Harvest Times in the Garden

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This a busy time of year in the gardens and at our homestead, Mountain Jewel. The house build is taking up a lot of our time and we’re so thankful to have my parents here (@birdsinparadise) helping with the build!

Luckily we have a lot of fresh fruits & veggies to share with them and cocreate some awesome meals. Zucchini, purslane and cucumbers, anyone?

Above you can see a sweet little handful of berries. With so much hard work put into the homestead year after year, eating the fruits of our labor is extraordinarily satisfying and promising.

Pictured are some black raspberries, juneberries and goumi berries. We are especially in love with these Red Gem goumi berries. I ate a few too many at their astringent stage (I was so excited!) and have learned that they’re at they’re best when they’re nearly falling off the vine!

One plant that we have in abundance is Purslane! I’m so thankful to have such an adventurous mom who I can give something a little atypical (to the modern diet) and she whips up something amazing!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) aka Verdelagos in spanish, is an incredibly nutrionally rich plant that boasts Omega 3s and ALAs (only found in fish!) . It grows like a weed (and as a weed) which causes many people to skip over it, but it’s one of the most heat tolerant — read: heat thriving — crops available. It grows faster than malabar spinach and I think it’s tastier.

This is all a part of our effort to thrive while seeing what is available. To me, this is aligning with a permaculture lifestyle.

My amazing mom made a DELICIOUS pesto pasta using purslane!

Check it out!

Here she is also making a special treat that Luci would love to get her hands on. This is just a teaser – I’ll let her reveal what we were eating that night!!

Harvest Begins

It’s also that time of year that the harvests are really starting to churn out!

Pictured is our first tomato (((almost))) ripe! We love snacking on fresh tomatoes and cannot wait! Any day now.. Then I’m sure will be eating them with nearly every meal.

One thing we are already having overwhelming amounts of is cucumbers and zucchinis — and it’s only the first week of harvests. We planted 30 cucumber plants (!?!!) so this year we’re basically going to be giving them away to friends and neighbors constantly. Yesterday we made 4 quarts of lacto fermented cucumbers with the harvest you see above.

What are you favorite ways to eat cucumbers? We eat them straight off the vine, love a good vinegar cuc salad, sliced up, and of course pickles!

Pictured above with my hand on it is the Bolivian “cucumber”, Achocha. These seeds were gifted to us at the Baker Creek Spring Planting Fest and we’re excited to try them out. After weeding the bed, I put them in the shade (of a goumi & Wild False Indigo). I also put in some horehound (seed started by a friend) and Basil (Emily variety).

Man I love growing all the green things!!

How does your garden grow? Look forward to sharing little snipits all summer long and of course keeping y’all updated on the house build!

Paw Paw Grafting: Photo Log

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Paws paws have quickly become near and dear to us at Mountain Jewel.

Upon moving to the Ozarks, we were so excited to find oodles of wild paw paws on and near our property. Last fall we harvest a lush bounty of wild fruit. It’s safe to saw were fanatical about paw paws!

The paw paws on our homestead haven’t set fruit in the past few years and this may have to do with low genetic diversity. 2 or more varieties are best for pollination. Grafting selected cultivars onto wild rootstock will increase productivity and boost diversity.

The distinguished Paw Paw, Asimina triloba. A wild specimen on our land

As with all our permaculture endeavors we seek to witness and observe the natural processes before intervening. After seeing heavy fruit set on a nearby patch, and discovering more and more patches on our land, we wanted decided to take action and marry select paw paw genetics onto our wild patches.

Tools of the trade:

Here you see the complete grafting kit. We made a video of the process & share it on our  blog likely tomorrow. Pictured: paw paw scions (Mango, Wells, Prolific, NC-1 & Overlease varieties), sharp pruning saw, secateurs, masking tape, grafting film, fresh utility blade, & a pen 🙂

Sharp blade cutting the Paw Paw at an angle so water doesn’t settle on the base.

In the past we’ve attempted whip and tongue but had no success. I’ve since learned the importance of wrapping the scion with grafting film to maintain moisture. On past grafts, the scions dried out before leafing out. Since visiting a university fruit station and seeking out information online, I’ve honed in on a few tidbits that will hopefully increase our success. 

Scion cut at an angle on the base (with at least two buds remaining) which will go into the base.
Scion placed “just so” into the Cambium of the wild paw paw root stalk. This is a Bark Inlay Graft.

We are choosing to focus on the bark inlay graft. This comes recommended from the paw paw master himself Neil Peterson. The advantages are numerous. Firstly scion and rootstock don’t need to match and large diameter stock can be used. The cuts are simple and a strong union can be ensured with tape. Lastly, vigorous growth results from using established trees. 

Mango variety scion inserted and wrapped. Watch for tomorrow’s video to see this done live with more explanation.

We are pleased to be in connection to an ever evolving landscape and all the skills associated with managing and increasing productivity of the landscape. Hopeful for a lifelong horticulture journey and increasing abundance.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s How To Vid! 

Putting Up Hay in the Ozarks

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When the honeysuckle flowers are in bloom (divine smells in the air!) and the garden really starts to fill out, that’s usually an indicator of the first opportunity to put up hay.

Our friends over at Elixir Farm have 100% organic, grass fed cows that range over their beautiful pasture. It’s a complete cow paradise! They eat of the beautiful grasses all year, but need some supplemental feed come winter.

Each Spring we receive the summons to come help them. Some years the crew is scant and the work feels crazy-hard, but luckily this year a band of communards from nearby East Wind Community came out and helped. Between the 11 of us, it was actually pretty easy (and fun) work.

Stacking the hay in the old (and beautiful barn)

As we have done this 3-4 summers in a row, we kind of know the ropes, so we were in partial leadership positions. Ini is a boss at stacking the hay on the trailer — check out how tall/efficient this load is! It really is a true art, especially because this rig has to make it up and down some bumpy holler roads.

It’s always an incredibly dirty/dusty/itchy job. This year I finally got smart and covered my arms and legs with long sleeves and pants. Wore my bandana for when we put up the hay in the barn (it gets hard to breathe otherwise, with all the particles!). And also had on a large sunhat and sunglasses. My only “weak spot” was wearing open toed shoes, I suppose, but my Chacos are my summer mainstay and are super easy to clean.

After haying for a few hours, it is almost a necessity to jump in the cool river. We strip off our clothes and dive in. The current is strong these days so if you venture out to the middle, you spend all of your energy staying in place. The gorgeous waters of the Ozarks are what drew us here and definitely are a huge boon to staying 🙂

And of course, going to the creek for a dip is always full of surprises. One of our friends caught a baby turtle as it was swimming by.

And then we headed back into the fields to pick up the rest of the hay. As you can see, there’s more for him to cut, but that has to wait for another day as rain was in the forecast! Haying is always tricky business as you’re not only fighting the coordination of workers all arriving at moment’s notice, but also scheduling around the rains.

After the final gathering, it was back to putting hay in the barn. We only brought 2 loads on this day. In previous years (with less people), we’ve put up 7 or more loads. It can be a long and strenuous day!

Luckily Elixir Farm is a place of abundance, beauty and absolutely tasty meals. We feasted on the porch and enjoyed our time together. This was definitely a fun haying experience.

Roses at Mountain Jewel – Madame Isaac Pereire

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The first year we were on the land, we held back from buying many plants. This, however, didn’t stop me from buying 13 heritage roses!

My grandmother had a rose garden at her place in Pasadena, California and I remember visiting it as a girl. As I grew older, I was intensely attracted to the divine smell of the many varieties of rose and I knew I wanted some on the homestead!

Luckily there is a longstanding tradition of selecting roses that are not only beautiful, but also are very delightfully fragrant! Though modern hybrid roses usually aren’t selected for scent, many of the heirloom roses are. It was these on which I focused my search.

Life is all about the connections & I find the history of plants very fascinating. Today I am starting a series as I research the history of each of the roses on our homestead (6 remain from the original 13 – I think in the first year I didn’t baby some of them enough and they didn’t make it through a harsh winter!)

Madame Isaac Pereire

Our search begins where my journey with this rose began, at Antique Rose Emporium. This is where I bought my plants. Of this rose they write,

Luscious, sumptuous, almost blousy beauty, runs one description of this well-known old rose. Named after the wife of a French banker, ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ has fat, cabbagey flowers of rich rose madder, with perhaps the strongest deep rose perfume extant. To see and smell a full blown bush on an early April morning is a heady experience. A smaller but even more lovely fall display and scattered roses throughout the summer are extra rewards that come as the plant gets established. ‘Mme. Isaac Pereire’ makes a handsome shrub specimen for pegging. 1881.

David Austin has this to say,

Huge, fuchsia, cup-shaped flowers; the petals eventually turning back prettily at the edges. Powerful and delicious fragrance. A large, vigorous shrub with open growth. Garcon, 1841.

Interesting to see that these two sources do not agree on the introduction date. Let’s see if we can learn more about this French banker and his wife!

Well that didn’t take long. Turns out these two were famous. According to Wikipedia,

The Pereire brothers were prominent 19th-century financiers in Paris, France, who were rivals of the Rothschilds. Like the Rothschilds, they were Jews, but the Pereire brothers were Sephardi Jews of Portuguese origin.

Furthermore,

Émile (3 December 1800 – 5 January 1875) and his brother Isaac (25 November 1806 – 12 July 1880) founded a business conglomerate that included creating the Crédit Mobilier bank. It became a powerful and dynamic funding agency for major projects in France, Europe and the world at large. It specialized in mining developments; it funded other banks including the Imperial Ottoman Bank or the Austrian Mortgage Bank; it funded railway construction[ and insurance companies, as well as building contractors. Their bank had large investments in a transatlantic steamship lines, urban gas lighting, a newspaper and the Paris public transit system.

In 1866/7, the bank underwent a severe crisis, and the Pereires were forced to resign at the demand of the Banque de France; the bank never recovered.

Their grandfather, Jacob Rodrigues Pereira, was an “academic and the first teacher of deaf-mutes in France.” (source)

Very interesting! I assume that they did not win their rival with the Rothschilds otherwise we would know their names instead of the Rothschilds!

Looking further I find this,

‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ is a dark pink Bourbon rose bred in France in 1881 by Armand Garcon. 

The rose is named after Fanny Pereire, the wife of a prominent French banker, who used the inheritance after his death to honor his memory and simultaneously have this rose named after her. 

In a very Continental twist, Pink Ladies and Crimson Gents reveals that Isaac Pereire was Fanny’s uncle as well as her husband, a bit of salacious gossip that I somehow can’t resist keeping in memory.

Kansas Garden Musings

Well then! Am I still glad that I did the research? Hah! That seems a bit inbred to me. Marrying an uncle 19 years older than you at the tender age of 16! For even more information regarding their union and the family history, see this informative post.

Perhaps I’ll start calling this rose by its direct name, Fanny! She certainly picked a great rose to name herself after.

As many online attest, this is one fragrant rose. Some even call it the most fragrant rose in the world! Just was I was looking for…

Other interesting snippets:

There is no availability problem with this rose  – almost all suppliers stock it! Produced in 1880 by Armond Garçon, a Normandy rose breeder, it was originally named ‘La Bien-heureux de la Salle’, but having found its way to Paris in 1881 it was renamed ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ in honour of Fanny Pereire, wife of a prominent banker. It would be interesting to discover the exact circumstances under which this name change took place.

Peter Scott in The Royal National Rose Society Historic Rose Journal No. 32 Autumn 2006

And furthermore from the same source,

Isaac’s first wife died in 1837 and in 1840, at the age of 34, Isaac became enamoured of Fanny Pereire, his brother Emile’s eldest daughter, who was then just 16 years old. Isaac and Fanny wished to marry and in due course Emile reluctantly agreed. Because of the close blood relationship, the marriage also required special consent from the State. After this was obtained however, Emile had a change of heart. Once again he eventually gave in to pleas from Isaac and Fanny but their affair created a rift between Emile and Isaac that was slow to heal. This was made all the more difficult by proximity, since not only did they occupy adjoining offices at the bank but they also shared the same large residence in Paris. Nevertheless, both saw the wisdom of ensuring that the rift was not allowed to jeopardise the banking business.

Fanny’s mother Rachel Rodriguez, Emile’s distant cousin, was of Iberian extraction, which may account for the dark good looks possessed by Fanny.  She bore Isaac three children. Evidence suggests she was a very effective manager of Isaac’s social affairs especially during the ill health he suffered in the last years of his life. With Emile’s death in 1875 and Isaac’s in 1880 – the year before the naming of this rose – Fanny assumed with no little skill the role of dowager of the two families. She became something of a matriarch and lived on to the age of 85, dying in 1910.

Now my curiosity is satisfied knowing more of the story behind this gorgeous rose.

Stay tuned as I look further into the roses of Mountain Jewel…

Mountain Jewel Goes to Baker Creek

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This past weekend was the annual Baker Creek spring planting festival and it happened to be our first outreach/vending event. We put a lot into it and wanted to share a little of our experience.

Baker Creek is a large heirloom seed company that began as a Jere Gettle’s passion for gardening and has since grown into a well-known company that ships rare and heirloom seeds worldwide.

Every year 10 000 people attend the festival in Mansfield MO (an hour away from us) to connect around all things gardening and Earth based. We were honored to have a booth as part of the Rural Renaissance tent, a group focused on local community and permaculture.

We both knew this was going to be a big event, and we did all we could to prepare for it.

Everything from preparing plants for sale, designing and printing business cards, making signs and informational material and getting ready for sales. We formed a of lot of new paths and our next event wont be quite so much ground work. This was the first time we’d show up in public sphere in a big way and we wanted to represent what we’re all about; a perennial Earth based lifestyle.

Plant rack of berries, lavender and goldenseal for sale.

More than selling items, this event was all about outreach.

We made some great connections and gained insights into where people’s interests lie and what direction to head. We were offering a number of Rubus species, goldenseal plants, tinctures, books, worm kits and germinated paw paw seeds. There was A LOT of talking and it took us a few days to recover.

Mountain Jewel has been waiting to be born in both of us for quite a while.

The past few years we have been focused on establishing our homestead infrastructure, but now another layer is unfolding. This represents a phase where we touch the lives of others through connection, inspiration and empowerment.

We believe in what we’re doing and we want to share that with others. The vision for a bioregional permaculture nursery is in the nascent stages and we are starting to gather interest for educational and community involvement opportunities for this year’s straw bale house build.

Ini giving a talk on Sprouting

What this event shows us is the importance of showing up. We were unsure weather we were prepared enough, but soon realized that we had been preparing for this for years. Every work exchange opportunity, workshop, book, experiment and curiosity led us to this place. We have a true passion and desire to share the benefits of permaculture and living in connection with the earth.

Rural Renaissance Community members placing their locations within the Ozark Bioregion map

We were well received and had some very supportive responses.

Overall the event was a success and after recovering we are looking forward to future events including workshops and work parties on our land! We’re all in it together and it’s at events like this where we can come together and really feel that. We extend our gratitude to all of the organizers who made this event possible 🙂

David Haenke talking about putting the eco back in economics.

Wider Circles – Community Connections & Remembering the Journey Here

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Last night Ini and I walked around the homestead and I’m not sure what it was, but we started saying Remember when…

Prepping signage and plants to bring with us to the festival

Remember when..

This was just a scrubby field with a huge oak and hickory in it?
When our neighbor came up one time with his discer and we walked behind it picking up rocks (which did nothing…) When you got naked and started pulling out what we thought was poison ivy, but ended up being aromatic sumac and I screamed when it touched your butt.

Remember that winter we slept outside when we came back after traveling and our yurt was moldy.. How we started off without power and carried water up the hill from our spring…

When we were just talking about getting a high tunnel.. starting a pond.. building the solar shed. Remember year after year when we dug beds and half of the soil was rocks..

Remember when we met at OUR ecovillage and sat by a fire one night realizing how closely our dreams aligned and decided to try it together…

All of the hard work, literal blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this…

Wider Circles

It’s all coming together in another turning of the revolution as we reach out into the community to share ourselves and some of the fruitions of the homestead.

send ya straight to our instagram!
I got a stamp! Business cards

In making the final preparations to vend this weekend, we’re seeing just how much we’ve set into motion and how we can bridge with the community. It’s extraordinarily exciting!

Thanks for being a part of the journey!

Helping Pollinators While Beautifying Your Landscape

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Of late when we hear anything about bees, it’s usually scary press. We hear that their colonies are collapsing and that they’re feeling pressure from pesticides, diseases, habitat destruction and insects that attack their hives. When we hear about ways our world is changing, it can seem insurmountable. It can be hard to listen to the bad news because it keeps coming and we may feel that we can’t do anything about these large-scale shifts. In spite this, believe we can help through some simple key actions.

Snowberry Clearwing on the Anise Hyssop

When it comes to bees, especially honeybees, our wellbeing depends on their survival and indeed the ecosystem services they provide for us, pollination being chief. We have a long-term relationship with bees as they provide much of the pollination needed to get our food turned from a flower into a fruit, for example.  In fact, a study done in California found that “native bee species pollinate between 35 and 39 percent of California’s crops and contribute at least $1 billion to its agricultural economy.” For economic reasons alone this is certainly an issue important to humans! Regardless, we wont survive very long in a world without pollinators.

Bumble bee on Coneflower

To help Bringbackthepollinators.org suggests:

  1. Grow a variety of pollinator-friendly flowers (I’ll list some awesome options below.)
  2. Protect and provide bee nest sites and caterpillar host plants.
  3. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides and
  4. Spread the word

Pesticides are one of the biggest threats facing bees (and insects) and they often live in the environment long after they’re sprayed, meaning that we aren’t even completely aware of the negative effects that continue to have ripples for years to come. In order to be an ally to our pollinators, stop using them! You can transition part of your yard to a pollinator habitat instead and you won’t have to worry about spraying.

Establishing a pollinator habitat

Studies have shown that wildflower or native plant “strips” planted at the edges of lawns or farm fields greatly benefit pollinators and they can increase pollination in nearby crops (a boon to farmers). This can be as easy as buying one or two plants a year at a native plant sale and putting them into your existing landscaping or you could dig up a portion of your yard and dedicate it to the pollinators. You’ll also find the added benefits of beauty and delight that come from watching bees and insects!

Butterfly enjoying Bee Balm

Some species that bees especially love that I love to witness around our homestead include:

Wild Oregano: aka Bee Balm, there are many native species of this plant and it also comes in a diverse array of bright flowers. It’s easy to grow and comes back year after year. The leaves and flowers are also a great medicinal tea.

Anise Hyssop: Neither a true anise or hyssop, this plant is a stunning plant in the garden that blooms nearly all season long. Out of all of the plants in my garden, this one had the most pollinators on it at all times. It is also easy to grow, comes back each year and produces a delicious medicinal tea from the leaves.

Purple Coneflower: another native that is very well known. Echinacea is a drought hardy, easy to grow (it spreads!) beautiful medicinal plant that is a boon to pollinators. Often I would spy bumble bees on our coneflower.

Butterfly eyeing me from the Echinacea

Mints: These are easy to grow useful plants that also spread (you can grow them in a pot by the house as well.) Pollinators love the mints and, again, they produce a wonderful tea for humans (a theme!).

Clovers: This is as easy as taking a trip to the local feedstore. We get bulk clover seeds and sow them all over the homestead. They not only provide a living mulch and attractive nitrogen-fixing groundcover, but bees, butterflies, beetles & flies love them. They’ll come back year after year and you can even substitute some of the grass in your yard with them. Their dried flowers provide a healthy nourishing tea.

An assortment of mints taken from around the homestead. Great for pollinators and tea.

These are some of our favorite and easiest to grow suggestions for starting off your pollinator habitat. To find out more, you can google “Beneficial Pollinator Plants” and find more suggestions! While beautifying your space, you’re also helping our bees and other winged ones! A win-win!

Sources:

Artificial “Asimina-lation”: Pollinating the Paw Paw, N. America’s Largest Fruit

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As the redbud blossoms fade and dogwood flowers makes their appearance, the mighty paw paw flowers waltz their way to center stage in the Ozark woodlands.

These luscious drooping maroon blossoms are sultry in their demeanor, but yet perhaps a little shy…

The paw paw has fast become a very dear tree to us, and we’re excited to get a little more intimate with some specimens this spring.

Immature Paw Paw Flower on the left, Mature on the right

Almost all fruit needs to pollinated to set fruit.

There are a few exceptions such as certain persimmons, which can set fruit parthenocarpically which results in seedless fruit. The same can be said about seedless watermelons. All other fruit require male and female sex organs to intermingle in order to produce fruit. While some trees are self-fertile (meaning one tree can pollinate itself), others require cross-pollination.

Generally fruits are either wind or insect pollinated.

The scope of fruit pollination is far beyond this article. Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are pollinated by insects and often need a little help with setting fruit. Being pollinated by flies and carrion beetles and having female organs that are receptive before the male organs shed pollen, proper pollination (and therefore fruit set) can be tricky.

Some old timers swear by hanging rotting meat to attract pollinators, but hand pollination seems like a more savory choice for most.

The paw paw flowers are known as perfect; meaning they contain both male and female reproductive parts.

The stigma (receptive female part) matures before the male anthers shed its pollen. Here lies the conundrum. To make things even more nuanced, the pollen must almost always (there are some exceptions) come from a different genetic source to ensure proper pollination. This is where is gets a bit frisky.

Today we are harvesting some paw paw pollen from the flowers of several different trees. Paw paws fruit best if cross-pollinated, that is by receiving pollen from another tree. It is recommended to plant at least 3 varieties for proper pollination, so we will be roaming the woods near us and collecting pollen in hopes of increasing fruit set on wild paw paws on our land. Our cultivated varieties have only 1 or two flowers so far.

Our goal is to transfer the male pollen to a clean and dry container and then transfer it to the female stigma. The pollen is ripe when the ball of anthers is brownish and sheds readily. The stigma is ready when the tips of the pistil are green, sticky and glossy. At this time the anthers ball is firm and light yellow to greenish in color.

Once we have collected enough pollen we will use a delicate brush and simply apply pollen to receptive stigmas.

This is a delicate task, but one that we feel is well worth the effort. For a tree that has few to no pests, does not require pruning in almost all cases and produces such a wonderful fruit, hand pollination seems a small price to pay.

Many of the larger scale growers, including the Kentucky State research facility report that pollination isn’t a problem.

Perhaps this is due to the large volume of flowers that creates a habitat for pollinators. The head of the KSU paw paw research team Sheri Crabtree, says that while hand pollination is the best option for optimum fruit set (as opposed to hanging rotting meat), she and her team say it isn’t needed in their paw paw test plots and orchards.

Playing sexy time with trees is fun, and hopefully will pay off in the form of scrumptious fruits in late summer. Artificial “asimina-lation” is a great way to connect with nature in a productive and intimate way.

Sources:

Paw Paw Fruit Facts

PAWPAW – A “TROPICAL” FRUIT FOR TEMPERATE CLIMATES

Planting Trees as the Climate Changes: No Backyard Is Too Small

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I’ve continued my research into the effects of climate change around the world. After avoiding it for many years – or just not focusing on or looking into the details – I’ve started to face it head on.

It feels like a brave thing to do. The next book I want to get at the library is about all of the reasons why humans avoid taking in information – or indeed doing anything about it – regarding climate change. There are a host of psychological response mechanisms, I’m sure, but I’ll let you know when I read it what I find informative. Currently I’m reading a book by Jeff Nesbit called This Is The Way The World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes are Converging on America. I have to say, having all of this information in one place is shocking, but again I must look and so I am keeping my courage in the face of it all.

Our Red Gem Goumi plants are flowering this spring! A hardy perennial nitrogen fixing shrub with nutritionally rich berries.

One thing that is repeatedly coming to mind as I read about farmers facing drought and desertification all over the globe is how to make a resilient agricultural system. We all need to eat and it is my feeling that Food and Water, two of the human mainstays, will be the limiting factors as the effects of climate change increase around the world.

We’ve written extensively about perennial agriculture and our reasons for choosing this form of land cultivation. You can read some of our dense articles here.

Why We’ve Chosen Perennial Agriculture
A Case for Edible Landscaping with Perennial Plants | 3 Plant Profiles
The Gardens @mountainjewel | Permaculture Design Process
Grow Food Not Lawns: A Vision for Suburban America

In writing this article, I want to reiterate and restate a few of these ideas through an invigorated lens of heavy reading into current and possible effects of climate change.

Climate change in the Sahel

In the book mentioned above, one of the chapters focuses on the Sahel, the arid savanna that runs along the southern border of the Sahara Desert. It spans Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Ethiopia and has acted as a buffer to the harsh realities of the desert. However, in recent years, farmers have found earlier springs, drought and extreme periods of rainfall leading to water scarcity and destructive weather events, negative effects of land overuse which is all denuding the land making it difficult to grow anything.

People are worried that the Sahara is encroaching upon the Sahel, but in reality it just appears that way. It is the Sahel that is turning desert-like. Leaders of the World Bank, the government of France and others met at the Paris Climate Accord in December 2015 and came upon a “solution” for this and that was to build a Great Green Wall. It was basically plan to plant millions of trees the first years to create a living wall of trees to stop the desertification. Sadly, though not surprisingly, over 3/4 of these trees died within the first two months. China also tried a similar thing and had the same results.

Fast forward to what actually is working in the region and we find an indigenous solution.

They have found that farmers were allowing tree seedlings that were growing naturally to grow up near their plants and that these farmers encouraged meager rain that fell to puddle near the trees by digging a hole near the base of the tree.

When viewed from the sky, these patches of farms look like swaths of green. What the large institutions and governments could not figure out from a “top down” solution, the farmers were already naturally doing. They’ve switched the Great Green Wall initiative to be this simple yet effective act of the indigenous farmers: allow the tree seedlings to grow, nurture them alongside your farm crops and build up the wall of green slowly and naturally. I know it wont happen this way, but I think all of the funding should go to these small farmers.

I think the world should pay direct attention to this reality in the Sahel right now. With rising air and ocean temperatures, melting Arctic ice, and climate change happening the world round, we are all going to be called upon to adapt in some way. As I study the climate changes, that is the thing that keeps coming to mind again and again.

Climate Change implies that adaptation is key.

The hitch is that though it is the nature of life on earth to adapt, can we do it quickly enough? For that is what we’re seeing – the earth has always been and always will be in a state of flux and all of the creatures here have survived through evolving, but at times and for certain species that can take generations. We may not have generations. For the worldwide coral reefs dying as a result of rising ocean surface water temps, they certainly cannot adapt that quickly. Neither can many of the ocean creatures faced with acidification of their waters.

It is our role now as humans to look forward and see what we need to put in place now to be as adaptable as possible. To me this looks like creating resilient food systems (and knowing where my water comes from and “catching” it on my landscape- but that’s another article entirely.)

Juneberry (Regent variety) in bloom this month

As far as food is concerned, anyone can see that a plant that has roots and comes again each season (a perennial) is more resilient than a seed sowed into the soil each season (an annual) subject to the whims of the current alchemy of sun, water, temps, etc. A perennial is hardy and has worked on growing its root system year after year. It seems intuitive to have as many of these around bearing food as possible in the event of a shaky and unpredictable climate.

The farmers in the Sahel are facing an emergency situation right now and it is said that desertication, the process of an ecosystem turning into a desert, is possible along the entire Midwest portion of the United States within the next 100 years.

Whether for my lifetime or generations to follow after me, I ask myself, What are the things I can set in motion now that may be beneficial in the event of increased drought, rising temperatures and longer summers?

Lambsquarter, a hardy nutritionally dense “weed” grows even in the heat of summer. A relative of quinoa, this plant feeds us when the rest of the salad greens balk at the heat.

My answer is to plant fruit & nut trees (as native and locally hardy as possible), grow perennial roots, find the species that are hardy as hell and that love to grow in the heat (like sweet potatoes, lambsquarter, purslane and others) and get these seed banks established in the soil on my land and start growing these crops now. In the event of desertification, perhaps all of our handiwork will not be able to survive as well, but a tree that is 10-20 years old will have a better chance than one we are planting during the crisis.

37.5 million out of 50 million trees died when planted in the 11 northern Nigeria states worst effected by desertification (pg 62 of This Is How The World Ends).  

Now is the time to start planting edible landscapes and resilient ecosystems.

Annual agriculture, and especially the warlike way it is done by big agribusiness, is not a sustainable or resilient model. While it may have more returns in the short turn, we’re shooting ourselves and future generations in the foot if we believe it will take care of us in the future. We need to start thinking about and acting upon the future. And in the event that much of this horror show that is climate change can somehow “be turned around”, that much the better for us as we’ll have mature edible landscapes to harvest from in abundance! Sounds like a great vision to me!

Just as the farmers of the Sahel couldn’t rely on the “powers that be” to make the change for them, we too must rely on indigenous and small and local solutions. The building of resilient ecosystems really is in our hands – no back yard is to small so get planting!!!!!!

Wild Boars, Butteflies, & Seasonal Indicators

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I read today that,

“Schoolkids in Marudi could recall that their uncles would hunt boar after the appearance of a particular butterfly, but they could not recall which butterfly it was or when it appeared.”

Such disconnected earth – human relations are par for the course in our modern age, but we want to change that and we know we aren’t alone in this bid for more intimate earth connection.

Just as cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty and spicebush are showing their flowers after the dormancy of winter, nettle is popping its head up and morel season will come on in a few weeks. Daffodils are sending up their lovely yellow flowers while toads and frogs lay and fertilize their eggs in waters everywhere.

(Cutleaf Toothwort: image source)

Spring is in the air and it is a nuanced thing.

We have learned this within our fourth year, imagine the informative wealth of millenniums wherein a specific mushroom shows its head or a particular beloved plant appears related to this or they event.

I’ve seen a few Zebra Swallowtails out lately which feed on Paw Paws, for example. These are the things we must keep alive, resurrect if they are dead and remember if they are lost.

(Zebra Swallowtail: image source)

We love in increasingly disenchanted times as species diversity and ecosystem devastation happens at an unparalleled rate- it is, sadly, par for the course for our generation.

As the author mentioned above says,

“‘Nostalgia’ is the word we use to describe the bittersweet evocation of precious feelings that lie just beyond reach in the past. Often the emotion arises during rites of passage or out of the intricate matrix of personal history, memory and place, but what word or phrase adequately describes the feelings evoked by repeatedly observing the disappearance of an entire landscape, a people, a language, a way of life? It is akin to forever showing up for the last scenes of a tragedy in which one can glimpse, but never fully experience, the past glory of the protagonist.”

From The Ragged Edge of the World by Eugene Linden

As a human who has grown up with this existential threat over my head my entire life, I am not willing to see the degradation of our earth reach its peak climax. Though consumption and capitalism may try to overwhelm the earth in their crazy infectious nature on human behavior, I wager that earth connection is more a intimately satisfying and sustainable option in the long run.

I vote for knowing our seasonal identifiers’ name, species and interconnections for a better way forward.