Ecology’s importance in relation to, well, everything, is obvious, and so what could there be to say? I recall the many discussions I’ve shared with brilliant, creative friends wherein it was agreed that so-and-so prefers tarot cards while another dear soul doesn’t trust them and instead likes to write in a journal as a way of figuring out her life. Multiple perspectives are important in every subject, just as diversity is the key to balance on a farm.
It may be time to start building that perimeter wall, folks. After watching the 2008 movie Quarantine the other night, I felt my first authentic fear of zombies. I started experiencing the basic status-quo terror of zombies as a 9-year-old, when, having moved from Northern California to a remote property in Southern Oregon, I created a fantasy that zombies began shuffling up our gravel driveway whenever I rested my hands over my stomach in bed at night. I realize that this makes no sense, but hey I was nine. Continue reading Center For Disease Control Zombie Apocalypse Guide
One of the main principles of Permaculture is to grow by chunking, or to start with a manageable piece of a site and build off of it so as to connect each area within the larger context. In other words, pick a spot that makes sense to you and go from there. “There” can be the back door of your new home in late Spring, where you only have space and time for a small kitchen garden. It can be a barn that holds your front-burner project. Whatever you choose, once you start working Permaculture into your site, it becomes easier in a way.
For my intern, who is building a cob pizza oven for this year’s Village Building Convergence on a double lot in Northeast Portland, Oregon, a Pizza Permaculture garden made sense. We assembled a design team and met on-site several times to assess and prepare the space for holding the workshop.
Design considerations were limited by other activities and features sited nearby:
· Sun exposure needs for the plants differ from that of the mushrooms, so I sited the tomatoes next to the “crusts” (burlap bags containing mushroom spawn & growing medium at the tops of the beds) without the use of cages. This will allow the tomatoes to drape over the burlap bags and shade the spawn inside, creating a microclimate.
· Proximity to the cob oven makes it easy for owners and their guests to bring fresh ingredients to the prep area when the pizza dough is ready to be topped.
· Leaving adequate space for movement around fire pit seats and the wildlife tree bench ensures a welcoming and comfortable space as well as a functional garden.
· Narrowing paths between beds allows for such a small garden to inhabit this special sun-drenched spot amidst other activities and gardens.
· Visually linking the garden to pizza via shaping the beds like slices is a fun way to key potential users into the social side of Permaculture.
A. Observe over time & design for specific site & client. The owners have lived at the site for six years & have been able to witness & cooperate with site microclimates, as well as weave the pizza garden in with other design elements, namely the cob oven. In addition, following the installation, they will be able to observe its success and make adjustments over time, extending the observation period.
B. “Start small with intensive & productive systems that are manageable.”* The design is for a very small overall area, but inside it much is happening. From soil layering to mycoremediation, the pizza garden allows for growth by chunking.
C. Obtain a yeild. Herbs will continually produce, and so will mushrooms. Plants like Basil and tomatoes are fun to plant each year and widely available. Giant zucchini can be shared with neighbors or provide potluck dishes to help the owners continue to build community with their neighbors and the Permaculture network of Portland.
D. Connect using relative location. We’ve placed the pizza garden in useful relationship to the wildlife tree bench, firepit, and cob oven. This means being able to walk between all of these areas, carry produce fresh-picked from the garden to the oven’s prep counter, and sit comfortably on the bench and around the firepit.
E. Use biological & renewable resources. Donated plants & organic compost & mulches, & volunteer design & labor contribute to social as well as natural capital, or the long-term establishment of beneficial relationships & stored energy.
F. Turn problems into solutions. When we recognized that the beds had been sited 12” too close to the bench in an effort to give room for firepit seating, we were able to plan for narrowing the bench around the wildlife tree as well as move the beds out. This solved the problem of people not being able to lean back against the tree before when sitting on the bench.
*paraphrased by Tom Ward
Watch this video from one of our site prep meetings: Beds Are Dug, Now Let’s Talk A Bit
Here are the steps of the workshop:
1. Scrape to bare clay earth, about 4 to 6 inches depth
2. Lay down a thick layer of innoculated hardwood chips (6 months’ old Alder, Maple, Birch, Cottonwood, Ash = no more than 20% of pile)
3. Spread a compost layer on top of wood chips and mix with chips
4. Layer with cardboard that is 3/4 wet and has been punctured with holes for each plant
Following the installation of the mushrooms and plants, children immediately began playing a guitar and swinging near the new garden, and a chicken hopped in next to the smallest Basil plant. We erected a chicken fence.
I wanted to make the workshop replicable, so that anyone not familiar with Permaculture could use it to get started in a manageable way, or show their grandparents how fun and useful Permaculture can be. A young woman from San Francisco wanted to use the workshop to introduce her summer camp group to sustainable gardening. A designer from Montana took inspiration from the lively discussion during the workshop for seeking a more deeply satisfying niche. Look for the workshop again soon. And start preparing your spiel to your grandparents. 🙂
Mushroom guru Paul Stamets showed the first video ever of mycelium in action a year or two ago at the Oregon Country Fair. His laptop kept shutting down, and he rebooted five or six times before ending his presentation early. I had been building the Front Porch that year, and Paul’s talk was the one presentation I made it to at my camp’s booth, wandering by in the early evening on my way back to camp and realizing I’d happened to make it to the talk even though I’d forgotten about it from a full day of frolicking in the woods. I lied atop the numerous carpets and cushions we had spread under the canopies hung from the forest and watched little streams of material flow along the fungal network. Stametz had discovered from making the video that mycelium make a web of routes so that if there is a dead-end at any point along the network, the fungus always has an alternate way.
When my van wouldn’t start on a drizzly Saturday recently, I found myself at a mechanic’s shop instead of my yoga class. I thought about all the ways I could find meaning in the unexpected change in my schedule, and Taoism came to mind. The ancient eastern philosophy reminds us to go with the flow and not see the day’s turn of events negatively, since, as Alan Watts once said, they aren’t done yet. After studying and doing my best to live according to its principles, I have arrived at a sense that Taoism is mainly about going with circumstances instead of resisting and judging them, since they are a part of a large orchestration that didn’t start at a specific point in time and doesn’t particularly have an end either. It seems that fungal mycelium are directly demonstrating this principle.
What if circumstances provide the architecture for energy to flow through our lives and carry us somewhere? Under the colorfully lit nighttime canopy of Oaks and Vine Maples that night at the Country Fair, I’d reasoned that the streaming stuff within the fungal network of the mycelium was information of some kind, and that it had to move, but that it didn’t necessarily have a destination or end-point in mind.Stamets showed slides of the human brain next to the mycelial networks, and it appeared that the human neural network is practically the same as the mycelial one. In a macro/microcosm, the most mammoth principle can be seen in the smallest forms, and vice-versa.
Considering the events of that Saturday provided me with insight into new ways to work with circumstances as if they are the architecture through which my experience is able to flow, suggesting that accepting the avenues that present themselves will allow me to continue to move and thus grow, change, and evolve. Mycelium provide a striking visual example, thanks to the videography work of a mushroom pioneer.
In the larger scheme of things, if nothing else, evolution is certainly a prime goal, for we do not know what we are, regardless of what our science thinks this week, and we cannot see where we are headed, except that there is a path opening before us in every moment. We can live in a rut, retracing the same path until we move into the Great Mystery, or we can choose to see the beauty in the ever-changing structure which houses the immaterial substance at the core of our bioenergetic species identity, and go with it.