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.

Returning next week.

My break has taken a bit longer than intended. I want to apologize for that, but rest assured, I’m coming back next week. This post is to give a heads up on the re-structuring of both UnixSecLab and Jack of all Hobbies.

Until further notice, the mailing list sign ups (one per site) will only be a summary feed of the previous week’s blog posts for that site. I may bring back the extra content, eventually, and I may continue to use the mailing list for the rare but occasional promotional advertisement for products or services I offer.

Also, until further notice, the minimum number of posts per week (starting NEXT week) will be ONE post on Monday (for UnixSecLab) and ONE post on Thursday (for Jack of all Hobbies.)

I’m trying to run two different sites with two different focus topics. I work an 8am to 5pm job with a one hour commute to and one hour commute from work each day. This means I lose two hours out of my day just driving on the interstate. I also have nine beautiful children that need some of my attention, a loving wife that needs some of it, and so on. My time is more limited than I imagined when I first started these ventures, so I’m having to restructure. I may be able to get into a groove and get more content in a week eventually, but for now I’m backing things down.

In lieu of the extra blog posts, I will be doing more on social media. Posting to Twitter(UnixSecLab), Twitter(Jack of all Hobbies), FaceBook, LinkedIn, and so on takes less of my time than writing a full detailed blog post would, so I’ll be more active there.

You can expect the first content blog post for UnixSecLab under the new format starting June 5th. The first Jack of all Hobbies blog post under the new format will be available June 8th.

I also have some exciting plans for the not too distant future, so stay tuned.

I hope to catch you all here and on social media, and as always, leave comments, suggestions, or other verbiage in the comments for this post.

Weekend Update

This weekend was crazy busy.  We’ve had weather issues most of the week, but this weekend it came to a head, and our county is now declared a disaster area.

I gave my presentation on Saturday, as scheduled.  I think it went well.  The audience seemed receptive, and I hope to get to know their little community group better over time.  That was the best part of my weekend, really.

Then the storms came rolling through.  Saturday night / Sunday morning, we got so much rain and wind from the thunderstorms that rolled through that much of Conway became flooded, as well as several of the towns and small communities around us.  At least one road had one lane just wash away from the event.  Some of the towns are under a boil order.

I hope and pray that the community group members are all safe, and I will be following up with the organizers to ask how they are doing.

Permaculture Basics Class Venue Changed

The Permaculture Basics presentation for Saturday has changed.  The date is the same, but the class has been moved to a private residence due to weather.  If you are local and were planning to attend based on discovering the class from this site, leave a comment, and I’ll contact you privately to provide directions.  I won’t post private residence location information publicly.  Comments are moderated, so only I will ever see them, and comments specifically for this post will not be approved for public, so feel free to leave contact information so that I can reach you.

Permaculture – Thoughts on Re-everything

One of the foundational concepts of Permaculture is the idea that we want to reduce waste as much as possible.  This means we need to find some way to deal with waste in a productive manner.  This brings up the topic of the “re-everything” mentality.  I bring this up, because while people tend to use the WRONG word for what they are doing, their hearts are in the RIGHT place, and a word is just a word until you get into legalese.  Below, I’ll get into the concepts and differences between recycling, reusing, and re-purposing.  We’ll also look at the term “refuse” which is not “to refuse to do something,” but rather “the refuse produced that must be disposed of.”

At its simplest, the easiest thing to do with an object that many people might just dispose of is to reuse it.  If you have a jar of jelly from the local store, you eat all of the jelly, and then you keep the jar, you can reuse it to store more foods in future.  The jar is not modified in any way, and its original purpose is still its current purpose: to store foods with a seal-able lid.

The next level up is to re-purpose an item.  If we consume a bottle of blackberry wine (either directly, or via cooking,) we can either reuse the bottle as shown above, or we can do some modification to it to re-purpose it.  If we use glass cutting techniques to cut the neck off at the top most portion of where the bottle is consistently largest, and do it in a way that there are no sharp edges, the neck could be used as a funnel for a small wicking garding bed.  The base can be used as a drinking glass.  This is re-purposing.  A small modification is made to allow for a different kind of use than the original object was designed to perform.

Finally, we have recycling.  This word is often misused frequently to mean either or both of the above.  In reality, recycling is breaking down an object into its base constituent parts to be remade into new products from those same parts.  For example, smelting aluminum ingots from soda cans in order to use those ingots in cast aluminum projects.  Or perhaps we can crush the glass down in order to re-melt in glass blowing projects.  We can crush clay into a powder to re-mix with new clay projects, in some cases.  All of these are valid and appropriate ways to deal with some of the items we might otherwise dispose of.  This is also the method that requires the most work for accomplishing our goals.

Finally, we have “refuse.”  Sometimes you just have to give it up.  If you have cardboard that came into contact with food items, you might “recycle” it by composting, but if you have cardboard that came into contact with harsh toxins, you wouldn’t want to introduce those into your system.  You would want to dispose of them off site.  You might let them “compost” in a zone 5 area around a non-food plant, perhaps.

Alternatively, you might compost on site.  For example, you might put it in a compost that also contains mycorrhizal fungi who’s sole purpose is to break down toxins from your site operations.  This is often used on matter dredged from the little pocket ponds upstream from a production pond.  These pocket ponds are designed to capture run-off in such a way as to grab the “sinkers and floater” to keep the production pond cleaner.  These often have a higher density of heavy metals and such if they are close to roadways, for example.  Dredging these and composting the reeds used to capture the floaters are both better disposed of by using fungal composting before either taking completely off site, or using only on ornamentals in the lower elevation levels of your system.

So, if you have items that you are thinking of throwing away, consider first reusing them.  If you have more than enough of that kind of item on hand, then consider re-purposing, instead.  It takes a little more work, but it can be worth it.  If you have the talent/skills, and the equipment to do so, try recycling if neither of the other options are good.  Try to reduce what goes to “trash” as much as you can, but be cognizant of how you deal with refuse that you don’t just pitch in the trash to be hauled away.  Consider mycorrhizal fungi composting where appropriate.

Permaculture Basics – The Flyer

My wife suggested that I post the flyer for this coming weekend’s Permaculture Basics presentation I’ll be giving.  I know I mentioned this earlier in the month, but below are the flyer details for my local readers who may want to attend.  I also wanted to mention that the site is getting polished.

There is now a “Subscribe” option.  You should see this at the top of the page.  This will get you onto my mailing list, so you never miss a post.  I may also send other information not found on the blog occasionally, via this list.

There is also a “Work With Me” link.  My time is limited, but if you need a slice of my time for consultation services, please do fill out the form and we’ll arrange a discovery call to determine if my services are a good fit for you.

You can expect other pages to start popping up over the next week or so.

Enough of that, onto the flyer details (contact details for Shirley were removed to respect her privacy from the Internet.  If you need details, you may contact me through the comments on this blog post, instead.)

Public Service Announcement for Saturday, April 29, 2017

What: Permaculture Basics Workshop
Presenter: Stefan Johnson
When: Saturday, April 29, 2017, 9:00 am
Location: H & W Dime and Dollar Store, 659 Hwy 225 EAST, Greenbrier 72058
Admission: Free! (Donations will be accepted to help with handout printing costs)
Registration: Suggested, but not required for admission (For handouts)
Hosted by: Centerville Community Group

What is permaculture? The word is a contraction of two other words, permanent and agriculture. Permaculture helps people grow more food in less space with less overall effort. Many landowners in Faulkner County are now seeking information on how permaculture techniques can increase the sustainability and productivity of their farmsteads. To answer some of those questions, Centerville Community Group will host a Permaculture Basics Workshop on Saturday, April 29, beginning at 9:00 am at H & W Dime and Dollar Store located at 659 Hwy 225 EAST, about 8.5 miles east of Greenbrier in the Centerville community. The workshop is free, however donations will be accepted. Pre-registration is suggested to insure enough handouts, but not required for admission.

The instructor for Permaculture Basics Workshop is Stefan Johnson from Conway, certified permaculture design consultant. He will share his expertise in how to apply some basic permaculture techniques to address common problems a landowner might encounter, such as erosion, low land fertility levels, how to optimize small acreages, all with a component of working with nature instead of against nature. He will explain the advantages of permaculture compared to some of our more traditional farming and animal care practices. The workshop should last no more than two hours.

Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather. The workshop will be held outside, so hats, sunscreen, water, maybe even an umbrella for those who are sun-sensitive — all may be needed to make participants more comfortable during the workshop session. In case of stormy weather, the event will be canceled and a new date will be announced later.

Earth Day

This coming Saturday (the 22nd) is Earth Day.  In 1970, the “modern environmental movement” was created, and this day celebrates those efforts.  While I don’t believe that the climate change we are witnessing today is wholly caused by the efforts of man, I do believe we should all do our part to minimally impact the planet in a negative capacity.  We overuse man made (often petroleum based) chemicals in an effort to combat nature in the name of farming.  Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers all contribute to reducing soil life and increasing soil erosion.  Even “organic” practices are less than ideal when handled poorly.  Over-tilling, over-cropping, and over-watering the soil can also lead to more soil erosion.

By reducing soil disturbance over the long term, using passive water catchment techniques to slow it, spread it, and sink it, and by using a diversity of plants and animals in our systems, we can use permaculture techniques to improve soil life, and produce an abundance of food for our families and local communities.  Teaching permaculture concepts to others is my contribution to “Earth Day,” except I do it year round.

If everyone were to change their habits just a little each year, learn more about better ways to deal with waste, source food more locally, grow some of their own, and so on, we would heal this planet a little more each day.  I rarely go into details about the damage we do, preferring to discuss the positives of the techniques, but sometimes it’s good to talk about those negatives.  Earth Day is a good excuse to bring them up.

Go do something positive.  Start a garden.  If you already have one, try planting some perennials in or near it.  If you’ve got those, try expanding your horizons and so something new such as combining vines with your back yard orchard, or planting comfrey (or other support plants) around the base to be cut back and left as mulch to feed the trees.  Do something productive, but start where you’re at.  Don’t try to jump in all at once.  Most of all, go learn and learn some more.

Permaculture Element – Empress Tree – Support Species

Today we’ll look at a possible “element” for use in a Permaculture design.  In this case, we want to emphasize how a “support species” is used to nurse a more important “production species” into better health and higher production.  For our example, we’ll use the Empress Tree.  This is sometimes called the Foxglove Tree, among other names.  The scientific name is Paulownia Tomentosa.

I chose this tree, because of a conversation I had with my “plant identification” mentor.  The backstory on this is that I am in the middle of doing a Permaculture design for a client.  I visited the client’s property to walk with them as part of the design preparations.  When I walk a property, I’m doing several things.

First, I’m looking at the slope and orientation with my own eyes.  Second, I’m looking at the wildlife already there.  I look at the plants to give me soil indicator information, and I look at signs of wildlife to give me indicators on what animals might be beneficial vs. what might be considered “pest” for the site.  I try to catch things the client might not, such as noise sectors, and eyesore sectors.  I look for how the water sits or flows.  I take in a lot of information when I walk a property, and all of it is important for doing a “good” design, as opposed to an “okay” design.

On this particular property walk, we came across this tree.  I’d never seen one before, and I had no idea what it was.  It was near a stand of honey locusts, in an open field.  The tree is deciduous, and all I could see on it were these nut like seed pods.  They are shaped kind of like a green walnut (fleshy part outside the walnut shell) but smaller, and not fleshy.  The size reminded me of pecans, but it definitely wasn’t a pecan tree.  I pulled down a pod and peeled back a corner of the papery “shell” to find a nut like structure inside, which added to the confusion.  Why was this confusing?  Because the “nut” obviously was not the “seed.”  It was packed with lots of tiny seeds with a white, feathery disk like structure around each seed.  I was perplexed.

I tried to find what this might be on my own using google terms to describe what I found, but came up with no useful information.

Fast forward a week or three, and I finally ask my mentor if she knows what this could be.  I sent her a picture of the seed pod partially opened with seeds inside, and her reply was priceless.  I won’t give the exact phrasing, but she did not think highly of this tree.  She did use the term “trash tree” at one point, and mentioned a popular synthetic pesticide product for the removal of said plant.  I thanked her for the information (I now had a scientific name to look it up,) then went to work on researching it.

This tree (by reference definitions) is actually a very GOOD tree for Permaculture purposes.  It would be used as a “nurse” tree, or a “support species” if the inherent properties I read about are correct.

A support species is often planted to provide for the needs of a production species.  In a hypothetical design, we might have a species that doesn’t prefer direct sunlight (such as an understory tree like the paw paw.)  This tree would want at least some shade during the heat of the day, especially when it is still quite young.  We could plant a faster growing shade tree near it on the sun facing side.  Ideally we would want to be able to cut this support tree back a bit in the cooler months, and also ideally, it would provide some fast decomposition to produce more soil at the base of the production tree.  This is called a “chop and drop” system.  Usually our support species are legumes, because we want to also place nitrogen into the soil, and every time we chop a nitrogen fixer, we force it to let go of some of its nitrogen to the soil.

The Empress Tree is “the fastest growing tree on the planet,” according to reference sources.  It also has a high nitrogen content in its abundance of large leaves, which means when we chop it and drop it, we are not only adding carbon to the soil, but nitrogen rich material, as well.  And some sources claim it is also a nitrogen fixer in the traditional sense.  If this is true, then it should be dropping nitrogen nodules in the soil itself every time we cut it back some.  Being a fast growing tree, the wood should be “soft” (even though it is a hard wood in the traditional sense, since it is deciduous.)  Softer woods break down faster in most cases.

So what we have is a tree that grows faster than the shade loving plants, is high in nitrogen, coppices/pollards very well, breaks down into soil quickly, and is also shade intolerant itself.

Being shade intolerant means we can force it to die off once it has lost its use by planting another tree on ITS sun facing side to shade it out, then do our twilight years of chopping and dropping.  Eventually due to heavy shade, it will stop sending up new trunks, and just die.  The dead material will continue to feed the soil, and it will serve a support role its entire life cycle.

The leaves are great animal fodder, as well, which means it can be used for more than just supporting one element in the system.  We can gather some of the leaves to supplement feed for our livestock.

Finally, the tree really is gorgeous during the flowering season.  It would improve the view for some folks, which always helps when neighbors find our “jungle” of a food forest to be too “ugly” for the neighborhood.

Support species are put in to help nurse a young element into a stronger long term production element in a shorter amount of time.  This tree shows its ability to perform this role quite admirably, if the sources are correct.  It provides fast shade, nutrient from chop and drop, fodder for livestock, and a great view.  It is also easy to control with the right conditions in play.

In the end, it didn’t tell me anything about the soil in the area I didn’t already know (from the nearby honey locusts.)  It’s an indicator of poor soil, and its job as a pioneer plant is to fix the nutrient deficiency.  The honey locusts were doing the same.

I gave my mentor some of this information, by the way.  She said she had no idea “that monster” had so many good qualities.  I’m grateful that she was able to help me discover this element and all its potential uses.  It’s in my design element database now, for future efforts.


We are approaching Easter weekend.  It’s not my personal favorite, but it’s an important holiday, nonetheless.  It is a time of renewal, and new life.  We let the colder months of winter and early spring drift from our minds, and embrace the warmer months of late spring and the coming summer.  Children hunt for eggs, sometimes colorful boiled and dyed or wrapped, and sometimes fake plastic with small treats inside.

However you choose to celebrate the season, enjoy the time with family and friends, and pay attention to the way the seasons are changing.  It’s a good time to pick flowers for a wild salad, or unopened buds to make capers.  Blackberries are usually in full bloom at this point, and are making their way toward producing early season berries in some locations.  The honey bees are active, and everything seems to express its aliveness in full glory.

The rains of early spring should be subsiding a bit as we approach late spring.  Gardens should be lush and producing early season yields.  It’s a great time of year to take a dip in a lake, or local creek.  Enjoy life.  It’s what the holiday reminds us to do.