Monthly Archives: January 2014

Permaculture Plants: Water Spinach, Kangkong, Ong Choy

Common Name: Water Spinach, Kangkong, River Spinach, Water Morning Glory, Ong Choy, Water Convolvulus, Swamp Cabbage
Scientific Name: Ipomoea aquatica
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Morning Glory or Bindweed family)

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Ipomoea aquatica goes by many names around the world!

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Water Spinach is a common vegetable in Asian cuisine.

Common Names (I did the best I could considering I speak none of these languages!):

  • Bengali = kalmi shaak or kalami
  • Burmese = gazun ywet or kan-swun
  • Cantonese (Jyutping) = weng cai or tung coi or ong tsoi or ung coi  (sometimes transliterated as ong choy)
  • Chinese (Mandarin) = kōng xīn cài or toongsin tsai
  • Chinese (Hokkien) = eng ca
  • Dutch = waterspinazie
  • Filipino and Tagalog = kangkóng or cancong
  • Hindi = kalmua or kalmi or kalmisaag
  • Japanese = asagaona or ensai or kankon or kuushin sai or stuu sai
  • Khmer (in Cambodia) = trâkuön
  • Korean = kong sim chae or da yeon chae
  • Laotian = pak bong or bongz
  • Malay and Indonesian = kangkung or ballel
  • Thai = phak bung or pak hung or phak thotyot
  • Vietnamese = rau mung
Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Water Spinach has spinach-like leaves and hollow stems.

Description:
My first experience with this plant was in the Asian supermarkets while I was living in Minnesota. I was very curious about it, but it took many trips before I got up the nerve to sample the bright green leaves. I had no idea what the vegetable was called, but it was quite good. It came as no surprise when I heard it called Water Spinach, as it really does taste like “regular” spinach; althought Water Spinach has a bit nuttier taste.

While the plants I normally highlight on this site are perennial and well suited to cool or cold climates, I do make exceptions for exceptional plants, and Water Spinach (or Kangkong) is one of them. It is common in Southeast Asia and grows with almost no care in many waterways. Unfortunately, because it grows so easily, it has been named an “invasive” in many parts of the United States. In warmer locations, it can be grown as a perennial. In cool to cold locations, it can be grown as an annual or as a greenhouse plant. It grows so fast and easily, and tastes so good, that I think everyone in a Temperate Climate should be growing this plant indoors in the Winters and outside in the Summers.

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 - Wasserspinat - Water Spinach

Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. 1775 – Wasserspinat – Water Spinach

History:
Botanists are unsure where Water Spinach originated, but it likely came from somewhere in eastern India to Southeast Asia. It was first documented in 304 AD with the Chin Dynasty in China. Currently it is found throughout tropical and subtropical regions around the world, but is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Red-Stemmed Water Spinach has pink to purple flowers.

Trivia:

  • Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) is closely related to Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and Common Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea)
  • Water Spinach has two major forms: Red-Stemmed (with pink to purple flowers) and White-Stemmed (with white flowers).
  • White-Stemmed Water Spinach as a number of cultivars that can roughly be categorized as long-leaf (or narrow-leaf), broad-leaf, white-stemmed (pak quat), green-stemmed (ching quat), etc. There is no formal classification that I can find.
  • Some consider the white-stemmed variety (pak quat) of the white-stemmed form as better tasting than others.
  • There is growing research showing that the red-stemmed form has more health benefits.
  • Each variety and cultivar has different culture characteristics as well… some can grow in moist soil, while others need to grow in water, and some can grow in both conditions.
  • Water Spinach grows fast… up to 4 inches (10 cm) in a day!
  • Water Spinach stems are hollow and can float.
  • Water Spinach will root at the nodes on the stem, and these roots can establish new plants if the stems break.
  • Water Spinach usually likes full sun, but can be a great herbaceous groundcover in very hot locations.
  • Water Spinach is considered an invasive weed in the United States. But almost no one is eating it!
    This dish looks amazing!

    Sambal Kangkong: This dish looks amazing!
    see recipes below…

    As does this one!

    As does this one!
    see recipes below…

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Shoots – typically only the young and tender shoots are eaten, usually cooked.
  • Edible Stems – typically only the young and tender stems are eaten, usually cooked. These stems are hollow and are crunchy when cooked. The stems require only a little bit longer cooking time than the leaves.
  • Edible Leaves – can be eated raw or cooked (stir-fried, sauteed, boiled, parboiled, etc.). The older leaves are more fibrous and are generally avoided. The leaves are used much like “regular” spinach in Western cuisines, but there are many Asian recipes that look delicious…
  • Recipes (I don’t normally list recipes, but since many Westerners are unfamiliar with this plant, I thought it would be a fun idea):
Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Water Spinach also makes great fodder!

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Ornamental Plant – beautiful flowers
  • Animal Fodder – older leaves and fibrous stems are used as animal feed in tropical climates. But in any area where this plant is growing too fast, it would make a great ancillary feed source.
  • Biomass Plant – the fast growing nature of this plant could allow it to be harvested and used as mulch or in compost

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Best harvested before flowering. Often harvested 30-60 days after sowing, depending on climate and culture – earlier if fully aquatic and later if semi-aquatic. Water Spinach can be harvested completely or in a cut-and-come-back-again manner – secondary shoots will form and grow. Harvest in the coolest part of the day to prevent moisture loss and wilting.
Storage: Water Spinach is very perishable… it does not store well. It only stores well in the refrigerator for about a day, but occasionally can make it 2-3 days. This is why we should grow our own!

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach does very well in hydroponic systems.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

Water Spinach can grow in dense mats.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 8-15 (as a perennial). Water Spinach does not do well where average temperatures drop below 50 F (10 C), and do much better when the temperature is between 68-86 F (20-30 C). For most of us living in a Temperate Climate, this means we will use Water Spinach as an annual or grow it in a greenhouse.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-6
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Aquatic or Wetland Plant
Leaf Type: Perennial in warm climates. Annual or greenhouse plant in colder climates.
Forest Garden Use: Aquatic/Wetland Layer, Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this plant.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Warmer months (usually Summer)

Life Span: No good information available. Considering that the plants grow so fast and can be propagated from cuttings so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Top (white-stemmed, broad-leaf), Middle (green-stemmed, narrow/long leaf), Bottom (green-stemmed, broad leaf)

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

Some varieties of Water Spinach can be grown in moist soil conditions.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: Up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall with trailing stems that are 7-10 feet (2-3 meters) long, but can get to almost 70 feet (21 meters)!
Roots: Fibrous. Stems can root at the nodes.
Growth Rate: Very fast

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Water Spinach roots very well from cuttings.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

Geoff Lawton showing his floating island of Water Spinach.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils or fully aquatic conditions (still or flowing waters)
pH: 5.5-7.0 (but it can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • If you live in a warmer climate, consider the fast-growing nature of this plant.
  • Since this is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant, there is always the question of how to grow it in water. Briefly, the seedling or rooted cutting is placed in very wet soil. This can be “puddled soil” like a rice paddy or at the pond’s edge or in a floating island (like Geoff Lawton) and allowed to grow into the water from there. See Propagation section below.

Propagation:
Can be grown from seed, often soaked for 24 hours before sowing. Can be easily propagated from cuttings just below a node; Water Spinach freely roots at the node. One source explains that commercial operations will take cuttings approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in length (which will have 7-8 nodes) and plant them 6-7.5 inches (15-20 cm) deep.

Maintenance:
Minimal. You may need to keep it from spreading too much if you live in warmer locations. Harvesting for human and/or animal consumption is the best method, by far!

Concerns:

  • When eaten raw in Southeast Asia, there is a chance it can carry the parasite Fasciolopsis buski, the largest intestinal fluke in humans… it is best to cook it if in this area of the world!
  • Listed as an Invasive in many places, especially in the United States. It is illegal in some parts of the United States to even be in possession of it! Please check with your local state laws!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.payer.de/amarakosa/amara02760.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/49/Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://ppcdn.500px.org/7390354/1063ffb474cc139f6d212a214bc6a2ab8acf47a0/5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Ipomoea_aquatica_Nksw_1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Starr_080530-4636_Ipomoea_aquatica.jpg
  • http://farm1.staticflickr.com/171/418033533_e2804ad31a_o.jpg
  • http://www.lushplants.com.au/~lushplan/images/stories/virtuemart/product/kang-kong-ipomoea-aquatica.jpg
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/manggy/2620247365/sizes/l/in/photostream/
  • http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8026/7385708312_df5c9346af_o.jpg
  • http://www.clovegarden.com/ingred/img/mg_ongwat01g.jpg
  • http://www.ecofilms.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Permaculture-Fish-Pond-2.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-dUbFZXFOcGk/T6PA59E9kYI/AAAAAAAAAOg/DI3YPQJvYZ4/s1600/IMG_0720.JPG
  • http://www.worldngayon.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/DSC_0331.jpg
  • http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/files/2012/05/t0531louie-cruz_feat2_2.jpg
  • http://blog.seasonwithspice.com/2012/05/malaysian-sambal-belacan-kangkung.html

 

Permaculture: Individual Experiences May Vary

My previous article, What is Holding Permaculture Back?, evoked a greater number of responses, both positive and negative, than I expected. My goal was to get people thinking and start a conversation. It appears I succeeded! After reading through all the comments on this site, comments on Facebook, and email responses to this article, I want to expand and clarify a few things.

1. Permaculture is growing at a tremendous rate. I am excited about this, but I want more expansion! I literally want Permaculture taught around the world. I want it taught in elementary and high schools. I want it utilized in businesses and governments. I want it in the agricultural fields of developing countries, and I want it in board rooms on Wall Street. Yes, Permaculture is making huge strides, but it is no where near where it needs to be yet.

2. Permaculture is expanding at the rate it needs to. The acceptance of Permaculture will take time. If it is rushed along too fast, it will either be adopted for the wrong reasons or implemented in a way that is not really Permaculture. I understand this, so I must balance my desire for expansion with reality.

3. Permaculture is more than food. Any person who studies Permaculture for very long soon realizes that Permaculture is about a whole lot more than just growing food. It is a design science. The starting point for most people is growing food, and this is vital. If that was all it was, Permaculture would be a worthwhile pursuit. However, the principles of Permaculture can go into all fields of study, but it doesn’t need to. If you or anyone wants to limit their Permaculture experience to food production, that is great. Don’t let someone discourage this.

4. The vast majority of people involved in Permaculture are great individuals. If anyone thought the negative “types” of people in my article was directed toward the greater Permaculture movement, then they are gravely mistaken. I was also not referring to any one particular person. My previous article described a few types of individuals:

  • the person with an “all or nothing” attitude
  • the person with a “profit is bad” ideology
  • the person who wants Permaculture to be a religion
  • the cranky, curmudgeon Permaculture teacher and/or leader
  • the “enlightened” Permaculturist who just wants to promote themselves

These types of people have the ability to hold Permaculture back, but please, let me be clear. They are not going to stop the global tidal wave of Permaculture. However, they can, as many people have shared, interfere with an individual’s experience. They have the ability to turn a person away from Permaculture one at a time. This is sad. This is what needs to be prevented. And we can help.

5. As a community of Permaculturists, we need to be careful who we recommend. When we recommend a specific Permaculture Design Course, we should make sure to read through the syllabus and check to see the instructors are indeed teaching the 72-hour course as outlined by Bill Mollison. When we recommend a Permaculture farm or a Permaculture video, please consider what this will look like to a person new to Permaculture. Recently, I came across an interesting video about Permaculture. It had some great information and content in it. I was excited, and was planning on recommending this video on my site or Facebook. But then, almost at the end, the video shows a group of people mixing mud for a cob building. There were a number of the people in the video missing key pieces of clothing! Look, I am a physician. I am not phased much by nudity. But what kind of message are we sending with this video… “Learn Permaculture with us, and you’ll be invited to dance naked while we smear mud on your body.” Really? That message will not convince much of the world to learn more about Permaculture.

6. Research. Yes, we need more research. Good research will provide validity to the rest of the world, especially those on the fence and those in government. But good research costs money. This money comes from governments, universities, and the private sector, to name the most common sources. Occasionally, it comes from a person who really loves research and will do it whether they are paid or not. But this is not common. Trying to secure funding for Permaculture research is not a simple process. It has been done, but not much. I think it is possible to do more, but it will likely have to start with someone within the system (e.g. a university professor, a government researcher, etc.). So, yes, we need more research, but it is not going to happen very soon, and not to the level many people want.

We need to keep in mind that research is not the only route to validity for the world. It cannot be our holy grail for acceptance. We can prove Permaculture is valid through results. If the Permaculture farms and businesses and communities explain that their successes are based on design, not luck, then other farms and businesses and communities will want to know more. Governments will want to know more… and they do now! There are no peer-reviewed Permaculture journals, yet a number of governments around the world are seeking Permaculture designers and are implementing Permaculture designs. So again, research studies would be great, but they are not vital. I think the reason for large scale implementation of Permaculture will be the results on the ground.

7. We cannot expect everything for free! Between blogs, social media, online videos, and all the amazing advances of the information age we have access to a wealth of knowledge that we could have only hoped for 20 years ago. In addition, a tenant of modern marketing is to give away a lot of information for free in order to build credibility and loyalty. I love this concept, and fortunately we see a lot of that in the Permaculture world. But it takes time and money to make a video or write a book, especially if it is done well. The people who are actually doing Permaculture, instead of sitting around writing about it (like me way too much of the time… but not much longer! I’m getting tired of being a theorist!), are very busy doing Permaculture. It is a big deal to get them to sit down and write or talk about what they are doing. We should be extremely grateful for the experienced practitioners who are writing about it and sharing videos. But we should not have some sort of righteous indignation about their knowledge, as if we had any rights to it. They owe us nothing. If they decide to give it away, that is great. If they decide to write it in a book and sell it, that is great. If they decide to speak at a conference that costs money to attend, that is great. If they decide to make videos and sell access to them online, that is great.

8. Ultimately, individual experiences will vary. I received comments from people who were thankful I wrote this article. They were put off, sometimes for years, from their first Permaculture experience due to the reasons I wrote about in my previous article. I am so glad they were able to see past the trees for the forest! I also received comments from people who had wonderful experiences from the start. I also had a few comments from angry individuals who thought I was being judgemental. Well, I was. I have no tolerance for people who are going to ruin a great thing. I am not mad at them, but I also have no room for them. In the end, we have to remember that each person will have their own unique experiences. But we also have to keep in mind that while one has a great experience, another may not. We need to openly, and without anger, discuss the variety of ways Permaculture is being implemented. The more we do this, the better each person’s experience will be. But we must not be afraid of confrontation. There are many great Permaculture teachers, leaders, and students in the world right now, but there are also some bad ones. We need to do what we can to increase the positive and decrease the negative. The more positive experiences there are, the more Permaculture is going to be used to design our future and the future of our children… and that is my motivation.

 

 

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Photo References: 

  • http://cdn.pickchur.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Perspective-Photography-Impressive-Shot.jpg

 

Rotational Grazing… Azores Style!

The Azores are an archipelago of nine islands located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and I have been living here for the last 18 months. We are 850 miles (1365 km) off the coast of mainland Europe, and the island is a mix of modern and traditional. Kids are walking around glued to their smartphones, but each morning, I see men milking the dairy cows out in the fields. Almost once a week, I get caught in what my kids call a “cow jam”. The dairy cows need to be moved from one field to the next, and the farmers use the roads to do this. All traffic comes to a standstill until the row of cows slowly amble past. The Summers in the islands are beautiful… long sunny days that are warm with a cool ocean breeze. It is not surprising that the Azores are a popular vacation spot. The Winters, however, are another story… short rainy days with lots of strong winds, and everything is damp and cold. It is also not surprising that there are almost no tourists in the Winter.

The Azores still has a strong and traditional lifestyle.

The Azores still has a strong and traditional lifestyle.

A "cow jam" is a common occurrence on my way to work.

A “cow jam” is a common occurrence on my way to work.

Due to the distance from the mainland and their isolation, especially in the Winter, the Azoreans have had to be very resilient and self-sufficient. In fact, I think there are few populations in the world that are as self-sufficient as the Azoreans. If all communication, travel, and trade suddenly stopped, the day to day life for most Azoreans would not be much different. The current youth are very connected to the outside world, but the older generation has little need or use for the world outside of the Azores. While the Azores do import foods, textiles, and other products from around the world, very little of these things are really needed. They make life nicer for some, but just one or two generations ago, the islands met almost all their own needs.

The volcanic rock walls have been used to make small enclosures, like these vineyards...

The volcanic rock walls have been used to make small enclosures, like these vineyards…

...or they can be a bit larger for a few animals or a small vegetable plot...

…or they can be a bit larger for a few animals or a small vegetable plot…

...or they can be very big for larger herds of cattle.

…or they can be very big for larger herds of cattle.

This self-sufficiency did not occur overnight. The islands were “officially” discovered in 1431, and was settled in 1444. There have been some interesting discoveries in the last few months of cave paintings nearby and a pyramid-type structure being found right off the coast of my island that may suggest inhabitation much earlier… some are suggesting a possible Atlantis-type scenario (http://www.azores-pyramid.org/). Either way, over the next 600 years, the Azoreans developed systems that had to be sustainable. While the Portuguese were accomplished sailors, the people living on the islands truly had no guarantee when the next ship would come, or if a ship on the horizon was a friend or foe. Although the history of the Azores is a fascinating story, my goal for this article is to highlight one of the Azoreans’ proven sustainable systems: Azorean-Style Rotational Grazing.

The paddocks fill extremely large expanses of land...

The paddocks fill extremely large expanses of land…

...and they continue up the hillsides...

…and they continue up the hillsides…

...and they literally cover the island where I live!

…and they literally cover the island where I live!

The first time I caught sight of the Azores was through a window from a plane. I was moving here after living in the Middle East (Turkey) for two years. The first thing I noticed was how green everything was… lush and verdant. The second thing I noticed was that the island was checkered with stone walls… like a patchwork quilt. After spending some time on the island, I learned that the walls are constructed of volcanic rock and date back for hundreds of years. Most of the walls are built with no mortar. They are just stacked and held in place with gravity. The skill required to build these walls is much greater than most people realize. These walls divide the grazing fields into small paddocks. The cattle are rotated through the paddocks on roughly a daily basis. Some fields are larger than others and some herds are smaller than others, so the cattle are rotated based on the condition of the pasture. The cattle are only given supplementary feed a few times a year, usually in Winter, when the pastures are less productive and need more recovery time before being grazed again. This is a classic example of intensive, rotational grazing (also known as Mob Grazing). It has only been in the last few decades that intensive rotational grazing has become popular in sustainable and regenerative agriculture, but the Azoreans have been practicing this for hundreds of years!

I will point out that the Azoreans do not stock their paddocks at as high a density as some modern intensive grazers, but the concept is still identical. I will also point out that if I was designing the entire island from a Permaculture perspective, I would make a few changes. First, the paddocks do encompass some very steep hillsides. I would prefer to plant this to trees to avoid erosion. I know that my island has seen a number of flash floods that have destroyed many homes and caused a number of deaths. This is very tragic, and I do think that this risk could be mitigated with a bit better design. Second, the wind during the Winter can be brutal. The large expanses of paddocks could probably benefit from windbreaks. There are some farmers who seem to have caught on to this idea, but it is not very widespread at this point.

Overall, I think the Azores offers a unique perspective on sustainability out of necessity. If you would like some more information on intensive/mob-grazing, I have written a couple of articles on the subject:

My second son and I overlooking the Azorean pasturelands.

My second son and I overlooking the Azorean pasturelands.

 

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Photo References: 

  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-0IuuEytCPi0/ThXCvLCO8hI/AAAAAAAAA9A/HWbM42Jxcmo/s1600/ILHA%2BTERCEIRA.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-NHCa-45ajOw/TotR86954xI/AAAAAAAAEKM/kXZ60VI9nWA/s1600/Terceira-Serra%2Bdo%2BCume%2B1.JPG
  • http://d3pk75c582v5h5.cloudfront.net/store/ilhas/Acores/Terceira2.jpg
  • http://cs.smith.edu/~bergmann/adagio/Azores36.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/Vineyards_in_the_Azores_with_rock_walls_to_protect_vines.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-FO23tNfWIo0/UEtV6_898eI/AAAAAAAAX9g/uti-6C8rszY/s1600/IMG_9362.JPG
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3562/3343830824_5681e26366_o.jpg
  • http://www.azoreschoice.com/sites/default/files/GRW%20man%20and%20cow.jpg
  • http://altitude-blog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Farm.jpg
  • https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-MmZaMjXbY58/TWrPPZZUQcI/AAAAAAAAAlM/1ja4GpMWDnU/s1600/TerceiraIsland_ROW600272719_20110227.jpg

Permaculture Plants: Wintergreen

Common Names: American Wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, Mountain Tea
Scientific Name: Gaultheria procumbens
Family: Ericaceae (the Heath or Heather family)

Wintergreen with frost.

Wintergreen with frost.

Description:
While most famous for its classic, minty smell, this low-growing, slow-growing eastern North American native shrub is a great, evergreen groundcover for shady spots. It prefers acidic soils, and could be a great partner to blueberries, pines, or other acid-loving plants. It attracts beneficial insects, is drought-tolerant, thrives in the shade, has edible berries and leaves, and has a long history of medicinal uses. Wintergreen is a fantastic, niche-plant for the Forest Garden.

American Wintergreen

American Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens

History:
Native to Northeastern North America, but found in most places west of the Mississippi River and south to Georgia in the United States, Wintergreen was used by natives for food and medicine. The “wintergreen” aroma and flavor from the Wintergreen leaves and fruit (and also found in Birch trees) was used for gum, candy, perfumes, hygiene products, teas and other drinks, as well as cleaning products, until scientists figured out how to synthesize it in the laboratory. Since then, Wintergreen has become a significantly less important commercial plant. However, there has been a bit of a resurgence in its popularity due to modern herbalists use and the development of ornamental varieties.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen “fruits” are actually parts of the flower!

Trivia:

  • Plants that stay green through Winter were initially known as Wintergreen, but now the term Evergreen is commonly used.
  • While dark and glossy green most of the year, the leaves will turn red or bronze in Autumn.
  • The “fruit” (0.25-0.5 inches/6.3-12 mm) is actually a dry capsule surrounding a fleshy calyx – this is part of the flower!
  • Oil of Wintergreen is made through steam distillation of the macerated leaves.
  • Most of the Oil of Wintergreen available today is synthetic.
  • Oil of Wintergreen is about 98% methyl salicylate.
  • It is believed that methyl salicylate is released from the plant when attacked by harmful insects and that it attracts beneficial insects to deal with the pests. Note: I have yet to find good research to support this, but if this is true, it is very interesting. Maybe sprinkling Oil of Wintergreen through the garden will bring on an army of beneficial insects??
  • The entire genus that Wintergreen belongs, Gaultheria, was named after Dr. Jean-Francois Gaultier, a mid-18th century French physician stationed at the colony of Quebec from 1742-1756. I love learning about naturalist doctors!
  • The species name, procumbens, means lying flat. This is an appropriate name for this low-growing shrub.

 

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – These have a classic “wintergreen” flavor… kind of minty, but sweeter. Often rather bland. Can often have a “medicinal” taste to it. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Used in sauces, jams, pies, etc. The seeds need to be strained out.
  • Edible Leaves – only the very young leaves are worth eating raw. Really, they are just chewed. There is an initial Wintergreen flavor, and after a few minutes the leaf becomes bitter; then just spit it out.
  • Tea Plant – wintergreen-flavored fruits and leaves are used to make tea. It was common enough that the plant is also called Teaberry. But just soaking the dried leaves in hot water (like brewing ordinary black tea) does not produce a tea with the Wintergreen flavor. The key is to slightly ferment the leaves first. Here’s how to do it: Fill a sterilized jar with fresh Wintergreen leaves. If the leaves are mostly red, then the tea will be pink. Then cover it with cool, previously boiled, filtered, or distilled water. Let it sit in a warm place, not in direct sunlight, for a few days. The water will become bubbly as the fermentation takes place. Filter the tea and save the leaves. The tea can be slowly warmed until hot, but not boiling. This tea will have a great Wintergreen flavor! The tea may need to be diluted with additional water if it is too strong. Dry the saved leaves; they can be used for at least one other batch of tea, but it won’t be as strong.
  • Essential Oil – This oil can be extracted through steam distillation. It is used in perfumes and fragrances and also as a flavoring agent in candies, gum, toothpaste, alcoholic drinks, etc. This is very strong stuff! See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Secondary Uses:

  • General nectar source (especially bees).
  • Ornamental Plant – some varieties have been developed and used mainly for ornamental value.
  • Ground Cover – tolerates only a little foot traffic. It is best when combined with another groundcover plant, as Wintergreen grows so low to the ground that many weeds are not suppressed in the early years of growth, before a mat forms. Alternatively, weeding for the first few years could be used if an unmixed groundcover is desired. Plant 10-20 inches (25-50 cm) apart.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – when the above-ground portions of this plant dies back, it releases the nutrients it has mined. Wintergreen is known to accumulate magnesium.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – withstands drought once established.
  • Wildlife – Autumn and Winter fruits and browse for deer, bear, ground birds (turkey, grouse, pheasant, etc.), and small mammals (fox, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, etc.)
  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and berries contain methyl salicylate which is very similar to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Many native peoples used the tea (see above) as a pain and fever reliever. The same cautions for using aspirin apply to Wintergreen as a medicinal plant. See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Fruit is harvested in Autumn-Early Winter. Frost seems to sweeten the fruit a bit. The leaves can be harvested at any time.
Storage: Berries are best used fresh. Leaves and berries can be dried.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-8
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Prostrate (low-growing) Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Summer.

Life Span: No good information available, but as the plant spreads through rhizomes and stolons, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous and shallow with stolons (stems that creep along the ground which can place new roots down) and rhizomes (underground stems that shoot up new plants).
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full to patial shade, but will produces more fruit in sunny openings with some shade.
Shade: Tolerates deep shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils.
pH: 4.2-6.5 (prefers more acidic soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider pairing with other plants if using Wintergreen as a groundcover – see note in Secondary Uses above.

Propagation:
Division is easy and can be done anytime, although early Spring is probably the best. Can be propagated with seed, but requires 4-13 weeks cold-stratification. Seeds germinate in 1-2 months. Also propagated from semi-ripe cuttings.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Toxicity: Methyl salicylate is an organic ester found in a number of plants such as Wintergreen, Birch, and Meadowsweet. It is similar in structure to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.  Oil of Wintergreen is a highly concentrated form of methyl salicylate. It is reported that 10 milliliters is a fatal dose in a child, and 30 mL will kill an adult; however, there ahve been fatalities with as little as 4 mL (that is just over a teaspoon!). As the methyl salicylate can be absorbed through the skin, even topical use can be dangerous. With all that said, we need to be very careful about when, why, and how we use this essential oil.

Wintergreen "berries" are actually part of the flower.

Wintergreen is a great addition to the Forest Garden!

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Photo References:

  • http://wesselsgardenway.com/wp-content/uploads/Gaultheria-procumbens-frost009-11.jpg
  • http://public.dm2304.livefilestore.com/y2pXVxpiGN5saHvMH02RAJccjP7QDzruhWuFgzoe9s3DpZBUhC74JXlFxOZd2BuqmZJUaN6nIICwwMSuxh13yPGabfw3ogj6YBIzEAvam3eds4/IMGP4117%20Gaultheria%20procumbens%20-%20Golteria%20pełzająca%2c%20g.%20rozesłana.JPG?rdrts=65047548
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/FountainSpringsWintergreen.png
  • http://www.zelen.cz/images/galerie/galerie778/images/galerie/gaultheria_procumbens_08.jpg
  • http://floreduquebec.ca/medias/gaultheria_procumbens/gaultheria_procumbens_6.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Ericaceae/gaultheria-procumbens-le-ksearcy.jpg
  • http://lucasland.org/wildflowers/w/images/wintergreen5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Gaultheria_procumbens_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-064.jpg
  • http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Edible_Plants_Ramer_Silver_Weizmann/Images_Edited/uses_teas_edited_300.jpg

 

The Problem with Intervention

Humans want to intervene. It is in our nature. We see a problem, real or imagined, and we want to help. There are many perversions of this tendancy (e.g. “if I help out, I’ll be making myself look really good…”), but deep down, most people are trying to do the right thing. But any intervention has consequences. Often, that is exactly why we are intervening. If we see a child fall in a lake, we intervene so that the child may live. That is a good thing. If we are placing ourselves at risk, then it is a heroic action as well.

I intervene as a physician on a daily basis. Personally, I actively try not to intervene as much as possible. The human body is amazingly adapted to heal itself, but unfortunately, as a whole and not considering accidental injury, we humans make so many unhealthy choices and live such unhealthy lives, that we are severely limiting our body’s chances of healing itself. Sometimes I end up having to choose the lesser of two evils in deciding how to manage a medical problem. That is not by my choice. It is the patient who ultimately decides to do, or not do, something that will improve their health. Their history of action, or inaction, is often what brings them to my office. The course of action has consequences. Hopefully there are only good consequences, but sometimes there are negative consequences. And sometimes, there are consequences we never even considered. This is what I want to delve more into today. Let me start with a few examples:

Example 1: C-sections
I have delivered my share of babies (actually, the mother delivered the baby. I was just there to catch!), and I have assisted in many cesarean section deliveries. Most of these C-section deliveries were needed… the baby was doing very poorly, the mother had medical problems and she could not have a vaginal delivery, the mother was in labor for days (literally) and could push no more, the baby was too big to fit through the birth canal… these are all legitimate reasons. Yes, there are way too many c-sections in general. I saw one report which stated that most unplanned C-sections are done on Fridays, indicating that the doctor didn’t want to ruin their weekend (I am still trying to verify this). Many physicians would rather deliver a healthy baby via c-section than risk the chance of something really bad happening to the baby or mother. This may be out of fear for their patients or fear of lawsuits, but the result is the same. Additionally, we have also lost many of the skilled midwives who would/could spend hours and hours with one patient for a vaginal delivery; many of the patients who could potentially have delivered with a midwife years ago now have c-sections. When I lived in Turkey, one Turkish obstetrician told me that about 80% of insured women have c-sections; it was a sign of status (there were a few other reasons that I will not get into today). That is incredible.

What is the unintended consequence of increased C-section rates?
If we would go back 100 years only, many of these mothers and babies would have died. My wife is one of these women (that is my daughter in the photo above!). She has a narrow birth canal, and our big-headed babies are just not going to be delivered without a C-section. Due to the advancement of obstetrics and surgery, the doctors were able to intervene and save the life of my wife and our children. But the result is that my daughters are much more likely to need a C-section if and when they have a baby of their own, and my sons are more likely to have daughters that will have narrow birth canals and require C-sections as well. All my children are more likely to have children with big heads! While I am insurmountably thankful for my wife and children’s health and well-being, I have to acknowledge that fact that we have bypassed natural selection. We cheated, so to speak. The more people do this, the more dependant humans, as a whole, will become on C-sections. While it is unlikely that women will ever stop having vaginal deliveries, I firmly believe that the percentage of childen born via cesarean section is going to steadily increase as time goes on.

 

HIV virus in a scanning electron microscopy image.

HIV virus in a scanning electron microscopy image.

Example 2: HIV treatment
I spent a month working in Nigeria at a free HIV mission hospital a number of years ago. I was able to meet an amazing group of people who are saving and changing lives on a daily basis, and for a short time, I was a part of that. I would meet someone on almost a daily basis who would tell me (usually through a Hausa-English translator) how they had wasted away and were days from death. Then the providers at this clinic gave medications that brought the patient back from the brink. Now these patients were living on “borrowed time”. Anyone who has been afflicted with this terrible disease knows that HIV has no qualms about infecting “good” people, or “innocent” people, or children. It is a disease, a fatal one at that. Treating HIV-positive patients is a good thing. Period. Don’t misunderstand my next paragraph. I think we should continue to treat HIV-positive patients, and we should never stop looking for a cure.

What is the unintended consequence of treating HIV-positive patients?
When a person has HIV, they are contagious. They can be careful. They can be “safe”. But the fact remains, they have the ability to spread this disease to another person. Despite what is occasionally reported in the media, this is almost never a malicious act. It is a sad reality. Before medications were invented to treat HIV, an infected patient had a much shorter life expectancy. HIV does not kill as fast as the flu and rarely as fast as most cancers, but the result is a significantly shorter life. But with modern HIV medications, an HIV-positive patient has the ability to live a drastically longer life. These medicines do decrease their contagiousness, but it doesn’t bring it down to zero. The result is that an HIV-positive person now has an increased ability to spread the disease, potentially for decades more than they would have if these medicines were not available. Again, this doesn’t mean we should not treat these patients, but it is an example of an intervention having an unforseen consequence.

 

American Chestnut Trees before the blight and government intervention.

American Chestnut Trees before the blight and government intervention.

Example 3: Chestnut blight
Before 1900, there were an estimated four billion Chestnut trees in North America. Some of these trees were over 100 feet (30 meters) tall and over 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter! Then a fungus arrived from Asia dubbed Chestnut Blight, Cryphonectria parasitica. The Asian Chestnut trees were able to live with the fungus, but the American trees were not. The U.S. acted as quickly as it could to try and eradicate the disease, but all attempts failed. Within 40 years the Chestnut population was devastated.

What was the unintended consequence of trying to eradicate Chestnut Blight?
Many people are unaware that in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, millions and millions of uninfected trees were chopped down. Once one Chestnut tree in one area was found to have blight, all the surrounding trees were logged. There is a decent chance that one or more of these millions of healthy trees had a natural ability to live with the blight, i.e. they were naturally immune. But we chopped them all down, so we will never know. In addition, these trees (healthy and infected) were sawn into lumber and shipped all over the country spreading the disease even faster.

I’ll also add that the government did not learn their lesson. Not too long ago (January 2000), South Florida was introduced (again!) to Citrus Canker, a bacteria (Xanthomonas axonopodis) which significantly weakens citrus trees and greatly reduces fruit production. This scared the orange industry in Florida. The decision was made to eradicate all citrus trees within a certain distance of an infected tree. An untold number of citrus trees were lost due to this mandate, including the ones in my parent’s backyard… as a child, I probably spent the cumulative equivalent of well over a month straight in those orange, grapefruit, and tangelo trees, and now they are gone. Six years after the eradication campaign began, with no surprise to any student of history, the Florida Department of Agriculture deemed the eradication effort infeasible.

 

Artificial insemination of a virgin queen honeybee... not quite a natural process.

Artificial insemination of a virgin queen honeybee… not quite a natural process.

Example 4: Modern Bee Husbandry
Honeybees are amazing creatures. I can’t wait to get my first hive. Now, if I followed the modern commercial method, this is what I woud do (please excuse my generalities as I have never managed a commercial honey company). I would purchase all my hives and equipment first. I would receive my queens and initial bees via mail for each hive. The queens would already be mated and ready to lay eggs. Once the hives were established, I would move the hives to an area that had a lot of flowers blooming, like an apple orchard. Then, when the apple flowering started to slow down, I would load up the hives, and drive to another location of flowering. I would do this through the flowering season, moving many times all over the state and sometimes the country. At the end of the season, and maybe even during the season, I would take out some of the honey laden combs. The caps would be removed from the combs, and they would be spun to extract all the honey. The empty combs would be placed back in the hive. During the colder months, the bees would go into hibernation back at my base of operations. If I thought I took too much honey from them, or even as a matter of policy, I would provide some sugar water or fondant or high-fructose corn syrup for them to make it through the Winter. During the growing season, if one hive was not doing very well, I would combine it with another hive that was not doing to well, resulting in one stronger bee colony. I would probably replace my queens every year. I would get a lot of honey. I would do a lot of work.

What is the unintended consequence of raising honeybees in the modern method?
The modern method of beekeeping is far removed from how honeybees normally live. Commercially, a young, virgin queen bee is artificially inseminated with sperm from a number of crushed (i.e. killed) male bees, known as drones. In nature, a virgin queen would go on a mating flight; only the quickest drones would be able to mate with the queen – we’ve have a loss of optimal genetics with this method. Next, commercial bees are moved all over the place. In nature, bees don’t travel over the country. They stay in one spot, and occasionally the hive splits (swarms), but they really don’t travel very far.  By moving all over the place, we’ve lost adaptations to local conditions with this method. In addition, commercial bees are “fed” from the same type of flower for weeks at a time. In nature, bees forage from a wide variety of ever changing plants – we’ve probably lost nutrition quality for the bees with this method. Also, commercial bees are exposed to all the chemicals sprayed on the fields they have been moved to – there is growing evidence that some of these chemicals are causing colony colapse disorder. Modern-raised bees use combs that have been used over and over again for years – the wax accumulates toxins and pests and disease with this method. Modern-raised bees are robbed of their high-quality honey and given unhealthy alternatives – these can cause the bees to become sick, and they also likely result in a less healthy colony. Commercial colonies are combined when they are not doing well. In nature, if a colony is not doing well, it dies. There is probably a good reason for this; maybe they are infected or sick or not good foragers or any other number of problems. By combining weak colonies, we are propping up and propagating weak colonies resulting in weaker bees for the future. Modern-raised colonies are requeened every season. In nature, colonies requeen from within, when needed. Requeening the colony results in additional loss of adaptation to local conditions.

 

In conclusion, I want to say that I know some intervention is needed. Whenever we develop a Permaculture site, intervention is required. But we need to open our eyes to the bigger picture. We need to understand that there are consequences to our actions. Sometimes the consequences are good. Sometimes they are bad. If we follow the Ethics of Permaculture, and if we use small and slow solutions when possible, we will greatly reduce the negative impact of our interventions.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.ciber.science.uwa.edu.au/Tour/aitransfer.jpg
  • http://i1-news.softpedia-static.com/images/news2/Researchers-Claim-the-Discovery-of-a-Possible-Cure-for-HIV-2.jpg
  • http://www.ourstate.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/The-American-Chestnut-Tree.jpg

 

What is Holding Permaculture Back?

Permaculture is a revolutionary idea. It can literally change the world and make it a better place. I firmly believe this to be true, and I know many others do as well. The world is embracing Permaculture faster now than it ever has in the past, but it is still not “mainstream” yet. Why is this?

The primary reason is time. Things are happening. Things are moving. But it takes time for a shift to occur, especially one that is so fundamental and so far reaching.

But there is more to it than that. There is another factor holding Permaculture back. That factor is us. Well, not really me, and probably not you… but maybe it is you. I have identified a few reasons that Permaculture is not as popular or widespread as it should be. I know there are other reasons, but this is a good place to start the conversation.

Reason 1:  The “All or Nothing” Attitude
This attitude is common in what I call the militant eco-environmentalist. They are the ones who expect everyone to be doing everything possible to “save the planet!”  They want everyone to do exactly what the they say. They expect everyone to have the same passion as they do.  If not, they get angry. They may call people names or be confrontational. More often then not, they leave passive-aggressive statements about other people on Facebook.

There are many “all or nothing” people in the Permaculture world. Many of these are not quite the militant eco-environmentalists. But they still get confrontational with other people. They still have a righteous indignation for others who are not wholy commited to all things Permaculture. They still rub people the wrong way. And this turns people away from Permaculture.

Most “all or nothing” people are missing a key fact: people have to change at their own pace. We are just beginning to see the first generation of adults who had Permaculturists as parents. The vast majority of the world did not grow up with a Permaculture mindset. They need to wake up to it. They need to learn about it. They need to take it a step at a time. The “all or nothing” people forgot that they, themselves, had to walk their own path toward understanding. They didn’t arrive where they are now in one day. They certainly did not arrive where they are now because a bully berated them for driving the “wrong” car or eating the “wrong” food or growing the “wrong” plant.

We need to encourage the small actions of people just beginning to understand Permaculture. We need to be excited about their first steps. We need to stay positive and upbeat. We need to stop the beat downs. If people are making a step in the right direction, then ecourage them and then get out of the way.

Reason 2: “Profit is Bad” Ideology
This goes back to a theme I wrote about previously in my article, “The Third Ethic… it’s time to identify the mutation.”  There are too many people who have bought into the idea that Permaculture is a form of Communism or Socialism. It is not. It is a design science. This design science impacts how we live, of course, but it does not tell a person that they must live a life of poverty or participate in communal living to be a Permaculturist. If you have any concerns or questions about this concept, please read the article referenced above.

Reason 3: Permaculture is Mistaken for a Religion
This is another point I have written about in another article, “Identify the Mutation (Part 2).”  Well over a decade ago, I stumbled across Permaculture. I can barely remember the context, but I do know that the person presenting it was pushing it as more of a goddess Earth-worshipping experience. It was another 2-3 years before I ever realized it was a design science, and not a cult! We need to get back to the real roots of Permaculture. Get back to the original 72-hour Permaculture Design Course that was created by Bill Mollison. Again, if you are interested or have further questions, please read my article.

Reason 4: Cranky Curmudgeon “Teachers”
I have been in some sort of schooling or professional, full-time training, off and on, for over 25 years of my life. I have come across some amazing teachers. I have also come across some really bad teachers. These (typically) old teachers may have been famous for writing a paper or very skilled at performing a surgery, but many of them were just plain mean. All their students or co-workers would make excuses. They would praise the famous person’s accomplishments, but then whisper, “just be careful what you say,” or “don’t talk to him unless he ask you a question,” or “he’s usually in a pretty bad mood.” These people may be geniuses, but they have no place as teachers.

The world of Permaculture is not immune to the cranky curmudgeons, as I like to call them. I am not going to name names or point fingers. That is not what this article is about. But they do exist, and their followers have their excuses as well. “He’s just tired of people asking the same basic questions,” or “he’s really smart, but you just have to look past his personality.” To me, their fate should be the same… they should get out of teaching.

Now, I understand if a Permaculturist is a very good designer but doesn’t have great people skills. If this is the case, then that Permaculturist needs a few interns. The interns can learn from the “master”. They can be informed, beforehand, what they are getting into and decide to take the abuse or not. Then those interns should go out and teach if they are good teachers themselves. I have heard and read about people discussing their experiences with one “world-famous Permaculturist” or another who also happened to be a cranky curmdgeon. The students had no idea of the arrogance, the temper, the short-fuse, or the mean personality of the teacher. These students go in blind and get whacked by someone they were hoping to learn from. Often, these students paid a lot of money and travelled quite a distance for this education, and they are let down, humiliated, frustrated, feel ripped-off, taken advatage of, and decide to leave Permaculture all together.  How is this good for Permaculture?

The truth is that you need to have good people skills to be an effective teacher. If you do not, then please get out of teaching. If you know you don’t have good people skills, consider getting interns who will take your message to the masses. But warn them ahead of time. Also, if you are organizing an event and are bringing in a teacher who has a reputation of being a cranky curmudgeon, then let the students know. Maybe have certain prerequsites for students if the teacher doesn’t want to be bothered with “basic” questions. The bottom line is that if we are not protecting our students, we will end up with no students. That is not going to help change the world.

Reason 5: The “Enlightened” Permaculturist
Reason 5 is very similar to Reason 4 and Reason 1 above, but I wanted to address it separately.
I like to describe, with utter sarcasm, the “enlightened” Permaculturist as a person who is vastly more intelligent than the average human, and who understands Permaculture so much more than all the simple-minded common folk around them. They have a very large vocabulary, so they have the ability to talk in confusing circles around anyone who disagrees with them. In reality, the “enlightened” Permaculturist really is pretty smart. They often do understand Permaculture really well. They may even be a very good designer. But their mission in life, so it seems, is to make everyone around them aware of their superior intellect. They often become very esoteric and scoff at the simple-mided common folk who think Permaculture is about growing food. They look down their noses at the practical person trying to build their own home. To these elitists, this activity is below them. To these “enlightened” Permaculturists, this activity is not worthy of them. They would rather sit around and talk about the problem then actually do something about it. They would rather form organizations whose goal, it seems, is to sit around and talk about the problem. These “enlightened” Permaculturists teach, a lot, but their list of actual, hands on accomplishments is pretty low, or it is really outdated… they may have done a lot of stuff in the past, but they haven’t done much of anything in many years other than tell other people how they should live their lives.

Please avoid these people. Don’t give them a soapbox or a podium. Permaculture is about growing your own food. Permaculture is about building your own house. Permaculture is about a lot more than just this, but it most certainly does include these things. Don’t let some person, who only enjoys the sound of their own voice, lead you away from the basics that really do matter.

 

Okay, there you have it. I’ll get off my soapbox now. Have a great Permaculture day!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://img.wikinut.com/img/2sytowperrn2r5dz/jpeg/0/What-is-holding-us-back.jpeg

 

Domestic Pigs: Breeds and Terminology

DOMESTIC PIGS, AN INTRODUCTION

Domestic Pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus or just Sus domesticus) orignated from the Wild Boar/Pig (Sus scrofa). In reality, the domestic pig is just a subspecies of the wild pig, because they can still interbreed. However, humans have taken a lot of the “wildness” out of the wild pig. There are various sources of history detailing when pigs were first domesticated, but likely humans first started to keep and manage pigs as early as 13,000 BC in the eastern Mediteranean (areas of modern day Turkey around to Egypt).

There are few animals that can be used in its entirety (snout to tail) as pigs, nor in such a gastronomically pleasing array of fresh and preserved products. I have heard it said that one pig can feed a family for at least two years with no refrigeration required. Of course that family will need to eat other things as well, but this concept speaks volumes to the usefulness of a pig as an economical source of nutrition.

We can divide pigs into two major types: Meat and Lard. Meat types of pig (also known as Bacon types) were developed to have more lean meat with moderate marbling of fat. In contrast, the Lard types of pig were developed to have large deposits of fat that could be more easily butchered from the animal in large chunks. This made rendering more easy, but also resulted in less loss of good meat. Lard types still have lots of good meat as well. Additionally, there are a few breeds that are both meat and lard types.

When raised in a way that the pig is designed, which is not in an intensive pig farm or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), the meat and fat from pigs can be healthy and utterly delicious. Modern pig farming has focused on developing pigs that are fast growing with very lean, light-colored meat. Older breeds with more fat and slower growth, but are more efficient on pasture or in a savannah. When pigs are raised in this manner, the meat and lard are amazingly flavorful and nutrient dense.

I’ve tried to outline the available breeds in the U.S. (since that is where I am from) as well as notable breeds from around the world. But first, let’s start with pig terminology.

TERMINOLOGY

  • Pig/Swine: common name for the domesticated species, Sus scrofa domesticus. Sometimes used to refer to a young, immature individual.
  • Piglet: a young pig
  • Litter: all the piglets born at one birthing
  • Runt: the smallest piglet in a litter
  • Sucker: a piglet (either male or female) that is still suckling/nursing from its dam
  • Shoat: older term used to describe a young, growing pig.
  • Hog: can be used for a growing pig or a mature pig (depends on where you are from!)
  • Farrowing: period of time from birth to weaning
  • Boar: uncastrated male pig that is older than 6 months, suitable for breeding
  • Sire: the boar or father of a piglet
  • Barrow: castrated male pig (the term “hog” is sometimes used as well)
  • Rig: male pig with undescended testicle (may or may not be fertile)
  • Gilt/Maiden Sow: female pig which has not had a litter of piglets, usually up to 6 months
  • Sow: female pig that has already has had its first litter of piglets
  • Dam: the sow or mother of a piglet
  • Weaner: a piglet that has been separated from its mother (5-10 weeks of age), up to about 40 lbs/18 kg
  • Porker: a pig grown to “pork” weight (roughly 130 lbs/60 kg live weight depending on the breed) at 4-6 months of age
  • Baconer: a pig grown to “bacon” weight (roughly 175-220 lbs/80-100 kg live weight depending on the breed) at 8-10 months of age
  • Chopper: an older, mature pig that is used for sausages or other byproducts

 

BREEDS

American Landrace

American Landrace

American Landrace

American Landrace

1. American Landrace

  • Origin: USA. Developed by United States Department of Agriculture and Iowa State University from Danish Landrace hogs.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, flavorful, pink meat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: White.
  • Temperament: Docile.
  • Notes: Well known as good mothers. Common maternal breed (i.e. used as a mother for many hybrid meat hogs).

 

Basque Pig

Basque Pig

Basque Pig

Basque Pig

2. Basque Pig

  • Origin: France. Basque  Country (region).
  • Type: Meat
  • Flavor: Succulent, flavorful, meat commonly made into cured products.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Black and White.
  • Temperament: Good-natured
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. Slow growing. Not well suited to confinement.

 

Berkshire

Berkshire

Berkshire

Berkshire

3. Berkshire

  • Origin: Britain. Berkshire (Berks County).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, flavorful, pink-red meat.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with a white snout and boots and tail.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes: Good mothers. Good foragers. Commonly used as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

 

Chester White

Chester White

Chester White piglet

Chester White piglet (http://colemanfarmshawaii.com/livestock/)

4. Chester White

  • Origin: USA. Chester County, Pennsylvania.
  • Type: Meat. Originally a dual-purpose meat and lard breed.
  • Flavor: Lean but well-marbled and flavorful.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: White.
  • Temperament: Easy-going.
  • Notes:  Chester Whites are good mothers. They are hardy and perform well outdoors. Sows and boars are used for producing hybrids meat hogs.

 

Choctaw

Choctaw

Choctaw

Choctaw

5. Choctaw

  • Origin: USA. Kept by the Choctaw tribe in Mississippi and Alabama, but originating from pigs brought by early Spanish explorers.
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Very flavorful, but reportedly the “carcass isn’t marketable in the commodity system”.
  • Size: Small.
  • Color: Black, but may have some white or brown markings.
  • Temperament: Can be quite wild, but apparently tame down well.
  • Notes:  Almost extinct breed. Very hardy. Very good foragers. Choctaw hogs have fused toes forming a “hoof”, like the Mulefoot.

 

Cinta Senese Pig

Cinta Senese Pig

Cinta Senese Pig

Cinta Senese Pig

6. Cinta Senese Pig

  • Origin: Italy. Siena Province (Tuscany).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean, fragrant meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food Italy Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with a white “belt”.
  • Temperament: Reportedly, can be rather wild.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. “Cinta” means belt. Very hardy. Very good foragers.

 

Duroc

Duroc

Duroc

Duroc

7. Duroc

  • Origin: USA. New York and New Jersey.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Flavorful, succulent, tasty, juicy, lean but well-marbled meat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: Red – skin and hair. Develop a thick coat in Winter.
  • Temperament: Docile, but can get tenacious when caring for their young.
  • Notes: Fast maturing. Very efficient feed to weight ratio. Common as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

 

Gloucester Old Spot

Gloucester Old Spot

Gloucester Old Spot

Gloucester Old Spot

8. Gloucester Old Spot

  • Origin: Britain. Gloucestershire (Gloucester County).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Sweet, very flavorful, well-marbled meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Mostly white with a few black spots.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured and friendly.
  • Notes:  Very good foragers. Very hardy. Very good mothers. Originally raised on windfall apples.

 

Guinea Hog

Guinea Hog

Guinea Hog

Guinea Hog

9. Guinea Hog

  • Origin: Guinea (Africa) originally, but this is a southern USA landrace breed (meaning it was developed over time, adapting to its new environment in the hot and humid South).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Small to Medium (adults: 150-250 lbs/68-114 kg).
  • Color: Black, occasionally red, and hairy.
  • Temperament: Sweet-natured, friendly.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Do not do well in confinement.

 

Hampshire

Hampshire

Hampshire

Hampshire

10. Hampshire

  • Origin: USA. Kentucky.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Mild and lean meat. Little back fat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: Black with a white belt encompassing their front legs.
  • Temperament: Docile.
  • Notes:  Fast growth. High feed to meat ratio. Hardy. Forage well. Common as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

 

Hereford

Hereford

Hereford

Hereford

11. Hereford

  • Origin: USA. Iowa and Nebraska.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Mild and lean meat. Little back fat.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Red with white points (similar to the Hereford cattle breed).
  • Temperament: Good-natured, gentle.
  • Notes: Very adaptable to various climates. Good mothers. Good foragers.

 

Ibérico or Alentejano (Iberian) Pigs

Ibérico or Alentejano (Iberian) Pig

Ibérico or Alentejano (Iberian) Pigs

Ibérico or Alentejano (Iberian) Pigs

12. Ibérico or Alentejano (Iberian) Pigs

  • Origin: Portugal and Spain.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Delicious! Produces the famed Jamón ibérico or Iberian Ham which is very expensive and not widely available.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Black, Gray, or Red.
  • Temperament: Good-natured, but can be a bit “wild”.
  • Notes: Rare breed. Excellent foragers.

 

Kunekune

Kunekune

Kunekune

Kunekune

13. Kunekune

  • Origin: New Zealand, but originating from Asian breeds.
  • Type: Meat. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Flavor: Well-marbled, succulent, tasty meat
  • Size: Small.
  • Color: Wide range of colors, hairy.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Friendly.
  • Notes:  Excellent foragers. Kunekune means “fat and round” in the Māori language. It is one of the “pet” breeds of pig.

 

Large Black

Large Black

Large Black

Large Black

14. Large Black

  • Origin: England. Devonshire (Devon County) and Cornwall County.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Very tasty, juicy, lean but well-marbled meat. Little back fat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: Black.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. A very good forager. Very good mother. Not common in the USA.

 

Mangalitsa

Mangalitsa

Mangalitsa

Mangalitsa

15. Mangalitsa

  • Origin: Hungary.
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Sweet, juicy dark meat. Well known for sausage and hams.
  • Size: Medium to Large
  • Color: Blonde, Black and White, or Red. Curly hair!
  • Temperament: No reliable information can be found.
  • Notes: Rare breed. There are actually three breeds that vary only in color: Blonde, Swallow-Bellied (black with a blond belly and feet), and the Red. Good forager.

 

Meishan Pig

Meishan Pig

Meishan Pig

Meishan Pig

16. Meishan Pig

  • Origin: China. Meishan Prefecture.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Succulent, flavorful, with lots of fat.
  • Size: Small to Medium (adults average 130 lbs/60 kg).
  • Color: Black with wrinkles.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes:  Very prolific. Slow growing. Resistant to many diseases.

 

Mulefoot

Mulefoot

Mulefoot

Mulefoot

17. Mulefoot

  • Origin: USA. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Arkansas. Developed from early Spanish explorers’ hogs.
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, red meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with wattles.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes: Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Hardy. Mulefoot hogs have fused toes forming a “hoof”… hence the name.

 

Ossabaw Island Hog

Ossabaw Island Hog

Ossabaw Island Hog

Ossabaw Island Hog

18. Ossabaw Island Hog

  • Origin: USA. Ossabaw Island, Georgia. Descending from hogs brought by early Spanish explorers. This is a USA landrace breed (meaning it was developed over time, adapting to its new environment on the southern USA coastal island).
  • Type: Meat (really, this is a feral type).
  • Flavor: “Spicy”, red meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Small (adults 100-250 lbs).
  • Color: Black or Black and White spotted with dense hair.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Friendly.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. This breed is over 400 years old, with no additional genetics. Able to tolerate salty conditions. Very good foragers with a “thrifty” gene that allows them to efficiently pack on weight. Slow growing. Can have a high fat content if inactive.

 

Pietrain

Pietrain

Pietrain

Pietrain

19. Pietrain

  • Origin: Belgium. Pietrain village.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Very lean meat.
  • Size: Medium toLarge.
  • Color: White with Black or Gray Spots.
  • Temperament: No reliable information can be found.
  • Notes:  Unique double-muscling, but the gene that causes this excessive muscle production also make the Pietrain susceptible to many health problems, most notably Porcine Stress Syndrome (causes sudden death with stress).

 

Poland China

Poland China

Poland China

Poland China

20. Poland China

  • Origin: USA. Warren and Butler Counties, Ohio.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean but well-marbled meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Black with a white snout and boots and tail.
  • Temperament: Docile.
  • Notes:  Fast-maturing, hardy, and rugged. Does not do well in confinement. Common as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

 

Red Wattle

Red Wattle

Red Wattle

Red Wattle

21. Red Wattle

  • Origin: New Caledonia (South Pacific Island) originally, but brought to the USA through New Orleans. The breed was developed from descendants of these feral pigs found in east Texas.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Fine-textured, luscious meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium to Large (600-1,500 lbs/270–680 kg).
  • Color: Red with wattles.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes:  Endangered species. Highly efficient foragers. Very hardy. Very adaptable to various climates.

 

Spotted Pigs

Spotted Pigs

Spotted Piglets

Spotted Piglets

22. Spotted

  • Origin: USA. Indiana. Cross of Indiana landrace, Poland China, and Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Tasty, lean meat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: White with black spots.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes:  Good feed to weight ratio. Very hardy. Do not do well in confinement. Used to be called the “Spotted Poland China” before 1960. Common as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

 

Tamworth

Tamworth

Tamworth

Tamworth 

23. Tamworth

  • Origin: Britain, probably Ireland. Named for village of Tamworth in Staffordshire, England.
  • Type: Meat
  • Flavor: Firm, moist, well-marbled but lean meat. One of the best bacon breeds.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Red.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Social.
  • Activity: Very active.
  • Notes:  Very good forager. Very hardy. Have disease resistance. Does not do well in confinement.

 

Vietnamese Potbelly

Vietnamese Potbelly

Vietnamese Potbelly

Vietnamese Potbelly 

24. Vietnamese Potbelly

  • Origin: Vietnam.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Flavorful. Can have a lot of fat is allowed/desired – very good for bacon. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Size: Small. 70-150 lbs (32-68 kg), but can get well over 200 lbs (90 kg) depending on the genetics.
  • Color: Black or Black and White.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured.
  • Notes:  Common as pets in the United States.

 

Yorkshire

Yorkshire

Yorkshires can get very big!

Yorkshires can get very big! 

25. Yorkshire

  • Origin: England. Yorkshire (York County).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean meat with little back fat.
  • Size: Large to Very Large.
  • Color: White. May have small, black spots.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes:  Also known as Large Whites in England. Very good foragers. Considered excellent mothers who wean large numbers of piglets. Many modern breeds have Yorkshire blood.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.geneplus.com/images/Cochette%20Landrace.JPG
  • http://www.kidscowsandmore.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/landrace-Mislead.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/75/Porc_basque_SDA2010.JPG
  • http://charcutierltd.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/img_8408.jpg
  • http://www.bark.ch/albums/Pigs-Sep16/normal_berkshire.jpg
  • http://www.tenderbelly.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/pigs01.jpg
  • http://colemanfarmshawaii.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/IMG_8011.jpg
  • http://www.yantisswinefarm.com/images/sows/46-4CW_lg.jpg
  • http://www.albc-usa.org/member/ChoctawHogCampaign_clip_image005.jpg
  • http://albc-usa.etapwss.com/images/uploads/abstracts/choctaw.jpg
  • http://platdujour.typepad.com/.a/6a010536b2f5e7970c013488a26d66970c-580wi
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_oQqR0-DALDA/Sx6hxlZOF5I/AAAAAAAAANQ/Vs8rZB7_jdM/s1600-h/2007_36346-vi.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Duroc-Sau_Kopf.JPG/1280px-Duroc-Sau_Kopf.JPG
  • http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2744/4451411279_8ddc47cd88_o.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gloucester_Old_Spot_Boar,_England.jpg
  • http://www.alderbramble.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Pigs-on-Pasture.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_BEtmcqi1jL4/TDo9L4SiqNI/AAAAAAAAAYE/XkHroO2FVAI/s1600/Basil%2Band%2Bbabies.jpg
  • http://www.pigkeepingcourses.co.uk/pigkeeping/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/homepage2.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_koaqUdQBmNY/TMCnIcqA0dI/AAAAAAAAAm4/IstOCag-8Ho/s1600/IMG_4100.JPG
  • http://www.babelbrookacres.com/Stitch%20out%20of%20trailer.jpg
  • http://auburnmeadowfarm.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/p1000433.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0a/Cerdos_ibericos.jpg
  • http://www.embutidosbruma.com/ingles/img/the%20pig/elcerdo.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-EeK_TR-lsq8/TmyvA4hsjXI/AAAAAAAAC-g/chatgzH1oMk/s640/IMG_6291.JPG
  • http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5222/5591786066_faf77c733f_o.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f1/Large_Black_pigs,_Essex.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/–65jd5E_R5c/UQ6DIBIDMkI/AAAAAAAAA34/RgvM8I8_Tf8/s1600/DSCN2379.JPG
  • http://charcutierltd.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/fg-illtud-dunsford-11a.jpg
  • http://photos.zoochat.com/large/dscf13892-96807.jpg
  • http://www.zwijnstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/DSCN0198-1024×768.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/USDA_ARS_Meishan_pig-Cropped.jpg
  • http://rockcreekmillandheritagefarm.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/pig-logo-fix.jpg
  • http://hangbellyranch.com/HBR/Pictures/100_0606.JPG
  • http://japgar.smugmug.com/Travel/Smoky-Mountains-September-2009/nik20090919DSC6663/692841649_ZBRwb-M.jpg
  • http://canecreekfarm.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/08/26/spotty.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Ferkel_Piétrain_beim_Saugen.JPG
  • http://razasporcinas.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/7.jpg
  • http://www.cpsswine.com/Shows/09_SWTC/Poland_Entries_Photos/CPG/Poland_Gilt_Web.jpg
  • http://arizonapork.com/images/2005/july7/Pig0032.jpg
  • http://charcutierltd.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/fg-illtud-dunsford-11a.jpg
  • http://sc.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/uploads/9c90b12b33215b979c5f0d9bd09ea222.JPG
  • http://pinkguitarfarm.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/wallace.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-5lzAsYCHspE/TzxYyUMkesI/AAAAAAAABbE/Q35TFldk9Qc/s1600/100_8786.JPG
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-dVMtHAOpiYQ/UEYpS8qPeCI/AAAAAAAAJLc/PT48D76UbAE/s1600/piggies.jpg
  • http://eatdrinkri.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Tamworth-grazing.jpg
  • http://www.chefscollaborative.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Tamworth-mamas-and-babies.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/84/Sus_scrofa_domestica.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/Pigs_July_2008-1.jpg
  • http://calvertslivestocklowdown.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/gys-pig-champ.jpg
  • http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef013481151e3b970c-600wi

 

I’ll be Speaking at the Permaculture Voices Conference

I will be speaking at the Permaculture Voices Conference!
March 13-16, 2014 in Temecula, California

This is likely going to be the biggest Permaculture conference that has ever taken place.
Speakers include Geoff Lawton, Nadia Lawton, Joel Salatin, Allan Savory, Michael Pollan, Paul Wheaton, Jack Spirko, Elaine Ingham, and more… including me!

I think this conference is going to be historical, and I am so excited to be a part of it. If you have the opportunity to attend, I would HIGHLY recommend it. And that is not only because I will be speaking!

If you do make it, please stop by and say hello.

 

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Permaculture Plants: Bamboo

Common Name: Bamboo
Scientific Name: Bambuseae Tribe (there are 9 Subtribes, 91 Genera, and about over 1,500 species!)
Family: Poaceae (the Grass family)
Selected Species: See the table at the end of the article for Bamboo Species ideal for a Temperate Climate.

Phyllostachys dulcis

Sweetshoot Bamboo, China’s top edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys dulcis

Description:
I have put off writing an article on Bamboo for a number of years. Even though it is one of the most useful plants on Earth, there are just so many species that the thought of working through them was a bit overwhelming. Well, I finally decided to suck it up and get on with it. Interestingly, right before this article was published, Geoff Lawton released a video on growing Bamboo! Of course, this was a coincidence, but it is still fun to say, “great minds think alike!” (You can see Geoff Lawton’s video on Bamboo here)

Geoff highlighted four species (Bambusa multiplex/glaucescens ‘Alphonse Karr’, Bambusa textilis var. gracilis, Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa multiplex ‘Fern Leaf’) in his video. All these species grow in Zones 8 or warmer. Temperate Climates do include Zone 8, but there are many other species that can withstand temperatures down to -15 F (-26 C)… that is at least Zone 5, and some species can grow in Hardiness Zone 4! The problem for me was trying to find information on these plants. The information is out there, but it is scattered all over the place. As always, when I research something, I share my findings.

Bamboo truly is the epitome of a Permaculture plant. It can be used for food, fiber, fuel, fodder, medicine, building, and more. It can stabilize and regenerate the landscape. It feeds and shelters wildlife. And it is quite beautiful as well. While best known as a tropical or subtropical plant, unless you have very, very cold Winters, there is a Bamboo plant for you. Bamboo should be growing in all Forest Gardens!

Bamboo

Phyllostachys dulcis

History:
Bamboo is native to native to every continent but Europe and Antarctica. It can be found in the hot tropics to cold, snowy mountains. They have had historic economic and cultural significance in Asia for thousands of years. In the last few decades, the rest of the world has really started to understand the relevance of this plant.

Trivia:

  • Bamboo does not go to flower very often. Depending on the species, this can be once every 20-130 years! Interestingly, all Bamboo of the same species will go to flower at the same time, regardless of where in the world they are. Scientists still do not know how or why this happens!
  • Once a Bamboo plant is done flowering, it will die.
  • Bamboo shoots can grow surprisingly fast. In fact, it hold the Guinness World Record as the fast growing plant on Earth. One plant had shoots that were recorded as growing 35 inches (91 cm) in 24 hours!
  • Bamboo shoots typically grow for 4-6 weeks (in Spring or Summer) before they stop getting taller.
  • Bamboo shoots will get taller and wider each year until the stand of Bamboo reach maturity.
  • New shoots are roughly the same diameter as the mature cane.
  • Bamboo plants may produce double the number of shoots each year – this is why they are notorious for spreading.
  • Bamboo grows up (from shoots) pretty fast, but they can also grow out (from their roots/rhizomes) as well.
  • Bamboo is typically classified as either running or clumping.
  • Running types of Bamboo have rhizomes (underground stems, leptomorph type) that can put up new shoots a few feet or yards (meters) away from the mother plant. They can spread up to 15 feet per year, but 3-5 feet in more typical.
  • Clumping Bamboo still has rhizomes, but they are a different type (pachymorph type), and they expand very slowly – too slowly to be considered running, they grow in clumps.
  • Many people harvest the shoots or cut them down to prevent running Bamboo from spreading.
  • Some people will install a rhizome barrier which blockes the expansion of the underground stems.
  • For the most part, all Bamboo species in colder Temperate Climates are running types. Almost all species that can tolerate hot and humid Summers and cool to cold Winters (like the southeastern United States) are running types as well. The clumping species of Bamboo that can handle the cold tend to be smaller, but these species are less tolerant of heat and humidity. This is why almost all the species listed in the table below are running types.
Phyllostachys vivax

Smooth-Sheathed/Chinese Timber Bamboo grows up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter
Phyllostachys vivax

USING THIS PLANT

Uses
I typically divide this section in to Primary and Secondary uses, but Bamboo has so many incredible uses, that it is almost impossible to say which is “primary” and which is “secondary”.

  • Edible Shoots – While all Bamboo shoots are considered edible, some are better than others, and only about 100 are used for food. Typically, the larger species are used more often, since the smaller shoots are not considered worthwhile to harvest. Many species produce significant levels of toxins (precursors to cyanide), but these toxins are quickly destroyed and rendered harmless at high temperatures. Cooking (boiling is most common) the shoots not only makes them safe to eat, but makes them more tender.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant; however, Bamboo does not flower frequently enough to be major benefit
  • Shelter Plant for Beneficial Insects – especially solitary bees and wasps
  • Wildlife Shelter – especially birds and small mammals
  • Animal Fodder – Bamboo is a grass, and livestock like to eat grass
  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world
  • Timber – used to create particle board, fiberboard, strand board, flooring, molding, beams, etc.
  • Wood Products – used for cutting boards, crafts, baskets, tools, veneers, laminates, musical instruments, weapons, etc.
  • Structures – bridges, walls, roofing, water pipes, water wheels, etc.
  • Poles/Stakes – common in garden and other agricultural uses, fishing poles, etc.
  • Paper – newspaper, bond paper, toilet tissue, cardboard, coffee filters, etc.
  • Fuel – firewood, charcoal, etc.
  • Textiles – clothing, blankets, towels, pillows, mattresses, diapers, bullet proof vests, etc.
  • Windbreak Species – typically fast growing and very tolerant of wind
  • Hedge Species – fantastic privacy screen, and in warmer climates, Bamboo is used as a much needed shade producing plant
  • Erosion Control Species – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion.
  • Dam/Pond Wall Stabilization – Bamboo’s extensive, fibrous, and shallow root system is great for stabelizing and protecting a pond or dam wall.
  • Bioremediation Species – Bamboo can be used as a fast-growing plant to help clean and detoxify environments

 

Bamboo shoot breaking through the soil.

Bamboo shoot breaking through the soil.

Harvesting a Bamboo shoot with a sharp, narrow shovel.

Harvesting a Bamboo shoot with a sharp, narrow shovel.

Bamboo shoots for sale in a market.

Bamboo shoots for sale in a market.

Bamboo shoot being split and hard outer layers peeling off.

Bamboo shoot being split and hard outer layers peeling off.

Another split Bamboo shoot.

Another split Bamboo shoot.

Cleaned Bamboo shoots ready to cook!

Cleaned Bamboo shoots ready to cook!

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: “Winter” shoots are harvested in late Winter. These are harvested before the shoots erupt through the soil; they are small and very tender. “Spring” shoots are harvested in the Spring, of course. These are harvested before they reach 10-12 inches (25-30 cm). Then there are the “Summer” shoots. These are harvested from Bamboo species that produce shoots in the Summer. Harvest shoots that are short and wide, solid and heavy for their size. Shoots are typically cut at soil level with a sharp-bladed shovel. The hard, tough husk is peeled off, sometimes a few layers at a time, until the pale, edible core is released. The fibrous base is cut back. Sometimes the tip also needs to be removed. The shoots are cut to relatively uniform size for even cooking. They can be boiled, steamed, grilled, etc. If boiling, use salted water, and boil for about 20 minutes. Many species of Bamboo shoots need a few fresh water changes, a second boiling, and/or a slow simmer to make them tender and not bitter. Other species can be trimmed and placed on the grill, ready to eat after cooked for a few minutes.
Storage: Harvested shoots that are unpeeled can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. They should be wrapped in wet paper towels, but not plastic; they need to breathe. They should also be kept out of the sun, this will increase their bitterness. Peeled shoots can only be stored for a few days. Cooked shoots can be stored for a few weeks if kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Bamboo's fibrous roots and rhizomes.

Bamboo’s fibrous roots and rhizomes.

Rhizome barriers are one way to keep Bamboo rhizome's within bounds.

Rhizome barriers are one way to keep Bamboo rhizome’s within bounds.

Rhizome pruning once or twice a year is another way to keep Bamboo within bounds.

Rhizome pruning once or twice a year is another way to keep Bamboo within bounds.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zones 4 and warmer (see table below).
AHS Heat Zone: Variable.
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Bamboo.
Leaf Type: Evergreen.
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Subcanopy Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are hundreds of species and varieties from which to choose.

Pollination: Pollinated by the wind. Flowers have both male and female parts.
Flowering: Bamboo does not go to flower very often (see Trivia section above).

Life Span: Individual canes can live for up to 10 years. Considering that the plants spread so easily from their rhizomes, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Black Bamboo is a beautiful plant. Phyllostachys nigra

Black Bamboo is a beautiful plant.
Phyllostachys nigra

Walking Stick Bamboo is another unique species  Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda

Walking Stick Bamboo is another unique species
Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: see table below
Roots: Shallow and fibrous with rhizomes (spreading underground stem that can put up a new shoot/plant several feet from the parent)
Growth Rate: Fast to Very Fast

Phyllostachys_bambusoides

Giant Timber Bamboo or Madake grows to an impressive 70 feet tall and 6 inches thick!
Phyllostachys bambusoides

Canebreak Bamboo is a U.S. native Arundinaria gigantea

River Cane or Canebreak Bamboo is a U.S. native
Arundinaria gigantea

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Some species tolerate medium to full shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils. Some species can tolerate very wet to flooded soils if allowed to dry out.
pH: 5.1-8.5 (varies on the species)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Only place Bamboo in an area where it can spread or where you will be able to maintain its spread (i.e. keep it from spreading). See Maintenance section below.

Propagation:
Can be propagated from seed, but many species of Bamboo do not go to seed very often. Seed may take up to 6 months to germinate. Division in late Winter/early Spring is most common – just be careful of the emerging small new shoots. Can be propagated from cuttings of 1-2 year plants in Spring.

Maintenance:

  • If growing a running type or a clumping type that spreads, it is important to keep the shoots in check if you do not want it to spread.
  • A rhizome barrier (approximately 30 inch/76 cm tall plastic or metal barrier encircling the Bamboo stand) is a common way to keep Bamboo from spreading. It still needs to be checked at least once a year to make sure no rhizomes are trying to “jump” over it. Some cheap plastic barriers are not strong enough to hold back the rhizomes, so I think the metal or even concrete barriers are best.
  • Harvesting new shoots will keep the Bamboo from spreading outside of your desired area.
  • Root pruning once or twice a year will also keep the rhizomes in check. This can be done with a rototiller or a sharp spade. Rhizomes are typically very shallow rooted (2-5 inches/5-13 cm deep), and can easily be found. Just dig a trench around the Bamboo grove, and pull out any wayward rhizomes. The root pruning is done at least 2 feet/60 cm from the parent plant. If root pruning is done too close to the parent plant, then the Bamboo cannot produce healthy shoots the following growing season.

Concerns:

  • Spreading – running, and even some clumping, bamboo can rapidly spread to surrounding areas (see note in Maintenance and in Trivia above)

 

Bamboo Species for a Temperate Climate

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SCIENTIFIC NAME COMMON NAME ZONE

HEIGHT

DIAMETER

TYPE

SHOOTS NOTES
Arundinaria gigantea River Cane or Canebreak Bamboo

6-10

15-20 feet

S

R

Native to U.S.
Bashania fargesii Windbreak Bamboo

7-10

25 feet

S-M

R

FS, EC, WT
Borinda papyrifera Unnamed

8-9

15-25 feet

S-M

C

PHH
Fargesia nitida Blue Fountain

5-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Fargesia murielae Umbrella Bamboo

5-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Fargesia robusta Unnamed

7-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Phyllostachys acuta Unnamed

6-10

25-30 feet

L

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys angusta Stone Bamboo

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

L Sp, NB
Phyllostachys atrovaginata Incense Bamboo

5-10

35-40 feet

L

R

M Sp Waxy, fragrant shoot coating
Phyllostachys aurea Fishpole or Golden Bamboo

7-10

15-30 feet

S-M

R

E Au, NB, G
Phyllostachys aureosulcata Yellow-Grove Bamboo

5-10

30 feet

S-M

R

L Sp, NB
Phyllostachys bambusoides Giant Timber Bamboo, Madake

7-10

50-70 feet

VL

(4-6 inches!)

R

Su
Phyllostachys bissetii Bisset Bamboo

5-10

20-30 feet

S

R

Phyllostachys decora Beautiful Bamboo

6-10

30-35 feet

L

R

Phyllostachys dulcis Sweetshoot Bamboo

6-10

20-40 feet

L

R

E Sp, NB, VG Major Chinese Edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys edulis Moso Bamboo

7-10

40-50 feet

VL

(4-7 inches!)

R

L Sp, NB, VG Major Japanese Edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys flexuosa Chinese Weeping Bamboo

6-9

20-25 feet

S

R

L Sp One variety grows zig-zag
Phyllostachys glauca Yunzhu Bamboo

6-10

35 feet

M

R

L Sp
Phylostachys herteroclada Water Bamboo

6-10

30 feet

S-M

R

WS
Phyllostachys iridescens Iridescent Bamboo

6-10

40+ feet

L

R

Phyllostachys makinoi Makinoi’s Bamboo, Kei-Chiku

6-10

35-40 feet

M-L

R

Phyllostachys meyeri Meyer Bamboo

7-10

30 feet

S-M

R

Phyllostachys nidularia Big Node Bamboo

7-10

25-35 feet

S

R

E Sp, G WS
Phyllostachys nigra Black Bamboo

7-10

20-35 feet

M

R

Sp, Su, G
Phyllostachys nuda Nude Sheath Bamboo

5-10

20-35 feet

S-M

R

Sp
Phyllostachys parvifolia Unnamed

6-10

40+ feet

L

R

Sp, G
Phyllostachys platyglossa Unnamed

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

VG
Phyllostachys praecox Unnamed

7-9

20 feet

M

R

Sp, G ST
Phyllostachys propinqua Unnamed

5-10

10-30 feet

S

R

Sp, G ST
Phyllostachys rubromarginata Red Margin Bamboo

6-10

40-60 feet

M

R

Su, NB, G WT
Phyllostachys stimulosa Unnamed

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

G
Phyllostachys sulphurea f. viridis Green Sulphur Bamboo

7-10

20-40 feet

S

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys violascens Violet Bamboo

6-10

25-30 feet

S-M

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens Greenwax Golden Bamboo 

7-10

20-35 feet

S

R

E Su, NB, G
Phyllostachys vivax Smooth-Sheathed or Chinese Timber Bamboo

6-10

40-70 feet

M-VL

(up to 5 inches)

R

E Au, G
Pleioblastus hindsii Unnamed

7-11

6-15 feet

S

R

G ST, flutes
Pleioblastus simonii Simon Bamboo

7-10

10-20 feet

S

R

Su, E Au Edible Seeds
Pseudosasa japonica Arrow Bamboo or Yadake

7-10

15-18 feet

S

R

Su, E Au, NB, G WT, MT
Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda Walking Stick Bamboo

7-10

15-18 feet

S (large nodes)

R

G Popular for walking sticks
Semiarundinaria fastuosa Narihira or Temple Bamboo

6-10

25-35 feet

S

R

E Au ST
Thamnocalamus tessellatus Unnamed

7-10

12-16 feet

S

C

PHH, MT
Yushania anceps Anceps Bamboo

7-9

10-15 feet

S

C/R

Su, E Au, NB, G PHH, EC, ST
Yushania anceps ‘Pitt White’ Pitt White Bamboo

7-9

15-20 feet

S

C/R

Su, NB, G PHH, EC, ST
Yushania maculata Maculata Bamboo

7-9

10-12

S

C

Su, E Au, NB, G PHH, EC
Yushania maling Maling Bamboo

7-9

10-25 feet

S-M

C

PHH, EC
DIAMETER:  

S = Small (0.4-2 inches/1-5 cm)

M= Medium (2-2.75 inches/5-7 cm)

L = Large (2.75-4 inches/7-10 cm)

VL = Very Large (4+ inches/10+ cm) 

TYPE:  

C = Clumping

R = Running

C/R = some Bamboo can have either Clumping or Running forms

SHOOTS:  

Sp = Spring

E Sp = Early Spring

M Sp = Mid Spring

L Sp = Late Spring

Su = Summer

E Au = Early Autumn

G = Good tasting

VG = Very Good tasting

NOTES:  

FS = Fast Spreading

EC = known for Erosion Control

WT = known for being very Wind Tolerant

PHH = does Poorly in high Heat and high Humid conditions (like the southeast U.S.)

ST = known for being Shade Tolerant

WS = can grow in very Wet Soils and can stand occasional flooding

MT = Maritime Tolerant

 

'Pitt White' Bamboo is a popular clumping ornamental. Yushania anceps 'Pitt White'

‘Pitt White’ Bamboo is a popular clumping ornamental.
Yushania anceps ‘Pitt White’

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.bambooweb.info/resize_image3.php?photowidth=600&image=http://i832.photobucket.com/albums/zz246/stevelau1911/Daves%20garden/DSC02565.jpg?t=1356023427
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/Wolfgang%20Moso.JPG
  • http://www.bambooweb.info/resize_image3.php?photowidth=600&image=http://i832.photobucket.com/albums/zz246/stevelau1911/Daves%20garden/DSC02780.jpg?t=1356026458
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Phyllostachys_bambusoides_%27Violascens%27_-_Bambus.JPG
  • http://www.whyy.org/91FM/ybyg/images/vivax_culm.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/Q.-tumidissinoda7s.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/images/Y.brevi.11-05.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/P.nigra6s.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/F.robusta.rootmass4s.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/Barrier-installation5.jpg
  • http://tokyobling.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/bamboo_shoot_wild.jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3413/3518596075_382c8be704_o.jpg
  • http://www.bonzabamboo.com.au/images/shoot_harvest/shoot1.jpg
  • http://illmakeitmyself.brianhuneke.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/img_12292.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/shoot-harvest2.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-B7oh9GhKshQ/UZKpZFJlekI/AAAAAAAAFAo/BqN2juwrTcM/s1600/IMG_9772.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/pruning-trench2.jpg

 

Intentional Permaculture Communities – Real Examples

One of my goals that I have previously written about is to build an intentional permaculture community. This is not an overnight project. It is looking like it will be at least 18 months before we would break ground. I am hoping for sometime in 2015, but I obviously cannot be certain at this point. I used to be very frustrated with setting timelines so far in the future; however, I have come to realize the importance of not rushing things. I actually have a lot of things I have to, and desire to, accomplish in this small window of time.

In the time since I have written about my plans, I have come across a number of existing intentional communities similar to what I have in mind. I want to share three of these today…

Village Homes - Davis California

Village Homes – Davis California
Central Park

Village Homes - Davis California

Village Homes – Davis California

Village Homes - Davis California

Village Homes – Davis California
Bike Trails

Village Homes 
Davis, California

This is a 60-acre suburb in Davis, California. It was created in 1981 by architect Michael Corbett, and the community is still thriving today. Now this is really a Permaculture suburb. I don’t have a desire to live in a suburb, but this property is still exciting to study. Bill Mollison (the co-originator of Permaculture) documented one of his visits to Village Homes in 1991 in his Global Gardener series. You can watch it here:

 

In 2013, Geoff Lawton (Bill Mollison’s protégé) again documented his visit to Village Homes. This community is now over 38 years old. Fantastic! You can watch Geoff Lawton’s video on his site. You do need to provide a name and email, but the video is well worth it!

Geoff Lawton's visit to Village Homes, California.

Geoff Lawton’s visit to Village Homes, California.

http://www.geofflawton.com/sq/34520-food-forest-suburb

 

 

Fairhope, Alabama

Fairhope, Alabama

Arden, Delaware

Arden, Delaware

Fairhope, Alabama (established 1894) 
Arden, Delaware (established 1900)

A reader sent me information about her great-grandfathers who were part of an intentional community founded in 1894… and it still exists! It turns out that there were two of these cities. They are the only two “single tax colonies” remaining in the United States. They were both founded by small groups of individuals who were followers of economic theorist Henry George. Interestingly, similar to my concept, members of the towns have a renewable 99 year lease. The “single tax” is not completely possible due to larger government laws and regulations, but these cities provide a wealth of history (and stability!) which shows a long-term lease model can indeed work. These cities have a taxation system that is a little cumbersome, and to be honest, I have only been able to spend a little time reading about it. I will provide links to their sites as a reference if this interests you:

Fairhope, Alabama

Arden, Delaware

 

 

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 Photo References:

  • http://gardenerofgoodandevil.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/pathway3.jpg
  • http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/23122262.jpg
  • http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/23122196.jpg
  • http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/23122266.jpg
  • http://gardenerofgoodandevil.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/yard.jpg?w=900
  • http://gardenerofgoodandevil.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/path.jpg?w=900
  • http://media.smithsonianmag.com/images/Fairhope-Alabama-French-Quarter-631.jpg
  • http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/7541165.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Arden_Craft_Shop.JPG
  • http://ardenclub.org/files/2012/01/Gild-Hall.jpg