Category: Permaculture

This winter has been an exceptional one for much of the country, with sub-zero temperatures and heavy snows. Here in the PNW, however, we have had a rather typical winter of rain and wind with occasional dips into the 20’s. Now, as February creeps slowly by, the rain has increased and the ground has become so saturated that stepping off of the beaten path results in sinking up to the ankles in mud. Up until January, I have been diligently toiling at my greenhouse landscaping project, but now the weather has driven me indoors to ponder my landscape design business restart. The next major element – paving stones – must wait for higher temperatures and less rain, hopefully in March.

Before and after shots from September and December are encouraging:

  September –  bare ground with weeds    January – stone path completed with some plantings

I am waiting until March, when I anticipate the chance of a deep freeze to be much less, to put out the ground covers and grasses that will border the path. Selections include red thyme, woolly thyme, winter savory, and California fuschia (Zauschneria california). The piece of square metal visible just past the Mugo pine will hold one of several cordylines that will add a directional emphasis to the scene.  In the background is my revised deer fence, intended for beauty as much as functionality.

Below the greenhouse, the plan is for a terrace garden that will put to use a barren hillslope where my horses once roamed:

Using the rototiller, I’ll break about eight five-foot wide terraces into the slope, and line each with a 12″ wall of stone laid over landscape fabric so I can avoid the weedy disaster that plagued my earlier work.  Another stone wall will line either side to create a contained area for growing flowers, strawberries, and tomatoes, leaving a path to the side for access between greenhouse and garden.

The idea is consistent with my desire to apply permaculture principles to my landscaping by putting most of the open areas into production. The area between the barn and garden, though shady in the mornings, may provide enough light for some shrubs and dwarf fruit trees. The garden will produce most of our vegetables.  I’ve also added cherry and plum trees to the existing orchard and hope to add a few medlars as well. The key to success, and to some extent the bulk of the entire effort, will be keeping the deer away with hundreds of feet of fencing.





Landscaping in a Northwest Winter

But first, a maternal scene of deer in my field from earlier this spring. The doe had twins and they have been terrorizing my planting beds ever since. They are small enough to fit through most anything, including my experiment fishing line and parallel wire fencing. Only the netting will keep the little plant munchers out and even then they can crawl underneath anything not fixed at the bottom. But they are cute.




The mushrooms were Tom’s idea – why not use a few rotten logs my father left lying about to grow Chicken-of-the-Woods?  So here we are, dragging the log, drilling the log, and installing the plugs which are presumably inoculated with spores. They should produce in a year or two we hope. These are edible mushrooms found in Pacific Northwest most commonly on conifer logs and snags.



Growing your own ‘shrooms

I took December off and went to Costa Rica. It was my first foray into the tropics, and every bit as appealing biologically as I had expected. I took photos, hiked into exotic places, added about 40 new bird species to my life list, and basked in the warm humidity, far from the cold rains of the Pacific Northwest.

My Costa Rica Dream Yard

My Costa Rica dream yard (Hotel Villas Gaia, 20 km north of Palmar Sur, CR)

An additional and unexpected benefit, however, was a timely introduction to tropical permaculture.

During the cold, muddy season that comprises the typical Northwest winter, I’ve been studying landscape design and considering its applications both to my future career and the 20 acres I’ve been pondering since May.  Seeking a way to mix both agriculture and landscape design, I recently picked up two books on permaculture, Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway, and Permaculture:  A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. Both have held be transfixed. At last, I’ve found the link between my studies of ecology and the more creative aspects of landscape design.

Permaculture, a shortening of the terms “Permanent” and “Agriculture”, is a way to apply a knowledge of natural processes and patterns to create an efficient and sustainable system for food production. I began looking to it as a way to help myself, as an individual of finite means and physical strength, to create a system for managing and maintaining a large property in a way that will produce food and recreate a functional ecosystem in a diverse, attractive setting.

The words and ideas enthralled me. Hydrology, soils, even pattern analysis all work themselves into a new way to design landscapes. More than just creating beautiful landscapes, I could build something that appealed to my more pragmatic side as well, and Costa Rica supplied me with abundant examples.

Costa Rica prides itself upon its green tourism industry, touting not only a large number of national parks and reserves built upon private and public partnerships, but also programs that encourage recycling, conservation, and even sustainability within the industry. One example was the resort that we stayed at for four nights north of San Ramon in the Canton of Alajuela. Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel, Spa, and Natural Reserve is a five-leaf award winner in the Certification Program for Sustainable Tourism.  Located adjacent to the private Los Angeles Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, the property offers cloud-forest tours on the premises, and has its own gardens, greenhouses, and composting sheds with which to grow and recycle food used in its kitchens.



Villa Blanca Hotel and Spa grounds (top) and greenhouses (bottom)
Drip irrigation system for greenhouse vegetables


Protective shelter for lettuce in the outdoor garden at Villa Blanca.

I spent many hours walking the property and surrounding farm lands gathering ideas for creating and irrigating a low-till garden with associated animal pens, compost bins, and water supply. Since the mountains of Costa Rica experience a long rainy season, much like Western Washington, I found that many of the solutions for runoff management were applicable to home, and I carefully photographed and noted drains, swales, and gutters of stone, cement, and natural vegetation in hopes of replicating the same.

PICT5633   An intricate rock catchment system at Villa Blanca.

 Beyond the resort, I observed terraced farmlands practicing polyculture with a patchwork of different crop types shaded by trees. The rainforest has been substantially reduced by clearing, but it was heartening to observe that at least the smaller farms were adopting practices that reduced runoff and encouraged a healthier management of resources. Whether or not this is an old practice among the smaller farms, or fincas, or a new approach to agriculture I don’t know. I contrasted this, however, with industrialized farms further inland towards Arenal where acres of land had been shrouded in plastic to grow ornamental plants.

One of the more novel ideas that I observed was the concept of the living fence, which in the tropics can be easily achieved by simply placing green branches in the ground as fence posts and letting them sprout.


One post in a living fence

I hope to achieve similar results using willows and plantings of entangling plants such as Rosa and Spirea to create my own livestock and deer barriers. I also took notes on the use of piling materials on top of harvest beds to enrich the soil and minimize tilling. Villa Blanca used an extensive drip irrigation system for both greenhouse and outdoor crops, and used several methods of composting, including Bokashi, a natural fertilizer comprised of manure, coffee pulp or rice hulls, yeast and molasses. The smell, however, might prevent my adoption of that particular technique.

Throughout the trip, and perhaps somewhat to my travelling partner’s chagrain, I snapped hundreds of photos and sketched out my revised garden plan which I shall share in future postings. Returning from my vacation, I felt a curious mix of both relaxation and exhileration. It certainly beats the way I used to feel when I returned to my ‘real’ job.

A Personal Permaculture Revolution

  • January 9th, 2010
  • Posted in Permaculture
  • Comments Off on A Personal Permaculture Revolution

orange yellow shroomGardens generally don’t include a consideration of mushrooms. Nurseries offer a lush supply of perennials, shrubs, trees, groundcovers, bulbs and annuals, but I’ve yet to find a sign for the ‘fungi’ section. Mushrooms find you. They come with the territory for only they seem to know what conditions best suit them. Since I’m usually focused on the Plant Kingdom, my encounters with them are quite by surprise.  Today, for instance, I spied a large white mound in a place where I had nothing planted.  My radar registered it as garbage, until I got closer and realized it was a beefy-looking mushroom listing over on one side like a whale emerging from the waves. I don’t think it had been there two days ago, but here it was now, fully formed and even a bit past its peak, judging from the nibbles that had been taken out of it. Several others had also emerged from the leaves in the back ground forming a little white pod of ‘shrooms prancing through my developing woodland glade.

beefy shroom



Last week, I found what I believe to have been a shaggy mane mushroom that had emerged next the hose cache. There it was, already half-eaten, and I’d never even seen it before. Besides that, there were no others with it, just this four-inch tall white matchstick-shaped fungus jutting out of the earth. The following day I found but a fallen white stem that I would have mistaken for a stick except that I recalled the mushroom growing there from the previous day.



Sometimes, as I’m weeding or planting, I’ll notice threads of white or yellow mushroom hyphae clinging to the soil particles for dear life. Fungal mycelia have invaded my pile of woodchips and bark pieces, now four months into rotting. In September, a cloud of little white button

red trio


mushrooms covered the back of the pile, then vanished, but when I dig, I find the bark pieces clumped together by fragile white fibers. Thanks to action of these fungi, the wood pieces break down into into a richer and more nutritious mulch than what I started with earlier in the summer.


I’ve seen at least 10 different types of mushrooms so far, starting as far back as August when a rainshower brought them forth from the ground. I’ve heard that fungi-loving gardeners can now obtain fungi plugs that can be placed into pre-drilled holes in stumps and logs to create a personal ‘shroom garden. Now, your own chicken-of-the-woods crop is within reach. Given my ignorance, I’m still a little gun-shy though. Photographing these ephemeral creatures in their many forms is enough for now.


*** For those amateur mycologists who know mushrooms better than, please feel free to step foward and identify the ‘shrooms that I could not!****

Places to acquire edible mushrooms for cultivation:

Mushroom Magic