Sheetmulch Motherload

April 27th, 2010

I troll craigslist. A new entry pops up… “Free Compost” … I dive into my truck, roll to the next town, back up into someone’s driveway and start shoveling. It almost fills my truck bed. I get back in my truck to leave just as a mass of other people show up with buckets and shovels. I am exhausted but VICTORIOUS! Who knew Permaculture could be a competition sport?

Anyhow, I’ve been collecting cardboard and straw for a new giant sheet mulch bed out near the fruit trees (which may or may not have made it thru the winter) so now all I need is mulch for the top. I spent the rest of the day building this thing. I had just finished when the wind picked up and it started raining. Timing, I’m telling ya!

A Girl and her Solar Panel

March 7th, 2010

eI finally got to work on that greenhouse again… I added a fan to the geothermal tubing attached to a tiny solar panel that came out of a sample solar messenger bag. The bag is crap, the panel works great! I aimed it due south so the fan activates when it’s hit by full sun. I figure that’s when the greenhouse will be the warmest, so it’s time to put that warmth into the soil for keeping the place warm overnight. Here I am pictured with the solar panel… the next shot is the fan, aimed down into the ground. It’s from an old computer. It’s a damn good fit! I threaded the wires thru a nail hole in the fiberglass to the panel nailed to the outside.  The tubes go into the ground 2 or 3 feet. The air comes up the other side cooler. It’s a nice air conditioning effect as well as saving the heat energy in the soil. Brilliant design!  See the description and plans for a geothermal tube system here.

fan      greenhouse

Here’s the outside view. I also fixed the gappy part covered by plastic and reworked the door to be less… well.. off-kilter. So it’s looking less like a junkyard and more like a functioning greenhouse! Watch out, I may even start some lettuce in it soon…

February Happenings

February 27th, 2010

Tulips and a couple other things coming up!

shoots    tinyplant

Maples are budding. Paving the way for a good crop of bees I hope!  Flock? Herd?


I made some non-aesthetic modifications to the greenhouse. It was a little gappy down there.


And finally, got some birdseed to entertain my cat. Say hi to Millie!


Teacher Training

January 22nd, 2010

I start Permaculture instructor training tomorrow and I’m totally intimidated. Other than some tutoring in college, I’ve never taught anything to anyone. I waited until the last minute to sign up for class, requiring my teacher to leave multiple voice and email messages. I was so excited this summer to teach this stuff! What happened?

I got a new job I like, that’s one thing. I’m no longer looking to get somewhere else so fast. Also, it’s winter and being outside doesn’t have the appeal it did in May. And I get a touch of seasonal depression, so my motivation is pretty low to do anything other than drag myself to my vanpool in the morning. Oh, and I’m scared to death to teach despite both my parents having done it their whole lives!

But I eventually did sign up and I have my first class tomorrow. It’ll be so nice to be back amongst Permies. My instructor thinks I’d be great, and she’s been teaching for decades so perhaps I’ll discover a new talent. Wish me luck!!

Fruit Trees and Snowmen

December 16th, 2009

In the winter, there isn’t a whole lot of permaculture going on to write about. My greenhouse got finished too late to plant anything, and it still needs a lot of shoring up before it can withstand some of the temperatures we’ve been getting. 17F below is a record for Colorado!

I realize there are zillions of things I could be doing, like designing my land 100 different ways, reading, taking classes, growing things in the house. But this time of year it takes all of my energy just to get up on time for work, and with the holidays approaching, gardening is a distant memory.

Snowman and Hazelnut

Snowman and Hazelnut

 But I can sleep deeply knowing my six new fruit trees are hybernating properly! In early November I picked up two each of apple, cherry and hazelnut trees around 4 ft tall and planted them according to the directions. Plant, water deeply, wrap first in chickenwire and then in screen. Who knew I’d have both in my barn? Chickenwire to build the bunny cage from a decade ago, and screen to fix a window on the screened-in porch. I think that justifies any hording behavior brought on by my obsession with permaculture!

Don’t mulch the trees just after you plant them! They need to stay dormant, and if it’s nice enough to dig holes for them, the ground isn’t frozen yet. Once it’s frozen, then add a ton of mulch to insulate the ground against thawing. The temps have such a huge range out here that things are likely to leaf out in January if we’re not careful.

Moisture is an equally big problem in Colorado, both in winter and summer. We have to keep an eye on how much it snows and occasionally give trees extra water. After one snowstorm I got inspired and started making snowmen sentries for the trees to protect them from the north winds as well as provide water as they melted. It was a great workout!

Certified! And Certifiable!

November 20th, 2009

We had our last Permaculture Design class this weekend and we gave our presentation showing our mapping, site analysis and new design suggestions. I’m so proud of all 31 of us, we did so well! Rave reviews all around.

Save a tree… pee on it.

October 19th, 2009

Nitrogen is essential for both indoor and outdoor plants and is used up at a steady clip compared with other nutrients. So it must be continuously replaced. It turns out that human urine is the perfect fertilizer and I’ve heard it from a number of places now. HOWever, I have a bit of an aversion to collecting and dealing with my own pee, much less anyone else’s! Plenty of permaculturists happily do it every day and have composting outhouses for the other human waste product but I have yet to get really excited about the prospect.

I can relieve myself comfortably outside while camping or hiking, so I figured maybe direct application would be the easiest for me. I am on five acres so the chance of someone seeing anything is minimal. So I’ve squatted near my pear tree (notice the lack of accompanying photo), which seems to be in need of something, poor thing. It still strikes me as a little gross.

But really you should dilute it with a few gallons of water and spread it evenly through garden beds around, say, fall (right now) so it has a chance to break down and integrate into the soil. I think I’m getting closer to trying that because every time I flush, I imagine the perfect organic fertilizer mixing in the perfect ratio going down the tubes instead of where it might be useful. I may need to just get over myself. Stay tuned.

My nemesis… Bindweed!

October 2nd, 2009

If I can find a use for bindweed, I may make a fortune. I have 5 acres of it doing quite nicely. It’s even avoided the powdery mildew this year. usually it spreads that stuff to my squash, violets and even the grass.

It is a pioneer species in every sense of the word. When you start with bare ground, something aggressive will work to cover it, thereby keeping it cool, moist and protected from topsoil loss. I’ve let it do just that in the back yard where I had a mass die-off of grass when it got hot and dry last month. My instinct is to rip it out everywhere it shows its spade-like head but in this case I’ll let it form a bright green carpet. I have to admit it looks way better than parched clay soil and until I figure out what else to put there, it’s doing a good job as a cover crop. I imagine its extensive root system helps to break up and add organic matter to the subsoil. And as I read about how pioneer species succumb eventually to more permanent ecosystems, I worry less about it take over and choking out important things. Just barely less.

As a morning glory, it’s little tubular flowers are beautiful in shades of pink or white. Many of us adore the plant at first. However, watching it spiral up everything in its path and leave a tangled mess of vines where a field of native grass or garden should be changes a person’s view quickly. Ripping it out of the ground is useless because the same plant can cover hundreds of square feet and its roots dig three or four feet down. I’m probably helping it strengthen its root system ever time I grab and pull a shoot out. They break off perfectly right at ground level so it’s hard work to dig up any of its root, and even a tiny bit of the plant can regrow in even the worst soil.

In my search to come up with something to do with bindweed, I’ve learned that it’s edible and I’ve been feeding it successfully to my bunny. Of course he’ll eat anything green. Then I started coming across articles about bindweed as it relates to cancer research. Check out this article about bindweed leaves containing huge volumes of cancer fighting qualities. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Of course it’s also mentioned that fresh bindweed contains alkaloids that are toxic. So somehow these are neutralized by the extraction process, which sources are notably silent about!! So I’m not sure I’d recommend a giant salad of the stuff, and maybe I should feed it to the bunny in moderation. Just as with everything, good is accompanied by a big dose of cautious!


September 30th, 2009

A couple weeks ago I had to make salsa for 35 people in my permaculture class. Daunting, but we chose our assignment well and fed everyone a taco bar, which involves very little cooking. I headed to the farmer’s market and hauled a 25 pound box of roma tomatoes home along with a selection of peppers and onions.

So I was up for hours chopping instead. I managed to make two giant bowls of salsa, one peach with hatch and sweet peppers, one regular with onion, poblano and a touch of hot serrano pepper. I chopped cilantro on the side since some folks had expressed a distaste for the stuff. I’m warming up to it myself, and it works great with the peach salsa. Want the recipes? Google “simple salsa recipe” and pick the first one.

solar ovenThat barely made a dent in the giant box of tomatoes! One of my permie classmates picked me up a dehydrator at a garage sale (thanks Maggie!) so I decided to try drying some. I found the perfect method using a solar oven that we’d made a couple classes ago (plans are here, along with my supplemental instructions for the intensely impatient). I sliced them each into 4 or 5 slim pieces and stacked them on the dryer’s racks, and put them in the middle of the solar oven facing south. I monitored its progress during the day and kept it sunny side up. As it got dark, I brought them in and plugged the dehydrator in. Most were done by morning, the others crisping up with more exposure to the sun. Perfect.

Then I made roasted tomatoes in the convection oven… burned the first batch even, but the second cooked down to a perfect flavor. I cut them in half, roll them in canola oil, top them with basil & thyme (other herbs work fine too, these were the ones I had on hand fresh) and bake for a little over an hour. I added one to my eggs this morning and have plans to freeze some for later, make pasta sauce, maybe pizza sauce too. Remember that I couldn’t cook?? I’ve suddenly found I enjoy making myself tasty food! As long as I keep it simple. Tomatoes are pretty simple.

I still have maybe a dozen left! What to do next?


September 12th, 2009

apricotsWhat’s that, you ask? CRMPI = Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. I had the privilage of being their guest this weekend with a few of my permaculture classmates. Rustic and beautiful were my first impressions. Everything has a do-it-yourself feel, from the house with reclaimed metal siding to the hundreds of grafted seedlings waiting for sale.

The road the CRMPI is rough. Teeth-rattling, lurching, staring down hundreds of feet to the bottom, but the end result is worth it! The mountains around Basalt, Colorado are well known for their pine trees and sparse wildflowers, but apricots? Hazelnuts? Somehow they have found every possible cultivar that grows food at 7200 feet above sea level. This is permaculture at its best… plums and apples weighing down their branches, grapes growing among pinions, turkeys cooing and begging for treats. The three greenhouses have everything from melons and eggplant to the more traditional heirloom tomatoes and cukes and one is nearly entirely filled by an enormous fig tree. Fresh figs are amazing!

Never without a piece of fruit in his hand, owner Jerome took us on a long tour of the food forest and greenhouses, beginning first with his Sunny John composting toilet. The plans can be found here, and it was remarkably smell-free. Why own a flock or a herd of animals for their manure when you have interns and visitors? That’s using what you have!

We got to see what 23 years of sheet mulching and soil building looks like and it’s no wonder fruit and turkey2veggies grow so well up here. The worms are thick just beneath the surface. He has three turkeys, three rabbits and a bunch of predators after both animals and plants. He showed us a very fresh pile of bear scat and a broken apple tree branch from a black bear raid the night before. We also noticed dig marks outside the rabbit cages. Raccoon? Fox? It’s not trivial protecting your bounty in such a wild area. They were stripping all of the fruit off the trees and storing it to ripen inside so the bear would stop coming around. It’s better to lose a few than have whole trees torn down. We ended our tour at the lily pond where dragonflies buzzed around our heads.

Then we had an incredible lunch of polenta lasagna, fresh veggies and hummus. The rest of the afternoon we wandered the grounds, taking pictures and (in my case) napping in the hammock. As for my favorite subject, weeds, they were all useful and thoughtfully placed. Vetch for nitrogen fixing, lovage to attract beneficial insects, comfry for compost and pea shrubs for mulch. So “weeds” may be the wrong term… supporting castmembers maybe.

That night we met downtown for dinner in Carbondale then camped overnight on a hill overlooking the food forest. I left inspired… if paradise can grow here, it can certainly flourish in my field!

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