Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Planning for the Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer is here!

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an exotic pest originating from Asia.  This insect is not problematic there, where insect disease, natural predators and ash tree resistance keep populations and damage down.  When they arrived in Michigan in 2002, probably in a wooden crate, pallet or shipping container, they found none of these obstacles and began rapidly spreading across the Midwest.

Front ash tree last October
Our two most mature trees on our lot are ash, like so many in the landscapes surrounding metro areas of the Midwest.  Ash and maples.  When diversity is low, pests and diseases can spread very quickly.  Its very easy to find a preferred food source when you have nearly a 50/50 chance that the next tree is it.  Plus, without the natural control systems in place, exotic pests can wreak havoc on the landscape.

The ash borer kills a tree from the feeding of the larvae.  They feed on the soft living tissue between the bark and the wood, creating an "S" or zig-zag shaped path.  These feeding channels disrupt the flow of water and nutrients up and down the tree.  Generally the top of a tree is killed first and the borers move down the trunk.  After pupating, adults emerge through a distinctive D-shaped hole.

There are chemical treatment options through trunk or soil injections, soil drenches or trunk sprays.  These insecticides are generally systemic, meaning they are transferred to the entire tree including every tissue.  This makes for a highly defended tree but can also have some unwanted side effects.  Beneficial insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps can be killed by preying on poisoned insects.  Flowers near treated ash trees can incorporate insecticides from the soil harming honeybees and other pollinators, and treated ash tree pollen can drift also harming them if exposed.  Since the EAB can only fly a short distance, the Iowa DNR suggests not treating trees unless you are within 15 miles of an infestation.

Well, you and I are most likely in one of these areas.  If not now, you soon will be.  I did notice a few holes in one of our ash trunks, but it did not look like an EAB hole and I have noticed no other symptoms.  So this is my plan for our trees and yard.  I am not an advocate for chemical treatment.  There are some situations where I admit they are probably a good idea, but we really try to limit them especially in our home and yard.  We also have many plants we provide for pollinators and need pollinators for.  In additon, with treatments costing $20-$200 per year, it is not an expense we are willing to make for the lifetime of the trees.  You will have to decide the value of your trees and the cost of saving them.

I am also not going to proactively cut them down.  This was done with the American Chestnut in the early 1900's to fight the Chestnut Blight  (another exotic disease) and hope for native genetic resistance was lost with each tree cut down.  I highly doubt the two trees we have will have resistance, but if I cut them down now, it would be like throwing away a lottery ticket before the drawing.  When they get sick I will remove them.  They should make pretty good mushroom growing logs!  If they don't get sick, the genetics will be a valuable breeding resource for resistant ash trees in the future.

In the most likely case they will die, so I am planning and planting their replacements.  As the saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now."  And we are getting late in the spring for tree planting, especially bare root trees, but I think we do have a little time yet for good healthy transplanting yet.  Temperatures aren't too warm and we're getting adequate rainfall.  I can get really nice oak seedlings nearby, that will be one of the replacements.  I also over wintered a couple walnuts in my small nursery bed.  One was growing quite well so I transplanted it tonight.


In the ground at its new address
Several layers of newspaper to prevent weeds
Watered in and Mulched
So, there's my Emerald Ash Borer contingency plan.  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.  Hopefully the new trees, although slower growing, will have some decent growth by the time the old ash trees need to come down.  If not, the increased sunlight won't be a bad thing for the new trees either.

I hope this has helped you think through your plans, if you have one (or some) of the
60+ million ash trees in Iowa.  If you would like more information about the Emerald Ash Borer, see the ISU Extension & Outreach website or one of their seminars.  Also more information is available at Iowa Tree Pests by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Big shoes to fill  ...at least it looks like it at this point!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day Long Weekend

I hope everyone got to enjoy some time outside Saturday, looks like mostly rain today, but hopefully we'll have some sunshine on Memorial Day. 
 
I got one part of a project finished up today and the rain is going to start the seed perfectly.  Typically I don't install grass, but in this backyard that had gotten a bit out of control, I made an exception.  Previously owned by a Master Gardener, the current homeowner wanted a simpler landscape, including a vegetable garden and a bit more lawn.
 
                       

On Memorial Day we'll take time to remember those we have lost in our countries service and all of those who have gone before us.  Maybe you'll attend a community remembrance service (Metro, North Central, Quad Cities), plant a memorial tree, visit a cemetery or just quietly reflect on the memories of time spent with loved ones no longer with us.


In addition, lots of grills will be barbequing delicious meals at family or friendly gatherings.  Many campgrounds will be filled as people enjoy a long weekend and the unofficial start of summer.  If you are camping, I encourage you to find a trail, or take the unbeaten path, and enjoy some wildflowers and other magic of the woods.
 
 
 
 


Have a great week!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Abundance of Activity! FAO Community Orchard, Habitat ReStore & National Bike Month

Today my daughter and I joined the Forest Avenue Outreach Community Orchard planting event.  Ralph Chiodo and his family are bringing sustainable, nutritious food to one of Des Moines' "Food Deserts."  Starting after the Chiodo's moved back into the city a few years ago, Forest Avenue Outreach began planting the seeds of Hope, Faith, and Love with a community garden and has grown to include the beginnings of a community orchard, bee hives, educational programming and reaching out to help with basic needs.



You can support their work by volunteering, through prayer, and they could use:
  1. Plant Starts (tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, eggplants, flowers, herbs, etc...)
  2. Seeds. We can always use seed to use, distribute, and/or help to enlarge our Community Seed Library.
  3. Gas cards - we use lots of power equipment that requires lots of fuel....
  4. Picnic tables
  5. Charcoal grills
  6. Electric water pump and solar panels. We have installed a large rainbarrel, but can't run the irrigation off it without a pump.
  7. Compost - we need a load of compost from Des Moines Metro Waste at both gardens and the orchard. Each load is 6+ cubic yards (approx 7 tons) and cost around $75 for the compost & about $100 to haul it.
  8. Propane Bottles - we need the propane to fuel the gas cook top for the cooking classes.
  9. We always need paper plates & bowls, napkins, plastic utensils, plastic cups, and disposable tablecloths for all our various events.
  10. Water sponsorship - we are still having to use a hydrant meter from Des Moines Water Works - approx $25 - $50 a month, depending on rainfall.
Feel free to contact Ralph, through their website www.forestaveoutreach.com or Facebook, with any questions.


The Des Moines Habitat for Humanity ReStore donated 100% of its proceeds on Friday to its branch there for disaster relief.  Although it's too late for your purchases to benefit earthquake victims in Nepal, the ReStore is a great place to buy materials for your next project.  A wide variety of materials are donated by contractors, manufacturers, retailers, and homeowners and can be found at very reasonable prices.  Thousands of tons of materials are diverted from the landfill, and the proceeds are used to further their mission of providing homes and hope to members of the community.  These bricks, purchased at the ReStore, made great borders for this vegetable garden installed earlier this Spring.

May is Bike Month.  May is a great month to tune up your bike (or consider investing in one) and get outside for a ride on the road or a trail.  Cycling is an excellent aerobic exercise that can be enjoyed by the entire family.  Biking reduces pollution and traffic congestion; it also helps you burn calories and save money.

Foggy Trail
Have you ever considered bicycling to work?  The Des Moines Bicycle Collective organizes Central Iowa Bike Month and the Bike Month Commuter Challenge.  This friendly competition pits local businesses and other organizations against each other to see who can rack up the highest percentage of commutes by bike.

"When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking." ~ Arthur Conan Doyle


Get out there and enjoy this time of year!  Plant your garden, ride your bike and lend a hand!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!


I hope every one has had a great weekend.  The weather was great for growing things, enough rain for moisture and enough sunshine for our little photosynthesis factories to kick in.

Native Woodland Wildflower Bed
I hope all you have had a great Mother's Day too - in your honor and/or getting to celebrate with your mothers, or by remembering the good times spent with her.  I'm very thankful for everything my mom has done for me, from teaching me enough household skills to get by when I left the nest to loving me when I was less than lovable.

Especially pertinent to my blog is the love of nature and growing things that I picked up from her (and dad too) in our vegetable garden, woodland wildflower beds, and hunting morels growing up.  Here is one of the hillside terraced beds we built, and they have brought in more species since.  The diversity of songbirds they attract to their feeders, the aerial displays by hummingbirds and the numbers of wood ducks raised in nesting boxes around the yard are amazing!

I got a chance to walk and look around the backyard of our "homestead" tonight, after supper but before our family bike ride, and grabbed a video of this singing goldfinch.  He was happy for the sunny evening before the next rain showers.
 

video

I also grabbed a few photos of herbs in flower.  They provide fresh flavor to many dishes, a variety of health benefits, as well as provide nectar for pollinators.
 
Sage
Thyme













Horseradish
Chives













I also peeked in my rain barrel to check it out.  I had tweaked the "first flush" earlier this year but it was losing too much water, so I readjusted the hole sizing last week.  We now have a nice supply of rainwater stored to use in case we have a dry stretch, and the overflow system is still working great to move the excess to our peach and cherry tree guilds.


video


I also have to give a shout out to the mother of my children!  She puts up with a lot of my crazy ideas, has a few of her own, and when we get a crazy idea together we are going places!!!  I love the way she teaches our kids, encourages me in my parenting skills and loves them all to pieces!  Thank you for all you do!

Happy Mother's Day!  Enjoy your week!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Happy International Permaculture Day!

Happy International Permaculture Day!

 

The theme of this year's International Permaculture Day is "In Support of Soils!"

We have gone over some aspects of caring for and creating soil in our landscapes; 2015 Year of the Soils, building Compost Bins and making Compost.  But many of you might be thinking...

What exactly is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a Design Science, based on Ethics and Observation, that strives to integrate Systems that provide for every Human need, in a way that benefits the Environment.


The term Permaculture (Permanent + Agriculture, later Permanent + Culture) was invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian biologist/ecologist, researcher and author and his student David Holmgren as they wrote Permaculture One and later Permaculture, A Designers' Manual.  I'm sure they were influenced by these previous works, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith, Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution and P.A. Yeomans' Water for Every Farm and his observation based keyline design.

 

The primary directive of Permaculture is this:
The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for own existence and that of our children. - Bill Mollison

There is something very basic to our human existence, a need of taking responsibility for ourselves, and a longing to provide for our future generations.  What more is there, than taking care of one's self, our families and our posterity?  As permaculturalists, we realize that these are all interrelated, that each need fulfilled comes from somewhere else that needs an accounting.  Did my interaction provide a benefit or a detriment to my ecosystem.  This leads into the three ethics.

The Three Ethics


Care for the Earth          Care for People          Return of Surplus

The ethics are the driving principles behind the Permaculture movement.  Care for the Earth and all life is the first principle, because without a healthy planet, humans cannot flourish. The next is care for people, providing access to resources necessary for their existence.  Finally, return of surplus to the previous two.  Surplus can be an abundance of food crops or materials to share with others, but also waste products that need to be reused or recycled.  This can be selling your extra produce to purchase needed items for you operation, or maybe vegetable scraps that can be used to feed chickens.

12 Design Principles

These design principles are to be used when planning to make the most use of smaller changes, stack functions from and across different sectors, and to take into account all of the energy inputs and outputs. 

Here is how David Holmgren presented the design principles in in his Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability:
  1. Observe and interact: By taking time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
  2. Catch and store energy: By developing systems that collect resources at peak abundance, we can use them in times of need.
  3. Obtain a yield: Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services: Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behavior and dependence on non-renewable resources.
  6. Produce no waste: By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
  7. Design from patterns to details: By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate: By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
  9. Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.
  10. Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change: We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.

So what does Abundant Design have to do with Permaculture? 

I am nearing completion of my Permaculture Designers Certificate Course through PermaEthos Farm, of which I am also a Founding Member.  I will leave you with a quote from one of the adjunct instructors.

"What we can do with Permaculture is show you how you can better provide the highest quality food and care for yourselves and your children.  We can show you how to do this in a way that will never do any harm to your land or your neighbors land, in fact the land will become more fertile year after year.  The materials and techniques we use will never do anything to harm people, pets or livestock; in fact by eliminating toxic food and replacing it with food better than anything you can buy, your family can become healthier year after year. The best part is our systems generate surpluses, in abundance, that can continually be reinvested so that you can always provide top quality food to your family and continuously improve the natural systems around you.  This is something that actually matters, it applies directly to you, and those you care about.  It is something we can help you do now with no political actions required or massive shifts in your lifestyle; just a better way to live through a few gentle shifts we can help you accomplish over a single season or two." - Jack Spirko