Sunday, 2 December 2012

Wild edible plants of the Arctic - So far north, so many options: lyme grass, silverweed, rumex, spruce...

In the Arctic climate, it is very difficult to grow grain, due to the short and cool summer. Grains often fail to become rippen, and this was the sort of thing that happened in the Middle Ages, during famines, when the summer would fail, in northern Europe.

However, there are a few possibilities to grow some starch, at Arctic locations.

One wild native plant to Iceland, Silverweed (Potentila anserina) is a strawberry-like creeping plant, that produces swollen roots, that can be cooked as if it would be pasta. However, it was mostly used as a famine food, since the roots are not very thick and are tricky to harvest. The plant grows perfectly in sandy, acidic, gravely and infertile soils.

Silverweed, a source of starchy roots in the Arctic

Another crop is Lyme Grass (Leymus arenarius or Elymus arenarius). This grain grass grows in the sandy beaches of the Arctic, and its grain can be grinded into flour or cooked like rice. In fact, the Inuit people and the Vikings used this grain as a staple food, many centuries ago. It is reported to be much richer in protein than conventional cereals. It grows only in sand and it is a perennial. The plant has been widely used in Iceland to stop drifting sand and erosion.

Leymus arenarius Lyme Grass
Lyme grass is perhaps the easiest grain to grow in the Arctic climate, growing in sandy plains.

Another species that is also native to coastal Arctic locations is Oyster plant (Mertensia maritima). The leaves can be eaten raw or cook, they are rich in vitamins but have a thick mucilagenous texture. The Oyster plant grows in the beaches and can be easily confused with the Sea Sandwort (Honckenya peploides), which also has edible raw stems and leaves, but without the bluish color.

The Oyster plant has thick edible leaves, near coastal Arctic locations

Besides these Arctic species, one can also use:

  • the syrup from Birch trees, eat Angelica roots
  • spice the food with Lovage
  • cook the nutritious Dandelion, Chickweed and Nettle greens.
  • harvest endless BlueberriesCurrants and other wild berries, by late summer
I have tried most of these species, but they do not constitute a staple by any measure. From what I researched, one can also cook the root and tiny seeds of Carex sedges, which can be very widespread in the tundra.

Birch (Betula pubescens) also has edible bark, which can be grinded into flour. The leaves can also be cooked (I tried them raw but the taste is unpleasant). Supposedly also the catkins (which birds love to eat). However birch is generally bitter, and generally only a famine food.

Spruce (Picea sitchensis) also has edible inner bark (mostly used as a famine food), edible raw young shots and edible raw seeds (unfortunarely tiny).

Picea sitchensis Sitka Spruce
Spruce, one the most widespread trees in the Arctic, has some edible uses

Betula pubescens White Birch
Birch, the only tree native to Iceland, has also edible uses 

If you travel inland into the Arctic tundra, many of the trees and coastal plants mentioned before, are not present. One of the few edible plants in the Icelandic highlands is Moss Campion (Silene acaulis). It can be cooked entirely, but it contains saponins, so it is recommended for large consumption (and cooking water should be changed several times).

Silene acaulis Moss Campion
Moss Campion, an edible option if you are at the tundra highlands of the Arctic

Finally, we have the widespread Northern Dock (Rumex longifolius), these species has edible leaves when cooked, very rich in vitamin C (these should not be eaten in large amount due to containing oxalic acid, which blocks the adsorption of calcium). The Rumex also has edible seeds (similar to amaranth or quinoa), that can be grinded to flour or added to breakfast cereals.

Northern Dock (Rumex longifolius) produces edible seeds in incredible large amount

I will be posting my experiences with eating wild plants in Iceland. PS: always take care, when you harvest wild plants for food. Be extra sure of the identification, similar looking species, and possible dangers. 

Hope you enjoyed this original post!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

100% Food Self-sufficiency, part III - Using polycultures

I am planning 7 patches for experimental polycultures for next summer. It is heavily focused in cereals and pulses, because it is aimed towards plant self-sufficiency.

Each patch has around 30m2 (about 320 square feet, 18 feet per 18 feet), to provide what I calculated to be the enough of my yearly seeds. Even if it is not enough, this is just a first trial.

This is also aimed at a great diversity of annuals. So these are 7 patches, during summer season: 

  • Patch 1: the 3 sisters: corn, runner beans, pumpkin (perhaps amaranth and sunflowers)
  • Patch 2: modified 3 sisters (requires less water): sorghum, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chia
  • Patch 3: similar to last but different species: millet, peanuts, mung beans, sesame
  • Patch 4: the rice patch (plenty of irrigation): rice, corn and a water tolerant legume (sweet peas?)
  • Patch 5: the potato patch: potatoes, bush beans, possibly quinoa
  • Patch 6: wheat patch: wheat, lentils, chick peas (could be also sunflowers and quinoa)
  • Patch 7: vegetable patch, composed of salads, celery, brassicas, onions, garlic and turnips

Some crops were hard to fit, like the tomatoes, that like humidity, but supposedly do not go well along the corn, otherwise that would be my first choice for it.

These patches, in a Mediterranean climate, could be also cultivated during winter. I don't think that is pushing the line too hard!

These patches would then be replaced, in winter, with:

  • 4 or 5 Patches with polycultures of wheat, oats or rye, with broad beans and peas
  • 1 patch with other winter vegetables like kales, carrots, onions and buckwheat. 
  • Remaining area can be planted with buckwheat, alfalfa or clover, or simply given a rest
When that grain is harvested (around mid spring), the same summer crops patches (mentioned above) would be cultivated again, but by rotating the patches! 

Even with using a polyculture, we want to replant different species from one summer to the next, so that pests do not accumulate, and the soil gets exausted. This follows the principles of Native Americans.

What the Native Americans can teach us...

When the Native Americans were growing the 3 sisters polycrop (actually they grew more than just corn, squash and beans), they would first slash burn a piece of forest, to cultivate the polycrop for a few years (probably not more than 2 or 3), they would then plant fruit trees (like avocados, bananas or mangos) and let it evolve towards a forest garden. A few years later, they would plant hardwood trees and let the original forest recover again. They would then slash another piece of land to restart the process. In a cycle that would probably last a generation.

Most ideally, in the 7 patches described above, most the crops would be sown with seed balls. We want to apply Fukuoka principles, in addition to other Permaculture principles. Around the patches, we expect to plant perennial shrubs, fruit trees, nuts, berries and plenty of compost crops and nursing crops. 

Do we continue the patch rotation ad infinitum or do we let it evolve towards a forest garden?

If our land is large enough, we can also plant some perennial crops and trees within the patches, to let them evolve towards a forest garden (like the Native Americans did). Otherwise, I expect that the rotation of the polycrops is enough to assure that the soil does not get depleted over time. Furthermore, if you plant nursing/ccompost crops around the patches (mesquites, elaeagnus, comfrey, tansy), you use that cut and throw that biomass to fertilize the patches every year.

If you do not want to rotate, but you also do not want to plant perennials, then...

If you have a warm climate between April and October, then you can cultivate the seven patches with summer and winter vegetables, pulses and cereal. Ideally, grains would be sown by October (could be in seedballs) and harvested by late May (or mid June). By then (or even earlier if you would throw seedballs into the growing cereal fields), we could start the summer crops, which would then grow until September or October, when the new grains would be sown again.

We do not need to grow winter cereals in all the patches, just some of them. In some we can grow winter vegetables (such as onions, broccoli, turnips, salads, radish, carrots, peas, broad beans). It could be something like this:

Patch1: the 3 sisters (which has corn) in summer, followed by potatoes/broad beans polycrop in winter
Patch2: the modified 3 sisters (which has sorghum), followed by oats/peas polycrop in winter
Patch3: the similar patch (containing millet) in summer, followed by rye/broad beans in winter
Patch4: the rice patch in summer, followed by vegetables polycultures in winter
Patch5: the potato patch in summer, followed by wheat/peas polycrop in winter
Patch6: wheat patch in summer, followed by winter vegetables polycrop in winter

As a last comment, one could also transform everything by growing instead multicaule tillering perennial cereals. Then, the system would be half perennial!

In the rice patch, we can also not only use corn, but also taro, if the growing season is long enough.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

100% Food Self-sufficiency, part II - how much area is required?

This thread was the result of a long work. Of course it is my personal perspective and estimate. Depending on what you eat, you might end up with different numbers.

I calculated myself to eat (these kg of food per year):
  • 45 kg of cereal GRAINS: 15 kg of pasta (wheat flour), 15 kg of bread (made with wheat/rye), 15 kg of breakfast cereals (oats or rye porridge); based in eating one portion of 50g pasta per day, one portion of 40g breakfast cereals, and one piece of bread (35g), per day
  • 20 kg POTATOES (two portions of week, each with 4 tubers) - but if you eat them daily, then it amounts to 80kg 
  • 15 kg of BEANS/pulses (one 40g portion per day)
  • 18 kg or RICE (one 50g portion per day)
  • 4 kg of CORN (two 40g portions per week) - but if you eat daily, then it ammounts to 15 kg
  • 2.5 kg of AMARANTH or quinoa (one 50g portion a week)
  • 1 kg of SESAME seeds, 1 kg of sunflower seeds (one 1 tsp portion per day)
  • roughly estimated: 1 onion per day, 2 garlic head per week, 1 broccoli head per week, 2 celery plants per month, 1 turnip per week, 1 carrot every other day, 1 tomato plant per week (around a dozen tomatoes per week), 1 pepper plant per week (around a few peppers per week), a couple pumpkin plants (a few pumpkins per year)
I am not counting with important perennial crops: namely fruits and nuts. I am also not counting with spices and animal protein (such as eggs, milk or fish).

Assuming average yields, for each crop, we can calculate the required area (in square meters, m2):
  • 150m2 of cereal grains (mostly wheat, but also some rye and oats)
  • 20m2 of potatoes (or 80m2 if you eat them every day)
  • 75m2 of beans/pulses
  • 60m2 of rice
  • 10m2 or corn (or 37m2 if you eat it every day)
  • 50m2 of amaranth or quinoa
  • 1m2 of sesame, 1m2 of sunflower
  • about 2m2 for each: tomatoes, and bell peppers
  • about 7m2 for onions
  • about 9m2 for growing pumpkins
  • about 1m2 for each: broccoli, turnip, carrots, garlic, celery, salads
Total is around 400m2, but if you live in a warm climate, you can manage with less space. You can grow the grains in winter and spring, as well as onions and most vegetables, and grow the remaining  cereals, rice and beans during summer. For this, you need a minimum area of 250m2. We can also try biointensive farming, and including polycultures to further minimize the growing area!

Plus space for chicken forage, fish aquaculture, fruit trees... I would account a mininum of extra:
  • 50m2 for a couple of chicken
  • 50m2 for a pond
  • and 200m2 for a few fruit and nut trees
Total area for food self-sufficiency ranges then between 550m2 to 700m2.

I also calculated how much seed to use for this:
  • 2.2 kg of dried grain (perhaps 1kg of wheat and the rest of oats and rye)
  • 3 kg potatoes (or 65 tubers)
  • 720g of dried beans
  • 1 kg of rice seeds
  • 50 corn seeds (about 1 ear)
  • 5g amaranth or quinoa (about 3 tsp of seeds)
  • 20g of sesame seeds (about 10 tsp), sow similar amount of sunflowers
  • roughly estimated: 365 onions sets, 100 garlic cloves, 50 broccoli seeds, 24 celery seeds,  50 turnip seeds, 150 carrot seeds, 50 tomato seeds, 50 pepper seeds, a couple of pumpkin seeds
You will find this very funny!
  • You should sow 2 beans and this is probably enough to give you enough beans to eat for a meal!
  • Grow 1 potato tuber and you will have a meal. Easy, no?
  • Grow about one full hand of rye seeds (2g or about 100 seeds), in a 35 x 35 cm square, and you could eat a porridge meal, OR use that flour to make 1 bread, or 1 dish of pasta!
  • Grow about 50 plants of amaranth in a 30 x 30cm space, and you will have a full meal!
  • Grow 8 sesame seeds, in a large pot, and you will have enough seeds to spray over a salad
  • Grow a few corn plants (even in a container), and surely you will have several cobs, enough for a meal or more!
  • Grow 2.5g of rice grains (about 100 seeds), in a 40x40cm area, and you will harvest enough for a meal.
Its a wonderful project to grow all of the above, and make a meal just grown by you!
    You need very little space to try this !!!

    We must sow....
    • sow about 50g, about 60 beans. You will need a square 3x2m
    • sow anywhere between 5 to 20 potatoes, in 3x2m square
    • sow about 180g of grain, in a square 4x3m
    • sow 100g or rice in a 5m2 spot
    • sow 8 plants of corn in a small area, about 1m2
    • sow about 1 tsp of sesame in a 40x40cm
    • sow about 1 tsp of amaranth seeds in a 2x2m square
    • roughly estimated: a patch with 30 onions, 8 garlic cloves, containers with 4 broccoli, 2 celery 4 turnips, a small patch with 15 carrots, a container with 4 tomato plants, and another with 4 pepper plants
    In about 40m2 (a 6x6m), you can grow enough food for a whole month!

    Now, one thing is a theory, another is practice. I must test these areas and see if I can feed myself for such a period of time! :-)

    I haven't count space for wood and compost crops. I estimated this to be perhaps 300m2 per year. 


    Monday, 26 November 2012

    Cold hardy edible palms - part II

    Another cold hardy palm (down to -15ºC) is Jubaea chilensis (Chilean Wine Palm), that produces edible fruits (Coquito nuts). The tree is also an endangered species.
    Jubaea chilensis fruits
    Butia capitata (Jelly Palm) is another cold hardy palm (down to -10ºC), which has strong tasting edible fruits. This one has been cultivated in Virginia, US.

    Butia capitata fruits
    Ensete (Ensete ventricosum) is a highly cultivated edible in Africa (from Ethiopia to Congo). Its a banana relative. A few plants produce enough starch for a family (from its trunk). It can probably stand a few minor frosts, but it is better to dig it up and overwinter ensete inside a greenhouse. It probably grows permanently outdoors only in zone 10. Ensete is quite drought tolerant and high yielding, hence it has a special permacultural interest to me. Seeds can sometimes be found in websites selling palm trees. I have tried to germinate their seeds, but so far to no success.

    Ensete, one of Ethiopia staple starch foods
    Palm dates are another important cultivate species. Widely grown in the Middle East and North Africa, and it could probably be attempted in Mediterranean Europe. It is reported to be hardy to -10ºC. I don't understand why it isn't more widely cultivated when it is so well adapted to the dry and hot climates of south Europe. Dates provide a good staple food, that is perennial and highly drought tolerant. So far I haven't had any success in germinating dates from seed from store bought fruits. It probably requires a sandy soil, with a very warm temperature.

    Dates are one the best choices for a food forest project in a climate with dry and hot summers.

    I will leave the banana fruits for another future article!

    Sunday, 25 November 2012

    Cold hardy palms and coconuts

    I was just fascinated by this astonishing cold hardy palm. Trachycarpus fortunei, native to the high mountains of India, Burma and China, near the Himalaians, is not only cold hardy to -20ºC (zone 6 or 7), but also grows well in climates with cold and rainy summers, such as the UK. It has even been experimented in the Faroe Islands and Alaska, and with success!

    Therefore, I very much want to try to grow it also here in Iceland, which is only slightly more north. The freezes here are more dramatic and very long, but the idea of having a palm growing in this polar island is very appealing and exotic! This palm is very hardy to cold, but not to wind, so one must find a sheltered spot for it.

    Trachycarpus fortunei, the hardiest of all palms, ideal for cold climates

    Another idea that also interests me, is growing hardy coconuts. Of course not in Iceland, but in Portugal. So far I haven't heard of any coconut grown in Europe, but I believe it is possible.

    Not the conventional coconut (Cocos nucifera), which requires tropical climates (could be tried in zone 10), but other species that also produce edible coconuts. Beccariophoenix alfredii (hardy to perhaps zone 9) can stand a few degrees of frost but it will die during a hard freeze (or be permanently damaged). Beccariophoenix madagascariensis is very similar and grows in the high plateau of Madagascar, where temperatures drop ocasionally below freezing. I guess these coconuts could be grown in coastal and south regions of Portugal, Spain, Italy, California and Florida.

    Beccariophoenix alfredii produces small coconut like fruits, possibly hardy to zone 9

    Perhaps the best choice are Parajubaea species, the Bolivian Mountain CoconutParajubaea torallyi is native to the high mountains of Bolivia, and can survive down to -8ºC (but probably only if for short periods). It could be tried in Mediterranean climates, where frosts are gentle. This species is also an endangered species, because it seems to be very specific to its habitat. It grows in steep rock slopes, that are very humid, but the surrounding climate is very dry and sheltered from winds. On its native region it can stand extremes of both heat and cold (even down to -13ºC), but many trials to grow it outside its native habitat have failed. Probably it needs dry soil when frosts come, and they are probably for short hours, only to be followed by sunny warm afternoons. The summer temperatures are also rather cool (around 20ºC). In Europe this palm has had some success in coastal area of UK and Italy, but it can die below -5ºC. Coastal Portugal and Spain might be an even better location for it.

    The Bolivian Mountain Coconut is a hardy species but also endangered. Some varieties produce large coconuts, and could probably be grown in Mediterranean climates.

    There are two varieties (or even different species): Parajubaea torallyi var. microcarpa produces coconut-like fruits but smaller than a walnut ( Parajubaea torallyi var. torallyi produces much larger coconut-like fruits (around 10cm and 15 kg), but it is much more expensive and difficult to find (sources include and possibly and sometimes in ebay)Parajubaea sunkha, is another species endemic to Bolivia, and also endangered, and probably similarly cold hardy. Apparently, these coconuts are erratic in germination and sensitive to transplantation.

    The fruits of the Bolivian Mountain Coconut, an endangered but edible coconut, that is cold hardy.

    In a future article I will explore date palms, banana trees and enset, other cultivated edible palms.

    Friday, 23 November 2012

    A review of 2012 - the Green Spot in Iceland

    It's November in Iceland, and there is no so much to do in the gardening outside or indoors. Actually you can't do nothing else, except to make that extra effort to keep your overwintering plants alive, and shovel the snow in the garden outside (so that you can step outside)

    Thus, and because I am such a lazy blogger, I think this is a perfect time to post a review of this summer growing, and what we have tried new.

    It was the third year gardening in Iceland, and second summer in Sólheimar community. While in 2011 I was mostly recovering the gravely soil around my house (extremely infertile), in 2012 I had more growth and I was less organized and I basically wanted to maximize both quantity and variety, and I end up with a big green and flowery mix!

    I want to follow not only organic principles but also permaculture and Fukuoka principles. Gardening without fighting against nature, valuing diversity and establishing a perennial edible garden (also with as much flowers as possible).  Beautiful in theory, challenging in practice.

    Some of greatest achievements of this summer were some of the tropical vegetables I brought from India: amaranth, the bottle and snake gourd, the rainbow sweet corn, the luffa, and a nice variety of colorful tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

    Okra in our indoor garden in Iceland

    Growing maize in Iceland! Obviously indoors
    The corn cropped two ears indoors! 

    Nice tomatoes, at the windowsill. Variety is "Caro Rich", from India
    Bell peppers. Variety is "Korosko", from Austria

    More peppers. This time "chocolate pepper"

    A beautiful bottle gourd! A first time in Iceland!  

    Another photo of yellow peppers

    Eggplant "rosita", from India

    Later in the season I became obsessed with the realization I am not producing enough food. At least not enough staples. So I tried to plant many potatoes and cereals. While the potatoes provide a nice few Kg of tubers (in a really small area), the cereals were sown too late and did not really ripen.

    I grow a beautiful patch of rye and barley (after initially struggling with slugs and birds eating the seeds), but by mid August the frosts came and never again stopped. The grain was here but not enough heat to ripen. 

    Potatoes, rye and sunchokes. Note the mulching used to protect the soil in each bed

    Brussel sprouts, spring onions and squash grow under the protection offered by the sunchokes.

    The beans we harvested: cowpeas, chick peas, mung beans, dried beans

    The strawberry spinach. Edible fruit and leaves

    A snake gourd. Unfortunately the fruit was sterile.

    The beautiful flowers of the snake gourd!

    Another photo of the bottle gourd.

    A close-up of more "caro rich" tomatoes
    Besides our home garden, this year I also started other gardens at our community. One was a large herb and native flower garden. The setting was beautiful, on the southern edge of a dense poplar forest, by the nursery and greenhouses of our local community.

    General view of the native herb garden

    Calendulas growing.

    The native chamomile (sea mayweed), matricaria maritima

    Back to our home garden, another difference to the season of 2012, it was that we were growing rather in polycultures - mixes of several species together - rather than the organized rows of swiss chard, carrots, beetroots, celery and oriental cabbages from the year before.

    Because in Sólheimar we actually started a larger community garden, we were already growing some of those salad easy-to-grow vegetables there. So I preferred to experiment with the more difficult stuff in our home garden!

    An example of a polyculture: squash, potatoes, fennel, kale, flowers...

    Squash produces well even in the Icelandic summer. I used a sheltered spot (sink bed) and plenty of mulching and compost. And rocks as a heat trap. Everything to create extra heat.
    One squash plant was producing 3 fruits at same time.
    Another close-up of a squash
    Another major achievement was the growing of sunflowers, not only for the beautiful yellow flowers, but also to harvest some seeds, which I did and ate!

    Sunflowers growing in the 24 hour daylight of Icelandic summer

    Wild strawberries.
    In 2012, we wanted to plant as many perennial edible species as possible

    Saturday, 10 November 2012

    A manifest for a new way of living, more sustaining, humane and community-based!

    Today I felt a truly revolutionary mood. Very energetic and inspired and brave, with enough courage to tread ahead seeking truly new and different forms of living, that are practical.

    I a tired of the bulshit of the world, the stupidity, unsustainability and greedy of most human ideas and projects. I am sorry to be such critical. Actually what concerns me most right now are solutions rather than pointing the problems or the fingers.

    The problem/solution is both spiritual and practical.

    I listed the most important goals to pinpoint a future community self-sustaining project. And I am probably missing a lot more points!

    • Growing our own food, including also grains, pseudograins (such as amaranth), pulses (beans, lentils), highly nutritional food (chia, kale..), alternative sustaining root crops (such as yams, skirret, groundnut), and sources of vegetable fat (sunflower, sesame, avocados...). Although I am mostly vegetarian I do believe everyone should be  tolerant to each other diets, so I accept people want to raise animals and fish. Personally, I enjoy the idea of having some self-grown eggs, honey and milk.
    • Including perennials to aleviate our hard efforts of growing annual crops that demand much more fertility and water needs (examples: chilean mesquite, bamboo, good king henry, skirret). Fruit trees and shrubs (nuts, pomegranates, figs, berries and even more exotic species such as bolivian coconut, enset...).  From all the areas listed in this article, this is the one that perhaps I am doing more effort to explore. In Iceland, where we currently live this is really difficult, but in warmer countries like Portugal (our home country), this is easier. In previous posts, I calculated that 1 hectare should be enough to sustain food for a few (around 4+) people.
    • Have water issues solved, especially in a country like Portugal, prone to dry climates, by creating lakes and swales that increase loca moisture. Rain harvest and perhaps try grey water recycling with cleansing water species, some even edible (such as arrowhead)
    • Create fertility to sustain our soils and food, by growing compost crops (rye, lupins, honey locust...). This should increase nutrients in soil. Because nutrition is very important.
    • Create a community spirit, focusing in the expression of our challenges, needs fears, wishes, to go beyond our interpersonal problems. I don't want to be naive and think this is easy, but we must do all efforts to aleviate not only personal and material struggles/suffering but also relationship and emotional suffering. Good communication, strategies for team communication and decision are all important. Striving for the best possible consensus and democracy. Yes, difficult but this is all important.
    • I believe community works much better than single individuals. Easier to self-sustain. Perhaps a number of 5 to 10 is ideal to start. Or a network of self-sustaining smallholds that share with each other. It is important to unite and network more the individual efforts being done in Portugal and elsewhere. However I must say one thing: I know of the obscure problems of many communities (they still mirror the same problems of conventional society), but with increase communication, I believe humans will want to "copy" the best of their neighbourhing communities, to improve themselves too.
    • Relationships and money are usually two issues that create most suffering for people, therefore it is highly important to we strive to find true solutions for these. Give from our heart, be honest, humble, free, good spirited, good communication, not greedy (money nearly always create corruption and bad feelings - I have first hand experience of this), etc, and there are many authors and thinkers that have suggested ways of improving our approaches to money and relationships. Have our needs met and expressed, everyone should feel fine. We should investigate and work over our own problems, fears and wishes. Let's us be prepare also for the remaining society all around us. Whatever we feel, we live in same planet and we share the same home and challenges, we cannot live isolated anymore. We must help each other to change and improve ourselves.
    • Go somewhat into spirituality. I think there is something in spiritual practices and ideas, that can help us. Meditation, yoga, anthroposophy, psicoanalysis, and many other practices can helps find us solutions to connect with our inner being and increase our good spirits. Not a lack of spirituality (otherwise its dead materialism), but not excess religion/cult spirituality. A healthy balance.
    • Music, arts and criativity are also very important parts of our human being... for food criativity, see my partner lovely blog (sorry its in Portuguese but you can use google translate to read it)
    • Also so important: children. How we give birth as human as possible. How we raise our children and kids, and educate them as humanly as possible. How we prepare them for the harsh outside world. The last two questions are in desperate need of solutions!!! Let's us build "new schools".
    • Have a "roof" to sleep (housing!). From tents, yurts, caravans, normal housing and alternative eco-housing, everythhing can be considered to aleviate our need for confort (a very human thing). We shouldn't have to pay so much just to have a place to sleep! Honestly, this is one of the areas I have experimented less (I talk and think much more than I do), so wereally need to go a little bit more practical on this one.
    • It is important to find solutions for the problems of energy needs and transport, without relying so much in imported solar panels, fuel for cars, etc... I have a feeling that there could be new solutions fo the future. I am not the kind of person good with mechanics, but some people are, and those might be the pioneers for these new models of energy and transportation.
    • Perhaps create local businesses as a way of sustaining ourselves in our currently money-based society. It is very important both to assure that we do not become a survivalist society of growing our own food (without money to buy extra food), and also we do not become greedy and corrupt and overly focused in making money. I believe in a balance. Possible sources of income can be selling our own food, workshops, crafts, education, plants, rural tourism, self-publishing of books, etc... And so with this, I finish the first version of my life manifest :)
    We live in truly revolutionary times (you can see that in the world around us), thus let's us share with each other, to work to manifest these ideas, goals and solutions, to aleviate our human needs. 

    Let us not be passive or lazy. Let is be pro-active, daring and brave! Let us be pioneers.

    More practical ideas are welcomes in your comments!

    Monday, 3 September 2012

    100% Food Self-sufficiency - a general overview

    I strongly believe 100% food self-sufficiency is possible.

    Is it desirable? Well, that is up to each of you.
    It's certainly a lot of work. But possible.

    Much easier if you are a vegetarian and you live closer to the tropics.
    The further near the poles you live, the more you must rely on animals and even that will be hard work (saving hay for winter). 
    In Iceland, I grow staples like rye, barley, swedes, potatoes and broad beans outdoors, and runner beans, cow peas and amaranth indoors.

    In Iceland, where I am it's very hard but possible, because farmers and outlaws were doing it in past centuries. In rural places in the tropics, many families are also totally food self-sufficiency, they grow their own starch, oil and protein. Even in south Europe, many families were self-sufficient during complicated periods such as during WWII (mostly in poultry, eggs, bread, potatoes and pulses). 

    In a warm temperate climate, its much easier to be 100% food self-sufficient. The easiest is to be a vegetarian (saves space and work) and complement with eggs. You rely in combination of cereals and pulsesroots and perhaps nuts. Alternatively you can chose to be self-sufficient for all except eggs and milk, and that is also doable. If you want to reach this goal, you should focus in calories and staples, not growing all those kinds of tomatoes or apples, which provide little calories. 

    You must grow perhaps 200m2 (>40Kg) of cereal crops, 100m2 of pulses (>20 Kg), and 100m2 (>40 kg) of potatoes (and other roots such as swedes or sweet potatoes), plus vegetable plots, fruit trees, perennial staple vegetables (roots, pulses), oil crops (olives, sunflower, chia, pumpkin, sesame) and also nuts (a couple of trees should suffice). You grow both winter and summer pulses and cereals (broad beans, peas, rye, barley, oats / and corn, millet, quinoa, amaranth, beans, lentils, chickpeas, cowpeas, soy beans). Obviously I am suggesting annuals because everyone is used to them. Perhaps 0.5 acre is the minimal necessary size. And it will be hard work. 

    At the very minimum, 1000m2 are required:
    • 200m2 cereals (winter + summer) 
    • 100m2 pulses (winter + summer)
    • 100 m2 potatoes and other roots
    • 100m2 vegetable plots and herbs (winter + summer)
    • 100m2 oil crops; olives
    • 100m2 nut trees
    • 100m2 fruit trees
    • 200m2 fodder for chicken

    And 2000m2 will provide most of your needs:

    • 100m2 pond area (water catchment) (grow rice and arrowhead nearby)
    • 100m2 berries
    • 100m2 pumpkins
    • 200m2 other perennial staple vegetables (pigeon peas, yams, groundnut)
    • 500m2 wood for coppice (fuel and mulching)

    This would include a rotation of annuals, and also intercrops/ guilds of perennials.

    September harvest

    You must also do lots of canning, drying, freezing, and storing, but if you plan to grow in succession, then you should have fresh food for most of the year, if your climate has a mild and small winter. 

    Of course, the good thing about permaculture is that is allows us to do things such as intercropping (saves space, increases yield), perennial sources of staple foods (such as nuts, pigeon peas, yams, arrowhead, groundnut), growing n-fixers (to give you fertility and also plenty of mulching material and fodder for the chicken, if you keep these). I also believe that with time, one could establish a perennial food forest to provide 100% food self-sufficiency, but this is way more challenging! 

    I haven't addressed any other needs, such as some income, energy, heating, transport. I think 100% self-sufficiency in all fields is undesirable, but the concept of 100% food independence really appeals to me, especially if done by a small community or farm. It can also be fun. Comments are welcome.

    Saturday, 21 July 2012

    Species list for niches/layers: canopy trees, small trees, vines, clumps and ground covers


    I am trying to write a list of species to grow to occupy each different niche/layer: 
    So that, when we design our gardens, one species doesn´t outcompete another. 

    Actually I plan to divide the list in annuals and perennials, because many of us still enjoy growing a common annual vegetable patch (but doing companion planting). And also for sun loving species (grown in edges and clearings) and shade tolerant species (grown under the canopy). 

    The niches would be: 
    1) large wide trees, mixed with 2) some taproot tall and thin trees. 
    3) overstory with smaller fruit trees (and some n-fixers). Think of apples, pawpaws, citrus... 
    4) understory with tall herbaceous plant, with 5) climbers attached, and 6) ground covers. Think corn, beans and squash; or sunchockes, groundnut and chinese artichokes or mints (for a perennial mix) 
    7) clumping species fill the rest of the nice (stuff like lavender, raspberries, onions, brassicas...) 

    What worries me most is finding species for the layer 4) herbaceous tall plants, because in one function, they should support the grow of climbers without becoming choked, and also they must be able to grow easily above the clumping herbs and ground covers. So, they need to be vigorous species. 

    Here goes the list. 
    (I don´t go climate specific) 
    I am starting from the bottom upwards, as it happens in ecological sucessions. And it´s easier for most of us. 

    Ground coversannual-wise squash and pumpkin are obvious choices, as are peanuts, parsley and coriander, sweet potatoes and probably most salad vegetables (lettuce, chicory, rocket) can also be grown as ground covers. Most except the cucurbits would tolerant some shade, and parsley could be grow in more deep shade. Perennial-wise, I think of strawberries, mints, chinese artichokes, ramps (for deep shade), new zeland spinach (more sun loving), rhubarb (for wider patches), and even oca, mashua, arrowhead and clover (for an easy next to ground layer) 
    Clumps: clumps group whatever is not a creeping ground cover or a tall herbaceous. Annual-wise these are potatoes, bush tomatoes, broad beans, most brassicas, onion family, cereals and beet family. Actually they don´t allow a ground cover to grow nearby except if this is smaller species, like radish or lettuce, but from my own experience, most of these clumps vegetables will choke any other small vegetables growing next to it. So, that´s one of my problems: how to combine them. And perennial-wise, there are a lot of herbaceous clumping species, like taro, currants, asparagus: many diffifcult to combine with other perennials, except perhaps small plants like chives. 
    Tall shrubs: these must grow above the ground covers. annual-wise the classic corn for the 3 sister, and probably also sunchokes, okra, amaranth or sunflowers. But I am not sure if these would support most climbers without being choked. I was able to grow corn with peas climbing it, and corn also tolerate a snake gourd, container in a pot. I don´t tried growing anything into the okra, amaranth or sunflowers, but beans or peas could probably do it. Climber-wise, cucurbits like cucumber and gourds are more agressive I think. Perennial-wise I think we could think sunchokes (for smaller climbers), bamboos and probably some smaller or larger trees (which ones for which climbers?). Also they all seem to dislike shade, which is a problem under a forest garden (where shades is abundant). Maybe non-edible species are a key solution as they provide a much wider range of choice, rather than thinking only of edibles. 
    VinesAnnual-wise I think of legumes and cucurbits; perennial-wise are groundnuts, yams, akebia, chaoyte, kiwi, passionflower, malabar gourd, jícama, peppercorn and grapes (most are agressive so I don´t know which species to support them). Also, most are sun loving, which is a problem for forest garden understories. Which climbers are not agressive and tolerate some shade? 

    At the moment I am not going into the tree layers yet. I can think of pawpaw, diospyros, amelanchier and hazelnuts as species for partial shade. All the other fruit trees for sun positions. Again, if you design your forest garden it will have to have a lot of clearings for those sun loving smaller size fruit trees (they are so many: apples, pears, citrus, prunus, almonds, mangos, avocados, berry trees, medlar...). 
    But not so much edible choice for large trees (canopy), I think of mulberries, carob, chestnuts, walnuts (but then we have allelopathy). 
    What about edible fruit taproot trees? I can only think of pecans. Dates/Palms could make another nice choice as they grow straight and tall. What more species? What for colder climates? 
    Maybe the best would be to grow the smaller fruit trees as the canopy itself, and only ocasional tall or large trees. This way, we provide much more sunlight for our forest gardens! So our focus would be in sunchokes guilds, apple guilds, hazelnuts guilds, bamboo guilds, elaeagnus guilds, moringa guilds, corn and amaranth guilds... 

    Annual-wise what I need to investigate is how to integrate potatoes, tomatoes, broad beans, most brassicas and most cereals within these layer design system. 
    And both annual-wise and perennial-wise to investigate less agressive climbers are tall supportibve edible species for those climbers. 

    Overall, I wish to focus in edible species (not forgetting other niches such as n-fixers and food for insects), and I want to focus particularly in high yielding foods, that could be used as staples. 

    Please feel free to add more species recommendations (ground covers, climbers, tall herbaceous, shade trees) and to discuss this from a design perspective. 
    I am niot going climate specific, but feel free to include species for all climates.

    Sunday, 8 July 2012

    July 2012 - Permaculture at the Arctic, in Iceland

    It is now early July, and our permaculture garden in Iceland is in full bloom.

    We have outdoors, a thriving garden full of potatoes and sunchokes, plenty of onions and leeks, a carrot bed, salads here and there (lettuce, rocket, mizuna, radish, parsley and pak choi), some cabbages and kale, two squash plants (already gave a courgette), celery, cumin and fennel (overwintered from last year), peas and lentils (grown from seed outdoors), a few sunflowers and strawberries (now starting blooming), lovage and rhubarb (both grow very well in Iceland), several currants (which also provide shelter from wind), and even one surviving tomato and one pepper plant (helped by the heat of surrounding rocks which warm at the sunlight). We also have several flowers (tulips,  phacelia, rye and mustard (that work as green manure), poppies and other native flowers).

    If last year, our garden outdoors was neat and organized in rows, this year the garden seems a bit wild, because we opted for some dense planting. We have been experimenting. We are testing companion planting, creating warm micro-environments (by using shelter from wind, mulching and warming rocks) and also by depositing organic matter to create a deep rich soil (where a shallow sandy soil was initially present).

    Indoors we have a collection of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers from several varieties (some are rarities like a pink tomato); we even have a container with corn (now fruiting); some chia, fenugreek, anise and sesame (grown from kitchen seeds), some experiments which still have not cropped (quinoa, millet, amaranth and mung beans), different legumes (beans, cow peas, peanuts and chick peas), some perennial vegetables (yacon, chives, chinese artichokes, asparagus, skirett and walking onions), one moringa tree, one ginger plant, and finally some small tree seedlings of honey locust, avocado, pomegranate, manchurian apples, limes, mulberries and others that we started from seed.

    We have resorted only to use local resources: our self-made compost, we don't want to import nutrients or organic matter, only use the hay and grass which already grow around the garden itself.

    Thursday, 24 May 2012

    Permaculture in Iceland - An example of Arctic (Polar climate) Permaculture

    Here in Iceland, we are aware of the limitation of climate, to grow food.

    On the past, Icelandic people were self-sufficient by being reliant on birds, fish, sheep and angelica roots. Of course, you dont want to live like that nowadays, but its proof its possible to survive even on the Icelandic highlands, during winter, just on wild foraging (as outlaws stories show us).

    Wild edible plants
    There are a few wild herbs you can eat, cooked dandelion (tunfífill) and nettles leaves, some sorrel rumex acetosa (tunsura) leaves. I haven't tried yet to cook northern dock, rumex longifolius (njóli) leaves or chickweed, stellaria media (haugarfi). Besides this, mjadurt (meadowsweet, filipendula ulmaria), blodberg (iceland thyme) and birch/birki make all excellent teas! There are other plants I haven't tried but I read somewhere you can eat them, silene acaulis (lambagras) and mertensia maritima (Blálilja) but I have to read more on their edible uses.

    Nettles grow wild in Iceland, and can be replanted to provide nutricious greens for a very tasty soup. See a recipe here

    Conventional vegetables
    Now back to Permaculture you can grow some conventional crops. Its easy to grow carrots, turnip tops, oriental cabbages such as pak choi, potatoes and broccoli. If you have good soil you can also try kohl rabi. You must grow these first indoors! Otherwise forget about it. Except carrots and rucula, that you can sow outside.
    Here is Pami happily harvesting some swiss chard, kohl rabi and beets.

    Indoors you can grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, bush beans, and you can start squash indoors and transplant outside in late June. The squash will crop well outside if you plant it with lots of compost!

    Spinach and radish are not possible to grow, because they bolt in response to the 24 hour daylight of the Icelandic summer. Radish can be grown if you sow in late July to reap them in September (when nights are longer). These you can also sow outside. I was never lucky with lettuce or peas, so I must try it again. Also easy is onions (but did not grow large).

    This year we are even growing gourds and corn indoors!

    Perennial vegetables - the common choices
    Perennials you have kale, lovage and rhubarb, all survive very well the Icelandic winter and are tasty. Carrots also overwinter easily, and I guess similar roots like parsnips, rutabagas, salfisy, skirret and scorzonora would also grow well as root crops in Iceland (and some of these are perennial).

    Very easy are berries. Strawberries, blueberries and currants. I also grow jerusalem artichokes, easy to grow, but I'm trying them first year. You can buy the roots sometimes even in our Bonus supermarket! Alternative to onions are chives (perennials) and spring onions (overwinter quite easily). But I start these first indoors.

    Strawberry spinach is a striking plant that has edible fruits and leaves, but not very tasty. It is an annual but self-seeds easily. 

    Perennial food - the less obvious choices
    Speaking of extra Permaculture species, I plan to try mulberries, siberian pea, cornus mas, certain hardy bamboos, elaeagnus and hawthorn species, sea buckthorn... Most of these are fruits which are hardy to cold climates such as the UK, so them can be attemped in our sub-arctic climate too.

    Lovage is a beautiful vegetable used like celery to give amazing flavour to food. And it is very tough and resistent to cold and dry conditions. 

    Wildlife garden
    Much easier than food is flowers. We can grow a lot to make our garden colorful and attractive to bees, birds and wildlife. By planting cornflowers, poppies, marigolds, daddofils, tulips, crocus, anenoma, buttercups. Here I only had luck starting the seeds first inside and then transplanting outside, as weather is so often dry and windy, that even seedlings die sometimes. But poppies also grow wild in Iceland, and self-seed freely, and my poppies survived the winter and are going to flower just now again (they were perennial types).
    A patch like this is sure to attract lots of wildlife, birds and bees are everpresent in our garden

    My conclusions
    I don't expect self-sufficiency, even partial in food, yet. Its hard and challenging. It's a hard challenge to try, so I want to see how far we can get in Iceland, using Permaculture principles. It will need several years of learning and trying. I am getting more and more interested into perennials, as annuals are difficult to grow in Iceland, and once perennials are established they are tough and adapt well. I think they are the key. I believe in the long term we can establish the first world forest food garden in the world, on a Arctic setting!