Thursday, December 27, 2018

Free Mini-class: Microclimates

with Klaudia von Gool

Excerpted from our double certificate design course.

Climate will vary more locally through human structures, topography, altitude, vegetation and water masses. This is called microclimate. By observing and analysing our microclimate we can design strategies to modify it.

Let's look at some of these factors in more detail.

Topography is the shape of the landscape and includes aspect and slope. Hills, mountains and valleys affect how wind moves through a landscape, as the wind moves around hills, speeds up near the top of hills, and funnels through valleys.

Aspect, the direction land faces, affects the amount of sunlight on a site. For example, a south facing site in the Northern Hemisphere will be a sunny site and can produce more biomass/vegetation.

Slope, the gradient or steepness in the land, will affect wind speed; this increases towards the top of a slope. Turbulence will be experienced just past the top of a slope. This is important information when situating wind turbines, as they work more efficiently without turbulence.

Cold air will sink and move down the slope. Accordingly, the slope will impact thermal zones, and a cold sink may occur just above structures or vegetation lower down the slope or in slightly depressed areas. In colder areas this can create a frost pocket.

Altitude. Temperature decreases with higher altitudes. We also find higher wind speeds and more moisture, because of rain or other precipitation at higher altitudes.

Studying existing vegetation can give us clues to rainfall, wind strength and direction and soil fertility. A way to discover the prevailing wind in our local landscape is by observing trees.

​This picture shows how the wind has shaped the trees, restricting growth on the side that the wind blows from, so that there's more growth on the other side.
Picture of a tree affected by the wind
As well as trees being affected by wind, trees themselves can also affect the wind in the landscape and other microclimate factors. For example, in temperate climates it is cooler and less windy in a forest while it's hot outside of it, as trees provide shade and a more moist microclimate and act as a windbreak. At night it stays warmer in a forest compared to out in the open, as the trees create shade from the wind and trap warmth. This does depend on the season and vegetation/leaf cover.

On a larger scale trees contribute to the creation of rain through evapotranspiration.


Urban environments create warmer microclimates through the "heat island effect," as concrete absorbs more heat than the surrounding countryside. In general it is warmer in the centre of a city.
The hard surface of buildings, roads and straight lines of streets also create a wind tunnel effect, where wind speeds up. Tall buildings can create wind turbulence. Buildings can create a rain shadow, so there is a drier and a wetter side.

Microclimate and niche.

​Microclimates are directly connected to ecological niches, where organisms occupy a space where they can thrive optimally. Creating, or being aware of having, a variety of microclimates, means you can have a wide variety of niches for more diverse planting, keeping animals, and thus increasing yields.
An illustrated picture of microclimates in a yard.
We can make modifications to a microclimate to reduce and direct wind flow, as wind has a growth limiting effect on vegetation. On a windy site, planting windbreaks and shelterbelts is one of the earliest modifications needed. These create more sheltered areas and can direct the flow of air, including cold air coming downhill. Using plants to reduce wind is more effective than solid structures, which create more turbulence. In addition, we can choose species for multiple functions, which again creates more yields.

We can modify our local climate or microclimate by adding water storage, which can modify temperature fluctuations. On a larger scale, we can introduce lakes or ponds to modify heat and to add light reflection. On a smaller scale, adding water storage inside a greenhouse or polytunnel will help buffer extremes of temperature.

In hot climates, planting trees and adding vegetation gives a cooling effect. This is as a result of shade and evaporation, which creates cooling.

​We can modify climate and microclimate through buildings, like adding a greenhouse. When we place a dwelling to the North of a greenhouse (in the Northern Hemisphere) we can make use of surplus heat and protect plants. We can paint walls white in darker, shadier areas to direct in more light and improve growth and ripening by reflecting light. Dark walls reduce frost risk by keeping warmer.  
Picture of an enclosed yard making a microclimate.
We can use thermal mass like rocks or stone walls to absorb heat and plant more tender plants close up to it. We can also use the cooler temperature of the Earth, whilst it’s warmer at the surface, to create a root cellar for food storage into the Earth, without energy based refrigeration.

In cooler climates, you can create sun traps. These designs are sun-facing and wind-still, creating shelter from cold and destructive winds by capturing maximum sunlight all day. In the Victorian era in the UK, walled gardens were built on large estates to create microclimates for tender crops. Fruit trees were trained up against the walls in fan or espalier shapes.

​Hot beds are created by placing small glass frames on top of piles of manure, which generated heat as they rotted down. This is a form of season extension.
Start making some notations on a basic sketch map of your design area. Notice how microclimates work with both intentional and unintentional design. Note other microclimate factors: buildings/structures, landform, altitude, aspect, slope, larger vegetation; sketch these onto your map.
Make a very basic notation of the microclimates with colours or symbols.

Note areas that are driest, wetter, windiest, most wind-sheltered, where it might be warmest in the morning and evening, and anywhere that would be cool all day.

What different needs and opportunities are associated with these microclimates?
Picture of a greenhouse microclimate.

This miniclass is excerpted from the Climates, Biogeography and Microclimates module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Klaudia von Gool.

Klaudia draws on over 20 years experience and study to express her lifelong passion for the environment through facilitating people care and social design programs across the UK, Europe and the Middle East.  She’s an Environmental Scientist, Consultant, Parent, Mentor, Coach, Permaculture Teacher and Designer and student of healthy intact cultures and indigenous wisdom. Using her many practical and ceremonial skills, her work focuses across land-based, community and inner sustainability in order to fully activate the human potential in service of life, culture repair and rebuilding the village.

​Further information on this topic:

Cloud catchers. In an arid climate in Peru the people are harvesting fog for water as a low tech method of irrigating crops.

Regenerative Agriculture, Beyond Sustainability.
An inspiring film about regenerative agriculture. For the microclimate relevant part, watch from 12:35 to see the story of one farm, known as 'Dry Lands', that was destroyed by its previous owner. When the new owner replanted, he found that slowly the temperature on the land dropped, the climate changed, soil 'grew' as he added organic matter from vigorous pruning, water was retained, drought conditions were reversed and water started to run in the streams year-round.

#microclimates #ecologicalniches #freepermaculture #permaculturedesign #permaculturewomen
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Composting with worms. A beginner’s guide to vermicomposting

Picture of worm compost
Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to compost kitchen scraps. The end product of the composting process is sometimes referred to as Black Gold because it is one of the most nutrient rich sources of fertilizer available. The best thing about worm composting is that it is easy, fun, and cheap and can be done indoors — even in an apartment.

Vermicomposting uses manure worms (not earthworms) to break down decomposing food scraps. The most commonly used manure worms are called red wrigglers and can be bought by the pound online — look on kijiji.

These worms are smaller than the earthworms we are used to seeing when we dig in our gardens.. In the wild they live in forests and work at decomposing the decaying materials on the forest floor. They can also be found — as their name suggests — in steaming piles of manure.

Red wrigglers, the manure worms commercially used for vermicomposting, originate in California so they are not cold­‐hardy. This means, in regions that get a cold winter, they are best suited for indoor bins and are ideal for people who do not have access to a backyard for composting. Vermicomposting is also great for folks who want to supplement their outdoor composting in order to quickly create amazing fertilizer for their gardens and plants.

Here’s how it works: Red wrigglers can eat half their body weight of food scraps each day. They eat the food and quickly pass it through their body. The result — worm poop or vermicompost — is the amazing black gold that is filled with beneficial bacteria and nutrients.

Starting a worm bin

Red wrigglers don’t live deep in soil like earthworms. They live in decaying materials at the surface so they can easily live in small human­‐created composters. You can make a simple worm composting bin out of two plastic storage containers. Drill holes in the sides and bottom of one storage container and put it inside the other one. Drill holes in the lid.

When you first receive a package of worms, they will come with some vermicompost and their egg cases. You will need to add some bedding - I use damp shredded newsprint and some grit (sand or ground up eggshells). When you first set up a vermicompost bin, wait a few days before you start feeding the worms kitchen scraps. Start with a small amount — about two cups. Remember to always bury the food under the bedding.

A pound of worms can contain up to 1000 worms. The worms will regulate their population depending on the amount of room they have and the amount of food they are being given.

Under ideal situations, a pound of worms can eat up to ½ pound of food scraps every few days. The best way to determine if your worms are being over or underfed is to feed them food — remembering to bury it under the bedding ­‐ and check in a few days later. When it looks like the worms are breaking it down, add more. If there are still a lot of intact food scraps, wait a few more day before feeding them. You will have to replace the bedding periodically. Simply rip some newspaper into strips, soak them in water and wring them out. Fluff them up and put them on top of the worms.

Amazing facts about worms!

1. All worms are intersex. They have both male and female parts and can freely reproduce with each other

2. Worms do not have teeth but have powerful muscles in their mouth that take in the food and move it down their digestive tract.

3. Worms lay (release?) an egg case out of which about 5 baby worms emerge. Looking for egg cases in your worms bin is an easy way to determine how healthy and happy your worms are. They look kind of like dill seeds.

4. Worms do not have eyes but they move, find food, and find each other through their skin, which is sensitive to both touch and light.

5. Some people claim that composting worms can live up to three years!

Feeding your worms

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Oily or fatty foods
  • Cooked foods
  • Pineapple

  • Fruit
  • Veggies
  • Coffee grinds
  • Tea bags (not plastic tea bags, though)
  • Egg shells

Harvesting the worm poop

When your worms are healthy and happy they will produce lots of castings. How do you separate the worms and their castings to put this amazing fertilizer onto your garden/plants? You can take a handful and pick out the worms and egg cases but this is a time consuming endeavour.

Here’s an easy way to harvest the castings: take the lid off the bin and put all the bedding and food to one side. Make sure the bin is in a place with bright sunlight or turn on the lights. Most of the worms will eventually crawl over to the side of the bin with the bedding and food. Most will migrate to the bottom of the bin to escape the light. This makes it much easier to get worm­‐free castings (I still pick out any extra worms and egg cases).

You can put the castings directly on your garden or houseplants. You can also make a nutrient­‐rich worm tea for even more impact.

How to make worm compost tea

1. Fill a 5 L bucket with warm water

2. Mix in 1/3 cup of molasses and stir well

3. Put a cup of castings into a nylon and tie it closed

4. Put the “tea bag” in the water

5. Take an aquarium pump and attach to an air stone (you can buy both at pet stores). Put the stone into the bucket and let bubble continuously for 48 hours. This is crucial as it helps the good bacteria to grow.

​6. Dump the tea on your garden and plants for a bacteria and nutrient rich feeding or put in a spray bottle and spray on foliage.


I am a permaculture educator, feminist and anti-racist activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.

Want to know more?

I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at

​#vermicomposting #wormcomposting #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #permaculture

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Re-Imagining Economic Systems: Untangling the tongue-tied transition from capitalism to cooperation.

It is so easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the term “economic systems.” As the words roll off my tongue I envision millions of pieces of string binding everyone in the world together: the laypeople to the mega corporations and governments, to the mom n’ pop store down the street, to the big banks, to friends and family — each string representing an economic transaction of some kind. In the middle of it all, it’s easy to feel tangled up.

From talking to my peers, I have found that quite a few people share these sentiments. So then how can we get ourselves untangled? How can we tug at those strings in such a way that causes the least harm to others and votes for thriving interdependent economic communities rather than mammoth oligopolies? Many of us involved in alternative lifestyles, activisms, and social movements — of which permaculture is one — are often searching for innovative and place-appropriate ways to do this.

One of my favourite professors at university — a feminist activist who was fighting alongside people threatened by multinational corporations in Guatemala and elsewhere — once said something along the lines of, “When we study capitalism, we tend to focus on IT and its negative effects, to the point where we sometimes limit our ability to even recognize the myriad non-capitalist forms of economic exchange that we and communities around the world engage in every day.”
Picture of a tree illustrating a sustainable human being
This simple statement was definitely an awakening for me. Yes, it is important to analyze and actively oppose capitalism, especially since it is arguably the most powerful force shaping global society, but it is equally important to value and lift up the alternatives that already exist and have in many cases existed for millennia!

Let me ask you this: have you ever swapped clothes, seeds or services with a friend? Have you ever been given or have issued an IOU? Have you ever shared the story of a small business or non profit with your social network because you believed in what they stood for?

If you answered YES to any of these, then you have already engaged in non-capitalist forms of economic exchange. Perhaps you leveraged your social capital to help a friend, or perhaps you have engaged in reciprocity, gift giving, or bartering in order to meet your needs or the needs of your loved ones.

For many of us, when we think of the word “economics” our minds might quickly jump to flows of dollars and cents, however, The Free Dictionary defines “economics” more broadly as that which “deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or human welfare.” For myself, I like to think of economics as “the ways that we meet our needs through the exchange of goods and services.” With this wider definition in mind, we can really expand and explore what it means to participate in economic exchange.

By doing case studies on economic traditions, such as the reciprocity-based Potlatches of the Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples, local currencies which promote the circulation of economic energy within a specific region, or credit sharing which helps all parties involved in a deal determine what constitutes a fair exchange of goods or services rendered, we can observe diverse culturally and historically rooted economic stories. These stories offer lessons for ways that people have engaged and can engage within economic circles, ways that promote the ethics of caring for people and the earth, as well as fair share.

In my life, I have had the opportunities to study permaculture, work on a community currency project, participate in time banks and mutual credit initiatives, and work within the Degrowth and Transition Towns movements.

All of these experiences have gifted me with invaluable tools for navigating my economic reality. I have calculated that during the past 12 months I have participated in the exchange of over $5000 Canadian Dollars worth of goods and services without the need for any Canadian Dollars. As someone who works within the non-profit sector and qualifies as a low-income person, having the knowledge to access and identify wealth through alternative means has enriched my life greatly.

Alternative approaches to designing our economic systems which engage with concepts like local currencies, basic income, credit sharing, and interest free loans, can help vulnerable communities become economically stable, they can help people reduce stress and improve mental health, and they can help people express their gifts and talents in ways that are not exploitative.

I think the greatest boon that rethinking economics has given me, is the increased sense of agency in my life — feeling like I am able to meet my needs and experience abundance even if my economic profile might suggest otherwise. If we are able to engage in more of the kind of work that allows us to redefine, reimagine, and critically redesign what terms like ‘currency’, ‘wealth’, ‘capital’ and ‘economics’ can mean, then I think that the potential for positive change is truly great.

Want to know more?
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post! If you are interested in learning more about alternative approaches to economics as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught by a group of 40 women from around the world, check out

​Short Bio:
My name is Lucie and I live in Kelowna, Canada, where I run a permaculture group and work as a coordinator in a non-profit organization that empowers community members facing hardships by teaching cooking, farming, and employment skills. I have a masters degree in the social dimensions of sustainability from Lund University and a background working in social sustainability, community building, writing and mixed media art. To find out more about me and what I do please visit
#rethinkingeconomics #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #peoplecare

Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture

Sauerkraut, the gateway to home ferments

By Heather Jo Flores
Some of our favorite foods are fermented, such as beer, wine, bread, cheese, pickles, salami, yogurt, tempeh, vinegar, kombucha, kimchi and many more. And whether you are a devoted foodie with a well-stocked fermentation station on your kitchen counter or just somebody who loves a Reuben sandwich, one of the simplest and most satisfying fermented foods to make at home is good, old-fashioned sauerkraut.

If you've never experimented with home ferments, sauerkraut could be the gateway. It is easy to make, hard to mess up, and once you've got the hang of how to make a good kraut, you'll be set up with the tools to branch out into more complex recipes like kimchi and kefir.

Myself, I prefer kraut to all the rest. I learned this recipe during a hands-on workshops with fermentation guru Sandor Ellix Katz, author of 
The Art of Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. For a labyrinth of delightful fermentation recipes, visit his website


All of your supplies should be freshly cleaned in hot water. Don't bleach them but make sure they are free of dirt and debris.

Large stainless steel bowl

Sharp kitchen knife, not serrated

Large cutting board

A ½ gallon Mason jar, wide-mouthed

A smaller glass jar, narrow enough to fit easily into the mouth of the larger jar

A sanded and boiled 2-inch-wide, 10-inch-long wooden dowel or a clean, empty Tabasco bottle with the label removed

A clean, lightweight cotton cloth, such as a dish towel or pillowcase.

Ingredients and method:

1 large head of green cabbage

1 medium head of red cabbage

3 tablespoons non-iodized natural sea salt

(Optional ingredients could include juniper berries, radishes, daikon, carrots, garlic, horseradish, bok choy, onion, goji berries, currants, hot peppers or any range of small fruits, seeds and veggies, but I recommend starting with just a simple kraut of only cabbage and salt and then experimenting with other ingredients later on down the line.)
Wash the cabbage, remove the largest outer leaves and set it aside. Slice the cabbages in half and carve out the small, hard core. Some people include this in the kraut, but I find it doesn't ferment as well as the rest.

Taking your time, slice up the cabbage into very thin strips. Mix both colors into the large bowl, adding a dash of salt to each handful of cabbage.

When all of the cabbage is in the bowl, sprinkle the remainder of the salt over the top.

Squeeze and rub the cabbage with your hands, using your thumbs to work the salt into the leaves. Keep doing this until the cabbage feels wet and slippery, and the colors darken. This is the "cabbage massage" — the most important part of the kraut-making process.

DO NOT add water, vinegar, or any other liquid. This will cause your kraut to mold. Use only vegetables and salt.

Pack the cabbage into the large Mason jar, using the wooden dowel (or Tabasco bottle) to smash down each layer. If you have been thorough with your cabbage massage, a foamy liquid will start to form around the leaves as you pack them into the jar. Keep smashing and packing until all of the cabbage is rammed into the jar. Leave an inch or two of space at the top.

Rub salt on both sides of a few of the large cabbage leaves set aside at the beginning and place them over the top of the packed cabbage to create a leaf-lid that sits just under the top of the liquid level.

Now fill the smaller jar with water and seal it with a tight lid. Place this jar inside the mouth of the larger kraut jar to weigh the large leaves down on top of the kraut.

Wash and dry the steel bowl and place it under the jars to catch any liquid that overflows during the fermentation process. If you have ants, put a little water in the bottom of the bowl to trap them before they can crawl up into your kraut.

Drape your cotton cloth over the whole contraption to keep out bugs but allow in the happy ambient yeasts and bacteria that will help your kraut thrive. Keep it in a cool, dark place. Warm temperatures speed up the fermentation process, cold weather slows it down and super-hot weather could kill it.

Once or twice a day, uncover the kraut and remove the smaller jar and large lid-leaves. Smash the cabbage down. Smash, smash, smash! Wipe away any overflow liquid, replace the lid-leaves and smaller jar, and re-cover.

After about 5 days, begin tasting the kraut. My preferred flavor usually happens around 7 to 10 days. Longer fermentation time will usually yield stronger flavor and softer kraut.

Shorter time means lighter flavor and crunchier kraut. But if you let it go too long, it will get mushy and not so yummy. When it gets to the place where you love it, cap the large jar with a snug lid and refrigerate it.

If a murky film or fuzzy mold forms on the top or sides of your jars, don't worry. Just wipe it away with a clean cloth or carefully remove it with a spoon. If the kraut seems too dry, smash it more and perhaps add a pinch more salt.

That's it! My favorite way to eat it? Try mixing 1 part fresh kraut, 1 part chopped avocado and 1 part grated beets. Scoop this mixture into a boat of Romaine lettuce for a delectable, rainbow-colored, crunchy raw food snack.

#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #fermentation #sauerkraut

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Free Mini-class: Appropriate Technology, Cooking and Food Storage

with Kareen Erbe

Excerpted from our double certificate design course.

Appropriate technology and permaculture design go hand in hand. Remember that permaculture is a design approach that meets our food, energy, shelter and other needs. Through appropriate technology, we are engineering ways in which to meet those needs in the simplest, most locally based ways possible.

The ecological crises that we are facing today is very much related to the fact that our economy, our agriculture, and our technologies are out of scale with what the planet can support. When entities are out of scale, natural patterns in the landscape are disrupted. In fact, it is our advances in technology that have led to a lot of that destruction. For example, combine harvesters have allowed us to cultivate large monocultures that have led to soil erosion and topsoil depletion.

​Advances in cell phones and computers, coupled with consumerism and a global economy, have not only mined the earth of natural resources, but have created tons of electronic waste that fill our landfills.
Picture of a pedal powered machine
Image from the Maya Pedal project, where volunteers are turning old bikes into blenders, washing machines, grain mills, and more.
Understanding and using appropriate technology is about bringing things back into scale and applying the permaculture principle of using small and slow solutions.
As mentioned in the video, appropriate technology is technology that is suited to the social and economic conditions of a particular region in which it is to be applied, is ecologically sound, and promotes self-reliance on the part of those using it. It is:
  • Human centered and human scaled.
  • Replicable and understandable.
  • Uses locally available resources and is locally controlled.

​Often labor-intensive but energy efficient.

Reducing our consumption first.

Before you think of applying appropriate technologies, think first about reducing your consumption. Though it’s heartening to see advances in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, it seems like many of these advances are designed to meet society’s current needs, without addressing our overconsumption.

For example, people choose to put solar panels on their roofs to power their TVs, dryers, multiple appliances, and possibly even multiple cars.

While it may be a step in the right direction, alternative energy technology often prevents us from taking a good look at our consumption. What’s more, these technologies contain a lot of embodied energy. From the extraction of the base materials to the manufacturing and the shipping, the energy involved in producing a product like a solar panel or a wind turbine is substantial.

Chances are that if you live in a developed nation, you are likely consuming at a level that is not sustainable for the rest of the planet. The challenge is not to find an energy source that will support that lifestyle, the solution first lies in our willingness to reduce our consumption.

Then, we can look at appropriate technologies to meet our reduced needs.

The most obvious way to reduce consumption is through growing your own food. Reducing our transportation miles from farm to table immediately reduces our impact.

Household strategies for reducing consumption.Simple strategies in your home can go a long way. For example, though we have a permaculture homestead, we do live in a conventional home. However, before putting solar panels on our roof, which is perfectly aspected for that technology and in a climate where it makes sense, I am going to look at ways to reduce our energy use first.

This is what we have done so far:
  • Added extra insulation in the attic.
  • Hung thick curtains on all of our windows and deck doors. We close these at sunset to keep the heat in during the winter.
  • Insulated the water heater.
  • Open the oven after use so that residual heat can help heat the house.
  • We’ve never had a microwave.
  • Turn off lights in the rooms that we are not using.
  • Rarely use the clothes dryer (maybe 5 times/year). Instead, we hang up clothes on a line outside in the summer and on a line in the basement in the winter.
  • Rarely use the dishwasher. Instead, we hand wash and use the dishwasher as a drying rack.
  • We don’t have air conditioning because it’s unnecessary for Montana summers. Instead, we open all the windows at night to cool down the house, and shut them during the day to keep the cool air indoors.

In the coming years, our plan is to attach a greenhouse to the front of the house. This will not only provide passive solar heating, which is key in our cold climate, but serves the additional function of growing more food and extending our short growing season. Only after we’ve added a greenhouse, will I then consider solar panels. However, I’ll evaluate our energy bills at that point, balancing the expense of the panels and their embodied energy versus the energy produced.

Again, using small and slow solutions that take minimal resources is your primary goal. Below is a checklist for easily reducing your household consumption in a conventional home.
Checklist for easily reducing household energy consumption in a conventional home.
  • Add extra insulation to your attic.
  • If you live in a cold climate, put heavy curtains on all of your windows. Close these up at night or when you are not at home.
  • In hot weather, shade your windows and open your house to cooling breezes after the sun has set.
  • Insulate your water heater.
  • Open the oven after use so that the residual heat can contribute to the heat in the house.
  • Do not (or rarely use) the clothes dryer (tumble dryer). Build a clothesline outside and indoors.
  • Do not (or rarely use) the dishwasher. Hand wash instead!
  • Do not (or rarely use) an air conditioner.
  • Turn off lights in rooms that you are not using.
  • Get rid of your microwave if you have one.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use (e.g. toaster, blender, coffee maker).
  • Make a blanket box or hay box for cooking beans, rice and other slow cooked foods.
  • Read a book instead of watching TV.
  • Play a board game or an instrument instead of being on the computer.
  • Draw or paint something instead of looking at your phone.

Cooking and food storage

​Heating your home, cooking and food storage are some of the most consumptive ways in which we use energy. According to the aforementioned report, lighting and other appliances (e.g. toasters, ovens, blenders) comprise 30% of energy consumption in a home, and refrigeration accounts for 5%. In my video, I cover one simple and easy appropriate technology that you can start using within minutes, and touch briefly on several other technologies to consider.

Here is a link to the photo album on Facebook that I reference in the video. This will take you through the step-by-step process of building a cob oven.
Picture of a root cellar
A simple root cellar can extend the life of your harvest by several months.
Here’s some activities you could do to use what you’ve learned:

Make a blanket box for your household and cook something with it. If you need a reminder on how to make a blanket box, go back to the Cooking and Food Storage video in this module. Make a note of how long it took your meal to cook and how much energy you saved.

Invite your friends over to share a blanket box meal and get them to commit to doing the same! During the dinner, share ways in which you will be using appropriate technology and reducing consumption around your home. Ask them to commit to one action.


​This miniclass is excerpted from the Appropriate Technology module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Kareen Erbe.
Kareen Erbe is the owner of Broken Ground, a permaculture business in Bozeman, Montana, USA, that teaches people how to grow their own food and become more self-reliant. She has taught hundreds of students through her workshops, both live and online, and offers consultations and permaculture design services. She and her family live on a ¾ acre suburban homestead with large kitchen gardens, a food forest of fruit trees and berry bushes, a greenhouse, a pond, beehives as well as chickens and ducks. Kareen is a regular contributor to Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine and can be reached through her website She also has an online course platform at
Further reading on this topic
Bubel, Nancy and Mike. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 1991.

Kerr, Barbara. The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers. Self-published. 1991. - A 79 page book with plans/diagrams for solar cookers. Here is a link to the text of the book and info about purchasing.

#appropriatetechnology #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #blanketbox #reduceconsumption

Via Permaculture Women's Guild - free permaculture

The Home System, Zones 1 and 2

Picture of sprouts
When you begin to look at your own site with a permaculture lens, you begin to see your home as a system in which the zones and sectors can provide a foundation for your design. Zones are a tool for organizing and laying out a site so that energy, time and resources like water are used efficiently.

In classic zone mapping, the house is referred to as the centralized hub of human activity. The home is more efficient and functions better when everything has its place, when items are organized, and when clutter is minimal. Our homes are the places we retreat to. The home system is where we can reduce our carbon footprint while building a legacy of green handprints.

It is important to start at home when designing the home system since the home is the central hub for our activities. If our home functions well as a permaculture system, then our other permaculture endeavors will be more successful and we will have overall better organizational and design skills. In this mini class you will learn to view your home and its immediate surroundings through a permaculture lens.
Zone One: Home sweet home, the domestic zoneZone one includes the home, the central hub of our activity. A place where we rest and recuperate, eat, sleep, gather, dream and create.

Everyone’s home is different. Some people prefer quiet, minimalist spaces while others thrive in busy chaos. Within the shared and different preferences of the household, there is space for creating systems that reduce the amount of work needed to keep the home as you all prefer it. So often, time and energy (and tempers!) are lost looking for things. Mapping the zones and sectors inside the house can serve as a useful observation tool and help reveal fresh insights into how the house and its occupants function.

An example from my own home system:

For the last several years, I have been eliminating things that no longer serve me in my home. Each month, I dedicate a day to go through old bins of paperwork, fill a few bags of donation items, re-organize spaces that are not functioning efficiently, etc. Through this process, I have been able to organize zones of my home by categories. Because my husband and I are multifaceted and have way too many hobbies, we have several functioning zones throughout our home.

We have an area that functions as an art studio with shelves for clearly labeled art supplies.

We have an area designated to our gardening resources, which houses our seed library, gardening books, and small gardening supplies, such as small tools and gloves.

We also have a home apothecary, stocked with homegrown dried herbs, tinctures and oil infusions in process, herbal medicine making supplies, and a resource library for herbs and herbalism. We have a huge farm table in our dining room that serves multiple purposes; as a place to have family meals, an arts and crafts area, and a seed starting workspace. This table is located in a room where we host workshops.
Picture Starts begun indoors on the windowsill
Growing and storing food in Zone 1.There are a surprising number of things you can grow indoors, especially if you have a sunny windowsill or two. Sprouting seeds and growing microgreens can be done all year round, and are a great source of vitamins in the winter months. However, sprouting seeds works best in drier climates. In humid areas mould can be a problem so you may find you need to sterilise glass jars in the oven between crops.

Houseplants don’t have to only look nice! Spider plants are renowned for cleaning toxins the air, but they are not the only ones that do this as this poster shows. Some of these plants, such as ferns, prefer not to be in direct sunlight, leaving that sunny windowsill free for other things.

Aloe vera is a useful plant to have in the kitchen as a living part of the first aid kit. Dab some of the goo from a leaf on a burn for instant relief. (Hold the injured part under cold water first.)

There are several edible plants you can grow indoors which means that even in an apartment you can grow some of your own food. Herbs are a great addition to a kitchen windowsill, especially as you only need a small amount to transform a dish. Don’t forget to water them! Keep an eye out for aphids. These can be squished or else brushed off with the help of soapy water. Or simply swap the pot with one outside, and let the ladybirds enjoy the aphids!

A sunny windowsill is also a good place to get seedlings off to an early start in Spring. Don’t forget to protect them from frost on cold nights, especially if they are behind thick curtains, and keep the soil moist with a fine spray mist.

​A pantry or a cupboard where you can store preserved food is a way of extending the season and enjoying the harvest long after the fruits have gone. Bottling or canning is a useful skill to learn, as is making jam, pickles and chutneys and also fermentation.
Picture A woman outside with a basket full of vegetables
Zone 1 can also include the area immediately outside your house. Consider how to make best use of this space. Take advantage of the fact that it is so close and you pass it regularly. It’s worth taking time to sit or stand at the door as you make your plans.

Zone 2: The home orchard zone.
This zone is fairly near the house, so is easy to keep an eye on things. You might not go here every day, but perhaps most days of the week. Think through what you want to grow that will need regular attention, such as vegetables, soft fruit and herbs.

Other components that need to be relatively close to the house include the worm bin or composting area, chickens and other small animals, the woodshed, tool shed and workshop. A greenhouse or polytunnel, and cold frames also need to be in this zone. You will learn more about these n the Aquaculture and Season Extension module.

​This zone could have animal housing, rotational grazing, small pastures, cover crops, permanent raised beds, permaculture guilds, nitrogen fixers, pollinator attractors, grazing between rows, interplanting of vegetables, and ponds.
Use a big piece of paper to roughly map out zones 1 and 2 of your home system as it is today (a base map). Create a sector analysis map to understand the external influences on your home, make sure to include arrows showing the direction the physical sectors enter the space. Draw a zone map which describes how spaces are currently used either inside or outside the immediate living space.

​Your current zone map could act as a real time inventory of your property, your activities and the things in it. Be transparent when creating the current zone map. Include the clutter, the chaos, and the things that are not working, and work toward eliminating those things in real life and in your dream scenario. Be sure to label the current zones.


This miniclass is excerpted from the Home Systems module of our
double-certificate design course, taught by Crystal Stevens.

Crystal Stevens is an Author, an Artist/Art Teacher, a Folk Herbalist, a Regenerative Farmer, and a Permaculturist. Crystal is the author of Grow Create Inspire and Worms at Work, published by New Society Publishers. Crystal speaks at conferences and Mother Earth News Fairs across the U.S.. She has been teaching a Resilient Living workshop series for over a decade.  She is the Garden Manager at EarthDance Organic Farm School in Ferguson, MO, where her husband, Eric Stevens, is the Farm Manager. They have two children and live along the rolling hills of the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Visit them at, on social media @growcreateinspire and @earthdancefarms

Further reading on this topic:
Here is an article that describes how Maddy Harland, editor of Permaculture Magazine, transformed her site from grass to garden! Harland, Maddy. “How we made a garden of edible delights: monoculture to permaculture.” 9 July 2014. The Guardian

I highly recommend watching the Inhabit Film to greater understand the need for permaculture in our home systems.

​#freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns #thehomesystem #growcreateinspire

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Top Ten Tips for Gardening on a Budget

At the end of the growing season last year, one of my volunteers remarked, “I think you have given us hundreds of dollars worth of vegetables this fall.” Indeed, growing your own garden often means that you are saving money on produce that would normally cost a lot of money in the grocery store, especially if it’s organic.

However, with the money you invest in compost, seeds, and plants each season, not to mention the time, sometimes the vegetables or fruit that you’re harvesting from your garden seem like they are worth their weight in gold. Granted, there are so many intangible benefits to having a garden and I would never give up gardening because the ‘numbers don’t pencil.’ But, it is also possible to grow delicious and healthy food without breaking the bank.

​In my video below, I go over my Top Ten Tips for Gardening on a Budget. These are recommendations that I practice myself that not only allow you to save money but have the added benefit of building soil, conserving water, cutting down on pests, and creating a more ecological garden.
Want to see more gardening and permaculture related videos?
Go to Broken Ground’s youtube channel here.
Also check out Broken Ground’s online gardening courses here.
#gardeningonabudget #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #permaculturedesign
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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Mmm, Melons!

By Heather Jo Flores
If you're a gardener and you feel like melons are easy to grow, please, message me! I want to learn your methods. I have found this crop to be one of the most challenging of annual vegetables. If it were anything else, I'd probably have given up by now. But nothing can replace the sweet sticky pleasure of a summer afternoon spent eating a perfectly ripe garden-fresh melon.

I tried a dozen different varieties of melons, and grew them in twice as many ways, and sometimes all I got was a single melon, small and underripe, barely edible after four months of work. Finally, I found a few great varieties and developed a system for getting the best melon harvest possible.

If you're anything like me, you enjoy coming up with systems and structures to increase the yield and functionality of your garden. Anyone who has spent time and resources building trellises, cold frames or cloches will find it easy to agree that it was worth the effort, and this could not be more true when it comes to growing melons in a climate that is prone to late frosts (however brief) and early rains. Use the advice and devices below and you'll be serving up a honeydew salsa by Labor Day!

Choose locally bred, short-season, small-fruit varieties.

When it comes to temperate gardens, the best and most reliable melon variety, a million times over, is the Ha'ogen, a small, tangy-sweet, green-flesh fruit that ripens in about 75 days and falls into the honeydew category in terms of looks and flavor. I have also had good success with Hoodoo melons, a.k.a. "Hearts of Gold," which are more like a cantaloupe. I encourage you to visit and take a chance on whatever appeals to you.
What about watermelons, you ask? I don't recommend them for a temperate climate. It's just not hot enough. But don't let that dissuade you from trying! Just be sure to choose varieties that fruit in 90 days or less.

Do the math.

Read the seed packet and count backwards from when you want to be eating melons. Consider that one quick frost is enough to kill melons, so make sure your harvest will come in well before that. Also consider that melons need as many hot sunny days as possible to grow big and ripen, so if you plant them too early, they will languish in the early summer rains. All of that being known, I think the second half of August is a realistic time to expect your crop. So, if you want to start harvesting August 15, and your seed packet says 90 days, you will need to get your seeds planted around May 15. But don't plant them before Cinco de Mayo. Remember what I said about melons needing those hot summer days to boost the yield!

Set them up to succeed.

Amend with fertile garden compost and thoroughly work up a garden bed 36 inches wide. Melons like sandy loam, and they must be spaced at least 30 inches apart, so decide how many plants you want and plan accordingly. Twenty plants should give an average family a decent harvest, with some to share with the neighbors, so you will need a bed about 25 feet long. You can plant lettuce, spinach or cilantro between the melons, but avoid other cucurbits or heavy feeders like tomatoes or brassicas. Let the melons have the space and resources they need and they will reward you for it.

Don't skimp on water.

Melons love water. Don't go to extremes, but do establish a frequent, consistent routine. Erratic watering can cause fruit deformation, so set up a schedule and stick to it. But don't water overhead when the sun is shining! The leaves will blister and, while it probably won't kill the plants, they will spend energy healing instead of making your fruits. Hand water deeply into the base of the plant with a hose at least four times a week just before dusk. I don't trust drip or automatic watering with my melons, and neither should you.

Keep the melon zone clean.

Throughout the season, keep the entire area meticulously weeded. I don't mulch melons because they rot so easily. Keep the beds clean and free of debris so that slugs, grubs and mold spores don't have anywhere to hide.

Direct sow and use a cloche system.

Most plants in the cucumber family do not enjoy being transplanted. They tend to spend several days in shock before they begin to grow again. When we're talking about melons, this 6-12 day period could make the difference between getting a harvest or losing semi-ripe melons to the first frost. So, to avoid having to worry about frost either at the beginning or at the end of your melon adventure, build a series of cloches and row-covers for your melon patch. That way you can sow the seeds directly into the ground (avoiding transplant shock and growth-delay) and, if you design creatively, your cloches can double as trellises, to keep the ripening fruits off the ground where they easily rot and get munched by a wide array of garden marauders. (Everybody loves melons.)

Here's my cloche system for a 90-day melon:

Days 1-15: Sow seeds in small hills under individual cloches made from gallon-sized milk jugs. Cut off the bottom, remove the cap and punch several holes in the plastic. Sow three seeds in each hill and fit the jug over the top to create a tiny greenhouse. Keep evenly moist until seeds sprout, and when seedlings are five days old, remove the two smaller seedlings and leave only one plant on each hill. This is essential. You must thin your seedlings. Water often, removing the milk jugs during hottest part of the day, as needed.

Days 16-44: Remove the milk jugs, wash them, and stash for next year. Use handi-mesh half-circles to make row covers (see photo). Cut the mesh wide enough to form a low dome over the young plants. Position the covers so that all of the plants are on the inside, about 3 inches from the wire. Now cover the mesh covers with greenhouse plastic and clamp it the plastic to the wire with small spring-clamps. Don't worry about closing up the ends, it's better to have the extra ventilation. If it gets extra hot in June, you might need to remove the plastic or punch holes in it. Keep an eye on the little plants; if they wilt or turn yellow, it's too hot. Pull off the plastic but leave the handi-mesh in place.

Days 45-90: Remove the plastic and convert the row covers into horizontal trellises by gently pulling the tendrils of the melon plants from the inside to the outside, letting them grow a bit more, and then poking them back through. As fruits start to form, make sure they aren't getting too heavy for the trellis. You might need to tie a few branches. If fruits are laying on the ground or on top of the mesh, turn them over periodically so that they ripen on all sides.

​Feel free to try variations on this system and, as with all gardening techniques, connect with your neighbors to see what works for them. Let me know how it goes, and feel free to ask questions and offer suggestions for future articles. Contact me at

#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #growingmelons

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Free Mini-class: All Paths Lead Back To Compost

Picture hands holding a small plant in soil
Plants are active participants in the vibrant and diverse community of soil life. There are more than 50 million genera of bacteria in the soil, and more than 50 million genera of fungi. Humans haven't named more than a small percentage, and we know very little about those which we have named. Thus, the vast majority of life in the soil, along with their relationships and functions, are unnamed and unknown.

By some accounts, humans have destroyed 50-80% of earth's topsoil. I find this so troubling, I almost don't know what to write next. However, this is a very clear case of, “the problem is the solution.” There is so much land devoid of life, so many layers and niches just waiting to be filled with diversity, life cycles, and carbon. Soil is an incredible and established reservoir that is ready to hold carbon, if only we nurture it back to life.

​One method for improving the health of your soil is adding compost. Your food is only as healthy as the soil that it was grown in, so you'll want to give your soil biota something good to eat. In this mini class I will show you how to create your own compost.
Picture steaming compost pile
Compost recipes and variations.

This recipe is a variation of the, 18 day Berkley method, and can teach you the basics. As you gain more experience, you can change the recipe. The greater variety of matter you put into your compost, the richer your soils become. You'll need 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Some examples:

Sawdust is 500 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

Fish is 7 to 1.

Urine 1 to 1.

Chicken manure 12 to 1.

Rabbit manure 8 to 1.

Horse manure 20 to 1.

Green weeds 25 to 1.

If you can increase surface area by chopping or shredding, it will speed up decomposition. You will need a lot of materials. Don't go over 4 feet high or it will squeeze the air out. You can use a gravity fall pile, or a piece of wire fence. You'll need a long handled pitch fork with 3-5 prongs, a rake, and a cover to maintain moisture.

You need 1/3 of your materials to be manure, 1/3 high carbon material, or browns, and 1/3 fresh greens. Pitch them all together and mix them up. Then water the hill until it starts to leak water. If you have food scraps, those can be incorporated into the layers and covered. Make sure to avoid: meat, bones, grease, and dairy products. Avoid materials that have come into contact with: Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotic medications, and anything that will take your pH to one extreme or another.

Once you’re more familiar with this recipe, you can put an activator in the middle when you start the pile. These could include: Dead animal, fish, chopped comfrey, yarrow, nettle, or old compost. You have to be certain that you know your recipe, so your pile will cook and not go putrid. Some people urinate on their compost piles to increase the nitrogen. Some add menstrual blood as an activator.

Other common activators, by % of Nitrogen:

Alfalfa meal 2.4%.

Blood meal 15%.

Bone meal 4%.

Chicken manure (dry) 8%.

Coffee grounds 2.1%.

Rabbit manure (fresh) 2.4%.

Rabbit manure (dry) 12%.

Once you have built your pile, you will want to cover it if you are expecting rain. Place branches on top of the pile to hold the cover off the surface, allowing air to pass through. You can also build the pile inside to heat a greenhouse. If conditions are very hot, place your pile in the shade.

If you want to look at your compost activity under a microscope, put a handful of compost in a jar with water and shake for 10 minutes. Then get a pipette and drop one drop on a slide, under a cover sheet, to view under the microscope. Take five minutes to look at this and you will see thousands of organisms every second.

Carbon is more of a fungal food. Nitrogen is more of a bacterial food. Non-woody plants and pasture prefer bacteria rich soil. Trees prefer fungal/carbon rich soil. Flour, paper, cardboard are all fungal food. If you want more fungi in your compost, you can add something like oat flour on every turn.

You can test the temperature of your pile with a good quality compost thermometer. If the pile is hotter on the inside than the outside, then your pile is too dry. If your pile is hotter on the outside than the inside, then your pile is too wet. Compost kept between 131 – 140 degrees for 15 days will kill pathogens, parasites and weed seeds.

If you want to speed up the compost turning process, you can turn your pile every day for 10 to 12 days and get it done faster, but it will be more work. Make sure you put the outer layer in the center when turning your pile, and the inner layer on the surface.
Step-by-step guide to fast composting:

Day one: Create the pile.

Day four: turn it over, ideally putting the outer layers in the middle and the center on the surface, as you move and rebuild the pile. Replace branches and cover.

Day six: turn.

Day eight: Turn every two days.

How do you know if the moisture in your pile is adequate? Squeeze a handful of the matter from the compost pile. If one drop falls, it is perfect. More water than that, and the pile is too wet. No drops, and it is too dry.

The pile should also be very warm. If you put a glove on and push your arm into the pile up to your elbow, it shouldn't be so hot that you say, “Ow”.

Turn the pile on day ten, day twelve, day fourteen, day sixteen and by day eighteen it should be done. When it is just warm, dark brown, fine with only a few chunks, and an earthy smell, not putrid, then it is done.

How do you fix problems with your compost recipe? If you get to day 6 or 8 and your compost is not hot enough, ask yourself:

  • Is the pile high enough?

  • Is the pile wet enough?

  • Is the pile too wet?

  • Have you shredded the carbon small enough?
If it is high enough and wet enough, then you don't have enough nitrogen. Get some convenient nitrogen and spread it into the pile on each turn, such as blood and bone meal, rich manure, or molasses. You have probably lost 4-6 days, or rather, you will have to turn the pile for 4-6 extra days.
Picture cow in front of manure pile
If the pile is too wet, you've got to put a hole in the center with your pitchfork handle and place a chimney in the middle to let it steam off. If it is too dry, just water it.

If you have too much nitrogen it will loose volume fast and smell very bad. Carbon is your sponge and carbon will slow it down.

If your compost goes a little anaerobic in places for lack of air, it will present a white moldy looking powder. That is the first indicator that you've gone over the line in temperature or moisture and need to make an adjustment.

You want 10 compost heaps to an acre if you want to kick off an organic crop garden system.

Your soil will hold more water at the end of this process.

When you get skilled at turning your pile, you can do it in 20 minutes. That's 3 hours of work total for this 18 day recipe. One compost heap this size, spread around a garden, will grow vegetables for one year, for one person.
Slow compostTurning a pile every two days is not for everyone. If you are too busy, you can turn your pile once every 7-10 days. At that rate your compost will be finished in 1-3 months.

If you need to go more slowly, that's okay. You can always assess what your compost needs are when you turn it, and add accordingly.

Alternately, you can make an add as you go pile. This requires even less effort, as there is no need to separate your kitchen waste, yard debris, and clippings. Unfortunately, it decomposes at a slower rate of 3-8 months. It is prone to odor problems because the lack of turning allows it to go anaerobic. It doesn't heat up well, which means it does not kill weed seeds and pathogens. It will be less nutrient dense. It might attract pests if uncovered.

If you mix your sieved compost with sharp river sand from the inside bends of creeks or rivers, you can make your own potting mix. The smaller the seed the more sand you want in the mix, for example, carrot seeds, etc. With large seeds you can use 50/50 compost and sand.

​You can also extend your compost by making compost tea.

One way that you can measure the success of your compost is to use a refractometer.

The refractometer measures refracted light through plant fluid. Inside is a gauge, and in that gauge is a blue line. It is used to measure the starch and sugars in fruit. If the starch goes up, the plant is probably feeding and happily using your compost. This shows an increase in the nutrient density in food. Caution: If you use this to measure the nutrient density of food from the supermarket, you won't find it easy to spend money on commercially grown produce ever again.

Now that you’ve seen different methods of creating compost all that’s left is to choose the method that is right for you and to do it! However, if you want to be energy efficient, make your compost near where you are going to use it! Have fun!

This miniclass is excerpted from the Soil Basics module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Lichen June.

Lichen June is a writer, speaker, educator and stuntwoman.  Raised on a dairy goat farm by a naturalist mother and gardening father, Lichen was given a profound sense of ethics and relationship with the natural world. As an activist Lichen has been producing educational events and doing publicity on environmental issues for over 20 years.  Teaching communication and ethics since 2008, and permaculture since 2013, Lichen studied permaculture with Geoff Lawton and Toby Hemenway, and received her certificate from PRI Australia. Lichen is the Executive Director of the NW Permaculture Institute, and co-founder of Elephant Head Educational Designs, creators of regenerative learning materials.

Further reading on this topic:

Darwish, Leila. Earth Repair: a Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes. New Society Publishers, 2013.

Hosking, Rebecca. Building Soil with Regenerative Agriculture. Permaculture People/Permaculture Magazine, 2015.

#compost  #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns
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Friday, November 30, 2018

Mulch Much?

By Heather Jo Flores
It's that wonderful time of the year when leaves are falling, plants are decomposing and moisture is in the air. A perfect time for mulching! There is never a bad time for mulch, but with so much surplus organic matter available, it makes sense to harness those resources and use them to warm and protect your garden for the winter.

Mulch builds humus. The word "human" comes from the same roots as humus, meaning earth, and in fact our bodies do contain many of the same elements and microorganisms as fertile organic soil. Soil health is linked to our own health, and soil communities bear remarkable resemblance to the flora and fauna in our own guts.

A diverse, thriving intestinal community keeps us humans healthy, and the same goes for the soil ecosystem.

A layer of mulch, whether up around perennials and fruit trees or as a cover for next year's vegetable beds, serves several important purposes. Mulch covers topsoil, keeping it dark and moist, which encourages soil organisms to come to the surface where they eat, breed and poop. Mulch provides habitat for worms and larger insects that travel across the garden in search of shelter. If they find your mulch, they'll move in, further increasing your soil diversity and in turn, garden health. All of this micro-activity is akin to having a teeny-tiny compost machine that cultivates every inch of your soil, increasing organic matter and aeration and building a nutrient-rich foundation for the garden.

Mulch retains water. It acts as a sponge, soaking up the rainfall and slowly releasing it into the soil below. Larger mulch piles can be shaped into mini-berms and used to direct water away from the storm drain and back onto your site. Or dig small swales — shallow trenches on contour — and fill them with a thick mulch to create water-retaining borders all around the garden.

Mulch keeps plant roots warm, which is especially helpful for those varieties that do OK in a temperate climate but would probably prefer a slightly warmer climate, like pomegranate, lemon, bananas and many fancy flowering bulbs. For these plants, I like to use larger rocks and river gravel under a leaf mulch. The rocks retain heat, the leaves insulate. But be careful not to pile the leaves too high up the trunk because they can cause rot. Focus on warming the roots just below the soil surface, spreading out from the plant.

In addition to rocks and leaves, there are several other types of mulch that are easily found in the area. Straw bales can be purchased at any farm store, or try the fairgrounds after an event — they often use bales for temporary seating and in parking areas, and you might be able to get them for free.

I like a thick cover of straw mulch over the top of my compost pile and on vegetable beds. I am not crazy about the aesthetics of straw, however, and so I don't tend to use it on perennial beds. It does make a wonderful insulator, because each of those little pieces of straw is a hollow tube filled with air that gets warmed by the slow decomposition. Excellent for covering garlic beds over winter, or around winter brassicas. Don't use hay! Hay is green and has tons of grass seeds that will grow all over your garden! Make sure you ask for "straw."

Cardboard and newspaper can be good options for mulching larger areas, especially if you want to kill grass or weeds. Peel the mulch off in the spring and dig beds, or cover the paper mulch with a thick layer of organic matter (leaves, straw, wood chips, or a blend of them all) and plant right into it. Be careful that you don't mulch over bindweed or Bermuda grass, though — it won't kill them and they'll make a thick mat underneath that will choke out your plant roots later.

Wood chips, sawdust and bark can be beautiful under perennials, but they can be expensive to buy. You can sometimes find free sawdust at a local wood shop. I like to use it for blueberries and strawberries, because they love that extra acid. You can also get free wood chips through, where you can register your house, indicate what type of chips you prefer, and make yourself available as a drop site for local tree services that need to dump their shredded surplus.

A final word of warning: Some mulches, especially straw and leaves, can harbor slugs and snails. So watch out for that, especially around baby vegetable plants. In another post, I  discuss natural ways to deter these slimy pests. Until then, happy mulching!

#permaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #growyourown #foodnotlawns #DIY
#foodforest #mulch

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