Twenty years ago, Stefan Sobkowiak bought a commercial apple orchard with the intention of converting it to an organic orchard. He did just that, but eventually understood the limitations of the organic model originating from monoculture. He then decided to tear out most of the trees and replant in a way that would maximize biodiversity and yield while minimizing maintenance. Inspired by permaculture principles, the orchard now counts over 100 cultivars of apples, plus several types of plums, pears, cherries, and countless other fruits and vegetables.
Permaculture Movement Gains Ground
(ABC 6 NEWS) — As rising fuel prices and a turbulent growing season have driven up the cost of food, some are looking for new, more permanent and sustainable ways to farm.
About twenty students gathered at Harmony Park in Clarks Grove on Friday to study permaculture.
What is it? Well…
“It’s very hard to fit permaculture in a nutshell,” said Wayne Weiseman, a world-renowned permaculture expert who led Friday’s workshop. “It’s a comprehensive system of design for sustainability.”
So what does that mean exactly? Well, permaculture involves everything from sustainable farming practices, to green building techniques, to responsible energy use.
“It’s a complete lifestyle,” Weiseman said. “I guess one of the ideal goals of permaculture is to create a zero-waste environment.”
And Harmony Park itself looks to be a leader in the permaculture movement.
Officials say they’ve been expanding their garden every year and plan on adopting new practices to make the park more self-sufficient.
“When we have events like we have now with food waste, we give that to the chickens,” said Jay Sullivan, the park’s owner. “The chickens in turn lay eggs, and we gather those the next day which feed us, so it’s a really nice cycle that we’re a part of.”
And while experts say many aspects of permaculture are very simple and easy to learn, there are still a number of barriers preventing it from gaining widespread recognition, including start-up costs and a lack of educational resources.
“The issue is that we’ve built this infrastructure on most farms with corn, soybeans, etc., that it’s very difficult to make that change,” Weiseman said.
But despite the obstacles, Weiseman said they’re making progress.
“It’s a slow process. But there are a lot of younger people getting into this now and a lot of younger people working on farms all over the world,” Weiseman said. “So we’re starting to see a bit of change in the way things are done.”
During Friday’s workshop, students were able to get their hands dirty, building a more efficient garden plot and designing conservation systems to lessen the park’s environmental impact.
Source: KAAL TV
Food Forests have been around for thousands of years in tropical and sub-tropical climates. In fact, there is a Food Forest currently still producing food in Morocco that was established 2,000 years ago! The concept of food forestry was almost lost to the annals of history when Robert Hart decided to adapt this design to his temperate climate in the UK in the 1960′s. The idea of a Forest Garden was brought to the public’s awareness when Robert wrote a book documenting his grand experiment. Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, visited Robert’s site in 1990, and he quickly adopted this design element into his teachings and work. Initially, when Robert Hart described the layers of the Forest Garden, I believe he did so based on what he had and what he studied. Since then, Robert Hart’s categorization of the layers of the Forest Garden has stood unquestioned.
I am not actually arguing about the existing layers. My issue is that there are certain layers that have been ignored or overlooked. My goal is to resolve this discrepancy today. As you can see in my illustration above, I believe that there are 9 layers in a Forest Garden. The first 7 are identical to Robert Hart’s initial design. The missing layers are the Aquatic or Wetland Layer and the Mycelial or Fungus Layer.
Here are my Nine Layers of the Edible Forest Garden:
- Canopy/Tall Tree Layer
- Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer
- Shrub Layer
- Herbaceous Layer
- Groundcover/Creeper Layer
- Underground Layer
- Vertical/Climber Layer
- Aquatic/Wetland Layer
- Mycelial/Fungal Layer
1. Canopy or Tall Tree Layer
Typically over 30 feet (~9 meters) high. This layer is for larger Forest Gardens. Timber trees, large nut trees, and nitrogen-fixing trees are the typical trees in this category. There are a number of larger fruiting trees that can be used here as well depending on the species, varieties, and rootstocks used.
2. Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer
Typically 10-30 feet (3-9 meters) high. In most Forest Gardens, or at least those with limited space, these plants often make up the acting Canopy layer. The majority of fruit trees fall into this layer.
3. Shrub Layer
Typically up to 10 feet (3 meters) high. The majority of fruiting bushes fall into this layer. Includes many nut, flowering, medicinal, and other beneficial plants as well.
4. Herbaceous Layer
Plants in this layer die back to the ground every winter… if winters are cold enough, that is. They do not produce woody stems as the Shrub layer does. Many cullinary and medicinal herbs are in this layer. A large variety of other beneficial plants fall into this layer.
5. Groundcover/Creeper Layer
There is some overlap with the Herbaceous layer and the Groundcover layer; however plants in this layer are often shade tolerant, grow much closer to the ground, grow densely to fill bare patches of soil, and often can tolerate some foot traffic.
6. Underground Layer
These are root crops. There are an amazing variety of edible roots that most people have never heard of. Many of these plants can be utilized in the Herbaceous Layer, the Vining/Climbing Layer, and the Groundcover/Creeper Layer.
7. Vertical/Climber Layer
These vining and climbing plants span multiple layers depending on how they are trained or what they climb all on their own. They are a great way to add more productivity to a small space, but be warned. Trying to pick grapes that have climbed up a 60 foot Walnut Tree can be interesting to say the least.
8. Aquatic/Wetland Layer
This is my first new layer to the Forest Garden. Some will say that a forest doesn’t grow in the water, so this layer is inappropriate for the Forest Garden. I disagree. Many forests have streams flowing through or ponds in the center. There are a whole host of plants that thrive in wetlands or at the water’s edge. There are many plants that grow only in water. To ignore this large list of plants is to leave out many useful species that provide food, fiber, medicinals, animal feed, wildlife food and habitat, compost, biomass, and maybe most important, water filtration through bioremediation (or phytoremediation). We are intentionally designing Forest Gardens which incorporate water features, and it is time we add the Aquatic/Wetland Layer to the lexicon.
9. Mycelial/Fungal Layer
This is my second new layer to the Forest Garden. Fungal networks live in healthy soils. They will live on, and even within, the roots of plants in the Forest Garden. This underground fungal network transports nutrients and moisture from one area of the forest to another depending on the needs of the plants. It is an amazing system which we are only just beginning to comprehend. As more and more research is being conducted on how mycelium help build and maintain forests, it is shocking that this layer has not yet been added to the list. In addition to the vital work this layer contributes to developing and maintaining the forest, it will even provide mushrooms from time to time that we can utilize for food and medicine. If we are more proactive, we can cultivate this layer intentionally and dramatically increase our harvest.
UPDATE: I have received numerous comments and questions about this layer. I wrote a more detailed description of this layer here.
So this is my proposal to the Permaculture world. Let’s consider all nine layers when designing our Forest Gardens.
This has been reposted from TCPermaculture.com. Thanks, John Kitsteiner, for all of your good work.
Biochar is what we call charcoal when it is used as a soil amendment. Like all charcoal, biochar is created by pyrolysis. Under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions, Biochar has the potential to help mitigate climate change, via carbon sequestration. Biochar can increase soil fertility, increase agricultural productivity and provide protection against some foliar and soil-borne disease. Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon and can endure in soil for thousands of years.
Watch “Biochar: The Oldest New Thing You’ve Never Heard Of”
Wae Nelson was employed as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace and defense industries for many years, working both as a designer and as a manager in manufacturing. Now he publishes the magazine beloved by local gardeners, Florida Gardening, and pursues his passion for biochar — a diy, scalable technique to both improve horticultural yields and sequester carbon simultaneously.
Watch “Making Biochar: with Peter Hirst of New England Biochar”
Geologist Ian Stewart explains, in three stages of natural history, the crucial interaction of our very planet’s physiology and its unique wildlife. Biological evolution is largely driven by adaptation to conditions such as climate, soil and irrigation, but biotopes were also shaped by wildlife changing earth’s surface and climate significantly, even disregarding human activity.
How to Grow a Planet Part 1
How to Grow a Planet Part 2
How to Grow a Planet Part 3
Joseph Russell Smith (1874-1966) was a geography professor who grew up in the chestnut forests of Virginia. His book Tree Crops was originally published in 1929. Smith wrote it because he was horrified by the soil destruction caused by regularly tilling cropland — and hillside tilling drove him completely out of his mind, because it permanently destroyed good land at a much faster rate. Everyone knew this, but they kept doing it anyway, because they were cursed with a short-term mindset.
Tilling was a common practice in those days (and it’s still popular today). Farmers tilled because their daddies tilled, and their grandpas tilled, and their great-grandpas tilled in the old country. It was a powerful dirty habit that was nearly impossible to quit, until the land died — and it provided no long-term benefits! With great exasperation, Smith exclaimed: “Corn, the killer of continents, is one of the worst enemies of the human future!”
Old World crops like wheat, barley, rye, and oats provided a dense ground cover that slowed the rate of soil erosion a bit. New World crops like corn, potatoes, cotton, and tobacco were row crops that left the tilled soil exposed, and more vulnerable to erosion. In America, thunderstorms were common, producing downpours that were rare in Europe. Heavy rains filled the streams with lost topsoil. In the Cotton Belt, Smith saw erosion gullies that were 150 feet deep. Oklahoma was ruined with stunning speed. We were destroying land that could have fed millions. An Old World saying sums it up: “After the man the desert.” In the legends of our ancient wild ancestors, the First Commandment is: “Thou shalt not till.”
Joseph was a brilliant visionary, and one day he received an illuminating revelation. If you wanted to stop the destruction of soils caused by tilling, quit tilling! Live in a different way! Create a cuisine that majors in nutritious soil-friendly foods. Smith envisioned two-story farms: tree crops on the sloped land, and pastures for livestock below, both perennial. Farmers could abandon tilling forever, and pass the land on to future generations in a healthier condition. Imagine that.
Farmers scratched their heads when they heard this idea, and were more than a little perplexed and befuddled. Agroforestry wasn’t a mainstream tradition in European American agriculture. The required knowledgebase didn’t exist, so Smith researched it and wrote it down. His book is mostly a scrapbook of correspondence. Smith sent letters to hundreds of experts on tree crops, and then assembled their responses into a book. He created an amazing collection of information, including recommendations for agroforestry in other climates and continents.
Hogs won’t touch corn if there are acorns to eat, and oaks can produce more calories per acre than grain, when done right. A top quality pecan tree can drop nearly a ton of nuts per year. Hickory nuts can be smashed and boiled to produce hickory oil. Pistachios fetch a high price and have a long shelf life. Many types of pines produce nuts. The honey locust is a drought hearty US native that will grow where corn or cotton grows, and animals love the beans. The sugar maple produces sugar. Persimmons are enjoyed by man and beast. Pigs and chickens love mulberries. And don’t forget walnuts, beechnuts, almonds, cherry pits, soapnuts, holly, ginko, pawpaw, horse chestnut, osage orange, privet, wattle, wild plums, and choke cherries. The list goes on and on.
Trees can produce high quality foods, and they can be grown on slopes too steep to plow. Once the trees are established, little labor is needed until harvest time. Tree crops can be much more productive than mere pastures or forests. They typically suffer less from dry spells than field crops. Over time, they can actually build new topsoil. Like any crop, trees are vulnerable to pests, diseases, fire, and extreme weather. Like any crop, tree crops are not 100 percent dependable, year after year, so monocultures are not a wise choice. The Second Commandment is: “Thou shalt encourage diversity.”
Smith witnessed the blight epidemic that wiped out virtually all of the American chestnuts, rapidly killing millions of trees. He personally lost 25 acres of chestnuts. The blight fungus came to America on chestnut trees imported from Asia. Knowing this, it’s shocking that Smith advocated travelling the world in search of better varieties of trees, to bring home and experiment with. Hey, Japanese walnuts! And the USDA helped him! The Third Commandment is: “Thou shalt leave Japanese organisms in Japan.”
Smith was a tree-loving zealot who was on a mission from God, and he promoted his great ideas with great enthusiasm. But the world did not leap to attention, change its ways, and promptly end soil erosion as we know it. Farmers are almost as conservative as popes, and they are not fans of radical change — especially ideas that tie up land for decades before producing the first penny. Joseph was heartbroken: “The longer I live, the more amazed I become at the lack of constructive imagination, the lack of sheer curiosity, the desire to know.” It’s not easy being a brilliant visionary.
Smith’s grand vision was reasonable, rational, and ecologically far superior to growing organic crops on tilled fields. Tree crops remain an important subject for the dreams of those who do not robotically march in lockstep with the status quo hordes. Planting America’s hills with tree crops would be an immense task, creating many jobs, and providing benefits for generations. Why don’t we do it? The Fourth Commandment is “Thou shalt live in a manner that is beneficial to the generations yet-to-be-born.”
Read Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith (pdf) Free Online
We all know which vegetables and fruits are safe to eat, but what about wild plants? Here are a few common North American goodies that are safe to eat if you find yourself stuck in the wild:
Many wild berries are not safe to eat, it’s best to stay away from them. But wild blackberries are 100% safe to eat and easy to recognize. They have red branches that have long thorns similar to a rose, the green leaves are wide and jagged. They are best to find in the spring when their white flowers bloom, they are clustered all around the bush and their flowers have 5 points. The berries ripen around August to September.
The easiest to recognize if the dandelion, in the spring they show their bright yellow buds. You can eat the entire thing raw or cook them to take away the bitterness, usually in the spring they are less bitter. They are packed with Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and beta carotene.
The vegetable that makes your pee smell funny grows in the wild in most of Europe and parts of North Africa, West Asia, and North America. Wild asparagus has a much thinner stalk than the grocery-store variety. It’s a great source of source of vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and vitamin B6. Eat it raw or boil it like you would your asparagus at home. Continue reading
The ramp has broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk only appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil
Allium tricoccum grows to 0.3 m (12in) by 0.2 m (8in).
It is hardy to zone 3 and is not frost tender. It leafs out in early spring and is in flower from June to July. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil.
The bulb may be eaten raw or cooked and is used mainly as a flavoring in salads and savory dishes This is one of the best North American wild species for sweetness and flavor They have a mild sweet flaver, resembling leeks. The small bulb is up to 12mm wide and 50mm tall and is produced in clusters on a rhizome
The leaves may also be eaten either raw or cooked. The unfolding leaves in spring have a mild sweet flaver, resembling leeks.
Flowers are eaten raw. They are used as a garnish on salads and possess a hot onion flavor.
Don King on Hunting Ramps
Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens). This shrub from Siberia and other semiarid parts of Northeastern Asia is remarkably cold hardy – tolerating temperatures below -40, the frigid temperature where Celsius and Fahrenheit overlap. It is widely used for windbreak, nitrogen fixation, livestock fodder, and erosion control in the world’s cold regions. It is particularly common in the Canadian prairies, where hundreds of miles of pea shrub windbreaks have been planted.
Siberian pea shrub produces fairly high yields of small beans. Canadian farmers use the beans as survival food, boiling them in several changes of water in lean years to remove the bitterness. That doesn’t quite meet my definition of edible. However, Facciola’s Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants reports the dry beans contain up to 36% protein – very similar to soybeans.
This article is an excerpt from Eric Toensmeier‘s forthcoming book Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices, and is part of a series promoting his kickstarter campaign to raise funds with which to complete the book.