Posts tagged gardening

HOW TO: Create a Seed Bank

As another hurricane bears down on the gulf coast, one has to wonder whether the glass half empty crowd which has been predicting increased damage in upcoming years due to natural disaster is correct. Nature does go in cycles, and we may end up laughing off current pessimism about the planet’s inability to regulate herself. But current data does suggest that we are facing at the least a massive migration of plants and animal species to inhabit new regions of the planet. Global environmental organizations are already seeing plant and animal species move to new elevations of previously frigid territory and dead zones showing up in previously fertile areas.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment we as humans will have to make, provided we don’t all take each other out first, is that of food supply.  When the local soils no longer support the crops to which we’re accustomed, we’ll be faced with two choices: move, or learn to cultivate something new.  This migratory period will be critical to the existence of all life on earth.  By creating and maintaining seed banks, we are helping to sustain the biological diversity of life on earth.  This is the aim of the latest biological depository established in Scandinavia, into which governments from around the world are locking seed samples in preservatory conditions in case of Doomsday.

But while the establishment of such seed banks are admirable, the greatest potential for preserving biological diversity lies with the individual.  After all, your grandmother’s mint patch that grows in your backyard probably isn’t on the seed registry’s radar, and neither are your neighbor’s prize heirloom sunflowers.  For any planet to sustain a wide diversity of genetic material, it is we, the people, who will have to stash away the genetic legacy of our lives thusfar as a gift to the future.  So why not get started now?

Making a seed bank is ridiculously easy.  You could well go from a single set of seeds to more than you could ever plant within the span of a single growing season.  Of course, seeds are most fertile when fresh, but stored under the right conditions, most seeds will last for years.  It is a good practice to plant from your seed bank each year, and replenish the stock with fresh seed over the growing season.  This way, most of your seed stays fresh at any time.

Now, how to get started?  First, buy an pack of little brown paper envelopes, or even just a package of writing envelopes.  Then stash a few in your pocketbook, briefcase, or car, and start hunting!  Every time you see a particularly beautiful tree in fruit, a really nice flower, or healthy looking seed grasses, take a handful of seeds, pat them dry if they are wet (say from being removed from their protective fruit coverings to prevent rot), and place them in the envelope.  Be sure to label the outside of the package with what type of plant (if you don’t know, just describe it as best possible), the date on which you collected it, and ideally, where you found it. Then transfer your sealed envelopes to a cool dry storage place next time you are home, to keep the seeds from germinating and then dying from lack of soil nutrition. Then you simply hit the road again and look for more!  Most people won’t mind you taking a handful of anything from their lawn, but certainly some tact and discretion are in order always.

The next step in a successful seed bank is to increase the diversity through exchange with others. In most towns there are groups of seed savers who get together periodically to have exchanges, in which you give a little to get a little of something else.  This is the true gem of seed collection. You are gaining access to the best of all local areas, all of which should be relatively well suited to cultivation in your area, simply for having an eagle eye in your own neighborhood.

As with all great ventures, the best time to get started is before everyone else catches on. That way, when seeds become more scarce, you’ll already be a practiced veteran of the seed trade.  This is truly a return to the simpler life our parents parents experienced, and is a selfless act of philanthropy you can complete without spending a dime.

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BioChar: Agriculture’s “Black Gold”

Here’s a quick nugget of information for today. 

BioChar from bones and plants

Scientists have discovered that adding charcoal or other charred materials to soil is a much more effective fertilizer than any methods currently in use.  The main reason for this is that though land is naturally carbon-rich, over time and with increased use, retillage, etc, the carbon-rich materials break down into carbon dioxide and are released into the atmosphere.  Most fertilizers available today, even composts, break down quickly and are therefore only short-term solutions to soil depletion.  However, using charcoal in the soil adds a component that easily absorbs water, holds nutrients for thousands of years, and provides rich minerals to plants that access it.  The study, released by the American Chemical Society, must not have been music to their ears.  BioChar, or “black gold” for agriculture, as they term it, has been shown to remain in the soil for long periods of time and to retain its nutrient rich status.  Read the whole article below for more details.

I wonder myself if this is why American Indian populations used fire periodically to renew agricultiral areas.  Not only does this clear underbrush, leaving the land open for cultivation, it also provides a thick layer of BioChar available to be tilled into the soil.  If so, as is often the case, our native brothers and sisters were far ahead of the ecological curve in sustainable garden design.

Read more here: American Chemical Society (2008, April 15). Ancient Method, ‘Black Gold Agriculture’ May Revolutionize Farming, Curb Global Warming.

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Xeriscaping the Dead Sea – A Case-Study

Click Here to See Geoff Lawton’s Dead Sea Restoration Project

Geoff Lawton, Xeriscaper Extroardinaire

This EXCELLENT presentation gives you a nice video overview of a successful xeriscaping and land restoration project carried out in the Dead Sea area of Jordan. You can actually watch the progression from desert to a lush canopy of green and edible foods. And to see that the salt levels of the soil dropped so dramatically is quite a convincing argument to try it yourself. Geoff Lawton and his team are genius to have done this. If you are considering doing your lawn with drought-friendly plants, or in converting waste-space to something much more beautiful while restoring the natural balance of the soil, please check out this site!

Here is SoCal, the Salton Sea is a popular tourist destination, as it is a similar environment to the Dead Sea. In fact, like the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea is getting saltier every year as its water evaporates. Given the hot temperatures (there is a reason that all the spas of Palm Springs are so popular!), there is a lot of sandy desert for every patch of green. Do you live there? Try this and send us pictures!

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Link Bonanza: medicinal and edible plants

Balsam Fir Pitch

Medicinal plant list

More edible and medicinal plants

Articles about Australian medicinal plants

Forage with Wildman Steve Brill

Whoa! That’s a lot of information! While we’re on the topic of edible plants… when planting your garden, why not plant things that do double or even triple duty, providing medicine and or nourishment along with shady beauty? While every locale has its own host of plants that fit this bill while still thriving ecologically, you may be surprised to find that plants you’ve known and loved for years have different uses than you’d imagined. Take the above article on the balsam fir. My house growing up had one in the front yard. I knew it as the good climbing tree, and my mother no doubt saw it as “that darn tree that ends up all over the kids’ clothes”, but neither of us ever thought that the sticky pitch might have other uses. Again, knowing more about your local environment can only enhance the pleasures of living there, and bring you more into balance with nature. Happy reading!

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Xeriscaping your life

Never heard of xeriscaping? Neither have most people. But it’s a relatively easy way to reduce your planetary footprint. Basically, xeriscaping entails ripping out your water-thirsty lawn or bedding plants and replacing them with drought-friendly plants and mulch. It’s a small initial investment for the plants and mulch, but for what you save over time in watering and gas mowing your lawn, you’ll recoup very quickly. If you live in Las Vegas, you can even get a tax rebate for ripping out the lawn and replacing it with gravel and drought-tolerant plantings.

Taken from www.xeriscape.org:

Xeriscaped Garden in CO

“Why Xeriscape? For most of the western United States over fifty percent of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscape can reduce landscape water use by 60% or more.

Efficient water use doesn’t mean changing our lifestyle. It means reducing water waste, such as improper irrigation, and finding ways to achieve attractive, comfortable landscapes without excess water use.

Your landscape is an investment in your comfort and in the value of your property. A good Xeriscape will increase your property value by as much as 15%. Xeriscape can also reduce water and maintenance costs by up to 60%.”

Not only do xeriscaped lawns help the environment at large, they also look great, increasing the value of YOUR environment. Nosy neighbors with green lawns might object at fist, but after a season or two of growth, your yard may just become a neighborhood “park”, full of birds, butterflies, and wonderful herbal scents. Now that’s aromatherapy!

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