Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Hello Friends,

We are trying our hardest to get some substantial snow here in Beacon, but it's not really happening.  About an inch and a half on Saturday followed by some cold temperatures afterward provided a nice white blanket for a few days.  I think snow makes the wintertime so much more enjoyable - it adds so much light to the darkness.

There's no big news here, but I wanted to share a photo with you.  It's a very special photo to me.  On Sunday my friends Terrence and Monika picked me up to take me to the Beacon Farmers Market.  Akiko was out of town with the car and Terrence and Monika - passionate farmers market shoppers themselves - offered to give me a lift once before.   I asked them for the favor once more this past weekend, and I actually ended up with a couple of trial piano lessons in the morning, so they had to take me later than they would have gone themselves.  It was really nice of them.

Monika is an avid photographer.  She and Terrence plan their regional hikes around the best sunlight for photography - usually at dusk or dawn.  So after we got back from the farmers market, she asked if she could take my photo by the chicken coop.   Oh, I forgot to tell you another awesome thing about Terrence and Monika  -  they feed our chickens!  They live in an apartment and don't have a place to compost their kitchen scraps, so they actually bring them over for our chickens about once a week.  Man they rule!  So anyway, Monika had some black and white film that was going to expire and needed to be used.  So I stood there in front of the coop, not thinking too much of it.  I had to hold still for this, which I wasn't so used to I guess.  But I got out a bag of old grain that I use to get the chickens back into the coop when I need to leave and put them in for the night.  I thought there could be some action shots.   She took a few photos and I more or less forgot about it.

Anyway, when Monika sent me the photo that night, I was really floored.  I'm kind of embarrassed by how much I love this photo of myself and how much time I've spent thinking about it.  First of all, I love the depth and clarity and feel of the film.  I haven't even seen a hi resolution version of the photo yet. We're ordering a print for the living room wall actually.  But even the digital copy looks so great.  We've gotten used to looking at photos taken with smartphones - I was really shocked by how much more comes through on film.  And I love the composition of the shot - the depth the coop and the garage windows behind it.

Second, I love the photo because I see a smile on my face that I haven't seen for a long time.  We've been in Beacon for about a year and a half now.  It was a transition - never an easy thing.  I sometimes wonder if it was the right decision to leave NYC.  I wonder if I'm missing out by not being  there.  I wonder about where my life is headed, especially the music part of it.  BUT, then I saw this photo and saw that smile - a smile through which I see happiness coming through that I haven't felt for a while - and I am reassured that I am in the right place.  I love it here.  I love having an old house to work on.  I love having a backyard garden with so much potential.  I love keeping and watching those chickens.  I love the community and being so close to great small farms that are growing food in sustainable ways.  We live next to a mountain - a modest mountain for sure, but it has it's power.

It's done me a lot of good to get my hands in the dirt and me feet in the water and I see it in this photo.

Thanks Monika and Terrence.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


I wrote most of this on Monday December 5 and finished it on Wednesday December 7.  It might sound a little negative toward NYC, but I mean it more as neutral observation and questioning.  I've been writing a lot lately.  It feels good.  It helps me organize and understand my thoughts and feelings. 

Riding the Metro North train through Manhattan.  The eleveted rail line gives you an elevated view.   You see the intense alteration of the earth.  Buildings with carefully dug foundations, perfectly level - how much do they weigh?  We trust the earth to hold them in place.   How much does Manhattan weigh?  Are our buildings depressing the earth's crust here?  Is there an area of congestion in the mantle under this place?  

Here earth is carpeted with concrete sidewalks, asphalt streets, and buildings.  Below the surface is a mess - miles of pipes and tunnels.   Is there any life in the dirt that is compacted below all of our creations here?   Trees send tap roots deep into the subsoil to find nutrients.   Do the tap roots of the trees in Manhattan find anything at all beneath the concrete?  If they do, how long does it last?  Could anything possibly be returning nutrients to that subsoil?

This is a massive suppression of a once-thriving natural ecosystem - a self-regulating, self-sustaining system with its own energy harvesting capabilities, with huge biodiversity, with its own system of checks and balances. 

I see people helping nature partially reclaim bits of the landscape; a community garden where a building once stood, compost bins in their 15 by 20 foot backyards, flowers planted in a tree pit.  The people want to find a connection to nature via a few home grown veggies or flowers.  I wonder how long will it take for nature to reclaim this island when we leave?  

I see all the people.  Millions of them on this island of just 23 square miles.  We've created conditions that have allowed millions of people to live here, trading, teaching, celebrating, playing.  If we put 3 million people in the natural system that once was here, we would destroy it in no time.  The conditions for survival here are dependent on people who don't live in the city to grow food and supplies.  It's dependent on a lot of cheap fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation of goods.  I used to marvel at and take pride in the suppression of nature of NYC.  I wanted the buildings taller.  I wanted it denser.  I wanted more people here.   We mastered the earth here; but not really when you consider the far reaching needs required for survival here.  After living here awhile I started to crave nature, but it wasn't so easy to find.  I eventually found it in the ocean.   

I think understand one reason why the people of our country are divided.  In the city people are dependent on the government to regulate the gathering of staple goods from the places where they are made - mostly far from the city.   If the government collapses, the city people only have a few days of provisions.   While in the country a family living on a few acres of proper land, with a few neighbors to trade with. could provide for themselves indefinitely if they're using sustainable practices.  The country people don't need as much regulation, so they believe.  So the city people are pro big government and they need help and the country people are pro small government and want to be left alone.   I'm sure this is an over-simplification, but interesting for me to ponder.  

The above is observation instigating some thoughts.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mapping Update

Hello again.  I want to share some maps I've made of the property.  Mapping is a nice way to see everything and focus on specific things.  But for me, the biggest benefit is seeing beyond the current season.  It's kind of difficult to remember what things were like last Spring, or even how things looked just 3 or 4 months ago.  I find that when I look at the maps I have a better all-season understanding of the property.   These maps are drawn on the property survey map that was done when we bought the house.  I made several copies.  It was a drag to pay for that survey at the time, but the map has been quite useful now.

Click on the images and you should be able to see a large and legible version.

First I did an update of the base map.  This map is just a general map with buildings, vegetation, etc.  We moved the rain barrels and the strawberry patch.  On this map there is a 30 gallon rain barrel in the strawberry patch collecting water off of the carport.  I have the barrel, but will wait until Spring to install it.  The pollinator gardens are where I've planted native perennial flowers.

Here's the sun map.  What I've done here is mapped the sun angles as well as any particular shady or hot spots, which can be useful when decided where to put specific plants.  Notice the hot spot on the southeast side of the garage.  I planted peas there this Spring, thinking that the warmth radiating from the cinder blocks could give them a head start.  But it ended up being too warm there, and they dried out fast.  Note taken.  My poor soil was probably a factor too.

This is a water map.  Here I mapped the flow of water around the property and anything else I could think of regarding water.  Our entire property is kind of in a low spot.  To the South East we have Mount Beacon, with the highest peaks in the Hudson Highlands Range - 1611 feet at the summit.  To the Northwest is another hill - but it puts us in a little valley.  In our well in the basement the water level has been between 3 and 6 feet below the basement floor.  That might indicate the level of the water table.  Add the 4-5 feet depth of the basement, we're looking at a water table that is 7 to 11 feet below grade.  That might be pretty shallow and might be of concern if I want to build some swales.  I'm not sure we have enough slope for swales to be effective anyway.  But I do have ideas of creating some kind of irrigation channels for roof runoff to water future fruit trees.  

Next would be a wind map.  I've made a wind map, but it is blank.  I really don't have a handle on the predominant winds through the property.  I think that the wind here is affected be our proximity to Mount Beacon.  It seems to blow near equally from every direction at various times.  One thing that I have noticed is evening winds.  Quite often we'll get some very gusty winds that blow for an hour or two just after dark.  My guess is that this could have to do with cooling temperatures on the mountain.  Also, the Hudson River, about 2 miles to our west, affects the temperature too.  In the Fall warm breeze comes off the river at night, while in the Spring it acts like an air conditioner.  You can observe how large bodies of water work to narrow temperature ranges.  I've noticed that the leaves on our side of Mount Beacon change color later in the Fall, than those on the other side of the range.  My guess is that this has to do with the warm Fall waters of the Hudson.  

Below is just a simple map that I made when planning New Annual bed (see my previous post about sheet mulching this garden).  Note that this map is drawn upside down.  It made sense to draw it that way based on how we access it and see it from the house.   A common permaculture technique is called keyhole beds - the walking paths are shaped like keyholes with a wider circle at the end.  This allows you to reach further into beds without stepping on them.  I didn't put the circular part in because I thought I could reach just fine.  My beds are 3 feet wide and they go around most of the perimeter of the garden.  3 feet is a good size to be able to work without stepping on.  My paths are only 18" wide, which will seem like nothing when we've got larger plants growing.  But I'm interested in getting as much growing space as possible, and keeping bare soil to a minimum.  My paths are mulched with wood chips to help keep the soil covered too.  We'll see how the 18 inches go.  If I need to adjust in the future I can.  But you can see how much growing space we gain by this kind of layout, as opposed to rows and paths that would go all the way from one end to the other.  Along the right side of this map you'll see the trellises.   This is the north west side of the garden.  I decided that they would get good sun there and will provide the hens with some shade in the summertime - they're pasturing just to the right of the trellises.  

So these are my maps.  They're quite enjoyable to make and fun for me to look at.  Thanks for reading!  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sheet Mulch 2.0 and Dueling Gardens

OK.  As promised, I wanted to update you on some gardening work.  I'm really excited about what we have going on in the back yard.  First a little reflection on this years experimenting.

In previous posts, I've given some detailed accounts of our gardening experiments.  Now that the last of the veggies have been harvested, I'd like to offer a little in the way of final reflections.   It's easy to focus on the mistakes we made, but first I want to say what worked well.  First, weeding was very easy.  There were literally no weeds until just a few showed up in August.  Even then it wasn't much at all.  Second, I was very happy with the salad greens polyculture - a scattering of mixed seeds.  The greens were densely planted and therefor shaded by other plants, keeping them from bolting and getting bitter.  At one point in the summer I decided to clean out old radish stalks and others that had bolted and gotten stringy.   This might have been a mistake because afterward the lettuces bolted in the more-direct exposure.  I had success with a few squash plants.  After a slow start, the tomatoes worked well.  A few peppers.  Cucumbers were pretty good, but not as plentiful as they should have been.  Turnips did well.  Red radishes were fun to hunt for and plenty of them were good.

What didn't work were root vegetables and brassicas.  I only had a couple carrots germinate; I think they got lost in the polyculture planting.   Cauliflower and broccoli were stringy messes, not nice heads, aside from a few broccoli servings.  Melons, cantaloupe and watermelon got some fruits, but were too small.  Fall Daikon were pretty sad, and practically no fall greens germinated.

If I were judging by our produce yield alone, I'd have to say it was a pretty lousy year.  I put a lot of energy and resources into the garden, and got relatively little out of it.  I think I could have gotten more if I had known more about how to read the conditions of the plants and react to them.   I often felt, "Well these look terrible.  They shouldn't, but they do, but I don't know why," and I didn't take any action to correct the problems.   I don't have the experience.  I pick things up from books and from friends, but there's so much to learn.  In the end I think my plants were a little starved this year.  My biggest mistakes were not shredding the leaves - my main mulching material, being a little careless in my polyculture planting, and not reacting well to plants that were showing signs of stress.

However, I'm really thinking long term here, so I don't think of this year as a failure.  I added A LOT of organic matter to the soil.  And I think that organic matter will convert into a better growing medium over time.  The whole leaves seemed to linger until about August, when they suddenly seemed to be converted to worm castings overnight.  The chickens have been on the property for not even 6 months yet.  They're such hard workers, but the manure they're adding hasn't been utilized yet.  When I think about yield in a broader sense, there is a lot to account for.  We have a lot more water absorption - storage in the ground- happening.  We're attracting beneficial wildlife - earth worms, pollinators, and I assume good soil microbes.  Eggs, manure, entertainment from the chickens.  The soil is getting better.  The inputs we've put in will be paying off for years, a solid investment if you ask me.

So from last weekend up to today we did a lot of work on the property.  First we harvested the last of the daikon, some mustard greens, and a few collards.  Then we dumped a whole bunch of whole leaves from our yard on the garden in preparation for the chickens.   This is the dueling gardens concept.   This year's chicken run will be next summer's veggie garden, and this year's veggie garden is next summer's chicken run.  And they alternate every year.  The chickens scratch, eat old veggies and weed seeds, and add manure, and there aren't any nutrients being harvested by us via veggies for a year.  The idea with the whole leaves is to create deep litter to protect the soil and keep it thawed and full of insect and worm life for the chickens to enjoy.  It also provides a "carbon diaper" for absorption of the chicken manure, and endless entertainment for the chickens themselves.  Since we moved them there Saturday they are really loving it.  And we love watching them from the kitchen window - little triangle tales pointing to the sky as they scratch and peck.  My hope is that over the next year they shred the leaves and turn them into the soil and that everything shapes up so that next fall we can basically shape up the beds, throw some straw over them and they'll be really rich, fertile, and lovely to plant in the Spring of 2018.  They work all day.  Perhaps the leaves will be shredded sooner, and I can collect them and then add new leaves.  Yet another function of the hens: solar powered leaf shredders that happen to weed, till, control insects, fertilize, and produce eggs and entertainment at the same time!

In the old chicken run / new veggie garden, I lightly raked up the straw, leaves, and scraps that the chickens were working with.  I wasn't sure if I should've left this stuff down at the soil level, but I decided it might be better in the mulch, so I pulled it off and set it aside.  Then I marked were the beds were going to be (designed for a low amount of walking path space) and forked the soil a bit.  It wasn't full tilling, but just stabbing and pulling on the fork a bit.  This area was grass before the chickens arrived.  Adding a lot of kitchen scraps, compost piles, straw, along with the scratching by the chickens eventually killed the grass.  In retrospect I wish I had had more organic matter down on the ground to better protect the soil.  In old photos of the property, I see tractors and machinery were parked in the yard, so the soil was pretty compacted and I thought the loosening would help.   Curiously I find a lot of broken dishes whenever I dig in the yard.  I wonder if there was an idea behind burying them.

After that I put about an inch or two of compost from the City of Beacon Transfer Station (the dump) over the beds.  Boy this stuff was beautiful.  It was really hard to cover it with cardboard - so tempting to leave it and plant right into it. I must say that I'm pretty excited about the free compost that they have at the transfer station.  Some people in town think that it might contain weed seeds - people put all sorts of junk in the materials they bring to the dump.  But the piles are the size of houses and they are smoking/steaming hot.  Then they screen the stuff.  It's super rich, dark black fluffy stuff.  It looks better than what you buy in bags at the store.   I'm going to give it a try this year and see what happens.

To correct last year's mistake of using whole leaves for sheet mulching, well, I went ahead and shredded them this time.  Some leaves I picked up around the neighborhood had been gathered using a lawnmower and were already shredded.  For the rest, I borrowed my friend Justin's lawnmower.  The mower probably didn't do the finest job.  A leaf shredder/chipper is on the shopping list for the future.  We just can't afford one after doing the garage roof.  But I look forward to making a lot of mulch with it in the future.  Although, we'll have to see how the chickens do with the leaves this year, as I mentioned above.  Perhaps they're our little shredders and a gas guzzling machine won't be necessary after all.

So we piled 5 to 6 inches of shredded leaves over the beds, on top of the cardboard layer.  The cardboard layer was installed over the entire garden this year including the walking paths.  On top of the leaves we threw the material that we raked up from the chicken run, a couple bags of grass clippings, and then all of the compost we made on site this year.  After some rain delay, I gathered more compost from the transfer station, and added that on top of our home made compost.  I think I hauled about 3 tons of the stuff in our little Honda Fit over the past week!  Finally I topped it with straw to protect everything from the elements.   Now it will sit for the winter.   Hopefully the deep mulch will keep soil organisms warm and at work over the winter, helping to break down the material.  Some freezing and thawing will help too.

I'm pretty excited about this sheet mulch/dueling gardens work.   I think I've made some improvements to the sheet mulching.  And I plan on being more careful with my planting this year.  Probably a little more traditional planting in rows, some smaller polyculture arrangements, and hopefully a better ability to read the soil and plant health.

One thing permaculturists think about is an energy input versus output.  Eventually we want to be creating more energy (in a broad sense) than we're bringing in.  Resource use is part of that.  Eventually we want to be producing more on site than what we need ourselves, at which point we'll have a surplus to work with.  Since arriving here, there has been a lot of energy going into the property.  But I think we did an even better job this Fall with the sheet mulching effort.  Last year I bought a lot of organic matter.  This year the only thing I purchased was the straw.  Some gasoline was used to transport materials from the dump and from the neighbors.  But it's far more cost and energy efficient to do it that way, rather than buy materials from a store.   It's local and it's getting more for our tax dollars.

A lot of human muscle power and calorie energy and time were used.  Had I a truck, the guys at the dump could have dumped a load into it with the front loader.  Instead I had to shovel it all into bags and pails.  Again though, human power is a resource that is regenerative - the more you use it (carefully and reasonably) the stronger it gets, and I feel good about doing it that way.

We have to count the cost and energy of the organic chicken feed.  I believe we're saving a lot of feed by having them pasture on the old veggie garden - I rarely see them eating pellets.  We also buy a lot of food on site for us to eat right now.  We will never be able to produce 100% of our own food, and we wouldn't want to do that anyway - it would be pretty boring.  But I hope someday to be eating all of our summer and fall veggies and fruits off the property and preserving a lot of it for winter and spring.    Leftovers and kitchen scraps of the food we buy are used to feed the chickens, which they turn into fertilizer, so more is being added to the soil in that way also.  

There's much more to consider with the energy audit, this stuff is just the beginning.  But it's fun to think about and fun to aspire to a real sustainable life on the property.  All of the time, energy, and money we're putting into the property here will easily pay for itself over time .  And I really enjoy doing the work too.

I will soon be thinking a lot more about some of the perennial food plants that we want to add - fruit trees, more berries, and some perennial veggies, that will go outside of these annual gardens.  Also I have what I think if might be a great greenhouse idea that is incorporated into the dueling gardens rotation.  More on that later.  Here are some photos:

The girls on the old veggie garden: 

This is the free compost from the dump that went under the cardboard layer.  
So hard to cover up this pretty black stuff!  

 The cardboard layer:

Shredded leaves, grass clippings, and some unfinished compost went on next.

On top of that went the compost we made on site.  Not bad stuff.

More screened compost from the dump.  So black and pretty.  

The beds are are all 3 feet wide with paths about 18" wide.  
I added wood chips from the dump in the paths.  It looks pretty.  

Today I topped it all with straw.  

The girls this morning.  They blend in very well with the leaf litter.  

Thanks for reading.  I will share some more maps I've made soon.  Have a good day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Design Course and Roof Work

Hello.  Apologies for the long lapse in posts.  My only excuses are that I've been busy and I am trying to minimize my screen time.   But there is a lot of news and much to share.   

First, I've begun a Permaculture Design Certificate Course at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappingers Falls, NY.  This course is unique in that it meets for two days every other month over a 14 month period, whereas most courses meet everyday for two weeks at that’s it.   It’s taught by Delvin Solkinson.  Delvin has studied with most of the permaculture elders and has combined their teachings into his own unique version of permaculture.  We had our first meeting in October and it was fantastic.   There was a lot of introductory course logistical stuff, but we did start getting into some content, and we took a field trip to Dina Falconi's site in Accord, NY.  Her place was super inspiring.  Check out her book Foraging and Feasting.   It's deep.   It was nice to get to know the other classmates.   It's a great group and I think we're really going to learn a lot together.   This course will certify me as a permaculture designer and allow me to use the permaculture name in what I do.   I see is as the opening of a door.  Once completed there are many opportunities to continue if I want to.  My first objective however is to get some knowledge and experience and "get my house in order", meaning to get the design of our property going.   

Second, October was a bit nuts with the rebuilding the roof of our garage.  It's a great big garage that was the previous owners workshop.   We want to build it into a piano teaching and practicing studio.   But you could literally see through the roof in spots and it leaked terribly.   It was obvious when we bought the place in July 2015 that this roof wasn't going to last much longer.  But we only now felt like we could afford to fix it.  We had some framers tear off the old roof, replace the rafters and ridge pole, put plywood decking on, put a couple skylights in, and put felt paper on.  Then my brother Jake and I with the help of our wife's and my friend Justin put sheet metal roofing on ourselves.   It was a huge job.  Jake and Liz were visiting from MN during Columbus weekend, and that's when we got most of the work done.   The skylights were not in yet though - we had to wait a couple weeks for them, so we finished the roofing with just Akiko and I with a little help from Akiko's sister's boyfriend Erik and his brother Zachary.  There were many helping hands which we were grateful for.   

After getting the roof finished, I immediately went to work repairing the broken windows, a condition that our home insurance company required before including the garage on our policy.   I definitely wanted to get that new roof covered as soon as possible.   The garage has these really awesome factory-like windows with iron or steel grids.  There were a dozen broken panes that I replaced.  I cut glass to the appropriate sizes and installed the using a special putty.   It's called window glazing.  The job would be quite fun if the putty was easier to work with.   It's not as sticky as you'd like it to be.  After that I reconfigured the gutters and rain water collection to complete the first phase of the garage to studio project.  It took a lot of resources to do, but now we can take our time, design the building and slowly build it into our piano studio.   

Permaculture is not just gardening, although I will primarily be blogging about gardening.  “People Care” is one of the ethics of permaculture and the studio in the garage is an important part of us doing what we do here.  We hope to enrich the lives of many students in that space, while providing ourselves with a modest income.  Also, the choice of metal roofing fits into the “Earth Care” ethic.  It is good for reducing cooling needs in the summer as the metal reflects away a lot of the heat.  And it lasts longer than shingles so less resources will be needed in the future.   

Over the past weekend, we did some serious gardening work that I think merits a separate post, so I'll be sharing it with you soon.  

I’d like to take a moment to thank some friends for some needed encouragement.  One of my student’s parents, Ellen, found this blog and sent me a nice email of encouragement.  She said that I seem to be a perpetual learner.  I would agree with that.  Thanks, Ellen.  Also I spent Thanksgiving with some friends and one of them, Lionella, a friend from Brooklyn, mentioned that she and her husband Carlo have discussed how I become dedicated to various disciplines and become good at them.  She was referencing my bread baking, among other things.  Thanks for mentioning that, Lio.  

The encouragement is appreciated.  I have a very good life with a lot of privileges that I try not to take for granted.  It’s true that I like to study and I like to go very in depth with things.  My wife says I get obsessed, and I can’t really argue with her on that.  It’s true and I know my obsessions get annoying to friends sometime.  I like being a learner and I like doing things hands on.  I started with playing the piano.  That was the most serious I’ve ever studied anything, and it’s really the backbone of my life.  All the other disciplines I’ve studied really aim to serve that, and it will probably remain that way until we have kids.  I studied yoga seriously for many years, the idea being that a healthy body and mind would make my piano playing and composing better.  The same goes for food and macrobiotic study, which I also went quite in depth with.  Better health makes for more productivity and more enjoyment out of life.  Bread baking grew out of that.  And permaculture studies fit right into everything too.  Now having acquired some land - even if it’s just a suburban lot - I’ve been given the opportunity to grow some of my own food, and that food will be the highest quality of anything I can get.  I can do this while making the lot a better habitat for all of life from the soil microbes to our neighbors.  And that all feeds into having a rich, happy, healthy life that serves my personal artistic adventures, while striving to make the community around me a better place.  A permaculture aim is to interact with the earth so that your needs as a human are met, while improving the ecosystem instead of depleting it - beyond sustainability to regeneration.  There’s an interesting parallel there.  

Learning to play jazz piano on a high level takes an incredible amount of time and energy.  It’s a lifelong discipline.  I spent years doing nothing but practicing piano, listening, living, breathing jazz.  For me there was no other way of going about it.  It feels that with the study of the other disciplines that I mentioned above, my dedication to music has waned a bit.  Some of my friends have continued to be directly dedicated to their craft.  My dedication has been somewhat indirect over the last several years.  However all of the other disciplines give me something to write music about.  They enrich my life and the artistic journey.  For me art is better when it’s informed by other disciplines.  And I have continued to strive for things as a musician.  My latest home project is called 24 Standards - please check it out.  But when I spend several hours a day in the yard instead of at the piano like I used to, I sometimes question my direction.  So some encouragement, like what Ellen and Lio shared, is appreciated.  I’ll keep moving forward in a multitude of ways….  

Some garage photos:


Daylight showing through.  


Didn't sleep very well that night:

It takes a village:


Windows fixed.  

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, July 18, 2016


Yesterday I attended a permaculture gardening workshop at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappingers Falls, NY.  It was facilitated by Delvin Solkinson and Grace.  It was an inspiring afternoon.  While I was familiar with many things that were discussed, it was helpful to hear it from another inspired perspective.  And it was great to connect with like-minded people.

One thing we've talked about is mapping.  I've done some mapping already, but there is much more to do.  When we bought the house almost a year ago now, we had to get a property survey done.  It was annoying to have to pay for it at the time, but it's actually really nice to have these maps now!  I'm using them for my designing ideas, first in designing our "dueling gardens" chicken coop location idea, as you may have seen in my previous post.

Although I'm trying to be patient and do more observing during this first year, I have added some elements.  (Hey, we will have been year hear in just nine days!)  So I needed to create an upgraded map of the design elements.  I included structural elements, some water sources (rain barrels, and outdoor spigots), some trees and shrubs, and perennials.  I want this map to serve as a base map that I can use for mapping other things.

Next I will do some sector mapping.   Sectors are essential directional influence maps.  So for example, creating a sun sector map by calculating sunrise and sunset locations in all seasons.  Or mapping prevailing wind patterns.  I've been observing wind, but to be honest, I have no clue where the hell the wind usually comes from here.  It seems to be everywhere.  Maybe it has to do with our proximity to Mount Beacon.  I'll be sure to share the sector maps with you soon.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wildlife and Biodiversity.

I am out doing chores this morning and happened upon some nice wildlife, including a couple critters I haven't seen here before. I take it as a good sign, and I hope to see more new friends in the future.  

A little toad.  I pretty sure that chicken wanted to eat him.  But I set the toad down a little ways from the fence.  I'll let him choose his own fate.

The hibiscus started flowering, and it's loaded with buds.  

Moments later I saw this honeybee leaving a hibiscus flower.   He was covered in pollen!  So much so that flying seemed a challenge.  Pollen butt.  Nice to see!

We used to call these lady bugs.  Then they told us in school that they're really called Ladybird Beetles.  But now I see they're called Asian Lady Beetles.  Maybe it's here because my wife is an Asian lady.  I think they're good in the garden.  They eat aphids.  Back in Brooklyn I actually bought a box of them to combat aphids.  I spread them out over and around the infested plants.  But apparently they preferred some other kind of lunch because they all left within minutes.  

Hooray for biodiversity.  Hopefully it's a sign that some of my efforts are creating good soil. The food chain starts in the soil with microbes.  A diverse population of microbes means more diversity up the food chain.  

An interesting parallel to note is the decrease of microbes in the soil that commercial commodity monoculture crops are grown in, with a decrease in diversity of our culture.  The soil in those monocultures is essentially dead.  It's just there to hold plants in place while the farmers feed it chemicals. These huge crops of corn and soy are used as building blocks for junk food, fast food, chain restaurant food.  It's why you get the same exact meal at any TGI Fridays across the country.  (How sad and kind of disgusting, right?)

Could it be that a population fed from monocultures starts to become a monoculture itself?  Go to nearly any city in the USA and you know what you're going to find there: A Walmart, a Home Depot, a Starbucks, and all the same chain and fast food restaurants.  

BUT, happily it does seem to be changing for the better.  There is a really strong artisan movement building, don't you think?  People making highly specialized food, drinks, and goods right here in America.  You can find that stuff.  You pay a little more for it.  But the quality and craftsmanship is awesome.  Perhaps it's not just a coincidence that the artisan movement is happening along side the rise of organic, small-scale, microbe-friendly food production.  That notion excites me.  

I've been reading a book called Will Bonsall's Guide to Radical Self-Sustaining Gardening.   It's pretty over my head honestly.  But through seed saving, Mr. Bonsall is preserving, developing, growing, and eating al sorts of rare varieties of foods - veggies, fruits, and grains.  It's really amazing to me to think about the healthy biodiversity he must be creating in himself and his family.  He's got all these unique varieties and strains of foods developed right there in the biome of his property.  This food is intimately connected to his immediate environment.  When he and his family eat it, they are themselves becoming biologically intimate with nature around them.  Plus they've got so many varieties that you and I will never find at a store of even at farmers markets.  They've gotta be the strongest people in the country!  He's obviously on a serious mission, going way beyond most peoples' capabilities, but gardening and seed saving were things that nearly everyone did at one time.  That, and more active lifestyles, among other things, are factors that I believe made our ancestors stronger, happier, more disease resistant.  Doesn't it kind of seem like we're all a bunch of weak complaining pussies these days?  I think we gotta get our soil diversity up - with our own hands.  Then grow some food in that soil - with our own hands.   Then cook it - with our own (dirty) hands.  Then eat it.   

Here's to diversity!  

Ooo!  I just saw one of those black and yellow butterflies checking out the cone flowers.  A Tiger Swallowtail maybe? Nice.