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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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SPRING PLANTINGS: A NORTH CAROLINA VEGETABLE GARDEN

Tom2Camille and I (Riley) spent the first two weeks of March (2016) working at Blue Ridge Napping Institute in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.  Our main task was to help (owner) Tom direct seed and transplant hardy and semi-hardy vegetables into his Spring Garden.

First we started (from seed) several flats of onions, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, parsley and bell peppers which will be kept indoors under grow lights for several weeks.  We then transplanted young kale, lettuce, and broccoli plants directly into the garden, and also direct seeded several rows of carrots and snow peas, as well as 30 pounds of seed potatoes.

Tom03In addition to these plantings, we cut several sweet potatoes in half and partially submerged each half into a glass of water. Within a few weeks the potatoes should be covered in green shoots known as slips (this is where new sweet potatoes come from)

Tom will then remove the slips from the sweet potatoes and submerge the bottom half of the stems in a jar of water until they begin to sprout roots.  Once the slips have roots they can be planted in the garden, and come Fall, Tom should nave a nice sweet potato harvest.

Tom4Though planting the veggie garden was our main task, we also cared for Tom’s chickens (feeding , watering, and collecting eggs), and at the end of our stay helped to relocate their pen.

Every few months Tom moves the chickens to a different section of the garden (whatever area he is letting rest at that time).  –By doing this the chickens have a constant supply of fresh weeds and grubs, and the garden soil gets aerated and fertilized as the chickens scratch up the ground and make Nitrogen rich deposits  of manure.

Next to to the chickens and veggie garden, Tom  has a small fruit orchard where he practices companion planting as a means of pest management, which you can read more about here..

viewThe property also has a beautiful stream snaking though it, as well as a secluded swimming hole and some pretty spectacular views which we were able to enjoy in our down time. –Tom’s dogs, Stella and Little Dog, are sweet, trusty companions; they rarely left our side.  His cat Jasper is quite the character, and a great cuddler

StellaThough I just about always enjoy being outdoors in the fresh air–playing in the dirt and learning something new, I would NOT recommend this site to others looking to do a WorkAway or WWOOF work exchange (nor would I return).   I will not go into specific details as to why, but I will be happy to provide more information via private email correspondence.  

I will say that this site is especially NOT recommended for young women traveling alone ( or even with a partner).

 

 

 

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Placemaking 2015: Gulfport Community Garden

Mother Mana’s 2014 New Year’s Resolution was to help transform an empty, unused city lot in Gulfport, Florida into a beautiful, abundant space. –A space for growing food, kinship, culture, and greater self-sufficiency.

2014 has officially come and gone, and we are happy to report that our (collective) envisioned transformation of that vacant city lot is well underway; and the friendships and connections that have come about as a result of this project are greater and more rewarding than we could have ever imagined.

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The garden”Before”

 Here’s what took place over the last year:

 January 2014, we placed an ad in the Gulfport Gabber inviting community members to gather and discuss the potentials of a community garden.

Several people attended the meeting and expressed an interest in creating a space that would foster community, and set Gulfport and South St. Pete 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, Mother Mana was awarded two full scholarships to a  permaculture course taught by Koreen Brennan of Grow Permaculture.

During the 6 week course (which began March 2014), Mother Mana 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).

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

We began the first physical transformations of the space in September 2014, hosting a “work party” where community members came together to sheet mulch the property.  In October we began planting a small food forest in the Northwest corner of the property.

foodforest          muclh5

A few months later, Nick from MicroUrban Farms helped us ring in the new year by installing the garden’s first raised bed. (It’s 4 ft. wide, 8 ft. long, 18 inches deeps, and made of untreated, Farmed Cypress).    And January 17, 2015, garden members participated in Gulfport’s MLK Day of Service:

 sale    nick

Volunteers came together to mulch the garden, and also hosted a rummage sale which raised over $1,000 to be put toward monthly water bills, the growing of food, and education initiatives.. –Gulfport Grind generously donated coffee for the event, and Larson & Son Lanscape delivered a load of topsoil for our bed.

turnips      babies

January 25th we reaped our first turnip harvest from the garden’s small food forest, and also  transplanted starts of beans, peas, cauliflower, and broccoli into the raised bed.  And February 1st we started construction on the tool shed.  What a year!

GardenShyanne3 garden

(Please note that although Mother Mana was 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 support for this project. )

  • To read in-depth blog entries chronicling the progress of the Gulfport Community Garden from 2014 to 2016, follow this link.

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