Tag Archives: medicinal herbs

Spiral Ridge PDC day 2 Oct 1,2013

This is the account of my adventure at the Permaculture Design Course at Spiral Ridge in October of 2013 http://www.spiralridgepermaculture.com

Day 2 started with hearty breakfast…scrambled eggs, oatmeal, yogurt and assorted nice things to add to that like nuts, raisins, honey, jam etc. We also had coffee around the campfire every morning.

They assigned chores- animal care, working in the green house, and more boring stuff like dish washing and wood chopping. Some of our crew cheerfully volunteered for stuff like dish washing and wood chopping. Some of our crew cheerfully volunteered for humanure duty- which meant emptying the bucket into the humanure pile, which must cook for a year before it can go out as fertilizer. They don’t put it on vegetables. They cover each poop with cedar chips from an Amish saw mill. This was not a required duty.

Site Tour- we walked the upper part of the Farm…it was so interesting that we only got around to the top half. Some highlights…Water cistern attached to the Well- covered in insulation. and attached to a solar panel. Whenever the sun shines, water pumps into the cistern (5000 gal) which is used for clean drinking water and other uses. They also collect rain water from roofs, and grey water from washing and showers which is funneled into tanks and a pond.

We saw the herb garden next to the Cabin which contained some herbs I knew, and a lot I did not know, There was lots of blooming stuff including milk weed, so all week the Monarch butterflies stopped by for a snack on their way south for the winter. There were stinging nettles which are edible, but also have medicinal uses, Comfrey planted for it’s deep root that brings up nutrients, the leaves can be used as mulch. Yarrow and plantain are nutrient accumulators, There was a small Curly Willow next to the pond which can be cut down and will grow back from the roots (coppiced) There was a water plant in the pond… The herb garden area was a meandering Keyhole garden to improve edges and supply many different plants- there were about 100 different plants in about 100 sq feet- and room for more. The Cabin had 2 vines…a kiwi on one side… that was loaded with kiwis, and a hops plant on the other. There was also a fig tree that had ripe fruit on it.

There is a 50 foot green house that has baby trees waiting to be planted, a large overgrown basil (maybe left over from the winter- I saw it outside as well, A barrel full of duckweed to restock the pond in the spring, a greenhouse inside that was insulated for warmer space- it was currently empty. There was a large metal tub which they us to mix up planting medium, which they make themselves from 3 or 4 ingredients.

We saw the rabbit hutch which fertilizes the worm composting operation, where they add coffee grounds and egg shells. They have 1 buck and 2 does, which can supply you with a rabbit every week if all goes well and you don’t name them. We fed the rabbits greens from the garden and rabbit kibble.

Next to the rabbits was the gate to the chicken house where they had 17 chickens one of which was a rooster. There was netting over the chicken house, probably to discourage hawks. The chicken house had 3 nesting boxes, which were accessible from outside, so you could open it to collect eggs. Ducks from the duck pond can come into that area, as well as the chickens can out into the duck area. Cliff doesn’t like the chickens too much, he thinks they scratch too much, he is planning to phase them out in favor of the ducks…but then they will have to hunt for eggs.

The Vegetable garden was below the greenhouse and was mostly finished with the summer vegetables, There were still lots of tomatoes, and comfrey was planted there as well as huge marigold plants. The water from the upper herb garden drained into the vegetable as well as some irrigating with a hose…which they also use to water the animals.

Lunches were generally soup and salad- They came up with amazing soups, and I loved all the salads. Jen made several different fermented sauerkrauts, but sometimes green salads and coleslaw, and always interesting dressing and condiments.

Wild design- only noted 2 things in my notes- but both are interesting. “Nothing in Nature is random- all is in patterns- based on energy flows” “By recognizing patterns we can manipulate and enhance energy flows. And one that is not in my notes. The answer to very many permaculture questions…”It depends…”

Patterns in Nature- One of my favorite classes. Dendritic patterns of trees both in the branches and roots…It reminded me of Antoni Gaudi and his amazing cathedral in Barcelona, Spain. Hexagon as in honey bees. Nesting patterns of tree rings and rainbows, Lobing as in flower petals and pine cones. Spirals…ahh the amazing spiral. Start with hair swirls and finger prints then move to zinnias and hurricanes. Then consider the Fibonacci sequence which is found all over in nature…it can be a whole blog in itself. Stars for explosions and dandelions, Snowflakes. And finally Overbeck Jet which is like breaking waves, and mushrooms and atomic bombs and bones connected, and musical frequencies. Imposing squares and rectangles on natural patterns creates problems- poor wind and water flow and less edge effect. Natural patterns are more harmonic.

After a delicious dinner, they set up the computer and we watched case studies on u-tube…Sepp Holtzer- the wild permaculturist in Austria, An edibile food forest in a Davis, California subdivision, Geoff Lawson an Australian permaculture guru talking about urban permaculture and several more. Totally exhausted, Miriam and I were both staying at the Farm, carpooled back.


Planning for spring


Early morning in Prattville, Alabama Jan 22; 25 degrees, Jan 23; 28 degrees Jan 24; 19 degrees and Jan 25; 25 degrees
I desire to stay in bed and pull the covers up to stay warm… this is the coldest winter I remember since I left Los Alamos in 1975.

The blogging assignment for Zero to Hero is to do a “Round-up”… I studied the examples and decided on a review of seed catalogues… So here is a Permaculture Roundup…

1. The Library sent a email saying that I could check out a copy of the 25th anniversary edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig,Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which I remember fondly from 25 years ago. He writes about people in the countryside…”They are not going anywhere. They’re not too busy to be courteous. The hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about.”
May we all try to live in the here and now.

2. Seed catalogs are awesome. My favorite to date is Wildseed Farms http://www.wildseedfarms.com. They have many of the flower seeds I need to help build diversity in my yard for improved insect action. I want to encourage beneficial insects and discourage others. They have good regional wildflower mixes, and packets of individual flowers about $1.25 per packet and shipping is very reasonable.

3. If you prefer plants to seeds, I bought plants from the Growers exchange- http://www.growersexchange.com individual plants at $5.95 each- They came nicely boxed up and with instructions on how to plant.

4. and I love Mountain Rose Herbs…wwwmountainroseherbs.com. I have ordered herbal Tea and seeds from them, they sent my items promptly. They have a good selection of hard to find herb seeds. They also give discounts to people taking Herbal classes.

5. An awesome blog is Chriscondello A plant a day till Spring http://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/a-plant-a-day-till-spring-day-31-passionflower/ His pictures are inspiring me to try some of his plants in my garden this year.

Permaculture Design Course at Spiral Ridge; Sept 30-Oct 11, 2013– Day 1

Day One was driving and getting there and first impressions…

Spiral Ridge

I left home about 8:30 am with car packed with 2 weeks worth of Jeans, shirts, socks, underwear- ran back in and stuffed in my down coat–a good move- also took a sturdy plastic box of books (14) notebooks, drawing pencils, tape, scissors, guitar, piano, music, smart phone, computer(which I didn’t use because I had the smart phone), snacks, coffee cup and water bottle. Also boots and sneakers. Atlas and Magellan (which they said would not find them, and didn’t work well even to go home…the smart phone might have worked, forgot to try it.) I signed up to stay at the “Farm” instead of camping out at Spiral Ridge,Tenn http://www.spiralridgepermaculture.com/ so I didn’t have to bring tent etc.

The “Farm” proved to be an experience in itself.
The Farm http://www.thefarm.org/
When I told my daughter Michelle I was staying at the Farm- she said “THE FARM”? and she verified that yes it is “THE FARM” made famous recently by Ina Mae Gaskin and her book Spiritual Midwifery, which Michelle had read. It was founded in 1970 by a bunch of Hippies who formed a community which traveled the country in Yellow School buses before landing in rural Tennessee to found a commune, which went totally broke in 1977 and they reformed themselves in a less communistic community which now seems seriously stuck in the 70’s. All the School buses are still there rusting away. People at the Farm do not farm, but they have other business such as Soy Milk, something  to do with nuclear-maybe detector badges, and some mushroom growing.  Anyway, I  made my way to the farm and found my room at the Eco hostel, which served an occasional other visitor during my 12 days. It had a queen size bed and a kitchen with coffee I could make. No maid service, and I brought my own towels. There was a washer and dryer, but the sign said to “Use only in emergencies”, So clean dry clothes did not happen till I got home.

After dumping my stuff off at the Farm, I made my way to Spiral Ridge which was 10 minutes up the hill by car from the Farm. The first thing you see is a very small Amish cabin with 3 rooms and a very nice porch that did not face the road. I came to understand that it all had a purpose… And then the other students arrived and our coordinator apologized, they had an unexpected shipment that they had to pick up, so we started an hour late. I wandered around while we waited and  saw lots of interesting things. Cliff and Jens children ages 12 and age 9 entertained us while we waited. Their daughter brought out a colored handout with the schedule.

Then We started. We had a large Canopy with tables and chairs outside the Cabin which was our Classroom. It turned out we were always late, but that just meant we stopped later.  There was solar power for the electronics and a light bulb for the tent at night.

The course was billed as 72 hours, but in the 11 days we must have had closer to 100 hours of time spent, I’d say, not counting campfires. I am counting chores when we did gardening and animal care, etc. There were 12 students- 6 from Alabama, 1 from Georgia, 3 from Tennessee, and 1 from Chicago, 1 from New York City. I was the oldest, Oliver from New York was 23 as was Benford, also from Alabama. Lindsey, his friend was also about that age, from Huntsville area. All white, all smart, most had college degrees. Kelly (a girl) was from Huntsville also and had worked for 2 years for Michael Reynolds the Architect from Taos who builds Earthship houses. Tracey is a landscape Designer from Thorsby and also works for Petals from the Past where I have bought trees. Miriam is a College Instructor at Samford College in Birmingham. Mike and Chris live in Nashville, and Logan is a traveler, currently living in Johnson City, Tenn.

<Our instructors were Cliff Davis and Jen Albenese, owners and parents 3 children, the youngest is 3. They bought Spiral Ridge after it was clear cut for paper pulp, Tennessee does not require replanting, so it was cheap as denuded land with just stubble on it. That was 4 years ago. They got the well at the top of the land by going in with the neighbor who has land at the bottom of the hill. Then they planted gardens with herbs and added a giant vegetable garden and a pond for ducks, attached to a chicken yard. Water flows through the landscape through 3 ponds. Below the Duck pond is a giant swale that was cleared by Machetes, pigs and goats. On this swale Cliff is gradually planting food and product trees- nuts, fruits, and bamboo. Next year they hope to break ground on a house that will be much more comfortable than the 3 room cabin. He is selectively keeping the wild trees that are coming back from the clear cut. Everywhere he plants trees, he plants herb guilds that are beneficial to the trees. We learned how he plants the trees, and had several planting sessions when we planted 30 or more trees. We joked about paying to work on the farm, but it is good to learn what he does- each tree gets a sprinkling of mycorrhizial powder (a mushroom powder) to help the roots grow. They also had a very capable assistant/Course coordinator who helped us with registration, course info and medical issues such as poison ivy and chigger bites. Her name is Jessie. She also taught some of the sessions, as did Tyler, an intern.

Our first educational session was about the history and definition of Permaculture…It was rediscovered and named that by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia the early 1970’s…Permaculture principals were definitely used by aboriginal peoples in Australia and in North and South America. The basic idea is to work with nature, not against it as we do in modern agriculture. So as many different plants as you can grow in a natural order- not rows, so that good bugs have food to eat and will flourish and eat the pests.Use animals for their talents, one of the best being manure. The Permaculture ethics are Care for the Earth, care for People and share the surplus. I was amazed by the abundance of the food in and out of their gardens–tomatoes, squash and melons growing in tons of places where they were not planted (at least by humans).

Mollison had 34 principles, Holmgren only 12; 1. Observe and Interact, 2. Catch and Store energy, 3. Obtain a yield, 4. Apply self-regulation and accept feed-back, 5. Use and value renewable resources and services, 6. Produce no waste 7. Design from patterns to details 8. Integrate rather than segregate 9. Use small and slow solutions, 10. Use and value diversity, 11. Use edges and value the marginal. 12. Creatively use and respond to change.

10 of Mollison’s Principles 1. Redundancy- create synergies. 2. Stacking functions. 3. Succession. 4. Edge Effects and Ecotones 5. Work with nature not against it. 6.Problems can be solutions 7.The yield of a system is theoretically unlimited 8. The principle of Disorder 9. The principle of Entropy- in complex systems, disorder is a increasing result. 9. Metastability- For a complex system to remain stable, there must be pockets of disorder. 10. Observation; Protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.