• Double Digging, Day 1–or—From Flab to Abs in 170’?

    After several years of trying to improve our soils here at the Backyard Institute, this spring we decided to take drastic measures for some lower-performing portions of our annual garden beds. Today, I started double digging a la John Jeavons’s biointensive soil-preparation method. Normally, I would attempt another sheet mulching (laying down cardboard, manure, and straw), but our soils are not responding to this typically awesome treatment. We think that our huge Siberian elm tree’s huger root system is wringing our soils dry. One good reason to use Jeavons’s method is that it chops up these kind of root systems, and this will give our starts a fighting chance.


    Sheet mulching takes some work (Check back for future posts about sheet mulching!), but it is much less labor intensive than double digging. Today, I got through a 20 square foot area in several hours of strenuous digging. Yippee! Only 150 square feet to go! At least my biceps and abs will be in better shape for my upcoming high school reunion! Hmmm. Sometimes I wonder if every pain-in-the-ass challenge might have a purpose after all.

  • Udall Was a Gift Outright

    Stewart Udall and I were walking briskly through his uncluttered garage on our way to plant a very large evergreen tree when I suddenly froze. From a low shelf next to a jar of humates, a bust seemed to be glaring at my boots.


    “Is that president Kennedy” I asked.


    "No. Frost.” He must have seen the look on my face. “Ole Robert’s got a great big chip on his left ear, but you can have him if you want him.”


    “What? Wow,” I replied, “ I mean. Are you SURE?” Of course JFK’s interior secretary was sure. He wanted me to have him, and I still have him. Having just learned of the passing of one of the most effective pioneers of the environmental movement, here is a Frost poem to ponder:




    The land was our before we were the land’s.

    She was our land more than a hundred years

    Before we were her people. She was ours

    In Massachusetts, in Virginia,

    But we were England’s, still colonials,

    Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

    Something we were withholding made us weak

    Until we found out that it was ourselves

    We were withholding from our land of living,

    And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

    Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

    (The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

    To the land vaguely realizing westward,

    But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

    Such as she was, such as she would become.


    --for John F. Kennedy at his Inauguration


    Today, we in the environmental movement withhold a similar power, the power to be productive, to enhance our environment, to give ourselves the gift of our own salvation. Will we remain forever in this state of stupefied surrender, or will we realize that it has been our own selves making us weak? Hopefully, the spirit of Stewart Udall will motivate us toward what we must become, a gift outright to future generations.

  • Sign up for Bee Symposium Tomorrow in Santa Fe!

    HERE is a great chance to get an introduction to beekeeping! Zia Queen Bee’s, SWEET SPRING STING, a symposium for novices and those of us who may (or may not) know a little more about those bizarre creatures we call honey bees. I’ll be giving a talk called “Landscape Design with the Hive in Mind,” which will integrate permacultural terms such as  “microclimate,” “zonation,” and “sector analysis” with the needs of bees, bee lovers, and apiphobics alike. Other speakers include Kirk Webster of Champlain Valley Bees and Queens (based in Vermont) and Corwin Bell of BackYardHive.com (based in Colorado). Contact Melanie at 505/689-1287 or visit www.ziaqueenbees.com to sign up for the symposium in Santa Fe which runs from 9am until 1pm this Saturday, March 20. It’s only $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

  • Living in the (Mountain Lion) Zone

    Permaculture divides landscapes into five or six activity zones. I think it’s closer to a eleven or twelve. Zone 0 is your self: body, spirit, life force. Zone 1 is your home, including your close personal relationships. Zone 2 is the area from which, on an almost-daily basis, we harvest products or provide inputs. It includes the arable outdoor space closest to the kitchen door, the homeowner’s primary entrance (often not the front door), and any other immediately visible and/or accessible places on the property, such as a patio, porch, or well-used ramada. For Melissa, the kids, and me here at the Backyard Institute, this translates into our compost pile, chicken coop, rabbit hutch, cold frames, and herb garden. Zone 3 is the area visited on a less-than weekly basis such as the annual vegetable garden and the tool shed. Zone 4 is the area that gets maintained on an approximately monthly basis: the irrigation clock, beehive, perennial beds, parts of the orchard. Zone 5 constitutes places that are visited seasonally. In our case, this is the remainder of our orchard and garden, the cistern, and a couple of irrigation valves. Zone 6 provides an annual product, like the firewood pile, or requires a yearly check-up, such as our cistern’s sediment filter. Zone 7 is a place that you might go every few years, such as the solar water-heating panels up on the roof. Zone 8 is a place you can go, but you take nothing but information back with you. Sometimes this zone is hard to find on your property, but a bird’s nest on a tree branch or your tax-paid sliver of space and time in a national park are both perfect examples. Zone 9 is a place where we let nature be—without any human intrusion. These places are difficult to find, but they exist. Zone 10 and 11 make up the work one does (in our neighborhoods and communities) ecologically and socio-politically.


    Yesterday, it was reported that a large mountain lion had been spotted less than two blocks away from our walled backyard. The 150 pound animal escaped the Fish and Game’s tranquilizer guns by climbing along garden walls. He or she seemed to know its way around town, they said, and the thing’ll eat pretty much anything smaller than it. Evidently, its favorite menu item is deer. As much as I would like to let that poor feline visitor be, I have to say when it comes to protecting my kids from being cat food, I’m all for placing big carnivorous animals that run along my garden walls in that peaceful, tranquilized temporary state, known to some as zone 12. Afterwards, such beasts can be relocated to zone 8 or 9. The tough part is that such relocations are often unsuccessful and therefore spell doom for the wild life in question.

  • New Mexico Honors My Cyclist Friend Gail Ryba

    The following news item just in from www.bikenm.org.


    (I just fix a flat so that I can take my boy to school and go to a client meeting via bike today. I’m looking forward to the physical exercise, the mental stimulation, and the joyful inspiration that biking brings to life. Try it. You just might love it!)


    Governors Proclamation Honors
    New Mexico's Top Bicycle Advocate on March 4th, 2010
    Santa Fe, February 4th, 2010: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson proclaimed March 4, 2010 as Ride Your Bicycle In Honor Of Gail Ryba Day, to pay tribute to New Mexico's foremost bicycle advocate.
    For more than a decade, Dr. Gail Ryba has been New Mexico's leading voice in promoting bicycling for transportation, highlighting its many benefits including reduced auto congestion, preservation of the environment and increased physical fitness for those who ride, said the proclamation signed by the Governor.
    The Proclamation honors Dr. Ryba for her bicycle advocacy work in New Mexico as well as her encouraging New Mexicans to incorporate bicycles for all transportation needs. In addition, the Proclamation notes that Gail has worked to educate motorists and cyclists alike to promote mutual awareness and safety.
    "We're both proud and pleased that Gail Rybas work is honored through this Proclamation and we urge all New Mexicans to ride bicycles on March 4th", added the Board Members of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico. For those citizens who are unable to ride a bicycle, the Board asked that they choose a mass transportation alternative or carpool on the fourth.
    Ryba, who has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from California Institute of Technology, first came to New Mexico to work for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. She co-founded the Sandia Bicycle Commuters Group, then founded Albuquerque's first bicycle advocacy group, the Greater Albuquerque Spokes People (GASP), which is now BikeABQ.
    In 2001 after moving to Santa Fe, Dr. Ryba went on to form the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico (BCNM), the statewide bicycle advocacy organization. Additionally, she has served on the New Mexico Department of Transportation's Bicycle, Pedestrian and Equestrian Advisory Committee (BPE). Her role as a bike advocate is one part of her complete commitment to sustainability in a broad range of concerns. As Executive Director of the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, she promoted renewable energy and fair practices in energy development for the state, said Elena Kayak, Energy/Environmental Specialist for Rio Rancho Public Schools.
    New Mexico is a much better state for bicycling as a result of Gail Ryba's tireless efforts, said Diane Albert, the current President of BCNM. New Mexico bicyclists are safer and enjoy a much greater acceptance on the part of motorists than ever before, thanks to Gail. I join Governor Richardson in asking all New Mexicans to ride a bicycle on March fourth for Gail to honor her hard work that truly benefits all of us.

  • Hawaiian Wet Dreams Count for Greening

    Close to the center of the Island of Kauai stands a lone crater. Most volcanoes spew steam, lava, or the occasional group of gawking mountaineers, but due to Mt. Waialeale’s age, height, girth, and fortunate placement in the middle of our planet’s biggest ocean, a dense raincloud wafts up from the mesa. As dependable as chimney smoke in Quebec on Valentine’s Day, the cloud drops nearly 40 feet of rain per year. About a dozen miles west (as the coot flies) near the mouth of the Waimea River, the parched earth gets about 40 times less rain.


    If a microclimate is defined as a place that differs from a nearby place by providing more or less water, light, heat, wind, or soil fertility, it’s hard to imagine a better example than the juxtaposition of the mountain’s crackly, dry toe and her dark, mossy haunches. Long ago, natives knew the nature-made mile-high rain machine as the home of Kane, the soul of all living creatures, god of freshwater, spirit of sunlight, and keeper of forests. Their faith also taught that the top of Waialeale was the wettest tract of earth on Earth, and science now proves them right.


    Need an easy way to get some gradual greening done today? Why not spend 10 minutes considering the microclimates on YOUR property? Where are the altars of life on YOUR land, and might they be altered?


The final frontier.

These are the musings of an engaging enterprise.
Its thirty-year mission:

To create a greener planet.

To seek a better life in our lumbering civilization, and

to slowly go where we are all are headed anyway.


Is an unproven system for generating wide-spread sustainability.

it asks for 10 minutes a day for a year. At the end of the year, it asks for 10 more.

So in the second year, you spend just 20 minutes a day, in the third year, 30 minutes.

If you keep up this pattern, 27 years later you spend over 4 hours per day being extremely green.

Share Here!
Describe your attempts At a sustainable life.