Jackfruit: The Largest Fruit in the World

img_0377I’d heard a lot about vegetarians using unripe jackfruit in the place of pulled pork because it can have the same texture. I had looked for canned jackfruit to no avail until a friend on Facebook (that most reliable of news sources) wrote that they had seen fresh jackfruit at 88 Ranch market in Temecula, a neighboring town.

Off Miranda and I went. Not only did we find amazing and wonderful produce and mushrooms there, but we found the jackfruit.img_0369 Jackfruit are the largest fruit in the world and are produced on the largest fruit-bearing tree in the world. The fruit can weigh 80 or more pounds. The more manageable one we purchased was a mere fifteen pounds.

img_0380Jackfruit has latex in its core and stem, so butchering one (does one simply slice something that large?) requires some planning.  We did it outside. img_0369Following Internet advice (which is always true and sound) (at least in this case it was) we spread out plastic with newspaper on top, covered our knife handles with plastic wrap, and used nitrile gloves. What I forgot to do was coat the knife blades with oil, but it all worked out okay.

img_0374Indeed, the inside was amazing.  The core in the center of the fruit did weep white latex which we wiped away. This fruit was ripe, although the bumpy outside had been green.img_0381 The scent was tropical and enticing. The fruit is actually the fleshy sections that surround the large seeds. This we tore out with our fingers. img_0382It was firm and yet soft, not mushy, and a light apricot color. The seeds are edible too. img_0396 We boiled a batch, then had to slip off their protective coating then pan-roasted them, and they tasted like baked potatoes with the skin still on.  img_0395We roasted more in the oven and they didn’t taste so great, but I think that was my fault not theirs.img_0392 I planted several, and one sprouted and is now in the greenhouse about two inches tall and wondering how far he fell from the tree.

img_0379The ripe fruit has a flavor that is both mango and pineapple. It is SO GOOD.  As it wasn’t goopy or full of juice, the fruit was easy to deal with. We lay most of it on cookie sheets, froze them and them put them in freezer bags. The frozen pieces taste like mango popsicles, and the fruit thaws without much change in texture; I brought some along for snacks on a trip. img_0390

The part that is used for pulled pork is the fleshy parts that weren’t pollinated and didn’t develop a seed. They can be cut out and marinated. As this fruit had ripened, these parts had a bit of a fruity flavor to them, but we used it anyway.

Clean up wasn’t as bad as we had thought. Throughout the process we had to switch gloves because the latex would make the fruit stick to them. The knife blades cleaned up after soaking in boiling hot water.

We also bought the canned fresh and unripe fruit, but haven’t tried them yet.

Jackfruit is mostly grown in Asia, but also has popped up in South America and even Southern California and Florida.

When jackfruit come back to the store, and the weather is warm, it will be a fine day for another butchering.  Or I can wait for a decade for my little jackfruit sprout to grow up and shade out part of the Finch Frolic food forest and produce monster fruit. Until then we have really superb jackfruit pieces frozen on which to nibble.

2016 Marketplace and Last Tours of the Year

Our Marketplace is extended to Sunday, Nov. 20th, 9 – 2!

img_0524At Finch Frolic we’ve come to celebrate the end of our season with a Marketplace. This year our Marketplace will happen one day only, this Sat. Nov. 19th from 8-3.  Finch Frolic is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.  We’ll be selling our abundance. Here’s some of the goodies you’ll find:

Tiny Cocktail Mouse Melons (cucumbers… so cute!)

Amazing, milk-free Passionfruit Curd

Incredible tropical Guava Jam

Pickled Garlic

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Whiskey Cranberry Relishimg_0506

Nectarine Amaretto Jam

Tangy Plum Jam

Our very best dill Picklesimg_0517

Jelly Palm Jelly img_0500

Spicy Jalapeno Carrotsimg_0519

Hand-grated, homegrown organic Horseradish Sauceimg_0529

Guava Halves in Simple Syrup

Guava Paste squares – eat as is or put them in baked goods, or pair with slices of cheese. Ummm!img_0537

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Frozen Passionfruit Juice cubes

Our famous Pomegranate Gelato

Frozen Pomegranate Arils, all ready to sprinkle on your baked goods or mix in a salad or stuffing.

Clear, amazing Guava Jelly

Frozen Plum, Guava and Peach slices

Frozen strained cooked organic home-grown pumpkin, all ready for a pie or bread!

Our best-selling Cranberry Biscotti

Gingerbread Houses. Pair them with our Passionfruit Curd for a memorable dessert!

Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Poundcakes. Small amazing tropical bundles of yum.

Guava Sauce, like applesauce but guava. Very low sugar!

Fresh Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) roots. Cook them or plant them!

Layered Curry Mix – a sensual trip to the Middle East, either layered in cute little jars for a gift or in bags for use at home. Make a curry with these organic spices!

Lime Juice Cubes

Candied Orange Peels. From our organic oranges. A much better stocking stuffer than hard candy. Or top your baked goods with a twist.

Fresh, fragrant guavas, both white and pinkimg_0541

Fresh kiwanos, those thorny African fruit that sell for a fortune at the stores.

And more!

Plus, we’ll be selling some knick-knacks, and a few garage sale items . A punching bag anyone?

PLUS, we’ll have a selection of native plants lovingly grown locally.

And we’ll have amazing succulents from our neighbor Rosa of Roja’s Succulents. You’ll pass by her business on the way in, so please stop by on the way out and see her incredible inventory of plants, all organically hand-grown by Rosa. I never loved succulents until I saw her collection, and her very low prices!

Except for the gelato, we’re dairy (milk) free this year. We use organic eggs from cage-free hens, and otherwise use vegan butter that I make at home which is coconut-oil and rice milk based.

Our last two tours of the year (the garden closes from Thanksgiving until March 1.  We will still be available for consultations and appearances) will be this weekend, Nov. 19th and 20th, both at 10. [UPDATE: THE SATURDAY TOUR IS FULL. THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR THE SUNDAY TOUR]. The tours are our usual 2-hour concentrated Intro to Permaculture walks through the garden. The tours cost $15/adult and you will come away with so many ideas and so much information that you’ll spend the next week working in your garden! Please RSVP for the tours to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.

Your continued support helps Miranda and I keep our consultation and tour prices low, and enables us to keep teaching and spreading the word on permaculture. So thank you!

Adventures with Fruit: Pindo (Jelly) Palms

pindopalmEvaluating the usefulness of the plants in your yard is a big part of permaculture; once you understand what each plant does, you will know if it is useful either to you, to wildlife or to the environment, or if it is causing harm. There are many food-producing plants that we think of as weeds or as ornamentals. Always, always, always be sure before you pop something in your mouth. So by identifying your plants you can add to your diet, and if something is already successfully growing in your yard and you can use it, fantastic!

palm-pindo-1You’ve probably walked past them, or even looked askance at the dropped fruit without realizing. Also called Jelly Palms, the pindo palm is a common landscape tree for drought-tolerant hot areas.  The fronds look very pokey, but are rather soft.  That is a relief because once you’ve tasted the ripe fruit you’ll be thrashing through the fronds trying to pick more of them.

Pindo palms (Butia capitata) are called Jelly Palms because the fruit has a lot of pectin in them. The trees are also called Wine Palms because you can make a cloudy wine from the fruit.  But then, mankind has proven that you can make alcoholic beverages from just about anything.

The fruit is  small and fiberous with a big seed, and falls to the ground when very ripe. They taste amazing. The burst of flavor is as if a pineapple and an apricot had a little yellowish baby. The best way to eat them is to gently chew the whole thing and swallow the juice, then spit out the fiber and seed.

We have two jelly palms at Finch Frolic Garden, only because they didn’t have identification we didn’t really know what they were. At the beginning of this year Miranda and I were evaluating the garden plants using the Three Positives rule (where everything in the garden has to give you three positive things. If it doesn’t, then it should be turned into hugelkultur or mulch). Several trees were repurposed and we were eyeing the palms.  These palms are squat and short, not slim and tall like the very similar Queen palms. Fortunately for them, and as it turned out, for us, the trunks were too thick for my small chainsaw so we didn’t remove them with the others.  This threat seemed to work because they set fruit on long stalks.  We hesitantly tried one… and then just about ran each other over trying to get more!

Queen palms also produce an edible fruit that is sweeter, but is only edible when very ripe.

The fallen ripe fruit can attract bees and wasps because, well, everyone wants some.  We waited until the stalks were just about completely ripe then cut them off and left them in a paper bag. The fruit then ripened and dropped off in the house where we could have them all.

Most of what I know about the Pindo Palm comes from the website Eat the Weeds by Greene Deane.

We cleaned them and froze them.  Now we’re making Pindo Palm Jelly.  Or maybe Jelly Palm Jelly, which sounds better.

img_0495Freezing and thawing the fruit actually helps break down some of the fiber and release juices, and makes them much easier to pit.  The pits are high in oil, so advice for cooking the fruit whole says the jelly can pick up bitter flavor from the seeds. We sat with trays laden with cutting boards, a knife and bowls and pitted them.  Yes, this is how we spend our evenings when I’m not out dancing, processing fruit and watching a movie or reruns of the Bob Newhart show or something. Yep.

The thawed fruit was easy to push away from the seed, so the process went very quickly although our fingers were pretty cold from the fruit.

We covered the pitted fruit with water and cooked it for about an hour, then strained out the fruit. There isn’t a lot of pulp because of all the fiber.  img_0499We used the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s recipe which used a lot of sugar, but the juice is so tart that  it needed it.

What we got was a beautiful jelly that,despite the natural and added pectin was fairly loose. The benefit was that it can be used as a syrup as well.  While the flavor of the jelly isn’t quite as astonishing as the fresh fruit, the tart tropical flavor is very good.img_0500

So walk around your weeds and trees and identify them, read up on them, and perhaps you can find a treasure in your yard as we have!

(We’ll be selling Jelly Palm Jelly at our annual Marketplace here at Finch Frolic Garden on Sat. Nov. 19th, 2016)

 

 

Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture

3-26-13 009When set in motion the many parts of a plant guild  will create a self-sustaining cycle of nutrition and water.  By understanding the guild template and what plants fit where, we can plug in plants that fulfill those roles and also provide for us food, building materials, fuel and medicine as well as beauty.

Plant the appropriate plants for where you are placing them, for your soil and water use, and stack them in a guild with compatible plants that you can use.  The ground will be covered by a foliar density that will keep grasses and other weeds at bay and provide excellent habitat for a full range of animals and insects.  By stacking plants in a guild you are bringing life and abundance back to your garden.

Does it still sound so complicated?  Rather than try to learn the roles of all the plants in the world, start small.  Make a list of all the plants you want to plant.  List them under food bearing, culinary/medicinal herb, craft/building material, and ornamental.  Then read up on those plants.  What size are they at maturity?  Do they need full sun, partial or full shade?  If trees, do they have an upright growth so you may plant under them (stonefruit), or do they like to have their roots covered and don’t like plants directly under them (citrus and avocado)?

Citrus doesn't like plants under its canopy, but does like plants outside its dripline.

Citrus doesn’t like plants under its canopy, but does like plants outside its dripline.

Are they annuals, perennials or biennials? What is their growth habit: sprawling, rooting where they spread, upright bushy, do they need support and can they cling or do they need to be tied to a support?

Will the plant twine on its own?

Will the plant twine on its own?

Do they require digging up to harvest?  Do they fix nitrogen in the soil?  Do they drop leaves or are they evergreen?  Are they fragrant?  When are their bloom times?  Fruiting times?  Are they cold tolerant or do they need chill hours?  How much water do they need?  What are their companion plants (there are many guides for this online, or in books on companion planting.)

Do vines or canes need to be tied to supports?

Do vines or canes need to be tied to supports?

As you are acquainting yourself with your plants, you can add to their categorization, and shift them into the parts of a plant guild.  Yes, many plants will be under more than one category… great!  Fit them into the template under only one category, because diversity in the guild is very important.

Draw your guilds with their plants identified out on paper  before you begin to purchase plants.  Decide where the best location for each is on your  property.  Tropical plants that are thirsty and don’t have cold tolerance should go in well-draining areas towards the top or middle of your property where they can be easily watered.  Plants that need or can tolerate a chill should go where the cold will settle.

Once it is on paper, then start planting.  You don’t have to plant all the guilds at once… do it as you have time and money for it.  Trees should come first.  Bury wood to nutrify the soil in your beds, and don’t forget to sheet mulch.

Remember that in permaculture, a garden is 99% design and 1% labor.  If you think buying the plants first and getting them in the ground without planning is going to save you time and money, think again.  You are gambling, and will be disappointed.

Have fun with your plant guilds, and see how miraculous these combinations of plants work.  When you go hiking, look at how undisturbed native plants grow and try to identify their components in nature’s plant guild.  Guilds are really the only way to grow without chemicals, inexpensively and in a way that builds soil and habitat.

You can find the rest of the 9-part Plant Guild series here: Plant Guilds: What are they and how do they work? The first in a series. , Plant Guild #2: Canopy , 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 #7: Vines

Our varieties of squash several years ago.

Our varieties of squash several years ago.

You may think that vines and groundcover plants are pretty interchangeable, and they can share a similar role.  However, as we covered in the Plant Guild #6: Groundcovers these plants do not have to vine, but just cover large spaces close to the ground and coming from a single trunk or stem.

Sweet potatoes and yams make fantastic ground covers. The leaves are edible. Some root in one place, and some spread tubers over a larger area, so choose what is appropriate for digging up your harvest in your guild. They will die of frost.

Sweet potatoes and yams make fantastic ground covers. The leaves are edible. Some root in one place, and some spread tubers over a larger area, so choose what is appropriate for digging up your harvest in your guild. They will die of frost.

Vines can be large and heavy, small and delicate, perennial or annual.  In a food plant guild vines are often food-bearing, such as squash.  If you recall the legendary Three Sisters of planting – corn, beans and squash – there are two vines at work here.  The corn forms a trellis for the light and grabby bean plant to climb upon (the bean fixing nitrogen in the soil as well as attracting pollinators with its flowers).  The squash forms a low canopy all around the planted area.  The big leaves keep moisture in, soften the raindrops to prevent erosion and deoxygenation, drop leaves to fertilize the soil, provide a large food crop, and attract larger pollinators.  Even more than that, the squash protects the corn from raccoons.  These masked thieves can destroy an entire backyard corn crop in a night, just when the corn is ripe.  However, they don’t like walking where they can’t see the ground, so the dense squash groundcover helps keep them away.

Pipian from Tuxpan squash supported by a plum and a pepper tree.

Pipian from Tuxpan squash supported by a plum and a pepper tree.

Vines are very important to use on vertical space, especially on trees.  With global warming many areas  now have extremely hot to scorching sun, and for longer periods.  Intense sun will scorch bark on tender trees, especially young ones.  By growing annual vines up the trees you are helping shade the trunk while producing a crop, and if the vines are legumes you are also adding nitrogen fertilizer.

Can you spot the squash in the lime tree? It is crescent shaped and pale.

Can you spot the squash in the lime tree? It is crescent shaped and pale.

Be sure the weight of the mature vine isn’t more than the tree support can hold, or that the vine is so strong that it will wind its way around new growth and choke it.  Peas, beans and sweetpeas are wonderful for small and weaker trees.  When the vines die they can be added to the mulch around the base of the tree, and the tree will receive winter sunlight. When we plant trees, we pop a bunch of vining pea (cool weather) or bean (warm weather) seeds right around the trunk.  Larger, thicker trees can support tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and squash of various sizes, as well as gourds.  Think about how to pick what is up there!  We allowed a alcayota squash to grow up a sycamore to see what would happen, and there was a fifteen pound squash hanging twelve feet above the pathway until it came down in a heavy wind!

These zuchinno rampicante, an heirloom squash that can be eaten green or as a winter squash, form interesting shapes as they grow. These 'swans' seem to be watching Marina.

These zuchinno rampicante, an heirloom squash that can be eaten green or as a winter squash, form interesting shapes as they grow. These ‘swans’ and Marina are having a stare-off.

Nature uses vertical spaces for vines in mutually beneficial circumstances all the time, except for notable strangler vines.  For instance in Southern California we have a wild grape known as Roger’s Red which grows in the understory of California Live Oaks.  A few years ago there appeared in our local paper articles declaiming the vines, saying that everyone should cut them down because they were growing up and over the canopy of the oaks and killing them.  The real problem was that the oaks were ill due to water issues, or beetle, or compaction, and had been losing leaves.  The grape headed for the sun, of course, and spread around the top of the trees.  The overgrowth of the grape wasn’t the cause of the problem, but a symptom of a greater illness with the oaks.

Zucchini!

Zucchini!

Some vines are not only perennial, but very long-lived and should be placed where they’ll be happiest and do the most good.  Kiwi vines broaden their trunks over time and with support under their fruiting stems can be wonderful living shade structures.  A restaurant in Corvallis, Oregon has one such beauty on their back patio.  There is something wonderful about sitting in the protection of a living thing.

Wisteria chinensis is a nitrogen-fixer with edible flowers (and poisonous other parts), has stunning spring flowers and can make a nice deciduous vine to cover a canopy. It does spread vigorously, but can be trained into a standard.

Wisteria chinensis is a nitrogen-fixer with edible flowers (and poisonous other parts), has stunning spring flowers and can make a nice deciduous vine to cover a canopy. It does spread vigorously, but can be trained into a standard, and are fairly drought tolerant when mature.

Passionvines can grow up large trees where they can receive a lot of light.  Their fruit will drop to the ground when ripe.  The vines aren’t deciduous, so the tree would be one where the vine coverage won’t hurt the trunk.

Dragonfruit aren't exactly a vine, but they can be trained up a sturdy tree.

Dragonfruit aren’t exactly a vine, but they can be trained up a sturdy tree.

Vines such as hops will reroot and spread wherever they want, so consider this trait if you plant them.  Because the hops need hand harvesting and the vines grow very long, it is probably best to put them on a structure such as a fence so you can easily harvest them.

So consider vines as another important tool in your toolbox of plants that help make a community of plants succeed.

Next in the Plant Guild series, the last component, Insectiaries. 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 #2: Canopy , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-Fixers, Plant Guild #5: Mining Plants, Plant Guild #6: GroundcoversPlant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.

Plant Guild #6: Groundcover Plants

Artichokes are mining plants, but also have a low enough profile to be a groundcover plant. They make excellent chop-and-drop

Artichokes are mining plants, but also have a low enough profile to be a groundcover plant. They make excellent chop-and-drop. Flanking are lavender, scented geranium (left), and borage.

In most ecosystems that offer easy food for humans, the ground needs to be covered.  Layers of leaves, organic matter from animals (poo, fur, carcasses, meal remains, etc.) , dropped branches and twigs, fallen flowers and fruit, and whatever else gravity holds close to the earth, compost to create soil and retain water and protect the soil from erosion and compaction.  Areas that don’t have this compost layer are called deserts.  If you want to grow an assortment of food for humans, you have to start building soil. Even in desert communities where there are some food plants growing, such as edible cactus, mesquite beans, etc., there is biodiversity on a more microscopic scale than in old growth forests.  In deserts the soil needs to absorb what little rain there is and do it quickly before it evaporates, and plants have leaves adapted to have small leaf surfaces so as not to dry out, and there are few leaves to drop.  Whereas in areas where there are large forests the weather is usually wetter, tall plants and thick underbrush provide multiple layers of protection both on the plants and when they fall to layer the earth.

Nasturtium reseeds itself annually, is edible with a bite of hotness, detracts aphids from other plants, and is charming. Don't let it get away in natural areas, though.

Nasturtium reseeds itself annually, is edible with a bite of hotness, detracts aphids from other plants, and is charming. Don’t let it get away in natural areas, though.

A quick way to build soil in plant guilds is to design for plants that will cover the ground. This isn’t necessarily the same groundcover as you would use to cover embankments.  For instance, iceplant can be used in a pinch, but it really isn’t the best choice in most plant guilds unless you are in a very dry climate, and your plant guild is mostly desert-type plants: date palm, etc.  Annuals can be squash or other aggressive food-producing vines such as unstaked tomatoes.  However you don’t need to consider just ground-hugging plants; think sprawling shrubs.

Scented geraniums are a great 'placeholder plant'. These Pelargoniums (not true geraniums) come in a wide variety of fragrances. We've found bird nests in these!

Scented geraniums are a great ‘placeholder plant’. These Pelargoniums (not true geraniums) come in a wide variety of fragrances. We’ve found bird nests in these!

When guests tour through Finch Frolic Garden, they often desire the lush foresty-feel of it for their own properties, but have no idea how to make it happen.  This is where what I call ‘placeholder plants’ come in.  Sprawling, low-cost shrubs can quickly cover a lot of ground, protect the soil, attract insects, often be edible or medicinal, be habitat for many animals, often can be pruned heavily to harvest green mulch (chop-and-drop), often can be pruned for cuttings that can be rooted for new plants to use or to sell, and are usually very attractive. When its time to plant something more useful in that area, the groundcover plant can be harvested, used for mulch, buried, or divided up.  During the years that plant has been growing it has been building soil beneath it, protecting the ground from compaction from the rain.  There is leave mulch, droppings from lizards, frogs, birds, rabbits, rodents and other creatures fertilizing the soil.  The roots of the plant have been breaking through the dirt, releasing nutrients and developing microbial populations.  Some plants sprawl 15′ or more; some are very low-water-use.  All of this from one inexpensive plant.

Squash forms an annual groundcover around the base of this euphorbia.

Squash forms an annual groundcover around the base of this euphorbia.

Depending upon your watering, there are many plants that fit the bill, and most of them are usable herbs.  Scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), lavender, oregano, marjoram, culinary sage, prostrate rosemary, are several choices of many plants that will sprawl out from one central taproot.  Here in Southern California, natives such as Cleveland sage, quail bush (which harvests salt from the soil), and ceanothus (California lilac, a nitrogen-fixer as well), are a few choices. Usually the less water use the plant needs, the slower the growth and the less often you can chop-and-drop it.  With a little water, scented geraniums can cover 10 – 15 feet and you can use them for green mulch often, for rooted cuttings, for attracting insects, for medicine and flavoring, for cut greenery, for distillates if you make oils, etc.

Sweet potatoes make a great ground cover. Choose varieties that produce tubers directly under the plant rather than all along the stems so that you don't have to dig up your whole guild to harvest.

Sweet potatoes make a great ground cover. Choose varieties that produce tubers directly under the plant rather than all along the stems so that you don’t have to dig up your whole guild to harvest.

Groundcover plants shouldn’t be invasive.  If you are planting in a small guild, planting something spreading like mint is going to be troublesome.  If you are planting in larger guilds, then having something spreading in some areas, such as mint, is fine.  However mint and other invasives don’t sprawl, but produce greenery above rootstock, so they are actually occupying more space than those plants that have a central taproot and can protect soil under their stems and branches.  Here at Finch Frolic Garden, we have mint growing freely by the ponds, and in several pathways.  Its job is to crowd out weeds, build soil, and provide aromatherapy. I’d much rather step on mint than on Bermuda grass, and besides being a superb tea herb, the tiny flowers feed the very small bees, wasps and flies that go unsung in gardens in favor of our non-native honeybees (there are no native honeybees in North America).

Here’s a general planting tip: position plants with fragrant leaves and flowers near your pathways for brush-by fragrance.  You should have a dose of aromatherapy simply by walking your garden path.  Mints are energizing, lavenders calming, so maybe plan your herbs with the pathways you take in the morning and evening to correspond to what boost you need at that time.

Consider groundcover plants and shrubs that will give you good soil and often so much more.

Next up: Vining Plants.

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 #2: Canopy , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-Fixers, Plant Guild #5: Mining Plants,  Plant Guild #7: Vines,   Plant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.

What makes up a plant guild.

What makes up a plant guild.

 

Podcasts with Diane Kennedy

Two podcasts with me talking about permaculture, Finch Frolic Garden, and how you can save money and the world through gardening! 🙂 Please let me know what you think:

This is a podcast with Sheri Menelli of earthfriendlyhomeowner.com, where I talk pretty much without a pause for breath for about the first ten minutes.  Recorded in May, 2015.

Ep7: Interview with Diane Kennedy of Finch Frolic Gardens and Vegetariat.com

This is a podcast with Greg Peterson of Urban Farm Podcasts, released Jan. 7, 2016, and you can listen to it several ways:

Urban Farm U:  

Plant Guild #4: Nitrogen-fixing Plants

Photo credit USU

Photo credit USU

What is the first of the three chemicals in bagged NPK fertilizer?  Nitrogen.  Nitrogen is so important for the health of plants that isolated into a chemical, along with phosphorus and potassium, it can keep plants alive and active.  But as the human body becomes ill when it is just fed junk food each and every day, so will your plants when they can’t assimilate the other nutrients in the soil.

Again, in permaculture it is all about the microorganisms in the soil.  We provide food, water and shelter for them, and they open up the nutrients that are already in the soil on which the plants feed.  When you dump a lot of anything on the soil, its going to kill microbes.  Dumping bagged NPK fertilizer on the soil burns the creatures in the soil, just as if you poured acid on them.  They die, and it will be awhile before the irrigation and rains delutes those chunks of fertilizer enough so that microbes can again live in the soil surface, but by then its time to dump more chemicals on the ground.  The plant gets a high, but will never be able to adequately draw out the trace minerals it really needs to complete its diet, which soil microbes provide to it, because they are burned out of existence by the chemicals.

It would be pompous for us the believe that plants, which began about 450 million years ago on Earth, just fiddled around until their true keepers (humans) came along and evolved enough to produce chemical nitrogen to dump onto their roots.

photo credit www.bio.miami.edu

photo credit www.bio.miami.edu

In fact, there are many ways that nature gets nitrogen into the soil.  Lightning strikes, rainfall, cut greens, fresh poop, fallen ripe fruit, all help.  Most of all, there are soil bacteria which can transform atmospheric nitrogen into fixed nitrogen: inorganic compounds that are usable by plants.  More than 90% of nitrogen harvesting is done by these organisms.  There are non-symbiotic (free-living) bacteria called cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae), and there are symbiotic bacteria that form relationships with particular plants.  These symbiotic bacteria, namely rhizobium and Frankia, invade the root hairs of  select plants and create enlargements on the roots called nitrogen nodules.  This process sounds and looks similar to wasps stinging oak branches and creating galls; however, the frankia are helping the plant; symbiotic rather than parasitical.  Atmospheric nitrogen is inert, therefore unusable by the plant.  When the bacteria get their little hands into it, by changing it into ammonia and nitrogen dioxide the nitrogen is freed up to be used as the plant and the bacteria needs.  When the plant roots die, the nitrogen is released into the soil.  So, the plant, with the help of the bacteria, is sucking nitrogen out of the air, breaking it down and releasing it as a usable nutrient source in the soil.  Who needs chemical fertilizer?

Nitrogen-fixing Bacteria, Sem Photograph

Nitrogen-fixing Bacteria, Sem Photograph

Only certain plants still have the capability to join in this symbiotic relationships; some families have just a few species that can do it, and it is unknown if they developed the talent, or if the rest of the family eventually lost the talent.  Legumes and all members of the Fabaceae family is the most commonly known and used nitrogen fixing family.  Peas, beans, cowpeas, and clover are all commonly used cover crops.  When mowed they produce both green mulch and release nitrogen into the soil.  However, there are many shrubs and trees that are also nitrogen fixers.  California Redbud tree, mesquite, mountain mahoganies, alders, ceanothus (California lilac), sea buckthorn, bayberries, cassia, acacias, lupines, and many more.  There are also riparian plants such as azola, gunnera,  some lichen and cycads which fix nitrogen with cyanobacteria.

California redbud trees offer beautiful spring flowers which are edible, lovely fall color, and are nitrogen-fixers as well!

California redbud trees offer beautiful spring flowers which are edible, lovely fall color, and are nitrogen-fixers as well!

In fact, 40-60% of native plants are nitrogen fixers. When you are planning your garden, your vegetable beds, your native Zone 5, and especially your orchards, you should be incorporating that percentage of nitrogen fixers into your design.  Many of these can be mowed as cover crops, or used as quick-growing nursery plants, as canopy, or as chop-and-drop.

Chop-and-drop is when you grow your own fertilizer around your crop plants, and instead of purchasing and distributing fertilizer, a couple of times a year you take out a hand scythe and quickly cut back the nitrogen-fixing plants, scattering the tops around your food plants as mulch.  When the top of the nitrogen-fixing plant is severely cut, the plant doesn’t need as much root base so it allows some to die, which distributes nitrogen into the soil.  A double-whammy for your soil, and a small, easy and satisfying workout for you.  Shazam.

Very important: when planting nitrogen-fixing plants there has to be the compatible bacterium in your soil for the whole thing to work.  Purchasing inoculated seed for the first sowing on new planting areas is very important. As different bacteria react with different plants, study up some to make sure you are buying the right stuff if you are going to inoculate seed yourself. Then make sure that you are providing those tender bacteria with food, water and shelter – habitat – so that they can live and prosper. And what is the best habitat for soil microbes around food producing plants? Yep, mulch.  Sheet mulch especially, and several inches of chopped leaves best of all.

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 #2: Canopy , Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy , Plant Guild #5: Mining Plants, Plant Guild #6: Groundcovers, Plant Guild #7: Vines,   Plant Guild #8: Insectiaries, Plant Guild #9: The Whole Picture.

Plant Guild #3: Sub-Canopy!

The many layers of a food forest. Yours doesn't have to be this rampant and wild; your plant guilds can look perfectly proportioned and decorative and still be permaculture.

The many layers of a food forest, Finch Frolic Garden.  Yours doesn’t have to be this rampant and wild; your plant guilds can look perfectly proportioned and decorative and still be permaculture.

The next part of this scintillating series of What Is A Plant Guild focuses on sub-canopy, or the understory.  Sub-canopy does many of the same things that upper canopy does, in a more intensive way.

Smaller trees are ‘nurseried’ in with the help of faster-growing canopy trees; in other words, the upper canopy helps shade and protect the sub-canopy from scorching sun, high winds, pounding hard rain and hail, etc.  However, sub-canopy trees can also be made of the slower, longer-lived canopy trees that will eventually dominate the plant guild/forest.  I’ve talked about how, if an area of forest was wiped clear and roped off, in a hundred years the beginnings of a hardwood forest will have begun.  This is due to succession plants making the soil ready for the next.  Each plant has a purpose.  This phrase is an essential mantra in permaculture because it lets you understand what the plants are doing and then you can let them do it.  So if you planted a fast-growing soft wood canopy tree, maybe even one that is a nitrogen-fixer, such as ice cream bean, or acacia, with a sub-canopy trees that include both something that is going to stay relatively small such as a semi-dwarf fruit tree, along with a slower growing, hardwood tree such as an oak which will eventually become the true canopy tree years down the line, then the original softwood tree would eventually be sacrificed and used as mulch and hugelkultur after the hardwood tree had gained enough height.  Wow, that was a long sentence.  At first that hardwood tree would be part of the sub-canopy until it grows up.  Meanwhile there are other true sub-canopy trees that stay in that height zone for their life.

What makes up a plant guild.

What makes up a plant guild.

Remember, too, that plant guilds are relative in size.  If you have a small backyard you may not have room for a tall canopy tree, especially if it is detrimental to the rest of the property.  So scale the whole guild down.  Canopy for you could be a dwarf fruit tree, and sub-canopy could be blueberry bushes.  In a vegetable setting the canopy could be corn or Jerusalem artichokes, where you either leave the dead canes up overwinter (a great idea to help the birds), or chop and drop them to protect the soil, which mimics the heavy leaf drop from a deciduous tree.  The plant guild template is the same; the dimensions change with your needs and circumstance.

So sub-canopy buffers sunlight coming in from an angle.

It receives rain from the upper canopy further slowing it down and shattering the droplets so that it doesn’t pound the earth.  The lower branches also help catch more fog, allowing it to precipitate and drip down as irrigation.  Leaves act as drip irrigation, gathering ambient moisture, condensing it, helping clean it, and dripping it down around the ‘drip line’ of the trees, just where the tree needs it.

An oak working a temp job as sub-canopy until it grows into canopy, being a support for climbing roses and nitrogen-fixing wisteria.

An oak working a temp job as sub-canopy until it grows into canopy, being a support for climbing roses and nitrogen-fixing wisteria.  This is the formal entrance to Finch Frolic Garden.

With its sheltering canopy it holds humidity closer to the ground.  In the previous post I talked about the importance of humidity in dry climates for keeping pollen hydrated and viable.

It further helps calm and cool winds, and buffers frost and snow damage.  Sub-canopy gives a wide variety of animals the conditions for habitat: food, water, shelter and a place to breed.  While the larger birds, mostly raptors, occupy the upper canopy, the mid-sized birds occupy the sub-canopy.  Depending upon where you live, a whole host of other animals live here too: monkeys, big snakes, leopards, a whole host of butterflies and other insects using the leaves as food and to form chrysalis, tree squirrels, etc.  Although many of these also can use canopy, it is the sub-canopy that provides better shelter, better materials for nesting, and most of the food supply.  And again, the more animals, the more organic materials (poop, fur, feathers, dinner remains) will fall to fertilize the soil.

Sub-canopy gives us humans a lot of food as well, for in a backyard plant guild this can be the smaller fruit trees and bushes.

Sub-canopy also provides more vertical space for vines to grow.  More vines mean more food supply that is off the ground.  A famous example of companion planting is the ‘three sisters’ Native American method… what tribe and where I’m not sure of… where corn is planted with climbing beans and vining squash.  The corn, as mentioned before, is the canopy, the beans use the corn as vertical space while also fixing nitrogen in the soil (we’ll discuss nitrogen fixers in another post), and the squash is a groundcover (also will be covered in another post).  There is more to the three sisters than you think.  Raccoons can take down a corn crop in a night; however, they don’t like to walk where they can’t see the ground, i.e. heavy vines, so the squash acts as a raccoon deterrent.  To stray even further off-topic, there is also a fourth sister which isn’t talked about much, and that is a plant that will attract insects.

Back to sub-canopy, while some of it can be long term food production trees or plants, it too can also have shorter chop-and-drop trees.  Chop-and-drop is a rather violent term given to the process of growing your own fertilizer.  Most of these trees and plants are also nitrogen fixers.  These fast-growing plants are regularly cut, and here is where the difference between pruning and chopping comes to bear, because you aren’t shaping and coddling these trees with pruning, you are quickly harvesting their soft branches and leaves to drop on the ground around your plant guild as mulch and long term fertilizer.  If these trees are also nitrogen fixers, then when you severely prune them the nitrogen nodules on the roots will be released in the soil as those roots die; the tree will adjust the extent of its roots to the size of its canopy because with less canopy it cannot provide enough nutrients for that many roots, and it doesn’t need that many roots to provide food for a smaller canopy.  Wow, another huge sentence.  In this system you are growing your own fertilizer, which is quickly harvested maybe only a couple of times a year.  Chemical-free.  So, by planting sub-canopy that is long term food producing trees such as apricots or apples, along with smaller trees and shrubs that are also sub-canopy but are sacrificial to be used as fertilizer such as senna or acacia or whatever grows well in your region, you have the most active and productive part of your plant guild.

Sub-canopy, therefore, provides shelter for hardwoods, provides a lot of food for humans as well as habitat for so many animals, it provides fertilizer both because of its natural leaf drop and because of those same animals living in it, but also as materials for chopping and dropping, it buffers sun, wind and rain, holds humidity, offers vertical space for food producing vines which will then be in reach for easier harvesting, and much more that I haven’t even observed yet but maybe you already have.

The next part of the series will focus on nitrogen-fixers!  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 #2: 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.

 

 

Our Annual Marketplace, and Last Tours of 2015

IMG_5608Our fourth-annual Finch Frolic Marketplace will take place Nov. 21 and 22nd from  9 – 2.  We’ve been working like little permaculture elves, harvesting, preparing fruit and vegetables, canning, baking, and inventing new recipes for your table and for gifts.  We have a curry spice mixture that is amazing.  Our record white guava harvest has allowed us to create sweet guava paste and incredible guava syrup.  We’ve pickled our garlic cloves, as well as zucchino rampicante, and our Yucatan Pickled Onions have a wonderful orange and oregano base that is fabulous.  Of course there is Miranda’s small-batch Pomegranate Gelato, Whiskey-Baked Cranberry Relish, and a selection of curds (passionfruit, lemon-lime, and cranberry).  So much more, too.  We’ll also be selling plants from several sources, and some collectibles and knick-knacks from my home.  Please come support a small business early – a whole week before Small Business Saturday!  Your patronage allows us to continue teaching permaculture.

Join us for a tour!

Join us for a tour!

Our last two Open Tours will also be held that weekend, each at 10 am.  The tours last about two hours and we should be having terrific weather for you to enjoy learning basic permaculture as we stroll through the food forest.  Please RSVP for the tours to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.  More about the tours can be found under the ‘tours’ page on this blog.

Finch Frolic Garden will be closing for the winter, from Thanksgiving through March 1.  However, Miranda and I will still be available for consultations, designs, lectures and workshops, and we will be adding posts to Vegetariat and Finch Frolic Facebook (you don’t need to be a member of Facebook to view our page!).

Have a very safe and very happy holiday season.  Care for your soil as you would your good friends and close family, with swales, sheet mulch and compost, and it will care for you for years.

Diane and Miranda