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!

More Sustainable Landscaping Education Programs Planned for Benicia

By Allison Nagel, Workforce Development Program Manager

Students in the 2020 Land & Water Caretakers certification course do a soil test at the project site

As we plan for an exciting slate of programs based in Benicia for 2021, we want your insight on what sort of workshops we should hold in the city — what is most interesting to potential participants as well as property owners. These workshops will help to strengthen and expand the programs we piloted in Benicia at the beginning of this year.

These Benicia programs support our goals of public education through class instruction and public workshops, targeted sustainable landscape professional education for adults and high school interns, and measurable improvements for the city of Benicia, including water savings, improved soil health through mulching and keeping organic matter on-site, and planting trees and understory plants for carbon sequestration, food production and heat island mitigation through shade and evapotranspiration, which moves water through the plant from the soil to the leaves where it can evaporate and cool the air.

Our Youth Leadership and Workforce Development programs in Benicia launched in January, bringing instruction and certification programs through adult education and high school internships. We offered our Land & Water Caretakers program in partnership with Benicia Adult Education to participants from around the county looking to build their sustainable landscaping design skills for use in their careers, seeking new work and at their own homes and in their communities. Working with Liberty High School’s award-winning Learning Through Interests program, we offered an internship that taught students about sustainable landscaping and systems thinking while building hands-on skills that they could put to use in further study or future careers.

Participants in both programs worked on creating demonstration food forest gardens in Benicia: Wild Cherry Way and Giardino su una Colina (Garden on a Hill). Shawn Carter and Maleik Dion of Resilient Solutionaries were the course instructors for both programs and designers for Giardino su una Colina, and Lauren Bennett was the designer for Wild Cherry Way.

At Wild Cherry Way, the Adult Education Caretakers worked alongside their class instructor and garden designer to create a backyard food forest complete with three fruit trees and a laundry-to-landscape greywater system. The Caretakers went through the design process and then joined in three public workshops to dig swales for roofwater capture, work on the greywater system and put in the plants and drip irrigation. It all added up to nearly 33,000 gallons of possible annual water savings for the property. The Caretakers then took what they had learned from that process and created a design for another Benicia property based on their knowledge and what the homeowners wanted for their backyard. Funding for the program and the public workshops came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, the Solano County Water Agency and student fees. Republic Services donated compost for the Wild Cherry Way project.

Liberty High School students in the Land & Water Caretakers internship work on their project site

At Giardino su una Colina, the Liberty High Caretakers went through a similar process with their instructor, learning about permaculture design, meeting with the homeowner, and, through a front-yard lawn conversion, creating a demonstration food forest that introduced the concept to neighbors and others. The students dug swales for roofwater capture, sheet mulched, constructed guilds of plants that work together and replaced the sprinkler system with drip irrigation, resulting in a possible annual water savings of more than 96,000 gallons for the site. Students then used what they learned to design their own guilds and create a sample design to earn the certification. Funding for the program came from the second amendment to the Valero/Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement Agreement, and Republic Services provided lunch from Benicia restaurants for the days the students worked on the installation.

There were challenges, perhaps most noticeably how the shutdown from COVID-19 affected the conclusion of both the adult education and internship programs, with final presentations moving online and the cancellation of planned field trips. We are already planning for our next Land & Water Caretakers course through Benicia Adult Education and high school fellowships for this coming January. We are also planning to offer Sustainable Solano’s first Permaculture Design Certificate course in Benicia starting in January! You can find more information here and we will provide exciting updates in the coming months.

For all of these programs, we are figuring out what we can offer online and how to best hold outdoor workshops that are safe and adhere to the guidelines from Solano Public Health, the state and the CDC. We also want your insight on what to offer. While this year’s Caretakers courses focused heavily on permaculture design, for the coming year we are trying to offer a variety of workshops in Benicia that would be open to the public as well as those enrolled in the Caretakers certification programs. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to convert a sprinkler system to drip irrigation, or you want to create a guild of supporting plants around an existing fruit tree, or capture all of that rainwater off the roof during the rainy season.

If there are workshops you would like to see in the year ahead, please let us know by taking this quick Benicia Workshop survey. And if you are a Benicia resident interested in hosting a workshop either on your own property or a community site, such as a church or school, please fill out our Sustainable Landscaping Interest Form.

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

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.

Backyard Chickens 101

By Tyler Snortum-Phelps, Sustainable Contra Costa

Tyler Snortum-Phelps, who has been keeping chickens for more than 20 years, offered this fun and informative class on keeping backyard chickens. Tyler works with Sustainable Contra Costa, which co-hosted the class. He is also a certified Master Composter and has taught home composting workshops for many years. In this blog, Tyler has been kind enough to answer questions there wasn’t time to answer during the talk. You can watch Tyler’s talk in the video here and read his responses to your questions below.

Find additional backyard chicken resources, from websites to books, here.

What’s the difference between chickens and quail. Is there one? Or are they kinda the same?

Chickens and quail are entirely different species and quail are NOT a domesticated animal! I was just pointing out the quail are “ground birds” like chickens, in the sense that they spend most of their time on the ground and rarely fly.

When chickens fight, does it stress them out?

There is a certain amount of stress when they struggle for their place in the pecking order, but it’s an important part of their life, and they can actually be unhappy when the social order is not clear. But if you are talking about roosters fighting, that is very different and chicken keepers should not allow this, as the roosters can be seriously injured. That said, most roosters (if you even have more than one) tend to work it out pretty quickly.

Are there any animals that chickens do not get along with that we should be aware of if we own a large farm with various other animals?

Chickens tend to get along well with most other animals (like anything, there are always exceptions!) with the possible exception of dogs. Their relationship with dogs can vary from total friendliness to a predator/prey relationship where the dog will stop at nothing to kill the chickens. And everything in between! Backyard chicken website and forums are full of stories, advice and ideas from dog owners. My initial advice is to start out carefully until you know what your dog will do, and from there you may to do further research.

If you show a rooster who’s boss, can you “out-mean” him?

Not a good idea to get too mean. I have heard stories about tennis rackets and baseball bats, but that’s an invitation to injury for the rooster. If he keeps attacking you, it may be time to get rid of him.

Do chickens prefer to lay on hay, straw or shavings?

Something soft and malleable is nice in the laying boxes, although they will lay on bare wood if they have to. One thing the bedding does is help keep the egg from cracking. Hay or shavings are great, and I like hay because it doesn’t compact and get soggy, and is cheap. Since I use hay as part of my coop floor bedding, I just put some more in the laying boxes. You will have to replenish it from time to time.

Can you do the deep litter method with pine shavings instead of hay?

I would probably recommend mixing something coarser and drier with the shavings, since they can get compacted and possibly allow mold to develop. Wood shavings are also more expensive than hay. I don’t, however, recommend wood chips because they are too coarse. The chicken forums have lots of great discussions about coop bedding choices.

Are the manure fumes unsafe to breathe in, more than just don’t breathe in a lot?

If you are raking your manure into the bedding regularly (usually just the pile under the roosting poles, the chickens will take care of the rest) then there should not be a build-up of odor that is dangerous. And remember your coop needs good ventilation!

I recently heard Salmonella can be an issue. Should this be a concern?

If your chickens are not crowded, have good clean food and water and a well-ventilated coop with bedding that is changed regularly, they should stay healthy and you have little reason to worry about Salmonella. Of course you should practice good basic hygiene: washing your hands after being in the chicken yard/coop or handling the chickens, checking your shoes so you don’t track manure into the house, and discarding any eggs with manure on them.

 

At what age do we switch the food from chick feed to chicken food?

18 weeks, or 4 ½ months is the recommended age to begin offering laying food. Earlier than that and their livers can’t handle the extra minerals.

How about giving the chickens apple seeds?

The chickens can eat a few apple seeds, like those in an apple core you give them, but don’t go out of your way to give them lots of seeds, since there is a small amount of toxin in apple seeds.

What is the best way to integrate new chicks into existing flock/coop?

Be careful when doing this, since the old flock can be very cruel to the newcomers. The best arrangement is one where the two groups can see each other, but not come into contact, like some kind of wire fence. After a few days you can try introducing them. If there are still aggressive chickens in the “old timers” flock, I have had success squirting them with a spray bottle or squirt gun each time they try to attack. They hate that and will hopefully learn not to harass the new chickens.

If the new chickens are young, and considerably smaller than the older ones, it can also work to create a space where they can hide which has an opening that the bigger chickens can’t get through.

One of our chicks turned out to be a rooster?

As I said on the show, you have to decide if you’re going to keep them. And if not, you can ask at your feed store what they recommend, or look for a local online forum where you can offer the rooster.

Does the chicken yard need to be flat ground or can it be slanted? We have a lot of hill space and less flat area in our yard.

Chickens definitely don’t love climbing hills but they can do it. You could try creating terraces that make it easier for them to walk along.

Are there any suggestions for cold weather rearing of hens (Canada)?

This is definitely a good question for online research. I’m not experienced with chickens in cold weather, but there is a lot of information about it out there. If you use heaters in the coop, be very careful and have safety measure in place. They can cause fires!

I’m also curious about using technology to help keep my hens comfortable in the Suisun heat.

Most important is to have plenty of shade, and keep the water fresh and full. As I said, you can hose down the coop and chicken yard on extra hot days. The chickens hate the water, but they will appreciate the cooling effect.

Does the roost have to be tiered? Or is it possible to create a top space for all the chickens?

It’s totally fine for the roosting poles to all be on the same level. Mine is at an angle.

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.

Regrow Your Own Vegetables From Kitchen Scraps

By Mallory Traughber, Living Classroom

We had a large turnout for Mallory Traughber’s talk on how to regrow vegetables and save seeds from kitchen scraps, and there were plenty of questions beyond those she answered during the class. Mallory provided a variety of resources and even a tutorial on how to make your own newspaper seed pots. Mallory was kind enough to answer some additional questions in this blog. You can watch her talk in the video here and read her responses to your questions below.

Find the handouts from Mallory’s talk and more plant resources here.

Thank you all for tuning into the webinar last month. It was wonderful to chat with you and answer your questions about regrowing vegetables from kitchen scraps! More great questions came in through the chat box after the talk so we wanted to make sure we answer a few more here regarding transplanting your vegetables from a container of water to soil, more specifics on regrowing particular vegetables, and questions about starting seeds. 

Regarding Transplanting: Some folks were curious about leaving the vegetables they are regrowing in water or transplanting them to soil. I recommend transplanting the following vegetables to soil as a more permanent location — scallions, celery, bok choy, and all of the herbs we discussed (chives, cilantro, basil, mint, and parsley). This will save you from having to remember to change out the containers of water every other day and it gives the vegetables a chance to thrive in a lasting location. However I would keep the romaine lettuce in water since you are only going to get one “harvest” from it.

Getting specific on Regrowing: A question came in about regrowing a celery stalk that is starting to go limp. There is a trick to keeping your celery nice and crisp and that is keeping it hydrated! Wrap the stalk tightly in aluminum foil so moisture cannot escape. If it’s already going limp, you can revive it by soaking it in cool water for a few hours. Once you’ve revived the limp celery stalk, be sure to regrow the end! New shoots will appear after several days. It can be transplanted to your garden to grow a new stalk over the course of a few months.

Another question came through wondering if lemongrass could also be regrown using these methods. Lemongrass is a wonderfully fragrant herb and after you have used the top, you can regrow the leaves. Place the stem of the lemongrass into a clear glass with enough water to cover the roots. Place the glass in a sunny window and replace the water at least every other day. After the lemongrass re-shoots new leaves, you can plant it out in your garden.

More questions came in regarding regrowing lettuce. Romaine lettuce works best for this experiment but you can certainly try a head of lettuce. Once roots grow from the stump, new leaves will begin to form. You are going to get all you can out of it after 10-12 days — definitely not a new head of lettuce but enough to top a sandwich or two!

Folks were curious about regrowing garlic. A method I like to use is placing the cloves of garlic in a cup (in a sunny window) root side down, with a little water on the bottom. I change the water everyday. In about a week, the cloves will start to sprout at the top and grow roots on the bottom. Now I’m ready to transplant them into the soil. I plant them 6 inches apart in good potting soil with drainage. They should be watered every time the top inch of soil dries out. Growing garlic is a game of patience as they won’t be ready to harvest for 6-9 months, however the cloves will MULTIPLY in the ground, forming new bulbs!

Finally let’s address some of your questions on starting seeds you are collecting in your kitchen. One participant wanted to know if cucumber seeds should be saved using the same methods we demonstrated for tomatoes. You can certainly give this a try, however avoid using seeds from cucumbers labeled “hybrid” as they are often sterile. You would want to let the cucumber seeds ferment in warm water for a few days so the gel coat that surrounds the seed will be removed.

We talked about growing lemon seeds from organic lemons, and how the seeds should be rinsed of all sugars and then planted while moist. A participant wanted to know how long it would take to produce a lemon in this way. It truly depends on a variety of factors, it could take anywhere from 3-10 years, or it may never produce fruit as seeds are not always dependable. The health of the seedling depends on its location, the amount of sunlight it receives, the amount of  water it receives, if it’s growing indoors/outdoors, etc.

You can also grow an avocado at home from the pit. You will remove and clean the pit, and then identify the ‘top’ and ‘down’ ends (the top is where it will sprout and will be pointier and the bottom is where the roots will grow and will be flatter).  Pierce the pit with 3 toothpicks and place it half submerged in a cup of water, bottom side in the water. Change the water regularly to prevent fungal growth, and once the sprout has grown to about 6 inches long, you can transplant it to soil. This may take anywhere from 2-8 weeks. The more sun, the better for your avocado plant! This plant may never produce fruit, and if it does it may not be quality produce, however it is a lovely (and free!) houseplant to grow.

Thank you all again for your wonderful questions, for your beet recipes, and your courageousness to try new methods for making the most out of your produce. Always remember, “There are no mistakes in gardening, only experiments!”

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.

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.