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10 Books to Celebrate the International Year of Soils

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Beneath our feet lies a resource that is critical to our future. It’s the first thing we think about when it comes to farming and gardening – and yet, one of the last things considered when thinking about the long-term preservation of our earth. It’s the basis for healthy food production, is a crucial tool in maintaing resilience to floods and droughts, and is host to a quarter of our planet’s total biodiversity.

This wonderful natural resource is soil.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined global partners in declaring 2015 to be the International Year of Soils. In the face of mounting challenges such as climate change, a shrinking agricultural land base, increasing global populations, and extreme weather events, many maintain that healthy soil is the key to our future. In order to ensure the sustainability of this vital resource, organizations far and wide are working to increase awareness of soil’s role in everything from agriculture and food security to urban living and infrastructure development.

We here at Chelsea Green are eager to join the cause for healthy soil, though our authors have already been championing its importance for years—whether it’s seeing soil as the solution to confronting climate change, the foundation for a nourishing homestead, or an integral part of sustainable cattle ranching.

Dive into one of these recommended books and help spread the word about the importance of protecting our planet’s soils.

Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White
Courtney White tackles a crucial question: What can we do about the seemingly uncontrollable challenges faced by humanity, including climate change, global hunger, water scarcity, environmental stress, and economic instability? Soil, he says, is the answer! A mere 2-percent increase in the carbon content of the earth’s soils could offset a huge portion of the greenhouse-gases that are going into the atmosphere. If we can increase the amount of CO2 drawn safely into the soil – through practices such as composting, sustainable livestock, no-till farming, and more – we can address many of the challenges that appear so impossible to overcome.
Cows Save the Planet by Judith D. Schwartz
The idea of cows saving the planet might sound preposterous at first glance. But take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological situation and the notion starts to make sense. In Cows Save the Planet, Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for overlapping environmental, ecological, and social crises. Our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends squarely on how we treat soil, and cows – when properly managed – can restore land and help build healthy soil. Cows Save the Planet both explains soil’s vital role in our ecology and economy and provides an important call to action on behalf of soil and all of those who benefit from it.
Defending Beef by Nicolette Hahn Niman
For years there has been a stigma among environmentalists and health experts that cattle and beef are the enemy. But the matter is not so clear-cut. In Defending Beef, environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman argues that properly managed cattle can actually play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems and improving soil health by functioning as surrogates for the wild ruminants that once covered our earth.
The Nourishing Homestead by Ben Hewitt
The Nourishing Homestead tells the story of how we can create truly satisfying, permanent, nourished relationships to the land, nature, and one another. The Hewitts offer practical ways to grow nutrient-dense food on a small plot of land using vibrant, mineralized soils. Ben Hewitt uses the term “practiculture” to describe a philosophy and skills his family embodies to create a thriving homestead, including soil remediation, agroforestry, permaculture, and much more.
Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon
In Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind, farmer Gene Logsdon gives the inside story of what he deems our greatest, yet most misunderstood natural resource: manure. Logsdon laments the fact that our modern society not only throws away human and animal manure, but spends a great deal of money to do so. Worth billions of dollars as fertilizer, this waste could and should be used to help keep food production in line with an increasing population.
Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening by Will Bonsall
In his book, homesteader and Maine farmer Will Bonsall provides a vision that extends from the finer points of soil fertility and seed saving to how we can transform civilization and make the world a more resilient place. It all starts, he maintains, with first understanding the economy of the land and adapting a greater self-reliance. Bonsall has learned to practice a purely plant-based agriculture by avoiding any off-farm inputs such as fertilizers, minerals, and animal manures and instead turns to plant materials including compost, perennial grasses, green manure, and more.
Paradise Lot By Eric Toensmeier
When Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates moved into a duplex in a run-down part of Holyoke, Massachusetts, the tenth-of-an-acre lot was barren ground and bad soil. The two friends got to work designing what would become not just another urban farm, but a “permaculture paradise” replete with perennial broccoli, paw paws, bananas, and moringa—all told, more than two hundred low-maintenance edible plants in an innovative food forest on a small city lot.

Stay tuned – we have more books on the topic of soil on the way!

Two Percent Solutions for the Planet by Courtney White
Available 9/9
In Grass, Soil, Hope, Courtney White explains that we may reap a wide variety of economic and ecological benefits from simply increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in our earth’s soils by two percent. In Two Percent Solutions for the Planet, he shows how it can be done.White not only touches on a variety of proven practices for putting carbon back into the soil, but expands what he refers to as the “regenerative toolbox” to include edible forests, food co-ops, holistic grazing, rainwater harvesting, and much more.
One-Straw Revolutionary by Larry Korn
Available 8/31
The late Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka is considered to be natural farming’s most influential practitioner. In One-Straw Revolutionary, Larry Korn distills his experience of more than thirty-five years of study with Mr. Fukuoka and takes a deep look at natural farming and how it may be used in areas other than agriculture.

Permaculture Expert Toby Hemenway on Natural Patterns

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

You asked, our authors answered. All month long, we’ve been celebrating permaculture by having a panel of authors answer questions submitted by our readers. As Permaculture Month comes to a close, we wanted to share some final thoughts from one of the top experts in the permaculture field, Toby Hemenway. He is the author of the award-winning and bestselling book Gaia’s Garden and is coming out with a new book this summer — The Permaculture City.

In this book, Hemenway demonstrates that urban permaculture is about much more than gardening in the city. Growing food is only a small part of the challenge we face in solving our essential and increasingly urgent problem of coexisting with a finite planet and with each other.

“Urban permaculture takes what we have learned in the garden and applies it to a much broader range of human experience,” writes Hemenway. “We’re not just gardening plants but people, neighborhoods, and even cultures.”

Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute writes, ”Whether you’re new to permaculture or a seasoned ‘permie,’ The Permaculture City is essential: it captures the explorative state of the art in readable, often delightful prose. And, like all good permaculture books, it is eminently helpful at solving a myriad of practical problems in the home and garden.”

Scott Mann from The Permaculture Podcast was also impressed by this book. Listen to his full review here.

Read on to learn from Toby Hemenway about how permaculture is based on the replication of patterns found in nature.

For more answers to permaculture questions, check out these Q&As:
How to Grow Pawpaws
Mulching Options for Your Garden
A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed
Permaculture Advice for Beginners
Perennial Plants for Temperate Climates

Jeremiah from Wisconsin asks:
In Bill Mollison’s seminal book, he talks a lot about all sorts of natural patterns such as fractals, wave patterns, etc… Most of it went way over my head. How do you use these mathematical patterns in your actual permaculture designs?

Toby Hemenway: Patterning is a hard concept to grasp at first, and I have several chapters written on a book on patterning in design. Permaculturists look at what functions the design is supposed to achieve—how are we moving people and materials around, blocking wind, creating warm microclimates, etc —and then look for patterns that help do that.

For example, nature uses branching patterns to collect and distribute energy and materials, the way roots and branches of a tree collect and distribute sun, water, and nutrients. If there are places to collect or distribute things in our design, maybe a branching pattern is needed. That’s why many garden paths are in a branching pattern; we’re collecting and distributing water, food, mulch, compost materials, and so on. Mound and lobe patterns can increase surface area and exposure—are there places that we need to do that? Spirals are usually patterns of growth and flow—where are those things going on in the design?

Working well with patterns means understanding how a few basic patterns are used in nature—how is nature working with branches, waves, spirals, fractals, pulses, networks, and such?—and seeing what functions we have going on in our design—are things in the design collecting, growing, strengthening, flowing toward or away from, and so forth? Then see if there are patterns for arranging the pieces of the design that will do that. We let the design tell us what patterns will make life easier, rather than force a pattern on the design.

For more information on how to work natural patterning into your landscape, download this free excerpt from my book, Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture:

 Ecological Garden

May Roundup: News, Views & Stuff You Can Use

Monday, May 25th, 2015

The latest news and opinions from Chelsea Green and our authors, as well as tips and techniques about how you can bring our books to life in your kitchen, backyard, or community, and special sales, promotions and new releases.


Permaculture Special: 30% off ALL Permaculture Books
Hurry! Permaculture Sale Ends Today.
 
Whether you’re tackling edible garden spaces or farm fields, we have books for all levels of permaculturists. Learn more about this simple but revolutionary system with these groundbreaking books on sale. But hurry it is only for a limited time. Don’t miss out »»

Permaculture Advice For Beginners. Hint: Start Small
Permaculture Advice For Beginners. Hint: Start Small
 
Interested in applying a permaculture approach to your land, but not quite sure where to start? In the this Q&A session our top permaculture authors share some advice for beginner permaculturalists. Jump into Permaculture »»

A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed
A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed
 
Tao Orion believes invasive species are good ecological storytellers. If we can figure out what they are saying about the soil, the site history, and other ecosystem dynamics, then we can craft a more meaningful management plan and move towards greater plant diversity and abundance. Learn More »»

5 Shareable Strategies for Creating Climate Action
5 Shareable Strategies for Creating Climate Action
 
Frustrated about climate change? You’re not alone. Most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the spectrum of depressed about our climate situation to flat-out denying that it exists. Share More. Do More »»

Permaculture Q&A: Let's Talk Pawpaws
Let’s Talk Pawpaws
 
The virtues of pawpaws are many, from being the largest tree fruit native to the eastern United States to its ease of cultivation and aesthetic form; not to mention, the fruits are extremely nutritious and delicious. Learn More »»

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden
Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden
 
Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management gurus, tackles this question. Mulching »»

Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator
Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator
 
In today’s world, nearly everything we use, from phones and computers to cars and kitchen appliances, requires energy derived from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offset some of that energy use by harnessing the renewable power of the sun? Read More »»

Growing and Marketing Organic Medicinal Herbs
Growing and Marketing Organic Medicinal Herbs
 
Jeff and Melanie Carpenter offer tips on how farmers, and other small-scale growers, can get started in the profitable world of growing organic medicinal herbs. Learn How »»

~ ~ DIY: From the Archives  ~ ~
RECIPE: From the Homemade Hooch Files: Dandelion Wine
RECIPE: From the Homemade Hooch Files: Dandelion Wine
How to Keep Your Vegetable Garden Pest-Free—and Pesticide-Free
How to Keep Your Vegetable Garden Pest and Pesticide Free

How to Cook the Perfect, Tender, Grass Fed Steak
How to Cook the Perfect, Tender, Grass Fed Steak
Indoor Oyster Mushrooms: Big Yield, Small Spaces
Indoor Oyster Mushrooms: Big Yield, Small Spaces

~ ~ Need More? New Releases & Coming Soon  ~ ~

The Seed Garden

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook The Local Economy Solution Beyond the War on Invasive Species

The Permaculture City


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only)
per inceptos himenaeos.

Permaculture Q&A: Perennial Plants for Temperate Climates

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

All month long, we are giving our readers direct access to our expert authors to answer permaculture-related questions. This week, a number of people inquired about growing food in temperate climates, specifically, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Canada.

Our award winning author Eric Toensmeier (Perennial Vegetables, Paradise Lot), and two authors from our UK publishing partner Permanent Publications, Anni Kelsey (Edible Perennial Gardening) and Stephen Barstow (Around the World in 80 Plants), unanimously agree that perennial plants are perfect for cold weather climates.

Perennials require less maintenance than typical annual crops and are perfectly adapted to short growing seasons. Their growth happens early in spring (when it’s still cool and the soil is damp) and use the available solar energy optimally over the season. But, with so many, potentially unfamiliar, plant varieties to choose from, how do you decide what to grow? Here are some tips to get you started.

Susan from Saskatchewan (Canada) writes:
I live in a zone 2 area and am having problems finding plants/trees/etc. for the severe temperatures we experience. Our long winters limit the frost-free days we have to produce quality food as well. Do you have suggestions on what will survive in our climate?

Stephen Barstow: I live in Norway at 63.5N. Some people think because we are so close to the Arctic circle, we are limited in what vegetables and fruits can be grown. For the past 30 years, I’ve been cultivating a garden with around 2,000 edible plants and now believe that my climate is ideal for growing leafy green vegetables and fruit!

Particularly in northern climates, perennial vegetables have many advantages and yields are, surprisingly, often better than conventional crops. Perennials are perfectly adapted to short season conditions as they come into growth early in spring (when it’s still cool and the soil is damp) and use the available solar energy optimally over the season. Conventional crops take much longer to get going. My book Around the World in 80 Plants profiles many perennial vegetables perfectly adapted to even Northern parts of Saskatchewan. You will recognize some of them as garden ornamentals in your area. I call them Edimentals (edible ornamentals). And, others you might think of as weeds or wild edibles (people have always moved their favourite wild edibles into gardens to be closer to the kitchen). Here are number of edible plants you could try growing:

Edible Perennials

  • Hosta
  • Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
  • Malva moschata (Musk mallow)
  • Matteuccia (Ostrich fern)
  • Rheum (Rhubarb)
  • Allium cernuum, A. fistulosum, A. nutans, A. senescens, A x proliferum and many other hardy onions
  • Hablitzia (Caucasian spinach)
  • Rumex spp. (Sorrels)
  • Urtica (Nettles)
  • Taraxacum (Dandelions)
  • Aralia cordata (Udo)

Unlike herbaceous plants, which die right back every year, so that the roots are protected from extremes of temperature, this isn’t true of trees and bushes and the hardiness zones are much more relevant for fruit and berry bushes. You could try:

Fruit Trees & Bushes

  • Amelanchier (Saskatoon berry) – large fruited varieties are available (Native)
  • Haskap (Lonicera edulis) – very early fruiting (from Siberia)
  • Sea buckthorn (Hippophae) – new thornless varieities are becoming available
  • Others: Buffalo berries, Chokecherries, Gooseberries, Redcurrants and many more should also be possible.

You could also join various Garden Web, Permaculture, and Facebook fora which are dedicated to gardening in northern areas, there are several in Saskatchewan. Hopefully this will give you some inspiration to start growing!

Jeri from Massachusetts writes: 
I have limited space in my backyard to plant a garden and most of the location options are in partial shade. I would like to focus on edible perennial plants. With room for two 4×8 raised beds, what are the easiest plants to grow together that are shade tolerant and produce the most food?

Anni Kelsey: I live in the UK. The Massachusetts climate seems similar to where I garden, but with greater extremes in summer and winter, and possibly also wetter. Therefore, broadly speaking, what works for me should be okay for you. In a small space like yours, I would go for the following:

Green Leafy Vegetables

  • Wild rocket or Turkish rocket are perennial, hardy and easy to grow.
  • Asparagus is, of course, a well known and very tasty perennial.
  • Kales are always a good bet. Sea kale is perennial and you may have access to some other perennial kales. I have grown many “annual” kales leaving them to grow for as long as they will.  They all seem to ‘perennialise’ and continue year after year unless the winter is exceptionally cold.  It does not effect their continued growth to let them flower, but I suspect it is better to encourage them to put energy into edible green growth, so probably best to remove flowers.

Related Video: Four Perennial Vegetables Perfect for Shady Spots

Onions

  • Welsh onions are hardy and productive and easily grown from seed.  They provide onion greens from spring to autumn; the stem thickens like a leek in summer and you can harvest some bulbs as well, as long as you ensure some remain to continue the supply.  They may grow larger in sun, but are fine in shade.
  • Ramps (similar to the UK’s wild garlic) are woodland plants suited to shade and are plentiful in spring.
  • Perennial leeks come up in late winter and last for about six months. They do not flower, but propagate by the bulb dividing.

Roots

  • Sunchokes are very easy and productive root vegetables.  Leave some in the ground after harvest to re-grow next year.
  • Skirret is a lovely root vegetable grown initially from seed.  It can be a bit temperamental, but is worth the effort.  Once you have some plants established you harvest roots from the clump in autumn and replant.  They also make new baby plants round the main stem in spring.
  • Yacon has very productive roots and are available in the US.  However they are frost tender and are harvested when they die back in autumn.  The growing tips have to be kept frost-free and dry over winter but if you can do this they are worth considering.  They are large plants though so only one in your space I think!

For more information on perennial plants and where to purchase nursery starts, check out Food Forest Farm owned by Paradise Lot co-author Jonathan Bates.

Maria from Illinois writes:
I’m new to permaculture and my husband and I are starting to incorporate these principles into our Chicago back yard. My question is about placement and zones on a small lot (25 x 60). I’m wondering about the placement of the espaliered apple tree, the peach tree, and the berry bushes. Is it necessary to place the apple tree south-facing against a wall? Also, some authors recommend soil amendment when planting fruit trees/ bushes, and some don’t. Should we get our soil tested before eating any of the produce?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Maria, I definitely recommend getting soil tested for lead before eating anything, and indeed even before doing much design as the test results can really change design ideas (like requiring big raised beds, for example). University of Illinois probably has a soil testing unit. Your soil test will also tell you if you need to amend your soil. In a typical urban or suburban lot you will probably need to improve your organic matter, break up compaction, and usually add some minerals. Fertilizers like minerals are bought in, but organic matter could come from compost, the urban waste stream, a year in cover crop, or other strategies. Cover cropping can help with compaction too, but for serious compaction I like the Meadow Creature Broadfork.

In small lots light is often a limiting factor. Most of the fruits you want to plant probably need full sun, so parceling out the sun space you have for them is a constraint that may guide your design. I like to plant taller things to the north so they don’t cast shade on shorter light-demanders. This is one of the main organizing principles of my home garden design. I don’t think Chicago is so cold that an espalier apple tree demands a south wall but it would probably be pretty happy there!

 

Photo Credit (Espalier Apple Tree): Celiakozlowski, Wikicommons

5 Shareable Strategies for Creating Climate Action

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Frustrated about climate change? You’re not alone. Most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the spectrum of depressed about our climate situation to flat-out denying that it exists. In fact, the more information about global warming that piles up, the less we seem to do to combat it.

What is the reason for this paradoxical truth?

The answer can be found in how our brains respond to information about climate change, says economist and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.

In What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, Stoknes identifies five psychological barriers that keep us from taking widespread, large-scale climate action:

  • Distant: We distance ourselves from the climate issue
  • Doom: We avoid messages of doom and sacrifice
  • Dissonance: We experience cognitive dissonance
  • Denial: We rid ourselves of negative feelings of guilt and fear through denial
  • Identity: We resist criticisms of identity, jobs, lifestyles, etc.

The good news is that there are solutions for pushing past these psychological barriers.

As Stoknes notes, we “can view our task as one of overcoming the Five D’s, or we can frame it as finding ways to circumvent or bypass them. Therefore, the first principle is to turn barriers upside down. We can jujitsu them to become key success criteria for new climate communications.”

To bypass barriers, successful climate communication should: make the issue feel near, human, personal, and urgent; use supportive framings that do not backfire by creating negative feelings; reduce dissonance by providing opportunities for consistent and visible action; avoid triggering the emotional need for denial through fear, guilt, self-protection; and reduce cultural and political polarization on the issue.

Here are the five strategies Stoknes provides for how we can talk about global warming in a way that creates action and cultivates hope:

1. Social: Use the Power of Social Networks

Use social norms to motivate others to:

  • Reduce power and water consumption;
  • Spread social norms through green products and services (rooftop solar, eco-apps); and,
  • Improve recycling efforts.

Use groups and word of mouth from trusted peer messengers to:

  • Clarify the scientific consensus;
  • Join Earth Hour or similar initiatives;
  • Set up home parties; solar panel buying clubs; local-patriotism climate conversations;
  • Introduce the topic of climate in existing networks (churches, clubs, sports, etc.); and,
  • Join Carbon Conversations and Transition Town efforts.

2. Supportive: Use Positive Framings

When speaking of climate, frame it as:

  • Insurance against risk;
  • Health and well-being;
  • Preparedness and resilience;
  • Values and a common cause; and,
  • Opportunities for innovation and job growth.

3. Simple: Use Green Nudges to Make it Simpler to Act

Some examples

  • Make life-cycle costs salient on all appliance price tags;
  • Make smaller plates in restaurant buffets the default;
  • Include voluntary CO 2 price fees in plane tickets as the default.
  • Increase the frequency and speed of buses and biking while reducing car parking and access to city centers.
  • Bundle home reinsulation with attic cleaning and renovation; and,
  • Make double-sided printing the default.

4. Stories: Tell Better Climate Stories

Avoid apocalypse narratives, and instead tell stories about:

  • Green growth;
  • Happiness and the good life;
  • Stewardship and ethics; and,
  • Re-wilding and ecological restoration.

When telling stories, make them:

  • Personal and concrete;
  • Vivid and extraordinary;
  • Visual, as in “show, don’t tell;” and,
  • Humorous and witty, with strong plot and drama.

5. Signals: Integrate Climate Communications with New Indicators of Progress

How we respond to signals, or indicators, depends on how accessible, interactive, and relevant they are. “Just numbers” don’t mean much. But if we can make the signals vivid and interactive and available through social media and social norms, we may see them come alive among the public. When connected to stories, they create meaning. Getting the signals of our progress right is absolutely essential for the long-term success of climate communications. Otherwise the global climate data will have no impact on social decisions.

To support new stories, we need new indicators to provide feedback on progress, such as

  • Greenhouse emissions per value added;
  • Happiness, well-being, and integrated wealth;
  • A personal carbon budget that could be tracked like a bank account; and,
  • Ecosystem health and biodiversity, or nature, index.

Take a look at the following illustration of Per Espen Stoknes’ five strategies and help reshape how we talk about global warming.

Find more from Per Espen:

BoingBoing,  “The 5 Psychological Barriers to Climate Action” 

Common Dreams, “The Great Grief: How to Cope with Losing Our World”

Psychology Today, “The Coming Climate Disruptions: Are You Hopeful?

“Depressed About Climate Change? Good. Here’s How to Take Action”

Watch Per Espen Stoknes’ interview with Thom Hartmann:

Illustrations by Iona Fox

Permaculture Advice For Beginners. Hint: Start Small

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Interested in applying a permaculture approach to your land, but not quite sure where to start? In the below Q&A, authors Olivia Rathbone (The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook) and Tao Orion (Beyond the War on Invasive Species) share some advice for beginner permaculturalists.

This series is part of our Permaculture Month celebration where a panel of expert authors answer permaculture-related questions submitted by our readers. Submit your question here or check out these links to see what others are asking:
How to Grow Pawpaws by Steve Gabriel
Mulching Options for Your Garden by Josh Trought
A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed by Tao Orion
And more…

Jen from Vermont writes:
I’ve been reading The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook and so thoroughly enjoying it. It’s written in a way that makes such good sense to me. I’m about to move into a new home and I’m thinking about where to begin with cultivating gardens in partnership with my kitchen. The vision of the OAEC gardens is so thorough and complete. What advice would you have for someone who is beginning?

Olivia Rathbone: Hello Jen! Congratulations on your new place and I am glad you are finding some inspiration from The OAEC Cookbook! As a beginner, just getting started with a kitchen garden design, the first and most important permaculture principle that we advocate at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center—a farm, educational center, and eco thinktank in West Sonoma County, CA—is PATO, Protracted and Thoughtful Observation.

At this exciting time, it is tempting to jump right in and make big changes, but really the most valuable thing you can do in this first year is to simply study the natural and man-made elements in each area of the land, notice how they change through the seasons and how you can work with rather than impose upon the land that you are stewarding. Get to know every nook and cranny—the soil, the arc of the sun, the flow of water, and all the plants and critters living there. Some people find it useful to keep a journal or to mark their observations on a calendar or a map. A daily or weekly ritual of sipping a cup of morning tea in a special spot or walking a path around the land with the intention of listening and absorbing nature’s clues is a great way to find inspiration and guidance in your design process.

One of the most elegant and practical design features of the OAEC North Garden is the main pathway, which was once the path that the cows had trodden on their way out to the back 40. The original gardeners here had the wisdom to work with that contour line and design the garden around it. Little by little, your appreciation for what you have and your vision for what you want will start to come together.

Another foundational principle is the idea of designing in “zones” as a way to save time, energy, and resources. For convenience, the crops that are used every day—like culinary herbs—can be planted close to the kitchen so that the cook can easily grab a bit of parsley at the last minute to spruce up dinner. On the other hand, the potato patch, which needs very little tending or watering throughout the season and is harvested all at once, can be planted further away, off the beaten path. Likewise, crops can also be grouped together by their needs for sun or water. At OAEC we have the nopal cactuses, rosemary, and other drought tolerant crops planted in a sunny, south facing dry garden and the tender, thirsty salad greens grouped together in a more temperate, irrigated section.

There are loads of great books out there with more ideas on plant groupings, water conservation methods, etc, but ultimately, not everything written in books or online will work for every situation. OAEC’s kitchen gardens of today came about through 40 years of trial and error research and many of those experiments failed miserably! For example, the ubiquitous use of straw mulch that so many permaculture books advocate, turned out to be the perfect habitat for earwigs here. My advice—start small, don’t be afraid to fail and learn, and remember, your most important resources are your new neighbors! Fellow gardeners are almost always eager to share their lessons learned, and hopefully, future meals together to enjoy your garden’s bounty.

Scott from Oregon writes:
My wife and I own some land and are trying to make the transition to being self employed and living on the land full-time. What are some of the more important first steps that can be achieved on a small budget for maximum benefit in your opinion? Are there opportunities for funding that are available to young permaculturalists that you are aware of?

Tao Orion: Hi Scott! First I would undertake a community-scale needs and resources assessment and line it up with your personal needs and resources assessment. Ask yourself, what are your community’s needs, and what are some resources that could be available to you and your wife that could assist you in crafting your rural livelihood? Considering how to piece together diverse income streams is also a key component of ‘making a living’ off the land, especially in the developmental years if you don’t have a large amount of capital to invest in building farm infrastructure like fencing, outbuildings, etc. Start with small, slow, scalable developments to achieve some modest yields. Take time to plan and implement your final design—get your home garden, greenhouse, and irrigation system in place and productive before planting your 10 acre food forest. Don’t spread yourself too thin as you will have a long list of projects!

One way to save money is to propagate the fruit and nut trees and shrubs you eventually want to plant. This will give you time to also make the best decisions about where they should go. There are some unique funding streams available for beginning farmers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides money for building fencing, hedgerows, and hightunnel greenhouses. Also, check to see whether there is an organization that facilitates Individual Development Accounts (IDA) programs in your area, as this unique program matches your savings by a factor of three (up to $12,000 total) while providing business planning and management classes.

Good luck and have fun!

A Permaculture Approach to Managing Hedge Bindweed

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form.

In the below Q&A, Tao Orion, author of the new book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, discusses how she approaches weed management. Orion believes invasive species are good ecological storytellers. If we can figure out what they are saying about the soil, the site history, and other ecosystem dynamics, then we can craft a more meaningful management plan and move towards greater plant diversity and abundance. She puts this philosophy into action with a systematic review of how to handle hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), commonly known in some places as morning glory.

For more advice, browse these previous posts from our Permaculture Q&A series:
How to Start Growing Pawpaws with Steve Gabriel
Mulching Options for Your Garden with Josh Trought

Cory from Seattle, WA writes:
How would you approach removing invasive hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium, aka morning glory) from a half acre property? Tilling brings more bindweed seeds to the surface and spreads root fragments thus making the problem worse. Sheet mulching seems to provide a perfect environment for the roots to spread. Chickens and goats won’t eat it and larger livestock like pigs aren’t allowed within the City of Seattle. Any suggestions besides spending hundreds of hours hand pulling the bindweed?

Tao Orion: Hedge bindweed certainly is a challenging plant to work with. As with all invasive species, I would start by assessing what you know of the site’s history. Was it tilled, logged, or grazed? I’m guessing because your question comes from Seattle that perhaps the site was scraped, graded, and/or filled at some point in its more recent history. Taking a look at what you can find out in this regard is helpful to crafting a meaningful management plan, because it tells something about why a particular plant may be proliferating.

Next I would consider the plant itself and imagine how it fits into the ecosystem of your site. Hedge bindweed is a short-lived perennial with lots of nectar-rich flowers that don’t do well in the shade. So I would call it an early successional species – not quite the first on the scene after a disturbance, but certainly not the last if left to its own devices (even though it may seem that way from our perspective). Some research has shown that introducing plants with a similar successional profile, like red or crimson clover, will help to deinvigorate the growth of hedge bindweed, as it leafs out later than some other fast growing species like clover. If the clover is thick and can get established before the bindweed pokes out, it will slowly but surely start depriving the plant of photosynthetic surface (leaves), which in turn build up its supplies of carbohydrates (rhizomes) that it uses for growth in subsequent years.

Hedge bindweed tends to become invasive in moist or poorly drained soils. In high rainfall environments (like Seattle), positively charged nutrients (like calcium) are easily removed from the soil when the negatively charged rainwater binds with the calcium molecules and washes them away. This is one of the reasons that farmers apply lime in high rainfall environments. In his book Hands-On Agronomy, Neil Kinsey describes how bindweed roots exude a chemical that allows the plants to take up available soil calcium in minute amounts. This is one of the reasons it seems so competitive – it is able to access a valuable soil nutrient which, when limited, makes for a perfect habitat for bindweed and only bindweed (at least until something else comes along that can tolerate those conditions).

So, a combination of enhancing the soil through adding lime (which has all sorts of other benefits) and sowing a thick mat of red clover may be a good approach. You would probably need to do this for at least two growing seasons, and maybe three to deinvigorate the bindweed. Keep in mind that you may not ever be rid of it, but as your soil improves and your site matures into a productive garden or food forest, it will become less prominent. And, when it finally becomes a tolerable feature of your property, you can harvest it…Calystegia sepium is actually listed as a useful plant (edible and medicinal) on the Plants for a Future database. You could even make harvesting the plant’s roots, shoots, and vines for food, medicine, and twine part of the management plan if you have the time, as all of these activities will deinvigorate the plants.

Related Link: 13 Weeds Essential for Human Survival

I find that invasive species are good ecological storytellers, and that if we can figure out what they are saying about the soil, the site history, the successional stage, and other ecosystem dynamics, then we can take an active role in helping craft the next chapter – moving towards greater diversity and abundance.

 

Photo Credit: Glyn Baker, Wikicommons

Permaculture Special: 30% off ALL Permaculture Books

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Want a great garden? Take a page out of Nature’s book and you’ll find growing food is easier than you ever imagined.

Just add a permaculture twist to your garden or homestead and you can spend less effort, improve the health of your soil, and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Permaculture Sale: 30% Off until May 25th

Whether you’re tackling edible garden spaces or farm fields, we have books for all levels of permaculturists. Learn more about this simple but revolutionary system with these groundbreaking books on sale. But hurry it is only for a limited time.

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. Need a suggestion? We’re here to help. Email us at [email protected]


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 25, 2015.

~ ~ Permaculture Sale: 30% Off  ~ ~

Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $28.00
Gaia's Garden
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $20.97
Farming the Woods
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
The Resilient Farm and Homestead
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $28.00
Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist
Retail: $24.95
Sale: $17.47
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock
Retail: $39.95
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Perennial Vegetables
Retail: $35.00
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Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture
Retail: $39.95
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The Vegan Book of Permaculture
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Sale: $17.47

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Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden
Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden
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Permaculture Q&A: Let’s Talk Pawpaws
Permaculture Q&A: Let’s Talk Pawpaws
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Designing Your Own Solar Cooker & Dehydrator
Designing Your Own Solar
Cooker & Dehydrator

 

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6 Reasons Why You Need to Plant Perennials…Like Now
6 Reasons Why You Need to Plant Perennials…Like Now
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Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden
Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden
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Manage Your Chicken Manure: The Joys of Deep Litter
Manage Your Chicken Manure: The Joys of Deep Litter
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~ ~ Need More? Coming Soon & New Releases ! ~ ~

The New Livestock Farmer

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer A Man Apart The Tao of Vegetable Gardening

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 25, 2015.

Permaculture Q&A: Mulching Options for Your Garden

Monday, May 11th, 2015

As Permaculture Month continues, we are making our expert authors available to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form.

This week, Lottie from Florida asked if there are other garden mulch options that are as effective as hay. Josh Trought, one of our soil building and garden management gurus, tackles this question in the response below. Josh is the founder of D Acres—a community farm and educational center in northern New Hampshire—and author of the recently published The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm. In his garden, he uses cardboard and newspaper extensively to suppress weeds, among other mulching materials including hay, straw, seaweed, grass clippings, and leaves.

To gain even more permaculture know-how, read Farming the Woods author Steve Gabriel’s answer to a question about growing pawpaws and a series of other expert author responses to questions on soil preparation, garden design patterns, swales, and more.

Lottie from Florida writes:
I have always used hay to deep mulch my urban garden. After a bad experience with some killer compost that contained contaminated horse manure and left a portion of my yard barren for over five years, I have been scared to use commercially purchased hay, fearing it could also have been sprayed with herbicides. Do you know of any other item that I could use that would be as effective as mulching hay?

Josh Trought: Thanks for the question. I certainly have some mulching experience I can share. First, some background info on hay. Hay is grown all over the country and may be available from a local farmer or broker. Look to pick up from a farm in the area or coordinate with neighbors for a cooperatively purchased delivery. At D Acres, we use feed hay to mulch in the garden. Feed hay is harvested 2-5 times per year depending on the climate and is cut and field-dried before the seed form to maximize the protein content. Hay is usually cut from fields cultivated and fertilized with grasses such as alfalfa, timothy and vetch and legumes such as clover. The cost of 40-80lb bales range from $7-10 in feed stores to $3-4 in the field or direct from a farmer. Mulch hay is a lower grade baled product typically utilized for erosion control. Some mulch hay had gotten wet during the drying period, rotted and is unsuitable for animal feed while other mulch hay is harvested from marginal fields at the end of the season to maintain the field space. This end of season cut of mature fields is often loaded with potential weed seeds. Typically hay is not contaminated with herbicides or pesticides that would endanger the livestock.

Straw is another garden mulching option favored by permaculturalists. Like hay, it is a baled product that is specifically grown as a mono-crop for mulch or it is the by-product of a mono-cropped harvest of grain. While some farmers might grow rye and harvest before the seed heads form, most straw is the residue left after oats have been chaffed from the stalks. Rye is the preferred straw because of the weed inhibition qualities produced by the plant material as it is rinsed by rain and irrigation. Due to these extra benefits, straw is typically 1.5 to 2 times the cost of hay per weight.

Both hay and straw are excellent for soil conditioning. The weave of fibers crisscross to protect the soil from light, wind, and water erosion, while cooling the soil, retaining moisture, and preventing weeds from germinating. As the fibers breakdown through the seasons, the long tubular structures are incorporated into the soil matrix assisting with horizontal and vertical transfers of air, water, and nutrients while providing pathways for roots and mycelium.

Other options for mulch could include seaweed, grass clippings, cardboard/newspaper, leaves, and biodynamic accumulators (soil-building plants).

We utilize cardboard and newspaper extensively at D Acres to suppress sod and competitive plants (i.e. weeds). We source manila colored material with minimal printing from local retailers who would otherwise pay for disposal. By layering the material on the ground, it prevents plants access to light depriving them of essential energy for survival.  Over the seasons, the plants decompose leaving a rich friable soil.

The leaves of biodynamic accumulators such as comfrey can be used as mulch. The plants can be cut to the ground several times per year and spread to provide nutrients and weed suppression. Grass clippings can also be used in this manner, but be cognizant of the heat generated by decomposition and be careful not to “burn” your plants. If you are able to source it, seaweed might be another viable option.

While leaves can be incorporated as mulch, thick piles can become anaerobic and suffocate the soil. Thinly applied leaves rapidly blow away. Our most successful mulch incorporates a combination of materials cheaply and readily available. By integrating leaves and hay as a package, we can stretch the imported hay and achieve superior results.

Mulch can be any material used to suppress weed and retain moisture. While many commercial growers use black plastic as mulch, us permaculturalists seek local, viable natural resources whenever possible to achieve superior results. In general, we attempt to avoid plastics and synthetics that will degrade into the soil food web. Choosing your mulch is unique for every operation dependent on goals, timing, available resources and labor. Careful evaluation and experimentation yields the best results to grow nutrient-rich soil.

For more detailed information on mulch options read the Garden Development and Soil Strategy chapter from The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm.

Permaculture Sale: Ultimate Books for Resilient Living

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

The concept of permaculture is simple – pay attention to natural systems and work with them to spend less effort, improve soil health and enjoy a bountiful harvest. In short, work with nature and let her do the heavy lifting!

Permaculture Sale 30% Off until May 25th

Do you have a permaculture question? We have an answer. For the month of May we’re putting our pioneering permaculture authors at your disposal for a month-long Q&A session designed to help you become a better permaculturalist. Submit your question…

Happy reading from your friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. Need a suggestion? We’re here to help. Email us at [email protected]


Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 25, 2015.


~~ Permaculture Sale: 30% Off ~~

The OAEC Cookbook
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $28.00
The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $28.00
Farming the Woods
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
Integrated Forest Gardening
Retail: $45.00
Sale: $31.50
The Resilient Farm and Homestead
Retail: $40.00
Sale: $28.00
Edible Forest Gardens, 2 Volume Set
Retail: $150.00
Sale: $105.00
Edible Perennial Gardening
Retail: $22.95
Sale: $16.07
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture
Retail: $29.95
Sale: $20.97
The Holistic Orchard
Retail: $39.95
Sale: $27.97
Paradise Lot
Retail: $19.95
Sale: $13.97

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Farm the Woods: Grow Food and Medicinals in Forests
Farm the Woods: Grow Food and Medicinals in Forests
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Building Your Backyard Permaculture Paradise
Building Your Backyard Permaculture Paradise
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RECIPE: Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce
RECIPE: Veggie Mandala with Chervil Aioli Sauce
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Indoor Oyster Mushrooms: Big Yield, Small Spaces
Indoor Oyster Mushrooms: Big Yield, Small Spaces
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What is a Plant Guild?
What is a Plant Guild?
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The Ultimate Raised Bed: How To Make An Herb Spiral
The Ultimate Raised Bed: How To Make An Herb Spiral
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~ ~ Need More? New Releases ! ~ ~

The Seed Garden

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer Altered Genes, Twisted Truth The Nourishing Homestead

Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books
already on sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or
more is applied after the discount is applied. (U.S. Orders Only). Sale runs through May 25, 2015.

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