People ask what I do as a permaculture designer, I feel this line from my latest article in my online book describes it well.
As a consultant/ designer your main task within this assigned role is to read the landscape for the client. That is what they are paying for essentially; your trained eye with your accrual of knowledge around plants, soils, climatic factors, water, topography, earthworks, economics, and cultural links. Thus systematically record these particulars as this is why permaculture isn’t simply a rubber stamp process of each place looking nearly the same such as a poorly designed suburb.
Read more on how to catalogue systematically to move through the vision and assessment phase of design process.
Ok liberals, Let’s Stop complaining!! Lets instead take Donnies message to heart. Face it, America, also better known in the world as the states, is not great. It’s a war mongering, disease ridden, drug plagued, feudal lordship, colonialist mentality, grossly polluted, shallow society full of hyper consumption. So indeed lets make it great again. In this series we will detail concrete steps to indeed make the states, more pc for us liberals, better now!! Environmentally we rely on monocultures, prop that up with dangerous polluting chemicals and fertilizers. Our soil has been eroding since Europeans arrived and our waterways are grossly polluted with sediments and chemicals. Our forests have been degraded or wiped out, our wildlife has faced extinction, and biodiversity in general has declined immensely. That is not great and the deregulation of environmental policies shows that capitalism inherently gnaws at the environment. And honestly, it stifles innovation and really is very unclever and not great.
Long have we known that the government policies of the farm bill or common agriculture policy of Europe, are not geared towards building soil. They are instead bent towards increasing GDP. It’s not their fault. It’s the rules of capitalism at play. Consequently if you are not a farmer, gardener, or ecosystem regenerator, please invest in those who are building soil through your purchases. If you do have access to land or capital to influence others here are 13 tips below. Links are embedded to learn more.
The basic pattern of Soil building: Add organic matter to the soil. Feed the microbes in the soil known as the soil food web. Plant diversely, reduce tillage, reverse erosion into water infiltration.
1. Compost your wastes: the most obvious choice here is your food wastes and other carbon resources such as cardboard from your egg cartons or newspaper you see lying around at a cafe. On a small-scale use the worm bin and on a larger scale use hot compost, pit gardens, or again worm bins.
2. Compost waste of others: I utilize my delivery van also for picking up wastes from commercial food processors such as my fermenting friends and also the next door neighbour coffee roaster. I blessedly have access to land so i can compost their waste.
3.Other waste cycling: pee on a tree. The nitrogen and phosphorus found in urine are a precious resource not a waste. Also consider utilizing a compost toilet for your fecal waste and also your urine.
4. Buy local and organic: even if local farmers aren’t certified organic, often they grow beyond organic. Ask them and build a relationship. Purchase from them as you literally are giving them a job. Remember the famous Wendell Berry quote of “eating is an agricultural act”.
5. Grow organic: start a garden, grow on your families land, join a community garden, rent land from those who aren’t farming. Do whatever creativity it takes to gain access to land and begin to cultivate organically. Heck even take the leap as many others are to start a farm instead of pouring your intelligence and resources into a soul sucking desk job.
6. Add organic matter back to soil: once you have composted wastes, give the soil this stable carbon resource. Another way is in your gardens grow a cover crop or utilize the chop and drop management of plants. In this case, your autumn leaf drop also becomes a great resource instead of a waste. Bio-char is a form of organic matter that is rapidly becoming a regenerative input.
7. Stop using chemicals: the notion of our lawns being perfect without weeds is grotesquely egoic and a fallacy counter to nature. Hence the need for chemicals. Lawn is the largest agricultural sector in the states. You can build soil by cutting the lawn and leaving the residues behind (chop and drop). If organic management is in place the soil will improve below.
8. Rotate animals in the landscape: animals, when rotated properly easily build soil through eating plants and leaving manure behind. They must be rotated but when this is done soil builds. If you don’t have access to land to keep animals buy meat from local farmers who are as I do. Yes eat meat and sequester carbon.
9. Eat less grain through factory farmed meats and in general: farming grain inherently needs the soil to be tilled over and over again. Even if organic it is extremely difficult to do this and build soil as opposed to animals raised on pastures utilizing the pattern of rotation.
10. #letsplantsometreesyo: trees build soil slowly, stabilize climates and water cycles. Planting and caring for trees gives you the option of not having children and still being a parent. Many give food as well allowing you to grow food locally. If you don’t have access to land, give 25 dollars to a person who does have land and ask to have it planted there. And help take care of it in its infant years so when it matures you can enjoy its tasty fruit, delightful blooming flowers, its changing leaf color, and much more!!!
11. Spray Bio-fertilizers in the landscape: Compost can be turned into a biofertilizer through making compost extract or tea. Spray that out in a liquid form to seed and feed microbes. There are quite a few other bio-fertilizer sprays that can be purchased or made at home.
12. Use earthworks to stabilize the water cycle: Rushing water overland causes erosion and ruins attempts to build soil. Work the earth so water infiltrates instead of running off. Rainwater builds microbial populations where as grid city water dimities them with the chlorine.
13. Embrace Diversity and layering: monocultures degrade soils, while diversity of plants and layered growing builds soil. Till less and rely on perennials for more of your caloric input.
At the end of the day it’s up to us individually and organizing in local communities to make america great again. Well anywhere, think globally, act locally. This make the soil great again was the first of a series on as macron of france it, let’s make the earth great again. He did recently stand up to trump. Will you stand up or even embrace his attitude with mere words or will you indeed act upon his call to action? You get to define what great is, a very ambiguous word. Making the Planet Great Again is not rocket science, learn the pattern, apply it, and voila. You want to fix climate change, one is to sequester carbon in the soil. Pont final.
The Winter Weekend PDC back with its tailored weekend timetable in the late winter and ending in early Spring this year. It is a five weekend timeframe and we will have a variety of host sites and teachers to maximize your learning opportunity. This course is about gaining environmental literacy, tools for altering the future of the planet positivity, and joining a community of people doing their part. Please join us!
When its been six months since your last blog, where do you even begin? Many changes happened in my life and am still processing them all but very much in the forward motion with the learning lessons acquired. With that, well I finally moved to Treasure lake, like finally really landed this March once I got my vehicle situation sorted and its been practically non stop work since. I will try to keep it short by using headers and pics then be more regular with it all so its not so much to cover and more valuable detail can come out. In essence, this places sheer beauty continues to amaze me and the people who observe and interact with it are a true blessing.
You know the hokey part of permaculture about community and all of that social permaculture. Well it’s so true in the end. My Cincinnati, city based friends, have largely disappeared from my life, all but a select few now that i have properly moved here (only 35 minutes away). My Northern Kentucky network grows constantly. And to state it plainly, much of my successes or this places growth hinges upon selfless acts from others, service, community. Gifts beyond value but that also save on finances allowing me to stay with this project fully during the growing season. (Yes foreshadowing). It’s quite a mix here and i honor diversity and am enjoying this blend of Appalachian and river town culture scores to the city.
Over the winter myself and part of the Berea, KY crew, who actually are connections from Portugal, implemented heaps of what I categorize in the PDC as restoring natural hydrology. The one rock dams, large and small woody debris jams have simply worked. The sediment has been trapped, the lake hasn’t muddied other than in the crazy amounts of rain that break or meet records. It’s helped as well with the nutrient overload which to deal with this problem we met it with these elements but also microbial blocks and pellets and also ducks.
How much duckweed could a duck weed if a duck could weed duckweed?
Well it’s a lot and they do weed duckweed. As the nutrients pour in from the large watershed of the lake it causes each year relentless growth of duckweed. And I have been eating duckweed through the eggs that the ducks have steadily been producing. These ducks, mostly pekings, were gifts from the community and their rich golden eggs have delighted many. The golden color comes from the high amounts of lysine in the duckweed, just as I teach it in the PDC.
Also goats were lent to me and are fun, productive in their clearing, good at leaving fertility behind, but also a lot of work. Part of that comes from their sheer numbers, 17 in all. They require a lot of fencing moves to keep them on fresh pasture and their health in good shape. I have been really enjoying it but it in the end is consuming lots of hours. I did, of course along with the help from my NKY community, move their cages which had been in the same place for a few weeks. Instead of cleaning the cages and moving the manure to the compost area I decided to leave it right there and mulch on top so it didn’t all wash away in the rains just after the move. Next year i can carry seeds down there instead of manure to the compost area. an idea….
As always, as my students know, I am making, along with the help of many, lots of hot compost, completely square on the edge and at least one cubic meter in size. I did invest in a compost thermometer which has been helping with the quality control. The best compost piles have been coming from the lactobacillus rich beet kvass wastes from my friends at fab ferments. It quickly finishes and i am stockpiling lots of it right now for future use. Annie, the lead gardener of her brand Dark Wood Farm that leases land from us, has even used a bit. Also vermicompost has been expanding. I have the unique opportunity to sell worms to the fishing customers or simply give them away. We have scaled up to 275 gallons. Next door to fab ferments is La Terza coffee and their wastes have also been helping to feed the worms.
All these farming ventures of perennial systems are running concurrently to the running of the business here already. Pay fishing lake, bar, camping and events to be exact. It’s a lot of work and requires me to answer the phone, market, mow, weed eat, provide customer service and provide a better experience for those who come. It’s been a good year, the camping helping a lot in terms of revenue. And of course through community, Daniel, one of my closest neighbors has helped bring a lot of bar business in the last month or so through starting a tuesday night ping pong and a friday night open jam. Eternally grateful to him and his extended family as well as his front yard that has no grass in it which i drive by when i do leave the property. And the event production, we have many successful concerts, parties, weddings, and educational events. Plant based, not permaculture as i just cant seem to get people to sign up for my permaculture courses around here. And that is ok, i needed a break and its fun to have such a diversity. but yes its a lot of work. I work every weekend from friday morning to sunday evening here at the bar/ fishing lake/camping registration. I sneak away for farming ventures on the weekends by leaving my number on the door which is part of why i haven’t written a blog in so long.
As always my pursuit of biodiversity rages. I am still hacking away at the invasive and overcrowded natives. It helps my paw paws. Paw paw paradise is coming to fruition. We also planted in our some of our wonderful forest native medicinal herbs. Ginseng, goldenseal, bloodroot, blue and black cohosh, and wild ginger. They have done ok but are so far away its hard to get to them. It’s definitely a zone 4 and future plantings will be on the edge of zone 1 in sandy soil. I have also planted a hedgerow with different tree crops, berry bushes, and perennial vegetables. Taking care of the one we planted in the fall of last year also has been a continual maintenance. We also did quite a bit with mushrooms through both logs of oyster and wine cap on wood chips. It’s definitely developing a nice zone 1 for me around the edge of Annie’s 1 acre market garden. And in general this place is alive, teaming with biodiversity to create stability, resilience, and abundance!
You cant have a paw paw paradise and not then go out and harvest. Hauling well over 50 lbs from the lake property and already another 20 or so lbs from 1 tree at my parents house, its been great. I have been saving the seeds and these will turn into hundreds, maybe 1000’s of more paw paw plant for the land and for sale. I am saving seeds of the big ones and random ones with great flavor. We also have stumbled upon some great mushroom patches and will we get to the spicebush harvest with all that is going on?
I end with the vacation i got to go on to the Asheville, North Carolina area for the SE Permaculture gathering. It also included a professional gathering and i loved meeting others from the area and finally meeting Courtney Brooke who Robina McCurdy, our common mentor, connected but we never got to meet in person until then. They have a great culture built down there and was inspiring to say the least. I know it will grow here, we have done an amazing work in this area over the years but i look forward to treasure lake being a growing point of culture.
So thank you to all who have contributed with volunteering, attending events, paying to go fish, to camp, to drink, to rent the place out. There is more for sure that has happened but i had to get this one out to press refresh on releasing these update blogs more often . I also pressed refresh on my life by moving back here, staying in one place for over a year, which basically hasn’t happened in almost 20 years and seeking help with my mental health. Never be afraid to do that. gardening is sometimes not enough, nor traveling the world and living your passion. I am glad i did it, i am blessed to have this place to experiment on. The development goes on here and please contact me on how to get involved. thank you to the community and the treasure lake experience. Never forget the final message of my patterns slideshow, LOVE. and that includes love for yourself. sounds simple but it takes effort that is well worth it!
I started this blog on the day I was supposed to go back to Europe. What I now view as my old life. My new life is sticking it out here in the tri-state area of Cincinnati, Ohio which is where Treasure Lake is, across the bridge into Kentucky, from Indiana. And this winter weekend PDC anchored me to do so this winter when the temptation to go back was high, offers of gigs flying in here and there, consults, food forest courses, PDC’s, joining communities, etc. But I did it, I managed to stay put over winter and am so glad I accepted to do this weekend format of a PDC. Myself and Chris Smyth headed it up and the students came from a bioregional draw. Thus in the early months of 2018, a small group came together to transform, to take the journey of seeing with new eyes, to step up to the challenge of learning and being in community together in an intensive weekend format.
It lasted four weekends, hitting the 72 hour PDC requirement just barely with very long days and very short breaks. I taught the vast majority of it, like I normally do, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience as my mission of teaching this revolutionary work was achieved. It was a stressful time in life, when isn’t though, and infused energy into places that are dear to my heart. With that, having four weekends, we were able to host this PDC at two main places, Chris’s communal Sankofa House in Pricehill and Treasure Lake, my families land in Petersburg, KY. We also managed a Trip out to Ande and Laurens place in rural Indiana to give a glimpse of what a more developed permaculture site looks like.
The students themselves displayed a wonderful balance of diversity and gave for a great set of interaction even though our time of sharing is limited. I guess that’s one drawback of a non-residential course although in the second half of the course the sleepovers at the bar at Treasure Lake for some of us gave us a different means of interaction. The breaks were so short that it was tough to get to know each other honestly. But as the course went along things were revealed and deeper meaning of why this particular constellation of people came together was seen more clearly.
I normally write a lot about the hands on part of the course but with our limited time and it being the winter season, our main hands on was the design project. It’s been a dream for a long time to host a PDC at Treasure Lake and this was its first iteration. There are its limits but the place itself has huge potential to be a bioregional and international educational center. It’s just a ton of inertia held within the story of family legacy and the history of the place. But the students doing the design process and projects part at the lake allowed for some energy to shift. I have been looking at the place for so long and been doing more intensive design work lately yet seeing this place designed with fresh eyes gave inspiring ideas. We used a slightly mock context to start with but the reality of the design came into play as it progressed. I am enthused to see which elements from these designs comes into fruition one day.
And thanks for all who supported, myself and Chris teamed up on the food, while others contributed to the overall hosting like Emily Hunt and Brent Adams. CPI, Cincinnati Permaculture Institute was the overarching organization this course was run through in combination with TreeYo. Essentially, it takes a village to raise a child they say and it takes a village to pull off a great PDC. I am still building that village so to speak at the lake and within my network back here stateside in the Kentucky context. I seek to go deeper with students by staying more in one place and build a proper Permaculture site. The Market Garden at the lake, run by Annie Woods under her brand Dark Wood Farm, continues to be a source of inspiration and good food. People like Brent are really stepping up to become members of the TreeYo network. The land is responding to my forestry treatments and asks for more agricultural endeavors and habitat diversification. It welcomes new people we just need to create niches, places for people to stay and economic opportunities to be leveraged on the abundant natural resources that are present in this amazing biotope. All is coming. Rome wasn’t built-in a day and neither will Treasure Lake be. But this four weeks of time helped to land me, solidify my stance here, and I am so grateful for the students who came and all the others who stepped up to support their community of learners and teachers. Learning really is a spiritual experience, one that is sacred and I hope to keep teaching for many years ahead. Not just in the classroom but out in the field.
An examination into the sculpting of the earth for water infiltration. A diverse approach to the palette of earthworks available for this critical point of regeneration. Join us at Treasure Lake for some permaculture in action!
New TreeYo EDU article release: Drylands Tree Crop Selection. This is one of the sections I cover in the PDC and having worked many years in the Mediterranean and other drylands/ brittle regions it was a fun article to recall all I have learned over the years. Being back in the humid temperate part of the world, we can grow some, but not all of these. https://treeyopermacultureedu.wordpress.com/chapter-11-dryland-strategies/tree-crop-selection/
Well for market gardeners, its the time to rest, winter (at least physically). For me, being a manager of a 40 acre (16 Ha) native food forest and steward of the total 60 acres (24 HA), its the time to work here at Treasure Lake in Petersburg, Kentucky, USA. I think back to my forest management doings in the summer and recount the sweat everywhere; head to toe and puddles in my boots. You still sweat at this time of the year but the work must continue on and its much easier to do with the lack of humidity and leaves. It’s the main work of the winter for me, steward the abundant resources of the forest so in the warmer months I can work on other things. There are many yields to be harvested, but indeed, you must help the forest along through energy cycling and accelerating succession. The aim is the many facets of non timber forest products, which some we are yielding now and others doing the work and planning for the future.
One of the classic yields of a food forest is fuel. The bar at Treasure Lake has become one of my homes as I still don’t have any housing there yet. It is in the works for the spring but for now I transient myself around the tristate area. But when I am there I prefer to heat with firewood than the diesel heating oil. It is very expensive and with the large size of the space and inefficiency of our wood stove and the building itself, I have been blowing through stacks of firewood. If it wasn’t for the ash trees dying out I wouldn’t have any firewood cured and even they aren’t perfect. So this year I need to be on harvesting firewood for next winter. It is really sad to see a tree so common in our forest, the ash (Fraxinus spp.), succumb to an insect attack after something weakened its immune system so much that it fell susceptible. At least thats my theory since I see in holistic models rather in linear lines. But the pock marks of the larvae moving up and down the tree reveal the cause for its death. I am trying to not take all the ash out of the forest as they will become great habitat as standing dead timber and a huge carbon resource for building soil. This winter does remind me to plan ahead and we really need to insulate this 3000 sq feet building much better. I can burn wood for 14 hours and in the middle of the night wake up freezing after falling asleep very comfortable. It has been a lot of work but with Holmgren’s principle of Observe and Interact, the interaction has given me key insights into the limitation of access and the equipment we have. Basically I need an ATV with a trailer or a donkey with a cart to really be able to move materials around this 60 acre (24 ha) property.
Annie Woods, the resident farmer with Dark Wood Farm here at the lake, also has a deep love for the forest. Since she has some time off from the field working in the market gardening (not from the computer of financial stuff and preparing for the coming growing season), we have been able
to hike much more together. She does enjoy her non timber forest products as well and one she has been committed to over the last years since being back in Kentucky is tapping maple trees for the eventual syrup. So with some of my mates in town we went to the forest on a cold wintery morning in January to implement the process of yielding this amazing resource of maple water. Evaluating the sugar bush (a cluster of sugar maples), measuring the tree, drilling a small hole in the tree, inserting the spile, hanging the bucket, putting on the roof cover of the bucket, and well waiting. Then later that day we made our first harvest! It does take harvesting everyday when the sap runs making it another work task over these weeks. However over the last weeks, we have harvested gallons and gallons of this water and Chris and Annie have been making some maple syrup. It is incredible how much sap water it takes to make a little bottle of maple syrup. The raw water is also very pleasant to drink alone, a count water alternative, and makes a great cup of coffee or tea.
The centerpiece of the property visually and business wise is the pay fishing lake. We are plagued each year by muddy waters in the spring (and sometimes other seasons when heavy rains come)
and too many nutrients in the lake. Thus I took an approach with some hired help, my American friends Michael Beck and Loren Heacock, that I actually know from implementing in Portugal. They bought land a couple hours south near Berea and they came up to work hard and help me out with this massive project. Upon observation, I decided to implement a multifunction approach to this problem I like to call Restoring Natural Stream Hydrology. When observing the creeks feeding the lake, they are quite incised but there is a bit of meandering and pool habitat especially where large woody debris has made it into the creek. Plunge pools can be seen and you can see how the natural layout of rocks does help to trap material and form pools. I had already started this process in other minor drainages throughout the winter but this indeed was a big push.
Thus we went for it, three days of work although I missed a half a day to plug into a meeting on Boone County Planning proposals. We spent one day on the northside and two on the southside to cover as many major and minor stream ways as possible. Thus we implemented a network of rock dams, similar to gabbions but without the fencing to tie them together, and woody debris. Basically the lake receives to much sediment, too much organic material, and too many nutrients. So by creating these edge elements the water will be slowed, material trapped, and hopefully nutrients tied up as well. The carbon resources of leaves not flowing into the lake will help with the nutrient problem and along with them and the large logs we threw into the stream, it should help to balance the carbon to nitrogen ration of the lake. All of the logs were quite rotten, completely inoculated with lots of different types of mycelium. This should act as a mycofiltration system and eventually run into the leaves as well. This helps to clean up inevitable toxins floating around in the air and sources within the watershed and soak up nutrients. It is a very forested watershed but we are stewarding the streams themselves to help with these stated problems.
Along the way of this work, we of course hammered away at the invasive bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose to promote the further growth and expansion of paw paw and spicebush patches, native understory shrubs. It is incredible to see their proliferation and I am enthused by the feedback loops. It is such a big property that I am still stumbling into new patches or ones even forgotten about. Just the other day I went into one where I had seen signs of a pollarding I did with hand tools some years ago, probably three, and did a coppicing this time. There was so many paw paw and spicebush but I really hammered it hard this time to let that canopy break happen and even more fruiting occur. It is very fun work to cycle through all the patches and energy cycle these non natives down to the earth to build soil and see the native fruit and spice plants come into the sub canopy and be productive. I am constantly thinning the paw paw patches as they even number too many trees in a small space. Taking out small box elders, hackberry, and other natives like sugar maple has also been happening with my mates and on my own. This gives even more light and sub canopy space. When working we even were looking at the still lingering effects of the 2012 logging we did when my grandfather was still alive and calling the shots. We did take some very large trees down, sadly, but it did open the canopy up for these trees to take off and other bigger trees have more canopy space. I did walk to one of the very large stumps of a Shumard Oak, a type of red oak here, and looked up at the canopy gap that was present from it. But then looked closely as the stump and realized, probably a raccoon, had come to the stump to eat a paw paw and left all the seeds there. In this decomposing wood along the banks of the streams, the seeds had then germinated and about 9 little paw paw seedlings were springing out of the stump itself. This shows just how resilient nature is and an important piece of ecology one must always understand when stewarding natural resources; the vector in which a plant spreads. The raccoons I am sure love my mission of paw paw paradise.
Meanwhile as winter seemingly drags on, I am busy doing the vast amount of work that it takes to move from conceptual ideas of a place to a real design. I have been observing this piece of land my whole life and 17 years with the lens of ecology. And I am making bigger steps to realizing this places evolution into an agrarian community. Thus I am mapping, designing, researching and working on the project management plan to create this momentum forward. It is a lot of inertia of stagnation around the place with the history of it, the culture around, and it being owned by my family not myself. But ideas one day come into fruition. Just like the idea of having a market garden at the lake took off into a real manifestation. It took Annie Woods and Chris Pyper and their community of the Dark Wood Farm brand to push it forward and make it happen. Now the next agricultural expansions are in that next steps phase as the design process unfolds. From the overall design map to the patch designs for different spaces and elements, its a massive undertaking ripe for winters theoretical slowing down. I am glad I have this balance, few hours in the freezing winter conditions and hours upon hours on the computer, in meetings, and dialoguing on the buildup. Annie Woods has been a big help, it feels like a true partnership of collaboration. And although Chris is leaving back to his native Utah, I do look forward to the next wave of people joining in on this magical piece of land.
We do have one major event to announce that is coming up which is exciting and ties into our educational and non timber forest products missions. Its called Plantwalkers, hosted by Treasure Lake and produced by Ande Schewe of Wake the Farm Up. We will be dropping in some forest medicinals during a workshop I will be leading, which is just one of many walks or talks happening that day. This will be a great event held on March 31st!
Next steps include keeping going with all of this and planting more trees in the hedgerow started last year. And decision are to be made on mushroom cultivation, bees, tree crop zones, a well, outdoor kitchen, housing, business structure and my goodness, so much more! Stay tuned please!
The more we know about climate the better off we will be towards implementing the ethical basis of permaculture in our projects. Thats how i finish this latest TreeYo EDU article back in Chapter 5, Climate. Savory’s Brittleness scale is a great context builder for your sites and is an important design assessment tool. Is your site Brittle or Non Brittle, does your ecosystem easily break when presented stress or rebound quickly when the same stresses of modernity are presented? Read more at the link below!