Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Permaculture Tip: Nature Tending

A perfectly ripe wild blackberry is a thing of perfection!

A Permaculture Tip is an idea that is derived from observing and interacting with nature.  It is simple.  It is safe.  It is effective.  It helps build a sustainable system of agriculture and life in general.  If you have any Permaculture Tips you would like to share, please let me know.  I will post it here, give you the credit, and post a link to your blog or website if you have one.  Email me here: kitsteiner@hotmail.com

Nature Tending is a term I coined to describe subtle gardening of the natural world. In Permaculture, we have the design concept of Zones (read more about Zones in this article). Zone 4 is a semi-wild area. It is a place that is only visited a few times each year and is almost entirely left to nature... but not entirely. It is often used for grazing of animals, for collecting firewood, for coppicing, for hunting, and for wild harvesting. This is where Nature Tending works the best.

Have you ever seen a wild tangle of blackberries or a few black cherry seedlings trying to survive in the forest edge? What if we trimmed back some old blackberry canes to allow the new shoots room to grow? The blackberries produced on those developing canes would likely be larger and easier to harvest. What if we cut back some branches from that neighboring walnut shading those black cherry seedlings? What if we piled a little dirt just downhill of those seedlings so that when it rained a little extra water would linger at its roots? What if we took some of the leaf litter and tucked it up under the seedlings to provide a little extra natural mulch? These quick actions would provide a better life for these seedlings, and a better life often means survival. In a few to a dozen years, those seedlings are now large trees providing habitat and food for wild animals and wood and food for us.

These small things, that take only a few seconds each, can pay big dividends in the months and years to come.

I think back to the time when I live in Franklin, Kentucky. My home's backyard was a strip of woodland before the farmer's field of corn and soy. It was chock full of black cherry trees (that made some great jelly, by the way!) and black walnut trees. There were just a few straggly blackberry vines snaking their way through the edge of the field and the woodland. I remember thinking that I wish these blackberry canes were more vigorous and produced more fruit. This would have been the perfect time and place for Nature Tending. If only...

Maybe we won't be the ones who benefit from this. Maybe it is just the wildlife that benefits. Good for them. Maybe we set it up so another person enjoys the benefits of our (very brief) labor, and maybe they become so enamored with the idea of harvesting from the wild that they do the same for others. Maybe it is just a little kid who picks the blackberries while on an "adventure" in the woods, dreaming he is an explorer and living off the land. Maybe he grows up to be the next Bill Mollison or Geoff Lawton or Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan or...

Once your eyes have been opened to the idea, you can see the opportunities for Nature Tending all around.


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