Friday, September 2, 2011


Greetings!  The NW Permaculture Convergence is coming up in October - it will be just about 30 minutes from Portland!  Register now at early-bird rates and share this link with your friends.  This is going to be an incredibly fun, informative, and inspirational event! 

October 14 – 16, 2011
The convergence will feature extensive daytime programs and evening events:  skill-building, 7 different educational villages with presentations led by accomplished NW Permaculture activists like Mark Lakeman, Tom Ward, Jenny Pell, Jude Hobbs, Michael Becker, Marisha Auerbach, Rick Valley, Andrew Millison, Kelda Miller, Leonard Barrett, Erik Blender and more…
Also onsite camping, professional networking, a children’s Permaculture village, dancing, story-telling, singing permaculture and collaboration
to take Permaculture further into the public domain.  From Permaculture education to advanced practices and from invisible social structures to sacred spaces, we’ll have it all at the 2011 NW Permaculture Convergence:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting & Making Your Own Medicine & Tea

Happy Summertime!  In the Pacific NW, right about mid-July, 2 of my favorite herbs are in full bloom.  This would be St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium).  I've been making more and more medicine and tea from these beautiful plants over the past few years.  In fact, I've been cultivating a section of St. John's Wort in a raised garden bed and encouraging a small patch of Fireweed in my garden to become more abundant.  While these herbs are still in bloom, let's look at how to harvest and use them:

ST. JOHN'S WORT / Hypericum perforatum 
for medicinal oil, tea and tincture

CULTIVATED St. John's Wort
with companions California Poppy, Strawberry, Onion, and Wild Lettuce (medicinal).

I have found that cultivation/concentration of the St. John's Wort makes it grow taller and more vigorously than the wild clumps.  This bed is in its first year of cultivated production after transplanting wild clumps to this one spot.  It has produced plant material so far this summer for more than 8 quarts of prized St. John's Wort Oil - see below!  St. John's in the garden has another function as a useful insectary, attracting beneficial predators and pollinators.  Medicinal parts are the flowers and leaves - which will leave a reddish-purplish stain on your fingers as you collect.  You will see it in bloom on any walk in your neighborhood, organic gardens or in Pacific NW forests during July and August.

Flowers July - August

Left:  blood red oil is ready  /  Right:  just picked

HINT:  The chemical reaction between the oil and the plant which turns it red will take place ONLY when the plant is picked in FULL SUN.  I have tried to pick on cloudy days, and the it just wasn't the same oil.  How does the plant know?
St. John's Wort / Hypericum perforatum

TEA:  when the flowers and leaves are taken internally as a tea or tincture, St. John's has the effect of lifting the spirits and lightening the mood.  I have found this to be more so the case with fresh tea.  So, right now, in July and August, you can pick leaves and flowers and just brew up a really lovely tea that just makes ya feel good!  Also, if you come upon a lot of it in one spot, consider drying it for use as a tea in the dark winter months. 

INFUSED OIL:  The most prized application of St. John's is to make an external healing oil with it.  Simply pick the aerial parts (leaves and flowers) - careful not to disturb the plant roots - and fill up about 3/4 of a quart jar.  Then cover the plant material with olive oil, seal the jar, and place in a sunny spot.  The plant constituents will infuse into the oil and within days start to turn it blood red.  In about 2 to 3 weeks, when it is nearly opaque red, the oil is ready.  
Strain out the plant material and compost.
Then you have one of the most magical healing topical oils I have ever witnessed.  No kidding, it's good for wounds, cuts, bruises, burns, aches and pains, muscle and joint inflammations, neuralgia, sciatica...
I had a friend who once got her arm slammed in a car door and it looked awful, swollen, black and blue, painful...  We treated it with St. John's Wort Oil for 4 days straight.  On the 5th day, the injury was pretty much gone and she felt fine.  This external medicine never ceases to amaze and is probably the most valuable yearly product of my garden.

FIREWEED / Epilobium Angustifolium
for medicinal or simple digestive tea
I was very pleased to identify Fireweed growing right outside my back door a few years ago.  Not only is it a gorgeous, tall summer plant with pink flowers that spire upward, it makes a delicious, earthy and useful tea.  You can harvest it fresh for tea or you can pick the leaves and flowers in larger quantities for drying and preserving the tea for use throughout the year until the next fireweed harvest.

Above:  you can see Fireweed in full bloom.  Next to it is a stalk that has just been harvested.  The flowers you can zip upward off the stalk, while the leaves you can zip downward with one hand.

Then, it is time to dry the leaves and flowers for storage.  You can do it in direct sun, as below, in a food dryer or even in an oven at its lowest setting.

Fireweed gets its name because it is often one of the first species to thrive after a forest fire in climate zones from California to Alaska.  In the 1700 and 1800s, Fireweed was harvested commercially as a tea in Russia for export to Europe.  Try it with a little bit of honey and milk!  This tea will treat you right!
MEDICINAL USES:  The tea is good for general digestion or as a gentle laxative.  It has also been used traditionally as a treatment for asthma and whooping cough.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Labor of Chickens & Apple Guilds

Greetings.  So many of us in the Pacific NW and beyond are keeping chickens for their eggs.  I'd like to discuss and show how chickens can be used as effective labor to remake & revitalize even small areas of urban yards.

The picture below is from a small project I working on in North Portland (NoPo).  The central tree is an apple tree and the new garden guild area you see around it was part of the chicken run just a few days ago.  You can see that the chicken run was moved back behind the tree so the chickens could begin work on a new area...
The plants around the base of the apple tree are members of a new APPLE GUILD, plants that will attend to the needs of the apple tree while providing their own productive harvests.  These include:  Comfrey, Feverfew, Fennel, Iris, Clover, & Yarrow (see below).  

All the materials used here were found onsite:  rocks, wood, compost & plants growing in odd, isolated places, or thought of as weeds.  The chickens ate only weeds + food scraps & drank only rain water...
Thus, the cost of making this garden space = $0.00

Before the chickens cleaned up this area, it was a mess:
1.  Existing Large Apple Tree with poor fruit yields
2.  Compacted Soils
3.  Invasive thorny blackberry and weeds taking over the yard

Now, just a few weeks after the chickens tractored the area there is a young APPLE GUILD in place with excellent attendant plants providing the following benefits:


COMFREY  / Symphytum officinale
-          Dynamic Nutrient Accumulator:  deep roots of this plant accumulate all the following nutrients from the soil & loads them in the plant’s leaf & root growth (Nitrogen, Silica, Calcium, Potassium, & Iron)
-          Mulch Plant:  you can chop & drop large comfrey leaves as mulch several times each summer and they just keep producing more!
-          Medicinal Plant – externally for healing wounds, cuts, broken bones, & more.
-          Lovely, sweet, edible flowers that attract pollinators

Feverfew / Tanacetum parthenium
-          Insectary Plant attracting both pollinators and pest predators.
-          Excellent medicinal used to reduce fevers, treat headaches, arthritis, and aid in digestion

Fennel / Foeniculum vulgare:
-          Edible perennial: so tasty from stalk to leaf to seed.
-          Nutrient Accumulator: Sodium, Silica & Potassium
-          Beautiful Lacey Green Foliage


Yarrow / Achillea millefolium:
Yarrow does it all!
- Herbaceous perennial groundcover
- Fixes and accumulates into the soil the big 3:    N, P, K - Nitrogen, Phosphorus, & Potassium
- Insectary Plant:  attracting beneficial insects to the garden
- Herbal Medicinal:  Tea for colds & flu.  Tincture for fever, cramps, regulates menstruation.  Externally for wounds & stopping blood-flow.

White Clover

Clover / Trifolium spp.
-          Groundcover
-          Pollinator Attractor
-          Fixes nitrogen & phosphorus into soil
-          Red Clover is medicinal & beautiful


Iris / Iris spp.
-          Insectary Plant attracting beneficial insects to the garden.
-          Perennial ornamental flower – who doesn’t love Irises!  Many varieties and colors.

There are many plants that can go in an Apple Guild
to build diversity and resilience.
What are some of your suggestions???

I love chickens as partners in garden place-making because they are always ready to work.  Rain or shine, cold or not - they are ready, willing and able garden workers.
  • What do chickens give us besides their nutritious eggs?
- Chicken Manure is very high in nitrogen (N), a needed component in the soil for healthy plant growth.

- Egg Shell Calcium:  Once you eat the eggs, you can dry the shells and then crunch them down into little bits (so much fun!) and spread the shells onto garden beds to add calcium.  OR, you can feed the bits back to the chickens to add needed calcium to their diet.

- Chicken Field Labor:  chickens scratch and till the earth as a natural behavior.  They bathe in the dirt!  I have worked on small farm systems where a group of chickens were my best labor force.  We can place them in chicken tractors (moving enclosures where the chickens work for a period of time), or we can simply keep moving their run or yard to areas that need revitalization and weed control.  See my chickens at work & play in the video below:

- Chicken Mulch:  if you ever have the opportunity, place your chickens together with your yard mulch / yard waste area.  You can pile all weed cuttings, grass clippings, tree cuttings and leaves into part of the chicken area and those birds will eat all they want, poop a lot, and scratch it all into a very rich & fertile mulch you can take out into the garden.  It's not waste if it isn't wasted :-D

You can see the NoPo example of chickens at work and moving through the landscape in the video below:

CLOSING WASTE LOOPS:  By letting chickens go to work in garden spaces that need reworking or redesign + feeding them all the dandelions, grass clippings and many other weeds in the garden space along with kitchen scraps, I have been able to get free of having to buy commercial chicken feed.  The chickens egg production and quality have not lessened and one might surmise that it has improved.  So, here is yet another way we can close the energy and money waste loops running through our lives.  We get payback for these regenerative behaviors in so many ways - expected and unexpected.  Is this not the essence of permaculture?
Apple Guild + Insectary & Ornamental Island in a rapidly transformed garden space
worked in partnership with only 3 chickens.

Friday, April 22, 2011


It's spring in the Pacific NW and it's a good time to start sprouting tomatoes indoors for transplant to the outdoors in May.  Many folks plant their tomato crops in isolation and then deal with individual pest problems or blossom-end rot problems with organic solutions & mixes bought at the local nursery.  One way to keep external inputs and ($$$) costs down while keeping one's harvest UP is to plant a tomato guild.  A guild is a beneficial association of plants that work together well and support each other naturally - like a solid family or community.  A well thought-out guild can attract bees and other pollinators, repel pests, accumulate essential soil nutrients, catch sun, and augment the quantity & quality of harvest.  Below is a list of plants that go well with tomatoes and we can start planting and prepping these beneficial companions now in the beds where our tomatoes will go.  What are some beneficial companions to tomatoes that you have grown in your garden?

Chives  /  Allium schoenoprasum
-         Pest repellent:  pungent smell/taste above & below ground
-         Their fibrous roots stabilize the soil
-          Nutrient accumulator:  Potassium (K)  +  Calcium (Ca).  Soils deficient in calcium can lead tomatoes to develop blossom end rot.  I grew tomatoes last year with lots of chives and had no end-rot problems.
-         Attracts pollinators
-         Perennials you can cut & come back for more throughout the season.

Basil  /  Ocimum spp.
start indoors now to plant out in May
-         Said to aid in taste of tomato
-         pollinator attractor
-         pest repellent
-         culinary companion – who doesn’t love   basil?  Really good for making into sauce with your tomatoes.

Nasturtiums / Tropaeolum majus:
-        Soil fumigant - they secrete an effective pest repellent.
-        Sacrificial plant:  attract aphids & their predators
-        So tasty!  Flowers & leaves!


Wild Marigold / Tagetes minuta:
      -          Another pest repellent
      -          Medicinal properties
      -          The cultivated garden varieties
       are less effective

Jerusalem Artichoke / Helianthus turberosus:
If you plant your tomatoes in the open in a windy spot, this could be an excellent edible border/windbreak/fortress plant or sun-trap plant (planted behind tomatoes to the north).  The artichoke has edible tubers like potatoes and can restrains animal invaders from messing with your tomato crop.