Every growing season, vine-ripened tomatoes are, without a doubt, one of my favorite yields from my annual vegetable garden. From delicately placing the seeds in pots to babying them through the cooler spring weeks and seeing them explode with fruit during the summer, tomatoes are one of the few garden harvests where I’m willing to make an extra effort. There is no comparison between the tasteless store-bought tomatoes and my heirloom varieties. I’ll admit it, I am a tomato snob.
Being a tomato grower in Montana, however, is not for the faint of heart. With our 90 day growing season, wet cool springs, hot dry summers and early fall frosts, the odds are often stacked against us. So when we’re nearing the end of the growing season at the end of August, there is a danger that those luscious green tomatoes on the vine will never see their true color before the gardening season comes to an end. And let’s face it, there are only so many fried green tomatoes that you can eat.
In my video below, I talk about how to ripen your tomatoes when you have a short growing season. In it, I explain a few easy tips that will help your tomatoes mature on time. These tips are so effective that I barely end up eating any green tomatoes!
By Heather Jo Flores
In a foggy, temperate climate, most of us know the drill: Start seeds indoors in early spring and use grow lights if you have 'em. Plant in fertile soil with plenty of space in mid-June. Trellis, water, prune and pray and maybe, just maybe, get some homegrown tomatoes before the rains come again in September, when what started out as a savory dream of salsa and gazpacho turns into six pounds of green tomatoes topped with powdery mildew and hopeful plans for next year.
But there's hope! Tomatoes are native to the foggy forests of the Andes mountains, and with well-chosen heirloom varieties and a few useful tips, you can grow more tomatoes than you'll know what to do with.
VarietiesIn this case, size matters, and smaller is better. Cherry tomatoes are always a good bet. Salad and plum tomatoes are bigger than cherries, do well in this climate, and come in a wide variety of flavors, shapes and colors. Avoid giant slicing tomatoes like Brandywines and Oxhearts.
Here are my favorite tomatoes for a temperate garden, based on disease resistance, early and extended harvest, and yield:
A gorgeous, green-and-yellow-striped salad tomato with a bright, sweet flavor. Very prolific, a single plant can yield several dozen fruits.
Named for the subtle fuzz and pinkish-yellow color, this salad tomato is one of my all-time favorites. Not as prolific as the Green Zebra, but with such a distinct, delicious flavor, you just have to try them!
Bright yellow, it's one of the larger varieties of salad tomato. More saucy and savory than Green Zebra or Garden Peach, Taxis can be quite prolific and are a good choice for canning.
This is a classic red plum variety that does really well in a marginal climate. Fruits are shaped like a small Roma, and ripen quickly in tight, savory clusters. Excellent for canning. As with many of these varieties, San Marzanos have a long, wonderful history that I don't have space for in this article, but it's worth looking up online.
The "old faithful" of the temperate tomato world, Early Girls are a mid-sized, sweet slicer that won't disappoint.
Willamette & Oregon Spring.
As the names indicate, these two similar varieties were bred for temperate gardens. The mid-sized, orange-red fruits ripen early and provide a juicy flavor that is perfect for slicing, sandwiches and fresh eating.
Another mid-sized variety, with bright red fruits and an early harvest. Saucy and savory, great for raw eating and also for cooked recipes.
This is one of many varieties of tomato bred for success in Russian climates. They are tolerant of hot days and cold nights, which makes them a great option for Southern Humboldt gardens. The large, blackish fruits are juicy and savory, delicious in salsa or salad. If you can't find Black Krim, keep your eye out for other "Siberian" tomatoes, as they tend to do well in temperate gardens.
Grow tomatoes in the hottest place in your garden. Prune low-hanging branches of nearby trees to get as much sun as possible. If there is a wall or a fence nearby, paint it white to maximize the heat reflection of the sun onto your plants. Mulch with bright rocks. A greenhouse is a perfect microclimate for tomatoes, as long as they don't get over-watered.
Once they start to bloom, tomatoes need little water, and young plants get moldy if they're too wet. Overwatered tomatoes are more susceptible to rot, mildew, yellowing and split, watery fruit. Also avoid irregular watering — don't dry them all the way out and then drench them to make up for it. This will cause "blossom end rot" and weird-shaped fruit.
Set a regular, light watering schedule and stick to it. Once the fruit starts to ripen, reduce watering by half. Also, when you do water, avoid spraying overhead or you could cause the leaves to get spots from "sunburn." Hand-water in the early morning, pointing the hose toward the roots of the plants, or use soaker hoses or drip irrigation.
Tomatoes can grow in many different soil types but it's important not to over-fertilize them or they will turn into big leafy bushes with no fruit. Sow seeds in a light soil and transplant them into a rich compost. I don't use high-nitrogen fertilizer (read: poop) but I do recommend seaweed, oyster shells, wood ash and comfrey compost tea.
Weeding & Trellising.
Successful gardening requires good air circulation. Use vertical space to create it. Tomatoes love to climb. Trellising makes use of vertical space and lifts ripening fruits off the ground and away from would-be marauders like slugs and rats.
Use Handi-mesh tubes like the cages used by pot farmers, to build space-saving, easy to harvest tomato towers: Set up the cage, anchor it down, and plant tomatoes 10 inches apart around the cage. Stick a sunflower in the middle so it can grow out the top. As the tomatoes grow, poke them in and out of the Handi-mesh.
I plant marigolds and cilantro on the ground between the towers. The marigolds repel tomato-loving insects, and the cilantro tastes great!
Thinning & Pruning.
If you don't have full sun, and/or if you're growing large-fruited tomatoes, pinch off a third of the unripe fruits before they get too big. This allows the plant to focus on ripening fruit better. As for pruning, don't. Those fruitless, lateral branches provide balance, support and photosynthesis, and anchor the plant to the cage. Leave them. If leaves turn yellow, bust them off.
Save Your Seeds!
Finally, when you get a good crop, save the seeds! Tomatoes are self-pollinated, so you can save seeds without worrying about inbreeding problems. It's easy:
1. Collect ripe, undiseased fruits and squeeze the gooey seeds into a glass jar.
2. Add enough water to fill the jar halfway and cover with a piece of cardboard to let air in but keep bugs out.
3. Set on a shelf and let ferment for 5 to 7 days or until it really starts to stink! This fermentation process removes the slimy seed coat, kills seed-borne diseases and separates good seeds from bad. Bad seeds float, good seeds sink.
4. When a thick skin of mold forms across the top of the seedy liquid, fill the jar with water and swirl it around to sift and separate the contents. Carefully pour off the mold without dumping the good seeds out. Add water again and pour it off. Do this a few more times until all you have is clear water with clean seeds sunk to the bottom.
5. Pour through a tea strainer and carefully tap out the clean, wet seeds onto the inside of a folded piece of paper bag. Label and set in a dark place to dry for at least two weeks (or run them through a food dehydrator on the lowest setting overnight) and stash them in a tightly sealed jar or envelope.
Good luck and happy harvesting!
#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #temperategardens #homegrowntomatoes
Pollinators — the special group of animals that assist plants in reproduction by moving pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part of the plant, are in decline around the world. Non-insect pollinators, such as some birds and fruit-eating bats, are declining alarmingly. Many species of insect pollinators, including bees, butterflies, beetles, wasps, and flies, are also in decline (or in the case of managed bees, declining health) although the data is incomplete. Recent studies on insects as a group, point to serious declines.
However the news is not completely grim. There is a growing body of evidence that engaging in pollinator gardening can help to increase the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators in localized areas. You can help to boost the population of insects pollinators in your neighbourhood and region. I like to think of it as bee-centred gardening, since wild and managed bees are some of the best pollinators in the animal kingdom.
The basics of bee-centred gardening
Plant a wide diversity of plants. Bees need a polyculture not the monoculture of endless fields of corn or lawns of grass. I am in favour of reverting as much lawn to gardens as possible. I use the sheet-mulch method to create a new garden bed and recommend seeding white clover into the lawn you can’t convert to garden. Try to mimic how plants grow in the wild. Often species grow in a patches together.
Plant flowers that bloom in all seasons (well, not winter in the Northern hemisphere).
Spring and fall are the times in which bees are especially in need of good sources of nectar and pollen. Surprisingly there can also be nectar dearths in the summer. Try to make sure you have blooming flowers in spring, early summer, late summer, and fall.
Plant native plants.
Native plants have co-evolved with wild bees, many (but not all) who are specialists,, preferring the nectar and pollen of specific groups of plants. Many native plants are perennials and, once established, can flourish almost on their own. Native plants have also been used for thousands of years by people and many are edible or medicinal. Buy the plants species not the cultivar. For example, you can buy Echinacea purpurea or you can buy a variety of cultivars of E. Purpurea that have been bred for specific characteristics (double blooms, different colours, etc). When you have a choice buy the species.
The first food for many species of bees in the spring is the pollen of trees. Many trees are crucial larval hosts for butterflies. Be very reluctant to ever cut down a tree and raise a stink when trees are cut down in your neighbourhood.
Create habitat for wild bees.
Wild bees nest in pithy or hollow stems and the ground. Leave patches of bare ground and don’t cut the dead stems of perennials until mid-spring. You should do a lazy fall garden clean-up, leaving dead standing stems and lightly mulching garden beds with dried leaves. Bee hotels and nesting boxes are great but it’s even better to give them a habitat in which they can make their own nest.
Leave a source of water.
All animals need water to live, insects included. Leave saucers with rocks throughout your garden and fill it daily with water. It will not attract mosquitoes because it is too shallow and the water evaporates quickly.
Do not use pesticides.
‘Pesticide’ is a catchall term that includes insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Completely stop using them and be careful before using organic insecticides. My best defense against “pests” is biodiversity, particularly wasps and toads. My best defense against weeds are my own two hands. Buy organic seeds and plants whenever possible.
Make peace with wasps and ‘weeds’.
Many weeds are medicinal and edible. My favourite way to get rid of them is to eat them. Wasps are an extremely important group of insects that do a little pollinating but work to keep the populations of other insects in check. Social wasps like yellow jackets can be aggressive when you go near their nest and at certain times of the year (late August) as they prepare for winter. Be respectful of them. Solitary wasps, on the other hand, are very gentle and beautiful.
My favourite native plants for bees
This is specific to North-Eastern North America, especially Southern Ontario, Michigan, etc.
Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum
Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium maculatum (and others)
Goldenrod, Solidago spp (this means multiple species within the genus). Please note: goldenrod is NOT responsible for hay fever. Wind-pollinated plants cause seasonal allergies, goldenrod is animal pollinated. A couple of species of goldenrod are opportunistic but many others are well-behaved.
Please note: I still plant opportunist native plants, it is not a moral judgement on the plant, merely a description of their behaviour.
Milkweed, Asclepias spp. Common milkweed is opportunistic but other species such as butterfly milkweed are well-behaved.
Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis. Delicious for bees and people and the stems make great nesting spots for solitary bees.
Raspberry, Rubus idaeus, see elderberry
Asters, Symphyotrichum spp.
Rose, Rosa spp. There are multiple native rose species. I like smooth rose (Rosa blanda).
Hyssops, Agastache spp. Anise hyssop makes a lovely tea.
Coneflowers, Echinacea spp. Remember, with this group of flowers, buy the species not the cultivar. There are many different species of coneflower but don’t be fooled by the hybrids/cultivars in nurseries.
Sunflowers, and sunflower-like plants such as Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum), False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoide), etc. Sunflowers have been heavily bred by people as a culinary food so it may be hard to find the native species (Helianthus Annuus).
Planting a cultivar is just fine, in my opinion, but you may want to seek out similar native flowers that have the added bonus of being perennials. Jerusalem Artichoke is also edible as it is a delicious root vegetable. Many species of bees absolutely love these types of flower.
My favourite non-native plants for bees
These plants are ideal for planting in your vegetable garden to increase pollination and most have multiple functions.
Catnip and/or cat mint. I am very confused about whether these are the same plant. I think they are different species of plants within the same genus. Regardless, bees love them, cats love them, and they make a calming tea for people. I regularly see native bees on my catnip.
Borage. Borage is loved by bumble bees and the flowers are edible (they taste like cucumbers).
Mullein or Lambs’ Ear. Bees like the flowers but one species of bee, Anthidium manicatum, or the Wool Carder Bee likes to use the soft leaves for their nest. This bee, interestingly, is not native to North America but it has naturalized. Mullein has been used for centuries (maybe millennia) to treat bronchial infections.
Lovage. Lovage tastes like very strong celery and is loved by pollinators.
Valerian. Loved by bees, butterflies, and other insects. Has been used medicinally as a calming herb.
Sweet Cicely, Spring flower, loved by pollinators with a sweet anise taste in the leaves, flowers, and seeds.
So go forth and be an enemy of lawns and spread organic flowers where ever you go (I am only slightly joking). Leave out water for insects of all kinds and engage in lazy fall gardening so native bees and butterflies can find spots to overwinter. Support small-scale, organic farmers especially those that also treat their human workers with respect. The most important aspect of being a bee-centred gardener is to consider yourself in relationship with bees.
I don’t mean this in some sort of deep spiritual sense (although that is good as well). We are embedded in an entangled relationship with bees. One of the biggest tricks of capitalism is that it hides the relationships that we are in with each other in every single aspect of our lives. These relationships include non-human animals. Bees work hard to pollinate our food and they co-habitat and co-create ‘our’ landscapes. If you are spraying pesticides and only have grass in your backyard, you are in a harmful relationship with bees. However, you can move towards a mutually beneficial relationship with bees and the amazing thing is that it is as easy as planting a patch of flowers and leaving out a saucer of water.
My garden, which is about to erupt in a riot of colour!
Originally published at permacultureforthepeople.org on June 30, 2018.
I am a permaculture educator and anti-racist, feminist 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
#permaculture #freepermaculture #foodnotlawns #beegarden
by Heather Jo Flores
From ancient Egypt to modern Manhattan, garlic is one of those plants that you can find in almost every garden. It is one of the oldest cultivated crops, and all around the world people still rank garlic among their favorite foods. And it's not just food —it's medicine, too. Garlic is used as an antibiotic, antiviral, heavy metal detox, and to fight colds, high blood pressure, Alzheimers, diabetes and cancer. It even wards off vampires and evil spirits, or so they say.
Here are a few tips on how to succeed at growing garlic.
Start with Quality Seed Garlic
Sure, you can plant that nice organic garlic you got at the Co-op or the farmers market. It was delicious, right? And it will probably grow just fine. But keep in mind that plants that were grown specifically for the purpose of being seed stock have been monitored for traits such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and uniformity, among many other things. And, by purchasing seed stock from a reputable grower, you are connecting to a lineage that is building long-term food security.
As for varieties, you will never run out of options, but here are some reliable ones to start with.
Softneck varieties, with a milder flavor, good for braiding and long-term storage:
Nootka Rose, for proven reliability in temperate climates, available from Garlicana in Southern Oregon. Check out their free PDF Catalog for an education on the history and genetics of garlic. www.garlicana.com
Transylvanian (because who could resist?) from Great Northern Garlic in central Washington State. www.greatnortherngarlic.com.
Chinese Pink, because it matures extra early. From Territorial Seed Company in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. www.territorialseed.com.
Stiffneck varieties, with a stronger flavor and edible scapes, great for roasting and pickling:
Turkish Giant, famous for giant, easy to peel cloves, also from Territorial (above).
Music, bred for large size, strong flavor and disease resistance. Available through High Mowing Seeds. Their online catalog features a cool comparison feature that lists several types of garlic. www.highmowingseeds.com.
Chesnok, a red Siberian variety known for hardiness and flavor, also from High Mowing.
Where to Plant Garlic
Garlic likes full sun, but it will still do OK in a spot that gets some shade. Garlic and roses are classic garden companions, and it stands to reason that garlic will also do well among other members of the rose family.
Try planting patches of garlic around your plums, peaches, apples, raspberries, blackberries and cherries. Or just clear a sunny area in your garden that you don't mind devoting to garlic until next June (or so).
How to Plant Garlic
Here's a fun tip:
Use a small longneck bottle to make the holes in your freshly weeded and raked garden bed. A small hot-sauce bottle from a brand like Cholula works great for making the holes the perfect depth. Make each hole 6 inches apart, in a pattern that makes the best use of the space in your bed.
Now, break up the heads of your seed garlic and pull the outer papers off of each clove. Plant each clove individually, with the flat side down, pointy side up. Fill the holes with rich, organic compost.
Make sure to mulch!
Garlic is drought-resistant, to a point. A thick mulch can make a huge difference in whether your plants die of thirst or not. When you've just planted the cloves and filled the holes with compost, spread a thin layer of manure over the beds. Top that with 2 inches of straw mulch and saturate the whole area with water. Add another inch of straw and forget about it for the winter. If there is a very dry Autumn, water the patch a couple of times. But it will probably be just fine on its own as long as we get some rain by January.
Weed, fertilize, and mulch again.
Garlic is a "heavy feeder" and will do much better without a lot of competition. In the early spring, the stringy green tops of your garlic crop will be pushing out of the straw mulch, and so will a bunch of random weeds. Go through, pull out the weeds, and remove that overwintered straw mulch as you go. Now use a small rake to scratch in some organic fertilizer (anything that's recommended for roses will work just fine).
Toss the old mulch on your compost pile and spread a fresh layer on your garlic patch. This helps prevent mold and mildew from gaining ground while your bulbs mature. Water well after this weeding-fertilizing-mulching adventure and then you don't need to do much else until it's time to harvest.
Eat the Garlic Scapes!
If you planted stiffneck varieties, you're in for a treat. The flower stalks, called "garlic scapes," are delicious when pan-fried or flame-grilled. The stalks will shoot straight up, crowned by a point head-bud, which will plump out and then curl around the stalk in a spiral pattern. Snap that off and fry it up! Removing the scapes also helps the heads grow bigger.
If you want to try and save the seedlets from the later-mature flower stalk, don't cut the scape. Wait until the hard little seedlets are completely dry, and then harvest and replant them. Either way, once scapes have curled, it's time to cut off any irrigation and let the garlic dry down a bit before harvesting.
With softneck garlic, it is best to remove the straw mulch a couple of weeks before harvest, to help avoid mold. Plants that have mold on them will not store well, and they will infect the storage area with mold spores. If you spot moldy patches early, you can remove them with a clean knife. Keep the patch weeded and don't overwater. When the heads seem to be starting to beef up (and the tops seem to be dying back a little) then rake all of the mulch off the area and cut the water.
It's time to harvest when all of the tops are at least 60 percent brown. The night before, give the whole patch a good watering to soften up the ground for digging. Harvest gently, with a D-handled digging fork, working slowly and attentively to avoid slicing into the heads. Don't yank on the tops and don't cut them off. Garlic is delicate when first harvested! And don't dig up the whole patch at once. Dig up a few heads and see if they are mature. Have the bulbs rounded out, or are they still elongated? There is no sense it waiting nine months for your crop and then harvesting it a week too early. Be patient!
Curing and Storage
After harvesting, your bulbs need to cure for optimum flavor and storability. Leave the tops on and either braid them together or gather them into bunches for curing. Hang in a cool, dark, dry space for at least a month. This will cause the bulbs to harden and tighten. Now you can hang up the braids in the kitchen, and/or cut off the tops and store the heads, sell them, eat them, pickle them or give them to the neighborhood kids for Halloween!
#growinggarlic #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #freepermaculture
Water is the most essential element to life on earth. Take a moment and really let that sink in. Do your everyday practices demonstrate a reverence for this finite resource? The permaculture design process can help you protect and care for the water in your life and community. It can also ease the irrigation burden in your food-producing systems.
When you’ve managed water well, whether in your home, garden, or community, other elements in the system will come alive. Now that’s powerful.
Water: The Most Revered Element on Earth?For many of us, clean water comes directly from a tap in an instant. Because of this, it’s easy to forget how finite this resource is, and how our practices regarding water may be unsustainable.
Upon further inspection, one realizes there is not a single organism on earth that can live without it. Good thing we’re living on the Blue Planet, right?
Well, the truth may shock you. It turns out that only .5% (!) of all water on earth is freshwater, available to us. Much of the rest is locked in ice or deep in the earth’s crust. In other words, our most precious and important resource is amazingly finite.
For this reason, most native peoples have traditionally honored this element’s sacredness. When your life is closely entwined with — and dependent on — access to clean water, you protect it, rejoice, and give thanks for its presence.
Modern civilization on the other hand, has become disconnected to water’s sacredness due in large part to the convenience of modern systems.
Less than 200 years ago, modern indoor plumbing hit the scene. This highly engineered system brings water efficiently to each household. However, it also sends away water that was used only once faster than it came.
When people become intrigued by permaculture design, they usually expect to learn how to apply permaculture principles to a landscape. In truth, when we cultivate a relationship with water, our actions can benefit much more than a single landscape. While our gardens may be more resilient and robust with permaculture design, so, too, can our local watershed and ecology.
Permaculture design allows us to think about our place within the system as a whole. In this article we’ll check out ways to become better stewards of water in all areas of life.
Looking in the Mirror: Personal Water UsePart of the permaculture design process is looking to see where resources are being lost or wasted.
The average American uses 1200 gallons of water per day. In the U.S. alone, vast underground aquifers that have taken more than 2 million years to develop, are depleting faster than they can be replenished. This is largely because of consumer habits and a lack of reverence for water.
Are you wondering what you can do to better care for this wasted resource in your personal life? From eating organic food to eschewing packaged foods, these 10 tips can help.
In the western world especially, we must find ways to respect and conserve this vital resource, as if our lives depended on it, because they do!
Closing the Loop in the Home Water Cycle
The typical pathway for water in a municipal system is this: Clean water is pumped into the home. It’s used only once before it is whisked away again to the municipal treatment plant for cleaning. This is a very energy intensive cycle to filtrate, pump, and collect waste water that so quickly enters and leaves the home.
An ecological home water cycle, on the other hand, seeks to retain and recycle water onsite whenever possible. For example, greywater — the used water from sinks, showers, and washing machines — can potentially be used in the landscape.
While this might seem unsanitary, in fact, soil organisms are pretty efficient at filtering and sanitizing. Utilizing greywater onsite is quite possibly the next frontier — after recycling and composting — for reducing household waste.
Seeking out ways to utilize greywater helps us to be more mindful of both water use and water cleanliness. When I know water is headed for my garden rather than to the municipal treatment plant, I’m more mindful of what I add to the water.
If you would like to explore ways to take advantage of greywater to connect the inside of your home with your landscape, or other sustainable water topics, check out the wealth of information and ideas at GreywaterAction.org.
Take advantage of these water opportunities so you can conserve water, reduce pollution and the strain on sewer systems, add fertility to the garden, and create a dynamic, living water cycle within the home that is integrated with the landscape.
Let’s look outside and see how you can design a landscape that respects and cares for water.
What’s Your Local Watershed Got To Do With It?It is essential to know where a landscape is situated within its local watershed in order to apply permaculture design to the site. A single landscape is just one part of a larger system, and our goal is to support regenerative ecosystems as a whole.
Understanding how water moves throughout a watershed helps you to visualize where water is being wasted in the landscape. Armed with this knowledge, you can find appropriate ways to manage it.
Try this exercise:
Look at the water that comes in and out of a landscape.
Where does it come from?
Is the source clean or polluted?
When it leaves a site, where does it go?
When you think about your landscape as part of a whole watershed, you can look for ways to conserve water and maintain water purity.
Conserving Water in the Productive Landscape
Observe where water is being lost or wasted in a garden. Armed with this knowledge, you can look for smart ways to make the system more robust and interconnected. Sometimes the solution is as straightforward as building soil, mulching appropriately, or routing a downspout so that it discharges in the garden as passive irrigation.
Other times, the solution is more involved. For example, earthworks are man-made structures that change the topography of the land in order to direct and manage water. On some sites, the goal will be to redirect excess water, while on other sites earthworks encourage infiltration.
The permaculture design process can help you assess a landscape for its particular qualities and find ways to manage water appropriately.
The water that falls or collects on a site is a precious resource. In a permaculture design, the aim is to use water as many times as possible before it passes out of the system and to send only clean water into your local watershed.
Seek Out Native and Local Water Wisdom
Dr. Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu was working as a consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C. One day, she overheard her boss complaining about an irrigation project that had cost millions of dollars to build. The solution in the Republic of Niger was falling far short of its intended goals to bring irrigation to crops. Of course, irrigation is essential for agriculture in this region that is 75% parched desert.
Meanwhile, a traditional irrigation method in the region, called tassa, demonstrated glowing results. Plots of land growing millet using the tassamethod were 98% more productive than plots of land not using the method. That’s an incredible increase in productivity using a hand-dug technique! Watch Dr. Ezeanya-Esiobu’s TED Talk here.
These results are encouraging, but not surprising. After all, native techniques tend to be low-tech, low-cost, and work with the land to produce a lasting and water-wise solution.
You might find yourself aghast at the wastefulness and over-engineering of the World Bank solution and its disconnect with the local ecology and people. It’s easy to judge that which is removed from our own experience. As such, when we circle back to our own bioregion of the world, we must be vigilant about solutions that are disconnected from the qualities and needs of a landscape or community.
Remember the over-engineered municipal water system that sends filtered water all the way to your home to be used only once before being disposed of as waste? Learn to discover where resources are being lost and seek out specific strategies that match the needs of a site. Why invent the wheel when there may be an appropriate, low-tech solution right under your nose?
Design with water in mind, and you’ll observe a powerful, integrated system (whether in your home, garden, or community) come to life.
Would you like to learn more?
Read more of my writing about creating regenerative food-producing systems on my website, TenthAcreFarm.com.
I'm also on the faculty for the Women’s Permaculture Guild Online Permaculture Design Course. In this one-of-a-kind, self-paced course, you’ll learn from 40 of the world’s sought-after permaculture teachers and designers. If you’ve enjoyed this article, then you’ll enjoy the module I teach about water, as well as the module I co-teach about earthworks.
#permaculturedesign #greywater #designwithwater #waterconservation #permaculturewomen
by Heather Jo Flores
Take a moment to ponder your relationship with the wild plants in your garden. Chickweed, thistle, pigweed, plantain. Cleavers, lemon balm, nettle. These not only provide forage for insects, birds, and animals, they also provide food for you.
Most of the common vegetables we enjoy in our salads, such as lettuce, carrots, parsley and mustard, were once considered weeds.
So why not let their wild kin act as volunteer herbs and vegetables?
Edible weeds taste great in a variety of recipes, and are known to be more nutritious than domesticated plants. You probably already know about a few of these, and perhaps you've even tried dandelion greens or purslane in your salad.
Here I offer a rundown of my favorite weeds to eat and ways I like to prepare them, organized by season.
Fresh Eating. You can make a delicious salad with the very early leaves of just about any of the plants listed in this article, but my favorites are dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), chickweed (Stellaria media), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Chop them all together with lettuce, sunflower seeds and a light vinaigrette.
Weedy Smoothies. When the weeds are still young but starting to taste bitter when eaten raw, try putting them in smoothies. I love a smoothie with avocado, kiwi, peeled cucumber, hemp seeds, lamb's quarter (Chenopodium album), sheep sorrel and purslane.
Baked Weeds. Use weeds like spinach to make lasagna, enchiladas or spanikopita. Try it with lamb's quarter, pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri), burdock (Articum lappa) and/or chickweed (Stellaria media).
Yum-Yum. Collect the large, bitter leaves of late-season dandelion, burdock and broad-leaf plantain (Plantago major). Add some long branches of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and pigweed. Hang them in bundles in a warm, dry space for a couple of weeks, to let them dehydrate. When dry, shuck the leaves off the stems and crumble them together with sea salt, powdered cumin and dried seaweed. Use this to sprinkle in soups, salads, salsa and everything else, to boost nutrition and aid digestion.
Weed Pesto. Collect the earliest shoots of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), cleavers (Galium aparine) and miner's lettuce. Put them in a blender with olive oil, garlic, asiago and a handful of seeds from the milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Spread on fresh bread or tortillas.
Proper identification. Some plants are quite poisonous, and I have included the botanical names in this article in hopes that you will be careful to correctly identify any plant you eat. With any new food, it is wise to always try just a little bit first, then wait a day or two to see if your have an allergic reaction. Chances are, everything will be fine, but better safe than sorry!
#foodforest #edible weeds
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
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
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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