Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Using the environment as a learning tool.

  In Agroecology we imitate what takes place in nature. By emulating the design of nature we can learn from it's models. This concept runs in parallels with permaculture design principles. Agroecology works with the flow of nature rather than try to dominate or control it. Creating a balanced ecosystem involves developing an intimate relationship with the land. This requires monitoring the woods, the fields, soils and streams. Learning where insects and animals live and the habitats that support them helps us to coexist with the dynamics of nature. Design with nature. Here are a couple of examples.  Introducing mycorrhizal fungi into the soils creates a network that not only stimulates growth but also ties the life of the soil together. It operates in symbiosis with other beneficial soil life and triggers changes similar to how our nervous system functions.  Birds can be useful and also damaging to crops. By monitoring bird populations one can find a niche where we can work with them. There are many species that have huge insect diets. Plant trees that attract them.  Wrens can have a 90% insect diet. They like to nest in mulberry trees. Warblers like mulberry, dogwood, sumac, grapes. Tanagers like mulberry, elderberries,  junipers. Catbirds like serviceberry, elderberry, viburnum, cedar, holly, dogwood. These understory trees can bridge the transition between the woods and the field.                       Our lifestyle has become increasingly separated from nature. We are more connected with the internet and websites than we are about where our food comes from. We do not know where the energy comes from to run our computers. Nature can be a great teacher of what our role on earth needs to be.                                                                                                                                                                    Leaning is not about memorization. It needs to be about a memorable experience that changes the way we view things. Most education is linear or one dimensional. You remember facts long enough to recite them on a test not connecting that information to everything around it. Three dimensional learning is experiential. That is why my workshops are hands on. All education needs to incorporate heuristic learning. This enables us to discover or learn something through the process by ourselves. This does not mean reinventing the wheel, more so taking what works and expanding upon it. If you don't learn why you do not have a clear understanding of how. In Biodynamics it means, to treat all components as part of an interconnected system that functions together as a living organism. Understand that the soil and the atmosphere above it are composed of billions of microorganisms that depend on each other. And that the entire ecosystem is an organism unto itself.  The diversity of natural order supports a symbiosis that works in harmony. This ensures resilience. The same applies to our bodies. Unhealthy bodies indicate an imbalance. An unhealthy lifestyle, especially one separated from nature, makes our immune system vulnerable to diseases, like the covid virus. The concept of what my non profit does: Our programs are designed to connect people with their environment. I am not trying to plant so many trees as much as I am trying to put people in touch with the power of regenerating land and the rewards that it brings. We all need to be better stewards of the planet. This is how to become a whole human being not fragmented beings operating in a disconnected society. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Restoration, Regeneration and Renewal.

   It is autumn here. Leaves are turning colors, Soon heading to the ground to become nutrients for next years growth. This is part of natures nutrient cycling. Cover crops replacing last seasons bounty. It is time to replenish the earth. It is time to build a fall compost pile that will enhance the life of the soil for the next season. The grasses in the field have strewn seeds for next years renewal. The seasonal changes that foster restoration are abundant. This is part of regeneration. The part were one accepts natures role and goes with the flow of these cycles. As the forest goes into it's dormant period it is also time to reflect on what the season has offered in the form of food for our bodies, food for out souls and knowledge that will support our growth. The rhythm of nature moves in different timing.                   

 This year seems to be heading into a paradigm shift of consciousness. Change is constant and there is a continuum, yet sometimes it happens faster and greater than many people are ready for. Living and working around nature makes it easier to deal with it. For those who are living away from nature, it might be more challenging. Finding a place in nature can help one can become more centered. It can be a sanctuary of hope and renewal. In the gardens I have set up for people with special needs I promote the idea that as we heal land it heals us. This is especially important now. With my non profit. Recovery Eco Agriculture Project (REAP), we set up programs that regenerate land. The objective is to offer people tools to become better caretakers of the planet. Connecting people with nature can be very empowering if they want to learn to coexist with nature. Fighting nature does not work and it is not working now. The idea is to offer people tools to do the real work of becoming whole. I am planning more reforestation programs like the one we did earlier this year.     

   There is one theory that if we leave large tracts of land alone trees and forests will regrow. That concept is missing and very important part of the equation. People are destroying the planet and people need to heal it. Besides, we plant native species. Letting it rewild will bring in nonnative invasive species. So we offer people a way to connect with nature as a way to become stewards of it's future. The act of bringing a group together to regenerate a piece of land is very powerful. That is what we do. If you want more information go to;  There is also lots of information in my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming, to understand how to regenerate land and grow food. I hope you can be part of this growth. We all have a role to play. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Companion Planting/ Compatible Relationships

    This is a science of compatible relationships, or as Alan Chadwick called, Relationships and Disrelationships. There are a lot of myths around companion planting and how it works. I would like to share what I do based on four decades of experiences that has been researched in different parts of the world. So this is an introduction that would be an entire workshop that takes a few hours. I utilize five components of compatibility. If I can incorporate more than one then the effects become multidimensional.                                                                                                                                 First lets begin with physical or spatial. This is like putting together a puzzle. I fill up space efficiently so there is little room for weeds. This is how nature works. It creates a living mulch that protects the soil and protects the dynamic place where soil meets the atmosphere. Here are some examples. Use plants that do not compete for space. I plant a bed of leaf vegetables like lettuce, spinach in a staggered pattern. In between those plants I can plant a carrot, radish, turnip and fill the space very efficiently. I can also do this with large leaf crops like cabbage. They need to be planted almost a foot and a half apart in staggered plantings. I can plant fast growing turnips or dikon radish in between that open space. About the time the turnips or radish are mature is about the time the cabbage leaves begin to fill up that space. So this is a succession and two crops in one. Another example is to plant tall plants the serve as a trellis. Pole beans and corn are good for this. Along with winter squash, this is referred to as the three sisters. It is an old Native American example of companion planting. I grow cucumbers on a horizontal trellis. I plant a few sunflowers in between. The cucumbers climb onto to  sunflowers nicely. The sunflowers attract lady bugs that clean aphids off of the cucumbers. A row of beans or peas planted on the west side of a bed can offer some afternoon shade for leafy greens. There are many more examples of doing this creatively.                       The next area is Biological. This involves using plants that will attract beneficial insects. This can also be referred to as organic IMP (Integrated Pest Management). I grow a lot of cut flowers for market and herbs. Many of them are host plants for beneficial insects. Umbelliferae, like Ammi majus, dill, cilantro, fennel, Queen Anne's lace are good for a wide range of wasps, damsel flies, lacewings, etc. The composite flowers like shasta daisy, sunflowers, and other daisies attract lady bugs, pirate bugs, predatory mites and so on. Allysum is wonderful for hover flies. Grasses attract spiders that eat most insects. Golden rod attracts soldier beetles. Yarrow attracts lacewings. One thing I often do is to plant borage around my tomatoes. The borage attracts the braconid wasp. The wasp stings and parasitizes tomato horn worm and plants it's eggs inside the worm.(photo below) This is a very effective way to curb their population. There is an extensive amount of flowers and herbs that provide a biological magnet for beneficial insects. Buckwheat attracts a wasp that gleam squash bugs. There are many examples of how this works.                                                                                                             


 The next area is Botanical. This involves plant pheromones that deter insects and diseases. Japanese beetles are attracted to delphiniums and larkspur. The beetles consume them and die. This is good around fruit trees. Tansy and mints are good around fruit trees susceptible to ant damage. Wormwood (artimesia) and catnip deter a wide range of insects. I plant garlic chives down in tomato beds. They do well with almost no sun. Many herbs are planted under plants that need to be trellised, like tomato, peppers and eggplant. This is an example of polyculture. Plants that produce essential oils are good to work with.                                                                                                                         The next is Chemical. This involves mostly root exudates. This is were plants give off oils underground that ward off insects and diseases. African black oats and French marigolds will get rid of root knot nematodes. Rosemary root exudates can inhibit many diseases, especially in tomatoes. Mustard oil discourages carrot wire worms. Garlic and many herbs are useful for exuding beneficial root exudates.                                                                                                                                              The last section is nutritional. Legumes, like beans, peas, lupines, clover put nitrogen in the soil. A good rotation would be leaf crops. Dynamic accumulators concentrate nutrients and release them in the soil. Comfrey is excellent source of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, copper and iron. Plants can benefit from planting around it. You can also make a tea from comfrey to put on plants. Dandelion also accumulates potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper and iron. Stinging nettle and lambs quarters accumulates Calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, iron and sodium. You can also turn these plants into the soil so they release nutrients as they break down.                                                                   This is a highly experimental science. The results vary a lot from location to location and from year to year. There are many factors that determine the out come. like the weather. So it is not a matter of factual science. This is a system that involves diversity and diversity supports balance. There is more information in my book; Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming: How to be a good steward of the land and a good ga...

Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming: How to be a good steward of the land and a good ga...: This blog is an attempt to offer constructive criticism on becoming a better steward of the land. This involves efficient use of space so y...

How to be a good steward of the land and a good gardener.

This blog is an attempt to offer constructive criticism on becoming a better steward of the land. This involves efficient use of space so you can imitate how nature grows plants. This at the heart of Permaculture. Keeping the ground protected helps to enhance the life of the soil. Leaving the land bare is popular amongst farmers. Only humans do this. As the sun bakes the life out of it, the wind sucks the life out of it and the rains washes it away. Utilizing the principles of agroecology and intensive planting helps create balance and protects the fragile life under ground. Viewing the photos below offers ways to manifest life both below and above the ground. The first photo is cabbage planted in a staggered pattern interplanted with radishes and turnips. This is an example of polyculture and succession planting. As the cabbage grows and encompasses the space the turnips and radishes are harvested to allow more room. This is much more productive than the photo besides it using plastic mulch which releases toxins over time. The next photo is very common example of straight rows down the bed. Nothing in nature grows in this type of design. Planting in staggered patterns imitates nature, uses space efficiently and prevents weeds. The photo of beets planted next to it are broadcast which provides a much better yield. Below that photo are broccoli planted in a staggered pattern. This system more than quadruples the yield per given space. The living mulch they create develops a micro environment that supports their growth on many levels. The next photo is a box garden. I know people love box gardens. They are contained. I love transforming, regenerating and healing soil and environments. This is my passion and what I have done for several decades, but it may be too much work if you do not love it. When I see the sides of the box, I also see where it could produce a case of lettuce or a large bag of carrots. That is how I hold my beds together. People are conditioned to be consumers. This is the opposite of producing.. Gardening involves producing something with nature. So instead of buying wood, soil, plants, plastic and the latest invention, I use nature to create abundance. The argument is that the soil might be toxic. If so, have it tested. The soil or so called compost in bags might also have toxic ingredients. In my research I have found this to be true. There is no organic standard for compost. I also enjoy remediating toxic soil with plants through phytoremediation. I want box gardeners to think outside the box. There is a whole beautiful natural world under your feet waiting for you to connect with it. Near the bottom is a plastic tarp used to kill weeds. Weeds are the scar tissue of people's damage to the land. Weeds protect the soil and utilize land efficiently if you do not. In this way they are teachers. They can be very useful. I plant intensively and so only weed once or not at all. The plastic suffocates the soil and kills the beneficial microorganisms. Healthy soil breathes and pulsates like all living organisms. The photo on the bottom is a bed that allows this to happen. Invest in the soil and it will pay you back several fold. The garden creates the gardener as the gardener creates the garden. But you have to be open to the process for this to happen. There is more detail in my book, Radical Regenerative Gardening and Farming.