Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category

Episode 39 – Backyard Hens, Part 3


As the urban hen debate in our city heats up, here’s another video featuring yet another urban hen keeper. Well, two hen keepers, in fact. The more I get buried in this issue, the more I realize how important it is. In our province at least, it has become about the right for people to produce their own food. That, and the classic objections of noise and poop. I have yet to visit an urban coop that was noisy or smelled of anything at all. I’m pretty sure the same could be said for the vast majority of those who object.

This issue is ramping up momentum because the city is in the throes of putting together a ‘Food and Urban Agriculture Project’, and while I have yet to run into anybody in the food community that has a clue what the city’s up to, apparently they’ve done some work that will be unleashed at a conference held on May 25-26. Sadly, it will cost you $184 to attend to find out what’s going on or to share your voice, for what is tagged as “a key milestone in the engagement process”. Even for not-for-profits. Ouch. Liane wrote a really solid post about this whole thing. I’ve paid my dues to be there, and can’t wait to find out what the heck is going on, and who ends up having the $ to be part of the conversation around urban ag in the city.

Permaculture, Meet High School


I’ve long looked at vast school grounds, wondering how much food could be produced if there was will. I’ve had friends try to climb that hill to no avail, primarily falling apart on concern for maintenance and who’s going to do the work. Like many things in the food world, perhaps it just took some scale – Jasper Place High School being one of, if not the biggest in western Canada at 2400 students. Maybe it’s just time.

I first noticed Dustin on Twitter, tweeting about permaculture projects at a local high school. After a few months, I figured I should get over there with a camera and see  what he’s up to. So I did.

Turns out they’ve built themselves a food forest in a courtyard along with various setups of self watering raised beds, muck about with aquaponics, and have a greenhouse built a half century ago that may now be put to some good use [again?]. They’re producing food for students, engaging youth in food related issues and providing hands-on experience with plants. They’re sheet mulching and rainwater capturing their way to a more environmentally and socially responsible future generation. Permaculture in high school. I grew up in the wrong decade.

Laissez-Faire Gardening Dividend


I see this ridiculously lovely onion, about as thick as my thumb,  as a dividend of laissez faire gardening. I did not plant it this year. This year being my first with a solid crop rotation in place, last year’s allium patch is this year’s bean patch. But it looks like I missed a dozen or so onions last fall. No biggy. Were I meticulous and the food on my plate couldn’t touch, I’d have weeded them long ago, and accordingly missed out on this lovely piece of produce. Because it was hanging out in place since last year, it’s far ahead of any other onion sown this year. And since I added a pile of soil to said former allium patch, it had to grow 8″ or so before seeing light, making it look far more like a wicked leek than an onion.

This outcome is one of many reasons allium are to play a sizable role in my front yard forest garden. I don’t see why I should fuss about planting shallots each year, for example, when I can seed a pile of them, harvest only a portion in the fall, and let the rest remain in situ to split and produce more down the road. With some well tended neglect, I hope to have roughly a zillion of them in a few years. Zero till. Zero effort other than harvesting a portion in the fall. I wouldn’t call myself ‘lazy’, per se, just minimizing effort allows me to add value somewhere else.

This is a Cold Frame


I’ve been talking about cold frames a lot over the past months, and invariably get ‘what’s a cold frame‘. This is a cold frame. It’s a piece of Dutch geniusness. And I find it slightly embarrassing that we, living up here in Edmonton, are not friends with it, nevermind masters of its use. Its purpose is to prolong growing seasons – something you think we’d value. It’s a mini-greenhouse, of sorts, that is easily built, portable, and reasonably accessible to all.

The temperatures in a cold frame will get vastly hotter than the ambient outdoor temperature. For actual research and good building ideas, read Elliot Coleman’s books – worth the time anyway if you have the slightest interest in gardening. This, my friends, is my ticket to extending garden harvest into late Nov, early Dec – and even more importantly, to bridging ‘the spring gap’. These awkward coming months where the root cellar veg is dwindling in quantity and quality, but the garden isn’t yet producing.

So now that you’ve met my cold frames, I welcome you to check in through the year to see what I can get away with via their use. Last year, last garden harvest before heavy snow was mid-Nov. I intend on an early Dec harvest this year. And normally the first spring greens are at an edible size May long weekend. I intend on that first harvest to now be the first or second week of April. Can it really be done?!!?

The econ: greenhouse plexi to do about 4-5 cold frames, 2 layers of plexi per ‘light’ thick = $25. Thanks Kijiji. Old storm windows are also a cheap and easy route. Dimensional lumber for 2 coldframes 8′ long = ~$35. Eating garden veg year-round = priceless. Time investment = 1 afternoon.

Lawn Converted Into Food


Over the past few years I’ve watched a few hundred episodes of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV, and am a regular commenter there. Recently, I’ve been enamored with Daniel Klein’s ‘Perennial Plate‘ project about eating locally in Minnesota. So recently I had a bit of a ‘duh…’ moment, realizing that I had the gear to do some video blogging myself, and really should be using it as I really enjoy the nature of video for blogging purposes. So meet Kevin TV. I intend on keeping it a tad ghetto, one-take-esque, and uncontrived. We’ll see how it evolves. I’m especially excited about the video format come harvest and hunting season, and for farm visits.

This one is a simple mid-July garden tour of my recent ex-lawn. I intend on following it once a season over the next few years.

The Year of the Insect


I spent a lot of time this past winter with my nose in books, one of the topics being permaculture. It’s a pretty dense topic, and I certainly am no poster-child for it, but I did make a lot of changes in my urban yard this year guided by its principles. One broad concept that intuitively makes sense is that as you abandon a monculture of lawn and the amount and types of life it can provide habitat for, and move towards a polycuture of plants with diverse functions, life thrives. It’s so true. And what’s astonished me the most by far, is the response of insects. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and this year has seen a remarkable explosion of insect numbers and diversity. What’s more, although we have had a myriad of wasps of various types, we’ve had no problems with them bothering us. They’re far too in love with lovage blossom. And bees? They are hardcore into wild thyme blossoms. There’s some type of fly that literally swarms around the wild thyme as well, as they move through my herb bed.  My aphid problem on my grapes? Long gone. [thanks predatory whatever-you-are!] There are types of caterpillars, spiders, ants, wasps, flies, moths, and other funky winged insects we’ve never seen before here. And all, seemingly, because of biodiversity.

My crusade against my lawn will have been long fought, and not without its deprecating looks and comments from those who don’t like ‘different’. But life around our little urban yard has evolved quickly, and as I walk around, eating strawberries and the first of the season’s saskatoons and raspberries – from what used to be our front lawn – I’m happy.