Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Fourteen

Resuming my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Fourteen: Animals for the Garden Farm. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


About geese: “You should always keep both male and female geese. They are typically monogamous and mate for life, but if widowed, can usually be mated again after a period of mourning. Sometimes a gander and two geese will form a durable trio.” — Peter Bane


Note: Being a largely vegetarian household (with friends and/or local farmers who raise chickens for eggs and cows for milk and cheese), we don’t have and won’t have farm animals on our property, so I didn’t pay close attention to this chapter; mostly my notes reflect animal trivia, not the advantages and disadvantages of each animal in a permaculture setting, which Bane does delineate. If this topic really interests you, I recommend reading it yourself (buy the book, or read the chapter online).


Discussed are: honeybees, pigs, chickens, goats, cattle, ducks, rabbits, geese, turkeys, llamas, guinea pigs, quinea fowl, pigeons, and working dogs and cats.

Animals move the sun’s energy around, concentrating it and depositing it.

Bane advises against these animals as not suited to polycultures: horses (an indulgence); sheep (prone to parasites); and donkeys (prefer rugged terrain, don’t like confinement). [Several people in our town raise donkeys in large pastures with alpacas, goats, and sheep, and they seem to work well.] He also names two dozen others animals that could be “specialty crops” (p. 261).

Conserving heritage breeds: An advantage is that they can largely take care of themselves.

Ethical Dominion: Bane feels it’s justifiable to kill animals to help ourselves:

“I believe that we can justifiably take the lives of animals, either ourselves directly or in human community, in order to bolster our own vigor and prosperity against the vicissitudes of a difficult fate while remaining compassionate toward our animal companions. A proper ethical stance toward animal life requires that we use what we kill and that we provide a good life to the animals in our care. This means at minimum that they enjoy adequate healthy food and water, protection from predators and the hazards of confinement and a life of companionship with others of their own and compatible kinds, with as much of their natural sexual cycle, including reproduction, as can be accommodated.”

Bane says there is an opportunity for mindfulness and gratitude in raising and killing animals [my note: there is also the same opportunity if you eat only plants]. “Engaging with animals requires us to be present with our carnality.” If one is squeamish about sexual politics, have a few geese, which mate in pairs for life.

Qualities to look for in farm animals: docility, thriftiness (can grow and prosper in average conditions), vigor. “Eat the weak and wicked and … breed the strong and calm.”

“You may elect not to keep livestock. This is a completely legitimate approach; however, it will slow down soil building, require you to bring in manure from somewhere else or increase demand for fossil-fueled machinery.”



Honeybees: The “smallest livestock you are likely to keep.” Apis mellifera. Bees need access to water that they can reach without drowning, and they need sunlight on their hive. The queen bee can store sperm for up to 3 years and can lay 1000 fertile eggs per day. Worker bees are the sexually infertile daughters. Males are drones. The queen’s pheromones regulate all the activity in the hive. If the queen loses her fertilizing ability, the workers prepare to raises a new one. Bees forage for 2-3 miles in all directions (see Appendix 2 for a bee forage list). Bees make propolis (gum to seal cracks in the hive) and royal jelly from honey; they mix flower nectar with enzymes to make the honey, which they eat in winter. If the hive space is filled with honey and it’s still warm outside, the hive will prepare to swarm. Workers beat their wings around the queen all winter to keep the temperatures inside the hive at 92F. Mites and deadly bacterial diseases can be a problem. Never feed them honey from other hives, as it can be contaminated with foulbrood and other diseases; if needed, supplement food with sugar syrup.

active bees at hive, Paradise Park, Windsor VT, Feb. 2016


Poultry: Pigeons, ducks, geese, chicken, quail, turkeys, guinea fowl. Use for food, pest control, to eat waste food, for eggs. They are easily tamed.

CHICKENS (4-11 lbs): Eat insects, worms, mice, voles, frogs, lizards, snakes. No teeth (like all birds; they have gizzards, so they need constant access to grit or small stones to digest food). Hens lay after 22-24 weeks. After 2 years, laying rate is about half what it was to start with. Can lay for 20 years. (There are four pages of info on raising chickens.)

chickens, Foundwell Farm, Pembroke, NH, May 2015


DUCKS (7-9 lbs): Water management is very important for ducks. They also need space and cleanliness. Ducks can’t peck food apart, so it has to be chopped. They like table scraps. Never handle them by their legs. Muscovy ducks catch 87% of flies in a 400-square-foot cage in an hour.


roving ducks at Wonderwell Buddhist Retreat Center, Springfield, NH, Oct. 2013


GEESE: There are 4 major types of geese. Geese are true grazers — they love grass and forage. They’ll eat lizards and slugs but mostly they are plant eaters. Also excellent weeders and lawn mowers. Need water like ducks do. Typically monogamous, sometimes trios of a gander and two geese.


geese in road, Andover, NH, Feb. 2013

TURKEYS: Most turkeys are raised commercially in confinement but they can free-range and scavenge. In Mexico, it’s common to see them wandering through the village in day, returning to roosts at night as long as water is provided. They do well on legume or grass pasture seeded to alfalfa, bluegrass, ladino clover or bromegrass, or with annual plantings like soybeans, sudan grass, sunflowers, rape, kale, and reed canary grass. Shade from either plants or buildings must be provided when it’s hot. They are best suited for a woodland setting or forest garden with access to harvested field crops for gleaning. “Heritage breeds are likely to be hardier and more disease-resistant, but clipping their wings may be necessary to prevent flight.” Need protection from owls and dogs.

turkeys in the yard, March 2015 (on motion camera)
turkeys grooming on the fence, April 2015

GUINEA FOWL: “[G]uinea fowl are also notably noisy, having a very loud and raucous call that announces the arrival of guests or any strange creature coming into the yard. While not burdened with intelligence, they are quite unintimidated by larger animals and will attack almost anything that threatens them, including venomous snakes, which they have been known to kill. This combination of traits makes them excellent watch animals for a poultry flock, and many times a guinea has saved the lives of less suspecting chickens, ducks or turkeys.” They’re never tame but they won’t leave your farm/yard if they are confined in a poultry yard until they are 12 weeks old. Though hardy in hot and cold climates, they won’t lay eggs unless temperatures exceed 59F; lay 60-180 eggs per year. Determined foragers of insects.

guinea fowl at Bedrock Gardens, Lee, NH, Oct. 2015

PIGEONS: They range far afield to forage. “Because they require little space and thrive in urban environments, pigeons have considerable promise as city livestock.” Need continuous supply of fresh water for drinking and also for bathing weekly, and like all birds they need some grit to digest their food. A breeding pair can produce 12 to 16 squab (baby birds — the ones people want to eat) yearly. They don’t produce well in very cold climates. “Pigeons are prey to every imaginable predator; care should especially be taken to exclude rats from their nests.”

pigeons seeking shelter from wind, along a rail trail in Concord, NH, April 2015

QUAIL (Coturnix coturnix): Another small bird for the city. There are 4 subspecies farmed for meat and eggs; the Japanese quail, the only cultivated type, crosses easily with wild quail, producing fertile hybrids. They live about 5 years, with peak egg production at about 6 months; they can lay 200–300 eggs per year, but that will age them faster. Quail meat is dark and gamier than chicken, but the small eggs have a similar flavour to chicken’s eggs. Have to be confined or will escape (no homing instinct at all). Resistant to Newcastle disease, which afflicts other poultry. They can each chick mash and be kept (6 females to 1 male) in a rabbit cage.


Small mammals: “Small animals are all of potential interest to the garden farmer because they can so quickly accelerate soil building. That they can turn wastes into meat, eggs, honey, fur and other useful goods is a wonderful bonus. Among mammals, first place goes to the rabbit, a species so prolific that permaculture teacher Dan Hemenway has written that rabbits would be the perfect domestic livestock if only they laid eggs.”

RABBITS: “Rabbits are among the most economical and productive of all livestock. A ten-pound mature female of a large breed such as a Satin, New Zealand, California or Flemish produces a litter after one month gestation and can raise eight bunnies to five pounds of gross weight each in 12 weeks. Such young rabbits dress out at 3.5 pounds for a total of 28 pounds of clean meat in less than four months. One doe can triple her body weight in live protein with each litter and can raise four litters a year without strain.” 40 different breeds. Drafts and heat will kill them, so need protection. Eat grass, leaves, crop residues, legumes, kitchen scraps, cowpeas, clover, vetch, field peas. They especially like twigs and leaves of fruit trees/shrubs, which provides good fiber for them (they can be prone to diarrhea with a diet too high in soft vegetation). You can also just trap wild rabbits (he describes a system).

wild (but fearless) rabbit, Sachuest Point NWR, Middletown, RI, May 2017

GUINEA PIGS (aka Cavi or Cuy): Widely eaten in Peru and Bolivia. “Small, clean and extremely docile, these rodents are often kept indoors. They have great potential as urban livestock, even for households with little or no land. With no odor, minimal housing needs — they can be contained by a 4-inch board — and needing only kitchen scraps and weeds as food, as few as 20 females and two males could provide an adequate meat diet for a family of six.” A recipe for cooked cavi is given.


Pigs/Hogs: “Small farmers have always valued pigs because they can be fed on wastes, are self-reliant, friendly and loyal and are at least as smart as dogs. When people in the west country of Britain and in Ireland went visiting, they often made a point of calling on the family pig as much as on their human neighbors.” Woodland animals. Because they root, they are excellent at digging, stumping, and generally turning over soil. They mature at 4-6 months, with estrus throughout the year at three-week intervals (sort of like human women). Gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, and they have have 6-10 piglets. Bane writes extensively about pigs.

these are the kind of pigs I like


Goats: Goats are more efficient milk producers than cows or sheep. Joel Salatin: “I won’t keep animals who are smarter than I am.” Goats eat tangled thickets and woody perennials (they like honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and poison ivy). Can climb trees. They’re escape artists so are often tethered. Need communal life; separating the flock members makes them neurotic. They hate getting wet. They like a regular and peaceful routine. They need salt and iodine; feeding them chicory is helpful. The does (female goats) go into heat as the light wanes in the year, and (if mated) the kids are born 6 months later, in April. Goats can’t be driven, like sheep and cattle can, only led.

Spanish goat, Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, SC, June 2014


Llamas: [And I would think, Alpacas, which are common farm animals where we live.] Guard animals. They are intelligent, alert, and fast learners. They can be bred anytime and have a 1-year gestation period. Young llamas should not be handled too much “to prevent them treating humans as they do other llamas. Animals in the herd jostle for dominance and to maintain a hierarchy of privilege. They will spit, neck wrestle, and males will butt chests against each other.” Llamas require basically just forage and have very few if any veterinary needs. Two to four per acre of pasture, with a fence 5′ high. Social animals; “should be kept in a herd of at least two if not used as a guard animal for a flock of sheep or goats.” For a guard llama, get one two-year old gelding and introduce him to the flock “in a separate but adjacent pen until the animals are accustomed to each other. As the largest animal [they can reach 450 lbs and 6′ tall], the llama will assume a dominant and protective role; it has strong instincts to repel predators.” The most common use for llamas is fleece for spinning and weaving.

llama at Steeplebush Farm in Limington, Maine, Nov. 2008
sheep and alpacas, Spring Ledge Farm,NH, May 20132


Milk Cow: Beef cattle are not suitable because of their size and feed demand. For a cow to give milk, she has to be bred (41-week gestation) and give birth; the calf is part of the package. Lactation can run 300 days if milked 2x/day at the same 11- or 12-hour intervals. One cow creates 12-15 tons of manure per year. It’s a major undertaking to have even a small dairy cow.

Cows and calf, Andover, NH, April 2015


Dogs and Cats: Two smaller dogs have an advantage over one larger dog (easier to train and feed than one large dog and can work together against predators or vermin). “Cats are a bit more troublesome.” If you have a cat, just have one, as they hurt birds and amphibians. Guard animals should not be pets; provide shelter in a barn or shed and be kind to them but remember they are there to work.

working cat at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA, May 2007


Featured image (top image) is guinea fowl at Wonderwell Buddhist Retreat Center, Springfield, NH, Oct. 2013.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Case Study C

Here are my highly personal notes on the third of four case studies, Case Study C: Old 99 Farm, Dundas, Ontario, Canada, in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


He’s deliberately chosen a middle path, seeking out old ways of living that are economical and practical, while embracing appropriate and transitional technologies. His strategy calls for reducing dependence on fossil fuels while retaining the convenience of grid systems (rejecting off-grid, primitive and unplugged approaches) — and also eschewing intensive horticultural work (such as that involved in CSA vegetable production) in favor of an experimental mode of research, demonstration and ad hoc marketing.” — Peter Bane 


I could not believe that the USDA zone for Dundas, in the Lake Ontario Basin of Ontario, Canada, at 650 feet of elevation, is 6a! Here in central NH we are 4b. The case study location gets 33″ of precipitation per year (we get about 40″ here).

This particular property is a long, narrow 25 acres (400 feet x 1/2 mile), located 8 miles from the city of Hamilton (over 1/2 million people). Other homes are at suburban distances from this parcel. Ian, a single man in his 50s (with two grown daughters), preparing for energy descent, has been tending the land since 2007; previously, it was conventionally cropped for soybeans.

So far, here’s some of what’s there:

  • solar array with battery backup tied to the electric grid
    — it can run the pump, the fridge, and a few lights
  • contour garden beds and cover cropping (winter rye)
  • hoop houses and greenhouses for winter produce to sell
  • a composting toilet
  • a root cellar
  • insulated space above the garage for guest quarters
  • a stream and pond with wetland plants and aquaculture
  • 3,000 gallons of roofwater storage
  • orchard terraces of apples, pears, and peaches
  • a hobby farm of livestock — heritage Canadian Lineback cattle, chickens, Dorset and Katahdin sheep (with geese and ducks on the way)
Site prep for the two greenhouses; installing the climate battery; erecting greenhouse frames.
Canadiennes cattle; swale for new orchard terraces; pond

Ian is experimenting with biofuels, geothermal, and wind.

Plans include:

  • solar preheated water and hot water on-demand systems
  • organic certification
  • a small cold-storage facility for fruits
  • production aquaculture
  • keyline subsoiling and remineralization for enhanced fertility and water capture
  • outdoor kitchen with grape & kiwi pergola
  • an ethanol project
  • a tree nursery

Eventually he would like to achieve food self-reliance for 12 people with surplus to sell.

Bane feels that the Ian’s challenge is to “develop a supportive community around the farm, including other resident farm help, and beyond that, to develop plans for a transition to his retirement.”

farm stand sign and one of Ian’s large terriers


Featured image: Ian’s Dorset sheep, which can lamb any time of the year. (All photos from Bane’s book.)

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Thirteen

Resuming my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Thirteen: Setting Plant Priorities. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“The approach to diversity is continuous and iterative: expand and filter. Add species to your diet, your garden and your seed collection as your knowledge grows. Try hundreds or thousands and winnow them down to the double handful that will really feed you. Grow the rest for interest, preservation, medicine, flavor, or the many, many non-food purposes of the farm: fodder, insect habitat, soil remediation, seed production, windbreak, and beauty among them.” — Peter Bane



Herbs First: When space and time are limited. Most herbs are weeds, so they are also repairing the soil.

field of dill, Spring Ledge Farm, NH (Sept 2015)

Salad Bowl: Leafy greens. Mache (corn salad, in the valerian family) resows itself each year.  Also lettuce, chicory, endives, radicchio, escarole, and young leaves of beets, kale, and chard.

Flowers: Edible flowers — pansies, violets, begonias, sunflowers, lilies, roses, calendula, nasturtium, et al. — and others: “They buoy the spirit, represent a good potential cash crop, and are important for sowing goodwill among your neighbors and passersby. They also attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators, making your garden more productive. Flowers are available for every niche in the garden from full sun to constant shade, and can — if they are not for eating — be grown in contaminated

pansies (May 2015)
calendula with bumblebee (4 Oct. 2017)

Greens: Leafy greens transport poorly and are powerhouses of nutrients, so it’s a good strategy to grow them for yourself. Pound for pound, they are also a good source of protein, though we don’t usually eat pounds of them. Spinach, kale, chard, collards, arugula, et al. In the heat of summer: New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach, collards, and sweet potato greens; and plant other greens in shadier spots.

chard and spinach leaves, and chives (July 2013)

Small Fruits: “Some fruits like currants and gooseberries [which have been banned here in NH due to white pine blister; now some can be grown with a permit] are seldom available in commerce. And who can ever get enough strawberries? … With a well-selected assortment, you can eat fresh fruit of the most delicate types from late May through first frost with scarcely a break. We start with mulberries (which admittedly grow on a tree) and strawberries in May, then get juneberries, red raspberries, black, white and red currants, gooseberries, black raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, tomatillos and in the fall red raspberries again. Everbearing strawberries yield throughout the season.” Also, hardy kiwis and grapes.

gooseberries at Paradise Lot, Holyoke, MA, June 2016

Staple Crops: The crops that provide the most calories for most of the year; in cold and dry climates, they must store well for months when they can’t be grown.

  • Potatoes — not heavy feeders so good in a new bed where soil fertility is questionable. Plant cut pieces of tubers (2-5 per spud, each with several eyes) on soil surface and cover with straw or leaf mulch; add more mulches as tops grow. Frost tender.
  • Onions and garlic — walking onions (aka Egyptian onions) can fit anywhere and are good companion plants. Yellow onions keep the best, white the worst.
  • Beets
beet harvest, Aug 2015
  • Carrots — prefer sandy soil; if you have clay, plant shorter varieties. Slow to germinate; interplant radish seeds, which germinate fast, to keep track of where the carrots are; the radishes will be up and gone in three weeks, just about the the carrots are sprouting.
carrot harvest (from previous year), March 2016
  • Brassicas — Kohlrabi: “The edible part of the kohlrabi is a bulbous stem, which we find to be sweet. Kohlrabis produce very small leaves and put most of their energy into the bulb. We eat them raw, peeled and sliced thin, with a little mayonnaise, or just plain, though they make a fine addition to soups or can be steamed. They’ll keep well in a root cellar and deliver a lot of calories.” Also Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, collards, broccoli.
Brussels sprouts, Oct. 2015
  • Pumpkins and Squash — particularly important as winter keepers.
pumpkin in field, Batchelder Mills Trails, Concord, NH, Sept. 2017
  • Shell Beans (dried) are a “good source of protein that can be stored at room temperature for months or even years. Allow them to dry fully on the vine during the last weeks of summer into autumn when rainfall is low; bring them in before fall rains. Shell them out soon after harvest and allow to dry completely before storing.” Chickpeas or garbanzos, favas or broad beans, lentils of many types, peas, mung and adzuki beans, navy, pinto, black turtle and lima beans.
friend’s rattlesnake beans, Aug. 2014
  • Grains
  • Corn – good calorie production but low amino acid profile (but can be complemented by beans, especially black beans).
  • Apples
friend’s apple harvest, Oct. 2013
  • Tomatoes – good container plants

Choose plants that play as many roles as possible: Fuel, fiber, fodder, fertilizer, fencing, flowers, forage, fragrance, fungus, filtration, farmaceuticals, fun, etc.

Fiber plants: Cotton, hemp, flax, kenaf, agave/sisal, bamboo, willow, kudzu, grain straw, reed grass, nettles, yucca, hibiscus, cattail. Can use fig roots, honeysuckle, hibiscus, kudzu, grapevines for basketry.

yucca in flower, Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2016

Fertility: Comfrey can be cut (chopped and dropped) 3-5 times per growing season to provide N, K, and Ca. Also good for fertility are chamomile, yarrow, and horsetail.

floppy comfrey in bordedr, June 2016

Plants for fencing and barriers: Pleaching involves “cutting or scraping sections of the cambium layers of two or more stems, then binding these together temporarily until they grow into each other. Many woody plants can be pleached; this increases survival rates by providing each stem access to a wider root network.”


More on plant-made fencing and barriers:

“Hawthorns and some plums, with their prominent thorns, make good hedge plants, and can be partially cut, laid over and woven into living fences while still rooted. The most wicked fencing species is honey locust. Its 5- to 12-inch thorns can be deadly; they evolved to repel mastodons and mammoths which would otherwise have pushed the trees over to get at their large, sweet, protein-rich seedpods, still appreciated by sheep and cattle. … Among traditional ornamentals, I would choose lilac (Syringa vulgaris, of which there are numerous sizes and several color variants) and mock orange (Philadelphus spp), both of which have dense shrubby growth and fantastic fragrances. Forsythia is always inspiring for a week in the spring, but of little use at any other time. It makes a poor mulch as the cut stems and branches can root if covered while still green. For our own living fence in southern Indiana we selected hawthorns, roses, Japanese and other quinces (all thorny species), as well as hazels, plums, cotoneasters, aronia, serviceberries, sorbus, crab apples, willows, Italian alder, witchhazel and deciduous holly — about 40 nitrogen-fixing,fruiting or wildlife forage species in all.”



Featured image (top image) is a stand of bamboo at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum, Bristol, RI, May 2017.

Wednesday Vignette: A Geography of Elements


Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the land ends and the sky begins.

“To be in place here, in other words, is to be at the edge of something. It is to pull yourself into alignment with something tentative, ephemeral, incidental though powerfully felt. Something atmospheric distributed across a geography of elements that swell. A thing that turns scenes, spaces, and bodily effects into envelopes that produce worlds out of thin air.” — Kathleen Stewart, citing W. Mules & P. Sloterdijk in ‘Regionality,’ Geographical Review, April 2013

Photo taken Christmas Day, 2017, while snowshoeing

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Twelve

Resuming my highly personal notes on Chapter Twelve: Plants, Crops & Seeds — The Real Dirt in Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012). Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“You cannot garden without killing a lot of plants deliberately. Just as we should take no offense that plants move onto ‘our’ turf, we should have no guilt about chopping, mowing or grazing them down as it suits us. Out of common sense and self-care, we should, however, refrain from poisoning plants because poison knows no boundaries.” — Peter Bane


There are 500,000 to 1 million species of plants alive on planet Earth now, just a “tiny fraction of all those that have ever lived.” Of these, we’ve used about 100,000 species over all of human history for gardening. And of those, about 10% have been used for food. About 3,000 plant species used for food and drink are now available commercially or collected in botanical gardens or arboretums, with only 150 species developed extensively for agriculture. And a “mere 20 species provide 80% by weight of the food consumed by humans.” and only a small number of cultivars within each of those 20 species.

Sort of mind-blowing, isn’t it?

The earliest evolved plants — mosses, liverwort — are 800 million years old (humans are only 2-3 million years old). Flowering plants emerged from 80 to 140 million years ago, when continents starting forming.

liverwort on log, Enfield, NH, 16 April 2016

The Six Kingdoms of Life: Archaea; Bacteria; Protista; Plantae; Animalia; and Fungi. They are further subdivided by Phylla (Phyllum), Classes, Superorders, Orders, Families, Genera (Genus), and Species.

Discussion of nomenclature (and how important it is to use scientific names, not common names which can vary from place to place), taxonomy, and economic botany –most of our food and medicine comes from angiosperms (flowering plants – monocots and dicots), of which there are 254K species, and 7 of the 115 families provide the most economic value: legumes, mints, sunflowers, mallows, mustards, carrots, and lilies, plus the rose family, which includes many tree, shrub, and cane fruits and beech trees.

31 Crops that Feed Humanity – list on p. 216. Includes rice, wheat, rye, maize, potatoes, barley, cassava, oats, sorghum, sugar cane, soy, banana, coconut, apple, cottonseed, peanut, olive, citrus, beans and peas, tomato, mango, onion, sesame, date, cabbages, yam, et al.

bananas, Longwood Conservatory, May 2016

Another list, of 31 Superorders and Some Crops That Come From Them, on p. 220, divides the superorders into two groups, monocots and dicots. Bane doesn’t explain what these are, so I had to research it, and it’s quite difficult to grasp the botanical terms at first (for me, anyway), though once you’re given examples of each, it becomes intuitively obvious which are which in most cases. Essentially, a monocot has one seed leaf, often slender and long; most are herbaceous (no woody tissue) and small, and many are grasses; wheat, oats, barley, and corn are monocots, and so are palms, orchids, and many plants that grow from bulbs.

palms (and grasses), Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2016

On the other hand, a dicot has two seed leaves, usually rounded and fat, because they are two halves of a seed; there are many more species of dicots, including most tree and shrubs, and many annuals and perennials.

Some of the dicot superorders in his list are:
Lamianae (Mint), e.g., sesame, sage, basil, oregano, lavender, mullein, foxglove.

Violanae (Mustards and Cucurbits): e.g., cabbage, squash, cucumbers, melons, radish, violets, capers, and mustard

cucumber foliage, Aug. 2013

Aralianae (Carrots-Ginseng Alliance): e.g., carrot, celery, lovage, dill, parsnip, cilantro, fennel, cumin, anise, ginseng.

fennel stems, Sept. 2016

One dicot superorder with a lot of food crops is Liliidae (Lily), which contains onion, garlic, leek, iris, crocus, asparagus, yams, vanilla, agave, and yucca.

crocuses, April 2017

Plant Origins – Native or Exotic:

Plant origins are not important, in my view, for the purpose of keeping ecosystems in some form of ‘native’ purity. We are not only past the time when that is possible outside of very small areas, but climate change has handed us a mandate to accept and to create new combinations of plants, animals, insects and fungi in the interest not only of meeting our own needs but to preserve the diversity that is the basis of life itself.

Plant origins matter because they have shaped to a considerable degree the expectations of the organism. A plant that originated near the equator will not likely respond well to very short or very long day lengths in the temperate regions, though there are exceptions. Plants will have coevolved with insects and animals; they will have pollinators; they will have ecological niches that tell us much about how they should be cultivated. Studying plant origins can tell us where to look for analog plants, those that can function in the place of a native species, but that may have preferred characteristics, e.g., disease resistance, better flavor or higher yields.”

Later in the chapter, Bane says that plants can never accurately be said to be invasive; it’s we who have “invaded territory and unhinged ecosystems.” But he also notes that

“[a]s a practical matter, we should always be mindful to include natives among our cultivated landscapes, gardens and fields for the unseen but essential relationships they make with soil microbes, pollinators, birds and other key players in the ecosystem. And we should thoughtfully consider the qualities of exotic plants that may make them difficult to manage.”

Plant Breeding: Corn is now dependent on us: “[I]ts seed will scarcely germinate at all unless removed from the cob by humans.”


New plant traits are most likely expressed in plants with widely divergent types of parents (called “hybrid vigor”).

Crop breeding selection has focused on durability, keeping qualities for storage, uniformity, and ease of mechanical manipulation — all traits suited to commerce.

March Toward Seed Monopoly: Post-war farmers, instead of saving seeds from year to year like their great-grandparents, purchased hybrid seeds promising higher yields. In the years after World War II (“and the violent decades of revolution and upheaval that preceded and followed it as old empires collapsed and former colonies threw off their masters”), governments understood that hunger was dangerous to the established order so they were very interested in growing high-yield wheat, corn, and rice. Seed dependency increased because the new seeds were all hybrids that corporations owned; ownership of these corporations “was tightly integrated with the elites of the former Western imperial powers. The patenting of life forms was, through intense political pressure applied behind closed doors, legally enabled in the 1970s so that profits from hybrid seeds could be maximized.”

Hybrids: When two similar hybrid plants are crossed, you get F1 (first filial offspring), which will include only a few plants that will resemble the parents. Takes 6 or 7 generations to stabilise hybrid seeds so they produce true to type.

Lots of risk to hybrid breeding strategy: blight, susceptibility to other diseases and to insect devastation.

“Hybrid seeds, in and of themselves, are not evil. But the expansion of their use to support increasing intensification of agriculture worldwide, combined with plant patenting laws and the destruction, intended or otherwise, of landrace diversity in staple crops throughout many of the largest agricultural centers of production in the global South, saw a massive increase in monoculture and a dramatic narrowing of the genetic diversity underpinning agriculture itself. This has placed the very future of humanity in jeopardy.”


The Ethics of Diversity: “The cultivation of diversity, which leads to resilient ecosystems, is a principle in permaculture but is also expressed in our ethical injunction to ‘Care for the Earth,’ which means to respect and conserve all species. Every garden farm should strive to introduce and maintain more plants than it can crop. In part, this is a strategy for selection, but at a deeper level it is a strategy for survival, for diversity is the life raft of life itself.”

Climate change has shifted North American USDA zones northwest by an average of 15 miles per year for the past 20 years. 1990 vs. 2006 map (but he spelled January wrong!):


Politics of Diversity: Big Pharma (a few global corporations) control an integrated product line of agrochemicals, seeds, GMOs, and drugs. Independent research shows strong links between genetically modified food and allergies, degenerative disease, and reproductive failure (p. 227, cites a 2011 report). Yields of GM crops and nutritional values are lower than from conventional varieties, but they are proprietary, so profitable.

Polyculture: Nature is a polyculture, so we can “have some confidence that this strategy will work when applied to cultivated systems.”

Planting in Guilds: A guild is an assembly of cooperating plants whose lives are intertwined; the elements within each are mutually supportive, fully integrated. He describes the Native American “three sisters” guild of corn, beans, and squash: The (green) beans bring nitrogen to the system; the corn provides a stalk for the bean vines to grown on, and corn is an amino acid complement of beans, nutritionally; and the squash provides ground cover to deter insects and mulch the soil, and nutritionally it offers calories, betacarotene, and minerals. Another plant to grow in this guild is the flower cleome, which is a trap crop for the squash beetle.

bean-squash teepee, July 2012
3 sisters guild, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Boston Flower Show, March 2017

Typically a guild is organized around a single tree or small group of trees of a single species, usually fruit or nut trees. Then shrubs and herbs can be planted nearby to give ground cover, build soil, repel pests. Growing in guilds means less weeding, better pest control, less staking. Something should be in bloom at every part of the growing season. See the Bee Forage list in Appendix 2. Plant species with many small flowers are good for predatory wasps, which attack garden pests. Note what works.

baptisia and yarrow in my fruit guild, under peach trees, June 2017

Finding and Filling a Niche: Find or create a niche for each species in a guild, and conversely, survey niches to find the right plant to occupy them.

“The central role of plants in polyculture stems from their rootedness. Once planted, they can only move slowly by incremental growth of by distributing their seeds, tips, or stolons into new territory. So spatial relationships to other species become critical to the design of cultivated environments. This architectural aspect of gardening has visible and invisible components. Up to half of the biomass of most vascular plants, the vast majority of species, lies underground, out of sight.”

Annuals grow from germination to seed production in one year. They are not meant to endure in one place but to succeed to (be replaced by) other species.

Biennials germinate and grow in the first year, then set seed in the second (after a season of dormancy).

angelica is a biennial (June 2016)

Perennials — which can be woody or non-woody, herbaceous, shrubby, tree-like — grow from their roots each year and can live for centuries, some taking years to set seed and some setting seed on an irregular basis. Woody perennials grow a new layer of cambium (the living tissue just below the bark) each year, which means that their stems and branches thicken each year. Each limb takes energy, so plants will abandon limbs to conserve energy to grow cambium; that’s why pruning is a good practice, to divert energy where it’s needed.

Bare soil is an unrealised opportunity, and dangerous.

cover crops at Paradise Lot, Holyoke, MA (June 2016)

Section on propagating plants (pp. 234-238), genetic and vegetative methods.

Saving Seeds: Store them dry and cool, in small labelled envelopes. Once dry, store in airtight jars. Most veggie seeds can be stored for several years.

Sprouting seeds: To germinate seeds, don’t let soil dry out. Once sprouted, light misting at least every day and sometimes much more often until in the ground. Potting mix for seedlings: 1/4 garden soil, 1/4 sand, 1/4 vermiculite, 1/4 compost. Add rock phosphate, green sand, and limestone.

germinated seeds

Transplanting, rather than planting seeds in outside ground, means no tilling.

Alternate Planting Strategies – direct seeding, broadcasting:

  • Direct planting with a dibble stick
  • Scratch a furrow
  • Plants seeds in soil at depth 4x their diameter, with squash, corn, and beans a little deeper, and garlic, onion sets, and large fruit and nut pits deeper still. Plant tiny seeds like carrots on the surface.
  • Can broadcast cover crop seeds: With large seeds, get them high in air so they fall in a scatter pattern. Keep small seeds close to the ground.
  • Use seed balls for weedy or brushy areas.
planting garlic (Oct 2017)


Featured image (top image) is a tiny section of a tomato tasting at a local farmstand in NH, Sept. 2016. Each year they trial and taste-test about 40 varieties of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.

Autumn Leaves + Winter Sunshine

“She seemed a compound of the autumn leaves and the winter sunshine …” ― Virginia Woolf, Night and Day

That’s the way this day in late November felt, now recollected: a compound of autumn leaves and winter sunshine, walking woods and field, the small system of Winant Trails in the state capital of Concord, New Hampshire.

Autumn leaves aplenty, some still clinging, many underfoot:


And the sunshine!

beech leaves swirling in sun
rock cairn and rock circle with oaks leaves and sun

Sunshine on wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), some wine-leaved with red berries …


And sunshine on this claw-like fungus …


I think this is turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) but it might be false … I think because I can see tiny pores, it’s the real thing:

Here’s a little jelly fungus:


Some other little things —

Partridge berry (Mitchella repens), which has berries all winter long:


Leaves and stem of another prostrate forest floor plant, trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens), whose white or pink flowers I look for in May here in N.H.:


This was another little thing I saw, not completely natural:


And then these green washes: algae on fungi in a stump, like a gaping mouth with vertical teeth …


… And greenness on this log; what made the perfect little holes?:


Moss grows in a cut tree stump:


Random trees are labelled:


And there’s a fenced-in water tank at the top of the trails:


A clearing midway up the trails provides long views of far-off mountains:


In fact, you can see snow on one mountain, which was not widespread in late November but is covering everything here now.











Wednesday Vignette: Perceiving the Light


Above, fertile fronds of sensitive ferns, against rock, with fall leaves.

“As the brain of man is the speck of dust in the universe that thinks, so the leaves — the fern and the needled pine and the latticed frond and the seaweed ribbon — perceive the light in a fundamental and constructive sense. The flowers looking in from the walled garden through my window do not, it is true, see me. But their leaves see the light, as my eyes can never do. They take it, as it forever spills away radiant into space in a golden waste, to a primal purpose. They impound its stellar energy, and with that force they make life out of the elements. They breathe upon the dust, and it is a rose.  — Donald Culross Peatie, Flowering Earth (1939)

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

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