Category Archives: Nature

The Biomass of the Tree

I’ve been slowly working my way through Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Designer’s Manual and really, it is an amazing book. Lots to take in so I’m taking my time and really relishing it. From Chapter 6:

A tree is, broadly speaking, many biomass zones. These are the stem and crown (the visible tree), the detritus and humus (the tree at the soil surface boundary) and the roots and root associates (the underground tree).

Like all living things, a tree has shed its weight many times over to earth and air, and has built much of the soil it stands in. Not only the crown, but also the roots, die and shed their wastes to earth. The living tree stands in a zone of decomposition, much of it transferred, reborn, transported, or reincarnated into grasses, bacteria, fungus, insect life, birds, and mammals.

Many of these tree-lives “belong with” the tree, and still function as part of it. When a blue jay, currawong, or squirrel buries an acorn (and usually recovers only 80% as a result of divine forgetfulness), it acts as the agent of the oak. When the squirrel or wallaby digs up the columella of the fungal tree root associates, guided to these by a garlic-like smell, they swallow the spores, activate them enzymatically, and deposit them again to invest the roots of another tree or sapling with its energy translator.

The root fungi intercede with water, soil, and atmosphere to manufacture cell nutrients for the tree, while myriad insects carry out summer pruning, decompose the surplus leaves and activate essential soil bacteria for the tree to use for nutrient flow. The rain of insect faeces may be crucial to forest and prairie health.

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Orphaned Fawn

FawnMeet the newest resident at the permaculture homestead. Saturday morning my friends Karen and David were using a tractor in one of their fields and came upon this little fawn who ran to a nearby creek and then jumped from a rock ledge into the water eight feet below. David used a chain to rappel down to the water and retrieve her. By the time they got her back to the field she had been handled by the both of them and they were afraid to leave her alone for fear that her mother might not take her back due to any left over human scent. They left her in the care of friends but as it turned out those folks were not able to keep her so they brought her here just before sunset.

She was pretty freaked out as you could imagine. As of late afternoon Sunday she was settled down and fairly calm and starting to drink the formula for baby goats which also works for deer. It goes without saying that she is quite adorable. This morning after feeding she nuzzled up under my beard between my neck and chin and let out a series of squeeks. That’s a moment I will never forget. I could get used to this.

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Garden a’growin

With the recent rain and now very warm weather the garden is really coming alive. The tomatoes have not looked very good due to the flooded soil but now that we’ve gotten a bit of a lull they are perking up and starting to look pretty good. I’ve got four different kinds of basil coming up as well as zinnias and cosmos. Squash and melons are now planted around the corn bed. Sweet potatoes are in as well. I still need to plant more squash and cukes as well but things are moving along. Oh, and I’ve got all of the comfreys from the initial planting out around the fruit trees.

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Chip and the Girls

I’ve now got all of our flock together. 29 birds, five of them are roosters the rest hens. When all the young ones start laying we will have 20-24 eggs a day. It is very nice to have the five that are laying now. We’ve got five guineas ordered and will be getting them sometime next week. Chip

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Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra SwallowtailI’ve been seeing these around but usually while I’m working, hands dirty and no camera around. Went out this morning to work on the path to the kiwi arbor in the food forest and saw one nectaring from the Autumn Olive so I grabbed the camera and got a few shots.

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Food Forest and Garden Update

IMG_3215I’ve got seedlings everywhere: 70 tomatoes of 5 varieties, 40 peppers of 5 varieties, 70 eggplant of 5 varieties and 22 comfrey. The remaining cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi, about 40 plants total, will be getting transplanted into the garden tomorrow. The peas and fava beans are all up as are lettuce, radish, spinach, kale and a few others. The garden expansion is all fenced in and about 80% mulched with cardboard and straw. I’ll finish it off as soon as I get more cardboard. Thanks to Karen and David we have something like 25 straw bales for the rest of the mulching and for use in the chicken coop.

Food ForestThe four Hardy Kiwi vines are planted though two will be getting moved this week as I put them too close together. Two will remain at the arbor at the entrance of the kitchen garden and the other two will go into the food forest, planted on a trellis between the established sycamore trees. I also picked up 6 blueberries but they are not all that healthy as they were not watered in the store. I’ve put them in pots and if they do survive they’ll be going into the food forest.

I also put up a small, 2 foot high fence around the keyhole beds near my cabin to keep the rabbits from snacking every night. I’d rather not have fences everywhere but the rabbits are many and they are apparently very hungry. Last, the lake front area has been cleaned up a good bit. We’d cut the tornado trees all up last fall and I’ve cleared out all the small branches and twigs and have created a bit of lakeside lawn. If it is up to me that is the only lawn we’ll have in any of the common areas!

So, a good bit of progress even with all the rain and cold. A week of warmth and I imagine everything will start to pop into action.

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The Sunset Party

Lake and ducks at sunsetFantastic color last night. We’ve had more and more ducks showing up day-to-day. For a week there were maybe 5 and then 10 and suddenly there were 200 or more out there. They’re not close enough to get a good look but no matter, I’m just glad they are out there. Now that spring has come the nights are filled with frog song. I’m surrounded by this amazing life force… all of these beautiful creatures with their many voices. Yup, it’s a party.

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Spring Garden Updates

Peek-a-BooLots of progress this past week. The tomatoes have all come up and will be transplanted into a variety of re-used plastic containers tonight. The broccoli and cabbage have all been planted out to the garden. A row of sugar snap peas is planted along the garden fence with another row going in this week. More cardboard and straw has been put down into the new garden expansion.

Chicken Coop!The chicken coop is 95% finished. We’ve got the walls and roof finished and the laying boxes built in. Left to do is to put in the east facing door and a chicken wire wall on the inside to separate the chickens from a small area for feed storage. Last is to paint it and move the chickens in! Hopefully we’ll get the greenhouse started the next time Greg comes down.

Upcoming tasks: Move the compost fifteen feet just outside the garden area; finish cardboard/straw mulching in the new garden area; plant potatoes; start peppers, basil, comfrey and a few other things in seed flats; mulch in a few new paths around the garden and food forest.

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A Nice Surprise

Mystery PlantI was out on a walk this morning and discovered this beautiful patch of green along the ground. From a distance I thought it was moss but as I got closer I could see that it was too tall. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this before. A really beautiful plant!

Edit: The mystery is solved, it is Fan Clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum)!

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Food Forests

Currants and GooseberriesAs the summer has begins to move into fall I continue to learn about forest gardening, permaculture, and ecological gardening. Reading a variety of books and websites as well as hands on work in our own gardens, I’m developing a much better understanding of these ideas. I’m no newbie to gardening and have been doing so for the past 20 years, but there’s no doubt that in these past few months I’ve learned a great deal not only about permaculture design but also about the natural processes and systems that our design is meant to mimic.

The folks over at Edible Forest Gardens offer this somewhat philosophical description of Forest Gardening:

As Masanobu Fukuoka once said, ‘The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.’ How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world. Forest gardening gives us a visceral experience of ecology in action, teaching us how the planet works and changing our self-perceptions. Forest gardening helps us take our rightful place as part of nature doing nature’s work, rather than as separate entities intervening in and dominating the natural world.

The author of Gaia’s Garden,Toby Hemenway, has this fantastic description of the encounter of western observers of the original food forests:

Until the late 20th century, western anthropologists studying both ancient and current tropical cultures viewed equatorial agriculture as primitive and inefficient. Archeologists thought the methods were incapable of supporting many people, and so believed Central and South America before Columbus—outside of the major civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, and Inca—held only small, scattered villages. Modern anthropologists scouted tropical settlements for crop fields—the supposed hallmark of a sophisticated culture—and, noting them largely absent, pronounced the societies ‘hunter gatherer, with primitive agriculture.’ How ironic that these scientists were making their disdainful judgements while shaded by brilliantly complex food forests crammed with several hundred carefully tended species of multifunctional plants, a system perfectly adapted to permanent settlement in the tropics. It just looks like jungle to the naive eye.

The managed forests of the Huastec Maya in northeastern Mexico are packed with up to 300 plant species, including 81 species for food, 33 for construction materials, 200 with medicinal value, and 65 with other uses (the numbers add up to more than 300 since these are multifunctional plants). In these forests, Maya farmers often create different subpatches that concentrate specific guilds of domestic species (such as coffee guilds) amid a background of natives. And all the while, they are tucking small gardens of bananas, chiles, manioc, and other edibles into any clearings. The managed-forest stage may last for 10 to 30 years. Then the cycle begins anew. Since the whole process is rotational, any given area will hold swiddens and fallows at all different phases. This complexity would understandably delude a cornfield-programmed anthropologist into thinking he was looking at raw jungle.

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