Mid-Summer in a Urban Oasis

To be effective in caring for our “out the front door” environment, each and every Now really needs to be experienced as a separate occurrence. Solutions for the many challenges to harvesting abundance do not include wishing we had some of last years’ abundant moisture, yet without the presence of Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs, Spot-Winged Fruitflies, and Gray Squirrels.

Native Pollinator Sleeping in a Hollyhock

Native Pollinator Sleeping in a Hollyhock

This growing season has been very dry: we have had to use municipal water to keep plants alive between the very infrequent rain events.

Two Male Turkeys, Investigating...

Two Male Turkeys, Investigating…

On a very bright side, last years’ disastrous stinkbugs are a no-show (see past postings for 2013). Fruitfles, although present, are in much lower  numbers. Squirrels too, seem to be few in number.

Arising in their shadow though, voles (root-feeding, underground rodents) are acting out devastation. Castor Bean is touted as a vole and mole repellant, and I planted some very near a young muscadine (thick skinned,extra Yummy, southern grape) that was severely compromised by extensive root damage: a vole ate the roots of the castor bean, killing it.

Castor Bean killed by root-eating voles

Castor Bean killed by voles…

This is a sign of serious vole issues!

And still, the garden and orchard look great.

Garden scene in mid-June

Garden scene in mid-June

Other Happenings at Barefoot Permaculture
A large Siberian Elm, (located semi-between our home and front orchard/gardens) developed a serious split, and had to be removed. We’ve lost some eastern shade, yet gained late afternoon sun for the front gardens.

Smart Fellas Tree Service: Great Job!

Smart Fellas Tree Service: Great Job!

Black Bears continue to wander through fairly regularly, enough for us to remove the bird feeder for the summer; depriving us of some delightful opportunities to see parent birds introduce their young to this food source.

3 Year Old, Eyeing the Bird Feeder

3 Year Old, Eyeing the Bird Feeder

The woodchip-mulched, semi-forested church lot, across from us, on several occasions, has provided us with tastes of the wild: Winecap (Stropheria rugosa-annulata) and Deer (Pluteus atricapillus) mushrooms: deeply delicious treats!

Winecap Mushroom

Winecap Mushroom

Making a Sporeprint: To Be Sure...

Making a Sporeprint: To Be Sure…

Better Size Winecap for Eating

Better Size Winecap for Eating

Partially in celebration of our new gas range (our 38 year old range could not be repaired safely) after a wait of almost 3 months, we hosted a Summer Solstice / “Home and the Range” gathering. We supplied the artisan pizza dough, and friends showed up with topping materials and other potluck delights.

Artisan Pizza Dough, Awaiting the Fire...

Artisan Pizza Dough, Awaiting the Fire…

It was one of our best gatherings, and our new American Range rose to the occasion!

From the Oven: Artisan Pizza!

From the Oven: Artisan Pizza!

In the weeks since, we’ve made several artisan sourdoughs, enough to keep me very bread-rich and happy.

Two Different Sourdoughs...

Two Different Sourdoughs…

Currants, Gooseberries, and Goumi’s have deliciously and abundantly come and gone. Everbearing Red Raspberries are finishing out as Blackberries are beginning. Blueberries too, are just beginning to be ripe. Peaches are colored and still ripening. Apples and Asian Pears have much ripening ahead.

Champaigne Currants and Gooseberries

Champaigne Currants and Gooseberries

Our Blue Hopi maize and our cross-pollinated Martin Prechtel / Blue Hopi Corn have tasseled and ears are developing. Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, risen on their own (from last year’s crop) have fed us several times, with more to come.

Our own (saved seeds) heritage tomatoes are ripening (had my first today… deeply Yum)!

Three of Our Several Varieties of Tomatoes

Three of Our Several Varieties of Tomatoes

Last year’s cukes (Little Leaf and Lemon) have reseeded themselves and are feeding us well: upon our kitchen counter is a 1 gallon crock of salt-fermenting pickles.

Nearby, on the other side of the kitchen, is a 5 gallon carboy of  Serviceberry Mead, a 1 gallon jug of serviceberry / wild cherry wine, and a jug of apple cider: all under vaporlocks, all still actively fermenting.

Mid-Summer has passed: the ripening time is upon us, as we head towards autumn and winter…

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Spring Tales of an Urban Oasis: Orchards, Bees & BioChar

Nice to have been keeping a flowering chart (since 1996) for our urban orchard. As each new fruit variety is added here at Barefoot Permaculture, so is its name added to our flowering chart (which records the date of first flower and full flower

 

Replacing Wild Cherry: with Basswood

Replacing Wild Cherry: with Basswood

The mountains of western North Carolina are infamous for very warm spells in February, followed by hard frosts, as well as periods of sub-freezing temperatures, surfacing into May

Earliest Bloomer: Chojuro Asian Pear

Earliest Bloomer: Chojuro Asian Pear

This combo often spells disaster for fruiting plants. If the blossoms are damaged by the cold, the result is no fruit for the year. Local wisdom speaks of a Dogwood Winter and a Blackberry Winter. With some regularity, hard freezes occur when dogwood (Cornus spp.) and Blackberry (Rubus spp.) are in bloom. We experience this fairly often, and it makes successful fruit growing precarious. This spring, our last freeze was mid-April.

First Appearance of Blossoms: Shinseki Asian Pear

First Blossoms: Shinseki Asian Pear

In spite of most of our fruit varieties being in various stages of bloom, the only freeze damage appears to be our Moonglow European Pear. That damage appears to be complete: no pears this year!

Goumi in Full Bloom

Goumi in Full Bloom

All else is looking good (for the most part).

Goumi: On the Way to Ripening

Goumi: On the Way to Ripening

Voles (small, short-tailed root-eating rodents) made it —for the first time, into our front (and main orchard area).

Our beloved Fuyu (Asian Persimmon) failed to leaf out by April’s end: its root zone riddled with Vole tunnels! I collapsed the tunnels, and fed the root zone with Nature’s Nog (a seaweed based concentrate for root development ) and watered it well.

Life Creeping Out, after Severe Vole Damage

Life Creeping Out, after Severe Vole Damage

The stem has pushed out a few leaf buds, so now we get to nurse her back to health and well-being (so long as we are able to keep the voles at bay…

 

                       The First Thunderstorm After Easter

look for Morels, our esteemed elder Dot Wells (now passed) told us years ago. We’ve been out twice and had not so much as spotted a morel, and were feeling skunked.

Then, 8 days after Easter, Monday in the evening, thunder, lightning, and 3&1/2” of rain! In the morning I told Chiwa that the previous night’s noises kept me awake.

Blessed by the Morel Spirits

Blessed by the Morel Spirits

The thunder? she asked… No, the popping sound: morels popping out of the ground!  We laughed, and later went into our side yard, nearby Grandmother Crabapple, hoping to spot some small morels.

Astarte's Eggs?

Astarte’s Eggs?

Oh My God! was all that came out of my mouth! Nine of the biggest morels we have ever seen: dominating a small clearing like giant exclamation marks!

A Great Wildness to Eat

A Great Wildness to Eat

Needless to say, we had a thankful and yumptious time following…

In The Pan...

In The Pan…

                                                Honeybee News

Over the winter, we lost two hives: one disappeared, and one dwindled to a very small cluster (with queen) unable to generate the warmth necessary for survival, and died out in early April. We were left with one gangbuster hive and another less so, yet still healthy.

Last week, our gangbuster (western) hive cast out a swarm which settled 40 feet up and at the end of a small-diameter branch in a nearby Hemlock tree. I pulled out my pendulum, inquired about climbing the tree and capturing the swarm… and was given a “no”.

An hour later, the swarm lifted off and began to drift slowly downward, eventually flowing back into the hive that birthed it.

Normally unusual, turns out that within our local beekeeper community, several this year, have witnessed swarms returning to the mother hive. What it means? Quien sabe!

Two days later, another (and smaller) swarm landed in the same spot. This time my pendulum swung in the “yes” direction, and up the tree I climbed. Tying my climbing rope near the treetop, I dropped down to the small diameter branch upon which the swarm was clustered.

Tree Top Swarm Catching

Tree Top Swarm Catching

Secure (from falling, but not imbalance) in my climbing saddle and rope, I sat down upon the branch and gently sawed off the 5’ long branch tip, then bringing the cluster near enough to allow me to gently shake the swarm into my 5 gallon bucket, cover it, and lower it down, via rope, to Chiwa.

 Pouring In the Swarm

Pouring In the Swarm

The hive was small, so the next day I removed 3 deep frames of capped brood from the mother (western) hive, and placed them into the “new” hive. (The three empty, deep frames of drawn foundation then went back to the western hive, giving their queen more space in which to lay, and reducing that hives’ propensity to swarm further).

Adding Capped Brood

Adding Capped Brood

During the next few days, when these purloined frames of capped brood hatch, there will be an instant population of new bees for our new hive, just in time for the Tulip Poplar and Locust nectar flow.

                                                  BioChar Update

BioChar is big in the “under” news these days: as one of the most plausible methods of sequestering carbon, with a side effect of enhanced, long term soil fertility.

Readying the Bio-Charged BioChar

Readying the Bio-Charged BioChar

The basic difference between charcoal and BioChar is the biological component, supplied by “charging” the charcoal with nutrients and micro-organisms via soaking in a nutrient laden slurry. In the case of Barefoot Permaculture, the hardwood charcoal soaked for eighteen months in a slurry of fish emulsion, seaweed, urine, animal manures, comfrey and nettle.

Breaking Apart BioChar Into BioCharettes

Breaking Apart BioChar Into BioCharettes

In the last 2 weeks, we harvested some of our BioChar, pounded it into tiny pieces, screened it, then mixed it with screened, aged biodynamic compost; at a ratio of 1:1.5 (BioChar: Compost).

Finished BioChar

Finished BioChar

 

Screened, Aged BioDynamic Compost

Screened, Aged BioDynamic Compost

We have around 50 lbs. of top quality, soil enhancing, compost enriched BioChar. Within each planting hole for our seasonal gardens, will go a handful or two, as well as top-dressing all our perennial fruits. With some left over, and as much more to make (with the same ingredients) we will be building sustained fertility for many years to come…

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Comfort comes into your house a guest, and stays to become the Master” (Gibran: “The Prophet”)

How can we Homo sapiens self-proclaim intelligence, when our practices and activities severely undermine the very elements whose presence provides the foundation of life for all?

All terrestrial life exists due to the presence of healthy and pure Water, Air, and Soil. These are fundamental to life!

How can I not speak out? This affects all life!

And not just the present. What would we say to our (mostly) yet to be born grandchildren? To our great-grandchildren? To our direct descendants seven generations on?

How will we answer their queries of why we severely polluted and fouled not only the surface waters, yet even worse, and much more disastrously, the groundwater?

Will our answers sound just a little hollow … “Oh, you would have had to have been there… You see, the worlds’ industrial economy was driven by access to cheap fossil fuel, and as the resource peaked (Peak Oil), and began it’s decline, petroleum prices rose high enough that corporations could make a huge profit by fracking below earth’s surface, and extracting more petroleum than otherwise would have been available… We didn’t intend to pollute the groundwater: that was just a side effect!”

This week’s news includes a WHO (World Health Organization) report that 7,000,000 (seven million) people die each year as a direct result of air pollution.

Within the past month, Duke Power, in North Carolina, severely polluted 90 miles of river with highly toxic, persistent coal ash sludge, a by-product (side effect) of energy production.

We, as H. sapiens, are severely overpopulated and rapidly rising. Our combined impact is deleteriously tremendous and, like our numbers, exploding.

Human population, along with the ascendancy of industrial economy, and short- sighted, disastrous corporate greed, are severely fouling our own nest, as well as decreasing the ability of the foundational elements of life to do their job making our sacred earth fit for healthy life.

This is my permaculture i-scream!

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Mid-Winter in the Urban Oasis

 

Oldest and Youngest at the Wassail

Oldest and Youngest at the Wassail

Mid January already, and my proclivity appears to follow the genetic memories of very remote ancestors: Feed the fires!

Hearths, where warmth radiates, food issues forth, and friends and families gather, are the heart of a home. In this coldest of the cold season, I keep both the Jotul (Oslo 400) and the Waterford Stanley Wood Cook Stove going. These are the hearths of our home.

It is my delight to, in the case of our Jotul, keep the same fire going for weeks at a time. This is a nourishing relationship. We Homo sapiens are the only species that have co-evolved with fire.

Its not difficult to image in times past, the terror of wild, out of control fire.

Having had a wood stove as my main source of heat since the mid-seventies, its also not difficult to image the joy of Grandfather Fire first coming gently inside as friendly fire; allowing ancestors to live and be comfortable in otherwise inhospitable conditions.

This season, I follow a natural call of going inward. Our hearth zone is like a winterized cave: nearby we sit, read, dream, work on small projects, talk and tell other tall tales.

Immune Enhancers for  Elderberry Syrup

Immune Enhancers for Elderberry Syrup

Nearby, Chiwa has taken out an ancient sewing machine, and is making berets for me and other friends out of old cashmere and merino fabrics. Perhaps a neck gaiter will manifest too…

Preparing Sourdough Bread for the Watreford

Preparing Sourdough Bread for the Waterford

 

Into the Waterford Wood Cook Stove

Into the Waterford Wood Cook Stove

During extra cold times, our Irish Waterford Stanley wood cook stove keeps the kitchen smiley comfortable! At night, the kitchen’s insulating blinds are lowered, giving us a soft green, cozy and private space.

Artisan Bread baked close to the Fire

Artisan Bread baked close to the Fire

Cinnamon Buns from the Waterford

Cinnamon Buns from the Waterford

The delicious heat radiating from the cook stove invites and compels me to take advantage of all this available heat… and cook!

The large cast iron surface provides ample space for heating water for coffee and teas, cooking omelets and other breakfasts, slow cooking soups, syrups and other winter delights. From the oven comes artisan breads, pizzas, cinnamon buns, apple-blackberry crisps, apple galettes, and other baked goodies.

Apple Galette

Apple Galette

I have gained a few pounds this cold season…

Weatherwise, we are seeing the coldest temperatures in 25 years; multiple lows in the single digits. While I hope overwintering larvae of Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs and Spot-winged Drosophila are biting the dust, I wonder also which beloved fruit plants will not show up again in spring…

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                                     An Offer Not to Be Refused
The best laid plans… are too tempting (to the invisible powers -to-be) to unfold as planned. Late summer / early fall  2013 was, in my mind, booked solid with the need to make enough brooms to fill my booth graciously at the upcoming October Southern Highland Craft Guild show.

Yet, what to do when an opportunity arises that may not be refused, without the price tag of always wondering how the remainder of one’s life would have been, if the opportunity had been availed? What to do?

Just Do It!

Andrew at Petra

Andrew at Petra

The irresistible opportunity was an invitation to Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to do a permaculture design for the Royal Botanic Garden: the brain and heartchild of Princess Basma bint ‘Ali.

Looking Out from Royal Botanical Garden Site

Looking Out from Royal Botanic Garden Site

The Royal Botanic Garden (RBG) is several years in the making, and several more before being open to the public. In the meantime, in line with the dreams and desires of the Princess and RBG staff, as well as the consulting recommendations of several well known directors of Botanic Gardens around the world, The Royal Botanic Garden is laying the foundation to join the ranks of world class Botanic Gardens.

Permaculture and its’ potentials, are fairly well know in Jordan, thanks in large part to Geoff Lawton and his “Greening the Desert” project (see Youtube: Geoff Lawton: Greening the Desert).

Greening Desert Site: 7 Years Hence

Greening Desert Site: 7 Years Hence

 

The New Greening Desert Site

The New Greening Desert Site

In addition, Princess Basma is one of the most ecologically evolved individuals I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and has been awarded numerous global awards for her many good works in service to both Jordanians and the world.

I had a very small window of opportunity in which to travel to Jordan and complete this design project.

Other large scale events occurred as my departure date was nearing; ones with potentially serious global implications, most especially nearby where I was headed. Use of poisonous gas by the Syrian regime was confirmed, and there were strong concerns that my country could be dropping bombs soon.

My departure date was postponed a week, until the dust settled; closing my window of availability somewhat. With relief, I finally received clearance to travel, albeit with a shorter time in Jordan.

My project involves a hilltop, a few kilometers removed from the main RBG site;  overlooking and dropping steeply down to a fairly remote, large reservoir (one of Jordan’s largest).

Design Site

Design Site

 

An important part of a permaculture design is termed the “Client Interview”.  To my great delight, the client was Princess Basma and some of her key staff.

 Princess Basma bint 'Ali and Andrew Goodheart

Princess Basma bint ‘Ali and Andrew Goodheart

From this 30-40 minute interview, I learned that the hopes for this site were a permaculture design including an eco-Hotel; small housing units for interns and  long term volunteers; functioning demonstration gardens and orchards; and animals (such as pigeons, chickens, and honeybees).

Upon my second (and final) visit to the hillside, I moved slowly through the landscape, allowing impressions and feelings to surface consciously. Certain spaces invited images of several of the design elements.  Of these I made note.

 Site for My Permaculture Design

Site for My Permaculture Design

Back in the comfort of my hotel, I made cutouts of most of the major elements. Since the site was fairly large, and the maps available to me not being to scale,  a rough map was the best I could do.

Random Design on a Couch Pillow

Random Design on a Couch Pillow

Upon my rough map, I placed the major elements, according to my earlier impressions. With the cutouts, I could easily reposition elements. (In permaculture terms: Random Assembly)

The more I repositioned, according to permaculture principles
as well as site realities, the more excited I became as the design materialized.

Final Design: Tracing Paper Overlays

Final Design: Tracing Paper Overlays

I presented my design  to Princess Basma and staff. It was well received, and is scheduled to be sent off to their Landscape Engineers in the UK for scale replication and final design of this initial phase of the site development.

Two of my final days were spent in the company of four other volunteers (experts in their fields) traveling to Petra (Jordan’s World Heritage site)and continuing southward towards the Dead Sea, and traversing representative ecosystems of this desert country.

Steven Foster: On the Way to Petra

Steven Foster: On the Way to Petra

Ahh… On the food side of things: local, world class extra virgin olive oil; many varieties of olives; figs to my heart’s content; and many delicious local foods (too many to recall, except for Chicken livers cooked in Pomegranate syrup; Humus (like none I’ve ever tasted at home)and many other delicious foods.

Meeting My First Olive

Meeting My First Olive

The people I met were friendly, intelligent, and gracious .

Given a chance, I will gladly return…

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Autumn Musings

 

Late autumn brings an almost end to the growing season at Barefoot Permaculture’s gardens, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. Already, several hard freezes have put an abrupt end to hoped-for lingering crops, such as basil, tomato, and sweet peppers.

Autumn Fruits

Autumn Fruits

Winter squash are piled up under a side kitchen table: hard-shell promises of soups, pies, flans and such.

Our usual larder of pears, apples, and Asian Pears, nonexistent this year due to squirrels, stinkbugs, and in some cases, a light fruit-set, propel us to drive to Edneyville for a few bushels of our most favorite apple: Goldrush. Unfortunately, these are commercially grown (though minimally sprayed) yet, they are Goldrush, from one of a very few  growers to have them.

This moist, grey morning, reveals seven healthy looking squirrels within a 10 ft radius, feeding under the black sunflower seed bird feeder. No wonder so many of us lost massive amounts of fruit this year to marauding squirrels: the past few mild winters have allowed for successful nesting, resulting in what seems to be an over-abundance of young, healthy squirrels.

Honeybees are all snugged in for a long, winters’ sleep: or so we bee friends hope! A cold winter means little bee activity, and little honey stores consumed. Whenever we experience many warmish winter days— such as above 50 F— bees fly in search of what may be useful to the hive, and so doing, consume more food. Every overwintering beekeeper has concerns regarding each hive having enough honey to see them through the cold season.

We did not remove any honey this year… yet. We may do so… or not. And if we do, we will need a few warm days so as to not disturb the cluster.

My busiest time of the year is late summer and early autumn: harvest time, closing down the garden, putting up firewood, and broom-making time (for my involvement in the Southern Highland Craft Guild show in October).

Shaker-style Brooms, in the Making

Shaker-style Brooms, in the Making

What a time to receive an offer I could not refuse: to travel to The Kingdom of Jordan  and do a permaculture design for The Royal Botanical Gardens.

I had no choice: drop all my planned-for necessities, and go! (My next posting will cover this topic).

My First Encounter With an Olive Tree

My First Encounter With an Olive Tree

Returned home with barely enough time in which to make a necessary number of brooms. Took part in the 4 day show, and then packed up and departed for Cape San Blas, on the Florida panhandle (above Appalachicola) for a 2 week vacation.

Chiwa and I arose each morning, prior to sunrise, made a cup of excellent coffee, and walked out to a low dock, just above a spartina marsh, and welcomed the dawning, accompanied by Bald Eagles (mature and immature), Harriers (Marsh Hawks), Virginia Rails, Reddish Egrets, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Willets, Black-Bellied Plovers, Western Sandpipers, Pelicans, Cormorants, Loons, as well as several varieties of gulls and terns.

Our Morning Marsh Dock, at Old Salt works

Our Morning Marsh Dock, at Old Salt works

We also had mystical encounters with a Great Horned Owl, Florida Red Fox, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, as well as several varieties of gulf sharks (e.g.. Bull and Spinner)

We kayaked in the Gulf, Bay, and in a beautiful Cypress/Tupelo swamp, depending upon the wind’s whims.
swamp013
Sunsets we experienced on a beautiful, very private, west facing strip of white sand beach: celebrating with gin & tonics…
sunset
Several Asheville friends also were present, all of us staying at The Old Saltworks cabins, in a mature forest located on the southwestern portion of the bay. We got together for shared and pot-luck dinners, as well as very local, fresh shrimp, oysters and fish.

Very  Fresh and Local White Trout

Very Fresh and Local White Trout

Yum!  And just how a vacation should be…

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Humid August in an Urban Oasis

 

 Record amounts of moisture for western North Carolina (including Asheville, home of Barefoot Permaculture’s permacultureasheville.com). By mid-July, we were already several inches above the average total yearly amount.

For the first time in our garden/orchard history, water was not the limiting factor for plant growth. Plants are deep green, the uprights are tall, and the climbing, vining ones long.

There are repercussions always, to any change.

Winners and losers: those that benefit and those that are adversely affected.

                                                     Annual Gardens
As an example, this years’ main annual polyculture of tomato, basil, cucumber, sweet pepper, Red-eyed Crowder Pea, okra and Magenta Lambsquarters are both disaster and horn of plenty.

Well Watered Polyculture

Well Watered Polyculture

Tomatoes and cucumbers succumbed to the many summer blights (we harvested some, but not many: enough to eat a few and save seeds for next season).

The heritage sweet red peppers are almost 5’ tall: healthy and green. Hardly any flowers or fruit.

Crowder Pea Wrapped PolyculturePolyculture

Crowder Pea Wrapped Polyculture

Basil is loving the moisture and growing well, as are the heritage Crowder peas (although they were reported to grow to a height of 4’, they are upwards of 10’, vining wildly around and over everything).

So much for the innocuous nitrogen-fixer growing within the polyculture!

The heritage okra (Fife Creek Cowhorn) loves hot and sunny conditions; the opposite of what we have had and are still experiencing. They have produced some fruit, yet are both small and struggling.

The deliciously edible “weed” Magenta Lambsquarters is still growing and producing very well.

Magenta Lambsquarters

Magenta Lambsquarters

Nearby, our second season (saved seed) Hopi Blue Corn, a drought resistant grinding corn, is a third taller than advertised, and is setting fruit well. This dried corn, when ground (milled) produces a sweet and delicious meal.

Hopi Blue Corn

Hopi Blue Corn

Behind our home is a small planting of Martin Prechtel’s corn (see “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic” North Atlantic Books) intermixed with a single Hopi Blue (for a purposeful cross pollination).

Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans are over-running their 7’ trellis and making lots of delicious, tender green beans. Same with our Red Noodle Beans.

Our winter squash varieties are growing to record lengths, and also producing well.

                                             Animals and Predation

During a 2 week period in late July, a canopy traveling gang of squirrels devastated our fruits, cleaning out our Chojuro Asian Pear (60-70 fruit), Moonglow European Pear (250+), Liberty Apple (125+), and several other trees with smaller amounts of fruit.

There was little we could do: they had all day.

It is heartbreaking to put so much energy into edging these fruits past the many potential last freezes, disease issues (from the excessive moisture and humidity), early insects (such as Plum Curculio) as well as the spring orchard treatments suggested  by Michael Phillips in “The Holistic Orchard”.

Just to lose it all to fruit predators!

In the same vein, raccoons cleaned out our dwarfed Redhaven Peaches just as they were coloring nicely: not even a taste left for us…

The many species of fruit loving birds (Catbirds, Thrashers, and Cardinals in particular) are so happy with this oasis we’ve created. We have recently netted the Foch and Concord grapes in an attempt to actually harvest some. (This protects them from the birds, but not the raccoons or possums…)

Fortunately, the many Black Bears that frequent our site regularly, have, so far, avoided damaging our fruits and other plantings.

 Young Mama Bear Looking for Cub

Young Mama Bear Looking for Cub

                               New Major Insect Pests on the Block

In western North Carolina, this is the first major appearance of the Spotted-Wing Drosophila (an Asian fruit fly: Drosophila suzuki): its presence is wicked on the soft fruits, such as blackberries and the other Ribes spp., Serviceberries, grapes, and perhaps Blueberries. The adult fruitfly lays eggs on the developing fruit, and the larva (maggots) burrow into the fruit to develop.

Fruitfly Damage

Fruitfly Damage

Their prodigious numbers, multi-generations, and lack of natural controls signify an end to fresh berries!

With our blackberries, we are responding by picking and immediately freezing the berries for later use in pies, smoothies, breads, and other baked goodies. As I pick, I also eat them by the handful (any interior insect larva taste just like blackberries)!

It remains to be seen how far the predations of this fruitfly will impact. They may already be moving onto thin skinned annual crops (tomatoes) and other perennials (such as Persimmon, Paw-Paw and beyond).

************************************************************************

Although the Marmorated Stinkbug (another recent Asian pest: Halyomorpha halys) has been in the Southern Appalachians for the past 2 years, (and in North America since 1996) this summer marks their first-time presence as major fruit and other food pests.

Juvenile Marmorated Stinkbug on Okra

Juvenile Marmorated Stinkbug on Okra

This year at Barefoot Permaculture, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, this stinkbug has moved into major pest category.  For instance, early in the fruiting season, many 1&1/2” pears were covered with brown pits (20-30 each) from the stinkbug’s feeding (Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs pierce the skin of the fruit with a proboscis, and feed inside the developing fruit).

Their presence and their tracks (damage) are everywhere.

Juvenile Stinkbug

Juvenile Stinkbug

A walk through our mid-August garden and orchard reveal many hundreds of stinkbugs, mostly in instar phases (juveniles) almost everywhere, and in groups and clusters: On almost everything: squash flowers, leaves & fruit; corn leaves and fruit; barely developing raspberries; okra; pepper leaves & buds; beans; and too many other plants to mention. In every scenario, they are feeding, doing damage, and vectoring diseases.

 Ever Present Juvenile Stinkbug

Ever Present Juvenile Stinkbug

There are no native predators to keep these exploding populations in check, other than a few spiders. Cooperative Extension is looking at their native predators, and admit it will take 6-8 years of testing before government approval for introduction.

The pests get in for free: the pest predators have to go through rigorous testing, to ensure they won’t switch over to controlling different, desired prey, thereby causing worse ecological problems.

In the meantime, buckle your belt and be prepared to pay more for ecologically grown food, as well as have to physically deal with even more very toxic pesticides necessary to deter the stinkbug.

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Urban Oasis Mid-Summer 013 Musings…

 

A soft, Sunday morning, gentle patter of July rain. During early hours 4/10” fell onto a soil already softened from an unusual first 10 days of just under a foot of rain.

At the time of this posting (24 July) our east Asheville microclimate in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, has received 15.1″. To date, we have received 50.3″: more than our total yearly average of rainfall.

Self Sowed Garden Jewel

Self Sowed Garden Jewel

In my memory of 38 seasons of living in western NC, (several of which I was working seasonally in Alaska on a wide range of field biology projects), July is often a dry, hot month: deep cracks in our clay soil; hand watering the root zones of plants to keep them alive; negotiating with the weather elementals for moisture.

How nice, for the first time in my memory, to have enough rain that water is no longer (at this moment) a limiting factor in plant growth!

Always though, as one door opens, another closes.

Barefoot Garden’s limiting factor now, is enough heat, sun, and dry conditions to enable many of our annuals to perform their magic.

This year we eliminated the one remaining hybrid plant (Carmen sweet, red pepper) since, as truly wonderful as it is, we cannot save the seed. We replaced it with 2 similar varieties of open pollinated pepper: Corno di Torro and Red Marconi.

These, along with Fife Creek Cowhorn Okra, Red Eyed Peas, Hopi Blue corn, as well as our several varieties of tomatoes, all require hot, sunny conditions.

Flower of Red-Eyed Pea

Flower of Red-Eyed Pea

With rain no longer a limiting factor, the plants are all growing very well (incredibly so) yet flowering and fruit development is so far minimal.

Our polyculture guild of tomatoes, basil, cucumber, sweet pepper, okra, red eyed pea and magenta lambsquarters is a full, lush, textured sea of green.

One of Our Polyculture Guilds

One of Our Polyculture Guilds

We are keeping ourselves “nutrified” and lip-smackingly happy with the abundant lambsquarters and Stinging Nettle greens. Cucumbers (Little Leaf and Lemon) are starting to come indoors with us; all several tomato varieties (saved seed) have plenty of green fruit, and the rest are luscious in growth, and minimally fruiting.

Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and Red Noodle beans are 5 ‘ up their respective trellises. Hopi Blue corn and last seasons’ self sowed sweet corn are thigh-high.  Winter squashes (var. mochata) are looking better than ever before; some on 7’ trellises, some horizontal on the ground.

Foch Grapes: a delicious Champaigne variety

Foch Grapes: a delicious Champaigne variety

At this mid-summer time, grapes (Foch and Concord, as well as muscadines) are off the charts abundant. It remains to be seen if the fruit specialist birds (Catbirds, Thrashers, and Robins), squirrels, raccoons, possums, and bears will leave us a fair share…

 

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Ongoing Tales of an Urban Oasis:

 
Greens, Bees, Bears & Frogs
Late winters’ bite into spring (013) was prolonged. Plantings were delayed, needed bee work delayed too: both dependent upon warm weather.

For western North Carolina, last year (012) was tough on honeybee survival. Normal nectar flows were much less than normal. The late summer flow was almost non-existent, resulting in no late summer egg laying. This affected hives dramatically by sending the bees into winter with old bees (normally, its the stress free young bee populations that carry the hive’s survival).

As a result, WNC’s general hive loss rate was 40-70%.
At Barefoot Permaculture, we lost our second hive in 6 years.

The cold, wet spring delayed our being able to make a split (taking frames of brood, fresh eggs, honey, pollen and worker bees from our two remaining hives, placing them in the empty hive, and allowing the workers to raise a new queen) thus creating a new hive.

With warmer temperatures late in spring, we made the split successfully. Our new hive is thriving!

With the copious spring nectar and pollen flow, our gangbuster hive quickly increased in size and was headed into swarm mode.  (This is nature’s way of creating more hives).

Airborne Swarm of Honeybees

Airborne Swarm of Honeybees

Within 3 weeks, we witnessed 3 swarms from the same hive. Two were too high up and too far out at the end of slender branches (too dangerous for us to attempt to capture).  After the first swarm, we called good friends living nearby, who kept bees for a few years, and were now beeless. They scrambled to return their hive bodies to bee-readiness.

Hiving a Swarm at Home of Friends

Hiving a Swarm at Home of Friends

The third swarm settled much more civilly (about 12 feet above the ground). Gently we shook them into a vented 5 gallon bucket, transferred them into a “nuc” box (a smaller 5 frame box), and gifted our friends with this swarm.

Our Full Capacity Bee Yard

Our Full Capacity Bee Yard

Within a few days, a large swarm from elsewhere settled into one of our apple trees. We shook it into the bucket, repositioned our 3 hives to allow room in the bee yard for one more, and gently poured the new swarm into their new home. At this point, all is well!

Apple Tree Swarm, Soon to be Hived...

Apple Tree Swarm, Soon to be Hived…

Mama bear and her 3 three year olds continue to appear regularly. Their ritual includes going over to where the bird feeder normally is, come onto our side porch, stroll over to our small permaculture (carpet sandwich) pond, and pull up (and eat) a few Calamus roots, then stroll over through our garden and orchard.

A Civilized 3 year Old...

A Civilized 3 year Old…

With the last daylight visit, I grabbed my camera and moved out towards the garden. One cub was a few feet up a fence-line Elm, another disappearing at the far end of our orchard. Mama appeared 60 feet to my right, and upon seeing me, bounced-charged 4 steps towards me, huffing and clicking her teeth.

“Mama”, I said  “I got the message”! and turned away and moved slowly back towards the house.

Three woodchucks plagued us for 3 weeks before moving on. One even climbed onto our planting table and consumed 2 trays of foot tall, heritage, from seed, ready for the garden plants. Previous years woodchucks have eaten young grafted fruit trees and decimated garden beds.

Ecological orcharding continues to be challenging: this spring’s wet, humid, cool weather created prime conditions for Fireblight; affecting certain apples (heritage varieties we’ve grafted onto either rootstock or other bearing trees) and a beloved Asian Pear (Chojoro) that previously seemed immune.

I had to cut out a large portion of the Chojoro, as well as 2 other, smaller apples. Heartbreak!

An American Toad (Bufo americanus) whose tadpole (toadpole) form   I brought in several years past, made himself known (oh joy! It’s been an ongoing struggle to re-toad our hilltop habitat).

Next Best thing to Calling Home!

Next Best thing to Calling Home!

Our grandchildren (Hyla versicolor) Cope’s Gray Tree frogs, whose parents we imported years past as tadpoles (frogawogs) have appeared and delighted us with their green to gray to lichen-colored selves.

Cope's Gray Tree Frog on Lily

Cope’s Gray Tree Frog on Lily

As we approach mid-summer, life is good, sweet, plentiful, and joy-filled…

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The Dowser’s Garden: Deepening the Connection

 

The Dowser's Garden: deepening the Connection

The Dowser’s Garden: deepening the Connection

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