In this podcast, Paul and Jocelyn continue answering listener questions. They start with the rest of the answer to Amy Grisak's questions for Paul from podcast 408.
Question #4 - What are some of your favorite polyculture plants?
Paul - Rhubarb and comfrey definitely top his list
Jocelyn - Likes to grow lots of herbs and perennials as well as asparagus and strawberry
Paul says they are trying to make lots of diverse soil and scatter the seeds and see what takes in different areas instead of trying to set up guilds. Sunchokes always do really well in dry areas. He likes to plant diverse trees and separate the same species by 40 feet or more so that they don't compete with each other for getting rid of wastes and acquiring nutrients. If you have really diverse soils, you can't really set up guilds effectively.
Jocelyn says that permaculture often suggests to observe the land for a year but a year is not enough time to really get an understanding of how it operates in the different seasons and people often feel like a year is too long to wait. The Montana seasons have been very different each year that they have been there. She says that they are still doing lots of soil building with their plantings and doing lots of chop and drop. As the soil improves they are having better luck with over wintering herbs.
Paul says even if you were using guilds for planting, the types of guilds that you would use for the first year on a property would be very different than the types you would use in later years as you would have different short term goals for the land. (ie building soil at first). They do "bootcamp" for many of their plants and have a high die off rate but what remains is very strong and resilient. He would much rather have 100 trees and try a wide variety of plants underneath and see what works and then improve the varieties based on that. He voices the option that chop and drop is so much better and easier than conventional composting and mulching.
Jocelyn expresses how she has found a heavy layer of chop and drop to be very good as controlling grasses around trees.
Question #5 - How can bugs be good?
Paul says and example would be the yellow jackets. Many people see them as pests but they are good at controlling other insect populations. Their gardens are growing so much this year, he was worried about an overpopulation of bugs since they didn't have chickens yet, but the yellow jackets are going after the bug population. There are tons of beneficial insects like the pollinators. You want a diversity of bugs and a tidy garden or a monocrop doesn't give you the variety of habitat for the variety of bugs that you need and that leads to bug problems. Paul says that bugs are part of nature and as you embrace nature you need to embrace the bugs too.
Jocelyn reminds us that bugs may be natures way of dealing with a sad plant by removing it.
Paul tells a story about how in a polyculture, potato plants may have one plant attacked by bugs where the rest of them stay healthy. He reminds us that if you have an excess of an animal or insect in the garden, be patient and nature will bring in predators to deal with it.
Question #6 - If you don't own land and can't do big projects, what can you do? Do small steps make a difference?
Paul's short answer is yes. If everyone does small permaculture stuff, it adds up. But he points out that we need a better recipe book for the small things to do. Al Gore's first movie had a recipe that doesn't help much.
Paul's first step is to go "poo less" (not use soap or shampoo for bathing). It reduces time, energy, water and toxic chemicals and increases you health. Paul had a huge decrease in body odor after going poo less.
Jocelyn says that she always had greasy hair and that after 1 month of being poo less, her hair stabilized and was no longer greasy. Another person had chronic migraines disappear.
Free Shelf is another good step. Make a place to give away usable stuff instead of throwing it away or selling it.
Use a Repair Cafe. New places springing up to repair items instead of throwing them away and getting new ones.
Have a Boneyard. Every homesteader should have a place where they store items that might be able to be used in the future. James S Juczak's book on scrounging is a good resource.
Vote with your wallet. Avoid Monsanto foods or using petroleum products.
Jocelyn has a pet peeve with people saying "I can't afford that." (i.e. organic foods) when they are spending lots of money on cars or vacations or discretionary items.
Paul says to look at how people are curing cancer with organic food. If people would model that way of eating, then they would be preventing cancer. He expresses his belief that insurance companies have it in their best interests to avoid having you treated for problems. Polyculture food is even better than organic food too. He gives the example of how when Jocelyn was cooking for the last ATC (Appropriate Technology Course), one of the attendee's had her arthritic symptoms disappear a few days into the course and felt that it was from the good food that she was eating.
Own a home without a mortgage. Rob Roy's book has a recipe to own you home without having a mortgage.
Give a gift to your future self. Develop passive income streams. There are a couple of podcasts on that subject.
Put knowledge in your head.
Local vs. Organic - Non organic is not even an option. If you can get local and organic all the better.
Omnivores vs Vegans vs Junk food. The standard American diet is not comparable to an organic Vegan diet or any organic diet. The argument that a Vegan diet is better for the planet is not true. You need a diet that works best for you and then optimize that for the planet.
Energy is a problem. The only clean form is wind. Nuclear, coal and hydro all have problems.
Heat. An average of 50% of energy is spent on heat. You need to heat people instead of the entire house (Paul's article on how he decreased his electric heat bill by 98%). Use a rocket mass heater if you can.
Hot Water. Use poo less showers and do most of your laundry in cold water (which cleans just as well). Jocelyn had cut out her clothes drying by hanging clothes to dry and cut her electric bill by 40%.
Living in Community. Living with 20 people in a house can cut your carbon footprint by 1/2 but you need to solve the stabby problems (i.e. people not getting along with each other).
Eliminate Toxic Gick. Go poo less. Look at what your house and furniture is made of. Lots of people got sick from the trailers provided by FEMA after hurricane Katrina from all the chemicals used in the making. Look at your household cleaners too (movie Chemerical)
G Cooper Wayne Fajkus
Eivind W. Bjoerkavaag
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association