Friday, March 20, 2015

Planting trees from Seed

(This is from a presentation I was asked to do for our local Seed Savers chapter. I have been sitting on this for a few months and it is time to release it. It is tree planting time!)

Apple and Black Locust seedlings. Tap Roots!

Hi I am Blayne Prowse. I am a local family man with a passion for sustainability, and food security. I am sick and tired of eating Round Up, and seeing our resources depleted as an astonishing way. We have so much opportunity as a species to live a complete. right life. Mother Nature can provide all we need, for eternity, if we work with the natural cycles of her. As a Permaculture designer, I have learned how to do just this, wishing to help our species transition to a system of utmost abundance and to break free of the cycles of control leashed upon us by those with the most to gain. Air, water, food, fire and shelter are the five elements that we need to survive, and a wise Permaculture design can create all of these in perpetuity, for generations, if we can break free as a society from the convenience of our normalcy bias. Planting trees from seed are key, in my opinion, to creating these systems. Seeds are less expensive, they can be gleaned for free and make for healthier specimens. We can keep control of our food security by planting perennial systems that only need one time installation and can last for decades with little care and attention. I will explain all this as we carry along.

Deforestation is a huge problem. HUGE. Humans are chopping trees down at a blazing pace. We are scraping the forests away in the boreal regions for tar sands and natural gas extraction, burning down rainforests for palm oil, soy beans and corn, which products are sold as commodity to the processed and fast food industries. Several places in the developing world are destroying the rain forests, which have sustained man for centuries, to grow GMO crops for animal feed in CAFO operations. Still in other areas, such as arid desert regions, the slow growing trees are being removed for cooking fuel. The Wests interference in many African countries have thrown their traditional herdsman lifestyle into one where they rely on conventional cropped annuals, and created a more “in place” lifestyle. The land can’t maintain this type of settlement.

Following along with deforestation we find erosion by wind and rain, stripping once deep fertile topsoil. De-nuded slopes have nothing to hold precipitation. Rain quickly following gravity down slope, creating silted water ways(ring a bell), mud slides, and eventually, without new trees to quickly pioneer the area, will contribute to desertification. Deforestation removes vital habitat for all plants and animals, and often removes bio-diversity. Most re-forestation plans follow a conventional farming model, mono-cultures of the most economically viable crop, that doesn't follow Her plan. Ever wonder why there are pest problems, like pine beetle? That has little to do with climate, and more to do with mono-cultures and un-healthy ecosystems(if you could call it that)

So what can we do? I am in the processes of re-foresting my small lot in Cumberland. A dozen and a half alder trees, two Douglas fir, three nut trees, a couple maples, a dozen fruit trees, 18 nitrogen fixing, food producing trees and bushes as well as many fruiting shrubs and ground covers. A huge diversity of species, stacking time and function into the design. Nitrogen fixing tree, like Black Locust, will support an apple tree, eventually successing out and becoming fire wood, or fence pole material. The nut trees will not have a yield for a decade or more, but the blueberries and huckleberry produce in the first year. This is a design of a food forest. I am not re-foresting in a the native species of my biome, however, I am using the design of Nature to mimic a system that will produce the five elements that humans need to thrive. Add in some mixed annuals a small lot can, in time, produce a huge amount of food, with little need for maintenance and care. Weeding sucks, eat your weeds!

That brings me to my main topic of this talk. Trees from seed. I am no expert at this process, but I have listened to many pod casts on the subject, watched videos on You Tube, as well as taken 2 Permaculture Design certificates, so I feel like I am knowledgeable enough to share some of this information with you.

I have heard over and over again when I tell people about starting trees from seed, especially apples. I cringe every time waiting for the response….”but your not going to know what kind your going to get, it isn't worth it” I am so tired of hearing that. My response it “So what!” Yes, it is true, an apple doesn't prove true to type. A Gravenstein apple seed probably would not grow a graven stein apple tree. I don’t care! One of my mentors, the always out spoken Paul Wheaton, states “20% of apples from seed will be spitters, 20% will be awesome, and 60% will be just fine to eat” Apples have gone the way of every other crop. We have removed diversity from the varieties for conformity and grocery store displays. I would love to see more diversity brought back to the apple world. The best way we can find new, exciting varieties is to grow from seed. Let it happen naturally, and see what appears. In my mind, any apple tree that produces fruit is a keeper. Even if the fruit is not great for eating off the tree, it could make decent preserves, cider, vinegar or animal feed. If nothing else, the fruit makes great food for worms and wild bird in the winter. And if the fruit is that horrible and you would rather make space for more trees, chop the offensive tree down, using it for heating, meat smoking or Huglekulture. The hesitation to grow apple trees from seed needs to disappear. This is basically a free method for producing root stock, to be grafted with known varieties of apples. A tree from seed will send down deep roots, and will produce a tap root, and that is a good thing. Bare root, or root bound potted grafted trees have a root crown that it close to the surface when transplanted. These trees are susceptible to drought, low nutrient accumulation, and less strength in the wind. This fact is true with all trees, not just apples. Since apples are the most widely orchard grow and sprayed fruit tree, these are a great species to get into a more home scale, organic model that all people can produce. Plus the seeds are free! In my opinion, we should be filling parks, parking lots, and other decorative landscapes with edible trees and shrubs, at least with some inclusion of them. Food security issues would quickly drop, and our reliance on mono-cultured conventional, annual grain crops would recede as well.

To start growing trees, first we need seed. I generally pull all the seeds from any organic apple that has plump, healthy looks seeds in the core. I store them in a small open container for a few days so they dry, them move them into a sealed vessel, to avoid a spill. That would be a big mess! I have found apple seeds in very good shape most of the time. Pears are different story. I find most pear seeds to be very small and skinny. I have saved some, and mixed them in with apple seeds, so there could be a few pear trees in the mix, and I am OK with that. My grandpa once grafted pear to apple and created an interesting flavoured pear, so I doesn't really matter.

Cold stratifying is something that has to happen with all tree seeds, from my research. This mimics the natural cycle of the dormant season. Either we can use a fridge or plant the seeds directly outside in the fall. All seeds have various cold chilling times. Apples I stratify for thirty days in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a zip lock bag. I did this with the Black Locust seeds as well, after soaking them in hot water for a little while. I am not going into specifics on each seed in this talk, as there is mountains for information in the internet about this topic.

This year I plant in experimenting with more apple seeds, Black Locust, white mulberry, Russian olive, hazelnut, peach, nectarine, and seaberry. Seaberry is a shrub rather then a tree, but it can grow very tall and produces bright orange berries, high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

Along with planting trees from seed we can also grow shrubs and some trees by cloning and rooting. Cultivating more and more edible species for free is a tremendous way to slow the issues facing us. It costs basically nothing and can be done by anyone!

I urge you to stop listening to the negative Nellies! I don’t care what kind of tree you plant. I prefer it to have some function for the eco-system, food for us, food for animals, forage for bees or livestock. Regardless put trees in the ground. Your home, your rental, a park, a vacant lot, a beautifully manicure commercial parking lot. Gorilla some trees, its free and it beautiful. Leave a legacy. Get started today! Go do it!

Merino Wool, Permaculture fiber

Cascadia is a beautiful, lush bio-region of North America. More this area is know by the proper names British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The areas commonalities with climate, geography, flora, fauna, culture and history are all shared, regardless of Nationality. People of Cascadia have more in common with each other than with the folk is the more eastern parts of the our respective countries. There is a more free, liberty mindset here, as well as a general deep connection with the earth, the ocean and the skies. Big trees, snow capped peaks and clean, cold ocean waters border our towns, and that creates a symbiosis with us and the land. One element that is ever present in this climatic zone, and for the most part, all year round, is precipitation. Whether it is rain, snow, fog, or condensation drip, moisture is what allows for the lush bio-diversity of our region. Being an outdoors person, dealing with moisture is the number one factor with being comfortable during our outdoor pursuits.

A number of years ago I was introduced to Merino wool by a friend. I was blown away by the softness of the material, the comfort against the skin, and how light weight the garments were. Never experiencing this before, having always worn rag wool type sweaters for work and play. While warm, and durable, this material is much heavier, bulky, and quite itchy at times. Although this natural material is better than synthetics in breath ability, fire resistance and sustainability, it has nothing to Merino. That introduction was a game changer, and created a passion for the most comfortable clothing I had experienced.

Merino has a wonderful ability to regulate your body temperature. Wearing a t-shirt made from it in the summer when it is 25 degrees or more allows the skin to breathe really well, complimenting your bodies natural ability to self regulate. Merino also has a high SPF rating. Combine these two qualities and you have a perfect garment for summer sports. Hard hikes, bicycle rides, runs, even water sports like SUP and snorkeling all work well with Merino.

Layering systems, such as the one by First Lite, allow for fine tuning of the bodies temperature in the winter time too. Layer up heavy for the early morning as you prepare for the day climbing a peak, or riding a chairlift, then open zippers or remove layers as needed to keep you from over heating. If you do end up perspiring, another key to Merino, like all wool, is its inherit ability to keep you warm, even when wet. Unlike cotton that pulls heat out of your body when it gets wet, Merino maintains the insulating ability when wet. This fact has, in my opinion, saved more than one lost hiker from not making it home alive. The insulating quality of Merino, for the weight, is the number one reason this should make up the bulk of your kit in the outdoors.

Along with being safer in cold temperatures, Merino is also much safer around fire. Wool doesn't burn well. A spark landing on it will not ignite or melt. Synthetics and cotton will ignite rapidly, potentially creating a serious, maybe deadly situation. I find this to be like not wearing a life jacket in a boat. Being around a campfire in anything but wool, aside from maybe thick denim, is not worth the risk.

For the hunter, especially those who choose to stalk their quarry, silence is golden. Merino wool is as quiet as your own skin. It doesn't make a whisper of noise, unlike other outerwear made from nylon, and polyesters. The swishing noise made from those carry great distances in the woods, and are a very un-natural sound to animals. Trying hard to keep your feet quiet while stalking, only to be busted by your arm dragging loudly against a branch.

On the sustainability front, Cascadians are quite conscious of our environmental footprint, nothing beats wool. Sheep are a key species in a holistic grazing system, turning grass into wool, which is made into clothing for humans. Truly renewable, sheep can be sheared season after season, and building topsoil as they graze and manure the range. Cotton, unless organic, is generally all Genetically Modified, and doused in herbicide and pesticide. An annual crop, the tilling of fields destroys soils and allows for erosion. Bamboo, hemp, and silk are also natural materials, and have their strong points, but I feel like Merino can  fill many different niches. Weights of fabrics are variable, from ultra light weight, to heavy weight outer layers. Because it is a natural fiber, Merino is compostable. No need to landfill Merino that is past its useful life. Toss it in the compost, into the attic for insulation, or stuff pillows with it. We have used Merino t- shirts as pillow cases while camping from garments that we no longer favour. Very nice! Plus Merino is safe for our waterways. Increasing awareness of plastic micro-fibers in our water ways is making the rounds on social media. These tiny fibers, largely from the lofty fleeces that outdoors people wear like Polar Fleece, are making their way through waste water treatment facilities and into our lakes, rivers and oceans. Aquatic species are incidentally ingesting these particles and being poisoned. I am certainly not comfortable with anymore plastics being released into our environment.

The one missing link of a Merino wool kit is a waterproof layer. I don’t know of any brand who makes a waterproof wool garment. If there is one, I would be of the assumption that it would be very heavy, an oiled, or waxed wool. This would be incredibly bulky and not breathable. To combat this issue, wearing the most breathable rain wear available is the best choice. My pick would be the First Lite Stormtight pieces. The most breathable on the market, it is made to layer over Merino base and mid-layers to create the perfect system of comfort for the Cascadian region. While First Lite is largely a hunting focused brand, I would venture to say that many other outdoor pursuits would benefit from their wares. Hikers, fisherman, skiers, dog walkers, bird watchers or any other hobby in Cascadia that entails hours outside in the elements would appreciate this system.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


(A series of blog posts on the 5 basic human needs and how we can transition away from our current model of exploitation, extraction, and fossil fuel based systems.)

Water is the element that connects all living beings on the planet. Everything needs water. Water is a beautiful thing, hydrating, cleansing, hypnotic, carrier of energies and nutrient. The trickle sound of a creek or raindrops on a metal roof sending our minds into a peaceful place. As a society our access to clean water is under attack. Corporations wishing to control the one thing that we all need, pollution from farms and factories, mismanagement of the resource by cities, states and countries. These problems have very simple solutions that can be met, only if we the people choose to break free of the system that dictates how we live, and take control of our resource, at a micro-level.

The largest issue to water management is the massive scale that current models use to transport water to areas that are naturally very dry.  Currently, energy used to push water up hill, is the single largest draw on a municipal electrical grid. Millions of gallons of water are needed to keep cities operating, and for high elevation, arid areas. This is a not an appropriate use of energy. As energy gets more expensive, so will the cost of delivering water to these cities, raising taxes and lowering the citizens standard of living. This will eventually cause the decline of said cities, Bad design, bad outcome. Even grid water systems that rely on gravity are not ideal. Often these systems, such as in California, are open air canals that move the water in man made rivers of concrete or earth. Exposed to the sun, evaporation takes place. Because of this, the water becomes higher in minerals, by volume and adds to the salting of irrigated agricultural land. Salted soil quickly becomes inhospitable to plants. This leads to desertified landscapes, unable to support any living creatures.

To reduce the energy consumption in moving water, we need to reduce usage dramatically. Low flow shower heads, toilets, faucets and washing machines designed to use less water are green washing marketing techniques by the manufactures. A ten minute shower is still a ten minute shower, regardless of how much water is used. I believe we need to drastically change our perception and expectations of water, especially in areas that are prone to drought, and where the water must come from pipes hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers away. Flushing clean drinking water down a pipe is absurd. We could encourage the use of composting toilets. Poop, sawdust and time makes soil. Big win for all. There is no reason that our waste can't be turned into a resource. Instead of showering or bathing, a better model would be either sponge bathing, or using natural water ways if available. A living pond in the backyard would be a perfect option for bathing in the warmer months. We are much to concerned with cleanliness in the west. Afraid to smell like a human. I hear of people having multiple showers a day makes me ill. Why?  If you work hard, get sweaty, and dirty, it is very possible to clean well using only a fraction of the water. I have given up using shampoo in my hair, and guess what? My hair doesn't smell! A little soap on my pits and bits, a quick rinse in the shower is all I need. I believe that if we all embraced our humaness, we would be less worried about being so clean all the time.

We have options for gaining control of our own water resources. Rainwater capture is the best one. A proper design, with first flush diverters, wise use of gravity, appropriate roofing materials, and strict conservation, most areas of the world could be water independent. The governments of this planet do not want this to happen however, since that takes away their control of the machine. Many places have rules about rainwater capture, which is ludicrous. Millions of acres of roofing on this planet that could all be transitioned to rainwater capturing systems. The idea of water piped to faucets and toilets on demand needs to be re-thought. Walking outside and filling a vessel with water from your backyard wouldn't be that bad of a thing.

Running rainwater away from the earth it lands on is also leading to desertification and making fragile lands more brittle. De-forestation also contributes to this problem. Rainwater, as well as grey water should be soaked into the soil, to recharge aquifers and allow for proper trans-expiration. Trees are water pumps, sucking water from the soil and releasing it to the air in the dry times. This is natures way of cycling water in a closed loop. Without a balanced lens of water in the soil, the water is sucked from the trees, causing the tree much distress, and can kill the tree. New streets and neighborhoods could be designed on contour with an emphasis on slowing and soaking the rainfall, rather than running it directly to a larger body of water. If rainwater was captured and stored on site, that would greatly reduce the impact on municipal storm water systems, lengthening their lives and cutting cost of utilities improvements. Slowing and soaking rainwater is a wise technique for all farmers as well. The pumping of fossil waters from aquifers will cause major issues with our food security in the future. Farmers using appropriate water smart designs, like Key-Line, no till, mulching, heavy compost, and bio-char can reduce their water input needs immensely.

We are rapidly approaching a time when our resource exploitation can not be ignored any longer. We must transition to a regenerative system to avoid devastating effects of climate shifts, growing police states, income inequality, corporate control of our food and medicine, and a reliance on a debt based economic system that makes financial slaves of us all. Collectively our society has been led on path of lies and destruction, fueled by dis-satisfaction, boredom, addiction, and indoctrination. We can mulch our own way to a future where we all live in abundance, regeneration and simplicity, with smart design and paradigm shifts.