Toby Hemenway

author
+ Follow
since May 06, 2008
Apples and Likes
Apples
Total received
22
In last 30 days
0
Total given
0
Likes
Total received
43
Received in last 30 days
0
Total given
0
Given in last 30 days
0
Forums and Threads
Scavenger Hunt
expand Pioneer Scavenger Hunt

Recent posts by Toby Hemenway

Ben, I suspect we are, as the days of cheap energy draw to a close, and the real costs of running a global economy become more apparent. But I rarely try to predict the future any more; there are just too many unknowns, variables, and short-term manipulations of markets.
2 years ago
Although there is plenty of toxic soil (and air) in cities, as you are suggesting it's wrong to assume that all the soil is polluted. Assumptions like that don't make sense. The soil at each specific garden site needs to be tested for organic and metal pollutants. Many cities in the US offer free lead tests, lead being the most common soil pollutant in cities, but we need to be doing more comprehensive tests, looking at other metals and petroleum-derived contaminants.

I see a certain irony in worrying about polluted soil while we are inhaling pollution with every breath in many urban environments (not to mention those people who are eating GMO and chemically treated food).

I think you are doing the right thing in testing, creating mineral-rich soil (which can reduce uptake of heavy metals) and building raised beds. Most feeder roots in soil are in the top 6-12 inches so growing in raised beds and hugelkultur makes a lot of sense.
2 years ago
I've got a section in "the Permaculture City" on the pros and cons of urban food growing, and I think there are a large number of factors that make it challenging. There are examples of cities that seem to have grown a large amount of their own food, such as Havana during the "special period" after the Soviet collapse, but for the most part, cities have rarely been a significant source of high-calorie foods. The traditional pattern, until the 1960s, when cheap oil and refrigeration that allowed food to be shipped long distances, was for cities to be fed by the farms surrounding them (hence the strange license plate theme for New Jersey, "The Garden State," because NJ, rural NY, and rural CT fed NYC via truck gardens until the sixties). This is an ancient and healthy pattern.

Land in cities is expensive, and food is cheap, so the economics are weighted the wrong way. Urban soils and air are often toxic, so urban food may not be that healthy. The nutrients for fertility must be imported--it's very hard to find enough land to grow compost crops or manure-producing livestock in the city proper. Most urban farms are growing vegetables, which, though nutrient dense, are low in calories (a pound of kale has 150 calories) and it's hard to find enough land to grow the grains and other high-calorie crops that we need to give us 2000 calories a day. And there are several more reasons why growing enough food to yield a full diet is very hard to do in a city. The theoretical minimum for enough land to feed one person is around 1/4 acre (not including fertility crops or manure), though in our current food system it's more like 2-4 acres. And there's just not enough open land per person in a city to do that, except in the big, post-war sprawling ones that have large peri-urban green spaces at their edges.

So although I think growing food in cities is important as a way to connect people to the land, and has many other benefits, I'm not sure that a good designer would arrive at urban land as an appropriate place to grow significant amounts of food. There are good reasons to do it, but we're kind of imposing our desires rather than arriving at a wise solution when we try to feed ourselves from within the city limits. The ancient pattern since the dawn of civilization is for cities to be fed by the rural land that surrounds them, and, as long as we've got cities, this makes sense to me.
2 years ago
Pat- Laying out swales in a small lot is pretty easy. The simples and best tool for establishing contour lines at small to moderate scale is an A-frame level, which I've described in Gaia's Garden, and there are many descriptions and videos of how to use them on the web. They are easy to make, just 3 sticks, string, and a weight.

I assume by "swale" you mean that you are wanting an on-contour berm and basin system that will infiltrate water, rather than a drain for moving water away from wet areas. Brad Lancaster's book, "Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond" Volume 2 has really good information on how to determine the spacing and depth of swales based on soil permeability, slope, and rainfall, so if there is any question in your mind about how much water your swales need to retain, that can help you figure out placement. It's important not to be dumping water onto your neighbor's yard or to put in a swale that will saturate a neighbor's soil with too much water. Often, swales in urban yards are less deep than in rural places because people are walking around a lot of the yard--unless you can integrate a good path system on the berms. That means more swales, since the water holding capacity of each swale will be less. Or you can make the straw-filled swale that I describe in GG, which is very unobtrusive. The swale can also be filled with woody mulch to make it less of a big ditch, although in large rain events, the much can get washed out of the swale.

Without knowing anything about your rainfall, soil permeability, slope, there's not much more I can tell you.
2 years ago
First you'll need to show that there is community support of a broad nature for the project. If it's just you, the gov't won't go for it. They need to see that it will be funded, installed competently, maintained for many years, and deeply supported and enjoyed by the community. They will want to see a track record showing you or others involved in the project have done food forests that are successful, so pick a good team of experienced people. Lots of places have done this, and there are good guidelines for doing it. The Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle, which gets a lot of press even though there are many other worthwhile public food forests, has gone through the whole process very successfully and you should contact them or other groups that have done public food forests (and there are dozens now).

Good luck!
2 years ago
In such a small space, true guilds are going to be hard to do. I'd eliminate any soil-building plants that don't produce food and instead add lots of good compost to build soil health. I'd put in some insectary plants, as we need pollinators in the city. But I'd stick mostly with high-yieldingtubers, veggies and greens. I've done a fun, small space guild with mashua and peas or beans up a trellis, kale, and some salad greens. But you'll get a lot of yield from more traditional relay and high-density plantings of vegetables and perennial greens.
2 years ago
The webinar :Growing Simple Abundance" will be repeated today at 2PM US Pacific time, Oct. 27. And anyone who registers for it can view the recording later. See Cassie's top post for the link.

Odd that Rose thought is was just an intro to the course I'm offering. I spent an hour describing high-density food growing methods, listing 6 major methods and how to do them; methods for extending the seasons, an introduction to biointensive and square-foot gardening, greenhouses and hoophouses for small yards, planting in relays, a brief overview of guild design for small yards, and testing and remediating toxic soil. Then we spent 10 minutes describing the upcoming course (which will cover a vastly wider range of material than the webinar: energy, water, community, and livelihood, among others, which I did not talk about at all in the body of the webinar), and 10 minutes on Q&A. But I know you can't please everyone.
2 years ago
Gentrification is indeed a huge and complex topic, and I doubt if I can do it much justice in the small amount of time I've got right now. Developers need incentives of many kinds to build anything other than high-end housing; that has to come from an enlightened community and tax base that understands the importance of mixed-income communities. Large blocks of low-income housing are not the solution, as we've learned. Regulations and incentives can act as a short-term "solution" (if that is the right word; palliative is more like it) but we're fighting a tough uphill battle here. Every bit of this culture's major economic institutions--finance, real estate, development, construction, tax bases, insurance, government, and more--has evolved to be dependent on income growth, so asking those institutions to take less money rather than more by housing low- rather than high-income people is against their inherent nature. As long as those structures are in place, gentrification will be favored over mixed-income neighborhoods. The ancient Greeks and Chinese complained about gentrification, so it's pretty well baked in at this point. Until those institutions can be radically restructured (and I don't see how to do that except via a collapse of civilization followed by a return to a more decentralized culture) the only way I see to fight gentrification is to enact laws and regulations that de-incentivize it. And that's where citizen activists, responsive government, and a non-NIMBY attitude all come into play.

There's a lot more to say here, but that's all I've got time for.
2 years ago
Nancy, you're on the right track for retaining more water in your yard. Build organic matter in the soil; that's really the key. And build up the natural worm population (earthworms and native worms so they w ill aerate the soil and allow deeper water penetration (red wigglers can't survive in soil). Do that with deep mulches of soft OM like straw and leaves, and tons of good compost. I like to top a straw mulch with a woody mulch, as the worms love the straw and the wood chips help build up soil fungi, which are primary sequesterers of carbon. Activated biochar will help, too.

I'm not sure why you want bentonite. That's usually used to seal soils to prevent water from penetrating. I know that clay does help with moisture retention--though nowhere near as well as organic matter, but I'd be worried about oversupplying bentonite and sealing the soil or creating a clayey hardpan.

On question #2, I'm not a nutritionist, but fruits mostly provide fast-burning sugars, not slow-calorie releasing starches and other carbs. And grains, tubers, and nuts have protein as well. I would not rely on fruit as a major carb source. I'd go with nut trees, tubers, and annuals like corn and beans. But it's hard to get a lot of calories from a small yard. My strategy is to grow nutrient-dense veggies, as they are expensive to buy compared to carbs and you can get constant yields in a mild climate like W. WA. Calorie crops are inexpensive, comparatively, so I buy these if there isn't a quarter acre or so to grow them (and enough time to be a subsistence farmer).
2 years ago
I've just posted a new article called "Permaculture: The Design Arm of a Paradigm Shift," and the title pretty much sums up the topic. It's my latest thoughts on fruitful ways to think about permaculture and where it fits in the larger scheme of things. I hope you find it useful. It's at this page

3 years ago