Paul and Jocelyn are recording a podcast at the Beacon food forest in Seattle. They sorta snuck out there to visit a friend in the hospital, but took some time to visit this permaculture project and record a podcast. First, Paul talks about a visit he made months ago to a Dave Jacke workshop in Montana, where everybody’s plans for the less than 2 acre site left it pretty much flat, and Paul wanted to put in 15′ tall berms, with paths and tunnels, to shield the site from its surroundings. He always wanted to make a podcast with Jack Spirko about it (Jack was also at the workshop) but it never happened. Paul felt like the folks were looking for “landscaping” and calling it “permaculture.” For Paul, art is done by an independent visionary, not by committee.
Then they spend some time talking about the Beacon food forest project in Seattle. A lot of money has been spent, apparently on plumbing. There are communal places, and lots of little individual sites that people are renting. (Interesting fact: those are called “P-patches” in Seattle, instead of community gardens.) There are some things here that Paul hasn’t seen before and thinks are cool.
Jocelyn points out that in an urban situation where real estate is expensive, the only way a large scale project could occur is within a pretty large community. Here in Seattle, the whole site is 7 acres and they’ve got between one and two acres planted up thus far. Paul likes how they have created informational signage for the food forest: embedded in ceramic tiles, with images and multiple languages. He notes that although some of them say “food forest” he hasn’t seen the word “permaculture” on a tile. They do describe how the idea for this project came up during a PDC, which is pretty cool. Jocelyn says you will see the word permaculture at their website: beaconfoodforest.org
Paul looks around, and (of course) he would prefer to have more earthworks. They have some nice terraces, he’d like them bigger and wider. He’d like some berms, ideally hugelkultur berms. He’d like curving, non symmetrical hugelkultur beds arranged in pleasing patterns that have frost alleys to move the cold air down to that street there.
Urbanite is broken up concrete – this has been used for the terraces at the Beacon food forest. Paul remembers his dad saying that growies don’t like cement, he has some reservations about using concrete. He’d rather not use a bunch of things that other folks use, like cardboard, or municipal compost, or municipal wood chips. Still, although Paul would do this differently, he sees how in four or five years this site is going to be spectacular. Jocelyn sees some nice examples of guilding, of re-use of material, and the whole thing is so pleasing to the eye it will really do a good job of introducing people to permaculture. Even their “bone yard” (storage area for excess materials) is neat and tidy.
Paul thinks that in a few years there will be a lot of food coming out of this spot, although pests like raccoons might come to be a problem. He notes the honey bee hives are being kept safe from the public by a woven wire fence. The fence has been enhanced with branches woven into the fence, looking fun and making the fence so much nicer to look at. Paul likes the idea of people saying “Hey, you know what would be cool?” and then doing cool stuff. He’s looking forward to that sort of thing happening at the laboratory.
Paul would really like to see them put in a lemon tree site, something bending the climate. Seattle can get down to 10 degrees in the winter, but Paul figures that with the right earthworks it could be done. Also, growing red tomatoes (hard to do in cool, cloudy Seattle). Paul did that when he lived in Seattle.
Mulch in the Pacific northwest: Toby Hemenway says that sometimes it causes too many problems with snails and slugs. Paul thinks you could pull it back for the spring, to let the soil warm up. Then, around the summer solstice you should put the mulch back down. This would be for a small, intensely managed piece of ground. Paul’s preference is for larger plantings that are less intensively managed, acres per person, not little garden plots. He’s a fan of letting plants fend for themselves, just planting enough and enough diversity that “enough” makes it.
The Beacon food forest has a mason bee home: it’s got holes drilled in wood (which you don’t want to have) but they have paper straws in the holes, so that makes it better. Also, they have chicken wire in front to keep woodpeckers away from the hibernating bees. Good news! they have a little wetland near the mason bee spot so the bees will be able to get mud to seal up their nests.
Paul thinks this public food forest will end up being a template for other cities all over the world. These guys must have been working through a mountain of red tape and regulation (although Seattle must be better than many other cities) but they have a really good start here. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that five years into the future this will be magnificent. This is going to be epic (even if they don’t plant a lemon tree here).
Slugs: are a major problem for gardeners in the Seattle area. Having a lot of brush piles is a good thing for slug control. There’s a beetle that lives in the brush pile that loves to eat slug eggs. Garter snakes live in brush piles and like to eat slugs. Rock piles are also good.
Art: Paul likes that there is so much art here, particularly in the P-patches, where people are decorating their little spot. There are lots of keyhole beds and people are artistically paving their paths.
Back at the laboratory, there are some massive, 12 foot tall berms/hugelkultur beds that have been built. (Ed: pictures! we want pictures!)
Credits: Julia Winter and Kevin Murphy
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