Friday, May 8, 2009

Nature gives...

I had the unique pleasure of spending last weekend at the Gaia Women's Gathering in the hills of Albemarle County. Eighty beautiful wise nature-loving women gathered to celebrate and share their expertise on a variety of topics including herbal medicines, hand crafts, respiratory wellness, diet, and permaculture. Deb Soule, organic gardener, founder of Avena Botanicals shared her love of plants and pollinators.

Local permaculture expert, Christine Gyovai, shared with us her process of creating a sustainable home, garden, and way of living. It was enough to make me want to set up camp in her backyard and eschew suburban living altogether. Take heart, if you live in the city or don't have loads of land. The beautiful and Betty-like theme of the class was start with what you have, simplify, and learn ways to work with Nature rather than against.

I was excited to learn more about "permaculture" - a term I have heard a lot about recently, but if you asked me I couldn't really tell you what it was. Now I can! Permaculture is a way of using the land that is modeled after the way forests, nature-made ecosystems naturally occur. Permaculture can teach you how to garden like a forest, where there are seven layers: underground, ground, shrubs, mid-canopy, full size, vines.

Permaculture encourages: 1- care of the Earth - (ways of renewing the Earth on a daily basis) 2- care of the people (building community through work parties for example) 3- share the surplus (incorporate giving so nothing goes to waste).

I'm not able to go into the detail (Christine whittled down a dozen hours of workshop time into this brief hour and a half introduction), so if you are interested here are Betty's suggestions for ways to get started:

* Attend one of the fabulous workshops given by the Blue Ridge Permaculture Network, which are listed on their website and on Betty's Events page

*Christine recommended these books:
Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemingway
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jearons
Edible Forest Gardening by Dave Jacke

*A lasagna garden is great way to start - I can vouch for this technique having used it in my own two box gardens.

1st layer: cardboard
2nd layer: some organic - manure or dirt or local Panorama Pay Dirt (available at Southern States)
3rd layer: newspaper sheets, but NOT the glossy ones
4th layer: more organics

Christine recommended letting it break down for a season, but last year I left out of the cardboard, instead I used dry leaves on the bottom layer and started gardening right away and (until the deer got to it) the garden was flourishing. Speaking of deer, this year I am going to use bamboo-staked fence with deer netting (my boxes are not that big) AND St. Gabriel Laboratories Deer Repellent spray - which is made locally (I got mine at Whole Foods) from all natural ingredients and therefore is safe for the fruits and veggies. I plan on being vigilant with the reapplication, especially after rain this year. Usually the deer chomp through our lily patch like it's some kind of salad bar, but with this spray we were able to enjoy the blooms last year.

Hope that inspires!

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