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Archive | Permaculture

Stories, photos and podcasts about permaculture techniques, including information about healthy pollination tactics. Permaculture is defined as the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Edible Landscaping with Elderberry

To harvest elderberries, cut the stem several inches below the cluster using a small pair of hand shears.

Elderberries have recently been dubbed a superfood, yet these big, beautiful plants with tiny dark berries have long been renowned for their versatility and flavor. Today, new elderberry cultivars are being bred from their wilder cousins to produce plants with improved disease resistance and higher production rates; a perfect combination for anyone wanting to add these luscious fruits to their edible landscape.

Recognizing Your Elders

Elders and elderberries belong to the Adoxaceae family of plants. Within this family is the elderberry genus known as Sambucus. This large genus contains more than 30 diverse species of shrubs and small trees. However, the two most common edible species of Sambucus in the United States are the relatively small native American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and the larger, more widely cultivated European elderberry (Sambucus nigra). These two species have been used to breed a wide array of commercial and ornamental cultivars that are often referred to as Common elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis).

These three elderberry species have very similar growth habits. All are perennial multi-stemmed shrubs characterized by their upright, bushy appearance and a tendency to grow in large colonies if not kept in check. Continue Reading →

The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

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A Retrospective: A Journey of Seed Saving and Beyond

Alan and Linda Kapuler, Oregon Country Fair, photo by Serena Kapuler.

Conceived in unity and born for the common good, as part of the Back-to-the-Land movement inspired by the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, two Als and a Linda founded Stonebroke Hippie Seeds in a $90-a-month rental house in Jacksonville Oregon in 1975.

We knew little about gardening, less about seed saving and nothing about business. A few years later we changed the name to Peace Seeds. Here is a true story: I was standing by the sink cleaning seeds from a Buttercup Winter squash, putting the internal pulp and seeds into the compost bucket when it occurred to me that three months later I would buy a packet of the same seeds costing the equivalent of an hour’s work in the gladiolus field where I was glad to get $1.92 take home pay.

I realized I could save the very seeds I was tossing out, completing the cycle of saving the seeds from the plants me and my family had grown in our backyard garden. Completing the cycle, from plant to seed to plant, endlessly with thousands of cultivars in most all the food plants of the temperate zone on planet Earth was our dharma for the next 20 years.

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Book of the Week: Food Power from the Sea by Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Editor’s Note: This is a combination of two smaller excerpts from the 1977 book, Food Power from the Sea, which was published by Acres U.S.A. and is still one of our best sellers.

By Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Since Romans, Bretons, Scots, Vikings, and Spaniards used seaweed for fertilizer ever since the time of Christ, it is not surprising that Portuguese settlers near Cape Cod used this resource in growing vegetables for Boston markets. Old timers of that area remember stories of the seaweed harvests by market gardeners after every storm, when they piled their carts high with the briny stuff to use in growing potatoes, corn, turnips, carrots, cabbages, and other kinds of produce. Their crops claimed highest prices because of the fine flavor and quality attributed to the seaweed.

Food Power from the Sea, by Lee Fryer and Dick Simmons

Nor is it surprising that tobacco growers of Connecticut learned to use seaweed to fertilize tobacco well over 100 years ago. Seaweed is high in potash (about 3 percent) and potassium is a favored nutrient for growing fine tobacco.

The demand for seaweed must have been strong, since Luther Maddocks of Boothbay, Maine, a skilled fisherman, quit fishing in 1869 and went into production of seaweed fertilizer for sale to Connecticut tobacco farmers.

He says, in his autobiography, “That was 1869 . . . I sold out my fishing gear to the Suffolk Oil Company and decided to locate at Boothbay Harbor, where I have lived ever since. My first undertaking at Boothbay Harbor was to build the Algea Fertilizer Company plant. I was making the fertilizer from dried and ground sea­weed. I had a United States patent on it and a con­tract with the Quanipaac Company of New Haven (Connecticut) for $30 per ton for all I could dry and deliver in three years. This looked better to me than the fish business, and in the fall of ’69 I built and equipped the factory which I have since used for many purposes and which is now a canning factory.”

Luther Maddocks then goes on to describe the difficulties of drying and grinding seaweed which, he says, “Becomes tough like leather and impossible to grind.” However, he learned to cool the seaweed suddenly, then grind it into a suitable texture for use as fertilizer.

Living from 1845 to 1932, Luther Maddocks was America’s first entrepreneur to harvest seaweed and process it for use in farming, for tobacco farmers of the New Haven and Hartford areas.

Oscar Wood’s Giant Beanstalk in 1975

Living in West Seattle near Alki Point, Oscar Wood has walked along Puget Sound beaches for fifty years. He is known to his neighbors and friends as an old semipro baseball player who played several seasons for the Seattle Indians; and who worked for Ma Bell’s telephone company in the Seattle area for thirty-seven years.

Recently, Oscar Wood has been seeing how high he could grow a bean plant, using the Scarlet Runner variety. He does this, he says, “Mostly for fun and for seed to give away, and to see how high it will go.”

In 1974, Oscar Wood’s bean plant reached a height of 19 feet and its picture was shown in the West Seattle Herald. However, in 1975, Oscar fed his beans seaweed, and they at­tained a height of 24 feet.

Says Oscar Wood, “I plant two circles of seed, but of course it is one particular vine that reaches to the top. As to the seaweed, it is the green ribbonlike and ruffied variety, and sometimes the tide has left our beach covered with it. Our son-in-law raked up and loaded about six wheelbarrows full onto his trailer and put it in his compost, and he really raises a garden. One hill had forty-four large potatoes in it, besides about twenty little ones this year. We wash some of the salt water off the seaweed first. We only applied it once.”

To our knowledge, during forty years of hearing farmers and gardeners tell about their big crops, Oscar Wood has the world record beanstalk.

Author of such classic works as The American Farmer and Earth Foods, the late Lee Fryer was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds and voices in the service of sustainable agriculture. In addition to his powerful writing, Fryer worked to improve American agriculture through 30 years’ experience in the USDA and the farm and garden supply industry, where he helped hundreds of farmers and gardeners to grow safe, nutritious food crops. A longtime associate in Fryer’s research, writing and work with fertilizer technologies, Dick Simmons was a marine biologist, chemist and fertilizer agronomist.

Compost & The Promise of Microbes

Scientist David C. Johnson Explores Microbial Communities, Carbon Sequestration and Compost

David C. Johnson’s experimental findings and openness to new insights have turned him into a champion of microbial diversity as the key to regenerating soil carbon — and thus to boosting agricultural productivity and removing excess atmospheric CO2. His research, begun only a decade ago, affirms the promise of microbes for healing the planet. It has attracted interest from around the world.

Johnson didn’t come to science until later in life. At age 51 he left a rewarding career as a builder, specializing in custom homes for artists, to complete his undergraduate degree. He planned to use his education “to do something different for the other half of [his] life,” though what he didn’t know. He said a path opened up and opportunities kept coming his way. After completing his undergraduate degree, Johnson kept going, earning his Masters in 2004 and Ph.D. in 2011, both in Molecular Microbiology. With his first advanced degree in hand, he got a job at New Mexico State University, where he was going to school and currently has an appointment in the College of Engineering.

He credits a fellowship program that placed undergraduate students in different labs with sparking his fascination with the composition of microbial communities as a graduate student. Johnson, who once farmed as a homesteader in Alaska, says he was once “an NPK junkie” but considers himself to be “13-years reformed.” Continue Reading →

Windbreak Benefits on the Farm

Windbreak benefits extend beyond reducing wind erosion. Research reveals windbreaks can also be customized to meet your farm management goals, whether it’s increasing wildlife habitat or benefiting visiting pollinators.

Windbreak benefits extend beyond controlling wind to include soil moisture retention and additional wildlife habitat options.

A “national menace” is what Congress called wind erosion during the Dust Bowl. This menace caused an estimated loss of 850,000,000 tons of topsoil and spurred President Roosevelt’s large-scale Shelterbelt Project of planting tree windbreaks across the Great Plains to reduce future wind erosion.

Research shows that reducing wind erosion isn’t the only benefit provided by these windbreaks, and they can be customized to meet your farm’s management goals, whether it’s increasing wildlife habitat or benefiting visiting pollinators.

In a field adjacent to a windbreak, there is an area where a crop yield of 110 percent isn’t uncommon; it’s the area which Charles Barden, professor of forestry with Kansas State University and principal investigator of the Great Plains Crop Yield Study, dubs the “sweet spot in the field.” In this sweet spot, usually found in an area about two times the height of the trees and extending out 12-15 times the height of the windbreak trees, research has found an increase in yield of 23 percent for winter wheat, 15 percent for soybeans and 12 percent for corn.

Continue Reading →