Saturday, April 23, 2011

the principles of Permaculture

The first recorded modern practice of permaculture as a systematic method was by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer in the 1960s, but the method was scientifically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications.
The word permaculture is described by Mollison as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, and permanent culture.
The intent is that, by training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.(Wikipedia)
There are terms in permaculture: permaculture principles and permaculture ethics. (The ethics are sometimes referred to as principles as well). I'll try and keep them separate. The ethics of permaculture are at the centre of permaculture philosophy and are broad guidelines of how we should behave towards the earth and towards each other. The permaculture principles, or permaculture design principles, are the guidelines that you follow when you design a permaculture garden or bigger permaculture system.

Principles of Permaculture – The Ethics
These are the three basic ethics at the core of permaculture and are fairly simple and so don't need much explanation:
They are of the earth: in everyday language you probably more often hear "protect or save the environment". It means the same thing basically: using renewable resources, recycling, minimising waste, building up soils rather than depleting them, conserving water and so on. Anybody who aims to do that is following that first permaculture principle or ethic.
Care of the people: this means really that you should simply look after yourself and after others. Health and well-being are very important, so to are learning, a sense of belonging, communication, trust and above all respect. All people should have access to what they need to live a safe and healthy life.
Fair share: it's what your mum tried to teach you all those years ago. Only take what you need and share the rest. This permaculture ethic focuses on things like co-operation, networking, contributing to the community and on distributing resources and wealth.
But it also looks at the reduction of consumerism and requires you to rethink your current ideas about growth and development. Sometimes this principle is written as "accepting limits to population and consumption". We can't go on consuming like we do without putting more thought into where things come from, and how we can produce them sustainably, so they will still be available tomorrow.
Permaculture teaches us how to observe nature, to understand our environment and so become more ecologically aware and responsible. The philosophy behind permaculture also looks at the global context, it is a big vision. Conservation, careful energy accounting, reducing waste, using "green" resources, recycling, but also a healthy lifestyle, pure and fresh food, clean water and a clean environment to live in... It's all part of permaculture, either as part of the design or as a result of the design.
But the three ethics do not immediately convey the main focus of permaculture: the focus always was and still is on sustainable food production. Permaculture principles are the result of the observation of natural systems. They outline how things work in nature, and how you can apply that to your design. They also tie in with the three ethics listed above.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

growing your own organic insecticide!

You may be familiar with the word 'Pyrethrum' from the packaging of many ready-to-use organic insect sprays. However it was once one of the most popular insecticides available until the introduction of modern synthetic insecticides.

This insecticidal chemical is derived from the dried, powdered flowers of the pyrethrum daisy, Tanacetum cinerarifolium, and has been used as early as 1880 as a treatment to control mosquitoes. The active ingredients 'Pyrethrins' are mainly concentrated in the seeds of the flower head, and work by way of a contact insecticide. This means that the insect only has to be touched by the active ingredient to be affected.
Pyrethrins have a quick knockdown effect on insects, working in some ways like a nerve toxin. With the right dosage insects can be paralyzed in mid flight, but if the dose is too low they will just be knocked out and fly off later on once they've recovered. On food crops pyrethrins can be applied up to one day before harvest because they are quickly destroyed by light and heat. This means that they are not persistent in the environment and this it why pyrethrins have their 'organic' label. Be careful though as Pyrethrins will kill ladybirds, aquatic insects and the preditors that eat them although they do not appear to be harmful to bees.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR PYRETHRUM INSECTICIDE: Pyrethrum daisies are easy to grow in the English garden and are readily available at most good plant retailers. That way - if you have pyrethrum in the garden - you will have the main ingredient conveniently close by when you are ready to make your spray. The importance of this becomes clear when you realise how quickly the active ingredient within the pyrethrum flower will degrade..
The concentration of pyrethrums is at its peak when the flowers are in full bloom, this is recognised as the time when the first row of florets on the central disk opens - up until the time that all the florets are open. Pick the flowers in full bloom and then hang them in a dark sheltered spot to dry.
Traditionally, in Japan, the flowers were harvested with their stems intact, and hung upside down in water for between 24 to 48 hours before drying. The reason for this process is that it can increases the pyrethrin levels. Once dry, crush the flowers into a powder using a mortar and pestle or a blender. The finer the powder is the more effective it will be against insects, but it will deteriorate more rapidly.

To apply as an insecticidal dust, simply apply the dried and crushed flowers on to the leaves of plants that require its protection.

To use as a spray, soak ten grams of pyrethrum powder into three litres of warm water for three hours, after this it is ready to be sprayed. It is possible to use fresh flowers instead of dried but you will need to use up to four times the amount of planr material to get the same concentration of active ingredient.

The efficiency of pyrethrum can be greatly improved with the addition of other products such as sesame seed oil or washing up liquid. These can be added at a dose of one teaspoon per litre of solution and can increase the effectiveness of your spray up to four times the norm.
As mentioned before Pyrethrum breaks down quickly after application giving no more than 48 hours of protection ( 12 hours is generally nearer the mark) depending on the concentration of the mixture sprayed. One of the ways that this degradation can be slowed down is to add anti-oxidants such as tannic acid, a chemical found in the bark of several tree species. Even so it will be necessary to reapply after rain.

You may need to experiment with the amount of water your powder is being added to as the concentration of pyrethrins in the dried flowers will be an unknown variable. If your spray does not seem to kill insects, try using use less water next time you make your spray.

comfrey as a liquid feed

Comfrey as a liquid feed
The equipment you will require is a container (metal or plastic) around a 10-gallon capacity, preferably with a lid to keep the flies out.(it is a bit smelly) You will also require a watering can, a small bucket and a sieve to strain the brew into the watering can. (Sieving to prevent clogging of the watering can's nozzle.)

A good source of liquid fertilizer comes from the herb plant comfrey. It can also be used as a foliage spray, insect deterrent, and a compost activator. (The leaves will break down the compost heap in half the usual time, in two to three months).

Comfrey has nitrogen, calcium, potash and phosphorus, in greater quantity than any animal manure, and it is also a good foliage spray. The average garden will require around seven plants for a continual supply of leaves all year around.

Here's what you do:
Prune the comfrey plants, enough to fill the 10 gallon bucket half full of comfrey leaves, and then fill the drum with fresh water and replace the lid. The brew will be ready within a two weeks. Stir well every couple of days. Strain into the watering can when ready.
Also, you can add comfrey to a compost heap to add nitrogen. Its speedy decomposition will also help to heat the compost heap. However, comfrey should not be added in large quantities as it will quickly break down into a dark sludgy liquid that will need to be balanced with more fibrous, carbon rich material.
Comfrey as a mulch or top dressing By applying about a 2 inch layer of comfrey leaves around your chosen plant, it will slowly break down and release a range of plant nutrients. It is especially useful for crops that need extra potassium, such as fruiting plants, but there is also evidence that it can improve potato crops too. Comfrey can be allowed wilt slightly before application but however you use, however avoid using flowering stems as these can take root.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) based liquid fertilizer is a great asset for any gardener; not only is it a very good plant booster and foliage spray; it can also be used as a form of pest control.

Dilution rates:
For young plants: make a brew the color of weak tea 25/75
For more established plants: 50/50
Comfrey is also a bug deterrent, so pour the brew all over the plant.

Use the leaves themselves as fertilizer:
Just chop up the leaves and place around the garden

Monday, April 11, 2011

Organic gardening principles

Organic gardening is more than not using pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Below are some basic practices that should be implemented if one chooses to garden using organic principles.
Simply stated; organic gardening is an environmentally friendly, people, and wildlife friendly style of gardening. Organic gardening methods can be used by everyone to create almost any sized and style of garden, in any location.

Organic gardening gives you a chance to create the garden you want, safe in the knowledge that you are also doing your part to protect the wider environment in which we all must live.

Organic methods are not just for the fruit and vegetable gardens. They can be applied to all areas of the garden, from lawns to flower beds and container plants. Interest is now growing in managing public parks, sports fields, and playgrounds using organic principles.
 Vegetables should be part of everyone’s diet. If you don’t want to spend a little bit more for those organically grown and sold in the supermarket, perhaps you should consider planting your own in the garden. It is very easy to do that even your kids can join in the fun.

Organic vegetable gardening is the “in thing” these days as people have realized that the use of fertilizers and pesticides do more harm than good. Yes it will make the vegetables bigger or enable the farmer to harvest them faster but the chemicals used in making this happen could be detrimental to the health of those who eat it.

But since the early farmers never did that and relied only on sunlight and irrigation, this concept is making a comeback. These will also enable you to this at home since you have access to the three most basic things namely soil, water and sunlight.

What kind of organic vegetables can you plant? Well, just about everything. Some examples of these include broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes and a lot more. You just have to know which of them can be planted during the different seasons of the year.
Proper drainage is important for your vegetables. If there isn’t, you can check if it is feasible to grow these using a raise bed.
When you have done your basic research, you can now buy the seeds. These are usually sold in packets so don’t forget to read the instructions before using them.
Planting the seeds for your organic vegetable gardening is the second phase of this operation. The challenging part is making sure nothing happens to it until the time comes that this will be harvested.

Your vegetables may be under attack by pests, weeds and other animals. To prevent this from happening, you need to get a bird, a toad and even other insects to eat them. For weeds, the only thing you can do is pull these one by one from the ground. As for other animals, putting up fences and using animal hair, baby powder or deodorant soaps seems to be a good deterrent.

Mulch is another solution. This can be made from chipped bark, garden compost, leaf moulds and manure. It must be applied at 3 to 4 inches or 8 to 10 cm from the ground in order for it to be effective.

Some organically grown vegetables can also be done indoors. Take for example that tomato that can be grown using an organic container made out of clay, plastic or wood. Just don’t forget to give it some water daily and sunlight so it can grow.
You can place the containers outside during the day and if the weather is too cold, bring them indoors and put them somewhere else like in the western or southern windows of your home.

One more thing you have to remember about growing organic vegetables in such containers is not to use soil but rather a mixture of peat, perlite and vermiculite.
Organic vegetable gardening is challenging but it pays off when you are able to reap what you sow this means additional savings and maybe even a small business if you want to sell whatever excess you have to the local farmers market, or car boot sale

Saturday, April 9, 2011

stinging Nettles

The stinging nettle is the name given to common nettle, garden nettle, and hybrids of these two plants. Originally from the colder regions of northern Europe and Asia, this herbaceous shrub grows all over the world today. Stinging nettle grows well in nitrogen-rich soil, blooms between June and September, and usually reaches 2 - 4 feet high.
Stems are upright and rigid. The leaves are heart-shaped, finely toothed, and tapered at the ends, and flowers are yellow or pink. The entire plant is covered with tiny stiff hairs, mostly on the underside of the leaves and stem that release stinging chemicals when touched
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica and the closely related Urtica urens) has a long medicinal history. In medieval Europe, it was used as a diuretic (to rid the body of excess water) and to treat joint pain.Stinging nettle has fine hairs on the leaves and stems that contain irritating chemicals that are released when the plant comes in contact with the skin. While the hairs, or spines, of the stinging nettle are normally very painful to the touch. When they come into contact with a painful area of the body, they can actually decrease the original pain. Scientists think nettle does this by reducing levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body, and by interfering with the way the body transmits pain signals.
Urtica dioica, is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant, native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America, and is the best-known member of the nettle genus Urtica. The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles that inject histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals The plant has a long history of use as a medicine and as a food source.
Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH), for urinary tract infections, for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or in compresses or creams for treating joint pain, sprains and strains, tendonitis, and insect bites.
Stinging nettle is a dioecious herbaceous perennial, 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in the summer and dying down to the ground in winter. It has widely spreading rhizomes and stolons, which are bright yellow as are the roots. The soft green leaves are 3 to 15 cm (1 to 6 in) long and are borne oppositely on an erect wiry green stem. The leaves have a strongly serrated margin, a cordate base and an acuminate tip with a terminal leaf tooth longer than adjacent laterals. It bears small greenish or brownish numerous flowers in dense axillary inflorescences. The leaves and stems are very hairy with non-stinging hairs and also bear many stinging hairs (trichomes), whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT or serotonin, and possibly formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds cause a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives its common name, as well as the colloquial names burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel