# Pond Dig, part two

More on my adventures in digging a small pond! Yesterday I finished digging the first layer of the pond, down to the level of the planting shelf, about 1 foot. I checked whether it was fairly level after I was done. And then I did some math to figure out what 1/2 to 1/3 of the total surface area would be, which is the best size for the planting shelves.

For those who might wonder, here is how I worked on that: Using a website that computes circle area, I found that for my 11′ by 11.5′ pond, the total surface area was about 100 square feet. If I made a planting shelf one foot deep, the resulting circle would be 9′ by 9.5′, with a surface area of 67 square feet, meaning the planting shelf included 33 square feet. I was surprised that just 1 foot at the edge already brought it to 1/3 of the area. Doing two feet would leave a circle of 7′ by 7.5′, or 41 square feet, with 59 square feet for planting. So I took half of that, and decided to do 1 foot wide on one half, with 2 feet wide on the other half, approximately. Even though the math is exact, the actual pond will be less so, but it gave me an idea of what I was aiming for. I marked it out with white flour, including a spot for a step, that would be dug to 1 more foot down, to make it easier to get in and out of the pond center.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard back from folks who have bits and pieces of carpet–I had asked for at least 2 feet wide, and the responses have ranged from 2′ by 2′, to a medium size carpet. I picked up some yesterday, and will do more today. It has been fun to have these interactions with folks, limited as they are–so rare for me in a time of COVID. Since I don’t have a truck, the smaller pieces actually work because they fit in the back of my car.

Meanwhile, the pond liner was delivered yesterday too! A very heavy box was dropped in our driveway by UPS. (I think I remember that it was going to be 138 pounds) Unable to lift it myself, or even together with Margy, she had the idea to roll it onto a larger piece of cardboard (which we always have in our garage for various garden projects) and then we could pull that cardboard together along the driveway to a better spot–and it worked. So it is waiting by the side of our house. It made me realize, though, that when I actually install the liner in the pond, I will definitely need help from a few friends.

Four years ago, the pond was part of our original plan for our permablitz–when twenty-some people came by and helped us with all manner of garden projects. (If you are curious about that, you can find more here.) It was such a humbling and gratifying experience to be gifted with the energy of so many to begin to create this permaculture garden where we live. With everything else going on that day, it was decided that the pond would be too much to attempt. But it is wonderful to remember how community enables us to live better with our land, how the gift of each other’s time and energy enriches all who participate. With COVID we’ve been on our own so much, and yet even so, we rely on the help of others–delivery people, for example, and neighbors who have picked up needed items in stores. It has brought us closer together with our neighbors actually. We are so programmed by our society to try to be self-sufficient. It is hard to be reminded of our need for each other–and yet that need is a blessing.

Meanwhile, it was also a blessing to be digging on my own, outside in a beautiful sunny day. Squirrels were playing, birds singing, daffodils shining bright yellow, and the cherry and peach trees are beginning to blossom. I started on the next layer of the pond. Our soil is very sandy and compacted–we had an inch of rain fall on Friday, and none of it stayed in the depression that I had already dug. So the recommendation is to slope the sides as we go down so it doesn’t collapse. Step by step, and with a little help, I think it can be done.

# Layers of Community-Composting

One more post about the Permablitz!  We had a team of folks who created a composting system from recovered pallets.  We have been using a container system for our kitchen waste, but these will enable us to compost more yard waste.  One of the principles of permaculture comes from the fact that in nature there there is no such thing as “waste”–the “surplus” from any process is shared to be used by another process.  So too in the community of our yard–leaves, grass clippings, weeds, can all be repurposed to create great soil.  And it is a further repurposing to use surplus pallets for the construction!

These use deck screws to attach them together.  And by the way, if you want to make your own, it is important to find Heat Treated pallets, rather than chemically treated–so that your compost isn’t contaminated by arsenic or other metals.  Heat treated pallets are marked with an HT on the wood.  Heather found these lovely-looking pallets for us.  Margy and I had been finding them here and there, but most of ours were pretty banged up.

When you first establish a permaculture garden, you often have to import soil amendments and wood chips and such, but ultimately, you want a garden that is self-contained, that creates its own mulch and compost and good soil.  We imported 4 cubic yards of compost for our garden bed project, (and just the other day purchased more for the blueberry beds) but hopefully at some point in the future, we won’t have to import compost any more, because the yard itself will making enough of it.

What might our world be like if we eliminated the whole idea of “waste” from our communities?  If every surplus was shared for another process or function?  If nothing and no one was ever thrown away?

Finished!  By the way, you don’t have to put cardboard or tarps on the bottom–we did because of the bittersweet in our yard–to discourage it from growing into the compost bins.

# Layers of Community-Fire

Coming back to the Permablitz of June 24, another project that was completed that day was a fire circle.  As Lisa Fernandes said, every home needs a place to burn things.  So she was our team leader for the fire circle, and gathered in the layers of community for the element of fire.  With a community of workers!

First they had to remove big pile of bittersweet brush (that we will eventually burn) from the spot we had chosen.  Lisa and Kristen gathered together the stone blocks that would be used.  (But there could have been other helpers–at that moment I was over in the garden beds.)  Then they prepared the ground with a layer of sand. Our youngest permablitz members got into the sand-tamping process, as well as Lisa and Kristen.

I love the first layer of stones, and the circle that it creates on the sand. I heard that they found this method of creating a fire pit via a youtube video.  The second layer (in case anyone wants to copy) uses a staggered spacing on top of these, and includes four openings for air–which they positioned to the north, east, south, and west.  Then a third layer is placed on the top.  Somewhere in the process, for the middle layer, you have to knock off a little edge on the bricks.Finally, they brought a whole pile of pine mulch for the seating area around it, and then laid some bittersweet brush and pine cones for our first fire.  Permaculture is not just about a way of gardening but also about how communities care for each other.  Its three principles have been summed up as earth care, people care, and future care.  So having a place to gather with others is an integral part of our permaculture design.

By the way, if you want to see all the photos from the day, you can find them at the Meet-up site.

# Layers of Community-Rain Barrels

[Margy and Dave testing the spigot height]

Part of the work of our Permablitz on Saturday was installing rain barrels.  How is this a layer of community?  Because water creates a link between all living beings.  When it rains, water washes over the land, and also pours from our roofs into gutters and downspouts.  By installing rain barrels, we have the capacity to slow down the flow of water–to bring more of it into use for the community of plants we are cultivating.  So when it rains, it waters our garden twice–once during the rain, and then once more when we use the water in the barrels to water plants on the dry days.

AND: we had a community of people helping to install the rain barrels.  First they had to haul cement blocks to the five sites for the barrels.

Then David taught everyone on the team the process of the installation.  I wasn’t able to be a part of that team, but some things I observed.

The land at the site was cleared of mulch and grass, and leveled off.  Then sand was added, and tamped down and leveled.  The cement blocks were positioned on the sand base.

Meanwhile, another part of the team was drilling correct size holes in the barrels for spigots.  These spigots are able to be removed in the winter, so the rain barrels can stay in place. So the spigots were installed.  Holes were also drilled for connecting tubes for overflow and to connect more than one barrel per downspout.

With all that done, the barrels could be positioned on the concrete blocks.  Then, the downspouts were cut short, and a curvy connector was attached to bring the water to the barrel.

Finally it was possible for it all to be hooked up.  The team was able to complete the hook up for four rain barrels, and do everything except the hook up for two more.  We have two more rain barrels that we hope to install later.

# The Layers of Community

[Before–Growing beds marked with flour and flags]

On Saturday, we hosted our Permablitz! (See “more before” photos here.)  Over 20 people came to our yard and worked together on projects such as installing rain barrels, building a composting system from pallets, building a fire circle, and creating five more  growing beds for future fruit trees, raspberry bushes, & hazelnut bushes, and one bed for flowers & herbs.  We also got the first shovelfulls dug for a pond.

[Opening Circle]

At the end of the day, I got teary-eyed with the sense of Gift.  The generosity of so many individuals coming together and creating something so beautiful and full, helping us to realize our dreams for this piece of land was deeply moving.  There is something about this giving and receiving of human attention and wisdom and care, that feeds our hearts. Much of our lives are shaped by transactions—we pay a certain amount of money, and receive a product. Or, we put in so many hours and receive a paycheck.  But giving and receiving freely and generously touches something much deeper. Giving and receiving must trigger deep neurotransmitters in our internal chemistry, sparking a profound sense of well-being and belonging.

I also realized how many layers of community are involved in such a project.  One layer is this community of people who care about the earth, and who come together to give and receive, to learn, to share, to grow, to get to know each other.  People connections are made.

Another layer is the community of the soil.  During the blitz I was mostly working with several others on the project for creating new growing beds.  We were adding nutrients through sheet mulching so that the soil could create a thriving fertile community.  I have learned so much about the variations in soil communities from the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.

What a food forest needs, what fruit trees need, is soil whose fungal community is stronger than its bacterial community.  In contrast, annual vegetables and flowers and grasses prefer soil with a stronger bacterial community.  A bacterial community is enhanced by tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter by turning it into the soil.  A fungal community is enhanced by no tilling, but rather adding organic matter on the top of the soil to decompose, as it happens in the forest. (Similarly, compost that is left unturned will generate a stronger fungal community.)

[Cathleen forking the soil]

We prepared the soil by aerating it with garden forks–since it had been rather compacted.  We added some granite dust for mineral enhancement, then put down a layer of cardboard to kill grasses and weeds.

[Mihku & Heather adding manure and chaff]

Then, we added chicken manure, coffee chaff, seaweed, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, and a really thick layer of deciduous wood chips.  We were able to get a delivery of 8 yards of wonderful ramial deciduous wood chips–these are chips which include lots of thin branches, which have more lignin content that is not yet woody.  The wood chips are the most important part of enhancing the fungal community.

We also made several pathways with cardboard and wood chips, and I will complete those bit by bit in the next days.  Now, the process works on its own–I add some water or it gets rained on–and the microbes will work together over the next several months (and years) to create a thriving soil community.  We will plant trees and bushes next spring.  My friend Roger Paul said that the Wabanaki word for “soil” means giver of life.

# Permablitz, almost here!

We’ve been getting ready for our Permablitz this coming Saturday–a big permaculture work party where 20 or more people gather to do projects in our yard.  We’ve gathered cardboard for sheet mulching, had a great big pile of deciduous mulch delivered, got a bucket of granite dust, ordered concrete blocks for rain barrel stands, got clearer on a few design elements, met the wise and wonderful folks who will be team leaders for our various projects, and many other details.  And we’ve talked to our blitz coordinator and friend Heather many many times.  Thank you Heather!  We still have to gather seaweed, and get pallets, and make food, and….  You can find more details about the blitz here:   https://www.meetup.com/maine-permaculture/events/240585144/

In the meantime, our cherry tree polycultures are now green with clover.

Here are some “before pictures for the yard, first, where fruit tree, raspberry and herb and flower beds are going to be created.

And here the yellow markers mark a future bed for hazelnut bushes to form a little hedge.

# Rain Barrels

The Portland Water District offers inexpensive rain barrels each year, so Margy and I ordered four barrels to supplement the few we already have.  We picked them up amid dozens of barrels at the East End Water Treatment Facility.  These are repurposed olive oil barrels so we’re glad to recycle rather than buy something created with new plastic.

One of our projects for our permablitz will be to create wooden stands for the rain barrels, so they are high enough to fill a watering can from the spigot, or get a little pressure for further away in the garden.  We plan to install them under all of our gutter drains.  In fact, under the drains closest to our gardens, we are hoping to have two barrels side by side, with one feeding overflow into the other.

It is also possible to construct your own barrels, with olive oil barrels, and parts purchased separately–I helped to do that at another permablitz maybe last year.  But these were easy, and installing them on stands and adjusting the down spouts will be enough for us to try to accomplish.  Each time it rains, I wish they were already installed.

Rain barrels are one way we are honoring the water on our land, using what we can that falls from the sky, rather than needing to buy more city water for our gardens.

# Permablitz!

We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

This is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!

# Permablitz

Photo by Julie, one of our organizers for the day

Yesterday, I helped build a rock wall at a Permablitz in Portland.  Permablitzes are groups of 15-30 people who show up to help one of our neighbors implement a permaculture design for their yard.  Organized by the Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture, they also provide an opportunity for learning more about permaculture options, connecting with others who share a love for the earth, and having a lot of fun doing a lot of hard work. By helping others, we also can put our names in the ring for future help with our own permaculture designs.

Yesterday was also Maine Permaculture Day, with statewide open houses and events.  I visited one yard nearby because they had fruit trees and hazelnuts, and I wanted to get a sense of what that might be like, since we’d like to do something like that for our yard.  They had peach, apple, pear and cherry trees.  They also had planted a row of hazelnut shrubs, hoping the row would eventually create a privacy wall as well as produce hazelnuts. You can learn so much more by seeing plants as they are being grown, than by reading about them. I look forward to the time when we start on our own gardens.

In the meantime, on Friday, we had gutters installed on our house.  We plan to add rain barrels but decided to wait until next year for that, since it will be a lot of work to build bases for them, and we won’t need them until we do more with a garden anyway.