Archive for ‘Permaculture’

May 13, 2015

Before you spray…

A Scott’s sales rep came to the door yesterday telling me he could spray to kill all of the dandelions and other weeds in our yard, fertilize the lawn and spray to get rid of all of the mosquitoes. I politely told him, “No thank you. I don’t mind them and am actually growing plants to attract insects and pollinators instead of kill them.” He then offered to use their organic line and estimated that it would be $56 to “take care of” our yard. Again, I smiled and said, “No, thank you. We’re not interested.” at which point he offered me his business card, told me he was also a realtor and offered to do a property value estimate if I’m ever interested.

We have no plans of moving.  Part of why we bought this house is because it’s just behind the nature center which has a lake. Mosquitoes, whether we like it or not, come with the territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate mosquitoes just as much as the next person, but the SPRAYS they use ARE NOT SELECTIVE. That means they don’t just kill mosquitoes, they also kill everything else including bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

I realize a lot of people don’t like insects, but we NEED these insects. Our food system relies on them. I don’t think most people know or understand the impact that spraying their yard for mosquitoes has on our food system.

Yes, I’m a gardener and every year I hope for an abundant harvest from my garden, but this isn’t about my garden. This is effecting food on a much larger scale. This is about the food on everyone’s table.

Our pollinators are disappearing at alarming rates and our food is going to follow. This isn’t something we can ignore or pretend isn’t happening. It’s not going to be okay or correct itself on its own.

This time of the year, when everything is in bloom, my yard is typically abuzz with bees and other insects feeding on the nectar and pollen from dandelions, creeping charlie, flowering crabs and dogwoods. This year I have seen a couple of wasps pass through and a handful of flies. That’s it.

It would be so easy to blow it off and try to reason our way out of why I don’t see them in my yard, but the truth of the matter is that I work to create a bee, butterfly and insect friendly yard and they are not here. My yard is a minute sample of the greater picture. Looking at my yard is like looking through a sample under a microscope. If the insects aren’t in my yard, that means they aren’t around.

Am I worried that the fruits and vegetables in my yard won’t get pollinated and will produce less fruit? Of course. But what really bothers me is that the fruits and vegetables on a greater scale aren’t getting pollinated,  which is a much larger problem.

All of this makes me so sad. They are making it so fast, cheap and easy to kill-off the insects that we think are a nuisance but fail to tell people that they are also killing off insects  that pollinate the plants that give us our food.

We have smoking policies in place to protect people who don’t smoke from breathing in second hand smoke.

Spraying our yards doesn’t work the same way. If we spray, we are not just impacting our yard and our neighbors, we are impacting life on the larger scale.

We need to stop pretending that what we do in our yard is our choice and that it doesn’t impact anyone else, because it does. It impacts EVERYONE else.

The next time you go to buy groceries, look at the produce section and imagine it empty or sparce with extremely expensive produce. Imagine coffee so expensive that it becomes a luxury. Do you hate spending so much money on groceries? It’s going to continue to get more and more expensive and we will have less and less available if we don’t change what we are doing.

We need to fix our system, fast. Some states are banning neonicotinoide pesticides. A couple of cities in the Twin Cities metro area have also banned them. But until they are fully non-existent we need to be our own advocates.

That’s not to mention the detrimental effects directly on people. Pesticides are also hormone – altering (endocrine disruptors) which alter the natural function of our bodies in many, many dangerous ways.

If our world were balanced, it should be ungodly expensive to spray both herbicides and pesticides because the effects are damaging on a global level. Damaging to our health, damaging to our food system, not to mention damaging to the soil, water and air we breathe.

It shouldn’t cost $59 to kill everything that lives in a 1/3 of an acre lot, it should cost at lot more than that because in reality, it does.

June 25, 2013

Dripping Springs Ollas


The attached chart shows approximate coverage and depth for the Ollas I am using in the 4×4 raised bed on the Urban Farm this year.

Dripping Springs Ollas site has a where to buy section if you are interested in trying them.


June 18, 2013

Urban Farm Update

Back in April I introduced you to my bare front yard and the beginning of my urban farm.

Quite a bit of time has passed since then and there’s been a lot going on, so let’s see how far we’ve come, shall we?

As I was waiting for spring to come and mulling over the possibilities of the design and method of starting my farm, I attended Joel Karsten’s seminar on Straw Bale Gardens and bought his book.  That led to a few phone calls, which lead to this.


Eighty five straw bales getting delivered to my home.  No, I didn’t plant all 85.  I ordered extra for some of my friends and family that are “doing the bales” as well.  I’m only using 40.

But before ordering the straw bales, I had to make a final decision on which design I was going to go with.  After toying with a few ideas I decided that I really liked one of the keyhole garden designs from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, which looks like this.


I modified it a little to work with straw bales, add a couple of openings for access both for logistical and community purposes and ended up with this.


It’s a little geometric with the bales, but part of my long-term plan is to turn at least some of the straw bales into traditional keyhole beds. At that point the overall design will begin to look more like the design from Gaia’s Garden, which is a modified mandala garden.  Another thing I’m trying to achieve with this garden is to make it partially a perennial, edible food forest garden and partially an annual food garden.  In addition to planting the straw bales, I am adding fruiting shrubs as well as annual and perennial food and flowers for both pollination and for attracting beneficial insects in the areas between four of the horseshoe-shaped beds.

You would think that would be enough to keep me busy this summer, but having a little bug for trying new things, I also decided to add a four-foot raised bed from Organic Bob.  You see, part of my plan for this space is to make it a learning space and I wanted to include a learning space specifically for children.  Turns out this raised bed was the perfect solution for that.  And not to go on about the bed itself, but one of the things that makes this bed unique is that you can plant in the sides as well as the top, and orientated the right way, you can take advantage of the sun and shade, planting heat-loving plants on the South side and those preferring it a little cooler on the North side.  Nothing like playing with your food before it even hits your plate!


In the above picture, you will find two clay circles sticking out of the soil. Those are Ollas. Ollas are unglazed clay vessels that you “plant” into the soil when you are planting the rest of your garden.  The vessel gets filled with water which gradually seeps out into the surrounding soil both benefiting the plants by encouraging deep roots, making them less susceptible to drought and minimizing surface watering, thus cutting down on nutrient loss as well.  From what I understand, the only drawback in our climate is that they need to be dug up in the fall because if they are left in the ground over the winter they will crack.  I’m pretty excited about them because they can be used in every climate, probably even more effective or beneficial in hotter climates, which is where, if I’m not mistaken, they were originally developed.


This is what my Ollas look like, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I got mine here, but they can be found in other areas and there are DIY methods of making them from clay pots as well.

Well, I think that covers the highlights of what’s going on with my little farm in the city.

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and envision an abundant season!


May 1, 2013

Observation – The Best Gardening Tool and Permaculture Principle 1

After a little stretch of nice weather (upper 70s) in the Twin Cities, snow and Winter Storm Warnings are again in the forecast, so let’s get back to the alphabet, shall we?


We were all born with two of the best garden tools ever.  No, not our hands.  Our eyes.  Although it might make for quick work to have strong hands, it is our eyes that will provide us with the most benefit in the garden.

If you’ve ever wondered why those old ladies and old men seem to have the most amazing gardens, it’s all the years of  observation.  Sure, they know what to do, they’ve been doing it for years.  But there really is only one way to plant a seed or plant a plant… bottom down, top up.  Observation teaches us everything else.  Observing means learning what works and what doesn’t.  Paying attention to where the water goes when it rains.  Paying attention to where the winds come from in the summer and in the winter and what it does to our landscape?  Do we get snow drifts in the same spot all of the time? It means learning where we have micro-climates in our yard so we can select the best place for our favorite plants.

Observation means paying attention to the natural traffic flow in our yards (both animal and human) and knowing that changing that flow will affect other areas.  It’s choosing when to make change and knowing when to leave well enough alone because attempting to do otherwise would only make us crazy.

Observation means paying attention to our soil.  It means knowing how well it drains or holds water. It means knowing where we have low spots that puddle and high spots that dry out.  It means learning from that and choosing the best plants for those locations.  It means knowing when our soil needs “a little something” and getting it there.

Observation means looking to the existing trees, shrubs, plants and even weeds to determine what might grow well with them.

It means noticing when we only have a couple of pests on our plants so we can implement our pest management plan vs waiting until we have a full infestation and wondering what went wrong.

Observation means knowing what is happening in your own back yard.  Who shares your space?  The neighbor’s cat?  How about deer?  Rabbits?  It’s about learning their paths, their habits so you know where to distract or divert them if you don’t want them in that part of your yard.

Observation means knowing yourself and your family.  It means knowing which parts of your yard you frequent (great place for a kitchen garden or herbs) and which places you rarely visit (maybe a place for a nut-tree or two).  It means knowing where your kids play ball (not a good place for Grandma’s delicate cutting flowers) and where they like to dig (maybe add a children’s garden or a fairy garden).

Observation is so important that is the first principle in the Permaculture Design System.  Permaculture, for those who may not know what it is, is a design system developed in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The Permaculture Design System is based on three ethics (Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share) and twelve design principles.

Principle 1: Observe & interact

The other day, I begrudgingly cleaned up the winter mess from our two dogs.  Let me tell you, given too much time on my hands I started calculating how many piles of poo that was.  Trust me, you don’t want to know the answer!  In any case, even though I was in the midst of a less than appetizing job, it did give me a few hours to observe my yard, something that doesn’t happen very often.  As I slowly worked my way around, searching for poo, I was able to see how everything survived the winter, notice where the lawn and soil look like they could use a little compost and seed, and I took note of changes I wanted to make.  My poo duty led to nice new paths giving better access around the veggie gardens and within the raspberry patches.  It lead to moving the compost bin because while it worked in its current location for a number of years, it is now in the way with the addition of the chicken coop.  I planned out (in my head) where I will change the grade slightly to capture water for the new raspberry patch before it runs out under the fence and into the neighbor’s yard.  I planned additional trees and shrubs around the perimeter, minimizing mowing in spaces nobody travels to and I realized that one of the apple trees is on enough of a slope that it probably isn’t retaining the water it needs and that again, with a little movement of soil I could change that process.

Observe and interact means taking note of what is in place and looking for guidance from nature to tell us how to interact appropriately.

Again, our eyes are, by far, the best gardening tool we have.  But we have to take the time to actually observe.  The soil and plants and animals around us will continue on their paths, it’s up to us whether we take the time to watch and learn.