Monday, March 24, 2014

Permaculture is Our Very Near Future

Students of the Green LIONS Garden Group have been studying all the partners of a thriving garden. First we explored the importance of pollinators and how we can protect them through our actions and choices. Second we learned about permaculture and how we can expand our gardens and yards to include habitats for pollinators, birds and collected rainwater.

Two meetings ago we watch scenes from The Vanishing of the Bees, a documentary on the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD. CCD is diagnosed when a colony abandons a hive for no obvious reason leaving behind the queen and some young bees. This disorder has been studied thoroughly and many suspected causes, like cell phones, mites, bacteria, and satellite transmissions have been discredited. The current and most likely cause is the widespread use of systemic pesticides.

Years ago pesticides were mostly applied via spraying by hand or airplane dusting. This sent harmful chemicals into the air where it affected health of wildlife and humans. To remedy this, systemic pesticides were developed where the pesticide is applied to the seed usually along with a coloring agent and when the seed is planted, the pesticide grows inside the plant. While this cuts back of airborne chemicals, the pesticide is still in the pollen and nectar of the flowers of the plants. Bees and other pollinators collect this polluted pollen and nectar and take it back to the hive. The cumulative effect of these chemicals in the hive damages the immune and reproductive systems of the bees making them more vulnerable and susceptible to mites, bacteria and other harmful pathogens. It is also suspected that it mutates the eggs causing the bees to be born with unnatural characteristics that cause the hive to abandon them and move on.

Students learned that there are many ways we can help protect honeybees and other pollinators. We can stop using harmful chemicals on our lawns and in our homes. We can support growers and producers using organic methods and shop at local farmers markets. We can also plant habitats in our yard to attract pollinators.

In planting a habitat like a pollinator garden, we are expanding our yards and green spaces using the concept of permaculture. Permaculture is the system of growing our own food with ecological design that works with people, our natural environment and ecosystems. This system provides positive solutions to environmental problems we see today like the pollution of our air, soil and water through emissions. Through this system, families can learn to grow their own food, collect rainwater, produce their own energy and design their home to be always comfortable without excess use of heating and cooling. Families can start small, by simply replacing many of the ornamental plants in their yards with berry bushes, fruit trees, butterfly gardens, rain gardens and more. Growing plants, bushes and trees that work together contributes to self-sufficiency while contributing positively to the community and planet as a whole.

Master Naturalist and permaculture designer Ashley Grosch visited our last meeting to talk with the students about her work. She explained how permaculture is guided by a set of three ethics: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. She told the kids about how she started gardening when she was only eight years old. She found a sprouted potato in the cupboard and planted it. Once she saw how we can turn something considered trash into a growing plant and ultimately food, she was hooked. Today, Ashley designs beautiful gardens and permaculture areas for families and businesses.

Ashley also shared her vermi-composting system with the students. Several trays stack on top of one another showing each stage of the decomposition process from fresh food scraps to finished compost ready for the garden. Practices like composting are integral in a permaculture system where human practices work along and in harmony with nature-driven processes.

Our own LIONS Garden is a miniature permaculture. We have edible beds right along butterfly bushes, flowering plants, a rain barrel and compost bin. We also are adding a small orchard this spring.

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