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Permaculture Design Food Forest Apple Tee Guild Community Gaia's Garden Toby Hemenway

Beautiful fruit tree guild/community from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is more than growing food; it includes how we live with each other, how we live with the land. It’s living sustainably, a way of life!

It started in the modern sense with Australian Bill Mollison, researcher, author, scientist, teacher and biologist. His legacy was carried on by his student David Holmgren. Bill’s most famous book is the 1991 Introduction to Permaculture, still a great read today!

Geoff Lawton has taken Permaculture to over thirty countries around the world, to teach, to restore deserts. Permaculture uses nature’s ways of bringing land back to life. It has been done on many continents. The UK and China recently announced ambitious projects to plant millions of trees in an effort to create new forests. Feb 13, 2018 – China has reportedly reassigned over 60,000 soldiers, and some of their police force, to plant trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country’s forest coverage.

High altitudes Austrian Sepp Holzer is another hero. His book is Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening. One admirer says: ‘Sepp’s approaches to horticulture and agriculture generally sound CRAZY! And then you hear the logic behind it and see the amazing results. The dude is a genius!’ He’s great to hear in person. It is said he was doing permaculture before he ever heard the word! And I’ll bet some of you are too!  

Gaia’s Garden, the best-selling permaculture book in the world, by Toby Hemenway brought permaculture to the average American veggie gardener, urban and suburban growers. His chapter on living SOIL changed my life! It woke me to how gardening is a 100% living adventure!

His book explains how ‘many people mistakenly think that ecological gardening—which involves growing a wide range of edible and other useful plants—can take place only on a large, multiacre scale. As Hemenway demonstrates, it’s fun and easy to create a “backyard ecosystem” by assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively and perform a variety of functions, including:

  • Building and maintaining soil fertility and structure
  • Catching and conserving water in the landscape
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects, birds, and animals
  • Growing an edible “forest” that yields seasonal fruits, nuts, and other foods’

‘[The] revised and updated edition features a new chapter on urban permaculture, designed especially for people in cities and suburbs who have very limited growing space. Whatever size yard or garden you have to work with, you can apply basic permaculture principles to make it more diverse, more natural, more productive, and more beautiful. Best of all, once it’s established, an ecological garden will reduce or eliminate most of the backbreaking work that’s needed to maintain the typical lawn and garden.’ That’s quite a claim, but it’s true!

How I got to know permaculture was the large scale version, first selecting the land – ideally choosing an area that has higher land that drains to a lower area, a creek is lovely. You can have hillside terracing, your veggies are watered, and you have fish ponds below that water and fertilize veggies there! Food forests can be a part of this setup with the seven levels of plants. First you plant core trees, install shrubs as undergrowth, on down to ground covers and lowest level veggies. Trees, like other plants and us, get along with some plants, not others. Tree guilds, communities, are important to establish. Depending on how much land you have, select your trees wisely.

Here are three basic diagrams to help your decision making:

1) Wind protection, keeping your garden warm in a cool climate or dryer in a moist shore area climate, or conversely, more sheltered from drying winds in a dry climate! This U shaped keyhole garden lets the warmest southern sunshine in. Adjust it to your needs.

Garden Design U-Shaped Sun Trap Keyhole Permaculture

2) Food Forests – Guilds/Communities!

Food Forest - Forest Garden 7 Level Design
There are variations! Every gardener’s situation and wants are different. This is a guide to stir your thinking. If you have a lot of wind, the shrub layer can be super important to the veggies. Adjust as makes sense. IE # 3, the shrub layer height depends on what you choose. I like blueberries, and blackberries are a lot taller!!!

A remarkable feature of Forest Gardens is when many who have never seen such a thing before see them for the first time, not being familiar with the food plants of an area, they don’t know it is a garden! Indigenous peoples ‘gardens’ blend so perfectly with nature, unknowing visitors think that area is simply the nearby perimeter undergrowth surrounding the village!

3) Here is an Apple Tree guild/community example. Look how much can happen there! If you don’t do that, put in a legume and oats cover crop to feed and condition the soil. Maybe you would do that the first year. Here’s a more extensive post Living Mulch! When, Which and Why?!
Design Guild Community Apple Tree Permaculture
Another permie principle is to be as self sufficient as possible. Select soil enhancing legume trees, trees for quick growing firewood, trees with nuts for protein. Have fish and chicken for protein and manures! Raise bunnies, goats and sheep for fur/wool for clothing, and poop and meat. Make your own energy.

However, if you are gardening at a community garden in a 10X20′ plot like I am, you scale down to the most simple applications of the principles. You take sun/shade, high/low areas, wind direction, into account, plant cover crops when the soil needs refurbishing. You might install a small water pool or plant water loving plants in a low area near the hose. Plant companions to enhance growth, protect from pests and diseases. Intentionally include habitat for beneficial insects, birds and animals in your space or nearby. Install wild bee homes and owl houses.

Row or monoculture planting, like farm plantings, are ‘unnatural,’ not as useful as biodiversity like in nature. Research has shown home gardeners efficiently produce more per square foot than farms do! We don’t need tractor or harvest machinery space. Plants can be grown side by side, trellised above and grown under the biggers, around and among! Even in rows, ie lettuce, carrots, onion, kale can grow all together, from tall to short, harvesting is no problem! If you plant along the sun’s path of the day, you can grow on both sides of the tallest plants!

Companion Planting

Organic growers are combining strips of bright flowers and legumes among their plantings to bring bees, enhance their soil, interrupt pest patterns, eliminate the need for pesticides! We can do that on a smaller scale, and not necessarily in rows! In drought areas savvy farmers are using land differently, following the contours of hillsides, along canyon walls, like farmers all over the world have done for centuries. They are resurrecting old tricks like cultivating after a rain to prevent evaporation.

Pest Pesticides Reduction Flower Stripes Habitat in Fields

Seed Saving is clearly a vital part of permaculture. In the old days, isolated people’s lives depended on it. Saving our local seeds, from our best plants, each year, yields super plants with improved production. Those plants love that location, that soil. They love you and how you garden! Seed Saving is still a very vital ritual.

Getting a Permaculture Design Certificate, PDC, is most admirable, recognized around the world. In Santa Barbara CA area Santa Barbara City College offers a right smart course by two savvy instructors! Nearby Quail Springs Permaculture Farm offers a 2 week intensive taught by well-known instructors. You live-on-the-land, applying the principles as you learn them. It is a treasured experience. Getting your certificate with the world renowned Larry Santoyo, water specialist, is much coveted.

There are many permaculture publications, including ecopsychology!

There are events worldwide! This site lists events important to those of us interested in permaculture. This page by Oregon State University lists permaculture organizations worldwide!

The idea is to get maximum return per the land’s ability to support it in harmony with nature and each other.

Permaculture applies to all facets of your life. Being thoughtful about growing fruitful relationships with people is part of permaculture. We are all part of the greater ecosystem. Humans need specific care. Special kindnesses, sharing, to be able to secure our needs in times of stress – illnesses, injury, losing a loved one, crop failure, hard seasons or years. Collaborating like companion plants certainly enhances our chances. Plants can’t go walkabout, but we can. We can do good for many other humans and spread the good word. We can share our abundance. At times we can trade one thing for another.

Stand way back. Get a good look at the big picture. Take time to be thoughtful. The earliest facets of your Permaculture choices, like the selection of trees, are the most permanent, that shape the long term plan, the backdrop for years to come. Let go of artificial time limits. Wait. Have patience, learn more. If you don’t feel quite sure yet, talk with more others. ‘Mistakes,’ like growing the ‘wrong’ tree, could have 20 or 30 year consequences. Ask others why and how they got started, what mistakes they made, how, if they could be, repaired. What were their successes that have done well for them. Search online for the pros and cons of your ideas. If you are on totally new ground you may just have to fly by the seat of your pants! Take images to document your experiences. Make a few reminder notes as to why you made that decision at that time.

The most natural times to establish a new permaculture garden in southern climates are at season changes, but, of course, there are variables for many reasons. Start when you can. In northern areas we’re looking at spring. Well before that time, be researching and designing – notice nature’s ways with your land and let that be part of what shapes your plans. Smaller shrubs, veggies, can be adjusted along the way all year every year.

Permaculture isn’t really something new. It is way more complicated than these few words. I hope you look into it further for yourself. We are each so different, no two situations quite the same, each are making our own unique contribution. It takes a village. Please make comments, leave a trail of knowledge for others to follow. Blog your experiments and experiences. That is like fertile soil to our minds that translates to our gardens.

Live in as good a way as possible in ultimate harmony with nature! 

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Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. In 2018 they lasted into September and October! Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

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Young Food Forest Fruit Tree Guild by the Resilliency Institute
This is a single tree young simple mini system designed by Joshua Reynolds at 
Texas Edible Landscapes. He sells these PODS, self-sustaining micro eco-systems, that can come with lots of variables per the plants you pick. July 2019 prices – Ready made, $550; custom is $750. Food Forests and Guilds are catching on!

If you want to grow your own, if your land already has plants growing naturally on it, sit down with them. Maybe a bit each day for a few days. Let the land talk with you. Notice the lay of the land, how it flows.

Plant a tree thinking in terms of a food forest, guild! Trees are your master plant. Think carefully what tree that will be. It will be there a long time. What effect will the mature tree have? What about shading your area, the neighbor’s area? Do you want it to be a windbreak so the land will be warmed for veg planting? What does your space accommodate? Do you want full grown trees? Or would your space and palate do better with an array of different kinds of dwarf trees, mixed semidwarf trees at fruit picking reachable height? You don’t have to have tall trees…

Food Forest at Alan Day Community Garden, Norway, Maine
Food Forest at Alan Day Community Garden, Norway, Maine

December, January are a great time to install native plants and fruit trees! Nurseries stock them bare-root then! See if any of this info affects where and how you place them. A large food forest can be anchored by a south opening ‘U’ shaped planting of trees that captures heat for growing veggies in its center area. It can start with a single tree in your backyard. Read Toby Hemenway’s book ‘Gaia’s Garden,’ especially the chapter on Designing Garden Guilds. Toby says “…biological support replaces human intervention, shifting the garden’s burden onto the broad back of nature.” If you have time and inclination, see Linda & Larry’s Food Forest Video! Besides their suburban Santa Barbara yard being a food forest, it is the epitome of edible landscaping!  

*Guild plants are plants that grow well together. It’s a LOT more than companion planting by twos, two plants that like, enhance, or help each other, though that is wonderful too. Happy plants make more food! Guilds are systems of plants starting with a tree if you have the space! Generally that tree is a fruit or nut tree that provides food too. For lots of great ideas, check out Permies.com on Guilds. If you love the idea of guilds, and apples, check out the details at this Apple Tree Guild! – image at left. A super functioning guild utilizes both vertical space and horizontal overlapping circles!

Food forests are naturally occuring in nature. Permaculturists think of them designed in layers. From Wiki, adapted to one person’s Apple Guild example, running vertically from the top down:

  1. The canopy – the treetops.
  2. The understory or low tree layer – anything under about 4.5 metres. Our apple trees will be in this zone but in our neighbourhood they’ll be some of the highest plants around so nothing will be competing with them for light.
  3. Shrubs – our raspberries, broad beans, and blackcurrants are in this layer. Being larger, the vicinity of the apple tree will only sustain a few of these. Broad beans are a good bet since their roots fix nitrogen from the air and get it into the soil where the tree and other plants can use it.
  4. Herbaceous layer – lettuces, dill, thyme, cabbage, rhubarb and so on. Anything that flowers with the apple blossom will attract insects which will help to pollinate the tree (without which, no apples).
  5. Rhizosphere – root crops like carrots and potatoes grow here, so need to be kept far from the shallow roots of an apple tree.
  6. Soil surface – home of our strawberries, sedum and clover. Clover is another soil feeding nitrogen-fixing plant.
  7. Vertical layer – our hops, cucumbers, sweetpeas and vines grow here. Sweetpeas fix nitrogen in their roots, which can be left in the ground after they have died back – but they climb and have thick foliage, so only suitable for larger trees.
  8. Some people include the underground network of some fungi as an eighth layer. In our garden the edible fungi include puffballs, though somehow we never catch them before they are football-sized.

That’s the vertical plane – there’s also a horizontal plane. An apple tree’s root spread is one-and-a-half times the diameter of its canopy and its principle feeding roots lie close to the surface, which tends to be where most of the soil’s nutrients are.

Blended Mature Food Forest by William Horvath

Your Food Forest might look like William Horvath’s when it is mature. As your food forest grows, fills in, there will be no obvious layers. It will look just like nature does, blended, each plant getting sunlight per it’s height. William Horvath has ongoing experience with Food Foresting! See his detailed May 5, 2017 post and read the comments! 

When you are reading online, remember to pay attention to where the guild example is. There are super wet northern guilds, snowy mountains, humid areas, hot and dry south western desert types, snowy northern plains and central US flatlands. All will require their own special treatment. Your best guide will be Mother Nature herself. If you are a native plant fan, the ones in your area may be the most sustainable choice of all per water needs. What did the indigenous peoples eat there?

If you are growing for income, research to find the most productive trees and crops in your area will be key. If you want self reliance, diversity is key – what grows super well together. You want crops coming in all year – fresh potent nutrition makes for healthy lives, and  crops that store well if you don’t have the all year option! Some gardeners opt for a combination of in-the-ground plants interspersed with greenhouses.

I am in hopes you will talk this up to your apartment owner, install it on your own property. No matter what the size, model your veggie garden after it, share it with every gardener anywhere, of any kind that you know. This principle is so important in many ways. Guild lists can be made for every area, plant zone, specific for every tree! Guild planting makes sense.

  • It’s economical.  Plants grow densely, produce more for less work. We are making on prem food forests when times are hard and may get harder.
  • Ecologically we are restoring native habitat when we plant and support those plants that use our water more wisely.
  • It is sustainable –  produces more food on less land, cuts food miles, no fuel, packaging.
  • Health is prime as we eat organic, much more nutritious food that hasn’t been depleted by shipping, storage and processing.

Our list [SEE IT!] author is Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., MFT, co-editor with Craig Chalquist of the anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, Sierra Club Books (May 2009). She is a psychotherapist and ecotherapist in Santa Barbara, where she specializes in helping clients with career issues, financial challenges and the transition to a simpler, more sustainable and nature-connected lifestyle. Linda is an heirloom rose lover, current board member of the Santa Barbara Rose Society, founder of the International Assn for Ecotherapy and co-founder of the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club! She cares.

Linda’s List is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardener’s successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!

SEE PART 2, the List!

Updated 7.1.19

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

Read Full Post »

Mediterranean Understory & Guild Plants for Food Forests – Part 2

Please SEE Part 1 before you read this list!


Here is what a young Food Forest can look like in a part of your urban yard!

Linda’s List here is intended for a Mediterranean climate like coastal Southern California has, one of only 5 in the world. The list in your area may be different. Check out your local gardeners’ successes, check with your local nursery. This list is not tree specific yet. We’re working on that!

More than a list of plants, Linda’s List gives tips for good growing, eating, and usage!
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Once our fruit trees are planted in their water-saving basins in a budding Mediterranean food forest, it’s now time to think about what else to plant in these usually moist wells and swales. Or up the trees? Or nearby? We need these companion plants to increase our food and medicine yield, and also to enrich the soil, provide habitat, pull up minerals and other nutrients from deep in the earth, draw nitrogen from the air and bring it into the soil, attract beneficial insects to control pests, create shade for delicate roots — and to provide beauty, a critical psychological and spiritual yield in every garden.

Thanks to the members of the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club for their ideas and input. Additions and corrections are welcome.  Please email lbuzzell@aol.com. Especially welcome would be input on what plants do best under specific fruit trees – so far I don’t have much information on that.

BERRIES
Blueberry. To grow well here, they need acid soil, so a container is often the best solution, since Santa Barbara soil and water tend to be alkaline. One gardener we know waters hers with a very dilute solution of white vinegar, plus puts pine needles, coffee grounds around the plant. Best in Mediterranean climates are the low-chill varieties like ‘Misty,”O’Neal,’ ‘Sharpblue’
Cane berries. Upright cane berries are fun to pop in here and there as understory plants and they take some shade. But we found out the hard way that you probably don’t want to put in sprawling, thorny berries (especially blackberry) that sucker underground – they pop up all over the yard and are hard to eradicate. When we buy new berries we limit ourselves to thornless varieties and our current favorites are ‘Navajo’ and ‘Apache,’ although the thorny varieties that still linger in our garden – and will probably be there for hundreds of years as they’re ineradicable – taste best. So we live with them and enjoy the berries.
Elderberry. Shrub. There is a California native variety. Produces edible fragrant white flowers (used to make elderberry syrup and wine) and edible small blue berries that the birds love. Ripe berries are safe to eat but leaves, twigs, branches, seeds and roots are toxic. Has medicinal uses. We use our elderberry as a sacrificial plant attracting birds away from other fruit trees.
Lemonade Berry (native). Rhus integrifolia. Can also control erosion.

BULBS AND ROOT CROPS
Placement of these may take special care, as you don’t want to plant them too close to delicate tree roots.
Carrots
Edible canna. Canna edulis –Achira. Flowers are smaller than most cannas and the root is edible, can be chopped and sautéed like potato.
Onions
Potato and sweet potato

EDIBLE FLOWERS (note: most fruit trees, veggies and herbs also have edible flowers. Always triple check the safety of any flower before eating!
Daylilies. Hemerocallis species. Buds are used in Chinese stir fry, Petals in salad.
Nasturtium (flowers, young leaves and buds that may be pickled like capers) Let the plants die back in place. They will reseed and form a straw mulch.
Roses (yield petals for salads, sandwiches, syrups, desserts; rose hips for tea, syrups, jam)
Scarlet runner bean
Scented geranium

HERBS (most have edible flowers in addition to other uses)
Borage
Chili peppers, including tree chili
Cilantro
Garlic
Italian parsley
Lavender
Lemon balm
Lemon verbena. A drought tolerant shrub with delicious leaves for tea.
Mint. Some fear its vigorous, spreading roots, but we welcome it into drier areas as ground cover, autumn bee food and a source of fresh leaves for cooking and tea.
Mustard (young leaves can be stir fried, flowers are edible, plus seeds for making mustard)
Pineapple sage (leaves and flowers make delicious herbal tea)
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

SHRUBS/Understory trees
Guava. Psidium Tropical shrubs native to Mexico, Central and South America that yield white, yellow or pink fruit. Not to be confused with Pineapple Guava (Feijoa) Psidium guajava (apple guava) is one tasty variety. Also try lemon guava and strawberry guava.

VEGGIES (there’s no way to name them all – it’s fun to experiment to see what likes the soil under and around your fruit trees. Our favorites are those that overwinter and/or reseed themselves)
Artichokes. Plant away from tree roots, in baskets as the gophers love them.
Brassicas like broccoli, kale, collard greens.
Chard.
Dandelions. Leaves are great in salads and so good for us. Small birds like the seed heads.
Fava beans and other beans.
New Zealand spinach.

VINES
We often forget about vertical space in the garden, but it’s nice to increase your yield by growing edible vines up fruit trees, on walls and over arbors, fences and hedges.
Grapes. Note: the Permaculture Guild of Santa Barbara has a separate list of recommended table and wine grapes for our area. Contact lbuzzell@aol.com for details
Passion Fruit. A garden member says “mine is simply rampant, productive and trouble-free; gets little to no supplemental water.” The juice can be used to make a spectacular salad dressing (served at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in their tropical salad).

MISCELLANEOUS
Bamboo. Use clumping instead of running kinds to avoid it taking over your garden. Bamboo shoots are a delicacy in Asia.
Pepino melon.
Sacrificial plants. In permaculture designs we often plant trees, shrubs and other plants that are nitrogen-accumulators, “nurse” plants or fruit-providers for animals that might otherwise eat our crops. When they have performed their function, we “chop and drop” them around our fruit trees as a nutritious mulch.
Yucca. We’ve read that yucca yields edible fruit and flower buds. Anyone have more info on this?

BENEFICIAL ATTRACTORS AND NUTRIENT ACCUMULATORS
Ceanothus. Shrubs and ground covers that fix nitrogen in the soil.
Salvia, ornamental. These are treasures in the Mediterranean forest garden.
Tagetes lemmonii. Golden color is lovely in fall.

GROUND COVER
Easy-to-grow succulents can provide temporary ground cover for delicate roots. They can act as a living mulch until other plants take over that function. This crop is often free, as gardeners who have ground-cover sedums always have too many and are glad to share.
Pelargoniums and lantana are other easy, colorful ground cover that can be removed as needed.
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#1 Home Permaculture book in the world for seven years!

Per PatternLiteracy.com, Toby Hemenway’s home site, Gaia’s Garden has been the best-selling permaculture book in the world for the last 7 years. The enlarged, updated 2nd edition is the winner of the 2011 Nautilus Gold Medal Award.

The first edition of Gaia’s Garden sparked the imagination of America’s home gardeners, introducing permaculture’s central message: Working with nature, not against her, results in more beautiful, abundant, and forgiving gardens. This extensively revised and expanded second edition broadens the reach and depth of the permaculture approach for urban and suburban growers.

Treat yourself and your land to this incredibly efficient way of gardening. Wisely use ALL the space available to you in a good way. Nature is the Master Gardener – follow her lead.

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I love Val Webb’s image and she and I both love COMPOST!  She says:  There’s an irresistible alchemy involved when you can start with garbage and end up with a wildly nutrient-rich substance that has been likened to Ghirardelli chocolate for earthworms.

Composting is EASY! Start Now!  Get your soil fat!  The sooner you plant, and plant in tasty soil, the sooner you get a great harvest!

There’s compost and vermicompost, hot and cold compost, compost in place, trenching, to name a few.  You have options!

Compost is decayed organic matter – poops – that’s manures, dry leaves and straw/alfalfa, wet grasses and kitchen wastes. Compost has a variable amount of Nitrogen in it depending on what has been composted and how the compost was made. Some studies show unturned compost has more Nitrogen than turned compost. Homemade compost can be up to 4 N, as is fish emulsion and chicken manure. Steer is 2, horse 1.7. If you need a quick boost for a yellowing N starved plant, go for bat guano, or easily assimilable blood meal, both at 10 N! Be careful with that bat guano, it’s hot and can burn your plants. And both are pricey. Get just the amount you need at Island Seed and Feed’s bulk bins.

Vermicompost is worm poop. Politely, worm castings. Simple as that. Red wriggler worms are easy to raise, will eat lots of things but do best with tender stuff, your green kitchen waste. They love cantaloupe and melon rinds, nesting in avocado shells, egg shells keep their pH neutral. Wrigglers are surface feeders not earthworms. If you put wrigglers in the soil, they die. Worm castings (vermicompost) have negligible N, about .05, are NOT A FERTILIZER, but do a lot of other good things for your plants. Highly recommended.

Hot compost has to be made carefully, have just the right mix, be tended like a baby, and defies many attempts to get it hot! If you don’t get the combo of your materials right, you are cold composting. The advantage of hot composting is it is fast, kills bad creatures and weed seeds. Also kills the good guys. But. Only in the parts of the pile that actually get that hot. The whole pile never gets that hot, like the outside of the pile. Even if you turn it so the outside goes inside, it’s hard to guarantee it will all get that hot, so be advised. It’s pretty cute to see all those little plants that spring up in the pile….

Cold compost is just throwing your done plants or trim, preferably not diseased or pest infested, into a pile or your compost enclosure, layering with some wet or dry material as needed. It might get hot, it likely won’t. It will decompose if you keep it moist. If not you have dead dry stuff, no nutrients.  Some studies have shown that cold compost is more nutritious than hot compost.  Makes sense since you aren’t burning off Nitrogen and other goodies including beneficial insects and microorganisms.  If your stuff doesn’t turn black and fluffy and smell good when it is decomposed to unrecognizable pieces, you don’t have compost. Perhaps you could use it as mulch?

Composting in place, sheet composting, Lasagna Gardening, is a time saver, no moving later. Chop and drop on the spot, add dry/wet materials as needed, amendments, red wrigglers, let nature do the work.  Especially add some chicken manure before you add your layers, because decomposition uses Nitrogen!  If you are starting on top of turf, using cardboard as your bottom layer, be sure to SATURATE the cardboard.  Don’t rush this part.  Really saturate it.  You want it to last long enough for the grass underneath it to die, to keep the grass from growing up through your pile; you also want your cardboard to decompose so your plants’ roots can grow through it when your pile sinks as the pile decomposes.

Trenching kitchen trim is traditional – cover it and forget it! Crushed eggshells, torn tea bags, coffee grounds. Six inches deep is all you need to do. Cover with the soil, water as usual, your stuff will disappear in about a week! Don’t put in meats or oils that attract digging predators, or grains or cereals that will attract mice. Leave out citruses and spicy foods.

Start Now! 10 Easy Steps to Make RICH COMPOST!

Make the most out of your finished plants or trim; use them for compost, organic fertilizer! A compost enclosure is a fine garden investment! Keep it humming! Dig your compost in around your plants, plant IN your new compost! Surface compost Nitrogen just off gases, so put a layer of soil over your compost to keep the Nitrogen right where you need it, in the soil feeding your plants.

1. Get or make your enclosure, a good working size for you, then layer, layer, layer! Half inch layers are ideal, but do what you can.  A pile 3′ by 3′ is your best minimum if you want a hot pile.  Enclosures can be free pallets on Craigs List tied together, plastic beehive types to keep the rats and mice out, the circular hard black rubber kind, to expensive rolling types, garbage cans with bottoms removed, holes made in their sides!  Do what works for you!
2. Dry stuff first so it will get wet from the stuff you put on top.  That’s ‘brown’ – dry ingredients such as dead leaves, wetted newspaper or cardboard, alfalfa/straw.  The formula is 2 dry, brown to 1 wet, ‘green.’
3. Layer up with your kitchen waste you saved, undiseased green waste from your garden or greens recycle bin. Avoid hard woody stems and seeding weed plants. Cut up large items, halve whole items like apples, potatoes. Tear teabags, crush eggshells.
4. Lay in a few yarrow leaves to speed decomposition. Grow yarrow by your composter for handy use.
5. Inoculate with a sprinkle of soil, living micro organisms, that multiply, munch and speed composting.
6. Sprinkle your layers with aged manure (keep a bucketful next to your composter) to enrich it.
7. Keep layering up to 3’ high or until you run out of materials.
8. Keep your composting materials moist, to keep them live and decomposing.  Don’t let them dry out – dry is dead, nothing happens, nutrients are lost, time and space wasted.
9. Cover with a large piece of *folded heavy mil black plastic to keep your compost moist, and dark so any worms that take up residence work up through the whole pile, to the top .
10. Keep adding to it, stir or turn often to oxygenate, weekly if you can.  Composting organisms need lots of air to operate.  Keep it moist but not drippy and drowning.  Some studies show compost is more Nitrogen rich if you DON’T turn it!  Hmm…read on.

If you are not able to do that much heavy turning or don’t want to take the time, simply, push a long stick into your compost, several times, in different places, to let oxygen in.  Or, if you are inclined, at intervals in your pile, as you build it, you can insert, horizontally or vertically, 2″ PVC pipes, that have had holes drilled in them every 6″ for aeration.  If you are going to insert horizontally, make your holes on one side only; put the holes side down to keep them from clogging.  Make sure both ends stick out so there is air flow through the pipes.  If you insert vertically, drill holes all around the pipe.  If you use a larger diameter, line it with wire mesh to keep it from filling with debris.  Once made, you can use your PVC over and over.  Other alternatives are to make wire mesh cylinders or tie a bundle of twigs together.

Your compost is finished when you no longer recognize the individual materials that went into it. If you are have a small compost batch, when ready, lay out your *folded plastic cover, pitchfork the still decomposing stuff on top of your pile onto your plastic.  Use that good stuff at the bottom where you want it. Or plant in the nutrient rich spot where your composter was!  Put your composter in a new spot, fork the stuff still decomposing back in, add new materials, recover, do it again!  The process slows down in winter, speeds up in summer, generally you have some compost in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you have time, throw a cup or so of compost in a bucket, fill with water, let sit overnight, voila, compost tea! Soak your seeds in it before planting!  Pour it round your plants or use your watering can to spray it on their leaves, both tops and bottoms – foliar feeding.  Your veggies will thrive!  If you have a lawn, make aeration holes with your spade fork and pour the tea down them.  You soil will start to live again!

Your soil and your plants thank you!

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Water is the driver of Nature.  –   Leonardo da Vinci

When, Who, How, & How Much to Water

Midday, on a hot day, watering will burn the leaves.
Evening watering promotes mildew, fungus growth.  Plants drink during the day, so AM watering is best.

Plants that need little or no water and why:
Onions, garlic, that are flowering, going to bulb, needing to dry
End of season tomatoes that you want to have a stronger flavor
Tomatoes in soil with Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt fungi in the soil.  Fungi don’t do well in dry soil.

Plants that need water almost daily, sometimes twice daily 
Shallow rooted beans, beets, bunch onions, cucumbers, peas, strawberries
Celery and chard, lettuce, arugula – leaf crops, to keep them growing fast, tender and tasting sweet.
Planted seeds, seedlings, newly planted transplants, must be kept moist; if they dry, they die.  Put up temporary shade.

Use a watering can for seeds and tender seedlings so seeds aren’t washed away or seedlings broken.

Most plants need only an inch of water once a week unless it is hot and/or windy weather.  Most gardeners over water by two times as much as is needed!  Overwatering drowns plants, and kills micro soil organisms; they don’t get oxygen.  Soil structure is destroyed as air spaces cave in.  Overwatering also causes poor root growth making it difficult to move enough water to the leaves during hot weather.

Irregular watering results in misshapen fruits, tomato flower drop, can stop production

Fuzzy plants like tomatoes, eggplant, don’t do well with watering on their leaves.  Water underneath please.

Plants that are mulched generally need less water.  Poke your finger in the soil to see how deeply it is moist.  More on mulching next week.

Water and Pests & Diseases 

Overhead watering contributes to mildew on beans, squash, peas.  It spreads Strawberry Leaf Spot and other waterborne diseases 

Tomatoes:  stop watering when about a foot tall.  Water around them, but not right at them.  Keep back about a 2’ perimeter to reduce Fusarium and Verticillium Wilt fungi.  If you do water them, on mature plants, cut off the lower leaves, up to 18” high, to prevent soil splash when watering.  The fungi are especially taken up by leaves touching the ground.

Flush off aphids and the undersides of broccoli leaves and broc side shoots, kale leaves, especially the curly varieties.

Flush white flies from the undersides of broccoli leaves, kale, beans

BE JUICY!

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Have you noticed dug up spots?  Have areas of your yard or garden been dug up night after night?   

Did you know?!  Skunks are excellent at rodent (mice, moles, rats) and insect control.  Their omnivorous diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions, SNAILS & SLUGS, lizards, frogs, snakes, eggs and some plant materials, pet food.  But they eat earthworms too, and skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee, relying on their thick fur to protect them from stings.  The skunk scratches at the front of the beehive and eats the guard bees that come out to investigate.  Being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean.  With their slow, waddling gait and bushy tail, these gentle mammals are delightful to see from a distance, and play an important role in keeping nature in balance – the natural way.   

However.  Several of us at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden have had major skunk problems.  Plants dug up, areas where seeds are planted dug up, earthworms eaten.  Every night.  Gets wearing.   

In Santa Barbara, Animal Control is no longer trapping due to budget cuts.  They are concentrating on animal abuse cases.  They referred me to Steve of Eradicators, who said he is scheduled 3 months out, and charges for his services.  Officer Demming at Animal Control also mentioned some trappers work with Wildlife Care Network.  I talked with Dan there. He recommends prevention:   

  • Ammonia soaked rags – smell dissipates quickly
  • Cayenne pepper, the powdery type, that will get up their nose, in their eyes. Sprinkle it on the area the skunks are bothering. The animal won’t be permanently injured.
  • Shake Away, an inexpensive form of fox urine available at feed stores.
  • Moth balls in a container that will keep it from getting into the soil. Isn’t it ironic? Skunks don’t like bad smells!
  • Vary the deterrents so the skunks do not become used to them.

Dan says the disadvantage of trapping is that as soon as one skunk is gone, another usually takes its place.  Poisoning is not a good thing since other animals may ingest it or get it second-hand by eating an animal that has.   

Two sites for information are the Humane Society – Skunks and Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network – Skunks   

I’m going to try a combo of moth balls because I think they will last longer, and pepper, as a backup.  But it depends on which is the cheapest remedy overall.  Let us know what has worked for you!   

Cute Hungry Skunks! Trouble Times Three!

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Community Gardens 


Not all Community Gardens are veggie oriented.  This one is in Somerville, Massachusetts.   

Providing beautiful surroundings is one of the many things that sets the VNA’s (Visiting Nurse Assn.) Assisted Living Community apart from other facilities. The Community Garden helps make our residents’ lives a little brighter each day.   

View the Garden design planting plan, by the talented Tim Houlihan who is a landscape architect. Tim has very generously donated all of his time and creativity in honor of his grandmother to make this garden a reality for our residents.   

Community Garden, Visiting Nurse Assn. Assisted Living

Community Garden, Visiting Nurse Assn. Assisted Living


Good Green Thinking! 


Per Sunday April 25, 2010 Edhat article:  Gunter Pauli suggests by emulating nature we can evolve from an economy based on scarcity to an economy based on abundance—the cascading, nutrient rich, Blue Economy. Founder of Zero Emissions Research Initiatives (ZERI) Global Network, Gunter Pauli pioneered the concept of waste being seen as a resource that with creative thinking, can be used to create multiple enterprises from singular ones, with benefits for the economy and the environment. Pauli is fond of saying that returns on investment from these kinds of business models far exceed those of companies like Microsoft!

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