26 Jan 2010, 9:12pm
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permaculture notes: food forests, cities

same disclaimer applies–
these are pretty much straight from my notes, with no further research done (and i am interested in researching some of these things further, eventually). any inaccuracies are probably my fault, and i’m not too concerned about them right now. probably don’t quote me (or any of the people i’m quoting) on this stuff, though, without doing your own research!

WEEKEND #4: food forests and cities (december) (guest teachers: leonard barrett and michael cook of city repair)

“the only tool not in the permaculturist’s toolkit is the cookie cutter.”

two approaches to mimicking natural systems:
structure permaculture: mimicking the structures of nature (so it looks like nature)
function permaculture: mimicking the functions of nature (attempting to create working ecosystems)

in creating carefully-designed polycultures and food forests (and doing some crazy stuff with water distribution), we are ostensibly mimicking nature but are really creating pretty unnatural environments. as our understanding has grown, we’ve gotten more skilled at understanding the principles that underly the structures we are imitating, so we can apply those principles more broadly.

we also discussed the natural/unnatural distinction and whether it’s really very useful, a là 1491 (a great book i read a couple months ago by charles c. mann). which is the natural landscape when human fire suppression has allowed fir forests to replace oak savannahs that were the result of human fire setting? and humans only started setting fires to maintain prairie 4000 years ago when the climate in those areas shifted from one favoring prairie to one favoring forests…

this is also part of the native vs. non-native debates that happen in permaculture/sustainable gardening circles. according to a book called bringing nature home by doug tallamy, native vegetation supports more biomass of insects and birds than exotic vegetation does. it takes more than a couple centuries for plants to indigenate themselves. toby’s proposed solution is to design a native backbone surrounded and supported by plants we are familiar with and already know how to use (i.e., proven exotics).

a note on invasive plants: intact ecosystems are hard to invade because they’re closed loops with no spare resources for an invader to take advantage of. pollution and disturbance create untapped resources. so we want to protect and create functioning ecosystems.

most of us feel that cities just sort of evolve up around us or “just happen.” most of us also think of cities as ecologically damaging or not evolving along ecological lines. but leonard urges us in fact to think of them as biological and ecological, and to consider their evolution thusly.

in a small town of 647 people, there are 208,981 possible relationships between people. in portland, there are 1.24×10^11 possible relationships! cities increase the edges between people and create huge opportunities for information exchange.

two-thirds of the world’s population lives in the “third world,” and cities there are very different than how we think of them here. they are incredibly dense, and because of pollution there’s no blue sky except when the winds roll in. by the middle of this century, more than half of the world’s population will live in cities like this (if trends continue).

for most of the world’s history, 99% of people lived in rural areas. as of 2008, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas! the slope on that graph went waaaaay up around 1950. today, 83% of americans live in settlements of over 50,000 people.

it’s impossible to tell how increasing resource consumption will affect urbanization and development trends, but right now it’s looking like rural areas will continue to depopulate as people move to town for better jobs and so on. we in first world cities have a tendency to be nostalgic about going “back to the land,” but leonard quotes bill mollison–”keep out of the bush; it’s already in good order”–and suggests that everyone living in cities would give a lot of the earth a chance to revert to unmanaged ecosystems and rebuild the lungs of the planet.

this caused some interesting discussion! said one of my classmates: but the city is a hungry maw that eats its surroundings!

to which leonard replied: lots of ecologically damaging things happen because of subsistence farming. poor farmers get pushed to the most marginal and ecologically-sensitive land and use techniques like slash-and-burn.

another classmate said: but some indigenous people are maintaining ecosystems. and leonard said: but historically, those people probably moved around every few hundred or few thousand years to let land regenerate. now, we have way too big of a footprint (as a species) to do that. he acknowledged that there are a lot of issues at play, but basically said:

we humans need to minimize the footprint of our actions, especially the most ecologically-damaging ones… so it behooves us to allow as much of the earth as possible to revert to being what it will be. and, since there’s already a huge urbanization trend in the world, let’s think about how we can leverage that to improve global ecological health! a saying from finance: “the trend is your friend.”

that trend:

every 12 days, the amount of new developing urban area in the world is equal to a city the size of the chicago metro area: 6 million people!

why are people moving? because we as a species haven’t been attending well to people care and redistribution of the surplus (two of the three permaculture ethics), i.e. they’re looking for jobs. cities are nutrient sinks (ex: the 3000-mile salad); how can we redistribute the surplus back to rural areas? leonard suggests that people are also moving for the magic and excitement of living in cities, which offer community and the opportunity to be a part of something complex and larger than life–even if it’s a slum, and a lot of it it.

mumbai is half slum but makes up one-sixth of india’s entire GDP! one-sixth of the world lives in slums, and they are economically vibrant.

all of this is a both/and discussion, not an either/or–nothing is all bad or all good. so let’s utilize the trend and find the good in these things.

the city in an ecological context:

keep or create wilderness corridors in cities… to increase edge between cities and rural environments/wilderness.

when we don’t bring ecosystem services into the city (vegetation and tree canopy), we get the urban heat island effect and other consequences.

historically, city locations were determined by the places watersheds came together, or by the presence of other important resources (water, arable land). fossil fuels changed this and made oddities like las vegas possible–cities with no relative location to the things that support them.

leonard proposes applying permaculture and transition principles on a block scale. get out of the limiting lot-by-lot scale and collaborate with your neighbors! tear out fences and make use of microclimates. it’s a way to walk our talk w/r/t community-building and community resiliency.

other local/urban ideas:

* yardsharing: you want a garden but don’t have land, they have the land but don’t have the time… etc. check out hyperlocavore. this could even be an entrepreneurial venture–somebody in portland has actually run a csa by gardening in various yards all over portland!

* neighborhood seed swaps: develop and nurture seeds that are adapted not just to the pnw climate but to the climate between stark and burnside, or on the alameda ridge, and so on. a way to walk our talk w/r/t genetic diversity and food security.

* tool libraries! (there are currently tool libraries in town in NE–started by the ainsworth street collective–and maybe another place or two, actually!) what other resources can we share in common?

* block-scale rainwater harvesting–leonard suggests that the currently-underutilized space underneath city streets would be a great place for cisterns! (you know, until we can tear up the streets altogether and farm ‘em…)

* rooftop gardens

* so in parts of portland (my old neighborhood of woodstock for example) there are lots of unpaved streets labeled “roadway not improved.” some of them barely qualify as streets. apparently–though i can find no google confirmation of this–there is an organization or movement in pdx that’s trying to get some of these streets taken off the list of “streets to eventually be paved when we maybe have the money someday” and turned into public parks or gardens instead! the potholed gravely streets were one of my favorite things about living in woodstock and i love the idea of them becoming parks, but as one of my classmates pointed out, there are people in many of those neighborhoods who are angry that they haven’t been paved yet–accessibility issues etc and people worried that their neighborhoods are being marginalized. so, of course, it’s complicated.

* front yard food gardening–take a visible underutilized space and utilize it! it’ll encourage others to maybe do the same and create a positive feedback loop.

* container gardening

* mobile raised bed: leonard showed us a photo of a little veggie bed on a wagon that the owner/gardener locked to a post in a sunny spot across her street every day. he suggests that the next step would be to built a bicycle trailer raised bed and bring hands-on organic gardening workshops to events, etc!

* gardening in parking strips. if you’re worried about pollutants, trees and woody shrubs are probably okay. or, if less than 1000 cars (according to bill mollison) or 2500 cars (according to the city of portland) drive by every day, your food is probably okay anyway.

* go around and label food plants (like fruit trees or wild edibles) in the public right-of-way with signs: “this is food! here’s how to harvest it!” etc.

* small-scale aquaculture: “barrelponics”

* shade walkways with grape arbors (or kiwi, or pollinator-attracting blossoms, or…)

guilds: a mutually-beneficial grouping–of plants, of people, etc.

when designing plant guilds, we can do it (just some possibilities that toby talked about): by structure, by function, by analogy, or by evolutionary relationship.

the oldest guild:
the “three sisters”: corn, beans and squash! the beans grow up the corn and fix nitrogen, the corn secretes a sugar that beans like, and the squash spreads over the soil and creates a “living mulch” that discourages weeds. they create an “overyielding polyculture,” meaning that the total nutrient production of a field planted with the guild is higher than that of a field planted with any of the three plants in a monoculture–20-30% higher in fact!

designing guilds by structure:
choosing plants that fit together physically. stacking in space. put plants together sort of like a jigsaw puzzle to make the best use of available space.
this is more about avoiding negative interactions (one plant crowding out another, etc) than it is about creating beneficial interactions.

designing guilds by function:
for example, if you’re designing a guild around an apple tree, you might look for plants that suppress grass growth, attract insects, accumulate nutrients, act as a barrier against foraging wildlife, etc. these elements support the central element.

designing guilds by analogy:
mimicking native plant communities–maybe they work well together or maybe they just happen to all like the same conditions, but it’s worth a shot! you can replace one or more of the plants with a similar domesticated variety and see how it goes.

designing guild by evolutionary relationship:
or as toby said, “guilds for botany nerds,” or “kinship gardens.” this is from alan kapuler of peace seeds. the idea is to plant based on evolutionary distance, basically to see how putting evolutionarily-related plants next to each other changes our perspective on them–i.e., if we crossed perennial kale with cauliflower, could we maybe get perennial cauliflower? something like that, anyway.

one more kind of guild–the “crapshoot guild”–see what likes to grow together by seeing what comes up from last year’s scattered seeds!

i’ve sort of been wanting to take an aikido class lately, so i was particularly amused/intrigued by its use as an analogy for permaculture: use existing trends/forces to do good/do what you want to do! we want to create systems that can take whatever force they’re being exposed to and USE it as a resource!

the “climax forest,” when all trees are mature and there’s little undergrowth, is a myth. in reality, patches occur, dead trees fall and let light in so the understory grows, etc. mature forests are patchy and diverse and complex!

old-field succession–the steps by which forest (or food forest!) moves into empty land:
1. gap/clearing/bare soil
2. old-field perennial and annual vegetables
3. “old-field mosaic”
4. shrubland
5. woodland garden
6. mature forest or forest garden
and then fire or disease cleared out a patch and the cycle starts over… it’s not a linear process with a fixed “climax”/end! any large forest will have patches of all of these stages.

i think the idea is that we can guide our food forests through these stages to maturity as well, while taking advantage of the productivity of every stage along the way.

BIOMASS is really important for soil creation, nutrients, etc. clearcutting removes the biomass that is needed to support further growth. annual agriculture is basically clearcutting–all the biomass/productivity is removed/harvested. which means there’s less productivity the next year!

so the idea behind food forests/forest gardens is that we create an ecosystem from which we take only 10-20% of the total productivity/biomass every year, so the ecosystem can continue–in fact, we become a part of the ecosystem.

when we talk about elements in a plant guild or in a permaculture design having FUNCTIONS, we are really talking about CONNECTIONS–i.e., a nitrogen-fixing plant connects nitrogen and soil. there used to be a tendency in permaculture design to make dogmatic statements like “each element in a design must have five functions,” but really, when you put pieces out there and let them connect, cool things happen. it doesn’t take too many connections between elements before ecosystems emerge! so when people say each element should have five functions–whatEVER–you really only need ~2 connections from each element before everything coalesces into a system.

michael cook of city repair believes that our over-consumption of resources has its origins in the grid system that pervades both our physical environment (streets/houses/etc) and our mental environment (media and advertising that encourages us to equate consumption and interaction). because we have no gathering places and are not connected to each other, we NEED more as individuals and try to fill that need with junk and over-consumption. 90% of what we produce is destined to go straight to the landfill–packaging, etc. grids are great for long-distance transportation and navigation, sure, but you miss all the life between points a and b. more efficient does not mean more fulfilling.

so, city repair isn’t so much trying to fix all of that. they’re just trying to build community. (the disease causing all of these symptoms is a lack of community.) how to build community? by celebrating, having fun, feeling good!

city repair builds “catalysts for community.” intersection paintings, in addition to calming traffic and providing neighborhood focal points and all of that, also become reasons for community members to come together every year (to repaint). traditions rise out of that and real community happens… coming at it from a different direction than “intentional community” created by people with common values who decide to try to live together in community.

intersection repairs are ENCHANTING–michael says, enchantment is present in our media but often missing from our lives. enchantment is what makes it okay to go slowly through life rather than rushing efficiently from place to place.

encouraging people to invest themselves in where they live. and so on. we also got to see lots of slides of city repair projects. i owe a lot to city repair–four or five years ago i was walking through sellwood and stumbled onto share-it square, looked it up, found city repair and thought what they did was SO COOL. last year i went to some of the village building convergence, and the rest is history. city repair got my hands in the dirt, exposed me to permaculture, set me on my way. okay, a. and his mom did some of the work, too. i am so lucky!

16 Jan 2010, 8:50pm

permaculture notes: water, trees, soil

i am very very far behind on my initial plan to type up all my permaculture notes. so i’m revising my plan and just typing up some of the particularly interesting or important bits. these are pretty much straight from my notes, with no further research done (and i am interested in researching some of these things further, eventually). any inaccuracies are probably my fault, and i’m not too concerned about them right now. probably don’t quote me (or any of the people i’m quoting) on this stuff, though, without doing your own research!

anyway, here’s weekends 2 & 3 of the course i’m taking. today was day 1 of weekend 5!

WEEKEND #2: water and trees (october) (guest teacher: tom ward)

zones are an important concept in permaculture design. they’re used to help guide placement of design elements and as a way of conceptualizing space. from a handout toby gave us: “Consider the house (or other focal point such as a village center) to be Zone 0. The area closest to the house is Zone 1, and outside of this lies Zones 2 through 5. The more times you need to visit an element, or the more it needs to be visited, the closer to Zone 0 it should go.” of course, the way these zones are defined varies a lot depending on what kind of design you’re doing. in a big farm-type setting, zone 5 is often reserved for wilderness habitat and is unmanaged. in an urban lot, zone 5 might be the blackberry patch in the corner of your yard, or the neighbor’s backyard or, i dunno, a state park, depending on how you’re thinking about it. toby reminds us to think in three dimensions, i.e. the roof of your house might be in your zone 3. there’s no hard and fast rules because what will go in each zone depends on you or the person you’re designing for and their particular needs and desires.

bart anderson (of energybulletin.net) came up with this idea for urban transportation zones:
1. where you can walk to
2. where you can bike to
3. where you can ride public transit to
4. where you can drive to
5. where you can fly to

or you can consider zones when thinking about your social networks:
1. spouse and (immediate?) family
2. best friends (and extended family?)
3. colleagues and wider circle of friends
…and so on.

sectors are another major design tool. toby defines them as “forces, energies, and influences that come from outside the site.” the obvious ones are things like sun, wind, precipitation, wildlife, etc. but they also include things like municipal codes and laws, noise, neighbors, and stuff like that. toby shared a couple great examples, both from l.a. ecovillage:

1. the billboard sector–a huge billboard cast a shadow over their growing space, which made their tomatoes unhappy. so they moved them to the front yard along the sidewalk, without considering:

2. the schoolkid sector–the ecovillage was near a school, and kids walking past would pick the tomatoes as soon as they were even vaguely red and ripe, leaving none for the residents! they eventually solved this problem by planting heirloom varieties that don’t turn red when they ripen so the kids didn’t know to pick them.

when talking to clients and considering design elements, remember to start with needs and yields (i.e. what problems do you need to solve and what products do you want to have?) instead of with specific elements. instead of “do you want a composting toilet?” go with “are you interested in processing human waste on-site?” or something like that. you might get a different answer.

also consider that the product of a system is the system itself. what we’re harvesting are the byproducts. the product of a tree is (probably) not the tree; it’s shade, fruit, leaves for mulch and compost, etc.

in my master gardener class this has come up as well: don’t feed the plants, feed the soil! and the soil will feed the plants. your veggies are byproducts of healthy soil.

by harvesting byproducts of the system, you avoid depleting the system. sustainability!

tom ward–what a guy!

he asked us to figure out which of ours eyes is dominant and told us about cross-dominance–some people are right-handed but left-eyed, or vice versa. i am right-handed and right-eyed, as are most people. schoolteachers (and others) tend to automatically talk to your right eye, so if you’re using your left eye, they think you’re not paying attention. according to tom, most people in prison are cross-dominant. he went on a great rant about the educational system, saying that “the human mind is evolving under stress” and that many so-called learning disabilities are about 3d visualization, i.e. kids with these “problems” are “multi-dimensional kids” and we’re squashing them and shutting them down with our inflexible educational system. factually true or not, that feels right to me (as a kid who learned to read late due to an undiagnosed eye problem) and i can dig it.

anyway, tom encouraged us to explore “multidimensional thinking.” then he presented a 3d model of the ways he planned to teach us and answer our questions. he called it the “answer game;” everything he told us would fall somewhere in this model–

on one axis, the source of his answer: invented (made it up), guess (educated), experience (reporting results corroborated by others), research (read it in a book), or gossip (heard it somewhere).

on the second axis, a continuum between true and false.

on the third axis, a continuum between resonant and dissonant (to us as audience/students).

he also applied zones to his answers. a zone 1 answer would be a “recipe” presented with lots of care and detail. a zone 4 answer would be more diffuse, sort of a “scattering of seeds” of possible answers or solutions.

he also reminded us that there are no final answers and that all that planning is is a scenario exercise. we can’t be attached to “getting somewhere” or we might be going in the wrong direction. “everything to do, nothing to get done.” we’ll get somewhere ’cause we’ll be dragged there by events. in the meantime, we have to stay in the process. for all we know, everything we’re doing in permaculture could be a huge mistake. in china, for 7000 years, humanure was deposited directly on fields. now there’s too many nitrates in the soil, but for 7000 years it seemed totally sustainable. who knows? we just have to keep trying things that feel right, and not doing things that we know are stupid.

biomagnification: songbirds eat bugs that eat leaves, and so forth. so what happens to the smallest happens also to the biggest. tom’s example: there was a rainstorm on the west coast following the explosion at chernobyl. there was no measurable radiation or anything in the rain, but there was a 100% failure of the second nesting of songbirds on the west coast that year.

tom also talked about sympathetic magic–imitation in order to encourage. we all did a rain dance in which we pretended to be rain. this in the midst of a discussion about how we need regular floods to recharge deep water tables. water sinks into the ground much deeper in flood plains than in riverbeds, where it’s sort of sealed in by clay and gravel. when there’s no floods, the water never gets below the topsoil before being used or evaporating. so plants grow, but the water table is being slowly depleted. snow melt helps, but of course snow pack is disappearing because of climate change…

tom is big on rain. he says that sometimes plumbed city water will fail to initiate germination in seeds (because of who-knows-what in pipes and such?) and then it’ll rain and voilà. and also that if l.a. was equipped with proper roofwater catchment systems and cisterns, they’d have no water problems at all.

anyway my point was sympathetic magic: from my notes:
“art as sympathetic magic! setting up a pattern than self-propogates ’cause everyone’s dreaming it…”
been thinking about that ever since. i wanna be that kind of artist. oh gosh, other things to write about: talking with taiga about ethical community based theatre vs. catharsis…

greywater systems and personal responsibility:

the simplest greywater system is a dishpan or basin. put it in your sink and wash and rinse your dishes into it, then go pour it on your garden. this requires: labor, motivation, biodegradable soap, a basin, and careful food preparation/consumption so that as few nutrients as possible end up in the water. as tom points out, we should be licking our plates! you get good, immediate feedback as to what your greywater is doing to your garden/the environment.

we produce greywater for our convenience, so we can have clean dishes and so on. greywater systems (with pipes and wetlands etc) are fancy things we install in order to avoid personal responsibility while being as green as possible. i.e., if our wastewater is being treated and all of that, it doesn’t matter that we’re producing it in the first place, right? really, step #1 in designing a greywater system should be: produce less greywater.

also, the truth (but don’t tell the lawmakers) is that all greywater is blackwater. handwashing puts fecal coliform bacteria into the water. with this knowledge, shouldn’t you hesitate to dump this greywater on or near food plants? tom says that fecal coliform bacteria is present in soil everywhere already, along with bubonic plague. it’s not a soil problem, it’s a health problem–a “lack of vigor in the human animal.” and overuse of things like antibiotics, which have made us more vulnerable to all kinds of things that once weren’t a problem, like wild (untreated) water. but, yeah, keep in mind the health of your friends and family, and their abilities to resist disease, when you’re designing a system–and design for blackwater, ’cause that’s almost certainly what you’ve got.

mostly, remember that there is no “away.” even when you send your wastewater off-site, it always ends up somewhere and affects things.

some stats about water:

if all the water on the earth was 1 gallon, usable fresh water near the surface would be 1 teaspoon.

97% of earth’s water is salty; 3% is fresh. of that 3%, ~75% is locked up in ice, ~12% is more than 1200 feet below ground, ~12% is less than 1200 feet below ground (we can get at some of it, but if it’s more than 500 feet down it’s pretty impractical), 0.35% is in lakes and rivers, 0.03% is in the atmosphere, and 0.06% is in soils.

agriculture uses 85% of the water we consume. the rest is split between industry and residential use.

the yearly flow of freshwater on the planet is 9000 cubic km; we divert 5000 cubic km of it.

it takes 1500 lbs of water to grow a pound of wheat and 15000 to grow a pound of rice!

the hydrologic/water cycle as we learned it in school goes roughly like this: water evaporates from bodies of water and forms clouds, which rain on the land. the water ends up back in the bodies of water, and so forth. what this is missing is biological storage of water and water processing by plants–i.e. evapotranspiration. the further inland you go, the more of the water there has been processed by plants. 100 miles inland, 50% of the rain is from forests and vegetation. when you cut down a forest, rainfall downwind decreases significantly.

trees are awesome! amazing tree fact #1: redwood trees are really tall! they pump water 600 feet into the air! that is incredible! i am enjoying rereading these notes (which are from back in october) ’cause of what i have learned since about botany (from my master gardener class and from reading i’ve done). from my master gardener notes:

how does water get to the top of a tree?
as soon as the plant germinates, there’s a continuous stream of water going up the plant. water molecules pull other water molecules up with them… which is the only way this could be possible! something like that, anyway.

not to mention the miracle of photosynthesis and all of that. wood is xylem is a polymer of sugar is pure sunshine…

from later in my permaculture notes–the 3 ways trees pump water:
1. transpiration: evaporation from leaves creates a vaccuum which pulls more water up.
2. barometric pressure: the tubes in tree trunks are long, interconnected, overlapping vessels so small that surface tension/capillary action actually wicks water out of the roots. (i think this is what my m.g. notes are talking about.)
3. osmosis. my notes are pretty confused about this one. something about tree blood and differential membranes?

amazing tree fact #2: 95% of a tree’s roots are within 6-9 inches of the surface. one exception: nut trees, which put down big taproots. according to tom, walnut trees have a 60 foot tap root before you even see them above ground! this seems questionable to me (there would have to be a lot of energy stored in the seed for that much root growth before the tree started photosynthesizing), so maybe this is more on the “invented” end of that axis of tom’s answer game, but i suppose it can still resonate!

tom also told us that when he was in forestry school, he and his classmates carefully excavated a root on an 8-inch-thick (5-6 years old) maple tree and found it to be about a half mile long!

i went to a halloween party shortly after class that weekend and got a little tipsy and was telling someone about how some trees may have roots that are “like a MILE LONG!” and some horticulturalist who happened to be there (what are the chances?) told me i was full of shit and made me feel very embarrassed, even after i corrected my recollection to a half mile. i tried to do some research on it afterwards but didn’t really find anything conclusive. general wisdom (or something) says that trees’ roots go to the dripline, but i’ve heard plenty of times since then (in my master gardener class for example) that they go further than that. well, regardless, that half-mile root thing definitely resonated.

trees communicate with each other. tom’s example: when a tree is attacked by gypsy moths, it releases an anxiety pheromone that causes trees downwind to become more bitter-tasting to the caterpillars!

i am also reading a book right now, the lost language of plants by stephen harrod buhner, that has an entire chapter full of examples of amazing plant communication and adaptation. this excerpt from the book is not so much about inter-plant communication but is pretty amazing nonetheless:

“In Central America and Africa certain species of Acacia, a large shrub or small tree, is covered with thorns, some of which are hollow and house ants. Much like coevolutionary bacteria, Pseudomyrmex ants recognize new shrubs as coevolutionary partners and colonize them. The trees produce special nectar along the stems for the ants to eat. Like the compounds released from plant roots, this nectar contains a rich mix of fats (lipids), proteins, sugars, and other compounds necessary for the ant to remain healthy. The ants remove vegetation from around the base of the plant, remove leaves of other plants that shade the tree, kill any vines that try to grow up the tree, and attack any herbivore that tries to eat the plant.

“South American leafcutter ants collect plants, chop them up, and feed them to a fungus that they grow for their food. When forming new colonies the ants transfer starters to the new colony–somewhat like a sourdough starter handed down for generations. The fungus the ants grow can sometimes become infected by an Escovopsis microfungus. This fungus is kept in check by a Streptomyces bacteria that is symbiotic with the ants and grows on their bodies. The Streptomyces also produces growth compounds that significantly increase the biomass of the fungus; the ants apply the substances made by the bacteria to the fungal colony to maintain its health. Ants have been living in close mutualistic relationships with acacia, their fungus gardens, and their symbiotic bacteria for at least 50 million years.”

social forestry:

we need to come into social relationships with our forests… create a cultural relationship to the trees to reinforce their practical uses in our lives, and recognize them as related to us and worthy of love and protection.

plastic has distanced us from our forests. we could (and should) eliminate all plastic–it could be substituted for in everything we make out of it by wood, stone, fibers, clay, glass and metal. of course, because we’re in an economic downturn, existing industries and jobs are untouchable, and there’s no room for discussion of the problems of plastic production.

also, wood takes care and feeding, as do items made of wood (compared to plastic)–another personal responsibility thing (plastic is a way of avoiding it).

when you buy trees, always buy them from a nursery that’s north of where you live. trees raised south of you will be too advanced for the season when you plant them. trees from the north will be suppressed, which is better for planting.

nectar flow:

we need to have something in bloom all the time to keep pollinators around. we should start charting everywhere and all the time what pollinators are where and what’s blooming. climate change will change this, though, so we need to do it all and overdo it, take risks. “plant everything and let the goddess sort it out.” we can kill plants if it doesn’t work out. yes, we can kill plants.


coppicing: google it, ’cause it’s pretty cool! basically, you can cut a tree down to a stump in early winter after all the leaves have fallen, and it will heal itself over the winter and sprout in the spring. if you thin out the sprouts, they will grow 20 feet in a year! and you can harvest them. long, flexible wood. willow works best, but almost anything except conifers works.

in our pnw forests, douglas fir is not actually old growth–it’s second growth. the old growth trees we want to restore like to grow under the shade of the doug firs, which act as “nurse trees.” they can be taken out when the old growth trees get big.

tom’s guidelines for sustainable forestry:
* reduce the fire hazard by taking out the understory regularly
* keep trees’ nutrition on-site: leave the leaves, bark, needles, etc, and take only the wood
* use small, portable mills on-site

urban forestry!:

urban “forests” are incredibly diverse because people bring/plant their favorite trees in order to feel at home. that means there’s an incredible opportunity to take cuttings and grafts, collect seeds, choose and try varieties, etc. but unmanaged fruit trees are messy. tom suggests that every neighborhood support an urban forester who is knowledgeable about and maintains the neighborhood trees, as well as collecting and distributing the yield and cooperating with utility crews (who are often unkind to trees in an effort to keep power lines clear).

he also suggests block “cohousing associations” in which neighbors tear down the fences between their houses and make use of the increased space for farming.

since the most probable permaculture is urban permaculture (huge urbanization trend in the world), we should learn how to do it well. make a conceptual shift from living in a city to living in a forest. oh, i remember from the portland plan meetings, some amazing percentage of portland is under tree canopy…

anyway, tom thinks that such a shift would be accompanied by a shift from an individualistic ethic to a cooperative, culturally-vibrant “palette of color and activity.” and in an ideal world, we remove the streets (currently underutilized space) to reveal the soil underneath… sounds good to me!

WEEKEND #3: soil (november) (guest teacher: jude hobbs)

what is soil?
the edge between the atmosphere and the rocks of the planet.
the edge between the living and the dead.

soil is also the base of the pyramid of life. humans on top (well, we’re just another mammal), them mammals, birds, insects, plants, then SOIL LIFE! and organic matter.

the flow of nutrients in the soil is more important than how many nutrients there are, and you need life to make the nutrients flow. if you have less soil life, you have less of everything (available to your plants), regardless of what you’ve amended your soil with.

there are more animals below the soil level than there are above the soil. an acre of good soil can support a cow and a calf, or approximately 1500 lbs of animal. below the surface of that soil there are 5000 lbs of animals!

the SOIL FOOD WEB–the “microherds” under the soil. tending your soil is raising a different kind of livestock.

so, again: feed the soil to feed the plants!

fun fact! aphids are born pregnant! (they are viviparous.)

invasives/exotics have a hard time invading intact ecosystems; they need disturbance/pollution to create a new resource (a yield not needed by something else) so they can get a foothold.


darwin wrote a book about ‘em! after he wrote about evolution.

worms turn over (the equivalent of?) the entire top 3-4 inches of the planet every 3-4 years.

vermicomposting is super cool and i’m trying to figure out how i could fit a womrm bin in our kitchen.


a single teaspoon or gram of good garden soil can contain billions of individual bacteria and 5000 different species!

they can change 20-25% of their dna per day! which is how they develop antibiotic resistance so quickly.

nitrogen-fixing bacteria (rhizobia) take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it into a form useful to plants. specifically, they take N2 and O2 and make it into NO3–nitrate. nitrogen-fixing plants (legumes) are actually plants in a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia . the bacteria form colonies on the roots and feed nitrates to the plant. in return, they get sugar!

if you pull out the roots of a nitrogen-fixing plant, you pull out most of the nitrates, too. to get the most nitrogen in your soil, you want to let the roots die where they are so the nitrates will be released into the soil. similarly, if you let the plant flower and go to seed, all the nitrogen will be in the seed. however, roots are constantly growing and dying even while a plant is alive.


fungi can break down really complex stuff! oyster mushrooms can even break down petroleum! fungi are the “super alchemists of the soil,” breaking down everything that nothing else can.

mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi. the main body is the mycelium, underneath the soil (or the wood or whatever the mushrooms are growing on). not all fungi make mushrooms.

the largest organism on the planet is a mushroom! it’s a 2500 acre fungus in eastern oregon. (there’s also a 1500 acre one in idaho.) it sort of looks like it’s killing everything there, but in fact it’s part of the life cycle of the forest. after a long time (500-1000 years), most of the minerals in a forest’s soil have been extracted, and trees can no longer get nutrients, so the forest weakens and the fungus moves in. it “infects” everything and everything drops and the nutrients return to the soil so the cycle can begin again.

mycelium expands radially. the “action” is on the edge where the fungus is getting new nutrients, so mushrooms sprout up in a circle–hence, fairy rings!

mycorrhizae are super cool. they’re fungi that hang out with plant roots sort of like rhizobia. they grow super fast and are excellent at transporting nutrients. plants can only use nutrients that are right up against their roots, so without mycorrhizae, if they need something they don’t have, they’re out of luck even if it’s really close by. mycorrhizae feed plants nutrients and water, and mycelia can be miles and miles long in a small area, making lots of surface area to be in contact with nutrients. so a plant that has a good relationship with mycorrhizae is super healthy and drought-resistant. awesome.

it’s that white stringy stuff you see when you pull up roots. scientists only recently figured out that it’s really important.

why chemical fertilization works well initially and then stops working:

humus (super-decomposed organic matter) is really good at holding nutrients. it’s studded with O- ions that bond with plant nutrients, which are generally positively-charged. this keeps nutrients from washing away in the water. when plants need a nutrient, they secrete a mild acid that’s just enough to break the bonds between the humus and the nutrients. when they’ve gotten what they need, they stop secreting it so the rest of the nutrients remain.

when you add water-soluble nutrients to the soil, 50-90% of them are just washed into the water table, where they contaminate wells with nitrates and nitrites. no good.

when you add potassium to soil, the nutrients attached to the humus are replaced with K+ ions. so the plants gets lots of K+ as well as all the trace minerals that were popped off and replaced. that’s great for the plants… until next season, when you’ll need to get fertilizer that has all those elements, too.

maintain a good balance of carbon and nitrogen in your compost/fertilizer–approximately 12:1. when in doubt, just add carbon (i.e. organic matter)! if it stinks, add carbon!

rudolf steiner said, “the health of a nation is reflected in the health of its soil.”

guerilla composting:

carry kitchen scraps in a yogurt container and go for a walk with a trowel. bury the scraps with a few seeds wherever there’s space!

do it! experiment with what works for you. toby says that the best learning he’s done was in trying to fix major problems and mistakes he made. avoid the paralysis that comes from looking for perfection–”the paralysis of analysis.”

when working with clients (or contemplating your own garden!), you have to read between the lines and figure out not what they say they want but what they really want… and what they will take care of.

edible landscaping:

if farmland is becoming houses, let’s at least teach the people in the houses to grow food on what used to be farmland… if that’s the best we can do, so be it.

there were a record number of food plants sold this past year!

“eat the view.”

13 Jan 2010, 4:08pm

spring is coming!

can you believe it!?

9 Jan 2010, 7:28pm


i will write about new mexico, but i want to write a little about portland, first. and the new decade and all of that. a few days ago i took a break from my frenzied cleaning (the apartment is sparkling for the first time in longer than i would like to admit) to walk to the library. in my coat and hat and gloves i felt warm and cozy as i drifted through the weather–rain that did not quite fall but rather seemed to hang suspended in the air. new mexico was beautiful and portland is home.

when i was seventeen i wrote a little thing i probably envisioned as a prose poem of sorts and called it “what i remember, in case i die tomorrow.” it began “when i was five i” and all the paragraphs started like that, “when i was six,” “when i was seven,” and so on. i was thinking about it ’cause i was thinking about this past decade and i wanted to do a little summary of it sort of like that. in 2000 i, in 2001 i, etc. in my head i started in on 2000, and then i got distracted by the whole decade and what it has been for me.

in early 2000 i started keeping an online journal. it was on teenopendiary.com, which no longer exists and which now sounds to me sort of like a porn site. after that i used opendiary, and then i learned html and used pitas, diaryland, blogspot when it first existed, livejournal, greymatter installed on my very own domain name (stayshuh.net; i thought that was really witty), livejournal again, another domain name (lunisolar.net; i thought that was really mysterious and deep) where i tediously typed out the html for every single update for awhile and then installed greymatter again (it was the hip blogging platform back in the days before wordpress), and finally, livejournal again. and this here blog. hi blog.

i also had websites on any number of now-defunct servers with .nu domains that would provide free ad-free webspace to teenage girls who liked writing html and using frames and pop-outs and drop-down menus and kept personal sites with little bios and photos of (yes) their feet and maybe some poems. (yeah, so i never really left that behind.) i don’t remember my web addresses at any of those sites, but i do remember that i and other teenage girls on these sites would include in our bios a list of our previous internet addresses. you know, like: prettily.nu/belleslettres or spectra.unravel.net. sometimes girls who owned domain names would “host” other girls on their websites. when i owned lunisolar.net i hosted some of my friends. but mostly i kept my internet life and my “real” life separate and i would get sort of nervous and awkward when one of my school friends would bring up my internet existence, unless it was one friend who was my “sister” in an online roleplaying world that we both spent a pretty ridiculous amount of time in in 2000 and 2001. this entry is getting longer and more unwieldy than i intended.

in 2000, i created the persona i spent half the decade becoming. she had pink hair, a tattoo, piercings, and an outgoing personality to match, and she (unlike unbearably shy me-at-the-time) talked to strangers. on the internet. i remember the day in 2005 when i realized i had become her (as i walked through campus in turquoise shitkicker boots and a summer dress, my pink hair blowin’ against my shoulders in the breeze) and i had rarely felt better about anything. i suspect that someday i will even feel secure enough in my identity to place less importance on its external markers, but in the meantime i am so thrilled every time i look in the mirror to see the me i have created, the sum of choices i have made. i am still working on the talking to strangers thing, though.

i don’t remember the beginning of the 90s, and while i’m sure the difference between me in in 1990 (when i turned 5) and me in 2000 (when i turned 15) was astronomical, i am in more of a position, brain-development-wise, to be blown away now at the difference between 2000-me and 2010-me. in 2000 i hadn’t even figured out the questions yet, much less the answers to them. what fun i have had creating myself! i feel like the History of Me–if that is what i am trying to write here–is, in many many ways, the History of Me and the Internet. well, i dunno. it’s the history of a lot of other things, too.

i wrote this last june:
“i like to scout things out… places, before i go to them (i bike past, i show up early, etc); ideas, before i commit to them or even admit an interest in them, etc etc etc. this is why the internet is both wonderful (because it lets me do this) and horrible (because it lets me do this). mostly wonderful, i think. i was telling this to a. and he said, ‘i was thinking about it, and i think we have different relationships to the internet because i sort of grew up with a lot of these ideas and you wouldn’t even know about them if it weren’t for the internet,’ which is pretty true. goodness bless the internet!”
but i think i am getting braver. maybe my personal Age of the Internet is drawing to a close. time will tell–it always gives up its secrets sooner or later.

other things in my last decade:
* my parents ceased to be archetypes and became people (to me).
* god ceased to be an archetype and became first nothing and then everything (to me).
* i turned down a peculiar travel suggestion to go to cambodia for a summer and help my childhood best friend teach music to cambodian kids, because i was scared. i regret that a lot and have been trying really hard ever since not to miss those dancing lessons.
* the usual growing up stuff: i fell in love a few times; i chose a home; i left institutional schooling after 16+ years and tried hard to make my own way.

i just–you know–the way we keep accumulating more knowledge and more memories, and then even more. when i was a kid there would be a new group of people for me to be friends with every two to four years, it felt like, and we’d begin all over again that accumulation of memories together. now i live in portland and i go to dance parties at the houses of friends i have known for a pretty significant chunk of a decade, and i look around at the beautiful people i have leaned on and cried to and laughed with and all of that, and a wonderful friend of mine who i met in 1999 just moved here to portland too and i love her a lot and i love all these people a lot, the new ones, too, so much, and–

it just blows my mind, that’s all, this whole growing up thing and this whole living thing and this whole planet that’s evolving and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour and the fact that maybe a few of you caught that monty python reference just now. and how every person is more than they seem to be, and every thing, too.

written mid-decade:
“life is a constant journey towards forgiving myself. my feelings, my past. nothing exceptional; just a lot of trying to know and understand myself. all i want to do tonight is read about peace and other, faraway worlds. o world, grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, and the courage to change the things i can. world, help me understand how good it feels to cry alone at sunset, and world, help me to believe it’s not just selfish self-indulgence. world, you amaze and astonish me; help me to believe in your beauty and your promise.”

found written on a bathroom wall earlier in the decade:
“i can’t pinpoint when i fell in love with the world. some days its intensity feels like a burden–but anything is better than the nothing i once had inside me. when i am overwhelmed with beauty, emotion, the sheer size of it all, so much that i am incapacitated, i must remind myself to give thanks–i am blessed to feel so much.”

i took a lot of self portraits this decade, as a way of making sense of who i was becoming and learning how to own my body. here are some of them. i wonder what the next decade will look like. here is a less gussied-up picture of me now, with my absolutely enormous master gardener handbook:

vive le passé et vive l’avenir! i am pretty excited.

3 Jan 2010, 11:16pm
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more photos from new mexico

the kitchen in the meeting house guest apartment:


the gorge bridge over the rio grande (outside of taos):

the earthship visitor center (it was maybe fifteen degrees fahrenheit outside, and a cozy and bright seventy-some degrees inside):

(that’s a greywater treatment planter!)

ranchos de taos:

arroyo seco:

on our way to ojo caliente:

our last new mexican meal in santa fe:

the hostel in albuquerque last night:

still more here.

narrative to come, including: snow, the open highway, driving, a hike under the new year’s eve blue moon on a snowy mountain, taos pueblo, catholic masses and ancient indian dances, music, twisty dirt roads, an npr segment about opinions and arguments, the best radio station in taos (88.7), hot springs, unexpected challenges, changes of plan, forgetfulness, spicy food, friendly cab drivers, trains, planes, and so on…