Monday, March 16, 2009

The Garden Is My Classroom

My second-to-last permaculture conference at Camp Epworth was the most beautiful so far. It was warm (comparatively) and sunny all weekend. We covered Natural Building and Appropriate Technology, Seed Saving and Soil, Sheet Mulching and Compost, and finished up with Garden Planning and Presenting a Design.

I wish this photo was more flattering, but it's the only one I got of the "A building as an Ecosystem" chart. Kay was one of our two awesome facilitators this weekend, she was showing us here how a building is like a tree: it has many inhabitants, material cycling, feed-back loops, permeable boundaries, many microclimates, edges with other ecosystems, and energy flows.

This was part of our discussion on Natural Building, considering what we want in a building in contrast to what we need. Ideally, we want to tie the building into the landscape, aesthetically and functionally.

Question: How can we utilize a building to revitalize and regenerate a site, landscape, culture?

In our discussion of Appropriate Technology, we acknowledged that we live in a culture that ultimately is oriented toward technological salvation. In other words, the belief that the creation of more technology will solve the problems we face, with special emphasis on "no humans necessary" machines.

Kay asked us to consider a quote from Birth's Six Principles: "Our ability to change the face of the earth happens at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of change." Which brought forth the questions, At what scale is this technology appropriate? Does frequency or intensity of use change its characterization as appropriate?

Here are some definitions of appropriate technology:

a. Appropriate-All hands to work with simple machinery the ownership of which is decentralized (Fellow student, Charlie, paraphrasing Ghandi)
b. Technology that is renewable and regenerative
c. “Truly appropriate technology doesn’t make people or their communities dependent on systems over which they have no control. This means technologies that enhance the local capacity to meet local needs-in a lower energy world this is the foundation for security and sustainable communities…”-David Eisenbergn
d. Accepted by the culture in the location

Ken Green of the Hudson Valley Seed Library came to talk to us about Seed Saving on Saturday evening. I was so excited! I did a recent research project on saving pea seeds, and as a result am totally convinced that seed saving is a key component to saving the world. As Ken mentioned in his talk, seed saving is a part of sustainability and permaculture that is rarely mentioned. For example, he said, ask your local organic veggie growers where they get their seed. Were they grown organically? Where were they grown? By whom were they grown?

Above and below are soil samples from all around Camp Epworth. Putting soil in a mason jar with water, shaking it up, and then letting it settle is a simple easy way to see the different kinds and layers you have on your site.

Did you know that in a single teaspoon of soil there are:
4 thousand species of organisms, 99% unidentified by science
Over one billion bacteria
Several yards of mycorrhizal fungi
Thousands of protozoa
Dozens of nematodes and mites

Isn't that awesome?!
A Compost Recipe:

14 Day Compost-The Berkley Method!

Requires large volume, kills off weed seeds and parasites (slow compost doesn’t), and you can throw in everything (including meat, citrus, dairy…)!

1. Collect one cubic yard of compost, 50% carbon (dry: hulls, woodchips, leaves, straw) to nitrogen (wet: manure, vegetable waste, dead animal product) ratio. (If it smells acidic, you have too much nitrogen)

2. Mix well, water well, and cover with a tarp (weigh down with rocks) and let sit for four days

3. Day four, take off tarp, move the pile over, put the outside on the inside and the inside on the outside (flip it). If it’s too dry, the middle will turn white, and you need to add water and nitrogen. If it’s too wet, and you can squeeze more than a drop of water out of a handful, add carbon.

4. After this, flip it every other for fourteen days, and you should have beautiful compost.

One of the many great uses for compost is in the Sheet Mulching process:

Sheet Mulching is permaculture's preferred method for building beds. It is ideal to do so right before your growing season. For example, now is a good time in our area.

Here's the recipe:

1. Go through the soil with a broad fork or garden fork, put it into the ground up to the beginning of the spines and wiggle it, making holes every six-inches (allowing aeration).

2. Put down a layer of manure (fairly raw)-horse bedding is great (has a lot of carbon), compost (2-4”)

3. Put down a weed-block layer: brown paper, newspaper, cardboard (keeping it wet for two weeks)

4. Cover with straw, leaves, hulls, or woodchips on perennial beds, etc. (though you may want to save your pine needles for your blueberries)

5. Make a hole (pocket), put in a double fist of compost (especially for annuals), and plant into it.

Below are the beds (on contour!) that the group mulched. It was really empowering and fun to work with such an enthusiastic group and get so much done in very little time.
Below: Joan and Wilton's awesome compost pile. Behind it is a great chicken tractor.
In our discussion on Garden Planning, we talked about planning for crop rotation and companion planting. These are both good solutions for pest control problems and nutrient loss issues. We talked about using vertical space (like trellising legumes) and solutions to erosion (on-contour beds, swales, bed-lining plants, raised beds, etc.). It was all really helpful in terms of practical application, and it was really fun being outside so much.
We will be presenting our final designs at our next-and last-workshop in the beginning of April. I will try to post mine up for you, hopefully helping you get an idea of where this whole process is leading.

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