I experience such elation seeing a new group of folks accomplish all that is set before them in a permaculture design course. Over a six-month period, two dozen incredible people ranging from their 20s to their 70s bonded, learned, camped, ate, laughed, experienced so much. I hope that what transpired for them will linger and last in many ways. I know it does for me.
I recently attended the 8th Annual Northeast Permaculture Convergence at the Soule Homestead in Middleboro Massachusetts. Beyond being a great gathering of permaculturists old and new from around our bioregion, the event afforded our community an opportunity to share approaches and ideas for how permaculture can be employed across our region. A huge thanks to the organizing team who made this great event happen.
For my part, I contributed a session on how the implementation of permaculture has been playing out on our 1/3 acre home site about three miles from downtown Portland, Maine. About fifty people jammed into the barn at Soule and heard the story of what we’re doing here (punctuated with a bit of commentary from the sheep stalls!).
I look forward to writing this up as a full slide deck, perhaps with narration (since much of the presentation was my talk accompanying the images), but for the time being, here are the two slide sets per request of the audience at the Convergence: one with the background talking points and the other is just the straight-up images. (These are kinda large .pdf files so be patient.)
My husband and I recently figured out that we’re doing somewhere between 150 – 200 hours per year of unplanned tours for folks who drop by. We love doing it and sharing what’s happening here, but we’re also thinking about scheduling some standing “open days” to try to funnel some visitors into a bit fewer slots if possible. Then we might be able to finish implementing our design a little faster:)
We’ve just finished planting twenty-five Black Locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) which will form part of a living fence around our property at the roadside. Let me count the ways that this feel virtuous!
Not only will the trees, planted on 2-foot centers, grow rapidly into living fence posts, but the lateral growth can be woven into a thorny hedgey-fency thing. Well, a fedge. Energetically, if not functionally, nothings says “please stay over there” like a fence of thorns.
Black Locust happens to be a “pioneer species” that often shows up to colonize poor or degraded soils; it is nitrogen-fixing, literally sucking nutrient out of thin air and depositing it in the soil via little nodules (and a bunch of other mind-blowing biological magic). This is a roadside, remember, so we’ll take all the soil building we can get.
BTUs. That pretty much tells the tale. Black Locust is renowned for the amount of fuel potential packed into every cubic inch of wood. We burn wood for heat and for cooking so prunings and coppice wood from this living fence may well end up being more than 50% of the supply of cooking fuel for the small firebox of our 1928 Duchess Atlantic wood cooker.
Black Locust happens to offer an unsurpassed level of bee fodder as well. My research indicates that an acre of black locust in bloom produces more nectar for honey bees than an acre of pretty much anything else, especially anything perennial.
Also known as “nature’s pressure-treated lumber,” we will periodically harvest thin pole wood from these trees for various rot-resistant purposes around the property. Far superior to cedar and friends in this regard.
Black locust is renewable, almost too renewable some might say! While runners and suckers of black locust may present a conundrum to some, in the spirit of turning a problem into a solution, I see it as propagation stock to plant more fence or barter useful trees for something we don’t have.
So the act of planting one row of baby Black Locust trees has achieved at least seven or eight objectives today. I’d say that has earned us some hammock time.
PS: Some of you may consider this an “invasive” species. I would say that it is “successfully opportunistic” in that it is quite good at expressing its traits of repairing damaged places and filling disturbance-created niches. Disturbance usually created by humans, mind you. This plant has so much to offer us in becoming truly resilient and sustainable, it’s quite hard to vilify, really.
Many of you are wondering how to compost food waste in the city (or any urban, suburban or similar area where space comes at a premium and neighbors are almost in your back pocket). You may be concerned that, even if you do find space to compost, odors, bugs and other bigger, badder pests will crash your composting party – and perhaps your neighbor or landlord relations! Nothing dampens compost enthusiasm like a pile or heap “gone bad.” Alas, it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve been teaching composting since the early 90s when my partner and I became a Master Composters in Washington State and our city made composting education mandatory in order to take advantage of the “free” and very subsidized compost bin deals. I’ve worked with dozens of bin designs over the years and what I’m proposing here is my Ultimate Bomb-Proof Urban Composter. It is pest-resistant (I’ve never known a rat to chew into this, but I haven’t met ratzilla yet), discrete and affordable (maybe free). I’ve actually never tried to destroy it with a bomb; maybe I need a new name. Nevertheless, here it is:
- Get a galvanized metal trashcan with a lid.
- Drill 1/2″ holes all over the lower half of the can, including the bottom. The holes can be 4-5″ apart or even a bit tighter if desired and you have well-drained soil. Optional: Drill two 1″ holes just below the rim of the lid and cover with no-see-um mesh from the inside to allow additional ventilation w/out bugs being able to get in. If you’re super bug-phobic, you may also want to gasket the lid for a tighter fit.
- Bury the can in the ground just deep enough that the holes are underground and not visible. Pick a location that a) you are likely to actually use and can easily get to with a bucket of kitchen scraps, b) is well-drained and not in a wet spot and c) matches your aesthetic needs to either hide your composting activities behind a shrub or fly your compost flag by prominent placement (your choice).
- Make sure soil is filled in all around the buried portion of the can. You can even plant something interesting around it.
- Deposit food scraps into the can whenever your kitchen container is full, covering each “dump” with some dry, carbonaceous material like sawdust, wood chips, dry leaves, etc. (keep some stockpiled nearby). Do NOT “dump and run” without covering the fresh material. The water content in the food waste should be enough moisture to keep the process going.
- Secure the lid with bungee cords to keep raccoons and curious kids out.
- Compost happens.
- Every 2-3 years “rest the bin” for a few weeks, remove the contents (or dump back in the hole when you pull out the bin), and move the bin to a new spot and start again. The spot you’ve just vacated is perfect for planting a tree or shrub – super fertile! The 2-3 years figure is based on a household of 2-3 vegetarians or 3-4 omnivores (the latter not putting meat/animal products into the bin).
What this is not:
This is not a system for creating large amounts of finished compost product; it’s just a way to manage your food waste sanely rather than sending it to the landfill or incinerator.
This is not a system for composting “yard waste” like grass clippings, branches, etc. That would require a different setup which you can certainly do side-by-side with this if you want to make your whole composting operation less attractive to animal pests.