Friday, September 30, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Bougainvillea

Beautiful Bougainvillea Bracts.

I recently received this email from a reader:

Hi John, this isn't actually a temperate climate question, but I'd love to hear your thoughts anyways. I've just moved into a new home in Southern Turkey where the climate is similar to that of southern California. I'm hoping to experiment with some permaculture projects in my living space and want to start with what's already there. There is a large Bougainvillea bush ("paper flower") in the back yard and roses in the front yard. Do you have any insights from your reading about the benefits and uses of these two plants in particular and how they as ornamentals might fit into a permaculture system? 

First, I have to say that the Mediterranean climate really is technically part of the world's Temperate Climate Zone.  While there are roses that can be grown throughout most of the world, Bougainvillea is more tropical and sub-tropical, and many readers of the blog live in just these areas.  In the U.S., it can be grown in large swaths through California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.  Overall, very appropriate!

I'll talk about the roses in a separate post where I will devote a full "Permaculture Plants" article on them.  Today I will really focus on the basic Permaculture aspects of the Bougainvillea.  While not a plant that is often considered when discussing Permaculture, it does have a number of uses from which we can benefit if we already have these plants growing on our land.

Bougainvillea grows high and thick.

Common Name: Bougainvillea, Paper Flower
Pronounced: boo-gan-VEE-yuh or boo-gan-VEE-jah
Scientific Name: Bougainvillea species
Family: Nyctaginaceae

Bougainvillea are woody vines that can be shaped into a standard upright shrub that can grow fairly tall.  It is most well know for its vibrantly colored bracts - modified leaves that surround the true flower inside.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9b-12.  If kept dry, can withstand light frost and temperatures to 32 F (0 C).
Life Span: - 3-10 years

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental vine
  • Ornamental standard bush or shrub
  • Ornamental hedge

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect nectar source - has small flowers which bloom long and often from which smaller, beneficial insects can eat
  • Natural barrier fence due to its thorns and dense growth habit
  • Drought and heat tolerant - excellent for outside of normal watering/irrigation areas
  • Small animal shelter - especially small birds
  • Privacy Hedge - due to its very dense growth
  • Wind Break
  • Potpourri - while lacking scent, the bracts hold their color and shape well when dried
  • Wreathes - made from cuttings
  • Used in traditional medicine for diarrhea, heartburn, cough, sore throat - studies are lacking
  • Recently studied for diabetic and cancer treatments - no current treatment recommendations 

A Bougainvillea Hedge

Flowering: The closer to the equator, the longer the blooming season.  More Temperate Climates can expect long, recurrent summer and early autumn blooms.

Special Considerations for Growing:
Bougainvillea does not tolerate high levels of prolonged moisture.  Avoid overwatering.  Too much water causes the plant not to flower and can cause root rot.

Seeds.  Easily propagated through tip cuttings.  Just keep the cutting in moist soil in the shade until roots develop.

"Propagating bougainvilleas from cuttings is easy. The best way to identify the best quality wood for a cutting is to look for the striped bark, which will be semi-hard wood and take a four-node cutting. Remove all of the leaves except for the top leaf. Injure the bark of the bottom node and dip in rooting hormone and place in a striking mix in small pots. Normally it takes between two and three months for roots to be visible at the bottom of the tube."

Bougainvillea can get quite large if allowed.

Maintenance: Relatively pest free.  Minimal once established, but will need pruning to keep in bounds


  • Sharp Thorns!  Don't walk barefoot near this plant.  As a child, we had a large bougainvillea on the side of our home.  We often avoided this corner of the property, because we rarely wore shoes as children when playing outside.  I had numerous thorns impaled in my calloused feet when I would run too close to this plant.  Note that all varieties do not have thorns.
  • Irritating Sap.  Can cause poison ivy (poison oak, poison sumac) like reactions.

Bougainvillea come in a wide variety of colors, although the shades of purple are most common.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Permaculture Projects: Composting

The Classic Compost Bin

I received a comment on Facebook asking me for resources on composting and vermiculture (worm composting).  My initial thought was that I would write a quick post on composting.  I would then do some more research on vermiculture before I wrote that post since I have yet to do any vermiculture myself.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I have done and know to do is more complicated than just a simple post.  Instead, what I thought I would do is share some of my basic thoughts on composting, and then share some of my favorite resources on composting.

When I have time, I will go back and write about what I have done specifically with composting, the variations/experimenting I have done, and the lessons I have learned.  I will also write a post soon about vermiculture - it is really cool!

There are a couple of things I want to point out first...

One of the many modern (and pricey) compost tumbler designs.

Mesophilic Composting
Mesophilic (ME-zoh-fill-ick) composting is composting done at temperatures that are warm but not too hot.  This is what most people think of when someone says "compost pile".  This is how most backyard composters expect to run a compost pile or bin.  Certain things that can be pathogenic (disease causing) should not be placed in a mesophilic compost pile.  These are things like meat, bones, cooking oils, animal and human feces, diseased crops, etc.  The temperatures typically do not maintain a high enough temperature for long enough to kill the pathogens potentially found in these items, so they should be avoided.

Thermophilic Composting
Thermophilic composting is composting done at very hot temperatures.  Thermophilic composting has been proven (over and over in many research studies) to kill all known human pathogens (parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc.), all known plant pathogens, and all weed seeds.  All home or "backyard" composters have the ability to easily make their mesophilic compost pile a thermophilic compost pile.  You just need a bit more space, plenty of moisture, plenty of aeration, a good C:N ration (that's carbon to nitrogen ratio - read all about this in the links below), and plenty of time.  A thermophilic compost pile should sit for at least a year before it is used.  If you have the time and the space, then this is the type of composting I would highly recommend.  You can truly recycle all organic material.  Period.  It is the most efficient and resource conserving method of composting.  The Humanure Handbook, which I highlighted a few days ago here, extensively discusses thermophilic composting.

Composting and Permaculture
As this blog is about Permaculture, I need to say that composting is a no-brainer when it comes to Permaculture.  Permaculture Principle One (Observe and Interact) and Six (Produce No Waste) dovetaile nicely in composting.  If we observe nature, we see that in nature there is no waste.  Everything is recycled.  If we are trying to emulate nature, we should compost as much as we can.  This is just one way to be truly sustainable.

Get out and start composting!
Finally, if you are thinking about starting a compost pile, just get out there and do it.  You can learn as you go.  It is so easy.  You will feel good about doing it.  You will end up with a great resource that your plants will love!

Composting Resources:  This is a good site for the simple basics of composting (also has a page on vermiculture). - Composting: This is the Environmental Protection Agency's information page on composting.  It is well organized and very extensive.  Excellent information. - Where You Live:  This is the Environmental Protection Agency's link page to each state's composting page. Yeah, pretty much every state has a composting page! A really good site on composting.  It has a lot of its own information, but it also has a bunch of links to other pages on the internet.  Not as well organized as it could be, and some of the links are dead, but overall, there is a lot of good information on this site.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

A huge trend of tiny houses...

Tiny houses.  It's a growing trend in homes, and I absolutely love this whole idea.  I have been interested in small houses for many years.  It is interesting how people will often gravitate to the smaller, more intimate rooms in a very large house.  It is these small spaces that are more inviting, more comfortable.  My thought was, "Why not make a house much smaller and full of small spaces?"  Then I came across Jay Shafer.  He is making small houses a reality.  While I don't plan on living in a 100 square foot house as he does (or did before he got married and is expecting a child), I am not going to live in a 6,000 square foot house either.  I don't think under 1,000 square feet is unreasonable by any means... in fact, it is on the border of arrogance and naiveté (Marie Antoinette-"let them eat cake"-style naiveté) to think we deserve more, especially when we take into account how the rest of the world lives.

Now don't get me wrong.  If you have the money and the desire, you can go ahead and live in a 6,000 square foot home.  I think it is a waste of your money.  I think it is a waste of your time and energy and resources to build and maintain it.  I think it will take you away from the more important things in life.  But if that is what you want, then go for it.  If you will be a slave to your home, either in debt or time or because you have too much stuff, then I say it is a bad decision.  But please don't confuse desire with need.  We do not need a large home.  We may like it, but we don't need it, and just because we can doesn't mean we should.  I'll get off my soapbox now.  Back to the really cool tiny houses...

From the Tumbleweed Houses Website:

I’m Jay Shafer, author of The Small House Book. Twelve years ago I designed and built the tiny house that would later become known as Tumbleweed. I’ve been, designing, building and inhabiting little houses ever since. I’ve built a dozen with my own hands and created designs for hundreds of other folks. My small houses and ideas for efficient living have been featured on Oprah, CNN, and in Natural Home Magazine.

I’ve shared my vision of living small by creating The Small House Book and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. Today, I lecture across the nation on small house living and design. All of my home designs are tried and true. I’ve traveled 7,000 miles across the country in one of my tiny houses. To my knowledge, no one else has been doing it longer and no one else teaches workable designs teaching people how to design and build along the way.

Viva la Tiny Revolution,
Jay Shafer

Here is a fun video where Jay Shafer takes us on a tour of his tiny home.  Please note that, as he says, the homes he designs have many more amenities (like proper plumbing) than this home he is living in now.

Check out his website where there are photos and floor plans of these tiny houses.  I find it very inspirational!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Permaculture Principles: Principle Eleven - Use the Edges and Value the Margin

Holmgren's Twelve Principles of Permaculture

Principle Eleven: Use the Edges and Value the Margin
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle:  Don't think you are on the right track just because it's a well beaten path.

This principle highlights a vital component to Permaculture design itself... the edge.  I wrote about the Importance of Edge more extensively in this post.  The main thing to consider is that if there is more life and richer biodiversity in the edge, then we should do all we can to increase the edge.  While the fastest route from point A to point B is a straight line, nature doesn't do straight lines.  If we are truly trying to mimic nature, then we should avoid straight lines as much as possible.  Of course, sometimes we need straight lines with certain design elements (roads, piping, wires, etc.), but the point is to question it when you see it.  Make sure it is vital and not just for us to impart our perception of "order" on the natural world.

Valuing the Margin reminds us that the mainstream is not always right.  There have been many things that have been abandoned, left on the margin, for reasons that have more to to with mass commercialism than wisdom or prudence or sustainability.  I often think about the loss of all the genetic diversity and flavor in our extinct varieties of plants and animals that we call Heirloom or Heritage Food.  The main reasons for their absence on our dinner plates is mainly due to shipping and storage and not flavor or consumer desire.  What else on the Margin have we passed by because everyone else has ignored... ideas, tools, design, people?

"Don't think you are on the right track just because it's a well beaten path" reminds us to reevaluate what we consider not worth considering.

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place, these are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
- David Holmgren

Monday, September 26, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Plums

Beautiful purple plums!

Common Name: Plum
Scientific Name: Prunus Prunus species (see below for more details)
Family: Rosaceae

Most plums have yellow flesh, but there are some notable exceptions.

The Greengage Plum can be green inside and out!

The Oriental or "Japanese" Plums can have red or yellow flesh.

I can't imagine any Edible Forest Garden without plum trees laden with fruit.  There are a wide variety to plums from around the world.  They are sweet, tart, spicy, or sweet with tart skins.  The common types of plums are the European hybrids, the Oriental hybrids, the American-Japanese hybrids, and the wild varieties of each of these.  They are oval or round with skin color ranging from almost white-yellow, to bright yellow, green, red, purple, blue, to almost black-purple.  Flesh color is usually yellow to green, but some of the Oriental hybrids can have reddish to purple flesh.  A fresh, perfectly ripe plum is an amazing thing to eat.  I have often eaten five or six at a time when they are at their prime... mmmm... not much better!

A brilliant blue Common European Plum.

Prune Plums, Italian variety

Damson Plums (a.k.a. Damask Plums)

Bullace Plums, White Bullace variety from England

A yellow variety of P. salicina (Oriental or Japanese Plums)

This "Black Splendor" Plum is an American-Oriental hybrid.
Both red fleshed and yellow-green fleshed hybrids are available.


Plums are actually part of genus Prunus, subgenus Prunus, and further divided into three "sections": 
1. Section Prunus (a.k.a. Old World Plums)
2. Section Prunocerasus (a.k.a. New World Plums)
3. Section Ameniaca (a.k.a. Apricots) - yes, those great tasting apricots!

Section Prunus (Old World Plums)
  • P. cerasifera (cherry plum, myrobalan plum) - Zone 5
  • P. cocomilia (Italian plum)
  • P. consociiflora
  • P. domestica - Zone 4-9
    European Plums:
         Common Plum - oval, blue to dark purple, with yellow flesh
         Prunes - oval, blue to purple with yellow-green flesh
         Green Gages
     - round, green with yellow-green flesh
  • P. domestica var. insititia - Zone 4
         Damsons or Damask plum - oval, dark blue to indigo with yellow-green flesh
         Bullaces - round, "white", yellow, green, blue, or purple with yellow-green flesh
  • P. salicina - Zone 6-10
         Oriental ("Japanese") Plums - round or oval, yellow or red, with red to yellow flesh
  • P. simonii
  • P. spinosa (blackthorn or sloe)

Section Prunocerasus (New World Plums)
  • P. alleghaniensis (Allegheny plum)  - Zone 5
  • P. americana - Zone 3-8
         American Plum -
    round to oval, yellow to red-purple with yellow-green flesh
  • P. americana var. niagra (Canada plum) - Zone 3
  • P. angustifolia (Chickasaw plum) - Zone 5
  • P. angustifolia var. watsonii (sandhill plum) - Zone 5
  • P. hortulana (hog plum) - Zone 5
  • P. maritima (beach plum) - Zone 3
  • P. mexicana (Mexican plum)
  • P. munsoniana (wild goose plum) - Zone 5
  • P. nigra (Canada plum, Black plum)
  • P. × orthosepala (P. americana × P. angustifolia)
  • P. subcordata (Klamath, Oregon, or Sierra plum)

Section Armeniaca (apricots) - treated as a distinct subgenus by some botanists - will be discussed in a separate post later.
  • P. armeniaca (apricot) - Zone 5-9
  • P. brigantina
  • P. mandschurica (Manchurian apricot) - Zone 3-9
  • P. mume (Chinese plum, Japanese apricot)
  • P. sibirica
Blossoming Plum, by Chinese artist Wang Mian from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

Plums have been cultivated by humans for thousands of years, likely by the Chinese first.  Confucius (551 B.C. - 479 B.C.) discussed the plum frequently in his writings and songs of popular Chinese culture, which means that it had probably been cultivated for hundreds to thousands of years before that.  In 65 B.C., Pompey the Great brought the plum to the Roman orchards, and plums were spread through to the Mediterranean by Alexander the Great (356 B.C. - 323 B.C.).  Colonists in America found the Native Americans using the wild plum in many ways.  Luther Burbank has likely contributed toward improving and hybridizing plums than any other single person in history.


  • The earliest mention of the Plum was by Confucius in 479 B.C.
  • Plums are the second most cultivated fruit behind apples.
  • There are over 140 varieties of plum sold in the United States alone, no one has a good number for the worldwide number of varieties.
  • All European and European varieties of plum are "freestone" meaning the flesh easily separates from the pit.
  • Oriental or Japanese plums and their hybrids are "clingstone" meaning the flesh clings to the pit.
  • The plum skin is responsible for the stimulation of bowel movements. 

Plums can be used for hedgerows as this P. cerasifera (cherry or myrobalan plum)

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating
  • Dried (Prunes!) - plums dry best when halved and de-stoned (the large pit removed)
  • Juice
  • Jams, Jellies, Preserves
  • Baked, Poached, Cooked, Grilled
  • Baked goods (like pies!)
  • Frozen
  • Saladito - dried and salted prunes
  • Pickled
  • Wine
  • Brandy (distilled Plum Wine) - most commonly called Slivovitz
  • Plum Jerkum (cider-like alcoholic beverage)

Secondary Uses:

  • Scent - fragrant, beautiful blossoms
  • Food and shelter for wildlife
  • General insect nectar source
  • Can be coppiced
  • Hedgerows
  • Windbreaks
  • Stabilizing banks and gullies - less domesticated plants can tolerate flooding and their shallow, spreading roots and suckers minimize erosion
  • Skins and Roots of some plants can be used to make a red or purple dye

  • Dwarf: 0.5 - 1 bushel (18-35 liters)
  • Standard: 1-2 bushels (35-70 liters)

Harvest when ripe (slightly soft to the touch) and easily part from the stem .  July - October depending on the species and variety

Ripe plums do not store fresh for long.  Hard, unripe plums can be stored in a loosely closed paper bag for a few days until soft.  When ripe, the plums can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days as well.  
USDA Hardiness Zone: Varies (see SPECIES above)
AHS Heat Zone: Old World Plums 8-3; New World Plums 8-2; Oriental Plums 9-3
Chill Requirement: 200-1,750 hours/units depending on the species and variety

Plant Type: Medium-sized Shrub to Medium-Sized Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous 
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree for small Forest Garden, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Tree, Shrub
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species are available (see SPECIES above) with many hybrids.

Some species are self-fertile, but most require cross-pollination from other varieties.  Even those that are self-fertile will often produce more if cross-pollinated.  Old World Plums from other Old World Plums or hybrids thereof.  Oriental Plums from other Oriental Plums or hybrids thereof.  American Hybrid Plums with other American Hybrids from which it was derived.  Bottom line: just make sure you have at least two similar varieties in your yard or garden.  

Flowering: May-June

Life Span: 
  • Years to Begin Bearing: 2-6 years, depends on the rootstock.  Smaller adult plants will bear sooner.
  • Years to Maximum Bearing: 4-8 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Can be almost indefinite if old wood is removed and new shoots allowed to mature, but otherwise plums are not very long-lived trees.

Plum tree in blossom.

Size: Varies on the species and they type (there are a variety of rootstocks), but can range from 3-35 feet (1-10 meters) tall and wide.  Oriental and European Plums are more treelike, and American or American Hybrids are more shrublike. 
Roots: Shallow and wide spreading.  Will send up shoots from the base of the tree and form a thicket if allowed.
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast

Showing the spreading nature of the plum.
Photo of P. cerasifera (cherry plum, myrobalan plum)

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (about 50%)
Moisture: Medium (although a few species are more drought resistant)
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.1 - 7.0)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Moths, rather moth larvae, can cause significant damage to plums.  Encourage predators of moths (like Bats) and moth larvae (like Ichneumon Wasps, Trichogramma Wasps, etc.).  Bacterial canker  can also be problematic in humid climates, so chose varieties that are resistant to bacterial canker.

Typically with grafting.  Will need at least 13 weeks stratification (cold, moist conditions) for seeds to germinate.

Because plums are tip bearers, meaning they bear fruit at the ends of new growth branches (spurs), minimal pruning is required.  Oriental Plums are tip bearers, but they will also bear fruit on one year old spurs.  Pruning should be done in summer to early fall.  May need some thinning of fruit, because a branch laden with heavy fruit may break under the weight.  Pruning to created shorter branches can also prevent limb breaking.


  • Many varieties of plums have thorns.  This can be a good thing if you are trying to make a hedge.  Many of the hybrids do not have them.
  • Spreading nature.  Again, this can be a good thing if you are using the plum as a windbreak or slope stabilizer.  Some pruning of stray suckers may be needed if you want to avoid this.
  • Pits (seeds) and leaves contain cyanide.  All Prunus species (plums, cherries, peaches, almonds) contain cyanide.  The concentration is much lower in plums, but it is still present.
The bark of most, but not all, plums have a circular, band-like appearance.
Photo of P. angustifolia (Chickasaw plum)

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Permaculture Saves Money: Plant a Fruit Tree!

Planting a fruit tree can save, and maybe even make you, money!

Permaculture can save you money!  There are many ways this is true.  I plan on using posting examples of this from time to time.  The first example I want to use is by planting a fruit tree.  Please hang in there if some simple math causes you to glaze over... it will be worth it.

Initial cost of the tree: $26.50 (Williams Pride Apple Tree, full-sized)
Seller states this is an apple that is highly rated for flavor.  Large red fruit with a sweet rich spicy flavor.

Cost of fruit in a grocery store: $1.50 per pound
No, you cannot get this excellent tasting apple in stores.  This is just an example price, about average, for apples in the produce department.  Many are cheaper, and some are more expensive.

Years to begin producing: About 5 years to begin and up to 10 for maximum average production
Quantity of fruit produced: 100-400 lbs of fruit per season after it is about 10 years of age
Years of productive life: 35-100 years
Note: You can buy a dwarf apple tree that will begin bearing fruit in only 3 years; however the amount of fruit produced is less and the tree doesn't live as long.

Net total of fruit produced:
     Minimum: 100 lbs a year for only 35 years = 3,500 lbs of apples
     Maximum: 400 lbs a year for 100 years = 40,000 lbs of apples!

Cost of fruit produced (in today's prices):

     Minimum: 3,500 lbs of apples x $1.50 per lb = $5,250
     Maximum: 40,000 lbs of apples x $1.50 = $60,000!

So, am I saying that we will be rich (monetarily) if we plant some fruit trees?  No.  While, it is fun to run the numbers and see what the theoretical potential of a scant $26.50 investment, it would be highly unlikely to earn $60,000 dollars from one apple tree.

However, it is very possible to save $5,000 by planting one apple tree over the course of its productive years.  If we never had to buy an apple again in our life, how much would we save?  If we sold all the apples, we could make a little extra money as well.  If we produced value-added items (applesauce, apple jelly, apple butter, apple pies, apple juice, apple cider, etc.) we would be able to make even more, but it would also cost us some of your time.

Now what if we had early, mid, and late-season apples (apples that matured through the growing season)?  What if we also had pears, persimmons, plums, peaches, medlars, cherries, paw-paws, walnuts, etc.?  We would have the ability to significantly cut our food costs, and this is just from trees!  We would have healthier food as well.  If we incorporated all of this into an Edible Food Forest, then we would substantially cut our time as the system helps to govern itself.

This is just one reason I am such a huge proponent of Permaculture.  This food cost savings is why Permaculture is sweeping through the developing world.  When the majority of your money is going to buy your and your family's daily food, a well designed Permaculture system can be like winning the lottery.  But don't be so arrogant to think that we in the western world don't have to worry about food costs.  Our food costs are beginning to significantly rise as well, and many experts believe this trend is going to continue and worsen in the next 5-15 years!  (Read more in this post about the soaring costs of food.)

The best time to plant a tree is today!  Get out there and do it.  Don't just read about it and plan and plan and plan.  Just get it done!  It will be worth your time and money to do so.  Trust me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: The Humanure Handbook


Now let's just dive in to the topic that is sitting right in front of us.  The topic no one wants to talk about, ever.  Poop.  Crap.  Stool.  Whatever you want to call it, everyone does it.  But no one ever wants to discuss it.  The Western world is very fecophobic.  No, I did not make up that word.  But the fear of our own poop, or someone else's, makes this a topic that most people would rather avoid.  Let's avoid, rather, the verbal constipation of this subject.  As a Family Medicine physician, I talk about bowel movements all the time, so this is not uncomfortable to me at all.

A quick definition for those who are a bit slow:  Humanure = Human Manure

Where to begin... I guess I'll start off with my impression of this book.  It was fantastic.  Never would I have thought that a book, a whole book, about composting human manure would be such a great read, and yet it was.  I kid you not.  Joseph Jenkins has given us a very well written book.  It combines history with biology with agriculture with up to date science, all in an interesting and fun to read format.

I firmly believe everyone should read this book.  Even if you have no desire to ever compost your own crap, this book will break down a lot of misconceptions about this normal body function.

For those who are ecologically minded, you may be shocked at the amount of environmental damage and waste of water we commit to by pooping in drinking water and flushing it away to be chemically treated and released.

For those who are interested in the concept, either out of curiosity or out of a desire to actually implement this, but who are fearful of disease and contamination, you will be delighted to know how safe and easy building and maintaining a humanure compost pile really can be.  You will read in the book who building a thermophilic compost pile will reach temperatures of over 160 F (71 C), and this is hot enough to kill all known human pathogens (diseases) within 24 hours.  But to ensure safety, the recommendation is to let the pile stand for a year before using it.  For those who are really paranoid, he recommends letting the pile stand for two years.  By the time you actually use the compost, the material is really just like a high fertility soil.  Another point to ponder for those who are fearful that they will die from some deadly disease because they composted their poop... if you are healthy (i.e. NOT SICK), then where are the deadly bacteria that will kill you going to come from?

For those who are just freaked out by the gross factor, this book causes you to challenge your personal biases against a normal human process.  I find it humorous that most gardeners jump at the chance to pay good money for composted, or even fresh, horse and cow manure, yet will stare at you as if you had a third arm growing out of your head when you mention composted humanure.

I will probably talk more about this topic in the future, since I truly think it will be a growing trend across the world, especially when the world starts to realize how little fresh water we have left on the Earth.  But I will save that for another day...

Let me end this post by listing some of the reviews about this book:

"This is a cult classic which might strike those without an outhouse as disgusting. But the methods outlined within have the potential to change the ecological fate of the world."
- New Yorker Magazine, May 22, 2009

"The handbook contains a lot of hard information taken from the author's humanure composting experience." "Jenkins provides a convincing case that human waste can and should be a safe composting material." 
- Mother Earth News

"We think the Humanure [Hand]Book ranks right up there with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring as one of the most important environmental exposes of all time." 
- HortIdeas

"...outrageous humor and brilliant, diligent research." "This is one book that could save the world!"
- Permaculture Drylands Journal

"...almost certain to become a classic in its field." "This book should be required reading...and not only for homesteaders." 
- Countryside Journal

"...a good read for anyone who is ready to entertain the possibility of more fully integrating him or herself into the ecosystem." "Replete with bad jokes, provocative queries, and practical suggestions."
- The Natural Farmer

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spiral Patterns in Nature and in History

The Triskelion.

I have been intrigued by patterns since I was a child.  Maybe it was my artistic background.  Maybe it is why I became an artist in the first place.  Maybe it was my love of nature.  I'm not really sure.  I do know that there are patterns to everything.  Even the things that we think have no pattern are either collections of many smaller patterns or are fragments of larger patterns.

In the conceptual sense, there are patterns that are not seen but understood.  Patterns are then in literally everything from finance to geology to relationships to medicine.  It is the true genius that can see the larger pattern and understand it.  These are the people who are the trendsetters, the visionaries, the leaders in their field.  I don't claim to be one of these individuals by any means, but I can appreciate it.

I don't want to get too esoteric here today.  Suffice it to say that we are surrounded by patterns every day. Once you are keyed in to looking for patterns you will see them everywhere.

Now what in the world does this have to do with Permaculture?  Permaculture is all about design.  When we design, we use patterns.  Sometimes we don't realize we are using a pattern.  We may think we are just placing a path based on the way the land slopes.  In reality we are creating a pattern.

Today I am going to focus on spiral patterns.  These patterns would be amazing templates for gardens, orchards, forests, paths, waterways, anything you can think of.  Here are some of my favorite:

Variation of the Triquetra known as the Trinity Knot.

Variation of the Celtic Knot.

Variation of the Chi Rho.

Nautilus Shell.

Spiral Aloe.



Hurricane Isabel.

Romanesco Cauliflower.

A Fingerprint.

Labyrinth at Barvaux (Duruy), Belgium

The Herb Spiral.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beneficial Insects: Fly Parasites

Fly Parasite stinging a fly pupa!

Fly Parasites
Latin Name:  Muscidifurax zaraptor, Spanglia spp. (over 340 species in the Muscidifurax genera)
The majority of the information available about the Fly Parasite is on M. zaraptor, but most commercial insectaries sell a combination of both.

An emerging adult Fly Parasite.

Why are they beneficial?
These tiny wasps kill fly pupa (pupae are like hard cocoons) of most flies including the house flies and stable flies.  The common house fly, also called a "filth fly", live on/near manure and garbage waste and have the ability to transmit diseases.  In fact, they are able to transmit over 100 pathogens to humans including typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, and anthrax.  Keeping filth fly numbers down is part of preventive medicine!  The tiny Fly Parasite is harmless to humans and other animals.  Fly Parasites should be just one part of our fly reduction plans which should also include sanitation, proper waste disposal (likely in the form of good composting habits), and additional fly predators (like muscovy ducks).

Casings of fly pupa with holes showing where the Fly Parasite emerged.

What is their lifecycle?
The female Fly Parasite will sting a fly pupa and kill it.  It will then lay an egg in the pupal case.  The egg will hatch and the Fly Parasite larvae will feed on the dead fly pupa.  The adult Fly Parasite will emerge in 19-21 days, will mate, and will begin looking for new fly pupa to deposit eggs.  The adult will attack about 50 fly pupae in its life.  Some Fly Parasites can overwinter, but the number drastically falls with winter.

Adult Fly Parasites also feed on the fluids from fly pupae.  Sometimes, the adult female will sting and kill a fly pupa without laying an egg.  Fluid from the fly pupae will leak out of the stinging site, and the female will feed on it.  She will even share with nearby males.

The small but helpful Fly Parasite.

What do they look like?
They look like wasps!  They are really tiny, black wasps, about 0.04-0.08 inches (1-2 mm) long.

What do they need?
There is not a tremendous amount of information available about the Fly Parasites.  The main thing they need to survive is a population of flies as prey.  If we have flies around us, then that is likely all the Fly Parasite needs.  Fly Parasites are also very susceptible to pesticides, so here is yet another reason to avoid pesticides.

This is how Fly Parasites arrive.

It is recommended to purchase only Fly Parasites from commercial insectaries that are free from microsporidosis.  Fly Parasites are available for purchase.  They are typically shipped in a paper bag full of wood shavings.  Inside the wood shavings are a bunch of fly pupa that have host Fly Parasites maturing inside.  Try to sprinkle the Fly Parasites in areas that flies are breeding.  The new adult Fly Parasite will fly in about a 100 yard (91 meter) radius from where it emerges in search of prey.  The best results are achieved by releasing the Fly Parasites before the flies become a problem.  Small but steady releases, like  will keep the flies in check.  There is a wide range of advice on how many Fly Parasites to release on a farm, but a good rule of thumb is 500 per large animal, 250 per medium animal, 5 per small animal, and 5 per cubic foot of compost.  First release is in early spring, and repeat every 2-4 weeks in fly season.

Check out these other pages on beneficial insects in your garden!
Fly Parasites
Praying Mantis
Trichogramma Wasps