One of permaculture’s hallmarks is polyculture: the mixed cultivation of a wide variety of bioregionally-appropriate species. In a process called “guild building”, permaculture designers select plants that will mutually enhance each others’ growth while providing their human stewards with a yield. In the classic Native American polyculture of maize, beans, and squash, for instance, the beans add nitrogen to the soil and use the corn stalks for support, while the squash act as a groundcover preventing weeds from competing with the other plants. The resulting yields of these “three sisters” are greater than if each were grown on their own.
Fortunately, a wealth of information exists in print and online for researching and selecting guilds – check out Plants For a Future and the University of Minnesota’s nursery database for starters. Still, this species information is spread across several websites, it’s difficult to sort through, and it’s rarely specific to the climate you’re in. As a result, guild building isn’t always as user-friendly as it ought to be.
In response to this challenge, I’ve begun the Atriplex Project – an attempt to create a comprehensive open-source database of useful plant species for Denver’s bioregion of the shortgrass steppe. Its current incarnation is a google spreadsheet that anyone can edit and export, although down the line it would be great to develop it into a more user-friendly standalone website.
Modeled after Dave Jacke’s exhaustive plant species matrix in the back of Edible Forest Gardens, Volume 2, Atriplex is sortable by climate zone, light/soil preferences, size, and a host of other attributes. So far I’ve got about 100 species listed, though not all have complete information. Because the google spreadsheet link is rather cumbersome, there’s a url alias at http://tinyurl.com/atriplex for your sharing convenience.
As an open-source document, I intend for Atriplex to eventually reflect the collective wisdom of all growers in this bioregion. The more data that comes from our direct experience, the more accurate and useful it will be. Here are a few ways you can help:
- If you’ve grown or observed any of the listed species, add locations to the “Local Examples” column.
- If you know of a reliable local source of a species (whether a nursery, a yard, or a wild patch) write it in the “Seed/stock Sources” column.
- If you have tips on how to grow or eat a species, or just want to give it a thumbs up/thumbs down, add your thoughts in the last column and be sure to write your name afterwards.
- If there’s something you think is missing from the list, add a new species by right-clicking on a number on the far left side and selecting “Insert 1 below”. No need to fill out every column or worry about the order.
Thanks for your support – and good luck guild-building!
Kenzie and I were recently asked by our allies at Flobots.org to facilitate an urban permaculture workshop in their new community space on 27th and Larimer. We’ll be covering the ethics and principles of permaculture, giving concrete examples of their application in an urban context, and facilitating a design session to evolve the Flobots.org space along permacultural lines. The event is FREE and open to the public… if you haven’t had any experience with permaculture yet, this is a perfect chance to check it out!
July 20, 2009
As Michael and I were scheming together on the design of the new bike shelter, we saw the potential for it to do more than just protect our wheels from the elements. Being adjacent to our recently installed mini-forest garden, the new structure was a perfectly placed to act as a passive catchment surface.
With that idea in mind, we designed the corrugated metal roof of the shelter to slope gently towards the east, where falling precipitation drains into a gutter. From there, it travels into a perforated tube (scavenged from a defunct French drain) that Michael hung with wire to coil around the canopy of the crabapple tree. In a large rain event, water flowing into the coil falls through the perforations and onto the garden in a beautiful sheet pattern.
The results have been stunning. Within weeks, the plants that benefited most from our passive watering system shot up in growth and looked more vital than before. We’re excited about seeing how the system holds up, and improving on the design in other contexts.
- Reduces dependence on energy-intensive and chlorinated tap water
- Increases utility of water flows arriving on site
- System was constructed from scavenged and upcycled materials
- Looks pretty darn cool, especially in the rain
Observations for improvement:
- The coil works well only in a heavy rain – and even then, the water only makes its way about halfway around the tree. This could be altered by adjusting the number and size of holes, as well as the slopes of the catchment surface and coil.
- The weight of the coil puts a small amount of stress on the branches of the crabapple tree. An older tree would handle the weight just fine.
- Some of the species, such as bunching onion and strawberry, still require some hand-watering. More drought-tolerant species would be ideal
- The fact that rainwater is directed to the surface, rather than the root zone, means that a good deal is lost to evaporation (although this is mitigated by the straw mulch)
April 14, 2008
It’s one thing to learn about the work of pioneers like Paul Stamets and John Todd and get all excited about their vision of the 21st century. It’s quite another to roll your sleeves up and actually start putting that vision into action. But that’s just what my buddies at the Blacktail Permaculture farm are on well on their way to doing. Situated on plot just outside of Denver, the Blacktail crew recently submitted a grant to use fungi to filter polluted groundwater and restore the native tallgrass prarie ecosystem. While grants don’t tend to read all that interestingly, this one happens to packed with verdy tidbits about the science of regeneration. Read on for the full text.
February 11, 2008
While I might not be doing a whole lot of posting these days, Andrew Faust is keeping himself busy on the blogosphere. The following is the first piece in a series, cross-posted on Green Brooklyn, on how permaculture principles can apply to urban settings, specifically in NYC.
Permaculture works with whole systems integrated ecological design goals. We create designs based on our understandings of how the earth works and what human beings truly need for a high quality of life. As a person practicing and teaching permaculture design in New York City, I describe the goal of permaculture as: to create ecologically intelligent designs for human settlements.
In part we accomplish this by creating more regionally self-sufficient, local economies. I call it retrofitting the infrastructure. Instead of centralized mass production, the commodification of basic necessities and the long distance transportation of goods and energy services, we want to shorten the distance of transmission of all goods and services, this improves quality, efficiency and creates truer food security. In permaculture design we seek to close the loop on linear energy and nutrient flows.
In this series we will look at what these design goals offer in the way of insights and opportunities to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Brooklyn and New York City overall. Some of the key urban permaculture issues we will explore through this series:
- Bringing ecological design to New York cities infrastructure
- Water issues, air quality, soil contamination
- Boosting our vitality and health
- Creating healthy architecture
- Greening urban environments
- Bringing food production, trees and biodiversity back into urban landscapes
In whole systems design analysis everything is interconnected and pollution is a result of an unused excess. We want high urban density areas like New York City and Brooklyn to begin to generate and properly digest some of its vast quantity of imported and exported nutrients. By adopting this goal we will address a range of interconnected realities which I shall outline herein.
Some facts and figures to get us rolling:
- New York City population: 8,250,567 as of 2006
- New York City imports 20,000 tons of food a day
- New York City exports 13,000 tons of trash a day
- 40% of New York’s trash is organic matter
- 600 diesel fume spewing tractor trailers a day haul this trash in a nine mile long convoy to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan and Idaho
- The average NYC household throws out 2 pounds of organic “waste” a day = 1 million tons a year
- There are 12,000 vacant lots in New York City which are publicly owned
So let’s connect the dots. The way to improve this highly energy intensive and pollution producing linear flow is to begin composting this organic matter, turning this “waste” into a resource. We need to have accessible and well maintained ways to compost properly throughout New York City and Brooklyn. We need to begin composting on a citywide — as well as individual household — level. Start small and remember one person beginning to compost makes a big difference.
One of our ideas in Permaculture is that within the problem lies the solution. These are a couple of clear examples of how this works.
In Brooklyn there are many brownfields and other contaminated old industrial sites.
One of the most successful ways to bring back a contaminated site is to begin to introduce living soil (i.e. compost), a diverse vegetative community and mushrooms and fungi. The microbes and enzymes in living soil breakdown a wide range of harmful synthetic chemicals and certain plant species are known to sequester heavy metals, enabling the gathering and reclamation of these metals.
In our upcoming postings on Urban Permaculture we will look at the dynamic processes by which nature provides us with healthy air, water and food. We will look into the many ways to bring these essential ecological elements back into our urban landscapes.
This Urban Permaculture series addresses a range of ecological issues in New York City and Brooklyn and presents permaculture design solutions to these city-wide problems. For more information about Andrew Faust and his Permaculture Design in NYC class, please go to The Center for Bioregional Living at www.homebiome.com.