process in ways that make our gardens more beautiful, easier to maintain, more abundant, and, ultimately, better connected to the larger ecosystem in which we live.
A permaculture design process clarifies our goals and ideas, gets them on paper, and provides a road map for implementation. A carefully thought-out ,written design saves time and money, prevents mistakes, and helps communicate ideas to others. It is much easier to correct mistakes on paper than on land. Of course, your long-term needs and goals will change, and a good design leaves plenty of room for those changes.
The GOBRADIME Permaculture Design Process
This is an acronym for Goals, Observation, Boundaries, Resources, Analysis, Design, Implementation–Maintenance/Monitoring, and Evaluate/Enjoy. Since 1999, I have spent a lot of time studying and practicing permaculture. Defined as “a design system for sustainable living.” A detailed overview of permaculture is more than we have space for in this column, but it was through these experiences that I developed GOBRADIME, which is a concise, step-by-step process for making a clear, tangible plan for your garden. And while I could easily write an entire book on GOBRADIME, I can also offer you this quick introduction, with confidence that it will help you make leaps and bounds through that “what do I do now” feeling that so many of us experience at the beginning of the garden season.
So take some time on one of these rainy days to work through it. Whether you choose to grow just a few small beds of annual vegetables or turn your entire site into a perennial food forest, this will help. Work through the first half of the steps on paper and in your mind, then, when you get to Implementation, you’ll have a clear, deliberate action plan ready to go.
Goals. The first step in any design is to identify personal and collective goals. What do you want to accomplish and why? Write down a list of goals and prioritize them by going down the list and rating each goal on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing the highest priority. Then sort the list so that the things you want to accomplish first are at the top. This will help you develop a timeline later on.
Observation. This is the heart of ecological design, and the key to finding and cooperating with nature’s patterns and cycles. Learn to read the land. Watch where the water drains, and where it collects. Notice subtle changes in your soil, see where the shade falls, where the moss grows, where the mushrooms come. Learn the names of all of your weeds, and learn what they do for the soil. Lie down on the ground and look up at the world around you. What do you see? How do you want to change it? What is the most effective and most ecological way to proceed? Take your time, make educated choices, try to avoid irreparable errors, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment or make little mistakes. That’s how you learn!
Boundaries. Find and establish boundaries. Draw a base map of the site. Pace or measure each distance on the ground and do your best to develop a map that is to scale. Note the following things on the map: buildings, irrigation, doors, decks, patios, driveways, fences, hedges, trees, gardens, and any other physical objects. Add in permanent and temporary paths, and make note of any objects that may be temporarily missing, such as parked cars or seasonal motor-home storage. Now document the flows of water and of humans and animals through the site, using dashed lines and arrows. This will establish the main paths through your design. Moving a well-trodden path is rarely a good idea; it is much easier to adapt the design to behavior patterns, rather than the opposite, so go with the flow. Other types of boundaries might include legal or social issues such as land-use laws or potential problems with the neighbors. Try to foresee any barriers. Also, define and document your own personal boundaries. What exactly do you want to grow? How many hours a week do you want to garden? How much money will you spend? All of these factors should affect how you design your garden. You wouldn’t design a huge garden if you only have an hour a week to maintain it. Be realistic. Make clear, deliberate choices.
Resources. Go back through your observations and start making lists of the resources available. Types of resources might include money, plants, labor, garden supplies, building materials, access to facilities, and information from experts. Make an overlay or copy of your base map and note every potential resource, such as water, sun, compost, manure, wood piles, and neighbors who might like to volunteer. What do you have? What do you need? What do you need to acquire and what can you do without? As you assemble lists of what you have and what you need, it will become apparent that you don’t need everything all at once. Rather, there will be a flow of resources in and out of the project, the nature of which will change and evolve over time. And before you go out and spend your hard earned money on resources you think you need, try to innovate something that will fulfill the same function. Your imagination is renewable, easy to find, and free.
Analysis. Now for the fun part! Analysis helps define weaknesses and brings random ideas together to form a cohesive plan. Go back through your notes and re-read everything. Envision how you can use the boundaries and resources you have available to meet the goals you have in mind.
As you start to hone your plan, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
Don’t overlook the value of intuition, aesthetics, and random assembly as design tools. Sometimes just putting a plant where you think it looks nice, or where you happened to set it down first, works better than anything else. If you get stuck, try using a process of elimination: ask, “Where shouldn’t this go?” and see where that takes you.
I’d love to get in deeper with the massive range of strategies for analyzing goals, observations, boundaries and resources, but for now I’ll just say that you simply MUST go on the internet and look up “permaculture zones and sectors” for a major geek-out and irreplaceable tool.
Design & Documentation.
Make a bunch of photocopies of your base map and do a handful of completely different designs to warm up your imagination. Now go through everything again and write a list of actions that will bring your visions into reality. Prioritize these actions by sorting them according to goals, budgets, seasons, etc. Write down how many labor-hours you estimate for each step. Think in terms of phases, and make realistic plans according to your boundaries. which goal they help to meet and how important that goal is to you. From here you should be able to develop a timeline that makes sense, attached to visual maps of what your garden will look like in a month, three months, six months, two years, and as far out as you want.
Implementation. This is the time to stop writing and start actually moving stuff around. Get busy! Continue to jot down notes as you develop new ideas or make changes to the original design — this will save time later when you evaluate your work. But also, pace yourself so you stay sane and are able to follow through with the rest of the plan. Don’t burn yourself out. Take your time and focus on doing less right, rather than more wrong. And be sure to take plenty of time to step back, rest, and reflect on your progress.
Maintenance and Monitoring. All gardens need maintenance. When clients tell me they want a “no-maintenance” garden design, I tell them to plant gravel. But it’s true that some gardens need less care than others, and it’s the space between that provides us with information and opportunity for improvement. That’s why maintenance and monitoring are interconnected, inseparable steps. Ideally, in a home system you will be living in and interacting with the design as it comes about. Pay attention to the ways in which your life improves or becomes more difficult through these changes. Some people develop detailed forms to document the data generated by their projects, such as growth rates, yields and potential yields, and climatic patterns. Others might keep a more simple garden journal, or maybe just take photos and mental notes. However much detail you choose, the point of monitoring your progress is to find and record successes and problems (including potential problems) with the design, so you can either repeat effective patterns or go back and redesign failed ones.
Evaluate and Enjoy! Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges. Attach these notes to the maps and journals. As you evaluate, you will discover new goals, new ideas, and new ways to improve the efficiency and ecological integrity of your design. When you are ready, start again at the beginning, establish new goals, and spiral around to the next phase of your project. But first, hit the hammock! Rest, read, relax and enjoy your bountiful, beautiful garden! You earned it!
Finally, remember that your project, if it involves people and especially if it involves plants, is an organism rather than a mechanism. The GOBRADIME design system, like any other, is most effective when coupled with a good degree of common sense and natural intuition. Trust your instincts and use the formula to help you refine them. But be careful not to become obsessed with controlling every aspect of the design. Mistakes are tools for learning! Take notes, laugh often, and use GOBRADIME as a circular pattern, rather than a linear process.
We use the GOBRADIME process in my online course, Design Your Daily Practice, and we use it as the basis for our entire double-certificate online permaculture design course as well.
Have fun with it! And let me know how it works for you.
#gobradime #foodnotlawns #designprocess #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture #permaculturedesignprocess
by Heather Jo Flores
This time of the year, the garden might at first glance look messy, unkempt. The plants are starting to dry out, turn brown and die. But look a little deeper and you see an abundance of seeds ready to harvest, and whether you are an old expert at seed stewardship or a new gardener with a budding curiosity, saving seeds from your home garden to grow and share can be one of the most rewarding experiences of the season. This old-world skill is best learned experientially, and within a community of fellow seedgeeks. But here are some tips to get you started, even if you only have a small garden.
Some plants are much easier for beginners. This has less to do with ease of harvest than with whether or not the plant needs a large or isolated population to produce viable seed. For reasons we don't have space to explore in this article, saving seeds from cucumbers, squash, corn and most plants in the Brassica family (kale, cabbage, broccoli) is best left for experienced farmers who have the space and knowledge to make sure those seeds have been bred in a way that maintains their genetic diversity and integrity. On a home scale, I recommend starting with the easy ones: lettuce, beets, carrots, celery, tomatoes, onions, beans and plants in the mint family (most of your culinary herbs.)
Most of the vegetables we eat are just babies when we harvest them for the table. But to save seeds, let the plant mature completely. Heads of lettuce will elongate and shoot up flower stalks covered in tiny, yellow dandelion-like blooms. Onions will send up a pointy bud that will open up into a globular white cluster. Beets, carrots and celery are biennial, so their seeds won't mature until the second year. Tomatoes and peppers, when harvested for seed, should be much riper than most of us prefer for fresh eating.
Harvest and Processing
There are two distinct types of seed processing: dry and wet.
Make sure the seeds are fully formed and have started to dry. A good test is if they shake easily into your hand. If the seed is still very firmly attached to the plant, it probably hasn't matured. When you harvest, don't try to remove the individual seeds in the field. This can cause a lot of waste. Just cut the whole seed-head carefully into a paper sack and move to a sheltered spot where you can clean it.
As soon as you harvest, create detailed labels with as much information as you know. Include date of harvest, date of planting, species and variety names, where in the garden it grew best, where you originally got the seed, and why you liked this particular variety enough to save seed from it. Keep these notes with the seeds, and you will always have the information at your fingertips.
Most seeds mature within a protective coating called chaff. To process seeds for storage and replanting later, we must first remove the chaff; otherwise it will rot in storage and cause the seeds to decay. To remove the bulk of the chaff, pour the seed heads onto a clean tarp spread on the ground or a large table. Fold the seeds into the tarp like a burrito, making sure the corners won't leak. Stomp, smash and dance on the tarp, and then carefully open it back up. Avoid getting a lot of dirt and other contaminants into the seeds.
Now you are ready for winnowing. On a large scale, this is best done with fans and screens, but on a small scale you can just do it with a medium-sized round bowl and your mouth. Put the seed into the bowl a little at a time and swirl it around, blowing gently. The chaff, which is lighter, will lift up and blow away, while the seed, heavy with genetic material, will sink. Pick the last few specks of chaff out with your fingers and place the clean seed on a piece of paper in a standard electric food dehydrator on the lowest setting (around 96 degrees) overnight. You could also dry your seed on a dark shelf for at least two weeks, but I prefer the dehydrator so I don't have to worry about mice, ants and ambient moisture ruining my crop.
If the seed is encased in a juicy fruit, such as tomatoes, use this method to remove the slimy seed coat so that the seeds last longer in storage. This not only gets rid of the slime, it also kills any seed-borne diseases and ensures your seed will survive in storage for up to several years.
Squish the seeds into a jar. Add a small amount of water, place a piece of cardboard over the top to let air in but keep bugs out, and set the jar aside. Pick a spot that is not in your kitchen, because it will definitely stink! Within a week, a thick skin of mold will form on top, and the mature seeds will sink to the bottom. Now, fill the container to the top with water and carefully pour off the mold on top. Rinse the seeds a few more times, until the water is clear, then strain them. Now they're ready for the dehydrator.
Seed Saving Storage
Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. I store mine in paper envelopes inside insulated picnic coolers, available for a few dollars at any thrift store. If you save peas or fava beans, watch out for weevils, which are very common. You won't be able to tell if your seed has the weevil larvae inside, but store them in the freezer and you can be sure they will die. Also freeze seeds from members of the Allium family, such as onions, leeks and chives, which are particularly short lived — they last much longer when frozen. The longevity and viability of your seeds will be largely dependent on storage conditions, so don't overlook this important step.
We can only protect diversity by keeping it alive, and your seeds will perish if stored for more than a few years. Grow and save them again, and share your collection with fellow gardeners. My favorite way to share seeds is through the community seed swap.
If you 'd like to learn more, have a whole module on seed saving in our online double-certificate permaculture design course.
Heather Jo Flores wrote Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. Seed saving is her deepest passion. Visit www.heatherjoflores.com.
#seedsaving #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
by Heather Jo Flores
Whether you save your own seeds or just have a bunch of leftover packets from years past, a seed swap is a great way to expand the diversity of both your garden and your community. But don't limit yourself to just seeds!
I have been organizing events like these for 20 years and folks have brought surplus plants, trees, garden supplies, food preserves and homebrews.
A seed swap attracts more than just the local permaculture crowd. People from all walks of life have a passion for gardening and seed saving and this event can bridge gaps and build new friendships that lead to a close-knit and more sustainable community for everyone.
How to organize a community seed swap
Look online and ask around in your area about anyone who has organized seed swaps in the past. It is better to help with a central, large swap than to have a bunch of small ones that aren't connected. If you can't find anyone who is already organizing swaps in your community, then you are ready to move on to step 2.
Make a flier and/or FB event page
In order to do this, you will need to decide on some things. First, when and where will you have your seed swap? Your house, the park, a local church or café or a nearby community garden are all great venues for a seed swap and they don't cost money. Next, decide whether you want to have people exchange just seeds, or if you also want to have them bring plants, garden supplies, potluck foods, preserves, homebrews, etc. Put all of this information on your flier. Pick a date at least six weeks in advance to give yourself time to get seed donations and thoroughly publicize the event. Once you've made the flier, you can create an event and a page on Facebook and any other social networks that seem relevant.
Get seed donations
Send a short, polite letter, with your flier attached, to seed companies, local farmers, garden stores and anywhere else that you think might have some surplus seeds from last year to donate. Remember that some of these places get a lot of requests, so be patient and polite. It is fine to follow up with a second email or phone call a couple of weeks after your first request, but don't harass them! If you don't get a ton of donations for your first seed swap, don't worry about it. Once you've established an annual pattern, you will always have more seed than you know what to do with.
When your swap is about three weeks away, start doing a ton of publicity. Send a calendar listing to the local papers. Make an event on Craigslist and promote that Facebook page. Make a handbill and pass it out at farmers markets, post fliers at local garden centers and food stores. Go to garden-related events and invite people in person. The more you hit the streets with this, the more successful you will be. A seed swap is a tangible way to connect with your community in face-to-face, real time. Let it happen and you will be amazed at the results.
Set up for the seed swap
On the day of the event, give yourself about two hours to set up the space. Make attractive signs for the different families of garden seeds (beans, brassicas, nightshades, lettuces, etc.) It doesn't matter if you know botany, just create a system so that people who bring seeds to share can easily find where to put them, and seed-searchers can figure out where to look. Create a few sitting areas for people to socialize when they're taking a break from seed swapping. Leave a space in the middle where everyone can circle up at the beginning of the event.
During the seed swap
Most seed swaps take one of two forms: people either set up their own little area and directly trade seeds, or everyone just puts what they brought out on onto the tables, potluck-style, and then they just go for it. I much prefer the latter format because I feel it contributes to the spirit of community more so than a "this-for-that" format. Assuming you will take my advice, have everyone put their seeds on the tables, but ask them to wait until a critical mass of people have arrived at the event before they start looking. Once you get what feels like a solid amount of people (and seeds), have them circle up. Go around and ask each person to talk for less than a minute about who they are, where they're from, and what they brought. This is an essential part of the event, as it gives everyone a clear picture of the community that has come together for the seed swap. But don't be afraid to play facilitator here, so that the go-around doesn't take more than 20 minutes or so. Introduce yourself at the end, and ask everyone not to take more than half of anything — that way the diversity stays on the tables for as long as possible. And then tell them to go for it!
Document, document, document
A seed swap is one of the most photogenic events you will ever attend. Take as many pictures as you can. Get close-ups of hands with seeds in them. Take group photos of people laughing and sharing. Climb up high and get shots from above. If you have video or audio recording tools, interview folks and ask them about their relationships with seeds and their experience of the seed swap. All of this documentation will help you promote future events, and can be a wonderful way to inspire people in other communities. If you have skills to edit a short video and put it online, all the better. This is such a simple, free and easy way to build community, so consider your final task as important as the rest, and help get the word out about the glory of a community seed swap!
#seedswap #permaculturewomen #freepermaculture
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