Blog: Creating a Food Forest Patch in Our Yards

 

 

How would you like to have a food forest patch in your yard? Maybe dedicate an 8×8′ square bit of land, ideally removing some lawn? Imagine adding small fruits, food, medicinal plants right in your own back yard? One of the basic tenets of permaculture is to create a ‘food forest patch’ in our yards. What is that and how can I plan a ‘forest patch’ with food in my own yard?

When I hear the word forest I think of trees, lots of them, maybe pine needles and old leaves on paths. Understory trees and shrubs fill in that landscape sometimes making the area appear dense with foliage. Other times these lower story plants line a pathway. How can I mimic this system on a smaller scale in my front or back yard and include food?

My podcast guest this week, Micheal Judd, talked about creating a ‘food forest patch’ in our yards. Before I describe what he suggested I would like to remind all of us about the importance of our forests from a permaculture perspective. Let’s look at some facts:

“Forests are life ( from permaculture news)

  • Forests are home to approximately 50-90% of all the world’s terrestrial (land-living) biodiversity — including the pollinators and wild relatives of many agricultural crops (Source: WWF Living Planet Report 2010)
  • Tropical forests alone are estimated to contain between 10-50 million species – over 50% of species on the planet.
  • Rainforests cover 2% of the Earth’s surface and 6% of its landmass, yet they are home to over half of the world’s plant and animal species.

From these basic facts, it should be evident that forests themselves are synonymous with life, biodiversity, and fertility. Where life gathers, complex and mutually beneficial relationships are created between organisms; natural harmonious communities form, and life forms multiply and proliferate.”

Forests are the best of life and offer ways for us to live in harmony. They provide food and are great examples of how species work together. Yet, we continue to tear down our forests for the sake of development, our thirst for lumber and other byproducts made from trees, and the need for fields for mass monotype agriculture and farming.

Michael suggested that we take (where possible) a small patch maybe 8′ by 8′ and plant a fruit tree. He includes nitrogen-fixing plants such as lupines, blue indigo in the same area. Add other perennials to the mix all planted within this 8×8″ space. Spreading mints can be added too. I had the chance to visit and be on one of his yard tours in MD.  Mints were all over the place but didn’t give me the feeling of taking over. He chops and lets the plant material drop. Very easy and very cool.

As you cut back these companion plants, you leave the plant material right there which continues to build mulch. All of this adds beauty and diversity to your landscape. Check out pawpaw, juneberry, black currants, Aronia’s.  Aronia or chokecherries are native to our continent.  There is much to choose from.

Summary:

Dedicate an 8 x8′ patch for new plants.

Add 8″ compost, layering the materials and leave over winter.

In the spring: Select a fruit-bearing tree appropriate to your region.

Add leguminous plants when you plant the tree; lupines, peas. Around the outer edges add more plants.

Michaels’ book shown above has great detailed ‘how to’s’ and photographs to illustrate his ‘food forest patch’. I highly recommend his book. I personally refer to his ideas over and over. Think about the gardeners in your life. This book is a great addition to any gardener’s library.

So, what would you do? Can you take away some lawn and create a’ food forest patch’? Let me know if you do. All comments are appreciated. Enjoy. Judith

 

 

 

 

Blog: Wangari Maathai: A Vision of Hope, One Tree at a Time

Sustainable and edible landscapes capture our attention and our creativity. Sustainability is a buzz word. It’s how we conserve resources and protect our environment. Yet we seem to favor unsustainable practices in managing our landscapes, our yards, our municipal lands. What’s the difference?

Let’s look at Sustainability: Sustainability means using our resources with the intent of replacing them better than when we began, so we leave something viable for the next seven generations, as my elders would say. One of the primary areas we can change today is the use of our personal yards, front or back, and create, bring in more diversity to improve the overall picture of global warming’s effects. That means we need to rethink lawn. And rethink how we approach nature. Is she something we use regardless of consequences? Or can we see nature as an intelligent entity, that has had 3.8 billion years to refine and define operating systems, so she thrives? How do we fit in as humans managing her resources and gifts? In the big picture, we are a young species.

My podcast guest this week, Dr. Jean Shoinoda Bolen, an activist for women’s rights, mentions Wangari Maathai is her book: Like a Tree. Intrigued I looked up this courageous woman and felt inspired to share her story with all of you. The above movie portrays Wangari Maathai’s vision. She started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and helped plant thousands of trees turning barren land into a verdant landscape that rebuilt soil, improves water conditions, and gave the community pride and dignity. More importantly, she took one simple action to her community and made a difference.

Sustainability is a vital and invaluable component of getting back to creating holistic environments.

As you look through garden and seed catalogs, rethink your spaces. Research an edible shrub or tree to add food for you and wildlife. Plant a few different native plants to keep our wildlife thriving.

I hope you feel as inspired as I do by one person;’s vision and action that changed her community and left a wonderful legacy. Together we can create a sustainable world and enjoy the journey. We love hearing from you and hope you’ll share your stories with us. Thanks. Judith

 

Blog: All ABout Worms

 

 

As a child, I didn’t like crawly critters like worms. It took me a while to get comfortable picking one up. Whether in garden beds, composers, sighting a worm hopefully means the soil is being aerated, decomposition is going on and in general, there’s a sigh of “it’s a good thing.” Kids are fascinated too. Worms are easy to hold and handle and make for a successful hands-on show and tell. Gardeners like to look for worms too. It took me a while to get used to them. But as a gardener, I now know how invaluable they are to maintaining healthy soil.

Vermiculture is the official name for using red wiggler worms to decompose waste materials. Other types of worms help out too. What I found particularly helpful is that you can keep red wigglers in the house for table scraps. Their decomposed poop, known as worm castings, are especially good to add back into the soil.

“Because the earthworms grind and uniformly mix minerals in simple forms, plants need only minimal effort to obtain them. (Wikipedia)

Nightcrawlers and red wigglers are frequently mentioned in vermiculture. But, we now have an “invasive” species of worm. What’s the difference?
My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, gave us an introduction to worms as composters and how we can use them in our homes to decompose vegetable matter. Pretty interesting right? She tells us how to have them in our home which works well in the winter. Worm castings can be made and added to our garden beds even in winter.

A nightcrawler/dew worm eats soil. A Red Wiggler, Eisenia fetida, eats decomposing matter like rotten fruit, vegetables, manure. They are reddish in color.

Jumping worms, however, Amynthas spp., are a different story. They devour forest floors rapidly and then flood the floor with nutrients. Our forests use matter that decomposes more slowly so we don’t know the long term implications yet. And the decomposing matter is larger, more grainy like coffee grounds which alters soil composition, especially for understory plants. The photo below, from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources site, gives a good visual of the damage they can cause. these worms have a white ring around them and slither like snakes and can move quite quickly.

Jumping worms effect on woods
What can you do?  Know your worms. If you should find any jumping worms inform your state’s agricultural department. Wisconsin has a ban on them. Sadly we are seeing them in our forests here in the NE. Spring is here. It will be good to get outdoors. As you garden be vigilant.  Many invasive species are harming our landscapes.Together, one yard at a time, we can make a difference. Enjoy. Judith

Blog: Wetlands are Ecosystem Treasures

 

Blog: Wetlands:
When I moved into my first home many years ago, I wanted to get involved in the town. Someone, I don’t remember who mentioned that the town had an environmental committee. Intrigued, I wondered what the town envisioned for itself environmentally.  I had an interest in recycling, practical ecological applications to preserve water, land and air.

It was no coincidence that around the same time, I subscribed to a magazine titled: Garbage. (Need I say more?) This magazine sought to discuss the latest trends in gathering garbage, storing trash, and how to dispose of the leftovers that could contain toxic materials.

One article, in particular, caught my attention and I remember the broad outlines of the story today which as you will see is pertinent to today’s discussion on wetlands.

A town in California needed a new water treatment plan maybe a sewage treatment plant. The estimate for a new facility was around $52 million dollars, costly for any town at that time., mid-1980’s. So, other options were investigated.

For significantly less money, between $2-5 million, folks realized that the landscape of the town and the surrounding area contained miles of marshland. They could develop a waterway system that kept the wetlands intact and at the same time collect purified water at the end of the line. Somehow, folks back then had the vision to realize that at least seven miles of marshland can filter and recharge water. My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, reminded me of this story as I thought about the different types of wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide.

Basically, wetlands catch water from the surrounding areas, usually runoff from lawns and agricultural land uses. They capture nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides to name a few. These components deposit into the sediment at the bottom of the wetland. Then plants can absorb these elements and convert them into plant matter. When this happens in the summertime, wetlands prevent contamination downstream.

“Wetlands are superb at purifying polluted water, replenishing aquifers and harbouring wildlife. But they are almost always terrible places to build houses. Only about 5 percent of the land area in the continental United States is composed of wetlands. But these transitional zones—neither completely dry nor entirely liquid—are enormously valuable, especially when it comes to controlling floods. Wetlands act like natural sponges on the landscape, absorbing and then gradually releasing storm waters and lessening flood damage.” John Mossbarger, La Jolla CA, in Scientific American also adds this: “Wetlands serve as primary habitat for thousands of wildlife species—from ducks to beavers to insects—and form an important ecosystem link between land and water. They also play a key role in maintaining water quality, as they filter out agricultural nutrients and absorb sediments so that municipal water supplies don’t have to. On and near shorelines, wetlands provide a natural buffer against storm surges and rising floodwaters, helping to disperse and absorb excess water before it can damage life and property.”

It’s estimated we have destroyed about 85% of our wetlands in this country. Wetlands: habitat for plants, animals, insects, offer water filtration and purification services, perfectly set up to manage flood areas. They provide invaluable ecosystem services and are precious.

The good news is that we are taking some measures to preserve what we have and what’s left.
What can you do? If you have wet areas on the property, learn how to manage them that preserves them. And, I just learned that there is World Wetland Day. This year its Feb 2nd. They have a great interactive website and educational materials available for you to use to promote awareness in your community. 

When out on hikes or walking in your neighbourhoods, keep an eye out for marshy areas. Keep in mind how limited they are today and how precious their ecosystems are in today’s landscapes.

Enjoy. Judith

Podcast: Holistic Nature of Us: Meet Gail Reynolds, Plant Science Expert

Description: Gail is a plant scientist who loves bogs. Bogs are often austere landscapes, acidic, filled with peat moss and other mosses, not usually treed. She takes us through a not so well known landscape filled with levels of plant life and why they are invaluable. Join us for a fascinating journey into bogs where Gail highlights some plants that could be used in the wet areas on your property. At the very least, Gail opens our eyes to the variety of species that are found here, ones we can look for on future hikes.

About My Guest: Gail Kalison Reynolds, Middlesex County UConn Master Gardener coordinator, retired from 
a long career as an Information Security professional. She holds a B.S. in biology from Yale College and a Master of Forest Science degree from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In addition, she holds five information security certifications. Gail is a long-time natural resource and Yale alumni volunteer, including Chair of the Haddam Conservation Commission, Officer of the Haddam Land Trust, member of the Lower Connecticut Land Trust Exchange, Haddam Plan of Conservation and Development committee member, Salmon Rivercommittee member, Connecticut Botanical Society board member, Executive Board member of the Yale Science and Engineering Association, Yale student mentor, and Yale alumni interviewer of prospective undergraduate students.
Gail is currently the State Coordinator for the UConn Master Gardener Compost Program.

Transcript: #75-Gail-Reynolds.pdf

Elderberry: Sambucus nigra

 

Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as the European Elder

 

As winter goes through her last weeks we are still facing concerns over the flu here in the NE. Colds and flu can sneak into our households bringing runny noses and coughs.

A small tree or shrub, the elderberry, has been relieving these complaints for centuries. Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments at this time of year. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice.  Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.

Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires, hence the common name of pipe tree. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood and fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.

Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.

Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth.

Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences.  This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June.  Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts.

Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. Nature has so many remedies for us. As my podcast guest, Doug Tallamy, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.

Enjoy your day. Judith

 

 

 

 

 

 

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