I love spring!After such a long and cold winter here, I am certainly welcoming some
above freezing temperatures, as well as a little more sunshine.This week and last week, we have received an abundance of rain, however.So
much so that we have gotten quite a lot of water in the basement of our older
home.No standing water or
anything, but we have had to move a number of things off of the floor to keep
them from getting wet, and we are now running our dehumidifier on full blast all
of the time to keep up with all of the moisture.
I’ll certainly take some rain over frigid winter
temperatures, though.I am also
not taking the rain for granted, either, since I’m well aware of many areas around
the world that are now experiencing record-breaking drought conditions, and my
prayers go out to all of you going through that.
I like spring because everything seems to awaken from its
long winter slumber and comes back to life and grows.Along with the increase in plant growth, there is plenty of
wildlife that appears, and songbirds arrive, returning from their winter migration
routes.I’m enjoying the bird
songs in the morning, which is something that we can easily overlook.To me, the bird singing is quite
beautiful, and it’s well worth the time to notice it.
Over the past few weeks, we
have had quite a lot of wildlife activity around here. In addition to the multiple squirrels
that have been digging in my garden area (I am trying to make peace with them
even though they can be a nuisance sometimes), I have seen rabbits and many
birds. Here are a few pictures of
the furry and feathered friends hanging around my house right now. I apologize for the poor quality of
some of the pictures.
They were shot from inside my house through our windows, and this
affected the clarity.
Mr. Bun, and Ms. Bunnette, two “twitterpated” rabbits (a Bambi movie reference, for those of you
unfamiliar with the term “twitterpated”) hanging around my herb spiral two
Mr. Bun, sitting alone…
This little guy was fascinated with his own reflection and continued to try to fly at it, up and down my neighbor's windshield, and peck at it. My suspicion is that it was a male who thought that his own reflection was another male trying to get in on his territory... He was there for a couple of hours, and came back several days in a row. Early on, what was likely the female nearby, got tired of waiting for him, and flew off. I could picture her saying, "Come on already, Joe! I'm tired of this, let's go home!"
I am learning to appreciate every season for what it brings. Winter has been one of the last ones
for me to gain appreciation for, since it is so cold and dark. However, it does bring a time of rest
and reflection, a time that we can sit back and contemplate what has been and
what can be. It also makes spring
all the more beautiful to those of us living in a temperate climate, and allows us to
appreciate the awakening, growth, and cleansing that comes with it.
Tomorrow is Earth Day, and as gardeners, many of us are
striving to become more self-sufficient, save money, and be more
sustainable.Therefore, in honor
of Earth Week, here is a list of ten
tips that we can all use to make our gardens and yards more environmentally
1.Eliminate toxic chemicals and embrace
organic growing. There is a growing body of evidence to support the fact that
toxic garden and landscaping chemicals are not only bad for the environment
(e.g., killing our pollinators and generating pollution in our rivers, streams,
and lakes), but they are also bad for us.For example, recent research has just come out that
glyphosate, a common yard chemical that seems to be everywhere, negatively
affects male fertility, in addition to probably a whole host of other
negative health effects.And, if
you read the label on the back of a container of glyphosate, it says that it is produced by a company that many
of us are currently boycotting for other reasons (ahem, GMOs).
2.Reduce the water use in your garden.There are many ways to do this, but
a few ideas to get you thinking include: capturing rainwater in rain barrels
and using that as a water source for your garden, using drip hoses/drip
irrigation in your garden to water your plants, putting mulch over your garden
to help retain the moisture in your soil, and planting edible perennial plants,
such as perennial herbs that will come back year after year, and put down deep
roots into the ground, which make them much less dependent on frequent
watering than typical annual crops are.
3.Compost your kitchen scraps and add them to
your garden as a source of soil nutrients.Many gardeners are probably doing this already, but
composting really is a great way to reduce the overall waste of your household
and reuse your “trash” by using it as nutrient-rich and organic compost for
your garden and landscape.For
more information on how to compost, this
article from Mother Earth News is a great resource.
4.Recycle It!You can reuse many items that would otherwise go into
your recycling bin by giving them a second life in your garden.For instance, this past weekend, I
learned how to make paper pots out of newspaper and pots
out of toilet paper rolls.The
great thing about these types of “pots” is that you can start seeds right in
them and then when it is time to plant your seedlings outdoors, you just plant
the entire thing into the ground.The “pots” that the seedlings are in will just compost into the soil
around your plants.
See below for the video that I found with instructions for making the paper pots. It takes a
little bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, you may never want to
buy those plastic seed starting cells again!
Below is a picture of some
of the “pots” that I made out of recyclable materials. Make sure that whatever materials you choose
to use as pots will allow for adequate drainage. Notice the pot that I made out of a former paper coffee cup.
I made sure to make a couple of
drainage holes at the bottom of the cup.
I have also heard of people using paper egg cartons to start their seeds
in, but I have personally not tried that yet.
5.Plant perennials for pollinators.This is very important, since our
garden plants rely heavily on pollinators such as honeybees.Pollinator populations have also been
sharply declining over the last few years due to the widespread use of many types
of agricultural chemicals and habitat loss.To learn more, check out this
post that I wrote last week.
6.Buy Quality.When buying tools, try to invest in the best tools that you
can afford.This is definitely one
area that you don’t want to go cheap.Cheap tools often break and then you will just need to replace them
later.I had this point
reinforced in my own gardening experience last year, when an inexpensive trowel
that I had purchased from a big box store broke when I was doing a little bit
of digging.Ultimately, this
cheaply made, inexpensive tool was not worth the little bit of money that I
spent on it.
7.Go on a treasure hunt.I suggest going to garage sales, thrift
stores, and asking your friends and family if they have gardening supplies that
they don’t need anymore.This is
one great area of reuse, and it’s likely much less expensive than buying these
things new.You never know what
you’ll find when you look around.Craigslist and “free market” online lists are also great sources to find
inexpensive or free used things for your garden.
8.Invite the “good guys” over.In addition to attracting beneficial
insects and pollinators to their yards, some gardeners also purchase and
release beneficial insects into their garden that will help to control unwanted
insect pests that attack garden plants.If you do choose to go this route, be sure that the beneficial insects that
you release have been well studied and will not themselves become invasive pests
in the local area where you live.
9.Explore companion planting.Companion planting is something
that I am seriously considering experimenting with this year, as it should help
to increase yield in some cases and also to reduce insect pests.By using herbs and other plants to
decrease insect pests, I won’t have to worry as much about finding organic ways
to combat pests.This takes some forethought
and planning, but I believe that it will be well worth any effort that you put
is a great reference article from Mother Earth News about which garden plants
play nicely together and which ones don’t.
10.Think polyculture over monoculture.When we plant all of the same type of plant in nice straight rows, we are advertising a big all-you-can-eat salad
bar to insect pests.If you mix
things up and put a variety of plants amongst other varieties of plants, this
will create some confusion to pests, and reduce the opportunity for them to
find all of their favorite plants in the same area.Again, this polyculture technique takes more in-depth
planning than does planting all of the same thing in straight rows, but it will
be well worth the effort in the reduction of insect pest attacks that you’ll
have to deal with.
Companion planting is one great way to approach polycultures
for annuals in your edible garden, and “guilds”
and food forests
are a great way to explore this for perennial edibles such as fruit trees.
These are just a few ideas for how to make your garden more
sustainable.There are many other
techniques currently being used all around the world, so look around and you
might find some cool ideas out there.I personally love permaculture as a source of sustainable gardening
solutions, but there are many others out there too.The important thing here is to just start somewhere and move
away from using unsustainable techniques toward ones that are more nourishing
to the environment and to you.
It doesn’t hurt when we can save some money along the way
too, as many sustainable gardening techniques focus on reducing our inputs and
using materials and resources that we have locally available around us.
How about you?How have you implemented
environmentally sustainable practices in your garden?
Like many of you, I’ve got the planting bug right now. It’s still too early in my area to
begin planting any annual fruits or vegetables in my garden, and my seedlings
are still hanging out under the grow light in my basement doing their
thing. This past Saturday,
however, I decided that as it is several weeks prior to our last frost, it is
an optimal time to plant some wildflower seeds and to provide plants that will
attract those very important creatures to my yard and garden: birds, bees,
butterflies, and other pollinators.
As many of you may already be aware, many of our pollinators
are in major trouble right now.Due
to a number of issues, such as the loss of prairie habitat and the widespread
use of certain types of agricultural chemicals, populations of beneficial
insects have been plummeting in recent years.This is a huge problem for many reasons, but it is especially
a problem for our food system.Most
of the crops that we enjoy, including apples, onions, strawberries, beets,
broccoli, tomatoes, and cabbages are pollinated by helpful creatures such as the
Home gardeners can play a very important role in helping pollinators.Using organic and ecological gardening and
landscaping methods is a huge step in the right direction.By implementing such methods in your
yard and garden, you will be avoiding the harmful chemicals that are negatively
affecting pollinators, and you will also be attracting them to your garden, which
ultimately leads to a more productive harvest for you.
When you plant native plants and wildflowers in your garden,
you are also providing a refuge for pollinators and other creatures amongst
development, as much of our native prairie habitat in the United States has
been either plowed under for monocrop agricultural purposes or paved over for
development.In some cases, these
native plantings in our gardens are the only refuges that remain for certain birds
Wildflowers provide insects and wildlife with important food
sources of seeds, nectar, pollen and fruits, as well as nesting sites, larval
food, forage and shelter.Native wildflowers
also attract many different types of insects that birds love to eat.
Many native wild flowers are very beautiful, and like the
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea), many are also useful to us as medicine.
Admittedly, I am still in the process of learning about how
to plant wildflower and other native plant seeds.Based upon my research, many of the species of wildflowers
need to go through a cycle of freezing and thawing several times (the
temperature conditions that naturally occur during Spring) to break the seed’s
dormancy.This is to prevent their
germination during times that do not allow for optimal plant growth. To learn more about this process
called stratification, I wrote a
little bit about that during my
post about starting seeds (check out Item #7), or you can check out this page from
Hamilton Native Outpost or this
document from the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Prior to doing some wildflower and other native plantings, I
encourage you to do some research about which plants are native to your area.By focusing your planting efforts on
those plants that are native, they will be the most adapted to your area and
climate, and your local pollinators will also most recognize those particular
plant species. Whichever
species you choose to plant, be sure to do your research and follow the
directions on your seed packets.Tolerance of frost among species varies, so to be sure of particular
species requirements, do a little bit of research.
Native wildflowers and most other native prairie plants need
to be planted in soil without weeds and grass present.This
is one of the few circumstances where I advocate implementing disturbance to
your soil.In this case, it is
appropriate to provide open ground so that your native plants can thrive and
won’t have to compete with weeds and grass.The difference between planting perennial native plants in
this manner and our annual vegetable gardens is that once your perennial native
plants are established, they will come back year after year, they will help to
build your soil and help to hold it in place by way of the very deep roots that
many of these plants have.You
provide the disturbance once, and then you are generally leaving the soil alone
and letting the plants do the work of soil building and maintenance.
When I planted my wildflower seeds last Saturday, I used a rake and raked up the majority of the grass and weeds that
were present in the area of my future wildflower garden to expose as much of
the bare ground as possible.I
then scattered and lightly raked in the seeds (the seed packets say to about a
¼” depth) to cover the seeds and to prevent birds from snacking on them.
I planted a variety of seed mixes into my wildflower garden
area: a general perennial wildflower mix, a “Songbird Delight” mix, and quite a
few Purple Coneflower seeds.In
the front of my house where there is mostly shade, I planted a “Shady Mix” of
In the songbird seed mix, there were also some sunflower
seeds.Sunflowers are annuals that
don’t do well with frost, so I’ll probably need to scatter additional seeds
from the mix once there is no more chance of frost for the season.I did reserve a patch in my wildflower
garden to plant an additional mix of shorter varieties of sunflowers as well (the seed
packet says they will get to be 16”-24” tall vs. the more typical 5’-8’ tall that
most sunflowers will grow to be).I plan to leave most of the sunflower seed heads standing in the winter
for the overwintering birds in my area (although our neighborhood squirrels
will probably destroy them first…).
I wasn’t able to get rid of all of the grass, but I think
that I got rid of enough of it to allow an opportunity for the wildflowers to
grow.I guess that time will tell.I also have a hill at the back of
my yard that I would like to do some perennial plantings on so that my husband
no longer needs to mow it and cause erosion, so I cleared away a portion of
ground on the hill and planted some seeds there as well.I’m hoping to plant some fruit-bearing
shrubs eventually that will cover the rest of the hill, but that will be a
later phase.For now, I worked
with what I knew that I could immediately implement.
updates in later posts about how everything is growing as the Spring
Our strawbale garden last year, just one style of no-till gardening. It was extremely productive!
Despite the fact that humanity has been growing food
throughout most of its history by using tillage agricultural techniques, tilling
the soil is not necessarily the most productive way to produce food. When one looks at a natural ecosystem
such as a forest, or even a prairie, there is plenty of natural abundance. In such a natural ecosystem, no tilling
occurs. Plants can and do grow well without having the soil
tilled. To understand why, let’s
look at the structure of the soil itself.
Soil is more than bare “dirt.”In its natural state, it is a complex web of life, and
contains many different organisms, including insects, fungi, bacteria, and many
other organisms, many of which are too small to be seen by the human eye.These organisms do many things,
including recycle nutrients, maintain the fertility of the soil, and make soil
nutrients available to plants.Since most of these tiny organisms live within the top 5 cm of the soil,
when we till or plough, many of these microorganisms are killed.Many of them are also sensitive to
light and can’t survive when the tilled soil is exposed.
natural soil has structure, a physical network through which water, air, and
plant roots can pass through.When
we till the soil, this natural soil structure is destroyed, and we must create
an artificial soil structure every single year, called tilth.When the
natural structure and fertility of the soil is destroyed, we then are committed
to an endless yearly cycle of adding nutrients and fertility back, and we have
to endure more work to maintain the soil.Bare earth opens up many opportunities for weeds to grow, and it does
not retain moisture very well.When we till the soil, we are also increasing the opportunity for soil erosion to occur. The
majority of these issues can be eliminated, or at least significantly reduced,
if we switch our gardening methods from one of tillage to one of mulching and
the use of organic matter and compost.
Ideally, the soil should be covered all of the time, and
have no bare soil exposure.By
leaving a permanent organic mulch layer over your garden bed, you will be
increasing the fertility of your soil, dramatically reducing erosion,
preventing weeds from growing, and retaining soil moisture.
Mulching does not necessarily require a lot of extra
resources.First, you will need to
add a weed barrier, such as a layer of cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper.Make sure that your weed barrier
does not contain any gaps for weeds to grow through.Next, you would add a layer of organic mulch measuring a
depth of about one foot thick.The
more diverse the types of materials that you use in your organic mulch layer,
and the closer that you can get to achieving a ratio of 30:1 of carbon-rich
material to nitrogen-rich material, the more that the ecology of your soil will
Examples of carbon-rich organic materials include: straw
(should not contain any seeds), wood chips, sawdust, bark, paper, and dried
leaves.Examples of nitrogen-rich organic materials include: grass clippings, composted manure, coffee grounds,
compost, and worm castings.Make
sure that each layer of mulch has an ample amount of moisture as it is
added.This is very important to
the composting process and will help everything to break down and make the
awesome compost that is so great for the growth of your plants.
Although the best time to
mulch is in the fall to allow it to break down over the winter, you can still
put mulch over your soil in the spring and produce a lovely garden throughout
the current growing season. For
planting seeds, simply dig a 3” deep hole in the mulch, fill it with compost or
soil, and then plant your seeds in that material. If you are planting transplants, open up a hole in the mulch
that is about three times the size of the root mass of the plant, fill the hole
with compost or soil, and plant the plant. If the plant that you are planting has deep roots, make
holes in the root barrier layer below where you are planting to allow the
plant’s roots to have room to grow, and plant as you would any other
One of the advantages of using a no-till gardening approach? Lots of these guys hanging out in your
garden to help aerate the soil!
Below is a great video of Charles Dowding explaining how he created an amazingly
abundant garden from scratch within a single growing season by using a no-dig,
no-till approach. Enjoy!
Have you ever tried a
no-till approach in your garden?
How did it go?
Thought I’d share this:
This might be an interesting year for some of the kale plants that I started
in seed trays about a week and a half ago.They have Lot # OMG
18/20.Should I be worried?Cheesy
gardening humor, I know…
A bumblebee, visiting the flowers produced by one of my broccoli plants during last
year’s growing season. A great
example of how we can “share the surplus” of our gardens with our pollinator
Ah, permaculture…One of my most favorite topics!For many of you who are reading this,
permaculture may be a familiar topic.For many others, it will be a completely new topic.The idea of using permaculture to
create sustainable human settlements is simple, but at the same time, the
applications are quite broad.
Because permaculture involves so many things, if you were to
ask 10 different permaculturists (of which I am also one, since I took a
Permaculture Design Course two years ago), you will get 10 different
definitions of what permaculture actually is.Today, I will try to define for you what permaculture is
from my viewpoint, and I will share why I believe that it is critical for many
of the issues that we are currently facing in our world today.By the end of this article, I also hope
to spark a love of permaculture in your heart.Okay, I can’t make
you love permaculture, but hopefully you will at least gain an appreciation for
What is Permaculture?
At its core, permaculture is a way to live sustainably with
the world around us.It first
began as a design system intended to create permanent
agricultural systems, but has since evolved into a designed permanent culture, including building
sustainable communities and social structures, sustainable agriculture and
growing systems, sustainable economic systems, sustainable buildings and
shelter, and much more.It is a system
where we can design the ways that we live to be more in harmony with the
environment and with each other.It
takes principles found in nature and applies them to our lives and how we
live.It provides a blueprint of practical
solutions to many of our problems of natural resource depletion and brings us
to a place of a more abundant and hopeful future.
I realize that these descriptions sound quite Utopian.However, with permaculture, many
practical techniques can be found to solve many of the issues that we are
facing in our world today.Natural resource depletion everywhere?Permaculture can help.Loss
of soil fertility?Permaculture has answers.Erosion problems?Permaculture has answers.Flooding
answers.Got pollution problems and need some remediation?Permaculture can help.Can’t
grow food anymore on severely degraded land?Permaculture has answers.Too much waste?Permaculture has answers.Water
resource limitations?Permaculture has answers.An unsustainable economy? Permaculture has a few principles that
can help out with that.Unsustainable agriculture running rampant
created for times such as this!
While I’m not saying that permaculture will solve every single
problem that exists out there, I am saying that it can provide many tools to help
us to transition to a much more sustainable future.For much of humanity’s history, we have focused on
dominating and controlling the landscape, and fighting against nature.Our
tendency to do this as a species was not much of an issue when there weren’t so
many of us living on our planet, and we also didn’t have the technologies that
we have now to make such negative impacts on the land at such large scales.As we became more and more dominant on
the landscape of the Earth and became more efficient in the ways that we did
things, we began to isolate ourselves from the land and we forgot how dependent on nature that we really are.The
truth is, no matter how many “awesome” things that we invent for ourselves, the
realities of natural resource limitations still exist, and we’ll never be able
to invent our way out of every
We Are Standing at a Global
Today, we find ourselves at
an important crossroad, where humanity must start making some critical
decisions about how we are going to live on this planet, and we must begin to
work with nature instead of against it.
We are currently experiencing the realities of hitting many critical
limits of nature. In Ecology, this
is known as the carrying capacity,
where the existing resources can only supply so much to a growing population of
organisms. I certainly don’t need to
discuss at length how we are experiencing an unprecedented loss of global biodiversity,
increased levels of flooding, pollution, extreme weather, drought and famine,
and things don’t seem to be getting a whole lot better. At the same time, we are experiencing a
lot of economic and social problems in the world today. We are isolated from one another, and
our families are suffering. And,
we keep getting sicker… It is clear that a lot of changes are
It is true that there are many complicated problems today,
and they cannot be solved overnight.However, I do believe that we can start to turn a corner and implement some
sustainable solutions that could give everyone a much more abundant and
resilient future.It will take a fundamental
paradigm shift to see that things can be different than they are now, and that
we are actually more personally empowered than we have been led to
believe.Permaculture can be a part
of that future.
Permaculture is based upon the following three ethics:Earth
Care, People Care, and Fair Share.These ethics inform everything done in
permaculture, and are all considered to be of equal importance.Earth
Care is caring for the natural world.People Care incorporates
taking care of human needs but in a sustainable manner.Fair Share means that the natural world has its limits, and that available surplus
should be shared according to need.Nature is efficient, and everything gets used and recycled.You don’t find many “hoarders” in
nature, and when you do (squirrels, for instance), the resources do still
eventually get recycled back into the system, not thrown away and buried under the
ground, never to decompose or cause pollution problems.
So what does permaculture actually look like?It’s
as varied as the ecosystems on the Earth, and looks different in each place
that it is applied, so this makes permaculture applicable pretty much anywhere.Permaculture looks like aquaponics, herb
spirals, capturing and storing rainwater, swales,
gardening, vertical growing systems, lots of organic matter to restore the
soil, forest gardens, and an
emphasis on perennial
plants and growing systems.It
looks like local economic systems, community time banks, local currencies, and homeopathic, herbal, and other
alternative and holistic forms of medicine.It looks like CSAs
and investing in your local economy.It looks like sharing the surplus from your garden or from your fruit
trees with those in need.It
looks like energy and water efficiency, composting, and reducing and recycling
our waste.It looks like reducing
our carbon footprint and reducing or eliminating our commute distances, using
public transit, and using a bicycle to get from place to place.All of these things are just a
start.As you can see,
permaculture is very holistic, and can incorporate many things into our lives
to make ourselves more sustainable.It gives us a framework to go from just talking about being sustainable
to actually doing these things in our lives.
Permaculture projects that work for some places will not
work for others, simply because climate and environmental conditions, skills, knowledge
of people, and available materials vary from place to place. Permaculture is being used
worldwide for a variety of projects to restore landscapes. It has even been used in the desert to
grow food! Check out the following
video produced by one of the world’s leading permaculture instructors, Geoff
Lawton, about his Greening the Desert Project
to see the power of permaculture in action:
To learn about an update to the Greening the Desert project,
check out this link: