Regenerative Leadership Institute 2014-10-20T04:11:59Z Daniel <![CDATA[10 Benefits of Cover Crops]]> 2014-10-14T00:54:17Z 2014-09-11T00:56:34Z Cover crops – sometimes called green manures – are plants that are used primarily to help improve a location, primarily because of the advantages they bring to the soil. Cover crops are often used to help ‘repair’ soil that has been depleted or eroded. There are many benefits the permaculture gardener can get from using cover crop planting.

Prevent Erosion
In permaculture practice, bare earth is something to be avoided. Ground that is exposed to the elements is at a greater risk of erosion by wind and water runoff. This can mean the removal of the rich topsoil and the compaction of the soil underneath, making planting much harder. Cover crops help to stabilize the soil, prevent runoff and both binding the soil together and improving its structure.

Improve Soil Structure
The roots of the cover crop will also help to improve the structure of the soil. The foliage of the plants helps to prevent compaction of the soil by protecting it from rain, erosion and, in some cases, livestock. The passages and pore spaces that the roots create allow for moisture percolation and aeration of the soil, as well as means by which insects and other microorganisms, which are themselves essential to the health of the soil, can move through it.

Organic Matter
As permaculturists know, soil is improved by the addition of organic matter. Organic matter helps stimulate microorganism activity, gives nutrients to the soil, improves the structure and helps with moisture retention. Cover crops add to the organic matter of the soil, both when living as leaves drop to the floor, and when slashed or allowed to die back, when they form a natural mulch or compost. Combining cover crops and compost is one of the most efficient ways to maintain soil quality throughout the year.

Suppress Weeds
Cover crops are sometimes referred to as ‘living mulches’; one of the reasons being their ability to suppress weeds. The roots of the cover crops compete vigorously with weeds for available nutrients, depriving the weeds of the elements they need to thrive. The leaves of the cover crops also compete for light and space above ground, typically shading out the weeds so that they cannot photosynthesize effectively. Furthermore, when crops die back or are slashed back, their perform a more conventional mulching function of smothering the weeds and their incipient seeds.

Planting a cover crop is an effective way to conserve and even increase the moisture content of the soil. Besides preventing runoff by limiting the erosion of the topsoil, the crops do this in two ways. Firstly, simply by providing a cover for the soil, they protect it from evaporation by the sun and the wind. Secondly, many cover crops send down deep roots, which can bring up moisture from lower down in the soil profile.

Another of the benefits that cover crops bring to the soil is to add valuable nutrients, such as nitrogen, an essential element that all plants need. Species in the legume family of plants have a special ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil. They have nodules on their roots that provide a habitat for certain nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Not only does this increase levels of nitrogen in the soil while the plant is growing, when the plant dies back, after harvesting for example, the nitrogen is released into the soil and becomes available for other plants to use, so if you are planting a food crop in succession after the cover crop, it will have a good nutrient load with which to get started.

Permaculture gardeners do not always have to let these leguminous crops grow through their life cycle; they can be periodically slashed back and the stems and foliage left to rot in order to release their nutrient load into the soil. In traditional agricultural methods the cover crop would be cut down then ploughed into the soil. To avoid this destructive technique, the cut plants can be mulched to quicken breakdown. Examples of leguminous cover crops include vetch, field peas and clover.

Less Work
Cover crops also save the permaculturist time and energy. Given all the nutrients that they provide to the soil, there is no need for composting or mulching. This makes cover crops a good option when looking to improve the soil quality of a large area. And by suppressing weeds, it reduces the need to sheet mulch an area.

It’s not only the soil that benefits from the presence of a cover crop; it may add something to your kitchen as well. Certain species of cover crops can provide an edible harvest. Legumes such as peas and beans perform both functions, while mustard plants and daikon are also suitable cover crops that you can eat. For larger areas in zone 3 of your permaculture plot, you might consider a grain crop such as wheat, barley or rye.

Instituting cover crops adds to the biodiversity of your permaculture plot. All species of plants have their own unique characteristics, including how they interact with other plants (such as providing shade or fixing nitrogen) and organisms (such as attracting beneficial insects, or repelling insects that could damage neighboring specimens). The cover crops can also attract wildlife to your permaculture garden, by providing habitat, feeding opportunities (on insects attracted by the plants, for instance), and protection from the elements and predators.

This biodiversity is a major part of attracting a wide variety of insects to your plot. By planting cover crops rather than leaving bare earth, you will bring more species of insect to your site. Some insects will predate on others and so prevent populations booming which may impact upon your crop yield. Attracting insects also increases the number of pollinators on your site, helping propagate your garden plants. The increased organic matter and nutrients in the soil also feeds beneficial microbes that can keep fungal and bacterial infections in check, and limit the number of nematodes, microscopic organisms that feed on plant roots and stems, and which can carry viruses that they transmit to the plants.

Daniel <![CDATA[10 Easy Steps To Your Own Worm Farm]]> 2014-09-28T14:21:32Z 2014-08-27T05:52:22Z Worms are definitely on the side of the permaculturist when it comes to benefit to the garden. They are one of the most effective methods of conditioning the soil. Worms break up the soil structure, allowing it to become aerated and allowing moisture to percolate down into it. This “loosening” of the soil also enables plant roots to penetrate deeper into the soil, bringing nutrients up towards the surface.

Worms also break down organic matter, releasing nutrients into the soil from where they can be used by plants. As they eat their way through organic matter, they produce castings, which are a natural nutrient-rich form of compost, that is an ideal addition to your garden beds.

Instituting a worm farm on your permaculture plot ensures a consistent supply of castings, helping your soil stay in top condition year round. Creating a worm farm, in which the animals breed, mature and process material is easy and can be done in just a few steps.

Find Containers
You need a container that can drain to keep your worm farm in. While there are specially made worm farm containers on the market, you can just as easily use recycled materials – which is better for the environment and your pocket. A series of stackable containers, such as old wooden boxes, used plastic crates or Styrofoam containers are ideal – with the worms living in the top containers, and the bottom serving as a repository for drainage – but some enterprising gardeners also use old bathtubs. Whatever you choose for your container it needs to be watertight and able to protect your worms from extremes of heat of cold. Poke some holes in the top container and cover with shade cloth so that the worms don’t fall through them.

Site Your Farm
Decide where you will put your worm farm on your plot. For the worms it needs to be in a position that does not get too hot or too cold, particularly avoiding locations that are prone to frost. Under a shady deciduous tree would be ideal, as the tree losing its leaves in the winter allows sunshine to reach and warm the farm. You will also want to place your farm somewhere so that it is energy efficient for you to remove the worm castings and place on your beds. Look at a central position in zone 1 of your plot.

Add Bedding
The worms in your farm need material in which to live. Typically, it will include some shredded newspaper mixed with some compost and a little garden soil. Other options include mushroom compost, grass clippings and coconut fibers. You want to provide a good depth of material for the worms to live in, so half fill your top container. Water the bedding material so that it is just moist.

Add Worms
Unfortunately, you can’t simply take earthworms from the garden and put them in the worm farm – leave them in the soil to help improve the structure. You need species for your farm that are adept at composting. You should be able to source from an organic supplier, either locally or online. There are several species from which to choose. Tiger worms are one option, while Red Wrigglers are another. If you are in a warm climate, Indian Blues are a good choice, as they do not cope well with the cold.

Add Food
The worms in your farm will eat a wide variety of organic matter. Indeed, they will eat most of the things that would typically go into a compost pile. So you can feed the worms fruit and vegetables scraps, shredded newspaper, old mulch, coffee grinds, leaf litter and garden prunings. Dried eggshells make a good addition as the calcium they contain prompts the worms to lay more eggs.

It is a good idea to add another layer of shade cloth or a few sheets of damp newspaper over the top of your worm bedding, once the creatures and food have been added. This helps prevent vinegar flies and maggots getting to the worms. Place the lid on your top container to protect the worms from the elements.

To keep your worm farm functioning efficiently, you need to ensure that the bedding remains moist and the worms have enough fresh food. You will need to let the worm population guide you as to how much organic matter to add. If you find that some food is staying around and going moldy, you are giving them too much. However, generally, worm populations will respond to available food supplies and breed accordingly. It is also a good idea to add a handful of garden soil to the farm every so often, as the sand and grit in the soil helps the worms grind up their food.

composting garden wormsMigrate Worms
As you worms multiply and the castings they create build up, you can migrate them up into the top container of your worm farm so you can harvest the castings. When the middle container is almost full of castings, place some bedding in the top container (having remembered to create drainage holes and covering them with shade cloth). The worms will migrate up to the new bedding. When they have migrated you can simply remove the middle box, harvest the castings and use this container to migrate the worms again when needed.

Use The Drained Liquid
The bottom container will collect liquid that drains from the worm farm. This is waste from the worms but it is not useless. Dilute the liquid with water until it is the colour of weak tea and then use as a liquid compost on your garden beds. Keep a check on the level of the liquid in the bottom container, as you don’t want it to get so high that it seeps back into the worm’s bedding.

Use The Castings
The castings act as a great slow-release compost for your garden beds and potted plants. Adding them to the soil will also prompt microorganisms already there to become more active and process the castings into the soil, making their nutrients available to your plants.

Daniel <![CDATA[12 Beneficial Insects For Your Permaculture Plot]]> 2014-09-28T14:21:59Z 2014-09-02T10:21:54Z Insects are the most numerous type of animal on the planet. With tens of thousands of different species and billions of individuals alive at any one time, they are among the most important creatures as well, providing a food for many other animals, and helping to pollinate plants. Insects are, therefore, important to a permaculture site as well.

Some insects are, however, more beneficial to your garden than others, primarily because they help keep populations of “pests” – insects that damage crops – down. Here are some of the little critters that will help keep your permaculture plot in balance.

While the lacewing gets its name from the delicate green tracery of veins on the wings of the adult, it is the larvae of the species that is of most benefit in terms of pest control. Sometimes called “aphid lions” for their voracious appetite for said pests, the larvae also prey upon small caterpillars, mealy bugs and insect eggs. As soon as the larvae hatch they search for food and can eat as many as 40 aphids per day, often, in rather macabre fashion, placing the desiccated husks of their victims on their backs as camouflage. . They have large jaws with which they grasp their prey, immobilizing them so they can suck out their juices. Attracting adult lacewings obviously increases the likelihood of larvae, and they feed on pollen, nectar and honeydew.

Not only are ladybugs one of the most aesthetically pleasing of insects, they are also one of the most beneficial in controlling pests on the permaculture site. Both the adults and the larvae feed on plant-eating insects, particularly aphids but also mites and mealy bugs. Many ladybugs secrete a foul-tasting substance from their bodies to ward off predators, so once in your garden, they are likely to maintain a population if there is sufficient food.

Ground Beetles
There are approximately 2500 different species of ground beetle, and all of the most common varieties eat a wide range of smaller insects, including caterpillars, potato beetles, cutworms, snails, slugs and vine borers. Predominantly nocturnal, ground beetles prefer to lie low under rocks and plant material during the daylight hours, so make sure you have ground cover crops if you want to attract them. A few species of ground beetle are omnivorous and can consume weed seeds, offering another service to the permaculture gardener.

Braconid Wasps
Adult Braconid wasps only eat pollen and nectar, but they certainly ensure that their young have plenty of prey to feed on as soon as they hatch – by injecting their eggs into other insects. The female will lay an egg in a moth or beetle larvae, leaf miner, caterpillar, fly or an aphid, and when the wasp larvae hatches it eats its way out. Fortunately, the wasps’ fearsome reputation is reserved for other insects; it doesn’t sting so humans have no reason to fear them.

Trichogramma Mini Wasps
Similar to the Braconid wasp, these tiny creatures lay their eggs not inside other insects, but in their eggs. The young mini wasps develop inside, preventing the original insect’s young from developing. They tend to favour the eggs of moths and butterflies, but will also lay in those of some species of worm.

Assassin Bugs
Like their human namesakes, assassin bugs stalk their prey before delivering a killer blow – piercing their victim with an elongated mandible. Both adults and larvae feed on aphids, caterpillars, spider mites and all manner of insect eggs. Be careful if handling assassin bugs as they can bite you as well!

Minute Pirate Bugs
Small they may be (around two millimeters in length), but minute pirate bugs will attack insect prey many times their own size. But while they will take the occasional caterpillar, the majority of their diet is made up of mites, thrips and aphids. While their entire life cycle lasts little more than a month, eggs develop rapidly so, given the right conditions, populations can cycle through several generations during spring and summer. Minute pirate bugs are known to be good pest control additions to greenhouses.

Tachinid Flies
Tachinid flies resemble the common housefly, but are distinguished by having a hairy abdomen. The adults are pollen feeders, but the larvae feed upon grasshoppers, beetles, bugs, caterpillars and earwigs. All species of Tachinid flies are parasitical, meaning their eggs develop either inside or on a host that the larvae predates when it hatches. Different species employ various methods of getting their eggs a host, from injecting it inside, placing it on the back, or sticking eggs to foliage that the prey animal will eat.

Soldier Beetles
An all-round predator, these beetles, which average around half and inch in length when fully grown, can both scuttle along the ground and fly. They are usually easy to spot, with yellow and black or red and black markings on their wings. Adults and larvae feed on soft-bodied pest insects like caterpillars and aphids, while the adults will also feed on pollen and nectar.

Hover Flies
Aphids form the largest part of hover fly larvae’s diet, although they will prey on other soft-bodied insects when they get the chance. The adults tend to lay their eggs among aphid colonies so the emerging larvae have food immediately. The adults, which look a lot like yellow jackets, are solely pollen eaters.

Spined Soldier Bugs
Preying on caterpillars, fly larvae, cabbageworms, potato beetles and grubs, spined soldier bugs are a type of stink bug, but are distinguished by their spined “shoulders” which gives their carapace a shield-like appearance. They range in color from brown to bright red.

Praying MantisPreying Mantids
Preying mantids are arguably the oddest-looking insects you might find on your permaculture plot, at least if you can spot them, they are. Masters of camouflage, preying mantids use their body shape and coloring to blend into plants, from where they attack any other passing insect. This does mean that they will take other beneficial insects, but with healthy populations, their benefits outweigh the loss of a few ladybugs.

Daniel <![CDATA[12 Things Not To Put In Your Compost Pile]]> 2014-09-28T14:22:26Z 2014-08-25T04:31:54Z Compost is one of the permaculture gardener’s most potent tools. It recycles “waste” from the garden and the home and turns it into a material rich in nutrients, which soils benefit from immensely. Composting essentially means the decomposition of organic matter by enzymes and microorganisms. This decomposition releases nutrients from the material that, once the compost is added to the soil, become available for plants and soil organisms to use. There are lots of different things that you can put into your compost pile, including vegetables and fruit scraps from the kitchen, prunings, leaf litter and grass clippings from the garden, and even dead animals.

Tea and Coffee Bags
Coffee grounds and tealeaves definitively have a place in a permaculture garden. They are useful additions to the compost pile, adding generous amounts of phosphorous and potassium – two elements essential to plants – as well as to worm farms. However, coffee grounds and tealeaves must only be used in compost if they are “bag less.” The bags that some coffee and tea products come in do not break down rapidly in a compost pile, and can contain chemicals you don’t want in your soil.

Citrus Peel and Onions
While fruit and vegetables scraps from the kitchen are some of the fundamental inputs into a home compost pile, there are two exceptions: citrus peel and onions. The acidity in these can kill worms and other microorganisms, limiting the effectiveness of the decomposition.

Dog and Cat Droppings
Many types of manure make excellent additions to compost piles. Horse, cow, and chicken droppings, for example, will add nutrients and organic matter that will benefit the soil. However, it is not advisable to add the excreta from dogs and cats to your compost. Their droppings are likely to contain parasites that you do not want to introduce to plants from which you will be eating. The same goes for human excreta. If you do want to make use of these waste products, you must process them separately from your organic pile, and only use the resulting compost on non-food crops.

Fish and Meat
It is recommended that you don’t add fish and meat scraps from your kitchen to the compost pile. This is not because they contain detrimental elements or inhibit microorganism activity, but rather that their presence will act like a magnet for “vermin” who will ransack the compost to eat them. Rats, mice and foxes will seek out such morsels, as well as neighboring cats.

Glossy Magazines
It can be tempting to consider all paper products as potential material for the compost pile. After all, they all come from trees, don’t they? And newspaper is a well-regarded provider of compost and mulch. However, paper that has been treated with inorganic substances is not suitable for a compost pile. Glossy magazines, for example, have these inks on their pages.

Most kinds of plastic are not biodegradable. This means that not only do they have no place in a compost pile, but also we should minimize our use of them throughout our lives. Waste plastic is a major reason why valuable space is used for landfills, and is a significant threat to marine life in the oceans. Indeed, as well as large “drifts” of plastic items in the seas, the plastic breaks down under sunlight to tiny toxic particles that end up in the guts of fish and other crustaceans, and potentially from there into the human food chain.

Fruit Stickers
Sticky labels on fruit are one of the most common plastic-coated items that can end up in compost piles. Try to ensure you remove stickers from fruit scraps when you take them from the kitchen to the compost pile.

Coal Fire Ash
The ash from coal fires should not be added to your compost pile, as it can make the soil excessively sulfuric. Plants, like all living things, need some sulfur in order to develop healthy cells and protein. However, too much sulfur in the soil can cause a build-up of salts, which can kill plants.

Sawdust From Treated Woods
While sawdust from untreated, natural woods can be a beneficial addition to compost (it is particularly effective if you are looking to increase potassium levels in the soil), if the wood has been treated with any kind of varnish or paint, you should avoid adding the sawdust to your compost pile. These inorganic compounds won’t break down in the composting process and can leach into the soil, negatively affecting microorganism activity. These coatings also mean that it is difficult for organisms and bacteria within the compost pile itself to get to the wood underneath, meaning that the treated sawdust takes a very long time to break down, delaying when you can use your compost on the garden.

Artificial Fertilizer
As all good permaculture gardeners know, organic fertilizer is the best way of feeding your soil the nutrients it needs while remaining in tune with nature. In contrast, artificial fertilizers introduce inorganic elements into the ecosystem. While such fertilizers may provide nutrients that plants need, the temptation to add artificial fertilizers to your compost to five it a “boost” should be resisted. The form in which said nutrients are provided is not natural, meaning that they are not in tune with the ecosystem as a whole. Compounds in artificial fertilizers, such as heavy metals, inevitably leach through the soil into the water table, while others can upset the balance of chemicals in the soil, increasing salinity, evaporation and deterioration. Stick to natural, organic materials for your compost pile to avoid upsetting the balance of nature.

compostTins and Metal Objects
These objects simply take a very long time to break down, and you don’t want to be waiting years for your compost to be useable.

Large Branches
Garden waste is a primary component of good organic compost on most permaculture sites. However, it is advisable to make sure prunings and branches are only added to the compost pile in small bits. Large branches will simply slow the process down considerably. It may be a little extra work to cut down your branches for the compost pile, but you’ll reap the rewards of rich, valuable compost much sooner.

Daniel <![CDATA[15 Things to Observe Before Starting your Permaculture Design]]> 2014-08-24T00:53:41Z 2014-08-20T05:10:17Z When you first start considering turning a site into a permaculture garden, you need to do a thorough analysis of the plot. You need to get to know the land, the organisms that live on it and the influences that act upon it. By understanding the land, you can work with it to make the changes a permaculture garden will need to thrive. One of the primary means of analyzing a plot is observation. Looking at the land, watching how it changes with the season, and how it reacts to events, will be a great bedrock of knowledge on which to base your subsequent permaculture garden design. The longer the period you can simply observe the land before altering it, the better, as you will see how it changes over the seasons. Here are some of the primary things that you should observe when analyzing your site.

Different species of plant require different amounts of shade and direct sunlight. Observing how the sun falls on your plot will help you decide which plants to site in which locations. It could also help you orientate your garden beds to allow for the maximum amount of sunshine to hit them, and also demonstrate where shade might provide relief for livestock.

The wind is a significant factor in the growing potential of a plot. It can affect the evaporation of moisture from the soil and from plants, can impact upon soil erosion and even damage or destroy plants. By observing how the wind acts upon a site you can design windbreaks to protect your plants and animals from the negative effects of the wind.

Temperature affects everything from plant growth and soil moisture to evaporation from water bodies and the comfort of animals. Record temperature high and lows across the seasons, remembering that temperatures won’t be uniform across the whole site – different conditions will create niches and microclimates within the site. Noting the first and last frost of the season is also a good idea.

Observe when the sun rises and when the sun sets across your land. While these times are fairly predictable in geographic locations (they are published by government agencies, for example) the specifics of your site may mean that the times vary. For instance, if a neighboring property has a border of tall trees, the sun may tot ‘rise’ to hit your plot until later in the morning.

Microclimates are locations within the garden where features of the land, such as topography, materials and water bodies create variations in temperature. These microclimates can provide niches in which to cultivate certain species of plant that thrive in specific conditions. You can also plan in your design to modify microclimates where doing so may be beneficial, such as placing rocks to store and diffuse heat, or planting tall species to provide extra shade to ground cover crops.

Moisture is key to plant growth, and the more you can harvest from the weather, and reduce your reliance on water supply systems, the better. Observe rainfall patterns across seasons (you can also access official figures of annual rainfall expectations across your region). Analyze where snow and hail settle and where it melts most quickly. Try to discern the reasons for this.

Look at the soil. This is the foundation of your permaculture garden, so you want to understand it as best you can. Look at how loose or tight the soil particles are. This will help determine if you have a clay or sandy soil, which in turn will affect how well it retains moisture.

How does water that falls on the land move across it? Are there gullies and creeks that direct the flow? Are there areas of the site that are prone to flooding after heavy rainfall? Observing how water flows across the land will, enable you to design features that make use of this flow – by diverting it to other, drier areas of the site – or slow it down so it can seep into the soil, by building swales, for example.

A permaculture garden is designed to work in harmony with the land surrounding it, including the visual aspects. The views you have from your land, particularly those you wish to preserve for their natural beauty and the pleasure they give you to look at, will impact upon your garden design.

Observe any aspects of your neighbors’ properties and lifestyle that may impact upon your permaculture garden. It may be that they do activities that are noisy so you might want to plant trees in a position to shield yourself from that noise. They may have a tall fence or building that casts shade onto your plot, which will affect what you plant in those shaded areas.

Local government ordinances and procedures will also impact upon your site. Observe whether the council undertakes spraying on vegetation in public locations near your plot. Consult zoning regulations and recycling collection schemes. You will also need to observe how public utility services are represented on your plot, be it power lines above ground or sewage systems below.

The manmade structures on a site will also influence the growing conditions. Houses, sheds and fences can affect how sunlight is reflected, how heat is retained and diffused, the shaded areas of a garden, and which views are available.

Before you start planting your garden, observe the vegetation that is on the site already. Which species appear to be thriving and what is it about the areas where they are growing that seems to be the reason? Which species are native and which are introduced (you may want to preserve the native plants in your design)?

Look at the wildlife that visits the site, from the smallest insects to large mammals. Each is being attracted for a reason, typically the availability of food. If there are certain species you wish to deter, and other you want to attract, you can plant accordingly.

Local Resources
Consider if there are businesses locally that could provide sustainable organic materials you need for your permaculture garden. These could include a farm to source manure and sawmills to attain woodchips for mulching.