Permaculture at home

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Copyright Dillon Naber Cruz

A little over two years ago my wife and I purchased our first home. By American standards it is modest at just under 900 square feet and while not exactly a fixer upper, it does need some work–kind of like me! The front yard is tiny, approximately 100 square feet, and had been contaminated by an unscrupulous handyman who cleaned his paint brushes with thinner there which he spilled onto the soil. The previous occupants of the house mowed this space and used the area behind the house as both parking and a place to work on cars. It too was contaminated by oil and other automotive products. It is heavy clay soil that retains a lot of moisture and needs some TLC.

Since moving in, I spent some time observing my tiny yard, and also stopped mowing the front yard and the strip of vegetation along the east side the borders the alley. Letting nature take its course revealed a profusion of morning glories in the front of the house which created a gorgeous natural shade for the front  porch which faces south,. Along the fence, a beautiful vine regrew that covers the fence with deep green vines and pretty white flowers late in the growing season. I let the dandelions grow because they are an important source of bee food early in the spring, not to mention their edible and medicinal benefits (I would not use them from my yard, however, due to the aforementioned contamination).  My neighbor asked me if I wanted him to mow it all for me our first year here which provided a great teaching moment as I extolled the virtues of all the “weeds” growing in my yard!

Last season and early this spring, I added spent mushroom grain to the front yard as a means of hopefully cleaning the contamination (see the work of Paul Stamets and others using mushroom mycelium as a form of bioremediation) as well as to add fertility to the soil. This myceliated grain came from friends of mine who grow edible and medicinal mushrooms by inoculating logs the grain and mushroom spawn.  I also added it to a bed in the back that had two stumps in it, both of which are now myceliated thoroughly, which will eventually decompose the stumps while adding nutrients to the soil.  It was also added it to the small pile of brush and green “waste” that hides behind my car. It too will help break down the pile into valuable compost. The mushroom grain has added a thin layer of humus to the soil and judging by the abundance of flowering plants growing, it has increased the fertility. I pulled up some wild onions a few weeks ago that were spreading too quickly. The size of the onions was astonishing in comparison to the ones I have foraged in the past. This is likely due to increased fertility from the mushroom grain and other permaculture management strategies.

I planted some perennial and annual flowers to the pollinator garden in front to increase diversity of species and add even more color. Likewise, in the back yard, I converted the space closest to the kitchen door into a container garden for growing more flowers and herbs. This year, I decided to grow more leafy greens to have them at hand, instead of walking the half mile to my community garden plot for them. I saved those community garden beds for tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, all of which take up too much space for my back yard. I rearranged the pots this year to take better advantage of the morning sun because the back yard is on the north side.  This slight adjustment also gives the plants better evening sun as well as the shadows move along with the sun as it makes its way over the horizon.

Permaculture is about working with nature. Sometimes that means letting nature get on with it and seeing what happens. Sometimes it means rearranging pots to get better sun or selectively weeding when a plant is becoming over abundant. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of space to increase diversity and create a cultivated ecosystem like the miniature meadow ecosystem I have co-created with the plants, insects, and a tree in my front yard. We need less lawns and more organic gardens that increase diversity, foster life, and build community.

Some shots from our wild gardens and kitchen garden.

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Fiddle Creek Update part two

Recent flooding out at Fiddle Creek Dairy has caused significant damage to the farm’s infrastructure, namely to the driveway and one of the barns. Due to the topography flashflooding is proving to be a multiple times per year event. To fix this problem will require the rental of two pieces of heavy equipment, a mini-excavator and a tracked skid loader, paying for an equipment operator, and other related expenses (fuel, design time, etc).  We’re hoping to raise the money through this fundraising campaign and that anyone who can afford to will donate $10 (or more) to help support farming done the right way.  The paragraphs below are from Francis Miller one of the farm’s owners:

Greetings friends and family –

We are nearing our 4th year here at Fiddle Creek Dairy.  What a time of adventure, beauty, trial, death, birth, and growth.  We feel so blessed to belong to this land, living close to the wildness that is still here, learning more each day about how to be in harmony.

As many of you know, making one’s living primarily off of your own land, by growing and producing healthy food, is a difficult endeavor.  Our life here is filled with joy alongside a number of challenges that sometimes discourage the spirit.  Such was the feeling we had this Thursday morning Feb. 25, when we walked out to observe the damage done by the previous night’s storm.  Our beautiful little “Fiddle Creek” becomes a wide, raging river several times a year.  It has happened about 8 times since we moved here, doing a good deal of destruction.  Last night’s flood was the worst yet.  We had built enough berms and swales to save the garden this time but as we walked around Thursday morning, we discovered that the driveway washed out, leaving an 8″ deep gully, and lower down, a new washed out ravine about 5 feet in depth.  And then when I was feeding the chickens, I realized that a wall in the back of our horse barn had collapsed.   Life tends to pile up like this sometimes. (I’m looking forward to the day when I will have time to write down all these stories).

It was right after coming inside from looking around that we discovered our friend and fellow worker Dillon Naber Cruz, had just created a fundraising effort to help us with our stream project.  He didn’t even know about the most recent flood damage.  This kindness lifted our spirits immensely.

For a variety of reasons, neither the township, nor insurance, nor the conservation district have any funds to help us address the damage from this flood and the ongoing water issues.  It is in our hands.  We humbly realize that we cannot proceed alone.

If you are able to assist us, you can either send money directly to us at Fiddle Creek Dairy, 97 Loop Road, Quarryville PA 17566, or send money through Dillon’s fundraising site with paypal (click on link below).  All money will go towards the same project; to create a way for the flood waters to go through and back into the stream without destroying our land or the watershed.

To donate via Paypal go to Paypal and send money to dillon.cruz72@yahoo.com

Beautiful Fiddle Creek Dairy in Lancaster County

Beautiful Fiddle Creek Dairy in Lancaster County

Roaring water cut this trench in the latest flood event.

Roaring water cut this trench in the latest flood event.

Deep cut from the flood waters. The garden is out of the shot to the right

Deep cut from the flood waters. The garden is out of the shot to the right

Every flood makes this worse

Every flood makes this worse

Silt deposit from the flooding

Silt deposit from the flooding

The driveway is getting washed into the stream

The driveway is getting washed into the stream

Water pooling up behind the detritus of the flood

Water pooling up behind the detritus of the flood

Yummy!

Yummy!

Tim and Frances talk farming

Tim and Frances talk farming

Eli loves the cattle

Eli loves the cattle

The pastures are steadily improving with rotational grazing management

The pastures are steadily improving with rotational grazing management

Tim putting in the electric fence

Tim putting in the electric fence

Frances doing some fencing.

Frances doing some fencing.

Happy cows make great yogurt

Happy cows make great yoghurt

These swales have helped protect the garden. Bigger ones are needed elsewhere.

These swales have helped protect the garden. Bigger ones are needed elsewhere.

Screenshot (60)

This shows the nature of the landscape and how the water flows through it.

Screenshot (61)

 

Fiddle Creek Dairy update

Fiddle Creek Dairy in winter

Fiddle Creek Dairy in winter

Last year as part of the Advanced Permaculture Design Practicum I took through Oregon State University, I did a permaculture design for a local micro-dairy in Quarryville, PA called Fiddle Creek Dairy. The owners of the farm, Tim, Frances, and their toddler son Eli, are dedicated to regenerating the degraded land of the farm that they purchased a little over 3 years ago. They use rotational grazing practices and are taking a holistic management course to further improve their farm management and increase their sustainable yields. We have been working together for the past year to design and implement elements of the design for the farm in hopes that it can become a working farm model that uses permaculture design practices in order to influence, inspire, and lead the local farming community to more sustainable practices here in Lancaster County and beyond.

Flooding has been a problem at the farm and due to its topography (the land is kind of like a bowl or funnel). This issue has recurred multiple times within the past year. In order to alleviate this problem some earth moving equipment needs to be rented and used to divert water away from the garden and the house. During one flood last year a large swath of the newly installed garden was washed away along with the soil, plants and raised beds.  They have been relying on volunteer help for much of the implementation so far and now need some funds to rent an excavator and pay an operator to mitigate flood damage.  In light of that, I am seeking donations to help with this expensive undertaking. Donating money is a great way to “share the surplus” . All money received will go directly to the implementation of the permaculture design, starting with the flood control project. Any additional funds will go towards the coppice wood lot survey and planting and the windbreaks shown in the design.

Take a look at the link below for more on the Fiddle Creek Project and please share this post widely

Thanks!

Fiddle Creek project donations

Fiddle Creek Dairy permaculture design

Frances broad-forking the soil to get out the weeds.

Frances broad-forking the soil to get out the weeds.

Raised beds on contour top dressed with compost.

Raised beds on contour top dressed with compost.

Dillon Cruz using he A frame level to mark out the contour lines.

Dillon Cruz using he A frame level to mark out the contour lines.

Mycological remediation

Paul Stamets is a well known mycologist, a scientist who studies fungi, who does experiments in mycological remediation as well as other research involving fungi. The mycoremediation process uses certain types of fungi to clean up environmental toxins or to bring health back to the soil in areas of clear cut logging or other areas where soil has been abused. In Stamets’ view mushrooms can be a key component in reversing some of the damage done by the wanton mistreatment of the planet’s various ecosystems from forests and waterways to urban and industrial sites. In the video below he chronicles one such experiment using mushrooms to clean up piles of dirt contaminated with fossil fuels and other toxic substances such as heavy metals. The mushrooms break down the chemicals to the point of being inert. They also take up the heavy metals but do not break them down.

This leads me to an “I wonder” moment and the following question.  If the mushrooms were used to concentrate the heavy metals into their tissues, could the heavy metals then be extracted by allowing the mushrooms to decompose on top of or raised slightly above a powerful magnet? If so, could the metals then be made useful in the manufacture of metal tools or other useful items? I literally have no idea. Perhaps this question would be answered with a resounding “No!”. It would be tremendously exciting if something like this could work though. Not only exciting but a game changer in environmental remediation.

We need to be asking a lot of different questions like this in order to regenerate soil, clean up watersheds, creeks, rivers, lakes and the oceans. We need brilliant minds to come up with effective ways to remediate toxins in the environment without using other toxic chemicals or a proverbial sledge hammer when a feather duster will do the trick. Design solutions for reinhabiting the planet (which means to live mindfully in conjunction with the natural world and one’s neighbors) are of vital importance to the here and now as scientist warn of us of the potential for systemic biosphere collapse, i.e. a mass extinction that includes human beings. It’s time to re-imagine our lives and our way of living on the planet, to engage in right livelihoods that are sustainable, regenerative, and peaceful. It’s well past time to cease funding research and development of war machinery and weapons of mass destruction and to begin funding sustainable systems research for basically every facet of life to provide food, fiber, shelter, water and meaningful activity to people across the globe. We’re ostensibly intelligent. If we’re smart enough to devise ways of destroying the systems that support life (air, water, soil, communities) then we are smart enough to create ways that foster and regenerate those systems. Let’s get to it.

Watch the following video and be inspired. Ask questions. Change your world.

Day of Gratitude pictures

Since I was flying solo for the holiday today, I decided to hit a new trail in Lancaster county up in the Furnace Hills to take some fall photos. I’m grateful for the ability to hike in beautiful places and pray that we as a species start taking better care of the biosphere. Get out there and fall in love with your life-place.

Peace

Dillon Naber Cruz

 

hickory nut

hickory nut

Moss and lichen on sandstone

Moss and lichen on sandstone

What stories could you tell?

What stories could you tell?

I don't know what that is on the oak leaves.

I don’t know what that is on the oak leaves.

High compression

High compression

A potential tree?

A potential tree?

Seed

Seed

Splinters

Splinters

tails1

turkey tails

turkey tails

No one is eating these turkeys

No one is eating these turkeys

Moss on the fungi. Circle of life.

Moss on the fungi. Circle of life.

I wonder who will emerge.

I wonder who will emerge.

 

A forest garden year

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Copyrighted by Creative Commons.

 

 

 

 

In the United States there are millions of acres of lawns, many of which are chemically treated with fertilizers and herbicides.  Those chemicals end up in our waterways creating pollution which destroys aquatic habitat and sickens aquatic life. There are other ways to maintain a yard, some of which entirely eliminate a mono-cultured lawn, in favor of gardens of various descriptions. One such method is a forest garden that mimics a natural forest or woodland.  A forest ecosystem has seven layers (root, groundcover, herbaceous, shrub, understory tree, vine, and overstory tree) that create a huge amount habitat with niches for all manner of life, while also producing it’s own rich, dark soil.  With intentional design and plantings, yards even with mature overstory trees can be incredibly diverse with plants for food, medicine, pollinators, fiber, and fuel. Such a yard is replete with interesting and beautiful sites, sounds and smells in contrast to the awful smelling, boring to look at, chemical soaked carpet of grass maintained by companies like TruGreen Chemlawn, such as the one two houses down from where I currently reside.

For the past year, my wife and I have lived in the home of a friend who maintains a wonderful forest garden. It is filled with medicinal plants that she uses as an herbalist and plants that attract many species of beneficial pollinators. There are perennial plants that come back year after year in pulses timed to ensure there is something wonderful to see each month of the growing season along with trees and shrubs that provide color in the autumn when the leaves turn. There is a glorious old oak tree that towers over the back yard and another in the front. There isn’t a single blade of grass to be mowed here which to me is a beautiful thing.   A newly installed pond provides habitat for amphibians and water plants as well as a peaceful place to sit and simply be observant of all the life around the backyard. She also designed a labyrinth for walking meditation which I have availed myself of and find extremely calming. Birds of various kinds come to eat at feeders or glean from the shrubs that are planted. Squirrels chatter and argue with one another over space and acorns. There is a profusion of bright colors for most of the year and then in the wintry silence this beautiful forest garden rests waiting to re-emerge in the spring.

We could do an enormous amount of ecological regeneration by converting lawns to forest gardens, kitchen gardens,  market gardens and mini-farms, or wildlife habitat. We could build community resilience and build relationships by sharing space and sharing the surplus food or medicine produced in these new gardens of Eden. We could create beauty and eliminate toxins from our suburban landscapes simply by going from having a lawn to creating a garden. We could make life a good deal more interesting too!

To learn more about designing forest gardens I recommend the following resources:

Dave Jacke Edible Forest Gardens

Integrated Forest Gardening

I hope the following photographs from this forest garden prove inspirational.

What kind of bee are thee?

What kind of bee are thee?

A nightshade

A nightshade

Spring emerging

Spring emerging

Save me...

Save me…

umbrella

So many tiny flowers

More purple please.

More purple please.

Punk rock caterpillar

Punk rock caterpillar

purple

Rosehips are full of vitamin C

Rosehips are full of vitamin C

Stinkhorn mushroom

Stinkhorn mushroom

Sacred tobacco

Sacred tobacco

muppets

Looks like something from the Muppets

pink

Shades of red

Gathering pollen

Gathering pollen

pink2

A blue jay with a crossed bill

A blue jay with a crossed bill

green2

Up close and personal

Peek a boo

Peek a boo

Slug life

Slug life

Labyrinth for walking meditation

Labyrinth for walking meditation

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea

Honoring the Divine Feminine

Honoring the Divine Feminine

love rain2

Love rain

pretty pinks

A profusion of pink

An umbel of some sort

An umbel of some sort

A collection of nettles and nudes.

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Copyrighted by Creative Commons.

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Autumn is here and winter is fast approaching here in SE Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. A great number of the trees here are now completely devoid of leaves as are a huge percentage of the neighborhood yards. The latter is lamentable for a variety of reasons–noisy leaf blowers, disturbed ecosystems that support a variety of life including next years potential butterflies, and a loss of potential soil nutrients through curb side pick up of piles or bags of as yet unformed humus. The former is of course all part of the natural pattern of the seasons here in North America for deciduous trees. Temperatures are fluctuating rather drunkenly as fall speeds towards winter. Recent day time highs have been as warm as 65 degrees and lows in the early morning hours have dipped into the middle to lower 30s. Perfect weather for observing and interacting with nature!  Just remember to dress warm enough. I took these photos on Monday November 16th and was woefully under-dressed, with only a light jacket over my sweater, blue jeans and sneakers with cotton socks. What I needed was some long johns, thicker socks, and boots. It was worth the cold feet and hands to me though to get the following shots.

To better understand our local life places it’s imperative to go outside and witness the different cycles of life in all seasons. One way to do this is to have a daily sit spot, where one goes consistently to simply sit in silent observation for 20 or minutes at a time, preferably morning and evening.  Another way is to take daily walks where one lives and to hike in areas nearby to see, hear, and feel the life all around us. I enjoy taking my camera when I hike because it slows me down as a I walk through the woods.  A small sketch book is also a wonderful tool for any budding naturalist. I personally need to add drawing to my nature time much more often. That would certainly slow me down, something I imagine most of us need to do.

Nude in the sunlight

Nude in the sunlight

Black and white nude

Black and white nude

Nude at dawn

Nude at dawn

Nude in the morning

Nude in the morning

Tea, green vegetable, topical medicine

Tea, green vegetable, topical medicine

Urtica dioaca a powerful plant medicine and delicious edible.

Urtica dioaca a powerful plant medicine and delicious edible.

Looks totally delicious.

Looks totally delicious.

Doe eyes.  Lancaster, PA

Doe eyes.
Lancaster, PA

Frosted stinging nettle.

Frosted stinging nettle.

 

The beginning of the end for RoundUp?

RoundUp is the most used herbicide in the world today and it is well known to be toxic. Glyphosate is one of the key ingredients in the herbicide and its copycat herbicides from other chemical companies.  The California EPA announced today that it intends to label glyphosate as cancer causing. This news is HUGE. California is the world’s 5th largest economy.  Once California does this, other places will surely follow suit. Most  GMO crops are modified to withstand being sprayed with RoiundUp, creating a toxic product that is marketed as safe, nutritious food. Surely, biotech companies no longer have a leg to stand on when it comes to producing this chemical or crops modified to withstand spraying with a glyphosate based herbicide.

A full ban must be instituted immediately and producers must pay to reverse the damage their products have done to the ecology of the planet.

California to label RoundUp

CA EPA Announcement

 

Scotland to ban growing GMO crops

Good news on the GMO front. Another European nation has decided to ban the growing of GMO crops in order to ensure a healthy environment for the future.

“Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment — and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, said in a statement.

The Europeans are far ahead of the US in terms of environmental policy and this new ban on GMOs in Scotland widens that gap. Denmark for example,  is pouring millions into becoming an all organic nation. 26 nations have full or partial bans on growing GMO crops. We need to see that type of political leadership in the United States. Write your elected officials at all levels and demand a ban on GMO crop cultivation, particularly RoundUp Ready crops.

 

Scotland bans GMO crops