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Albert Einstein said and we quote, “Never regard study as a duty but as an enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later works belong." This was fully manifested when Richard, Shonduri, and I visited Colton garden.
It was a normal Friday and as usual in our trio, we decided to visit Colton garden to fulfill the volunteer hours for our class. Colton garden which is Located at 700 feet at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff, the Colton Community Garden (CCG) is an inspiring space for showcasing high elevation growing strategies and the bio-cultural diversity and heritage of the area. At the heart of the CCG’s mission is to generate, restore and inspire movement towards a more vibrant, resilient and sustainable food system in alignment with MNA’s mission which is to “inspire a sense of love and responsibility for the Colorado Plateau.”
We took off at the downtown connection center heading towards Colton garden. Once arriving safely at the garden, we were greeted by Rosemary and Garrod. Rosemary took us to a little tour of the new permaculture food forest section of the garden. Our initial thought was that it this project would be like normal work like we do in Malawi, digging up the soil or mixing the soil with compost and planting trees. It was during the orientation where we learned a different series of challenges with growing at high elevation in an arid landscape- a climate quite different from Malawi. Colton garden faces the usual challenges of growing at high elevation and navigating vermin such as an adjacent prairie dog’s colony and a healthy population of gophers. Despite these challenges the garden has grown exponentially in annual crop production and volunteer participation. In contrast to prairie dogs and gophers, Malawi faces a challenge of termites. These termites attack the roots of the plants. Malawi being a tropical country, has a hot and rainy season from mid-November to April but due to climate change, some areas experience drought whilst other areas experience floods. Due to these challenges, sometimes it is hard to grow crops. A lot of farmers who live in the areas that are affected by drought opt to grow perennial crops like sweet potatoes, and cassava. The leaves of these perennial crops are used as relish.
As we started digging the soil, we were surprised to find the chicken wire at the bottom. That was the time we learned about one of the great lessons in the garden. Rosemary explained that there are both gophers and prairie dogs in the area. So, the chicken wire prevents them from attacking the roots of the trees and other annuals. This was the first time we learned of such a simple but innovative way to prevent these animals from attacking the roots of the trees. In this process there are no chemicals applied to the soil, as a result, leaving the soil in its original form permitting microorganisms to breed in large volumes. Other non-organic strategies might involve something like poisoning the gophers and prairie dogs which could be detrimental to the soil and larger ecological health. Other organic ways to control gopher populations include both trapping and inviting predators such as snakes, hawks or owls to the garden. In Malawi, most of the times, the Agriculture Extension Development Officers advice farmers to spray chemicals as one of the ways of dealing with termites. In some cases farmers use ashes who can not afford chemicals use ashes, but this method is less effective because the ashes do not terminate the source of the termites, they only kill those termites that are visible.
We continued digging the holes and we managed to dig up to more than 15 holes in readiness for fruit trees which will later be arriving in an order by mail. In each of these holes we placed wire baskets to protect the roots of the trees/shrubs from the gophers. These baskets were called “Root Guard” While these baskets can also be made by hand with leftover wire materials, the funds from permaculture garden fundraiser in December made it possible to purchase these handy baskets.
At the end of our work we decided to take a larger tour around the garden. We were amazed by how the land has been effectively been put into use. The demarcations for each crop were marvelous and well thought of. It was obvious that there is so much care that is being put into the land to make sure that it bears the intended fruits. We were astonished by the investment that was done on a small piece of land. The garden is being looked after very well; an indicator to us that people are connecting well with nature.
Key reflections that we made after working in the Colton garden included:
Recipe for pumpkin leaves
2 lb pumpkin leaves
1big very ripe Tomato
6 cups Water
1 cup Groundnut/peanut flour
Wash the pumpkin leaves and break of the stem and pull of the silk from the pumpkin leaves. Do one leaf at the time and chop them
Boil 1cup of water and add salt,
Cook the leaves in boiling water for 5-10 mins and add the groundnut flour and the diced tomatoes and simmer for 5-10 mins until tender.
Recipe of sweet potato leaves
2 lb Sweet potato leaves
1big very ripe Tomato
6 cups Water
1 cup Groundnut/peanut flour
Wash the sweet potato leaves and shop them
Boil 2cups of water and add salt, diced tomatoes and lemon juice
Cook the leaves in boiling water for 5-10mins and add the groundnut flour and simmer for another 5 -10mins until tender.
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Colton Community Garden is located at the Museum of Northern Arizona (www.musnaz.org). The garden is entirely volunteer based and most projects and planting is done in a collective effort. There is a solid group of dedicated volunteers, most notably being Carol Fritzinger. She has been appointed the Garden Manager and has revitalized the Colton Community Garden and made the garden a really special place to be.
I am able to have a compost bin at my house, but not a whole system in the back yard. Because of this, I deliver my compost to the Colton Community Garden. Turns out, Fritz needed help with converting three more garden beds into lasagna beds. I was semi-familiar with lasagna beds, but I had never built one before. The awesome aspect about lasagna beds is that they are essentially ready-made compost beds that can be directly seeded and transplanted in. There is no strict formula for constructing a lasagna bed, but in general, “brown” and “green” materials are layered, like a lasagna casserole, over a heavy layer of organic material such as cardboard and newspaper. Brown materials are high in carbon and can consist of dried leaves, mulch, and straw or hay. Green materials are high in nitrogen and can include fresh yard and kitchen waste as well as manure. You ~can~ get super technical about it, but plants LOVE carbon and nitrogen, so its no biggie if you don't follow an exact science.
The process for building these specific lasagna beds went as follows: I dug out the current beds, carefully saving the existing soil. Then, I removed the plastic from the cardboard box and placed them on the bottom of the bed, followed by enough water to thoroughly soak the cardboard. A layer of soil was added. I then put a few containers of raw compost and followed with another layer of soil. Next, I dumped coffee grounds from Starbucks in the bed, also followed by soil. The next few layers of brown and green material consisted of leaves and animal manure, separated by layers of soil. Once the bed was full and topped off with soil, a burlap covering was placed over the exposed soils to prevent erosion and the loss of soil. Working at the Colton Community Garden and helping Fritz with installing lasagna beds has so much potential impact on the garden. Soil made in lasagna beds is packed with carbon and nitrogen, which plants thrive from. Produce grown in these beds will have higher yields, grow stronger, and will serve more people than produce grown in regular garden soil.
The impact the community gardens and composting can have in the world is insurmountable. We can heal social and ecological connections by composting and gardening as a community. Happy Gardening!!! <3 -Pamela Hobbs-Laventall
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By Garold Johnson
The Colton Community Garden is situated on the research side campus of the Museum of Northern Arizona with a fantastic view of the San Francisco Peaks. It is over 100 years old. The museum founders Harold and Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton fostered this garden's development. What makes the garden unique is that it is an outside demonstration site for growing in a high elevation, arid environment.
I started volunteering with watering the plants in the Colton Community Garden in Fall 2019 and will continue to do so. I'm am happy that I am doing more in the garden this spring. Currently, I am involved with the Permaculture Demo Site. Various tasks include pruning, laying compost, eating excess greens, watering, planting plants and trees, developing a prairie dog-proof tile fence, and anything else.
In the fall, our class made did the earthworks to prepare the space for spring planting. This involved giving shape to a new garden with rockwork and beginning the process of building soil. We laid wood chips for walking on, put in a cool chair where people can sit and relax and added a beautiful arch to the entrance.
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By Abby Lundberg
Over the past two years, my brother Jeremy and his wife Casey have worked hard to set up a permaculture-based orchard on their land near Salem, Oregon. I want to share some of the big picture site-mapping information about their land and showcase a little of the tremendously beautiful space they're cultivating.
About the property: features, soil, and zones
This aerial image from the USDA Web Soil Survey Tool shows that the main portion of the property under cultivation is predominately either classified as “NeC” (Nekia silty clay loam; big section in the middle where the buildings are) or “Am” (Amity silt loam; bottom right corner). Amity silt loam, which covers most of the pastureland, is terraced land that retains water, while Nekia silty clay loam is well-drained soil that occurs on the footslope of hills and has a layer of clay under the soil.
The differences in how well the soils drain and how much clay they have impacts what kinds of plants grow. For instance, there are no trees in the the Amity silt loam section, perhaps because the trees (oaks in particular) don’t tolerate standing water very well. I’ve noticed that there is a wider variety of grasses in the “Am” section than on the dry slopes above; this seems to suggest the grasses in this area are adapted to somewhat-marshy climates.
Zone 1 is the area that gets the most foot traffic and immediately surrounds the house, woodshed, and garage, while Zone 2 includes the front yard and barn. Zone 3 is predominately the orchard (though there are times when the orchard is probably also Zone 2 because of the amount of work it requires). Zone 4 includes pastureland, and Zone 5 is mostly forested areas that don’t see much traffic (unless it’s blackberry season).
So what does it look like? (Spring 2020)
Most of the plants are still pretty young, so especially at this time of year it can be hard to even spot the trees over the grass and flowers!
The orchard rises up a soft slope with trees planted into hugelkultur mounds that follow the contours of the land. An annual ground cover mix fills the space between rows. Among the fruit trees there are a variety of small bushes, and flowers like California Poppies, Borage, and Dame's Rocket. (Dame's Rocket is invasive, but so are we! I won't hold that against it. It feeds butterflies and can be eaten by people.)
Looking toward zone 1 (house) and zone 2 (barn and yard) from the orchard. This is close to the top of the orchard slope, and this height is where the soil type changes to NeC and oak trees grow, such as the very large one on the right in the first picture.
The second photo shows the edge of the chicken house, a raised bed for strawberries, and tires with tomatoes planted in them that have a cattle panel for the tomatoes to be tied to as they grow.
Looking down the orchard rows doesn't look like much, but the trees are still small. Someday they will grow big enough to obstruct the beautiful view!
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By Sierra Riker
Cascabel is a small settlement just northeast of Tucson, Arizona. Many of the residents had built their homes and live sustainably on the land. Despite the neighbors being so far apart, they share a tight-knit community through community dinners, common areas, and a community garden. David Omick and Pearl Mast in particular have an abundance of knowledge in living off of the land. They hand pump their water from the water table, use a solar heater for showering, and store their food in barrels outside and refrigerated goods in an ice chest that they leave open overnight and close during the day. David and Pearl also have a garden with a net over it to keep wildlife away, a solar oven for baking, and a solar array. They use the compost from their composting toilet to supply the garden. David and Pearl play a large role in helping the community with the community garden, building solar arrays for their neighbors, and other projects like building cairns for the local trail system. See omick.net for more information and guides.
Above: Cascabel community garden
Below left: David and Pearl's solar oven
Below right: David and Pearl's personal garden
How to Build a Cairn:
1) Find an optimal location- Cairns are generally used to mark trails when they are not visible over a distance, so building one next to the trail and on a higher part of the landscape is recommended.
2) Gather stones appropriate for the size of the cairn- Depending on the height, larger rocks are needed for taller cairns and smaller rocks are needed for shorter cairns. It is important to find an assemblage of shapes. Flat rocks work well for the edges while round ones fit in the center.
3) Lay a base ring of rocks- Make it wide enough to support the height of the cone. Many rocks have a slant to them, so make sure the slant is facing the center of the cairn to improve stability.
4) Stack the rocks- Continue to stack the outer edge in rings while keeping the center and edge level. Make sure the rocks are stable and the walls slope gently inward.
5) Put a centerpiece on top- If you find a unique rock, place it on the top! It helps to make the cairn more eye-catching and adds a bit more fun into building it.
Congratulations! You have built a cairn. It should be stable enough to remain standing, requires little up-keep and will be beneficial to all hikers using the trail.
Above: One of the completed cairns in Cascabel.
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The day started out rainy, but soon it got started as we all dried our gear and took shelter inside to watch earthen videos. Benito shared videos that he and his brother had created, which were truly captivating, from their youtube channel called The Nito Project. Their artfully crafted home was a joy to be in, and a wonderful example of their families work. Athena showed off her son's Japanese Clay Balls, which is polished clay and comes in many different styles. We also got the opportunity to watch a video of Athena doing a piece of earthen artwork on one of their dwellings, featured in the video below.
Soon half of our crew had to head out while the other half of us stayed to eat lunch. After our bellies were full and the rain clouds had parted, we took a trip outside to do an earthen workshop with Bill. Bill showed us his studio, which had many different earthen canvases where others had practiced in previous workshops. He then took us to his dwelling, where he kept all of his pigments and materials for mixing. We also talked briefly about how important it is to have a relationship with these living buildings. Bill explained that sand and straw prevent cracking, giving the dwelling structure and body, whereas the clay is like glue. For mixing paint, he told us the ratio of sand to clay should be 1 part sand and two parts clay. He made the analogy that mixing can be much like making pie, as you have to add water carefully to get the ratios right. Depending on how thick or thin you make the mixture, you will get different levels of paint opacity. If you would prefer the paint to be water-resistant, you must add glue. Additionally, you can add mica for some sparkle!!! A good source of clay for this kind of project in Phoenix, as recommended by Rosemary, is Marjon Ceramics. Bill also mentioned Bioshield Clay Paints is a good source for paint materials. Bill then joked that mixing and building were two different trades. "Sometimes, the person who can put it on the wall is not the most adept at mixing it."
After the workshop with Bill, we packed up our gear after thanking them for our time and drove to Cascabel. First, we got to visit an earthen home recently built that had a lovely screened porch. There was also a hay bale shed that worked well as produce storage. Once inside the house, we got to see the kitchen and the living room. In the living room was a charming wood-burning stove with beautiful green tiles. We then walked the stairs up to the loft and entered onto the balcony through a cute window. The view from the balcony was stunning, and the spiral staircase was so sweet and whimsical. By the woman's desk, we also got to see glass colored bottles used as windows through the earthen walls. We thanked the owner for her time and continued down the road to another kind ladies' house. This house was smaller and completely earthen. There were orange poppies everywhere. The shape of the earthen home was truly beautiful, and we all gawked at how wonderful and rewarding a life of simplicity can be. Her bathrooms and kitchen were outdoors. She allowed us all to go into the small structure and enjoy some shade and beautiful design. Afterward, we moved on to another home, although this one was not earthen as much as it was stone. The house was thoughtfully built with a loft for sleeping and a living space/miniature kitchen downstairs. Once we finished touring all these lovely homes, we went to the Cascabel Community Garden to et up camp.
We unloaded breakfast food from Rosemary’s truck and set up camp. We said goodbye to Rosemary and played around until dinner. At dinner, we had a fun Fritos taco salad dish and celebrated having our wonderful mentor, Rosemary. We also got to know some of the community members better and got to socialize with each other at the Cascabel Community Center. Once dinner was over, we cleaned the kitchen and drove back to the campsite. The moon was full, and the Saguaros casted moonlight shadows all over the landscape. Andrew made a fire that we all shared and enjoyed. One by one, we all drifted to sleep. What a wonderful day!
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by Kira Farmer and Shaelyn Lau
Our permaculture class had the privilege of being invited onto Gary Nabhan’s property in Patagonia, Arizona where he focuses on implementing dryland farming principles on arid lands in a time of water scarcity and drought, energy use transition, and accelerated climate change.
To further support this belief, Nabhan provided us with seven tips that he deemed essential in creating an agrisystem in the Sonoran Desert:
One of the biggest take-aways we got from Gary refers to tip number 4, where we talked about agrivoltaic systems, in which you can grow food under solar panels on stilts. This allows energy generation for greenhouse production and other power-necessitated activities while creating micro-environments underneath and around that are buffered from high heat, freezes, hails, etc. They also embody permaculture principles in that they also work with their human counterparts, providing shade for relief from heat exhaustion that many farm workers experience when harvesting in arid landscapes. What is amazing about agrivoltaic systems is that a space has now been transformed from only one type of generation to the generation of energy and food in the same space!
Water was a big topic when talking about producing food in Aridamerica. We talked of the exponential growth in energy costs as we dig deeper down per foot to pump water. We talked about the risk of the salinization of soils as the groundwater gets tapped out without time to recharge. When it comes to experimenting with creative and innovative means of producing food in hotter, dryer landscapes, permaculture principles will serve as a baseline for restructuring the way we grow food as designs shift to meet our environment in the state they are in. For most places, this will include less abundance of water. The biggest shift, Nabhan talked of, was the necessary change in mindset for farmers. How restructuring what you grow, when and how you grow it, and the scale at which you grow will be essential. Farmers should be looking to native crops in their region and prioritize perennials in order to increase the stability of their landscapes, working with nature instead of against it.
This tied to the growing labor and research he was conducting when we visited him. He talked of the power of agave and mesquite. Two native plants to the Sonoran Desert. Agave and mesquite when companion planted have the capacity to draw massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere into the ground and produce immense amounts of above and below ground biomass on a year to year basis. They require little to no irrigation to survive as well as thrive, making them almost impervious to rising global temperatures and droughts. Not only are they important for regenerating the landscape, but agave is found to be nutritious as a food product with probiotic elements rather than simple sugars. Agave when used with permaculture principles (not being turned into syrups or tequila) can help to combat diabetes rather than cause it because all the nutrients and carbohydrates are not cooked away.
As we navigate a shifting world and a climate that will force us to adapt to drier and hotter landscapes, both in the food we produce and in our communities of humans, it is important to begin to re-vision who we are and how we are a part of this world. Gary Nabhan introduced us to his use of the word holobiomes. We should no longer consider ourselves as human beings. Moving away from our Western notion of being separate from or dominant over the natural world but of it. We are holobiomes just as soil is a microbiome. Holo meaning whole, entire, complete.
We would like to extend our utmost gratitude to Gary Nabhan and his wife, Lori, for hosting us and sharing their wealth of knowledge. We can't wait to implement these tools into our own lives.
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Day one of the Tucson/Canelo permaculture field trip consisted of visiting Native Seeds Search and Avalon Ecovillage. While these settings provided critical insight, I found the physical journey to arrive in Tucson was of similar importance. Heading south of Flagstaff, our caravan descended the Mogollon rim. As the road spiraled downwards in elevation, I noticed several amendments in temperature, moisture, and vegetation. Temperature levels and spring budding in vegetation became more prevalent the lower we went. Between the initial 7,000 feet to 6,000 feet, the seasonal cold and frozen snow slowed the growth of the Ponderosa Pine. I saw limited understory and no signs of spring blooms. Between 6,000 feet and 3,500 feet, I noticed a shift: –snow coverage was sparse and less dormant vegetation became present. Scrub Oak, Pinon Pine, Juniper and Manzanita thrived the lower we went. As we approached Tucson, I noticed the largest shift in temperature and vegetation. Between 3,500 feet and the valley floor, the signs of spring became present; Mesquite, Palo Verde, Agave, Yucca, Barrel cactus, Saguaro, Cholla were all beginning to thrive. I even noticed the California poppy and Desert Lupine flowering.
Although this descent may seem obsolete to many, I learned that elevation is a critical factor that affects temperature and moisture. Both of which affect plant growth. Hence, when looking to garden at any elevation, one should review the gradient changes.
Once our caravan stropped in Tucson, I happily shed my strange layers to prance around in a t-shirt. Here, we visited the Native Seeds Search: https://www.nativeseeds.org/
Our tour guide Hannah discussed the importance of conserving agricultural biodiversity through a variety of methods. These included: Open pollination, maintaining native heirlooms, practicing organic growing principles, using no GMO’s, and mitigating the use of seed patents. While these methods were discussed, I realized that a precedent was being set. The Native Seeds Search has found a venue within a capitalistic system to incentivize the preservation of native seed types. This preservation has allowed for seeds to be grown and donated to local tribes, families in need, and other organizations that usually do not have this access.
While this organization profits monetarily, they conserve native biodiversity. Cultural growing heritage found in this region is continued through the preservation of these endemic seed types. However, the commodification of seeds adds discontent to my heart – since seeds in the past have been dispersed in a less sterile and more harmonious way. I do however understand that in today’s way of business, this module helps push for the greater good – to preserve the native seeds and culture of yesterday and provide for tomorrow's abundance.
Directly after visiting Native Seed's Search, our group visited Avalon Eco Village. This organization can be found at https://avalongardens.org/
Avalon is a spiritual eco-village with 120 on-campus residents located outside of Tucson, Arizona. Avalon’s 200-acre property is cared for through permaculture principles and design. The beauty of earthen material homes, orchards, and wetlands make for an oasis in the hot Sonoran Desert. As soon as our crew entered the property, our permaculture whirlwind began; we were but mear tumbleweeds in what was to come next.
Avolon water’s the entire property's agricultural system (3 greenhouses, aquaponics, multi-acre orchard, and agricultural fields) through the rain-water catchment. Buried below ground, specifically under fruit trees and around dwellings, are water infiltration tunnels that capture rainwater and greywater, and slowly disperse to the fruiting trees and lawns. This system, in the permaculture way, is an intensive set-up, but passive once going requiring very minimal input. The rainwater catchment system on the dwellings is channeled off the gutters with a first-flush system that diverts clean water into a cistern and muck water onto the nearby flora. The water catchment capacity for the entire property is 2.5 million gallons. Avalon’s drinking water is sourced from an on-property well, making its entire water system self-sufficient.
Avalon treats most of its waste through an onsite treatment. The waste is gravity fed from the main housing into a three-tank system. The first two tanks filter the waste and the third tank adds Effective Microorganisms (EM). This mixture of EM and filtered waste is then pumped underground through lined underground tubing into an artificial wetland. This artificial wetland is a migratory stopover for many insects, birds, and mammals. The waste treatment is up to the Tucson city code. The waste from other onsite facilities is pumped into a septic tank.
The community has been cultivating an orchard and several agricultural fields for the past 10 years. Currently, 30% of the community’s diet is sourced from the property. They cultivate a combination of food crops, cash crops, and horticultural crops. They recently worked with Native Seed SEARCH to bring back an Indigenous grain, local to the region, which they seed-save as well as mill into flour. Avalon also has a growing food forest on the property, where members collect the fresh fruit and chicken and pigs collect the fallen fruit.
Avalon’s water catchment capacity is epic in scale. The community shared lots of wisdom on how to start small or go all the way. The permaculture principles and design of the property are inspiring for how to scale-up many examples we have learned about.
About the author
This entry was jointly written by Molly Carney and Andrew Volz. Both students have an affinity for bioregional food and riparian ecosystem conservation.