Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cultivating the Park

As many of you may already know, Community Cultivators, in conjunction with our friends at ape99.org, have been putting a lot of energy into cultivating a great urban permacultural demonstration site in East Austin. The site, a one acre lot near the intersection of 12th and Airport, hosts permaculture work parties and potlucks every Sunday. Starting around noon, and running late into the evening, we gather and begin to look at the various projects that are still in progress (there's always something to do in the garden).

Over the course of the past few weeks, thanks to beautiful weather and the kindness of the community, we've made significant progress on several projects. You might already be familiar with the "Just add water..." video and story we put together as a result of these fun work days. In addition to the hoophouse project you see developing through the video, we've also been working on several other exciting projects.

Built from locally harvested bamboo, our outdoor shower is beginning to take shape. This structure is a truly brilliant piece of the permaculture design.

The idea is simple, rather than flushing all that precious water down the drain as you rinse yourself off, why not use that valuable resource, otherwise wasted, to water your garden? And, if you're already going that far... why not just put the whole thing outside in the garden?! Well, that's exactly what we're doing at the out at the Deadend Homestead!

The shower is set up to feed water directly into a network of swales that traverse the property. The bamboo was harvested from a nearby property and split with a special tool that resembles some kind of kitchen utensil you might have seen on a late night infomercial. Splitting the bamboo actually increases the flexibility of this amazing building material which allowed us to weave it into the solid and artistically appealing wall form you see depicted in the picture above.

Another great new addition is the beautiful new herb spiral designed and built by Logan Keech.

This structure was built atop an old herb spiral that had falling into serious disrepair. Overgrown with weeds, with nothing notable occupying the space aside from a towering rosemary, Logan set to work revitalizing a once neglected section of the garden.

Herb spirals are another one of those iconic permaculture design structures. Utilizing shapes from nature, the herb spiral accomplishes many things in a very compact space.

The spiral shape, inspired by the nautilus, increases "edge space" (a very desirable territory in ecological terms) and creates small micro-climates that help provide more ideal conditions for a whole assortment of plants with varying environmental requirements.  In a typical garden, for example, you'd rarely want to plant parsley next to your basil. Basil is a sun loving herb that can't tolerate cold and really doesn't like the shade much. Parsley on the other hand, thrives in shady areas and, in the full Central Texas sun, can wilt and dry up quickly if proper attention and water are not dutifully applied. In the herb spiral design, these two unlikely compatriots each are able to occupy their divergent niches in relatively close proximity.

In addition, pulled by the force of gravity, water tends to move from the top-center of the structure down into the lower rings. Therefore, the drought tolerant, sun loving, native rosemary that crowns this herb spiral is the perfect centerpiece.

To help out the delicate new additions to this miniature ecosystem, Logan constructed an arching dome structure that bowes over the outer rings and meets in the center around the stately rosemary. More than just artistically inspired, this bamboo latticework helps to prevent the scratching inclinations of the resident guinea hens. They especially like getting into newly disturbed soils and fresh mulch. As you might imagine, this habit comes in direct conflict with our desire to cultivate new plants and new spaces within the garden. Being able to imagine and design structures that prevent this natural behavior from destroying our hard work is essential to good permaculture design. We want the birds to be able to express their natural desires to scratch for food and grit but we just want them to do it in places that don't disturb our delicate new ecosystems.

And finally, just to assuage those fears that Sundays at the Permaculture Park (aka, Deadend Farm and Homestead) is all work and no play, we occasionally have a local band come out to join us for entertainment. As the sun goes down, the fun begins... with fresh local food, friends, live music and the comfort of a campfire, we share our visions, thoughts and inspirations for the future. We're dreaming of the abundance we can cultivate together and we're sharing the insights our expanding community has only begun to manifest.

Please join us, all are welcome! For details, contact me directly or visit our facebook page and look up the events section. New friends are always welcome. Even if you don't know anything about permaculture, herb spirals or natural building, we're always interested in sharing our experiences and expanding community. We are, after all, Community Cultivators... and you, no matter where you are or where your interests lie, are a part of our community. Let's cultivate together!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Natural building fun!

Every Sunday a group of cultivators have been gathering together to work on various permaculture projects. Over this past year we've built several gardens, re-landscaped a housing co-operative's front entryway and built a few aquaponics systems. During the month of February, we took to a natural building project that will soon become a large new greenhouse. 
For this project we knew we wanted several strong, well insulated, walls. Going in, we already had an idea for a natural building technique using woodchip mulch of which, we just happened to have a surplus. Also on hand was a large bale of weathered paper pulp left over from a previous papercrete project. It took a little experimentation but in the end we came up with a surprisingly strong material that sets nicely and shows very little evidence of slumping!
And yes, of course, we did another fun video to inspire your own creativity.

After the "mulchcrete" wall is plastered we'll add the greenhouse panels and plastic over the top and begin to build our new aquaponics system, propigation table and guinea perch (we need a warm place to shelter the guinea hens when the weather turns bad.)
Stay tuned for more!