Spring Tales From An Urban Oasis

Our protective strategies during the last two gnashings of late season icy teeth, paid off. Our Greek Village Figs, shown in previous posting, have 59 large, ripening figs (early crop on last years’ new wood) as well as lots of tiny figlets developing on this years’ green wood.

Greek Village Early Season Figs

Were it not for the bamboo-framed wrapping’s protective cover, we would be figless for the early season, and struggling to ripen figlets on current growth.

In the same fashion, our strategy to pollinate our young Paw— Paw (by bringing in flowered cuttings of other local Paw—Paw) was pleasingly successful: our first Barefoot Permaculture Paw—Paw fruits are growing larger daily.

Developing Paw-Paw Fruit

Orchard Wisdom # 11: Don’t count your fruit before it’s in the harvest basket! We still have birds, squirrels, and raccoons to outwit…

Our three Paw—Paw are members of a developing polyculture consisting of Black Walnut, Bamboo, American Persimmon, Elderberry, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Wineberry.

Black Walnut Polyculture

Black Walnut releases a substance into the soil that makes it difficult for many plants to grow. Developing a viable polyculture is a combination of trial and error, as well as gleaning success stories from other permaculturists.

Although many of our friends lost much fruit in the two late freezes, our site squeaked by with minimal damages. This is shaping up to be a bumper year apple-wise! Many of our semi-dwarf trees have never before come anywhere close to the numbers of developing apples!

Three times I have hand-thinned fruit, attempting to have no fruit closer than 4 inches apart. To achieve this, for every fruit currently carried by our apple trees, 3 have been removed.

Developing Goldrush Apples

Multiple reasons for thinning: too large a load can, and will, break branches; too many fruit result in small fruit; and even more of a concern for us, heavy fruit set can result in bi-annual (every other year) fruiting.

We are attempting to coax our trees into annual production. Still, if even half or our thinned fruit develop into full sized apples, we are going to have many more friends, due to many bushels of apples from the Home Orchard.

Recalling Orchard Wisdom # 11, the abundant fruit set was preceded by humid and chilly weather during bloom. Perfect conditions for the scourge of organic fruit production in the southeast: Fire Blight.

An insidious bacterial infection, Fire Blight (Erwinia amylovora) affects many members of the Rose family: pears and apples most notably, yet also other beloved fruits such as Asian Pear and Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp).

Fireblight on Serviceberry

Some varieties have varying degrees of resistance: many have none. In my experience, the difference is this: resistant varieties can still get fireblight, but it seems of stay local (to the infection site).  In non-resistant varieties, the infection can go internal, head towards the roots, and be fatal.

A permaculture strategy for the mountainous southeast (as well as any other location where fireblight is a problem) is to start out with resistant varieties.

Fortunately, some very excellent varieties exist which are both disease resistant as well as delicious. Prime example is a cultivar called Goldrush: my very favorite apple of all times!

When fully ripe (mid November) Goldrush is a beautiful golden, red-blushed, slightly russeted firm, crisp apple that snaps with your bite. Its sweet and acidic, and if left uneaten, will keep for several months. Its great for out of hand eating, cooking, juicing, cidering, drying, and whatever else you may do with an apple!

When the Goldrush are in, I eat 8-12 every day, and in February, when I normally run out, I weep.

This years’ fireblight has me checking my orchard every 2-3 days for new signs of the disease. As I write this article, fireblight is still freshly appearing: I cut it out and remove it from my Home Orchard.

Thus far, I have escaped serious damage, yet…

Orchard Wisdom # 12: Time Will Tell

Amphibian Update: After leading a plant walk nearby, the event host mentioned that his above ground swimming pool was to be chlorinated the next day, and it was a shame because frogs had been laying eggs, and in fact, resided in pockets of pool liner. His beautiful, young daughter had captured and removed to safety most of the tadpoles. When I expressed interest in the frogs, his daughter and 2 friends borrowed my dip net and caught 10 beautiful, green and lichen colored Cope’s Grey Tree Frogs, which I took home, to Barefoot Permaculture’s small pond, and lovingly released them. That very night, as it rained, they sang…

Newest Members of Our Amphibian Community

 

 

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Attack of the Goldfish

A Tiny Pre-Carpet Sandwich Pond

For any site, a classic permaculture design footprint is the carpet sandwich pond. The technique uses sections of discarded carpet — nails removed — as protective padding to enclose either plastic or EPDM (inner tube material).

The basics are: dig your pond shape; lay a carpet down, knap side up; lay in an appropriately sized piece of several mill plastic sheeting, or EPDM (as a liner), place the second carpet (knap side down) over the liner.

The liner needs to be large enough to fold back over the edge of the top carpet (otherwise, your water will wick out). This “fold” can be hidden by stones placed on the edge, allowing a much more natural pond design.

With the addition of water (from roof, well, runoff, or spigot) One’s pond is almost ready to function in the landscape. (Tap water needs to off gas chlorine for a day or two). Inoculate with a small amount of water from a healthy pond, add some plants, and very soon your pond is up and running.

Carpet Sandwich Pond, Several Years On

Our Pond
Barefoot Permaculture’s 8’ bean-shaped pond was dug as part of a hands-on class for a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) several years past.

One of our reasons for the pond is to restore amphibians to our high and dry landscape, by providing a wetland for mating, egg-laying, and tadpole/pollywog habitat.

Frog Enticing Permaculture Pond

Every spring, during my travels, I am on the active lookout for tadpoles. With my truck, I am never without: dip net, 1 gallon and 5 gallon lidded, plastic buckets, rubber bootlets, and for use on longer travels, a plug-in power transformer as well as a fish tank bubbler (for oxygen).

Having already established functioning populations of Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) and Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis), we are selective with what species we now bring in.
We have had some success with Leopard Frogs and American Toads, yet not so for breeding populations.

High on our desired species list are Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and more toads (Bufo spp.). We avoid tadpoles of the larger Green Frog (R. clamitans) and Bullfrog (R. catesbeiana) due to their appetite for smaller frogs.

Early on, we learned the hard way that while goldfish are great at mosquito larvae control, a wiggling tadpole provides a more substantial chewing experience.

Goldfish set loose in an 8’ pond, can be extremely difficult to catch, in some cases, taking months of attempts before net meets fish.

Needless to say, goldfish are not welcome.

In early March, a visitor remarked about our goldfish pond. Oh no, we replied, this is a tadpole pond: no goldfish here! She replied “I know a goldfish when I see one, or in this case two”!

Sure enough, 2 goldfish (most likely products of a neighbor child being tired of the responsibility of fish care, and dumping them in our pond).

One I caught immediately: the other hightailed it for protecting vegetation.

One might think that with a small pond, a dip net, and hunter instinct of a large brained Homo sapiens arrayed against a small brained, cold blooded, Wal Mart fish, it would be over soon.

One would be wrong.

I snuck out, net in hand, multiple time daily, as well as several times during the nights. Not only did I not catch it, I hardly ever saw the fish. As spring came on, duckweed covered the surface, and I would harvest as much as possible, in order to create a visibility zone.

Meanwhile, I had little choice other than keep placing in all the special species of tadpoles I was locating.  Many hundreds were added: surely some would make it through safely.

A week ago (7 May, 2012) in the midst of orchard and garden work, intuition reminded me of the goldfish. I went over to the pond, and saw a glimmer of fish under the duckweed. A quick dip and HOORAH! The fish was caught.

I placed it in the 20 gallon tub with the other goldfish, noting that during the 3 months feasting on tadpoles, this freshly caught fish was 2 & 1/2 times the size of the other.

Freshly Laid, Tiny Eggs of Cope's Gray Tree Frog

Perfect timing! Our Cope’s Gray Treefrogs were just now calling in females to mate and lay their diminutive rafts of tiny eggs…

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Climate Change and the Spring Orchard

Goofy weather! The winter that almost wasn’t, coaxed even the most native of plants — who we feel should genetically know better — into early bud break: both leaf and flower.

Crab Apple Blossom Drop

Apples, for instance, blossomed 2 weeks earlier than their previous earliest date. Our Meader Persimmon, a grafted select variety of American Persimmon, broke leaf bud almost a month early, as did our young Asian Persimmon.

Planted off the western wall of our home, our Greek figs already had 61 large, quarter sized figs beginning to ripen. Very nearby, a temperate Banana had already risen to 3 feet, sheltered between the figs and our back wall.

Things that seem to be too good to be true, often are!

On the global scale, climatic forces keeping the Arctic Oscillation weak (allowing the jet stream to reside much further north than usual, causing winter fronts to remain far to our north) dissipated. The jet stream shifted south, and in mid-April, we went from prolonged, sweltering temperatures in the 80’s (F) to approaching cold fronts carrying frosts.

Two of these cold fronts came, 8 days apart, freezing tender leaf, flower and fruit.

At Barefoot Permaculture, we scrambled to protect our tender rooted friends. Leaning bamboo up against the rear wall of our home, we formed an inverted half-cone around the figs, and draped them with a lightweight remay fabric.  We put up caging around the very tender Asian Persimmon, and then covered it with fabric.

Protecting Treasured Figs

For our 8’ grafted American Persimmon, we set up our two 3-legged orchard ladders around the tree, and draped the framework with fabric.

Creative Persimmon Protection

In all cases, the fabric needed to be held above and away from the vegetation, less the frost transfer to the touching vegetation.

We made it through two frosty mornings with minimal damage. As the front passed, and the weather began to warm, we dismantled the coverings, breathing a sigh of relief and thanksgiving.

Then, news of a second cold front arriving the next week, when I would be away teaching a natural foods cooking class at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

On her own, Chiwa would have to re-protect our most tender of treasured plants again.

And again, we were most fortunate to avert loss, other than minimal.

  Local Phenology
Local wisdom speaks of “Blackberry Winter”, an out-of-the-blue cold snap that occurs at the time of blackberry blossoming. These last two damaging gasps of winter coincided with the blooming of Blackberries.

As of this writing (13 May, 2012) the most recent cold front temperatures remained above the mid-forties (for east Asheville).

That, coupled with no further local wisdom “winters”, has us counting our blessings and breathing big sighs of relief.

We have friends who lost most of their fruit in these 2 last freezes…

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Enigmatic Wild Morels

Morels! I have a strange relationship with this delicious spring mushroom, referred to by local folks as “Butternuts”. Both Morels and Butternut Walnuts have a reticulated outer design: thus a similarity. And both are looked for on the ground, hidden amongst fallen leaves.

I never just find morels; there’s always a story involved, as well as a mystique. Some native peoples believe that morels, as well as Ginseng, can move between visibility and invisibility.

My experiences with morels lean me heavily in this direction.

Showy Orchis: a True Spring Beauty

This year’s searches were no exception. On my first of two excursions, I had been searching for around an hour and had not seen anything resembling a morel. At some point, walking along a narrow footpath, surrounded by emergent spring greenery and thick layers of fallen leaves, I just happened to notice an 8” long section of hemlock branch next to my left foot, just off the trail.

Why my conscious awareness should focus on this small branch amid lush greenery and beautiful wildflowers, I know not. Yet it did, so I stopped and looked down, noticing also the white, fluffy presence of Wooly Adelgids at the based of the needles.

Whenever I see Adelgids, I crush a few and send a thought to the Hemlocks to hold on, help is coming. This time, using my walking stick, I tapped the Adelgids against the forest floor, then bent low and turned the branch over to look for more. Underneath the small branch was a small morel!  A foot away, another! Another foot and a half, another!

Enigmatic Morels First Appearance

Suddenly they were visible.

In the next 30 minutes, I found almost 40 morels. In some instances, without anything clueing me, I would step off the trail, walk uphill 15 feet, and would be on top of a morel, with another nearby. Then I would purposely scan around for a few minutes and find nothing more.

Salivating Sight: a Bag Full of Morels!

Morels call out to me, under my conscious awareness, yet my body responds. Every time I search for this delectable fungus, the same thing occurs.

Many people have similar experiences.

Several days later, after a good rain with lightning and thunder, I returned to the same general area and found many more. Small, yes. Delicious, certainly! We sautéed them in butter and served alongside steamed nettles: a deeply satisfying wild meal!

Supreme Wild Foods: Nettles & Morels

 

A Skillet of Morels in Butter!

 

 

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Ongoing Tales From An Urban Oasis

For much of Turtle Island (N. America), winter 2011 – 2012 was the warmest winter in meteorological history. Over this winter that almost wasn’t, trajectories were initiated that, while pleasant to the body, can wreck havoc on natural systems.

Early March In The Orchard

Prolonged, well above average temperatures affected even the most native of fruiting trees, such as American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) to break bud much earlier than normal. The new leaves are extremely tender, and even a light frost can melt them. An older, well established tree, with lots of stored energy in her roots, has surplus energy to send out another flush of growth. The tree is knocked back  —health, vitality, and fruit –wise— for a year or two, yet usually recovers over time.

Tip Kill on Grafted Meader Persimmon

Plants carry the genetic memory of every environmental condition their ancestors experienced. This intelligence normally prevents a native plant from breaking bud (leaf and/or flower) early.

For a younger plant, the frost damage to tender leaves can be fatal: not enough energy in the roots to push out new buds. Indeed, several years back, we lost a 2 year old Asian Persimmon under the conditions described above. She was able to push out a few leaves, and even with tender care, perished several weeks later: a sad passing.

Pollination Enhancement of Paw-Paw

This winter past was the warmest in meteorological history.

Day after day, week after week of very warm days (prolonged mid and upper 70’s) overcame the genetic instructions of even our native plants, rendering them helpless to resist breaking bud.

After 1 & 1/2 months of very warm weather, nature’s hammer descended. The major climatic patterns affecting the Arctic Oscillation, which controlled the southern movement of the winter jet stream (keeping frigid weather fronts way to our north) shifted, and a major cold front descended, affecting western North Carolina (11-13 April).

At Barefoot Permaculture, we covered what plants we were able to, with light fabric (remay and inner curtain material gathered from thrift shops). We also prayed, invoked help from the climatic, weather and local elementals, to help soften the potential cold damages.

As it was, we had very light frosts those mornings, and minimal damages. We have some melted grape leaf and fig tips, as well as some light damage to annuals (such as potato leaves). What we were able to cover (the most tender) survived with minor damages. The lillys, lovage, and other lightly frozen plants bounced back largely unaffected. A degree or two less may have been fatal, yet we were on the good side of the temperature!

For the moment, all is well!

In our basement, on heating pads, under grow lights, is a pleasing sea of green: Blue Hopi Corn, Black-eyed Peas, Okra, various Winter Squashes (our saved seed O.S.S.), Cucumbers and more. In larger pots are several varieties of tomatoes (O.S.S.), Moonflower, Chia, and more: all awaiting return to a table outside, as the day warms.

Starting Plants Indoors

I enjoy taking each group of plants out into the sun for their first time. Although representing ancient species, each individual is new and fresh, and up until this moment, has spent their young life under artificial lighting. I imagine the feeling and pure thrill as sunlight fires up their systems!

                                                                         Meanwhile, The Bees

With such a, not only mild, but warm winter, with its strings of very warm days, our honeybees were actively out and about; exploring, searching for what might be harvestable (water, nectar, pollen), flying for the pure delight (as we might venture out into the calm eye of a hurricane).

Activity takes energy: energy takes food. The amount of honey left in each hive for their normally dormant winter, wasn’t enough. By the time we realized this, our eastern hive’s population was severely diminished. We fed then a 2:1 (sugar water and honey) mixture (which they took, but by then, it was too little too late.

Early Spring 012: Empty Hive on Right

They perished.

The two other hives still had honey weight in their hives, so after one 1 quart feeding, we left them alone and just monitored bi-monthly. Queens begin laying small numbers of eggs in late January, and in such a  warm winter, could move into production before the environment supplies the necessary pollen and nectar.

They didn’t! The ancient wisdom they embody, came through: the environment was not ready.

In our five years of keeping bees, this was our first loss. We felt saddened for the loss.

Our five choices were to: 1) not replace the hive; 2) do nothing and hope a swarm would find the empty hive; 3) wait for new eggs in one of the other hives, and make our own “nuc” (by removing a frame with day old eggs, along with attendant bees and 2 additional frames of brood, honey and nectar); 4) purchase a nuc from nearby beekeepers; or 5) catch a swarm.

I put the word out to the Universe that if a swarm was available, we would like to entice it to our empty hive body. Three days later, our friends Eve and James Davis of “The Hawk & Ivy”  (a holistic B&B) in Barnardsville, NC, called with news that one of their 2 hives had just swarmed, and was nearby.

Large, Beautiful, and Classic Swarm

Not a moment to waste, Chiwa and I drove the 23 miles in safe but record  time. When we arrived the bees were still in place. The situation was classic: the large swarm was on a small shrub, 4 & 1/2 feet above ground. I quickly pruned away the briars and other interfering vegetation, so that the swarm was close to fully exposed.

Just in case I ever come upon a swarm, I carry in my truck, a 5 gallon food grade plastic bucket with holes drilled in the lid. As a backup, I brought a  wooden “bee tool box” that is built to also function as a nuc box.

The swarm was big! I positioned the bucket under the swarm and gave a good rap on the shrub (above the swarm) with my shillelagh. The majority of the bees dropped into the bucket, which we then lidded. What was left was a bee cluster the size of a cantaloupe. Since it was possible that the queen was in this remaining cluster, I repeated the process with the wooden box as a receptacle.

Clearing Brush for a Clean Swarm Recovery

The entire swarm yielded around 2 & 1/2 gallons of bees! The capture took about 4 minutes.

Back at Barefoot Permaculture, I added a second hive body (with drawn comb), rubbed lemon balm leaves (as a welcoming) over the frames and throughout the 2 hive bodies, and added an empty hive body on top (as a receiving space for the swarm).

I poured the wooden box bees in first, then picked up the plastic bucket, removed the lid, and promptly (and accidentally) dropped the open bucket. Fortunately, the large cluster of bees stayed together in the bucket. I quickly retrieved it and poured in also into the waiting hive body. Breathing a sigh of relief and gratitude, I closed up the hive with the top cover.

Several hundred bees were still in the air, swirling around, as well as clinging to the wooden box. I sat very nearby and watched as several bees came out the entrance, faced the opening, and began to fan their wings; spreading queen pheromone, signaling the others that the queen was inside, and to come on in.

Pheromone Wafting Workers Call the Others

Within moments, the air cleared and the box-clinging bees also flew in. Another minute, and the scene was natural and peaceful!

Pheromone Wafting Works! All Bees Inside

With the intent of removing the empty hive body before the bees could begin building free-form comb, the next day I returned and lifted the top cover. Many of the bees had moved down into the 2 fully equipped hive bodies below.

Still clinging to the sides of the upper hive body was around 1000 (or so) bees ( 1 & 1/2”  depth of bees on the inner sides, as well as an inch deep on the top of the lower hive body. I picked up the hive body —bees and all — and placed the box in front of the hive, leaning up against the hive front. After replacing the top cover, I sat nearby to watch: if the queen was on the outside box with these bees, the bees inside would come out to join her, and I would need to repeat yesterdays’ process.

To my delight, over the next 20 minutes, almost imperceptibly, the bees walked onto the hive front, down to the entrance board, and into the hive.

Remaining Bees Enter the Hive Proper

Our first capture, relocation and hiving of a swarm!  All is indeed well!

Yummy Gleanings

With such a warm winter, attended by regular rains, thunder and lightning storms, and warmer than normal soil temperatures, I felt that morels may have come and gone extremely early this spring. (In a normal year, their rising seems to correspond with the first confluence of 50 degree soil temperatures, lightening, thunder and rain).

Last week (2nd week of April), after hearing that some friends were finding these so ephemeral and tasty mushrooms, I went out with a friend and fellow morel enthusiast Patty Vanden Berg, and to our delight, were successful in our searching.

True Spring Beauty: First Morel Find of 2012

That, will be another story in the continuing tales of an urban oasis…

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February in Mozambique

Tragic, to go to Mozambique and find that mango season is several months away!

Yet this project popped up literally overnight. I had no choice of seasonal timing, so 1&1/2 weeks later I was enjoying a Starbuck’s dark coffee at Atlanta airport, and awaiting my 16 hour flight —mostly over the Atlantic Ocean— to a very necessary overnight stay in Johannesburg, S.A. (Say what you want, to be in a huge, heavier than air craft, so very far from land, for so very long, is a tad un-nerving)! In my 18 years of international consulting for small scale sustainable agriculture projects, and the subsequent travel to developing countries all over our precious world, I am always glad for safe take-offs, flights, and landings!

My techniques for lengthy flights include: aisle seating, so I have a little elbow room and can pop up whenever I want, without disturbing my neighbor; using a blow-up, partial wrap-around neck pillow, earplugs, eye covers, an extremely gentle sleeping pill that allows me the chance to fall gently asleep (if I try) for 2-3 hours, homeopathic rest & relaxation pills: a glass of wine with the meal; plenty of water for hydration; and frequently rising, walking, and stretching.

After a good, stretched out, overnight sleep at a very comfortable airport hotel in Johannesburg, my final hop was a 2 hour flight up the eastern coast of Africa to Beira (pronounced beer-ah) Mozambique, located at the mouth of the Pungue River and Indian Ocean.

There are crocodiles in the rivers of Mozambique: East African Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) and humans are among their prey. Fortunately, Africa has no version of the deadly Saltwater Crocodile of Australia and the south Pacific, so coastal areas are relatively crocodile free.

This particular Farmer to Farmer program is administered by CNFA (formerly Citizen’s Network for Foreign Affairs) and partly funded by USAID. The overall goal is to enhance ways of adding value to the agricultural workings of people in developing countries.

My project was based on a request from a farmer’s association for training in natural methods of soil enhancement, and took place near the large village of Gorongosa, a 3 hour drive northwest of Beira.

Nhabiriri Community Center's Magnificent Ficus Tree

The area is beautiful: rolling hills of verdant greens for miles in every direction, backdropped by the Gorongosa Mountain range eastward. I stayed in the village’s well known Pousada Azul, a stopover for travelers visiting the nearby Gorongosa Park, or just passing through on this only paved north/south road linking east African countries.

Scenic, Lush, Verdant Agricultural Fields

The community and agricultural lands of the host organization  —the sixty member, Nhabirira Farming Association, was a 30 minute drive northward on the main road, then eastward on a very unimproved dirt track for another 30 minutes, through 8’ high elephant grass; alongside fields of maize, cabbage, and small sections of forest; down, into, and up out of two creek crossings (accessible only for 4 wheel drive), past the small Nhabirira Community center coolly shaded by a magnificent Ficus tree; and finally arriving at the association’s 60 hectares (approximately 190 acres) of mostly level, irrigated, prime farmland.

Association's Prime Crop Land

Irrigation systems were installed prior to, and survived the post-independence civil war (that ended around 1992). In most agriculture systems, water is a limiting resource. Not so here!

Beautiful Fields of the Farmer's Association

Historically, this time of year (our winter) is the main wet season: this year though, the rain has been a flop, a no show! Maize is planted at its’ start, as are cabbages. Their crops look beautiful!

With roughly one hectare (2.2 acres) per association member, some fields were in crops, others were in recovery, hosting ever present elephant grass and other grasses/ forbs. As much as these perennial grasses can be considered weedy pests that require a lot of work to control, at the same time they are ecological healers and soil builders, providing shelter, habitat, and food for soil micro-organisms, as well as biomass.

Our Unpaved Entry to the Project

The first day, I like to visit the site, see what farmers are doing, what they have to do it with, and what resources are available. We drove as far as the dirt track allowed, then walked 1/4 mile or so, in a hot, intense sub-tropical sun, through and aside association fields, to the site of our first session (to be held the next day). From hot sun, we stepped into the cool shade of a sacred grove of mango trees. A cleared understory revealed this as a revered meeting site. What a deep joy to be present here!

In the Cool Shade of the Sacred Mango Grove

In this very rural part of Mozambique, where families live in bare soil compounds of small wattle & daub huts with conical shaped thatch roofs, surrounded by some shade trees —always at least one mango— and bordered by croplands, the average school educational experience is 3 years.

Family Compound, (Wattle & Daub)

Greater life experience education is ongoing: survival and “thrival” indicate high levels of natural intelligence.

These women and men are farmers, and farmers have things they need to do when they need to do them. The teaching schedule needed to be very flexible: the messenger needs not to be mistaken for the message. This type of situation is always good training for releasing excessive self importance!

Over seven days, we had five 3 hour sessions. All the farmers lived within walking distance, and having lives and subsequent demands, as well as being on a less linear time, arrived more or less on time (give or take an hour: usually an hour later than agreed upon).

My CNFA supplied interpreter, Elias Dichone, a handsome, charismatic, ecologically literate man, translated what I had to say into Portuguese (which some people understood) and then Macheca, an association member and agriculture extension agent, translated from Portuguese into the local Gorongosa language.

Road's End: On Foot to the Grove

The first session, held in the Mango grove, covered why natural soil fertility is important. I introduced and galloped through: a Homo sapiens timeline of 200,000 years (between a carbon dated skull and present); petroleum’s commercial appearance and  Peak Oil; rising of chemical / petroleum fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and biocides; subsequent decline of the crown jewel of 200 million years of biological evolution: the soil ecosystems; and closed this first session with good news: they had everything they needed here, on site, to restore and maintain a sustainable agriculture.

Class Session 1, In The Sacred Grove

My style of teaching, based upon how I best learn, is to present large scale concepts, much like painting a picture with large brush strokes. Once the image comes into view, I begin to fill in the finer detail. It was challenging on my part to come up with understandable  concepts for soil ecology, and the plant / soil micro-organism relationship.

Remainder Of Class Sessions in a Family Compound

The interpreters worked well with my choices of examples, and when they had a more apt explanation, they presented it also. (I’m the stranger, and in spite of my effort to be sensitive to cultural images as well as differences, its easy to put my foot into my mouth: I much appreciated their assistance)!

Women Farmers Enjoying Beneficial Insect Slides

After the farmers were presented with a basic picture of soil and plant ecology, and demonstrated some understanding, we moved on to how to actually care for the soil micro-organisms, and in so doing, create and maintain natural soil fertility.

Once you know why, knowing what to do is easy!

In this case, sustainable management involves caring for the soil micro-organisms: feed them organic matter, and protect them from extremes of dryness and temperature. They do the rest!

I presented several easily achievable methods of doing this (e.g. mulching and composting) as well as how to make and use natural fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides with materials readily at hand, on site.

Hands-On Compost Pile Building

The last session’s class was hands – on: building a compost pile. We ended up with just a little manure, so in order to supply the general ratio of 1 part nitrogen to 20-30 parts carbon, we used the materials on hand: green vegetation. (Green vegetation —like fresh grass— is high in nitrogen: dried vegetation is high in carbon).

Our pile consisted of 6-7 inches of dry vegetation topped with 2-3inches of manure / green plant material, water, a handful of healthy soil, then a repeat of dry, green, water and soil until we reached a pile size of roughly 1 meter x 1 meter x 1 meter, at which time we covered the pile with copious amounts of freshly cut banana leaves.

Completed Compost Pile, the Association's First

Everyone seemed to deeply enjoy this hands-on compost experience: a good time was had by all!

I had been planning to spend a night in the Gorongosa Park, and timing was against me, since they close for the rainy season. For my remaining 3 days, I was back in Beira, a block from the coast. Plenty of time to finish my project report, dip in the Indian Ocean a few times, visit a local market for well priced and delicious avocados, mangos (from South Africa), ever present small, delicious bananas, and a few other goodies. To my pleasure and amazement, a baguette bakery was immediately next door to my hotel: so I was set!

Author at the Indian Ocean, Near Beira, Mozambique

In general, Mozambique is a fairly pleasant country to be in: its citizens friendly, gregarious, handsome men, beautiful women (of all ages), bright smiles, strong work ethic, excellent posture, and compared to many other countries I’ve worked in, Mozambique was notable in its general cleanliness and lack of garbage. The countryside is beautiful, and the sub-tropical climate allows year round food production.

Although by international standards Mozambique is described as greatly impoverished (I think this means: not able to purchase much on the international market), any place that has rich soils, ample water, and year round agricultural potential, is not impoverished…

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Goodheart at the John C Campbell Folk School

Wood-Fired Oven Focaccia

Join Goodheart at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown NC for a five day cooking class: “ Garden to Table: Introduction to Yumptious Natural Foods” from 22 April to 27 April, 2012. This is part of the folk schools’ Earth Week session. The teaching kitchen is a great and friendly space, as is the folk school itself. Check the course listing online: better yet, request their free catalog…

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Musings Early in Twenty-Two Elf

Of what is most present this time of year, two parts of my interior self hold separate yet overlapping views. My body is happy in this relatively mild winter season. Thus far, —and for as yet scientifically unknown reasons— the Arctic Oscillation is weak.

This is very different from the winter of 2009-2010 as well as December and January 2010-2111, when the oscillation was strong. Those were unrelentingly frigid times for the southern Appalachian mountains, and indeed much of the Turtle Island continent (North America) as well as the entire northern hemisphere.

Pleasing and Frequent Front Door View

When the Arctic Oscillation is strong, it forces the Jet Stream south. The jet stream is the prime highway for frontal systems that dominate our winter weather, rolling through on an average of every 7-8 days.

Ice Angels Presence during a Frigid Winter

The further south the jet stream undulates, the farther south arctic high pressure frontal systems descend: this, in a nutshell, determines the severity or moderation of our winter experience.

Those living south of the jet stream enjoy much milder weather than those living north.

Looking West: Winter Scene with Orbs

When the jet stream is north of Asheville, NC (home to Barefoot Permaculture Gardens, where I live), we can have a relatively mild climate experience, while nearby areas, (e.g. 60 miles north) under the influence of the northern section of the jet stream, are in blusteringly frigid conditions.

This winter’s weak oscillation, and the resultant higher latitudinal presence of the jet stream, has meant for us, a relatively pleasant weather pattern: 2 – 3 cold days (lows in the high 20’s) followed by 4-5 moderate days (highs in the upper 50’s to low 60’s Fahrenheit).

My body loves this relatively mild weather pattern. With some cold, I have the opportunity to wear my beloved wool garments (t-shirts, sweaters, and outer wear). The milder times allow me more gracious outdoor time: wondering, wandering and taking care of our landscape of orchard, gardens, chickens, bees and all.

At the same time, my ecologically aware self, (including the very same orchardist, gardener, and beekeeper) has concerns about this mild winter season’s prolonged warm temperatures’ effects upon the always precarious blooming time of the orchard, awakening of garden perennials, and activation of the hives.

Tulips Proclaim a Miracle, Zhu-Zhu Looks On

The bees we started with 5 seasons past were of Russian descent. For the beekeeper, this means these bees have a propensity for grooming (which helps to control the veroa—and other— mites) and for economy of their winter honey use.

Over the seasons, we have had new queens and their mating flights involving other honeybee varieties, bringing other genetic traits into our current hives.  Still, we think of them as natural Russian hybrids.

With so much warm weather, the bees are much more active; breaking winter cluster, flying, foraging for water, pollen, investigating opportunities for whatever the hive may desire.

This activity means more of the honey stores are consumed, and what would have been an adequate amount of honey to carry the hive through a more normal winter, is inadequate to meet their energy needs.

Nectar availability in winter is very low. Once a hive depletes its honey stores, it dies.

Although I observed — six days ago— a comforting amount of activity (comings and goings, including pollen) for all three hives, my wife (Chiwa) brought to my attention 2 days past, that our eastern hive showed very little activity. We looked again yesterday, and while the other 2 hives were active, we saw almost no bees coming and going from the eastern hive.

I immediately opened up the hive: the 62 degree weather  (31st of January) allowed this winter intrusion. The top hive body was light, thus empty. Removing this upper body, I saw bees hanging out on top of the lower hive body’s top bars; indicating the hive was still alive, although most likely with diminished populations.  I closed up the hive.

If there was any chance of saving this hive, immediate action was called for: feed the bees!

I mixed sugar to chamomile-infused water, at a 2:1 ratio, and added some last years’ raw honey, enough to fill 3 quart jars (with enough left over for another round of replenishment). Attaching these upturned jars onto entrance feeders, and inserting them partway into the hive entrance slots, I also reduced their entrance space, in hopes of averting “robbing”.  I especially narrowed the eastern hive’s entrance to one bee space, due to their low numbers.

Stepping back and away, I felt an immediate sense of relief. Time will tell if we responded in time, and if the eastern hives’ queen is still alive with enough workers to repopulate and thrive.

That anyway, is my hope, wish, and prayer…

 

 

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Musings Of A 12th Night Merrymaker

After an enjoyable yet slow paced first 9 months of 2011, just as our Moonglow pears were picked and stored in a cooler, my year took off at a gallop that lasted 3 months, mostly away from home.

First was a 30 day stint on the M/V Liberty Island, a 300 foot ship (hopper dredge) on a beach replenishment job at Nag’s Head, at the Outer Banks of North Carolina; working as an Endangered Species Observer. In that month, 2 hurricanes and a tropical depression chased us 3 times into the harbor 10 hours up the coast at Norfolk, VA.

The ship would get to work for 1 – 2 days before storm surges threatened, and then we would have to hightail it for protected waters. Fortunately for me, we tied up at a dock near the downtown area, so I was able to walk to a nearby community coffee shop “Elliot’s Fair Grounds Coffee” on Colley Ave., across from a Starbucks.

Normally, with no other coffee shops in sight, I am delighted to find a Starbucks, yet this time a local – and wonderful‑ café called me all 3 times we sought safe harbor: 3 times for a total of 13 days.

During those days, I also got to visit with my daughter and her family, and enjoy Malapeque oysters and excellent local beer at my all time favorite locally owned seafood restaurant: A. W. Shucks off 22nd. Street (also within walking distance from the ship).

Due to the 3 storms, the ship was able to work only 10 of my 30 days aboard! And most fortunately for me, my truck, parked at Nag’s Head, elevation perhaps 5 feet above sea level and within 200 yards from the Atlantic, stayed high enough and dry enough to escape all the very serious flooding from Hurricane Irene’s almost direct hit.

 

From the Endangered Species experience, I returned home with 1 1/2 weeks to do some triage care for our orchards, gardens, and bees, and begin work on my broom production for the upcoming October Southern Highland Craft Guild show.

My inventory was down to 4 brooms, and I needed quite a few in order to do the show, not be embarrassed, and make it worthwhile. These are incredibly beautiful and functional hand tools, made from broomstraw (sorghum) fibers and natural wood handles. I use the strong and beautiful Shaker weave, attributed to the Shaker women.

History tales say the Shaker men said it was too fanciful. The women replied “show us a stronger, more functional way to attach the broomstraw”, and the men were unable to do so: thus, we have benefit of such a beautiful weave on these brooms.

Goodheart In Broom Making Mode

Prior to the Guild show, I traveled to and taught a 6 day cooking class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, entitled “Around The World With Flatbreads and Flavors”. My class was full, and we made good use of their incredible indoor wood-fired bread oven, as well as the new outdoor oven. From Naans to Tortillas to Focaccias and much more, we were a bunch of baking fools! In addition, we accompanied the breads with (made from-scratch) dips, chutneys, chili pastes, and other condiments from the countries where the breads developed.

The following week was devoted to the Guild show: loading a rental truck with our booths (my clay artist wife Chiwa’s and mine), unloading and setting up at the Asheville Civic Center (a full and strenuous day’s work), 4 days of the show itself, and on the last night, breaking down, loading what was left (and the booths) back into the truck, and heading home to unload the next day. This is a fairly hectic and intense time!

What made it all worthwhile was that:

 

Heading To Cape San Blas

Forth: The next day, we loaded up our sit-on-top kayaks and headed towards Cape San Blas on the Florida peninsula, and our yearly stay at the Old Salt Works cabins.

For 2 weeks we arose prior to sunrise, and walked out on a small, low dock, over a Spartina marsh at the bay’s end, and watched as the marsh day began.

Marsh Sunrise from Old Salt Works Dock.

Reddish Egrets teaching other long legged species to do the dance: lurch, spin, hop & twist with wings uplifted; Willets prowling the flats with water almost to their feathery skirts; Black-Bellied Plovers running & stopping, so solitary; Western Sandpipers running about; distant flocks of ducks flapping furiously; Marsh Hawk (Harrier) swooping tiltingly low over the marsh grasses.

Mature and immature Bald Eagles gliding over our heads every morning; Clapper & King Rails calling nearby and sometimes showing themselves, like ghosts materializing then dematerializing; and the ever present Fiddler Crabs moving out and retreating en masse…

Then the sun would multicoloredly glow the eastern sky, and through the pines appear. Even when the weather was unpleasant, we kept the marsh sunrise schedule: life is too much a miracle and way too uncertain to do anything but!

A Successful Day's Fishing in St. Joe's Bay.

Goodheart and Freshly Caught White Trout.

We paddled as we were able, caught and ate a few fish, cooked and ate wonderful meals, and watched several sunsets from a favorite remote, west facing shore,

Sunset Through A Submerged Forest, Cape San Blas

where we toasted the incredible majesty of sunsets with a gin & tonic, and swatted a few mosquitoes and no-see-ums, being very appreciative of the freewheeling bat population overhead doing their good ecological work.

 

Three days after our return home to Barefoot Gardens, I departed for Jamaica with good friend and colleague Chuck Marsh, where we would be teaching a Permaculture Design Course for Jamaicans, over a 3 week period.

I had always wanted to visit Jamaica, and I never wanted to do so as a tourist. This was a perfect opportunity to learn about Jamaicans, visit in depth their beautiful garden island, and do something worthwhile (be of service).

 

Pre-Dawn Above John's Town, Jamaica.

We were not on the tourist side of the isle.
We were cared for by the wonderful people of The Source Organic Farm, located near the southeastern section, above Johns Town, in St. Thomas Parish. Nicola Shirley (of The Source) promoted and arranged the PDC, and did a marvelous job.

Our Teaching Space, on the Beach, by Yallis Pond.

Class participants were all Jamaican, and caught fire with the permaculture material, recognizing its value for Jamaica. All were ecological and social movers and shakers: already doing good works. All being employed, we arranged the PDC in 4 three day weekends, with the forth and final taking place in mid March. This created a win-win-win; in that they could participate and still work, we could have some non-teaching time (although it filled with consultations) and they would have 3 months (plus) to work on their final design.

Friend, Fruit Grower, Historian and Taxi Driver.

Jamaicans are lovely people: friendly, intelligent, passionate, and wonderfully boisterous. We made some good friends, starting with our airport taxi driver: Kirk (arranged for by Nicola) who greeted us with a big smile, drove very well the 1 1/2 hours back to The Source, stopping at a roadside cookery for my first taste of Jerk Chicken.

We saw and visited with Kirk several times: he is an ecological/organic fruit grower, planting permaculture style with polycultures of many fruits, foods and herbs. In addition, he is an eloquent historian, and we learned that  Jamaica’s most famous slave revolt took place in St. Thomas Parish, and although much good eventually came out of it, the parish was still not looked upon well (the terrible roads and broken waterlines showed this to be true).

We visited other “garden-of-Eden” tropical fruit/food polyculture food forests too, where every step was taken carefully, due to the incredible abundance of foods, fruits, medicinal & culinary herbs, nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs (and on and on), many in all stages of development, from newly sprouted to fully ripe.

Sign Above A Small, Rernote Beach.

The site for our PDC was awesome: 100 feet from the ocean, and across from a large, landlocked salt water pond, which hosted familiar (to me) varieties on Mangroves, Pelicans, Herons and Egrets, and… American Crocodiles!
Seawater temperature was perfect, and salt content must be high, for it took effort not to float.

For all my mornings at The Source, I arose early, made a cup of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee, and went up on the flat roof, kept company by cisterns, and watched the day begin. I was above John’s Town, facing southwest, towards the Caribbean Sea (less than a mile distant). With the sun rising behind and over my left shoulder, I watched the lower hillsides of green light up, and thus celebrated the sunrise.

It was easy to be in Jamaica in November: still, the three weeks went a little too fast, and too soon the morning of our departure arrived.
By this time though, I had been mostly absent from my home in Asheville, NC for 3 months: I was ready to be home…

Temperate Citrus In Festive Garb.

The story continues, for I was coming home 3 days prior to our Home Show and Open House, taking place the second and third weekends of December.
Each weekend was heralded by a special event. The first Friday evening was our “opening”.

Chiwa always makes 30 wine cups and they go to the first 30 people to arrive. We have, of course, wine and cider with which to fill them, as well as other homemade goodies such as Artichoke and Palm Heart Dips, from-scratch Nachos, cheese and crackers. Our friends, neighbors and clients gather and stay for 2-3 hours. Is a very pleasant scene!

The first Saturday/Sunday are quiet, and people seem to come by one or two at a time, and we have time to visit and sip Chai Latte together.

Every Year a Different Recipe.

The second weekend begins with homemade cinnamon buns emerging from the oven at 10 a.m. —first come, first serve, along with a large pot of excellent organic coffee. Again, people gather and stay for a few hours: a sweet, friendly and festive time.

Finally, all the busyness of a year, crammed into 2011’s last quarter, has passed gracefully, and as Winter Solstice approached, under Chiwa’s leadership, we completed our Biodynamic sprays and treatments for the year: Silica (for light enhancement), and the six compost preps (for finishing a compost pile biodynamically).

Biodynamic stirring of Compost Preps.

This allowed us to use the Three King’s spray on the day of 12th Night, also referred to as Epiphany (this year taking place on Friday, 6 January). Three Kings (containing gold, frankincense, and myrrh) treatment is stirred for an hour (making and reversing vortices), and sprayed outward from the property’s periphery, creating a safe and sacred interior.

Goodheart Trying Out His Wassailing Outfit.

On 12th Night, we had a gathering of friends for a Wassail (blessing of the orchard) ceremony. Wassail means “good health”. We began at dusk with a Mayan-style “Burning” with the Sun and Moon candles, Copal from their sacred tree, Incense, Frankincense & Myrrh, Sage, and other herbs. Then, dressed in festive garb, with ribboned and belled staffs, candle lanterns, drums and accompanied by Professor T-Bud Barkslip’s squeezebox, we sashayed in merriment over to and around a tree we’ve designated “The Old AppleTree Pollinator Man”

This Crabapple is our Wassail Tree.

Circling this grandmother Crabapple tree; singing the Wassailing song; stepping forward, men then women, tipping hats, bowing; chanting a wish for good fruiting for the coming season; driving out any negativity and limitations, and sending them fleeing with a good hardy, boisterous noisemaking and huzzahs; then dipping bread in cider and anointing the branches with the bread for the guardian birds, and pouring the remaining cider in the root zone.

Continuing the Wassail Event Inside.

Then we gathered inside and enjoyed a delicious pot-luck, with homemade hard cider, sourwood mead, and wine.

Chiwa and I arose the next morning to a mild, soft, slightly foggy, early day. This piece of sacred earth upon which we live and caretake felt especially nourished, as did we…

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Travails of a Fruit Grower

Continuing Tales from an Urban Oasis

In our 16 (or so) years of Home Orcharding, fruit predation by birds has increased steadily, beginning around 2000, when a pair of catbirds decided to nest on site. I was excited to have new birds attracted to Barefoot Permaculture’s developing polycultural diversity.

 

It became quickly apparent that catbirds specialized in fruit consumption, following the ripening progression: cherries, mulberries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries. We chased them away whenever we were around, yet they took their toll. With the idea that we should plant 10% extra for the non-humans, the catbird’s predations were tolerable.

The fruit bounty was so good for the catbirds that, the next year, 3 nesting pairs appeared.  We had to net the cherry trees, and scramble to stay ahead for the other fruits. Fruit disappearance was high, and in addition, the free-for-all action attracted the attention of cardinals, bluejays, and brown thrashers. A feeding frenzy was underway: fruit disappeared at an alarming rate!

 

Three years ago, our chicken yard Russian Mulberry tree had a bumper crop. Since mulberries ripened over a six – eight week period, most of the fruit-eating birds spent their time in the mulberry, and mostly left alone our other small fruits. The mulberry bonanza has not happened since.

We are now used to heavy bird predation, knowing it is going to happen and be heavy. But we have never before experienced noticeable animal predation.

 

Sure, we’ve had a bear nibbling apples and blueberries, yet not so many and not very often. Squirrels our site has plenty of, since the western area of our site is planted (by squirrels years past) in mature Black Walnut trees. Squirrels are always visible and about. Never before has there been noticeable fruit damage from these somewhat intelligent, bushy-tailed tree rats.                                             

 

This year (2011) the game changed! Mammal predation was off the chart! For instance, our Chojouro Asian Pear was loaded with fruit (somewhere around 5 bushels worth). I was licking my lips, planning to sell some through our local food co-op, eat as many as I was able, put some in cold storage for later, maybe make some mead or cider, and give some to friends.

 

The furry ones changed all this into fantasy, pulling the rug out from under my hopes. I began to catch glimpses of squirrels in sneak mode; slinking close to the ground, moving furtively under cover of vegetation, with asian pears in their mouths. When I moved to get a better look, they would disappear. Within a very short period of time, the magnificent bounty was reduced to around 40 fruit.(about half a bushel). So much for counting one’s pears before they ripen!

So it has gone with other large fruits: European pears and apples. The drought has affected the apples and pears by causing the stems to be very brittle. A light brush against a branch will drop unripened fruit to the ground. Every morning I am picking up unripe fruit, some with bird pecks, other with rodent teeth marks. Raccoons raid the pears at night, and I had to pick them a little earlier than normal, in order to have any pears left.

 

For the Moonglow (European) pears, in spite of the heavy loss, I was still able to pick around 3 bushels, which are now in cold storage. Pears need to be picked before they appear ripe, because they ripen from the inside outward. By the time they look ripe, they are starting to rot in their middle. For the Moonglow pears (and many others too) the fruit will turn from green to yellowish, and when gently lifted upward, the upper stem will snap cleanly off the branch. This is the field test for when to pick!

 

Once picked, many pears do best with some cold storage. The cold retards the ripening process, stretching out the perishability factor. After a period of time ranging from a few days to a few months —mostly relative to the stage of ripening prior to cold storage — room temperature will finish the ripening process, and the pears can be eaten with a spoon!

 

I could live happily off fruit, and almost nothing is better than our own pears and apples!

With drought, some disease, animal predation and damage, and poor fruit set (on the six Goldrush trees), we will not have heavy apple harvest this season. We’ve been gleaning the damaged fruit, cutting out the good, albeit unripe parts, making cider, crisps, and just eating.

 

Use of Serenade (an organic biological fungal and bacterial protectant) has worked moderately well keeping last years’ disastrous Glomaria (summer rot & bitter rot) minimally present, as has been removing the fruit at first appearance of disease. Since I don’t have a hot compost pile going, the diseased fruit have been going into the trash instead.

I dislike removing organic material from our site, yet without a hot (active) compost pile generating temperatures hot enough to kill the disease organisms, I don’t want to spread the organisms around in the finished compost: so into the trash they go!

Last week, after a month of waiting for our honeybees to cap their honey (something they do when the moisture content is at a certain level) we took our share, harvesting 5 & 1/2 gallons of a delicious wildflower blend, which included Black Locust, our orchard fruits, Crabapple, Serviceberry, other berries and Tulip Poplar (first time in 3 years), as well as other local flowerings.

 

Every beekeeper thinks their honey is the tastiest, and so it is. Ours is too! This will be the first time we have some excess for sale. Chiwa (my wife) designed the label, proclaiming the honey was produced under conditions of BioDynamic, Organic, and Permaculture Design. We cannot claim that the honey is as listed above, since bees can range up to 3 miles collecting nectar, yet the conditions under which our bees live, and the honey is produced, is indeed described as listed.

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