Vital Cycles Brings Permaculture Instruction to Solano County

By Anne Freiwald & Lydia Neilsen, Vital Cycles

Vital Cycles is Anne Freiwald and Lydia Neilsen, permaculture educators based in Santa Cruz County. They bring together extensive backgrounds in community health and permaculture education and activism, and have taught classes to our local community through Sustainable Solano.

We are thrilled to be part of the diverse offerings Sustainable Solano provides the community! We have been consistently impressed and inspired by the commitment of Sustainable Solano and the larger community to regenerative practices and community resilience. Join us this January 2021 for Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate Course (PDC), which we are kicking off with four free introductory classes so you can get to know us and get a taste of what permaculture is all about. See this link for more details.

Our first offering, Permaculture 101: Patterns and Principles, focused on three of our favorite patterns: the meander, dendritic branching and the keyhole bed design. Patterns provide tools for understanding the big picture as well as design ideas to integrate. Permaculture principles represent stories and ways of understanding that offer deeper perspective on how we interpret our landscapes and make design decisions. This shift in thinking is critical to our roles as members of and tenders within the ecosystems we inhabit. Missed this one? Check it out in the video above, or here.

This Saturday, Nov. 7, from 11 am-12:30 pm we will be taking a deep exploration of Soil, Water, and Plants. As gardeners, we are working with these three all the time, but do we really understand the nature of their interactions? How can we honor and enhance their interconnections and synergy on a backyard scale? How do they regulate carbon in our atmosphere and what is their role in maintaining local and global climate? Join us for an integrated perspective and practical examples for working with soil, water and plants, so that we can all move towards dynamic stability through ecological co-creation. Register here.

Our following talks will be on the parallels between our natural and internal worlds, particularly the cycles of sleep and water, and community and the permaculture concept of guilds (plants that work together to support one another). The sleep and water talk will be Dec. 12 and the guilds and community talk on Jan. 9 (registration will open soon). We hope you’ll join us for all of these informative talks and dive deeper into the study of permaculture with the PDC this January in Benicia!

Permaculture Design Certificate Course Coming to Benicia

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Program Manager

Permaculture education is a key part of Sustainable Solano’s mission, and that means not only educating the public through our hands-on workshops and online talks, but also offering ways for professionals to grow their knowledge and understanding.

That’s why we’re excited to bring our first Permaculture Design Certificate course to Benicia starting in January. The course offers an internationally recognized certification, though its appeal is widespread – from landscapers interested in enriching their design skills to individuals who want to create change in their communities. At its core, permaculture recognizes the strength of working with nature to encourage natural processes that result in healthy soil and abundant ecosystems. Permaculture can be used to design a landscape, neighborhood, community, organization or society.

Sustainable Solano’s 2021 PDC develops a broad understanding of permaculture and design that uses whole systems thinking, which looks at how everything works together as a part of a larger whole. This can apply to the environment, our internal state of being and our organizations and social systems. In this course, participants learn a standard 72-hour permaculture curriculum toward certification. Participants will also gain hands-on experience in designing and transforming a local landscape using design principles and incorporating the use of captured rainwater and greywater systems.

We are excited to bring Lydia Neilsen and Anne Freiwald of Vital Cycles to Benicia as the course instructors. Lydia, a longtime partner with Sustainable Solano, is a PINA certified permaculture educator, landscape and habitat designer, specializing in water cycle restoration and passionate polyculture. Anne is a passionate personal health and permaculture educator focusing on growing food in small spaces, working for over 25 years with individuals and communities on personal ecology and community resilience. They have an action-based perspective that highlights skills, practices and resources necessary for growth, creativity and vitality in person and place.

Curious to learn more? Lydia and Anne will be offering two free online introductory talks that will cover the foundations of permaculture. They will discuss Permaculture 101: Patterns & Principles from 11 am-12:30 pm Oct. 3, and Soil, Water & Plants from 11 am-12:30 pm Nov. 7. These are a great way to learn more about permaculture and to meet these wonderful instructors. The Patterns & Principles class will cover working with nature to create resilience – the very heart of permaculture design. The Soil, Water & Plants class will explore how these vast and interconnected systems work together to restore and maintain balance in local and global climates.

2021 PDC instructors Lydia Neilsen and Anne Freiwald

For those inspired by the talks or already wanting a deeper dive into permaculture, the PDC will offer a rich, varied experience with a small group of peers involved in online classes, hands-on experience and cooperating on a final design project. The program runs from January through April with all classroom instruction online and four hands-on weekends spent outdoors at a site in Benicia. The program is $1,200, with a 10% discount for verified Benicia residents.

Because of safety precautions due to COVID-19, we are limiting enrollment in the 2021 PDC. This will allow us to maintain physical distancing requirements, and we will take other precautions, such as sterilizing tools between uses, during the outdoor instruction. We will continue to work with Solano Public Health and monitor state and CDC guidelines to make sure the program meets the latest requirements.

For those with PDCs who want to brush up on certain topics or those interested in learning more about permaculture before signing up for a full PDC, there will be four online Friday Focus classes that will be open for public registration on a sliding scale. These classes are included as part of the PDC instruction, but are also being open to the public. We will have more details and registration open for these closer to January.

The PDC program will be partially funded by the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, which supports our goals of public and professional education, and measurable improvements for the city of Benicia. The free introductory permaculture classes are funded by the Solano County Water Agency.

Free Online Introductory Classes

Oct. 3 (11 am-12:30 pm): Permaculture 101: Patterns & Principles (Register here!)

Nov. 7 (11 am-12:30 pm): Permaculture 101: Soil, Water & Plants (Register here!)

Permaculture Design Certificate Course

PDC begins Jan. 29. Learn more and register here!

Questions? Contact Program Manager Allison Nagel at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

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.