As we plan for a new Permablitz season, I offer you some reflections about the Permablitz held at Margy’s and my house two years ago. (A version of this post first appeared in my blog, Finding Our Way Home.)
Over 20 people came to our yard and worked together on projects organized by the Resilience Hub. They installed rain barrels, built a composting system from pallets, built a fire circle, and created five more growing beds for future fruit trees, raspberry bushes, & hazelnut bushes, and one bed for flowers & herbs. We also got the first shovelfulls dug for a pond.
At the end of the day, I felt teary-eyed with the sense of Gift. The generosity of so many individuals coming together and creating something so beautiful and full, helping us to realize our dreams for this piece of land, was deeply moving. There is something about this giving and receiving of human attention and wisdom and care, that feeds our hearts. Much of our lives are shaped by transactions—we pay a certain amount of money, and receive a product. Or, we put in so many hours and receive a paycheck. But giving and receiving freely and generously touches something much deeper. Giving and receiving must trigger deep neurotransmitters in our internal chemistry, sparking a profound sense of well-being and belonging.
I also realized how many layers of community are involved in such a project. One layer is this community of people who care about the earth, and who come together to give and receive, to learn, to share, to grow, to get to know each other. People connections are made.
Another layer is the community of the soil itself. During the blitz I was mostly working with several others on the project for creating new growing beds. We were adding nutrients through sheet mulching so that the soil could create a thriving fertile community. I have learned so much about the variations in soil communities from the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.
What a food forest needs, what fruit trees need, is soil whose fungal community is stronger than its bacterial community. In contrast, annual vegetables and flowers and grasses prefer soil with a stronger bacterial community. A bacterial community is enhanced by tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter by turning it into the soil. A fungal community is enhanced by no tilling, but rather adding organic matter on the top of the soil to decompose, as it happens in the forest. (Similarly, compost that is left unturned will generate a stronger fungal community.)
We prepared the soil by aerating it with garden forks–since it had been rather compacted. We added some granite dust for mineral enhancement, then put down a layer of cardboard to kill grasses and weeds.
Then, we added chicken manure, coffee chaff, seaweed, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, and a really thick layer of deciduous wood chips. We were able to get a delivery of 8 yards of wonderful ramial deciduous wood chips–these are chips which include lots of thin branches, which have more lignin content that is not yet woody. The wood chips are the most important part of enhancing the fungal community.
We also made several pathways with cardboard and wood chips, and I worked to complete those bit by bit in the days after the blitz. Wonderfully, the process then works on its own–we add some water or it gets rained on–and the microbes will work together over the next several months and years to create a thriving soil community. We planted trees and bushes the following spring. My friend Roger Paul said that the Wabanaki word for “soil” means giver of life.
I encourage you to consider participating in a Permablitz to experience this sense of community for yourself!