Sunday, July 17, 2016

On playing Mother Nature; Part 1

We are gardeners, we love plants, we tend our plots in our human ways, and when they grow we grow.  The longer we have a garden the closer we feel to nature.  The closer we feel to nature the more we study nature.
 My teacher Sepp Holzer has validated the value of these unseen relationships we form with our gardens and by relation the connection to all of nature.
 Nature/Nurture there is little difference.  If I have groked anything in this endeavor it is that nature endures beyond my attention span, I am not going to be the caregiver for the planting I have made; Nature is.  Natural forces are the determining factor for the survival of every living thing, and we humans are ignoring the endurance of natural inevitabilities; instead of using these forces for the abundance so easily obtained.
We have learned by study, yes every one of us who pays attention recieves a tiny message every time we stop to smell the roses so to speak.
Can we take walk now into the forest, can we now rest among the clover for an hour and imagine our hand doing good upon the land?
Allow the small things to exist, the weeds as you might call them are the blankets for our soils billions of years in the making. They are doing work so important you may never understand it... let that be o.k.
Be a deer some days nip at the tops of your most prized flowers or peppers. Be a pig and dig.. If we keep gardens away from animals we have a lot of work to do imitating them. Over time the lack of animals among our gardens is going to be glaring.
In an urban/suburban environ we do well to draw animals to the garden or find ways to imitate their influence.
We lay manure, and that seems to be the extent of the understanding the general public has embraced as truth.
We need frogs, snakes, bees bugs and yes and even deer.. why?? Resilience, natural selection.  Especially w/ perennials/ food forest type plantings... but even in a tiny plot .. bugs will reveal the weakest plants in your plots.  Resilience comes from stress in many cases.
Compost is another one of natures wonder drugs for greenery, organic matter properly broken down or laid upon the surface will provide.
When applying most amendments or organic matter, leave them on the surface and allow worms the most accessible animal in uber sterile urban container plantings, started in bagged soil; worms can be immensely beneficial in such situations.  Worms will bring down what they need and do the composting for you if making a compost bin or pile, is not for whatever reason is NOT "happening". I have watched them pull small bit of leaves or grass down their holes while observing my garden beds in the early evenings and in the morning fog.  I have even seen them take down ting lettuce seedlings and in effect thinning them for me.
When I seed a surface I over do it.. just like nature I place many many seeds down, planning for failure, planning for bugs and birds. The strongest survive and self thin by dominance, the stand out, the specimen supreme. I lose thousands of seedling this way, intentionally as a natural selection method. Rarely do I find an entire batch of seeds to be so flawless as to produce a dozen such specimens in a single clump of sprouted seeds.  Mostly broadcasting seeds, in most cases not burying them in rows. I consider and have observed watering to be enough disturbance to cover seeds till germination.  A light covering of grass clippings or straw acts as a perfect coverage and support for emerging seedlings, just as in a natural field or hillside.
I enjoy pretending to be mother nature, making natural trellises, gathering seeds and twigs.. turds and stones to assemble at the feet of my plants for their well being and my own.

Many different plants together ... nature's way of defending against bug issues .. friendly frogs help too.

I am not saying let deer wreck your prized plantings, I'm saying prune heavily sometimes like a deer would. Dig out roots from the side of a large perennial like a pig..thereby thinning the clump. Dump some manure.. dare I say encourage some peeing on the bushes. You are an animal after all ;) 

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Learn Holzer Permaculture in practice in the footsteps of Sepp Holzer" (with Sepp Holzer)

It IS my fondest wish, to go to this event in Austria;
This man Sepp Holzer and his support community are cutting edge in AgroForestry, Natural Farming Systems, Learning to read and listen to the land. A tour of the world's most amazing permaculture paradise. One week in heaven learning from Sepp Holzer and the Perma Vitae crew ..his band of angels!
An epic experience guaranteed!!
Mittwoch, August 24, 2016 to Freitag, September 2, 2016
Übelbach/Steiermark; Jennersdorf/Burgenland

August 24 to September 2 | Austria 2016
"Learn Holzer Permaculture in Practice in the footsteps of Sepp Holzer!”

English Seminar with simultaneous translation from German

Trip Highlights
Learning from and meeting Sepp Holzer - the Master of Holzer Permaculture
Visiting the first Edible Village of Austria
Learning from the Rebel Beekeeper of Austria
Learning at the first Wilderness Culture Farm in Europe
Learning how to harvest Seeds
Building an Earth Stable
Experiencing Austrian Tradition
Making your own Schnaps, Bread and more
Visiting the largest and most famous spa in Austria

Seminar Program
Meeting in Graz | August 24
Meeting point: Graz Airport
Departure: 2pm
Trip to Ubelbach (30km)
Dinner: 6pm Introductions and getting know each other

Ubelbach/Styria | August 25 – 27

August 25
09:00 am Breakfast
10:00 am Welcome - „7 Steps to Creating an Edible City“ and Tour around the edible village“
                  with Sandra and Johnny Peham
12:00 pm Lunch
01:30 pm Tour in PEGGAU (Wilderness Culture Garden) 
06:00 pm Dinner

August 26
09:00 am Breakfast
10.00 am Wilderness Culture Principles with Johnny Peham
                  Planning and Creating an Edible Garden
12:30 pm Lunch
01:30 pm Wilderness Culture: Planning and Creating an Edible Garden
09:00 am–05:00 pm: Additional Option: Food Processing with Sandra Peham
                                       How do bake your own bread and making vegan ice cream.
05:00 pm Party with Traditional Austrian music, Attire, and Dance followed by
August 27
07:00 am Breakfast
08:00 am Trip to the mountain Beekeeper
09:00 am Natural Beekeeping - Lunch, (about 40 km Drive)
04:00 pm Departure, Drive to Jennersdorf to meet Sepp Holzer (Distance 140 km)

Jennersdorf/Burgenland | August 28 - September 1

August 28
08:00 am Breakfast
10:00 am Lecture with Sepp Holzer
12:00 pm Lunch
02:00 am Tour of the Holzerhof with Sepp Holzer
05:00 am Tour of the Wildness Culture Farm with Judith Anger
07:00 pm Dinner

August 29
08:00 am Breakfast
09:00 am Tour of the Holzerhof with Sepp Holzer
12:00 pm Lunch
02:00 pm Tour of the Holzerhof with Sepp Holzer
07:00 pm Dinner and Wine Tasting

August 30
08:00 am Breakfast
09:00 am Lecture with Sepp Holzer
12:00 pm Lunch
02:00 pm Consulting with Sepp Holzer on your own project
05:00 pm Conclusion of workshop with Sepp Holzer
07:00 pm Dinner and making your own “Schnaps“

August 31
08:00 am Breakfast
09:00 am Building an Earthstable at the Wildniss Culture Farm
12:00 pm Lunch
02:00 pm Making Bone Sauce and Working with Traditional Tools
06:00 pm Dinner
07:00 pm Trip to the biggest spa in Austria

September 1
08:00 am Breakfast
09:00 am Building an Earthstable at the Wildniss Culture Farm
12:00 pm Lunch
02:00 pm Harvesting and Processing Seeds
07:00 pm Certifcation hand outs, Farwell Party with Sepp Holzer and
                  the Permavitae Crew

September 2
08:00 am Transport to Graz Airport

Seminar Cost | € 2,500.00
Includes: Seminar, transportation, translation, meals, accommodation,
Wine tasting, visiting the largest Austrian spa
Does not include: Drinks

Register via Email
Please send your email to and you will receive the registration form for the seminar.

Sepp Holzer, Agrar Pioneer
Johnny Peham, graduated Holzer Permaculture Practitioner and Consultant,Wildernessculture Expert 
Judith Anger, graduated Holzer Permaculture Practitioner and Consultant,Wildernessculture Expert 
Sandra Peham, Consultant for "Edible Villages and Cities"
Wolfgang Schmidinger, graduated Holzer Permaculture Practitioner, carpenter
Tom the Beekeeper

Seminar Details
This trip will be conducted only when the minimum number of 15 participants is met. The maximum number of participants is 30.

Additional Information
Family friendly: come with the whole family and we will help facilitate a great family trip!
Healthy and Natural Food meeting Dietary Preference!
Volunteers are welcome at the Wilderness Culture Farmand the edible projects in and around Übelbach! 

Copied with permission from Perma Vitae

After this tour you can participate in a ten-day seminar with Josef Andreas Holzer (without Sepp Holzer) at the "Krameterhof"!
September 3 to September 12
Informations: office@krameterhof.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Cover Crops to Build Soil, Crowd Out Unwanted Plants, and Create Biomass

It is very important the the earth be able to grow and breathe at all times of the year. Our gardens and fields are a living being and will always try to fill an open space with growth. You can decide what grows there, you can choose the plants that dominate an area. Let me explain. I weed an area by throwing the proper seeds on top to compete. The more aggressive the plant the taller the cover crop I plant. This “canopy closure” puts tiny, emerging weeds in the shade and hinders their growth. I have eliminated crabgrass with shade out, by planting tall fava bean cover crops and tall densely planted garden varieties and by using all matter produced on that spot as a very deep mulch between cycles.  I pull very few plants, most I chop and drop in place, keeping nutrients where they were for the most part. 
 Soil must always be naturally covered and shaded by plants or organic matter. I do not recommend any printed cardboard (which is less offensive) to plastic for weed suppression, plastic is toxic and should not be used at all. Plastics degrade in sunlight, but more worrying is when in direct contact with the ground will begin to percolate plastic laden water from distillation off the inside surface of the plastic. Would you drink water made in a plastic distiller?  

Buckwheat is a lovely choice for creating green matter, will re-seed if allowed. It is a short season annual which makes it very useful for weed suppression, and to create shade between rows and after harvesting early vegetables. It draws, concentrates, and makes available phosphorus & calcium very quickly. It is a easy first plant in a new plot as it develops aggregate stability and is easy to turn in even by hand.

buckwheat between rows of broccoli 

Clover for nitrogen and soil building in low fertility soils as well. Dutch White clover is a slow growing nitrogen fixing perennial. Once established it provides long term cover, either alone or with other plants. Red clover is shorter lived and should be mowed down when flowers arrive. Both are excellent in high traffic areas. Clovers are beneficial bug attractants as well as medicinal for teas.

Red and rose colored clover gone wild

Fava Beans are also used as a cover crop to protect delicate soil, because they grow quickly and produce a great deal of lush foliage. In addition, like most legumes, fava beans are nitrogen fixers, and they replenish the soil with this vital nutrient. Many farmers plant fava beans and plow them back into the field after the growth has peaked or chop them down for mulch.

fava beans

Daikon Radish, a relatively new idea for a cover crop, special oil producing strains produce a very large and long root, which can penetrate into the soil 8 inches or more to breakup hardpans. It is an excellent accumulator of excess nitrogen and phosphorous, left in the soil from previous crops or manure applications. Also, being in the Brassica family, the vegetative and root growth are low in lignin, which allows the plant material to break down rapidly, releasing nutrients for following crops. Large roots rot in place allowing water deeper into hard soils even without tilling.

Imagine all those roots punching down into hard soil.

Last seasons dead radish root left in place creates an easy path
 to deep cool soil and moisture for a young lettuce.

Oats, Spring planted oats are used for a green manure while a fall planted oat cover crop is intended to die off and create a protective cover for soil all winter. Easy to kill off and creates good cover for other plantings of cover crops.
Sow your oats!

Rye is a fantastic grain and soil saver it has deep roots that reduce the leaching of nitrates. It can be difficult to control but can be broadcast directly on surface of soil eliminating the need for soil prep. Most useful for ravaged land and erosion control. Hairy Vetch is often added to rye oat or wheat cover crops as a support plant.

mature winter rye and hairy vetch

 Cow Peas, fodder beans, black eye'd peas are an annual legume and nitrogen fixer and source. Fast growing they quickly crowd out weeds. They are and excellent soil builder on transitional land or long fallow land. They decompose quickly and offer high nutrition to grazing animals. An excellent choice for areas to be cleared by animals before planting out vegetable crops. 

regular cow pea

a purple cow pea variety
Hairy Vetch another legume and nitrogen fixer, showy with showy purple flowers good for stabilizing steep banks road sides and as a decent graze fodder in the field . Many folks use it as a nurse crop between rows of trees or grapes to shade soil and reduce watering. It is often mixed with oat or rye cover crops as well.

close-up of vetch flowers and leaves
habit is trailing and climbing

Inoculation of legumes; Legumes  live in a close relationship with rhizobia bacteria that invade and establish themselves in the roots of the plant as it grows. These bacteria take nitrogen from the atmosphere (which is about 80 % N2) and make it available to the plant in a usable form. In return for the nitrogen, the legume gives the bacteria carbohydrates. Seeds are treated with an inexpensive powder before planting out by wetting and coating seed with powdered bacteria sold by your seed supplier. 

:: additional study sources, citations and photo's ::

Monday, May 27, 2013

Spring to Summer 2013

That's me on the left, hands on hips deep in communion, listening to my teacher Sepp Holzer  speaking in German.  I  felt like I understood somehow, he is so expressive and animated ..quite hilarious. Completely charming.

  I am at the crossroads again and so are you.

  Spring. It's amazing, nurturing, magical, verdant bliss tinged with winters last tantrums and hints at summers blistering sun. I have these seeds..buckets of them saved and given, these magical pearls of potential, along with visions of multiple Eden's to match. I've done a lot of planting and seen some losses already .. during days away I lost most all my main tomato eggplant and pepper seedlings I do for sales. Direct sowing has been prolific, and so have the slugs and sow-bugs. I lost my husbands camera during my trip so I have very few pictures of the losses and gains.. probably better that way..better to see what makes it to the summer...who ends up being the "winner "this year.

  I spent the very first days of spring back in my old stomping grounds at a workshop. Sounds bland, sounds like something done often. Well I was blessed, privileged, directed, to meet some of the greatest teachers of natural farming/living of our time, Sepp Holzer and his crew. Oh I know it just a slice of reality but what a rich slice it was!
Chad and Sepp under the big tree!!

      Margarete,  Judith and Johnny .. The Austrians who traveled here to the states with Sepp Holzer.
Our hugelbeet built at the workshop!

  My return trip was emotional and I was overwhelmed with relief hope and joy. It was closest to; learning that your dying mother is going to be okay..that the illness can be cured simply AND I can do it.. I can contribute the essential ingredient that will heal her. What I experienced was like attending a mythical feast where every dish was prepared by a master chef. Then I got to have an intimate talk about every subtlety of each dish. That's what it was like.

  Some new thought patterns cascade inspiration.   Mushrooms are the saviors of the deep forest. So having a shady woods on your property is a wonderful asset.  

  Water collection is primary in any design.

  Without addressing the practicality of natural water harvest, your design is useless.  I do not care if you are building a tool-shed,  try to make it harvest water!!

   How do we cultivate? How were we able to survive in days of YORE? With less ingredients , yet better flavor and imagination!

  I love the opulence of this earth, yet the myriad of combinations possible should not become an year long obsession. We have all seen still life paintings and images of  fruit or flower and vegetables. As a child I looked upon these types of images as one dimensional .. a little obvious. I now see these types of paintings as historical and scientific...catalogs of the variances passed along by cross breeding and happenstance. They illustrate the gift of the moment, the reason we celebrate seasons.

  What I'm embracing is what needs to become my rhythm and ritual;  how to harness the season. As we all know the mind makes a promise that the body sometimes has a hard time filling, so much of the abundance I create turns to mulch as I try to keep up. However with very little effort, finding or harvesting a crop of something is nearly always possible especially since I like to eat greens!! Dinner is not what you want every single day, sometimes it needs to be what you already have. In my past I focused on annual plantings, my new focus is perennial food bearing trees, shrubs, and learning about all the supporting plants that nurture feed and protect those larger plantings over their lifetimes. In permaculture this is called a guild and it's how you build a self sustaining food forest..a natural varied orchard. 

  I have also begun to promote Hugelkultur very actively, I am hoping to make a new career designing and installing them as fences instead of milled lumber for privacy. By design it is the very best way to make a living wall that will support itself with water and nutrients. I have two folks lined up who are as excited as I am about the old branches laying around on their property.

  This is the spring and summer of learning for me in my favorite classroom, nature. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hugelkultur..The Wood Composting Method that creates deep soil and saves water ..part 1

Have you ever picked up a rotting log and had it crumble in your hand? Found an old wood pile left to rot? You tried to find some good wood in there but mainly found spongy funk? Yes?! Then you are going to get this right away.
 That rotting wood is the start of your new garden, it's soil in the making! The base you are going to start with, is wood. 
 You begin looking for...Logs, branches, leaves & twigs. Some of us have a lot of them. Some of us don't. In the latter case you look for..rotting untreated lumber, fallen fences, storm ravaged wood wreckage, anybody's unwanted burn pile. You can turn this type of unwanted, clean untreated woody "waste" into a self feeding self watering planting area, with even very poor soil.

The idea is old as the woods quite literally. Hugel means hill or mound in German and combined with the word culture-kultur ( nearly the same in both languages) it describes these log and branch filled mounds. 
The basic idea is you lay out large wood pieces logs stumps, branches etc. and cover it well with a bunch of, compost, leaves, wood-chips what ever you have. Then cover very very well with soil, and plant right away. Read on...

What happens is over the years all that wood is rotting and becoming the perfect combination of spongy and airy...a beneficial environmental cocoon deep inside capable of holding water from winter rains for months and months. 
Warmth from the pile inside rotting gives extra protection from cold, extending your growing 

Sepp Holzer Illustration 

Garden below demonstrates this, these cucumber seeds were sown the same day from the same seed packet. The added warmth helped quite a bit.

This was a first year side by side experiment..done by one of my readers on Facebook. Right is piled up small wood waste, pine cones and pine bark, covered with soil and compost then with burlap. It was then  planted into. The plot on the left side got the same amount of compost at planting. Left side was watered, right side was not, but for one spring rain shower over night! This is one month of growth. Showing that even small piles offer warmth benefits, and good results.

First off..I know many people are saying now.."won't the wood rob nitrogen?" The answer to that is; That's why most say these are best after the 2nd year. So some folks add manure to speed up the process. I like to point out that the pile should be very well covered, covered deep enough in dirt to grow first year. Nitrogen fixing plants are used as an important part of the polyculture planting recommended, and should not be skipped.

Cedars, Redwood types, Madrone, are not the very best choices because they are known not to rot and have properties that are unhealthy to plant growth. That said they can be used in small amounts or around edges of pile as a border if desired.

Soft woods ..Cottonwood, Apple, Pear, Alder, Maple, Oak. Yes..Pine, Fir tho acid at the start are okay if  dead for a few years. Some choose it to plant acid loving bushes like blueberry.

Hard woods just don't break down and are valuable for other uses like building furniture or firewood. Dead brambles, Wild roses, Trees or bushes that root easily from cuttings like willow should be dried out completely before being buried unless you are trying to make a willow fence! I have heard it suggested to burn willow or other questionable wood down to bio-char if you are in a rush. This can be added to a hugel.
More about good wood and bad wood at Permies forum

Get a backhoe or digger to match your needs. For the lowest footprint; 
Hire local professional with references 
Use local materials
Make sure work is planned out
make sure digger understands what you need before you begin, they will not hear you when driving.
finish the job to avoid return visit
fix mistakes right away
stay with operator until job is finished, don't walk away!

You want your wood configured on a nicely leveled out spot and at a right angle to flow of water if built on a slope/hill or against the prevailing wind. 
Wood can be placed in a shallow trench, wherever you are working your spot should be level to a max 3 degree variable on a flat spot or terrace. Swales are dug around perimeter as a border for slowing run off, controlling erosion and allowing water to slowly seep in.
Experienced builders with room to do so, recommend building  them TALL 7-10 ft.  These will support a food system for many, many years! 

 Any size works and can be scaled down to fit a small yard too, like here
stack wood nice and neat

Sepp Holzer told us to try to achieve a 70 degree slope for the easiest harvesting on tall beds.

You may mix in composted manure, compost, sod turned over.. but it is recommended to use native or natural soil  and not to use a potting type blend. Clay content is fine, and in fact helpful for holding moisture. The wood will become compost in time. Hugelkultur is wonderful for breaking up clay soils and making them fertile.

The final steps are as important as building the hill, a polyculture planting is recommended. 
When you are all covered with soil, sprinkle with straw then find leafy branches and stand them up against the beds. You will then need to make large wooden pins out of branches as well and pin down the branches tightly against it's surface.

                                                                       Shown here in Paul Wheaton's great new video!

 Use like a spike with crotch pinning down the branches you laid on the surface.
look for sticks that have one long end and a shorter crooked branch, long end goes into pile while side branch hlds down shade branches.

These branches pinned on the outside of the pile offer benefits like support, shading, breaking hard rainfall, & reducing erosion until roots form a netting.  Mulch pathways well.

This must be planted right away. Large seeds are placed by hand, potato, beans, sunflowers, peas. Small seed mix is made from lettuces, greens of all kinds & root vegetables of all kinds. Lupine, purslane, and beneficial flowers like calendula, nasturtium, feverfew, etc... here and there in a separate mix. The size of the seed affects the way it is broadcast, and you do want a fine even spray of seed to go all over the pile.  

Either water very lightly for a few days or let the rain do it for you, settling and shifting will occur, holes can just be filled with soil and patted into place.

The time of year you decide to build your pile, will affect how often you need to water during it's first years.  
If you build in the fall before your rainy season, plant with winter vegetables suitable to your climate and/or plant a cover crop.  A bed that has had all winter to store water will need very little water or none at all depending on your climate and summer rain fall. A hugelkultur built in spring will need water it's first year most likely. However it will use much less if planted as instructed. No bare soil, a green carpet is best. Mulch is good but still expires moisture with out leaves to catch humidity and send it back to soil and plants. Harmless weeds and herbs such as chickweed and scarlet pimpernel, miners lettuce, docks, purslane, clovers should all be allowed to fill in empty spots and cradle vegetables with moisture and shaded soil. Varied root depths draw moisture from deep inside to the upper layers like stairs. 

A wonderful blog with great illustrations  

At the Krameterhof, Sepp Holzer's farm in Austria.

built by Sepp Holzer and his Team!

Many images and my base information drawn from this article;
and my time spent with Sepp Holzer during a 5 day workshop, the first of many to come.

All roads lead to

when you want in depth info or if you'd like to read about dozens and dozens of gardens that have been built with this method

PART 2..
Hugelkultur...I did it my way!!
a continuing journey into creative applications.