• Permaculture Credit Union Turns 10 on Thursday

    Most people do not know the difference between banks and credit unions, but the gap between them is deep and wide. During these times of economic and political crisis, it is important to understand the distinction because it provides obvious solutions: One way to help save our democracy is to support the credit union of your choice. One way to help our economy is to build it up with democratically controlled financial institutions.


    Banks are to oligarchies as credit unions are to democracies. Like oligarchies, banks benefit the few. They make decisions quickly, but their goals are narrow and selfish. Like democracies, credit unions benefit the many. Decision making is often slow, but that’s because the goal is to reach acceptable compromise.


    My buddy Wesley Roe and I joined the PCU board nine years ago. I left at the end of my first term (having chaired it and hired its CEO, Donald Sarich, who is still around doing amazing work!). Wes stayed on and continued to dedicate countless hours to the slow, steady growth of what is now a very healthy financial institution. Wes credits the union’s success with the dedication of its members. “In the very few cases where people have gotten into financial trouble,” he says, “our members make such an effort to pay. Even in these hard times, there’s a real effort that shows a real dedication to the values at the core of the Permaculture Credit Union.”


    The PCU has a wealth of values (care of the earth, care of people, and reinvest surplus in the system), but it also had a valuable sense of wealth. When someone invests in solar panels, an energy efficient vehicle, or a cistern, this indicates something more than numbers on a spread sheet. It indicates a caring level of consciousness synonymous with stability. It’s a perspective on the world that commercial bankers would not typically understand.


    For more info, please ask a question here or visit www.pcuonline.org . And if you are in Santa Fe, please come down to the Santa Fe Convention Center on Thursday, May 6, from 6pm to 9pm. Gunter Pauli (www.zeri.com) is the featured speaker, and his work is as inspiring as any in the green movement.



  • On the 7th Day, I Called Carlos

    With the crew from Bang for Your Buck* soon to arrive at the Backyard Institute, last week I realized that I needed to make a call. When I first started my infamous double-digging project, Home and Garden Television’s (HGTV) primetime Friday-night show hadn’t contacted us, so I planned the size of the job based on the belief that I had plenty of time to get all of my ambitious beds dug before veggie-planting time—Santa Fe’s last frost date (May 15). But now, with my five-stops-in-six-days speaking tour complete, and with a handful of very enthusiastic clients wanting all kinds of work done as quickly as possible, it became a choice between making the call to Carlos to see if he wanted to do a little digging in the backyard or blowing off my future brother-in-law’s bachelor party six hours north of here. So I made the call. By no means could I blow off Josh and his crazy friends, yet the yard HAD to be ready.


    Fortunately, Carlos was available, and we got the digging done the day before yesterday, on the nice-and-holy 7th day. Yesterday, I finished building the raised beds that also function as mini greenhouses. Based on what I learned from Ken Kuhne (See blog post, “What We Need is Here.”), I was able to salvage a couple of old cold frames and built a slightly less sturdy version of Kuhne’s super-durable product. Not counting the found lumber, the materials for each 4’ X 8’ raised-bed-cold-frame combo, came out to $35 each. This includes the rebar I drove into the ground, the 1/2” CPVC pushed over the rebar and hooping over the bed, the cold-defeating, light-permitting row-cover material, and the large binder clips used to connect the row cover to the CPVC frame.


    I watched Bang for Your Buck for the first time last week at a friend’s house. From what I garnered, it’s one part reality TV, one part game show, and two parts professional wrestling. It should be interesting to see how such a mainstream show handles the cold-frame-raised beds that may resemble a mini-HAZMAT site more than anything ever seen on HGTV.

  • Squeezing Water from Stones 101

    My friend Jeremiah Kidd and I tagged teamed today during a morning presentation at Santa Fe’s Water Summit. He owns San Isidro Permaculture and I own Santa Fe Permaculture, so one might think that there would be at least an undertone of competition between us. Fortunately, one of permaculture’s first principles reflects the “cooperation, not competition, is the driving force of nature” theory, so we had a great time trading bits of knowledge, experience, advice, and perhaps even a smidgen of myth. Not only did we learn a thing or two from each other, it seemed that folks in the audience were able to get a lot of burning questions answered in a short period of time.


    Since much of the conference was about cistern systems, we focused mostly on passive water-harvesting techniques like pumice wicks, French drains, swales, bale swales, book swales, gabions, check dams, and the importance of mulching. We even dove into the way in which microclimates play an undeniable role in both water conservation and water harvesting: Windbreaks and shade prevent evaporation. Rocks, heated during the day and suddenly chilled by the desert night, can release a significant amount of precipitation—making it relatively easy to squeeze water from a stone. It’s one of the ways that the native people here survived for centuries, and it’s one that most people in our modern culture almost never consider and rarely employ in a conscious manner.

  • Water & Energy Summit Continues through Tuesday

    At the Water and Energy Expo today in downtown Santa Fe, there was a plethora of booths with lots of helpful information. In addition to all of the for-profit businesses touting cisterns, water-filtration systems, ecological landscapes, and photovoltaic panels, there were many non-profit organizations promoting their particular way to save the world. The Santa Fe Watershed Association was there, so I renewed our lapsed membership in the one group dedicated keeping at least a little water in the river that runs straight through the oldest capitol city in the U.S. There was also a new group called The Climate Change Leadership Institute. My friend Robb Hirsch is one of the motivating forces behind the group’s “Lead Your Revolution” campaign, which reminds me of the Gradual Greening system often discussed on this blog and in Harvest the Rain.


    On Monday and Tuesday, there will be plenty more water and energy action at the Hilton as the pre-summit winds down and the actual summit starts up. There will be presentations about water harvesting (one of which will be by me, another by my friend Brad Lancaster), alternative energy, water and energy policy, and much more. For information visit, http://water2conserve.com/water_energy.html# .

  • What We Need Is Here

    Had a great day presenting at both Camino de Paz School and Farm and the Santa Fe Master Gardeners’ Fair. I concluded the CdP talk with a perfectly apropos poem.


    What We Need Is Here

    by Wendell Berry


    Geese appear high over us,

    pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

    as in love or sleep, holds

    them to their way, clear

    in the ancient faith: what we need

    is here. And we pray, not

    for new earth or heaven, but to be

    quiet in heart, and in eye,

    clear. What we need is here.

    Later in the day, after my fast-paced talk for the master gardeners, I was able to take a look at all of the great booths full of awesome garden stuff. My favorite was the “Grow Y’own” booth. There, I found my friend Jeff Carbine working with the company’s founder, Ken Kuhne. They sell various sizes of of affordable raised-bed hoop houses that protect annual vegetables from too much sun in the summer and too much cold in the winter. Check out www.growyown.com for more info.


    If more of us used systems like Kuhne’s, I think we’d find that Wendell Berry is right!

  • Sporting Cooperative Thoughts on Earth Day’s 40th

    As Earth Day winds down, I thought I’d share a quick taste of what I’ll be speaking about at the Food for Thought Brunch at Camino de Paz School and Farm on Saturday. My goal is to honor the students, thank the teachers and parents, and bless the awesome place and its powerful visionaries, Patty Pantano and Greg Nussbaum.


    While preparing my remarks for the Montessori-based middle school’s annual fundraiser (where 95% of the food will come from campus!), I realized that the kind of team work I see at the school is different from the kind one sees on a 7th-grade sports field. Rather than attempting to create teamwork in a competitive setting, the farm/school grows teamwork by means of the notion that cooperation, not competition, is the most basic force of nature. I’m not saying I’m against sports. It’s just that I think working on a farm is far superior for brain development than trying incessantly to beat the opposition at a meaningless game.

  • Don’t Be Chicken, Ask a Question!

    Please join me at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market tonight at 7pm. After the a short film about bees and a longer flick, Mad City Chickens, I’ll be talking briefly and fielding questions about my adventures in backyard chickendom. For many years Melissa and I have owned various flocks of chickens, turkeys, and Guinea hens. Although neither one of us is an expert, we’ve eaten thousands of our homegrown eggs, and harvested some of the birds for meat.


    Raising chickens isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a hassle and not just for farmers with bibs, overalls and rubber boots for walking through the bird dung. Chickens take very little time and energy, the poops really not much of a problem (you can wear tennis shoes) and our birds have always provided incredible eggs, delicious meat, and nitrogen-rich excrement (which sounds better than poop or dung or scatterings and crap). Our chickens don’t have names but they provide more than a few funny stories! Come down to the film screening and ask a chicken question or two or type your favorite why’d the chicken cross the road joke here:

  • Going Back out under a Light Rain on Day 6

    Day 5 came and went some time last week, and I was able to get half way through the double digging project. We’ve actually decided to convert our six-year old cold frames into relatively low raised beds, and this required some lumber tweaking. For a decent landscaper, I’m a terrible carpenter, but I did have fun getting the old tool belt out for the job.


    As a light rain falls on Santa Fe this morning, I have the choice of heading out to the farmers’ market on my bike or to getting back to the double digging. I’m choosing digging on the basis of the fact that working outside during a drizzle in the desert is nothing other than soul quenching—plus with HGTV shooting our backyard in a couple weeks, I really need work on my abs.

  • Upcoming Speaking Schedule


    With the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day just over a week away, I am looking forward to all of the speaking that I will be doing at a wide variety of events. Below you will find my schedule. Please join me at any and all of them! (Please note that more details will follow in upcoming posts, BUT PLEASE do not hesitate to comment here or email me [nate@sfpermaculture.com] for more information!)



    Farmers' Market Film Series. After the movie, “Mad City Chickens,” I’ll be speaking briefly about my experience as a backyard chicken tender. I know that’s not quite the right word given that a chicken tender is typically an item on a menu, but since I’ll be opening it up after that to be “grilled” with questions from the audience, I think the pun is near perfect.



    The 4th Annual Food for Thought Brunch at Camino de Paz School and Farm will be a blast as always! This year, I’ll be the main speaker at where over 90% of the food will come from the campus. This event is a fundraiser for the school. If you can’t make the event, your charitable donation would be much appreciated!



    The 6th Annual Master Gardeners’ Fair just keeps getting better and better every year. I’ve spoken there in the past, and I look forward to doing it again. This time the title of my talk is “Gradual Greening: How Rainwater, Snowmelt, and Wastewater Can Enliven Your Garden and Help Save the World.”



    At the Santa Water and Energy Summit, I will be giving a greywater recycling workshop called “Gradual Greening: How to Benefit from Greywater Recycling in a Tough Economy.”



    The following day at the same summit, I will be part of a panel discussion with my friend Jeremiah Kidd. Our topic will be, Local Rainwater Harvesting Implementation: Residential Applications


    A film crew will be following Melissa and me around as we show off some of our work around town for an upcoming episode of the popular show that you can find on Friday evenings on the Home and Garden Channel.



    Here, I’ll be giving a four-hour workshop about water harvesting focusing on passive water-harvesting techniques and active water-harvesting systems.

  • Water Harvesting in New Orleans? Absolutely!

    The following questions just came in from Rachel, a colleague in the green-building industry. My responses are in bold after each question.


    We are hoping to incorporate a rainwater harvesting system for indoor application (we would use it for outdoor application as well but I imagine that the local rainfall in New Orleans – averages 5-6 inches/month – would provide more than enough irrigation – ?)


    If you choose plants wisely and grade your site effectively, you might need very little supplemental irrigation in a place with so much humidity, but you must also be prepared for dry times when many plants need more water than they are getting from the sky, and you should also expect to irrigate newly installed plant material during the time it takes for root systems to establish themselves.


    o Do you typically use roof gutters to channel the water into the cistern?  Is this an efficient way to catch water?  What type of roof works best for this (butterfly, shed, etc.)?


    Simple pitched roofs that pour into gutters are best shaped roots for water harvesting in cisterns. Weather-coated metals that allow for clean and rapid delivery to the conveyance system are also desirable.


    o Where do you usually place the cistern, and can it be placed underground?


    Unless your project is in one of the higher parts of New Orleans, I would advise against an underground tank on the basis of the high water-table there. It’s also MUCH cheaper to install an aboveground tank than an underground one, and since it does not freeze there, you could get away with it. (Here at 7,000’ ft., we usually have to partially bury or fully bury our cisterns, but I have a client here who has [after a decade] never had a problem with his aboveground tank! But I have also had clients who do not attempt to collect any water in their aboveground cisterns until about this time of year.)

    o If it were to be placed beneath the ground surface, would it be problematic/require substantial energy to get the recycled water back into the house, if the house is raised 8’ above the ground? Would this be problematic even if the cistern were above ground?


    I would consider putting your cistern under the house since it will be raised 8’ from grade.

    · We are also planning on using a greywater reuse system from the washer, shower and sinks.

    o Where would a greywater system typically be installed?


    The best use of greywater is directly on the landscape, and this could be one way to avoid the supplemental irrigation (from a surface or groundwater source) that I referred to in my first answer. BUT it may not be legal in that part of the world, so check with local authorities before pursuing greywater there. During times when the landscape is saturated, at the very least you would want to be able to conveniently divert greywater back to the regular sewage system for the house.

    o Does it require a substantial amount of maintenance?


    No. If you follow the advice in my upcoming book, Harvest the Rain, greywater requires little maintenance. My favorite resource on the subject is www.oasis.design.net

    · We are hoping to comprehensively address surface water runoff.

    o If we design the site so that 100% of the lot (excluding area under the roof and cisterns, etc), implementing vegetation and permeable paving, do we need to incorporate a drainage system beneath the ground and, if so, how does that work exactly?  Have you done something like this before?


    Sorry, that’s out of my high-county bailiwick.

    o Is this an extremely costly measure?


    Cisterns are typically not cheap. In addition to the material and installation costs of the tanks themselves, you have to convey the water to the cistern, prefilter the water while it is being conveyed before it gets to the tank, pump the water, pressurize the water, filter it again before it can be used indoors, and you have to provide for ventilation of the tank so that the pump functions efficiently while also making sure that the tank has a properly sized overflow pipe and a daylight point for the excess water. Don’t forget to figure in other bells and whistles, such as a float switch to turn off the system when the tank is dry, a make-up water system (from a well or water utility) during times of drought, and a level indicator. The last item can be as inexpensive as a long dipstick, while the make-up water system can drive up the cost quickly, especially if your water source is far away. Did I mention the various micron filters and ultraviolet light tubes that you will need to burn out the nasties that you might pick up from things like bird poop on a roof? This adds to the cost of water used in the house (although it may not be necessary if the only uses are to be, say, flushing toilets and/or doing laundry at hot temperatures).


    · Do you have any other advice or insights in the range of water recycling/filtration, including cisterns, rain gardens, permeable pavement, etc.?  Specifically systems that can be installed cheaply, are easy to maintain and are highly effective?  Am I asking for the impossible!?


    It’s great to hear from you, Rachel! Nothing is impossible! If your clients need financing for their water harvesting system, they should check with the Permaculture Credit Union, www.pcuonline.com . Unlike the presidents of other financial institutions, the CEO of the PCU’s eyes will not glaze over when you utter words like “overflow pipe,” “greywater valve,” and “rain garden.” I say go for it! I imagine that your clients will have the cleanest and healthiest water in the neighborhood by the time you are done!

    Thank you!!


    Thanks for asking!! And good luck with your project, Please keep us posted!

  • More Biking & Talking than Shoveling on Day 4 of Dig

    Started with a quick ride down to the farmers’ market and back, then down West Alameda for a water-harvesting presentation to a very cool homeowners’ association. It’s always nice to talk to a group of people who each need your help in a slightly different way. From there, I pedaddled (to take off by bike) to the always-kind Plants of the Southwest for some wildflower seed needed at a job tomorrow. When I got back is was chow time, family time, and finally garden time! Sneaked in a mere 24 sq. ft. before sundown, so I’m thinking I’d better stop writing and get back to ye ole double digging before it gets too dark again today.

  • New Slow-Dessert Book Available Tomorrow

    One tasty way for Santa Feans to do their eco-deed for the day is to attend Deborah Madison’s book launching gig tomorrow at Collected Works (6:00 - 8:00 PM). Chat with Deborah AND get dessert, too! Here’s something about her eleventh (or so) book from Madison’s website:


    Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market is finally in the bookstores. This is a project I’ve been working on for the past four years, not only developing recipes but interviewing farmers about fruit, researching varieties, and continuing to visit as many farmers markets and orchards as possible to find out what makes fruit as compelling as it can be so that it can be enjoyed fully, simply and without fuss. More at:




    YUM! See ya there!

  • Day 3: Bed Done. Cistern On. Sow Peas at Dawn?

    Oops! Looks like I rounded up in those last two posts about double-digging. Able to squeeze only an hour in this evening, my only double digging consisted of finishing the last two columns of the bed that I started on Day 1. But now I find out the bed is more like 40 sq. ft., not the 50 I’d guesstimated. Good News: My whole being is craving more upper-body activity. If the sun were still out on this Easter Night, I’m pretty sure I’d still be out there with it, digging happily. Instead I’m here typing and double dipping corn-chip crumbs into my own private humus tub.


    More importantly, I also cranked up our 10,000 gallon underground cistern system today. For me, this includes digging through a few inches of bark mulch, unlocking the system’s access door, and turning a valve by hand. Thanks to all of this winter’s wonderful snow, the tank is full, so tomorrow morning I hope to sow some peas in that newly dug bed. (Sadly, as I dug, I realized that the soil was surprisingly dry.) In addition to being healthy, delicious, and inexpensive slow-food, the peas will be great soil prep for whatever we put in the bed in mid-May. The water itself will be beneficial to the soil, but since peas are legumes, they will also “fix” nitrogen in our manure-heavy (rabbit and chicken) compost. Not sure if the King of Compost, John Jeavons, would approve of this tact, but sometimes you just gotta go with your gut—plus I happen to have a couple pounds of free (pea) seed!

  • Double Digging and the Digging is Easier on Day 2

    Okay. I’ll admit it. I had to take a day off between Day 1 and Day 2. Sure, I COULD have hit the beds two days in a row right at the outset, but I found millions of other very important things to do. Frankly, I was incredibly sore from Day 1. My shoulders and biceps were the hardest hit. I suppose I wasn’t using my abs enough because they felt reasonably intact.


    If you count days in an Old Testament kind of way, where days of rest are figured in too, this would be Day 3, but I think my stats are gonna look entirely pathetic if I count rest days on this project, so I’m simply not gonna do it. Still, on the bright side, yesterday (my Day 2) I got the same number of square feet done in LESS than half the time. Partly, it took time on Day 1 to mobilize a heaped-up wheelbarrow of compost and get it over to the worst part of the garden. Also, the first one-foot-wide row of a double digging job always takes the longest because you have to put that first top layer of earth in a different wheelbarrow and get it over onto a tarp at the length-wise side of the bed for use at the very end of the project. Once all that is done, you move one-foot chunks of soil over and mix it in with your compost as you go. If you get into a uninterrupted rhythm, you can actually start to make good time.


    Did I mention that this digging and compost mixing needs to get to a depth of 24 inches? The good news is that I did actually feel as if that Day 1 digging helped me become a stronger, smarter ditch digger on Day 2. Even though today we have our church of the farmers’ market to attend, kid-duty (in particular a must-do Easter egg-hunt), a bunch of landscape-design work, and an in-law visit today, I plan on getting a bigger chunk of the garden dug by sundown. Sheesh…sometimes (but only rarely, say, at times like these) I wonder why I’m such a freakin’ optimist!


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.