The role of fungi

In Permaculture, we often talk about the various layers of the forest, and the roles they play.  One often overlooked “layer” is mycelium.  This is living organism that produces reproductive growths that we like to call “mushrooms.”

Fungi serve many roles, most of which are critical.  They accelerate the decomposition process, building soil more quickly.  The mycelium also contribute to the exchange of nutrients between plants and micro-organisms in the soil.  They create a communication network between trees.  When a tree on the edge of the forest gets a pest infection, it communicates with the other trees deeper in the forest, and those trees begin producing defensive chemicals before the pests reach them.  The communication happens over this fungal network.

During the “Re-greening the Desert” project near the Dead Sea, some of the locals declared that the project must be “washing the salts through with excessive use of water.”  When it was explained that this was not the case, soil samples were examined to try to determine what was really happening.  The fungi that started showing up had actually produced a waxy substance around excess amounts of salt in the soil, which made the salt non-soluble, and thus protected the soil from the damage it could cause.

Fungi serve as food and medicine to people and other animals.

They are also used in ecological disaster restoration projects to clean up pollutants and disease.  Some varieties can filter and protect against bacterial and viral infestation.  Some varieties attack nematodes.  A few even attack insects, such as ants.

Mycofiltration, mycorestoration, mycopesticides, rebuilding healthy soil, and providing food and medicine are only some of the reasons you should consider learning more about fungi.

If you’re interested, one of the leading experts on fungi is Paul Stamets.  He’s written several books, but “Mycelium Running” is one of the best.  It covers all of these topics, as well as how to propagate and grow your own.  You should check it out, sometime.

Field Day

I know this is a “technical” hobby, but this coming weekend is the fourth full weekend of June.  That means it is Field Day.  Not the day we clean the ship thoroughly (Navy.)  Not the day we go on a big outing (School.)  This is the day we operating Amateur Radio stations in a communications war to see which clubs, groups, and individuals can score the highest points in the only “not a contest” contest of Amateur Radio history.

The purpose of Field Day is to give people the opportunity to make as many contacts from as many locations as possible, all while operating “off the grid.”  This means the radio can’t be powered by “The Grid.”  Anything from solar and batteries to generators are fair game, but if high voltage power lines are involved, it’s a no go.

This is also a day for raising awareness and interest in the hobby.

Every year over the last few years I have put together some kind of kit that requires soldering.  This year, I have no kit.  That’s probably for the best, because this year we are in a different location than our club has become accustomed to using.  In the past, we’ve been primarily at the O.E.M. facilities on Acklin Gap road.  This year, we’ll be downtown Conway at the following address, instead:

Arkansas National Guard Armory
300 Exchange Ave
Conway, AR 72032

If you’re in or near Faulkner County, Arkansas, you’re more than welcome to swing in, meet the club, and learn about Amateur Radio.

Can you recommend a book on Permaculture?

I’ve seen the same question pop up in about three different places, lately.  Since this has come up so frequently in such a short amount of time, I thought I would take the time to write about why this is such a wonderful question… and why it’s such a terrible question.

I’m happy and excited to see people asking this, because it means people want to learn more.  People care enough to try to wrap their heads around what Permaculture has to offer.  On the other hand, most people want “one” book to start with, and it should be a “good one” for their needs, but they don’t ever tell us what their needs are.

If you’ve been paying attention, my article last week was on starting where you’re at.  This is important for more than just implementation.  If you try to dive right in and read the Permaculture Designer’s Manual, without any real prior exposure, you will probably learn a lot.  Or you will fall asleep.  Or maybe both.  The truth is, that book is a huge volume of information to take in all at once.  It is also the defacto source of the best ways to design and implement for any given climate and environment.

Most people don’t NEED to know how to design and implement for anything outside of the climate they live in.

So the next sets of books that are often recommended are from the “big hitters” in Permaculture.  These are the books by Sepp Holtzer, Ben Falk, Toby Hemenway, Eric Toensmeier, Joel Salatin, and so on.  This is great, but if someone lives in the desert, the “Resilient Farm and Homestead” may not be the best book to start with.  If someone wants to focus on pastured livestock, the books on edible food forests won’t be as useful to them.  The first response to someone asking this question, “can you recommend …” should be “what are you wanting to do with the information?”

Someone who wants to learn design, really SHOULD dive into the Designer’s Manual.

Someone wanting to go from trying to learn how to container garden to growing food in raised beds with a Permaculture focus, should probably pick up something more introductory that meets those needs.  So far, the best book for this that I’ve found isn’t one of the “big names” in Permaculture, but is chock full of useful information, regardless.  I highly recommend the book “The Suburban Micro-Farm” by Amy Stross for any beginner.  The Amazon link may be an affiliate link, but it’s for her, not me, if it is.  I pulled it straight from her site, as is.  The book is an easier read, with better break down than say… “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway.  This is just my opinion, of course, but I’ve read both, and I try to recommend what I think is best for a person based on what they tell me their needs are, and I truly believe this book is a better starter book for a backyard gardener wanting to expand into Permaculture centric food growth.

She also has a website, called Tenth Acre Farm.  You should go visit her site, and pick up a copy of her book, if you’re just starting out.

If you’ve been following my Twitter and FaceBook posts this last week, a lot of the quote graphics I posted came straight out of her book.

If you’re more advanced, and you’re looking for how to choose specific elements for your food forest implementation, try Mark Crawford’s “How to Grow Your Own Nuts” and “Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture.”

Before you rush out and buy books that are recommended, also try this.

Check. Your. Local. Library…

Our local library system has a really nice selection of books on the subject.  I own many of them, myself, but some of the ones I don’t own I can preview before buying, just to see if it’s anything I might want to hang onto for reference purposes.  The library systems are often neglected by the current generation, so help support it by utilizing it regularly.  It’s good for the community.

Start Where You Are At

One Permaculture principle is “start where you are at.”  Another is to move slowly.  I’m doing both of those this year.  Our crops this year so far are a few containers of Jerusalem Artichokes, Chinese Artichokes, and some Comfrey.  The Hazelnuts from a year or two back are doing okay, but haven’t shown any signs of producing, yet.  I’m hoping they will next year.

My dad said the Raspberries he planted are sending up babies, and he’ll bring us some potted up for our back yard.  I’m looking forward to putting them in.

This fall, we’re looking to start a small mushroom yard, as well.  We’re considering Shiitake, Portabella, and Winecap varieties.  Next spring, we’ll put in a few fruit trees, Kiwi vines, and Strawberries.  We’re also talking about putting in some raised beds, but breaking the ground for them the first year by using potatoes, garlic, onions, and beets or radishes.  We got the idea from Edible Acres up in New York.