Have you ever wanted to grow vegetables in your own backyard? Have you ever wanted to roam a food forest, the surrounding branches loaded with fruit? Have you ever lost an entire crop of lettuce to rabbits, or berries to birds? Do you have a swath of land that isn’t doing anything for anybody? Are your knees and back aching from hours of pulling weeds? Are you a farmer who’s tired of fertilizing and weary of all the damn costs?
PERMACULTURE IS THE ANSWER!!
And hands down THE BEST book to learn about it is “The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture,” by Christopher Shein. Shein makes the lofty principles of permaculture attainable for anyone, from the large-scale farmer to the home grower. Whatever your goal, this book has the tools you need to achieve it. He even shares strategies for off-grid gardeners, because the whole point of permaculture is to grow with the Earth, not against her. If you’re looking for a better way to garden, this is absolutely where you need to start, and likely also where you will finish. And if you’re not looking for a better way to garden, well, you should be! Permaculture cuts down on the work of the gardener by revealing low-maintenance secrets that nature is already using all around us.
Hi friends! You may or may not know that I took a series of classes in the early part of this year about growing medicinal herbs. One of the books recommended by the teacher is “Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies,” by Maria Noel Groves, and I picked up a copy of it like the dutiful student I am. And, let me tell ya, I was NOT disappointed.
This book is an absolute must-have if you’re interested in herbal remedies. Not only does Groves include an encyclopedic appendix of various herbs and their uses, benefits, and in some cases dangers, but she includes snap-shots of healing gardens designed for every ailment that the herbal medicine cabinet could ever think to aid. Her descriptions of preparation methods, from teas to tinctures, are incredibly approachable for anyone from the beginner herbalist to the experienced chemist.
Here in zone 8 my blueberry shrubs are loaded with fruit! I have five different shrubs, each a different variety of blueberry and they’re all ripening at different rates! I couldn’t have planned it better. Each morning and evening I pull in a handful or two of delicious berries. Looking at the shrubs I’ll manage this for another month at least!! Delightful.
Gardening, whether in ground or in containers, outdoors or indoors, requires four things to maintain healthy plants: growing medium, light, water, and nutrients. As long as you have those things, you’re on your way to being a gardener!
If you have space constraints, or you’re moving at some point and don’t want to walk away from your work, or if you don’t have an outdoor area with growing medium, or if you want to grow indoors, container gardening might be just the perfect thing for you. I choose to grow primarily in containers because I move every few years and like to take my plants with me. Some people garden with containers in water, which is generally called hydroponics. Others, like me, focus on containers filled with soil, because I primarily grow plants that naturally grow in soil and I think they deserve that natural medium. This is the style of container gardening on which this series will focus.
Perhaps the first thing to consider with container gardening is how much soil you’ll need and what size container is best. For a plant which is currently smaller but will grow larger, start with a smaller container and increase as necessary.
This plant is a young (1st year) blackberry plant that I started from a root cutting off a larger shrub. It is, consequently, in a smaller container than its parent plant (3 years old).
There they are next to each other. If you give a smaller plant a larger container straight off, its roots will never reach the water that will pond in the soil at the bottom of the pot. This can cause all sorts of problems from rot to bad fungus to insect infestation. As your plant grows, increase its pot size once a year or when you see the ends of the roots peaking through the drain holes. Repot to a container roughly a half size bigger than the current container, or no more than twice as big. You want enough room and fresh soil for the roots to spread and delve, but not too much room that you’ll have lingering water.
Disclaimer: This article will give you a general explanation of why you should bring a map and how to read it. This is NOT a cartography or navigation primer and I am NOT an expert in those subjects.
Okay! Even if you plan to bring your smartphone to take pictures with or to have that security blanket weight in your pocket, be mindful that you are NOT guaranteed cell service on any trail. Connectivity has improved more and more lately, and will likely continue to do so, but no amount of Google can beat the real deal of having a current map to look at and guide you. For trip planning purposes and preparedness on the trail, I highly recommend getting a topographical map. This kind of map has billions of squiggly lines on it that show elevation changes. This information is critical when you are planning your trip.
For example, let’s look at some images of National Geographic’s topographical map for the Mount Rogers Recreational Area.
If this isn’t confusing to you right off the bat, then why the hell are you reading this series of blog posts. If this is confusing, then hurray, you’re in the right place! The trails are marked with dotted lines, and the major ones are highlighted in yellow. Boundaries are highlighted in green. And those light tan/green/gray curvy lines throughout? Those are the elevation lines. The elevation change between each line is 50ft. The further apart the lines are, the more gradual the elevation change.
This bit? A walk in the park.
THIS bit? Absolute murder. Probably a cliff.
Get it? When you’re planning your hike, take these lines VERY seriously. Sure, you can do 10 miles in a day of gentle elevation changes, no problem. But 10 miles which includes more strenuous ups and downs and steep switchbacks? You’re gonna regret that one in the morning. And remember, when you’ve stopped for the day and made your camp, streams and water sources are generally down a slope of some kind. Plan for a little more exercise even after you’ve put down your pack!
And one more word of warning: yes, the Appalachian Trail (or AT, indicated in the white diamond on that second close-up image) is considered to be a maintained trail. That DOES NOT necessarily mean it’s easy. It likes to follow the ridge lines, and when there isn’t a ridge line it has to go down and back up to find the next one. Sometimes spur trails are kinder.
For a really great resource on navigating with a map, click this link here!
Just the word builds mystery and fantasy in our minds. An ancient German forest blanketed in thick, dark green moss and black-barked trees. A tumbling of boulders, capped with orange-and-silver mosses, scattered like dominoes throughout a cheerily trickling mountain stream. A winding forest path carpeted with soft, vibrant moss leading off into the fog.
Well I can’t promise any of the above, but who knows, if you work hard enough and keep planting a few trees every year, you can achieve anything!
But this is how to achieve a moss garden. Let’s start…small! (Like moss! Come on, it was clever.)
Step One: Acquire MOSS!
Look, I know, I know. But it’s easy! I bet there’s some growing in your yard, or on the sidewalk, or on your foundation, or in your favorite park, etc, etc. Moss is EVERYWHERE! That’s part of why we love it! Just go find some moss, and gently work underneath its edge until you can pry it free of its resting place. Be nice! Moss doesn’t have roots, but it does have clinging-bits, and you don’t want to break these if you can help it. That hurts!
Also, be mindful that you don’t take all the moss from one colony. Take some, and leave most to re-populate. After all, even the tiniest of moss supports an even tinier ecosystem!
Step Two: Choose your container and layer it!
Various websites I looked at recommend a terra cota or clay container. I chose some larger, shallow plastic drip trays that I had lying around. You do you. Just make sure it’s a shallow, wide container. It doesn’t necessarily need drain holes, because moss doesn’t need to be soaked.
For your bottom layer you want something that’s going to prevent the top layer from holding too much moisture. Otherwise the moss rots. You don’t want rot, you want moss. Various websites I looked at recommend gravel or, like, tiny rocks. I didn’t have that on hand, but I DID have akadama on hand from my bonsai pursuits, so I used that. You do you. Just keep that soil layer off the bottom of the container.
For your top layer you can do some soil! It’s nice, plants like it.
Step Three: Lay down your kidnapped moss!
Yep, that’s really it. Moss doesn’t have a proper root system. It feeds by photosynthesis and by drawing nutrients from the air and the water, which it just….absorbs. Moss, man. You’ve got soil because it holds some water. There ya go. Kinda press it in gently, with the brown bit down and the green bits up. Mist with water!
Step Four: Enjoy your Moss Garden!
Isn’t it great?! Your kidnapped moss will fluff back up as it hydrates and adapts to its new surroundings. And eventually it’ll propagate by spores and fill out the container! Delightful.
Come see me and purchase my books and/or get them signed this Spring season at the following events:
Marscon 2022. Williamsburg, VA. March 18-20
I’ll be there on the Saturday, March 19, only! Be sure to come by the HCS Publishing booth to get a copy of my books or a copy of the other AMAZING books released by our publishing house. CLICK HERE for more info on the event!
Bacon’s Castle Village Faire. Surry, VA. April 30
The TAPS ghost hunters did an investigation here! If nothing else, come visit the Castle and learn about its history. It’s a really cool place where I’ve done several photo shoots for my dog, Riley. I’ll be at this event in 18th century garb (as befitting the Castle’s history and my books “Hollow Thunder” and “The Loyalty of Dew”) selling and signing all 4 of my books. My father will also be here selling his handmade wooden boxes! (Listed as Lagerstein’s Lumber.) CLICK HERE for more info on the event!
Manassas Viking Festival. Manassas, VA. May 14
IT’S BACK!!!! Come celebrate the TRIUMPHANT return of the Manassas Viking festival! I’ll be there in Viking-era garb (appropriate for CERTAIN EVENTS in my novella “First Watch”) selling and signing my books, and my father will also be there selling his handmade wooden boxes! It’s like I drag him along or something. CLICK HERE for more info on the event!
Yesterday I sowed 16 Eastern redbud seeds in these containers. I scarified and stratified them and this is the final step. Last year I sowed them in March, so I’ve tried them in February this year to see if they benefit from the last throes of winter. Fingers crossed that I haven’t wrecked the whole group!
So, yes, this year is CES Jr’s fourth winter, I think. Something like that. I potted her up this past season so she’s got plenty of space for roots and insulating soil. And yes, last winter I kept her in the garage. And this winter I figured she’d probably grown enough to be okay outdoors.
And then I got scared. Tonight’s forecasted low in my area is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and where CES Jr currently sits is shaded by the house for most of the warming afternoon sunlight time. This means it will probably get cooler there than the forecasted low, and let’s be honest how accurate are those ever, really. So I figured there will probably be some frost around or on her in the morning. But I still wanted to keep her outdoors this winter. Sooooo…….
I put a translucent plastic bag over her, container and all. In theory this should provide a greenhouse-like effect. And then, because maybe I was panicking a little, this happened.
This container holds the bonus blackberry plant that split from the larger shrub’s rootmass when I potted up all of my berries last week. I also grow blueberries and blackberries, you know. But that’s a different story. Check out my Instagram page if you want to see more about that. https://www.instagram.com/nicolerordway/?hl=en
Anyhow, I also covered up the wee bonus blackberry. You’ll notice it’s next to, but not in, my cold frame. This is because the container area I had set aside within for this winter is already full to capacity. I wanted to grow plenty of kale. Looks like, in exchange, I might have compromised some tiny plants in containers. But hopefully it’ll survive. Blackberries are notoriously good at surviving.