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Edible Weeds on Farms

Edible Weeds on Farms

A Free E-book

The word “weed” has negative connotations to many people.

As such, some humans go about disturbing the landscape, poisoning and removing what they perceive to be valueless plants, a nuisance, a pest.  In some cases (if not many) these actions are carried out without fully understanding the true value of the said “weed”

But some “weeds” are actually very nourishing and as any experienced forager will know, some “weeds” are culinary delights.  It could be that the roots, leaves, shoots, flowers, seed or fruit of a “weed” that is being treated as worthless is actually edible and nutritious.  On the other hand the “weed” could be playing a valuable roll in the ecological system, one that we just don’t see with the human eye.

Edible weeds, now that sounds a little less negative. Spontaneous vegetables, that sounds even better. Self-growing vegetables, that sounds like a no-brainer!

Thanks to Tusha Yakovleva (and funds from the northeast sustainable agriculture research and education grant) there is an informative and free e-booklet all about edible weeds on farms.  Learn more about the gifts of edible weeds, making a livelihood from weeds, cooking with weeds and much more in this great e-book:

Edible Weeds on Farms: Northeast Farmers Guide To Self-Growing Vegetables

 

Why Permaculture?

Why Permaculture?

It’s been several years since I first stumbled upon permaculture, and several years minus a couple of months since I started doing my best to practice it.  Many people have a similar story, and my guess is, like me, they’ve been asked dozens, possibly hundreds, of times what permaculture is.  But, it’s been a rarity—if it has ever happened at all—that someone asks me why permaculture. That might actually be more notable.

When permaculture came into my life, my wife Emma and I were on a trip through Central and South America, hopping from farm to farm on work-trades to both stretch our budget while traveling and learn a bit about growing our own food. We cared about the environment, so we’d guessed organic farms were the way to go. It only took a matter of weeks to begin hearing the term permaculture as byword. We borrowed some books and were soon engrossed in the practice.

Our life has radically changed for the better. We’ve become stronger people, physically and mentally. We’ve become more capable, able to grow and preserve our own food and to build our own home, while consistently adding to the toolbox: forage wild mushrooms, make an earthen pizza oven, design a grey water system, start a social business… The world, from twenty feet away to the entire global construct, looks totally different, and while it may sometimes be scary, there always seems to be identifiable, simple steps for us to take, right now.

Why Permaculture?

 The grand appeal of permaculture over basic organic gardening is that it is so much more. We had aspirations of living on a piece of land and growing a lot of our own food, but there were so many more ambitions beyond that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Importance and Complexity of Community

I deeply believe that people are the only critical resource needed by people. We ourselves, if we organise our talents, are sufficient to each other. What is more, we will either survive together or none of us will survive.

–Bill Mollison, from Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual

 

Community is paramount to permaculture. This is not a practice for isolationists because isolationists can’t change the world in a positive way, and ultimately that is the goal behind every garden, eco-home, and water catchment we build. In fact, the “culture” part of the permaculture term cannot be realised without a social group that shares values, traditions, and practices. In essence, those gardens, homes, and dams are all embodiments of that culture, and without people—that’s plural—to create, utilise, and share the fruits of these efforts, permaculture can’t exist.

While we may be attempting to individually take responsibility for ourselves (and, yes, that’s a wonderful thing to do), it is our collective effort that matters most. If we each live in our own sustainability bubbles, then we are doomed to repeat mistakes, to use more resources, to fear others, to limit our potential… and that’s not even getting into the basic psychology of person-to-person social interaction, something COVID quarantines have revealed as principal to a happy existence. For better or worse, we need each other.

Even so, community can be a difficult thing. It’s often wrought with rules and ruling classes. Conflict is inevitable. Belief systems become complex and spiritual: How many versions of Christianity/Islam/Judaism exist? How well historically do they all get along within the respective religions and outside of them? Designing sustainable homes, productive landscapes, and water catchment systems is a far easier undertaking than deciphering the mysteries of human interaction. Nevertheless, it’s every bit as important. After all, it is one of the three ethics of permaculture: People Care.

 

 

Easy Ways to Increase the Available Minerals in Your Food

Easy Ways to Increase the Available Minerals in Your Food

Assuming you’re eating the healthiest plant foods, grown in the healthiest soils, that you can find or afford, what else can you do to increase your mineral intake without using pills?

In the first article in this series we discussed the relative nutrition available in supermarket veggies, heirloom veggies from bio-diverse gardens and farms, and edible wild plants.

In the second article, we explored what’s happened to the mineral availability of the plant foods we eat as a result of soil management, and also as a result of our food selection and preparation choices.

In this final article for this series, we’ll explore some ways to maximize our absorption of the minerals that our plant foods offer.

We Need “Outside Help” To Digest Plant Foods

Plant cells have a cell membrane, and then around the outside of that they have a rigid cell wall made out of cellulose and lignin (substances that are particularly hard to digest), which gives plants their structure in the absence of bones to hold them up. We need ways of breaking down this tough cell wall if we are to digest and absorb the nutrients held in plant cells.

Animal cells, in contrast, have a thin, permeable cell membrane which can regulate what comes in and out of the cell but provides nothing in the way of structure[i].

Cooking with heat, fermenting, pickling, or dressing with an oil and vinegar salad dressing are some examples of preparations that break open plant cell walls[ii] and liberate the nutrients they hold.

All these processes cause plants to lose their crunch and change their colour; that’s how you know the cell walls have collapsed.

Think of it as pre-digesting tough plant foods that our digestive systems are not equipped to handle without some outside help.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

My Permaculture Design Mistakes

Wrong Turns in the Right Direction

Like anyone, I find it much more inspiring to talk about gardening and building successes. That rhubarb we planted last year has gone nuts!  Emma and I have probably foraged 15 kilos of chanterelle mushrooms so far this summer, so much that we are having to give them away despite the fact that I eat mushrooms on toast just about every morning (unless I’m having tofu scramble with chanterelles). We just passed our framing inspection for the cabin we are building! Good things are happening, no doubt, but life isn’t always beautifully blooming roses.

In short, in permaculture, we are all fallible (even the fabled Geoff Lawton, as you will learn by the end of this). Of course, for the most part, we share our successes, and for the most part, that’s also what we want to read about: successes. We want to know what works! But, like any good craft, sometimes it’s the lessons that we learn from our slip-ups that make us wiser in the long-run. At least, at the beginning of this list, that is what I’m going to say. Believe me, this is no exhaustive catalogue of minuscule catastrophes but rather a brief accounting of the ones that are currently unfixed and on my mind.

I want to share them because sometimes, when things go awry, we feel like no one else struggles, as if all other permaculturalists are out there making the right moves, relaxed supine atop a stack of butternut squash. Well, that just isn’t so. To grow a garden, to build a home, to manage water, to raise animals, to live off-grid… they are all replete with repairs, reconfigurations, and re-imagining. Part of the process is often not getting it right. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Here goes:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

Weeds: Real Nutrition, For Free

If you’re walking over chickweed and dandelion in your lawn or ignoring a nettle patch by the garden wall as you hop in the car and drive to the grocery store and pharmacy, you’re passing up opportunities for a quality of nutrition that no supermarket or pharmacy can ever provide.

When our grandparents were told, “eat your veggies,” that was good advice. But nowadays there are veggies, and then there are other veggies. In terms of nutrition, they’re not all created equal.
Imagine a graph that measures nutrition. At the bottom there is very little nutrition, and at the top there’s lots.

Nutrition
Image by author, Kate Martignier

On this graph, I’d place supermarket vegetables at the bottom, heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs from home gardens, community gardens, and small, diverse farms in the middle, and wild/undomesticated plants (many of them known as “weeds) at the top.

Supermarket Veggies – Seriously Lacking In Variety And Nutrition

The food plants we see in the supermarket represent a tiny sliver of all the food plants available to us.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food.

Plants for a Future

Besides being a very narrow representation of the plant foods available to us, supermarket vegetables are the least nutritious veggies you could be eating. They almost (through no fault of their own) shouldn’t be called by the same name.

Most likely you already know all the reasons why, but just in case, two of the main reasons supermarket vegetables are unable to do a good job of nourishing us are:

  • they’re bred for appearance and keeping ability over nutrition, vigor, or anything else remotely useful, and

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

 

How To Make Your Own Simple, Cheap And Toxin-Free Body Hygiene Products

Biodegradable Body Hygiene Products

Body hygiene products often contain a large number of dubious substances such as artificial perfumes, microplastic, silica, aluminium and a host of other chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to your body.

With our very simple and cheap alternatives below you can replace all your commercial products and do both your body and our planet a favour.

Body wash

You can very easily replace your body wash fluid with any natural soap. We just use olive-oil based Aleppo soap or Castile soap, but any other natural soap will do just as well.


Body scrub

You can dunk your natural soap in (used) coffee ground and start scrubbing. This method even cleans machine oil off your hands!

Shampoo

Aleppo soap & baking soda.
Image from thepermaculturecollective.com

There are plenty of recipes available on the internet, but after experimenting with a few we opted for the two simplest ones, give them a try and choose the one you prefer:

  1. Aleppo soap: simply scrub a good amount of Aleppo soap into your hair and onto your scalp, then rinse thoroughly.
  2. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): mix one tablespoon (or more depending on the length of your hair) of baking soda with one cup of water, pour it onto your wet hair, scrub it in, then rinse thoroughly.

Our experience was that our hair became oily and itchy when we first switched from chemical to natural shampoo, but after about a month our hair had adapted. We now only use natural shampoo and wash our hair only every fourth or fifth day and it looks and feels healthier and cleaner than ever!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

Protein for the Plant-Based Permaculturalist

A Parade of Pulses

Whether plant-based eating (veganism) is the guiding force behind your diet, or you simply enjoy having plant-based dishes just because plants taste good, there is something to be gained from experimenting with plant foods. In particular, pulses are great for providing some substance and protein to plant-based meals. And, for those omnivores amongst us, this doesn’t mean meat doesn’t exist, but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy (or try) a bean burger or some other leguminous treat every now and again.

My wife Emma and I have been vegans for nearly a decade now. Luckily, we came to the practice with a penchant for beans and rice. I, being from Louisiana, grew up with a myriad of this particular combination. And, having lived in Central America for several years, Emma also developed a taste for it. A pot of beans, a pot of rice, and some fresh vegetables has long served us as an ample and nutritious meal. Sometimes the combo comes out as soup, sometimes the items are plated separately, or sometimes the beans may become more sauce-like to be doled out over the rice. We might use Cajun seasonings, Indian spices, Middle Eastern flavours, Mexican palettes, or even Italian herbs. The trio has served us well for many years and has amazingly provided us with plenty of variety.

However, of late, we’ve been experimenting more. We’ve been learning to branch out, converting our beans and peas into new creations, things that have opened our menu. It’s been especially satisfying as summer has kicked in, and the heat and humidity has become overbearing, an atmosphere in which a hot plate of beans and rice often doesn’t sound all that appealing. For those interested—and if you aren’t that’s fine, no need to continue reading—I’ve compiled some of the new (and old) ideas we’ve been kicking around this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Forest Garden Plants – Ground Cover Plants for Deep Shade

Forest Garden Plants – Ground Cover Plants for Deep Shade

Ground cover plants play an important role in the forest garden, protecting the soil, providing refuge for wildlife at ground layer, preventing unwanted plants from establishing and can provide some food such as berries or leaves.

Ground covers are easy to establish and can be very easy to manage. During this post, we’ll take a look at some of our favourite ground cover plants with a focus on those that are suitable for deep shade. We’ll provide an overview of the plants, how they are used, the wildlife they can attract, and how to propagate the plants.I’m defining deep shade here as those areas of your garden that receive two – three hours of direct sunlight each day. This may be areas on the north sides of buildings and walls (in the northern hemisphere) and under dense tree canopies.

Bugle –  Ajuga reptans

Overview: Bugle – Ajuga reptans is a dense, mat-forming ground cover, spreading to 0.6m at a medium rate. It is in leaf all year, producing pretty blue-violet flowers from May to July on spikes that rise above the foliage at a height of around 30cm. The foliage can block the light from weeds inhibiting their growth. The plant is hermaphrodite and pollinated by bees and other insects. Easily grown in average, medium moisture and well-drained soils.

Uses: Excellent ground cover for large and shady areas. They spread freely with runners and establish themselves in areas that provide the optimum environmental conditions, ie, fertile well-drained soil in partial to deep shade. Medicinally, Bugle has a long history of use as a wound herb, helpful in stopping bleeding.

Biodiversity: The flowers are highly attractive to bumblebees, some songbirds and other beneficial insects.

Propagation: Through divisions if the plant becomes too crowded.  Also easy to propagate with seeds.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Build a Rain Garden to Capture Runoff

How to Build a Rain Garden to Capture Runoff

There are many reasons to build a rain garden. Rain gardens help filter out pollutants like bird guano from stormwater and turn them into nutrients for your garden. They help reduce the draw on local aquifers to irrigate our gardens and allow those aquifers to be replenished by the natural water cycle. Because of this, rain gardens are essential in the fight to reduce stormwater pollution’s impacts on river systems, which in turn, end up in our beloved ocean. Stormwater is one of the largest sources of environmental pollutants entering the world’s oceans today. Rain gardens can even help reduce the populations of mosquitoes and other biting insects who rely on stagnant water to breed. As climate change brings diseases like malaria further north, managing mosquito populations becomes less a luxury and more a public health necessity. 

Apart from purely utilitarian reasons to build rain gardens, the hobby gardeners and organic farmers of the world will find that rain gardens also provide an opportunity to sculpt a beautiful new aesthetic which conventional gardens simply cannot match. To get started, all you need is a ruler, a level, and a calculator.

Doing The Math

Rain gardens capture the rainfall from impermeable surfaces that flows across your property. Then, using nothing more than the natural slope of the land it collects and disperses that water into the garden and out into the local watershed beyond. If done properly, this water should collect and drain away within 24 hours of any given rainfall. Of course, to capture all the water falling on your roof, driveway, patio, and other impermeable surfaces you’ll need to know roughly how much water to expect.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Polyculture Trial – Apple Polyculture vs Monoculture

Polyculture Trial – Apple Polyculture vs Monoculture

How Do they Compare in Terms of Costs, Soil Health, Biodiversity, Production and Time?

I’m so looking forward to the spring to meet our Polyculture Study crew and get back into the gardens. This season we’ll be shifting our focus to perennial polyculture experiments and forest garden yields.

During the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a new perennial polyculture trial that we’re aiming to start this April. It’s a long term comparative study looking at the input and outputs of growing an Apple tree in polyculture vs monoculture.

Thank you Simon Leupi for your feedback and suggestions on the study design, and to Chris Mallorie for discussing the trial with me, and working on the organic fertility and pesticide protocol.

During this post, I’ll present the trial garden and trial design, cover what we will record, and take a look at some of the shortcomings of the study.

So, let’s start with a look at the garden where we’ll be growing the trials.

Trial Garden Overview

Location: Shipka, Bulgaria, Southeast Europe

Köppen Climate Classification – Dfc borderline Cfb

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5b (conservative) – 7a (risky)

Latitude: 42°

Elevation: 565 m

Average Annual Rainfall: 610 mm

Prevailing Wind: NW & NE

Garden Area – 352m2

Garden Location on our Project Map – See here

We’ll be growing four trials on the plot as seen in the below image. We chose this plot as each trial will more or less experience equal environmental conditions. There is a very mild slope on the site from N – S and no slope W-E.

The plant we chose to feature in the trial is Apple – Malus pumila ‘Red Cap’

Here’s some info on this cultivar

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Integrated Pest Management – Part 2

Integrated Pest Management – Part 2

Suggestions for specific IPM techniques to help you obtain a yield

In part 1(1) of this article, we looked at the history of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the spectrum of IPM techniques. In this part we will explore some specific ways to apply IPM with your own ecosystem, whatever the scale is of your growing, and whether you are growing annuals or perennials.

Start With The First Principle

In beginning our application of IPM techniques, it is helpful to first consider the environment within which your plants are growing, and the other creatures who already inhabit or are likely to inhabit it along with your crops. In doing this, we can follow the first permaculture principle and ‘Observe and Interact’(2) with the already-existing ecosystem.

For example, on a piece of land in which you intend to plant a garden, you can ask yourself, ‘Who is already living on this land? Who is likely to arrive with the species of plants which I am including in my design? Which of the existing or potential inhabitants could be a threat to my crops?’

In an ideal situation, I would engage in this first stage before embarking on any planting. Observation of the environment can happen by sitting quietly in the space. After you have observed and noted what you perceive, you could augment the observation by researching online; for example, if you note the presence of butterflies you could try to identify the species and look up what they eat (during all of their life stages) to check if they could be a potential ‘pest’. To help you, you could use an insect identification website such as Insect Identification(3) or Pest World(4) (though these both focus on North America) or try searching for ‘insect identification’ in your area on Facebook(5).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

Enrich Garden Soils without Paying for Amendments

A big part of permaculture is building soil. The loss of quality soils is one of the largest, most prevalent concerns on the globe, and of course, without good soil, producing healthy food just isn’t in the cards. So, really, before we can fill those storage bins with winter squash or stuff the cupboards with canned tomatoes, we have to get to the task of building the soils in which to grow them.

Unfortunately, mass agriculture methods have stripped soils of their vitality:

  • Monocultures have the tendency to deplete soils of whatever nutrients the cash crop likes,
  • and then that cash crop is shipped away with all of those nutrients instead of being fed back to the soil to recycle them.
  • Large-scale tilling makes the soils susceptible to erosion via wind and rain,
  • and it also destroys the web of soil life that helps to cycle organic nutrients into minerals and fertility.
  • Furthermore, those organic nutrients are typically removed during the harvest,
  • Which is done with massive machinery that compacts the soil so that it has to be tilled.
  • That’s before we get into chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides, which are about as healthy to soil as living on Slim Fast shakes and antibiotics would be to our bodies.

Without further belabouring this point, which is easy to do, suffice it to say that permaculture approaches soils and food production differently. Nevertheless, inherited soils often need special attention on the route to recovery, and even well-looked-after soils benefit from extra nutrients here and there. After all, it’s difficult to recycle every scrap of food we take from a plot back into it. With that in mind, here’s how to enrich soils without constantly importing minerals and other amendments.

Dynamic Accumulators

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Integrated Pest Management – Part 1

Integrated Pest Management
 Image by Melani Marfeld from Pixabay

Integrated Pest Management – Part 1

What is it and how can we do it as part of a balanced system?

In these times of global uncertainty and transition, where the globalised food system has become halted or reduced1, there is a wonderful opportunity to begin practicing food sovereignty on a personal basis2. This seems to be being put into practice in many places as growing one’s own food becomes more popular around the world3.

Being able to harvest and consume something which you have cultivated in the soil can be a very satisfying experience, from a practical point of view, as well as looking at it from the perspective of spiritual and mental well-being4. We can be seen as directly participating in the cycles of nature when we care for plants, especially if we choose to do so without the use of chemicals. Yet what if the beautiful vegetables we have so lovingly brought up are threatened by other creatures who also find them delicious to eat?

Permaculture practitioners have an answer to this: to intentionally include elements (whether plants or animals) in your garden which provides predators for those animals who would otherwise make your crop their prey. This technique, known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM)6, can be exercised in a number of ways, and there appear to be some important factors to remember when applying it with your crops, in order for it to be successful. This article will explore how IPM works, and how we can use it as part of a holistic design, while part 2 will give some practical examples to help with your own pest management on any scale; whether you are planting a few herbs on your balcony or have a large piece of land.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

If you took to growing veggies in the coronavirus pandemic, then keep it up when lockdown ends

Veggie Garden
 Photograph by João Jesus (Pexels)

If you took to growing veggies in the coronavirus pandemic, then keep it up when lockdown ends

If you took to growing veggies in the coronavirus pandemic, then keep it up when lockdown ends

The COVID-19 pandemic produced a run on the things people need to produce their own food at home, including vegetable seedlings, seeds and chooks.

This turn to self-provisioning was prompted in part by the high price rises for produce – including A$10 cauliflowers and broccoli for A$13 a kilo – and empty veggie shelves in some supermarkets.

As well as hitting the garden centres people looked online for information on growing food. Google searches for “how to grow vegetables” hit an all-time worldwide high in April. Hobart outfit Good Life Permaculture’s video on Crisis Gardening – Fresh Food Fast racked up over 80,000 views in a month. Facebook kitchen garden groups, such as Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, sought to share information and inspiration.

The Good Life

Given the many benefits of productive gardening, this interest in increased self-sufficiency was an intelligent response to the pandemic situation.

Experienced gardeners can produce enough fruit and vegetables year-round to supply two people from a small suburban backyard.

Productive gardening improves health by providing contact with nature, physical activity and a healthier diet. Contact with good soil bacteria also has positive health effects.


While Australians have traditionally valued the feeling of independence imparted by a degree of self-sufficiency, psychological benefits arise from the social connectedness encouraged by many forms of productive gardening.

Amid COVID-19, gardeners gathered online and community gardens around the world brought people together through gardening and food. In some areas, community gardens were declared essential because of their contribution to food security. Although Australian community gardens paused their public programs, most remained open for gardening adhering to social distancing regulations.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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