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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Farm Apprenticeship Week 1

Woah, an entire week of the UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture has already come and gone! It was a full week of meeting new people (40 apprentices plus the staff!), learning all of their names, getting used to group meals three times a day, enduring the cold of my tent cabin, and enjoying the beautiful view. Since last week was the first week and here in Santa Cruz we had rainy skies and saturated soils almost every day, we spent a lot of time inside the Village A3 building meeting everyone, learning about the program and policies, and getting trained on food safety and how to avoid ticks, mosquitos, bee stings, and black widow bites. Oh my!
One of the many perks of living on a farm--abundant flowers to decorate your tent cabin!

Early in the week, we prepared our spade and fork. They come with a plasticky shellac on the wood, which we removed and sanded down so that we could apply linseed oil instead. This should make the wood last longer than the shellac would have. We also sharpened our spades. Some of us also used a wood burner to carve into our handles to make them identifiable and unique.

Fortunately, they didn't keep us indoors the whole week! Half of the group spent some time in the Farm Garden (the hand cultivated garden at the main farm), and the rest of us spent some mornings up in the magical Chadwick Garden, where the first UCSC student garden began fifty years ago. Up at the Chadwick Garden--or the Up Garden as its called by people who apprentice, intern, and work here--I planted cabbage seeds in the greenhouse, learned from Orin Martin about the parts and yearly growth cycles of fruit trees, heard some history of the Chadwick Garden, and learned a little about cover crops. You can read about the history of this garden and the apprenticeship program on the CASFS website here.

A small glimpse of the Chadwick Garden, with the chalet in the distance where we eat lunch when we're working up there, as well as experience stories and educational talks with Orin Martin and other Chadwick Garden staff

One afternoon, we also spent some time with Rick Flores and Julisa Lopez learning about the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program at the Arboretum, traditional ecological knowledge, and the California landscape management and care provided by indigenous people for thousands of years before European contact. Learn more at the Arboretum website here.

Friday was Compost Friday, which meant we spent all day focused on the wonderful world of compost, microbes, macro-organisms, carbon and nitrogen ratios, and more. We had readings due that morning (some of which are available online here), spent time with Christof Bernau in A3 learning about compost, and then watched a pile-building demo in "compost row" in the Farm Garden. After lunch, we split into the two garden groups and built our own piles. My group's pile was a "vegan" pile, meaning it had no animal manure in it. It consisted of some straw, lots of "greens" or recently chopped cover crop, coffee grounds and filters, and soil. We used machetes and spades to chop up the cover crop into smaller pieces to increase surface area and thus decomposition rate, so we named the pile Caffeinated Chopped Salad. It was quite an accomplishment!

I really appreciate that we had multiple opportunities to learn the key concepts and details through the readings, lecture, demo, and hands-on opportunity to build our own pile. We will continue to learn about compost throughout the program, and this morning we actually measured the temperature in the piles and uncovered some of them to take a peek. We also spent some time today removing cover crop from underneath some fruit trees and then transplanted peppers, leeks, flowers, and more for the annual Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale coming up the weekend of April 29-30. If you're local, you should come by to say hi and buy some plants for your garden!

If you come by, you might just see one of the very friendly farm cats, too! Here are two of them. There's also a black one named Millet and two up at Chadwick named Buster and Posey.
 Spencer AKA Beans AKA Frijoles

Thanks for reading! If you want more regular updates, check out my Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/greenbeangal/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greenbeangal.

Green Gal

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Let the farm adventures begin!

The newest chapter in the adventures of Green Gal has officially begun! Yesterday, I moved into a tent cabin at the UC Santa Cruz Farm, where I'll live, work, and learn for the next six months. I'm participating in the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, a program hosted by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems that is celebrating its 50th year. Back in December when I received my acceptance letter, I shared a post about why I applied to this program. I can't believe it all starts tomorrow and that I will be waking up this unbelievable from my tent cabin door view every morning from now until October! If you can't tell in this photo, you can see Monterey Bay glimmering in the sun.
I've met a few other apprentices so far, and I look forward to meeting the rest of the folks tonight for our welcome dinner and tomorrow for our first day! There are 39 of us this year, and we come from all different backgrounds and places around the state, country, and world. We'll be cooking and enjoying meals, learning, growing food, making compost piles, selling produce & flowers, and creating community together. I'm so excited for what's ahead!

This afternoon after my family and Green Guy said goodbye for now, I decided to test out the solar-heated outdoor shower, which is connected to a solar panel. It was the most wonderful shower experience I've ever had, and the water actually got pretty hot!
Here are some more photos from my adventures on the farm so far. Huge thanks to my family and Green Guy for helping me move in and make sure I have all that I need to start my apprenticeship off right! Thanks also to Green Guy and my mom for taking some awesome photos of my move-in weekend.
 A panorama of the view from my tent cabin front step. Click the photo for a larger view.

I hope to write at least weekly on the blog so that you all can follow along with my journey. I'll also be posting photos often to Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/greenbeangal/.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Reflections on Santa Cruz Permaculture Design Course Fall 2016 - Winter 2017

A few weeks ago on March 11, I completed* a six-month Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course through Santa Cruz Permaculture, which is directed and taught by my good friend, co-mentor, and UCSC colleague David Shaw. He had strongly encouraged me to participate in the program after learning that I was applying to the UCSC Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, which I have since been accepted to and will begin on April 10! David shared with me that prior to his time as a CASFS apprentice in the early 2000s, he had completed his PDC and found that it provided him with a valuable whole systems design framework through which he could experience the CASFS apprenticeship.

I am so grateful that David shared this advice and that I signed up for the course. I got to know some amazing people, learned some new methods for observing the world around me, found out about some really practical methods for designing systems that make a whole lot of sense, had my interest piqued about even more, and cannot wait for my next opportunity to design a space with what I learned in the course!

(*I still have three days of the course to make up from a couple weekends when I wasn't able to attend, so I haven't yet received by certificate, but I did complete my design project with my cohort. I will be able to make up those days during the next course.)

 The Permaculture Flower (source)

I've been helping David promote the next six-month course, which begins next Saturday, April 8. As part of this outreach, I've harvested some photos, quotes, and personal anecdotes to share on my blog and eventually on his website to provide a sense of what it's like to participate in the PDC through Santa Cruz Permaculture.

So, what is Permaculture & Whole Systems Design? The Santa Cruz Permaculture website explains that permaculture is an ethically based whole-systems design approach that uses concepts, principles, and methods derived from ecosystems, indigenous peoples, and other time-tested systems to create human settlements and institutions. It’s also been called “saving the planet while throwing a better party.”

Permaculture has three ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. There are also ~12 principles (Holmgren and Mollision each have different ways of describing them), and you can learn more about them and the three ethics at this website.

The 12 Permaculture Principles, as articulated by David Holmgren. Read a complete description of these on ThePermacultureSchool.org.

There are PDC programs throughout the world, and while each course is a little different, they almost all follow an internationally recognized curriculum based on the writings and teachings of the "founders" of permaculture, Bill Mollinson and David Holmgren, who introduced their concept of permaculture in the 1970s in Australia. You can learn more about the history of permaculture on this website.

The Santa Cruz Permaculture Design Certificate course takes place every six months--April to September, October to March--and features numerous local and regional Guides, or guest instructors, each with their own areas of expertise and passion. David has done a remarkable job of not only leading workshops himself throughout the course but also curating a fantastic team of guides who are knowledgeable, passionate, and well-connected in their areas of expertise.

The course provides an overview of many different topics within permaculture during weekend-long sessions once a month, and participants have the option of camping overnight at the property in Felton where the course takes place. The many topics covered in the course are described in more detail below. Throughout the six months, participants also work in small groups to put together a fairly comprehensive permaculture design project for real-life properties and people in the Santa Cruz area and surrounding region. My group designed a permaculture garden at a winery in Gilroy because the three of us live on the other side of the hill, but most of the projects were in Santa Cruz County.

This element of the course provides a practical and experiential learning opportunity that is crucial to really understanding the application of the many design theories and technologies explored in the course. It's one thing to understand a concept from a book or class and another thing entirely to actually apply that learning to a design for a property and client in the real world. It also provides participants with a sample design for the beginning of their permaculture portfolio.

Overview of the Course Month-by-Month:
October 8-9, 2016: Introduction to Permaculture Design and Nature Awareness
The first weekend of the program focused on introducing the ethics and principles of permaculture, including design processes and methods for articulating client goals and desired outcomes for a particular design. We also learned about ecology and patterns found in nature.

David also hosted a world cafe in which we had a chance to get to know one another and explore our goals in participating in the design course. It helped us as a cohort develop a sense of community and self-awareness about what we hoped to gain, as well as contribute, and the endless possibilities that could arise from our learning and growing together in the coming months. The questions he introduced during this world cafe are outlined in the introductory section of the Santa Cruz Permaculture Wikispaces website. This wiki is managed by David, with contributions from current students, course guides, and folks on "the Acorn," which is the teaching assistant cohort, made up of people who recently completed their PDC. Throughout this blog post, I'll link to relevant sections on the Wiki.

During the first weekend, we also spent some time practicing nature awareness and observation, an integral part of the initial design process when getting to know a property or space that you hope to design. Design team project ideas were also brainstormed and teams were formed during the first weekend.

November 5-6, 2016: Restoring Watersheds & Soils
The second weekend of the course focused on watersheds, water catchment, understanding climate and microclimates, and the characteristics and management of healthy soils. We spent a full day with Lydia Neilsen learning about watersheds, methods for water catchment and reuse, and how to slow, spread, and sink rainfall to rehydrate the earth. Lydia is a wonderful teacher, full of passion and knowledge about water, how it flows on the land, and how we can better design our landscapes to sink the water into the ground. We learned about greywater, rainwater catchment systems, incredible properties of water, as well as how to design a berm and swale on contour and then built it by hand as a group (pictured above and below).
The second day of this weekend was spent with John Valenzuela learning about soils, which included an overview of the different major climates on earth, how climates affect decomposition and soil development, and an introduction to all things compost. Like Lydia, John is overflowing with knowledge, stories, and passion that make his lessons engaging and memorable. After class time outside learning how to develop and support healthy soils, we built a compost pile and worked in the garden with John.

December 3-4, 2016: Social Permaculture
The third weekend of the course took place shortly after the presidential election, which provided a fitting opportunity to explore the "people care" ethic of permaculture, including social permaculture principles, non-violent communication, Open Space Technology, the Work that Reconnects, issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how to foster resilient communities.

We spent the morning with Palika Benton and David on Saturday learning about the Spiral of the Work that Reconnects and the teachings of Joanna Macy. After diving into concepts like The Great Unraveling and the Great Turning, we participated in a series of pair share and reflection activities that allowed us to experience the four "gateways" of the spiral: 1. Grounding in gratitude, 2. Honoring our pain for the world, 3. Seeing with new eyes, and 4. Going forth. It was a powerful experience and remains for me one of the most memorable activities from the course.

Later that day, we practiced non-violent communication with Rick Longinotti of NVC Santa Cruz (below). The recent election provided a relevant opportunity to practice some real-life scenarios, including how to speak with and really connect with folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Palika and Rick, like all of the guides in the course, are wonderful teachers whose unique passion, experience, and presence make the PDC course content come alive.

On Sunday, we explored social permaculture principles, how to design for mitigating disaster, and participated in an Open Space Technology in which we created the agenda and led discussions and on-the-spot workshops on topics that were of particular interest to us. I hosted a session exploring how to build neighborhood community resilience, which included discussions about what it looks like and feels like to know your neighbors, the value of spending time in our front yards, and how simple gestures like inviting neighbors over for a potluck can initiate long-term friendships with those who live nearby.

Another student from my cohort, Kelsey "Kiki" Ringenberg, shared the following about the weekend: "I would really like to speak about our workshops that happened in December, Joanna Macy's The Work that Reconnects and also the Non Violent Communication. These two workshops were rather special to me because I think looking inward and focusing on our role is vital in making a change in our community. As the conscious ones, we are the warriors, and as warriors it is important to continue to look inward in order to build beauty on the outside."

January 14-15, 2017: Home Scale Permaculture: Creating Natural Homes and Edible Landscapes
Unfortunately, I had to miss this weekend for a work retreat, but I know that the group visited the UCSC Chadwick Garden to learn about designing edible landscapes, attended a scion exchange and learned about tree grafting, and built a cob oven with Janine Bjornson.

February 4-5, 2017: Broad Scale Permaculture: Integrated Animal Husbandry and Forest Management
In February, we visited the Mountain Feed and Farm pilot aquaponics greenhouse (above), explored Camp Joy Gardens (below) to learn about raising chicken, goats, and bees, and then drove up the coast to Markegard Family Grass-Fed ranch in Half Moon Bay to learn about holistic planned grazing.
Jim Nelson of Camp Joy Gardens gave us a tour that included a chance to hold chickens, pet goats, taste fresh honey, and walk around the beautiful gardens.
Doniga Markegard gave us a tour of their ranch in Half Moon Bay, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Their website describes, "Our philosophy in grazing is to manage the cattle herd to simulate the large herds of Elk and Antelope which once roamed California’s grasslands. We accomplish this by keeping the herd moving with Holistic planned grazing, so as never to overgraze an area, but to stimulate growth and grass-land health through properly timed grazing. Watershed Stewardship is at the forefront of our management practices." Their methods not only produce "locally born, raised and processed certified grass-fed beef and lamb, chicken and pasture raised pork,"but also restore the natural ecosystem of their ranch.

The next day, we learned about winter fruit tree pruning with David (above) and Sudden Oak Life with Dr. Lee Klinger (below). David had us practice our fruit tree pruning in the orchard after a demonstration.
Dr. Klinger's work with Sudden Oak Life is fascinating and inspiring. Learn more about his methods for improving the health of oak and other trees based on his research at SuddenOakLife.org.

March 4-5, 2017: Regenerative Community Development & Financial Permaculture
During our last weekend of instruction, we spent the morning at the Resource Center for Nonviolence learning about regenerative community development, Portland's City Repair Project, and other community designs and programs that foster resilient neighborhoods. Later in the day, we visited Riverside Community Gardens, which has a fruit tree orchard. Andy Moskowitz (below) of Seed Culture Labs met with us to talk about the history of the orchard and how organizations like Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project have helped support this community project.
You can learn more about this orchard and other food forest areas in Santa Cruz on this Facebook page for Santa Cruz Community Food Forest.
The last day of instruction for the course, we learned about money, banking, and alternative currencies with Marco Vangelisti (above). Most people don't truly understand the complex monetary and economic systems that control our society, so Marco dove right in and explained how money really works. He asked us to examine what the economy is really for, what's wrong with the current system, and what we can do as individuals to invest our money in alignment with our values. He also shared examples of alternative currencies, such as Bay Bucks and Berkshares. It was absolutely fascinating and pertinent to everyone's lives, and I think many of us were inspired to learn more.

March 11, 2017: Design Presentations & Party!
On March 11, the three design project teams presented their designs to David, Lydia, and another course guide, Ken Foster of Terra Nova Landscaping. The final design project includes a report detailing the site analysis, maps of zones, maps of sectors, an existing and suggested plant and animal list, a detailed design of one element, and some other requirements like a reference page and information about the client(s). Teams turned in these reports and maps and then presented for ~30 minutes about the project and design recommendations. After their presentation, each group received verbal and written feedback from David, Lydia, and Ken. It was really fun to see the results of everyone's hard work and creativity in designing the three different places.

One project focused on the NEST, the property where the PDC course typically meets. Another project focused on a couple's large home property in Santa Cruz County that includes orchards and gardens. The third project, the one that I participated in, designed a permaculture demonstration garden and food forest for Sunlit Oaks Winery in Gilroy. The permaculture garden at the winery that I drew for our project is pictured below.
After the presentations, those who had completed all classes in the course received their permaculture design certificates. We sang a song together as the certificates were handed out, celebrating how much we had learned and experienced in the past six months. After some advice about next steps from the course guides, we had a potluck and make-your-own pizza party using the new cob oven!

One of my design project teammates shared about her experience in the program, and I think many of us who participated would agree: "The Santa Cruz permaculture design course has allowed me to deepen my journey into permaculture. I have gained broad knowledge of many relevant topics related to sustainable human systems. Most importantly, I have come away with a new perspective of what it means to be fully human, and a desire to further this understanding." - Gabrielle Reese 

The next course begins on Saturday, April 8--sign up now at SantaCruzPermaculture.com! For more photos from the course, visit the Santa Cruz Permaculture Flickr account. For more information about all of the topics covered in this course, please visit the Santa Cruz Permaculture Wiki.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Double raised bed garden update #1

In fall 2016, I began designing the backyard at Green Guy's mom's house so that it can become a cornucopia of year-round vegetables, flowers, and berries in a garden featuring symmetrical raised beds. The past two weekends, Green Guy, his mom, and I have been hard at work turning the design into reality. It's been a fun, hands-on opportunity for me to put into practice what I'm learning in my Permaculture Design Course (PDC), and it's also helping me better understand what to think about as I continue designing a permaculture garden at a local winery for my PDC group project (more on this soon in a future blog post).

The original (ambitious) design of the backyard from fall 2016. There are now only two beds that are 11' x 8' with a 2' walkway in the U part. The raspberries and blackberries (4 of each) are spaced around the perimeter of the yard, and the blueberries (4) are in containers at the corners of the raised beds that face toward the center of the yard. The roses haven't gone in yet and the fountain and strawberries area in the center isn't finalized, but we'll tackle that phase soon.

We spent time brainstorming and asking questions about our goals for the backyard garden at the beginning of the design process, something that naturally happens when you begin designing--especially for someone else--and something that I learned about at the beginning of the PDC. A bare bones vision statement that came out of this process was, "There is a garden with vegetables, perennial flowers, and chickens in the backyard." I had learned in the PDC to write in first person for all goals statements so that the idea is more active and allow for the designer and client to get a sense of what it feels like to state them in the present tense. Some of the goals included, "The garden produces vegetables year-round"; "The garden has automated irrigation, as well as water catchment"; "The garden is beautiful to people, attracts wildlife, and adds value to the property"; and "Chickens in the garden produce all the fresh eggs for the household."

There are other values and goals that have been identified since we first drafted these, such as symmetry and a preference for organic seeds and seedlings when possible. We also spent time at the beginning identifying constraints, environmental factors, and where the sun falls during the day. Some of these goals, such as rainwater catchment and chickens are later phases that we aren't focused on just yet.

The garden bed design came together over the course of a few weeks in fall, although it's taken us many months to implement thanks to the holidays and our busy lives. The design prominently features two identical raised U-shaped beds, with a fountain in between them. Other elements, such as the compost pile and the perimeter spacing of the berry plants have been added in the last few weeks of identifying plants and considering the reality of space needs. We made huge progress in recent weeks, and as of today, both raised beds are now built and ready for plants--although we hope to add a higher wall with key access areas on hinges so that we can keep cats and eventually chickens out of the beds. The chickens will be added to the garden next year once Green Guy's mom returns from a trip to Antarctica in late fall.

At the beginning of the design and again recently, I asked Green Guy's mom to share her favorite vegetables and flowers, and I also had her look through a seed catalog. As we acquired a list, I began collecting information about each plant on small notecards so that we could move them around and identify which ones would go best together. Once we identified which vegetables we thought would go in each bed, I created a spreadsheet adapted from one of Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens books that covers all of the information that I would need about the plant to identify where to plant it in relation to other plants: sunlight needs, water needs, ph and soil type, human uses, plant functions, plant spacing, companion plants, where to buy seeds/starts, how to take care of it, how many plants to grow per person, and where to find more information. A second tab on the spreadsheet indicates when to plant, harvest, and re-seed (based on suggestions from Santa Clara Master Gardeners). A third tab shows each bed throughout the year, with plants growing and then being replaced over time.

 I worked on the plant design whenever I had free time this past week. One day after work, I waited for Green Guy to pick me up near the bus station by grabbing a beer at Mission Creek Brewery on The Alameda and utilizing their free wi-fi to update the spreadsheet (it's on a shared Google Sheet).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent more than 24 hours updating the spreadsheet and then putting the plants for bed #1 into a grid (below) of where they'll actually be planted. Finally today we got some seeds into the beds! I have a decent sense of what is going into bed #2, but the grid needs to be filled in. Once that is complete, I'll turn my attention to the central fountain design area and the perimeter of the garden, where we currently have raspberry and blackberry bushes.

Bed #1 (the left bed) contains nasturtiums, carrots, beets, spinach, bok choy, Napa cabbage, broccoli, romanesco broccoli, Johnny Jump Ups, zinnias, lavender, chamomile, cilantro, thyme, and eventually butternut squash.

Some other future plans include building a solitary native bee hotel, adding a lot more perennial flowers, growing herbs in containers, and hanging baskets of drought tolerant flowers along the fences. The big project for next year is the chicken coop and preparing for chicks!

As we make more progress in the garden, I'll post more updates. For now, here are some photos of the beds from the past few weekends:

Before bed #1, from early February

Some views from above the backyard in early February

Raking leaves and preparing for building bed #1 in early February

Bed #1 nearly complete on February 18! Green Guy did most of the building while I planted raspberries and blackberries. The dimensions are 11' x' 8' with a 4' deep U for access to the center. It's 2' tall, and eventually it will reach 3' tall with hinged fencing (like this).

Bed #1 as we left for the day on February 18 (the clouds threatened rain, so we called it a day). Green Guy added a small bench area at inner part of the U, and we poured in all of the soil (50 bags!) on February 19.

Peas and raspberries along the southern fence.

Today I planted seeds throughout bed #1. Green Guy's mom had the great idea to create grids to keep track of which plants are growing where. It made planting so much more organized!

A view of bed #1 with the bench at the end of the U. The wood chips in the center walkway will eventually cover the entire yard.

Bed #1 with its planting grid, as well as some string to show us how tall the bed walls will eventually reach. We're basing the design off of these hinged fence beds, which have drop-down hinged access areas and see-through fencing but keep chickens out! The plants in containers at each corner of the bed are blueberries, and you can see blackberry and raspberry bushes along the perimeter fences.

Today and yesterday, Green Guy put together bed #2. We added ~50 bags of soil to each bed, which did create a lot of plastic waste but definitely beat having muddy soil sitting on the driveway for two weeks as we slowly wheelbarrowed it to the beds (it was rainy last weekend). Both beds have gopher wire underneath them to keep gophers from stealing our veggies. Most of the plants going into this bed won't be planted until April or later: tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, eggplant, edamame, cucumbers, and some flowers. The area along the back wall will be planted with hops, corn, beans, pumpkins, and some perennial flowers around April. I still need to solidify the planting design for that area, as well as grid out bed #2.

Green Guy's mom laid out her vision for the future of this center space before we left today. This central area is phase 2 of the design, along with the back wall plantings. I'll share more photos and updates soon! 

Thanks for reading! Post in the comments or feel free to send me an if you have questions or suggestions!
Green Gal

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