Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tokyo Families Visit Fuji Eco

Recently we were visited by three families on a week-end excursion from Tokyo organized by a travel agent that promotes eco tours and farm stays.When we were given the information that we expected guests we brain stormed ideas for activities that might interest our visitors.The info given was that there were 15 people,half were children aged around 10-12.So we came up with a plan to keep everyone busy and learn about sustainable living.Rain was forecast for the day the visit was arranged,so we also had to come up with an indoor strategy should it bucket down.

We greeted our guests,7 adults and 4 kids, and Waka san gave them a tour of the house and explained the passive solar design behind its construction.Waka san was here in the early days and helped build the house,so he was best suited to explain it.The building is cleverly designed and has an exhaust fan in the ceiling that sucks warm air from the ceiling,generated from the fire place,and blows it to below the flooring and is allowed to heat the floor.

Around the farm is a set of notice boards,about 20,with information in the form of an eco quiz.We planned for the children to explore the farm and answer the quiz and the winner would receive an eco prize.We determined that the visit was purely aimed at the children experiencing farm life.Upon finishing the quiz,Toshi got the answer sheet and went about finding the winner.Not to have any of the kids feel left out,they all received a recycled ,from paper, plant pot with a cosmos plant from our nursery.The kids eyes lit up when they all got one.

Next we went to the chicken house with the kids to collect eggs.The parents didn't come with us as the mothers were scared of the chickens.The travel agent helped me with the kids and we all had a ball running around searching for the eggs.A little secret,we kept all the eggs from the previous couple of days without dates on them to make alot more to collect for the kids.All up the found 25.The same amount we put in there for them to find.

After the egg hunt,we headed over to the nursery where I showed the kids how to make potting mix and to seed pumpkin into pots for growing on the farm.The parents had been in already and potted up one tray,so they stood by with smiles on there faces as they watched the kids having such a fun time.One older boy wanted to be best so he seeded really quickly,I even think that during his racing two seeds may have been put into one pot.Not to worry though,they were all having fun.

The rains started coming down heavy so we headed back to the house for mint tea.The mint harvested fro the garden.We had organized for the children to make a drawing of theirdream for the future and color it in.When finished they all took turns presenting their picture to the adults.The kids had dreams of living in the country some day and their drawings were of that.

In all our guest seemed to have a great time.Everyone was laughing and the kids liked to get their hands dirty.We hope it is a start of a good relationship with the travel agent and they bring us more visitors in the future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Basic Aquaponics

I noticed in the pond the other day a flash of red.The pond is usually fairly murky as it gets run off from a dairy up the catchment.But I was very surprised to say the least.On making an inquiry as to the sighting I was informed that a coy was living there.

This started to get me thinking on how I can use this information.I am a real fan of a guy in Perth,Australia by the name of Joel Malcolm and his Backyard Aquaponics system.Before leaving to come to Japan, Joel gave me a DVD on his system and I have an interest to make a system here.

If there is one fish in the pond,there has to be fish poo.There is actually a heap of tadpoles at the moment due to a good breeding season of the local frogs and some guppies.This all adds up to nutrient being available to grow something.As I am not quite ready to start a full blown system I thought I would give a basic system a try and see what results were produced.

For those not aware of Aquaponics,it is a system combining aquaculture and hydroponics to grow fish and vegetables in the same system.The fish effluent feeds the vegetables and the vegetables clean the water of nitrates before it returns to the fish.Joel's kits work fantastically with some outstanding results.

We have so much lettuce in the nursery at the moment and we are still preparing beds in the garden to put the seedlings so there was an opportunity to use some of these for the experiment.Having attended and aquaponics seminar in Melbourne a couple of years ago ,I learned that lettuce was a good extractor of nitrates from water so it made sense to use them.
I found an old foam box from the grocery store and cut 4 square holes in the base as recesses for the pots I was going to use.I cut down an older pot tray to fit the holes and once fitted they could not fall straight through.I made up a potting mix and filled 4 small pots and placed them in the holders in the box,then added the lettuce.

I am expecting the roots to hang into the water,so the pot holder sits about 2.5cm below the base of the box.The only difference is that the system will not be a flood and drain system as conventional hydroponics would be.I have seen floating raft type setups before and they were working fine.I hope to put in a few more of these little grow beds in the coming weeks as I get the results back.So far things are looking good.There doesn't seem to be any pests yet and if there is the fish might eat them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Water Harvesting

Water is one of the most important factors when considering any type of growing food system.As the earth is getting warmer due to the effect of Global Warming,we as Permaculturists and citizens of the world have to look at water as a gift not a right and preserve it as much as possible.In Permaculture we harvest water from the landscape and use it as many times as possible before it leaves our properties.We need to design our systems to be drought proof so we have water stored for extended periods when there is low or no rain events.

One way is to store water is in the soil through designing into the the landscape swale systems,which are differently constructed depending on climate and soil type.The other way is to harvest water from catchment areas and store it in containers.Now containers can vary from dams,ponds,lakes,tanks and even as small as sauce pan catching water from a leaking roof.

Whilst driving to a local village recently I noticed 3 X 1000 liter tanks sitting in a farmers field and wondered if it was possible to get hold of some like that to use on the farm.I asked Toshi to inquire to the near by home owners to who owns the tanks and if he could tell us the supplier.He was able to get the phone number of the farmer and upon calling him he said we could have these tanks for free.I promptly jumped into the truck as to not miss this opportunity.

We took a dozen eggs from the farm and a leg of deer someone had just given us (Toshi didn't know how to cook it anyway) and headed off.On closer inspection we found the tanks needed minor repairs but they were easy fixed.The farmer was shocked to receive the eggs and deer and pointed out there was a fourth tank we could also take.He happened to be a strawberry farmer and gave us two tubs of strawberry jam into the deal.In a matter of minutes we had the capacity to store 4000 liters of water.

The farm doesn't have a irrigation system and the guys here have usually used a 500 liter tank to water crops.This is a very time consuming task and this year we are growing more vegetables than before so we have to think seriously about where we can collect and store water so we can use gravity to transport the water to the crops.It does rain alot here but there will definitely be periods when we can't rely on rain to service our crops.

Firstly as we didn't have a hose to reach the crop area,we designed a tank stand out of railway timber easily and transported the 500 liter tank of water to the stand.Getting it off the truck was a mission as now it weighed at least 500kg.

We thought more and redesigned the tank stand to be located under the roof of a small structure that houses worms.We put guttering on the edge of the roof and now catch water off the roof.The tank now stands about 1 meter higher than the cropping area so when we can afford drip irrigation there will be enough head pressure to be functional.

As this garden system is set out on contour we can easily fill each path with water to filter slowly through the soil.I have also installed one of the 1000 liter tanks onto the tank stand and filled it with a comfrey and water solution.Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator of silica,nitrogen,magnesium,potassium,calcium and iron and it grows wild around here so it can be used as a compost tea.I am just letting the comfrey rot down and the use the water on the crops.The minerals will be the returned to the soil more efficiently.The simple observation of plant and season cycles can produce free fertilizer.A bit of research can find this information and a bit of networking and being resourceful can come up with the materials for it to happen.Imagination can move mountains.

I also have a 200 liter barrel on the tank stand with dandelion rotting down for a similar purpose also filled from the roof.All this water and fertilizer located really close to the crops.So much time and effort saved.Clever design.Things need to be redesigned again as funding allows but we can see a clear path to the potential of our ideas.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Patterns in Permaculture

In Permaculture we make observations to try to understand connections between nature and her inhabitants.We look for natural rhythms and cycles between seasons and plant and animal behavior to determine a course of action that will best suit a design.Patterns play a very important role in nature and we see them everywhere we look and most times they reoccur in smaller detail within a bigger pattern.

At Fuji Eco we try to use patterning where possible for the benefit of the design as well as in structures that are pleasing to the eye.A favorite pattern used within Permaculture is the 'Herb Spiral'.Spirals occur in nature in so many different applications.Try looking closely at a fern leaf.The tip of the leaf is curled up in a spiral.Whirlpools are another form of the spiral.A herb spiral can be constructed from many different resources including timber,tires,
soil,rocks,tiles,straw bales just to name a few.Using your imagination can come up with so many more.

There are several herb spirals on the farm and keeping with my philosophy of spending extra energy initially for less energy or maintenance later,gave us the opportunity to rebuild one herb spiral using this philosophy.

The herb spiral is close to the center house and was is bad shape.It had been constructed out of Masa's favorite resource,'roofing tiles'.There is nothing too wrong with roofing tiles as long as they are used effectively.Here they weren't and the garden had to be stood on to harvest herbs which compacted the soil and made the tiles fall over.Another high maintenance activity with the original design was the introduction of lemon balm and mint.They had both taken over the garden and created a nightmare to weed.All the tiles had to be removed just to get to the roots as they had gone everywhere.I set about redesigning the garden to be easier accessed, more esthetically pleasing when viewed from the house,a reflection of Fuji san in the way plants were located and to be of solid construction.

I drew up a quick sketch in my journal of how I saw it looking and we all set out to gather resources.Waka san was going to teach me how to build a stone wall without cement.I had my reservations about this as I wanted to be able to stand on the wall without it collapsing.So the lesson started.

We were going to use rocks again as there were lots left over from the key hole garden and they were very close.I really like using rocks because the gaps between them are homes for creatures and plants and so much edge is created.The original spiral was about 1.5 meter diameter and maybe .5 meter high.Not a lot of dimension to it but things were going to change.Because we were using rock the wall was going to be thicker so we had to compensate and make the whole foot print wider or we would have had no room to plant.I dug the trench in which to place the footing rocks and as a guide and set about removing the grass so it would not grow up into the garden later.We didn't remove the grass sod completely,just turned it upside down so the grass would rot and the roots couldn't penetrate the soil.It is good to do this as it saves a lot of headaches later when weeding.

We assembled the rocks in a way that small ones went first working around to larger ones to give the dimension of spiraling up as well as spiraling flat.We didn't need to use cement here as the rocks were only single height.As the rocks were placed,smaller rocks were wedged in behind to fill gaps and to support larger ones.Then soil was back filled to the edge so the rocks retained it.


As we now had a wider foot print we were going to need more soil.We are slowly running out of soil to use like this on the farm but we are planning to build a composting bay system into a slope ,so we took the soil from there in preparation for that job.More on that later when we do the design.

We had made it right around to the start and it was time to start spiraling up.We had to use medium size rocks here as large ones would have covered too much planting area and were too heavy to carry.Work smart not hard.It was time to test Waka sans no cement concept as we were going to stack rocks two high.Two truck loads of soil were brought in to the garden to get a good and even effect for the dimension.We compacted the area where the rocks would sit and put in the trench for them to rest.Once each rock was in place soil was compacted behind them to secure them into place.A three tier bed system was created and the job was almost complete.

With all the heavy lifting done it was time to dress the spiral up a bit.As it was now much bigger,we needed to put in the paths or stepping blocks as per the design.We used timber blocks 200mm X 300mm as the paths and a little bit spaced apart so that ground covers could fill the spaces.Six access points were put in so as either side of the path could be reached with ease.The entire garden can now be accessed with minimal surface area lost for planting.No soil compaction here and definitely no mint or lemon balm.We took the old mint and lemon balm plants to area where they could run free without maintenance,close to the kitchen for a brew when needed.

So then it was time to plant.We already had herbs in the nursery that Masa had brought.A mix of things like basil,sage,oregano,thyme,nasturtium,chicory,echanasia,artichoke,margarum and borage to name a few.Lettuce,cucumber,beans,peas and rocket were also included.Teepee structures were added for the cucumber and peas to climb which will shade the lettuces from the hot sun during summer.

The plants were laid out in a design that would resemble Fuji san when fully grown.By this I mean that low growing plants at the outer edge of the wall,medium height plants in the middle of the bed and higher plants at the inner base of the second level wall.I am hoping that it will perform this way.Mediterranean type herbs like thyme and oregano are situated at the edge of the rock wall and on the south face to get warmth from the rocks.Yarrow is planted at the base of the entire spiral to act as a ground cover.When it is stood on it will release an odor that may repel unwanted pests.

The complete garden was mulched heavily with straw to suppress weeds and given a good watering for the following couple of days.Looking at the herb spiral is now is very pleasent to the eye as it is uniform in its construction and it really stands out.I took us 1.5 days for 3 guys to build.A bit of effort for a long term low maintenance garden.

Permaculture v Agriculture

Recently we had 140 students from an Agriculture school in Tokyo to the farm for a visit to get an understanding of Permaculture and sustainable living.

The night before the visit,staff and wwoofers as well as Masa and his wife were busy cutting vegetables and other ingredients for the lunch that was going to be served on the day.

We were making curry and rice to a measured quantity prepared by Kayco (Masa's wife).It included mushrooms,potato,carrot,onion,garlic,pork,cabbage,broccoli and Japanese curry stock.We had we very large pots in the kitchen on burners and it resembled a back alley soup kitchen.Kayco had everything very well planned though.Masa bought a plank of pine wood and Waka san and I cut it in half and carved out two paddles to use as stirring paddles for the curry.

Also we prepared apples, milk and rice for the lunch which is fairly typical of the package for a group visit.

The students arrived at the farm and Masa introduced himself and I and set about explaining a bit about sustainability including his pet harvesting solar and wind energy.They were told about worm farming and were able to inspect a couple of worm farms up close to see how soil can be built the natural way.The kids were also shown the composting toilet system and how the cycling of a waste product can be useful in a Permaculture system.

What we grow we eat and what we eat goes back to the soil as compost to grow the food we eat.A closed loop rather than the mainstream system of flushing wastes out to sea.

Throughout the farm is a series of reference boards that pose questions about the environment with a multiple choice answer key.The visitors here wander the grounds reading and answering the questions to get an understanding of our systems and the correct answers read out at the end.The winner receives an eco gift from the farm.

I did a small talk on Permaculture and an explanation on how we use the system to harvest water into the soil and grow with companion plants to help with pest control.I explained to the students that it was important to challenge the system they are learning and asked them to look for alternative and more sustainable ways to look after the soil as modern agriculture is responsible for so much pollution and soil loss.

As Masa is an electrical engineer and builds electric cars,he has been able to get 30 electric scooters donated to the farm for educational purposes.We charged the scooters before the visit and parked them out in the field for the students to ride.There were some pretty close calls as most of the kids have never ridden a scooter before.Toshi had given them a crash course in how to ride but he is blood type 'O' so anything could have happened.

The students had the curry lunch that we prepared and must have liked it as they mostly all went back for seconds.We had so much left over though,we were eating curry and rice for days after.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Permaculture Key Hole Garden

At Fuji Eco Park there are so many systems that need maintenance as any evolving system does.In Permaculture we say,from new something can deteriorate a 1/3 then it needs repair or maintenance to bring it to a manageable condition then down a 1/3.Like the pattern of a saw blade,wwwwww.

I notice things and think of ways to make them maintenance free where possible.

Which brought my attention the this following project.A key hole garden bed that was unlevel,very poor access and a border that needed alot of maintenance.After some discussion with the staff at the farm and a design brain storm we decided to put our rock wall building skill we used on the Glass House Garden to good use again.

We were going to need rocks,so we fired up the old Komatsu and loaded some rocks into our truck.We were looking for rocks that were large enough with a flat face and hopefully a flat bottom.We needed about 3 truck loads most hand picked.We also went to town to get sand and cement.Ending up we needed 10 bags of cement and a meter of sand.Relatively inexpensive,about $3.50 a bag and $40.00 for the sand.All our rocks are free and we have wwoofers for all the hard work,ha ha.

We disassembled the old border of the garden which was made from clay tiles.Not really working that well in this application as they weren't really retaining the soil.The shape was also running down a slope and so too the dirt behind the border making the tiles collapse.

Next we dug a trench for the rocks to sit in so they wouldn't slip from the bottom.As we were going to level the garden,the end of the wall was going to be raised 1 meter to give easy access without bending.The design also will make the paths wider for access and reachable at arms length from anywhere you stand.Very ergonomically friendly and no need to stand on the soil.
I used my string line bubble level to determine the wall height and pegged out the area.Things started to look a lot bigger than we had anticipated but we progressed.In went the largest rocks to marry in with an existing boulder formation and to take up some bulk height.Foundation rocks should be solid as possible to avoid movement of rocks that will be positioned higher.Selection of rocks is critical to get a nice display face and a firm footing.This is one thing I had to explain to Toshi several times.He just put any old rock down and hoped for the best.I explained that if he was going to carry a heavy rock for placement,make it count so he wouldn't have to move it again.Work smart not hard.Toshi is blood type 'O'.The joke here is that people with blood type 'O' forget easy or they don't really care about the end result.I'm working on him.

Lots and lots of small rock were needed to fill gaps behind the foundation rock and to make level platforms for the second,third and so on layers.We mixed cement, 3 sand to 1 cement for our morter a used it to set rocks into position for strength and to fill any gaps.Slowly the wall was taking shape.We had all hands on deck gathering rocks,mixing cement and placing rocks to get the job completed on schedule.It was starting to look really good and worth the effort.A good amount of effort now and a lot less later is the plan.

When we finally completed the wall,the garden bed needed topping up with soil and compost so we scoured the farm for some good soil and put in 2 truck loads.

Next we had to put in areas to walk that we could reach the garden bed center from anywhere in the garden.We have a heap of timber blocks about 30cm X 20cm which were perfect for the design.We dug them in so they are same height as the soil with about 100mm gap between each.Previously the old paths were at ground level,but making them at bed level we gain more surface area for plant.A trick I picked up from a colleague mate Cam Wilson.On ya Cam.Now we can access anywhere in the garden easily,not compact the soil and once everything is grown we can sit in amongst the beautiful herbs.



















Next we mulched heavily with straw and put in 120 vegetables and herbs that will companion each other.The main veg being lettuce,we companioned it with cucumber,dill,basil,beans,oregano and strawberries.There are so many more things in there as well.



The last thing to do was make a set of stepping blocks onto a rocky outcrop and fill the gaps between the blocks with vegetation to stabilize them.
The pond that the garden is near will reflect the suns heat and warm the garden so we will be able to grow warmer climate plans for longer when it get cooler.Mediterranean type herds like thyme,oregano and basil have been planted on the south facing wall to capture the heat from the rocks and tall herbs have been positioned so they will protect the lettuces from the hot summer sun.

A really good job buy all involved and I am happy with the finished result.It suits the rocky outcrop at the pond like it was meant to be there.

Here is a diagram and plant list for a garden.Change the plants to suit your own area.Don't be afraid to experiment.Have fun,live a little.
Keyhole garden plan

A. Snap peas, pole-type 'Sugar Snap', 1 seed packet

B. Edible flowers (calendulas, pansies, violas)

C. Cabbage, 'Ruby Perfection', 6 plants

D. Cauliflower, 'Amazing', 9 plants

E. Spinach, 'Tyee', 6 plants

F. Garlic, 'Chesnok Red' and 'Spanish Roja'

G. Broccoli, 'Premium Crop', 8 plants, and Romanesco, 12 plants

H. Mustard, 'Giant Red', 6 plants, and 'Green Wave', 3 plants

I. Carrots, 'Babette' and 'Bolero', 1 seed packet each

J. Onions, 'Walla Walla Sweet'

K. Radishes, 'Cherry Belle' and 'Crimson Giant', 1 seed packet each

L. Swiss chard, 'Rainbow', 9 plants, and 'Ruby', 2 plants

M. Kale, 'Winterbor', 6 plants

N. Lettuce, curly endive, 'Dark Lollo Rossa', 'Lollo Rossa', 'Sierra', and 'Tom Thumb', 6 plants each

O. Ornamental kale, 26 plants

P. Herbs (assorted)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Glass House Garden

19/04/08

With the further transformation and development of the systems here at Fuji Eco Park there is always opportunity to make a garden.On the farm there are several small cabins to house wwoofers when they are here.One particular cabin has bottles built into the walls as a decorative effect as well as a heating quality.The sun heats the bottles and the air in them and creates stored heat energy and acts as a thermal mass.

This is not the first time I have seen bottles as walls.I first encountered the concept at Rainbow Vally Farm in New Zealand.Joe Polaisher and Trish Allen use the technique through out their home and outside compost toilets.The system could be used anywhere really and the construction can really get the creative juices flowing.

The cabin here is next to a huge hot tub set amongst rock walls and looks fantastic.It is south facing and during summer I expect it would get quite warm inside but it could be used as a sauna also.Some trees can be planted to shade it a little during the hotter period though.

Masa asked me to design a garden utilizing the unused spaces around the hot tub and cabin that would be beautiful with herbs and vegetables.

We took a look at the work area in question and as it is south facing it is protected from the northerly winds.Alot of rock has previously been used around the area so we kept with that theme and put in a small wall at the bottom of an excavated slope to retain the dirt from the excavation.The wall was to be about 600mm high so it was comfortable to reach over into a garden area behind it.We dug a small channel in the soil to keep the rocks from slipping out from the bottom and packed smaller rocks around the bottom layer of rocks to support them.
I learned this type of wall making when I was studying in Australia at the Permaforest Trust.We had a guy come in to do a workshop on one of our activity based training days and built several walls after that.

A young Japanese wwoofer was staying with us at the time and he was great at lifting the rocks and putting them into place.Where possible,we looked for nice flat rocks for the face of the wall and that they sloped back at the top.A lot of positioning of the rocks is needed to find the best way for the rock to sit.The wall was continued to meet an existing wall and a series of different levels has added some dimension to the whole garden.

At the bottom of the newly constructed wall a path was added and a lower level garden bed was created using a railway timber as the border.In areas where the reaching distance to the center of the garden was uncomfortable,we added a small flat timber as a stepping plate..

Now we have a nice terraced garden full of herbs to lookat when we are in the hot tub and a heap of vegetables mixed in there also.It took 3 guys to construct this garden in 1 day.A lot of material had to he bucketed to the site as we couldn't get a wheel barrow in.A lot of rocks also had to be carried into the area and they weren't light.But we managed.

The most enjoyable part is putting in the plants and watching their progress.I know the wwoofers helping do the work like planting because it is easier than carrying rocks.When each of these jobs are complete,Waka san(an older Japanese worker) stands back and says in a rough English 'beautiful'

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Three Sisters Permaculture Garden

22/04/08

We noticed a underutilized resource at the chicken house recently so I put on my thinking cap and came up with a solution to the problem.

The chook house sits on the west of the property boarder and has a fairly good flow of water running thru or near it when it rains.The chickens are fenced with a dog run around the outside to protect them from foxes.They don't get to free range as the neighbors are concerned about influenza spread by birds so they stay in the pen always.I am designing a tractoring system to get them into the gardens,but more on that later.

Because they have been housed there for so long,manure has built up in the soil and gets washed thru the soil when it rains.I saw this as an opportunity to look at using the Three Sisters technique (corn,beans,squash) here as corn requires chicken manure and is a heavy feeder.We can get our fertilizing done with little or no energy from us.It will be all done by the chickens and the rain(nature).This is using "Relative Location",a principle of Permaculture where we locate things at the best appropriate place for utilizing energies.It also lets us use elements of the system to do more than one function for the system.Here is a quick run down of how I see it working.

The chickens will shit and the rain will wash it thru the soil making it available for the corn,beans,squash and other plants.The fence protects the chickens from the fox and is a trellis for cucumbers and beans that will also shade the dog in his run.The dog will protect the chickens from the fox and protect the corn from the deer that usually eat it.The corn will act as a trellis for the beans and protect the chickens from the wind.The position of the garden is also good as the corn will get good afternoon sun which it likes.There are heaps of other functions happening in the system and we are always coming up with more ideas.

So we started building the garden after Masa was so excited with the conceptual plan.We got the resources we needed in the form of compost and straw from a nearby dairy farm.There was a large pile of rocks in the way so I attacked them with the excavator we have on site to give us plenty of room for wandering pumpkin vines.Next saw me leveling the area as it have a bit of slope and I wanted to create beds that would hold water when it rained.Once we leveled the area we found that we had a stepped area separating what was going to be one big garden.A quick redesign and we put in a small rock wall utilizing the rocks from the pile and adding a feature to the garden.We added the compost into where the rows of the garden and rotary hoed it into the soil.A little bit of work saw the bed separated into rows that the corm will grow and then finally straw to mulch the beds to retain moisture.And there it is completed and ready to plant.

We had seeded up lots of the required plants for the garden and wait for them to br ready for transplanting into the garden.We will consecutively plant the crops so we have a continual supply to the kitchen over the harvest period and it will also look nice with the crops at different growing stages.

Borage has also been introduced to the garden as a companion ,as has German chamomile.Some flowering herbs like cosmos and marigold or calendula will also be added for color and to attract bees to pollinate the fruiting vegies.So we will have a very mixed garden that will function well and all the plants will help each other in some way.Some small rock structures will be made amongst the garden to attract lizards and frogs to live and they will be predators for the insects that come to munch on the plants.

A recent clean out of the chook house has created a surplus of chook poo which we will keep stored for compost making and then feed the plants with that compost.All the resources are very close to the chook house so we can make it right there and use it right there with minimal travel to the garden.The nutrient from the compost pile will go into the soil also and feed plants that are up slope from the chickens.

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry.

Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies. Corn was the primary crop, providing more calories or energy per acre than any other. According to Three Sisters legends corn must grow in community with other crops rather than on its own - it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.

The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sisters spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or “Our Sustainers". The planting season is marked by ceremonies to honor them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of “green” corn on the cob. By retelling the stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.

Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years’ corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops’ chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the mound at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter in the soil and improve its structure.

Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.

Native Americans kept this system in practice for centuries without the modern conceptual vocabulary we use today, i.e. soil nitrogen, vitamins, etc. They often look for signs in their environment that indicate the right soil temperature and weather for planting corn, i.e. when the Canada geese return or the dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrel’s ear. You may wish to record such signs as you observe in your garden and neighborhood so that, depending on how well you judged the timing, you can watch for them again next season!

Early European settlers would certainly never have survived without the gift of the Three Sisters from the Native Americans, the story behind our Thanksgiving celebration. Celebrating the importance of these gifts, not only to the Pilgrims but also to civilizations around the globe that readily adopted these New World crops, adds meaning to modern garden practices

Success with a Three Sisters garden involves careful attention to timing, seed spacing, and varieties. In many areas, if you simply plant all three in the same hole at the same time, the result will be a snarl of vines in which the corn gets overwhelmed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Training a Sheep

At Fuji Eco Park there are about 40 chooks, 2 ducks, also 2 wild ones that fly in each day and swim in the ponds, a dog, a couple thousand compost and earth worms and one sheep.

Before I arrived, 3 wwoofers spent about an hour cutting grass and weeds for the sheep.This didn't make sense to me as am a logical and creative being. It took these peoples energy to walk to the other side of the farm with a wheel barrow and then the time to cut the grass and talk about whatever crisis the world is in and then walk to the pen where the sheep is housed as part of a crop rotation.

I saw an opportunity to reduce the time to get the grass cut and use the extra energy saved buy the wwoofers to do other more constructive tasks.I figured that the area the grass was being cut could also do with being fertilized and as it is on a ridge,if it were fertilized and it rained the nutrient would wash down the slope into the soil and enrich a lot more area and we would save even alot more energy.Letting a natural energy cycle do the work for us is what we are trying to replicate using Permaculture."Relative Location".

This is where the sheep come into play as an element having many functions.

I also figured that if I trained the sheep to be caught and walked to the grass cutting location it would save time, energy, get the field fertilized, get the grass cut, bring people closer to the animal and teach the sheep something new also.So we tried it out.

At first the sheep was shit scared of people.She didn't mind the wwoof girls because they brought the food to her daily.But when anybogy else got in the pen it was on for young and old.It took 5 of us at first to corner the sheep and get a rope around her neck and then quickly get a chain around her neck.When the walking started she wanted to run straight off,then get stubborn and not want to move at all.She learnt quickly that if she pulled on the chain it would be a little unpleasant.

We have several electric golf buggies here as Masa has a business maintaining them for golf courses about the place and we get the 'hand me downs'.They are great as we charge them from the solar powered house and the batteries last ages.Great for carrying things quickly around the farm.Anyway,we use one of these as the anchoring point for the 10 meter long chain as it is very easy to relocate and to also carry the water bucket each day and the sheep can't tow it away.Perfect.

So each day it became easier and the sheep seems to like going for the walk.She seems to know that the good grass is at the end of the trip.Now it takes one person to move the sheep in the morning and return at night.I love working with animals and take her most days and she comes now when I call her.She just needs a big scratch behind the ears and to be talked to calmly and she walks without getting skittish.

A wwoofer 'Ayako' was putting her away recently and she got away on her.When we cornered the sheep Ayako dived on the chain in the dirt to catch her again.She had just arrived on the farm and I don't think she wanted the sheep getting the best of her.What a gem of a lady.

This system will only be used short term until we rotate the sheep to another pen with more food for all those wondering about sheep's rights.It is a solution to the problem until we can get the system right.With all the time saved we been able to do so much more constructive jobs and the wwoofers get to do less mundane tasks.

And no, I'm not a Kiwi.