Practical Permaculture – Rooting Fig Cuttings

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This fig tree was propagated by cutting, it is roughly 2 years old.

One of my favorite parts of gardening is propagation, very few situations in our lives affords us an opportunity to truly play God. But in gardening, although the plants sometimes tell us what they want to do, for the most part we get the final say. The idea that every plant can be easily reproduced just boggles my mind, gardening truly has the potential to be the ultimate poor mans hobby.

Plants, like humans exist in a world of survival of the fittest, only the strong survive. Most permaculturists, although aware, have no idea how to make these principles work for them. Sometimes, the impending death of a plant can trigger a reproductive response that is unlike anything the plant does in life. In nature, when a living branch falls to the ground, it wants to survive, as a last-ditch effort the plant will redirect all of its energy into “forcing” root production. Just one of the ways plants asexually propagate. I have no intention of giving away all my herbaceous voodoo magic in one post, though I do take requests…

It is safe to say, if I can get my hands on just about any part of a plant, I can, and will propagate it… A very large portion of my garden is made up of plants that I personally propagate in one form or another… Figs happen to be one of my favorite plants to propagate, and probably one of the easiest hardwood cuttings to root.

The purpose of this post is to go through step by step, what goes into preparing a hardwood cutting for rooting. There are two ways plants are propagated, Sexually and asexually…

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Some plants like it when you watch…

Sexual Propagation

Seeds are typically produced from sexual reproduction within a species, because genetic reproduction has occurred, a plant grown from seeds may have many different characteristics from its parents. Some species produce seeds that require special conditions to germinate, such as cold treatment. Seeds from many plants in the American Southwest require fire to germinate, designed to only germinate after a wildfire has prepared the land. Some plant species, including many trees do not produce seeds until they reach maturity, which may take many years. Seeds can be difficult to acquire and some plants do not produce seeds at all.

Asexual Propagation

Plants have a number of mechanisms for asexual or vegetative reproduction. Some of these have been used by gardeners to multiply or clone plants quickly. People also use methods that plants do not use, such as tissue culture and grafting. Plants are produced using material from a single parent, and as such, there is no exchange of genetic material, therefor vegetative propagation methods almost always produce plants that are identical to the parent. Vegetative reproduction uses plant parts such as roots, stems and leaves. In some plants seeds can be produced without fertilization and the seeds contain only the genetic material of the parent plant. Therefore, propagation via asexual seeds or apomixis is asexual reproduction but not vegetative propagation.

Propagating figs

Now that you know a few of the basics, we can get into what this post is all about… Propagating figs, or any plant for that matter, as easily and cheaply as possible. I would like to “destroy” the common misconception that this stuff is difficult to do… Honestly, a monkey could prepare cuttings, the hard part is remaining vigilant in the upkeep of the tender cutting while it is attempting to root.

Materials

Pruning shears, paper towels, water, knife, rooting hormone, growing medium.

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Simple diagram of what the cuttings should look like, all three of the examples are fine for this purpose.

Locate fig cuttings

Talk to the neighborhood Italian or fellow gardener, although figs at one time were uncommon, they have become popular in recent years and are no longer that difficult to find. A common misconception is that figs will only root before they have broken dormancy in the spring, I have no problems rooting figs in any life cycle. The time when you acquire the cutting is not nearly as important as how you take care of it.

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Notice the bark has been carefully scraped away exposing the cambium layer.

Prepare fig cuttings

With a sharp pair of pruning shears, cut the branch at a minimum of 45 degrees being careful to keep the cut clean and free of tears. The reason the cut is at a 45 degree angle is to expose as much inner surface as possible, this is one of the areas most likely to produce roots. Using a very sharp knife or razor blade, carefully remove strips of bark along the bottom 1 or 2 inches of the cutting, this is to expose the cambium layer and create more places for root formation.

 

Root Hormone

After completion of the first two steps, I recommend placing your cuttings in a glass of water until you are complete with your prep steps. I occasionally use a powder rooting hormone, this stuff is available at any garden center and is highly recommended. Dump some of the rooting hormone onto a piece of paper, and roll the prepared end of the cutting in the powder shaking off any excess. Do not stick a wet cutting into your container of root hormone, it will introduce moisture into the container and ruin it… Never put the powder you have been using back in the container either, this will also ruin it.

Planting

Use a medium-sized pot filled with clean potting mix, make a hole in the soil slightly larger than the cutting, and insert. Try to avoid removing any of the rooting hormone from the cutting when inserting it, that is why the hole is slightly larger than the actual cutting.

Italian brown turkey fig ready to be planted.

All of your hard work to get to this point in the process, now depends on what you do for the next month. The planted cuttings should be kept moist at all times, a greenhouse covering like a plastic bag will help keep moisture contained. If your soil dries out, you will most likely lose your cuttings…

Once normal growth resumes, remove the plastic covering. For the first year of your cuttings life it is important to remember that it is extremely fragile, problems that would normally have no effect on an established fig tree, will have fatal consequences.

Voodoo

Many of the methods and procedures I use are often considered “voodoo” in the permaculture world… Fuck the permaculture world… Permaculture is about using your resources appropriately… Not spending your resources talking shit on other people… I love permaculture, but am growing increasingly wary of many of the people who I meet in the permaculture world…

Fly by nights… Hipsters… Radicals… Everything I strive not to be…

People in my eyes that have no love… Can’t see the forest or heaven above… Sitting in a circle banging a drum… Talking shit on those you think are scum… – Like me… Proudly…

peace – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Design

We are all designers, design is nothing more than the arrangement of elements and flows in your life, we design our outfits, meals, homes, gardens and schedules. We design our lives around the problems or elements that shape our world. We design our outfits for form and function, otherwise, we would all be walking around in yellow and orange ski gear in august clueless as to why we were sweating. Design is one of those words that has been blown out of proportion to the point that most people think you need some form of higher education and fancy letters after your name to be included in the design club… I’m here to tell you that is just not the case. We have all been designed to be designers, and I would like to awaken your thought process so you realize it.

A permaculture practitioner has a spiritual and physical attachment to the land they are designing, we see things that others don’t. When you look at the site you are designing, think of it as a system. Study the watershed and airflow, and observe the animal and insect patterns. One of the first things I do is look at the list of variables that I will be working with.

1. Soil

2. Water

3. Sun

4. Temperature

5. Expected yield/type of yield

6. Animals and Insects

Once you have your variables, then all you are basically doing is plugging them into a sort of equation and weighing the results. The design equation is different in every situation, but a relatively sound minded gardener can responsibly solve any garden problem using permaculture basics. Remember that permaculture design is not only design, but also figuring out ways to rationalize keeping and working with/around existing elements in the landscape. Sometimes the hardest part of permaculture design, is convincing a client to keep that old oak tree they have been saving money to cut down for years.

Normally soil structure is a concern that is weighed, but when dealing with an urban lot you are rarely working with soil that has been in place for more than 100 years; usually it is less than 20 years old. When a house is torn down, fill is brought in to cover the demolition site, this is usually rocky, lifeless clay and absolutely no attention is paid to soil quality. For this reason, I say if you want to roto till the lot, go for it. Another option is to bring in mountains of organic material, and cover every square inch and basically start over… I am a supporter of working with what you have, which often means amending the soil you currently have to work with, but I have worked on lots that have so many bricks the only option is to work up from the existing soil surface.

Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. Water is the all mighty equalizer, you either have too little, or way too much. The trick is to figure out a way to harness what you have, whether it involves clever drainage ideas or ways to shed it away. When I design the beds in a garden, I employ two different tactics involving raised areas designed to shed water, and depressed areas to channel and collect that runoff. This creates what I consider the two basic rain garden concepts… Gardens designed to shed water, and gardens designed to harness it. Location plays a role in the placement of these types of gardens, and differs on every single lot. Once again the principles of water and rain water collection are sound, the only thing that changes is scale and gradient.

The amount of sunlight is often a huge barrier in the urban landscape, a north facing wall can be shaded most of the day, while a south-facing wall can be so bright and so warm that it can raise your garden a zone or two. I have seen massive Brown Turkey Fig patches here in Pittsburgh that normally would need some protection not just survive, but absolutely thrive for 20+ years due to the fact that the homeowner knew the importance of having a brick south-facing wall with no obstructions to block the sun. Shade can be a good thing as well, creating cool spots to grow early and late season vegetables that would otherwise die when grown in the dog days of summer. Once again permaculture is about working with the conditions at hand, don’t change the environment… work with it and adapt to it…

Temperature and sun basically go hand in hand, just work with it, and know it well. Spend time identifying the hot, and cool spots and work with them. know and understand your specific micro-climates, and don’t be afraid to test the limits of your site and the plants used within it.

The amount, and type of yield that you are aiming for needs to be considered in your design. Things will change drastically, depending on what you want your garden to produce. Permaculture, although mainly food oriented, does not limit gardening and landscaping to food production. You could be working for a client that wants a permaculture landscape, but wants absolutely no food grown on their property… would you turn them down? What if they were your only job opportunity for the year… Would you really turn them down? A true permaculturist would take the job, and begin healing the land using phytoremediation tactics incorporating only ornamental plants, with the end yield being workable farmable land for future generations.

Pests and beneficial insects come in so many shapes and forms… On the pest end, we have everything from aphids to children. On the beneficial side, we have everything from honeybees to children. This is one of the aspects of design where a lot of experience, and a solid working knowledge of animal and insect life cycles and habits becomes necessary. So many gardeners, landscapers and farmers may know every plant name out there, but when it comes to animal and insect life… All they know is how to kill the thing with poisons. If you have a pest that bothers, you figure out what pest bothers it… And promote the hell out of its existence. Usually when you have a pest problem, it can be fixed by the promotion of beneficial insects… So in a way we promote the life of the good guys, in hopes that they will control the bad guys… Promotion not eradication!

I could never fit every little aspect of permaculture design into one little blog post, these are just meant to be some ideas to start with. If you are really interested in permaculture design, then I suggest you take the Permaculture Design Course wherever it is offered in your area. Though I need to stress that the PDC is far from a farming course, it is much more of a theory course in my eyes… If you don’t have a basic working knowledge of plant and farming basics, the PDC course will do very little for you… I would suggest talking to your local Extension office, and becoming a Master Gardener first. Get real “informational” backing from a university, then consider getting your Permaculture Design Certificate…

I will proudly admit that I have not taken the Permaculture Design Course, I think the price is ridiculous for what you get. I have been lucky enough to acquire several different versions of the PDC on video, taught by teachers all around the world… Including one by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. I immersed myself in these 72 hour lectures daily for months on end, anything that could possibly be taken away from these lessons, I believe I absorbed. You guys read my blog, what do you think?

I chose to spend my time and money becoming a Penn State Master Gardener, I believe it was the right choice of the two. But my choice is not for everyone, and I would recommend and back the PDC as taught by any of the people currently practicing and teaching in my area. I just personally thought having Penn State backing me was a better choice, it made more sense to me.

If you only take one thing away from this post, then I would want it to be that you are a designer. When gardening you should think like a responsible designer, remember to always take a common sence approach. Remember every thing you change or affect, will have an effect on many other aspects of your garden… So when changing something, think it through and do it responsibly. If you are not 100% sure of something you are about to do… step back and take the time to properly think it through.

promotion not eradication – chriscondello

This is a photo from the Whitney Avenue Urban Farm, the bricks were used to absorb sunlight and heat, to help start my green seeds earlier. Notice how the seeds closer to the south-facing side of the bricks sprouted earlier, and are growing faster.

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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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