Nourishing life, community, family, home.

Posts tagged ‘permaculture’

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.


First day of homeschool…

Today was our first day of school. It’s a new stage for us–not only are the grades different, but this is the first year I’m really consciously “doing pre-school” with Caden. So balancing the needs of pre-K and a burgeoning sixth grader are here in front of me.

What does that look like from a Waldorf/Nature Connection/Permaculture/big emphasis on family view?

Well, today for us was:

Walk the dog on the B-line trail through town (stopping to smell the roses); breakfast at Bloomingfoods and running into a former permaculture student to talk about the great projects he’s working on.

Then back at home:

Geology/Geography: A look at Pangaea and continental drift theory. This video really put the concept in perspective for us. We puzzled out the relationship between continents and talked about the biogeographical implications and the relationship between mountains, ocean trenches, faults, volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. More on this for Maya in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile the preschooler, enjoyed working with the numbers 2 and 3, various coloring projects and drawing crab monsters. While Maya reviewed parts of speech, explored new vocabulary, and practiced math work from the previous year, Caden helped to prepare lunch.

After a lunch break (with a breather for mom), we did some individual reading. Maya worked on sewing up a project while I read a beginning story to Caden from our Keepers of the Animals curriculum.

We wrapped up the day with some cordage (one of my favorite primitive skills). Maya harvested a few yucca leaves from our garden and guided us through processing (pounding with a stone). It turns out that one particular stone I’d collected is indeed the PERFECT stone for this kind of work. Under Maya’s tutelage we all made great progress with it–enjoying the shade and comfort outside, playing and laughing together. Even the pounding became a rhythmic play. Here’s a look at our handiwork:

Yucca leaves in various states, stones for pounding out the material, and finished yucca cordage.

Not every day will be this idyllic, but I think it’s been a lovely start to the year and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Drought in a Permaculture Garden

I designed my main growing beds so that I do not have to water as much as others usually do. Whether this is from an inherent sense of design, frugality, or just plain laziness…maybe it’s all three. But, truth be told, I DO NOT like to water the garden.

I HAVE watered my garden–in late June to early July I watered it about five times in three weeks, just to see keep a few things alive long enough to flower and start to bear fruit. The drought here in south-central Indiana has been so persistent and so very difficult that I just stopped watering, but very little. So, here we are in the last week of July. My son (4 years old) and I snapped some pictures of the garden. And I was struck by the life, beauty, and fruition in the garden starkly contrasted with the farmers around me plowing under their corn–revealing the true natures and adaptability of our relative approaches to agriculture. To be sure, my garden is not as productive as it would be with more water. But the contrast is still appropriate.

Throughout these beds: beans, onions, kale, asparagus, raspberries, potatoes, carrots, lemon balm, marjoram, bergamot, valerian, and a few other herbs and “weeds.”

It is my hope that more people begin to grow food for themselves–at least a portion and supplement of what they have now. Start a fall garden, a few plants to tend if you are not used to it. Get help from those that know more than you do.

These lettuces should re-seed themselves in the garden–for winter and spring harvests to come. The gold finches love them, too. And who knew that the blossoms are so beautiful to watch?

With so much of our food coming from the corn and soybean fields, the wheat harvests, we know that food prices are likely to soar. So, working with nature in the permaculture way allows us to build our resilience now. And to find joy in the simple cycles of sow, tend, harvest, eat!

This is the real secret to turning my gardening experience into the Garden of Eden–appreciating its beauty and vitality. Recognizing the fullness of life created by working with life and nature–creating beneficial, vital connections. This feeds my affection for my garden. This nourishes my soul.

Food for the soul–and other practical uses 🙂

The Gift of the Hydra

I once called it a “trash tree.” So ignorant, I was. We cut the “ugly thing” down in 2006–preferring to use the space for an apple tree in our new permaculture forest garden. But, year after year, it’s sprouted new growth–so that for every branch we cut back two seemed to grow.

I nicknamed it “The Hydra,” and wrangled with what to do. I could keep cutting it so ferociously that its roots would give up all of their nourishment and it would die. I could paint it with some sort of chemical to stop that. That’s when the poison ivy sprouted at its base. The gods seemed to be laughing. That slowed me down a bit.

I’m really glad the poison ivy DID slow me down and help me appreciate what a gift it is. Not only is the shrubby growth a visual barrier between my living space and my neighbor’s big living room windows. I realized the rabbits I keep love the tender growth and leaves. Last year I let it grow as a supplemental feed for them. I began to think of it as an unusual coppice tree. Then a friend showed me how to create cordage from the bark of saplings.

Today, it all came together in a new and joyful way. I am so thankful to this mulberry–which in my ignorance and its persistence–has come to live a different life. We have a new relationship. Today, needing a stake for the garden, I took a branch the right size and left the rest to grow for now. I stripped the extra small branches and leaves. I stripped the outer bark. I staked one of the tomato plants.

My staked tomato

Then I divided up the rest of the materials: bark set aside to make cordage. Larger branches stripped to make baskets, and the smaller twigs and leaves for rabbit feed. The rabbits love the fresh leaves–preferring it to their normal pelleted food in the heat. Mulberry and lambsquarters are among their favorites.

Not a scrap of it is left as “waste.” Every bit of it is integrated into our garden and home for the good of the whole. This is joyful living. Taking only what we need, and using every bit.

Lily munching on the mulberry treat

Materials separated for their purposes

Recovering Landscape

We live in a recovering landscape. It has been recovering since the glaciers wiped it clear thousands of years ago. Sometimes recovery takes that long. Trees are slow movers. Though the pollen from trees can drift a thousand miles, the seeds rarely move more than a few miles on their own. So it can take hundreds of years for a forest to recover from a major disturbance. It is fair to say that the forests of Indiana, which once spread over 98 percent of the state, were stabilizing and that the native peoples co-adapted to the forested wetlands and uplands.

White settlers felled great oaks, walnuts, chestnuts, and other hardwoods both for timber needed to build homes and also to clear land for farming. Settlers in the northern part of the state were blessed with a depth of topsoil that yielded well even after the forests, grasslands, and wetlands were cleared. The southern part of the state with its rocky ridges and flooding lowlands did not fare as well. By the 1910s it was obvious: farms were failing, and the timber industry had already stripped much of the best trees from the area.

It was at this time that the legislature created the state forest system — now nearly 150,000 acres — in part as a buy-out program for farms that just couldn’t make it any more. It was also meant to demonstrate best management practices to landowners who could and should be producing timber on their lands. At the time, this was seen as a progressive way to support the people of the state, to recover some forest lands in a landscape where the soils had grown so thin they threatened to become wastelands, and to demonstrate the economic benefit of good timber production of hardwoods over generations.

Until a couple of decades ago, Indiana’s state forests have been in a state of recovery. Only a tiny fraction of forests in the state have never been cleared (Pioneer Mothers in Paoli is one of the best public examples, and even that may have been cut at some point). The state forests have been managed primarily for timber. Though recreational activities of all kinds take place on the waterways, in a few campgrounds, and on the trails, the intent of the state has been to sell the timber from these forests. Over the last several years, now that there are parts of the forest reaching greater age, there is an increased desire by the Division of Forestry to maximize the economic benefit by selling timber. Logging on state forests has increased 500 percent, with clear intentions to maintain that level of timber extraction, disrupting natural cycles and replacing them with destructive manmade ones, for at least the next several decades. In essence, of the 150,000 acres of state forest run by and for the people, every possible acre will see the removal of trees that are of economic benefit or that will prohibit the growth of trees that are of economic benefit. Although we, the people, own these “tree farms,” it is what’s on the spreadsheet and not what’s in the soil quality that determines the timber industry’s interest in on our state forests. Even the local forest managers are increasingly pressured to “get the cut out.” Federal policies subsidizing forest products for biomass energy production only encourage this mindset — and indeed have encouraged the Hoosier National Forest’s managers to begin increasing forest product extraction on a level not seen in over a decade.

This is a mindset anchored to the past. Recent advances in ecosystem sciences and the restoration of landscapes stand in sharp contrast with forest management perspectives in Indiana government. The state asks how we can keep improving our extraction, or how can we use science to justify continued cutting (such as the assertion that we need more early successional habitat), when what we need to ask is whether there should be any cutting on public lands. We need a society where the timber industry trades fairly with private landowners instead of leaning on the crutch of the public forest system. We need people to create more forests, both for wilderness and for the resources they provide, and to make a clear distinction between wilderness and forest farms. State parks, often promoted as a wilderness experience, are anything but — crisscrossed with roads, parking lots, trails, inns and restaurants. They do not fulfill the need for a wild place, nor are they sufficient for the recovery of our landscape from the damages it has seen in the industrial era.

People who prioritize resource extraction think wilderness is a naive or an antiquated notion. Despite this view, Indiana is likely to become more forested. If we plan well, some of those forests will be wild — areas existing strictly for their ecological, psychological, and spiritual benefits. With the anticipated failure of industrial agriculture, which is propped up with subsidies throughout the entire food production and distribution system, monocrop farmlands will likely begin to return to forests.

This adjustment of humanity’s impact on the landscape will result in more space for the wild forests and wetlands of Indiana to return to doing what they were meant to do: build soil, purify and hold water, generate rain, increase biodiversity, support more kinds of animals in larger populations, purify the air, disperse or lock up heavy metals and other pollutants, and create healthier and happier people living in connection with their natural environment.

Remember, trees are slow movers. It is often said that the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. So plant trees now. Plant useful trees: fruit trees, nut trees, trees for animal and bee fodder, trees that can be coppiced and used for building, fuel or fiber supply. If you are a farmer, do the same on a larger scale. Diversify what you are growing. All along the way, restore watersheds to create more capacity for life and diversity in your landscape. Invite nature into your life and your land in a balanced way. Work with state, county and city programs to increase forests and forested wetlands along riparian zones. Urge re-forestation and protection of ridges and slopes that would be unstable if the trees were cut. Create community orchards and forest gardens. Visit your state and federal forests. Plant a tree with a child. The Earth can be an amazingly abundant place. It takes a little effort and understanding from everyone to see it re-cover itself.

Rhonda Baird ( is the former director of Indiana Forest Alliance and serves on the Heartwood board of directors. She tends a small forest garden surrounding home). This article first appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Branches Magazine.

Seven Generations

For seven generations…

I am the seventh generation to live in this state. In this part of the state of Indiana. Parts of my family have been in my or surrounding counties since before Indiana was a state. If seven generations mark a cycle, then my daughter and son-the eight generation-mark a new beginning.

I’ve thought a lot about what this means. Some of my ancestors were here before Europeans staked a claim on the land. I learned recently that my mother’s people, Grandma Mountain in particular, was of the Cherokee that were forcibly removed to the West. My father’s mother’s people were from the Cherokees of North Carolina. I couldn’t get more specific than that. The story is lost. Some of my ancestors fought in the American Revolution. Some of them hired Daniel Boone to bring them to this territory before it was a state. Before they came here, parts of my family were French Huguenots that re-settled in England. Parts of my family were Virginians fleeing a devastated South. That’s a lot of family karma. And, does it mean anything?

Does it mean something to come from a place with roots this deep? My husband and I have chosen to stay in this area, to raise our children here despite the temptation to be like many of our generation and take better paying jobs on the coasts. We have valued being near our families and friends, making a life of that values real things–real connections.

I feel deeply connected to this hilly, forested, rolling landscape–even naming my business Sheltering Hills Design. I belong here. My children belong here. We are of this land. I was raised close to the land by gardeners and skilled craftsmen. I expect that my children will be at least gardeners and skilled, even if they choose other careers.

I’m in awe of the beauty of my landscape, and upset by its abuse. The here I have inherited is as polluted and damaged (Indiana consistently ranks last in environmental quality) as it is beautiful.  It is my home. The powers that be, the mechanistic minds and memes that have invaded the culture of this area extract the natural bounty of this landscape. Seven generations of use without the deep thought to plan for the future generations. What will this land look like in seven generations? Hoosiers have choices to make.

I am on the path to defend and begin restoring this landscape. I’m not going anywhere. I’m raising my children with the understanding of the challenges they face in life–and where those challenges came from. I am raising the next generation to be committed to this place, to work with others to create a permanent culture of place amidst these forests, roads, fields,quarries, coal mines, naval bases, universities, factories, rivers….to have the tools to make this place a whole and wholesome one. Better than we found it.

Neighborhood Garden, Community Project

Bright, hot, cloudy, rainy, spring, summer, and fall I had the pleasure of teaching and co-teaching workshops in a neighborhood garden. The Green Acres Neighborhood Garden. It was a sweet and nourishing experience.

Together, Nathan Harman and I, led participants through the work that needed to be done to plant and improve and harvest and tend the GANG. The garden was set up by an amazing woman, Ann Kreilkamp; and was tended this past year by children after school, by retired neighbors, and by interns and students from Indiana University.

Last year the garden was set up by Keith Johnson, longtime permaculture educator and gardener, who taught a series of workshops with the garden as laboratory. This year, Nathan and I came in and worked to improve the soil, tweak the original design, and bring the space more to life. The thing that surprised me most was the rhythm of working with the participants throughout the year. Used to my own garden’s rhythms and doing the work alone, it was a real joy to come together with others (always a slightly different group) to accomplish so much in such little time.

The concept of the neighborhood garden is a worthy one. My hope is that all of the neighborhoods in my community (and communities everywhere) develop them and use them to increase food security and community life. Imagine a city of neighborhood gardens that acted as focal points for educating and experimenting and celebrating together. And that the participants then went home to their own gardens and put what they learned into practice. As I prep my garden beds for winter and sit down with a cup of tea, I’m holding in mind the last workshop: the chatter, celebration, exchange, connection, and appreciation we all shared.

For more on the last workshop and the Green Acres Neighborhood Garden, visit Ann’s blog about it: