Saturday, January 31, 2015

Spring 2015 Fertile Valley Seeds

Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener, has posted this year's seed list on her website. Unlike past years, it sounds like this year she'll keep the website info up to date as seeds run out.

She has some unique offerings, only available in the spring, so check out her list and order anything you want right away!

Carol Deppe's 2015 seed list

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book review: Eric Toensmeir's Paradise Lot - parallel universe?

My yard Toensmeier's yard

My project took place in Portland OR, his on the other side of the continent in Holyoke MA. My lot was two tenths of an acre, his lot half that. But besides differences in space for trees, and somewhat different plant palettes, Eric Toensmeir's account in Paradise Lot of applied permaculture reads like a parallel universe of my own experimentations with urban lot rehabilitation and perennial polycultures. We each started with infertile and unpromising soil, but guided by permaculture literature from other regions and with the help of gardening partners (romantic in my case; friend Jonathan Bates in his), we embarked on labors of faith towards similar goals of abundant food production and restored habitat health.

And we both succeeded. I've documented most of my experiments, successes, and failures on this blog. Toensmeier has shared much of his plant knowledge, from which I've drawn heavily, in the appendices of Edible Forest Gardens: Volume Two (coauthored with Dave Jacke), his book Perennial Vegetables, and his DVD Perennial Vegetable Gardening. But besides early site analysis in Edible Forest Gardens, a few video clips from garden tours, and the Apios Institute wiki behind a paywall, we haven't gotten many details on the overall transformation of his lot or on his polyculture explorations. Paradise Lot provides a fairly thorough account of how Toensmeir and Bates selected, analyzed, amended, sheet-mulched, planted, and enlivened their site. Though the theoretical process is well described in various forest gardening books, it doesn't hurt to have another case study providing specific details of how a site plan can evolve over the years.

Many individual species are briefly described, without many surprises for those who have already devoured references like Perennial Vegetables and Martin Crawford's Creating a Forest Garden. Most exciting for me is Toensmeier and Bates covering new ground with perennial polycultures (literally). It seems they encountered many of the same challenges I had with perennial polyculture design, especially from lack of hands-on experience growing and using individual species. It's difficult to assemble successful mixes without intimately understanding the life cycle, growth habits, and harvest season of each component. Amusingly, they created a hog-peanut/gooseberry mess similar to, though not as bad as, my infamous gooseberry/stinging nettle polyculture. A great example of why we need to share information about what works and what doesn't, to reduce effort wasted on demonstrably bad combinations!

Disappointingly, the book ends before Toensmeier has had a chance to develop many successful polycultures, similar to my timing of moving before getting to implement my own new perennial polyculture designs. Even so, there are some succesful polycultures and further hints and lessons in the book. Notably, he arrived at the same conclusion I did: low, spreading groundcovers are critical components. He describes success with some strawberry species, a violet, and some native plants, but without many details beyond that of what specific crops to fit together.

I find it very promising that we achieved similar positive results in fairly different climates. We both successfully rehabilitated trashed urban lots into land that could support both humans and non-humans. We both, through the simple techniques of heavy mulching to build soil and planting a wide variety of perennials, created habitat for greater numbers and species diversity of insects, birds, and other life. By selecting mostly edibles for our plantings, we both wound up with abundant harvests of low-maintenance perennial vegetables. (And we both had a shortage of perennial greens in the summer; apparently this has more to do with the life cycles of perennials than with the summer drought of the Pacific Northwest.) We both had similar success allowing natural predators to handle pest outbreaks. We both put a lot of time up-front into planning and design, but both made lots of mistakes easily avoidable by others learning from our examples, so I feel pretty confident that our achievements are replicable by anyone who takes this approach with even a minimum of planning and research.

I felt surprised by how much focus Toensmeir put on nitrogen-fixers, as I realized a couple years into our endeavour that one person's urine fertilizes 4000-5000sf of forest garden, the size of their entire lot. Despite cycling the urine from four adults into the yard, Toensmeier is still carefully planning N-fixing plants at the end of the book. Perhaps they all spend so much time off-site that they can't capture enough urine, or perhaps Toensmeir never thought to calculate this?

The book also features a strong subplot of the two bachelors hoping to attract mates, with as much success as in their gardening! Personally, I was much more interested in the plant-geek narrative, but I'm sure many readers will appreciate the human interest story balancing out the site analysis and gardening.

Toensmeir explores some of the dynamics of the neighborhood, the town of Holyoke, and the even broader community. I found his vague hope of inspiring change through personal example to be unconvincing. I'm fairly jaded by my own experience in Portland attempting to model something approximating urban self-sufficiency and sustainability: not only were our inputs of free wood chips and dumpstered waste streams unscaleable to more than a small fraction of the entire city, and not only did I conclude that Portland would have to kick out half the population even in a wildly optimistic scenario of everyone doing a better job than we'd managed, but only a handful of the people who toured our yard actually adopted perennials to any great extent. So I'm pessimistic (or realistic) about the inability of cities to ever support their populations in any sustainable manner.

But that's fairly tangential to the main focus of the book, and certainly anyone interested in urban, suburban, or rural zone 1 and 2 gardening can and should learn from this case study. It's a quick, fun, and relatively light read. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shading paths in Hawai'i

This post follows up on the concepts of my post Sun and Shade, Temperate vs Tropical, with some quick thoughts on paths. Ideally, Hawaiian paths would be shaded in the summer for protection of humans from the sun and maximum photosynthesis, but more open in the wet winters to prevent too much mud and muckiness.

Paths running east-west could have large trees planted on the north side to overhang the path enough to provide shade from the spring to fall equinox, while allowing winter sun to enter from the south.

Paths running north-south could be treated in one of a few ways:

  • Compromise plantings of hedges or trees at wide enough spacings or with relatively sparse canopies to provide incomplete summer shade and incomplete winter sun.
  • Coppiceable plantings of quick-growing trees or tall hedges, cut in the winter and allowed to grow through the summer. This would work well with N-fixers to provide mulch easily transported along the paths to desired destinations.
  • Deciduous plantings (such as kapok) providing the standard summer shade/winter sun service.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Resistance review: The Effectiveness of Sabotage

I just had a short essay published on a 1987 thesis by Captain Howard Douthit III of the US Air Force: “The Use and Effectiveness of Sabotage As a Means of Unconventional Warfare.” The thesis is a great review of the historical use of sabotage and its impressive success, especially in asymmetric conflicts. This helps validate the wisdom of the Deep Green Resistance Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy for achieving environmental and social justice. From the thesis:

The only countermeasure that stopped sabotage was the manpower-prohibitive act of exterminating the saboteurs. Committing the number of forces necessary for effective counter-sabotage also produced too much of a drain on the front line. Indeed, as this fact became known, sabotage efforts increased in a deliberate move to force the enemy to guard against sabotage in the rear area. Thus, this research indicated there were no effective countermeasures to sabotage.

[...]

[H]istory supported the thesis that sabotage is an effective means of warfare. Sabotage was used against both strategic and tactical targets. It was proven capable of being used near the front line, in the rear areas, and even in support areas out of the theater.

[...]

Sabotage can be used against both tactical and strategic targets.

Any nation, rich or poor, large or small can effect sabotage against an aggressor.

Sabotage is an economical form of warfare, requiring only a mode of transportation (possibly walking), a properly trained individual, and an applicable sabotage device.

Read my entire essay, with links to the DGR strategy and to Captain Douthit's paper, at Time Is Short: The Effectiveness of Sabotage.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Direct action land reclamation

A Deep Green Resistance supporter sent a link to a photo essay he compiled about Occupy the Farm in Albany, CA. A group of local residents, activists, and university students blockaded destruction of the last prime soil in the city, destined to be wiped out for, ironically, a Whole Foods Market.

This is a great example of direct action to preserve land from development and to spotlight the need for growing food locally in urban areas. Read the whole article: These People Faced Down Riot Cops to Grow Food: Here's How They Won.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Business As Usual: The False Solutions of Green Tech

My readers in the Portland area may be interested in attending one of the upcoming presentations by Deep Green Resistance Lower Columbia in Hood River, Albany, and Vancouver WA, on "Business As Usual: The False Solutions of Green Tech." Make it if you can; DGR has some unique and valuable insights to offer in the fight for a livable planet.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Review of Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds

I wrote a review recently of the documentary Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds. I found a lot to like, but coming from permacultural and radical environmental perspectives, I ultimately felt disappointed that the film didn't take on more than it did.

The film shows beautiful time lapse sequences of seeds sprouting and shooting into new life. Even rarer, it shows people feeling very emotional about seeds, displaying extra-human connections we normally only see with domesticated pets, and hinting at the human responsibility of respectful relationship with all beings described by so many indigenous people. The movie highlights great projects from seed schools and the Seed Broadcast truck educating people on why and how to save seed, to William Woys Weaver and others within Seed Savers Exchange doing the on-the-ground work of saving varieties from extinction, to Hudson Valley Seed Library trying to create a viable business as a local organic seed company.

Unfortunately, Open Sesame has an extremely narrow focus. Though it rightly brings up the issue of staple crops, which many people ignore in their focus on vegetables, it trumpets our dependence on grains, even showing factory farmed cattle, pigs, and chickens in an uncritical light. This assumption that humans need annual crops reveals an ignorance of agriculture itself as a root cause of our converging environmental crises. Even before industrialism accelerated the destruction and oppression, civilization and its cities, fed by organic agriculture, was eroding soil, silting up waterways, turning forests into deserts, and instituting slavery and warfare. Though the diminished diversity within our food crops should indeed cause concern, the far greater biodiversity loss of mass species extinctions under organic agriculture should spark great alarm, if not outright panic.

[...]

Though the documentary chose not to tackle those big-picture issues, it still could have included perennial polycultures, groups of long-lived plants and animals living and interacting together in support of their community. For 99% of our existence, humans met our needs primarily from perennial polycultures, the only method proven to be sustainable.

Read the entire review of Open Sesame at the Deep Green Resistance News Service.