Resilience in Portland

Cherry Tree and companion July

[Photo of our cherry tree with its companion plants.]

I really believe that permaculture offers a way to live in this time of ecological crisis. In Portland, we have a wonderful resource for learning permaculture skills, and offering mutual aid as we learn. The Resilience Hub helps people to regenerate the land, grow healthy food, and build community.  In that way, it also cultivates hope. In June of 2017, the Resilience Hub was the sponsor of our Permablitz when over 20 people came to help us establish our garden.

Over the last ten years, the Resilience Hub has become a thriving community organization. This past summer, its founder, Lisa Fernandes, moved on into new, but related work. Lisa’s departure prompted a series of community conversations about the future of the Hub: its assets and challenges, its goals and visions. Margy and I attended many of those meetings, and I was so committed to continue this important work that I volunteered to be on the new Board of Directors. We now have new part-time staff, Kate Wallace as Executive and Programming Director and Benjamin Roehrl as Operations Director. See more about our plans going forward at the website.

BUT–the Hub is at a critical point and needs all of us who care about permaculture in Maine to show up with financial help and renewed involvement. To that end, we created a Go Fund Me campaign, and we are trying to reach our goal in the next few days.  I’ve shared it via Facebook, but thought I would add my blog “audience” to this appeal as well.  Please check out our page, and donate what you can!  And if you are local to southern Maine, sign up to be on our active members list!

We are celebrating with a potluck and party this Thursday, January 17, from 6-9 p.m. at the Hub at 224 Anderson Street in Portland. See more about the party at https://www.meetup.com/maine-permaculture/events/257165312/

One of my favorite definitions of permaculture is “revolution disguised as gardening.”  Charles Eisenstein says, (in his recent book, Climate: A New Story,) in this time of ecological degradation, perhaps the most important work we can do is to care for and regenerate the places we live in, the places we love. (More on that later!) That’s what the Resilience Hub is all about. Thank you for helping us to keep it thriving!

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Innu Tea Doll

Innu Tea Doll Angela Andrew – Version 2

My friend Wells Staley-Mays gave me this Innu Tea Doll, knowing of my love for my distant Innu ancestors.  The story is this–when the Innu would travel to the interior of Nitassinan during winter, to hunt the caribou, they had to carry whatever they needed for the journey.  Children carried their share by bringing along a doll that was stuffed with tea leaves.  When the other stores of tea were depleted, a cut was made in the seam of the doll to remove and use the tea leaves.  The doll could be restuffed with grasses or leaves and resown.

I am reminded that the principles we find in permaculture are not new–but were often embedded in the lifeways of Indigenous peoples around the world. One such principle is “stacking functions”–creating elements of our garden (or our lives) that can fulfill more than one function at a time.  So the tea doll was both a storage container for tea, and also a toy to delight a child.  It also has had a further function more recently, to keep alive traditions of the Innu and serve as a source of income for those who sew them.

Innu Doll DetailThis doll was created by Angela Andrew, an Innu elder from the Innu Nation in what is now called Labrador. It is hard to show in photos, but the doll is made of cloth, except her face and moccasins are smoke-tanned caribou skin.  Each layer of clothing is distinct and can be taken off and on.  She has a flannel shift and long pants, with knitted socks, underneath the broadcloth dress and apron.  Her hair is black yarn, and fastened in place with beaded leather ties.  Her hat is a traditional Innu head covering. The clothes are tied with little strips of leather, and her mittens are held in place by a long leather string going behind her neck. Does anyone else remember when our mittens were held in place with a long string like that as children?

Wells and I originally met when we were working against hydrodams being built on Cree, Inuit, and Innu territorial rivers. He had the chance to travel into the bush with the Innu on a trip to Canada many years ago. So this doll is full of those memories and good feelings from our work together. Thank you Wells!

Hell Strip to Esplanade

Planting the roadside strip

Lisa & Myke at work, photo by Margy Dowzer

Last month, Margy and I were talking about the crabgrass that has overrun the lawn in so many places, including the strip between the sidewalk and the street. This strip seems to be referred to by many names–from “hell strip” to “esplanade.”  She is working on other strategies for other places, but I had the idea (after some internet research and an appreciation of what someone in our neighborhood had done to theirs) to see if hardy perennials might eventually outcompete the crabgrass and solve the problem. Then it truly would be shifting from a hell strip to an esplanade!

I started off by moving some turkish rocket from our backyard garden to the front. Turkish rocket is a fast growing perennial vegetable with beautiful yellow flowers. I had planted some last year, excited to try it, but this spring discovered that I didn’t really like the taste of the greens–they were too sharp and bitter for me.  But the flowers were amazing.  So I decided that I’d move it from the food forest to the strip.  Another friend came by and transplanted some yellow day lilies and blue cornflower that needed a new home!

I put out a call on our permaculture meet-up, and was gratified when another member, Sandi, responded by saying she had a lot of perennials that needed dividing and we could have them. That’s the thing–so many wonderful perennial flowers multiply of their own accord and expand out of the area they are originally planted.  So why not use that spreading habit to achieve a better use of the roadside space–for pollinators and for beauty. So I went out to her house and we dug up a whole bunch of plants.

That weekend, our friend Lisa was visiting, and she jumped in to help me with the transplanting effort.  And it was a big effort!  In the end, we had 24 new plants along the strip, mostly with blue or yellow flowers, which we tended to alternate.  Several patches of Siberian iris and several patches of allium; anise hyssop, heliopsis, calendula, white ruffled iris, goats beard, astilbe, mallow, and lady’s mantle.  The other day, I added some catnip–another plant that can spread, but hey, maybe it will outcompete the crabgrass, and we’ll also have catnip for the cats.  The whole thing doesn’t look like much yet–a bunch of scraggly transplants, only a few with any flowers right now–but we’ll see how it goes next summer.  If we can get a load of wood chips, we may put down some cardboard and wood chips between the plants.  But that can happen later too.  I will let you know how it goes.

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Opossum sighting

Opossum

The photo came out a little blurry, but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of this little opossum neighbor, while I was sitting in the screen tent a few mornings ago. When it saw me, it speeded up its walk near the underbrush at the back corner of our yard. I understand that opossums eat ticks, among many other things, so I was glad to see it our neighborhood.

Reading more about them, I learned that they can also eat food from bird feeders and fruit trees.  They are nocturnal.  It will be an interesting balancing act–we intend to grow food for ourselves, yet we also love the critters that show up in this space we share. But perhaps that is the heart of the question–how do we live as neighbors in this land, rather than colonizers/occupiers/dominators?  How do we care for our own needs, while also caring for the needs of other beings on this earth?

Hummingbirds?

Hummingbird Feeder

Margy got a new hummingbird feeder for us!  I put it up today, plus our old one too, attached to opposite sides of the beams on our new roof on the deck.  I hope we aren’t too late to catch the migration–we used to put out the feeders when the viburnum near our door (in North Yarmouth) started blossoming, the first week of May.  We’re still figuring out the best timing for here in Portland.  I’ll let you know when we see any.

In the meantime, lots of watering to do, and I also divided some comfrey and some oregano to take to the Plant Swap tomorrow at the Resilience Hub.  Last year we got all of the companion plants we needed for our cherry trees.  The comfrey and oregano seem like basically fool-proof plants, and grew abundantly in the food forest.  So I was confident enough to take some out to share.  This year, I hope to find some kale seedlings, perhaps, and just see what might be there.  Maybe elderberry starts?  It has been a beautiful day in the garden.

Hummingbird Feeder small

Pruning

Cherry Tree prunedFriday and Saturday I pruned and trained our young fruit trees.  I did a lot of research beforehand, because it seemed so sad to actually cut them at all.  But the Holistic Orchard book, and most other resources suggest that pruning helps them to grow into a shape that gives them enough support and sunlight for fruit.

Of course, after the research, I realized it might have been better to prune the cherries more drastically last summer, when we first planted them.  But all we have is now.  Here is a photo of the Black Tartarian Cherry with its central leader cut at the top–to promote another tier of scaffolding (outward facing) branches.  The small bud near the top should grow into another central leader.   If I didn’t cut the top, the next outward facing branches would have grown too high up on the leader.

Next, I cut the ends of the first tier of scaffold branches, because they were too long and leggy and uneven.  On this cherry, they are also rather low to the ground, but the only way to remedy that would be to cut them all off, and I couldn’t do that.  I tied them back to encourage them to grow at a better angle to the central leader.  I did this for both cherry trees.  (We had also done this last summer, and took off the ties for the winter)

I also pruned our new young apple tree by making a heading cut on its central leader to promote scaffold branch growth.  For the peach, I did a more drastic cut on the central leader, to create a “vase” shape, where there is no central leader, but four or five main branches, which is the form most recommended for peaches.  Some sources recommend that for cherries too, but we had started with a central leader form last year.  After I was done with all this cutting, I said a prayer to the trees–I am so new at this, that I barely know what I am doing–so please forgive me for that, and grow and thrive anyway!

Funny to think that plants can thrive by being cut back so drastically.  Is there a message in that for humans too?  That the most difficult experiences of our life can shape us for greater beauty and fruitfulness to come?

I took a cut branch with cherry blossoms from the Lapins Cherry, and put it in a cup of water on our deck.  Maybe the bees will still want to visit them.  For now, it is a sign of the years to come, when we can let the flowers bloom and hope for fruit.Cherry Blossoms

The (Future) Pond

the future pond after rain

With all the excitement about the rain barrels toppling, I didn’t get a chance to share this other effect of the big rain storm:  our future pond actually looked like a pond (with a little island) on Tuesday.  I only had time last summer to dig up the grass and top soil for most of its surface, meanwhile using that soil in our new annual veggie bed.  This is the slow project–bit by bit digging and removing soil (and putting it someplace else) until the pond is as deep as it needs to be–a few feet in the center, with a foot deep shelf at the edges for plants.  Eventually, we’ll use a pond liner.  The water was gone by the next day.