Category Archives: Groups/Events

Permaculture Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

For me, this is one of the harder principles to put into action. It’s about setting limits and using resources wisely.

I’m certainly not the only one who has a hard time setting limits. Our planet is giving us some very strong feedback that we’ve put too much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. It’s reacting with large and forceful hail, increasingly violent storms, torrential rainfalls, droughts and heat waves. Honestly, how could nature be any clearer? And yet we keep on doing just what we’ve been doing. We refuse to acknowledge the feedback because then we’d have to regulate ourselves.

Sigh …

Enough of that. Let’s get to the garden.

A Few Ideas on Self Regulation

How do we start to apply self regulation? One thing we can do is try to provide from our own space/land all the resources that our garden will need and try to handle all the waste on our own land as well.

  • Suppose I couldn’t buy outside compost or fertilizer? How much could I produce on my land? How big would my garden be then?
  • Suppose I didn’t have city water as a backup supply? How much would I need to save or how much smaller would my gardening efforts need to be? How would I change my watering habits?
  • And what if there was no “away” where the garbage could go? How would I change my consumption habits?

Maybe it can’t be done, but what would we learn if we tried?

How Do I Know I Need to Do Something?

One of the tomato survivors of a heavy rain year

One of the tomato survivors of a heavy rain year

Plants are actually pretty good at giving feedback. Last summer my tomato plants told me loud and clear that I had planted them too close. I could hardly move through them to harvest so some fruit spoiled. Their yellow leaves said they needed pruning and I wasn’t giving them good air flow. Then, when heavy rains came, they said I hadn’t given them enough consistent watering so they greedily sucked up too much moisture and cracked. My mistreatment had left them thirsty and vulnerable.

So I acknowledged that feedback and made a plan to do some things different next year.

  • I won’t plant as many tomatoes. I’ll give them room to breathe.
  • I will prune the lower branches out.
  • I bought a rain gauge and I’ll pay attention to how much water they receive in a week so I can supplement it when needed. I’ll keep this on a notecard in the plastic bin with the garden tools.

My husband also gave me some feedback. He said: “Hey, where are the cherry tomatoes!” We discovered two years ago that the garden operates best when we have cherry tomato plants right by the garden gates. Everyone who enters the garden can pop a cherry tomato into their mouth, which always results in a smile as they walk down the path. I’d been so focused on trying new heirlooms, I’d forgotten this crowd pleaser.

My takeaway from that feedback? Write it down!

As much as I hate to have more pieces of paper around the house, I can’t remember everything from year to year. I really need to write down what has been successful and what needs to change. Then I can go over my notes during the leisurely winter months and see what other lessons can be gleaned.

In the long run, accepting feedback save us time because we don’t keep doing thing that don’t work, we don’t lose our anticipated harvest, and we don’t spend money buying plants that won’t grow.

Permaculture Principle 3: Obtain a Yield

This permaculture principle seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I find that it generates some of the most powerful questions I can ask as a gardener.

  • Have I devoted too much of my garden space to plants that aren’t producing much yield? How might I better use my limited space?
  • Are there things I’m not doing that I could be doing to maximize my yields?
  • Are there yields my yard is already producing that I’m not using? Can I use them or should I give them to someone else to use?
  • What other yields could I pursue?

Who’s Not Pulling Their Weight

My husband and I took a walk-through of the garden and asked ourselves, what plants do we have that are just not performing. Our eyes immediately fell on the strawberries. They don’t produce very many and competition is fierce for the berries that make it to ripeness. Birds, bunnies, visitors … we’re lucky if we get a few.

We could double our efforts — add soil amendments, new plants and netting. Or we could decide to meet our needs with the berries that are already growing well in our yard: raspberries, serviceberries, currants and chokecherries (for jelly).

We decided the strawberries could go.

You Can Do Better

Squash hanging from the trellises, saving space.

Squash hanging from the trellises, saving space.

The next plant to come under investigation was the squash. It takes up a lot of space. Last year we moved them into boxes with tall trellises behind them. In the fall we had eight butternut squash hanging behind the trellis – the leaves got plenty of sun and air and the squash were easy to harvest.

We also had some surprise squash that grew in the compost bin! Squash easily cross-pollinate so these were not true to their type. We knew they might not taste good but hey, they were free. We let them go all summer and in the fall we had 25 squash. If I recall, five were not good, 10 were okay but not particularly full flavored and 10 were very good.

So … hmm, should we be using the compost bin for growing?

What’s This For?

I’ve lived here for 20 years and in all that time there have been chokecherry bushes in the front yard. I never knew those berries could be used by people until I started talking to folks at Transition Longfellow who like to forage. I now harvest about 10 lbs. of berries from these bushes each summer and use them to make jelly.

My front flower garden has lots of hardy native flowers.

Echinacea is also called coneflower. It easily grows here.

Last year we learned that the horns of sumac can be used to make lemonade. We dropped the horns into a pitcher of water and left it out in the sun to steep. It’s a weak, but natural and local (!) lemonade. Now I want to learn how it’s used as a spice in Persian cooking.

We also grow Echinacea and yarrow, mint and bee balm, which I know can be used for medicinal or herbal purposes. I just don’t know how. So my next goal is to either learn what to do with them or to find someone who can use them.

Lucky for me, the Transition Group is going to be exploring herbs in 2015.

Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture

This principle led to a particularly good discussion in our 1st Saturday group when we looked at applying permaculture principles in other areas of our life. Are we “obtaining a yield” from our time?

  • Are we generating joy or drudgery from how you use time?
  • Is your space organized in such a way that you can be productive of the things you actually want to produce (not dust :))?
  • Are there things you could do to maximize your productivity – ways you can leverage your time or resources or space? For example, can you rent a room in your house to bring in extra money?
  • Are you obtaining yields from your activities that you just haven’t recognized yet? For example, if you are volunteering in your local community, you may be expanding your social network, learning about available resources, building new skills and making new friends. On the other hand, you might be filling your time with busy work, not making any lasting friendships and not stretching yourself.

This principle gets at one of the biggest questions in life: What do you want to achieve?

Permaculture Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

I love this principle because it fits with my belief that we should look at every building and bit of land as having the potential to fulfill multiple functions and that each function should be maximized together as a system, not maximizing one discrete function at the expense of others.

For example, this house and yard are not just a place to house people and store things, but can also be a space to:

  • Create energy (or reduce energy use through good design)
  • Collect and store rainwater for later use
  • Move rainwater down to the soil and not into the storm sewer
  • Grow food for people, for pollinators, for critters
  • Promote learning
  • Heal people
  • Connect people and create community
  • Create beauty and appreciation for nature

Some would say that a green lawn is beautiful and that is its function. My personal belief is that beauty is not sufficient unto itself but that it should be part of each and every function mentioned above. Beauty and function should both inform the ends to which we hope to arrive.

So how does this principle of storing energy inform our decision making? We start by identifying where energy exists in our landscape and then look at ways we can capture it.

This is a simple, portable solar cooker.

This is a simple, portable solar cooker.

The Sun: Our solar panels collect sunlight and convert it to electricity, but there are a lot of less expensive or zero-expense ways to use the sun’s energy. We use solar lights in the garden and on our front porch to bring a bit of enchantment and illumination to the evening. For example, solar heating:

  • While we use solar hot air panels on the side of our house to collect heat from the winter sun, any house with a south-facing window can benefit from passive solar heat gain.
  • You can use the sun to make sun tea in a large glass jar or to cook food with a homemade solar oven.
  • You can dry herbs, berries, fruits and veggies with a solar dehydrator (or the back window of a car).
  • You can heat water either with panels for solar water heating or for camp showers. (Check out this kickstarter for a cool on-the-go hot water heater.)
  • You can build a greenhouse or cloche to capture solar heat and extend your growing season.

Wind power: A small wind turbine can generate electricity for home or garden use (if it’s not illegal in your area). A row of tall trees can “catch” wind and store it to prevent it from reaching your home or yard.

Biomass: Compost provides a lot of heat at certain times of the year. Our grape vines are planted near the compost, which keeps their roots warmer. I don’t know if that’s good for them but the ones by the compost are twice as tall as the one’s next to them that aren’t by the compost. Of course, little critters also know it’s a warm space and it’s not unusual for a mouse to jump out when we turn it over in the spring.

Biomass-intensive landscaping can also be used to store water in drought-prone areas. Swales and berms can direct the flow of water.

Food is energy, too. We can preserve food using the natural enzymatic process of fermentation. One permaculture website I read talked about the energy of milk being captured and stored by cheese. I’d never thought of it that way, but I quite like that idea.

Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture

Permaculture principles can also be applied in our lives and the folks in the Transition Longfellow Saturday group had lots of ideas for how to capture personal energy when we have it so we don’t need to expend it when we’re tired.

  • Prepare food in advance and put it in the freezer for quick reheating.
  • Get work ready the night before. Set out your clothes in advance.
  • From the women with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, don’t put things off until tomorrow if you have the energy to do it today.
  • Work with your personal energy pattern (whenever possible). Plan to get things done during the time of day when you feel most alert and then rest.

Money is another form of energy. It can bring growth or stagnation, depending on how it is used or hoarded. For example:

  • Money spent at a local business rather than a chain store stays in the local community and is reused many more times, creating a lot more economic activity. Money spent at a chain store typically leaves the community.
  • Money deposited in a community bank is used to lend money in the community, building even more economic activity. Money deposited at national – too big to fail – banks may actually become a drain in the community, especially if that bank is responsible for a large number of foreclosures in your area.

Permaculture Resources

foodBefore we dig into the 12 principles, one last general post. Permaculture is a huge topic and there are a lot of resources available online to learn more about it. Here are a few I really like (I have no financial relationship with any of the companies or websites mentioned below. I receive no remuneration for mentioning them on this blog.)

  • The website Permaculture Principles talks about the principles and also has a lot of resources you can purchase or download.
  • peppersPermaWiki: A collaborative effort to exchange information about permaculture, sustainability, environmentalism and organic gardening.
  • Worldwide Permaculture Network: An interactive database showcasing permaculture projects and practitioners worldwide.
  • We The Trees: A crowd-funding platform that lets you help make permaculture, endeavors become a reality.

amaranthBetter yet, plan to visit a permaculture farm this year:

  • Harmony Park in Clarks Grove, Minn., is a wonderful example of permaculture principles in practice.
  • Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista may not talk about itself as a permaculture farm but it uses a lot of the practices. They give tours in this teaching space.

Seed Suppliers

It’s all about the seeds with us gardeners, isn’t it? I buy my seeds from only a few companies, which are NOT subsidiaries of the largest seed companies in the world — Monsanto, DuPont, Sygenta, Land O’Lakes, etc. You can get non-GMO, organic, heirloom and non-treated seed from them.

ground cherriesLooking for local businesses to help you move your permaculture designed garden to the next level? Just love to browse garden stores? These are my favorites. (Again, I have no relationship with these stores other than being a customer and loving them!)

  • Egg Plant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave., St. Paul. They offer plants, tools and classes.
  • Mother Earth Gardens, 3738 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis. They have organic seeds and plants, native plants and classes in the dead of winter to whet your appetite for spring.

If you are looking for a larger collection of native plants, try these:

Next week, we’ll begin looking at the permaculture principles.

Support LOCAL Community-Building Resources This Season

Many people make end-of-year financial gifts to charities, either in the name of a family member as a holiday gift, or for tax purposes. If this is part of your tradition, consider adding local community-building organizations to your list of gift recipients. Without these civic-minded folks, it would be much harder to connect.

Continue reading

Personal Permaculture 1: Observe and Interact

During the first discussion of the Personal Permaculture group, after hearing the principles and ethics, people shared their thoughts about the principle of observation and interaction. A couple of things struck me as particularly important areas to pay attention to this month: measurement, tracking and how we talk about sustainability (we personally, and the media in general).

Continue reading

Personal Permaculture Discussion

We started the Personal Permaculture discussion group last Saturday morning at the Riverview Wine Bar. Some people are interested in learning about permaculture as it applies to their land; others are interested in understanding the principles in a broader context. That’s why we’ve called in “personal” permaculture. This week we reviewed the 3 ethics, the 12 principles and the concept of zones. I’ll go over those quickly here.

Continue reading

Emergency Preparedness and the Long Emergency

Preparedness Discussion Group

This group began in November 2012 after a few members watched the video Peak Prosperity and began talking about how to prepare for immediate emergencies and the “long emergency” of climate change. We aren’t showing the video to the group because it is too sales-oriented, but we do find information on the peak prosperity website to be useful, particularly the “What Should I Do?” list.

This is a complex, and emotionally challenging topic for many in the Transition movement. The majority of websites that discuss preparedness – and that sell preparedness products – have a distinctly militaristic and apocalyptic attitude. The peak prosperity site also has some of these discomfiting elements, but we encourage people to read the section on Community to understand that we are not advocating disregard for one’s neighbors. Chris Martensen uses an airline emergency as a metaphor: By taking steps to prepare ourselves, we are putting our own oxygen mask on first so that we can then assist the person next to us. We ARE in this together.

The group meets on the Third Tuesday of each month (various locations) from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Topics include:

  • December 18, 2012: Water — How do we meet our personal need for water, and our food garden’s need for water, in the event of a short-term emergency or longer-term drought? How would our community/city provide safe drinking water if our water system were to be damaged or compromised by storm or flood or loss of electricity?
  • January 15, 2013: Heat – How do we heat ourselves in an emergency situation, such as being stuck in the car in a snowstorm or while camping? How do we heat our home in the event of a power outage (remember, gas furnaces use electric fans to move heat)? In the event we have no heat, how do we prevent cold-damage to our homes? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup heat? How can we minimize that damage?
  • February 19, 2013: Electricity – What are your household’s critical electrical needs? In the event of a short-term power outage, what backup system do you have in place? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup electricity? What alternatives do we have to the electrical grid should electricity become unreliable or too costly over the long term? What can we do as a community to bring improvements to our grid and our energy future?
  • March 19, 2013: Food 1 – How much food should one keep on hand in the home or in the car in case of short-term emergency such as a weather disaster? How does one’s food storage outlook change when considering the “long emergency,” when drought and weather instability may lead to crop losses and increased food prices? (What did our foremothers do to get through the winter?) What has been done on a governmental/ community level to store food in case of crop loss/food shortages?
  • April 15, 2013: Food 2 – What kinds of food should be in the “deep pantry?” What is the best balance of growing your own versus buying from local farmers versus buying from the store? What would a good food storage area look like?
  • May 21, 2013: Food 3 – What are the best methods for storing or preserving food? In what situations might one need a backup system for cooking food? For freezing food? What are the environmental consequences of different types of backup systems?
  • June 18, 2013: First Aid and Health – How prepared are you to handle a sprain, a broken bone, an infection or burn? Do you have adequate emergency supplies in your home and your car? Do you have a small kit on your bike? What health maintenance resources are available within the community? Who in your area understands  no-cost or low-cost natural health treatments?
  • July 16, 2013: Finances – If your home is destroyed by a tornado, will you be able to access your money and credit? Are important documents stored safely offsite? In the face of the long emergency, how might our financial system change? What constitutes real wealth?
  • August 20, 2013: Community – What does a resilient community look like and what steps can we take to help build resilience? How can we take what we’ve learned and share it? What institutions in our community can be a resource for preparedness? For example, if a tornado destroyed homes in this area, are there churches that would open their doors to those made homeless?

Personal Permaculture Discussion Group

Transition Longfellow will be hosting a year-long conversation on Personal Permaculture. January’s kickoff meeting will feature Longfellow master gardener Theresa Rooney. She will provide an overview of permaculture, introducing and explaining the principles and ethics. To learn more, see the Personal Permaculture page under Discussions.

  • Location: Riverview Wine Bar on 42nd Avenue and 38th Street, Mpls
  • Time: 10:30 to noon
  • Dates: First Saturday of each month