While we are disappointed not to be closing on a house this weekend, I was excited to be able to attend Midwest Permaculture‘s Homescale Permaculture Workshop. John got to paddle with his sister while my soon to be brother-in-law and I took the class. Takeaway points:

– I didn’t realize how important water retention is to a permaculture design. We learned a lot about swales and water gardens. The idea is basically to trap water which essentially raises the water table in your microclimate. Then, you plant on the downhill side of the swale and the plant has water right next to it accessible constantly. I am thinking of ways we can incorporate this in the front yard. While I was concerned about standing water, the instructor told us that you would have to have an amazingly clay based soil for it to hold water for the lifecycle of mosquito larva (14-15 days).

Then he showed up how to cut the swale on contour:


Since our house is pretty level I don’t think I will be cutting many swales, but a ditch may be a possibility. Additionally, I might be able to raise the rain barrels so that I can just refill the rain garden and replenish without watering (thus avoiding the $500 water bill incident which is probably the most anti-permaculture thing I can think of).

-The instructor also talked a lot about the no-till garden method I had been hoping to implement. He said the solution to basically everything is adding organic material and he would never dream of using a rototiller on his land now.

-Apparently alfalfa really is the best cover crop in the world because its roots go down 25 feet! This means it brings up nutrients that are other wise inaccessible, and puts them in the leaves. Then, when you chop and drop your leaves 25 feet of nutrients are all the sudden available on the surface.

– For the hands on portion we made what is called a hugelkulture. By digging down a few feet and burying a rotting log along with some greener wood, and mounding dirt over the top, the wood will hold accessible moisture much like a swale. It will also heat the bed as it decomposes. I plan to try this in one of our beds next year to compare.

-The host had a unique compost system to share:



This is an inverted bucket with many, many holes drilled in it. In the new “top” a pvc pipe is inserted to create a port. Then, a flower pot is inverted over the PVC to cap the port. Finally, the whole thing is buried in a bed so the flat part of the bucket is flush with the surface of the soil. Then, you put red wigglers inside. You can put food scraps directly into this system all summer. The worms survive the winter. Worms don’t like to shit where they eat so to speak, so they will eat the food scraps, leave through the holes, then return for more food. Not only do they provide the best fertilizer for the soil outside, but they also aerate the soil in the process. I also intend to try this in one of our front yard beds.

– I am even more fully convinced than I was before that the chickens need a moving run.

-During our lunch break our hosts entertained us by tagging a monarch.


Apparently it is a myth you can’t touch their wings. He affixed a sticker on the wing near the body in order to ensure that it didn’t mess up her balance too much.

-Finally, I was really hoping for some concrete examples of polycultures besides the three sisters. The instructor helpfully provided this link to various plant guilds. 

I didn’t really know what to expect from this workshop, and I definitely thought I would have been the person to travel the furthest (Detroit –> Kalamazoo) to attend. However, there were about 30 people there and one woman had traveled from Louisville.

Contrast that with this:


I was so excited for this. I was picturing like a walk around type affair with booths set up. I was actually very self-conscious about the plants I was bringing. It turned out to be an unattended picnic table of mystery plants. I took a few, left a few, and am still on the hunt for comfrey.

I finally had a chance to make more cheese today! I was clearly out of practice:




Oops. Thats ricotta. I used way too much citric acid, but its ok because I was making lasagna anyway. The second batch turned out just right.

Oh one more thing from the workshop: I almost brought this little lady home:



Someone else is pretty glad he didn’t become a big brother this weekend:


He might have had to share the couch.