Layers of Community-Composting

Compost Bin Team Ian, Sally, Ali, MihkuOne 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?

Compost Bins Done!

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.

 

Future blueberries

Blueberry bed complete.jpgThe last few days I have been working on a garden bed for two future high bush blueberry plants.  This was the toughest project so far, in terms of physical stamina.  I was following the guideline of Michael Phillips in the Holistic Orchard.  His first step is to dig a bed one foot deep and 3-4 feet in diameter per plant, (so for me that meant about 7-8 feet long and 3-4 feet wide).

Blueberry bed-bittersweet rootsOnce I had dug the hole, I came upon bittersweet roots, so then spent some time strategizing about what to do for that.  I eventually decided to clip them off where they emerged, and then line the sides of the hole with cardboard. Since I was also making paths around the bed, I bent the cardboard so that it covered the path as well.

Then, the next steps are to fill the hole with 50% peat moss, 40% soil from that you had taken out, and 10% compost.  Peat moss is somewhat controversial (because of environmental questions raised about its extraction), but I did some reading and learned that the percent of peat moss taken in Canada is very tiny compared to the amount of peat moss bogs they have–so in that context it might be considered renewable.  I had to go back to the store to get more stuff, because it was hard to estimate how much I would need.

Blueberry bed-half doneAnd it is a lot of work to dig out a hole, then fill it with other stuff, and then “stir” it around, which really means turn the soil over and over.  I am glad I only have to do it once.  So I would do what digging I could, and then stop and rest for most of the day, and return to it in the evening if I could.  After the peat moss, soil, & compost mix was in, I added 2 cups elemental sulfur, 4 cups green sand, and 2 cups rock phosphate, all organic nutrients.  This whole mix is meant to create the type of soil that blueberries love, with an acid leaning ph, and the nutrients they need.  (You may notice that I purchased more composted manure, because we used up our big pile.)

I topped it off with a few inches of pine bark mulch that is also good for blueberries, and then some pine needles that Margy had collected last year.  After that, I hauled the rest of the unused sandy soil over to our materials area, and did the paths around the bed with more cardboard and hardwood mulch.  And watered all of it well.  Now it is all ready to do its own thing for several months:  the plan is to plant blueberries in the spring.

Training the Cherry Tree

Training the Cherry TreeToday was a day for food forests! My friend Mihku and I went to a tour of Edgewood Nursery in the morning, and then later she showed me how to train the branches of the cherry tree so that it will grow into a good shape for growing and picking cherries.

Aaron Parker of Edgewood is so knowledgeable about perennial fruits and vegetables, and also has so many great permaculture plants to taste and buy.  I fell in love with Turkish Rocket, a perennial vegetable that tastes somewhat like broccoli.  More on that in a later post.  But I also got to see a grown up cherry tree, and get a sense of what they might look like and how they are shaped at maturity.  Back at home, Mihku and I used kite string and tent stakes to bend three branches on each tree closer to the ground, so they grow into a stronger shape–which means developing a wider “crotch angle.”  One branch was left in the center as the leader.  I am so grateful that Mihku and others are willing to show me how–it is so much easier to see it done, than to try to figure it out from books.

After that, because our new garden fork had arrived in the mail, I started aerating the soil around the trees–or I should say, I got 1/3 of the way around one tree–it was a lot of hard work.  Our soil is very compacted, so this is important for soil health, but my whole body is aching now.  In order to feel a bit more accomplished, I focused on that one section, laid down some thick newspaper sections over the soil, added compost on top, and then planted 14 (annual) kale plants, a patch of thyme, some chamomile, and a sweet cicely plant.  These were all plants we got at the plant swap, and the kale were getting pretty leggy.  I added a bit of mulch.  Still much more to do tomorrow.

Finally, I put together a holistic spray that I learned about from The Holistic Orchard book, but was presented in a simple recipe at Fedco Seeds.  Fedco actually sells all the ingredients, but before I knew that, I had searched around and got Neem Oil at Lowes, and ordered two more ingredients on Amazon.  I didn’t have exactly what they recommended, and I didn’t “activate” the EM-1, but as I understand it, this spray will help to colonize the trees with helpful microbes so that they can resist pests and disease, just like probiotics for humans.  Margy had already purchased a sprayer for other yard uses, so all I had to do was mix it up, and spray all over our new trees; and then I also sprayed what I could reach of our ornamental cherries which have been very neglected for years. Here are the important ingredients of this tonic:

Fish Hydrolysate: Feeds soil and arboreal food web.
Neem Oil: Contains Azadirachtin compounds that deter pests and disrupt their life cycles. Neem also is said to stimulate the tree’s immune system, give nutrients to foliage and feed the arboreal food web. …
Liquid Kelp: Promotes growth and helps trees adapt to stress.
EM-1: A probiotic inoculant that colonizes the branches and fruit with beneficial microbes to promote fruit growth and disease resistance. Click here for info on fermenting, or “activating,” EM-1.

Cherry with new underplantings

[Cherry with branches trained, and thyme and chamomile below, plus if you look closely, you can see kale at the very bottom.]

Composts & Mulches

Who knew that there were so many kinds of compost?  According to Michael Phillips in The Holistic Orchard, tree fruits prefer a fungally dominant compost, which you can get by using lots of leaves and not turning your pile.  So that is the kind we’ve accidentally been making at home, since we use lots of leaves and hardly ever turn our pile.  Vegetables prefer bacterially dominant compost, which likes to be turned a lot.  To quote:

Orchard soils ideally contain a fungal presence ten times higher than that of bacteria…. Fungi respond to surface decomposition, whereas bacteria prefer soil disturbance.  We are building a fungal duff of organic matter where the biological action desired is going to take place.  Compost, deciduous wood chips, seaweed, and raked leaves can be added atop [the soil.]

So, last fall, when we spread the wood chips from the old maple tree, we were beginning to create this fungal duff.  Margy topped the wood chips with cut grass and seaweed and leaves.  But when we planted the cherry trees, we had to dig a big hole, so all of that was disturbed, and we put regular compost as part of the soil back fill in the holes; I guess that is not actually recommended so much.

I also learned that the type of mulch matters.  Margy had arranged for us to get some free wood mulch, (hurray!) which turned out to be from evergreen trees.  She had put some of that mulch, along with straw, around the newly planted cherry trees.  But I learned, in The Holistic Orchard, that fruit trees especially love mulch made from wood chips from deciduous trees–most particularly “ramial” wood chips made from twig wood less than 7 centimeters in diameter–because that contains soluble lignins.  The evergreen mulch actually contains compounds that suppress other plant growth.  Who knew?

Fungal DuffSo the very next day, I went out and moved that evergreen mulch away, and dug up some of the starting-to-decompose deciduous wood & leaves mulch, piling it up in a six-foot diameter circle around each tree, careful to leave open space around the trunks themselves.  Next time, Margy can ask our wood chip supplier to save us some of the ramial chips.

All this to say, we just got 4 yards of compost delivered today from Wilshire Farm, composted manure to be exact, which we hope to use for creating growing medium for companion plants for the trees, some surface feeding for the trees, and for Sylvia’s herb garden.

I learned about The Holistic Orchard and Wilshire Farm from a workshop on fruit trees by Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery, held at the Resilience Hub.  It all seems much more complicated than just planting a tree and getting fruit a few years later.  I am trying to take it one or two steps at a time.Composted Manure

Planting the Cherry Trees

Today was the perfect day to plant our cherry trees, May Day Eve.  I had figured out the locations, and marked them the day before.  Our friend Sylvia came to help with strength and muscles.  She dug the holes!  Thanks, Sylvia!

Our friend Mihku had given us compost from her garden (Thanks, Mihku!) and we realized we needed even more, so Margy drove to buy some, while Sylvia and I positioned the first tree.  I applied mycorrhizal inoculant to the roots (from the wisdom of Mihku), while Sylvia held the tree.  Then we filled in what we could.

Cherry Planting Hands in Dirt

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

When Margy returned, she took photos while Sylvia and I finished filling the hole with compost and dirt.  I placed the Lapins Cherry closest to the patio, and the Black Tartorian Cherry about twelve feet beyond. We discovered the soil under the Black Tartorian was darker and richer, so we used some of that to fill the first hole too.

It felt so good to have my hands in the dirt, to give good energy and nutrients to these young beings that will live with us in our home.  It also felt good to have help from a younger stronger friend, my aging body just not able to do as much physical labor as I used to do.  It felt really good to share the process, to create a celebration of earth and sun and soil and friendship and the fertility of the land.

More photos:Sylvia starts digging

Myke & Sylvia – Version 2

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Cherry Trees in the Ground

Sylvia and Margy

Compost!

DSC02950

One of the first things I brought over to the new house is a composter.  We had two, one that was active, and one that was quietly “cooking.” This one we emptied for use at our old yard, and then cleaned up to bring over.  We are currently using the other one, and will likely need to leave it at our old house, because it will be full of un”cooked” compost.  I figured I better set this one up before the snow came, but that is taking a lot longer than usual to arrive this year. Still, by the time we actually move, I imagine there will be snow–and we will be ready to compost.