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

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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

Bioneers Experience Both Personal and Profound

By Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro, Program Managers

Gabriela Estrada (left) and Kassie Munro (center) at Bioneers. Photo by Santa Cruz Permaculture

Though there are many conferences out there, few present a balance between seemingly opposing concepts: the old and the new, the indigenous and the futuristic, science and spirit, and even fewer invite us to look deep back to the past and far into the future. Bioneers does just that. While shifting one’s focus to all of these different directions can make one’s head spin, in the end it becomes clear that considering all of these viewpoints is necessary to create the world we want to live in tomorrow. After all, to be pioneers of a better future, we must also be historians of our planet’s storied past.

Bioneers is an innovative nonprofit organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Founded in 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons, Bioneers acts as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

This 30-year-old event showcases a variety of speakers including authors, artists, scientists, Native American leaders and activists, and youth activists all ready and inspired to create a new world that works for everyone. They aim to create a “revolution from the heart of mother nature.” The conference was a combination of music, youth leadership, art, activism, social justice, environmental education, women leadership, ecological medicine and environmental conservation.

The conference began early on Friday morning with a drumming set and a performance by Climbing PoeTree, which immediately marked the tone of the next three days — a celebration for mother earth. It was difficult to choose only one workshop for each of the allotted time periods. How does one possibly choose between a conversation with Stuart Muir Wilson about Permaculture & Ecological Social Justice, an earth connection herb walk, a panel titled The Ground Beneath Our Hearts, among so many others? As we had an opportunity to connect with other attendees, it became clear that we were not alone in this dilemma, battling the constant fear of missing out on something important in another workshop. To the best of our ability we very purposefully divided up the workshops that were of most interest to not only us, but to the organization and the work we do at Sustainable Solano.

Fortunately the Bioneers organizers had guiding themes for each day which helped us to focus in on key messages and walk away from each day with tangible insights.

Here are some reflections on our favorite speakers from each day:

Day 1: Grief, Love and Power of Independent Media

Kassie: Terry Tempest Williams gave an enlightening talk about erosion to start the morning, not only as a powerful force in nature but as an alarming reality in America today. She urged us not to turn away from the devastating erosion we are witnessing to our democracy, science, compassion and trust — but to think of it as a force of evolution and creation rather than destruction and undoing, as we see it happen in nature when the elements create some of our most treasured natural wonders through forces of erosion, like the Grand Canyon. She instilled a mood of hope for what the future could look like, which is so important to keep alive in challenging times.

Gabriela: My favorite speaker of the day was Jerry Tello, who reminded us that stories are powerful reminders of the things we forget about ourselves, and that the work we do is healing — as such we need to remember the sacredness of us and that when those who hurt us heal, we heal. After his talk, not one eye was left dry. His incredible ability as a storyteller reminded us that we need to be grounded in the work we do because it is so much bigger than ourselves.

Day 2: Climate Justice and Resilience

Kassie: Saturday had a number of standout speakers for me. As a fan of both Bill McKibben (co-founder of 350.org) and Paul Hawken (author of Drawdown), it was exciting to hear them speak in person and embody their action-oriented, revolutionary, yet practical, vision for the future of our country and how to get there. I was also surprisingly moved by Valarie Kaur and her Revolutionary Love approach to transformation, likening the revolution needed in our world to that of childbirth and urging us to view labor as a form of love. All of these speakers reminded me that there is a path forward to a world that works for everyone and to stay dedicated to working toward that vision.

Gabriela: On Saturday I was captivated by a panel talk on Building Resilience in a Climate Changing World. The panel spoke about projects and strategies that have been deployed in our coastal, rural and urban communities in an effort to increase resiliency in those communities. They invited us to think about reversing climate change, not stabilizing it, and to make the climate change crisis message reliable to create collaborative solutions.

Day 3: Regeneration

Kassie: On the last day of the conference, I was thrilled to see Demond Drummer as one of the final keynote speakers. Demond is the co-founder of New Consensus, a nonprofit that helped drive the creation of the Green New Deal by supplying research and policy proposals to the deal’s political advocates. After two days of discussion centered on all of the systems-level changes that are needed in our country, it was extremely inspiring to hear from someone who is driving this work at the highest level. It can be so daunting and overwhelming at times to dive deep into all the challenges we are facing as a nation and as a planet, so to learn about his work advancing these ideas and values toward national-level action was a wonderful message to end the conference on. While we may not be able to change everything we would like to, that should not deter us from driving forward the things we can.

Gabriela: Sunday’s workshops focused on cultivating a culture of regeneration, from hearing Casey Camp-Horinek (councilwoman of the Ponka Tribe of Oklahoma) about the story of interconnectedness to a panel about Bridging Divides: Co-creating a Culture of Belonging. What stood out to me about this workshop was the new model that the panel speakers proposed: To move forward we need to create a model that would bridge the many divisions and polarizations that divide us. We need to create a culture of belonging.

It’s difficult to express in writing how powerful and moving these speakers were, so luckily you can find some of the keynotes here if you would like to listen for yourself.

Attending Bioneers for the both us was a tiring and intense experience, yet a very interesting one. The conference offered a space to learn from each other — from seeing art inspired by the environmental movements we are a part of to connecting with like-minded individuals from all over the country and the world.

The enormity of the conference and diversity of the topics covered felt a bit overwhelming at first, but in retrospect underscores a unique element of the conference — no two people will have had the same experience. You can feel this energy everywhere at Bioneers: that we are all here together yet every individual is living their own personal experience and that is what makes this complex world so dynamic and beautiful.

Tangible and Valuable: Permaculture Design Course Shapes Program Work

By Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro, Program Managers

The OAEC Permaculture Design Course cohort that included Sustainable Solano Program Managers Gabriela Estrada and Kassie Munro

During Sustainable Solano’s restorative summer break, we traveled to Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a research, demonstration, education, advocacy and community-organizing center in West Sonoma County, where they develop strategies for regional-scale community resilience and the restoration of biological and cultural diversity. For two weeks, we joined 30 other people in an intensive Permaculture Design Certificate program – frequently referred to as the PDC.

While Permaculture Design Courses follow a standardized curriculum to ensure that those who get their PDC receive comprehensive training in all of the critical systems design components, each program has a unique approach to how they immerse students in the permaculture experience, which for us meant living in yurts on the 80-acre OAEC property as part of their intentional community for the duration of the program.

Upon arrival on the first day, we all sat in a circle and were asked why we decided to attend the PDC training. What quickly became evident was that a lot of our fellow PDC-ers wanted to learn about permaculture design not only to create beautiful gardens, but to heal the earth and the people on it. As the days progressed this became more evident. Cohort members came from all walks of life and from all over the world! We had Mimi from Taiwan and our yurt-mate Mounir from Dubai. Their goal was to create a space of sustainability and social cohesion in their properties back home. Their generous attitudes were not unique among our cohort.

The course itself was both incredibly rigorous in its training, and yet at times also felt remarkably like summer camp. Nestled in the lush Duck Bill Creek watershed of Western Sonoma County, the property boasts a number of incredible gardens, restored forest and grasslands, an irrigation pond (which doubles as a swimming hole), and countless trails to get lost on. Communal vegetarian meals cooked in the shared kitchen with ingredients from the gardens were shared three times a day.

While living on-site, the property became so much more than a demonstration classroom, and the experience became so much more than simply an education. With course topics covering everything from cob building and composting to botany and global water systems, the training is incredibly holistic. We even had an afternoon dedicated to learning the art of fire-making. The social permaculture teachings truly came to life in the communal living experience where we had the chance to feel and live a different way based on designing social structures to favor beneficial patterns of human behavior and attempting to create conditions that favor nurturing and empowering relationships with each other.

The course culminated in a group design project, which for us focused on a nearby 7-acre plot of land that had recently been acquired by the Cultural Conservancy. Indigenous wisdom and learning the heritage of our host land was a focal point of the training. This came in many forms: first a small presentation by The Cultural Conservancy, then a trip to the actual site in the city of Graton, which is Southern Pomo Coast Miwok Territory. During this site visit, we all took notes, pictures and asked members of the Cultural Conservancy what they envisioned for the space to better understand their hopes and aspirations for the place. As a group, we were grateful that we were allowed to participate in a project that aims to create an inter-tribal bio-cultural heritage farm and indigenous education center. Together in a team of five, we created designs that represented all the different topics we were taught, and then on the last day presented it to the Cultural Conservancy.

It was a true honor to be a part of a tangible and valuable regenerative restoration project during our course. Belonging to an organization such as Sustainable Solano, whose core principals are permaculture-based, it has been very valuable to obtain Permaculture Design Certification. As program managers, this certification will allow us to infuse permaculture design principles and guiding ethics more deeply into our work, allowing us to continue shaping programs that approach sustainability through the lenses of social, environmental and economic equity.