This last weekend was International Permaculture Day (May 5th) so Tony and I decided to celebrate by offering our hands at two events. It was inspiring and informative. Our first stop was Sky Mountain Institute, where we helped a new family in the neighborhood start a garden using permaculture practices. We built a hugelkultur bed and a eucaylptus trellis. Hugelkultur is a popular permaculture method of building a mound of logs, organic matter and soil to create a self-watering, self-reliant garden bed that decomposes to slowly release nutrients and hold water like a sponge to support your plants. It is easy to build and very low maintenance. Check out Paul Wheaton’s article on hugelkultur here, and his short video here for some fabulous information.
The neighbor’s backyard had a slope and no good soil, but using hugelkultur and sheet mulching, we were able to boost the soil life tremendously. To build the hugelkultur bed we started off digging a platform placing a layer of cedar, palm fronds, zeolite, and beneficial oils on the bottom to detract pests. On top of that we began throwing logs of several varieties, and green organic matter. These do not need to be perfectly lined up but can be strewn willy-nilly to create varied microclimates.
After that, we piled up many truckloads of horse manure and piles of tree trimmings and other organic matter and sent dozens of wheelbarrows full of goodness to add to the hugel bed:
We had a giant pile of mulch that we used to cover the top and break down into nice soil. This hugel bed was created on a steep hill, so we incorprated it into the higher layer, but hugel beds can be created on flat land as well, where one can walk around and pick food from spots at eye-level.
While some of us were working on the hugelkultur bed, others were creating a natural trellis made of eucayptus branches on the property. The goal there is to grow squash and other viny plants over the top to create natural shade, and a microclimate for shade-loving plants to thrive.
Underneath the trellis was hard dirt, difficult for growing, so we decided to begin building the soil again by throwing layers of organic matter, compost and mulch that will break down to create a nice black soil, full of life and nutrients. This method of layering is called “sheet mulching” and is an effective way of building rich soil life when there is none.
It was a satisfying day, helping new friends build a happy, healthy garden. Tony was proud of his trellis handiwork. Soon enough it will provide shade and house lots of good organic vegetables! All this in a day. We are learning how important community and help will be for us when we have land. This would have taken 2 people a week, but with 15 helpers, it took a day.
From there, we revisited Liberty Advance for a second strawbale work party. We met new friends and were able to help finish up the last two strawbale walls. Tony and I mixed up a lot of cob and spent time filling in cracks and making the windows look nice. It went from this:
… in two work weekends. The outside natural plaster layer still needs to be added, and a few other things, but the strawbales are all cobbed and set. Once again, Tony and I know now that if we plan to build a strawbale or cob home, it will take many helping hands. We spent hours alone just cobbing the spaces around the windows, but it sure does look nice:
Tony and I can’t wait to learn more earthen building skills and get in on more work parties like this. Maybe it will pay off and we will be able to host some earthen building work parties in the future.
We visited one last spot after the weekend and left totally inspired and excited to start our permaculture farm. We met with Joey Delia of dirtypermies.com for a quick tour of his land in San Diego. In under a year he and his family have already created a booming food forest, with a swale, over 130 fruit trees planted (all of different types!), all 7 layers of a food forest, rich soil, and a composting toilet. Through seed-bombing he has been able to tame the canada thistle and bring in a tremendous variety of plants. He has a little jungle going, and we can’t wait to visit again in the future to learn from Joey.
Only two weeks left in San Diego before we leave for Grand Teton NP. We have a lot of things to do before we head out, one of which is passing our EMT final exams (yes there are two). I should probably study for those.