Posted by: permamonk | May 16, 2011

Make way! Make way!

The yard that we inherited with this new residence has a steep hill and lots of ivy.  I’m not talking about a bit of ivy that’s crept over the fence.  I’m talking about the entire backyard was a carpet of english ivy.  I’m talking about english ivy that has obviously collaborated with kudzu and shared notes on expansion and world domination.  Tress are covered. Fences are covered.  We can’t allow small children or pets back there for fear of them being consumed.  Moses could have used this ivy as a plague in Egypt and gotten faster results out of Pharaoh.  Just sayin’. 

Oh, and then there’s the monkey grass…  Monkey grass is one of the only few plants (along with kudzu) that can compete with ivy. 

All that is to say that the first step in our new gardening adventure was to take out the ivy.  Of course, being permaculture-minded, the ubiquitous suggestion of Round-Up was not an option.  It amazed me how many people suggested Round-Up. And when I would tell them we can’t use chemicals, I inevitably got a look of such befuddlement as though I were suggesting balancing the national budget with a six year old’s weekly allowance.  Nonetheless, we are monks that find God in the monotonous, so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work.  It may have taken us more effort in physical exertion, but in the end, the ivy’s gone and the ground isn’t poisonous. 

Upper slope

The slope next to the solarium. Imagine this hill before with LOTS of ivy.Lower slope

 

After the ivy was pulled out, we made sure to lay down cardboard to prevent our yard from washing into our neighbor’s.  Cardboard is free, bio degradable, and did I mention it’s free?  When you’re a monk, living a life of simplicity, you learn to be happy with what you can get. 

The last bit of prep for the hill was taking out the steps.  These were made of gravel, timber, rebar, and paving stones.  The wood was rotten, the gravel overgrown, the pavers buried and the step simply dangerous overall. 

Step
They may have been great when first installed, but now just a hazard.

With the slope cleared after three Sundays of hard work, we were finally read for the terraforming. 

Tune in next time for “Stay away Joshua.  We don’t need these walls tumblin’ down.”

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Posted by: permamonk | May 16, 2011

Singing a new Alleluia!

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had something to post.  Our Order of urban monks has been busy over the past couple of years.  Last year (2010), we moved into a new and larger residence.  With seven people in one house, it defintely makes for close quarters.  But one of the many blessings of the new Mother House is that we have  a front and backyard!  It has taken us a year to settle into the new house, but this spring we were ready to get busy gardening.  After much discussion and several drafts, we decided on the following for the design of the backyard meditation and permaculture garden. 

 The top left is the solarium/greenhouse.  It will open out onto a wrap-around porch.  From there, you can follow a path down the hill to two patio areas that will look up at four terraces dedicated to the permaculture gardens.  There will be a water feature in the bottom terrace for water chestnuts and cattails (yum!).  One of the patio areas will also have  a fire pit so we can finally host our own all night Easter Vigils.  The patios and porch will give us space for reading, dining, prayer and meditation, and teaching.  With this space, we can begin offering mini-retreats as well. 

In total, the entire relandscaping project will cost $7,000 in materials while we and friends of the Order will provide all the labor.  We’ve raise around $1,800 so far, but that leaves quite a bit.  Hopefully, members of the greater Church community will be able to help us out.  What a great reminder that we are all dependant on one another as the Body of Christ!

So, with this space available for a new Alleluia Garden, it’s time to dig back in and explore more of this experiement of sustainable urban agriculture that we call PERMACULTURE!  God’s Peace!

Posted by: permamonk | July 21, 2009

Coming to Fruition

It’s beautiful!  Bit by bit parts of the garden are ripening and each week brings more.  To celebrate the first real picking of the garden, Abby and Syd had me over for BBLTs (that would be bacon, basil, lettuce, and tomato) using vine ripened (and we’re talking honest to God ripe on the still growing vine – eat your heart out whole foods) tomatoes with freshly picked basil. 

Sexy, non?

Sexy, non?

Granted, we only had two large tomatoes that were ripe, but the cherry tomatoes were happy to join in for the meal.

These cherry tomatoes are soooo sweet.

These cherry tomatoes are soooo sweet.

Add to that a selection of peppers and you get a gorgeous array.  Abby, showing off her mad up and coming food stylist skills took the family photo for the evening.

First harvest

First harvest

Elsewhere in the garden, things are happily moving along.  When we went to pick the cherry peppers, I nearly wet myself with excitement when I saw a principle of permaculture at work!  As you may recall, rather than using pesticides in the garden, we interspersed fragrant herbs (basil in this instance) to separate the veggies.  By doing this, if a bug finds one plant, it may munch away at it, but it won’t be able to smell the other like veggies near by.  To that end, I found one pair of cherry peppers that was all but devoured but some little bug, while not two feet away, just past the basil plant, there was a pristine cherry pepper just begging to be picked.

Cherry Pepper SAVE!

Cherry Pepper SAVE!

In addition to the fragrant herbs, we also have some new residents that are proving a great help to curbing the bugs.  Since Martha Stewart ruled out chickens, it would appear Mama Nature was happy to provide a reasonable substitute.  I found this guy happily perched on a tomato plant pecking away at some unwanted intruders while leaving the tomatoes well enough alone.

Avian Insecticide

Avian Insecticide

Our new bug catcher isn’t the only new resident.  Just before dusk, I was amazed to look up and see the darting form of a hummingbird flitting about the verge. 

Center of the pic - it's the spot hovering on its own

Center of the pic - it's the spot hovering on its own

A third neighbor to move into this newest suburb gives me a little more concern.  Well up one of the oaks I saw a mass of branches which turned out to be a squirrel nest.  Granted, RePete is ecstatic.  All he sees are furry little chew toys.  All I see is potential trouble.  Though, the idea behind permaculture is to grow enough that you have plenty even after such natural loss.  So we’ll just have to wait an see how greedy these new neighbors are. 

Squirrel nest

Squirrel nest

And still, more veggies are coming along…

Happy cucumber, though it resembles only a partially inflated ballon right now.

Happy cucumber, though it resembles only a partially inflated ballon right now.

Beans!

Beans!

These snow peas will go really well with some cocktail shrimp dipped in a safflower/soy sauce mix.

These snow peas will go really well with some cocktail shrimp dipped in a safflower/soy sauce mix.

Checking on the leeks

Checking on the leeks

And last but not least, after only a little over a week since the BBLT adventure, we found even more cherry tomatoes just begging to be picked!  These vines are the gift that keep on giving.

Happiness

Happiness

Next post: What happens when you eagerly get three more truck loads of compost but are too excited to plan ahead?  Find out next time on “Creating Something Called Alleluia.”

Posted by: permamonk | July 3, 2009

More on potatoes

I would like to point out that until now, Abby and I have been curious about how to actually grow sweet potatoes, but have neglected to actually look up anything on them.  At this point, we figured it’d be an adventure just to discover what happens by leaving them alone.  This past week, however, curiosity (and a desire for good sweet potatoes) overwhelmed me and I sought said elusive knowledge.  After rooting around (as it were) all over the internet, I could find no references for actually growing sweet potatoes.  I found out how to start them, how to propagate them from slips or vines, and then how to cure them when harvested, but even George Washington Carver’s essayon sweet potatoes does not tell what one should do between planting and harvesting.  Do we mound them like other potatoes?  Will the vine root like our strawberry runners?  I  had no idea that the growing of sweet potatoes was a national secret and closely guarded.  Is there is a sweet potato conspiracy out there?  Is this knowledge that is only offered on a need to know basis?  Are there secret organizations of sweet potato farmers that only hand down this information from teacher to agricultural disciple in a Stone Mason-esque ceremony shrouded in leafy vines and compost?  I have no clue.  I did discover the actual difference between a sweet potato and a real yam.  Contrary to Southern belief and grocer propaganda, the two names are not interchangeable.  The sweet potato that grows here in the states (as opposed to the yam which grows in the tropics of the Gulf of Mexico) is actually a member of the morning glory family.  Go figure…  So much to my disappointment, Abby and I are back to plan A. – the sweet potatoes will reveal their secret of growing to us when they are good and ready.  Until then, I’m still keeping my ear to the ground about the secret sweet potato society (SSPS). 

Some good did come of my searching though, so it was not entirely fruitless.  I came across a fantastic site called Plant Answers.  They have a wonderful site dedicated to farming and resources on how to go any number of vegetables (except sweet potatoes of course, because such knowledge is forbidden).  They have a nifty section on growing irish potatoes.  It was quite captivating, for one because it had pictures, and two it gave a good indication of what variables in soil, light, etc. can have on the potatoes.  I did discover by trail, and unfortunately error, that as my potato spouts grow unevenly (one shoot growing faster than another), if I put on the next tire before all the shoots are ready, the shortest will wither.  I think I lost two if not three, but since each tire was averaging 6 to 8 shoots, there’s room for loss. 

Elsewhere in the garden, I finally got a chance to have a ripe cherry tomato!  Not living by the garden means that Abby and Syd tend to get first pick, but as luck would have it, they were occupied elsewhere (Athens, to be precise) the other day for the birth of Camden Wesley Masland.  With the house unattended, and Abby and Syd tending to a ripening fruit of an entirely different sort, I plundered the garden and disovered a splash of red in amongst all the green. 

Every garden needs a splash of color!

Every garden needs a splash of color!

With a pinch off one of the basil bushes, I enjoyed a delightful snack fresh from the garden. Tasty indeed!

Posted by: permamonk | June 26, 2009

And then there were three

I was not that long ago that I had to add the second tire to the potatoes.  Two weeks ago, I think.  Well, potatoes grow a lot faster than I was expecting.  As of yesterday, it was time to top off the stacks. 

Babel, eat your heart out.

Babel, eat your heart out.

So now we’re up to three tires for the red potatoes and we still haven’t torn out the other bushes to make room for the white potatoes (which was still rooting in my dark pantry).  As you can see, the shoots were tall enough to come jus to the top edge of the new tire layer.  Once this gets filled in with compost, I’ll probably leave them all at this leave but for one just to see how tall I it will go.  This garden is, after all, all about experiment and discovery. 

Elsewhere in the garden, other plants are flowering and fruiting.  The sweet potatoes are doing well, though neither Abby nor I have looked up exactly how they are suppose to grow.  At this point we may just let them go and find out by surprise.  The pepper are fruiting all over the place that I seen three that have been attacked by bugs.  The red cherry peppers are looking quite nice, though!

Peering through the jungle

Peering through the jungle

I have to admit, as the garden starts to grow out and the plants fill in, it’s a neat feeling peeking through the tomatoes to find all the other vegetables.  The basils have bushed out and the strawberries are sprawling.  To sit down in the narrow foot path and look around at ground level, I feel immersed in green!  It really is like looking through a mini jungle.  And this jungle is teaming with life.  I watched yesterday as a Georgia Brown Thrasher made use of the overturned compost where I had been digging to find a big juicy worm.  I’ve found at least two different kinds of worms in the soil.  There are grubs that are becoming beetles.  Then there are squash beetles that I have to flick off all the leafs.  I tried a raw cabbage leaf yesterday and found it quite tasty.  All the while, RePete has become quite the watchdog, keeping an eye out for all those squirrels that might think to come into the garden.

Squirrell???

Squirrel???

However, he still needs a little more training in the over all watchdog area. 

Our watch dog has ADD.

Our watchdog has ADD.

With the potatoes tended, the next venture was our leafy greens.  Unfortunately, we did not act quickly enough and some of our seedlings bit the dust in the GA sun.  So, salvaging what we could, I managed to get the lettuces, radishes, kale, one other leafy thing whose name escapes me right now, and the leeks into the ground. 

Looks like tiny little rabbit food to me.  We'll just have to wait and see how these do.

Looks like tiny little rabbit food to me. We'll just have to wait and see how these do.

The little scraggly green things infront of the beans would be the leeks. My hopes for vychisoise are looking dim.

The little scraggly green things in front of the beans would be the leeks. My hopes for vichyssoise are looking dim.

Unfortunately, the leeks haven’t done well even in the ground, and it looks like only three are still growing.  Thankfully we have a ton more seeds and peat pellets, so we’ll have a second go at those and the spinach.

After a long afternoon in the garden, as dark was quickly descending, RePete and I both decided enough had been done for the day and it was time to call it quits and rest for the evening.

YAWN!!!!

YAWN!!!!

Posted by: permamonk | June 18, 2009

O’aye, we’ve got potatoes!

Several weeks ago, my illustrious Scots-Irish heritage cheered me on as I planted my first potatoes.  And it was a good cheering on.  Not like several years ago when my Scot-Irish heritage was cheering me on as I downed one green $1.00 shot after another on St. Patrick’s Day only to wake up the next morning with a splitting headache and the same Scots-Irish heritage laughing at me.  No, this time it was a good cheering-on, and they all rejoiced, “yay.”

Having let about six red potatoes go to root in my pantry this past winter, they’ve been happily sprouting like deranged chia-pets for the past 5 months.  Drawing from Bill’s earlier suggestion of tires for potato planting, Papa Hos got us 12 used tires for our latest experiment.  After tearing out the failed decorative bushes that were lining the back fence, tires went down which we then filled with compost.  Each potato was shooting off a number of sprouts, so we were able to cut each in half and bury them right in the compost.  After a little water, all we had left to do was wait.  It did not take long before shoots and leaves were poking up through the soil.

Potato 1

Tis a wee little sprout

 It didn’t take long for these shoots to become fairly sizable.  About two weeks at most.  Once they reached about 7 to 8 in., it was time to add on another tire. 

Reaching up to the sky.

Reaching up to the sky.

As each tire is added, compost is filled in around the potato plant.  You must be careful not to break the shoot when heaping on the soil, but carefully fill in until just the top of the shoot is showing.

Burying the new shoots.

Burying the new shoots.

Bit by bit, the stacks will grow and each layer of tire will be a new bunch of potatoes.  Here’s hoping this works! 

Stacks, 2 tires high.

Stacks, 2 tires high.

In other news in the garden, we’ve dug out and lined a path with salvaged stone from elsewhere in the yard.  (And this path didn’t even require a shrubbery.)  Keep in mind, when making paths in a permaculture garden, the more space devoted to the path is less space available to grow food.  We’re not building major thoroughfares after all.  Having the path cut into the landscape rather than right on top also let us use that amount of compost elsewhere in the garden.  When every bit of soil you’re initially using has to be shoveled in, you learn how to conserve it where you can.

A path!

A path!

And as you can see surrounding our path, we have some very happy tomatoes which have quickly outgrown their original wooden stakes. 

Pretty tomato.

Pretty tomato.

Next post: “Now eat your leafy greens Timmy.” “But I have to grow them first!”

Posted by: permamonk | June 3, 2009

Of Fence Beds and Such Things

What we need: trellis for viny type things. 

What we have: ubiquitous chain link fence. 

It was a match made in heaven.  Using our cinder block technique and salvaged (remember, reusing is a good thing) pond liner plastic to go against the fence, we’ve created a long bed that will do well for our beans, peas, cucumber, and zucchini.  Granted, cucumbers and tomatoes pair well as the vine grows up the same stake, but we have well more cucumbers than tomato plants.  Again with the layering, at the base of the vine plants will be okra, cabbage, lettuces, broccoli and then onions (red and yellow), radished and carrots for the root later.  Saving money by going with seeds, Abby started many of these inside in a plastic greenhouse box. 

Once these grow, the chainlink fence will become a wall of green.  Far more atractive in my opinion.

Once these grow, the chainlink fence will become a wall of green. Far more atractive in my opinion.

Happy seedlings that were started indoors.

Happy seedlings that were started indoors.

In addition to the fence beds, I also acquired some flowers for Syd, because as Martha Stewart would attest, that are a very good thing.  So for Syd, we did potted arrangements for the patio.  Of course, in the midst of these pretty things are pepper plants as well that will grow above the flowers thus still utilizing all growing space for food.

In the middle of the arrangements are banana and cayene peppers.

In the middle of the arrangements are banana and cayene peppers.

In other news, the strawberries are growing very well.  As it turns out, these are a creeping variety, not a bush variety.  So these happy plants were sending out tendrils all over the place with a buds along them that were trying to root in the cardboard.  To help them out, we added another layer of compost on top of the cardboard and have directed the tendrils to fill in all the space along the retaining wall. 

Each bud along these tendrils will take root and become a distinct stawberry plant.

Each bud along these tendrils will take root and become a distinct strawberry plant.

 

Next post: Thar be potatoes in them tires!

Posted by: permamonk | May 27, 2009

Bricks and tires

As I mentioned, Bill and Abby acquired a great deal of cinder blocks the other week and Papa Hosley has brought us a dozen tires to start with. 

Cinder blocks

Oh so many cinder blocks.

In amongst our cinder blocks i discovered two of Abby’s cat lawn decorations that she acquired at a local flea market.  I must admit I agreed with her reasoning when she explained, “They were so creepy I just had to!  And they were only $2.00!” 

Creepy cats

Creepy cats

Then came the tires…lots of tires.  As Abby’s permanent patio furniture hindered the cart we were using, we did manage to discover a fun way of getting them across the yard, however. It’s like a stange game of bowling. 

Step 1: Start with tire behind the back.

Step 1: Start with tire behind the back.

Step 2: Role tire up over back.

Step 2: Role tire up over the back.

Step 3: Hurl that tire with all your might and watch it role off into the sunset.

Step 3: Hurl that tire with all your might and watch it role off into the sunset.

I expect to see this new sport at the next Highland Games.  It’s right up there with sheaf tossing in my opinion. 

Next post: the new fence bed!

Posted by: permamonk | May 27, 2009

Vandana Shiva – Planting Seeds for Change

AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!! I finally found it again!!! I came across this video several years back and then couldn’t find again because I couldn’t remember the name of the presenter.  While reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” at lunch today he mentioned the Indian farmer activist Vandana Shiva.  BAM!  My brain clicked and I knew that was the gal who gave the talk.  After rooting around on youtube for a bit, I am now very happy to share this lecture with our permareaders.  Anyone who’s interested in growing their own food and using biodiversity should watch this.  Not to mention anyone who’s interested in the world agricultural exchange and the insidious means of corporate agriculture with GMOs.  ‘nough said.  Enjoy the show!

Posted by: permamonk | May 21, 2009

Worms!

It never ceases to amaze me when I tell friends about permaculture and the garden, how some of them can find it just as interesting and then bring their own obscure knowledge to it.  In that vein of interest, this will be the first of, I hope, many guest posts from Ryan, Supreme Leader and First Citizen of the self-proclaimed sovereign nation of McClanastan.  I would highly encourage everyone to follow his blog when he can get around to updating it.  Until he does, you can always read his creation Godzilla vs. the Recession

That aside, back to permaculture.  When I was telling Ryan about the abundance of worms in the garden after we started sheet mulching he directed me towards one of the more famous essays by Charles Darwin.  As I said before, the presence of worms is the sign of healthy soil.  I’m happy to find that Darwin agrees.  So, from a man far more intellectually well rounded than I, Ryan offers this for our permareaders: Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.

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