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.]

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.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis 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!

Cherry Trees

Cherry Trees in potsOn Friday the 21st, Margy, our friend Mihku, and I went to Broadway Gardens and picked out two sweet cherry trees.  Mihku is a master gardener and her help was invaluable–in fact, the sales person suggested she should have a job sitting with their trees and telling people about them.

We purchase a Lapins semi-dwarf and a Black Tartarian semi-dwarf. The Lapins will self-pollinate, but the Black Tartarian needs another tree, such as the Lapins, to pollinate.   I thought about just getting the Lapins, but it seemed like they would enjoy having each other for company.  So it is beginning.  Our little permaculture garden in our back yard.  Starting with one of our favorite fruits–sweet cherries.

I have been sick for a few weeks with this horrible respiratory virus/flu going around, and really haven’t had energy to do much but keep work at church afloat–so no blogging, no gardening, not even taking my morning walk most days–it just triggers too much coughing.  So getting the cherry trees really perked me up.  We will plant them this coming weekend.  Mihku suggested that we need to get some mycorrhizal inoculant for the roots, some compost from her yard, and then train the branches with props to help them widen out while they are still pliable.  The semi-dwarfs can grow to 15-18 feet high, and we want to keep them more like 11-13 feet.  I will post more pictures as we plant.

In the meantime, getting back to the blog today is cheering me up too, though I am still not feeling great.  But today is the New Moon, and this blogging is one way to remember the beings and values closest to my heart.  May this day bring joy and sweetness to you too.

Intro to Permaculture Design

IPD courseOn March 11 and 25th, Margy and I hosted two sessions of an “Intro to Permaculture Design” course, through the Resilience Hub in Portland. Two trainers, Julie and Heather, along with about 7 others came to our house for two Saturdays, for presentation and conversation about Permaculture Design Principles.  Our being the hosts meant that we used our land as the practice site for exploring the principles and how one might put them into practice.  Despite the bitter cold one day, and deep snow the next time, we went outside for part of the time and wandered around the yard checking out things like the patterns found in nature, the movement of water and wind and wildlife, the path of the sun.

IPD outside observationsOne of the first aspects of Permaculture Design is observation, and so Margy and I have spent the first year of our residence here mostly in observation–trying to learn everything we can about the land, before we begin gardening.  Having another group of eyes was marvelous!

I had participated in a full Permaculture Design Course six years ago, so the ideas were not new to me, but I have noticed that each time I hear them again, they sink a little deeper, and I gain more understanding.  Permaculture is a design process, looking at the hopes and visions of the human inhabitants in conversation with the needs and conditions of the land itself.  What I am finally beginning to better understand, however, are how the fundamental teachings of Nature might influence our own hopes and visions.

The week after the course, I finally read cover-to-cover Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway.  Permaculture, at its heart, is about working with Nature, using the principles found in Nature, to create beautiful abundant gardens that can provide food as well as building up the soil, offering habitat to beneficial insects and birds, and creating backyard ecosystems by “assembling communities of plants that can work cooperatively.”

The part that is most exciting to me right now is moving away from the common practice of having separate garden beds for vegetables in one place, fruit trees in another place, etc., and moving into the vision that these functions can be interwoven–that a fruit tree can be the central element in a group of plants working together, with a few veggies tucked in, and herbs, and flowers, all in one mini-ecosystem.  And that this kind of garden might be built one mini-ecosytem at a time.  Cherries, anyone?

 

 

All the Water Is One Water, #4

In honor of World Water Day, I am sharing the fourth part of my chapter, “All the Water Is One Water,” from Finding Our Way Home.

Some Indigenous stories of North America say we are like a younger sibling on this earth. The other beings and species are more acclimated to their purpose and their relationship to the whole. And so, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the ecological messes we have created, we might turn to our older relatives on the earth to find wisdom for our journey. Permaculture follows this practice by using the wisdom developed by millions of years of evolution, to find solutions for the problems we are facing today.

Water is such a teacher. According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, the Wampanoag people consider water a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. His people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks….”

When I was growing up Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. All water is holy, and we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.

Each of us faces a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be bought and sold, or as a blessing, a teacher to be honored and protected? Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. Thankfulness can be the beginning of restoring our relationship with water. If I can remember to be thankful to water, then I have the capacity to take action on its behalf as well. I can join with the many other people who are working for water as a human right, or who work to restore the flow of rivers or clean up pollution in the sea.

Meandering BrookThe path forward will not be a straight line. I find hope in that. A river or stream meanders on its way to the sea. [Thank you Starhawk for teaching me about this!]  Because of the friction of the river bed, the water on the bottom of the river moves more slowly than the water on the top. So it creates a spiraling current that wears down one bank and deposits sediment on the other, and then vice versa, as it moves around and around in sweeping curves. Just so, our journey into a new relationship with all life on earth will meander—I imagine in this case, there is more movement at the bottom of our culture, while the top is going much slower. But since we are all connected, movement in any segment has a ripple effect on the whole.

We must keep taking steps, even small steps, in the direction of living in balance with the rest of our interdependent web. We must work our magic and offer thanks and take action in practical and political ways. We must meander in the direction of wholeness, of earth community. Each creative step forward will ripple out into a spiral momentum toward greater balance.

PRACTICE

When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as possible. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal or glass bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing. I invite you to give up plastic bottled water, and to start carrying water in a reusable container. Each time you fill or drink from the container, give thanks to Water for giving us life.

 

All the Water Is One Water #3

In honor of World Water Day, part 3 of my chapter “All the Water Is One Water”from Finding Our Way Home.

At the Earth Activist Training we learned about Permaculture, a science of designing systems that can meet human needs while regenerating the land around us. Its ethical mandates are to care for the earth, to care for the people, and to share the surplus. I especially loved the cheerful atmosphere of hope and creativity that was engendered. Much of the environmental situation is foreboding and terrifying. But at the training I discovered a merry band of folks who sang while they gardened and went around the world demonstrating alternatives that make a real difference.

Permaculture observes natural patterns to create highly productive environments. For example, it uses the model of the forest to create food forests—gardens of fruit and nut trees, vines, bushes, and ground cover that can function together to feed a family while nurturing the land in a sustainable way. Agribusiness narrowly regards one crop as the only valuable entity, and sees all other life forms as weeds or pests. But if we look more closely at the natural world, we discover diversity is the norm and there are beneficial relationships throughout the plant and animal realms. In one example recounted by bio-chemist Linda Jean Shepherd,

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz studied the traditional Mexican farming practice of pruning back, rather than pulling, a weed that commonly sprouts between rows of corn. They found that the roots of the weed Bidens pilosa secrete compounds lethal to fungi and nematodes that destroy corn. Instead of competing with the corn, the weed controls the pests without significantly stealing soil nutrients from the corn. The practice protects the soil and provides more wholesome food.[i]

The more we learn about nature, the more we see that everywhere diverse plants and animals are interconnected with each other, offering mutual benefit and function; modern agribusiness has ignored this to our detriment. To live sustainably, we must learn from nature, we must open our eyes to the lessons it can teach us about how all beings are related to one another.

Permaculture design also offers sustaining and restorative approaches to our use of water. In a natural landscape, water is absorbed and held in place by plants and trees, and advances very slowly through the ecosystem. When the surface of the earth is covered with concrete for buildings and roads, the water rushes quickly over the surface, picking up pollutants it brings to rivers and lakes. When forests are cut down, or grasslands uprooted for agriculture, the drylands can devolve into desert. Permaculture designers have created tools to slow the water down, and capture it for use. These designs can purify water moving through a system, or reverse the process of desertification.

Swale

[Swale creating at the Earth Activist Training]

We learned about and built one such tool, called a swale. This is a small ditch created in alignment with the contour of the sloping soil, so rain washing over the soil will be captured, and can be used in plantings near the edge of the swale. The plantings then serve to keep the moisture in the landscape. A swale can also be used to direct water from one area to another. The goal is to slow the flow of water for as long as possible, and thus restore the fertility of the soil, rather than letting the water wash away into creeks that flow rapidly out to rivers and to the sea.

Adopting another practice, Margy and I purchased two rain barrels to collect the rain-water that ran off our garage roof, for use in watering the blueberry bushes and vegetables and flowers we had planted in our front yard. We learned about how high off the ground the barrels needed to be, in order for gravity to pull the water all the way to the plants. We learned that water in a rain barrel heats up in the hot summer sun. We learned how quickly a rainstorm can fill two fifty-gallon barrels.

It is important to take these small steps toward changing our relationship to water use, even in our comparatively water abundant climate in Maine. Even here we need to learn about conserving water and treating it with respect. We face challenges from multinational corporations who bottle our Maine water for sale around the world. The bottled water industry isn’t concerned about the water needs of local communities or ecosystems. They negotiate contracts to extract the water for almost nothing, and put it into plastics that end up in the waste system causing further pollution.

Permaculture design follows the principle that in nature there is no waste. What one system doesn’t need, another system uses. Our human society wastes an incredible amount of water, even though we know it is scarce. We use it for washing and showering and then let it drain into the septic system or sewer. Why not build gray water systems that take the water from washing and showering and pipe it out for use in the garden?

[i] Quote from an article by Linda Jean Shepherd, “My Life with Weed,” The Sweet Breathing of Plants: Women Writing on the Green World, edited by Linda Hogan & Brenda Peterson (New York: North Point Press, 2001), 200.

All the Water Is One Water

In honor of World Water Day, I offer this excerpt from a chapter in my book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.  I will share further excerpts during the next few days.  This chapter is entitled, “All the Water Is One Water.”

Water BottleOne summer several years ago, I attended a two-week Earth Activist Training, which combined a Permaculture Design Course with practice in magical and political work on behalf of the earth. We began with a water ritual. We brought water from the places we lived or the places we may have traveled to pour into one container. At the end, each person took some of the water, and we brought it home with us. One of the teachers for the training was feminist witch and eco-activist Starhawk, whose writings had been important for me earlier in my spiritual journey. She had begun collecting water in this way many years ago. She brought water back from her travels around the world, and asked her friends to bring back water when they went to far off places. They brought water from the sacred Ganges River in India, and from the great Nile River in Egypt; they even brought melted ice from Antarctica. After a while, they had water from every continent.

When you pour it into one container, all of the water mixes together, and every drop has some of the molecules of water from every place. So if you take a small bottle of water out, you have the waters from many places in one bottle. Each time you have a water ritual, you add some water from the bottle you saved from the previous ritual. In that way, each ritual, each small bottle, contain the waters from all over the world.

Why would we want to have a small bottle of waters from everywhere in the world? For me, first of all, it is one more way to make tangible the sacredness of water. All life comes from water, and needs water to survive. Water moves through the whole ecosystem, nurturing and transforming life as it moves. It rises from the ocean in evaporation, forming clouds in the sky, and, blown by the winds, it returns to the land in the form of rain or snow. This precipitation falls into the soil, and gathers in streams and aquifers. In the midst of this journey, it also travels through the bodies of every living thing.

Margy and I have a bird bath outside our back door. Many kinds of birds come to drink the water we keep filled there, but we’ve also seen squirrels, chipmunks, and bees stop to drink. Every being needs water: insects, birds, mammals, fish, humans. Water also rises up into the stems of plants and the trunks of trees. But none of the water is isolated from the rest—even our own bodies are part of the watershed. We drink in the water, it moves through our blood, and permeates all of our cells, and then we sweat it out or pee it out. Sometimes we weep with wet salty tears. The water goes back to the air or the earth and continues in streams and rivers on its way to the ocean. The cycle keeps going round and round.

All the water on earth is really one water, continuously flowing through the biosphere. Even if we get water from our kitchen tap, that water has been around the world on its journey. All water is connected, and connects all of life.