The Death of Planning

We plan things to death, literally. It’s great to get ideas and get an idea on how to initiate it into action; however, it’s can be a destructive pattern. Get an idea, plan on how to initiate the idea, get more ideas on the initiation of the idea and you end up with ideas^3. It never reaches a starting point.

Micro Planning
I’m going to use the analogy of starting a business. Many people save up a fortune to start up something they believe will be desired by the masses or they just dreamed of having that fruit orchard once they retire. The sad truth is that initiating a big idea does take a lot of big planning. It can be done through thoughtful analysis and proper use of time. Unfortunately, most of us have not learned or thought of the processes that it takes to use time effectively or to ask the right questions on how to improve and make our ideas into reality.

Micro-planning takes care of that for us. If you have an idea, get what you need to make it happen and start. That’s all. You have an idea, list the materials and get started. No dilly dallying or frolicking with a boatload of crap ideas. Try something out and learn the steps it takes to made it happen.

In Action
From there you have more to plan around and can generate better ideas on how to improve each step. For example:I want to educate and empower others by making resources and knowledge accessible to them.

TO DO that I’m going to teach them how to make wicking wine bottle gardens and slowly teach them other realms of gardening while they learn areas they are interested in. 

TO MAKE IT HAPPEN, I need wine bottles, something to cut glass, a piece of yarn, soil, some plants, a space to make stuff, and people to educate

After doing it, I’ll evaluate things to make it better.
TO MAKE IT MORE EPIC, I’ll teach them safety and having a clean workspace, give them the opportunity to tell me what they want to learn, provide access to books and other wealth of resources, and find more time to get them creating and learning.

So far, it’s been great. One homeless person has a book learning about bugs and she’s now teaching me things about them. A few others are hyped up on different types of gardens they want to create. In the end, the dream is being fulfilled, it didn’t take a lot of resources to make it happen, and I’m making great use of my time and energy.

Since it’s only a few hours a week, it doesn’t kill my efforts in other areas. I can try different projects while I evaluate what I really want to do and accomplish.

If the project turns out sour, I can always kill it and try something else without too much grief. In the end, I know that I’ve learned valuable lessons in getting started and learning along the way instead of going through the constant and never ending cycle of planning and forever thinking.

Once ideas begin turning into actions, more thoughtful and energy intensive projects are now more accessible. It’s easier to think about the building blocks of a project, determine the essential elements to make it successful, and pushing that idea into reality.

Cultivating a Beneficial Community with Pests

Community dynamics are complicated. They’re constantly changing and evolving with every little variable reacting to every element. A bird eats a seed, poops it out and plants a tree for you and me providing shade and shelter from the too much of the Sun’s rays.

In many instances, the truth of community dynamics are paradoxes. At first glance it looks contradictory but the underlying principles guide a more complex and diverse environment in the long run.

Home for Pests
I believe all gardens need to provide a shelter for the rampant reproduction of aphids. They’re one of the first pests that I’ve observed to infiltrate beginning gardens. The reaction is to spray them all off and eliminate them from the garden immediately; however, ladybugs and other beneficial insects require these pesky bugs to thrive. Without them, the beneficials leave to find a home somewhere else just not in your garden.

A Few Facts about Ladybugs
The famous lady bug is a voracious gorger of aphids. A larva, a baby ladybug, will eat roughly 500 aphids a day. An adult may eat as much as 1000 or twice as many. Without an infestation of aphids, you have no ladybugs. In many instances, people will buy dehydrated ladybugs and release them into the garden. Life is not stupid. If they know there is an insufficient supply of food, they go somewhere else that can provide.

Arguing for Aphids
As people, we enjoy jumping to conclusions that aphids are a pest and provide no benefit to the garden. In my opinion, the need for pests are to restore ecological balance and feedback on whether a garden is resilient or brittle. If a plant within a garden can hold out until the ladybugs and wasps come, it’s a sign of resilience. If the plant withers away and dies, the garden is brittle breaking down from a greater effect that is not as evident.

The true underlying cause is that the plants within the garden are not in a proper habitat to thrive. The elements I’ve observed that provides a thriving space for them are soil, and plant diversity.

The proper soil habitat creates an environment for all types of plants. The right mixture then creates a home for an assortment of animals. Creating soil is simply adding more dead or digested material to the top of the soil and continually feeding the soil biome. Continually disturbing the soil structure kills off the soil life. In fewer words, don’t till every season. For compacted soils, take a fork and loosen up the soil by stabbing it and loosening it without turning it. The soil structure remains intact allowing water and life to begin again with time.

Victims to our Own Actions: We are Our Own Pest
I was having a deep conversation with some friends the other night about victims and if they were necessary. In my eyes, yes we do. Victims are usually people harmed by their own ideas, words, or actions. It happens to all of us. We are our greatest enemy just as aphids are to a weak brittle garden. However, if we come to terms that we are often harmed by our ignorance then we can take this feedback loop and turn it into a negative feedback loop where we observe a destructive pattern, stop it, and change it to one that eliminates the symptoms of being victimized.

I’ve seen it time and time again with myself. For example, I witnessed how my father chose to work for long hours for many days supporting his family and our futures. Once he established his foundation enough, he continued to work to develop a stronger foundation and neglected the responsibility of enforcing discipline, responsibility, and bonds between all of us. Today, I’ve become the image of my father. I work long hours and I’m working to create a foundation that supports the future. As much as I tried not to be like him. I am him.

The same is true for many relationships; people to people, people to nature, an individual and themselves, people to technology. Once we can identify the pest within us, it’s only a matter of unleashing the beneficial cycles and patterns that resolve the underlying issues. In my opinion once we can learn to do that with ourselves developing a community with other people gets much easier. We are open to discussing the brittle areas and the resilient ones. In this way, we all become resilient to the aphids within us, which is really just food for a higher order of thinking and living.

In permaculture, this can be summed up with the principle that the problem is the solution. That’s all.

Observations and Random Thoughts

Birds chirping in the background, paw prints in the moist clay, and yellow eggs under a leaf are signals from nature of the present state and possible future of an ecosystem. It’s looking into the details and patterns that develop the storyline.

Signs of Regeneration
It’s been over a year now at East Fort Worth Montessori Academy and ecological resilience is starting to take hold. In August of 2011, the soil was dry and baked to a crisp from the long drought and exposed soil horizons to the unrelenting heat. It took some time and effort to wheelbarrow all the mulch to cover the soil and in one year the environment was entirely transformed.

August 2011

August 2011

August 2012

August 2012

Today is Sunday, April 21, 2013. Sunflowers are re-emerging from last years harvest, and sorghum is beginning to come out of the ground as well. The end goal is a garden that is low maintenance and mostly self-regulating. I hope that next year, some of the cherry tomatoes will self-seed all over the garden so we don’t have to buy or propagate from seed or cuttings. Dill is germinating in locations planted last year as well, and cilantro has done a great job at re-establishing itself. The one surprise is the okra in the front yard.

Permanent Home for Life
The amount of change occurring is too much for me to process, a good thing in this case. Our parsley plants are swamped with swallowtail butterflies and we found enough lady bug eggs to supply all the classes with a ladybug life cycle kit. All the classes were able to see the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages over a few weeks. It barely made a dent on the ladybug population outside. They’re still voraciously waging war on the aphids, mealybugs, and mites in the garden.

Predators Dominating the Pests and Parasites
There are a few rats, and small mammals that have found their way into the garden. However, this is attracting larger predators. The other day I found a Black Rat snake near the wicking propagation units. The slithering creature was huge; a good signal that he or she is hard at work. Geckos and other lizards find their way between the brush piles, and I need to learn more about them. I’m assuming most of them are good eating mostly bugs and insects.

I’ve seen a few cucumber beetles but only one so far. I’m not too worried about them this year since I’ve seen brown adult aphids under the leaves of the brussel sprouts in the garden. Brown aphids are literally mummified aphids. If you look closely enough, you may see a small hole going through the exoskeleton. This is a sign of a parasitic wasp emerging out of the aphid. The adult form of the parasitic wasp will perform surgery on a number of bugs and lay their eggs inside of them. The eggs will hatch into a larva which will eat the bug inside out and emerge as an adult that busts through the skeleton and repeats the cycle. These parasitic wasps also target other bugs like cucumber beetles so no worries there in the future.

Under Construction
There are a lot of projects still under development. The animals require a lot of attention and daily chores, changing their water, filling their water, feeding them and providing a healthy habitat for them. The major project is to create a cool environment for the rabbits. Constantly freezing bottles in the summer time is a hassle and waste of electricity. I’m hoping the underground hutch will create an environment that is cool enough for them to survive the summer heat.

Growing fodder for the animals is another consideration as well. Supplementing their diet through cafeteria leftovers and kitchen scraps is still being developed. The major setbacks have been adequate systems that empower the students so they can do it themselves. This week, I’ll be providing further assistance for the 4th grade and 5th grade students. Letting them know about the opportunity only worked for the over achieving children. The others need more guidance.

The wicking propagators are working beautifully. Sometime this week, I’ll be adding in the goldfish to regulate mosquito infestations. Self-watering barrels are being installed. The major setback has been leaks in the water tower and plastic liner. All is well though. Eighty to 160 plants can be propagated in a 4×4 area. I’ll be making them all week until I run out of space.

Find volunteers is getting easier but continues to be a struggle. Everybody voices an interest in helping but I believe everyone is working on their own projects. I hope that we may all join in the garden to help each other out. At this moment, I’ve devoted a lot of time to creating self-resilient systems and helping passionate individuals to gain a similar foothold. Starting this week, I’ll be educating formerly homeless people on how to make wine bottle planters so they can make additional income.

Last Thoughts
I do feel torn when I give great designs and systems away. Although, I see the benefit in re-creating these elements everywhere. We need more resilient gardens and the designs I give do not include the care and thought that goes with it. The people who have the same ethics and principles will have a platform for new innovation and creative ideas that suit their needs. Those that see a quick way to reach a pinnacle often hit the floor without trying. My torn feelings are unjustified. Furthermore, all of my systems do have flaws that I’m still discovering. Fixes are still needed for the wicking seed starters.

That’s all for now. I can hardly wait to taste the success and the failures.

The Great Debate: Raised Beds vs Design

I continually hear gardeners talk about raised beds as if it’s a holy grail.

I hate bursting bubbles, but this cookie cutter approach to gardening and life needs to end. Lets begin.

Better Water Retention
Yes, when you build a bed and fill it up with healthy soil it will retain water better. However, this is true of all garden beds with healthy living soil, not just raised beds. Living soil helps to retain, capture, and recirculate water endlessly as organisms drink, pee and eat each other in the soil biome. You can do this without building a box.

There is a downside to raised beds and water retention in particular areas. Here in Texas, we tend to have high winds and high heat through a large portion of our year. When you raise anything, it’ll catch more wind. Water will wick away much more quicker when you raise your garden bed. Heat rises and will have a similar effect as the wind. These two things combined and you’ll have to drown the soil to get the moisture to stick around. 

Less Weeding
This is partially true. You’ll live weed free for a while, but nothing stops weed seeds if you continually till the soil. Enjoy it while it lasts. The best way to eliminate weeds is again to build on soil and to eliminate the tillage. The weed seeds are adapted to frequent soil disturbances. Eliminate tilling and there are no more weeds.

Warmer Soil + Earlier and Longer Season
This is more true for colder climates. Texas has a growing season that is all year round. You can extend the year longer for particular crops, but if you are willing to wait a few weeks, you can get away with doing less work for similar yields. In colder climates, the need to get crops started earlier is more apparent since their growing season is shorter compared to Texas.

Every Garden is Raised and Other Considerations
When you build soil, you are raising the bed without the frames and the extra materials. You’ll have more gardening space without the frames, and it’s much easier to change a design over time to something that could be more functional. In my opinion, the main driving force to raised bed gardening comes from advice from people who are already doing it and have established credibility in the field. The majority then follows and it spreads. This is true of many other fields and disciplines and not just gardening. The sad truth is that although it worked in their area, it doesn’t always replicate itself in another location or condition.

The Greater Debate
This brings us to the greater realm of design. The first step is identifying the building blocks and the limitations enabling a greater realm of creation to unfold. Copying ideas can be successful when the elements of design are taken into consideration for various climates and conditions. Otherwise, ideas should be constructively criticized and thoughtfully questioned.

So. . do you raise a garden bed? You can, but think about the factors that are going to interact with the garden, and you may find other paths instead.

Partners in Crime

A partnership is much like playing tag.

There are a few different scenarios with the people playing with you. Some want to play and will put all their energy and passion into the game, others will opt out after a few minutes and go do something else, others will watch, and the rest think they want to play but they always change the rules or call time out before they get tagged.

Whatever the case is, you only want to play with those who really want to. The rest either don’t have the passion yet, are observing, learning or doing other things, or they feel superior enough to change the rules every 2 seconds. Regardless, it’s not worth the energy and time to dedicate towards those who don’t treat your time and energy equally.

The Audience
Observers are okay if you’re in the game to impress. This can be beneficial if the audience is giving thoughtful feedback. Otherwise, this can be detrimental if they’re constantly taunting and booing.

Partners in Crime
Dedicated people are hard to find. They have to be just as committed in the game to be of true value. At the beginning, they may not be as passionate, athletic or energetic. It’s during this time that they’re chasing you, but in time you hope that they’ll progress further than you in one or more areas. Boom! Tag you’re it! Now, it’s your turn to chase and tag them back. If they’re not putting in as much energy and passion as you are, it’s time to find someone else until that person is ready. Likewise, if you can’t keep up with them then you’ll get left behind; unless, they’re willing to wait up for you.

Ignorance, Thinking and Knowing

That’s the pattern. Another way of saying it is: you dont’ know, you think you know, and you know.

It goes hand in hand with another pattern of ideas, action and results. People who don’t know or are ignorant are, not sure what they are searching for, and are continually trying many things to find out where they belong. It filters through their ideas and the actions they’ve taken to discover the results.

Over time, this develops into a pattern of the groups they hang out with, the thoughts and ideas they have, and the life they live.

Conscious design takes a different approach. It realizes that there are these two patterns in the world around us; not knowing to knowing, and manifesting abstract ideas into reality.

The truth is that the ideas are more concrete than the material. The ideas bring the most amount of change in a persons life than the reality. For example, realizing that life is overly abundant opens infinite opportunities than realizing the scarcity and lack of resources. The free food from dumpsters is food for me, soil to make, and a garden to harvest from. The pallet wood is free lumber to make an infinite number of projects. This is in contrast to the scarce idea of: I have no money to do this, I need more education, and there’s always something in the way of making this happen.

Concrete ideas are more constant than the material. The experiences last forever and will stay with you as a story to translate and share with others. The material is  impermanent and will only last for a short life span. It has a life that will only last a blink within time. These are ideas people need to know and have making the material items that much more precious.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” – Anonymous

Garden Insurance: Trap Crops, Parasitic Bugs, and On-site Propagation

Common pests in the garden can be distracted to a different crop while also providing benefits to the rest of the garden. For example, squash bugs will tend to devour an entire garden of squash and leave little to nothing behind. To deter this problem, gardeners will grow a perimeter of squash plants they don’t mind losing so their prize zucchinis remain unharmed.

The same is true of aphids and other plants. From my experience, brussel sprouts don’t fair well in DFW at all. They get destroyed by the aphids and you don’t get any brussel sprouts to enjoy. On the other hand, lady bugs need an over abundance of food in order to make a living in your garden. My observations so far have seen the brussel sprout sacrifice take the beating (and still survive) while the plants around them stay healthy and delicious. Where do the lady bugs come from? They’re all over the place waiting to find a nice a home where they’ll be employed full time.

There are many forms of traps in the garden and it doesn’t only apply to bugs. Birds love to eat fruits from trees. Most people will place netting around the canopy to prevent birds from feasting on their prize peaches and pears. Birds provide beneficial services in the garden. They eat bugs and manure everywhere, and they do a damn good job at it. To prevent the devastation of prize fruit, elderberries are a great trap crop for birds. Elderberries create a delicious small berry that is often hard to get to because birds will get to it first before it’s fully ripe. So you may only end up with a few berries to enjoy but you’ve just employed a fleet of birds to go thermonuclear on your worst bug enemies.

Last of all, there are always other ways to confront the issue of bugs and disease in the garden. Squash borers can be tolerated if you bury a few squash stems into the ground. By doing so the stems will grow new roots, a form of propagation, from the buried stem and continue to fruit and multiply. You can also plant an assortment of plants that have umbel flowers. They provide a nectar source for parasitic wasps that’ll inject their eggs into other bugs. Once the eggs hatch, they’ll eat the bug from the inside out, alien style. A few examples of umbel type flowers are parsley, dill, cilantro, yarrow, and carrots.

In my opinion, it’s usually best to do a combo of all of the above. Parasitic wasps, trap crops, and propagation provide multiple insurance policies that results in food abundance and beauty.

Patterns to Details

They’re everywhere in natural systems and cycles. We’ve forgotten that we communicate with these patterns and interact with them everyday. Wake up.

If we learn to understand a pattern, we can then learn to manipulate it to manifest new possibilities. The current problem is we focus too deeply on details of a pattern than the pattern itself. For example, soil ecology is over complicated with the details of modern gardeners. People will talk about carbon, nitrogen, potassium, and all the other micro and macro nutrients. All you need to know is soil is a live. Determining the pattern on which and what materials and how they are piled are finer details, but the feedback systems of nature will communicate to you what’s going wrong.

How does nature communicate? It gave us the gift and burden of smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. If something smells, tastes, or feels horrible you may need to reassess how something is working. Over using any one sense can lead to a destructive feedback system; try to use as many as possible. It looks great is not good. Go feel it, get your hands inside, and smell it. Smell is close enough to taste. Smelling and touching will give you a good idea of what it’s like on your teeth.

Just remember, look at the big pattern and then try to determine how the manipulate the finer details. The micronutrients! the macronutrients! it doesn’t matter. Soil is living; that’s the pattern. Now find out how to bring soil back from the dead and you’ve discovered the pattern of life.

Patterns to details, patterns to details. That’s all.