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posted : 2006.Apr.08 @ 10.59am

Sleeping under the trees on Yoshino mountain

The spring breeze wearing

Cherry blossom petals

~ Saigyo


Permaculture and the Art of Composting


1.0 Preparing the Site


deep in the work on an integrated compost system for the Heart of the Creek a small center in the little town of Roberts Creek nestled in the cedar trees against the wilds of the pacific ocean on the british columbian west coast with the kind and generous support of Lorinda and Don i have been empowered to create an integrated compost system as one shard in a mission to make the many gardens here into a community permaculture education space a living classroom where people can learn about plants, organic gardening and other ecologically conscious methods of sustainable design and development i thot i would illustrate my process as a way of opening up dialogues about permaculture composting techniques this will be a ritual post evolving with pictures as my process evolves

our story begins with a chunk of hurt land completely owned by morning glories (a very invasive and aggressive flowering vine that chokes out other plants by wrapping tightly around them) and himalayan blackberries (another invasive, though this one has yummy berries) both very hard to get out of your garden space the area behind my little shed is the last area to develop the big property that contains many businesses including a woodworking school, our little elfintome bookstore, our elfinstones crystal shoppe, the gumboot cafe, a yoga studio, a health food store, antique shop, outdoor adventure store renting kayacs and many others since it is the last area it has been the dumping ground for garbage and old building supplies for many many years i cut down the blackberries by hand then dig out the top knot of their root system which lays just below the ground and rake the soil pulling out many morning glory roots creating a level area then i was ready for the next stage

posted : 2006.Apr.09 @ 11.11am

2.0 Building a Compost Box


i had some composts built of untreated cedar

there are two large boxes for the compost one to fill up and the other to use while the first is composting a compost is an idea environment for worms and other decomposers so it promotes efficient decomposition of organic waste into rich soil so this means they like to keep the material shaded, damp, warm and oxigenated the have lids on hinges with 1/4 inch slats to allow rainwater in to make sure it stays damp the sides of the boxes have 3/4 inch spaces between the boards to allow aeration they are lined with fine mesh wiring to keep any animals or rodents out
the front of the composts are made with a removable slat system so you can take the front off board by board to access the compost material there is a third seperate box with no slats to let rainwater in that is full of leaves and other brown material to layer in the compost
next i put a layer of cardboard over the soil to kill remaining morning glories and blackberries and also to attract worms as it breaks down notice that there are holes in the cardboard so it does not compact as a sheet and act as a barrier to worms i also put down some dried morning glory vines
after putting in a layer of wood and rocks to hold moisture and also provide good drainage
i put down a nice layer of about 3/4 of a foot of mostly green plant waste which break down and provide high nitrogen content to the compost soil
after this followed by a small layer of soil (an inch or two will do) this is to provide already established habitat for worms and bring more worms and microorganisms into the system
then i put down a layer of leaves 3/4 of a foot or less (so it does not compact) any 'brown' material like dried plants or newspaper will do this helps aerate the pile and provides carbon to the compost soil

posted : 2006.Apr.09 @ 11.12am

3.0 Developing the Compost Site


next i put a layer of cardboard sheet mulch that i got from the local healthfood store that will also be sharing use of the compost system you can see that there are two green access points to the pretty integrated septic field system that is used for the Heart businesses so that everything that flows into the sewage system from here is a clear, odorless liquid the sheet mulch will kill the morning glories and blackberries whose roots are still alive where i want my path to be

then i used wood mulch from the woodworking school right next to the compost area to cover the cardboard and further help in keeping weeds down
now i was ready to turn my attention to the surrounding area around the compost much more to come elvish center craft

posted : 2006.Apr.09 @ 12.24pm

4.0 Hugelkulturing with Comfrey


i had five massive piles mostly tree branches and blackberries and weeds a bunch of garden waste from the last few years of gardening here which i wanted to begin sorting out

to use up these materials i will incorporate them into the compost system so i begin putting in the first little compost bed that i would plant right up against the compost
i would use a european permaculture technique called 'hugelkulture' in which a 'mound' would be built using compostable materials first i put a layer of cardboard down to kill any morning glory or blackberries in the area
then i put a bunch of wood down on the cardboard in a pile the wood takes a while to decompose so does not work well in the compost proper as it breaks down it is excellent for holding water making the bed drought resistant for the first couple of years giving plants a chance to get established with a regular supply of water even in the dry summers
onto this i put a layer of blackberries (also no good in the compost as they take so long to break down) mixed with some other compost material as the compost breaks down it generates heat this will keep plant roots warm as they get established i wet this down with water to draw up the worms and let it all settle
finally i put a bunch of wonderful organic soil made from worm castings and composted plant materials and planted the permaculture superplant comfrey into this i will add more permaculture plants to this small bed later in the post
here is what it looks like two months later
now the compost is ready for action
now i will begin working on the surrounding area keep tuning in as there is much more to come elvish center craft

posted : 2006.Apr.13 @ 3.02pm

5.0 Permaculture Superplant : Comfrey


comfrey is an amazing permaculture plant it has used medicinally by people, for cuts, sprains swellings and bruises as well as to heal internal injuries like ulcers, haemorrhage and internal bruises it also helps with lung trouble like coughs

its spike roots will help breakdown the blackberries and wood these roots also pull up nutrients from deep in the soil and thus it is called a bioaccumulator plant bringing plant food to the surface
the leaves and stalks are very high in nutrients and this hearty plant will allow all its leaves to be regularly cut down and tossed into the compost to super charge it
it is also a beautiful plant with wonderful flowers

posted : 2006.Apr.13 @ 3.14pm

6.0 Pathways and Surrounding Gardens


next i began working on creating the area around the compost first i build another hugelkulture bed on the back side of the compost filled with more comfrey that i moved from where it was growing wild in a back area of the property

here is the bed two moons later
then i built a small comfrey garden in behind the compost and partially under the shed
here is what it looked like one month after planting
one month later it looks like this
i also stashed a bunch of locally aquired used newspaper and cardboard under the shed
Using the newspaper and cardboard sheet mulching method i extended the path up to my shed.
Then i completed the path with woodchips from the woodworking school a hop, skip and jump away.

posted : 2006.May.02 @ 7.33pm

With plum blossom scent,

this sudden sun emerges

along a mountain trail


- basho


evolving the compost


7.0 Hugelkultur and other Permaculture Plants


Now it was time to build a full scale 'mound bed' with hugelkultur. I had sorted out 10 years of compost, picking out garbage, and organizing it into piles. Each of these piles went into the garden, one after the other. I began with a leveled area, you can see all the invasive morning glory roots sticking out of it.

Next i put down a layer of newspaper. This covers the ground and breaks down quickly drawing up the worms.
I watered this down to make it stick to the ground and to initiate the decomposition process.
On top of this i put a layer of cardboard that i got from the surrounding businesses and which i stripped all the staples and tape from. It is best to use cardboard that is not glossy or waxy, it makes for a yummier worm snack this way and does not leach strange things into the soil.
here is my stash of wood
After putting water on the cardboard, I put this pile of pretty large, rotting wood that came from the area i was remediating onto the middle of the cardboard foundation. This wood holds water and will help make the bed drought resistant while the plants get established.
You can see this wood is of all shapes and sizes.
Next i took materials from a pile of smaller sticks.
This went directly onto the larger wood layer.
This contained sticks from lots of different trees on the property.
Then i moved to my huge pile of blackberry brambles.
These went into a pile on top of the stick layer.
You can see it is a mix of dry and newly cut down brambles.
Using old wood and mesh from the property, i made a screen and mounted it on my wheelbarrow.
This enabled me to sift the mostly composted soil that was filled with morning glory roots into this beautiful ness.
I put the sifted dirt onto the pile, shaking it down a few times then leaving it for a week so the soil would settle and fall into the cracks.
You can see the soil directly on the layer of blackberries below.
I then moved on my supply of partially decomposed compost.
This was put all over the past layers.
You can see it is made up of leaves, grass, bits of wood and weeds and soil.
Now i began to sift the composted material and put a layer of dirt on the hugel kulture mound.
I then extended the sheet mulch out around the bed, first with newspaper.
A layer of thick cardboard is next, finishing it off with some more woodchips, from the woodworking school about 40 feet away. After this is completed, i put in more granite rocks that are left over from other construction and awaiting use in this area already.
Once it is covered with the rich, newly sifted soil from many years of unorganized composting it looks like this.
The whole system, still in its infancy, now looks like this.
Next, using wild comfrey that was growing on the otherside of the nearby parking lot, i plant around the mound bed with this key permaculture plant. The comfrey's spike roots will help breakup the wood and other materials in the center of the bed, they will also prevent erosion by keeping the soil together.
The top of the bed is planted with Jerusalem Artichokes provided by an amazing local resource, Robin Wheeler, whose permaculture knowledge is a key inspiration in this project. Her website is and announces her upcoming classes as well as having a huge variety of plants, seeds and dried herbs for sale over the web.
Jerusalem Artichokes are truly wonderful permaculture plants. Sometimes called 'sunroot' the roots of this hard perrenial are extremely tasty, served raw or cooked in thousands of different recipes. Sometimes used as a windbreak as they grow quite tall, these plants also make great animal fodder.
The leaves contain chemicals that inhibit growth of nearby plants so do not use the green material as a mulch. It is also good to note that the plants reproduce and spread very quickly and are quite hard to get rid of once they are in an area.
Chinese Artichokes are similar to the Jerusalem variety in that the tubers are edibel, but are actually not artichokes, instead they are related to Lambs Quarter and are in the Mint family.
These spike root plants have nutty tubers that are considered a delicacy in gourmet cuisine. The leaves distinguish them from Jerusalem Artichokes.
In this bed i also put in a bunch of mashua, a perrenial nasturtum from the andes with edible leaves, flowers and tubers that are highly nutritional. In this case the tubers are helping to break down the hard materials in the bed.
With its hardyness and resistance to insect, nematode, and bacterial pests is it quite easy to grow. It is sometimes planted as a companion crop to repel pests in potato fields. It is used medicinally as a diuretic.
A great guild plant is wormwood. Its strong scent repels pests that might come into the garden to eat the other goodies.
A wonderful medicinal plant, wormwood is used as an anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant, mild antidepressant, antiseptic and is used to stimulate the secretion of bile along with different worms and other invasive creatures.
The forest green shade of the plant takes on a bluish hue as it grows up
In this bed i also planted Valarian Root. This plant is often used in biodynamic fertilizer preparations. These three i also got from Robin Wheeler's edible landscapes nursury.
This is a well known medicinal used as a tranquilizer and relaxant. It promotes deep, restorative sleep and reduces blood pressure.
The leaves are used to make a medicinal tea and eaten raw. Its seeds are edible and used sometimes to flavor foods. It is also used internally to treate menstruation, cramps, hypertension and externally for exzema and minor injuries. It is also a well known biodynamic plant that enriches phosphorus content in the soil and is used in making biodynamic preparations.
Here are what its delicate flowers look like, this being about 3 months after it was planted.
In this bed i also planted another biodynamic plant called yarrow, also used in making biodynamic fertilizer preparations.
This plant has anti-microbial and astringent uses as mouth wash and gargle. An important part in biodynamic tinctures, yarrow enhances potassium and sulphur in the soil and helps replenish soil nutrients.
The leaves and flowers are harvested early in the season and used to increase body temperature, open skin pores, stimulate perspiration, treate colds and fevers, equalize circulation, and reduce painful menstruation.
Another important biodynamic plant is chamomile. Used in biodynamic fertilizer preparations, it is connected with living calcium processes and helps to stabilise plant nutrients, aid in healthy fermentation and stimulate plant growth.
Traditionally used as a sedative and relaxant, chamomile is used medicinally for skin inflammations, burns and aching muscles.
The edible flowers from this plant go great on salads and look beautiful in the garden. The dried flowers act as an insect repellant. Here it is preparing to flower.
Here is the flower a few weeks later.
I also chose to plant another of the famous plants used to make biodynamic fertilizing preparations: dandelions. This wonderful edible plant has more nutrients and vitamins than most vegetables, and is often harvested for its leaves and flowers which can be eaten raw, steamed or battered and fried. The roots are used as a coffee substitute and fermented flowers are used to make a medicinal wine.
This plant is an incredible panacea, used as a tonic and blood purifier, for constipation, inflammatory skin conditions, joint pain, eczema and liver dysfunction. Root infusions help eliminate toxins It is used to treate gall bladder, kidney and urinary disorders, gallstones, jaundice, chronic joint and skin complaints, eczema, and acne. The dandielion juice can be put on wounds to fight bacteria and promote healing.
Two weeks after planting the hugelculture bed looks like this.
Six weeks after planting the hugelculture bed looks like this.
A month later you can see a whole plant community beginning
A couple months after this, fall 2006 the garden is really healthy.

posted : 2006.May.02 @ 7.45pm

8.0 Signage


To celebrate this work, and thank the space as well as my generous bosses for this wonderful experience i had a sign made to identify the area and begin to activate it as an educational space. The sign was made by local visionary Tyler Gentry peep his amazing website

elvish center craft later as a gift to the gardens and the project i purchased a pesticide free sign from a store carrying fair trade items from around the world and posted it on the back of the compost above some comfrey plants

posted : 2006.May.02 @ 11.52pm

9.0 Permaculture Superplant : Stinging Nettles


at the back side of the garden shed where it backs onto a bramble of blackberries i planted a few stinging nettles once they grow up i will put a barrier of backberry vines to prevent people from interacting with them directly (as they do sting!)

Stinging Nettles are native perrenials. They were one of the first plants used to make fibres like paper and rope. It is an edible that is high in Iron and very nutritous, usually steamed or made into a tea. It is also an organic pesticide good against aphids and mites.
here it is a month later
Nettles have been used for hundreds of years to strengthen and support whole body health. They are generally harvested when the flowers are in bloom helping to cure rheumatism, eczema, arthritis, strains and sprains, insect bites and anemia. Nettles are also amazing compost plants accumulating potassium for the soil and will make a welcome addition to the compost tea that i will be making later in this process.
slowly and surely they put down their roots here is a picture a few weeks later
here they are super healthy a couple moons later once i had tied them up (since they were falling down the slope)
Next to the Nettles i planted some Yellow Dock.
Besides being the cure for stinging nettle, it is a tonic helping with digestion, liver issues and skin conditions. It is also a laxative. Here it is in full seed.
It is considered a detox herb improving general health.
Here it is a few moons later

posted : 2006.May.03 @ 6.56pm

this inspires me to take pictures
of all the permaculture gardening that i do
celestial exposes of my favourite peramculture plants
as well as my step by step process of doing the work

for me, something like that
would be a super fun way to activate the work
i would love to open it into a dialogue as well
all this would add so much dimension to the process

i am starting my first permaculture garden
which is completely my own responsibility
stay tuned for my favourite permaculture plant

deepest of gratitude
for informing the process

Snake Frog Buddha

posted : 2006.May.06 @ 9.12pm
Here is a picture of the parking lot on the front side of the shed. I began to clear it out a bit to let the comfrey that i harvested grow back. You can see a huge comfrey plant in the lower part of the screen. I also planted a bunch of jerusalem artichokes to the right of the shed door.

posted : 2006.Jun.05 @ 3.53pm

The Great Way has no gate;

there are a thousand paths to it.


- Wu Men


10.0 Living Compost


Now that the initial foundations have been established for the permaculture demonstration compost site, i am beginning to turn my attention to the surrounding elements. Right next to the compost and shed is an old rotting cedar stump who decomposition process provides a rich protected environment for plants to grow in. The stump already had a bunch of native huckle berries and salal berries

Huckleberries are delicious, as a kid i used to love putting them on ice cream.
These are native to this area and begin to berry in late spring lasting well into the summer.
Salal berries are also native edibles.
These berries are often cooked with huckleberries, and dried in native traditions to last over the year as a sweet staple.
I then planted some boisenberries right into the stump.
Then a bunch of wild native strawberries.
And a nice freindly Fo-Ti vine. Fo-Ti is the fabled chinese herb of immortality, a worthy companion to the berry feast.
Fo-Ti has anti-toxic, anti-swelling and sedative properties and is said to be helpful in dealing with liver and speen weakness
It is a beautiful, fast growing and drought resistant vine.
here is a picture of the whole system so far...

posted : 2006.Jul.08 @ 7.47pm

11.0 Sheet Mulching


My next task will be to plant a small dwarf fruit and nut tree orchard. To begin the land was cleared of its ever present morning glories and blackberry. Remember this whole area sits ontop of a large septic field which includes a pretty sophisticated mini sewage treatement plant that uses non-toxic means to turn all sewage from the surrounding buildings into an odorless, clear effluent using filters and oxigenation. You can see the some tubes and various boxes, these are access points.

Not worrying about the roots, the land is leveled.
First i left a bunch of cardboard i got from local businesses around the gardens, and left it out overnight for the autumn dew to permeate. This makes it alot easier to tear and makes getting tape off a cinch.
Then i took off all the tape and staples and covered the ground with the cardboard sheet mulch. I gave it a spray with the hose so it would shape to the ground and attract worms to begin the decomposition process right away.
Now my truly amazing boss and teacher, Don, came to help me spread the excellent worm compost soil we got locally.
We covered all the ground with a couple inches of this soil.
When i was planting the trees i had the help of a new friend who brought this truly amazing Rama Rock blend of magnetized rocks and crystals. This was used for the trees and spread over the whole lawn area.
We carefully planted three trees in holes i had prepared.
My ally karen and I planted some comfrey along part of the path.
I then covered the area around the trees in cardboard
Then loved up the trees with some great wood chips from the wood school 20 feet away.
We put in a small hazelnut tree.
Hazelnuts are edible providing protien and unsaturated fat, as well as a host of vitamins and are particularly rich in thiamine and B6.
There is also a 4 way asian pear tree with 4 different varieties of pear (nijisseik, hosui, chojuru and anjou).
These have considered sacred fruit in the east.
We also put in a 4 way apple with 4 varieties of apple (cortland, gala, yellow delicious, gravenstien).
All of these apples are wonderful for eating.
the little baby grasses started to come up in the spring
eep, horses and dogs put a bunch of holes in the grass so the sheet mulch was wiped and lots of morning glory is peeking thru here is what it looks like in the summer
i am hoping that the grass will grow in and create a mat that blocks the morning glory from coming up, its working though the dogs keep tearing it up as people throw sticks across the field and the dogs nails tear up the lawn no morning glory or blackberries have returned however


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