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Chelsea Green - Page 4 of 409 - The Politics and Practice of Sustainable Living. : Chelsea Green

Mother Earth News Fair – May 31 & June 1

May 28th, 2014 by admin

Fair season is here — Mother Earth News Fair season that is! If you’re a homesteader, small-farmer, or gardener, you need to check out the Mother Earth News Fair near you.

If you live within a quick drive to Seattle, you’re in luck. Because the next Mother Earth News Fair is in Puyallup, WA on May 31 and June 1.

From speakers and workshops to vendors and livestock breeders, the Mother Earth News Fairs draw thousands of sustainability-minded, curious, self-reliant folks together for a full weekend of workshops, lectures, and hands-on presentations at the sprawling Puyallup fairgrounds. And of course, a full slate of Chelsea Green authors will be among the presenters.

The following authors will be leading workshops and giving keynote speeches in Puyallup:

Saturday, May 31
Doug Fine — workshop

  • 1:00 PM, Modern Homesteading Stage: Hemp Returns to Humanity.

Gianaclis Caldwell- 2 workshops

  • 2:30-3:30 PM, Real Food Stage: One Pot, One Gallon, One Hour Lasagna Cheese.
  • 5:30-6:30 PM, Real Food Stage: Yogurt: Marvels and Making.

Sunday, June 1

Joel Salatin — Keynote

  • 9:30AM, Mother Earth News Stage: Live Poultry Demo.
  • 4:00 PM, Mother Earth News Stage: Heretics Unite.

Gianaclis Caldwell — workshop

  • 11:30 AM, Real Food Stage: Raw Milk Production- Doing it Right.

Rebecca Thistlethwaite — workshop:

  • 11:30AM, Modern Homesteading Stage: From Hobby to Business: How to transform your farming hobby into a right livelihood

Toby Hemenway — Keynote

  • 2:30-3:30- Mother Earth News Stage: Agriculture, Horticulture, Permaculture: How a society based on gardens rather than farms offers a sustainable future.

Visit Chelsea Green at Booth #818-820 (right outside the Mother Earth News Fair Bookstore) for special deals, giveaways, book discounts, and to meet our authors face-to-face. Communications Director Shay Totten will be there to answer questions, talk about our books coming out later this year, and hold regular raffles where you could walk away with a Chelsea Green book … free!

We’ll also have hemp treats in advance of Hemp History Week, which begins June 2 and ends June 8.

See you at the Fair!

For the full line-up, download the Fair schedule here.

Permaculture Q&A: Are Swales Right For You?

May 27th, 2014 by admin

Next up in the Permaculture Q&A series, where we pose questions from our readers to our authors, Wayne Weiseman, co-author of Integrated Forest Gardening, talks about swales. Wondering what a swale is?

Read on to learn more about these water harvesting ditches and what questions to ask to determine if they are right for your landscape.

For more detailed information about permaculture plant guilds, including techniques for designing swales, check out Weiseman’s recently released book which he co-wrote with authors Daniel Halsey and Bryce RuddockIntegrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems. It’s on sale now along with all of our permaculture titles for 35% off, until June 1.

And, browse these previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series for answers to questions about soil preparation, design patterns, invasive grasses, and more:
Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix
Permaculture: An Economic Perspective
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling

Kelly from AZ asks:
If you are not going to alley crop an area, how close would you build your swales from one another?

WAYNE WEISEMAN: A swale is a dead level ditch on contour. Contour lines are depicted on topographical maps at specific intervals and they delineate not only these dead level lines but also give us indication of where ridges and valleys have formed over geological time. Swales lie perpendicular (at right angles) to the slope and pick up all water moving downslope (by force of gravity), hold it, and percolate it into the soil profile slowly. Typically we begin our planting regimes downslope from the swale so that our young plants have the advantage of this slow percolation of water and the mechanism of capillary action through the soil pores. The small feeder roots on our plants now have the utmost opportunity to drink and take in minerals from the soil in solution.

There are many variables when it comes to designing a swale into a property. The first questions to ask are whether swales are applicable based on soil type, climate, rainfall averages and slope. But even before this, it is important to observe these aspects of place over a long period and begin to understand the patterns that present themselves from as many perspectives as possible, and especially during large rain events. We need to understand from which direction the water enters the property, how it flows through the property, and where it leaves it.

Additional key questions include: What will be planted on the berm and in the swale and up and down slope from them? In what part of the country is this land? What is the macroclimate of the region? What are the goals and vision of the owners? Is this simply a homestead where production will be meant only for the family or is this a market farm? How much planning has already been done and what has already been implemented on the property? Has there been insight as to how the entire infrastructure will be laid out? Why swales when there are many techniques in order to create redundancy in our water collection strategies: keyline, cisterns, ponds and other surface catchments, etc.

Swales are simply one of many tools utilized in order to slow water down and hold it in place so that plants have the needed time and resource to grow and thrive. As we hold water on a property we also hold topsoil. These two, water and soil, are our major concerns, and without cognizance of these two most important elements we cannot take the proper steps in order to find sustenance through our gardening or farming practice.

Remember, swales are one part of a comprehensive plan and permaculture is all about comprehensive planning. We start from the whole and move to the parts. Based on our ethics and basic principles and methodologies we work backward from the whole and configure what is needed to meet our vision and goals. If swales are applicable, then by all means we have to make sure that we do our due diligence and factor in all the variables for success. The question about distance of swales is a bit premature. Good design is predicated on rigorous observation and thoughtful design.

 

How to Cook the Perfect, Tender, Grass Fed Steak

May 26th, 2014 by admin

Today is Memorial Day, one of America’s first “BBQ Holidays” of the year. It’s finally warm enough to grill outside in most of the country, and almost everyone has the day off to bask in the glory of the coming summer.

Treat your tastebuds to an ethical feast: grill up some grass fed steak this year! You’ll probably pay a little more for your t-bones, but you’ll be supporting small-scale farmers and those who use the most planet-friendly methods of raising livestock possible. In fact, if you support truly well-managed grass fed beef farmers, you don’t need to feel guilty at all. After all, haven’t you heard that cows can save the planet? It’s true…

But in the meantime, you probably need some pointers on how to treat your premium, pasture-raised porterhouse cuts or filet mignons. Grass fed beef is a different animal than your bargain-priced grocery store steak.

Here to help you cook it to perfection is farmer and cookbook author Shannon Hayes. Check out her books Long Way on a Little, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook for more amazing recipes.

By Shannon Hayes

The simplest, most commonly heard distinction made between grassfed and factory-farmed meat is that grassfed is leaner. As we’ve just seen, that is not always the case. The real difference lies in the fact that, by virtue of a beef animal’s active and healthy life, there is true muscle integrity in the meat. This is wildly different from the feedlot animals, which get little or no exercise, resulting in more flaccid (and, hence less flavorful) cuts. This does not mean that grassfed steaks are less tender - on the contrary. Cooked more gently, grassfed meat is wonderfully tender. The healthy muscle texture does, however, mean that grassfed steaks will be more variable than grainfed meats. Taste and texture of steaks will vary based on breed, farming practices, pastures, and individual animal characteristics. Thus, the trick to cooking a delicious steak is to work with the variability and take advantage of that beautiful muscle quality.

We should be treating this meat as “tenderly” in the kitchen or on the grill as the farmers treated the animals in the fields. When cooking a grassfed steak, we want to achieve a delicious sear that creates a pleasant light crust on the exterior of the meat, then allow it to finish cooking at a much lower temperature; this allows the naturally-occurring sugars to caramelize on the surface, while protecting those muscle fibers from contracting too quickly. Tough grassfed steaks result from over-exposure to high heat, which causes the muscle fibers to contract tightly and become chewy and overly dry.

Keeping these principles in mind, below are two techniques for cooking a fantastic steak, using the same seasonings. The first technique, taken from The Farmer and the Grill, is for working outdoors with open flames, my preferred method, YEAR ROUND. If you plan on winter grilling, be sure to check out the list of tips for safe winter grilling that appear at the end of this article.

The second technique is taken from my newest cookbook, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously. Much to my surprise, not every family on the North American continent has access to an outdoor grill – hard to believe! Thus, in an effort to include you in the thrill that comes from eating the best-tasting steak available, I’ve included an indoor steak recipe that guarantees your grassfed meat will remain tender and juicy. Enjoy!

THE BEST STEAK – OUTDOORS

Recipe adapted from Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…and for saving the planet, one bite at a time, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak, then allow the meat to come to room temperature while you prepare the grill.

Start the grill and warm it until it is hot. If you are using a gas grill, turn off all but one of the burners once it has come up to temperature. If you are using charcoal, be sure all the coals have been raked to one side. Use the hand test: the grate will be hot enough when you can hold your palm 3-4 inches above the metal for no more than three seconds.

Sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side directly over the flame, with the lid down. Then, move the steaks to the part of grill that is not lit. Set the lid in place and allow the steaks to cook, without flipping them, until they reach 120-135 degrees**, about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the steak. Remove the steaks to a platter and allow them to rest a few minutes before serving.

THE BEST STEAK – INDOORS

Recipe taken from Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter, tallow or rendered lamb fat
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak then allow the meat to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then heat a large cast iron skillet or other oven-proof skillet over a high flame. Once the skillet is so hot that you can see a little smoke rising off of it, add the butter or fat. Sear the steak for two minutes on each side. Turn off the flame, and insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the boneless edge of the steak – do not insert it into the top, as there is not enough thickness for the thermometer to take an accurate reading. Leaving the steak in the skillet, place it in the oven and allow it to finish cooking, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the cut, until the internal temperature reads 120-135 degrees.** Allow the meat to rest five minutes before carving and serving.

**Weren’t aware that grassfed meats have different internal doneness temps than grainfed? Get a handy magnetic grassfed temperature guide, the Don’t Overdo It Magnet, from grassfedcooking.com. They’re inexpensive, and you can feel good about them, because they are made by a small, locally owned factory in my community.

WINTER GRILLING TIPS

Yes, the indoor method described above is terrific. The meat is super-tender and juicy. But I prefer to season with a little smoke and flame. Thus, I’ve become one of those hard-core advocates of year-round grilling. If you are new to the idea, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Choose a safe place for grilling outdoors. The garage may not be your best bet, since it probably contains a few explosives, such as cans of gas, or lawn mowers, chainsaws or other vehicles that contain gasoline. I actually have a screened-in porch with a brick floor that shelters me for winter grilling. That’s a little more deluxe than most folks have – just try to choose a sheltered spot that isn’t too close to your house.
  2. Keep the path to your grill site, and the area around it, free of snow and ice. It would be deeply annoying to ruin a perfectly good dinner because of a last-minute trip to the emergency room.
  3. Dress wisely. I find that my charcoal throws up a lot more sparks in the winter…or perhaps I’ve just noticed them more, because I’ve made the stupid mistake on occasion of wearing drapey and flammable garments, such as winter scarves, out to the coals. Learn from my experience, and don’t make the same stupid mistake.
  4. Limit your grilling repertoire. It’s cold out. Barbecuing is a culinary tradition from the warm south. Unless you have some pretty sophisticated equipment, and are some kind of BBQ Macho-Man (you know who you are), smoking and barbecuing are best relegated to summertime pleasures. Stick to the steaks, burgers and chops. They minimize the trips out to the grill, keeping the cold out of your house and out of your bones.
  5. Allow extra heat-up and cook times. Extreme outdoor temperatures will affect the warm-up and cooking time of your grill. To accommodate for this, always grill with the lid down, and monitor the internal temperature of your meat with an instant-read meat thermometer. If you are considering buying a gas grill and you plan to use it through the winter, buy the highest BTU rating you can afford. The cold truly slows the heat-up process. Also, high BTUs often accompany higher quality grills, which will do a better job holding in the heat during the winter months. If you are on a budget (like me) or just prefer the flavor (like me), a simple little Weber charcoal kettle will work beautifully for outdoor winter grilling (no, I do not work for them).
    Winter grilling is much easier if you are working with the ecologically responsible charwood (available in many hardware or natural food stores) because it is much easier to light, and it quickly gets a lot hotter than composite briquettes. I find that, with the exception of the most extreme weather conditions, I can keep to my normal cook times by simply using a few more coals in the fire. The bonus is that charwood is better for the planet.

    For more tips on ecologically responsible grilling, check out my book,
    The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…And for saving the planet, one bite at a time. 

Shannon Hayes is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. She is the author of Radical Homemakers, Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet. Hayes works with her family producing grassfed and pastured meats on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

Permaculture Q&A: Michael Judd’s Blueberry Soil Mix

May 22nd, 2014 by admin

As Permaculture Month continues throughout May, some of our expert authors are answering questions submitted by our readers. Here, Michael Judd reveals his special recipe for blueberry soil mix that imitates the plant’s natural forest edge habitat.

For more do-it-yourself projects to turn your landscape into a luscious and productive edible Eden, check out Judd’s book, Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist. Now is a good time to purchase as all of our permaculture titles are on on sale for 35% off until June 1.

And, browse these previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series for answers to questions about design patterns, nutrients, invasive grasses, and more:
Permaculture: An Economic Perspective
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling

Danielle from WA asks:
I planted four blueberries bushes last year. They got a lot rain, so I did not water them for a few weeks, but now I see a few of them are brown. These bushes get lots of sun. Any thoughts on how to stop the browning?

MICHAEL JUDD: Hi Danielle, challenges with blueberries generally stem from the soil prep and pH. Blueberries are naturally a forest edge species which means that they like a very rich and loose soil that comes from a leafy compost-like medium. This is usually imitated with peat or sphagnum moss mixed with compost and soil, but I try to avoid pulling material from distant ecosystems, especially sensitive bog areas where peat comes from, and instead create my own blueberry soil mix. My recipe is 50% fine pine bark, 25% compost, and 25% top soil with sulfur pellets mixed in to lower the pH to 4.5-5.5. Mix them well into a generous sized hole before planting the blueberry. Mulch well with a pine bark mulch for the added long term acidity and moisture retention. Blueberries are shallow rooted so keep the mulch on and other plants/weeds away from their base and be mindful to not water with a strong stream that knocks the mulch and soil away exposing the roots.

Though blueberries are generally disease resistant they benefit from good air flow, full sun and spacing. If you make the soil balanced your plants should be healthy.

Hope that helps. Happy fruiting!

Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden

May 21st, 2014 by admin

As we continue celebrating Permaculture Month here’s an excerpt from Gaia’s Garden to get you started on your very own forest garden.  

Permaculture is most frequently applied in gardening and homestead-planning, and one of the essential designs is a forest garden. Food forests, or edible forest gardens, are life-filled places that not only provide food for people, but habitat for wildlife, carbon sequestering, biodiversity, natural soil building, beauty and tranquility, and a host of other benefits — you just need to take a page from Mother Nature’s book. Toby Hemenway’s bestselling permaculture book Gaia’s Garden is here to help.

The following is an excerpt from Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Second Edition by Toby Hemenway. It has been adapted for the Web.

It’s time to look at forest garden design. A simple forest garden contains three layers: trees, shrubs, and ground plants. But for those who like to take advantage of every planting opportunity, a deluxe forest garden can contain as many as seven tiers of vegetation. As the illustration below shows, a seven-layered forest garden contains tall trees, low trees, shrubs, herbs, ground covers, vines, and root crops.

Here are these layers in more detail.

  1. The Tall-Tree Layer. This is an overstory of full-sized fruit, nut, or other useful trees, with spaces between to let plenty of light reach the lower layers. Dense, spreading species—the classic shade trees such as maple, sycamore, and beech—don’t work well in the forest garden because they cast deep shadows over a large area. Better choices are multifunctional fruit and nut trees. These include standard and semistandard apple and pear trees, European plums on standard rootstocks such as Myrobalan, and full-sized cherries. Chestnut trees, though quite large, work well, especially if pruned to an open, light-allowing shape. Chinese chestnuts, generally not as large as American types, are good candidates. Walnut trees, especially the naturally open, spreading varieties such as heartnut and buartnut, are excellent. Don’t overlook the nut-bearing stone piñon and Korean nut pines. Nitrogen-fixing trees will help build soil, and most bear blossoms that attract insects. These include black locust, mesquite, alder, and, in low-frost climates, acacia, algoroba, tagasaste, and carob.Since much of the forest garden lies in landscape zones 1 and 2, timber trees aren’t appropriate—tree felling in close quarters would be too destructive. But pruning and storm damage will generate firewood and small wood for crafts.The canopy trees will define the major patterns of the forest garden, so they must be chosen carefully. Plant them with careful regard to their mature size so enough light will fall between them to support other plants.
  2. The Low-Tree Layer. Here are many of the same fruits and nuts as in the canopy, but on dwarf and semidwarf rootstocks to keep them low growing. Plus, we can plant naturally small trees such as apricot, peach, nectarine, almond, medlar, and mulberry. Here also are shade-tolerant fruit trees such as persimmon and pawpaw. In a smaller forest garden, these small trees may serve as the canopy. They can easily be pruned into an open form, which will allow light to reach the other species beneath them.Other low-growing trees include flowering species, such as dogwood and mountain ash, and some nitrogen fixers, including golden-chain tree, silk tree, and mountain mahogany. Both large and small nitrogen-fixing trees grow quickly and can be pruned heavily to generate plenty of mulch and compost.
  3. The Shrub Layer. This tier includes flowering, fruiting, wildlife-attracting, and other useful shrubs. A small sampling: blueberry, rose, hazelnut, butterfly bush, bamboo, serviceberry, the nitrogen-fixing Elaeagnus species and Siberian pea shrub, and dozens of others. The broad palette of available shrubs allows the gardener’s inclinations to surface, as shrubs can be chosen to emphasize food, crafts, ornamentals, birds, insects, native plants, exotics, or just raw biodiversity.Shrubs come in all sizes, from dwarf blueberries to nearly tree-sized hazelnuts, and thus can be plugged into edges, openings, and niches of many forms. Shade-tolerant varieties can lurk beneath the trees, sun-loving types in the sunny spaces between.
  4. The Herb Layer. Here herb is used in the broad botanical sense to mean nonwoody vegetation: vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and cover crops, as well as mulch producers and other soil-building plants. Emphasis is on perennials, but we won’t rule out choice annuals and self-seeding species. Again, shade-lovers can peek out from beneath taller plants, while sun-worshiping species need the open spaces. At the edges, a forest garden can also hold more traditional garden beds of plants dependent on full sun.
  5. The Ground-Cover Layer. These are low, ground-hugging plants—preferably varieties that offer food or habitat—that snuggle into edges and the spaces between shrubs and herbs. Sample species include strawberries, nasturtium, clover, creeping thyme, ajuga, and the many prostrate varieties of flowers such as phlox and verbena. They play a critical role in weed prevention, occupying ground that would otherwise succumb to invaders.
  6. The Vine Layer. This layer is for climbing plants that will twine up trunks and branches, filling the unused regions of the all-important third dimension with food and habitat. Here are food plants, such as kiwifruit, grapes, hops, passionflower, and vining berries; and those for wildlife, such as honeysuckle and trumpet-flower. These can include climbing annuals such as squash, cucumbers, and melons. Some of the perennial vines can be invasive or strangling; hence, they should be used sparingly and cautiously.
  7. The Root Layer. The soil gives us yet another layer for the forest garden; the third dimension goes both up and down. Most of the plants for the root layer should be shallow rooted, such as garlic and onions, or easy-to-dig types such as potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes. Deep-rooted varieties such as carrots don’t work well because the digging they require will disturb other plants. I do sprinkle a few seeds of daikon (Asian radish) in open spots because the long roots can often be pulled with one mighty tug rather than dug; and, if I don’t harvest them, the blossoms attract beneficial bugs and the fat roots add humus as they rot.

Finding Hope in an Era of Climate Chaos

May 19th, 2014 by admin

There is no shortage of stories about how climate change is affecting us now, rather than in some distant future. It can seem overwhelming to watch the news about extended droughts, extreme weather events, melting ice caps and not feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

So, can a book about soil and carbon give us … hope? Award-winning author Michael Pollan thinks so.

“Hope in a book about the environmental challenges we face in the twenty-first century is an audacious thing to promise, so I’m pleased to report that Courtney White delivers on it,” writes Pollan in the foreword to White’s new book, Grass, Soil, Hope.  “He has written a stirringly hopeful book, and yet it is not the least bit dreamy or abstract. To the contrary, Grass, Soil, Hope is deeply rooted in the soil of science and the practical work of farming.”

Pollan notes that White’s key achievement is “that it asks us to reconsider our pessimism about the human engagement with the rest of nature. The bedrock of that pessimism is our assumption that human transactions with nature are necessarily zero-sum: for us to wrest whatever we need or want from nature—food, energy, pleasure—means nature must be diminished. More for us means less for it. Examples of this trade-off are depressingly easy to find. Yet there are counterexamples that point to a way out of that dismal math, the most bracing of which sit at the heart of this book.” Read Pollan’s full foreword in the excerpt below.

In his new book, Quivera Coalition founder and author Courtney White sees hope in some of the groundwork being done by permaculturalists, ranchers, farmers, and citizens all around the world. Grass, Soil, Hope is White’s journey into what he calls “Carbon Country.” A country where we live, we breathe, and we eat. Why carbon?

“Carbon is key.  It’s the soil beneath our feet, the plants that grow, the land we walk, the wildlife we watch, the livestock we raise, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the air we breathe. Carbon is the essential element of life. Without it we die; with too much we suffer; with just the right amounts we thrive,” writes White in his prologue, which you can read below.

It is the hopefulness of White’s book that has garnered praise from key visionaries who have shown that it is possible to keep more carbon in the soil and produce healthier livestock and food, without the use of invasive agricultural practices that require extra water and pesticides.

Read praise for Grass, Soil, Hope from Allan Savory, president and founder of the Savory Institute and other environmental leaders.

The best part is that anyone can be part of the solution, because we all live in White’s Carbon Country. “Whether you live in a city, go to school, graze cattle, enjoy wildlife, grow vegetables, hike, fish, count grasses, draw, make music, restore creeks, or eat food—you live in Carbon Country. We all do. It’s not a mythical land; it exists.”

Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country is available now and on sale for 35% off until June 1.

Grass, Soil, Hope: Foreword and Prologue by Chelsea Green Publishing

Permaculture Q&A: An Economic Perspective

May 15th, 2014 by admin

Want to become a better permaculturalist? Have a burning question about permaculture design? All month long Chelsea Green is taking reader questions and putting them to some of our top permaculture authors. If you want some advice from our expert authors, you can submit your questions using this form.

Today, authors Toby Hemenway (Gaia’s Garden) and Eric Toensmerier (Paradise Lot, Perennial Vegetables) discuss the business side of permaculture.

For previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series check out these links:
Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns
Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade

Shaun from Vermont asks:
What is the single most important business strategy for the success of permaculture while earning a livable wage?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Sean, there are a lot of “single most important things” in making a permaculture business work. If I had to pick one, it would probably be to take it seriously as a business. This applies whether your permaculture business is farming, landscaping, design and consulting, teaching, or whatever it might be.

Nobody starts a permaculture business because they are excited about record-keeping, obtaining permits, market research, or tax preparation. But businesses that take the time to plan all of these things out carefully are much more likely to succeed.

I highly recommend taking a business planning course, whether it is permaculture related or not. Clarifying your goals, understanding your markets, understanding the legal landscape, and budgeting are essential tools as much as shovels, tractors, mapping equipment, or whatever you may use. I also highly recommend Elizabeth Ü’s book, Raising Dough, which is an excellent guide to creative ways to finance your business idea once you have these other pieces in place.

Sandy from New York asks:
Can you speak to what appears to be a lack of sociopolitical analysis within permaculture education and business practices. In terms of thinking about accessibility to the classes or affordability of a design consultation firm or individual willing to share knowledge without emptying the bank. Is permaculture just another niche market in green capitalism or is it actually about building relationships and community with a shared vision for ecological preservation?

Toby Hemenway: There is no set price for a permaculture consult or plan. They cost whatever the client can afford. I know over a hundred permaculture designers, and all have sliding scales. All do at least one quarter of their work for free; in many cases it is half their work. Every permaculture teacher I know offers free classes, generous scholarships paid out of their own pocket, and does far more free mentoring than paid (I have never been paid for a mentorship, except for having my office painted in trade after a year of mentoring). Many designers—I can name dozens—travel to Haiti, other disaster areas, and inner cities at their own expense to do aid work, for free. The way they can afford this—and most of them really can’t afford it—is to have a posted fee rate comparable to other landscape designers.

Permaculture courses have always been at prices far below that of other workshops (a 2-week course with room and board costs the same as the tuition alone for a 2-day facilitation or management workshop). I have never known a teacher to turn anyone away for lack of money. You do have to ask, though, because we have found that if we advertise discounts, everyone, including the affluent, and the well educated who practice voluntary simplicity, ask for them, which denies access to the truly needy.

Unfortunately, there is a strong sense in the alternative community that everything should be free or discounted, but that turns out not to be sustainable. In a recent survey, out of 80 professional permaculture teachers and designers, only 2 were supporting themselves solely from permaculture work. The rest needed jobs in the mainstream economy to make ends meet. The real question for me is, if permaculture is valuable, why is it not valued among the sociopolitically aware community?

 

RECIPE: Maple Mushroom Martini

May 14th, 2014 by admin

Permaculture designer and author Michael Judd gets really excited about mushrooms. So when he found this recipe for a mushroom infused cocktail, he was barely able to contain himself. It may sound strange, but Judd swears this sweet mushroomy cocktail is magically delicious.

The following recipe is an excerpt from Judd’s Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture TwistIn addition to a few tasty treats, this book takes readers on a step-by-step process to transform a sea of grass into a flourishing edible landscape that pleases the eye as well as the taste buds.

For another type of homemade hooch, try this dandelion wine recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Cheers!

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist: Maple Mushroom Martini by Chelsea Green Publishing

Permaculture Q&A: Eric Toensmeier on Aggressive Grass and Partial Shade

May 12th, 2014 by admin

Permaculture questions are being answered throughout the month of May by our expert authors. Submit your questions here and read on to see what Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot, Perennial Vegetables and co-author of Edible Forest Gardens, has to say about invasive grasses and the best plants for shady spots.

Review previous posts from the “Permaculture Q&A” series here:

Ben Falk Talks Nutrient Cycling
Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns

Casey from Idaho asks:
Grass takes over my garden beds each spring. I appreciate the ground-cover function, but it out-competes my preferred annuals and perennial producers. And I trust that the problem is the solution, but I can’t see the solution in a permaculture context. How do I bolster the productive cultures when grass is so persistent and aggressive?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Casey, we have found there is really no middle ground with aggressive lawn grasses in our perennial plantings. You can have trees and larger shrubs with grass beneath them and they will be pretty happy as long as the grass is routinely cut or grazed. But if you want to get into smaller shrubs or perennials our experience is that you really want to nuke the grass.

In our previous garden we had some beds where grasses crept back in and we ended up having to pull out the desirable perennials, sheet mulch the entire bed again thoroughly, and replant our perennials. After that we made sure to keep a mulched perimeter around our beds so that grass could not creep in. You could try rhizome barriers as well, like installing edging maybe 8 to 10 inches deep (depending on what kind of grass you have).

In another situation we had set up long thin mulched beds with long thin grass pathways between them. This really maximized surface area for the grass to get back into the beds and gave us a huge amount of weeding to do. Note that there are some grasses like some of the fescue’s which are not at all aggressive and make very fine path grasses. In our present garden we thoroughly sheet mulched the lawn (such as it was) in the beginning and have really not had any trouble to speak of with grasses returning.

The other approach is something I’ve seen in a food forest in Mexico. They use African weeder geese at a rate of 10 per acre to thoroughly eat down all of the grass until it is completely suppressed. Then they plant a lot of herbaceous species, and reduce the geese to two per acre. This particular breed of geese, raised and taught that grass is food, eat almost nothing but grass and clover, leaving almost all of the herbaceous crop species alone (with a few exceptions). If you are able to have geese in your garden, this seems like a great way to have happy geese and keep the grass under control.

Killian from California asks:
I’m designing a small, very shaded backyard garden in the Seattle area with Homeowner’s Association limitations. I am not a fan of raised beds unless needed (least change), but am thinking of using them throughout this design to alleviate drainage issues, including planting a number of dwarf fruit and nut trees in them. Thoughts?

Eric Toensmeier: Hi Killian, the first thing you’ll have to deal with is your shade problem. There are very few fruits and even less nuts that grow in full shade in your climates. Currants, evergreen huckleberry, mahonia (sour!), and thimbleberry are among your full-shade fruit options. Can you do anything to increase the amount of sun, like take down some trees or trim branches off your neighbor’s trees that come over your property line? Once you get into partial shade there are a lot more options. Good fruits for partial shade include medlar, quince, pawpaw, super-hardy kiwifruit, currants, gooseberries, and raspberries. Hazelnuts are probably your best option for nuts in partial shade.

If you have drainage problems, you could grow some things that don’t mind wet feet, like elderberries, blueberries, saskatoons, aronia, and quinces. I recently saw a very nice raised berm system at East Hill Tree Farm in Vermont using the hugelkultur system. Hugelkultur involves partially rotten logs and branches to form the base of the berm, packed with soil and compost materials. They mulch and plant right into it even the first year. This is probably quicker to establish then fancy raised beds if you have access to the raw materials. Certainly regular old raised beds should work fine, but fruits and nuts are big plants and would require fairly big beds. Hugelkultur is unlikely to be loved by your HOA, but sometimes they ignore backyards. Don’t negelect the steath edible landscape in the front yard, featuring lovely ornamentals that happen to be edible. See Lee Reich’s Landscaping with Fruit for some ideas.

With all that said, here in our garden in Massachusetts we have been able to grow some food in full shade and an awful lot in partial shade. The areas which were poorly drained due to clay (though perhaps not nearly as badly as yours), we were able to improve using a broad fork and increasing organic matter. Check out this video for a tour of a corner of my garden that includes four perennial vegetables perfect for shady spots.

Permaculture Q&A: Toby Hemenway on Soil and Natural Patterns

May 8th, 2014 by admin

As Permaculture Month continues, we are putting our experts at your disposal to answer your burning permaculture questions. If you have a question to submit, fill out this form.

Below, Gaia’s Garden author Toby Hemenway talks about soil structure and explains how permaculture is based on the replication of patterns found in nature. For previously answered questions about nutrient cycling, check out this post from Ben Falk author of The Resilient Farm and Homestead.

Dave from Illinois asks:
I’m thinking of buying some vacant land in Michigan, about 1/2 mile from a lake. Looks like the soil is sandy, as would be expected. What kinds of strategies would you use to hold water in the soil if you wanted to plant trees and perennial crops? I’m guessing clay would be one strategy, but wouldn’t that seep in fairly quickly?

Toby Hemenway: I would work with the local extension service and other agencies, since they have a great deal of experience in building soil structure. Usually the best course is to plant cover crops appropriate for the soil, as adding organic matter and humus is the most effective way to build water-holding capacity, and it also builds fertility. Proper rotational grazing can also work wonders, but you need to know what you are doing with that technique. I would not add clay, as that creates a very artificial soil structure that will quickly revert to the old soil type.

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


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