Tag Archives: oakland county permaculture

Garden Update & Permablitz: Many Hands Make Light Work

I wanted to post another update from my garden and update from our Permaculture Meetup, which blogged about some time ago (Here’s our meetup group site: Oakland County Permaculture Meetup).  Recently, I hosted what we call a “permablitz” or a work day where people come to help and learn.  We have 10-15 permablitzes per year, and they are always a great way to meet people, learn, and help our community with various projects.

 

Resiliency and Community-Building through Permablitzes

Its an incredible thing, seeing people come together to work hard. I talked about this a bit with my barn raising post a while ago. We live in such an individualistic culture; the idea of community aid and community projects are still new to me, and to most of us, and thus they are always special. And truthfully, I can’t stress enough the importance of community in sustainability work. One person can build something small, but several people together seem to get much more than three individuals’ work done.  We became a team, a tribe, a group of individuals working towards one goal.  Its a powerful and magical thing.

 

There is another side to bringing people together to engage in good work–resiliency.  Resiliency is a term used within permaculture design and, according to Peter Bane, refers to the degree that one “takes responsibility for one’s own household needs as part of a resilient local economy” (3). Permablitzes, community building, barn-raisings and the like can lead us to more resilient communities, where we are working together for common goals and becoming more responsible in providing for ourselves and our community. Those that came here didn’t just work–they learned something about fall garden bed prep, how to use tools, how to plant cover crops, how to sheet mulch, and so forth. They learned something about soil ecology and worked with others to enact change. The more we are able to come together and help each other, the more we are all able to learn, grow, and accomplish. This is the big picture of our meetup group, our sustainability work, and our permablitzes.

 

The Permablitz

 

We had 9  people out to work on the fall garden as well as remove some more of my lawn in the front and replace it with a “medicine wheel” bed.  We started with harvesting beans and squash and beans from my main garden and cutting back sunflowers as more people arrived.

Harvesting Beans

Harvesting Beans

After that, we finished up out 3 of my 20′ x 4′ beds plus three of my friend’s 3′ x 15′ beds.  With this work, we cut out old vegetable plants (keeping their root systems in the soil to not disturb the soil biology) and added all other parts of the plants to the compost pile.  We weeded out grass and ground ivy, added finished compost to the beds, and finally, added cover crops of red clover or winter rye.  Both cover crops help retain nutrients in the soil and prevent runoff (we have sandy soil, so this is a particular concern for the winter months and “empty” beds). The clover also adds nitrogen; the rye is a fabulous winter food for my chickens.  The rye stays green all through the winter and provides them nutrients, even in January and February!  Here are some photos of our work:

Cover cropping

Cover cropping

Adding compost!

Adding compost and mulch!

Garden before cover crops and mulch!

Friend’s garden before cover crops and mulch!

This was the conclusion of the “vegetable/annual” garden project.  We decided also to tackle removing a bit more of my front yard and put in a “medicine wheel” inspired garden for perennials and herbs.  To do this, we started by moving a bunch of wood to our fire pit (I had two dying spruce trees cut down last month that were in danger of falling on my house).

Wood stack!

Wood stack!

Then we began pulling out the grass, tilling, and building the bed.  Looking back on it, we should have just sheet mulched it, but we went for it the hard way.  Lesson learned, lol.  Here we are in some of the final stages of the bed….

Adding mulch to the bed

Adding mulch to the bed pathways

Adding more mulch as the bed takes shape!

Adding more mulch as the bed takes shape!

The process you see us doing here to establish the walkways is to put down a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard (at least 1/4″ thick to supress weeds) then add the wood mulch on top.  The mulch comes from the trees I had cut down.  The compost I purchased finished from a local company who recycles yard “waste”; all of the compost I made myself ended up in my garden and I was in need of more!

Setting stones (in a sunwise pattern, of course!)

Setting stones (in a sunwise pattern, of course!) (I am in the dark blue shirt!)

We gathered up the stones from the front of my property to make a stone edge around the beds.  Here we are setting the last of the stones….

Setting the last stones!

Setting the last stones!

And…in a few short hours, another 50 or so feet of lawn gone and an amazing and sacred place for me to plant culinary, magical, or medicinal herbs.  The weekend after this, a friend (who had been at the permablitz) came back and we expanded the bed using sheet mulching  form a circular pathway around this central medicine wheel garden. I’m going to probably put a thick layer of leaves over these beds to help keep them from eroding or compacting too much in the winter months–then plant in the spring!

Finished bed!

Finished bed!

We also enjoyed each other’s company, and had a bunch of good food!

Enjoying fresh pressed apple cider and good food!

Enjoying fresh pressed apple cider and good food!

Relaxing and enjoying the day!

Relaxing and enjoying the day!

After the permablitz ended, four of us went on a fall leaf run (we got about 40 bags of leaves for my chickens and gardens) and another two of us went foraging for hickory nuts and pears. All and all, it was an incredible day and incredible experience, and I am so thankful to have everyone’s help. This work would have taken me probably till the middle or end of November…now I can work on some other projects and go to other permablitzes this month :).

 

For those of you who are feeling isolated or overwhelmed with what you want to accomplish–please remember that there are others out there looking to lend a helping hand.  The amount that we can accomplish together, rather than divided, is amazing!

Building Community – The Oakland County Permaculture Meetup and How to Form a Permaculture Group

I think community and community building should be a critically important part of any sustainability efforts. When I first became interested in sustainability and permaculture, I checked a bunch of books out of the library and set to reading and studying the concepts. Then I applied said concepts at my own property, and looked to see the results. I did volunteer at a local organic garden that was owned by a friend of mine and that grew most of its produce for a local food back. Despite this volunteering, I still felt quite isolated—not just away from others who were like me who were doing similar work, but also from the

Linda and Chris teach about seed starting and block making

Linda and Chris teach about seed starting and block making

localized knowledge that can’t be found in any organic gardening or design book.

 

About 10 months ago, a few friends and I decided that we needed a way to bring people in the community together and so we formed the Oakland County Permaculture Meetup group. Our goal of the group was to base a community in the principles of permaculture, to build a more “permanent culture” in our community. We wanted to bring people together, talk about sustainability, gardening, and related subjects, ask people to share their knowledge, and so forth. These kinds of activities are particularly important because in America, we tend to keep ourselves isolated and focus on individualistic qualities (for a great discussion of this, see Hosfede’s cultural dimensions). Isolation isn’t going to solve any problems nor create communities that can effectively navigate the coming end to the industrial age (the long descent, to use John Michael Greer’s terms).

 

We used Meetup.com because it was an established site and had tools we needed (like scheduling, discussion boards, and resource areas). We also created a Facebook group for more general chatter and discussion. We posted our meetup in late July and my friends advertised it to their listserv (they run a small permaculture design firm). A week later, over 30 people showed up with ideas, inspiration, and the same needs we had—for a community.

 

We followed the lead of similar groups around the country and established multiple kinds of activities for the group:

 

A) Skill shares – During our monthly meetings, these are short lessons ranging from 15 minutes to an hour where one or more members shares information or skills with the group. This contributes to the group’s collective knowledge and educates all. So far, we’ve had skill shares on fruit tree pruning, fruit tree grafting, soil blocks and seed starting, vermicomposting, seed saving, hoop house gardening/season extension, root cellar barrels (these two last topics might seem familiar to blog readers—I taught on these subjects!)

Soil blocks we made!

Soil blocks we made!

B) Special Interest Groups. We established “special interest groups” based on members’ interests, also to take place during our monthly meetings. We originally had a number of special interest groups, such as primitive skills, organic gardening, foraging, alternative energies, food preservation, and so forth. What we found is that the groups only functioned effectively with a leader; and when we established the groups, the group was quite young and we really needed more time to understand who our “regular” members were going to be. So these “SIGs” are still not as functional as we’d like them to be, but I think that now that the group is more mature, we can revisit them.

 

C) Permablitzes: One of the main functions of the group is the permablitz, an activity where a member of the group asks others for help on a particular project. Its part work day, part educational project. Our first few permablitzes included frost seeding, a permaculture design installation, and an organic gardening day. We weren’t able to do many of these yet since our group started in August and the winter months were soon upon us, but our goal is to do as many as we can in the summer months. D) Potlucks. Most of our meetings and permablitzes feature some kind of food; our regular monthly meetings feature a potluck where we share in the bounty of the local Michigan harvest.

 

E) Other activities. We’ve done a number of other activities, including a seed swap in the fall, a plant swap in the spring, a “taste and trade” where people brought various items to trade (canned/baked goods, homemade laundry detergent, etc) and food to enjoy. We are also working on establishing lists for tool shares, raw materials, etc.

 

F) Videos/Educational materials for the broader community. We also showed a video at one of our meetings, the Overview Effect. We intend on doing more video screenings in the future.

 

G) Documenting our efforts. A big part of what I’m trying to do is to document our efforts.  I’ve recorded a few of our local meetups, and these are now posted on the web.  I want to create a set of localized materials for our members–this will be a resource that goes beyond our group.  Here are videos on Seed Starting/Soil Block Making and Vermicomposting!  You can also see photos from the group here.

 

Fruit tree pruning skill share!

Fruit tree pruning skill share!

The power of this kind of community is incredible. We have elders in the group who freely share their knowledge, we have younger people who inject the group with enthusiasm and energy. We have those who are brand new, and those who want to learn, and all come together to grow and share. The friendships that I’ve gained through it are important and meaningful—the feeling that I’m “not alone” in all of this, that my concerns about the future and my need to “do something” are being met. And, in the end, that’s what its about—its about practical action. I feel the strong urge to “do something” rather than sit back and hope that someone else will solve the world’s problems. I can’t force my own country off its destructive path, but I can help build local communities that develop alternative ways of seeing the world, of interacting with our planet, and put systems in place to help us build a better world.