Practical Permaculture – End of an Era – Complementary Gardening

YellowClimber

“Climbing Higher” – Yellow Tulip against an abandoned house… Ivy climbing out of the litter covered ground… Reaching for the top… Looking for clear skies…

So after a year of consideration, I have decided to stop promoting permaculture. Although I will still study and reference it, my focus will no longer be centered on a movement that I see as not being a very accepting group of those looking to bend the rules. Now, it is not that I think permaculture is bad. In fact, I think just the opposite believing that the ethics and principles could do a lot of good in this world when applied properly.

I first heard about permaculture during a stay in the fabulous Western Psychiatric Bed and Breakfast circa 2007, a fellow patient was nice enough to let me borrow her yoga magazine. Tucked neatly in the middle of the magazine was a small article about permaculture, it just touched on the subject but was more than enough to spark my curiosity. The entire article was only a page long, but while reading the article I was blown away with the idea of gardening in harmony with nature. I still remember getting goose bumps while reading the article, it was such a mind opening experience that writing about it now is giving me chills.

Permaculture seemed perfect for me, it was essentially a low investment style of gardening that promised yields equivalent to, or greater than conventional methods. Even more interesting for me was the fact that many of the solutions to common problems were solved using nature. Although these methods are much slower, they accomplish the same goals using less harmful methods than conventional agriculture.

This journey through permaculture has sadly left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So much so that I have decided to drop the “Practical Permaculture” name in my blog posts. Permaculture does not sufficiently describe what I do, in fact… It does not describe what any of us do… Nothing we do in this day and age is permanent except the records our governments keep of us. It doesn’t matter if you plant a one-hundred acre food forest, if the right person decides they don’t want it… It will be demolished in less than a day…

None of us are creating permanent spaces, and there is absolutely no such thing as permanent-agriculture… Or permanent culture for that matter… There are trends… And I personally believe permaculture is just that… A trend… People are always looking for maximum output, using the minimum amount of input possible. This promise of permaculture is one of the aspects that seems to draw people in, the reality is what will ultimately chase them away.

Permaculture has become the go-to excuse of the lazy gardener. Now, I’m not saying all permaculturists are lazy people, in fact I think just the opposite, but I do see an alarmingly large number of people trying to use it as an excuse to not pull weeds. Permaculture propaganda is also often sold as a style of gardening that is virtually work free, the common misconception being that after the system is installed… It needs no further maintenance ever.

Sadly, this is so far from the truth that it often hurts unsuspecting gardeners when they realize the 25 dwarf fruit trees they just put in their yard actually do require an enormous amount of annual maintenance… Even worse is the fact that very few homeowners are willing to pay for an unorganized orchard… No matter how much you have invested…  I can’t even begin to convey how quickly a dwarf fruit trees production will decline when it is not pruned and maintained on a regular basis. I have seen dwarf fruit trees with so many branches and leaves that the tree barely has enough energy to produce even a single fruit… When I inquire as to the lack of maintenance… The answer is often “permaculture”…

WaterTulip

“Morning Light after an Evening Rain” – Spring 2013 – Simply because it is a beautiful shot…

Permaculture teaches that biodiversity solves all problems… And yes… It does help… But it is not the silver bullet it is made out to be… Problems will regularly pop up, it makes no difference whether you have one of every tree in the forest growing in your yard. Likewise, a healthy perennial guild, (though pretty) is not guaranteed to accomplish anything other than looking nice. We can speculate that specific plants will serve an intended purpose, but there is no guarantee. This stuff often gets sold as “fact”, when in reality… It is nothing more than theory…

So where do I go from here? Well, I have decided that the term permaculture is too limiting for me. After receiving countless emails and comments from snooty permaculturists around the world pointing out the fact that since I am an ornamental gardener… I have no business calling myself a permaculturist… Likewise, I receive an equally alarming amount of comments and emails telling me that since I do not have a permaculture design certificate… I have no business writing this blog…

I can safely say I have been a gardener my entire life or 32 years, I have always just had a way with plants. Even when I was deep in the depths of addiction, gardening was the only positive influence I made time for. Over the past three years, I have written about permaculture in a public forum (this blog) on a regular basis. My permaculture posts have reached tens of thousands of people around the world, which is more than many of the people bashing me online can say. Throw in the little fact that I do this for free, and I personally believe I have paid my dues in the permaculture (and gardening) world.

So the big question for me has been where to go from here. Given my current and past dissatisfaction with the permaculture world, I no longer find it “personally beneficial” to support a movement that ultimately considers me a nuisance because I refuse to fully conform to their ideals… Reminds me of religion… Or a cult… This got me thinking, what is it that I actually do?.. What is it that I actually believe…

I garden because it makes me feel good… What I do in my garden affects everything around me… My ultimate goal is to compliment myself and my surroundings… Whether nature or human through the gardens I create… Because of this… I have decided from this point forward I will no longer write my articles under the heading of “Practical Permaculture”… But will now call them “Complimentary Gardening”, followed by the subject of my post…

I feel Complimentary Gardening is a much better term for what I do… I mean… The urban nature of my gardens alone makes the permanence of them somewhat of a mystery… Urban property tends to either be worthless… Or ridiculously valuable… Some day… The value of the land to a homeowner could very well be worth more than the tiny community garden that currently occupies this space… And if it comes down to the court system… The gardens will surely lose…

I now recognize that what we are doing is not permanent… It doesn’t matter how many trees… Or how many perennials you incorporate… Nothing is permanent… At the very least… The gardener moves on to another place… And unless someone with an equal appreciation of permaculture takes over… The system is ultimately doomed… For this reason… And many others… I am done promoting permaculture… I am now promoting myself… And the individuals I personally believe are on the right track… The style of gardening makes no difference to me… But the beliefs and intentions of the gardener do…

This new format I am exploring will allow me to write about any style of gardening without feeling the need to relate it to food or the movement. I am interested in all styles of gardening, not just the types that fall under the term permaculture… I want to be able to write about a flower just because it is pretty or I like it… I no longer want to have to figure out a way that you could use it productively… In my mind… If a plant makes me feel good in any way… Well then… That is all I need to personally believe a plant is beneficial… I want to explore beyond food… So I will…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Tripping Out on Ecology

hurricane-katrina-satellite-image

Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their environment. People, animals, trees and plants are all examples of systems, or regularly interacting group of things. Groups that interact together in an ecological system are called eco-systems, examples include forests, fields, swamps and deserts.

A common misunderstanding or misbelief is that we are over and above our eco-system, when if fact we are part of or equal to the system. When you think about it, we really can’t control very many aspects of the system. So much emphasis is placed on competition in the eco-system, I think people fail to realize the key to understanding a system is cooperation.

An eco-system is a transference of energy from one place to another, the total energy in a system is called “embodied energy” or “emergy”… In manufactured items, this would include all the energy involved in manufacturing, packaging and shipping. The sun is not the only energy available, the moon has a gravitational pull that shapes and moves our tides, the earths core also creates geo-thermal energy… All of these energies in essence are considered solar.

These natural systems tend to be repetitive, problems often arise when these natural rhythms are disturbed. Energy from the sun is absorbed and translated into a plant… The plant is then consumed by humans or animals… Animals crap out that plant material which is ultimately consumed again by the plants… This system then repeats creating one big energy flow…

In a young eco-system a large portion of the energy goes into growth, and a small portion goes into maintaining the system. In an older eco-system a small amount of energy goes into growth, and a large part goes into maintenance. A young system is rapidly trying to establish and develop a system, think of the edge of a forest. An older eco-system has established itself, therefore new growth is not as important as sustaining what exists.

When you get into high energy growth, you get competition. In humans, high instability leads to a higher male birth rate, when living conditions improve you will have more females… This was mapped in humans only… Not plants or animals… Though interestingly enough, all competition or all cooperation does not work either.

Permaculture systems typically require a lot of energy during initial construction, as time goes on they require less outside energy. In a functioning forest system, energy is cycled as many times as possible. Conventional modern agriculture is the exact opposite, as energy is depleted from the system it is replaced through mechanical means. Elimination of our trees and native plants will only increase the amount of mechanical work we will one day have to do…

Every eco-system goes through stages in order to build a strong food web, this food web can often take thousands of years to create… Yet we can somehow destroy the damn things in a mere few hours. We need to spend a lot less energy destroying these systems, and a whole lot more on saving and fixing the ones we have left.

If we destroy the eco-systems that we do want, they will be replaced with the ones we don’t want…

peace – chriscondello

 
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Trees And Their Interactions With Other Trees

You could know the common and proper name of every tree in the world, and still not know a damn thing about trees. I personally believe that trees have a meta-physical method of communication that goes beyond anything we could ever comprehend, this post is about the physical methods trees use to communicate with each other.

I hope to do a series of posts about trees in the coming weeks, topics like the theory, propagation, planting, pruning, general maintenance and hopefully end it with the proper way to cut down a tree. I want to cover every aspect of proper tree management, especially the stuff that you would not normally find in a book. This is not meant in any way to be a “how to” article, but a general guide to the spiritual ways of planting and maintaining trees—Though I will include “physical” theory as it relates to the topic being discussed…

With all of the attention that is currently being paid to urban trees, I am finding it increasingly important to educate people on this kind of stuff. Recently a non-profit in my area has started planting trees all over Wilkinsburg, I believe 500 of them to be exact. The immediate benefits of this biologically diverse urban forest have been immense, I have done several double-takes lately in awe of some of the great trees they have planted… Now all I need them to do is start inspecting these trees for “issues” before they plant more…

The following points are just a small sampling of the methods trees use to communicate with each other, there are many more than this… This is just intended to be a starting point… Research is always required before planting a tree, don’t skip the basics.

The simplest and most common interaction is the transfer of pollen, pollen is a necessary requirement for sexual reproduction. Sexual evolution is a necessary part of our ecosystem, genes are mixed, and depending on the traits that remain dominant, the tree will adapt and prosper, or dwindle and die. When the gene mix results in an inferior tree, the tree will almost always die. Sometimes the gene mix will be superior to the original, and we now have a new cultivar.

In breeding programs these superior plants are often singled out and bread for the sole purpose of enhancing those traits, that is how we get our new cultivars… In a forest when a superior trait evolves in a seedling, that seedling can dominate and destroy the seedlings that lack the new trait. This is one of the ways plants eventually develop resistance to certain pests and diseases, just the natural selection of nature at work.

Trees mine minerals from deep in the Earth, in exchange they return starches and sugars in the form of leaf fall. People rarely realize this but a large part of a tree is actually located underground in the form of the root system, 40% to be specific. These roots can reach deep in the ground to access water and nutrients that never would have been biologically available if not for the roots, the tree is not only feeding itself, but feeding every tree and plant around it. Many trees absolutely require the readily available sugars to be present in the spring, maple trees are a perfect example—what do you think makes maple syrup so sweet and delicious?

Trees that have experienced any kind of trauma including insect and bacterial attack, will release a warning by exuding something that has a smell in order to warn other trees. Depending on the species of tree the scent can serve a number of purposes, from chemical warnings meant to warn the other trees in the immediate vicinity that something is wrong, to chemical calls to attract beneficial insects to help fight off an insect attack.

An injured pine tree will begin sending signals and can often show the first signs of infestation within 24 hours after the initial trauma is experienced, this is due to the extremely strong scent of pine sap… An evolution that is advancing as I type this… Boring insects commonly enters the tree through a fresh wound, those insects have evolved to be hyper-sensitive to the smell of the sap seeping from a fresh wound in whatever the target tree of that insect happens to be. Pruning a tree during the wrong life cycle of an insect can prove to be fatal, great care must be taken when determining the time of year you can prune a particular tree.

Trees respond to the sun, observe any houseplants ability to stretch towards the sun is evidence of that. Trees reflect light, this reflected light is called “albido”. All trees have an albido though it is different in every tree. Some trees like conifers absorb the warmth from the sun, overnight that heat is slowly released. Conifers can give off so much thermal energy during the night that they have the ability to melt snow, a characteristic that can benefit less cold hardy trees planted in close quarters with the pine tree. Trees with lighter leaves or bark tend to reflect energy from the sun, dark leaves and bark will absorb that energy. Trees with red or purple leaves absorb the highest amount of energy, this is because of the high levels of copper they contain, copper is an incredible thermal conductor.

Physically the simple act of pollen transfer is more than enough to convince most people that trees communicate with each other, I hope now you will realize that it is so much more than that. The idea that when a pine tree is attacked by a boring insect it has the ability to release sap… Sap that has a smell strong enough to warn the other trees to prepare for an imminent attack—How freaking cool is that…

Next time I will take this a step further — Trees and their interactions with people perhaps…

to hug a tree is to hug god – chriscondello

Originally posted November 25, 2012

All of the information in this blog is provided completely free by the author. I sell prints of my photography to supplement my guerrilla gardens. You can check them out here – www.society6.com/chriscondello

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Apples – The Forbidden Fruit

Urban Apples on Whitney Avenue

Apple trees don’t get the respect they deserve, a quick way to become my enemy is to say “Just an apple tree”. When it comes to storied fruit trees, the apple is king! I am going to try to convince you to plant apple trees, and I am going to do it without ever mentioning the cool fact that you can eat them. All you have to do is tell me something is “forbidden” and I’m on board, but other people take a little more convincing.

Apple Tree – Malus domestica – Rose Family

The modern-day apple finds its roots in the mountains of central Asia where it can still be found growing wild today, Turkey is commonly thought to be the center of diversity. Cultivation of the species has progressed over a long period of time and permitted a secondary introgression of genes from other species into the open-pollinated seeds, including such a large amount of gene exchange with the crabapple, that current populations of apples are more related to those of crabapple than to the more similar progenitor Malus sieversii.

The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated, and our modern-day fruits have been chosen through thousands of years of selection. Alexander the Great is credited with finding dwarf apples in Kazakhstan in Asia, those he brought back to Macedonia might have been the progenitors of dwarfing rootstock.

Apples were brought to North America with colonists in the 17th century, and the first apple orchard on the North American continent was planted in Boston by Reverend William Blaxton in 1625. Apple varieties brought as seed from Europe were spread along Native American trade routes, as well as being cultivated on colonial farms. Prior to this the only apples native to North America were crabapple, which were at one time called “common apples”.

Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in a religion, mythology and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all foreign fruit, other than berries, but including nuts, as late as the 17th century.

The apple was considered in ancient Greece, to be sacred to Aphrodite, and to throw an apple at someone was to symbolically declare one’s love; and similarly, to catch it was to symbolically show one’s acceptance of that love. This is thought to be the precursor to our modern-day tradition of a ring being used in modern marriage proposals, imagine if all you had to buy was an apple…

Though the forbidden fruit in the book of Genesis is not identified, popular christian tradition has said that it was an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to share with her. This was probably the result of Renaissance painters adding elements of Greek mythology into Biblical scenes, though it is much more likely to have been a pomegranate. As a result, in the story of Adam and Eve , the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, the fall of man into sin, and sin itself.

In Latin, the words for “apple” and for “evil” are similar (mAlum “an apple”, malum “an evil, a misfortune”). This may also have influenced the apple becoming interpreted as the biblical “forbidden fruit”. The larynx in the human throat has been called an Adam’s apple because of a notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam.

Some of the old world apples are beginning to be rediscovered, many of which have been in cultivation for hundreds, if not thousands of years. If you are looking to grow an exotic species of fruit, Google “Victorian Apples” and consider one of the old world varieties that have been recently brought back into cultivation. Many of the apples of the past, though they may not have had the shelf life of todays apples, were actually much better tasting… The chance of them ever being cultivated in mass is pretty slim, so it will be up to “us”, the home gardeners and micro-farmers to keep them alive…

grow forbidden fruit – chriscondello

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Practical Urban Permaculture – Part 5 – Keeping Things Tidy

Permaculture is starting to get a bad name in so many places, it is always associated with sky-high weeds, overgrown and un-pruned plants, bugs, and the most dangerous creature in the landscape… Hippies! But it doesn’t have to be like this, you can still do permaculture and keep things neat and tidy…

Certain neighborhood have rules that you probably agreed to prior to moving in, if you would have read those rules you probably would have noticed the part about what is appropriate and what is not in a front yard… usually someone has thought of the idea that someone, someday would attempt to put an urban farm on their lot… Sometimes beating them at their own game is a lot more fun than going to court…

  • A food forest does not have to exactly match the criteria of a forest, a few specially selected fruit or nut trees, when planted in a nicely prepared garden space, with a few beneficial perennials planted underneath of it… Well that my friends… That is essentially a “food forest”. You can keep the space directly underneath of the trees meticulously maintained and it is still essentially a food forest.
  • Many greens when creatively planted, look great and provide food. Kale and swiss chard, especially the “bright lights” variety are stunning plants. These could be integrated into any mixed species garden very few people would even notice, at least not without a close inspection. Many of these greens will produce for at least 8 months out of the year, providing healthy greens for all but the coldest months.
  • Many root crops not only benefit the soil, but the tops of the plants sometimes look great as well. Beets are one of my favorite, the leaves almost always look somewhat interesting. Kohlrabi is a very interesting plant, it can look great in the front of a garden. Be creative with what you plant, and instead of planting vegetables in a straight row… create an ornamental bed, then slowly integrate vegetables into the mix… Cabbage is another cool one…
  • Okra is an incredible plant that is in the same family as hibiscus, the plant grows up to five feet tall and has incredible flowers. When the plant is left standing the dried seed pods ass interest to the landscape throughout the winter, if you leave the plant it will self seed itself in the spring.
  • Leave the tomatoes in the backyard… Tomatoes are rarely a “nice” looking plant, they should probably always be planted somewhere out of sight… At least in my opinion that is… Tomatoes are that one vegetable plant that almost anyone can identify, the idea of what you are doing is to show people that what you are doing can “fit in” with their landscape… This is NOT a shock and awe campaign!
  • Many zucchini and squash can be planted in the same way you would plant elephant ears, use it in a place that could use a little vertical height… Stay away from pumpkins and winter squash that are the Vining variety, the last thing you will need is a 75′ pumpkin vine growing into your neighbors property… Stick to the tried and true bushing varieties, or zucchini… “Costata Romanesco” has incredibly giant leaves, and the fruit is the best zucchini I have ever tasted… Low water
  • Any and all herbs look great in the landscape, plant them by your walkway and rub your hands through them on your way in the door. Basil is by far my favorite “landscape” plant, I love planting multiple varieties with different color leaves and flowers. Chives are companions to almost every plant, when they are in flower they fit right into any location I have ever seen them planted.

The point of all of this is because I don’t want people to get discouraged when their neighborhood association, or nosy neighbor tells them they do not want a permaculture garden in their neighborhood… It is a lot more common than you may think… Instead of getting discouraged, I want you to get creative.

Permaculture interests me because it is not a list of “finite” rules, some people try to make it like that… I think for profit purposes… But it is important to remember that “rules” it is not, it is ethics and principles that are meant to be adapted to whatever situation is at hand… However you choose to execute the principles is completely up to you…

permaculture = adaptation and survival – chriscondello

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