Science and pseudo-science (#horticulture, #agriculture, soils, #geomorphology, #permaculture ) is a subject I love to rant about, but let’s bring it down to the practical applications. All science begins with observation; all observation is colored by physical ability, physical setting, layer upon layer of variables, perception, interpretation and above all else the pending question. Hypothesis not null hypothesis, trust me. Spring 2019 will bring practical application of observations into the classroom. Bring a Beginner’s Mind … as best you can…
OLLI Program at Casper College:
Saturday April 6, 2019 9am – 4pm Dirt to Earth: Permaculture Soil Improvement
Saturday April 27, 2019 9am – 4pm Oh, The Water: Permaculture Garden Water Management
Saturday May 4, 2019 9am – 4pm A Rose Is Not Always A Rose: Permaculture Garden Plants
For more information on the OLLI Program and/ or on these classes please contact Vicki Pollock 307.268.2097
And By Special Request: Permaculture Landscape / Garden Design will be offered at the Fort Caspar Museum Classroom this Spring (date to be determined). This one-day class will cover organization of observations, resources, plants and your goals for your landscape or garden. I have had many requests for this course outside of the OLLI program offerings. I am negotiating a date and sponsor for this class. Minimum number of students is eight. An additional meeting of the class at The Refuge will be scheduled. Tuition: $50.00 To reserve a space please send text, email or leave voicemail. 307.262.8043 / firstname.lastname@example.org
More than half the time we do not realize everything we have seen. Filters are mind over matter. Recall and increase the success of your earthwork. Dig in.
Finally. The open door. The one that never shows what is on the other side. Smoke or mist or darkness. Shortly after 1 January 2019 my entire focus will go to the design and nursery practice, a risk that is exciting and anxious…a strange balance. The sense of freedom that comes and goes is also a sense of the unknown. A blank canvas, paint box closed. This site will become a place for in-depth postings; the Facebook page will become brief notes, notices, special offers and photos. With this move I will have time to spend with former and new clients, students, research and design, and my own restoration. For now, hibernation, reading, planning and resting up for the new challenge…soon, very, very soon. Standby for irreverence, chautauquas, strange integrations and observations. Buckle your seatbelt (All About Eve, and the Garden of Eden revisited.)
So much of the permaculture information found on the Internet seems like it does not apply to the Great Ancient Ocean bottom we live in here in Central Wyoming. Truthfully the principles apply on every scale, in all environments. For details on the first in the series of one-day courses visit
Balance, observation, small changes, wise use of resources – the proof that what you see and much of what you need is right here, right now. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Namaste. Laurel
Last year on one of those very early spring days of cold shade and clear sunlight, the open space near the front steps to the cabin was filled with a low rumble. It was so loud that I checked the approach to the nearby airport for the gigantic FedEx freight plane preparing to land. I scanned the small yard next to the cabin. The juniper-fragrance of the five-year-old Black Currant bush on the north side of the house filled the warm air. The bush was so full of buzzing bumble bees, disturbing and brushing the leaves, that the oils were released. Beneath the leaves the stems were populated with racemes of retiring bell-shaped flowers, tinged with a light purple promise. Hanging from almost every small flower was a fat, fuzzy bumblebee – beautiful gold-orange-brown-black grizzly bearish pollinators.
Tonight, on this freezing, Wyoming, February evening rich burgundy frozen juice is thawing in a bowl on the kitchen counter. Just a little organic cane sugar will bring out the deep black currant flavors – a little juniper, a lot of dark berry, mildly acidic, like citrus. The final liquid is used as a concentrate to make almost a gallon of juice to drink. After the best and fullest ripe currants had been harvested, the rest were left on the branches to dry on the bush. The dried berries are now kept in Mason jars with pale green burlap secured over the top. These, along with dried wild rose hips, are steeped with the Sri Lankan white tea in a vintage porcelain tea pot for seven to ten minutes: the vapor of the garden in the middle of winter.
The timing of the bumblebees of last spring was perfect. These were the first large pollinators to appear, climbing out of their hibernation seemingly all of a sudden, in one day, and covering the early flowering currant. That will not be true every year.
In the practice of permaculture, we follow the patterns of nature. Nature does not behave in isolated cycles or a single path of progress. Time and space overlap, work with and through each other. When an installation is designed it often includes layers of product: early spring-flowering fruit , mid-summer richness, early fall wine fruit. Late fall includes harvesting the wild rose hips and grapes. Any fruit left on the shrubs or trees or vines decorates the bare branches through winter, often feeding birds and mice until snow covers it all.
As we seek balance in our practice, we need to seek a balanced view of the elements of our landscape. The majority of the currants grown at The Farm were actually pollinated by small flies: all of the red, pink and champagne currants. Observing is the first and foremost permaculture practice. No bees worked on those shrubs. This year the little flies also worked on the grape vines. Honey bees worked on the crabapples and mason and carpenter bees on the wild roses. Some years the buffaloberry shrubs glow with tiny, iridescent wasps on every hidden, yellow flower.
The activity of human beings has disrupted the organized chaos of diversity with monoculture and manicured lawns Some behavior attempts to mitigate the consequences of homo sapiens who are not so wise.
This year, for the first time, a North American bumblebee has been listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “Endangered”. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee was very common in 31 Eastern and Midwestern states prior to research done in 2000. That research found the bumblebee in only 13 states and part of Ontario Canada. As usual the research also found that the most likely cause was loss of habitat.
Inhabitat magazine reported that Japanese scientists and engineers have developed a small drone that can be programmed to “grab and deposit pollen” in flowers. (February 2017). It goes without saying that isolating one behavior of any element in the landscape does not in any way replace the entire impact of that element. The beating of the wings of a pollinator may have an entirely different impact on the landscape than the whirling of the rotors on a drone.
But the role of any one element in the landscape never carries the field.
Research done by Roger Morse and Nicholas Calderone of Cornell University – done with very rigorous treatment – concluded that approximately $15 billion of the estimated $394 billion in agricultural production is enhanced by bee activity (“Value of Honey Bees As Pollinators”, 2000). In truth, the majority of human-consumed food product is pollinated by wind or self-pollination, or will develop even without the act of pollination. The largest type of food consumed – grains including but not limited to corn, wheat, rice, rye, barley – are wind pollinated.
Nonetheless we are the landscape. The majority of human behavior in the landscape is “take”. Any time a project can incorporate hand craft, nature craft and science it meets the permaculture Rule of Three. This year take a little time to hit the second hand stores or your stacks of unused clay pots in the shed. The Craft Project for 2017 is about pollinators, starting with bumblebee nests.
Bumblebee Nesting Sites
Step One: Timing and Siting
Use the primary method of permaculture – Observation – to identify plants in your landscape where the bumbles appear in the early spring. There are two times that nesting is important. In the spring when the over-wintering queens come out, and in fall when the queens of that year fly out to find protected places to spend the winter. They seek out abandoned rodent holes, or piles of mulch. The clay pot nesting site provides that place. Make sure that you place these out of high-traffic areas as the bees will defend their nesting sites by stinging intruders.
Step Two: Materials.
🐝 Clay pot- second hand and thrift stores are great places to find these.
🐝 Wire or plastic mesh
🐝 Abandoned mouse nests – These can be found in hay stacks, or places where there is scattered or remnant hay or straw. They will be light, small pieces of material including grasses, feathers, string. Do not use material if it is significantly soiled. Handle the material with gloves to avoid exposure to hanta or other virus or bacteria.
The old Homelite chainsaw case as home to last year’s mice.
Step Three: Construction
🐝 Use a drill bit the same size as your tubing so it will fit snuggly.
🐝 Cut or drill holes on one side of the tubing to allow any water that gets into the tube to drain out .
🐝 Fit the tubing tightly into the drilled hole.
🐝 File a groove in the pot bottom edge (when upside down) to let water trapped in the recessed area out.
🐝 Dig a hole that will cover approximately 2/3 of the pot.
🐝 Place one piece of curved mesh in the bottom of the hole to keep the nesting material off of the damp soil.
🐝 Place the nesting material on top of the mesh.
🐝 Place the clay pot, upside down, into the hole, with the tubing extending above ground but close to the surface, to resemble a rodent den entry.
🐝 Pack earth tightly around the pot and tubing.
🐝 The drain hole – formerly on the “bottom” of the pot – is now exposed. Place the second piece of mesh with grass or small leaf pieces under it, over the drain hole. This will allow for some air flow for the nesting area.
🐝 Place a curved piece of broken or cut smaller pot in an arch over the mesh to hold it in place.
🐝 Place plants favored by the bumble bees near the nesting
The ice remains beneath the surface of the earth. But materials are ready to go. There are several excellent videos on YouTube on bumblebee nests. Use this time to look up the various bumble bee types in your region. Very soon cuttings from the Black Currant will be taken, and in less than five years customers and clients will be able to enjoy the dark richness – and the pollinator’s song.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” – Helen Keller. ** The pasture behind the loafing shed looked silver in the horizontal light of late evening. That silver was the filter of the painful, sharply barbed seed heads of Downy Brome grass. In the sagebrush steppe environment these bunch grasses fed millions of bison, antelope and deer every spring. Early, soft, sweet spring growth mowed by wave after wave of large mammals. But in the useless efforts of humans to organize the earth with fences and the bizarre belief that there is some sport or pleasure in killing large mammals – some eaten, most not – this “foxtail” grows and spreads and covers ground that has been severely disturbed by other human disturbances, mostly poorly advised or ignorant agriculture. And not being grazed repeatedly has created a taller, more prolific grass. Now the waves and waves are the windblown clouds of spiked seeds that fill porches, gardens, barns, the eyes of cows, and dogs, and birds, and native creatures, sprouting everywhere they find even a hint of moisture, digging into skin if that is the only source – all the result of our inhabiting this landscape and disrupting the natural processes.
What I’m about to say will sound politically incorrect. You will just have to get over it. And before I say it, I should reveal that about a third of my family have been and still are in conventional, corporate agriculture, and I worked very closely with small operators in watershed management projects. The latter folks are not the folks I’m referring to here. The smaller operators have always seemed to be open to new ideas when economy and long range goals are supported. Conventional, traditional agriculture is primarily practiced by men, and the men who claim to know everything about “agriculture” would approach this pasture issue with lots of herbicide, plowing, seeding, chemical fertilizing, and irrigating. I will say that generally their next year the new seed comes up nicely. And every year the mechanical processes are repeated. This practice is a choice based on information, on advertisement, on expediency, and let’s be honest: something about men and large Tonka toys, overcoming the Earth and forcing their will on dirt. My value judgment on this: it is a tremendous use of resources (for a moment consider the cost in resources of creating a John Deere tractor, or swather, or baler, or all of the above because to process hay you need them all.) There is something to be said for occupying the time of that Guy in the tractor. What else would he be doing if he couldn’t sit in an air conditioned tractor with Sirius radio blaring country music in the cab going around in squared off patterns all day long….I suppose there is always NASCAR.)
Restore your place in on the planet. In the spring I start by moving the five cows onto the areas of the property where the spring bunch grasses are thick. As spring progresses rotational grazing helps to manage the growth. In late spring, when the growth is less palatable for domestic cows, mowing comes in. Any seed head that is produced is very short, low to the ground. Mowing stresses the grasses. For unpalatable bunch grasses the stress reduces the vigor. In the extremely short growing season here in the Great High and Dry, cool season grasses can do very well on very little water, and the mowing or grazing of the green plant forces the grass to produce roots, rhizomes, spreading and creating turf, increasing the organic matter in the salty clay dirt. Turf-building grasses starve out the short-season bunch grass. Sweet clover – a nitrogen fixer – finds small open patches in the new culture and mowing or grazing releases the nitrogen from nodules on the dying root ends. Controlled flood irrigation works best as the rhizomes follow the moisture in the soil and spread by following the irrigation water. “Control” is the key term here. Too much water will result in more bunch grass. Mowing exposes grass hoppers to the meadow and horned larks and robins and sparrows that follow the mower. In the fall I have allowed the cool season grasses to go to seed, and I add seed. Invasive exotics – like the knapweed brought to the US in the 1950s in alfalfa seed from Afghanistan – are controlled with very well timed, very limited spraying. Tiny, poppy-seed-sized black beetles were released in this area for Canadian thistle. They eat the core of the seed head out, significantly reducing seed production. Mowing of thistle does the same thing and stresses the plant. Limited, well-controlled herbicide application is a TOOL. Integrated “pest” management is one of the few agricultural terms that effectively hits the mark.
The world is integrated. When we believe that we are somehow separate and apart from our environment the patterns we see and the patterns we impose are contrived, come from our need to not feel helpless in the midst of such richness, complexity, violence, variability. Chaos. Sometimes we just need to sit on the ground, feel defeated, let it pass, look again, consider, and seek something new as part of the viewshed.
While it’s still cool outside, before the 90 degree day sets in, it’s time to water and feed the ducks and geese and move them to areas to eat the weeds and grasshoppers, time to move the cows off of the rich grass to the weeds for a few days, time to water the veggie garden, water and weed the nursery, and harvest more black currant….8 pounds so far from one five year old plant…chokecherries are just beginning to turn rose-colored, raspberries are peeking out from the coolness of the plant, green grapes are so heavy I had to prop them up with cottonwood branches…if you are reading this you are among those who are blessed to have the time and place to even think about it……and the world goes on…..NOTE: This ability to observe the environment, to interpret those observations, to listen to our ancient intuitions WILL BE THE ONLY REAL PROTECTION AGAINST TERRORISM. NOT THE GOVERNMENT, NOT THE POLICE, NOT THE MILITARY, NOT THE INTELLIGENCE NETWORKS, NOT THE ANALYSTS. BEING AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND THE DIS-EASE IN THOSE AROUND YOU WILL BE THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO. Wake Up. Live in the World.
Permaculture / Plant Nursery Internship
May thru August 2016
Location: Tara Farm and Nursery, Casper WY
Tara Farm and Nursery is a small Owner/Operator practice focusing on the development of plants and landscape installations which are appropriate to high, dry steppe and sagebrush environments (“Basin and Range”), and which support the principles of permaculture. These principles include diversity of elements with continuity over space and time, environmental appropriateness, multi-purpose, self-sustaining, and supporting self-reliance for the landowner or community. The owner, Laurel Graham, also provides property evaluations, concept and detail landscape design, landscape and plant consultation, presentations and courses in permaculture-based landscaping.
This internship will incorporate nursery work, environmental and ecological observations and application of those observations. This is a SERIOUS study and hard work situation, not a vacation in the traditional sense.
Before applying please visit the Tara Farm and Nursery Facebook page and review past postings and photos for a better sense of the type of work and the philosophy behind it.
Term: Weekends from May 21, 2016 to August 7, 2016
Tasks for the intern will include, but are not limited to:
- Daily nursery operations (watering, weeding, plant inspection, insect observation, monitoring for disease and “pests”)
- Plant propagation (seed, root cuttings, soft/hard wood cuttings, bare root stock)
- Garden, hedgerow and windbreak maintenance
- Research of native plants, focusing on five plants /grasses
- Assist in planning and development of site for native plant nursery component
Product: Students should contact their academic advisor to find out if this internship will meet the requirements for independent study or field work. Your advisor may contact me for more detailed information.
Installation Design: Design for an installation (garden, hedgerow, windbreak) using the five native plants as keys. The design should include: 1) permaculture principles expressed or applied; 2) information, skills and activities learned in the nursery; 3) resource assets and challenges and methods to meet those challenges; 4) water management; and 5) a drawing (by hand or computer) with identification all plants used.
- Knowledge and/or experience in any of the following: botany, biology, horticultural principles, entomology, landscape design, ecology, environmental restoration
- A real passion for the landscape on all scales; comfortable in outdoor environment; comfortable with animals (domestic and wild)
- A love of applied science expressed in a creative, focused, detail-oriented, respectful manner
- Interest in social and community aspects of horticulture
- Clear sense of safe practices, including power and hand tools
- Ability to do physical work; bending; working in the soil; able to lift at least 30 pounds; must be willing to work in various weather circumstances (although work will either move indoors or will be delayed based on some weather situations).
- Valid driver’s license and automobile insurance
- No criminal record (traffic tickets not included)
Field training in applied permaculture principles
- Training in small, commercial nursery environment
- Experience in research and planning, not just on the horticultural level but connecting the landscape to the individual and the community
- Written product planning and research example, and all associated resume additions
- Working outside as part of the environment, facilitating growth and production of living things
- Commitment is for weekends from 8:00a.m.on Saturday to 5:00p.m. on Sunday, weather permitting.
- Candidates who live outside of Casper may arrange for over-night stays which will include bed and two meals each day, if candidate lives out of town (out of town interns must provide police contact background report from local law enforcement).
- Over-night stays for weekends only including bed and board if candidate lives out of town. This benefit will require that the intern provide police contact background report from local law enforcement.
- Stipend of $600.00, distributed at $150.00 per month on the last working day of each month.
** This internship could easily lead to a seasonal position of Nursery Caretaker / Propagation Technician. **
Email a cover letter, resume, at least two references and a one paragraph statement on how you see this internship creating benefit for you and others in the future. Submit these in a single attachment to email@example.com.