Talking plants with Eric Toensmeir was definitely one of the highlights for me during the course as he truly is a plant geek. Having traveled to various ecosystems from Tropical to Temperate, I have had a chance to encounter many different edible plants throughout these times. Thus with Eric hearing about some of my favorites like Pejibaye and hearing about new ones such as chaca fruta. Chaca fruta is a Columbian tree that produces edible beans and has a lot of great features like fixing nitrogen and being good fodder for animals as well. I just love hearing about all this as it just reminds you how diverse our permaculture diet can be. Its always important to remember what might have been one of Bill Mollison’s most theoretical insights, “The Yield is Theoretically Unlimited, it is only limited by imagination and information.” Eric has been one of the leaders in cataloguing edible plants no matter the climate. He really lays it out there for you to be able to grasp which makes him a good teacher.
Eric, the author of one of my favorite Permaculture books called Perennial Vegetables, lead a brilliant introduction to food forest and a look on how this design technique applies to Carbon Farming. He showed different farming systems, explained different economic models, and took me down memory lane with his tropical plants slideshow. The workshop was mostly powerpoints but we did do some planning and designing exercises so that we could better understand the idea of how Food Forestry works.
One of these exercises featured him explaining a fast, easy way to do planning and designing on the ground in person- just how I like it. He took 10 plants that were in pots and described their qualities and attributes including canopy crown size. We took these plants and arranged them so that the crown of one tree would eventually touch the other which seemed like such a huge distance apart from one another. From there we began to do the plant and time stacking that is the defining feature of a food forest. While two walnuts will eventually touch their canopies together, there is years of time when these plants are growing slowly in their youth. So we laid out some of the understory and sub canopy trees that would help fill that time and space niche. This was great exercise because when plants are in pots and look so small we have tendency to overstack them. This is Ok if some of the plants will be later removed or else productivity will be diminished from the heavy shade that canopy trees can produce.
Moreover, having just dug the rain garden with Brad Lancaster, it was now time to plant the bottom and the side out with edible landscaping plants. So Eric brought some seeds like Sweet Sicily that we broadcasted and planted some plants that were around the Farm like the native Swamp Hibiscus. It’s a beautiful plant, producing large red flowers, that can tolerate the temporary flooding of being at the bottom of the rain garden. The chickens saw us scattering seed and immediately came over and we had to fence off the area in the hope that we would get some of these perennial plants established. It was good to finish that project up as we saw the complete process and got Eric’s perspective on what should go in there since he has a better plant knowledge of the Eastern Deciduous Forest than Brad Lancaster.
We also went for a tour with Eric to an abandoned apple orchard at the farm. We talked about options to revive the orchard and how to make it more diverse. Ethan Roland, of Appleseed Permaculture, gave us some advice also and relayed some of his stories from his research from where the apple is Native to- Uzbekistan. Ethan has lots of knowledge around this topic and was one of the key organizers of the course. Thank you to Ethan and others who were responsible for lining up this amazing group of teachers.
It was a typical summer September day in the southeast of the states- hot and humid. So before we headed back for the tropical plants slideshow we headed for a dip in the swimming hole. The farm has an impounded stream that is formed mostly from springs which keeps the water temperature low. This provides for a much needed relief and wake up on a hot day. There are some beautiful forests at the farm and this spot in the forest with the water and the rocks to jump off is simply magic.