How To Evaluate Your Property: The July Lecture In The Garden at Finch Frolic

Finch Frolic Garden’s Program in the Garden Series for July:

Analyzing Property for Maximum Use:

 Site Evaluation Step-by-Step

Sunday, July 26, 2 – 4 pm

Looking for property?  Creating a landscape?  Planting a garden?  Building a house? Diane Kennedy of Finch Frolic Garden will take you through the steps of evaluating your site for maximum effectiveness with the least labor and cost.

This class is for the average homeowner, with little or no permaculture background.  All terms will be defined and explored.  Guaranteed, you will leave the class excited about your property, and able to find new potential in it.

In permaculture, 99% of the work should be in design, and only 1% in labor, so find out how to look at property with new eyes and start designing!  Participants are encouraged to bring a Google Maps image of their property to work on.

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 . More information can be found at  You’ll love what you learn!

Saving Water

Any vertical space - wire, nets, roofs, trellises - will catch water and allow it to drip.

Any vertical space – wire, nets, roofs, trellises – will catch water and allow it to drip.

Today, despite being April Fool’s Day, our California governor finally recognized our severe drought and ordered mandatory cutbacks. That is a whole other can of worms due to the corporations and large businesses which are using so much water, and I won’t get into it. However, much of the world is becoming a drier place, and it is happening quickly. How does that relate to permaculture?
We will receive rain. Not a lot, but it will come. Remember that 1 inch of water on 1 acre in 1 hour is 27,154 gallons of free neutral pH water. If you have runoff water flowing onto (and usually funneled off of) your property, then you have to opportunity to harvest hundreds of gallons more water. You need to do three things:

Heavy mist over the pond.

Heavy mist over the pond.

1. The best place to hold rainwater in in your soil. For that you need to dig simple or extensive swales (ditches with level bottoms), rain catchment ponds (holes like dry ponds) and even small fishscale swales above each plant. Catch water as high up on your property as you can, in the areas where water will naturally flow into. Holes, dry ponds and swales all passify the running water and allow it to sink into the soil rather than running off the top. Even if you have flat property, texturing your soil will allow water to percolate more quickly. Driveways, roads, sidewalks and paved pathways – called hardscape – all channel water. See where the water flows and catch it, or redirect it into swales where you want the water to go.
The taller the tree, the higher the precipitation it can harvest.

The taller the tree, the higher the precipitation it can harvest.

2. Heavy clay soil will percolate slowly and water can puddle up and even become anaerobic. Sandy soil will allow the water to drain very quickly. What you want is for the soil to hold the water for as long as possible without becoming anaerobic so that trees and plants can use it for months after it stops raining. The solution to both of these soils is to bury organic matter. Hugelkultur is the term used for layering dirt on wood or other organic matter. Old logs are perfect. Any clippings, old cotton bedding, clothing, pillows, branches, leaves, junk mail… anything that can be considered ‘brown’ (as opposed to ‘green’) waste, will work. Don’t heap debris in a hole and cover it up. Layer it with dirt and cover it over with mulch. Plant on your hugelbeds. Make your holes or beds perpendicular to water flow so that water hits them and infiltrates the mounds. The organic matter will become a sponge and hold that water in the dirt. As the topsoil dries out it will wick the moisture from the buried organic material. Meanwhile just by burying or stacking the organic material you will have made nutrient and oxygen channels available to roots, and as the wood decays it feeds the microbes and thus the plants. You are improving your soil for years to come, feeding your plants, catching and holding rainwater in your soil, recycling, and sequestering carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere from the exposed dead wood. How great is that? You don’t have to use trees… if the labor isn’t for you then use a trowel and a piece of old untreated 2×4, nails and all, and make a fishscale swale and hugel above each plant. Also, fill your raised beds and pots half-way with layered wood and dirt, and you will be saving water and fertilizing your plants as well. Have established trees? Use a hose and a power nozzle (or just a sledge hammer if the ground is soft!) to drill holes vertically around the dripline and hammerwood down into the ground. You won’t be cutting through roots. Turn your alleys and foot paths into hugelswales by digging them down, laying a layer of wood, covering the wood over with dirt allowing the path to have a slightly concave shape that is level at the bottom. You can walk on it, it will catch and hold water that gravity will feed down to plants below rather than puddling up. Every time you plant, except for when planting desert plants, put old wood at the bottom of the planting hole. Soaking wood in actively aerated compost tea or worm casting tea first will really kick off the microbial activity. No wood? Cruise the neighborhood at trash day and see what is out there.
Tunnel spider webs show how much moisture is dropping on this hugelbed.

Tunnel spider webs show how much moisture is dropping on this hugelbed.

3. Cover your ground with mulch. Sheet mulch under your trees and along your pathways to lock in moisture and prevent rainfall from compacting your soil. It is always good to leave some bare ground – particularly by wet areas – bare for some insects to lay their eggs in. If you have bugs, then you have lizards, frogs and birds which will eat your problem insects (unless, of course, you have outdoor cats. They will kill all of your predators. Keep your cats confined!). If you don’t have bugs, you don’t have predators. Then when the bad bugs move in there won’t be anything to eat them.
Dense bushes hold the moisture in. It sounded as if it was raining during this light fog.

Dense bushes hold the moisture in. It sounded as if it was raining during this light fog.

4. Plant a lot. That may sound opposite of what to do in a drought, but you need to plant drought tolerant canopy trees and bushes that will spread. Although we may not receive rainfall we will be receiving dew, mist and fog, and the more surfaces you have to catch it, the more water your yard will receive. Mist nets won’t work in Southern California very well because we don’t have a lot of heavy fog. However trees are made to catch water and gently deliver it to their leaf-covered roots. Shrubs are groundcover that produce leaf mulch and habitat for birds and lizards. They keep the moisture from being blown away during our Santa Anas. Trees are wind breaks which protect other trees and plants. Plant fast-growing drought tolerant trees on hugelbeds that are there to work for you: they passify the wind and catch precipitation, while dropping leaves for mulch and turning your dirt into soil.
A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper  with mulch on top.

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper with mulch on top.

PLEASE, do NOT spread gravel or small rock! All those little stones – which are virtually impossible to remove from your landscaping – are all thermal masses. They bake your soil, increase the temperature of your garden and reflect heat up onto your house and the underside of the leaves of whatever you may have planted. Gravel and stonescapes cook the planet because there are so many edges to heat up. With gravel yards there is nothing to allow water to percolate into the soil, there is no height to catch rain or passify winds. Stonescapes reflect light and heat back up into the air further drying the atmosphere, called the albeido effect..
How do you reduce your domestic water use? Cut in in half by flushing the toilet every other time (or less). See how fast you can take a shower. Fill a glass with water every morning and use only its contents to rinse your toothbrush or your mouth during the day (if there is any left, drink it or pour it into the back of your toilet tank). Use a pan of water to wash dishes instead of running water. Irrigate only when it is dark, after 3 am. That allows the least evaporation with the least insect problems. Don’t use overhead irrigation. If you are on a well, don’t think that you have an unlimited supply of water – don’t spray water around pastures at noon. Water is precious and needs to be cherished. See how many uses you can get out of water that you buy – wash water can go into the toilet or onto plants. Investigate greywater. Use your laundry water right into your landscape (use safe soaps). Get as many uses out of your clothes before you wash them. Look at your monthly water usage on your bill and challenge your family to reduce it by half, with a family reward (movie? Local restaurant?) when you succeed.
Saving water can be done. It MUST be done. We are used to water security and now we have to change our ways, while the changing is still easy.

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  Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.  Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!  Diane and Miranda

Permaculture Lectures At Finch Frolic Garden, June 2014

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Tour Finch Frolic Garden!

Permaculture Lectures in the Garden!

Learn how to work with nature and save money too

Finch Frolic Garden and Hatch Aquatics will present four fantastic, information-filled lectures in June.  Join us at beautiful Finch Frolic Garden in Fallbrook, 4 pm to 6 pm, for refreshments and talks on…

Saturday, June 7: Introduction to Permaculture and Finch Frolic Tour: We’ll take you through the main precepts of permaculture and how it can be applied not only to your garden, but to yourself and your community.  Then we’ll tour Finch Frolic Garden and show rain catchments, swales, plant guilds, polyculture, living buildings and so much more.

Saturday, June 14: Your Workers in the Soil and Earthworks: Learn the best methods for storing water in the soil and how to replace all your chemicals with actively aerated compost tea and compost.

Saturday, June 21: Aquaculture: You can have a natural pond – even in a tub!  How natural ponds work, which plants clean water and which are good to eat.  Even if you don’t want a pond, you’ll learn exciting information about bioremediation and riparian habitat.

Saturday, June 28: Wildlife in your Garden: What are all those bugs and critters and what they are doing in your yard?  We’ll discuss how to live with wildlife and the best ways to attract beneficial species.

Your hosts and lecturers will be

Jacob Hatch  Owner of Hatch Aquatics. With years of installing and maintaining natural ponds and waterways, and a Permaculture Design Course graduate, Jacob has installed earthworks with some of the biggest names in permaculture.

Miranda Kennedy  OSU graduate of Wildlife Conservation and wildlife consultant, Miranda photographs and identifies flora and fauna and maps their roles in backyard ecosystems.

Diane Kennedy  Owner of Finch Frolic Garden, lecturer, consultant, Permaculture Design Course graduate, former SDC Senior Park Ranger, Diane educates homeowners on how to save money and the environment while building their dream gardens.

Each class limit is 50 attendees, so please make pre-paid reservations soon before they fill up.  Fee for set of four lectures and tour is $45 per person.  Single session fee is $20 per person. Contact Diane Kennedy at for reservations and directions.


      You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!

Finch Frolic Facebook!

Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page.  Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property.  Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more.  If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page.  Thanks!

San Diego Permaculture Convergence, Nov. 9 – 10, 2013

There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. Converge_Flyer_1_It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available.  Check out the website at On that Sunday I’ll be teaching a workshop about why its so important to plant native plants, how to plant them in guilds using fishscale swales and mini-hugelkulturs.  Come to the convergence and be inspired!

Rain Catchment Awesomeness (and some BSP)

Water flowed over the stone steps

Water flowed over the stone steps

First, a little BSP (blatant self-promotion).  There is a wonderful ezine called San Diego Loves Green featuring topical local articles and snippets that reflect on the growing green community here in, you guessed it, San Diego.  The San Diego Permaculture Group has an ongoing column, and yesterday I was the guest writer.  My article is on the importance of planting natives , with some information that you might find surprising, or that you may have already read in my blog about the same subject.  Also (more BSP) if any of you attended the Southern California Permaculture Convergence this weekend, and still yet, if any of you listened to my talk on soil, first of all I’d like to thank you for your attention and attendance, and I hope I answered your questions and solved some problems for you.  You can search on my blog for many posts concerning nitrogen -fixing, or 50 Ways to Leave Your Compost , and see my composting toilet (I went to a Garden Potty).

We had almost two inches of rain on Thursday night.  In San Diego we rarely receive the long soaking rains that we really need.  Instead we must be ready for flash floods.  If you are familiar with Finch Frolic and the labors we’ve been undertaking in the last two years to hold the rainwater, then you may be curious to find out how the property survived this last middle-of-the-night flooding and hailstorms.  If you remember, not only is there the water flowing off the roof and falling onto the watershed property, but also an unmeasurable amount that is purposely channelled runoff from all the neighbor’s properties that runs through mine.

All basins full!

All basins full!

Since the permaculture project was installed I haven’t had any of the erosion that plagued the site.  As of last year I’m pretty sure that every drop that falls on my property is caught, in rain catchment basins, the ponds, and in the loam and compost in the guilds.  The challenge was to also keep all the neighbor’s water on my property as well!  I’m thrilled to say that we almost did it!

There is a new bog area being designed by Jacob Hatch just above the big pond.

The new bog area

The new bog area

This area had been designed to channel overflow water from the rain catchment streams around the pond and down a black tube to the stream bed below.  Greedy me wants all that water!  With the creation of another silt basin, and now that there is vegetation in the stream to hold onto the silt, I’ve made the water now flow directly into the big pond.  There are planned overflows from the big pond, and water did overflow where it was supposed to.

The big pond was filled to capacity, making the duck house do a sinking ship impression because of the length of the rope attached to the anchor wasn't long enough.

The big pond was filled to capacity, making the duck house do a sinking ship impression because of the length of the rope attached to the anchor wasn’t long enough.

The first rain catchement basin was enlarged a lot so as to catch water higher on the property.

The first catchment basin was deepened

The first catchment basin was deepened

There is decomposed gravel in that one so the water perculates quickly, thank goodness, as most of the other basins hold water due to the clay composition of the soil.

Water following the basins.

Water following the basins.

Also, a rain catchement basin was created along the top of the cement channel that normally funnels water off the property.

New basin, empty

New basin, empty

A series of these will be created all along the channel, allowing water to slow, gather and perculate along the length of the property, with  no outlet at the end.



This will take some of the flow pressure off of the water diverted down into the main series of basins.

The only area breached was actually due to a gopher hole whose origin  must be in the stream.  I could tell by the swirls in the mulch where the erosion happened.

Swirls tell of a breach.

Swirls tell of a breach.

There is also the slight problem of water flowing down my own driveway and then down the trail.

Water funneled down my driveway.

Water funneled down my driveway.

I think a small hugelkultur bed might slove that problem.

The verdict?  Almost all the water was retained on the property,even that of the neighbor’s!  A few tweaks and we are well on our way to total rainwater dominance!  Mwwahahahahahahaha!




Southern California Permaculture Convergence! Be there!

Southern California Permaculture Convergence

If you are interested in any aspect of permaculture, such as organic gardening, herbs, planting native plants, aquaponics, natural ponds, beekeeping, keeping chickens, and so much more, then you must come to the Southern California Permaculture Convergence.  It happens on March 9th and 10th at the Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido.  The keynote speaker will be Paul Wheaton, lecturer and permaculturalist extraordinaire of fame. Oh, and I’ll be one of the many speakers as well (cough cough).  The Early Bird special of only $50 for both days ends at the end of January, and then the price will rise, so buy your tickets now!

Also, for a full-on demonstration of taking bare land and creating a permaculture garden, there will be a three-day intensive class taught by Paul Wheaton on site the three days prior to the Convergence.

You can read about the convergence here at the official website, which will give you the link where you may purchase tickets.  Also visit the SD Permaculture Meetup page to see all the free workshops that happen monthly all over San Diego.

This convergence is such a deal, you really shouldn’t miss it!  And such a bargain, too.  One of the best things I find that come out of these convergences is the exchange of ideas and networking among the attendees, and all the practical information you can take home and use right away.  One of the largest parts of permaculture is building community, which means sharing with and assisting others.

Really.  Don’t miss this!  Tell your friends!

I Went to a Garden Potty (adventures with a composting toilet)

A very pretty outhouse!

I asked Roger Boddaert to have his men build a simple composting toilet out of the scraps of wood left over from my sheds.  This is what he came up with!  It is a gorgeous little building painted to match the sheds.  Wood features stand out decoratively, and two cloud-shaped windows covered with trellis adorn the sides.  Good for ventilation and for watching birds on the pond!

Inside there is a $5 toilet seat on a bench that conceals a bucket.

Inside is a raised seat that conceals a bucket underneath.  The least expensive toilet seat I could find is attached to smoothed wood.  Above the seat Roger attached a shelf with flower pots.  I stashed the organic cleaner bottle and extra toilet paper behind some cut status flowers.

In the back you can see the bucket placed high enough to prevent accidents.

Underneath is a Home Depot bucket, with the lid close at hand.  I had to make it stand taller by shoving boards underneath so that there weren’t any room for mistakes.

The way a composting toilet works, is that you do your business, including the toilet paper, and then add a scoop of organic material to the bucket equal to what you had put in there.  That’s it.  The organic material can be sawdust, wood shavings for pet bedding, compost, etc.  As long as it is easily scoopable.

When the bucket is full, you put the lid on and store it for a year.  Or you can dig a deep hole, dump the bucket in, cover it up and mark it, and in a year plant on it or use it otherwise.  I don’t have the exact science for this, but within a year all those microbes will consume the humanure and neutralize all the stuff that is in there that could be harmful, such as medicines.  Very simple, very clean, very useful.

Composting toilets – the ones that look like real toilets – are tremendously expensive and not that efficient.  What a waste of money!  The bucket system is amazingly efficient.  I have visited several, one a private one and the others at Audubon preserves.  There are no flies, no smells.  My outhouse was used a lot during the Garden Tour last Saturday, and I peeked in there today to check.  Smells great!  No flies.

The outhouses at the Audubon centers have the same system, but on a larger scale for more visitors.  Instead of a bucket there is a wheeled compost bin underneath.  One in rainy Oregon was a solar composting toilet, where part of the bin was under the toilet seat, and the rest under clear corrugated plastic roofing that amplified the ambient light and helped ‘cook’ the compost.  The waste in the bin was stirred around frequently with the compost so that it could cook better.  Still no smell, no mess.

Simple solutions are there for everything, and through studying permaculture and seeing what works for other people is very enlightening.  The answer rarely has to be expensive.  And, as is my new outhouse, it can be fun, too.