17 December 2013

A Definition of Permaculture

 "Permaculture" - A word coined by Bill Mollison.

Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. 

Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms--based on principles of cooperation, rather than competition.  

The philosophy of permaculture lends itself to working with, rather than against, nature.  

The prime directive of permaculture:  The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. 

12 September 2013

The Man Who Planted Trees

My apologies for not posting more lately.  
We are in focused preparations for our new family member.  
The video below, "The Man Who Planted Trees", speaks to the impact each of us can have.

Each seed planted and each stone tossed causes a ripple in the waters of humanity.  
Each of us matter.

20 August 2013

Food Amazes Me

The miracle of food production impresses me with each new sprout, flower, fruit, & vegetable.  
Each piece of land I grow on and with impresses upon me how life happens within the wide range of ecosystems I've experienced.
Our first squash of the season.
Each time food appears where I live, planted or provided, the feeling is reminiscent of riding a bicycle for the very first time.   

It's like goosebumps, mixed with sunshine & freedom; the scents of dirt on the wind, and a sense of security while on an adventure--an experience often overlooked by "civilized" society.

These seeds were obtained through a gift of the Gladys Project -- a collaboration of like minds:
Eldorado Heirloom Seeds
Botanical Interests

15 August 2013

Garden Update

We've been charting our property and documenting planting notes, modifying our mini-swale system and enjoying the rewards of our efforts.  A garden update on our first garden at this property.

Our green friends taking hold in zone 1.
Our swales take less than 5 minutes to fill and take about 30 minutes to drain.
Alfalfa and Crimson Clover.

Greens from our garden.

Our first apple of the season.

We planted this okra at the edge of the woods to see how it will integrate with no amendments.  It's doing well, even as the ground cracks around it.

This little guy self-sprouted and has been battling the wind.  I used a bit of pine bark mulch to fortify it.

14 August 2013

Festival Beach Food Forest Community-Design Workshop

There was a wonderful turnout on Sunday at Festival Beach Community Garden in Austin for the Community Design Workshop hosted by East Feast 2022 and the East Side Garden Exchange. The gathering was to do additional planning and community outreach in preparation for Austin's first community food forest.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Here's a quick clip from Fox News about the Food Forest Community Garden Plan:

Looking forward to the next one?
Click here to get informed and involved in Austin's first community food forest.

11 August 2013

East Feast, Austin Food Forest, Fox News Interview

This is the first (of many to come) news report I know of for the City of Austin Food Forest Project at Festival Beach Park:

KTBC Fox Affiliate spoke with Elizabeth Walsh of the East Feast Coalition about the potentiality of the Food Forest who said, "Hopefully, we can get this one to work well and if it works well we can have this all throughout Austin parks...where it's normal to walk down the trail and you can pick a peach of the tree." (KTBC quote)

Hope to see you all at the next gathering!

05 August 2013

14-Year-Old Wipes the Floor With Kevin O'Leary

This is an amazing video that should be watched all of the way through.  Although, you might have to pause it to yell at the screen.

Rachel Parent (14 years old) recently put forth a GMO debate challenge to Kevin O'Leary, host of the Lang and O'Leary Exchange  on CBC Business "News".  Surprisingly, he accepted. What you see below is the result:

She made cogent, researched, points and was able to bat his talking points down like a mom being lied to by a child.  She was also able to school them on the differences between GMOs and hybridized seeds.  Rather than address any of her points, he attempted to condescend, demean, and to change the argument.  She stood her ground and was the clear winner.

She did so in the face of vitriol and rhetoric that spewed from O'Leary's lips.  Lang, not to be left out, ganged up on this brave young lady.  Of course, she did help seal O'Leary's point that restated one of Rachel's points: We are the lab rats for Monsanto and other Big Ag GMO-producing companies.

Very well done, Rachel.  You give me hope for the future.
I've long believed truth-seeking teens to be smarter and wiser than many who claim to "speak for the masses".

Rachel's website:  http://www.gmo-news.com

This gets my vote as the Funniest Video of 2013!

31 July 2013

Austin's First PUBLIC Food Forest! Making It a Reality.

Seattle may have gotten their toes in the public food forest waters first, but Austin's diving in right behind! It's one of the first cities in the US to design and move towards establishing a public food forest on city parkland, open for the benefit of the entire neighborhood and ready to serve as a model for similar projects across the rest of the city and nation.
 Austin's Food Forest Volunteer Organization       
East Feast 2022, a volunteer-only organization, has been working within the community of East Austin (the founders and much of the team lives within the community) and with the City of Austin to help realize a food forest within the scheme of the Holly Shores re-design project. It has a small but determined core team and an ever-growing list of new volunteers collaborators, including the Food Is Free Project, East Side Compost Pedallers, East Side Garden Exchange, the Sustainable Food Center of Austin, the Austin Parks Foundation and dozens more.

What started as a vision among a group of residents of East Austin, shared with local food forest enthusiasts and permaculture designers, has been gaining momentum: "Imagine] diverse neighbors from all parts of East Austin celebrating abundant local food and community along the shores of Lady Bird Lake."
Permaculture Food Forest Function
Sketch of Basic Mechanisms of a Food Forest by Samantha Belyeu

"What if we could restore this land and water to health and it could produce healthy food again? What if we could train and hire neighborhood youth to help transform our old fire house to a new resource center where we can work, learn, and experiment together to create and sustain accessible sources of healthy food and healthy living? What if research from this center could help all of Austin and other cities find ways to create communities where life thrives?”

Ongoing community outreach, design workshops and proposals keep this dream alive. If you're in the Austin area and are looking to get involved, check out East Feast 2022 on Facebook. Better yet, drop by August 11th for their Festival Beach Food Forest Community-Design Workshop. We at the Food Forest Retreat will be out there with you!

30 July 2013

Mighty Mountain Debut Album Campaign

Let me introduce you to some of our favorite people: the Food Is Free people.  Everything about what they do is wonderful, beautifully intentioned and done with the intent of the highest-best good for their friends, family, community, nation and planet.

These people have supported me, my community and the planet that we so dearly need and love.  In return, I will support them as they continue to spread the message that "We are all in this together!".

We contributed and ask you to consider clicking here to contribute to their IndieGoGo campaign.  Their Facebook page is here: Mighty Mountain Facebook page

Photo by Mario Villeda
Beyond the music campaign, please consider getting involved with the Food Is Free project.  You won't be disappointed.  You can meet amazing people, learn to build organic wicking beds that can provide free food for you, your family and your community while creating an instant outreach that reintroduces all of those people to their food supply and the truth that food is free.  

29 July 2013

Austin's Urban Forest Plan

A Facebook friend posted this on Our Food Forest Retreat page today and I felt it important to pass the info along:

Officials say the effects of continuing growth and development, combined with long term drought conditions, create a need to develop the Urban Forest Plan as part of Imagine
Austin’s Green Infrastructure Priority Program. Board members and staff will be stationed at multiple locations around the city today and Tuesday to engage with the public on the topic of Austin’s urban forest. Residents can also provide input online through a discussion forum and short surveys. There will be a community workshop and open house from 3-7pm on August 13. Online surveys and information can be accessed atwww.austinurbanforestry.org

Monday July 29th, 2013

7:00 am– 10:00 am|

Northwest Austin Recreation Center
2913 Northland Dr., Austin, TX 78757

5:00‐7:00 pm

Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, Under the Mopac Bridge


Tuesday July 30th, 2013
3:00 pm– 7:00 pm

Ruiz Library, 1600
Grove Blvd Austin, TX 78741


Tuesday August 13th, 2013

Community Workshop & OpenHouse
3:00 pm– 7:00 pm

25 July 2013

Exploring the Many Uses of Our Local Plants - Passion Flower


Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Also known as the passion vine or maypop, this native to Texas and many areas of the southern US is a treat in the landscape (butterflies love it) as well as being edible and medicinal. 

Images of Passiflora lutea are from Temperate Climate Permaculture

The Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database notes that Native Americans used the leaves both internally and externally as a tonic and poultice. The USDA Plants Database notes that the roots were also crushed for ear drops and tonics. 

It's best to extract the juicy pulp from around the hard seeds like one would a pomegranate. When the outer leather of the fruit dents to the touch, it's at its sweetest and ready to pop open!

The insides of the fruit may be eaten raw or pressed into cold beverages--careful, it's tangy! The tang, however, makes a great addition to smoothies with sweeter fruits. I'm also considering making tangy preserves with it, but likely in combination with berries from the garden.

The leaves are also edible steamed, though they lack much gusto alone. Steam them with other edible greens.

There are two other species of passion flower that are native to Texas and have palatable fruit: Passiflora foetida (also called stinking passion flower--presumably due to the leaves and the flower) and Passiflora lutea (yellow passion flower, though the bloom is more greenish and doesn't stand out from the rest of the vine all that well).

Foetid passionflower (Passiflora foetida) (6128013446)  
Images are from Wikimedia commons. The left is Passiflora foetida (By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida). The right is Passiflora lutea (by TheAlphaWolf).

Resources and further reading

Information on passion flower can also be found here:

"Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest" by Delena Tull.

"New Healing Herbs" by Michael Castleman.
"Wildflowers of Texas" by Geyata Ajilvsgi.
"A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants of Eastern and Central North America" by Steven Foster and James A. Duke.

More Austin Foraging - Red Yucca

Update:  We have found no "scholarly" sites indicating that these are edible or inedible.  All sites we checked indicated no toxicity in the buds or blooms and indicate birds and deer feed on them. We have foraged these for a while and have followed others who have with no known negative impacts.  However, there are warnings on some sites indicating some parts of this plant are inedible and toxic.  We are removing the body of the post until we can further verify.  

18 July 2013

First Food Garden As We Begin Our Property Observations

As we just began with this property, we will spend about a year observing how the property lives and breathes prior to making any major modifications.  However, we will need a garden to feed our family and community.  The area just outside the house is terraced and has been used for planting in years past.  As this is primary zone 1 space, we decided to utilize it for a close-in, mixed-crop garden.  

The beginnings of our mini-Hugel.
Sami working on the retaining wall.

I tilled the soil and Samantha built the wall extension that allowed for the mini-Hugelkultur.  

We graded the property to allow for better water movement and retention by creating mini-swales and berms.  We put down crimson clover and alfalfa to aid in reintroducing nitrogen into the soil.  We added seed and turkey compost over the berms prior to laying down our hardwood mulch.  

My clown car has been converted to a part-time work truck.
We beat the storms by an hour or two, finishing in virtual darkness.  The next morning, we could see where we missed seeding and mulching in the darkness and where we might have miscalculated some of the runoff.   However, there was a lovely puddle at the high end of the Hugelkultur that will run under the soil to aid in the soaking of the mound and decomposition of its underground components.

Less than 24hrs. and we already have happy residents.
The morning after the storms.
Mini-wales the next morning.
Sami's completed wall (after the heavy thunderstorms).
Okra, tomatoes, Thai basil and English thyme waiting to be transplanted.
Ah... The first blisters of the summer season.
I think we will stay inside this afternoon.

13 July 2013

Seeing the Big Picture

Trying to make a positive change in a toxic world can be frustrating. There are just too many different problems, it seems. For years, I felt useless and truly hopeless about ever being any help at all, and couldn't see how anyone could make a difference with the range and scope of the issues: pollution, climate change, environmental destruction...there was just too much.

It wasn't until about six years ago that I had a change of heart. One video helped me put the big picture together, seeing how all the issues that I felt so strongly about linked together. I owe this revelation to a simple, powerful video, The Story of Stuff.

The big picture now seems very obvious and so simple. But having learned the linear production cycle in school, and being brought up in a consumer culture, it can be hard to see the full issue and the possible solutions until it's quite literally drawn out for you.

Since this video was made, Annie Leonard and her team at the Story of Stuff Project have made numerous other videos that expose and explain social and environmental problems. The underlying message in all of them is that there are many ways to help, and that the efforts being made ARE actually helping. This message was powerful enough to get me looking into new ways to produce and protect our most basic needs: food, water and living materials.

It wasn't long after I saw the Story of Stuff that I stumbled upon Permaculture and saw the ways that I could help build healthful, life-promoting production and consumption patters for myself and my community.  

25 June 2013

Oh Yeah?

A dear friend took this photo of her daughter and her dog, Dasher, who has no intention of just taking a licking!

I like to call this one:

Oh Yeah?
Click to enlarge, Edited by Adam Carrell

We declare Riley and Dasher our guest Food Forest Retreat Mascots of the week!  I adore that our friends always seem to be able to Keep Austin Weird.  We hope to continue to share more of insights into the lives of our artsy, wonderful, weird friends and their work.

21 June 2013

First Morning at the Future Food Forest

We went to help get the house prepared for a garage sale prior to our move in and I snapped a few shots.  One from one of the porches:

One of the pool and hot tub area we hope to give a permaculture makeover:

And a quick one of Sami and Barbara inspecting new apples forming on the tree outside my front window:

I am one happy hippy!

Moving to the Country to Experiment with Permaculture in Texas

We have decided we are going to take a leap of faith and move to a lovely piece of property with friends.  We are going to begin implementing and testing a number of permaculture techniques and food forest designs.  We begin by sitting down with the owners/landlords and getting all of the details hammered out.  That hasn't happened yet; but we have great faith. So much so, that I just put my favorite fall jacket in a pile for garage sale/trade/donation and Sami is packing things in boxes as we speak.    

(Click to Enlarge)
What you see in the photo above is the property we are moving to.  It covers 6.1 acres and has 2 seasonal streams on it!  We have been struggling with selecting property for permaculture in Austin and we now have a great playground/school. With no neighbors to speak of, I can pursue my lifelong goal of being naked in the garden. We're so excited we can barely sleep. Ok.  She can barely sleep and I'm creating graphics to illustrate how excited and unable to sleep I am.  

We are working through a short list of self-nominators to take over our cozy duplex by Barton Springs. We're going to miss it very much; it's a wonderful location to connect with amazing people and their diverse communities.  

As our focus turns to moving, we may not post much for a few a few days.

15 June 2013

Food is Free - One of the Many Reasons I Love Austin

The Food is Free Project in Austin, Texas is creating and refining a repeatable model of growing food and community.  They use salvaged materials to build front yard community gardens for all to share!  

I've had the great honor of working with these wonderful people a number of times; but not as often as I would have liked. Luckily, there is more time ahead. To get involved contact Food is Free.  They also have a Food Is Free Facebook Page.  

14 June 2013

Gardening Goddess - My Permaculture Dream

I have a new favorite book!  It's Bill Mollison's, "Permaculture, A Designer's Manual".  

Photo by Erik Kuykendall
It is a far-heartier read than I initially expected.  It's an approachable book that quickly draws a reader in as it gets down to business almost immediately.  There is an appropriate abundance of helpful illustrations that Bill uses to demystify very challenging concepts in an easily understood writing style.  

Whether you are getting your Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC), creating your own food forest, or just have an interest in permaculture & food forests; this is an absolute must-read.
We bought our copy through Bill Mollison's Tagari Publications site.