Thursday, 31 January 2013

January 2013 - Gloomy days, plants struggle to overwinter indoors

Days are gloomy and plants almost do not grow. Things are at their lowest ebb. But since several perennial plants are still surviving, I have strong hope because its only one more month or two until days are long again.

Loss due to lack of sunlight
I had some loss: the enset died, and I cannot have seedlings of crambe, indian ricegrass, maca, the good king henry, seaberry or princess tree to survive, even after repeated attempts, and in different soil conditions. Of course, many seedlings do not stand a lack of sunlight (even under artificial light) and an unnatural greenhouse temperature. Three families of plants are more affected by the lack of sunlight; the legume, the grass and the chenopodium family. Ideally, I would leave most plants outdoors under a cold yet above-freezing temperature, for dormancy, but I currently have no spot outside that does not freeze.

But the year started on a very positive note. On 1st of January, the first day of the year, I did my first day of gardening outdoors. I prepared the beds by laying seaweed, poplar leaves and dried grass, as a mulch.

Pigeon peas growing indoors, and suffering from the dark of the Icelandic winter (even under artificial fluorescent lights). This perennial pulse is very interesting and it will be talked about it, later in this post.

Exotic fruits
I sown seeds of very interesting new species: bolivian coconut (a hardy coconut, rare, and native to Bolivia), akebia (a climbing beautiful flower, with edible fruit and that grows in shade and dry conditions), schisandra (another climbiong native to cold climates that grows in the shade of forests, with edible fruit), jujube (the chinese date tree, fruits similar to dates but tree is much more cold hardy than the date palm), and japanese raisin tree (another interesting fruit and food, from another hardy species).

Bolivian mountain coconut. The ideal "coconut" for our temperature climates.

Cold stratification of seeds
Some of these species need cold stratification; so I sown the seeds on a tray and put it outside to freeze, for  a few months. I have had luck with this method for the siberian pea shrub, good king henry, princess tree, wax myrtle and elaeagnus, for which 1-2 months of freezing weather is enough. Sometimes a moist paper towel inside the fridge does the same result; this has worked for one bamboo seed, a few almond seeds and for many seeds of manchurian crab apple.

Tropical seeds - the bag method
The tropical species I put them inside a plastic bag which has moist peatmoss inside, and put this near a radiator, for extra heat. So far I had luck with germinating the jícama with this method, lima beans, the honey locust. These seeds often rot if buried in warm and moist soil, so I had better luck with the bag method.
A few date palms germinated after a long time (3 months) not with the bag method, but in fine, warm and moist soil, with the seed buried at some depth (you might have to check occasionally for mold or larvae).

Pigeon peas
I am also starting seedlings of pigeon peas, a species that interests me most, as is a staple of Indian cuisine, and is a perennial pulse, though not tolerant of frost. It also is adapted for dry and hot climates. To germinate the pigeon pea, just lay the seed on the surface of moist potting mix, while covering the pot with a plastic bag, and keep in a warm location. Transplant carefully and then set on a very sunny location, in good draining soil, and do not water frequently (let the soil dry between waterings).

My first oca sprouting.

My first hugelkultur
At the end of the month, I sown quinoa, pearl millet, broccoli, leeks. One oca sprouted, and that will be my first oca! And on the back of our house, I did my first hugelbed (hugelkultur). I used poplar wood, branches, compost, leaves and soil, up to 1.2m long, 60cm wide, and 60cm tall.

Then, since weather is quite near freezing and I can't plant in that hugelkultur, I decided to do one indoors hugelkultur! By using a recycled metal drawer box, I added some cardboard, wood, compost and soil, and planted some spring onions, cress and brassicas, see below.

Hugelkultur indoors in a container!

Self-sufficiency plans
I did a permaculture plan for food self-sufficiency. It includes 7 patches with annual vegetables: one with the 3 sisters, a modified 3 sister polyculture that includes millet, sunflowers and tomatoes, a potato field (in polyculture with runner beans), a wheat field (probably planted with fava beans), a rice field in polyculture with some legume that tolerates waterlogged conditions, and a vegetable field (for brassicas, carrots, beets, alliums). Each patch would have XX m2. And 6 patches with perennial polycultures (with walnut, date palms, chestnuts, a pond, soft and common fruits, and a prairie polyculture of perennials), by grouping plants by their water/sun/temperature needs.

Of course, this plan does not work for Iceland. Therefore I am designing an alternative plan for my current small garden, which includes a design for 1 month of food self-sufficiency. This will be a total of 15m2 of grain (mostly rye and oats), 4m2 of potatoes, 3m2 of pulses (mostly peas and fava beans), 5m2 of most other vegetables (mostly brassicas, beets, spring onions, garlic), and a few 1m2 spots to experiment with corn, quinoa, squash and sunflowers, outdoors. And I am starting a lot of pots indoors, with amaranth, peas, different types of beans, millet and salads.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Permaculture in Iceland - Update from January: Growing many perennial species indoors!

Hi everyone!

Its January in Iceland, and it has been four months since I have been ordering items for my seed collection and attempting to germinate them. Then, with artificial lights, the challenge is to keep them alive and well, over the dark Icelandic winter.

Since the day is only around 3 hours now, I keep the seedlings indoors, with four conventional energy saving fluorescent bulbs. I switch them on 14 hours during the day, and switch off when I go sleep. 

I also have cheap geothermal hot water (a blessing of Iceland) for radiators above which I try to germinate the tropical species (such as dates, palms, pigeon peas, jícama), in mixtures of peat and gravel, in a plastic kitchen box, sealed with saran wrap plastic, with holes to let the container breath.

Outdoors, I have plastic containers with seeds that need cold stratification. Some of them, I also put them in a moist paper inside a plastic bag in the fridge, for a few weeks. Often, a month is enough time to germinate some of them.

Below are some of the perennial species I am currently growing from seed. For future forest garden projects, in Iceland and in Portugal.

Permaculture in Iceland. Winter keeping alive perennial species, which are still too tender to be outside. 

Wax myrtle. It is possible to boil the leaves to extract the wax and make candles!

A seedling of Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) after being outside in the freezing weather for 1 month.

Carob. A chocolate alternative from Mediterranean countries. Germination is easy indoors.

Silverberry or Oleaster. Another Elaeagnus species with edible berries, which can grow in a wide variety of climates, fixes nitrogen in the soil and increases yielding of fruit crops, if grown nearby.

Groundnut. Apios americana. This climbing species provides a perennial potato-like root crop, even in cold climates, and it is a nitrogen fixing species, well adapted to woodland conditions. Source: Oikos tree crops.

Honey Locust. Another tree that is nitrogen fixing, fast growing and stands very cold winters. And  of course has edible seeds and pods, that can be grounded into a flour, which could be a perennial source of protein.

Chilean mesquite. A trendy superfood. This very resistant tree is well adapted to very dry conditions, and possibly can even be a source of perennial protein (pods and seeds) in colder climates.
Laburnum. I am only growing this nitrogen fixing species, because it is very easy tree to grow, and it is very beautiful.

This is a Phylostachys edulis bamboo grown from seed. It was quite tricky to germinate. I guess I had some luck after having the seed moist in the fridge for a month. This bamboo is not only edible but can sustain down to -20ºC in winter, making it a nice try for an Icelandic permaculture project.

Neem. This tropical tree is a powerful natural insecticide and used in ayurvedic medicine and in production of soaps. The problem is that it can only be grown in frost-free climates.
Vetiver. A perennial grass that is widely used to control soil erosion (in flatland, river edges or slopes) and can stand drought, flooding and is source of a essential oil used in perfumery. I think it tolerates some freezing but not too much.
Enset. A banana-relative and a staple widely used in East Africa, that provides plenty of starch for a family. It germinated after a long while at 25 to 30 ºC. Apparently, it can stand some cold in a warm Mediterranean climate.
Princess Tree. Paulownia tomentosa. This large decorative tree I am only growing for beauty purposes. It comes from China, and it tolerates cold winters, and grows very fast, provides good timber and fertilizes the soil. And it has very beautiful flowers. Germination is easy after cold stratification.

Pigeon peas. A perennial source of protein, from subtropical climates. It produces a pea-like seed that is often used in Indian cuisine. The pea-like shrub grows for about 5 years and perhaps it can be grown as a perennial in a Mediterranean climate, since it tolerates well drought.

Unless stated otherwise, many of these species can be obtained through Ebay or some well known online seed companies such as Chiltern Seeds.

More species will be updated in soon!