Weeds and Diseases are Nonexistent

This may strike a lot of people as crazy. That’s fine.  It is a perspective and you can take it or leave it. I’m not trying to change your point of view. This post is simply question my perceptions, yours, and the masses.

Nature inherently wants to create abundantly healthy organisms and ecosystems. It is continually attempting to restore every individual and system through a continual feedback loop. However, the limitation is in our ability to listen to a speechless form of communication. Instead, nature communicates through the lens of reality. Weeds in the garden and immune disorders that consumes its host are a few examples out of many.

Weeds in the Garden
Common weeds in the garden are thistles, dandelions, and grasses. Each has their own  story but they are all common to poor soil conditions, unfilled space in the garden, or a lack of diversity. Taking the time to learn about each plant focuses more light into what Nature is communicating to us. Thistles are deep rooted, grow in many soil conditions, and grows in disturbed (tilled) or neglected soils. Dandelions are similar to thistles; they have a deep tap root and grow in disturbed/neglected soils. Deep tap roots mine nutrients and make them available to other plants when the plant finishes its life cycle. Instead of pulling out these plants we can allow it to grow and finish its life, eat it, or cut it back before it goes to seed (when you see the flowers cut it back). Grasses also tend to grow in disturbed soils. They tend to mat up and take over a garden if not carefully managed. However, they also have beneficial aspects to them as well. Grasses have fungi growing on their roots which help facilitate nutrient exchange. These fungi are known as mycorhizzal since they grow into the roots of plants. If these grasses are next to vegetables the fungi will also grow into the roots of those plants and also help facilitate the exchange of water and nutrients. Because some grasses do form mats and take over the garden, it’s fine to manage them by trying to remove them. Another way of managing them is to allow animals to eat them for you. The overall message is that everything in nature performs a function. If we take a step back, nature will always fill a vacuum like an empty spot in the garden. There are no weeds.


Honey Mushrooms in the Yard

No Diseases
Honey mushrooms are commonly referred as parasitic mushrooms that cause disease in trees. They grow into the roots of trees and slowly feed off of decaying wood within the trunk. Over time, the tree will die and the fruits of the mushroom will spring out of the ground to spread its spores. If we take a step back and observe the environment around our trees, there is a common pattern of nutrient and water deficiency. At my parents house in Arlington, Tx, we have clay soils that go down 2-3 feet before you hit hard subsoil. Every rain, the water tends to run off rather than soak into the soil to water and hydrate the plants. During the dry summer months, this means inadequate amounts of water. Every 250473_223451991017926_5317440_nAutumn, as the leaves fall they are raked up and hauled off. Nutrients are leaving the system causing greater devastation to the yard. In the past couple of years, the amount of trees being lost in my parents and neighbors yard has been more than 15 oak trees cut and removed. As these stumps decay, we see the honey mushroom rising out of soil. Now, what is the function of a mushroom? It is a decomposer which cycles nutrients back into the system. Since there are no nutrients cycling and there is little water, the honey mushroom is returning nutrients back and spreading its spores and extending its mycelium to infect other susceptible tree roots.
When we build up our soils, we are also allowing more water to hydrate and stay within the system. In time this creates a healthier ecosystem that can support the growth of these trees and other plants. In time, other types of fungi will grow and compete with the honey mushroom pushing back its growth.

Accept the Feedback
What we call weeds and diseases in nature and for ourselves is only a perception. If we look further and understand their functions we can begin to learn their processes and functions in these environmental and biological systems. When we begin to understand a little bit of why they are growing and becoming prevalent we can begin to change our habits and behaviors. This initial step forces us to realize that we are a part of this system, and we are influencing it. However, before we can even begin to change the world outside we must change the way we perceive the world within and around us.

So are there weeds? Are there diseases?
Or is it all just feedback loops?

Field Guide for Managing Annual and Biennial Invasive Thistles in the Southwest
Controlling Cynara Cardunculus (Artichoke Thistle, Cardoon, etc.)

Co-existing grass species have distinctive arbuscular mycorrhizal communities
Mycorrhizae and Turfgrass
SOIL FUNGI By Elaine R. Ingham, Oregon State University

Honey Mushrooms
Armillaria Root Disease – US Department of Agriculture Forest Service

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.

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.

The Elusive Collard Tree

I’ve been reading a lot about collard trees and other brassicas for little over a year now, and have known about them for a couple of years now.

Collard Tree somewhere in San Jose

Everybody, keeps saying its a special variety of collard, kale, or cabbage. After a few years of looking for seeds, talking to people, and growing brassicas myself, I’m convinced they’re just regular brassicas that have been grown for years.

Wait. . Hold on. .

Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, brussel sprouts, swiss chard) can be grown for more than one year?

In one short sweet answer: yes.Brassicas are perennial; they can grow for many years.


It was last year, that I tried to communicate to my director that all of the kales, broccolis,brussels sprouts, swiss chard, cabbage, and collards could stay in. Unfortunately conventional knowledge is a contagious disease and they were dug up and removed.

Without her knowledge, I took the dug up plants I could find, and replanted some of them in a different place, and they survived. As soon as we began to get cool weather last week in September, we already had collard greens, kale, and broccoli leaves to harvest. A word of advice, the hot summer weather can cause most of these plants to go a little bitter. With the change of seasons and the cooler weather, they begin to get their normal taste character back.

Moving on, the amazing opportunity awaits in the exponential increase of brassicas by collecting seed, taking cuttings, and sharing the info with everyone. From here, the propagation and opportunity of these plants is infinite. The journey in propagating these puppies has just begun. For more information on perennial vegetables, I recommend reading Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier.

Soil Building: Cover Cropping at East Fort Worth Montessori

It was October of 2010 at East Fort Worth Montessori and the necessary steps to build a productive and beautiful landscape began to unfold.

The landscape was ripe for development and teaching. The children were learning about soil erosion and the decomposition of rocks and minerals. We walk past it everyday and barely realize the changes that occur around us in our environments. The earth is living and breathing. Look around for a moment and you’ll see the massive amounts of erosion and soil depletion that’s occurring.

I digress.

The Assessment
Our assessment began on a hillside that was speeding up the process of soil erosion. To slow the process down, we followed a few simple steps to slow water down, create a habitat for soil microorganisms and plants, and cover cropping.
1. Rock barrier
2. Mulch
3. Cover Crop

The Barrier
To slow down the flow of water, we dug a small trench along the hill and placed rocks in the trench in Octoboer of 2011. This would effectively slow down water and allow it to seep into the soil an water our plants. It would also hold back larger debri and slow down the process of erosion.

Mulch It
We had a small amount of compost. Instead of removing all the big chunks in it, we broadcasted the soil and chunks on the hillside shortly after we built the barrier. In my opinion, the big pieces provide a good habitat for the FBI, fungi, bacteria and insects. The modern perspective is to bury plants with fine compost. We often forget that soil has a complex structure that has a good mix of plant appendages and dying organisms.

Cover Crop
Red Clover is a good nitrogen fixing crop that is also edible. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for all living organisms. This element is necessary for our genetic makeup in our DNA, amino acids and proteins. In plants, Nitrogen is in chlorophyll, the plant organ that captures the energy of the sun. Many people may see it as a weed but it’s a great way to build soil and prevent erosion. We spread the seeds in November of 2011 and the progress has amazing. The clover went to seed, became mulch, and we can re-broadcast if necessary for the Fall season of 2012.

Progress – March 6, 2012

The Amazing Progress on 6th Ave

This is the front  yard when we first moved to Ft Worth. My room mate mowed it a few times and I finally began the process of terraforming it to an edible landscape.

At the time, I was driving a BMW 328i, a four door coupe or sedan, and I had to haul soil in 20 gallon containers. Yes, that’s right. I moved soil in a BMW.

The Process
I didn’t do a great job at documenting anything, but this is the best picture I could find. We


placed cardboard over the grass to choke it out and layered 2 to 3 inches of soil above that. On top of the soil, we placed a good 3 to 5 inches of wood chip mulch to protect the soil from the harmful effects of the sun, wind, and rain. Yes, I said rain. Soil is dense and will slowly absorb water. Rainfall here in Texas falls down hard in good quantities. With too much rain, the good soil flows away. Mulch, on the other hand, is less dense (it takes up more volume with less mass. density = mass/volume). Once the rain hits the mulch it’s taken the hit for the soil and the water can percolate down with the force of gravity. Rinse and repeat the process of cardboard, soil, mulch until the entire area is covered.

An alternative method is just use cardboard and mulch. If you leave it alone for a good season or two, the cardboard will decompose and hopefully have taken out the grass that was there.

Planting is easy. Push the mulch aside and put a seed in the soil or transplant a plant into the soil. If you didn’t put soil above the cardboard, you can punch a hole through and plant into the soil below. Compost can be added to the hole punching method to add some beneficial bacteria and nutrients. Once you plant the seeds or the plants give them a nice dose of H2O and . .

Wait a Little While
Watering is reduced when you use mulch. After planting the seeds and watering, I usually let the plants germinate on their own. If it’s exceptionally hot, I usually wait 4 to 6 days and check the moisture of the soil around the seeds. How do you check the moisture? Use your sense of touch or stick your finger in the soil.

Harvest Time

This garden was ridiculously easy. Our harvest was more than any of us could eat. Yes, in the picture my roommate, Sara, has a bucket full of cucumbers. We had plenty of them before that as well. So much so that I got sick of cucumbers.

Cucumber Bucket from the Front Yard

Even in the heat of July and August, the garden is still pumping out produce. We’ve had neighbors walk buy and count the melons for us on multiple occasions (I think the count is 12).

In the meantime, we’ve prepared the other half of the yard and are beginning to make plans for some more perennial plants. A peach tree has gone into the ground, and the current thoughts are flowers, delicious herbs, and Fall veggies.

The only thing missing is a Food is Free sign to get the melon counters to get a hold of us, or maybe a workshop sign to get them to join our little operation. I’m not sure yet, but we’ll keep posting all the good things.