Category Archives: Reads and Re*views

I see a lot, I read a lot, I dig a lot. These are the books I recommend, the documentary films I think are worth a look-see, and the tools I prefer to accomplish what I want to do. Opinions opinions opinions.

Mulch on the Mind: Responding to “The Holistic Orchard” by Michael Phillips

I’m reading Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way
right now: great stuff!  He spoke at the MOSES conference a few years back and made it possible to dream again.  I love orchards, I love fruit trees and pruning, I love dappled shade, I love fruit.  I hate chemical sprays, and the abiding mantra out there is that organic apples can’t be done.

Yes they can!  Apparently the trick is to march right on past organic into the realm of holistic. Organic at this point (in the US, where it is a highly regulated word) means “no chemicals.”  It ought to mean respecting the overall system and healing the soil and what not, and for the majority of organic farmers it does, but we can’t seem to get there with the requirements.  Recently I read somebody trying to sell the idea that GMOs would mean fewer chemicals, but I’m not buying that noise, and I’m sure as heck not eating it.

Holistic, on the other hand, says ailments are symptoms and a healthy system can right itself.  It’s all about viewing the farm as an ecology (biodynamics does this nicely, too) and looking for the underlying weakness that needs support.

Favorite tidbit thus far: Ramial Mulch.

ramial mulch and ramial wood chips are the same thing

Didn’t know this was gold, eh?

Ray-whoo? Ray-mee-ell.  These are the skinny bits from the tips of deciduous hardwood trees.  “Skinny” = no more than about 2 ½ inches (6cm) across.

The crucial detail here is the ratio of lignin (the wood that is alive and actively Continue reading

Thinking Through A Knee Jerk Reaction: Thought-Full Permaculture


Dave Jacke permaculture

Dave Jacke, permaculturalist and author

Dave Jacke is teaching a permaculture workshop in Australia next week (as I write this.)  This strikes me as odd.  We talked about it (briefly) and I’ll share that at the end, but here’s my thought process: I like his books (Edible Forest Gardens), and he’s a friend of some friends, so I feel confident that he himself is both well-intentioned and wildly knowledgeable about quite a few topics but what I liked about his Edible Forest Gardens book was its focus on and regional applicability to the forests of the northeastern United States (and probably into Canada’s Maritime provinces.) 

It seemed important to finally be flipping through a resource that had no recommendations whatsoever for where to place your avocado tree.  (Don’t get me wrong there- I’m a huge avocado fan).

So to remove him so far from his context…what’s gained and what’s lost?


Gained is the clarity that there are core principles / ethics / protocols behind permaculture’s activities, and these are universal to the whole world.  Water, sunshine, and good soil.  That basic recipe remains the same everywhere I can get to without a spaceship.

Not gained is a fresh voice in the wilderness.  Australia is not short of permies.  This is where Bill Mollison and David Holmgren codified their observations into ethics that generated patterns of both spatial relations and behaviors, all of which they called permanent agriculture: “permaculture”.


permaculture guilds zone 1

Permaculture zone 1 from Innovation Diaries

Lost is the knowledge base that comes from really knowing a Continue reading

Responding to “Rain Forest for Sale” by Scott Wallace

Geoff Gallice rainforest photo

Yasuni National Park Trees by Geoff Gallice

The recent issue of National Geographic arrived at the house the other day, packed (as usual) with pictures and diagrams of places I’ll likely never be able to visit.  One story in particular caught my eye, or rather, one tidbit in one story.  The rainforest in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is described as possibly the most bio-diverse places on earth.

Think about that for a sec.  Of all the diversity on the planet, of all the amazing array of life packed into every little corner of the world, including a dozen other rainforests around the tropics and even a few in the temperate zones, this park is considered to possibly be the most diverse.  At lest 10 species of monkey (maybe 12).  At least 100,000 kinds of bugs in just one or two square miles.  An array of plant life that thrives in the branches of forests so diverse themselves that learning the species of the trees is nearly impossible, there are as many different genuses as I’m used to seeing species.

Follow me down this logic chain: when I mentioned millet a few weeks back, I talked about it coming from central Africa.  There is millet all over the world, I explained, but here is where there are the most different varieties (wild and domesticated) gather themselves.

The underlined sound is the phoneme being called out by the Secret Code of Linguistic Nerds

When Perreault and Mathew study the evolution of language around the world, they track the phonemes (sounds. S is a letter, ssss is a phoneme, sshhhh is a different phoneme).  The number of phonemes in a language tracks pretty well with the archaeological evidence of the migration pattern (and speeds!) of ancient humans leaving Africa to spread throughout the world.  The idea of tracking migration this way has some naysayers and some doubters, but the gist of the idea that I’m interested in here is Continue reading

A 2nd Dust Bowl? The Southern Ogallala is about tapped out.


I like a good read that gets me thinking for a good while, and the recent Christian Science Monitor article – “Southern Great Plains Could Run Out of Water in 30 Years, Study Finds” – definitely fit that bill.  The article fits into a long thread of intrigue for me about how aquifers work, different types of aquifers, and the past and future implications of the different rates of infiltration.  It also slips into the murmur of voices getting nervous about another Dust Bowl like that of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  Mechanics first, history second, then the dust bowl.

How Aquifers Work

Aquifers are large underground bodies of water.  In the diagram to the right, there are three blue bands.  Why the middle one is blue, I have no idea.  The upper blue band is free-flowing groundwater.

When folks talk about pesticides or lead or natural gas or what-have-you getting into the groundwater supply, they are generally talking this groundwater, actively water cruising through the spaces in the soil.  It is this upper limit of this water Continue reading

Berms, Bunkers, Blueberries, and Bazookas: courses I thought I’d take in grad school

At the time that I applied for grad school in Landscape Architecture, I was working as a freelance graphic artist in the DC news bureau scene, where – no surprise – no one had heard of “landscape architecture”.  It was the early 2000s.

I’d had the miraculous and magical foresight to land in the news graphics world in December of 2000.  Though I missed the full furor of Ariel Sharon’s waltz through the Temple Mount, my first year included the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (the later of which I was driving by on a fairly regular basis), the Lockerbie Scotland plane hijacking trial (Pan Am 103), and the anthrax attacks. It wasn’t long before

Continue reading

Live models: learning by doing

trilux by nataly gattegno and jason kelly johnsonI went to a lecture Friday night by Nataly Gattegno of Future Cities Lab. This is a very forward thinking firm, developing analytic, responsive structures (“live models”) that trod the line between performance art by an object and art installation as feedback loop.  You didn’t even know that line existed, did you?

FCL began working with robotic elements in their architectural models at least a decade ago, looking to move their models beyond just visual depictions of project proposals.  In a live model, the miniature building is not a model (‘fake’) building, it is a miniature model (‘ideal’) object.  For a live model, the shade Continue reading

Link to Action Bioscience

I’m still working on technical issues (one computer dead, a different computer being revived) here, and thus have little access to online time, but here is another link that  you might enjoy:  Designing a Landscape for Sustainability.

This was my first peer reviewed article.  It appeared a little over a year ago in Action Bioscience, the online journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.  Their print journal, Bioscience, has been a revered source in the scientific community for quite a while.  ActionBioscience takes these ideas online, for everybody but especially for science teachers and science students.

Food Forest for Thought: Seattle moves permaculture public

Something to entertain you while I’m checking into the MOSES conference and circling all 38 workshops I want to squeeze in the next two days (zut alors!  What’s an eco-nerd to do?)

permaculture edible park edible garden seattle food forest

Food forest design by Margaret Harrison (et al)

An idea whose time has clearly come: Not only does FB friend Bob L. say that Tampa, Florida is getting ready to break ground on a food forest (in partnership with Hillsborough Community College’s Sustainability Department), but Seattle, too, is ready to do the same.

7 acres in the Beacon Hill neighborhood are about to undergo a transformation from generic public park to public food forest, a concept rooted in permaculture but now being taken into the public sphere. Hundreds of perennial edibles will be available for anyone and everyone in Seattle to browse.

While a sizeable chunk of the public discussion around the project (and there was lots of public discussion, in multiple languages) centered around access and who gets the food, ultimately the needy and the speedy were Continue reading

Book review of The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, & Why They Matter
by Colin Tudge

The best non-fiction books, to me, have a story line, a focus from which they deviate on a regular basis.  Roger Fouts’ Next of Kin fits that bill, and so does  Colin Tudge’s remarkable book, The Tree.

This is, with out a doubt, the coolest narrative on trees ever produced.  It’s a naturalists delight, covering the form, function, and evolution of trees in general, and then focusing in specific tree families in roughly evolutionary order.

On occasion,  I skipped around in it in my own private “choose your own adventure” game, but the book reads well as Mr. Tudge presented it.  In talking about trees, he manages to detour into, amongst other things, horticulture, genetics, phylogeny (the study of how things are organized in science), and the break up of Pangaea:

“The continents are still drifting. Perhaps in a few million years, Australia Continue reading

Guerilla Grafters: the new fruits in town

Surrounded by Bradford pears, Yoshino cherries, and flowering crab apples, I have spent too much of my life witnessing the empty, unfruitful promises of urban and suburban springs.  For several years now, I have not only harbored fantasies of grafting tender young twigs from productive fruit trees on to the branches of these seductive liars, I have taken grafting classes with that goal in mind.  In that context, you’d expect me to be happier about the article on guerrilla grafting in last Tuesday’s San Francisco Examiner, but there are some things in the article that give me pause.

The biggest issue is the timing.  Rather than allowing the project a few quiet years to solidify and produce fruit, literally, a reporter eager for a scoop may well have thrown the project to the wolves long before there is anything other than speculation to argue about. Continue reading