Take on one project this year that will help improve the earth. Just one. If you can manage more, fantastic. However make sure that you are fully mindful of all aspects of your project so that is it done as well as it can be.
For instance, decide to use greywater. If you can physically and legally connect your household non-toilet water pipes to a water composting system and use it to irrigate plants, then do so. If piping is impossible, then hand-carry the dishwater, shower water, bath water and cooking water out and dump it on your plants as often as you can. Make a smoothie for yourself, then clean the blender by filling it with water, blending it, and pouring that nutrient-rich residual around your plants. Yet that is not enough. Use environmentally friendly soaps. Be aware of the plastic content and chemical treatments for fireproofing or insecticide of the clothes you are washing. Plastic is in synthetic fleece, in microdermal skin treatments, in polyester bedding. You don’t have to not use greywater if you are washing synthetic fabric, but you should be mindful of what you buying. Avoid microbeads. Avoid glitter and mosquito-proofed outerwear. Choose your purchases with open eyes, thereby reducing your usage of these toxins. Build good soil to help clean the toxins from the water.
Compost. At the very least, use blender compost. That means, take a handful of soft kitchen scraps, put them into a blender, fill with water, process, and pour the very liquidy mixture around your plants. Don’t throw away any food scraps, egg shells, leftovers, sour milk, moldy refrigerator mysteries, paper towels, tissues, paper napkins, cotton Q-tips, cotton balls, cotton dental floss, hair, or anything biodegradable. If you can’t blend it up and pour it onto the earth as fertilizer, then dig a small hole and bury it, or make a pile and compost it, or layer it in a raised bed or in a lasagna garden. What leaves your house in the form of trash should only be recyclables and undecompostable items. Your garbage disposal should be rarely used if ever. Put this raw fertilizer into the ground, not into the dump. Be mindful of what you are buying and whether it can be composted or not.
Plant trees. If you are in an area with too much rainfall, you need the trees to take up the water, hold the soil and buffer the onslaught of the weather. If you are in a dry area you need trees to shade the ground, to capture ambient moisture and rain it down, to cover the hard earth with leaves. All areas need perches for animals. All areas need the oxygen supplied by the trees converting carbon dioxide gasses. All areas need reforestation with natives that thrive in indiginous locations. Be mindful of what kind of landscape you are planting. If you choose non-native trees that offer no food for animals and harm the native flora, then you are not helping. In San Diego, if you plant eucalyptus, ficus, Washingtonia palm trees, Brazilian or California peppers (not from California, but Peru), or many of the sterile fruitless versions of ornamental trees, you are taking away from the landscape rather than adding to it. I can’t begin to count how many neighborhoods I’ve been in with old plantings of ornamental plants and trees, and the area is so sterile of animals that they are like wastelands. Only survivor crows and sparrows (and loose cats) can be seen. Instead, areas with native trees are rich in many species of birds, and the insect population is under control as well. Water use is low, pollinator habitat is high, and the neighborhood feels alive and well, especially if the cats are safely tucking inside where they belong, as mine are.
Recycle. I am constantly stunned to see recyclable bottles and cans thrown into regular waste. The percentage of what is recycled that actually processed is low, too. So choose glass over plastic. We bought camping utensil sets to carry with us, refuse straws, and this year I’ll work on bringing containers for leftovers when we eat out rather than take a clamshell plastic container or Styrofoam one. I already wrap banana peels, leftover pastries, apple cores, and whatever is biodegradable in a paper napkin, bring it home and compost it. If you have a plastic water bottle, soda can, glass bottle, or anything recyclable, please put it in the appropriate container. Recycling has been around since I was a schoolgirl, and I can’t believe everyone still doesn’t do it.
Switch makeup. My daughter is particularly good at finding vegan, Fair Trade and non-GMO skin care products for reasonable prices. Neither of us use many cosmetics, but the lip and cheek color, eye color and moisturizers we use, as well as our daily soaps, are ethically and environmentally sourced. Why rub harsh chemicals into your eyes and mouth? The choices grow every day, and the prices lower all the time. Do your homework. Be mindful of what you pick up in the store. Remember that what you put on your skin is also washed down the sink and into the water table, or into your greywater. Support the businesses who have ethical business practices. This goes for men, too. Shaving cream, after shaves, toner, scent, hair products, etc. Your skin will be healthier for the change.
Shop local. Pick one or two local businesses that you know practice sustainable, ethical and conscientious business practices, who give back to their community, and give them all of your support. Buy from them, advertise for them, befriend them, give them moral support. Rate them highly on Yelp, Google, or other rating systems. Watch out for them to be sure that they can succeed. Work for them if possible. Adopt them so that they have success.
Go animal and dairy free at least one day a week. I cannot go into the scope of the damage to the environment and the horror of the treatment of food animals here. Dare yourself to find out for yourself. Read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Find out what happens to cows and their calves in dairies, and the heartbreaking lowing of the cows -always kept pregnant to produce milk- as their young are hauled shrieking away to be slaughtered for veal. If you think that fish and shellfish somehow have no nerves or instincts, then think again. Lobsters who are by nature competitive being held in freshwater tanks, their claws bound, among their competition, starved, and then boiled alive. If you shrug and turn away from the suffering from others, then perhaps you should analyze your food sources more. You condone practices if you support them with your wallet. So set aside a meatless and dairy-free day once a week. If the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The UN has said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from the worst effects of climate change because of the heavy environmental impact of raising livestock. Not to mention the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet; diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and so much more is rooted in diet. Make a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Wednesday, or whatever, and avoid pouring cheese sauce all over some steamed veggies and calling it a good meal. Have a curry, a Turkish Eggplant Stew, a dairy free mushroom stroganoff, spring rolls, veggie lasagna, heavenly steamed eggplant, a portobello sandwich, stir-fry, bean and avocado burritos, try some non-GMO meat substitutes like those from Gardein (particularly their fish!) (no product placement, just a recommendation), or make your own seitan. Make your own vegan butter. Let your body and the environment have a break for a day.
Help Out. Choose a local charity, or a needy neighbor, and provide what they need. Don’t just give them what you want to get rid of , or what you think they should have. Often people just need reassurance or a friend to talk to, or possible solutions, or a hand for a day. Donate what your charity needs, and if that is money then do it. Help with a fundraiser. Volunteer your time. Do something to truly help someone else out, without asking for praise or cosmic bonus points in return. Don’t be a pain; be a blessing. Volunteering and helping out make you feel worthwhile and surrounds you with like-minded people who can become your friends.
I have found many of my closest friends through volunteering. Be aware of large, nation- or world-wide charities who use most of your donations for salaries and infrastructure, and very little on what they are supposed to be supporting. Don’t let the big names fool you. Use your money to help honest charities in your area, or by just sending money to people who need it, anonymously.
Whatever you choose to do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the details, to where products come from, to the business practices of the charities and stores you support, to how animals and people are treated in the making of the products, of what is in what you handle every day. You don’t have to, nor can you, take on the world’s problems, but you can focus on one thing and stick with it; make it part of your day-to-day until it is habit. Then move to a second choice. What you do, what you buy, what you say and how you spend your time cause ripples across the earth, and being mindful of your influence will send out help rather than harm.
Happy New Year. Be healthy. Be kind. Be happy. You matter.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org . More information can be found at www.vegetariat.com. You’ll love what you learn!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and directions.
You will not want to miss this fascinating and useful information!
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!
There is a fantastic, information-packed permaculture convergence coming up at the beautiful Sky Mountain Institute in Escondido. It will be two days packed with great information for a very reasonable price; in fact, scholarships are available. Check out the website at email@example.com. 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!
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.
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.
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 first rain catchement basin was enlarged a lot so as to catch water higher on the property.
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.
Also, a rain catchement basin was created along the top of the cement channel that normally funnels water off the property.
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.
There is also the slight problem of water flowing down my own driveway and then down the trail.
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!
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 www.permies.com 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 perm.eventbrite.com 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 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 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.
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.