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FOOD FOREST & COMPANION PLANTING IN BROOKSVILLE, FLORIDA

Camille and I (Riley) spent the first week of April (2016) volunteering at Circle T Farms in Brooksville, Florida–a newly forming 10 acre Permaculture Farm which (among other features) will include a large market garden, education center, and Forest Garden. Since Circle T is still in its initial phases of design/implementation, we actually got to help plant some of the first fruit trees and companion plants in the Forest Garden; this was our main project and a wonderful learning opportunity.  –And we were lucky enough to work along side, and pick the brain of professional Permaculture designer Koreen Brennan.

KoreenWe actually took one of Koreen’s Permaculture design courses back in 2014, and have been following her work ever since.  When we heard she was looking for volunteers at Circle T, we jumped at the opportunity, and are so glad we did.  In addition to learning more about the local flora and fauna, we got to play in the dirt and gain hands-on experience in creating a Food Forest from the ground up (literally) 🙂

(Circle T is home to endangered, protected, and keystone species such as the Burrowing Owl, Fox Squirrel, and Gopher Tortoise, as well as an old growth Slash Pine forest peppered with (edible) Sumac, Wax Myrtle, Dew Berry, Blackberry, and Native Milk Weed)

Because the site is extremely sandy, with hot, humid summers, Koreen is taking care to select exceptionally hardy fruit trees, including:  Pineapple Guava, Mulberry, kumquat, Tangelo, avocado, fig, loquat, blackberry, bluberry, and low-chill peaches (with more to come).

ForestTreeTo plant each tree we first selected the best location (taking into consideration sun and/or shade requirements) and dug a hole twice as wide, and slightly less deep than the height of the root ball.  We then filled the hole with water and let it drain twice. Once all the water had drained from the hole, we threw in a few cups of compost.  Next, we removed the tree from its pot, used our hands to carefully loosen the roots (they were tightly bound from being in the pot) and then sprinkled the roots with MYCO GROW–a soluble blend of mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria that will form a symbotic relationship with the tree–helping to ward off disease while delivering otherwise unavailable sources of water & nutrience to the tree.

After applying the MYCO GROW, we placed the tree in the hole and replaced the dirt we had removed when digging–making sure to pack the dirt tightly around the roots so as to avoid leaving pockets of air (which can be damaging to the roots).  Once the tree was firmly planted, we spread a ring of mulch around it–taking care to leave at least a six inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch (the trunk needs air, and excess moisture can cause rot and make the tree susceptible to disease).

MulchRingThe mulch will serve many functions, including: retaining moisture, suppressing weeds, increasing organic matter in the soil, and regulating soil temperatures.  For maximum effect we laid the mulch 18 inches deep around each tree.  The exception to this was citrus trees, which are susceptible to root rot; we laid the mulch only 3 inches deep around them.

We then watered each tree with compost tea (to boost beneficial microbes), applied liberal amounts of composted cow manure (within the mulch ring), and then topped the manure with half a cup of Azomite powder (for organic trace minerals).

Once the trees were planted and mulched we got to  create some guilds and do some companion planting.  Companion planting  is a form of polyculture which helps control pests, increases pollination and crop production, and also provides habitat for beneficial creatures. (Guilds are just specific groups of companion plants).

To protect and promote the health of the fruit trees, we planted various aromatic herbs and flowers around them.  Rather than planting them in the ground, we actually planted them in the mulch rings.  To do this, we created pockets  in the mulch (the size of the plant;s root ball), filled the pockets with composted cow manure, and planted the flowers and herbs directly in the manure.

MulchHerbSpecific flowers and herbs we planted include:  Rosemary, Cuban Oregano, Lilies, Society Garlic, Spider Wart, Marigolds, Ginger,  Perennial Basil, Comfrey, and Sunshine Mimosa.-

Plants with bulbs (such as lilies and garlic) will help repel burrowing animals, like gophers; comfrey is a dynamic accumulator-which can be “chopped and dropped” to add nutrience to the soil and feed the trees and other plants; sunshine mimosa is a nitrogen fixer and a living mulch; the flowers and herbs will attract pollinators and ward off insect pests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SOIL EROSION

Today at Blue Ridge Napping Institute, Camille, our friend Jess, and I (Riley) helped Tom open the flood gates on his pond in order to flush out two years worth of sediment.

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Before we opened the gates, the pond’s dam was filled to the brim with sand, and the water was only a few inches deep.  I was shocked to learn that just two years ago, the pond had a depth of six feet.

So what happened?  —Erosion happened.

Flood3Although some degree of stream and bank erosion is normal, Tom’s dam has no doubt sped up and even worsened the otherwise natural phenomenon (Read more about how dams increase erosion here).

As we struggled to open the flood gates, I began thinking about all the other short-sighted and unsustainable human activities that have so dramatically increased the erosion of Earth’s topsoil.

Deforestation; the overgrazing of livestock; continuously tilling and monocropping farmland.  –Not only are these myopic and irresponsible practices eroding topsoil at break-neck speed, but this (unnecessary and unnatural) erosion is resulting in the desertification of our land and the pollution of our waterways.

(Ever hear of the Dust Bowl?)

According to Volkert Engelsman, an activist with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (quoted in Scientific American), “We are losing 30 soccer fields of soil every minute, mostly due to intensive farming,”

This is astonishing considering (according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service)  most soil scientists agree that it takes at least 100 years, and in some places up to 500 years (depending on climate, vegetation, and other factors) for Nature to build just one inch of topsoil.

So how do we stop this madness? –What can we do to prevent and /or curb the effects of erosion?  Here are a few ideas:

Can you think of other ways we can prevent erosion?  –If so, please share your ideas in the comment section below.

 

 

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Placemaking in Progress: Gulfport Community Garden

In January, 2014 Camille and I (Riley) launched our first joint Placemaking project:   Redesigning and reviving Gulfport Florida’s Community Garden.

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January, 2014:  Gulfport Community Garden “BEFORE” 

The first step of the project was an announcement in the Gulfport Gabber inviting community members to gather and discuss the potentials of a community garden.

Approximately 15 people attended the meeting (held January 18, 2014)–and several expressed an interest in creating a space that would foster community, and set Gulfport on a path toward greater food security and self sufficiency.

georgeAfter this initial meeting, the group began meeting weekly to generate a list of specific goals, and get clear on a vision for the garden.  As a result of this work, Camille and I were awarded two full scholarships to a Permaculture course taught by Koreen Brennan of Grow Permaculture.

During the 6 week course (which began March 2014), Camille and I teamed up with fellow students Sara Perszyk & Lisa Fletcher to create a design and site map for the garden (based on the vision and list of goals agreed upon by the members of the community garden).

Upon completing the course, we brought the final design back to the other garden members, and since that time everyone has worked together to make our collective vision a reality.

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During this time, a garden President,  a Secretary, and a Treasurer have been elected; decisions have been made through consensus democracy; work loads and harvests have been equally shared; and funds to cover expenses (such as the monthly water bill) have been obtained through various fundraising projects.

To date, approximately two-thirds of the original design has been implemented, including a small forest garden, community gathering space, and several rows of annual vegetables. –The garden grows as the garden crew grows. In this way, the project does not become too big too quickly, and remains sustainable.  Continuing at the current rate, the design should be completed within another year.

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January, 2016:  Gulfport Community Garden (Forest Garden)

You can keep up with the progress of this placemaking project by visiting the garden’s blog.  And if you’d like to make a donation to the cause, you can do so via the garden’s GoFundMe page.

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January, 2016:  Gulfport Community Garden (annual vegetable plots)

(Please note that although Camille and I were responsible for launching this placemaking project, the success and progress of the garden is the result of the dedication and hard work of ALL the garden’s members and volunteers, as well as those who have made donations and shown their support.)

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January, 2016:  The Gecko Gardeners