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Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category

Planning a May/June Garden

[Note: this blog first appeared in May 2016 on the Garden Tower Project’s blog.]

Strawberries are flowering and ripening—goumis and raspberries and blueberries are all fruiting or about to. Lettuces and kales and other greens are growing well. Spring peas, radishes, and carrots are in place. Plants seeded last fall and perennials are emerging now.


What to do now:

As plants emerge that you do not want in your garden—extra raspberries, rampant garlic, dandelions, chickweed, etc…you can:

  1. compost them (in your Garden Tower)
  2. eat them, or
  3. share them with other gardeners.

At this edge point in the season, the USDA hardiness zones are still obvious—with late frosts and freezes threatening fruit blossom and tender greens the further north you go. Plants in warm microclimates such as close to the ground will get a jumpstart on the rest of the crowd.

Because the season is underway, an astute gardener will be picking up on what kind of season it looks like we are having—dry, wetter than normal, temperatures above or below normal, etc…and planning to advance or delay planning. Not confident about when to do things? Ask an experienced gardener, extension agent, or master gardener in your area.

The growing season in zones 9-11 tends to run from February to late June and again from September to December—so your seasons might begin to wind down or prepare for hot, dry times. Planting in the shade or sunken beds can help your heat and drought tolerant plants make it through the season before fall planting picks up again!

Now is also the time to have your fall bulbs planted and mulch your raised beds. Mulching probably deserves its own blog for regular gardening. It introduces a few concerns, but the soil-building benefits and weed suppression far outweigh any concerns. Now is a great time to build new beds and plant them using a technique called sheet-mulching or lasagna gardening.

As soon as you are past your frost date, it is time to put out frost sensitive plants like cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, eggplant, and many of our favorite herbs and foods. If you live farther north, check how many days it is from germination to harvest (listed on your seed packets and in catalogs). Otherwise, get a jump start with seedlings already going.

Remember that small transplants do not have large root systems. They are very tender and sensitive, but might have an easier time transitioning to a new site than larger seedlings. When buying seedlings try to choose from a local nursery that has started the plants in your climate and taken the time to “harden them off” by setting them out overnight and throughout the day in your current conditions. Some nurseries ship in trucks full of flowers from out of state. These plants can have a really hard time adapting to your particular situation.

Speaking of flowers, make sure you include several varieties in your garden. Pansies and violas are edible flowers that are abundant in spring and fall shoulder seasons. Nasturtium flowers, with the spicy, peppery flowers, are frost sensitive summer garden flowers. Marigolds are classic flowers with their strong scent that confuses pests. Lupine, a nitrogen fixer, provides some elegance in the garden. Sunflowers are amazing in their diversity. Other gardeners prefer perennial flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators: bee balm, daylilies, coneflower/Echinacea, and coreopsis name a few.

Established beds probably want some fertilizers. Foliar feeds first thing in the morning are pretty amazing. It’s proven that plants open the stomata on their leaves most in response to birdsong—so feeding plants at the crack of dawn makes sense. Fish emulsions and sea vegetables bring critical nutrients to your plants. Fertilizing now will help roots continue to establish and build overall plant health.



Remember, soil should stay moist, but also drain throughout most of the growing season. Transplants and young seedlings will need watering regularly to help them grow and keep the soil softer for their adjusting roots.

The world is greening up now—and gardening is in full swing, but take some time to enjoy the beauty of your garden and dream of bountiful harvests.





Spring-ing quickly…

What a spring! At the beginning of March winter was still thoroughly enmeshed in my life and travel. Peter Bane and I travelled to a weekend course with The Resiliency Institute in Naperville, IL. It was a wonderful course–graduating 13 fantastic students with vision, heart, and some serious skills.

"Reading the Landscape" at the 2014 TRI permaculture design course in March.

“Reading the Landscape” at the 2014 TRI permaculture design course in March.

In mid-April we ventured to Terre Haute and Indiana State University to table at the Earth Day celebration and meet some wonderful people connected with the community there. Food forest on campus?

Rhonda and Caden tabling at the ISU Earth Day

Rhonda and Caden tabling at the 2014 ISU Earth Day event

Now, with nearly 80 degree days, thunderstorms, and a sudden burst of flowers in the garden, we are rushing to catch up with spring garden tasks…Life is full and good. There are several permaculture designers a few decades after Mollison uttered the words “the designer becomes the recliner” wondering when that day comes. I think they also realize that, though the garden, teaching, and designing is a busy life, it is also immensely rewarding.

Caden's "photo harvest" from the garden....that one might go in the salad.

Caden’s “photo harvest” from the garden….that one might go in the salad.

Human Beings are Not Born

I was greeted to the day with this post on Phillip Carr-Gomm’s blog (a blog I enjoy tremendously).

The beauty of this short film is only surpassed by the poignancy of the message Stephen Jenkins is sharing. I thought of the many endeavors of my friends and the questions with which they dance as they consider how to live a sane and beautiful life in this culture and these times. Ann Kreilkamp with her wonderful blog, Exopermaculture–wherein she addresses big questions about creating permanent culture, the changes of our times, and how to approach death and dying in our culture. I thought of Kevin and Monique, Mark Morey and the 8 Shields Institute, and Maya’s efforts to go to Coyote Camp. There are so many rich and wonderful responses here–and I know there are many more.


Sugarin’ Time…

Well, Happy Valentine’s Day!

And, I find myself preparing this year to tap trees for syrup–at least the trees I’ve got access to. I’ve thought about it for years and always missed the timing or hesitated. Not this year!

We try not to use refined cane sugar in our household, but we do use a lot of honey and maple syrup. So why not become more resilient and build a deeper connection to the trees and season by including this practice in our lives? A perfect way to “tap into abundance.”

There are, of course, excellent videos and sources about when and how to tap your trees and then use that gift of nature to make syrup.  Tap My Trees is one of the clearest sites I’ve seen. It even talks a bit about the benefits of drinking the sap straight–pointing out that this is a regular practice in South Korea. I am reminded of how important the maple syrup was to indigenous people the world over). And, hint: there are other species of tree that make excellent syrups.

Which trees might you be able to tap? Is there a “sugar shack” in your future?

So, here’s to –sweets for the sweet

Teaching permaculture to children?

I love to offer permaculture workshops to children. People are usually surprised and supportive–but mostly surprised when I say that I love to work with children. Their response is usually based on their own perceptions or understanding of permaculture.

What is permaculture?

It’s an ethical design science–and it’s more than that. It is a movement. In this country, it’s a gloriously unruly movement of people implementing their versions of permaculture. Yes, permaculture–“permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture” is based in the three ethics: Care of the Land, Care of People, and Equitable Distribution of Surplus. Yes, it’s systems theory driven and based in mimicking the patterns and solutions of natural systems. Yes, it’s about growing food, foraging, and integration with the natural landscape. Yes, permaculture is about buildings, technology, water, energy, seeds, nutrition, economics, villages, and regenerative cultures–story-telling, song, art, really, really good design. And it all derives from a connection to the land.

I love Jon Young’s gentle challenge in the May 2013 edition of the Permaculture Activist (which I guest edited) when he asks, “Is it permaculture if no one connects to the land anymore?” (p. 11) I have the rare opportunity to work in my programs with children who are learning to connect deeply to the land through Nature Connection programs (through The Wild Nature Project) or to introduce children to some of the basic routines that are held in common with nature connection and permaculture.

Harvest & Emily at PDC 2007

Why children?

I love introducing children to permaculture–they GET IT! So I’ll share the top three reasons I offer to adults about why I love sharing with kids so much:

1. Design: The “shoulds” of our modern culture are not imposed. Children are natural designers–and because they are not limited in their imaginations, they are very, very creative with design. Children will spend a long time organizing, imagining, problem-solving and creating together–given the opportunity to do so. Team designs bring out the best in sharing and the joy of co-creating.

2. Patterns: Children can (and, I believe, should) spend hours observing the patterns and rhythms of nature–even a small backyard garden or the changes and interactions between a single potted plant and the light. They don’t do this because they HAVE TO, but because they are drawn to. Young children are learning to orient themselves to time and space. Having a solid natural context with grounded understandings of the movement of birds and animals, the weather, the timing of plantings, the flowering and fruiting of plants, why people build houses and communities the way they do–these are all valuable skills.

I love celebrating their discoveries with them. Patterns hold secrets to a mysterious language–how air and liquids move through plants and over land, pathways of animals, bird song, the growth of trees, where the cats sleep, how a seed sprouts and grows, and on and on and on…

bee balm & Asiatic lily

3. Ethics: This response always gets a few raised eyebrows, but it is completely true. Ethics do not have to be some eye-rolling, tortuous, intellectual exercise.

Children, maybe especially the young ones, love the simplicity of the ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. It’s natural for them. Often when we come to a point of potential conflict, a child will pipe up with “Okay, Fair Share.” Or, in answer to a question about why we might do something (like donate extra produce to a food bank), we’ll get “People Care, Fair Share.” When my daughter asked me what a group meant by “social justice” (comparing it with her own understanding) we clarified it with anything that has to do with the permaculture ethics. “Clear as a bell, mom.”

I would love to see every child have an opportunity to practice Deep Nature Connection and explore permaculture for themselves. To that effect (and in the interest of a bit of self-promotion), I am offering:

workshops this fall for children;

drafting a set of curricula for children ages 3-15; and

offering workshops on parenting for permanent culture next spring. This fall, my daughter and I are offering a workshop at the Bluegrass Bioneers about our journey together.

Lest you think children get to have all the fun, we are currently enrolling adults in our fall weekend course, which will begin mid-September.


More than a Permaculture Teacher

Coming out of the residential permaculture design course in June, I felt so good. I still do. In early June, I was seeing my first guest edited edition of the Permaculture Activist (Earth Skills and Nature Connection) on the stands at the local co-op. My passion for Nature Connection and its integration into the culture of our PDC was well-received. I was celebrating a good workshop in Indianapolis introducing permaculture and helping to create community and a return invitation for a second workshop (which happened the last day of June).

great conifer on the edge at pine hill nature preserve

I am feeling good–like a fat cat in shade…and vaguely restless.

I love sharing permaculture…but more specifically, I love catalyzing a passion for nature, culture, restoration, community, connection, healing, peace….all of it. Permaculture is the means through which I act and spur others to act on their visions of a regenerative, nurturing, and responsible society. There’s been some recent stir about whether permaculture is a design science or a movement (a la Toby Hemenway, Rafter T. Sass)–and I agree it’s both.  And thank goodness!  What good is a design science without people who feel passionately about applying it.

I, just as so many others, bring much to the table. Permaculture is a great match for me, because it can incorporate or align with so many other good paths…biodynamics, Waldorf, homeschooling, Nature Connection/8 Shields work, empowerment of various groups…and just as it is not contained or curtailed by any of them–I am not defined by any of them. That is a very unsettling and empowering recognition. I may be re-stating the obvious…but I hope that this musing resonates with and catalyzes a positive, empowered, and loving feeling in you, too.