Sunday, November 16, 2014

Permaculture Technique #2: Mulching

Fall has come upon us. The weather was stormy and wet for a month, and now a "Polar Vertex" has appeared, bringing forth un-seasonably fridgid temperatures to begin November. With such a mild first half of autumn, the trees were holding tightly to their leaves, gathering the last precious bits of photosynthesis. Once the weather turns colder, and days shorter, the trees give up the fight. They pull the starches created in their leaves via photosynthesis to the root system. Over winter is when the tree concentrates it's energies to seek out underground niches to grow its root mass. With leaves gone, the tree has to expend less energy to fight the forces of nature upon the foliage. Wind exerts a great amount of stress on all trees, the deciduos species have an easier time of it during the dormant seasons.

Now nature teaches us a valuable lesson during the fall season. Leaves from trees falling to the soil are mulch. They create a layer of carbon that is full of nutrient for the microbes in the soil. A layer that holds moisture and covers any bare earth. Bare soil is bad news. Un-covered soil will quickly dry out, be succeptable to erosion and wind drift. Mother Nature always wants the soil to be covered in some medium, either a live or dead one. Permaculture teaches mimicry of Mother Nature and indiginous peoples methods of living with nature, not perpetually battling the systems presented to us. Observing a forest, we see bio-mass accumulation over decades. Natural succession, leaf and fruit drop, wind or fire disturbances, and animal interactions all aid in soil building. Humus is the stuff of life, holding moisture and the microbes for healthy soil.

Mulch can be applied anytime of the year, not just in the fall. I prefer to cover the beds in the fall, as winter will help to decompose the material. The mulch will also stop erosion during winter rains, and snow melt. Water will percolate into the beds under the mulch, and the mulch will help it from evaporating when the sun returns. If you mow a lawn, the grass clippings in the spring work wonders as mulch. Worms love to live in the wet, decomposing, nitrogen rich mass. Wood chips from a tree service, sawdust from your own cord wood harvest, rocks, straw, seaweed, and shredded newspaper all make great non-living mulchs.

Mulch gives a place for seeds to germinate, similar to a reproduction in nature, sprouting in the mulch of the deceased mother plant. Mulch helps the soil warm quicker in the spring and delay hard freeze late in the fall. We love mulch because it can keep pioneer weeds from wanting to colonize bare soil, and smothers grasses and other un-wanted species. Covered soils are more inviting to earthworms too! Underground tillers de-compacting soil, no back breaking labour for us, and they leave valuable castings to feed our plants.

Living mulches are another option for gardeners and farmers alike. Cover crops like white clover, alfalfa, field peas and vetch are wonderful as biomass accumulators and they also fix nitrogen. Seeds of these plants can be broadcast over a bed at various times of the year. Once they established you can remove patches of it and plant starts into it, leaving most of the mass intact. I love buckwheat for a mulch. Buckwheat grows quickly, self-seeds, and is frost killed. The flowers are a favorite forage for bees and other insects. It's leaves are edible, and the foliage makes a great mulch once "chopped and dropped". I also have a high regard for comfrey for a mulch. It is a bio-accumulator, with it's huge tap root that will bring nutrient and minerals up from the sub-soil, accumulating in the leaves. I can then chop those leave several times a season, without harming the plant. Comfrey also has great flowers for bees, and most varieties only spread from root cuttings, not seed. On small sliver of root with grow back as a full plant within a few months during growing season. Chickens love to eat it too. Comfrey is a magic plant!

If you are tired of weeding and watering constantly, look into mulch. People ask me what my number one suggestion is for implementing Permaculture in to their systems, and I always tell them "mulch, mulch, mulch!".

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Early Summer Update

Beautiful Raspberries

Holy cow, where does the time pass! I was just browsing the blog and realized that there were no updates since March 17th. That is far too long for my liking! With the season of camping, fishing, harvesting and preserving upon us, it was time to post something. If I didn't get back to this, the snow would be flying!
Baby apple trees
Black Locust seedlings

Things have been moving along well with the plantings that occurred on my property over the past two seasons. There have been some surprises so far this year including the ease in which I was able to sprout and grow seeds from grocery store apples. Talk about a game changer when it comes to propagating many trees on the cheap. I am out of space for them to find a home in the soil, and get out of pots, so I am going to offer these guys up for anyone who wishes to help my experiment with home grown apple trees. I have about two dozen, so if you are at all interested, let me know! I also have several Black locust, Russian olive, Sea berry and Gogi berries that were started from seed, with a variety of results.
Fuzzy bums
Another surprises has been the appearance of peaches on the tree I planted last spring. Hoping that I placed the young bare root tree in a good micro climate, south facing yard, close to the driveway to help warm the air around it, it would put some good roots down. To our delight, it has fruit on it! About ten little "fuzzy bums" have been slowly growing and we are waiting patiently to feast on them. One of the apple trees I placed in last year also has two apples growing on its limbs. Great surprise, very exciting ones for sure.
June bearing goodness

Wild Blackcap Raspberries
Our strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries are all producing well, while not giving us enough for preserving, plenty of fruit for after dinner snacking. The large, plump, June bearing strawberries are from the ASHberry Farms lineage, so you know they are very good producers and have fantastic fruit.
Zucchini, clover, buckwheat, Heartnut

Heartnut tree
In the back yard, the new installation went smoothly. It started with a fence that was mostly build from poles and drift wood we harvested, with the addition of some 1x4, to keep my pal Marshall out. I wouldn't want him running over my baby trees. I have four beds, all with trees as the main plantings , and have placed support species around them. Three apples, a multi-graft plum, walnut, pecan and heart nut trees round out the list of the over story. All the trees are quite small and will take sometime to produce, but we are doing this for the future, not for instant gratification. With these trees I also have squashes, peas, radishes, herbs, dandelion, plantain, buckwheat, black locust, sunflower, gogi berry, tomato, clovers, comfrey and alder. All of these plantings have multi functions, such as bee forage, shade, bio-mass producer, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators, food, and beauty. Stacking functions is so important in a healthy eco-system. We even used some creative driftwood placement for a predator safe bird feeder. Right now it has a hummingbird feeder, and in the winter we will change to a seed feeder. Bringing in nitrogen and pest control, plus the volunteers that come with the seed spread.
Zucchini and Buckwheat

Dinosaur head bird feeder
I put in my first rain barrel this spring. I have been wanting to buy one for years, several in fact. Upon pricing them, I decided that building one would be much more affordable, and cool as well. A quick chat with a pal at a plumbing wholesaler, I had the parts I needed for $20, and a 20 gallon trash can from Canadian Tire on sale for $10. I wished the can was a little bigger, and my next one will be at least 30 gallon, but it is a start, and has been wonderful for watering things on the deck. I have ideas for a small fish pond, fed by the over flow. I just didn't get it together this year. Had the tank set up, but it grew bugs. I deleted it for now, and will revisit in the spring again.
Home built rain barrel
I continue to "chop and drop" every chance I get. Comfrey is everywhere in my yard, it is such a great bio-mass producer, that accumulates nutrient from the sub-soil and makes bees very happy. It is also a food source for us and livestock(with caution) I love this plant. I would encourage all to have a few around. It makes an especially good "chop and drop" plant, breaking down quickly and creating a wonderful mulch. I am also "chop and dropping" dandelion, vetch, horsetail, and creeping buttercup. Yes I have to weed, but it does not concern me to the degree that I did in the past, knowing that these plants are giving me signs about how to make my gardens better, and are doing it for me.
Bee foraging in Comfrey flowers

Four days after "chop and drop" Comfrey
One more exciting bit of info. I have signed up for another Permaculture Design Certificate course starting soon. It is the initial fundraising venture for a Permaculture Farm in West Virginia. PermaEthos is the over seeing company, and I am one of the 1000 founding members in this course. It will be filmed in a new way, on the ground, not in a class room, as the farm is being established. I am looking forward to this and the possibilities it holds. I am also pondering the idea of a market garden on some leased land. I think that I have a spot for this. I am hoping to raise some laying hens, meat chickens, and various vegetables. Hopefully there will be interest in this type of thing, Permaculture food is the best type, bar none!
Second year Blueberry

Abundance of Kale
Thanks for reading this post. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Permaculture Garden Techniques: No Till

Spring is in the air. With a little less than a week to go until the actual equinox, signaling the official arrival of the ever lengthening days of the season, on Vancouver Island it feels like it has already arrived. Albeit early still for sure, but the signs are here. Buds have formed and are beginning to open on some trees and shrubs, surely it will not be long for the cherry blossoms will be out in their full glory. It will be time to get vegetable starts happening, and prep the garden for anticipation of receiving those baby plants. But before you break ground, please hear me out. Sell your tiller!

I have become a firm believer in No-Till gardening. In previous years it was what was accepted at general practice with home gardeners and farmers alike. Violently grinding the soil, almost as if punishing it for being dormant over the winter, with an abusive, ear-shattering torture device that punished the handler as much as the landscape. Having only operated a tiller a couple of times over the years, I can not see why anyone wouldn't have looked for a better solution to the process of getting a bed ready for planting. In a way I could see how it was accepted. The soil was left bare in most cases over the winter, compacted by snow and heavy rainfall. Loose particles were washed away from the top, creating a hardscape that needed to be opened up. Compost or chemical fertilizers could then be amended into the soil, instead of just top dressing it. Winter hardy "weeds" would be growing in the soil, where they were least welcome by the land owner, and they could be punished as well. The tines on the tiller would break up the soil to allow the hairlike roots of the new plants to easily penetrate and get a good grab on the soil, allowing for fast growth with the least energy output.

On the broad acre, Chemical Agriculture has been spouting the benefits of "No-Till" to the public, and farmers. They claim to save tons of topsoil by creating special planting machines that put seeds directly into a small hole, created by another part of the attachment. What they fail to mention is the amount of herbicide that is used in this method of "No-Till". The field is first passed over with a herbicide, to kill off any "weeds" that happened to propagate since that previous growing season, and an environment of absolutely no competition for the seedling when they emerge. After the seedling are several inches tall as are the new growth of un-desirable species, the field in sprayed again, giving the commodity crop a jump start on growth and they will consequently shade out the pioneer species. This method of "No Till" is still not a better option in the least, just a marketing campaign to try to green wash consumers about how G.E. plants are better, and to sell the farmers on less work per bushel. There is not benefit what so ever, in my opinion, for the reasons we don't till are mostly absent in these sprayed fields.

There are so many reasons that "No Till" works so well. Firstly, we are not killing the microbes, nematodes, mycilium, insects, and worms that live in the soil. These are the composters of the system, turning organic matter into soil. We MUST protect our tiny soil creatures. They are the cornerstones of healthy earth, and we need them to thrive in a world where we can eat nutrient dense food that is free of chemical inputs. These beneficial beings help make mineral available for us to ingest that are deep in the sub soil. Tap rooted plants such as dandelions and comfrey will "mine" these minerals from the depths. If we "chop and drop" these weeds, their foliage will be consumed by the composting animals, allowing the minerals to become available to the plants. If the soil is protected at all times either by cover crop or mulch, ideally both, we allow these microscopic community to work for us. They will till the soil in a minute way, manuring and dying, leaving a path of fertility in their wake. Plant roots left in the soil will also rot, creating compost in-situ, and allowing air, water, and new plant roots an easy route into the soil. It is imperative to leave the roots of your annual crop in the beds, and plant around them. They will break down after one or two seasons, and will give plenty of availability for new plants to succeed.

A conventional tiller has several draw backs. They actually compact the soil. Not on the surface, but down in the bed, where the tiller tines bottom out. The action of the tines pushes soil down and compaction occurs. This is not visible. However the mechanical action and common sense dictated this is the case. This fact is detrimental to root crops such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes. It will also result in the growth of compaction busting "weeds". Dandelion will love the loose soil and it's niche is a compaction buster. Suddenly your garden bed will be flush with such species, you will be cursing and creating much more work for yourself. A Permaculture principle is "do the least amount of work, for the greatest amount of change", so adding mulch and cover crop seed is much less work than running a tiller, in my opinion. Another huge downside to the tiller is the noise, smoke, and fuel used in tilling. Loud internal combustion noises drive me nuts, I don't know about you. These types of machines, along with lawn mowers, motor cycles, and weed eaters, all grate my nerves. When I get my wish of a Rocket Mass Heater in my house, I will be very happy to only use a chainsaw in a limited roll. Fueling these machines is a drag too, it always spills, making a stinky mess. Emissions from these yard tools are some of the worst on the planet, per cubic inch. A big diesel tractor has cleaner exhaust than a little tiller or mower. In the words of Paul Wheaton, "That's damn nasty!"

"No Till" does not mean no dig. Dig a hole with a spade, a hand trowel, your fingers, which ever you choose. There is no problem with that. Many people(myself included) were led astray by the definition of the words, and were afraid to take any soil out of place. We should only move the soil as little as we need to create a hole for our plants. If starting seed directly, try adding compost on the top of the bed and planting into that, building up the top soil, and protecting your little friends. I would also suggest to never walk on your grow bed. This creates the compaction that we are trying to avoid.

So what do we do now that the tiller has been sold, or retired? First off, if your soil is very compact, you have a few options. The first one, as bad as it sounds, is to actually till the soil. This will be the last time though, I promise. Once the bed is tilled and raked, bring in straw, leaves, seaweed, or wood mulch, and cover the bed in four inches of this top cover. You could alternate straw for the grow beds and wood chips for the paths, which ever you desire. Another option that could work with the mulch is cover cropping it, to grow mulch in place. Buckwheat and field pea work wonders for this. I would avoid any grass based cover, like fall rye or barley. This will be tough to remove without mechanical means, unless you want to try to scythe around you plants. Not very much fun! The buckwheat grows quickly, creating a pile of biomass, beautiful flowers and will self seed. Frost will knock it back too, so it is a fresh start every spring. Paths could be planted in clover or vetch, low ground covers that fix nitrogen too. I would also highly recommend the majority of your planting be polycultured, a highly diverse mix of crops. Mono-crops are subject to many problems. With the right guilds we can fix nitrogen, grow ground cover and food all with a few plants. Stacking functions!

Another great option for opening up new beds is a method called "Sheet Mulching" also known as "Lasagna Gardening" The process of sheet mulching has the advantage of not needing to dig, however one will most likely bring in elements like soil, compost, mulch, and wood for a core if they so choose. This is how I turned my lawn into a food forest, and would be the preferred option for most urban lots. First the area is decided upon based on sun exposure, distance from the house(zone), and ease of maintenance. The bed would be marked out and materials calculated. The first layer of the system would be cardboard. This helps to smother the existing plantings, most often grass. Secondly would be soil, then compost and lastly mulch. We can assemble these beds as double reach(reach the center from both sides) and make them as high off the ground as the owner desires. My beds are about 30 inches tall, since I piled up punky alder and maple wood, to create a wood core. Similar to a Huglekultur bed. The bed could now be planted and a near instantaneous transformation has occurred in your yard!

In Permaculture we mimic Mother Natures designs as best we can. The earth will always succeed, no matter how much cutting, burning, or poison we throw at her. She will always bounce back, if we are a part of it or not. I have never seen nature use a tiller to prep the growing season, allowing the natural tillers under the soil to do the work, while they go about their short existence. She has it right, and we must follow her lead! What do you think? I would love to hear your comments on "No Till" or any other subject in this Permaculture space.Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scotch Broom: Problem or Solution

Problem or Solution?

Scotch broom has been the bane of most folks at one time or another. Readily occupying newly cleared land, gardens or cultivated fields, with massive yellow blooms that are beautiful and torturous to those with allergies to its abundant pollen. A huge amount of foliage that rapidly springs forward, clogging industrial sites, and roadways, seemingly impossible to eradicate or even control. I used to think along these lines, that the introduced species was to be destroyed, almost purchasing a Scotch Broom removing tool and going into business trying to help people get rid of this beastly plant from Europe. Now, with Permaculture, I see the problem as the solution, and have some concepts how this plant can help speed succession and create abundance in the place of spraying this plant to control it.

Scotch Broom is native to Northern Africa and parts of Europe, and was introduced to Virginia in the United States in the early 1800's for use as fodder for domestic sheep. I was considered invasive in that area by 1860. From there it has spread rapidly across the coasts of America, not hardy enough to tolerate the cold climates of the North American interior. Scotch Broom was introduced to Vancouver Island in 1850 as an ornamental, and from three surviving plants, has spread over most of the island in that short time. However deliberate planting of Scotch broom by the British Columbia Ministry of Highways have accelerated the spread of this "weed" during the last 60 years. Because of its deep tap root Scotch broom is great at loosening soil, "mining" nutrient deep with in the sub-soil. It can grow prostrate(laying down") or upright, depending on light conditions. When prostrate it takes the niche of ground cover, protecting the soil from direct sunlight and wind, assisting with preserving moisture.

Scotch Broom, while "introduced", is a pioneer species. Most "weeds" are pioneer species, the plants that work for Mother Nature. They are the first to germinate, from seeds that may lay dormant in the soil for decades. Mother Nature abhors bare soil, nearly instantaneously sprouting fresh growth in newly tilled soil. The bane of conventional gardeners, if we understand these cycles, we can harness this power to create abundance and slow the growth of undesirable species. Dandelion, chickweed, comfrey, clover, and alder are some that come to mind. Many of these species fix nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil via bacteria located in nodules on their roots, mine deep minerals, create biomass(think mulch), act as ground cover, and attract insects and other wildlife with food and flowers. Mimicking the characteristics of "weeds" can be a wonderful technique to home gardeners.

I became aware of the power of Scotch broom from reading Miles Olson's book "Unlearn, Rewild". He has a chapter called Succession, and in this section he describes a slope that was destabilized and slid to the valley bottom. Within a few years that slope was covered in vigorous Scotch broom, holding the slope, nutrient loading the soil and creating a habitat for other species to succeed in. This information was a little mind altering to myself. Newly grasping Permaculture concepts at the time, I could finally understand the "Problem is the Solution" principle. Just because a plant is introduced and "invasive" it is only filling a niche, because mankind has done something to alter Mother Natures perfect design.

How do we attempt to utilize a problem and turn it into a solution. While I have not attempted the following techniques, the concept is based on science and natural succession. We can easily speed it up with a little technology, a wise use of fossil fuels and manpower to create a low maintenance, abundant system.

The simplest, least energy involving technique, in my mind, is called "Slash". Slash involves the chopping of biomass, laying it down as it was cut. The pile of dead shrub will protect the soil from evaporation, and smothering the new broom from springing up. Roots of the old plants acting to maintain soil stability, and rotting in time, building topsoil. The key to using a pioneer species to succeed wanted plantings, is to quickly add the plants that will fill the role of the removed one, or the cycle will repeat again. Cover cropping with clovers and legumes will fix nitrogen. Trees like Alder and Black Locust fix nitrogen too, also creating biomass and fuel wood. Along side these supporting plants we also put in the main crop of food producing trees and shrubs. Running animal through the disturbed land before and after slash would also aid in the fertility of the soil, creating a yield of meat, eggs and milk. Pigs, goats, sheep, cows, and chickens would have a variety of impacts on a Scotch broom field, disturbing soil, eating seeds and stomping the slash along with manuring the site.

There is another technique in Permaculture similar to slash called "chop and drop" which is using support species, bolted annuals, or weeds as mulch. We take the unwanted biomass and chop it into small particles, with pruning shears, lawnmowers or tree chippers, and place it around the plants we want to keep, our main crop species. This protects the soil, hold moisture, slows weed growth, add nutrient and creates habitat, plus many other micro relationships. This mimics leaf drop and branch fall after a wind storm in a true forest. We can take an area infested with Scotch broom, chop it down, and using a tree chipper, turn it into a large pile of mulch, that can be then used as a mulch once the main species are planted. I would add that doing this in the winter, or spring would be advantageous, keeping the spread of seeds down. I also would not recommend taking this mulch away to another site, unless perhaps, it could be hot composted to kill any remnant of seed. We don't want to spread this plant on purpose.

Another idea I had would be to use the biomass of broom for the base of Huglekultur mounds. Burying it deep under soil and compost to keep any seeds dormant. Again tractoring chickens through the slashed piles would be an asset to seed removal and manuring. A pioneer species is quick to break down into loam, to create fertility and water retention. Placing the chopped broom on contour would add to its water slowing abilities on damaged landscapes. Most grounds we find Scotch broom on were subject to erosion, so we must make sure that removing the plant does not re-create this wash. This will just cause the broom to come back.

I love conceptualizing different land healing techniques. While I have no proof that this works personally, the use of Mother Natures cycles will work. There is no need, in my opinion, to use noxious chemicals on this planet for anything, since we have a perfect model just outside our door. Mankind just needs to get out of the way, or we will be rolled over by it. I would love to help someone who has a broom problem to restore vitality to the land and turn it into a productive landscape.

Permaculture is a gift to humanity from Bill Mollison, who took observations of true natural systems and created a blueprint for us to harness this power to create truly sustainable and healing culture. We can do this!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Forest for the Community

Tied Knot in the Community Forest
A Village on the edge of the Beaufort Range. Renown for its eclectic music scene and incredible mountain biking, along with just enough rednecks to keep the industrial town feeling to it. A former coal mining town, now mostly a bedroom community for the larger centers of Courtenay and Comox, as well as Campbell River and Mt. Washington Ski Resort. Our real estate is a little more affordable, the schools are within walking distance of most all who attend, and it is still okay to stop on main street and chat with another vehicle! We have a butcher, a baker and probably more than one candlestick maker! This is Cumberland, this is where I live, and have so for over eight years. This community has been a blessing and tried my patience, but there is one place within its boundaries that I will always have in my heart. The Cumberland Community Forest!
The Village is surrounded by privately owned land, the keepers of this expanse are forestry companies. They are in the business of cutting timber and selling it when prices are high and cost of cutting it is conducive with the harvest. They love land that is close to town, because costs of moving equipment, logs and men is lower with less kilometers traveled. As we in the village are fortunate to have these great lands available at our doorstep, they are at the whim of the market when they will be harvested. In the years I have been frequenting them, most of the lower down second growth has been cut, leaving scars on the landscape that will take many decades to re-grow. The forest companies are very hospitable to the locals however, helping to open up mountain bike trails as well as allowing for recreational access to these lands. A very nice gesture on the part of the company who does not need to be such a good corporate citizen.
Snowshoeing "Buggered Pig"
In 2000, faced with the imminent logging of some of the closest lands to the Villages southern boundary, a group, The Cumberland Community Forest Society, was formed to raise funds to purchase the block. The first block of 71 hectares was bought for 1.2 million, placed in a covenant and gifted to the Village to be a park for perpetuity. This was all done by private donations, corporate donations, and fund raising. No tax dollars were used in the purchase, and now there is a gift for future generations.
Delicious Lobster mushroom
Fast forward to 2014, and we are facing three other areas that are up for harvest in 2016. These are also close to the Village, and comprised of 50 hectares in total. Some of these lands contain parts of the Japanese town historical site, as well as several more of the early mountain bike trails, like Black Hole and Space Nugget. I know that this will come together and the fund raising goals will be met! This little community has great spirit, and I commend that. From plant sales, trivia nights, local merchant donations and monthly personal contributions, a large hurdle can be overcome with sheer determination and will.
Chantrelle mushrooms

As I reflect back of the years since I have been visiting the community forest, dating back to about 2006, I came to realize how much this land means to me. With thoughts of building resilient backyard food forests at the top of my agenda, I have this amazing place that I can observe interactions with plants and trees. Succession of flora and the fungi that breaks it down. The animals that call its death and re-birth home. Rotten logs that are grocery stores for woodpeckers, alders giving its fiber to the oyster mushroom, and beautiful frogs living among the detritus, waiting to ambush a slug.
The fairy houses on Tied Knot
Personally these lands have healed my spirit and served as a classroom for myself and my daughter. It was a place of peace after the ending of a relationship, having micro adventures to bring joy into a gloomy era. I mapped the seemingly never ending trail network in my mind, and brought the dog on many random wanders in the woods. I taught myself the differences between the conifers and photographed and observed many species of mushrooms, harvesting more that one meal of delicious chantrelle and oyster mushrooms. My daughter came with me on many these voyages, and she was quizzed about the flora species. She now knows more than most adults of the identifying features of trees, shrubs, ferns and fungus. These were the trails I cut my teeth mountain biking, a pastime that has alluded me as of late, but will be back to it this spring. These days we are learning about traditional archery, and these forests serve our "hunting" grounds, the well rotted stumps of long harvested trees representing deer, bears and Sasquatch! More quality family time out of doors.
Family fun!
This Community Forest is Cumberlands Zone 4, the mingling of human influence and wilderness. We see evidence of human interaction with bike trails, wild food harvesting, some domestic plants and, unfortunately, trash. This forest is also the home to wildlife, vast expanses of unbroken canopy, true forest succession and naturally occurring water flows. I am a proud supporter of this cause, one of a few that I find are that important and does the most with the donation. I urge you, dear reader, to help out how ever you can. Become a monthy donor, buy a CD, attend the plant sales, or if your are financially unable, just spread the word, take photos, bring your children and help them experience the woods. That is what they are there for.

My goal with Primal Forest Gardens is to build this business based on Permaculture Ethics and Principles. So it is, the third ethic is "Return of Surplus" which has many meanings, and in this case, I will return some surplus capital to the Community Forest, among other worthy causes that I believe in. To all Cumberland residents, if you wish to ask me for a consultation, I will donate $10 dollars from each one to the Society. I thank you for reading and hope to inspire you to think about what this worthy cause means to you!

If you like what I am trying to accomplish, please share this on your various social media outlets. I really want to help make this a better world for future generations. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @primalforestgdn

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pig Day

Gorgeous sunrise on Grad day
It is pretty interesting the turn of events of this crazy life I am leading. A boy who had no exposure to farming or livestock is now working towards feeding people and building food security in my community. I remember at one time in my youth being afraid of the neighbours chicken hens that escaped and were milling about on our lawn. No way was I going near them! And now I get opportunities to slaughter and process chickens and pigs and even a cow! Oh the evolution of life.
In 2012, a new friend, Mandolyn, filled me in on a little plan she had. She was getting pigs! And followed that up with "Do you have a gun?" So I volunteered to assist in the slaughter and butchery of the sows when graduation day arrived. Having newly moved onto a small acreage she had homesteading goals and dreams. The pigs arrived, there were loved and fed only the finest organic foods, very little commercial feed, and grew to be very happy, healthy pastured pigs.
Stripping the belly out

Five months later I got the call."These pigs have got to go, they are getting huge!" A lump formed in my throat. Am I really going to do this. Shoot someones pets? As a hunter I have killed many birds and several deer, which cause a rush of adrenalin when the shot comes, as one works hard to have the chance to harvest an animal in the wild. But livestock? To go out and visit them, scratch their nose, and the take their life? I was anxious about that day for quite sometime. When it came down to it, the crew that gathered were very somber about the situation, having never done this before as a whole. One of the participants however was Bill, an old time farmer and hunter, who had worked in a slaughter house as a youth. We were so relieved that he was there with guidance and wisdom. That was an interesting day of skill and community building. I guess you could say fun experience, not because of the slaughter, more similar to helping a friend process any kind of food. Conversation, coffee, outdoor activity, getting to know new people. That first time was a gateway to more opportunities.
Splitting ribs and posing for cheesy shots!
Fast forward ten months. Having already completed our experiment with raising and slaughtering a steer, and butchering another hog at home, the call came again. Pig Day! I was feeling much more confident this go around. My girlfriend, Andi, was going to partake with us, as was Mandolyn's partner Justin. Bill was also coming back again to give his old time wisdom. I didn't lose any sleep over the coming event this time, and was uber prepared with multiple knives, sharpeners and packaging supplies. 2 is one, one is none. We rolled down the highway with a gorgeous sunrise coming over Baynes Sound, the temperature hovering at minus 12! Our area was at the backside of a ridiculous cold snap, and was soon to end with a snowfall warning! I think the timing of graduation day was impeccable.
We all gathered and made a plan for the process. Justin lit a fire to help warm us. I saw cooking fire! Bill rigged a hanging rope to make skinning and gutting easier. The bait came out, shots fired and it was time to work. Justin and Bill got busy with the skinning and I prepared for the butchery. It was no time at all before the sides were ready. A quick wash and hair check and the side was on the table. The initial side was a little slow going, figuring out which cuts they wanted. They made the cut list easy. Remove the rear leg and belly for processing into ham and bacon, make sausage from the shoulders and chops and roasts from the loin. Piece of cake! The first hog was done as the second one was finished being cleaned. I put a heart and a trimmed out rib rack over the fire for a snack after the butcher was done. The second side went even faster, after learning how to make the chops beautiful and easy! Andi, the massage therapist and anatomy geek, helped me decipher the spine and how it lines up with the ribs for perfect bone in loin chops. Done just like that and we were eating some fire roasted pork. Oh man that was tasty. I always prefer any meat cooked over hot wood coals, must be the caveman in me!

I love building skills! Being handy is one of the most resilient qualities a person can possess. A "jack of all trades" can always shelter and feed his family by maintaining and providing, building and growing. Learning these skill together in a situation like our pig harvest, one can grow as a person. We learn from more experienced folks, like Bill. Quiet and hardworking, happy to answer questions, and give advice with a little story. We learn by teaching those with less skill. Teaching is a fantastic way to learn, because we are constantly requested information we may not have at hand and have to think deeply for the answer. Every time I butcher, something new comes to light and my skills improve. I hope to pass that on to others who wish to learn!

There is never anything pretty about harvesting an animal. It is sad and gross and hard work. It doesn't matter if it is a hunted animal or livestock. However if you eat meat, I think that everyone should have a chance to take part in the journey from barnyard to plate. It will open your eyes, and make you appreciate what you are lucky enough to be able to consume in vast quantities in this country. Animals have become a commodity in North America, with very little thought in general, that the bits in styrofoam and plastic wrap once had a mother and a beating heart. We should all reflect on this fact often and thank those who allow us to thrive on a diet that includes animal products. And better yet, buy your meat wrapped in paper from a butcher or local grower, the way meat should be sold. Ask questions, find a farmer that will allow you to visit their stock. Pet a cow. Knowing your dinners name means you know it was food you want to feed your family.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Outdoor Rocket Stove

Its not pretty, but its functional!
 I have been a huge proponent of burning wood for home heating, cooking and recreational pursuits for ages. The primal feeling of gathering around a fire speaks to our inner cave dweller, insight near spontaneous bouts of petroglyph carvings! From a very early age I can remember going wood cutting with my family, uncles, aunts, and grandparents, everyone looking to load a shed or four to stock up while the supply was easy to gather and fill the "Ant Hill" for winter. I have been using wood heat for most of my life in various places that I have lived and the addition of the stove to my house was the best money spent at this present home, bar none.

Learning about Permaculture for the past two years has opened my eyes to so many ideas and designs. When I first heard about Rocket Mass Heaters, the idea rolled off, a concept maybe? I thought that a conventional stove was the cats meow, how could something made of recycled brick and cob be safe and efficient for use in a home? Upon further investigation and the information basically being rammed into my brain by many of Paul Wheaton's podcasts, I could see the value in these beautiful works of art. A feed tube with a fire burning sideways, travelling into a "chimney", spilling over into a barrel and then "pumped" into a manifold of pipes, heating a mass. That mass could be sculpted into a bench or even a bed, and could retain its stored heat for many hours, even days! Incredible, all while using 1/10th of the wood and creating no creosote or smoke.(Click here to see more awesome information) Unbelievable, this can't be true! However, after much YouTube perusing and podcast listening, plus browsing the forums, I was convinced. Luckily in my searches, I found a link to THE book. Ianto Evans book, Rocket Mass Heaters, Super Efficient Woodstoves You Can Build, as a PDF. So I downloaded it, and made a copy. Score! Especially since the book is no longer in print. A wonderful compendium of knowledge from the main innovator of this technology. My education had begun.
Yes it was burning, but where is the smoke?
Fast forward a few months. I was keeping my eyes peeled for a pile of used bricks, that someone wanted me to haul away for free. One mans garbage etc. My friend Chase tipped me off to house where an old chimney was deconstructed, and said the material was up for grabs. I managed to grab about 200 of them the other day. Nice and clean, the old mortar peeling off like dust. I was shocked that old chimney didn't fall over on its own. Chase had previously delivered fifty of the same style of bricks from another job to my house, so I was well stocked with building blocks to create something.
Just for fun. Took a while but got a rolling boil
This morning was supposed to be a gardening day. Another friend and local farmer, Arzeena, wished to incorporate some woody hugle-style beds on contour at her house, and I volunteered to assist in the digging. Miss Mother Nature had different plans, as she decided to bring a snow flurry to North Courtenay this morning. Unfazed by this news, I sought a new project to tackle today. I looked at the bricks and knew straight away what I must do. Arm load by arm load(I need to repair my wheelbarrow!) I carried the red masonry into the rear yard to play lego. I had no plan, just have some fun, kill sometime and be outside. The snow fall didn't dissuade me at all, I was going to play with fire!(beating chest). I dug some sod and raked a plot roughly level, my foundation for the sculpture. Beginning with four by five bricks, I had a flatish non-combustible base for the rocket burner. After about twenty minutes, the rocket was ready to launch!
Backstrap for dinner!
I spent the rest of the day monkeying around with the layout. Add a few, remove some, make the chimney taller. It was burning sideways and making almost no smoke! It was grand, couldn't have been happier. My face was constantly staring into the burn chamber and watching those orange tendrils "rocket" on their side, making that text book sound, that gave the stove its name. Time to cook! I unwrapped a package of venison sausage and placed them on an old BBQ rack over the chimney. From frozen solid to eating in about fifteen minutes. That was fast and delicious. I boiled a big pot of water. That took a little longer, but it got to a rolling boil, perfect for a crab feed. My daughter arrived home and came down to be drawn in to the fire. It is amazing how much more enjoyable sitting around a fire is when there is no smoke getting in your eyes! No need for white rabbits. We decided to cook dinner on the new beast. A package of potatoes in foil, with butter, onions and garlic. Once those were fini, on went deer loin steaks, straight on the grill, with nothing but S&P. Magnificient! A feast to make a true caveman jealous, and one to make my belly happy. She also suggested roasted apple as well as almonds. Delectable treats and the most wonderful way to spend a Sunday.
Sideways flames(mostly)
With all this fun I had today, thoughts of sustainability coursed through my mind. Tired of the NIMBY attitude of folks that I deal with in my day job, loving "clean burning natural gas" because they can't see the process of the extraction of the fossil fuel, only the lack of smoke from their appliance vent. Getting rid of wood appliances because they are messy, or are allergic to the smoke. I wonder how allergic the folks living in gas country are of fracking chemicals in their water supply? I grow more and more jaded with no solution to the problem. After today, I see the solution. Rocket stove technology could be the wave of the future, creating energy independence for those who wish for it. Completely off grid, using potential waste materials like pallet wood, or construction debris, giving a resilient back up. Three is guarantee and the rocket burner gives me a trio of options for cooking if there is a major dilemma. So I will be using the new term "IMBY" because I can get energy from my backyard, and will be working at fine tuning my little experiment and sharing that knowledge with others who wish for an interesting and resilient piece of "art" for their home site.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why a Forest Garden?

Pondering the above question, I thought, "How would I explain this to a perspective customer, what are the qualities of a Forest Garden that would help them to decide if this was right for their needs." I have come up with a few points that will be expanded on to help shed a little light and insight to show what makes a Forest Garden so damn awesome!

The first point is Resiliency. Resiliency in the dictionary says "the ability to recovery from illness, depression, adversity or the like. Bouyancy." A Forest Garden creates resiliency in several ways. We plant our forest garden in a polyculture, the inter-planting of many plant species that guild together, protect the soil and confuse pests. (The traditional row cropping of mono-culture in conventional agriculture is the complete opposite of resiliency, have no bounce back ability. If corn production fails, it fails!) Polyculture allows for resiliency because we have many other food sources to fall back on if one crop does not produce. For example, last spring, due to a late frost or heavy rain at an in-opportune time, the apple trees in both my yard and my neighbors yard failed to produce. My tree had not one apple on its branches. It was very disappointing. If we were relying on those trees to supplement our nourishment, we would have been in trouble. Those two trees the fall before yielded hundreds of pounds of fruit that were processed for future enjoyment. If there was a Forest Garden present maybe the micro-climate could have protected the blossoms, or a mixture of varieties could have blossomed at different times and save the harvest. It is imperative that we build resilience in our planting so we have options to fall back on if we have an unexpected natural events, such as late frost, heavy rain or pests.

Along with resiliency is Food Security. Food security is the same but different as resilient systems. We build food security to deal with events that happen further from our local food shed, in general. If one was to rely on buying most of their groceries from a conventional super market, it does not take much of a wrinkle to effect the distribution chain. Luck as I am to live on the west coast of Canada, where we have very little in the way of massive storms, events like hurricanes don't happen here, we are in an area that historically has been seismically active. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, fault lines are underneath our feet. I am not trying to scare or depress you, but it is the truth. Food security during a natural disaster will greatly increase your comfort levels during such an event, and helping to feed your neighbors is one of the most significant things one can do during such a crisis. Barring such a catastrophic event locally, what happens if there is a drought or late frost in the main agriculture areas of the supermarket food shed. California and Mexico is where the majority of our produce is grown all through the year. We are at the mercy of the growers in different countries, with different weather patterns, plus a long transportation chain. Say, perhaps, there is a truckers strike south of the border. The grocery stores order on-demand, meaning they have very little in the way of reserves "in the back". Three days is the average amount of time a store would run out of food if the transportation links were kinked. Not to mention living on a island. A large storm that disrupts marine traffic could also have a detrimental effect on our food security. If you are growing at least some of your own, that gives your family resiliency and food security!

I have been observing my front yard Forest Garden this fall and winter, to see who comes to visit. I have been surprised and excited for the amount of birds that have been frequenting the space. This fall, flocks of Red Winged Blackbirds were soaring in and cleaning up the sunflower seeds that were literally everywhere. I planted so many sunflowers, which did really well in the sun soaked beds. They grew to over ten feet tall, and were even more impressive being on top of a three foot high wood core bed! Those sunnies yielded an incredible numbers of seeds, that I was, frankly, a little worried about. Was I going to have sunflowers volunteering EVERYWHERE in my garden next spring? I am now not so worried. Those voracious and beautiful birds found a food source, with shelter in close proximity, and cleaned up. It was fun to watch them fly in and out, watching for predators, and come right back after startling to continue to feed. And this winter I put out a suet feeder, homemade suet from deer tallow and various old seeds I had in my pantry. The little black capped chickadees swarmed this suet. I placed out several sunflower heads that were dried on the wood pile, and they made a feast out of it all. Our neighborhood is polluted with feral cats unfortunately, and they are opportunistic hunters, as cats are. My garden has become a favorite place for these felines to hunt, much to my dismay. However with the textured landscape and trees, the birds have perches and high look out points to escape from the prowling beasts. I am not super thrilled with the kitties but I have no control, so I just have to try to limit their destruction and using my garden as a bathroom! A Forest Garden is such a fantastic way to teach children about the cycles of life, to watch wildlife, to feed and shelter the fragile little songbirds, and to listen to their melody drifting in their bedroom window. I love seeing the fauna of my area using something created by my hands, and helping them through the tougher months of the year.

Forest Gardens are not only productive and practical, they are so beautiful! Thick, lush green landscapes with texture. Curving contour beds tall with trees, flowers and multicolored shrubs. The smell of freshly applied wood mulch. A gurgle of a purpose built fountain, that hydrates the soil and eases the mind. We can sit on the edge of our forest and stare at the foliage, the bees, the birds, mesmerized by the life in front of us. The pure, real sweetness of a strawberry, lovingly held above the soil by a mat of mulch, protecting it from wee predators, not a spec of dirt on it. The rustle of leaves, the plants solar panels, on a warm summers evening. Touching the skin of a large pumpkin, so massive you can't believe you grew it! Our five senses get a work out every time we visit our Forest Gardens. A quick trip out for some greens for dinner turn into an interactive walk that can last much longer than anticipated, touching and smelling the abundance. A handful of blueberries, dessert before dinner, fresh carrots pulled from beneath a pear tree, its top going back down as mulch. Adding value to your property, not only monetarily also in the soul healing value of relaxation and a connection with the earth that we humans are missing in huge amounts. We need soil under our finger nails, walk barefoot on dried leaves, grazing like the hunter-gathers man used to be. It is intrinsically who we are. Find this in you and feel much more at peace and more secure in your being.

My final point, the one that sold me on the concept, is ease of maintenance. I am not a lazy person in general. I love to work hard, and rarely sit down with our trying to accomplish anything. Probably putting too much emphasis on being busy and finishing something, or researching. I am one who always wants to learn and create. While this is not a problem most days, it is a problem with conventional gardening. I tend to forget about a regular garden bed. Watering and weeding are very low on my list of priorities. Thinking of recreation, camping trips, work, child activities, spending time with my girlfriend, walking the dog, making dinner. We all multi-task constantly! For some a conventional garden fits the bill. They take great pride and enjoyment from weeding, watering, making their borders neat and tidy. Finding Permaculture and Forest Gardens made it clear. We can never beat Mother Nature, she is just too damn good at what she does, so lets work with her! We can use machines and chemicals to briefly beat her back, but watch out! She will send more pioneer species(weeds) and pests to rebuild the system. A natural state with covered soil, diverse flora and fauna, and water retention not water removal. No one ever weeds a forest, and forests contain no weeds! Every plant has a function(or three!) So we mimic her style and reap the rewards. I know on my nightly wanders around the garden, the odd weed that came up was chopped as dinner was harvested. Compost was delivered at the same time. The rare time that the sprinkler was applied, it was also done then. One trip, many functions, and back to life. Gardening chores done in ten minutes. That is it. I remember spending many, many hours of my free time weeding conventional beds, trying to keep the soil bare, so my crops were not in competition. I see how silly I was then and have a much more productive system, and more free time. What is not to like about that!

Those are just five examples of the benefits of a Forest Garden. There are so many more that are smaller, however minute and insignificant, all make a Forest Garden a benefit to your landscape. They are just frickin' awesome!