halifaxearthtech: (magic is nature)

Food forests are undeniably sexy right now in Permaculture circles. A great compliment to a regular raised garden of annual vegetables, food forests pack a lot of food sources into a small space, using different height-plants that help each other out, while benefiting soil and wild life.

But what do you do when you just don't have the funds for the latest cultivars of fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs? Behold the free food forest planting guide!

To design a food forest on the cheap, we make use of plants that either come up from plentiful (= easily available) seeds, or clones.
A plan for expanding your food forest by cloning

You may have heard of the practice of cloning while learning about more illegal plants. But many herbs and trees can also be cloned; in nature, it's a major plant-reproducing strategy.

Some times twigs (or even sometimes leaves) broken or cut from trees and shrubs will grow roots and become a whole new tree or shrub. Other times, we can stab a shovel down the middle of the plant and cut the root-ball into two or more pieces, a process known as "dividing". 

You can probably find friends willing to divide edible ornamental like Solomon seal, daylilly or hosta, and you can almost certainly find an owner of grape, hops and hardy kiwi willing to part with some prunings to clone. Thinnings of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and thimbleberries are easy to come by as people cultivating these fruit often need to thin them. Nursery season-end sales are also good to check in July and August.

Even volunteer white oak and mountain ash can be found sprouting beneath their parent trees if these tickle your fancy for an emergency food supply. Some perennial vegetables can be started from roots and leaves available at specialty grocery stores, like watercress, sunchokes and oyster root. 

Finally, Perennial vegetables can be got from further afield from progressive nurseries and seed suppliers. It is my hope to make an initial investment to bring these varieties to Nova Scotia for further propagation to jump start local food forests. Plants like salad burnet, ice cream bean, cinnamon yam, tuber pea, perennial parsley, perennial sea kale, bush cherry, hardy passionfruit, hardy kiwi, wooly lambs ear tuber, rapunzel, potato bunching onion, skirret and hardy pecan. 

Some locations I hope to plant this year with guilds and/or food forests include:

Transition Bay St Margarets

Annapolis seeds in Nictaux


The Open Mic House on Agricola street

There will be shout-outs and volunteer opportunities as spring advances so keep your eye out for those.

Some perennial vegetable purveyors 

Eric Toensmeier





as well as more traditional nurseries if you know what you are looking for.


Gardeners around North America this year were thrilled to learn about The paw paw project. Kentucky State University are distributing 30 thousand paw paw seeds in the hopes of more widely distributing paw paw trees throughout their range and foster their diversity and strength. You can contact them here

To get your own free pawpaw seeds. Of course if you help support the project you will get on the seed distribution priority shortlist!
hawthorn, mulberry and red and black currant prepared for cloning

A by-no-means exhaustive list of easy-to-obtain plants to clone for your own

Trees and shrubs that can be cloned

Beech, dogwood, willow, alder

Hawthorn, Elder, Mulberry, Currant, Gooseberry

Autumn olive, Sea buckthorn

Hazel, Sweet fern

Food-providing Herbs that can be divided or that spread

Anything mint: lemonbalm, cat nip, bee balm, chocolate mint, apple mint, horse mint, thymes, oregano, anise hyssop

Alliums: chives, garlic chives, society garlic, golden garlic, Egyptian Walking Onions

Miscellaneous perennials: ostrich fern, hostas, may apple, Solomon seal, wintergreen, rhubarb, echinacea, sweet cicely, Comfrey, yarrow, horseradish, daylilly, good king Henry, all raspberries and blackberries, many roses, strawberries, and more.


Easily started from seed and self seeding

Nasturtiums, violets, calendula

globe thistle, rudbeckia

artemisia, columbine

musk mallow




Not edible but useful for pollinators and/or fixing nitrogen

lupine, daffodil, scilla


This is a great website for all things food forest


halifaxearthtech: Photo by Joe Shneid of Louisville Kentucky, from Wikimedia Commons (Pattern)
To get the most out of eating wild foods and using wild medecine, it benefits to have some basic chemistry. The same chemicals are made by a wide variety of plants; if you know the use of one of them, you can use a whole host of plants. Similarly, toxic principals can be the same across family groups.

The pyrrolyzidine alkaloids are present in many plants, and is the reason why it's not suggested to take borage or comfrey internally. They are are produced by plants as a defense mechanism against insect herbivores. It's also present in groundsel, fuki,
vipers bugloss, coltsfoot, forget me nots, chrysanthemum spinach (shungiku), ligularia, heliotrope and tansy ragwort.

Wikipedia states:
More than 660 PAs and PA N-oxides have been identified in over 6,000 plants, and about half of them exhibit hepatotoxicity. They are found frequently in plants in the Boraginaceae, (borage family) Asteraceae( aster and sunflwer family) Orchidaceae (orchids) and Leguminosae (the beans and peas) families; less frequently in the Convolvulaceae (morning glory) and Poaceae, (grasses) and in at least one species in the Lamiaceae (the mints). It has been estimated that 3% of the world’s flowering plants contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids

Many poisons are harmful to us because they damage the liver. This makes sense because the liver is where we denature toxins and prepare them to be excreted as bodily waste, and so these chemicals are sent there. Pyrrolizidine is no exception, and can cause liver damage in large amounts as well as tumours. Animals with simple digestive systems (like horses or humans, which do not have compartmentalized stomachs and do not chew cud) are at risk.

Alkaloids are produced by living beings usually for self-defense purposes. Many alkaloids have a psychoactive effect. Caffeine is an alkaloid, so are compounds like morphine, nicotine, cocaine, psyilocin and medicinal compounds like berberine (an antibacterial compound found in goldenseal) and quinine.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids can be removed from a food or medicinal plant by cooking the plant in several changes of water to which has been added a pinch of baking soda or wood ash. Avoid consuming large quantities over a long period of time.
halifaxearthtech: Photo by Daniel Keshet 2004 from Wikimedia Common (Botany)
Today I swung by the Quingate tower rooftop garden to take a look at things. I harvested most of my onions (dakota tear, from Hope Seeds), that I'd started last August and left in the ground all winter. The thought was that they would then be 'sets' and would get a jump on the season this year, which they have. They are also bolting, as I half expected they would. I'll save some seeds for more onions and as a spice but in the meantime I have enough green onions for two large vats of soup! I harvested them because I didn't want them all to bolt. After chopping them all I know why they're called Dakota Tear! Whew!

I got to talk to a tenant about the status of the tenant garden club. He is managing two of the raised beds for himself and another for a disabled friend of his. He says the other tenants are eyeing the strawberry bed with anticipation. I told him that I did not reapply to be community gardener at Killam due to a lack of real tenant recruitment. The EAC and I are still deciding what to do about the situation.

In the meantime the pollinator garden looks fabulous! Such a tapestry of textures, and great success from a variety of good-looking wildflowers that will self seed: bachelor buttons, nigella, tansy, oxeye daisies, Monarda, annual phlox, red clover, lupins, motherwort, some wild mustards and more, even some convolvulus that I snuck in, because I like it very much. Some unknown people have been bringing up many bags of soil and black containers for what they told my friend was a "gardening experiment". If it is the sort of garden experiment of dubious legality that it calls to my mind, they might want to seek out more cover! My curiosity is piqued.

Photos of Quinpool tower will be posted soon!

I heard from the lovely Jayme Melrose at the farmer's market today. Apparently they have clearance to start putting in hard infrastructure as soon as next week, starting with a shed and a washroom. Several diverse groups will have garden rows, including Laing House, the Arc, Phoenix Youth, a recent immmigrants organization, Capital Health, Dalhousie students, Dalhousie faculty, Occupy Nova Scotia, and many more. Exciting beginnings are on the way!
halifaxearthtech: Photo by Panphage from the Wikimedia Commons (Soil)
The spring workshop roster is filling up. Next tuesday on Valentine's day I'll be presenting at WHW Architects on Humanure, and this saturday at the office of my federal riding's representative Megan Leslie with some friends about Peak Oil and Transition.

On the mushroom front, I'm sorry to say that the enoki had a fruit-fly event. Take it from me if you're going to propagate spawn from a mushroom butt it helps to remove the old butt material after the mycellium has taken. I salvaged some mycelliated cardboard and sandwitched it between damp untreated sawdust. So far the flies seem to be leaving it alone. There is also some Penicillium chrysogenum on the surface of the burlap sacks, but the Pleurotus is so vigorous that I'm not going to give up on it. I don't expect to see fruit until the autumn from any of my scaled-up sawdust sacks.

Seed starting season is almost upon us! I'm pleased to report that I'm assisting Owen Bridge of Annapolis Seeds at the Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings. He has a much expanded inventory this year including many interestingly shaped and coloured tomatoes. He reports that business has accommodated the move of Hope Seeds from New Brunswick to the Annapolis valley quite well, with Hope concentrating more on seed potatoes and in servicing producing farmers, and Annapolis Seeds gearing more toward the urban very-small holder and beautiful and unusual vegetables. I am enjoying the chance to help this very worthy project and to spread the word of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds to the public.

I've also been able to sell European Nightcrawler composting worms over the internet. Response has been greater than I anticipated and I will have to scale up my worm bin before offering any more.

halifaxearthtech: (Default)
(Posted on Oct. 2nd, 2011 10:37 am)

October feels like it's involved many wrap-ups on what worked and what didn't. Autumn has always felt like the beginning of a new year, even before I was doing the pagan thing. I had a meeting yesterday with the members of my community garden and it felt like we came to some good agreements about what to do next (although that came along with some sprinkled "I can do better next year I promise, I just need to *apply* myself". Which doesn't work. I wasn't trying to get people to work harder or feel guilty, just think about what to do with some of the empty fallow land). Someone from the Transition Initiative also wants to do a post-mortem about what worked and what didn't, and I promised someone in Way of the Preserver to do the same.

I gave a permie consultation in St John this week. It turned out to be about a 5 hour drive with breaks so they had a spare room prepared for me and then I drove back on Friday. It's always a tough call deciding how much work is too much and how much is needful for their satisfaction. The clients are a young couple who bought the house and property not long ago. They also own an organic hops farm. They are looking to produce food on their house's property and spend less time maintaining grass, and replace some brush. The property is waterlogged and overrun with Water hemlock, which it will be important to eradicate or control before they have children. Verge had a lot of dryland strategies, being in the prairie, but not a whole lot on drainage (perhaps because draining land is a mainstream strategy that most of dominant culture already does quite well, but that doesn't mean I know how to do it yet.)

Hurricane Ophelia is offshore of us, headed toward offshore-of-Newfoundland. Rob at Verge told us that extremely wet events are good opportunities to watch how water behaves, especially in land that is well vegetated and not prone to obvious erosion.
halifaxearthtech: (Default)
(Posted at Sep. 27th, 2011 07:28 pm)

I had a good talk this morning with friend and permaculture practitioner. Right now I am modifying a list Verge gave me for food forest species from zone 3 to zone 6A. Let me know if you want a copy! The differences are striking. If we push the envelope in Halifax we can grow figs. It's ok, Alberta has much better topsoil!
halifaxearthtech: Photo by Panphage from the Wikimedia Commons (Soil)
(posted September)

The universe just smacked me down big time and I've had a demoralizing morning.
Last winter around November I got together with a couple of volunteers and we removed a lot of goutweed from the strawberry patch of Studley Garden. It is now August of the year after and I returned from a trip away to find the patch not, as I had hoped, taken over by strawberries but that the goutweed had returned, along with rampant blackberries and an abundance of sow thistle (sonchus).
Read more... )


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