Thursday, 1 December 2011

Permaculture advices: salt tolerant plants

  • Acer pseudoplatanus, Sycamore, hedging
  • Pines, edges
  • Salix caprea, Goat willow, edges
  • Sorbus aria and intermedia, firewood crop and berries
  • Tamarisk, tamarix gallica, hedging
  • Holm oak, quercus ilex, hedging and nuts
  • Seabeach sandwort, erosion resistance
  • Sea plantain, erosion resistance
  • Blackthon, edible fruit and edges
  • Broom, cytisus scoparius, nitrogen fixer
Edible salt-tolerant plants:
  • Sea beet, beat vulgaris, edible veg
  • Hottentot fig, Caprobrotus edulis, edible
  • Colcheria officinalis, scurvy grass, edible
  • Sea kale, crambe maritima, cabbage substitute
  • Hawthorn, edible leaves and fruits
  • Rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum, delicious edible
  • Sea holly, eryngium maritimum
  • Sea milkwot
  • Sea purslane
  • Sea buckthorn
  • Iceplant, mesenbryanthemum crystalinum
  • Marsh samphire, salicornia
  • Sedum album, edible
  • Milk thistle, silybum marianum, salad or herb
  • Alexanders, smyrnium olustratum, edible herb
  • Saltbrush, Atriplex
  • Seablite, suaeda linearis maritima
More species to be added in soon. Some non-edible ornamental species also include lantana, coleus, kalanchoe, hemerocallis (daylilies), opuntia, portulaca, jasminum floridum and bougainnvillea.

The following video from features seablite, a common salt tolerant plant with edible leaves:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Permaculture advices: water plants

Plants that favour a damp or wet environment. We can find several of these where we currently live in Iceland due to the wet climate, and peat soils.

A wetland for greywater treatment could consist in a first tank where sewage from a settlement tank flows in a tank filled with coarse gravel, and topped by fine gravel and sand, and Phragmites australis. The water sinks and at the bottom flows into another downstream tank, with aeration pipes, and Iris pseudacorus growing in that water, Clean effluent flows at the bottom.

First we list plants that grow in wet meadows and banks, then plants that grow around water edges, and finally plants that grow in the water:

  • Butomaus umbellatus, wet meadow
  • Meadowsweet, medicinal and aromatic, wet meadow, grows in Iceland
  • Blueberries, wet meadows, grows in Iceland
  • Pulicaria dysenteria, wet meadows
  • Ranunculus ficaria, wet banks
  • Giant rhubarb, rheum alexandrae, wet banks
  • Hemp agrimony, wet banks
  • Eucatorium purpureum, wet banks
  • Geum rivale, wet banks, grows in Iceland
  • Iris pseudacorus, wet banks
  • Liatrus spicata, wet banks
  • Lycopus europaeus, wet banks
  • Lythrum salicaria, wet banks
  • Soapwort, soaping plant, wet banks
  • Bistort, wet banks or edges, grows in Iceland
  • Angelica, wet banks, aromatic, grows in Iceland
  • Valerian, wet banks, powerful medicine for sleep, grows in Iceland
  • Levisticum, lovage, tasty aromatic herb, wet banks
  • Juncus, water edge
  • Acorus calamus, water edge
  • Scirpus, bulrush, water edge
  • Water mint, mentha aquatica, water edges
  • Tiger nuts, tasty edible tubers and grows in water edge
  • Veronica beccabunga, water edge or surface, some veronica species grow in Iceland
  • Caltha palustris, water edge and surface, grows in Iceland
  • Water cress, water edge or surface
  • Salix, willows, trees that grow near water edges, grows in Iceland
    • Water hyacinth, water surface
    • Lemma, water surface
    • Walfia, duckweed, water surface
    • Water lily, nymphae tuberosa, water bottom or surface
    • Water chestnut, edible, grows from water bottom
    • Common reed, phragmites communis, shallow water
    • Wild rice, zizania aquatica, shallow water
    • Althea officinalis, salt marsh
    • Menyanthes trifoliata, bogbean, acid bog
    • Myrica gale, bog myrtle, acid bog
    • Sphagnum moss, acid bog or wet woodland
    Some more edible plants that grow near water will be added in soon.

    Sunday, 27 November 2011

    Permaculture advices: fruiting plants

    An enormous range of plants!
    • Amelanchier candensis and lanarkii
    • Strawberry tree, arbutus uneda ("medronho" in Portuguese)
    • Uva-ursi
    • Berberis vulgaris
    • Ornamental quince
    • Hawthorn
    • Azerole, crataegus azarolus
    • Quince, cydonia
    • Russian olive, Eleagnus
    • Fig
    • Alpine strawberry
    • Gaultheria
    • Huckleberry, gaylussacia
    • Sea buckthorn
    • Japanese raisin tree, hovenia dulcis
    • Mahonia
    • Apples
    • Medlar
    • Mulberry, morus nigra
    • Cape gooseberry, physalis
    • Cherry, Apricot, Plum, Peach, Sloe (Prunus, domestica, persica, spinosa)
    • Sumach, Rhus
    • Roses
    • Gooseberry, Black, Red, White Currant (Rubus grossularia, nigrum, rubrum, sativum), cloudberry, blackberry, raspberry, loganberry, arctic brambleberry, japanese wineberry (chamaemorus, fruticasus, idaeus, loganobaccus, arcticus, phoenicolasius)
    • Rowan, sorbus and checkers
    • Elderberry and red berried elder (sambucus racemosa)
    • Vaccinium (blueberry, bilberry, cowberry, cranberry)
    • Pears
    • Orange, lemon, manderin
    • Persimmon, diospyrus
    • Grapes 
    • Pines (some species have good edible seeds)
    • Carob (to make chocolate substitute), ceratonia siliqua
    • Kiwi (in warm climates, stands some hard frosts)
    • Passionfruit (in warm climates, stands some hard frosts)
    • Chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts (in warm climates, stands some hard frosts)
    • Peanuts (warm climates, no frost)
    • Bananas, mango, pomegranade (in warm climates and with little to no frost)
    • Pineapple (in greenhouses)
    Come later, as more species will be added in soon

    Carob has fruits that when powdered can be used in cakes as a chocolate substitute. It is really tasty.

    Friday, 25 November 2011

    Permaculture advices: Unusual roots

    Some less common roots:
    • Jerusalem artichokes
    • Garlic mustard, alliaria: horseradish substitute
    • Greater burdock, arctium lappa: boil as vegetable
    • Pleurisy root, asclepias tuberosa: lung tonic
    • Red valerian, centranthus: for soups
    • Chicory: coffee substitute
    • Tiger nuts: dessert/coffee
    • Gentiana lutea: bitte tonic
    • Bog bean, menyanthes: edible root
    • Oca, oxalis tuberosa
    • Evening primrose
    • Common reed, oenathera
    • Chinese artichoke
    • Dandelion: coffee substitute
    • Trapaeolum tuberosum
    • Reed mace, typha latifolia, boiled or grated vegetable
    • Skirret
    • Yacon (very high yields, grow in warm climate, but survive some cold)
    • Sweet potato
    • Air potatoes (warm climates, tubers grow in branches)
    Come later, as more species will be added in soon.

    Oca is a peculiar and colorful tuber from South America

    Wednesday, 23 November 2011

    Permaculture advices: Animal fodder

    Chicken fodder:

    • Bamboo, arundaria macrosperma
    • Shepherds purse, bursa-pastoris
    • Siberian pea tree
    • Carex
    • Chenopodium album
    • Good King Henry
    • Hawthorn
    • Cytisus
    • Fagus, beech
    • Gallium aparine
    • Jerusalem artichoke
    • Lupin
    • Medicago
    • Milium effusum
    • Morus nigra
    • Plantain
    • Oaks
    • Elderberry
    • New Zeland spinach
    • Ulex europaeus
    For chicken, make a circle for forage area, divided in 10 segments. The chicken forage in each area for 6 weeks, then you lime, rake and sow, while moving the chicken to the next circle segment.This circle should have also a shrub/tree wind protection around.

    Animal fodder:
    • Horse chestnut
    • Alnus, high protein
    • Anthoxanthum
    • Bamboo, arundaria racemosa
    • Siberian pea tree, high protein
    • Carex
    • Chestnut
    • Chicory
    • Pampas grass, cortaderia
    • Hawthorn, horses like this
    • Cytisus, high protein
    • Fagus, beech
    • Galega officinalis, milk booster
    • Walnuts
    • Lespedeza
    • Lupin
    • Medicago
    • Melliotus
    • Morus nigra, mulberry
    • Sainfoin, onobrychis
    • Prunus avium
    • Prunus spinosa
    • Oaks
    • Elderberry
    • Comfrey
    • Ulex, gorse

    Monday, 21 November 2011

    Permaculture advices: Soap plants

    Plants that have a high saponin content make a lather with water. But don't expect as much lather like a soap or shampoo. Other plants are healthy washes for various purposes.
    • Horse Chestnut (aesculus hippocastanum)
    • Agaves (agave americana)
    • Fat hen (chenopodium album)
    • Soap lily (chlorogalum pomeridianum)
    • Ragged robin (lychnis flos-cuculi)
    • Pokeweed (phytolacca americana)
    • Poplar (populus trichocarpa)
    • Soap-bark tree (quillaja saponaria)
    • Soapwort (saponaria officinalis)
    • White and red champion (silene alba and dioica)
    • Soapweed (yucca glauca)
    • Shikakai (acacia concinna)
    • Soap nuts (sapindus)
    I am actually working as a soap maker, and making soap out of lye and organic vegetable oils. But naturally I am very much interested in soap producing plants. I have tried shikakai and soapwort, and they foam just a bit, nothing compared to a soap. However they do clean your skin or hair, even without the foam effect, due to their saponins. Below are some herbs useful to use on the hair. I will also post in the future on how to make natural shampoos.

    Hair washing
    • Nettles
    • Horsetail
    • Yarrow
    • Sage
    • Calendula
    • Thyme
    • Amla
    • Henna
    • Hibiscus
    • Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis)
    • Chamomile (chamamelum mobile)
    • Honeysuckle (lonicera ciliosa)
    • New Jersey tea (ceanothus americanus)
    • Ivy (hedera helix)
    • Dwarf mallow (malva pusilla ) tooth cleaner
    Soapwort is a plant that when boiled produces some lather and cleans

    Saturday, 19 November 2011

    Permaculture advices: Acid soil tolerant plants

    All these plants are tolerant of acid soils:
    • Abies
    • Alnus
    • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
    • Betula, Birch
    • Calluna, Heather
    • Carex
    • Cytisus
    • Erica
    • Fragaria, strawberry
    • Gaultheria
    • Genista
    • Juncus
    • Juniperus
    • Larix
    • Liquidamber styraciflua
    • Menyanthes trifoliata
    • Myrica gale
    • Marjoram
    • Wood sorrel
    • Pines
    • Potentilla
    • Primula
    • Rubus
    • Salix
    • Thymus
    • Sorbus
    • Trapaeolum
    • Vaccinium

    Sunday, 14 August 2011

    Growing vegetables in polar climates: the trouble of early bolting, due to 24 hour daylight

    If it was not enough the challenges of growing vegetables in polar climates: strong winds, short summer and erratic weather, even ash fall from volcanoes (because I am living in Iceland), there is yet another to mess up with the growth of vegetables: positively in some cases, negatively in others: 24 hours daylight.

    Some plants flower depending in the amount of daylight hours. Long-day plants will flower always when the day is longer than a threshold number of hours of daylight. Such vegetables will not produce well in Iceland (or other polar climates such as Sweden, Norway, Canada or Alaska) because they will bolt (early flower) even when they are very young seedlings. So, you cannot expect spinach to make large leaves, because the plant will flower almost after sprouting from seed. You cannot expect radish to make a radish, because the plant will flower very fast, and skip the part of creating the nice edible bulb. This will also happen with lettuce.

    Lettuce, spinach, fennel, radish, turnips (and to some extent other brassicas) will bolt if grown during the polar summer, due to the excessive amount of hours of daylight. Therefore it is not possible to grow these plants, unless in shadow or later in the summer, when the daylight is reduced from 24 to 16 hours. By then, the first frosts are rapidly approaching, and so this makes growing them very complicate.

    I am not worried with the turnips: I can still eat those greens like that, but for the spinach I would like to see some nice big leaves, not young flowering seedlings. The same goes for the radish: from a whole bunch of plants, only one gave a bulb. All six fennel plants bolted. I will not even try again, as fennel can only grow without cold, and the summer is already finishing here. But I will seed now (as it is 1st August) new seedlings of spinach, radish and turnip, to see if they don't bolt so easily during early autumn (August to October): there will be already some frosts, but still no snow.

    Swiss chard also bolted, but it was growing since May, and so it already produced a nice crop of leaves. The swiss chard growing indoors, in shadow did not bolt yet. This demonstrate the value of growing plants indoors to accelerate growing, and protecting from the excessive bolting-inducing sunlight. With lettuce, the case was different, some plants bolted, others they strangely stalled in growth.

    The positive side was for the indoor tomatoes: with so much daylight, I was surprised to discover how sweet the tomatoes taste! The extra sunlight increases even more the level of sugar in the fruits. It's unbelievable.

    Wednesday, 10 August 2011

    Permaculture advises: shadow tolerant vegetables

    A full day of sunshine is about 14-15 hours However, some vegetables can do with less time of sunlight.
    This is very useful if you plan a garden in the shadow, if you grow a garden in a urban setting for example, in a location not facing south, or under trees such in a forest garden.

    Tolerant of 4-6 hours of sun
    Herbs: Bay, chives, horseradish, mint and parsley
    Vegetables: Broccoli, swiss chard, cress, kale, kohl rabi, lettuce, leafy perennials, radish, spinach, welsh onions
    Fruits: Gooseberries, red currants, rhubarb, loganberries and morello cherries

    Tolerant of 6-8 hours of sun
    Herbs: Fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme (also lovage)
    Vegetables: cabbage, beets, cauliflower, carrots, leeks, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, runner beans, broccoli and turnips. Celery and chicory also do pretty well, but chicory prefers full sun. Even perennials such as Yacon can crop perfectly (in a good soil) with as little as 4-5 hours of sunlight. And as I showed you in 2009, tomatoes and cucumber can crop enough with even less than 6 hours of direct sun. Tomatoes yields will of course have reduced yields, but cucumbers can produce good if they have good soil and warm weather. 
    Fruits: Strawberries, blackcurrants, kiwi, raspberries and white currants.

    It might be good, if you are growing your vegetables in part shade, to cultivate them in raised beds, to avoid excess humidity in the soil. Take care also with slugs, as they love crawling in the shadow. Protect  your vegetables with  two effective slug barriers! Either by putting cut plastic around your plants, or by spreading sawdust.

    The vegetables that would need the most sun and warm would be sweet peppers, eggplant and pumpkins, squash and zucchini.

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    Saturday, 6 August 2011

    Permaculture advises: growing a minimalist garden (that requires the least amount of work!)

    If you are those kind of people that prefer to start the garden and then do nothing, this is for you.
    This is a list of plants to make a permaculture edible garden, made of perennials, that once you start, there is almost no further work required. Some vegetables are perennials, other are self-seeders.

    Some plants for a minimalist garden:

    Perennials for greens (spacing indicated)

    • 9-star broccoli .... 100cm
    • Daubenton's kale ... 60 cm
    • Good king henry (bitter taste) .... 30 cm
    • Sea beet (tolerates sandy soils) .... 30 cm
    • Tree collards .... 100 cm
    • Skirret .... 25 cm
    • Sea kale .... 90 cm
    Perennials for salad use
    • Ḿitsuba (can grow in part shadow) .... 15 cm
    • Musk mallow .... 30 cm
    • Pink purslane (acid soil, and shadow) ... 15 cm
    • Salad burnet (alkaline soil) .... 20 cm
    • Chicory .... 20 cm
    • Garlic cress ... 30 cm
    • Ramsons or wild garlic (for shadow) ... 10 cm
    • Sorrel ... 25 cm
    • Turkish rocket ... 50 cm
    • Watercress ... 15 cm
    • Everlasting onions ... 15 cm
    • Tree onions .... 20 cm
    • Welsh onions .... 20 cm

    Perennial 9-star broccoli, can give many crops if you keep cutting them.
    Self-seeders for greens

    • Fat hen 
    • Swiss chard ... 25 cm 
    • Alexanders .... 50 cm
    Self-seeders for salad use 
    • Chickweed (can grow in part shadow) ... grow without thinning
    • Lamb's lettuce ... 10 cm
    • Winter purslane (tolerates sandy soils) ... 15 cm
    • Bittercress ... 10 cm
    • Land cress ... 15 cm
    • Nasturtium ... 15-20cm
    • Rocket ... 10 cm

    The following table can help you calculate how many plants do you need to get full ground cover with perennials. The recommended spacing is described later below.

    Spacing, cm ---- Plants
    100 ................... 1
    60 ..................... 3
    30 ..................... 11
    25 ..................... 16
    20 ..................... 25
    15 ..................... 44
    10 .................... 100

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    Wednesday, 3 August 2011

    Permaculture advises: increasing biodiversity

    Biodiversity is a very much sought goal nowadays. Increased biodiversity is good for most species, and creates more sustainable habitats, and also gardens. Not only creates fun in growing and observing many species growing together, but it also reduce pests, help in fruit pollination, and can increase soil fertility and balance.

    Increased wildlife will gain from different habitats in your garden, such as ponds, grass, cornfield flowers and trees and shrubs. Cornfield wild flowers attract butterflies and bees and provide much color.

    Some species will work as service stations for passing wildlife such as birds and butterflies, such as buddleia (supports a big number of butterflies and bees), cotoneaster (abundant berries), evening primrose (food for moths), muscaris and lunaria (early nectar flowers), guelder rose, hawthorn, ivy, chaenomeles, willows, michaelmas daisy (late autumn nectar plant) and teasel, dipsacus (pollen plant, birds).

    For birds, nest boxes and drinking water (such as in ponds) is very useful. Edible native herbs include chickweed, sorrels, nettles (good for butterflies), ramsons or wild garlic and several types of berries. These might be a preferred choice.

    Some of the trees that are associated with increased biodiversity (in UK) are willows, oaks and birches. A single tree of these can harbor more than 300 different species of insects. Other trees good for biodiversity include poplars, hawthorn, alder, crab apple, hazel and beech. Native species such as these, naturally harbor much more biodiversity than exotic species. Exotic species can also harbor many insects such as Norway's spruce, but others will generally contain little insect life such as black locust, walnuts and chestnuts. Therefore, for other countries, it might be that other trees will be better for increased biodiversity, most likely their native species.

    Another word of caution with exotic species is if they become overly invasive. Invasive species are second only to habitat destruction as a contribution to extinction and the alarming loss of biodiversity! These are likely to be species which can adapt very successfully to the local climate and propagate by runners, rhizomes or aggressive seed dispersion. Often it can be nitrogen fixing species such as lupins and mimosa. Be careful with other species such as rhododendron, eucalyptus, acacia or black locust.

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    Sunday, 31 July 2011

    Native herbs in Iceland, that we have identified

    While living in Iceland, we tried to identity the native herbs, flowers and other plants, as we have done previously while living in Portugal and Austria. Below are some species that are growing in Southwest Iceland, where we live in Sólheimar Ecovillage (unless otherwise stated).

    In the future, I will post the uses of several of these species; some for natural homemade skin and hair products (such as yarrow or chickweed), other for medicinal use (such as valerian), or edible uses.

    (in black are all species found where we lived in Sólheimar; the remaining are in red, and their localization)

    White flowers:
    • Trifolium repens, White Clover, Hvítsmári (widespread, often along road side, in open fields)
    • Achillea millefolium, Yarrow, Vallhumall (also with pale pink flowers, use for skin) (widespread, often along road side)
    • Myrrhis odorata, Sweet Cicely, Spánarkerfill (it is an alien species; aromatic but is quite identical to other species, some deadly - the nice anise scent of Sweet Cicely helps identification, it has also soft, hairy and light green colored leaves - extreme caution is recommended) (behind the swimming pool and the gymnasium)
    • Anthriscus sylvestris, Cow Parsley, Skógarkerfill (it is an alien species, very similar to Sweet Cicely, but the leaves have no hairs, and its smell is not appealing. Cow Parsley is also very similar to other European species, some deadly - extreme caution is recommended. I only found it growing in other areas, near houses and farms close to cities)
    • Ligusticum scoticum, Lovage, Saehvonn (aromatic and cooking herb) (only in my garden)
    • Angelica archangelica, Garden Angelica, Aetihvonn (aromatic herb) (widespread in humid fields, in the valley)
    • Angelica sylvestris, Wild Angelica, Geithvonn (similar to the common Angelica; this one has white flowers, in a flat umbel, and leaves that are green-bluish and more dentate, and with a celery-like stem with a cavity; the common Angelica has green flowers like a ball, and green leaves, without the cavity on the stem; the Wild Angelica is very similar to other European deadly species! - extreme caution is recommended)
    • Sorbus aucuparia, Rowan, Reynividur (grows along paths as a tree)
    • Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet, Mjadjurt (aromatic flowers) (widespread in open fields, particularly in humid places)
    • Bistorta vivipara, Alpine Bistort, Kornsúra (flowers late) (grows a lot in the valley hillsides, as a small white flower, very widespread)
    • Galium boreale, Northern Bedstraw, Krossmadra (flowers late but easy to identify, four-parted tiny flowers in groups, Gallium have filiform leaves; this species in groups of 4) (very widespread, in open fields more in hillsides, in open locations)
    • Galium normanii, Slender Bedstraw, Hvítmadra (filiform leaves in groups of 6; much smaller plant) (more difficult to identify, in open fields)
    • Capsella bursa-pastoris, Shepherd's Purse, Hjartarfi (spreads agressively by seeds, which are heart-shaped) (especially in disturbed fields, for example gravel fields)
    • Stellaria media, Chickweed, Haugarfi (good use for skin, against irritation and itching, Stellaria species have five-parted flowers, with petals divided in two, thus appearing as tiny ten-parted white flowers. Stellaria species have non-hairy leaves) (grows in very fertile and humid fields such as in compost piles)
    • Stellaria crassifolia, Fleshy Stichwort, Stjornuarfi (has fleshy leaves) (grows in a gravel open field, near where the hot stream begins, to the northwest)
    • Cerastium fontanum, Common Mouse-ear, Vegarfi (Cerastium is similar to Stellaria, with tiny ten-parted white flowers, but these are more closed, and the leaves/stems are hairy, therefore giving the plant a grey appearance - flowers in June - sepals and petals about the same length) (widespread)
    • Cerastium alpinum, Alpine Mouse-ear, Músareyra ? (With gray hairs, smaller plant - petals about twice the length of sepals) (I am not sure about whether these two Cerastium species are correct; it is quite difficult to identify them when they are not in flower)
    • Spergula arvensis, Corn Spurrey, Skurfa (has filiform leaves and white flowers, similar to Bedstraw, but flowers are four-parted, while in the Bedstraws are five-parted)
    • Cardamine hirsuta, Hairy Bitter-cress, Lambaklukka (only a few)
    • Fragaria vesca, Wild Strawberry, Jardarber (not in our area, but I grow it now in our garden)
    • Dryas octopetala, Mountain Avens, Holtasóley (only common in mountain ravines, only found it in the west side of the valley)
    • Matricaria (or Tripleurospermum) maritima, Sea Mayweed, Baldursbrá (only common in sandy plains; of good use for the skin, grows in gravel fields in Olur and near the start of the hot stream)
    • Leucanthemum vulgare, Oxeye Daisy, Freyubrá ??? (alien species, not sure about this one) (close to my home)
    • Polygonum aviculare, Knotgrass, Blódarfi (not common) (in disturbed fields in gravel flat soils, near where cars pass, in front of Solheimarhus)
    • Epilobium lactiflorum, Milky Willowherb, Ljósadúnurt (tiny plant, up to 15cm high, near Solheimarhus)
    • Dabra incana, Hoary Whitlowgrass, Grávorblóm (only in proximity to our area)
    • Silene Uniflora, Sea Campion, Holurt (only in proximity to our area)
    • Lamium album, White Dead-nettle, Ljósatvítonn (only in other areas, in old cultivated fields, Alvidra)
    • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry, Sortulyng (not in our area, but widespread in the country)
    Galium boreale, Bedstraw, this widespread native flower has been used as a contraceptive and has hormone-like compounds, making it very interesting for medicinal use. A red dye can be made from the root.

    Filipendula ulmaria, Meadowsweet, is a very scented herb, that can be used as a tea, as a flavoring flower, it is a strong astringent and anti-inflammatory herb, similar to aspirin, being good for the skin and stomach (particularly ulcers and gastritis). It is very good for diarrhea and a diuretic. A strong decoction from the roots can treat external sores

    Pink flowers:
    • Vaccinium myrtillus, Blueberry, Adalbláberjalyng (edible berries, present in mountain sides)
    • Valeriana sambucifolia, Hill Valerian, Hagabrúda (a native species, very similar to the common valerian, but distinguished by a terminal leaflet larger than the lateral ones, present near a water line)
    • Cuckoo Flower (common flower in spring, then difficult to identify, white or pink flowers)
    • Calluna vulgaris, Heather, Beitilyng (only in mountain ravines)
    • Geum rivale, Water Avens, Fjalldalafífill (very common summer flower)
    • Loiseleuria procumbens, Trailing Azalea, Saudamergur ? (not sure about this one)
    • Epilobium ciliatum, American Willowherb, Vaetudúnurt (alien species, and a weed, particularly by Olur)
    • Thymus praecox arcticus, Wild Thyme, Blodberg (aromatic herb, in both hillsides of the valley)
    • Cirsium heterophyllum, Melancholy Thistle, Purpurathistill (only behind Solheimarhus)
    • Erigeron borealis, Alpine Fleabane (also with pink flowers, and taller, up to 25cm; rare in our area, only found one exemplar, but it's common in mountains, in open fields in the northwest hillside of the valley)
    • Trifolium pratense, Red Clover ? (dark pink flowers, hairy calix and leaflets, not sure yet, northwest open fields of Solheimar, close to many houses)
    • Silene acaulis, Moss Campion, Lambagras (only in proximity to our area
    • Armeria maritima, Thrift, Geldingahnappur (only in mountains, so far not found in Sólheimar)
    • Chamerion latifolium, Arctic Riverbeauty, Eyrarós (widespread in the highlands and near rivers)

    Thymus praecox, native Thyme of Iceland, a powerful aromatic and antiseptic herb, that can be used as a spice in the kitchen or a tea against colds

    Purple flowers:
    • Geranium sylvaticum, Wood Crane's Bill, Blágresi (common purple flowers)
    • Viola canina, Heath Dog-violet, Týsfjóla (rare in our area, I only found one exemplar in our lawn, leaves are tapering to a point)
    • Prunella vulgaris, Selfheal, Blákolla (in northwest down in the hillside near the hot stream)
    • Veronica officinalis, Common Speedwell, Hárdepla (only found a few species, under a forest in west hillside, along a creek)
    • Thalictrum alpinum, Alpine Meadow-rue, Brjóstagras (leaves are bipinnate, long-peciole, a little bit like a tiny cress, very widespread but very tiny plant and leaves; when it flowers, the color is violet to pink)
    • Pinguicula vulgaris, Common Butterwort, Lyfjagras (only in mountains, good scent, so far not found in Sólheimar)

    Geranium sylvaticum is a common purple flower to Iceland, a very cold hardy species

    Blue flowers:
    • Viola tricolor, Wild Pansy, Threnningarfjóla (rare in our area, also in other colors, probably an escape from gardens)
    • Myosotis arvensis, Field Forget-me-not, Gleymmérei ? (not sure about the exact species, Myosotis species can be tricky to identify, flowers in June; tiny flowers, pedicels ate longer) (Myosotis stricta, Strict Forget-me-not, Sandmunablóm, has very tiny flowers, and pedicels very short, the plant is also only 10cm tall)
    • Myosotis discolor, Changing Forget-me-not, Kisugras (flowers in August) (a long stem with flowers, that have flowers in different colors, as they open, yellow, pink, and later blue; very tiny flowers)
    • Lupinus nootkatensis, Nootka Lupin, Lúpina (invasive and introduced species, very widespread)
    • Mertensia maritima, Oyster Plant, Blálilja (often in coastlines, I found one example in a gravel field in Sólheimar, by Olur)
    • Comastoma tenellum, Slender Gentian, Maríuvendligur (only found in gardens)
    • Vicia cracca, Tutfed Vetch, Umfedmingur ? (only in other country areas, not sure yet, Vík)

    Yellow Flowers:
    • Potentilla cramtzii, Alpine Cinquefoil, Gullmura (has orange color in center of the yellow flowers, only a few plants high in the eastern hillside)
    • Angentina anserina, Silverweed, Tágamura (similar to above, but hairy leaves, good for skin, often in low part of the valley in open fields)
    • Ranunculus acris, Meadow Buttercup, Brennisóley (very common, there are many other species of buttercups but I have not identified them yet) (very widespread)
    • Papaver croceum, Iceland Poppy, Gardasól (I have not found it yet, but I grow it in our garden, an alien naturalized in Iceland - obviously poppies flowers occur in all different colors)
    • Papaver radicatum, Arctic Poppy, Melasól (only in other country areas such as southeast and West Fjords - this poppy is hairy unlike the former one. Also gives pink and white flowers. West Fjords and Hofn)
    • Barbarea stricta, Small-flowered Winter-cress, Hlídableikja (an alien species from the mustard family)
    • Rhodiola rosea, Roseroot, Burnirót (only cultivated in front of Solheimarhus, Olur, my garden)
    • Galium verum, Lady's Bedstraw, Gulmadra (common yellow flower, especially in open fields, very widespread)
    • Taraxacum, Dandelion, Túnfiffill (has a hollow flowering stem, with only one flower each, and no leaves on it) (in lawns, very widespread)
    • Hieracium holopleurum, Bush Hawkweed, Runnafífill (tall plant, leaves with very long pecioles and slitghly dentate (only basal leaves), flowering stems tall and branched and with leaves on it) (northwest open fields in hillside)
    • Hieracium thaectolepium, Hillside Hawkweed, Fíffill (this species is much smaller, with very hairty leaves, and the flowering stems have some bracts) (same place as above, but more close to hot stream)
    • Leontodon autumnalis, Autumn Hawkbit, Skarifífill (similar to hawkweeds, but distinguished by shape of flower, which has a very gradual transition to the stem, and no leaves on it, and some tiny bracts instead) (widespread, particularly down in the valley in lawns and along paths)
    • Pilosella islandica, Icelandic Hawkweed, Íslandsfífill (distinguished by black hairs) (northwest hilldside)
    • Tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot, Hóffífill (agressive weed) (a widespread weed in areas close to Olur)
    • Senecio vulgaris, Groundsel, Krosfífill (another common weed, close to Olur and disturbed fields)
    • Rhinanthus minor, Yellow-rattle, Lokasjódur (not so common, only found a few exemplars in a mountain ravine, also a small plant, by eastern side)
    • Mimulus guttatus, Monkey Flower, Apablóm (unconfirmed identity, found one exemplar of this garden species with yellow and orange flowers, by Solheimarhus)
    • Caltha palustris, Marsh Marigold, Hófsóley (in other areas in proximity, in marshes, so far not found in Sólheimar)

    Argentina anserina, Silverweed, has very soft silvery and hairy leaves, that can be used as a strong astringent and analgesic herb for treating external bruises, or as a tea for treating diarrhea, or as a gargle for sore throats

    Galium verum is another good herb to use to skin complains, such as inflammation, wounds and infections. The leaves are also edible, diuretic, and the flowering stems can be used as a food colorant 

    Green flowers:
    • Lepidotheca suaveolens, Pineapple Weed, Hladkolla (widespread especially by Olur)
    • Alchemilla alpina, Alpine Lady Mantle, Ljónslappi (all Lady Mantle species are very similar, but this one has much smaller leaves and grows in more mountain areas, in both hillsides)
    • Alchemilla filicaulis, Hairy Lady Mantle, Hlídamaríustakkur (hairy leaves and stems)
    • Alchemilla glomerulans, Clustered Lady Mantle, Hnodamaríustakkur (apressed hairs on leaves and stems) (along a path to Olur)
    • Alchemilla wichurae, Rock Lady Mantle, Silfurmaríustakkur (no hairs, glabrous stems and leaves, reddish stems) (along the roadside to Vigdishus)
    • Alchemilla mollis, Lady Mantle, Gardamaríustakkur (easily distinguished by much bigger leaves which are also very soft and hairy, by swimming pool)
    • Urtica Dioica, Common Nettle, Brenninetla (good for the hair, also a vegetable when cooked) (near Olur and Sunna)
    • Betula pubescens, Downy Birch, Birki (good for the skin, and as a tea)
    • Betula nana, Dwarf Birch, Fjalldrapi (a dwarf mountain variety of birch) (a few in eastern hillside, high)
    • Salix lanata, Wooly Willow, Lodvidir (cotton-like white or yellow flowers, grey-haired leaves, grows up to 2m) (a lot in eastern hillside)
    • Salix arctica, Arctic Willow, Grávidir (dwarf variety, hairy green leaves, only grows up to 60cm) (high fields)
    • Salix alaxensis, Feltleaf Willow, Alaskavidir (can grow up to 8m, introduced species, soft and slightly hairy leaves which are wrinkled and oblong and narrow shape) 
    • Salix viminalis, Osier (cultivated species, probably escaped cultivation and naturalized, found by streams; leaves are very long and narrow, dark green, glabrous (but silky green and soft underneath), tree grows up to 6m)
    • Salix myrsinifolia, Boreal Willow, Vidja (tall willow, grows up to 12m, leaves are shiny green, with oval shape, and nearly glabrous). Possibly also Salix phylicifolia, Tea-leaved Willow, but these willows are quite similar. This one grows up 1-5m, with also glabrous leaves but less shiny (these 3 species grow mostly close to Olur by eastern hillside and close to the creeks there)
    • Populus trichocarpa, Black Cottonwood, Alaskaosp (introduced species) (cultivated by path sides)
    • Plantago major, Greater Plantain, Graedisúra (widespread especially in lawns)
    • Plantago maritima, Sea Plantain, Kattartunga (close to hot stream in northwest)
    • Rumex acetosa, Common Sorrel, Túnsúra (also similar to the alien Rumex acetosella, the lower extremities on leaves on this last are not pointing down but sideways) (widespread)
    • Rumex longifolius, Northern Dock, Njóli (especially by Sunna and compost piles)
    • Juniperus communis, Juniper, Einir (only found cultivated)
    • Empetrum nigrum, Crowberry, Kraekilyng (Edible black fruits)
    • Plantanthera hyperborea, Northern Green Orchid, Friggjargras (found only one growing in our area, but is common in the mountains, in forest in western hillside)
    • Eriophorum angustifolium, Common Cottongrass, Klófila (a cottongrass, having several spikes - cotton fruits - together in the same stem, marshes)
    • Picea sitchensis, Sitka Spruce, Sitkagreni (introduced but widespread tree)
    • Pinus contorta, Lodgepole Pine, Stafafura (not present in our area, introduced too, so far not identified in Sólheimar)

    Alchemilla alpina, a native Lady Mantle, in Iceland, for skin use and as a tea to alleviate period pains in women

    Horsetails and Ferns:
    • Equisetum arvense, Field Horsetail, Klóelfting (lateral branches erect, grows in more sunny places)
    • Equisetum pratense, Shady Horsetail, Vallelfting (lateral branches falling, grows in shadow places)
    • Equisetum fluviatile, Water Horsetail, Fergín (grows in water lines, no lateral branches, creek near chicken house)
    • Equisetum variegatum, Variagated Horsetail, Beitieski (only one stem, no lateral branches) (near the same place as above but under the forest)
    • Dryopteris filix-mas, Male Fern,Stóriburkni (secondary leaflets dentate, with 5-10 round sori in two rows underneath) (in a hill behind the gymnasium)

    Equisetum arvense, Field Horsetail, is a very good herb to use for the hair

    I have not looked at grasses, sedges, mosses and other aquatic species, and also pines and some small herbaceous species without significant flowers (like other species of Dabra, Sagina or Saxifraga). So far, 89 species have been identified where we live in Sólheimar ecovillage, plus 15 in the rest of Iceland (from about 338 vascular plants) (but not all of them confirmed as correctly identified).

    It's quite impressive that the place we live, features about one quarter of all the species of vascular plants in Iceland!

    This articles and list of species is copyright owned. Reproduction is not allowed, unless permission is given by the author.

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    Friday, 29 July 2011

    Permaculture advises: windbreaks

    In Permaculture, windbreaks help shelter plants from the elements. These can be walls, or made from shrubs or trees.

    Windbreaks increase water, protect against soil erosion, provide leaf fall and a microclimate by increasing humidity, shadow and protecting against damaging winds (and drying winds) and even deflecting frost, protect against animals or other humans, increase biodiversity (by for example providing an edge habitat for birds) and might offer produce in form of food, wood or fodder.

    Disadvantages of using windbreaks include increasing pests and diseases (by increasing humidity), can also form a frost pocket, undesirable shadow, and root competition (roots of trees usually extend at least twice the length of their branches). Root competition can occur with eucalyptus, poplars and willows and be a problem only your garden space is small.

    Windbreaks should have the right angle against wind, and not be full impermeable to wind (as this causes stronger winds a few meters away). But it should not let the full wind pass through either. This can happen if you have only trunks to shelter the wind. In that case, shrubs should be planted mixed with the trees. The ideal is to cover 50-80% of the view. This will reduce winds by about half, within a distance of ten times the height of the windbreak. In this sheltered area, the temperature can rise up to 2ºC more. In terms of length, the windbreak should be at least ten to twenty times more than its height.

    Now, I will tell which trees species to choose for a specific height
    30m or more: beech, poplars, sycamore, conifers, oaks, chestnuts
    25-30m: ash, wild cherry, white willow, black locust
    15-25m: alders, aspen, birches, yew
    up to 15m: hawthorn, holly, maple, rown
    up to 10m: apples, cherry, hazel, elders, grey willows
    up to 5m: blackthorn, buckthorns, eleagnus, siberian pea
    up to 3m: sea buckthorn, wild roses

    In terms of growth, poplars and willows will grow up to 2m per year; alders, ash, birches, sticka spruces and larch will grow up to 1m per year; maple, sucamore, cherry and cedar will grow about 50cm, and oaks, beech, limes, pines and holly will grow less.

    Good windbreaks for coastal areas include sycamore (drought tolerant), ash, holm oak, lodgepole pine (tolerates cold), sitka pine, cupressus macrocarpa (for warm climates). Shrubs include elagnus (edible berries, fix nitrogen), siberian pea (prefers cold, edible seeds), elder (easy to propagate, tough), ramanas rose (for severe winds, edible fruits), tamarisks, salt brush (warm areas, edible leaves), blackthorn and sea buckthorn (invasive species).

    This was just the beginning of a long series of articles about Permaculture, because I am reading "The Earth Care Manual" by Patrick Whitefield.

    Please look forward for my next posts!
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    Tuesday, 26 July 2011

    Beautiful cornflowers

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    Monday, 25 July 2011

    Gardening and Permaculture in ICELAND

    Permaculture is in fact possible in Iceland, a polar climate.

    I first moved here last year, and did grow two small gardens in Reykjavík, which is by the coast, and with a ever cool and often rainy climate. One garden was successful with carrots and radish (carrots grow very well in the cool polar summer) although potatoes were very small. Another garden was cultivated with herbs and diverse vegetables. After the harsh polar winter, I was surprised to visit the area again and found out that some plants were alive and nicely growing again! These were mints, chives, rhuibarb (a almost native vegetable in Iceland), and even some celery plants!

    This year, I moved to Sólheimar ecovillage, which is located in southwest Iceland, with a milder polar climate: summer are short, cool but generally fair, the winters have much snow. I am growing both indoors, a south facing conservatory, and outdoors, in a southwest facing exposed location and a northeast sheltered location.

    Indoors I grow the seedlings, dwarf varieties of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, a ginger plant, swiss chard, rucula and diverse herbs (spring onions, thyme, salvia, lemon balm, hyssop, savory, oregano, marjoram and basil). I also grew some zuchinni and cucumbers but even with big pots, these did not crop good.

    Outdoors, I grow several beds: one with onions, carrots and beets; another with celery, fennel, broccoli and chicory, another with turnip and other greens, and another bed with a beautiful combination (companion planting) of swiss chard, beets and kohl rabi (below).

    I found very difficult to grow the brassicas, radish, lettuce, fennel and spinach, because the 24 hour daylight, often induced their bolting. Initially the peas were also not growing well. However, they are now cropping good, as the weather is warmer. What is growing perfect are the carrots, celery, beets, kohl rabi, swiss chard and onions. Below is the bed with beets, carrots and onions.

    The most beautiful is two beds with wildflowers to attract wildlife such as bees and butterflies and provide plenty of color. Some examples of the flowers include cornflower, anemona, buttercups, tagetes, scabious, love in the mist, and poppies.

    In the shadowy northeast location, I am growing some beds with oriental brassicas, which are faring better (but recently have started bolting too - picture below), and the naturalized Icelandic vegetables, lovage and rhubarb, which are grow easily and very well.

    The potatoes there are growing better too, I think it's because the soil is better and the location more sheltered from the cool dry winds. I also made an edge with some shrubs, berries, potentilla and other flowers. Unfortunately, there were some Jerusalem artichokes but these were accidentally cut by a neighbor mowing. More picture to follow soon.

    Click here to read about more other permaculture articles at the Green Spot Blog

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    Thursday, 30 June 2011

    Biointensive (organic) agriculture

    John Jeavons, one organic agricultor has designed years ago, a system of intensive biodynamic farming that produced yields of food around several-fold larger than conventional farms! We can feed ourselves in a much small space, nearly 40 per 40 square meter, and leave three quarters of similar land for wild nature and animals.

    "This miniaturization of agriculture is not new. Small-scale sustainable agriculture has supported such widely dispersed civilizations as the Chinese 4,000 years ago, and the Mayans, South Americans, and Greeks 2,000 years ago.
    Ecology Action has dedicated almost a quarter-century to rediscovering the scientific principles that underlie these traditional systems. The people in Biosphere II in Arizona have been using techniques based on those outlined by Ecology Action: they raised 80 percent of their food for two years within a "closed system." Their experience demonstrates that a complete year's diet for one person can be raised on the equivalent of 3,403 square feet!"

    "This is an improvement over traditional Chinese practices, which required 5,000 to 7,200 square feet. In contrast, it takes commercial agriculture 22,000 to 42,000 square feet to grow all the food for one person for one year, while bringing in large inputs from other areas. At the same time, commercial agricultural practices are causing the loss of approximately six pounds of soil for each pound of food produced.
    Biointensive mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using 99 percent less energy in all forms - human and mechanical, 66 percent to 88 percent less water, and 50 percent to 100 percent less fertilizer, compared to commercial agriculture. They also produce two to six times more food and build the soil."

    Strawberries grown in a city balcony; tasty harvest!

    This is, 32 meters x 32 meters for a property to cleverly produce all our necessary food (1 person for a year!) or around 1000m2 (a quarter of an acre, a tenth of hectare).
    In chinese practices 42 x42 meters is necessary for producing food for feeding a person over one year (around 1800m2 or half an acre). Conventional agriculture needs around one hectare, 10000m2 or 100m x 100m).

    The Biointensive Method

    "The basics of this whole-system approach can be summarized as follows:
    Most life in nature occurs at the interface of soil, water, air and sun. Biointensive soil preparation practices create growing beds with more surface area to maximize the effect of nature's life processes. Double-dug beds, with soil loosened to a depth of 24 inches, aerate the soil, facilitate root growth, and improve water retention. The health and vigor of the soil are maintained through the use of compost. Close seeding spacing is used to protect the soil microorganisms, reduce water loss, and maximize yields. Companion planting facilitates the optimal use of nutrients, light and water, encourages beneficial insects and creates a vibrant mini-ecosystem within the garden. The use of open-pollinated seeds helps to preserve genetic diversity and enables gardeners to develop their own acclimatized cultivars.

    A focus on the production of calories for the gardener and carbon for the soil ensures that both the gardener and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable.
    How can the soil's nutrient fertility be preserved with agriculture continuously removing nutrients as one crop is harvested after another? One answer is surprising. Each person's urine and manure contain approximately enough nutrients to produce enough food to feed that person. However, those nutrients are not enough when they are spread thinly over the one-half to one acre that it takes mechanized commercial agriculture to produce that person's food.
    Biointensive mini-farms require much less area to produce the same yield of crops, so the nutrients contained in one person's wastes can be applied in a more concentrated way. This enables the nutrients to be fully effective, and high yields can result.

    Because of this higher productivity, Biointensive practices could allow one-half to three-quarters of the world to be left in wild for the preservation of plant and animal diversity.
    It has been said that Biointensive practices might make it possible to grow food for all the people in the US in just the area now used for lawns. This possibility could mean thriving agriculturally self-reliant cities with 'green belts' to produce all their food."

    The same results are obtained in calculations from other people, by practical experience: 0.1-0.4 acre per person or 4-people family

    That would be roughly 30-40 meters per 30-4o meters square land in a property.
    We could grow about 10 main cultures in ten 10x10m squares, which would give our 30x30m big square

    This is a one-acre square of land for most food self-sufficiency.

    These garlic were grown in a city balcony and close to each other, in a small container

    However when considering water catchment, compost and grey water treatment, solar and wind energy, wood for fuel, possibly goats for milk, one should have at least 3-5 acres, which is roughly 10 times the size for plant-based food self-sufficiency.

    I think a square of quarter-acre for vegetable production (as suggested), plus another quarter-acre for an house and energy/water facilities, plus another two quarter-acres for one orchard and a wildlife forest garden and a goat place, that give a good one acre for self-sufficiency.

    Please check our drawing for a self-sufficiency property:

    One common mistake is expecting too much land for self-sufficiency.
    Our tenth of our quarter-acre is enough for producing potatoes for a year for a couple.
    Another mistake is to expect 100% self-sufficiency. Neither is desirable neither humanly possible. Some food is still very cheap. It is more desirable by promoting local shares of different self-sufficiency families to create the necessary abundance of food for everyone.

    Please check these amazing links for further insight:

    - (calculation for food self-sufficiency)
    - (fantastic assay)
    - (a personal story)

    *Feel free to share this information and text*

    Tuesday, 7 June 2011

    Enriching your soil, part II: Weeds are not bad! They are your organic fertilizer!

    Weeds as nutrient dynamic accumulators

    Weeds are often considered a nuisance. However, from both the Permaculture and Biodynamic farming point of view, weeds are not a problem, they are nature way of correcting a problem with your soil.

    For example, some plants are nitrogen accumulators, this is they can fix nitrogen in the soil, from the air. Curiously, these includes some of the most invasive weeds in the planet, plants like acacia (picture above), lupins (picture below), mustard and clovers. In Mediterranean countries, acacias often grow in disturbed soils after house or road construction, or forest fires. In Iceland, lupins are a widespread invasive plant because it can grow in the very poor sandy and cold soils that were deforested many centuries ago.

    Therefore, look at these weeds, as nature way of correcting a nutrient problem. And also as a sign that your soil is not nutrient-rich as it should be, to grow your vegetables.

    It is wise from the Permaculture perspective, to grow some of these plants, so that there can be a natural way of replenishment your soil with nutrients again, such as these nitrogen fixating species.

    Another example, comes from the very poor acid soils of some pine forests, where almost only ferns seem to be able to grow. This indicates not only a very poor soil, but also ferns (brackens, Pteridium) have the unique ability to capture the missing potassium, phosphorus and other nutrients, from the deepest layers of the soil. So does nettles, and that's why you often can see it growing in the walls and rocks! Nettle roots penetrate very deeply and are able to capture the nutrients from the broken rocks. They also make a very rich compost or fertilizer, and they also make a very mineral-rich soup!

    For this reason, today I was thinking about the sorrels / docks (Rumex) that I see growing close to our house. I read that they are dynamic accumulators of calcium, phosphorus and potassium, that seems to be missing in our garden (calcium lack can be signaled also by the growing dandelions in our garden!). So, I thought of collecting the sorrels and dandelions and making a compost tea out of them, to fertilize my tomatoes and broccoli, that are hungry for potassium, phosphorus and calcium. By the same token, I thought about using the lupins for a special nitrogen compost tea, for the more leafy vegetables.

    To give you more technical (and useful) information, dandelions are accumulators of silica, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, coper and iron. Comfrey accumulates silica, nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. Chickweed (a sign of fertile soils) accumulates potassium, phosphorus and manganese. Clovers accumulate nitrogen and phosphorus. Buckwheat accumulates phosphorus, chicory accumulates calcium and potassium, borage (picture above) accumulates silica and potassium, burdock accumulates iron, and chives accumulates sodium and calcium. Carrot leaves accumulate potassium and magnesium.

    Sunday, 5 June 2011

    Enriching your soil, part I: Organic fertilizers for your vegetables and flowers! (Compost tea, egg shells, banana skins, nettles, seaweed, urine)

    How to make simple homemade organic fertilizers!

    This article is the first of a series that will teach us how to enrich our soil, from a Permaculture /Biodynamic perpspective.

    To start with, below are some simple steps we should follow when growing vegetables and flowers:

    • First, when you plant, remember to incorporate compost and sand into the soil, to provide nutrients. Cover also with mulching, and add egg shells and coffee grounds around plants (you can also dilute the coffee ground in water and apply to acid-loving plants like tomatoes, azaleas, roses and blueberries)
    • Fertilize heavy feeders (tomatoes, zucchini) with a seaweed fertilizer (add seaweed to water, let sit for 2 weeks, and dilute before use). Fertilize occasionally green leaf vegetables with diluted urine (1:20, and use immediately). If you eat fish or meat, you can also prepare a fertilizer made from bones and from fish leftovers, because it is very rich for your plants.
    • Fertilize adding regular doses of compost tea (add compost to water, and let sit for 2 weeks, dilute before use). Spray on plants for a foliar feed and to eliminate pests. Fertilize occasionally with a tea made from composted nettles (do as the compost tea). Comfrey is also very good. You can also add banana and potato skins as these are full of nutrients, especially potassium. The best is to mix everything together: compost, nettles, comfrey, banana and potato skins, and other herbs that accumulate specific nutrients like docks or ferns. Remember that this will smell bad, so let it sit for the 2 weeks in some hidden place. And dilute this black compost tea before use.
    • Fertilize with a spray or tea made from herbs used in Biodynamic farming: dandelion, yarrow, nettle, horsetail, chamomile, valerian and oak bark. Some of these plants also accumulate nutrients, and according to Rudolf Steiner, they release "energies" into the soil which are very beneficial to your vegetables. Remember to use those weeds!

    Tuesday, 24 May 2011

    Combating pests in gardening and growing vegetables

    To prevent drought, use thick mulching, and mix planting of different species, so that they do not compete for water. Plant your vegetables and flowers shaded by other plants or in places with less sunlight. Do not plant too tight and do not plant too separate to not let bare soil exposed to dry weather.

    To prevent root roting, first plant your vegetables and flowers in a good soil, with not too much clay and not too much sand on it, and with lots of fine organic matter. Peat moss is very good to keep constant humidity. Keep watering constant and not irregular. Root roting will occur if plants are growing slowly or are small, and if watering is irregular.

    Gnats often only affect plants growing indoors and can rapidly become a pest. Gnats like wet breeding grounds, with organic matter. One way of controlling a pest, is by keeping a layer of sand over the soil around the plant, rather than organic matter. Let the soil dry between waterings. Keep a jar with apple cider vinegar to attract and drown the insects. You can also spread oil over the surfaces, to kill the insects, or sticking labels. If nothing works, you will need to repot the plants in sterile soil.

    To control aphids, first wash them throughly with a strong jet of water, and wash your plants with soap, before rinsing. Change place of the plant, and make sure you keep the plant healthy and not too dry and warm. Also plant herbs that attract aphids to send them away from the other flowers and vegetables. Plants like basil attract aphids.

    To control maggots, worms in cabbage plants, first plant the vegetables mixed with other plants and flowers, to confuse the butterflies that lay their eggs. Spray compost tea over the plants to repel the pest. If larvae affect the roots, you may need to replant the vegetables. Plant garlic and other repelent herbs around your cabbage plants.

    To control slugs, you may have to create dry conditions and remove mulching around plants. Put sharp plastic or sawdust around the plants, because slugs do not like these barriers. If necessary go picking them at night after wet weather.

    If plants are weak or growing very slowly, change their place of growing, watch out for potential pests, repot or replant in new soil. Give some fertilizer, such as compost, diluted urine, or spray with compost tea. Keep humidity constant, not too much wet or dry. Another potential cause is a temperature not good for the plant: too much hot for some, too much cold for others.

    Sunday, 24 April 2011

    The Green Spot has returned!! This time, in Iceland!

    And after one year after without gardening, we finally manage to live in a place with a garden space, this time in Iceland, at the ecovillage Sólheimar, where we presently happily live and work.

    We have a heated greenhouse-like balcony, facing south, and a small space in front of the house. In just 3 weeks, we started from zero and we are growing now about 150 pots with flowers and vegetables!

    I just brought all my seeds, and sown them in eight trays. The temperature indoors is around 22ºC, due to Icelandic geothermal house heating, which makes it perfect for growing vegetables inside.

    We reuse hundreds of plastic cups, and also yogurt trays, to where we transplant the tiny seedlings, and while we wait that the weather warms outside (it still snows). This is practical, free and environmental friendly!

    The list counts with tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, courgette, oriental salads, lettuce, rucula, spinach, chicory, beets, swiss chard, broccoli, kale, kohl-rabi, celery and celeriac, peas, ginger, several mixes of butterfly and wild flowers, aromatic herbs, and some permaculture rarities such as perennial broccoli ("9 star") or the strawberry spinach (chenopodium capitatum). Below, we show some oriental vegetables such as  pak choi, mizuna, tatsoi or komatsuna spinach, ideal for stir-fry.

    We are also attempting to establish some perennial flowers outdoors, such as anemones, ranunculus, dicentra, astilbe and day-lilies. I sown poppies, aquilegea,. campanula, delphinum and nicantra physaloides. And I am trying to grow also allium ursinum, atriplex, jerusalem artichokes, scorzonera, salsify, purple carrots and black potatoes. I have sown some of these indoords, in a dish with wet paper, to see if I could sprout them faster, for later transplanting, when the danger of frosts has passed.

    This is a true challenge of Permaculture in polar climates! The weather is still cold and windy. Finally, we wish we could improve our food self-sufficiency, and create in this polar landscape, some color and biodiversity. Let's see how this green experience will run!

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