Friday, November 11, 2016

Observations on the twelve Permaculture principles. Twelve.

Twelve. Creatively use and respond to change.


In 2014 and 2015, we experienced serious if not severe drought at Stony Run Farm for the first time.
1. Winters were as warm as the typical April. We began doing things in the potting shed in January that in the past would have been reserved for late March. Weed control became a year-round activity, as shown by the black plastic vainly trying to smother bindweed at upper right.


2. In an effort to provide partial shade to brassicas, broadbeans were sown down the middle of some beds. Cardboard/straw mulch was used extensively, and seedlings were planted through holes in the mulch.


3. Brassicas did well. In spite of the heat, 2015 became a good lettuce and chard year, partly because conditions suppressed the usual slug eruption. 

Broadbeans were harvested very early, and then chopped and dropped. More mulch was piled on. Watering had relatively little effect on wilt and the well came close to running dry. We came to see that there is such a thing as losing the ability to farm at all in some localities and that this could easily come to be one.


4. Soil became extremely hard and it was almost impossible to harvest potatoes. The corn crop was much reduced. Winter squash did relatively well, due to the extremely long growing season. Weeds became a serious problem in the lower garden after being held at bay for a quarter of a century, but harvests were only slightly below normal for the summer crops. 

We have since had to abandon that garden and it will revert to poultry pasture. Meanwhile the brassicas went to seed early and provided the following year’s garden with hundreds of healthy volunteers.

Many trees died in 2014-2015. Smoke from fires actually inhibited our activities in August 2015. We laid in supplies for an evacuation but our own area was remarkably fire free as it turned out.


Particulates rose to 450 ppm and remained high for three days, coming from fires over four hundred miles away.


The sun was almost blotted out at noon.


N-95 masks were ineffectual but were the best we could do. The smoke also contained relatively high levels of unstable isotopes that had been deposited on forests in our region by an incident in Japan. We joked among ourselves: “we have been born into interesting times.”

I’m now hearing from others that the bindweed explosion is happening everywhere locally. Those who can afford to are sifting soil down to a foot deep for the roots; we here are too old for that. Lesson: some things you can adapt to and carry on as you have done; other things you can adapt to only by doing everything completely differently. And: losses happen.

The acquisition and distribution of food, water and shelter, and securing the means to obtain them, whether one is involved in direct production or not, is a year-on-year endeavor, and as an urban civilization we tend to lose sight of this. Circumstances beyond our control will always be a factor and outcomes are not guaranteed. 

Right now the world is deciding whether it will ride out uncertainty by competition or cooperation. 

Competition has received a vote of confidence, but (if I may say so) in many places the choice has been between open inhumanity and stealth inhumanity. 

Humane approaches have largely not been on the table. 

The Permaculture Principles may have been embraced by “starry-eyed optimists” but that does not mean they do not point the way to a potentially humane and even practical program for the recovery of a resilient commons.

The underlying themes of these twelve principles are and remain Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share. 

Adopting them does not necessarily mean you win. It means you anticipate change as best you can and prepare accordingly, while trying not to lose whatever you think of as your soul.

Observations on the twelve Permaculture principles. Eleven.

Eleven. Use edges and value the marginal.


1. Go out to where either your greens have made a whole lot of big side foliage you don't use at table, or that have gone to seed, producing volunteers (volunteer chard shown), and gather about forty leaves. 

2. Stuff your nine-tray electric or solar dehydrator with them. 

3. When they're brittle, fish them out and strip dry matter from midribs. Clean up and crumble to desired consistency, or dry blend to a fine powder.

4. Dry can (bake) in jars and open to use as needed. Good for up to five years in our experience.
Kale, collards, chard, beets, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, dandelions, false dandelions, lamb's quarters, turnip, kohlrabi, lettuce, and tatsoi, along with herbs to taste can all be included in this. I’ve been known to dehydrate organic citrus peelings and include them.

Use in breads, soups, frittatas, quiches, on meats, on potatoes, in eggs, power drinks, hot cereals, salads, wilted salads, stir fries, etc. Also can add to feeds such as poultry feeds.

Caveat: spinach and amaranths contain a lot of oxalic acid and so some of us should not consume them in quantity.

See also:

"Edges" can have many meanings; for us an important one is fence lines. Along them we plant comfrey, Oregon grape, elephant garlic, aronia, goumis and grape vines and encourage herbs, blackberries, wild cherries, hawthorns and wild plums. These areas not only entertain humans and poultry but provide food, shade and cover for a range of wild things as well as a bit of a block against garden-dehydrating winds.

Setting up the comfrey salad bar

Sharing the blackberries

Observations on the twelve Permaculture principles. Ten.

Ten. Use and value diversity.


1. On the land, try everything. Some trees, perennials and annuals will do better, some will not like your climate or soils as much. Be prepared to give up on favorites. 

For those who work with animals, it's much the same -- one five acre place might do well with a Devon cow and calf, whereas another, with smaller available pasture, might require Dexters

Do early spring gardens do better here than fall? What greens last through winter freezes? What flint corn or what winter squash seems happier here?

2. Explore the native and non-native field and forest biota and geology for further utility. Are there acorns? Abandoned fruit trees, or wild plums or persimmons? Walnuts? Black walnuts? wild grapes? Edible berries, seeds, annuals, biennials, mushrooms? 

Which make good medicines, teas, seasonings, dyes, basketry, axe handles, beanpoles, wattles

What animals are there, and which are predators to your plants and animals, which are appropriate to hunt (if you do)? Fish, eels, clams, mussels? What's legal or illegal, abundant or under pressure and needing conservation, and what are the seasons?

3. Experiment and extend your range of skills for your own benefit and pleasure as well as to benefit your family, friends and neighbors. Can you sew, mend, design an interior, clean house, paint, plumb, do carpentry, electric, roofing, assemble hardware, install appliances, cut glass, caulk, set tile, grout, lay bricks, set a stone wall, bed a pathway, maintain tools, cook, preserve foods, bake, dance, sing, tell stories, play an acoustic instrument, do martial arts, perform a play, chair a meeting, tend to the sick, attend a birth , comfort the dying, meditate, survive, evade, escape, tan leather, shoe a horse, dip candles? 

Or maybe only a few of these, but are willing to bank them at the community center in exchange for others? 

Also, when you've learned a skill, how about extending your range, trying new things with new ingredients or materials? Shown is a small loaf of spelt/rye/oatmeal bread with duck eggs, sea salt, veggie crumble, and brewer's yeast, baked in a crock pot. Next, perhaps we'll try in a Dutch oven on a rocket stove.

4. What do you know of your site, its watershed and region, and what they have to offer? Explore (where it is not trespassing) the fields, woods, streams, and bodies of water. Where does the water come from and where does it go; what is its quality? Where are the prevailing winds? Are you prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes? 

Where are the straight saplings for your stamping shed roof, round heat-safe rocks for your sweat lodge, flat rocks for your path to the compost heap, "trash" fish for your fertilizer? 

Where is the nearest doctor, dentist, veterinarian, grocer, etc., but also who is the go-to blacksmith, wild foods teacher, seed-saver? 

What birds and animals live (year-round or seasonally) in which areas -- are there rattler dens and poison oak or ivy to respect? 

What is the history here? How were things done in the past? How do local, state or province and national jurisdictions impact the site, locality and region? What are the current social and commercial impacts? 

What is changing, and can the changes be met with adequate adaptation? We cannot, maybe, discover all this, but by seeking may find much, and then we will never suffer boredom.

Observations on the twelve Permaculture principles. Nine.

Nine. Use small and slow solutions.

One leaf meal: volunteer Fordhook chard. 

1. Cut and bring in. 

2. Wash and cut up. 

3. Steam stem pieces 15 min. 

4. Add leafy green pieces and steam 5 min. Salt and butter to taste and serve.

We planted Fordhook Giant seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds a few years ago. The seeds traveled 2,000 miles by mail to reach us; but once here, they had to grow under our conditions, which are not exactly the same as those in Missouri. Fortunately they’re a forgiving lot and have volunteered for us ever since.

Fordhook dates from the 1920s and was a Burpee developed strain. The stems are to my mind even better than the greens. It transplants well; it does like well composted loose soil and lots of water. 

Fordhook tolerates both sun and shade and lasts through most of our summers and most of our winters. It seeds prolifically and volunteers grow true to form if other chards and beets did not flower nearby. Seed companies say it grows to 18" high but they are being modest. Many specimens reach over three feet not counting those that bolt in heat waves.

When you keep seeds of an open-pollinated variety from plants you have raised on site, they become adapted to the locality. Such seeds are referred to as a landrace.

Our chard is becoming accustomed to our weather, our seasons, our soil, our plant predators, and to us. It’s a small and slow solution, one which, over time, could yield some adaptation to changes, for example increasing heat and drought. 


By taking responsibility for a landrace, especially one that can self-seed, one becomes a personification of “think globally, act locally.” Making a meal from something that "just came up" is even more “local” than your CSA. Think of the ways that fits into "Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share." 

Invite the neighbors in to have some and you will really be on a roll.


Observations on the twelve Permaculture principles. Eight.

Eight. Integrate rather than segregate.


Create efficiencies and resiliences (Yang and Yin, if you will).

1. This is the poultry moat; function stacking. Outside fence, slowly becoming a hedge that yields blackberries, plums and wild cherries, is a woven wire deer fence for excluding deer, coyotes and stray dogs from poultry area and garden. Inside fence, lower left, is a welded wire poultry fence and keeps poultry out of the garden until wanted. Fruit trees are planted on a north-south axis to shade one another's roots. They also provide shade to poultry as well as protection from glide-path predators. Poultry pick up (some) fallen fruit and predate on slugs, snails and insects headed for the garden; they drop some fertilizer. Comfrey grows along the fences, just within nibbling reach. 

Chickens, ducks and geese have overlapping but not identical dietary interests.


A small open-front shed that was here when we got here has been enclosed, and we call it the barn. As it’s mostly concerned with poultry, most of it inside the moat. (The part that’s not in the moat is the potting shed.) 

Chickens roost at night on poles strung across one corner; their nesting boxes are a set of used rabbit cages with the doors left open, filled with straw. Ducks and geese stand around on the litter, waiting for morning. 

Our day begin with opening the door; everyone charges out and runs around looking for unsuspecting protein. 

Our seasons begin with spring, clearing out the bedding; actually it must be done several times a year; but early spring is when the accumulated (used) straw is spread on the garden and mixed or covered with leaves and grass clippings in preparation for setting out starts. 

Water that the ducks have swum in or cleaned out their beaks in turns a rich, redolent brown, so our tasks include carrying that water to the orchard for fertilizer as well as irrigation, then washing the pools and buckets and refilling. This is a time of great excitement for the waterfowl, who do like having new clean water to bathe and snortle in.

2. Polyculture; species mixing. Different perennials and annuals mix it up in some beds with a range of heights and leaf and root patterns, allowing some plants to look for slightly different nutrients and water profiles than others, varying sunlight and shade, hiding some plants better from their predators. We never got the hang of companion planting charts but sometimes we get lucky.

We also forage extensively. Mushrooms, dandelions, cat’s-ear, money plant, lilac blossoms, maple blossoms, plantains, deadnettle, nipplewort, and linden and mulberry leaves all have a part to play in our diet. Blackberries, in fact, are probably our main crop by default.

3. Variation in height; trellised crops alternate with low-growing spreading crops, assisting each other with partial shade, moisture conservation and weed suppression. 

4. Graze; instead of gathering a bushel of this here and that there, one can work one's way through the garden, finding what's ripe and what's appealing, and bring in a fresh meal. Potentially what you're bringing in has less predation, less nutrient depletion, less drought shock, was what your body was really hungry for, and will be eaten fresher. Do the same for poultry or stock; they like their lettuce in season as well.