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.)
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.
In 1987 I had a major life-changing event which moved me away from a twelve year career in law enforcement and into emergency and disaster management. After writing several major plans, I was approached by the local district coordinator for the USDA, NRCS to coordinate a 36-agency program to restore two major anadromous fisheries watersheds on the Northern California Coast. Five years later I was hired to include a third watershed damaged by leakage from a Browning-Ferris Industries landfill near Half Moon Bay California. So began my immersion in natural resource management. I found stream restoration was amazingly clear to me, and I worked with hydrologists to design repairs, riparian habitat restorations, fisheries habitat installation, bank stabilization, restoration and conservation of agricultural and forest-product lands. That work was the most rewarding, satisfying time of my life.
After a few moves I found myself in Casper Wyoming in 2000, and although this is in no way a place in which I ever expected to be living, the property I have here would be far out of reach financially in many places I would prefer to live. By the time I found myself alone with a cabin and a livestock loafing shed and 18 acres of abused, over-worked ground I had also lost most of my sense of self. I was exhausted from a period of challenges, and my confidence in what I knew had vanished.
I began slowly to make improvements on the property – within budget and under my own labor. I started the nursery in small ways in 2003, began selling plants in 2005, continued with small improvements, and then was blessed with a cost-share situation from which I was able to have an underground irrigation delivery system installed. Up to that point I had used ditches and dams to move my irrigation water from a quarter mile away to the fields on the property. I think it is important to add that I was always employed full time – first as district manager for the domestic water system, then as business manager for the Federal irrigation district, and in the last seven years as a clerk at the local municipal court. Salaries and wages in Wyoming are a small portion of what those types of positions would pay in higher-cost-of-living states. I have always lived on a budget and that ability served me extremely well during these years since.
I do not even remember the first time I saw or heard the word permaculture but I found Rosemary Morrow’s manual in a local bookstore. So much of what she wrote was exactly what I had been doing. She gave me a language to describe things I had been doing by instinct – the old instinct that had created nurseries for rainbow trout to become silver salmon to return and rest in the gravels under the redwoods. And I do not remember the first time, after all the Internet searches and books and videos, that I realized that the nursery and large installations I had developed on my property were what I wanted to do as a livelihood. I do remember finding out that I could still draw plans, structure projects, develop materials lists and budgets, when I completed the Oregon State University Permaculture course work online.
And, I do remember the exact moment that I was writing one of the Reflective assignments for the Cornell Course when reality shifted, and I realized that I already knew all of the basics. They were inside me, inside my experience, and outside in the nursery, and the pasture, and the gardens and the hedges and windbreaks I had installed. When I described this moment to a good friend, her only comment was “I told you this was your Gift.” She is a devout, born-again Christian (I, a life-long Buddhist), and when she used the word “Gift” I knew exactly what she meant. What I love about her use and understanding of that word is that it is a divine gift, something that an individual cannot avoid or deny, and which is not only something that lifts others up, but which also can be a burden for the holder. Never enough, never doing quite enough.
I remember realizing in an exchange with Steve Gabriel that he felt that weight as well. That the weight of doing what we do, living as a natural element in the environment, can be so frustrating sometimes. So much we want to achieve. The point being: I found my footing again and a language with which to share the vision.
The second most amazing thing that has happened as a result of this pursuit of an intentional life was my moment of enlightenment about design. I had no problem planning an installation or project. I saw beauty and function in the things I was doing. But it was the Pattern Language topic that shoved me outside my oh-so-practical paradigm. My irritation with the article we were asked to read drove me to a deeper research into the father of Pattern Language. In fact he had been interviewed for an article in a Buddhist journal to which I subscribe (and which published my first attempt at non-fiction some 16 years ago). And off I went. I spent hours on tangents, following names and history of design, and ended up back in my childhood. Many, many weekends, when I was a child, my family would drive to the Napa Wine Country, north of San Francisco. There on the east side of the freeway, just north of the city of Marin, was the Marin County building. My mother would roll her window down, insisting that my father slow down so we could see the building designed by “Frank Lloyd Wright”. She was fascinated. And I realized that she referred to her childhood home as a “Craftsman”. As a child I could identify the “Craftsman” style. Somehow she had developed an interest in architecture, and somehow, through all the “brown” in which she tried to bury me, the “green” was there as well. Here in my design tangent I came back to Taliesin, Falling Waters, Prairie and organic design. I watched hours of architectural design talks on the TED site. I called up scanned images of hand drawn plans by Wright, Giorgini, Fujimori, Church, and Gaudi, and so many others. In the photos of the Warka Water towers it completely came together. I had found the soul of design, and these great, great people had given me permission to believe in the divine approaches to practicality. Two of my favorites: Falling Waters by Wright and the Seed Cathedral by Heatherwick. And this quest came about because the article by Salingaros was so nominal, so arithmetic, so frustrating.
Permaculture provides a language with which we can describe for others a way to apply information, to create well-being, resilience, growth. It can be as simple as a list of best management practices, of techniques. And unlike the “hard” sciences, the goal of seeking balance in this life is held up before us by the institutions that embody and profess permaculture: Care for the Earth; Care for People; Fair Share. The constant debate about permaculture lacking “proof” is a distraction. The key parts, on the most basic levels ARE “hard” science: soil science, meteorology, physics, organic chemistry, biology, botany. But the proofs of hard science are completely useless unless they can be applied, unless they are proven in the very air we breathe and water we drink. Permaculture is the applied science. It is a practice, a methodology, a dynamic, learning community. It is motivated, as any practice is, by ideals, by justice, by a search for a sense of peace wherever we can find it. Let those who find worth in the dialectic continue to argue, while the rest of us learn from their debate. But only after contemplation with a critical mind, with our bruised, cracked hands deep in the soil, or covered with calf slime, or carefully cleaning mushrooms, or quietly watching the steam rise from mugs of hot, herb tea. Only after dreaming and designing clean water and sanitation systems for Nepalese villages, or donating fresh food to elementary school children in Detroit, or quietly creating a web of barter and trade to rival any monetary economy.
So, tomorrow after I return home from my “grown up responsible” job for the City of Casper I hope to have the energy to get outside and set some fence posts, which will lead to fencing out the five Black Angus and one Scottish Highlander, so that the new pasture grass can grow up, so that I can spray some exotic invasive nasty knapweed, and next year have hay to sell and trade. And I will sleep very soundly from good, hard physical labor. Real sleep: one of the simplest benefits of this life. My most sincere thanks to the Cornell staff, and Steve Gabriel, and my classmates, and to you for offering me this opportunity. Three hundred new plants coming the end of May; lots of work to do.
Language has always been my favorite past time. I have been a writer from the moment I could hold a crayon. Conversely, mathematics destroyed me through most of my education…until graduate statistical analysis. I still remember being terrified by the thought that I had to get a passing grade in statistics. But more clearly I remember the moment the switch between my right and left brain was properly placed. Statistics IS language. I completed qualitative analysis and four statistics courses with A grades.
So it is with heavy heart that I have to turn the pattern language sacred cow into creamed chipped beef. I do not remember the last time I read anything so pretentious. Architecture has always struggled with the mixture of engineering and art, most often referred to as “design”. Is it applied science? If so, then give us practical methods of successful application. If it is art, then lift us up (Personally, I’m a FL Wright fan). I think there is a useful tool here but it was covered in Piled higher and Deeper, steaming LANGUAGE.
I do not have a Master’s Degree. I left the Master’s program in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences when I was offered two contracts to coordinate multi-million dollar programs to restore coastal fisheries in Northern California. To quote my thesis advisor “Why are you wasting time and money on a degree that you think you need to do the job you are now doing?” So, without the degree, here is what I know: Quote from Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander: “Vast parking lots wreck the land for people.”
Reality: Vast parking lots irritate people by forcing them to park far from their destination and create an environment in which people forget where they parked their vehicle. Well, that is what people wandering around the Walmart parking lot will tell you. Well, they tell me that even though I never ask. But what might outweigh these irritations (walking is necessary for human life – circulation of blood and lymph, and all that rot – and personally, I bent the antenna on the roof of my truck so that I could see it across the largest parking lots; no architect necessary)?
Another pattern language phrase outweighs the sloth: Safe Travel. Mr. Niko Salingaros, in his article (The Structure of Pattern Language, June 2005) reiterating Mr. Alexander’s book (Pattern Language, 1977), suggests that parking lots should be designed for five to seven cars, surrounded by gardens, trees and hedges. And here is what I know: Parking lots so designed: will create an environment where safe backing of vehicles will be impacted by lack of visibility, increasing negative emotions and insurance premiums; owners of large vehicles will avoid shopping there and they are usually people with money; will cause a marked increase in auto tampering and burglary; and the sheltered rows will increase the probability of strong-arm robberies. Oh how I would love the small shops of locally-owned businesses, with close parking and friendly alert shop owners! Yes, I have some serious reservations about Walmart’s impact on the planet, economy and human health (let’s not even go into the role of China.) But when I walk out to my vehicle at 9pm I know that: there will be lights; there will be lots of human beings around; there are cameras watching me get to my truck; and an employee to take the cart back for me.
But the truth is that government regulation and taxation are horribly unsupportive of small business. There is a pattern for you: On scale, if the Federal government creates tax and regulatory challenges to small business, and local governments create zoning, construction and marketing challenges, the businesses that will have the financial wherewithal to setup and maintain a successful operation will be those that can afford to comply with all the challenges. Ouch. Pattern language: Environment in Which to Make a Living.
I am much more interested in the webs that evolve to overcome challenges to the survival of each element, structure and system on all scales in several categories – government, business, my nursery, each type of plant in the nursery, the combination of plants in the nursery into hedges, and the elements that feed these: money, water, suppliers, supplies, and oh yes those poor people wandering around the Walmart parking lot who last year came over to my trailer and asked if the beautiful plants in it were for sale…opening the opportunity for language opening the door for new experiences opening the certainty that I will carry the plants while helping them look for their car. Pattern Language: Success.