Archives for the month of: February, 2012

Once again, snow instruments the garden; here the data set is pawprints. A tiny insight, I’m sure, to anyone who hunts or tracks, but new to me: The iPad, and the discipline of daily posting, sharpens my dull perceptions.

Of course, I don’t know which set of tracks is really “In” and which is “Out,” but in and out there must have been!

As the sun warmed the roof, ice fell from the eaves. (I know, more insulation.)

We tend to think of permaculture zones as concentric circles on a plane of two dimensions. Here, however, is a vertical zone: The zone from the eaves to the ground onto which ice chunks fall — possibly smashing a milk jug! We need to think in at least three dimensions.

So, in this case, the nano-climate under the eaves includes ice chunks falling from above!

I wonder if artificial light will affect the circadian rhythms of my plants.

Clearly, this compost bin could attract hungry critters. And yet — this being another example of how water can help you instrument your patch of land — the snow doesn’t show any critter tracks. (Nor did it yesterday, when the light was better.)

Better safe than sorry, especially if critters are waking up early because of the thaw. So, the cheapest compost bin solution going:

The Geobin Composter, which I ordered a few days ago. So, I’ll see how it goes. For now, the box is leaning up in a corner of the kitchen…

The light dusting of snow picks out the fungus growing on the more-shadowed, north side of the stump. The milk jugs under the title are for the cantaloupes.

Pretty lights around the porch railings help make the property a landmark — though white Christmas, please,  and not multicolored blinking! I wonder if I could get pretty lights into the garden in summer; I’d like to sit in the garden in the evening, especially the black flies didn’t eat me alive. Maybe if I built an arbor….

Here again is an illustration of the idea that water helps you instrument your nano-climates (yes, that’s a word I made up). The melted zone — marked “← Why? →” is a readout, but I can’t interpret it! Why is the melt zone the width that it is? (For a moment, I thought the melt zone was caused by the reflection of afternoon sunlight downward from the side of the house onto the earth, and was congratulating myself for having correctly foreseen happiness for the cantaloupe seedlings to be planted in that bed, but the angle of the sun doesn’t explain why the right-hand boundary of the zone falls where it does.)

So I know why the melt zone begins at the foundation and moves right: That’s the thermal mass of the stone walls of the basement pushing heat outward in the earth. (And that’s a good thing, because otherwise we’d have the freeze/thaw cycle nestling right next to the brick wall, and that would crack the mortar, then the brick. And that would be bad.)

But why does the melt zone end on the right at the drip line? Look at the elevation profile: Drops from the drip line have been digging a moat or canal or trench parallel to the house, which fills with water, which absorbs heat that would otherwise keep spreading right. Thermal mass again! Maybe this nano-climate is a little like the “lake effect”?

Although the Norway Maple blesses us by shedding leaves that we can use to bank the house with, the Norway maple curses our soil with its gnarly roots, so close to the surface, and curses the property with the mess it makes: Here, a fallen branch taken down by the wind that followed after the snow storm.

And even the leaves are a mixed blessing: Mildew always spikes in my tomato patch after the Norway Maple leaves — hideously discolored with cancerous-looking black spots — begin to fall.

I cut one down; I should cut the other down!

After last night’s snowfall, I did spot small tracks going up to a pool near a downspout: Hopefully from a critter that wanted a drink, and wasn’t looking for a place to raise a family.

A friend assures me that winter is the best time to work out how water flows on one’s patch: Snow melt will flow to a sink and freeze, and tramping the bounds, one would feel hard ice underfoot where water accumulates.

I just did that, and didn’t feel a thing, but then this property is either flat — no sinks except between raised beds — or sloping visibly downward, so the water would just flow away.

So my friend had a good thought anyhow!

Well, not really a skycam. But I’ve been wanting to take an aerial view of the whole garden for ages, so today I dragged the ladder out of the barn, climbed up with my iPad, and did it. Heaven knows what the neighbors thought!

My thought was to use Skitch to draw an overlay of Permaculture zones onto the photo; hence the arrows for sunlight, prevailing wind, and slope (down which water will flow). Like a master plan! From PermaWiki:

Zones are numbered from 0 to 5, and can be thought of as a series of concentric rings moving out from a centre point, where human activity and need for attention is most concentrated, to where there is no need for intervention at all…

  • ZONE 0 — The house, or home centre. Here permaculture principles would be applied in terms of aiming to reduce energy and water needs, harnessing natural resources such as sunlight, and generally creating a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to live, work and relax
  • ZONE 1 — Is the zone nearest to the house, the location for those elements in the system that require frequent attention, or that need to be visited often, e.g., salad crops, herb plants, soft fruit like strawberries or raspberries, greenhouse and cold frames, propagation area, worm compost bin for kitchen waste, etc.
  • ZONE 2 — This area is used for siting perennial plants that require less frequent maintenance, such as occasional weed control (preferably through natural methods such as spot-mulching) or pruning, including currant bushes and orchards. This would also be a good place for beehives, larger scale compost bins, etc.
  • ZONE 3 — Is the area where maincrops are grown, both for domestic use and for trade purposes. After establishment, care and maintenance required is fairly minimal provided mulches, etc. are used, e.g., watering or weed control once a week or so.
  • ZONE 4 — Is semi-wild. This zone is mainly used for forage and collecting wild food as well as timber production. An example might be coppice managed woodland.
  • ZONE 5 — The wilderness. There is no human intervention in zone 5 apart from the observation of natural eco-systems and cycles. Here is where we learn the most important lessons of the first permaculture principle of working with nature, not against.

Nice theory! But Zone 0, the house or hearth, is over to the left past and out of the picture. And Zone 1? I have to put the beds where the plants will be happiest, not where it’s most convenient for me. The squash need to be where they are because that’s where they get the most light, and people like my squash, so I can give a lot away, which I like to do. Similarly with the tomatoes: They need their light too, and yet my ambition is to let vines be vines, and, Zone 5 fashion, to touch them as little as possible, since touching spreads sap, and sap spreads TMV. And I’m not going to be foraging for wild food any time soon; so there is no Zone 4. Not concentric!

One principle, though, taken from the Zones idea: In your garden, leverage your “shrew paths” (“To them, the shortest line is always the accustomed path”*). For example, put the compost bin at the end of the driveway, so people can take their kitchen scraps to it as they leave the house for work or school — one of their “shrew paths.”

And I love greens; a salad of greens with olive oil, a little cheese, a little sausage as a condiment, some pepper… A wonderful meal in the summer, and good for weight, too. But last summer, I only picked the greens four or five times, and in the end the greens bolted. (Into the compost, since no organic matter leaves the property, but still.) The greens — which I had planted in the bed marked “???” — weren’t on my shrew path! So this year, I’m going to plant the greens next to the front door over by the cantaloupes, along with some herbs.

So rather than draw concentric circles, or even rough outlines, I decided to label the beds with what will go in them, and then label a few of the companion plants: Marigolds for the tomatoes, Sunflowers for birds, Bee balm for pollinators, Clover for pollinators and nitrogen fixing (and to crowd out switch-grass at the borders).

Oh, and one thing the aerial view shows quite clearly: The dark, leave-mulched beds absorb sunlight and melt the snow pack; but the stone dust paths, being light colored, reflect sunlight and stay icy.

Maybe next time I’ll take a shot in sunlight, and show how the shadows of the buildings that surround the property determine where the beds go. My zones aren’t concentric circles, but a patchwork!

NOTE * From King Solomon’s Ring by the naturalist Konrad Lorenz, which I read as a child and loved, without knowing the author’s equivocal past.

UPDATE Why the recliner? Because just sitting in the garden in high summer and listening and smelling and watching is one of the great pleasures. Last year I saw a hummingbird at the Bee Balm. Up here in Maine!