By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
For those of us
of the horticultural persuasion, February is a nasty, teasing sort of month
that taunts us to the slobbering pinnacles of insanity. We plant seeds in cups
and set them in windows beyond which snow swirls and wind howls. “Yes sir,” we
rave, twitching. “Spring’ll be here any day.”
February there’s something for Dade gardeners to do besides fondle our trowels
longingly. Two Tuesday seminars will address basic organics with an emphasis on
permaculture design. The first will be at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the
agricultural extension building in front of the middle school, the second at
6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 in the Commission room of the Dade County Administrative
permaculture? The word is just beginning to be heard in the rural South, even
by those of us who spend winters pawing through seed catalogs as if they were
Playboys and we were lifers in solitary. It seems to have replaced the term
“sustainable,” and it seems to refer to the cutting edge of organic gardening.
But that’s hazy, so for a real definition the Sentinel turned to the seminars’
speakers, Keith and Katie Kasch Bien.
prepared for the question. “Permaculture is a branch of ecological design,
ecological engineering and environmental design which develops sustainable
architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural
ecosystems,” Katie read from an index card.
patterns in nature that we try to mimic in a design system,” elaborated Keith.
“If you go to a forest, nobody replants the forest and nobody fertilizes the
explained the couple, the permaculture ideal in gardening is the “food forest,”
where water and soil fertility management – incidentally the focal points of
the February seminars – are not just organic but also take care of themselves
for the most part. “Yeah, it takes time to build it, but once it’s built, it
should maintain itself,” said Katie.
that permaculture, though it does rely on elbow-grease organics rather than the
fossil-fuel-hogging unicropping that has become the norm commercially, is not
just about returning to farming the way your grandpappy did it. Rather, it
incorporates 21st-century science to get good yields with less work.
it sounds so granola-y, and maybe it is,” he said. “But they’re not afraid to
get out a bulldozer or a backhoe and do a massive alteration of your landscape,
in the beginning.”
But let's back
up for a minute, and introduce our speakers properly. Sentinel readers may
recall Katie Kasch from an article last spring, when, with then-fiancée Keith
Bien, she converted her family's Dave L. Brown property in the north end of the
county to Dade's first CSA (customer-supported agriculture) farm, Wildwood
The couple are
currently recruiting members for the CSA’s 2013 season, but their big news this
year is their certification as permaculture designers through a course they
took in California during – and as – their honeymoon.
“It just so
happened they had a course starting the day after our wedding,” said Katie.
was necessary to rearrange the Halloween-weekend nuptials just a tad, holding
the ceremony on the Friday rather than the traditional Saturday to give the
newlyweds time to change from their I-do duds into overalls and, did we
mention, make it to the other side of the continent. It was a bit hectic but
Katie says absolutely worth it.
life-changing,” she said. “They kept saying, from the first day, ‘You’ll never
look at things the same,’ and that is definitely true. Any time I see a hill I
explained Katie, are one of the key water management tools she and Keith
learned in the intensive two-week, 12-hour-a-day course at Quail Springs
Permaculture Oasis in the Santa Barbara area, which covered everything from
slaughtering chickens to building a compost toilet. Basically, swales are
ditches dug along the contour of the land, perpendicular to the slope. “If you
do it right, and you plant three of them, over eight to 10 years a spring will
form,” said Katie.
spring by digging a few ditches? It’s only one of the revolutionary ideas of
permaculture. Here’s another: A row of trees smack down the middle of the
vegetable garden to provide shade in midsummer, then nutrients in spring, when they
are hard-pruned to make way for the sun.
are as far as their limbs,” said Katie.
“So if you cut a limb off a tree, that root will self-prune and will die
out, and then you have all that aeration in your soil, and all that organic
matter just gets absorbed.”
cottonwoods, poplars and willows grow back easily, even if cut in half, added
Keith, and on top of that they are nitrogen fixers. “You crop the tree in the
spring and it releases all that nitrogen it’s been storing up, and then you
plant,” he said.
permaculture principle is basic conservation, said Katie: Rainwater harvested
with catchment devices, for example, might not just be poured on the vegetable
garden but used first to soak mushroom logs, drained from there to wet down the
vermiculture (translation: worms) area, then perhaps collected anew to make
compost tea, all before it winds up watering the tomatoes. “You use it as many
times as you can and as creatively as you can so you get more out of it,” she said.
is reducing or zeroing out the amount of tilling in the garden. Not only is
broad-acre tillage one of the largest carbon dioxide-releasing factors in the
global warming trend, said Keith, it also disturbs the stratification of
microbes in the soil, each type of which is already living at the level it
prefers, thank you very much.
those microbes happy is vital to soil fertility, says Keith. “We’re learning
more that the nutrients in the soils aren’t just these things that are
contained in the soil, they’re things that are produced by the microbial life
that is in the soil,” he said. “Microbe excrement, if you will.”
poop (which organic gardeners can do unblushingly, without pausing for breath),
Keith quoted local food movement guru Michael Pollan about another basic
permaculture precept: Produce no waste. “He said that we actually took the
solution and turned it into two different problems,” he said.
animals onto huge feedlots, he said, not only are farms deprived of a free and
natural source of organic fertilizer, that organic fertilizer becomes a
pollution headache as lot owners wonder what they’re supposed to do with the
resultant oceans of brown. “The solution to that problem is bring the animals
back to the farm and fix two things at one time,” said Keith.
permaculture answers are that intuitive. “They always say the solution is
embarrassingly simple,” said Keith.
“But you can’t
find the solution using the same mindset that created the problem,” said Katie.
actually a quote by Einstein,” said her husband. (A scant three months into
wedlock and the Biens already finish each other’s sentences as fluidly as
grizzled veterans of the marital arena.)
It is that “duh
factor” of permaculture, as well as a play on Keith’s French family name, that
the couple are thinking of highlighting by calling their new permaculture
design venture “Bien Sur,” which translates roughly, “Of course!”
With Bien Sur,
the newlyweds plan to become permaculture consultants, helping clients turn
their one-acre garden or their 50-acre farm into something that is beautiful,
functional and self-sustaining.
But they stress
that the first step to permaculture design is something anybody can do, simple
observation, such as looking at your plot to see where water comes from and
where it goes. “That’s something that we want people to know,” said Katie. “You
can become a permaculture designer and do it in your own yard, and it starts by
observing what’s around you and how nature’s doing it, because nature’s doing
information on their lectures, or on their consulting services, the Biens may
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (706) 657-3444.