Plant Guilds #2: Upper Canopy

An oak is home to over 300 species.

An oak is home to over 300 species.  Not counting human.

Whether you are planting small plants in pots, ornamentals in your yard or a food forest, you need plants that will provide an upper canopy for others.  If you have small plants, then you will have a short canopy.  Maybe your canopy is a tomato plant.  Maybe its an oak.  Whatever it is, canopy has many functions.IMG_7446

Upper canopy provides shade so that other plants can grow.  It drops leaves, bark, flowers and seeds and/or fruit to provide compost and food for all levels of animals down to soil microbes.  Canopy provides protective shelter for many kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects as they hide under the leaves. A mature oak is home to over 300 species. Old scarred canopy full of holes is the natural home for honeybees, and many types of bird and other animal.  It is a storage unit for acorns gathered by woodpeckers. Where you have animals, you have droppings. All the poo, feathers, regurgitated pellets, fur, scales and other organic waste that falls from canopy is vitally important for the health of the soil below.

Canopy provides a perch for raptors and larger birds that help with rodent control.

Canopy helps slow the wind; the fewer trees we have the harder the winds.  Canopy also filters the wind, blocking dust and other debris. Canopy helps cool and moisturize the wind. The leaves of canopy trees help buffer the rain.  Rain on bare ground is as compacting as driving over the dirt with a tractor.  If rain hits leaves it bounces, rolls or shatters.  Rain can then hit other layers below the canopy, finally rolling through leaf mulch to percolate into the soil without compacting it.

Canopy catches moisture as well.  Here in Southern California we may not receive a lot of rain, but we do have moisture during the night. Soy, fog 1-29-13 032 Often I’ve walked through Finch Frolic Garden of a morning to feed the hens, and the garden sounded as if it had its own special rain cloud over it.  That is because moisture condenses on the leaves and rolls off.  The more canopy and the higher the canopy, the more water we can collect.  In that same way, canopy begins to hold humidity on the property, which the rest of the guild contributes to.  Pollen dries out.  With longer, hotter, drier summers there is worse pollination even if the pollinators are active, because the pollen isn’t viable.  Less humidity equals fewer fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Therefore, the more canopy, and other parts of a guild, the moister the air and the better the harvest.IMG_2390

Canopy is in connection with all other plants in its community, linked via webs called mycorrhizal fungi. Through these webs the canopy sends chemical messages and nutrients to other plants.  Every plant in the community benefits from the strong communications from the canopy trees.

Canopy builds soil.  Canopy trees are large on top and equally large underground.  Tree root growth can mirror the height and width of the above-ground part, and it can be larger.  Therefore canopy trees and plants break through hard soil with their roots, opening oxygen, nutrient and moisture pathways that allow the roots of other plants passage, as well as for worms and other decomposers. As the roots die they become organic material deep in the soil – effortless hugelkultur; canopy is composting above and below the ground.  Plants produce exudates through their roots – sugars, proteins and carbohydrates that attract and feed microbes.  Plants change their exudates to attract and repel specific microbes, which make available different nutrients for the plant to take up.  A soil sample taken in the same spot within a month’s time may be different due to the plant manipulating the microbes with exudates.  Not only are these sticky substances organic materials that improve the soil, but they also help to bind loose soil together, repairing sandy soils or those of decomposed granite.  The taller the canopy, the deeper and more extensive are the roots working to build break open or pull together dirt, add nutrients, feed and manage microbes, open oxygen and water channels, provide access for worms and other creatures that love to live near roots.

Canopy roots have different needs and therefore behave differently depending upon the species.   Riparian plants search for water.  If you have a standing water issue on your property, plant thirsty plants such as willow, fig, sycamore, elderberry or cottonwood. In nature, riparian trees help hold the rain in place, storing it in their massive trunks, blocking the current to slow flooding and erosion, spreading the water out across fields to slowly percolate into the ground, and turning the water into humidity through transpiration. The roots of thirsty plants are often invasive, so be sure they aren’t near structures, water lines, wells, septic systems or hardscape. Some canopy trees can’t survive with a lot of water, so the roots of those species won’t be destructive;  they will flourish in dry and/or well-draining areas building soil and allowing water to collect underground.

In large agricultural tracts such as the Midwest and California’s Central Valley, the land is dropping dramatically as the aquifers are pumped dry.  Right now in California the drop is about 2 inches a month.  If the soil is sandy, it will again be able to hold rainwater, but without organic materials in the soil to keep it there the water will quickly flow away. If the soil is clay, those spaces that collapse are gone and no longer will act as aquifers… unless canopy trees are grown and allowed to age. Their root systems will again open up the ground and allow the soil to be receptive to water storage. Again, roots produce exudates, and roots swell up and die underground leaving wonderful food for beneficial fungi, microbes, worms and all those soil builders. The solution is the same for both clay and sandy soils – any soil, for that matter.  Organic material needs to be established deep underground, and how best to do that than by growing trees?

In permaculture design, the largest canopy is often found in Zone 5, which is the native strip.  In Zone 5 you can study what canopy provides, and use that information in the design of your garden.

IMG_7474How do you achieve canopy in your garden?  If your canopy is something that grows slowly, then you will need to nursery it in with a fast-growing, shorter-lived tree that can be cut and used as mulch when the desired canopy tree becomes well established.  Some trees need to be sacrificial to insure the success of your target trees.  For instance, we have a flame tree that was part of the original plantings of the garden.  It is being shaded out by other trees and plants, and all things considered it doesn’t do enough for the garden to be occupying that space (everything in your garden should have at least three purposes).  However a loquat seeded itself behind the flame tree, and the flame tree helped nursery it in.  We love loquats, so the flame tree may come down and become buried mulch (hugelkultur), allowing that sunlight and nutrient load to become available for the loquat which is showing signs of stress due to lack of light.  With our hotter, drier, longer summers, many fruit trees need canopy and nurse trees to help filter that intense heat and scorching sunlight. Plan your garden with canopy as the mainstay of your guild.

Therefore a canopy plant isn’t in stasis.  It is working above and below ground constantly repairing and improving.  By planting canopy – especially canopy that is native to your area – you are installing a worker that is improving the earth, the air, the water, the diversity of wildlife and the success of your harvest.

What makes up a plant guild.

What makes up a plant guild.

Canopy is improving the water storage of the soil and increasing potential for aquifers. The more site-appropriate, native canopy we can provide in Zone 5, and the more useful a canopy tree as the center of a food guild, the better off everything is.    All canopy asks for in payment is mulch to get it started.

Next week we’ll explore sub-canopy!  Stay tuned! You can find the entire 9-part Plant Guild series here: Plant Guilds: What are they and how do they work? The first in a series. , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-Fixers, Plant Guild #5: Mining Plants, Plant Guild #6: Groundcovers, Plant Guild #7: Vines,   Plant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.

Why Buy Rain Barrels if you Own a Pool? Pool Conversion Discount!

Why buy rain barrels if you own a pool?  You can collect about 20,000 gallons of rainwater in an average pool, and use it on your landscaping and for swimming if you don’t chlorinate it.  If you have a pool or pond and put chemicals into it, or have a saltwater pool or one that is treated with UV light, you really need to read about how toxic those systems really are and how to change your pool into a swimmable, clean pond on PuraVidaAquatic.com.  On that site is a host of great information about how bad mosquito fish are, how to make a truly healthy pond, why having a pond in a drought is a great idea and so very important, and so much more.  If you live in Southern California and have a pool, you’ll be interested in this Fall Special:

20 Percent Off Ad

Permaculture and Pollinators lecture

PP flier

Turn Your Pool Into a Pond, and Help Restore Wetlands!

An egret on the hunt.  Water birds now rely on flooded agricultural fields, which are saturated with herbicides and pesticides.

An egret on the hunt. Water birds now rely on flooded agricultural fields, which are saturated with herbicides and pesticides.

It is estimated that 97% of California’s wetlands are gone.  Gone.  About two-thirds of that remaining 3% is dysfunctional and polluted. In Los Angeles, only 1% of wetlands remain.  We have constructed our properties to drain precious rainwater and even irrigation water into culverts and out to the ocean, rather than collect it in our soil where it belongs.  All the riparian animals, from specialized aquatic microbes and fungi up to large mammals, have gradually all but disappeared.  What we have instead of wetlands are millions of  chlorinated swimming pools, lined ponds and bird baths.  Although we may believe that these help animals, the treated water is weakening and killing them with chemicals when they are desperate enough to drink from them, and offer no shelter or food source.

A young green heron visits a chemical-free pond.

A young green heron.

Dr. Bob Lloyd of Pura Vida Aquatics, a Southern California-based business, has spent the last 20 years maintaining ponds chemical-free.  “Algicide will kill aquatic microbes, and hurt hummingbirds and all the other creatures that drink it,” he says.  To help offset some of the loss of wetlands Dr. Lloyd converts swimming pools into swimming ponds that are cleaned with plants and fish rather than with chemicals.

You may see photos of some methods of pool conversions on the Internet that look fantastic, but really are expensive and drastic, and hard to maintain.  They require the draining (and waste) of the 22,000 gallons (more or less) of pool water, the altering of the pool itself by building a cement planting bed along the inside and the filling of that bed with a large amount of gravel.  Plants are set in the gravel and after refilling a pump sends water through this system to clean it. The gravel would need to be cleaned over time, which would mean draining water again and hauling out a ton of slimy gravel, and buying new.

Bluegill and koi buddies.

Bluegill and koi buddies.

Dr. Lloyd’s system is far less expensive, not invasive to the pool structure at all and is easily removable if years down the road the system is no longer desired.  His system is unique and is the product of his PhD in microbiology and his decades of experience working with natural ponds.  The plants that are installed are outside of the pool and  can have a look that goes with the surrounding vegetation.  Even aquatic edibles can be experimented with, such as watercress, water chestnuts and more.

Installing plants inside a pool can be done without changing the pool structure if the pool isn’t going to be used for swimming, or only for gentle laps.  The reason is that the splashing water and waves from vigorous swimming is very hard on plants.  Many plants die from having too much water on their leaves, and from being battered against the sides of the pool.  Using Dr. Lloyd’s method of external decorative plants the pool has the ambiance of a pond and the usability of a regular swimming pool.  And you can still swim with koi and other fish!  How cool is that?

IMG_0606Converting your pool or pond takes a little patience as the biology develops; do you remember the adage that you can’t rush Mother Nature? The evolution of a pool conversion lasts several months. Watching the evolution of a chemical pool to a swimming pond is exciting.  With the absence of chlorine, there is a natural algae bloom which turns the inside of the pool a bright, beautiful green.  The algae help clear the water of harmful chemicals. As the water is routed through plants, some of the aquatic creatures that balance a pond are added from a local source.  As the water clears, fish are added.  The fish eat the algae so there are no fuzzy green threads growing up from the bottom or floating on the surface.   Fish can be added within weeks of the start of the project. “Its like managing a 20,000 gallon fishtank,” Dr. Lloyd grins.

Immediately the changes to the environment are apparent.  Dragonflies, butterflies, hummingbirds and many more creatures desperate for truly clean (chemical-free) water are attracted to the water and the plants.

A hummingbird coming in for a drink in a chemical-free pond.

A hummingbird coming in for a drink in one of Dr. Lloyd’s newly chemical-free ponds.

“I have clients who tell me how excited they are to see so many birds, insects and lizards in their yards that they’d never seen before,” Dr. Lloyd relates about his converted ponds.  “Finding (native) Pacific chorus frogs around the ponds has been very fun.” Some of his clients have become active bird watchers as the wildlife come to ponds that he manages.

Best of all, you can swim with the fish and have no red eyes, green hair or other bad reactions to the harsh chemicals.  The plants phytoremediate the water as it is pumped through the planting beds.  Children can dangle their feet in the pond without fear of absorbing algicide and other harsh chemicals through their skin.

Pacific Chorus frogs are native and disappearing.  They live in your garden during the year and eat insects.

Pacific Chorus frogs are native and disappearing. They live in your garden during the year and eat insects.

Because we are in a drought, people believe that drying out their pond or pool is necessary. No! Pools evaporate far less water than irrigated lawns and landscapes.  What does evaporate helps hold humidity around your plants, something which our drying climate is eliminating.  Humidity keeps pollen viable and helps trees and plants survive the lack of rainfall.  If you convert your pool and/or pond to a chemical-free one, then it is now supplying habitat to creatures further taxed by dried-up water supplies.  What’s more, your pool which isn’t attractive and is rarely used,  which must be doctored with chemicals weekly, can be converted into something that benefits wildlife year-round, is interesting to watch all the time, and needs absolutely no chemicals.

Pools are also excellent catchment basins for rain.  Instead of buying a large water tank, divert your roof water to your pool and allow the plants to clean it.  Then you can use that water at any time during the year for watering plants – with chlorine- and chloramine-free water.  In permaculture, everything should have at least three purposes.  By converting your pool you can have a free rain-catchment system, a water cleaning system, a safe recreation area, a pleasing view, and some habitat, all while saving money and reducing your carbon footprint and reducing your water bill.  How can you not do it?

A converted pool does require weekly maintenance, but not the usual kind with chemicals and cleaners.  I remember having to clean the family’s pool when I was growing up and testing the pH, even though we didn’t swim very often.  It wasn’t fun. The maintenance on a chemical-free pond consists of checking on the pump, the caring for the plants and  fish, and insuring that the clarity of the water and the product is satisfying to the customer.   The ecosystem evolves and must be watched.  It also costs a fraction of what a pool cleaner charges.

If you have a pond or pool that is on a chemical system, consider a conversion.  You’ll spend far less money, have far more entertainment, decorative and educational value, have safe water for your family and wildlife to enjoy, will be helping the environment by not supporting harmful chemicals and by helping off-set the millions of acres of wetlands that are gone.

Dr. Lloyd estimates that he’ll need to convert 1.6 billion swimming pools to offset all the wetlands that have been drained and paved over in California alone.  How can it be done?

“One pool at a time,” he smiles.

You can find out about pool and pond conversions by contacting Dr. Bob Lloyd at Pura Vida Aquatics, 310- 429- 8477   http://www.PuraVidaAquatic.com.  He has accounts from San Diego through Los Angeles, and can consult elsewhere.

Water Harvesting With Simple Earthworks

Finch Frolic Garden’s Program In The Garden Series for June:

Shaping the land to harvest energy and water – easily!

With permaculturalist Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics and Landscaping

Jacob HatchSunday, June 28, 2015 2-4 pm.

Use 30% – 70% less water on your landscape!

Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics will show you how to catch free, precious, neutral pH rainwater using earthworks.  Whether you use a trowel or a tractor, you can harvest that free water. Each attendee will receive a plant!  We will, of course, offer homemade vegetarian refreshments.  Cost is $25 per person, mailed ahead of time.  Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook.  Please RSVP to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net . More information can be found at www.vegetariat.com.  You’ll love what you learn!

Artificial Turf? Big Mistake.

Want a green lawn that needs no irrigation or mowing?  That sounds ideal.  As with most products that sound too good to be true, so it is with artificial turf. Modern artificial turf is not much like the Astroturf of old.  Artificial grass blades are usually made of polyethylene, polypropylene or nylon, which create soft, harder or stiff blades respectively.  These are anchored in an infill material that is usually a mixture of sand and ground up recycled automobile tires among other things.  Utilizing recycled tires should give this product big bonus points; however, this material will leach heavy metals into the ground, contaminating the dirt for decades.  When heated, the plastic and rubber will release toxins into the air as well.

Heat is the biggest problem with artificial turf.  The infill made of plastic and rubber is a thermal mass: as it sits in the sun it absorbs and radiates heat.  For example, at 6 pm, an hour before the Women’s World Cup in Canada began at the end of a nice 75 degree day, the artificial turf on which they were to play measured 120F.  Where daytime temperatures rise to 100F, the turf could measure up to 180F.  Having turf where children or animals play can cause burns.

Radiating heat from thermal mass such as hardscape (usually cements and asphalt), expanses of gravel, and especially artificial turf will heat up homes and is a contributor to more energy usage for air conditioners and fans.  In arid areas there might not be much rainfall but there can be fog and ambient moisture that normally collects on leaves and drips as a form of irrigation.  Good pollenization partially depends upon moist, still air because pollen dries rapidly. Radiating heat and reflected light (the albeido effect) from these surfaces help to dry out moist air and cause air movement as the heat rises.  The more rising heat, the windier and drier the atmosphere becomes and the less fruit and vegetable set there is.  As artificial turf heats up to a third again of the atmospheric temperature and continues to radiate into the evening it is even more damaging to atmospheric moisture than bright cement.

The claim that artificial turf greatly reduces the amount of toxins in the air that would be released from lawnmowers, and save thousands of gallons of water otherwise used to irrigate lawns is using select ideas while ignoring others.  Artificial turf may not need mowing, but it needs leaf-vacuuming and hosing off, especially if there are animals using it.  On soil bird, reptile and pet feces are part of the fertilization process and are quickly decomposed by microbes.  On artificial turf the feces adhere to the plastic blades and are difficult to remove with even a power wash.  Urine seeps into the rubber matting and cannot be completely removed, smelling strongly of urine for the life of the turf.

Native plants and grasses improve the soil, hold rainwater, moderate heat and wind, and offer habitat for hundreds of birds, mammals and insects.  Areas that are covered in artificial turf are sterile, harmful to animals, people and the environment, and offer no educational value.  Planted areas are magnets for wildlife that are starved – literally – for decent food, water and shelter.

The life of some artificial turf products is estimated to be 10 – 15 years, with a warranty usually for 8.  If the grass is being heavily used the life is reduced.  The turf doesn’t look new up until the warranty expires; the blades break off and the plastic and rubber slowly break down further been compressed, dried out and imbued with heavy metals.

The cost of installing artificial turf is heavy.  It must be laid on scraped, level, rockless dirt, so there are earthworks involved.  There are many types of artificial turf and they have a broad price range.  A 12’ x 75’ strip of low-grade turf from a chain hardware store is currently over $1500.

What are the alternatives in this time of water scarcity?  For areas that must have grass, tough native grass mixtures are a great alternative. See the selection that S&S Seeds has of native Californian grasses; they even offer sod.  Lawns should be mowed higher and more frequently for best root growth, and the cuttings left to mulch in. For least evaporation and for pathogen control watering should be done between 3 AM and 9 AM. See this site for more lawn tips.

Stop using commercial fertilizers, which cause plants to need more water. Use actively aerated compost tea, which is easy and inexpensive to make, completely non-toxic and causes deeper root growth and therefore healthier, longer-lived and more resilient grass.  Please explore the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, who has perfected the use of AACT on properties worldwide.  Instructions for making AACT can be found here.

For those who don’t need a lawn at all, native landscapes can be lush and beautiful and after being established dislike summer water.  You can see what native and non-native plants are safe to plant near your house if you live in a fire zone with the County of San Diego’s Defensible Space Plant List.  Please see the books The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren, and California Native Plants for The Garden by Bornstein, Fross and O’Brien.

The secret to water storage in the soil for both lawns and plants is to dig in as much organic matter into the soil that you can.  Artificial turf is also not permeable, so it channels rainwater rather than harvesting it.   Old wood is best, but cuttings, organic fabric and paper can all be used to hold rainwater.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water.  The best place to hold that water for your plants –or to hold precious irrigation water – is in the soil.  Wood in the soil along with top mulch will water and feed plants for months, as well as cleanse and build soil.  This practice is called hugelkultur.  Please research hugelkultur on the Internet for more information.

If you are considering purchasing artificial turf or gravel for your yard or common area, please think again.  It is adding to the problem of global warming, it is an elimination of even more habitat – even the scarce habitat that a lawn can offer –  and will become an expensive problem in a short time.

The Uninvited Guest: Living With Wildlife

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The Uninvited Guest: Living With Wildlife

Finch Frolic Garden’s Program in the Garden Series

Sunday, May 24 2-4 pm

 Miranda Kennedy (B.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Science) brings a naturalist’s enthusiasm and a scientist’s perspective to the topic of wildlife vs. domesticated land.

IMG_6893In this fun informal talk, Miranda will give insight into the ecology of many of our wonderful Southern California native wildlife species, focusing on the issues of the human-wildlife interface such as land management, garden damage, disease, domestic animals, pollinators, and the conservation concern. The talk and discussion will explore methods for peaceful and mutually beneficial cohabitation of this precious resource necessary to human and wildlife alike: habitat.

Each attendee will receive a native pollinator-attracting plant! We will, of course, offer homemade vegetarian refreshments.

 Cost is $25 per person.  Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook. Please RSVP to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net . More information can be found at www.vegetariat.com.

 You’ll love what you learn!IMG_7224

 

My Plea Against Gravel

gravel wastelandHere in Southern California, as in many other areas, we are finally legally recognizing the drought. There are rebates in place for those who take out their lawns, and here in Fallbrook there is a 36% water reduction goal.  Many people just don’t know what to do with all that lawn.  A very unfortunate continuing trend is to dump half a ton of colored gravel on it.  Please!  NO!  First of all, once down gravel is nearly impossible to get out again.  Gravel, like all rocks, is thermal mass.  Instead of having a large rock heating up and radiating out heat, with gravel there are tens of thousands of surfaces radiating out heat and reflecting light and heat back up.  It is the worst kind of hardscape.  All that reflected heat and light heats up your home, making you use your air conditioner more frequently which is a waste of energy, and also dries out the air around your home.  Desertification reflects light and heat to a point where moist air moving over a region dries up.  There is less rain, or no rain.  Most trees and plants trap humidity under their leaves.  Gravel reflects light and heat back up under those leaves and dries them out, sickening your  plants and trees.  Pollen travels farther on humid air; it can dry out quickly.  If you are relying on pollination for good fruit set between trees that are spaced far apart, then having some humidity will increase your chances of success.

An area of Wildomar, surrounded by hillsides of chaparral that hasn't been destroyed. These homes have mostly gravel yards and denuded, compacted backyards. Very little rain penetrates, and all the weeds that nature sends it to help repair this gash in the earth are promptly poisoned. This is death to us and our planet.

An area of Wildomar, surrounded by hillsides of chaparral that hasn’t been destroyed. These homes have mostly gravel yards and denuded, compacted backyards. Very little rain penetrates, and all the weeds that nature sends it to help repair this gash in the earth are promptly poisoned. This is death to us and our planet.

By laying gravel you are turning soil into rock-hard dirt, because microbial life cannot live closely under it.  That robs any plants you have stuck into the gravel of the food they need from the soil, which is opened up through microbial activity.  You are adding to the heat value of the hardscape around your house causing you to cook in the summer and use more air conditioning.  You have reduced habitat to zero.  You have added to global warming by reflecting more heat and light into the sky.  Although gravel is permeable, usually the ground below it bakes so hard that rain doesn’t percolate.  I’ve read sites that want to you increase the albedo effect by laying gravel.  In the short term albedo helps cool the atmosphere, but as a result of too much reflected light dries everything out.  Think of the dark coolness and dampness of forests… that are now bare ground.

What do you do with your lawn instead?  There are many choices that are so much better for the earth and your quality of life.  First step, cut swales on contour on any slopes for best rain harvesting.  Flat lawn? Easier still.  Turn your lawn into a beautifully landscaped lush native garden.  I’m not talking about a cactus here and there, but a creation with the awesome native plants we have in Southern California.  Some of them such as Fremontia can die with supplemental summer water!

A beautiful border and plantings of California natives. Very low water use here, and very high habitat!

A beautiful border and plantings of California natives. Very low water use here, and very high habitat!

There is a chocolate daisy that smells like chocolate.  Oh yes.  And how can you not want to plant something called Fairy Duster or Blue-Eyed Grass?  A native landscape planted on soil that has been contoured to best catch and hold water, and amended with buried wet wood (hugelkultur), will give much-needed food, water and breeding grounds to countless birds, butterflies, native insects and honeybees.

Or put in a pond.  Wait, a pond during a drought?  Yes!  Ninety-nine percent of California wetlands have been paved over, drained or are unusable.  Where are all the animals drinking?  Oh, wait, we are in the epicenter of extinction, mostly due to wetlands loss.  There are very few animals left that need to drink.  Those that are left have to take advantage of chlorinated water in bird baths and swimming pools. The microbially rich and diverse clean, natural water that fed and sustained life is just about gone.  So what can you do?  If you have a swimming pool, you can convert it either entirely to a pond, or into a natural swimming pool that is cleaned by plants.

A natural pool upgrades your pool to a lovely pond without the use of chemicals.

A natural pool upgrades your pool to a lovely pond without the use of chemicals.

Suddenly instead of having this expensive eyesore that you use only a couple of months a year and pour chemicals into year-round, you have a lovely habitat that you want to sit and watch, and even better, swim in safely without turning your hair green or peeling your skin.  You don’t need to clean the pool all the time, and you don’t need to put in chemicals.  If you are in the San Diego or Los Angeles area, call Dr.  Robert Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics for a consultation and conversion.  If you don’t have a pool, then build one that is cleaned by plants and fish. You don’t need a filtration or oxygenation system because the biology does it all.  Where do you get the water from to top off your pond?

Native Pacific Chorus Frogs enjoying our clean pond at Finch Frolic Garden.

Native Pacific Chorus Frogs enjoying our clean pond at Finch Frolic Garden.

Connect your pond to a lovely, planted stream that is connected to your laundry water or graywater system.  You are buying water every day, so why not compost your water through phytoremediation and have a pond full of great healthy chemical-free water that is wonderful to look at and is an oasis for thirsty animals and insects?

Or install a food forest.  With good soil building and rain catchment first, and planting in guilds with sheet mulch around trees and on pathways, you will be using a fraction of the water you pour on your lawn and yet harvest lots of food.  Too much food?  Share it with a food pantry!

Or start a veggie garden without digging any sod.

Create a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn and start growing immediately.

Create a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn and start growing immediately.

Layer cardboard, sticks, grass, food scraps, leaves, more grass, more food scraps, more leaves and top it with about 8 inches of good soil, then plant right in it!  That lovely standing compost heap will slowly turn into good soil while killing the grass beneath and growing crops for you immediately.

If ridding yourself of a lawn just breaks your heart, then substitute the high-water use grasses for a native grass mix that is comparable.  Look at S&S Seeds for prices or for seed choices.  Water a few times with Actively Aerated Compost Tea using any rainwater you may have caught in those 50-gallon containers and your grass roots will travel so deeply that they will find groundwater.  Check up on the work of soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham and see how easy AACT is to make and use.

There are so many alternatives to using gravel that aren’t expensive, that are an investment in your property and in reclaiming habitat while beautifying your home and saving money.  So please, just say, “NO,” to the gravel.  Tell a friend!!

Which one of these would you rather live in?  Which do you think is better for the earth and for the future generations?

Finch Frolic Garden, year 3.

Finch Frolic Garden, year 3.


gravel wasteland

Saving the Bees

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration.  Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration. Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc.  I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering.  Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution.  Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously.  Too bad no one listened to him decades before.  A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes.  However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are  gone.  Over half.  Gone.  On our watch.  In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame.  So what about the next 40 years?  Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone.  There are only 3% left in Los Angeles.  The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks.  We are pumping all that  water overland, open to the sun for evaporation,  to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up.  It is madness.  All  the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone.  All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have  access  to it.  The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths.  Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon.  We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.dry_colorado_new[1]

One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons).  We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean.  Look around at your streets and houses.  Are they harvesting water or channeling it?  Any property that is slanted is channeling water away.  Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water.  So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them.  When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it.  Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil.  That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground.  The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates  (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil.  That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life.  We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves.  We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.

Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures.  Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic.  Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced.  They eat mosquito eggs.  They clean up algae.  They are as vitally important as soil microbes.  Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.

I spoke with Quentin Alexander from  HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather  than having to kill the entire hive.  He has had no luck in the past two  years with European queens, even those bred in California.  With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths.  Again, these contain highly chlorinated water.  Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.

We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater.  We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water!  It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales!  Dig small ones with a trowel.  Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows.  Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water.  Catch water as high up on your property as you can.  If you have level soil, fantastic!  You have it so easy!  Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water.  Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur

Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia.  You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails.  Here  is the link.  The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert.  If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting.  We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time.  Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it.  If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there.  It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property.  Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life.  Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment.  If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional.  In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics.  Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways.  Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife.  He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments.  No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes.  How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil.  Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same.  We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.  Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.  By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.   They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.  Tours begin promptly at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.  I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda