Saturday, October 30, 2010

Permaculture Progression

One of the key ingredients of a good sustainable garden is to guide the garden into duplicating natural patterns while also getting it to provide food, fuel, and building materials. While there are many things that need to be understood to accomplish this, one of the most important is to understand the natural progression of vegetation.

While I'm not going into extreme detail, it is important to have the picture of the plant life in a temperate 'juvenile' area to be annuals, new perennials, and very young woody plants. As the years progress the dominant plants are 'climax' woody plants with an assortment of shorter plants making the most of life underneath the climax plants. How tall the climax plants are depends a great deal on how much water is available as well as many other growing conditions.

For instance, in spots in California, the climax trees are giant red woods. In places in Utah, the best we can do is medium sized sagebrush.

In a traditional garden the climax plant is often an annual that will be cut down at the end of the growing season. In a forest garden it is often a large fruit or nut tree that produces food for many years.

Because of this long term food production, there are many who think this is the ultimate in gardening and that they are fully obeying nature's laws.

I myself would have to disagree with this conclusion.

Even now I hear the cries of "burn the heretic!" But please, consider that the food forests that the American Indians maintained were in fact maintained. That is, they were burned to eliminate undesirable plants and cut out competition from younger plants that might cut down on production.

This is in fact not a climax condition anymore that a tilled garden is. (Please remember that I am not a fan of tilling!) It is an artificially maintained condition that nature is fighting against.

So if what I am saying is correct, why am I saying it? Because real sustainable gardening is about choosing the best option for what your conditions, resources, and production needs are. It is about letting your garden progress to the level it needs to be, then starting the cycle over again.

This start may be taking the orchard to the ground and planting vegetables. Or it may be replacing a worn out tree by planting the new one in part of the annual patch and planting vegetables where the old tree was.

Or whatever. It really depends on conditions, resources, and productions needs coupled with what you have observed works.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Don't Bury Your Trees

So, I was working in a back yard This summer and I noticed that the the folks next door had graded the area around their fruit trees in an attempt better gather water to the roots.

While I applaud the intent and the good hard work, I was disappointed by the lack of understanding that the gardener had about basic tree growing.

The first problem was with the spacing of the trees in relation to his efforts to gather extra water. The fruit trees were conventionally spaced. 

This means they wouldn't benefit from the concentration effect because they had access to the same amount of water that fell directly on them. 

To gather water, you have to plant at a further distance and have the extra water in between the full sized trees run to where the tree can best use it.

The second problem was that the gardener hilled up extra dirt around the trunks of the trees. This is a more serious problem because that dirt will cut down on oxygen that the roots and lower trunk need to live. 

In short the gardener should not have just been studying Permaculture design, he should have been studying what his plants needed.

Permaculture is after all not about a ridged set of rules, it is about thinking about what we are doing and what is the best way for your situation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Going Native

This photo was taken in Tooele, UT. Note how impressive the fiery red pops out at you. This is a Big Tooth maple, a shrub/tree common just a few miles away. It's natural altitude range runs through the Tooele area, so it is perfectly comfortable where it is with just a little extra water.

There are many native plants for most areas that are just as beautiful, you just need to look for them.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Flowers

My first job out of college was planting annual flowers. That job worked me so hard I had a hard time enjoying the planting. Shortly after I moved to my next employer, I realized how much fun designing and planting the beds can be.

Many professional and home gardeners look forward to planting their flower bed the same way I did. It is the one time they can truly let loose with their creativity. And if they make a mistake, no big deal, it will be corrected in six or seven months when they remove the flowers for the next season.

While I still like doing a few annuals, I find I get a greater charge out of planting and maintaining edibles. 

Anyone who knows me will find it unusual that I planted such a formal style of bed. After having planted the larger of these two beds for a number of years I fell into a rut.
To get out of the rut I did something off the cuff. 

While you can't see it in these photos, the lines of dusty miller are not all parallel, nor are they spaced equally distant. This makes it so that orange pansies vary from two lines of fill to three.

This randomness makes for a looser, more relaxed appearance. I would call it 'formalistic' since it actually resembles the sheer points in slate and shale, rather than some human mechanical construction.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Baked Pumpkin Soup

One of my favorite things about sustainable gardening is eating well!

I was asked yesterday how to cook a Hubbard squash. Since I don't have a formal recipe for that yet, please consider this one:

Baked Pumpkin Soup

1 six inch pumpkin

2 small to medium potatoes

3-4 pounds beef, deer, elk, or other red meat cut into one inch cubes

1 onion or 6 top setting onions, diced

1 cup potato broth

olive or sesame seed oil

black pepper, freshly ground

Open and clean the pumpkin like you would a jack-o-lantern. Grind pepper on the inside and drizzle half a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of the pumpkin.

Put the pumpkin with its lid on onto a baking sheet and put it in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for one hour.

Cut up the potatoes and boil till almost done. Bigger chunks take more time, smaller ones less.

While the pumpkin and potatoes are cooking, coat the meat in black pepper and brown in an oiled cast iron frying pan.

Remove the meat and brown the onions.

Add the meat back to the onions and cook together for two minutes.

Take one cup of liquid from the potatoes (or one cup water) and add to the meat. Cover the frying pan and continue cooking the meat for ten minutes. Keep hot till pumpkin is ready.

After one hour take the pumpkin out and lower the temperature to 325 degrees.

Take the lid off the pumpkin and add the hot meat and onions with broth to the inside of the pumpkin. Put the potatoes in on top of the meat and put the top back on the pumpkin.

Place the pumpkin back in the oven and continue cooking for one hour.

Remove pumpkin and serve by ladling out the meat and potatoes and by scraping flesh from the sides of the pumpkin.

This is a highly variable recipe and will likely turn out different each time. And remember, the pepper is the key ingredient in making the red meat and pumpkin blend.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Final Frontier

We are constantly threatened with globalization. Whether it is through the media, politics, or at your not-so-local neighborhood grocery store. While this may not bother some people and though many of its outcomes are beneficial, I find that too often I feel overwhelmed by everything from elsewhere. I also start feeling a loss of identity. Have you ever wondered, 'Who am I and where do I fit in this huge world?'

I have found that the best cure for this potential paranoia is to go out and garden. Gardening gives you a direct sense of place because you are working with that place. You get to make things that are unique because of the specific temperatures, soils, light, and nutrients of that area.

A peach that is grown in my father-in-law's place in Utah County tastes different from one grown in Georgia (the Utah peach is better, by the way). You can't grow a blueberry in Utah for any length of time. A banana tree might be coaxed to grow outside in a Minnesota summer, but it will not produce fruit without lots of protection.

Even if I were to plant an alpine fir from the mountains overlooking my home right next to my back window where it is in direct line of sight of its home, it would die in a few short seasons.

This dedication to area specifics I like to call the Last Frontier of Regionallity. While engineers, architects, and politicians are busy trying for universal one-size-fits-all, the good gardener is trying to find something that fits his location. 

If he is a good gardener he will create a connection with the land. He will know what he can and can't do, what he should or shouldn't do. This understanding will make his design totally different from any other garden. It will even be different than one around the same cookie cutter house next door.

Personal, identifiable, local. The Final Frontier, right here at home.