Share Your Inspired Gardens!

By Sustainable Solano

We know that many of you attend our demonstration garden tours, hands-on workshops, talks and classes with your own gardens in mind. Maybe you’re considering converting your lawn into something waterwise. Maybe it’s learning about groups of plants that work together to support each other. Maybe it’s the desire to grow food for your family and your community.

Often, we hear anecdotally about what inspired people to take action, from downspouts routed to swales to laying lots and lots of mulch. Now, we want to share your inspired gardens so your projects can inspire others! We’ve launched a new Inspired Gardens section on our Solano Sustainable Backyards page, starting with Colette and Daniel’s “Der Biergarten.” Sustainable Solano’s Land & Water Caretakers class worked with Colette and Daniel on their class design project, giving us a chance to get to know them and talk about their desires for the property. We wanted to share the beautiful transformation Colette and Daniel made to their garden that brings in various sustainable practices. You can find more on their garden here.

Do you have an Inspired Garden to share that reflects some of what you’ve learned? Tell us about it! Please submit:  Your first name, location, what inspired you, what action you took and 1-3 photos to info@sustainablesolano.org

Your inspired garden entry will be posted on our website to inspire others. If you live in Solano County or nearby counties, then you will be entered in an upcoming monthly drawing to receive a gift card from a local nursery of your choice:

  • Lemuria
  • Mid City
  • Morningsun Herb Farm
  • Grow a Pear

The winner will be announced each month during our online classes. Entries will remain in the monthly drawing and removed only once they win. Let us know how you’ve moved from inspiration to action!

The Power of Cultivating Vital Life Skills

By Nicole Newell, Sustainable Landscaping Program Manager

As the Sustainable Solano team was preparing for some time off in July to renew and recharge, we had the perfect opportunity for a reminder on taking care of ourselves. On July 13, Anne Freiwald gave a presentation on how to restore the resource of self by cultivating vital life skills. Anne is a passionate personal health and permaculture educator and holds a master’s degree in public health.

These vital life skills are familiar, but what was intriguing was how Anne provided examples of parallels relating to nature and our bodies. One example is how a garden requires mulch to build organic matter in the soil, and our body requires fiber for a healthy gut. She also gave specific techniques on how to calm our systems during stressful situations with our breath. Prior to her presentation, I thought of these skills as an exhausting never-ending to-do list. Shifting to thinking about these areas as skills felt empowering because it provides power in our choice. At times, this world can be overwhelming, but we do have the power to choose to put our energy in strengthening our systems.

View and print your own copy of Anne’s Vital Life Skills Mandala here.

Here are a few highlights from the talk:

Breath
Where do you breathe? Shallow in your chest? Or deep diaphragm breaths? Breathing slowly helps us respond with a calm system during stressful moments. So often during the day it is easy to get lost in the many tasks and to forget to pay attention to breath. When feeling stressed, just take a few minutes to get into the moment by
• Taking 5 deep diaphragm breaths
• Inhale to the count of 5 seconds
• Exhale to the count of 10 seconds

This technique helps to slow our systems down so we can move through this life in a peaceful state of mind.

Sleep
How is your sleep? Do you turn off all devices two hours before bedtime? Turning off devices two hours before bedtime drastically helps with getting a good night’s sleep, we all know this. Nevertheless, it is difficult to break the habit of zoning out: playing games on the phone, watching hours of news, getting lost on YouTube or binge watching Netflix (I highly recommend Self Made and Anne with an “E”!). It is unrealistic to be perfect with this rule, but Anne invited us to consider turning off devices when a good night’s sleep is needed.

Awe & Nature
What in life makes you speechless? Finding something larger than yourself helps to adjust your thinking in order to see things differently. Seeing the larger picture can help to put individual experiences in perspective. It could be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to lie on the ground and look at the sky, a moment to feel insignificant and be in awe of something larger. Anne recommended spending 20 minutes at least once a week just sitting outside in nature, a backyard, or a park. Twenty minutes is the baseline, as this is the time it takes for the creatures to adjust to your presence. You then become part of the landscape while they continue to go about their activities with you being there, giving you a chance to observe.

Creativity
Are you creative? This is not about being an artist. Of course having an art project is one way to be creative. Anne invited us to think about creativity in a way that we look at our daily problems. For example, how do we get creative in finding ways to connect during social distancing? Yesterday I saw two women sitting 6 feet apart at a garden with masks on just chatting.

Connection
Do you have at least one person that you can confide in and love? During the presentation Anne replaced the term “social distancing” with “spatial distancing.” She emphasized the importance of connecting with people during this pandemic and to stay physically distant but not socially distant. Finding at least one person in this world to confide in and love leads to many health benefits.

Know
What supports you thriving in your life? Decide where you want your energy to go, and then prune out the areas where energy is wasted. In nature, Anne gave the example of pruning a tomato plant. When you prune tomatoes, the plant will have fewer tomatoes but they will be larger and more nutritious. When you are overwhelmed, Anne invited us to look where we want our energy to go, and then begin pruning the areas that need to be removed. That is powerful! Another exercise Anne gave was to answer the question: Who I am in 12 words? Just by giving words to that question, it is a reminder of who you want to be. This is a living question that can fluctuate, or it can be a simple reminder of the person you are.

Boundaries
What is OK? What is not? Anne asked us to begin with the generous assumption that everyone is doing the best they can, which allows a space for compassion when creating boundaries. In nature, Maximillian sunflowers are a boundary that deters deer from entering a property. What a great visual! Rather than putting up walls with people, the question is how can we get creative and make a boundary that is both beautiful and functional within our personal life.

Nourishment
This is not about eating. It is about what nourishes our gut. The garden needs mulch and our gut needs fiber! Most of us do not get enough fiber in our daily diet. At least two of our feel-good neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) are made in our gut. Taking care of our gut will help us feel happy, calmer and more focused.

Movement
What activities do you like to do that require movement? The heartwood of a tree helps to provide support to it. The heartwood needs wind to strengthen, and we need movement. Make it a priority to move at least 20 minutes a day. Again, looking at this as a skillset as opposed to an obligation can allow you to proceed stress-free!

The hope is that by incorporating these vital life skills they eventually turn into daily habits that strengthen us and provide energy to do our work in the world from a clear, balanced place.

Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen will lead Sustainable Solano’s new Permaculture Design Certificate course starting in January. Learn more about that course here and keep an eye on our future newsletters for updates and an exciting free introductory class this fall!

Enjoy the talk? Take this survey to help us determine future classes.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Edible Landscapes: A Food Forest Garden

By Derek Downey, permaculture designer

Derek Downey, owner of Whole System Designs in Davis, designed the Pollinators Paradise demonstration food forest garden in Dixon (you can watch the process evolve and learn about the elements of a food forest garden in this series of videos). He then joined Sustainable Solano’s Food Forest Keepers and other interested participants to discuss food forests and answer their questions. There wasn’t enough time to answer all of the questions during the talk, so Derek was kind enough to answer the questions in this blog. You can watch Derek’s talk in the video here and read his responses to your questions below.

Watch the Elements of a Food Forest Garden video series and find more resources here!

Learn more about Derek and Whole System Designs here

How do you protect your plants from high winds?

Properly stake your young trees using one or two stakes per tree with ties that are loosely tied to allow movement and proper taper development of tree. For protecting smaller fragile plants you can be creative using stakes/burlap screens if a hedge is not in place.

If you have a large area, consider planting a windbreak hedge using some of the plants listed here. Make sure the plant can handle your USDA and Sunset Zone and is not invasive for your area. Your windbreak can include multi-function plants such as nitrogen fixers, food producers, pollinator support, fencing material and so on.

For general suggestions for fruit tree plantings, I suggest this link, which has a great picture of fruit tree planting (including what goes in hole versus soil around hole).

How can we learn to make a maintenance plan for our garden?

This is an important question and wise to consider before starting!

Consider what are the daily and seasonal tasks that need to be done for all the various elements of your food forest. Can you design your elements in garden in a way to avoid unnecessary maintenance later on?

I recommend getting a calendar and breaking your comprehensive maintenance plan into various categories and seasons and go from there. For example, you will want maintenance plans for fertility management, harvesting, irrigation, drainage, pruning, weeding, plant disease prevention and treatment, and ongoing plantings. Maintenance activities will vary depending on the seasons, for example, winter pruning vs. summer pruning.

Which of the food layers should you start with?

It depends! That is the permaculture answer to almost any question as context is key (such as your existing trees/plants, climate, soil, sun/shade, etc.). You will definitely want to focus on creating a plan before investing a lot of time and money in installing long-term trees and perennials, not to mention irrigation infrastructure and drainage systems. Check out this great write-up on steps towards establishing a food forest.

If I already created a general design for my food forest, I would start off my installation plan with the larger elements to get them started and then fill in the gaps with understory plantings. In the early years of a food forest, the perennials will be small, so you can get away with growing annual vegetables/flowers in the extra space in between, and as perennials and canopy filled in you will have less space for the annuals. if you have existing fruit trees/canopy trees established already, you can design the understory plantings (shrubs, herbs, perennials, groundcovers, fungi) and install these elements normally based on mature size.

Birds/squirrels got all the berries. Anything besides netting or just letting them have it?

Netting is definitely helpful if you are thorough with it. Another approach is to install a motion activated sprinkler such as these.

Additional Resources

Here are some online resources that will help Food Forest Keepers:

Mushrooms:

Global Inventory of Perennial Plants PDFHere is a link to website version and more from the creator of this resource: http://www.perennialsolutions.org/a-global-inventory-of-perennial-vegetables
Here is an Online Nursery of perennial vegetables, based in Humboldt County: https://www.rollingrivernursery.com/component/virtuemart/perennial-vegetables-and-herbs/perennial-vegetables

Fruit Trees
Here’s a excellent resource regarding planting a fruit tree guild: https://www.tenthacrefarm.com/how-to-
build-a-fruit-tree-guild/ 

Soldier Fly Bin/Bio Pod
My Soldier Fly Bin has grubs already since the Q&A! It is a warm-season composting alternative (quickly turn any food waste in to chicken / fish feed). It will not yield much compost (only 5% of feedstock material will remain as castings) as most of the biomass is converted into grub biomass.

Books

Enjoy the talk? Take this survey to help us determine future sustainable landscaping classes.

The Solano Sustainable Backyards program and the talk are generously funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

‘The Happiest Little Farmers’: An Update From Oklahoma

By Kathleen Huffman

Sustainable landscaping designer Kathleen Huffman left Solano County in 2019 to return to her family farm in Oklahoma. Kathleen sends this update, reflecting how those seeds planted here in Solano have grown in her work back home.

The market garden area ready for planting

 Greetings from the great state of Oklahoma! We feel like we are finally moved in and are excited to be moving forward on the farm. Lucinda and I have been very busy getting the garden ready for spring planting!

For the production area of the farm we converted the area where my dad had his garden when I was growing up. As you can see, over the years nature had taken over much of the open area and some clearing had to be done. We were focused on saving as much of the natural habitat as possible while still opening up enough area to make a viable market garden. Any trees that had to be cut were used to make fence posts and edging for the food forest.

There was one especially large wood pile that had to be removed before we could move forward and we had to come up with a regenerative solution … so we created a large hugelkultur/pollinator garden. We drug out the larger tree trunks and used them for edging for the main garden and were left with wonderful soil and an interesting garden shape. With some help from the local Monarch group we have planted it with a wonderful selection of flowers for the local butterflies.

Shortly after arrival we mowed the grass and started laying out the outer edge off the garden. When we finally got it cleared we had almost 10,000 square feet of planting area. We then laid out the rows and covered the area with a 6-inch-thick layer of woodchips. We worked with a great company here that processes used pallets into safe, economical wood chip mulch. We ended up using approximately 160 yards of chips to do the entire area. By using this product we were able to stop seven semis of pallets from going to the landfill!

After several weeks we pulled back the mulch in the areas where future planting rows would be. We were very pleased that the mulch worked just as we had hoped and we were left with very few living weeds. The previous grass had been changed to yummy organic matter and was now working for us and not against us!

We then started removing the remaining grass clumps and adding the needed amendments. The soil test we did revealed several deficiencies in the soil chemistry. We did have to do some cultivation because of this but we tried to keep it to the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil surface.

Meanwhile we started the germination process for our tomatoes, peppers and herbs for the garden. We hope to get almost 600 plants started and into the ground by mid-April. There will be some items that will be directly sown and those should be in the ground over the next few weeks as the soil temperatures improve.

We have started planting the fruit trees and berries in the area we have designated as the food forest. This area will be the main teaching garden for urban food gardening. We currently have 11 classes booked through the Oklahoma County library system where we will be teaching the permaculture principles and urban food forest installation.

Lucinda has worked her magic and we have a great location in the main OKC farmers market with a permanent spot. This will give us a major presence in the market garden industry. We have created an LLC and are working toward a relationship with several local government agencies that can help us secure the much-needed infrastructure for getting the farm up and running. We are still working on a website where delivery orders can be placed and we have an active Facebook site that keeps people informed on our current progress.

All in all we are pleased with the success of our current endeavor. As spring approaches, our days will get longer and we will run out of energy far sooner than we will run out of things to do, but we will be the happiest little farmers you can imagine.

Learn more about Kathleen in this video interview.

Kathleen Huffman- The Repurposed Okie from David Avery on Vimeo.

Design Workshop Guides Participants In Sustainable Garden Transformation

By Kassie Munro and Nicole Newell, Program Managers

Permaculture designer Ojan Mobedshahi leads the Sustainable Garden Design Workshop in Vallejo

We are continually striving to find the best way to provide as many people as possible with the tools they need to transform their outdoor space into a more regenerative landscape, but we don’t have the capacity to install gardens for every interested homeowner. We created the Sustainable Garden Design Workshop with the hope that this resource can help get more people started with one of the most challenging parts of a landscape project — the design. The workshop provided an opportunity for attendees to be guided by a professional designer through the whole systems thinking design process with a focus on wise water management, soil health and permaculture elements.

Mary and Ben were selected to be our first hosts. They opened their 120-year-old home in Vallejo for this workshop with the desire to have a front yard garden to showcase sustainability, share the bounty with their neighbors and create a place for their daughter to play. The class instantly received a ton of interest; it was full with a waiting list in a matter of days.

Permaculture designer Ojan Mobedshahi led the day’s workshop with the grace, insight and playfulness that we have come to expect from him. Ojan has partnered with us on designing the Resilient Neighborhood homes in Vallejo, and when this opportunity arose we jumped at the chance to work with him to develop a new offering for the community.

Ojan started the day’s discussion with an acknowledgement of place and asked attendees to honor the indigenous communities whose land we are residing on in Vallejo. He also spoke of the indigenous people whose land he lives on in Oakland, displaying respect and humility that set a mindful tone for the day. Lessons on fundamental permaculture and landscape design elements followed, which felt much more like a group discussion than a tutorial — Ojan has a way of making everyone feel at ease and open with each other. We discussed a range of topics from water cycles and management to the different use sectors around a home.

Participants in the workshop assessed the yards and worked on designs for their own properties

The learning continued outside where the group walked Ben and Mary’s front and back yards with Ojan’s guidance, completing a site assessment and beginning to identify real-world design challenges and opportunities for this space. Ben and Mary were incredibly candid with everyone about their challenges with the space, and there was a wonderful amount of wisdom offered by attendees who shared experiences in their own lives to add to the learning process. While this portion of the workshop focused specifically on one unique home and all its quirks, the teaching was deeply valuable and transferable to any space. The reality that most of us face with our yards is a complex web of existing features and nuanced obstacles (or a blank canvas, which can often be the most challenging of all!). Ojan taught us not what to think, but HOW to think and approach the design process the way he does in his role as a designer. After the site assessment, it was time to get all of the wonderful ideas down on paper. The remainder of the workshop focused on creating a design for Ben and Mary’s home and a working session for attendees to begin applying some of what they had learned to their own space. This time was a chance to brainstorm together, ask questions and collaborate.

This workshop, as with all of our events, served not only as a place to learn about sustainable landscaping practices but also as a time for people to connect with each other, sparking wonderful conversations. Mary’s dad, Larry, told us about spekbom, a succulent shrub that is being used to sequester carbon in South Africa. Ojan also talked about the other hat he wears: Not only is he a Regenerative Permaculture designer, but he also is the finance director for East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative. This organization works with the community to create a permanent affordable housing solution in the East Bay.

At the end of the day, Ojan was able to gift our host homeowners with a design for their property that they can use as a jumping-off point to begin their yard transformation, and we are so excited to see what they create! Our next design workshop will follow the redesign of an expanding demonstration food forest in Benicia. We hope to be able to offer more sustainable garden design workshops in the future. Keep an eye on our calendar for the latest workshops, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter for updates. Let us know if you want to bring a design workshop to your city or have ideas on other workshops that would help support your yard transformation by sending an email to mailto:nicole@sustainablesolano.org

Save The Butterflies and The Bees — Our Favorite Pollinators Are in Jeopardy

Sustainable Solano works to bring organic solutions that take a whole-systems approach to how we interact with the environment. That means encouraging the use of techniques that work with and support natural systems, which includes supporting those beneficial insects people love to attract to their gardens. These insects serve many roles, including pollinating plants and eating harmful insects. We wanted to share this blog post from Cristina Goulart of GHD, who works with us on the Urban Water Conservation Committee, to highlight the importance of protecting our beneficial insects through the choices we make — including making the conscious decision to handle weeds or pests in our gardens through methods other than chemicals that have systemic effects on pollinators. The UWCC is monthly meeting of Solano County Water Agency and city staff with the purpose of coordinating regional conservation programs throughout the county.

This article below was originally published by the Russian River Watershed Alliance. Some of the resources listed are for Sonoma County, but can serve as a helpful guide here in Solano.

The Monarch Butterfly

One morning last summer, as I watched a pair of butterflies flying from bloom to bloom on a butterfly bush, I realized I hadn’t seen a Monarch Butterfly in years.  I did some research and learned some distressing news.

In January of 2019, the Xerces Society’s yearly census of the western monarch revealed that the numbers of Western Monarchs were down a dramatic 86% from just one year before. Scientists studying the Western Monarch predict that if we don’t take drastic measures now, the species has a 72% chance of going extinct in less than 20 years.

Monarchs are migratory wonders of nature, migrating up to 3,000 miles to their wintering grounds. Their miraculous migration occurs over generations, one generation communicating to the next the route it must take.  Like all butterflies, they are pollinators, drinking nectar from one flower, and depositing its pollen on the next.

Honeybees

The honeybee pollinates about one-third of our food crops. Honeybees have also been in decline for years with the current population of honeybees estimated at less than half what it was in the 1940s. In 2006, scientists discovered what they call Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when a colony’s worker bee population suddenly disappears. Hives cannot survive without their worker bees, so eventually, the entire hive dies.

The Causes

For Monarch butterflies, loss of habitat is a key cause for its population decline. For both the Monarchs and honeybees, the use of pesticides is another key factor.

Pesticides in the neonicotinoid (a systemic agricultural insecticide resembling nicotine) category are thought to be a culprit in Colony Collapse Disorder. Studies have shown that in non-lethal doses, neonicotinoids cause navigation disruption and memory loss in bees, even in low concentrations. These pesticides are found in our food sources and in our home gardens. A demoralizing study conducted in 2014 found that 50% of nursery plants tested in the U.S. and Canada contained residue of neonicotinoids in concentrations as high as 748 parts per billion (ppb). A dose of 193 ppb can kill a honeybee. A dose of 30 ppb can cause impairments to a bee’s ability to forage and navigate. Plants and seeds purchased to attract butterflies and bees can harm these pollinators if they have been treated with neonicotinoids.

Although some nursery chains have since reduced the numbers of plants on their shelves treated with neonicotinoids, plants containing neonicotinoid residue are still sold in retail nurseries. Typically, they do not come with a warning label.

A Call to Action – Help save the Monarchs and the bees. 

Go Organic!

Don’t use pesticides in your gardens. Pesticides include herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill insects and fungicides as well. Most pesticides are non-specific and kill a broad range of species in addition to the pest. Insecticides kill beneficial insects in addition to those that eat our crops. Beneficial insects include those that pollinate our crops, such as bees and butterflies, and predatory insects that eat the plant eating bugs, such as ladybugs and lacewings. Pesticides kill bees and butterflies as well as “bad” bugs.

Purchase neonicotinoid-free plants and seeds. In Sonoma County we have several nurseries that sell organic and neonicotinoid-free landscape plants and seeds. Please ask your nurseries if they can assure you that the plants and seeds they sell you are not treated with neonicotinoids. If they can’t, head over to a locally-owned, sustainability-minded nursery. Also, the RRWA program ‘Our Water, Our World’ (OWOW) helps residents manage their home and garden pests in a way that helps protect our watershed. More information on OWOW can be found at www.rrwatershed.org/project/our-water-our-world.

Build it and They Will Come

Create a Monarch Butterfly Waystation!

Monarch waystations must include the native milkweed plant because this is the only plant where Monarchs will lay their eggs and the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat. In our region, the best time to plant milkweed seeds is from November to early spring.  A waystation must also include nectar plants on which the adult Monarchs can feed. Examples are the butterfly bush, salvias, and Ceonothus.

Monarch Waystations also attract bees! Bees feed on nectar-bearing plants, just as butterflies do.

For more information about creating a Monarch Waystation, please go to:  www.monarchwatch.org/waystations

Proper Disposal of Pesticides

When you do go organic, remember to dispose of your unused pesticides through Sonoma County hazardous waste drop off locations. Please go to the following link for more information or call Eco-Desk 707-565-DESK (3375).

www.zerowastesonoma.gov