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This is the fourth diary in a series on ecological gardening that I am writing for the Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living group here on Daily Kos.

The purpose of this diary series is to share my limited knowledge about a revolutionary mindset that is nothing short of a paradigm shift in our relationship to the natural world. What this diary will not be is a definitive, earth shattering work that claims to understand everything. What will be described here is not "Finchj's way" but rather my understanding of agroecology & permaculture and how I tried to internalize and apply it.

The first diary can be found here; the second, here; and the third here. As this form of land stewardship is knowledge based, I highly recommend readers to follow the series through- at least reading the diaries with "Introduction" in their title.

I will include an introduction simliar to this one in each diary for sake of continuity and disclosure.

I want to stress that ecological gardening is possible without formal training and is a DIYer dream. Nature will teach you everything you need to know, but since we have limited time here on earth, my aim is to share what I know and where I learned things so the growth will be exponential.

Last time here...

In the last diary, I looked at the most important neighbor any plant has: the soil. Instead of writing a very technical diary revolving around soil types, the soil profile, pH, etc., I decided it would be better to describe three techniques that ecological gardeners use that revolve around respecting soil. As you may recall, soil is the most biologically active part of a landscape. The numbers of organisms are staggering- reaching billions rather quickly. The three major ways ecological gardeners respect this soil life are: mulching with organic matter, plant cover, and pathways (in other words, avoiding soil compaction).

The diary was a little more hands on than I wanted, but soil is just so complicated that instead of reinventing the wheel and throwing out a lot of knowledge I chose to share some common soil building techniques for the sake of brevity. I just finished reading Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis (h/t to the fan man for mentioning it in the comments last diary). It does a good job informing us about the soil life, although some of their recommendations I shy away from.1 If you want to know more about what is going on, check it out from your library. Of course, a cursory internet search will teach you more about soil science as well.

Right: July 7, 2011 Preparing some compost tea: a biologically rich "fertilizer" made with on site materials. Compost teas help bolster soil life while returning nutrients to the soil.

As this introduction progresses, we will be taking an ever wider perspective of the garden. The fundamental topics of this diary are the different "layers" that make up a garden.

1. In general, the book was great. But, was definitely geared towards organic gardeners, not ecological gardeners. Which is totally fine. I hope that as this series progresses, the difference between the two will become more apparent. Once I finish with the "introduction" section, I'll have a diary that will make the case all in one place. Anyway, at one point they mention replacing soil (big red flag). In some others, they mention not using manure (fear of E. coli) and dealing with "weeds"- which I've already said do not exist. So just be aware that this is not a diary series on organic gardening. Ecological gardening goes beyond organic as it is commonly practiced.

Jun. 16, 2011. This photo does a pretty good job showing different layers in the garden. Different microclimates are easily discernible. Notice how the each plant fills the physical space in the garden. Imagine the cool air at the vantage point in contrast to the hot summer heat bathing the garden.

Basic Garden Ecology 3: Layers

Breaking with convention, ecological gardeners design through all the "layers" plants make available to us. Ecologists and ecological gardeners divide this physical space into different numbers of layers. Personally, I have a better time understanding this with a picture.

This is my personal adaptation of "Figure 3.2 Forest garden vegetation layers..." from Edible Forest Gardens vol. 1, p. 71 by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier. I have added the successional timeline.2

From left ("early") to right ("late"), we have the mulch/humus layer, ground cover plants (up to 3'), herbaceous layer (up to 6'), shrub (up to 12'), low tree (up to 50'), and tall trees (50'+). As time "progresses" and the ecosystem "matures," one can expect taller, larger trees to dominate the canopy.3 An understory develops to meet changing availability of light, water, nutrients, pH, soil biota make-up, and other factors. Whichever plants populate the overstory (that is, the tallest plant regardless of height), they have a profound influence on the understory.

All plants influence the soil profile, with plants either sharing space cooperatively, or competing for space. Knowing the root habits of plants allows us to design in this hidden, but highly important, layer. The root types of many plants are unknown, which can allow back yard gardeners to participate in adding to our knowledge about these species.

Each layer has different functions in the garden. For instance, the canopy absorbs most of the sunlight- creating a microclimate below that is both cooler and typically more humid, greatly affecting the range of species that can thrive there. More than that, "different tree shapes and branching angles direct raindrip to the edges of the tree crown, or down the trunk to the soil, or they may scatter it evenly under the branches."4 Every other layer has to deal with the new conditions set by the overstory, which can include multiple species whose compounding characteristics challenge us as designers.

In a typical garden, we see the use of maybe two of these layers- the ground cover and herbaceous.5 Very rarely do gardeners incorporate taller perennials and even fewer consider utilizing microclimates. If a tomato packet says "full sun," then we sow the plants out in the open- unprotected- to weather a full 12+ hours of solar radiation and withering winds. Shade is anathema in a personal garden. Shade in the community garden becomes a point of contention and quarrels. "Your sunflowers are shading my tomatoes!"

Shade must be avoided, we are told, because it decreases yield. Ecological gardeners embrace shade and sun with full appreciation of the microclimates created by different layers in the garden. In keeping with the permaculturalist mantra of "stacking functions," ecological gardeners design their gardens from the canopy on down to the depths of earth. Niches (remember those?) are filled and the garden begins to burgeon with diversity.

2. Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, "The Five Elements of Forest Architecture" in Edible Forest Gardens vol. 1, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2005). This chapter served as my main source here. As I am only offering an introduction to these topics, my aim is to fall within fair use. Because I personally feel that their work is valuable and protected, please inform me with any concerns with regards to intellectual property rights.
3. Succession does not follow a linear path to what we would consider an "old growth forest." Not all landscapes are the same, not all climates allow for a forest, and above all, the classical notion that there can be a stable climax archetype for an ecosystem is challenged by the constant disturbances created by natural forces- as well as man.
4. Ibid, 72.
5. "Typical garden" refers to vegetable gardening.

Jun. 14, 2011. The beginning of a favorite, the four sisters. While our experiment with the four sisters failed miserably due to a huge error on my part (I'll share that at the end with a picture), this is about as far as most gardeners are willing to push their use of layers. Corn and sunflowers act as the overstory and support climbing beans while squash and cucurbits shade the soil.

Stacking Functions to Redefine Yield

Stacking functions requires us to redefine yield to account for more than the amount of fruits and vegetables produced for human consumption. Yield becomes holistic. The nitrogen fixed by the bacteria in association with, say, Trifolium repens (White Dutch Clover, pictured left) is only part of the total yield from this species. It also acts as a generalist nectary plant throughout much of the growing season while serving as a living ground cover that can withstand foot traffic, making it a great species for pathways. All of these functions stack to create a yield beyond just nitrogen fixing. And that is just but one plant. When we begin to count the functions in a polyculture, the yield count is driven up further. A well designed guild that features well thought out polycultures sees yields increase dramatically.

While it is true that a species sharing resources (especially sunlight) will produce less in the conventional sense, " the forest garden [or any landscape], we need to evaluate the yield of the whole system, rather than the yield of only one part of the system. In the forest garden, you may harvest raspberries, apples, [...]. You may also "harvest" labor-saving "yields" like weed control, beneficial insect attraction, and soil fertility improvement from the garden community."6 As a system, a temperate forest can produce up to "5,850 kcal/sq. m./year" while agricultural land turns in about half that at "2,925 kcal/sq. m./year."7

So it begins to make sense, then, why ecological gardeners and those who practice permaculture strive to create whole systems that resemble forests or woodlands, while taking advantage of the changing microclimates at their disposal while succesion takes place. With twice as much energy being captured, the system becomes productive enough as to allow for the diversion of energy from a narrow definition of human needs to the needs of the ecosystem.

The concern about conventional yield is invalidated when we consider that by outsourcing the production of fertility- as many gardeners and especially agriculturalists do- the price is paid elsewhere. When we take into consideration the costs of these external inputs, especially industrial ones, the much touted "efficiency" crumbles.

Let's think back to those tomatoes we put out into full sun. How do they look during the heat of the day, when the temperatures are climbing into the 90's and beyond? Ask anyone, even a child, and the first word that comes to mind is sad. Whether or not they are truly sad (which I believe they are in their own way), they are stressed. Stressed plants release hormones that "pests" hone in on and attack. We don't want stressed plants, we want healthy plants. Allowing the tomatoes a respite from the summer sun will save you and your tomatoes a lot of problems. They will require less water. With lower levels of stress, the tomatoes will be healthier and resist pests and disease better. This will result in better, but not more, fruit.

Better yet, when we can design systems that accept this decrease in fruit production in exchange for even more ecosystem services. The more layers we utilize, the more edges appear. Edges increase connections between species and elements, which results in greater complexity. Complexity and diversity go hand in hand towards renewing the fabric of life.

6. Ibid, 31.
7. Ibid, Figure 2.2, 31.

Nov. 9, 2011. Volunteer tomatoes (center) grew under near full shade conditions without watering during the summer. We did give them some compost tea a few times, but not nearly enough to keep them alive should they have been in full sun. Come fall, with the low sun, they were in position to absorb more energy and began fruiting. Due to its very dense crown, the willow oak (Quercus phellos) may have been acting as a heat trap.


Through the utilization of the many layers available to us, we can design and foster the growth of ecosystems that mimic natural systems but with an emphasis on human uses. Redefining yield to better reflect the totality of ecosystem function allows us to be honest with ourselves about what it takes to survive. Soon, we will be going beyond the vertical layers and designing through time as well as space to appropriately stack functions.

This requires intimate knowledge and thought to design. Which is why these diaries can only serve as an introduction to these concepts.

The next diary will cover either polycultures and guilds or nutrient and water cycling. I haven't decided yet which should come first.

I mentioned that I would share my failings. Well, here is a picture from June 29, 2011 of our four sisters guild:

Horizontal corn and sunflowers are never a good sight.

We had been experiencing near drought conditions which were only broken by episodes of wild weather. Intense storms brought downbursts (straight-line winds) reaching 60 mph. So, why was this a failure on my part? Well, I hadn't planned our corn planting correctly and soaked our kernels too early. The weather forecast was revised to bring us a cold spell and I was forced to either attempt to dry them out or plant them in flats and transplant them. Transplanting corn is a horrible idea because they fail to develop strong taproots when put into the garden. Without a strong root system, they were tipping over even when winds were a "low" 30-40mph. With the corn gone, the patches became a tangle of melons and beans- who then became competitors for space. Ah, well. You learn something every time. We'll probably try this again in the spring, but on a smaller scale.

Thanks for reading!

Extra Resources

(This is just copied from my last diary, I'll make it more comprehensive in the future)

My favorites books:

Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006. Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010. Yes, that is an Amazon link... not my fav but it'll direct you to the book.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.

For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List. The article I linked to up top is also a great read.

There are plenty of materials online as well. The Permaculture Institute of Australia is excellent.

Youtube has plenty of videos. If you want to see a slideshow of our garden from the first part of last year, click here.

Edit: I'm cleaning up some of my awkward/sloppy word usage. I wrote this all in one go, instead of over a couple of days. Hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday!

Originally posted to Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 09:02 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great series (27+ / 0-)

    It's great to see posts on permaculture and ecological gardening here at dKos - more folks need to know about it. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 09:18:50 AM PST

  •  This is the other reason I read DKOS (18+ / 0-)

    Political discussion AND amazing well written informative diaries like this one..

    Thank you.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 09:37:25 AM PST

    •  Angelajean: I've made a mental note to (7+ / 0-)

      write a diary or a section on biocides.


      •  I'm so glad! (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ms badger, FinchJ, Nulwee, 4Freedom, oceanview

        I will be sure to share it far and wide!

        •  I'll look for the biocide one too. I love roses (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean, FinchJ, Hoghead99

          and live in Vermont. Post-June it is Japanese beetles all the way, and I haven't yet figure out how to get rid of the little varmints.

          The Republican Party is a nationwide hate group. ~ lyvwyr101

          by 4Freedom on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 02:13:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I probably won't be able to solve that problem. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            So many of our favorite domesticated species have had so many of their genes bred out that they no longer can survive without intense effort on our part. The burden shifts to the intervenor- when we choose to cultivate a certain plant (or even animals, look at dogs) they can become overbred and lose much of their vitality.

            That said, increasing the number of beneficial organisms so that you will have a population of predators waiting on the wings for Japanese beetles may help. Then there are more natural methods of dealing with problem insects. I'll get into that in the biocide diary.

            We'll see what I can put together and hopefully something will work.

            •  I have used suphur, diatomaceous earth, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FinchJ, Ice Blue

              pyrethrins and copper. They have been mildly effective, but ultimately the beautiful but noxious beetles swarm in numbers that have overcome anything I have thrown at them. It would appear that I would have to be at the ready every few hours if I really wanted to get rid of them.

              The bed has been enriched with compost, compost tea, worm casting tea, and lightened with sand and humus for drainage because the soil in that bed had lots of clay. The few roses that still bloom without massive attention are the ones I now pay attention to.

              What is left I call the Survivor garden. I agree that native species and ancient strains are preferable to cultivate. However, when I see some of my roses in full bloom, their beauty always inspires me to want to keep them going.

              Another thing to try would be beneficial insects. That I haven't tried. I haven't been certain about using sacrificial bugs to beautify my plants because I didn't know if they would munch my pests and perish, or if they could live their lives out and reproduce, which I would prefer. I really don't like killing bugs, even the beetles, or using fragile insects as predators.

              What to do! This is the time of year to decide, and I'm going to study your approach to gardening as we want to do more vegetable gardening this year. I like the idea of using a more natural habitat to reduce watering.

              The Republican Party is a nationwide hate group. ~ lyvwyr101

              by 4Freedom on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 06:30:34 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Beneficial insects are attracted when (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FishOutofWater, 4Freedom

                their prey is available. They will stay when their other requirements are met: do they need nectar or pollen at other stages of life? Do they have a proper over wintering site? Is there insect friendly access to water?

                By providing the niche requirements for beneficials, they will be waiting for their prey to reproduce to sufficient numbers so that they can begin breeding. If we intervene and keep their prey low, say by hand picking or using some kind of insecticide, then they will not provide us with benefits. Herbivore populations need to get towards "out of control" before we see our beneficials begin to combat them to our liking. Typically, they are slower growing and reproduce less often than "the bad guys."

                For Japanese beetles, someone recommends:

                Another great natural enemy is the Spring Tiphia wasp, which was imported into America from China to control the beetles. The female wasp goes into the soil and lays her eggs right on Japanese beetle grubs, killing up to 85 percent of the grubs in a lawn. Sounds way better than poisonous chemical insecticides! Plant forsythia, peonies, and firethorn to attract these beneficial wasps.

                It takes time, but building good habitat for others will help us in the end!

                •  I have some gorgeous big, fat pink peonies, (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  haven't had much luck with forsythia, and will have to look up firethorn because I'm not aware of that plant.

                  Thanks for the suggestions. Will do some more digging into this.

                  The Republican Party is a nationwide hate group. ~ lyvwyr101

                  by 4Freedom on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 11:59:46 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  Don't get rid the them (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            cover the plants.

            Cheescloth - or a tent of cheap plastic window screening.

            The beetles can't get through, but the rain and sun can.

  •  Reminds me (11+ / 0-)

    My parents always planted two gardens: his and hers.
    My mother had straight rows and perfect little holes for her plants.  My father planted his corn with his beans climbing up the corn and squash/pumpkins running everywhere.  Dad's grew great.  Mom's not so much.  Picking Dad's garden meant stepping through the squash, getting stickers on the legs, to get to the beans climbing up the corn.  She was from North Carolina and he was from Kentucky.  Thanks for your diary.

  •  How do you make compost tea? (7+ / 0-)

    I have just ordered some seeds to start my west texas desert garden and I have been stockpiling my compost goods.

    But I am intimidated about making compost.  Thanks for all you do..

    "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered:" Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Yo Bubba on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 01:17:14 PM PST

    •  I finally got some good (relatively quick) compost (4+ / 0-)

      with this method--and I wish I could remember and link to the wonderful man who posted it on a garden site.

      Buy a metal garbage can. (I found some that are made in the USA).  Dig down about 2+ inches so the can will be set below soil level.  Drill holes in the bottom of the can and around the sides a few inches up.  Toss in some soil--about an inch. From then on add kitchen waste, green material in one layer and brown material (dried leaves, dried grass, etc.) in two layers.  From time to time, add more soil.  If the material is dry, add a bit of water.  This was the quickest compost I've ever made.  

      Previously I just put autumn leaves and some rainwater in a big plastic bag.  Made great compost but took more than a year.

      Empathy is going to change the world.

      by Mayfly on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 03:26:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Compost tea can be made in a variety of ways. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      From what I've gathered, there are two "camps," if you will.

      The first is what many consider to be old school, European, biodynamic... This way of making compost tea does not rely upon active aeration. To keep it simple, one would set up a five gallon bucket of dechlorinated water. Then, you would put your finished compost into a sieve of some sort, such as a stocking, and steep the compost for a few days. At least once a day you would stir the bucket vigorously for at least 30 minutes. The idea is to bring oxygen into the mix so that the concoction does not become anaerobic. When the solution begins to smell earthy and sweet, you dilute it with dechlorinated water and drench the soil around your plants. That is just a basic idea, biodynamic compost tea production revolves around the esoteric teachings of Rudolf Steiner and I don't feel comfortable enough with his ideas to really talk about that.

      The second camp is more modern and actively aerates teas using air stones and other types of air pumps. These methods are considered by many to be more "scientific" and many people will go to great lengths to measure the amount of oxygen and the force with which the pumps aerate the solution. They are pretty much made the same way the old school ones are, but the idea is that with a continual oxygen supply, you will completely avoid any anaerobic conditions.

      I've used and made both this past year but not with enough regularity or real investigation as to whether or not one was better than the other. I have read accounts from both sides (modern accounts) that suggest problems with both.

      Generally, the idea isn't that you will see remarkable growth from a heavy feeding like you would with water soluble industrial fertilizers. Instead, the idea is to bolster the populations of microorganisms (you can tailor your recipes to favor bacteria or fungi, or take a balanced approach) in the soil. Compost teas, made properly, will have a much higher population of microorganisms than compost will. The difference is how you apply them and the fact that the tea is more of an inoculant rather than an addition of organic matter laden with organisms.

      I should cover compost teas in the diary with biocides, as a foil to the latter.

  •  Thanks for the time spent (4+ / 0-)

    ..putting this series together.

    I'm finding it educational and enjoyable.

    Effective activism requires Activists -- Effecting radical change demands Radicals Revolutionaries? That's a whole different ball-game.

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 02:59:29 PM PST

  •  Forgot to say--compost tea is just compost with (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FinchJ, Hoghead99, bronte17

    water percolated through it.  Rainwater from gutters is good because it has bacteria.

    Empathy is going to change the world.

    by Mayfly on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 03:28:03 PM PST

    •  Compost tea is a little bit of a different beast (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, Mayfly

      than compost. Instead of the emphasis on adding organic matter populated with microorganisms, as it is in compost; the idea with compost tea is to rapidly breed microorganisms and apply them to the soil/mulch and rhizosphere (root zone) to boost diversity in the soil.

      Rainwater from gutters is a good idea, if you have the proper roofing material. A great debate rages on whether or not one should harvest rainwater from their asphalt shingles. Some newer shingles are made with a fungicide component, which then enters any water. Water from a roof like that spells doom for a garden. Beyond that, the petroleum byproducts from asphalt shingles is another questionable addition to the soil. The effects can be mitigated through the careful use of sand filters, fungi, etc. but remediating water from asphalt can become an expensive proposition quickly.

      However, we would all be well served if folks with the money to spend would begin experiments with different ways to cost effectively clean up said water. It is too bad that we've decided to use such a product to the extent that many many homes just are not viable options for rainwater harvesting, instead, we flush that water down into the watershed with minimal intervention- leading to a whole host of problems.

  •  What a pleasure! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FinchJ, bronte17

    I love that you refer to ecological gardening as "Land Stewardship."

    Your attention to detail is superb.

    I look forward to reading the other diaries, and putting your ideas into practice.

    Thank you.

    •  Thank you for reading! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Land stewardship came initially (to me) from the book of Genesis and God's intent for his creation. Whether or not any of that is true, the ecological fact remains that humans have the ability to choose to alter ecosystems to an extent heretofore unseen by any single species. Although, what is it, roughly 90% of the cells in our body are not our own? So even when we think we have accomplished something on our own, we haven't!

      Anyway, as humans, our ability to adapt means that we can lend our power of creative action to responsible lifestyles throughout the globe. With great power comes great responsibility.

      Again, thanks for reading and I hope you'll branch out to discover even more than I am able to share :)

  •  Thanks for all the compost information (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am freezing and heading under the covers for the evening, but I will read all these great compost ideas.  I have always had a slight idea about compost, but these tips and ideas give me a lot of aaaaaaaaaaahaaaaa moments.

    I will go back and read up on the other posts.  I am excited and full of trepidation about gardening in the desert, it will be a somewhat new adventure for me.

    Thanks everyone ^;^

    "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered:" Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Yo Bubba on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 06:37:40 PM PST

    •  Gardening in the desert... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, Ice Blue

      is tough, especially in the American west due to water rights. How many times you are not allowed to harvest any rain water on your own property. Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster (I haven't read either book yet) is supposed to be crucial to helping navigate the system. Here is a link to a talk he gave at the 10th International Permaculture Convergence in Jordan held last year.

      If you can, pick up a copy of Gaia's Garden (links above). Toby talks about a family that hired a permaculture designer and now have a lush property. If you can find "Permaculture in Arid Landscapes" by Bill Mollison (co founder of permaculture), which is usually part of the Permaculture Design Curriculum, you should get some more ideas there too.

      And lastly, if you go to my first diary, you can see the results from the site in Jordan thats up and running, just to give you an idea as to what is possible.

  •  I'm an ISA Certified Arborist (5+ / 0-)

    and work for a tree and landscape company in southeast Florida. I'm occasionally called on to help clients renovate their landscaping. Normally what I'm looking at is a landscape that was designed (and cast in concrete by the permitting process) without any regard to the microclimates of the site. Every exposure (NSEW) is treated the same. The goal was clearly to create curb appeal for the purpose of sales, but no thought was given to the maintenance or longevity of the design. Thanks for your series. Your concerns need to be the concerns of developers, planners, and landscape architects. At this point, they aren't.

    "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." George Carlin

    by psnyder on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 06:49:48 PM PST

    •  Thank you for your input! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      psnyder, NoMoreLies, Ice Blue

      Our mainstream culture is driving us into the wall (some say it already has...).

      My hope is that more people will become exposed to these ideas and make the necessary changes to their lives so that we can begin to transition to a better future. Democrats talk a big talk, but when you drive through almost any city, town, or suburb you see the same results when it comes to land management choices.

      Lets start implementing positive changes in our own lives. The status quo is failing on more than one front and keeping the facade of order that is a "well manicured American landscape" only prolongs the eventual, undeniable revelation of our failings.

      As a SW FL native, it makes me happy to hear that at least some landscape professionals are noticing the same things!

      •  This is a problem that is gaining attention (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FinchJ, NoMoreLies, Ice Blue

        among the professional classes involved. There will probably be little concerted action for some time, but it's encouraging that there is at least increasing recognition of both the problem and the need for collaboration among developers, city planners, architects, landscape architects, arborists, and others, which has hitherto been lacking.


        "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." George Carlin

        by psnyder on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 08:19:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Re: Compost tea....... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maybeeso in michigan, FinchJ

      I've never gone to a great deal of trouble, such as aeration..... Just put some compost in a cloth bag and allow to soak awhile, then water with it. Remember K.I.S.S.

       Something else that seems to work well for us is to mulch with some compost, that way, each time you water, and everytime it rains, your plants get a bit of compost tea. At the end of the season, you add more compost and rototill, presto, you are ready to re-plant with something else....

       Very often our central Illinois garden does better in the Autumn than spring into summer. We still have brussels sprouts and spinach we are harvesting from the garden proper, and lettuce from the coldframe, but the winter has been very mild.

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 07:47:56 PM PST

    •  This isn't necessarily to you, HH99, but (2+ / 0-)

      if you do start to mulch with compost, make sure to cover it with something that isn't as far along decomposition wise. Even a few minutes of direct sunlight will burn up all the microbes and destroy the vitality that makes compost so beneficial.

      This winter has been pretty crazy. We just bought coconut coir to winter treat seeds by putting them in the fridge. We'll put some of them outdoors, but I want to make sure at least some will definitely get the cold temps they need so they'll germ this spring.

      One thing you will not see me write about in a positive manner is tilling, especially rototilling. I think one of the reasons why your garden isn't faring as well in the spring and summer is because of the tilling. Although the soil life can come back, continued tilling destroys the natural soil structure that is created by the soil organisms. Most disturbingly, tilling destroys the fungal networks that over 90% of all plants evolved with- the mycorrhizal fungi. I know tilling is a huge part of organic gardening, but it is something that is removed from the ecological gardening toolkit.

      Maybe you could set aside a certain portion of your garden as "no-till" and compare the differences?

      I'll cover tilling in more depth soon when I write that diary about the differences between organic and ecological gardening.

      (As a note, I'm not trying to make any of my comments in these diaries "personal." Meaning I'm not out to upstage or hurt anyone. I just try to put out as much info as I can to round out a topic even further for other readers.)

  •  Great diary! Thanks for all of the detail. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We have a small orchard and big garden, all organic and fairly permacultury. We have added a hedgerow inside our fencing that combines fruit and nut trees, flowering and fruiting shrubs and some hops and berries. We add a few things each year and watch the gaps fill in. Lots of forage for birds, critters and bees. Lots of fruit for us and a lovely tangle that provides privacy.

    We love compost tea and also use no dig garden techniques for building flower beds in a meadow. The deep rooted grasses are too tough to roto-till so we lay down thick layers of cardboard, hay, leaves,  manure, coffee grounds and compost. We let it cook for a couple of months and then plant. It makes a nice raised bed that turns into beautiful topsoil very quickly.

    Maybe I'll do a diary this summer when everything is at it loveliest.

    Thanks again for a scholarly and fascinating diary.

    Eat organic food, or as your grandparents called it, food.

    by madame damnable on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 09:15:18 PM PST

  •  Fascinating and informative. Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  I barely got through the intro before having (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to tip and rec this.  (For some reason, I've been passing it by).  "Ecological gardening"; you're speaking my language.  Well, the language I want to become proficient in, anyway.  Right now, I'm still at the "goo-goo, Da-Da" stage, although I do look at everything through my "Gaian" perspective.  

    Now I'm going to go read your diaries.  Thank you for doing this.

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 07:15:09 AM PST

  •  Another Informative Gardening Post (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FinchJ, FishOutofWater

    Thanks for this newest installment of the gardening series. I appreciate that you were able to write this so soon after your last post. Gardeners are always busy so this level of sharing means so much more coming from people like you. One of our unofficial slogans at our food co-op is "A little encouragement goes a long way." So, please continue this awesome gardening series! I'll share it with people at my co-op if you don't mind.

    Your concepts challenge status-quo thinking in the realm of gardening. Your discussion on how to define "Yield" is an important one. Yes, you're not going to get any edible fruit from your clover cover crop, but the Nitrogen they yield to the soil and surrounding plants more than makes up for it. Also the idea that plants can yield savings in labor is another zinger to conventional "fertilizer-in-a-bag" thought. Planting proper cover crops once means you don't need to pay for or use more labor on artificial fertilizers all year long.

    Thanks for all of these wonderful lessons in ecology!

    •  Not a problem. There should have been more (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FishOutofWater, HarveyWallbanger

      diaries, but I took a month off between the second and third. I wasn't having the best of times then.

      Feel free to share far and wide, but make sure they read the first part! I'm not an expert by any means. I've just read a lot and had a great community down in Tampa while I was at USF to help me along. The pictures I use are all from the garden we started last year at my parent's place. Believe it or not, 2011 was the first year I was able to design, plant, and stay with the garden through most of their growing cycles.

      So a lot of this might be "old news" to a lot of folks, but someone has to do it!

      Thanks for reading :)

      •  99% Perspiration (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        This is what makes somebody a genius:

        1. Work hard at your ideas
        2. Learn from failures
        3. Invest in successes
        4. Share your experience

        By my definition, you're a genius. Many people may be more learned than you about ecology, but how many people are actually living it?

        Just for showing your maturity in sharing an experiment that didn't turn out as hypothesized you deserve my rec. What else can we do than be honest about what went wrong, correct it, and do better next time?

        Growing things is hard. It's easy to write political rants about what's wrong with our world, but you are taking a tougher path. You're changing your world with your hands. You're planting seeds-- literally and metaphorically.

        Please don't let my praise have the wrong effect. Sometimes people feel pressured by too much positive feedback. So, maybe to temper it a bit, I'll give you some critique. I think if you take your scientific writing style, and couple it with some catchy, common-sense summaries you'll have more audience appeal. I find it easiest to do this by using metaphors to common experience. For instance, when talking about choosing plant species based on how they compete or support each other, I would compare it to "Choosing Good Neighbors". Some neighbors are loud and obnoxious and dominate the neighborhood. Gardening is the only place where you get to choose neighbors. So the ecological gardener's responsibility is to ensure that plant species are paired with other plants that make "good neighbors". This way, you can explain concepts in a way that is more memorable to your general audience.

        Your posts are always well sourced and documented. And I'm not saying you should lose any of that. But maybe just add some headings and descriptive text that explains your concepts in a way that appeals to both your technical and emotional readers.

        Thanks for your informative dairies! Happy gardening!

  •  Thank you FinchJ--can someone help me with Hotlist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    retrieval?  I can't seem to find a single tutorial on how to open the Hotlist list, not to mention individual listings.

    Republicans...What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. Der Spiegel

    by CanyonWren on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 11:04:35 AM PST

  •  Corn from starters (0+ / 0-)

    In my microclimate I get better results from corn started in peat pots. Reason: the ground is always cool, and corn needs warmth to germinate. So I start my corn inside and bring it out when it is 4 inches tall. Lots of fish fertilizer makes for happy corn, even though the microclimate is marginal for corn growing. Also selected a short season variety.

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