073 – Urban Permaculture Realism

Paul Wheaton talks to Norris Thomlinson, who lives on 0.2 acres in Portland, Oregon, and has been urban farming. Norris and his partner Tulsey hoped to grow enough food there to feed themselves and a few other people. They realized after a couple years that, unfortunately, they couldn’t. They have optimized every square foot of their yard, and even use the roof. Norris has carefully measured what they consumed in calories, and they harvest an average of 750 calories per day–not enough to feed Tulsey, who is petite. They are 5.5 years down the line, and predict that after another 5 years, as their nut and fruit trees mature, they might be able to feed 1 person, without the current outside inputs that they have now.

Animal calories make up half of what they eat, and a lot of calories come from their bee’s honey. Some sidenotes are that they weren’t very knowledgeable about gardening when they started, and it took them a lot of outside inputs in order to build up the soil (they had poor, rocky soil to start with). They brought in two feet of woodchips, plus coffee grounds and their own urine to balance the carbon with nitrogen. They are now planning on moving to Hawaii, and the place (which sounds awesome and they describe in great detail) is up for sale. (Contact: farmerscrub@blogspot.com)

In Hawaii, they like the idea of needing no heating or cooling, and food growing there year round. They would like to live with 10 people under one roof, and thus recognize they will need much more land than they have had previously. In Portland, they only spent 40 minutes a day gardening. Paul shares how he likes burying whole logs over using woodchips, and shares his concerns with using woodchips. He likes the edge uneven ground creates. Norris had a positive experience with his woodchips. They then talk about sunchokes, aka Jerusalem artichokes. Norris says it is possible to do a sunchoke polyculture by sort of a 3 sisters combo: sunchokes, ground nuts, and chinese artichoke.

They talk about the sunchoke farts, and inulin not being digestible by most humans. Sunchokes are great to grow, but have a low caloric value and require slow-cooking in order to undo the inulin’s effects. They are also self-preserving in the soil. Raw or cooked, you can use sunchokes as fodder for chickens. Paul shared his chicken article advice with Norris, and Norris reported back his experience. Paul thinks the paddcock shift system is a lot better than coop and run. Norris shares his favorite edible perennials: garlic, skirret (a carrot-parsnip-like root), French sorrel, mallows for salad, Andean root crops like potatoes, ulluco and mashua, and fennel seed.

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