Monthly Archives: May 2013

Permaculture Plants: Common Reed

Common Name: Common Reed

Scientific Name: Phragmites australis
Family: Poaceae (the True Grass family… the 5th largest plant family with over 10,000 species!)


  • Phragmites australis subspecies americanus – the North American variety
  • Phragmites australis subspecies australis – the Eurasian variety

In it’s natural habitat, Common Reed will spread along a shoreline.

The Common Reed is found in wetlands around the world from temperate to tropical climates. This perennial grass is likely the most useful species I have documented to date. Most of the plant is edible in one way or another, it can be used to make many things from housing to fences to baskets to paper, and it is a wonderful plant for wildlife (food, shelter, habitat, etc.). Looking forward, I foresee three ways I plan on using this plant. First, it will be part of  my home’s gray water system. Reeds are used in small and very large scale bioremediation systems… they filter out impurities from water flowing through their root systems. Second, reeds are a wonderful way to capture nutrients before leaving a property. A small wetland can be constructed at the lowest end of a property where water typically exits the land. A significant amount of the nutrient that would have flowed off the property in the water can now be captured in the roots and converted into energy to grow the plant. When the reed bed gets overgrown, we can harvest a large quantity of the reeds from the wetlands and transfer that captured nutrient (in the form of cut reeds) back into our system… as compost, mulch, or animal feed (my Third reason). There are few plants that perform so many duties, and we would be wise to consider using this plant in our Permaculture Designs. Keep in mind that this plant can easily spread. A rhizome barrier is recommended to keep it in bounds.


Phragmites australis, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885

Common Reeds are found in temperate climates, as well as sub-topical and tropical climates, around the world. Botanists have not decided if there are multiple subspecies or actual distinct species of the Phragmites genus.


  • Reed Beds are extensive stands of reeds that can grow to a full square kilometer.
  • The subspecies australis can be invasive in climates where it is not native (e.g. North America – it is found in all the U.S. states but Alaska). It easily outcompetes native species. When discussing “invasive” species, my philosophy is that the “invasive” species is only invasive because we have destroyed the natural ecosystem. Most often, the ecosystem is so badly damaged that it would take hundreds of years, literally and at least, to repair if left to the native species. Sometimes, the damage is too great that the native species will never rehabilitate the land. However, I do understand that certain non-native species can wreak havoc on ecosystems that are not particularly damaged. We need to be very careful how, and if, we use those plants. In this case, using the native common reed to North America (subspecies americanus) would be a good place to start, but if you want to build a rhizome barrier and there are already non-native reeds in your area, then utilizing the significantly faster growing australis subspecies may be a viable option. This invasive has already spread into 49/50 U.S. states, so it is unlikely we will be “introducing” it to an area. However, I strongly recommend a rhizome barrier if using the non-native plant.

A Reed Bed as part of a water treatment (or home graywater) system.


Primary Uses:

  • Edible Roots – Raw or cooked – best when young. Dried and ground – used as a porridge.
  • Edible Shoots – Use when young, before the leaves appear. Bamboo shoot substitute – I have to try this. I love bamboo shoots. Some reports state that Cattails have better flavor than Common Reeds as bamboo shoot substitutes.
  • Edible Leaves – Harvest when young and unfolded. Reported to be dried, ground, and added to other flours.
  • Edible Stems – When dried, a powder forms within the stems. This can be extracted, moistened and roasted like marshmallows.
  • Edible Seeds – Raw or cooked – ground into flour
  • Sugar Plant – A sugar is extracted from stalks and stems. It may be eaten raw. It can be extracted through boiling the stems in water, then boiling off the water. I imagine the plant could be macerated similar to Sorghum.

Reed-thatched roof in Germany.

Secondary Uses:

  • Wildlife food plant, especially birds
  • Livestock feed plant.
  • Insect nesting sites, especially Mason Bees
  • Shelter plant for small mammals, birds, and aquatic species
  • Ornamental aquatic and pond/lake plant.
  • Nutrient Sink – Reed Beds can accumulate a lot of nutrients (see information above) which can be transferred to other locations.
  • Bioremediation/Phytoremediation Plant – Reed Beds can be used as part of a biological filtration system to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time.
  • Green Manure Plant.
  • Alcohol Plant – Biofuel can be made by fermenting the sugars into alcohol. This has also been used for fertilizers. It should also be able to produce drinking alcohol as well.
  • Structures – stems used for building dwellings and the plant can be mixed with mud to make a plaster for walls
  • Fiber Plant – used for weaving mats and baskets; also used for insulation, upholstery filler, string, rope, nets, etc.
  • Stems used for fencing, lattices, stakes, etc.
  • Flower Heads used as brooms.
  • Thatching Plant – a reed-thatched roof can last for over 100 years.
  • Erosion Control Plant – the vigorous roots bind the soil and hold it together

Yield: Variable, depends on how it is to be used.
Harvesting: Anytime.
Storage: If using for food, then it should be used within a few days. Flour made from this plant should likely be usable for many months if kept dry.


Common Reeds used as a filtration system and wildlife habitat in the UK.


USDA Hardiness Zone: 5
AHS Heat Zone: no reliable information, but this plant is found in the tropics, so it is likely very heat tolerant. Using a locally adapted plant would be best.
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available on this subject

Plant Type: Perennial Grass, Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Grass
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic or Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: None

Pollination: Self-fertile (pollinated by wind)
Flowering: Late Summer

Life Span: No good information available, but the Common Reed may take 5-10 years to reach mature height. Also, this plant freely spreads through rhizomes and stolons. As one plant is starting to decline, a new plant will be established to take the original plant’s place in the garden and in production.


The Common Reed’s extensive root system.


Common Reeds can provide a lot of biomass.


Size: 6.5-13 feet (2-4 meters) tall and 9 feet (3 m) wide
Roots: Fibrous with Rhizomes (underground stems that send out roots and shoots) and Stolons (above ground stems that can sprout a new plant).
Growth Rate: Fast


Common Reed can be a beautiful plant.


Light: Full to partial sun.
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers wet soils and can grow in marshes, bogs, swamps, and standing water; can tolerate moderately salty water (brackish waters).
pH: 4.8-8.2 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider rhizome barriers if using the australis subspecies.

By seed – quick germination. Can be propagated by division of the roots in early Spring to early Summer – any part of the root with a growth bud will develop a new plant.

Will need to be cut back or grazed to keep growth in check. Almost no pests or diseases.

Spreading – this is a very vigorous and potentially “invasive” plant, specifically the australis subspecies. This can be kept in bounds with either a rhizome barrier, frequent harvesting or grazing.


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    In Defense of my Ninth Layer (of the Forest Garden): the Mycelial/Fungus Layer

In Defense of my Ninth Layer (of the Forest Garden): the Mycelial/Fungus Layer

(photo above is the Shaggy Mane Mushroom (Coprinus comatus), one possible addition to our Forest Garden design)

I wrote an article yesterday outlining my proposal to add two layers to the Forest Garden. You can read that article here: Nine Layers of the Edible Forest Garden. Within just 24 hours, I have received a number of emails and comments in support. While almost everyone has agreed with my addition of the EighthLayer: Aquatic/Wetland Layer, I have a number of people questioning the details of the Ninth Layer: Mycelial/Fungus Layer. Most are asking why add Fungus but not bacteria, or worms, protozoa, etc. for that matter? Why not just call it the Underground Life Layer or Soil Layer or something else that is more inclusive?

Well, here is my response.

Let me start by restating what I wrote yesterday:
This is my second new layer to the Forest Garden. Fungal networks live in healthy soils. They will live on, and even within, the roots of plants in the Forest Garden. This underground fungal network transports nutrients and moisture from one area of the forest to another depending on the needs of the plants. It is an amazing system which we are only just beginning to comprehend. As more and more research is being conducted on how mycelium help build and maintain forests, it is shocking that this layer has not yet been added to the list. In addition to the vital work this layer contributes to developing and maintaining the forest, it will even provide mushrooms from time to time that we can utilize for food and medicine. If we are more proactive, we can cultivate this layer intentionally and dramatically increase our harvest.

Now let me elaborate a bit.

Permaculture is about design. The seven existing layers of the Forest Garden are designed by us. Nature takes what we have designed and runs with it. We just get to benefit from nature’s work. We can also design the Mycelial/Fungus Layer. We can choose to inoculate with specific fungus. We will provide specific habitats. Of course, nature will also do it’s own thing, but we can use design to influence (and experiment) with how we would like the Mycelial/Fungus Layer to be incorporated into our system. The other soil elements (worms, protozoa, bacteria) will be a natural component of our Forest Garden, but they will not be an element designed by us.

If we look at things from a broader scale, we need to consider that pastures and fields are bacteria predominant. This is strongly influenced by the ruminent animals that live in this enviroment and deposit large amounts of bacteria-laden manure on a daily basis. As a fields lays fallow and are not grazed by ruminents, the fungal population rises. The mycelium will then “select” which bacteria stay and which ones are not allowed to stay; the fungi can actually produce antibiotics to achieve this. Perennial plants and shrubs will start to take over the fields which will then allow pioneer trees and then young forest trees and finally mature forest trees. All the time this is occuring the fungal to bacteria ratio is climing, eventually reaching at least a 10:1 ratio and likely closer to a 20:1 ration (i.e there are 20 times more fungi than bacteria).

While we may occasionally use some bacterial inoculum on our legumes and other nitrogen-fixing plants at the onset of development, and this will speed the land recovery process, it is the fungi that are our primary goal. Using fungal inoculum on our shrubs and trees in the Forest Garden will give them a significant advantage, and this has been proven time and time again in well-designed research studies. You can read any of the work from Paul Stamets (my favorite is Mycelium Running) to get an overwhelming amount of references for the benefits of fungi in the forest. While bacteria and other elements play a role in healthy soils, the influence of any of these elements is nothing compared to that of fungi.

In addition, while the other elements (worms, protazoa, etc.) are very important for soil health, we can harvest almost nothing from them. Fungi will produce mushrooms which can be used in many ways. We can eat them; mushrooms are one of my favorite foods. We can use them for medicine; this has been practiced for thousands of years, and modern medicine is just finally starting to acknowledge their benefit outside of antibiotics. As a physician, I am well aware of this. We can also use them for dyes, fire starters, crafts, and even water and soil rehabilitation (mycofiltration and mycoremediation respectively). While illegal in many countries, the Psilocybin mushrooms are used for their psychoactive properties to induce a “spiritual experience”. It is very difficult to explain this (and I have not tried it), but those who have report an insight to the natural world which they cannot quite explain but they often describe as the most significant moments in their lives. It is easy to shrug this off as a form of intoxication, and maybe that is all there is to it, but researchers are now using these mushrooms to successfully treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Migraines. Finally, with any of these mushrooms, and I mean the legal ones now, we can also sell them for a supplementary income. The other elements of the “soil layer” don’t offer anything close to this.

Finally, and closely related to the previous point, we will do almost nothing to manage any portion of the soil elements other than the fungi. We will be “managing” the fungi if we want a reliable harvest. We will innoculate our tree roots. We will provide wood chips or straw or manure or logs which provide food for them, which will in turn provide mushrooms for us. This is exactly how we treat every other layer in the Food Forest system. We provide for their needs and then harvest the surplus. Again, the other elements in the soil do not need our managment and they provide no harvest for us.

There you have it. These are my reasons and defense for my addition of the Ninth Layer of the Edible Forest Garden: Mycelial/Fungus Layer.


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Nine Layers of the Edible Forest Garden (Food Forest)

Food Forests have been around for thousands of years in tropical and sub-tropical climates. In fact, there is a Food Forest currently still producing food in Morocco that was established 2,000 years ago! The concept of food forestry was almost lost to the annals of history when Robert Hart decided to adapt this design to his temperate climate in the UK in the 1960’s. The idea of a Forest Garden was brought to the public’s awareness when Robert wrote a book documenting his grand experiment. Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, visited Robert’s site in 1990, and he quickly adopted this design element into his teachings and work. Initially, when Robert Hart described the layers of the Forest Garden, I believe he did so based on what he had and what he studied. Since then, Robert Hart’s categorization of the layers of the Forest Garden has stood unquestioned.

Until now.

I am not actually arguing about the existing layers. My issue is that there are certain layers that have been ignored or overlooked. My goal is to resolve this discrepancy today. As you can see in my illustration above, I believe that there are 9 layers in a Forest Garden. The first 7 are identical to Robert Hart’s initial design. The missing layers are the Aquatic or Wetland Layer and the Mycelial or Fungus Layer.

Here are my Nine Layers of the Edible Forest Garden:

  1. Canopy/Tall Tree Layer
  2. Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer
  3. Shrub Layer
  4. Herbaceous Layer
  5. Groundcover/Creeper Layer
  6. Underground Layer
  7. Vertical/Climber Layer
  8. Aquatic/Wetland Layer
  9. Mycelial/Fungal Layer


1. Canopy or Tall Tree Layer
Typically over 30 feet (~9 meters) high. This layer is for larger Forest Gardens. Timber trees, large nut trees, and nitrogen-fixing trees are the typical trees in this category. There are a number of larger fruiting trees that can be used here as well depending on the species, varieties, and rootstocks used.

2. Sub-Canopy/Large Shrub Layer
Typically 10-30 feet (3-9 meters) high. In most Forest Gardens, or at least those with limited space, these plants often make up the acting Canopy layer. The majority of fruit trees fall into this layer.

3. Shrub Layer
Typically up to 10 feet (3 meters) high. The majority of fruiting bushes fall into this layer. Includes many nut, flowering, medicinal, and other beneficial plants as well.

4. Herbaceous Layer
Plants in this layer die back to the ground every winter… if winters are cold enough, that is. They do not produce woody stems as the Shrub layer does. Many cullinary and medicinal herbs are in this layer. A large variety of other beneficial plants fall into this layer.

5. Groundcover/Creeper Layer
There is some overlap with the Herbaceous layer and the Groundcover layer; however plants in this layer are often shade tolerant, grow much closer to the ground, grow densely to fill bare patches of soil, and often can tolerate some foot traffic.

6. Underground Layer
These are root crops. There are an amazing variety of edible roots that most people have never heard of. Many of these plants can be utilized in the Herbaceous Layer, the Vining/Climbing Layer, and the Groundcover/Creeper Layer.

7. Vertical/Climber Layer
These vining and climbing plants span multiple layers depending on how they are trained or what they climb all on their own. They are a great way to add more productivity to a small space, but be warned. Trying to pick grapes that have climbed up a 60 foot Walnut Tree can be interesting to say the least.

8. Aquatic/Wetland Layer
This is my first new layer to the Forest Garden. Some will say that a forest doesn’t grow in the water, so this layer is inappropriate for the Forest Garden. I disagree. Many forests have streams flowing through or ponds in the center. There are a whole host of plants that thrive in wetlands or at the water’s edge. There are many plants that grow only in water. To ignore this large list of plants is to leave out many useful species that provide food, fiber, medicinals, animal feed, wildlife food and habitat, compost, biomass, and maybe most important, water filtration through bioremediation (or phytoremediation). We are intentionally designing Forest Gardens which incorporate water features, and it is time we add the Aquatic/Wetland Layer to the lexicon.

9. Mycelial/Fungal Layer
This is my second new layer to the Forest Garden. Fungal networks live in healthy soils. They will live on, and even within, the roots of plants in the Forest Garden. This underground fungal network transports nutrients and moisture from one area of the forest to another depending on the needs of the plants. It is an amazing system which we are only just beginning to comprehend. As more and more research is being conducted on how mycelium help build and maintain forests, it is shocking that this layer has not yet been added to the list. In addition to the vital work this layer contributes to developing and maintaining the forest, it will even provide mushrooms from time to time that we can utilize for food and medicine. If we are more proactive, we can cultivate this layer intentionally and dramatically increase our harvest.
UPDATE: I have received numerous comments and questions about this layer. I wrote a more detailed description and defense of this layer here.

So this is my proposal to the Permaculture world. Let’s consider all nine layers when designing our Forest Gardens.


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Predatory Gastropods… aka Carnivorous Snails and Slugs

I struggled with slugs in my garden this Winter. I live in a mild weather location, an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Our Winters are chilly but not cold. We have no snow, but we have a lot of rain and wind, and with that rain comes a lot of snails and slugs.


Two-Toned Gulella (Huttonella bicolor) is a predatory snail introduced around the world.

In my readings on snails and slugs, and ways to eradicate them, I came across the predatory gastropods. I had known that there were a large number of these in the ocean (from my time scuba diving), and I recalled at least one in the Pacific Northwest. However, I was unaware that there are in fact a number of terestrial predatory gastropods… land-living, carnivorous snails and slugs. Cool!


Gray Lancetooth Snails (Haplotrema concavum)

Here are a few quick facts:

  • Most predatory gastropods live in the ocean
  • The terestrial predatory gastropods will eat other snails and slugs if given the choice, but if none are available, they will eat plants.
  • Predatory slugs and snails may eat their victims whole. If the victim is too large, then the predator will eat as much as it can and leave the rest hanging out of its mouth until the first part is digested. This can sometimes lead to a slug or earthworm being digested from it bottom up and still being alive to watch and feel it!
  • Predatory slugs and snails may just take “bites” out of their victims. This is accomplished with rows of teeth (radula toothlets) that rasp away at the victim… kind of like a file being slid across soft wood.
  • Snails will often pull themselves into their shells to hide from the predators. This may save some snails, but a few predators can get past this defense. Some predators will cut a hole in the shell which breaks the vacuum and allow the snail to be pulled out. One predatory gastropod can even excrete acid to burn its way into the shell!
  • There are a number of terestrial predatory gastropods in the world, and there is a good chance you have a native one near you.
  • It is best to encourage native predatory gastropods by learning to identify them and giving them a free pass in the garden, even if they do eat some of the plants.
  • I see no problem with relocating native predatory gastropods from one location to another as long as they are in their native range… i.e. you come across some in the woods near your home and you carry them back to your garden.
  • There is a BIG problem with relocating non-native predatory gastropods… e.g. the Florida Rosy Wolfsnail was relocated to Hawaii, on purpose, in an attempt to eradicate the Giant African Snail that had become invasive in Hawaii. The Florida Rosy Wolfsnail has decimated the natural Hawaiian snail population and has not touched the Giant African Snail population

Rosy Wolf Snail (Euglandina rosea) about to eat a slug.

Here is a quick rundown of some of the more well-known predatory gastropods:

  • Rosy Wolf Snail (Euglandina rosea, Family Spiraxidae): In the United States, it is found in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and southeastern Texas. It is widespread, but usually found singly in hardwood forests, roadsides and urban gardens.
  • Decollate Snail (Rumina decollata, Family Subulinidae): Native to the Mediterranean area, but introduced widely in the United States, Bermuda and Mexico. It is widespread, but localized, in the Sun Belt from California east to Florida and north along the Atlantic coast to Pennsylvania. (Top Photo: a bunch of Decollate Snails attacking a Brown Garden Snail)
  • Gray Lancetooth (Haplotrema concavum, Family Haplotrematidae): Southern Canada to the Gulf States and west to eastern Nebraska and Oklahoma.
  • Two-Toned Gulella (Huttonella bicolor, Family Streptaxidae): Introduced from Asia or southern Africa. Widespread in the Caribbean region. In the United States, it is found in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. It is also found in Brazil, Nicaragua, Australia (Northern Territory), and the Pacific area.
  • Unnamed Predatory Snail (Varicella gracillima floridana, Family Oleacinidae): Found only in the southern tip of Florida.
  • Predatory Glass Snail (Daudebardia species, Family Oxychilidae): Found in central and southern Europe.
  • Dalmation Predator (Poiretia cornea, Family Spiraxidae): Found in western Europe to eastern Asia (related to the Rosy Wolf Snail above).
  • Worm-Eating Slugs (Testacella species, Family Testacellidae): Found in Europe, Africa,  Britain, and Islands in the North Atlantic. These slugs with a shell (yeah, they are still called slugs, not snails) primarily eat earthworms and live most their lives underground. There are some reports of these slugs eating insect larvae as well.
  • Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda, Family Trigonochlamydidae): Found in the UK and Europe down to Turkey. Also a earthworm eater.

Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda)


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Permaculture Design: Frameworks

The design process in Permaculture can sometimes feel overwhelming. There are so many things to consider. How do we, as Permaculture Designers, keep everything straight? How do we make sure we don’t forget an element or fail to consider something important?

While not all-inclusive by any means, one tool we can use to help organize our design is through structured processes sometimes called Frameworks. These simple acronyms were developed initially in engineering and landscape architecture and then further refined for Permaculture.

SADI – This was the original acronym. It is important to note that with a single project (e.g. engineers building a bridge) this process is linear… they start at the top (Survey) and end at the bottom (Implementation).

  • Survey
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation


SADIMET – (image shown at the top of this article) This acronym is significantly more applicable to Permaculture. Note that the “D” is changed from Design to Decisions, as the entire Permaculture project is Design. Also, with Permaculture, this process is circular… we never “arrive” at a finished product. We are constantly evaluating what we have done and making small changes (Tweaking) or larger changes (which have us starting at Survey again).

  • Survey
  • Analysis
  • Decisions
  • Implementation
  • Maintenance
  • Evaluation
  • Tweaking



O’BREDIMET – This final acronym is the one I like best. We start with Observation. Survey can mean the same thing, but Observation is more encompassing. This acronym also breaks out the Analysis section into Boundaries and Resources. The Boundaries for every design project are, first and foremost, the three Permaculture Ethics. The remaining boundaries will vary on the project specifics: climate, slope, water sources, land size, existing structures, budget, legal requirements and limitations, cultural practices, etc.

  • Observation (or Survey)
  • Boundaries (identify boundries)
  • Resources (identify resources)
  • Evaluation
  • Decisions
  • Implementation
  • Maintenance
  • (Re)Evaluation
  • Tweaking


I hope this quick article gives you some tools to systematically think and work through your next Permaculture design project.


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Photo References: All photos/images in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them!

References: Permaculture Design: A step by step guide by Aranya


The Incredible Edible Beet!

The photo above are beets from my garden. The red beet is a Detroit Dark Red, and the yellow beet is a Burpee’s Golden OG. Both are from

There are only a few plants that can be eaten roots to leaves, and beets are one of those plants. But beets are not only edible; they are delicious! On top of that, beets are also nutritional powerhouses. Let’s take a closer look at the incredible, edible beet.

Beet Roots can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw beet roots sliced thin and eaten plain or mixed into salads or other dishes… they will still “bleed” a bit, so make sure the meal can handle the color. I think it gives great visual interest to a dish.

My favorite is slow roasting as it seems to concentrate the sugars in the root. I simply wash the dirt off the roots, lightly sprinkle with oil, wrap in foil, and bake in the oven at 375 F (190 C) for 30-90 minutes. The large beets take longer. Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle. The skins will easily peel right off. Wear gloves unless you don’t mind pink hands for a day!


Red and Yellow Beat Greens

Beet Greens are a great leaf vegetable. The young leaves can be eaten raw alone or mixed with other greens into a salad. The older leaves get much tougher. Red beet leaves seem to get more tough than lighter colored beet leaves in my experience, but that just may have been the varieties I have grown so far. The tougher leaves can be steamed or wilted in a pan with a little butter or broth, and they are a wonderful replacement or adjunct to cooked spinach, collards, etc.


Red and Yellow Beet Ribs
(the stems from the Yellow Beets are more green than yellow though)

I experimented with this one first, then found out I was not the first person to do so (for more of my thoughts on discovering something others have already discovered, please ready my article on Permaculture… Nothing New Under the Sun). Ultimately, I don’t care whether it was my idea or not, I have a great way to utilize the stems, which I call Beet Ribs. And yes I know the difference between a stem, petiole, and midrib, but I like calling them Beet Ribs. I just think that sounds much more dignified and gourmet.

No matter what you call them, they can be sauteed in some butter or oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. When cooked until tender, they will taste like a mix between beets and asparagus. Very addicting!


Beef Tenderloin Medalions and Beets Three Ways – Delicious!

I make it a general rule not to publish food photos as they never look anything like they do in real life. The food usually looks rather unappetizing. They only reason I added one today was that a picture is way easier to show than describe. This meal utilizes the whole beet, root, stems (ribs!), and greens.

The beets are slow roasted as described above. The stems are sauteed with butter as described above. The greens are sauteed with butter and homemade chicken and pork stock. The beef tenderloin was rinsed, dried, allowed to come to room temperature, seasoned with Kosher salt, fresh-cracked black pepper, and freshly ground dried rosmemary from my garden. The beef was seared in a pan with some butter until browed all over. It was then placed in a medium-heated oven for about 15 minutes. After cooked and allowed to rest for 15 minutes, it was sliced thin. Alternating thin slices of beets and beef were laid out over a bed of beet greens.

I also roasted some chicory (endive) as well since I had some in the refrigerator (rolled in olive oil and sprinkled with Kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper). The Beet Ribs were placed over this on either side of the beef and beets. The pan where the beef was cooked was deglazed with some Port and over-ripe blackberries, which I also had in the refrigerator. Then this was put into a food processor. A small red onion was added, along with some more broth, and about a tablespoon of honey. This was pureed and strained and used as a sauce for the dish.

There you have it. My Beef Tenderloin Medalions with Beets Three Ways!

Health Benefits of Beets:

  • High in Fiber – both soluble and insoluble types
  • High in Folic Acid – prevents neural tube defects
  • High in Boron – aids in healthy sex hormone production
  • High in Potassium
  • High in Magnesium
  • High in Phosphorus
  • High in Iron
  • High in Vitamins A, B & C
  • High in Beta-carotene
  • High in Beta-cyanine
  • High in natural nitrates
  • Contains many phytonutrients (like betacyanin) which research has linked to lower cancer rates (especially colon cancer)
  • Beet consumption has been associated with lower rates of heart disease
  • Beets are touted as great blood and liver cleansers and de-toxifiers… I’m still trying to determine what this means and if it has been scientifically proven, but it has been used for this in complimentary/alternative/traditional medicine for ages.


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Permaculture Plants: Blue (Berried) Honeysuckle

Common Name: Blue-Berried Honeysuckle, Blue Honeysuckle, Sweetberry Honeysuckle, Edible Honeysuckle, Haskap

Scientific Name: Lonicera caerulea
Family: Caprifoliaceae (the Honeysuckle family)


Blue Honeysuckle are almost unknown around the world.

I absolutely love to find out about new plants, so when Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast mentioned the Blue Honeysuckle, and I had never heard of such a plant, I immediately set out to investigate. I was not disappointed. The Russians have been working with this plant for quite a while (and more recently the Canadians and Americans as well), so there are a number of improved varieties available. This beautiful Honeysuckle produces edible blue berries which apparently have a good flavor. They also attract bees and can be used for hedging. Sounds like a winning combination for a suburban shrub and a great addition to a Forest Garden.
NOTE: I am indebted to Edible Blue Honeysuckle Gardeners for their review of this article, helpful comments, and knowledge gained from experience. I highly recommend you take a look at their site. It is loaded with great information on this amazing plant.


Lonicera caerulea, 1882, Atlas der Alenflora

The Blue Honeysuckle is native to the northern hemisphere’s temperate climates (i.e. Asia, Europe,  and North America). It has been used by native peoples in these locations for thousands of years, although it never as a main food source. The Russians have done the initial development (using primarily Lonicera caerulea var. edulis), but since the late 1990’s the Canadians (University of Saskatchewan) have been working on  hybridizing Russian varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. edulis) and Japanese varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) from Hokkaido Island, Japan and Americans (Oregon State University) have developed breeding programs using Japanese varieties (Lonicera caerulea var. emphyllocalyx) from Hokkaido Island, Japan.


  • Blue Honeysucle is not naturally found on west coasts of the Northern Hemisphere.
  • The fruit is really a thickened tissue surrounding the two ovaries of each flower .

Blue Honeysuckle can be used as a hedge plant… that produces food!


Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – Although I have never tried it, the flavor is descibed as a mix of raspberry, blueberry, and black currant. Seeds are small and “not noticeable”.
    • Raw – used as any other fresh berry
    • Cooked – used in sauces and savory meals
    • Baked – used in pastries, tarts, pies, etc.
    • Preserved – used in Jams, Jellies, Preserves, etc.
    • Fruit Leather
    • Dried – I imagine it could be dried, but I can find no reference for this
    • Primary or Secondary flavoring for Beers, Wines, Liquors, Cordials, etc.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Nectar source for Hummingbirds
  • Ornamental Plant
  • Edible Hedge plant (space at 3-4 feet apart, and this “clumping, thicket forming” shrub will fill in over time)

Yield: 7 lbs (3 kg) on mature shrub.
Harvesting: Late Summer. Berries will turn blue before they fully ripen; the inside of the berry will change from green to deep purple-red when ripe.
Storage: Use within a few days. Berries can be frozen for later use. It is easier to freeze berries individually in a baking sheet, then put them into a freezer bag. Then the berries are not frozen together in a lump, and we can easily use just what we need.


A great plant for a suburban yard or in the Shrub Layer of a Forest Garden.


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 2-6  Russian varieties are adapted to Zones 2-5; Japanese varieties are adapted to Zones 2-6. It is not known how warm of a Zone this plant will thrive and produce fruits.
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information could be found… I don’t think anyone really knows this yet.
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available. If the plant is not producing well in warmer climates, it may be because it has not had enough chilling hours/units.

Plant Type: Medium-sized, clumping Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are varieties available (some consider these sub-species), and there are a number of improved cultivars as well

Pollination: Requires cross-pollination with another compatible variety, and both plants will produce fruit. Cross-pollination charts would be great, but I cannot find one (if one even exists).
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (April-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Can live for 30+ years

Blue Honeysuckles have beautiful flowers.



Size: 5-6.5 feet (1.5-2 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous with a tendency toward shallow if not deeply watered during establishment (3 years)
Growth Rate: Medium


The bottom of the fruit may be deeply involuted or have one, two, or no dimples.


Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates some shade, but fruiting will likely decrease
Moisture: Perfers moist soils. Deep watering is important during their establishment phase (first three years) so that the plant will develop deep roots.
pH: 5.0-7.0 (but will tolerate alkaline soils to 8.0)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Blue Honeysuckles do not like cold winds, so windbreaks (to the North and West) are recommended. Protect the plants in cold Winter climates!
  • There does not appear to be much information or research done on growing this plant in places other than northern climates, even above the Arctic Circle! If you are in a more southern location, it is probably better to consider the Japanese varieties first… but I don’t think anyone really knows.

Named cultivars are propagated by tissue culture. Autumn layering is more successful than cuttings.   Softwood cuttings are more successful than hardwood cuttings. Seeds from named cultivars will not come true as named cultivars are F1 hybrids. Seeds need about 8-13 weeks of cold stratification. Seeds will germinate after being in the freezer for at least 4 months.

Maintenance: Minimal.

There are some reports that this plant can spread too easily (by birds eating seed), although there may not be much evidence to support this. This may be more of a theoretical risk. As I usually say, that is likely a good thing, as this plant is a better choice than most “landscaping” plants in suburbia.


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Identify the Permaculture Mutation (Part 2)

I recently wrote an article about titled, The Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutation. It started out like this:

Mutations in nature can be good, they can be neutral, or they can be harmful. Any idea or philosophy or science can also mutate as time and people influence it. Oftentimes, these mutations are truly beneficial for the maturation of that science or philosophy, and other times these mutations can be very detrimental to its credibility and acceptance.

I believe there are two mutations that have occured in Permaculture that have been detrimental to its credibility and acceptance in the world. These mutations have kept Permaculture from becoming more mainstream. It is only because of the integrity and grandeur of the design science we call Permaculture that it has still has gained such international recognition.

So what are these two mutations? The first I will save for my next article. The second is that years ago people bastardized the Third Ethic of Permaculture.

Well, now it is time for the “next article”…

I have a feeling that some people will be bothered or upset or flat out angry with my thoughts, and I am okay with that. My goal is to bring Permaculture to the world. If your ideologies are preventing that, I am truly sorry, but you need to stand down. I come across so many people that say they want Permaculture to be brought to the world, but what they really mean is that they want their version of Permaculture brought to the world. But guess what? There is only one Permaculture. There are many expressions of Permaculture, but there is only one core. This is what I am trying to get to today.

The mutation I want to discuss today is that, at its core Permaculture is a religion. This is not anywhere close to true. It is an ethical design science. It is not a religion. To be fair, I understand that most people would not call Permaculture a religion, but they certainly act like it.

Now, before I get too deep into this, I need to say a few things. First, I would consider myself a fundamental Conservative Christian Evidenced-Based-Environmentalist Libertarian … there are probably a lot more -isms that I could identify with, but this is who I am at my core. I think we need to be honest with ourselves and be able to identify our own worldview before we start to address worldview issues on the whole.

Second, in a nice way, I don’t really care what you believe as long as you are not forcing it on me. I have friends who are Athiests, Agnostics, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Muslims, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Straight, Gay, and almost any other major category you can identify. Do we always agree on major goals in life? Well, yeah, actually we do. Do we always agree on the details and the path to get there? Heck, no! But that is okay. Again, in a nice way, I don’t care. Do I think I am right and they are wrong? Of course I do! And they usually feel the same in reverse. And that is okay. Will I try to persuade them (and you!) to see the world as I do? Of course! But I will try my best not to be confrontational or insulting. I will back up as much of what I can say with logic and evidence. If they do not want to participate in that discussion, it is fine. No problem! We can easily discuss only the things on which we agree.

Third, we need to remember that we can learn from people who have completely different worldviews than we do. We would be foolish to think that a dance instructor or a chef or a carpenter doesn’t know how to dance or cook or build  just because they voted for Obama or Bush or Mickey Mouse! I may not go to them for political advice, but we can certainly learn from people who have differing world views. Sometimes, they make the best teachers for us, because they make us really think and really question and, therefore, we really understand.

Okay, now back to my main point.

There are too many people who push Permaculture as an expression of their religion… specifically those who are modern-day witches, Pagans, and Wiccans, and/or those who participate in (Mother) Earth Spirit or Gaia or Goddess worship. Let me be very clear with this. I personally see Permaculture as an expression of my Christian faith; really, I see all of science as an expression of my faith. I see no problem with a Wiccan seeing Permaculture as an expression of their faith, even if I don’t personally agree with that faith. The problem I have is when that faith or belief or worldview is pushed onto a person.

This has been the case far too often and for far too long. This is one of the reasons people are turned off by Permaculture.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Who has ever said, “Well, I don’t believe in the principles of Biology or Chemistry, so therefore I can’t accept its tenets.” That would be ridiculous! Of course, for those antagonists out there, there are certain aspects of one science or another where people can take issue. That is usually when more research is done and a new theory is proposed or a new law is discovered. This is how science works.

But how often do you hear, “Well, I am not interested in your view on that” or “I have a fundamentally different worldview on that issue.”

If the world saw Permaculture as a science (which it is!) and not an expression of a new-age religion, then no one would be turned off to it. But time and time again, because of the excess baggage being strapped to the back of Permaculture, people and communities and governments are turned off to it.

What am I proposing? We need to teach Permaculture as it was meant to be taught. It needs to be based on the science as outlined by the originator (Bill Mollison) in his 72-hour course. If you want to add other things on top of it, go ahead, but make it optional and clearly state that it is not Permaculture. For instance, if you want to have a folk-singing or chanting or naked-dancing session around the fire in the evenings then go for it, but don’t make it a required part of a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). If you want to combine Permaculture with your worldview, then advertise it as such… PDC for Gaia Worshippers or PDC for Flat-Earthers or whatever. This allows people to differentiate the science and the worldview. There is a group called the Gay Republicans. With this title, people automaticaly understand that all people who are Gay are not Republicans, and all Republicans are not Gay. See how simple that is? Also, be very clear during the PDC when you are teaching the science of Permaculture and when you are expressing your worldview. In reality, there is enough science to take up almost all the teaching time during a PD, that there really is no need to expound your personal view of the universe.

I’ll bring it back to how I started the article. I do believe that our goal is to bring Permaculture to the world. To do that we need to present it in a way that is scientific and verifiable.

Thank goodness we have people like Geoff Lawton and John Liu who are not trying to convince the world. They are out there showing the world that Permaculture is a reproducible science. Let’s cull the mutation where Permaculture is taught as a religion, and let’s bring Permaculture to the world!


Note: While I was writing these two articles, Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast published a similar article. I find it really interesting how similar our arguments are. You can read his article here: What exactly is a PDC and what it isn’t.

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The Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutation

Mutations in nature can be good, they can be neutral, or they can be harmful. Any idea or philosophy or science can also mutate as time and people influence it. Oftentimes, these mutations are truly beneficial for the maturation of that science or philosophy, and other times these mutations can be very detrimental to its credibility and acceptance.

I believe there are two mutations that have occured in Permaculture that have been detrimental to its credibility and acceptance in the world. These mutations have kept Permaculture from becoming more mainstream. It is only because of the integrity and grandeur of the design science we call Permaculture that it has still has gained such international recognition.

So what are these two mutations? The first I will save for my next article. The second is that years ago people bastardized the Third Ethic of Permaculture. I wrote an article outlining all three ethics in this previous article, but I only touched on this topic. I think I was trying to be more non-confrontational at that time, but a recent experience has fired me up a bit more.

The three Permaculture Ethics are:

  1. Earth Care
  2. People Care
  3. Return of Surplus

As I explained in my previous article, the original third ethic was “Set Limits to Population and Consumption”. But that is not what it is anymore. The Third Ethic is now “Return of Surplus”.

People often wonder a few things when they hear this. Who decided to change it? Why did they change it? And did they have the “authority” to change it?

Let’s start with a little history. Bill Mollison and his graduate student, David Holmgren, are named as the co-originators of Permaculture. They published the first book, Permaculture One, in 1978. I truly believe that Holmgren played a very significant role in the origination of Permaculture. However, after the initial creation and huge success of the book, Holmgren sort of disappeared from the international world of Permaculture. He states that he wanted to put these concepts into practice, and he did that for the next decade mainly on his mother’s property and then on his own. From online resources (granted this may not be accurate), David didn’t start formally teaching Permaculture until 1991. During this time, Bill Mollison had travelled the world many times over teaching everyone he could about Permaculture. He became the world leader of the movement. During this time, Bill Mollison founded the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia (PRI). PRI has been the home of Permaculture ever since, and it is truly the hub (or “mothership” as some have called it) for the worldwide teaching of Permaculture.

With all that said, it was PRI who changed the third ethic to Return of Surplus. To be honest, I don’t know when this official change occurred, but these are the three ethics that have been taught for years by PRI. Geoff Lawton now runs PRI, and some may try to say that it is Geoff Lawton who changed it. However, Bill and Geoff taught this information together many times, so it was not that Geoff changed Bill’s original idea.

In my opinion, this ethic was refined or clarified… not really changed.

I believe this ethic was restated as Return of Surplus, because so many people started to use this ethic as a tool to push their own social agendas and political ideals. I also believe that as the science of Permaculture matured, and it is still a relatively new science in the grand scope, a refining of the core ethics may have been needed. This is a common practice in science. A concept or “theory” needs to be refined as more information is discovered and as more applications of that science occurs.

In 2002, David Holmgren published Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. In this book, Holmgren restates the third ethic as Fair Share: Set Limits and Redistribute Surplus. This is a very interesting interpretation of the third ethic. The first part, “Fair Share”, has been used by Geoff Lawton to help describe the third ethic (Return of Surplus). I have said before that “Fair Share” is nice because it rhymes with the other two ethics (Earth Care, People Care), but it is rather vague on its own. “Set Limits” sounds a lot like the original text of the third ethic (Set Limits to Population and Consumption). But “Redistribute Surplus” has a lot of connotations, and depending on your personal worldview, it can mean a couple of things.

If you are of the same mindset as Bill and Geoff at PRI, then this can easily mean “Return of Surplus”, i.e. redistribute the surplus energy back into the systems that care for the Earth and care for People. However, if you are a person with a more socialist or communist worldview, then it can easily mean, “if you make more than you need, then you should give it away to other people… including those who have done nothing to earn it”. Whether this is what Holmgren meant or not… I don’t know. I honestly doubt it, but it is still out there as a competing Third Principle of Permaculture.

There is nothing wrong with being altruistic. In fact, I encourage it. I also think the idea of communisim is rather nice, but time and time again history has proven it to be unsustainable.  Unfortunately, the ideology behind this mutated iteration of the Third Ethic often gets pushed on new students. They are taught that if they really want to practice Permaculture the “way it was designed”, then they should live in a commune, own nothing, and give away all the things they produce. If you produce apples, then you can eat them or sell some of them at a Farmer’s Market to cover your rent, but the rest should be given away. And if you produce something like a book, then it should be given away for free, this is true of music and teaching as well.

This is the concept that has pervaded Permaculture for too long. This, I believe, is a big reason why Permaculture has not spread more through the world. Who wants to put all the work and effort, energy and resources into a project just to have a bunch of free loaders demand rights to the fruits of your labor? How will a person be able to feed their family and pay the bills if everything they work for is given away for free?

Here is an example I came across and why this article was written:

Geoff Lawton recently released an online Permaculture Design Course which I am currently taking and very excited about. It was not cheap, but it is less expensive than many live courses. It is half the price of the courses Geoff Lawton teaches in-person, and you don’t have to pay airfare to fly to Australia. In an online message board, one person stated with righteous indignation, “If Geoff was truly practicing Permaculture and adhering to Permaculture Ethics, then he would give this course away for free.”


Do I blame this person? Yeah, sort of. But I also blame the rest of the Permaculture practitioners who are either flat out promoting this ideology or are passively ignoring it. Permaculture is not about socialism. It is not about living in a commune. It is not about working for free. It is a science. It is about sustainability. These people do not understand that it is not sustainable to give everything away. They do not understand that making a good and decent living is not anti-Permaculture.

Until we can sever the idea of Permaculture being a new expression of socialism or communism, then we will not break into the mainstream. It is time we cull the mutated Third Ethic, and take Permaculture to the masses!

Next time, I will tackle my other reason Permaculture is not more mainstream. Stay tuned!


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Vine-Ripened Tomatoes… yet another lie by modern Ag!

Once again, I am dismayed by the lies told and sold to us by the modern agriculture industry. My most recent find is that of “Vine-Ripened Tomatoes”. I did a bit of reading on this subject to verify this lie. What I found was frustrating to say the least.

Commercial tomatoes are typically picked when green. To be clear, they need to be considered “mature green”. This means the tomato has crossed a specific threshold where it will continue to mature, and redden, even after it is picked. If the tomato is picked before it is “mature green”, then it will eventually rot without turning soft and red.

The reason tomatoes are picked when green is that they are much easier to handle – they don’t bruise or break. They will survive being shipped without bruising and splitting. En route, the tomato will eventually turn red. Hopefully, if it is timed right, this occurs just when it is being placed on the grocery store shelf.

There are some reports that tomatoes are gassed with ethylene to speed maturation. This is done with other fruits for sure, but in my quick search, I could not find this happening with tomatoes after they were harvested. I saw quite a bit of information on how to gas tomato plants to speed maturation before they were picked,… while they are in the field or hydroponic set-up, but very little for post-harvest tomato gassing.

Now, if you have bought tomatoes from a conventional grocery store anytime in the last few years, you have a decision to make. Do you choose the individual tomatoes (often labelled hydroponic), or do you choose those five or six bright red tomatoes still on the vine? The individual tomatoes are larger and a little cheaper. The “vine-ripened” tomatoes are a little more expensive, but they are brighter, and they were ripened on the vine… so they must be fresher or taste better or… something. Right?


They are often a different variety, but sometimes they are the exact same variety as the loose tomatoes being sold. There are two significant differences that I can find between the vine-ripened tomatoes and the individially sold tomatoes:

  1. They are on a vine.
  2. They are allowed to ripen on the vine before being picked.

This is not meant to be sarcastic. It is the truth. The problem is that what the average consumer believes is meant by “allowed to ripen on the vine” is entirely different than what most commercial producers mean.

I would take this to mean that the tomatoes are allowed to mature until red and ready to eat. Then they are carefully picked and delivered to a local grocer at, or almost at, prime eating ripeness.

The commercial producer monitors his maturing tomato plants. Once the tomatoes have transitioned into Maturation Stage Two according to the United States Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Fruit and Vegetable Divsion, then they can be considered “ripened”, because they have indeed ripened from Stage One to Stage Two.


USDA Tomato Ripening Stages

So, those “vine-ripened” tomatoes are picked with almost, but not quite, entirely green. They are then treated the same as every other commercial tomato, but we pay a bit more for them. Granted, there may be some places and some growers who do indeed harvest their tomatoes at more mature stages, but they are not required to do so. They are not in violation of false marketing. They are not, by point of law, lying to the general public.

Yeah, right! This is a technicality. This is misleading. It is meant to give a perception of something that is not, and that is a lie by my definition. But who am I to make such claims? Let’s see what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us:

Lie intransitive verb

    1. to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
    2. to create a false or misleading impression

Well, that sounds like a lie to me. But you can make your own decision. As for me, I am once again a bit more disillusioned than I was.

Now, to add insult to injury, let me share the results of research done by the University of Florida (published in the Nov 1998 Journal of the American Society for Horticultual Science). The study states that there were no perceived differences in taste, texture, or visual appeal between “mature greens” and “vine-ripened” tomatoes.

This means that for over 15 years, we have PROOF that there is no perceived difference between these two types of tomatoes, yet they still charge more! The old marketing slogan, “Perception is Reality” is at play here, and the marketing is effective. We have fallen for a great name (“vine-ripened”) and have allowed them to feed us something resembling food. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon for these producers. The “uniformed public” are becoming smarter. We have tasted real food again, and we are aware of your secret…

Your tomatoes taste like wet cardboard!

So fight back. Fight against the lies of the modern agricultural industry. Don’t just buy “organic”. Buy local. Or better yet… grow it yourself!

Taste a real, honest, vine-ripened tomato from your own backyard.


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