Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Florida Rooftop Permaculture, No Room for a Garden? No Problem

Rooftop permaculture may be the long term sustainable trend for green roofs.  Where as green roofs may have many benefits, including insulation, mitigation of urban heat island effect, cleansing of stormwater, support for biodiversity, educational opportunities and more, growing food within the city can save food fuel and transportation costs, create permaculture benefits, cool structures, save money and provide much needed sustenance within inner cities.

Florida Permaculture, Rooftop Gardens - Mustards & Garlic Chives

With advances in green roof and permaculture technology, cost effective and lightweight growing systems can be created and installed for food production across balconies, patios, rooftops and windowsills.

Self watering and systems employing fog nets, dew catchers and condensate reuse will take the place of non-sustainable potable irrigation water.

Florida Permaculture, Greens and Garlic Chives on the Rooftop

Additionally, there is so much permaculture information available on the great world wide web the need for fertilizers can be easily replaced with proper and informed design principles utilizing nitrogen fixing plant species.  Our rooftop tomatoes growing alongside legumes were so much larger than those in our ground level gardens.

Importantly here in Florida (and other places), rooftop gardening eliminates many of the soil borne plant root pests such as nematodes.  Nematodes can devastate garden vegetables, stunting their growth by as much as a severe drought would.  Nematodes generally cannot survive in the hot temperatures typical of green roof soil media.

Florida Permaculture, Clover feeds the Greens on the Roof

Food plants such as those shown above, will have the advantage of first view by pollinators.

Your roof will become alive with butterflies, dragonflies, moths, birds, bees and more.

Tree frogs and anoles will soon take up residence, creating a wonderful integrated pest management systems as they eat volumes of the common household fly, mosquitoes, roaches and other pests.

Consider planting veggies on your roof as the next permaculture project.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Florida Permaculture, Urban Farm Geese are Growing

Another geesey video clip.  Our geese, ducks and turkeys are growing!  They are so cute at this stage.  But be not fooled with the sweetness.

Animals are all about life. Though they appear fluffy and clucky be not deceived!  Even as juveniles, these critters are driven to feed and will snatch crumbs from other's beaks.

Cute, yes.  Now.

You see a goose can live well over twenty years old.  A duck and turkey easily into their 'teens'.

Urban Farming requires long term commitment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Florida Permaculture, Urban Farm Geese & Hallelujah

Video clip of our  Jacksonville Urban Farm Geese, Ducks and Turkey enjoying Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah while foraging for their morning snacks.

Geese especially, love to sing and dance to the music.  Ducks generally follow the lead from the geese.  The turkeys love the geese and ducks but do their own thing,

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Urban Permaculture Plants, Rosemary Propagation by Cuttings

One can never have enough plants on the Urban Farm.

Especially rosemary.

We start many of our plants from seeds.  Yet some, like garlic chives and rosemary, though they can be sprouted are much easier to propagate via cuttings.

Florida Permaculture: A full tray of rosemary cuttings ready to root

Cuttings are an easy and quick way to multiply your herb and plant inventory.  Having too many herb and garden plants can be a good thing!  Potted up herbs make great gifts for birthdays, special occasions or just for when you want to give company a special gift.

The following photos illustrate how I propagate rosemary via cuttings.  There are many ways to asexually increase your rosemary plant inventory via cuttings.  Most gardeners have their own preferred method.

I like to propagate rosemary, either the upright or prostrate variety in 72 count square plug trays.  For some strange reason, the square corners of the tray seem to make my cutting's roots grow faster and fuller.

Start by obtaining approximately one hundred rosemary cuttings about twelve inches long.

Florida Permaculture: Twelve inch Urban Farm cuttings ready to strip and stick

Strip the lower four or five inches of leaves from the stem with your fingers.

Florida Permaculture:  Cuttings and stripped cuttings ready for the rooting tray

Fill the cutting tray with sharp sand (I just use sand out of the back yard).  Pack the sand into the tray tightly by firmly pressing the sand down with your fingers.  Be sure to level off the top once the sand is impacted.

Florida Permaculture:  Sharp sand and a  72 count cutting tray

Press the stem cuttings with the end stripped down into the compacted sharp sand, two cuttings per cell.  The standing cuttings will help support each other once all the rosemary is placed into the tray.

I use an cheap electronic hose timer and sprinkler to mist the cuttings for ten seconds every fifteen minutes.

With the warmer spring weather I'll have one hundred or so rooted rosemary plants within a couple weeks.

We never use rooting hormone.  In my opinion rooting hormone is a capitalistic trick to make money.  Yes, I know there are studies that show potentially toxic rooting hormones can help develop roots.  Some of these studies are also funded by those who sell the powders.

My studies show ground willow bark can out perform root industrial powders.

Yet I never use any rooting hormones.

And our cuttings, roses, natives, figs, herbs, and anything I've ever tried to root, have rooted ever so quickly.   And I don't have to worry about the industrial powders and cancer, nor spend extra money.

The key is keeping your cutting leaves moist and the sharp sand just barely wet using a fine mist.  Don't let cuttings dry out.

Asexual propagation is an easy way to cost effectively increase your permaculture stock.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Florida Permaculture, Life on the Urban Farm

Never name an animal that you plan to cook later and don’t be surprised if the critters jump and fly or run after you’ve removed their heads.

Animals are put on the earth here for food for us, plain and simple.  And the whole purpose of starting with twenty six chickens was to have enough to cook one every couple of weeks on top of all the eggs we’d get.

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Turkeys)

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Ducks & Geese)

Kevin & Judy's Urban Farm Fowl (Baby Goose)
Even Momma told me about her Mom, my Grandma, who’d clean a chicken each week in Miami and cook the very best fried chicken one ever tasted. 

Never mind the fact that it has taken ten to twenty weeks to raise up the fowl from the cute little fluffy balls of chirps, gobble and quack, fifty pounds of weekly scratch feed, countless thousands of gallons of fresh water and the emergence of a strange but strong love-hate relationship, the animals are meant to be eaten.

My friend Pascale, the green roof expert from France even recommended mustard with cooked rabbit on a stick.

Judy however has decided that raising an animal from babyhood commands too many feelings of love and protection to take the killing and eating of what have essentially become our pets lightly. She woke up breathless one night from a dream in which we were eating rabbit stew.   We were eating Jack, Ruby, Thumper, or Midnight. This was when we understood we'd probably not try to breed more rabbits for food, them being mammals and all. 

The chickens should have been easier, but Judy grew very attached to the hens also. Raising them from fluffy little day old chicks (what could be cuter?) to awkward but endearing pullets and on to beautiful hens with iridescent beauty and sweet natures has made it very hard to want to eat our cluckers. I think we are just not hungry enough perhaps. 

Then there is the question of “embodied energy” and not just the spiritual idea of sacred life force. Embodied energy is the issue of how much water and food it takes to raise a chicken, duck, turkey, goose, or rabbit to a mature eating size. 

Judy has come to the conclusion that it isn’t wrong to eat meat or to raise and kill your own animals for food. Animal food is nutrient dense in a way that our bodies can utilize well. Raising your own meat animals is kinder to the critters in the long run than buying factory raised animals. 

Killing and eating an animal is a momentous act and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Perhaps this is why there were so many laws concerning the killing and eating of animals in the Old Testament, such as a lamb not being cooked in it’s mother’s milk and other rituals concerning the slaughter of animals including offering them to God. Contrast these ancient ways with the modern practice of supermarket meat wrapped in plastic and styrofoam and the practice of basing our diets on meat, such as some of  the ill-advised “low- carb” diets. 

Moreover, I’d suppose many of us would stop eating meat if we had to kill the critters and dress them out, disposing of the innards and carcasses.  Importantly, most cities and municipalities who allow for Urban Farm animals prohibit the slaughter of said animals in residential areas.  However, there are many licensed butcher and slaughter houses across the country, one probably not too far away from your farm.

A sharp machete and well placed swing will quickly dispatch most of the Urban Farm animals.    Butcher block and butcher knife will also work.  The knife’s motion must be swift though, to minimize pain.  Don’t be alarmed if the hen, goose or turkey continues to cackle, hoot or gobble, even without their heads.  A large, twenty pound headless turkey can especially put on a show, flying across the Urban Farm backyard, slinging blood everywhere.   If you are going to clean your own meat, be prepared to handle the gore.

Our uncomfortable adversity to killing and dressing backyard farm critters is only a couple generations displaced.  Grandparents thought nothing of slaughtering, cleaning and cooking a backyard bird or rabbit.  Really, it was the early Baby Boomer generation first forsaking the raising and killing of hens for Sunday dinner.  My mother has spoken of watching her momma cutting the hen into fryable sections soon to become delicious fried chicken.

Keep your knives sharp.  A sharp knife makes the job so much easier.  Once you’ve mastered the art of beheading and cleaning a farm critter, it should take no more than ten minutes from picking up the critter slated for the kitchen to the final wash of the meat.

I recommend a heavy butcher knife, a large, long serrated knife and a small paring type knife.  The head should be removed first, with a swift blow from the heavy butcher or a swing from a machete.  Be sure you don’t cut off your fingers and be ready for the blood.  A handy hose helps with the mess.

Separation of the legs and wings using the serrated knife follows the head.  Place the head, legs and wings in a garbage bag and using the small paring knife, slit the outer layer of skin from the neck down the chest about four inches.  Set the knife on the butcher table and using both hands pull the skin and feathers away from the underlying meat.  The skin should easily come off, similar to a pair of pajamas pulled off in the morning.

The feathers and skin goes into the same garbage bag as the legs, wings and head.  Once the bird is de-skinned it is time to remove the entrails.  Open the birds chest with the small sharp knife and reach in, grasping all the internal organs and intestines, pulling them out and placing all the guts in the garbage bag.  Try not to puncture to intestines.  Be sure to remove all internal parts and wash the cleaned bird down with the pressurized water nozzle.  Wash the carcass even more thoroughly if the intestines are punctures during the cleaning process.

Cleaned critters can be cooked immediately or wrapped in plastic grocery bags and placed in the freezer.

Urban Farm critters that are allowed to free range grow tough and stringy very quickly.  If you choose to eat your animals, consider cleaning the young and tender.  Sinewy meat may smell good in the oven baking or on the range frying but once stuck tightly in between teeth, opinions quickly change.

Killing and dressing your Urban Farm fowl and rabbits is the most honorable way to eat meat if you choose to do so.  Taking full responsibility for the death of and cleaning the of a creature before enjoying his or her meat is an educational opportunity.  Understanding the full impact of meat’s life cycle creates sustainability, it creates an intimate awareness of our actions.  Though we may choose for a season to ignore how  grocery store meat arrived on the shelves or in the freezer, the ignorance will eventually catch us individually and as a nation.  Participatory meat preparation celebrates the gift of meat made by your critter and sheds light on the true value of life.

Even better, consider becoming a vegetarian.  This may be easier than you think, for once you experience killing and dressing out a bird or rabbit, your personal attitude concerning carnivorous habits may change.   

Judy may agree to eat some of the ducks, geese and turkey that are already put in the freezer, but meanwhile it is still summer and it is easier to have a vegetarian diet supplemented with our fresh eggs and organic yogurt right now.   Me; due to the spiritual complexity and cost effectiveness of killing and dressing out, I am pretty much done with the meat (though it is amazing just how quickly we soon sometimes forget).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Florida Urban Agriculture and Rabbits

Judy’s Maxim to Remember:  Best thing about the rabbits is their poo, because you can use the rich manure right on your garden without waiting. 
Kevin’s Maxim to Remember:  Our rabbits were intent on eating and mating, not necessarily in that order and irrespective of whether the other rabbit was a male or a female.
Rabbits can be a wonderful addition to the Urban Farm.  The hoppers are truly one of the easiest critters to provide care for.  Rabbit poo can be likened to steroids for plants, giving them the required nutrients for a rich and deeply vibrant color, encouraging the plants to grow fruits and vegetables  of monumental size.  Rabbit pellets and composted chicken poop combined are the only fertilizers your Urban Agriculture venture will ever really need.

And rabbits don’t take up much space.  Compared to the farm birds, rabbits can survive in a much smaller cage.  Therein lies a serious dilemma we came to struggle with.  Though many raise rabbits to feed their pythons (or sell to pet stores for python food) we raised rabbits first for their poo and second as a source of high quality meat.

Interestingly, we were very successful  with the use of poo, yet we quickly came to realize we could never kill our bunnies for a meal.

We fed our rabbits pelletized feed made for bunnies, packaged in fifty pound bags and bought from Standard Feed.  Of course the vitamin filled feed was supplemented with the better stuff, fresh greens from the garden and the occasional carrot from the kitchen.

Rabbits must have their water checked several times a day.  With heavy fur coats, they desperately need hydration during Florida’s long hot summers.  Be sure to give the water dispenser a good daily spray down, keeping it clean and free of algae or gunky growth.

As mammals, rabbits are different than the Urban Farm birds.  Looking you in the eye, sniffing and then cuddling up against your neck, a rabbit is more like a pet dog or cat than a hen or turkey.  

Culturally, most of us are used to eating chicken or turkey on a daily deli basis.  Though my green roof friend in France loves rabbit on a stick with mustard, we here in the U.S. have not developed that tradition to any extent.  And so for us the killing and dressing of a half year old rabbit for a five minute meal did not present itself as appetizing. 

Additionally, here in Florida where heat and humidity abound, our rabbits appeared to dread the summertime extremes even though we built their cages high above the ground with green roof shade and all the amenities we could think to include in a rabbit cage.
Not wanting to subject our rabbits to tiny, confined spaces, we tripled and quadrupled our bunny pen sizes.  Cruelty though still has a way of occupying even the largest of rabbit cages.  Rabbits were meant to be born into the wild.  Even the most spacious of outdoor cages creates a prison for the critters.  Our rabbits would stare at the veggie filled raised beds through their coop’s chicken wire sides and wonder what freedom would taste like.

Living cramped up in a four foot by four foot cage must be hard.  However many rabbit pens I’ve seen at the feed stores are much tinier.  I recommend at a minimum, rabbits be provided with twenty square feet be critter to allow for exercise room.

Bunnies enjoy running and hopping.  I suppose it is hard to do so in tiny cages and reminds me of being stuck in a way to tiny car for a very long trip.

Yes, rabbits can be very easy to take care of because they are not as vocal as the other farm critters.  The easiness is more of an out of sight, out of mind paradigm.

Before we gave Jack, our final rabbit away,  I let him out of the cage to run for a couple of days in the backyard.  Jack was our oldest rabbit too, solid black with a touch of oncoming gray. Of course he ran straight for the collards and arugula.  Jack had been staring at our practically unlimited array of leafy greens for the better part of a year.  He feasted like there was no tomorrow.

Jack was fine with running through our Urban Farm for the first day or two.  He’d leap, bounding across the rear three quarters of an acre as though he was a young bunny again.  Though he’d not allow us to come near him, he’d sleep up next to our house.  I suppose he felt some sense of security being near us at night.

But when my neighbor began to tell me he’d seen Jack in his garden I knew something had to be done.  Armed with a fishing net, the next morning I crept out and hid behind my neighbor’s tall tomato bushes and waited.  Before I knew it Jack had hopped through a hole in our fence and was headed straight for the neighbor’s turnip greens.

Though he had more organically grown greens than he could ever eat in our permaculture kingdom, Jack wanted what he could not have.

The fishing net swooshed through the air as Jack neared and before he knew it Jack was back in his cage, having experienced a brief but very happy few days of real life.

A note of caution here.  Always hold both rear legs of a rabbit very tightly when carrying as they pack a powerfully sharp punch, especially when the bunny knows they are headed back to the cage.

Though rabbits are some of the easiest of the Urban Farm critters to care for, I wouldn’t recommend starting off with bunnies.  Yes their poo is the perfect fertilizer.  Yes they are quiet and relative docile (Monty Python unfortunately gave them a bad name).  Yet subjecting the little mammals to a life in a cage seems more like cruel and unusual punishment.  Even if life behind the wire protected them from our neighborhood red tailed hawk.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Florida Permaculture, Time for Ocimum and Solanaceae Seeds to be Covered with Soil

Spring is here to stay in Northeast Florida.  Sure we will have a few more cold snaps but with daily temperatures warm enough to begin heating our pool water, the basils and peppers are ready to sprout!

Sprouting seeds is so much more of a cost effective way to grow your own vegetables and fruits.  Judy and I were in the Wal-Mart yesterday.  Amazingly, the seeds were hidden way back in the rear portion of the garden center, far away from the main aisle view.

72 Count Seed Trays, Potting Soil & Seeds for Permaculture
Surprisingly, there was a fifty cent (USD) seed rack alongside the more expensive two dollar packages.  I purchased several envelopes of tiny black seed (Genovese and Spicy Globe) and cilantro.

You can never have enough cilantro and basil during the spring, summer and fall (and winter for that matter).

Solanaceae - the Peppers are Sprouting!!!
We start seeds in seventy two count plug trays,  mostly mixing the seed starter mixes ourselves.

Usually the plants sprout only in a matter of days costing us only pennies apiece for mature plants once grown.

We've found that wooden popsicle sticks and a Sharpie Marker,  readily available through craft stores make perfect biodegradable plant labels.

Wooden Popsicle Sticks make perfect labels for plants
Ultimately, plants are the very best inventory a n individual or business could ever have as they only increase in value over time.  Save and reuse our trays.  Recycle soil and be sure to compost!

Be sure to recycle our trays and permaculture materials

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"A Beautiful Harshness, Is Meat Sustainable?" Snippet from our Urban Farm book to be released soon...

Life and death are a part of nature and we see the interactions up close and personal on the Urban Farm.  However this is not the way of most Americans and others in Urban Core areas.  Though we have violence and shooting deaths here in Jacksonville everyday, the death associated with food is conveniently removed from most our every day lives.

Winn-Dixie, Publix and other popular grocery markets allow us to order a pound of Boar’s Head Cajun Turkey, sliced sandwich thin, and we keep the meat in our refrigerator, tightly sealed, waiting for us to be hungry enough to make a lunch meat sub sandwich, all without witnessing the bloody end to a farm animal’s life.

I believe there is an honor about having to kill and dress out your own meat you eat while ignoring the death contributes towards a lack of awareness.

Geese, ducks, turkeys and chickens all require time and lots of feed to grow big enough to be ‘eatin’ size’ yet they, as in a sandwich can be completely devoured in a couple of minutes.  Four or five months to raise and only a day to devour.  Pounds and pounds of feed and forage, gallons and gallons of water for drinking and swimming all invested in a ten pound or so bird eaten at one family meal.

The same amount of grain and forage used to grow the bird to fryer size would have sustained a human for weeks.

Sure we can continue to eat meat every day for every meal until we die for there is nothing stopping us,  here in America.  I’m sure many people will continue to do so and I choose not to crusade against their habits and beliefs.  Yet for me though it is all a different story now.

I choose the step away from the practice of eating meat purchased from the store because I want to eat in a manner where I have a meaningful connection to my food.  

Moreover, in my weak attempt to pursue sustainability I’ve elected to reduce my ecological and carbon footprint.  For now, effective sustainability activism is not participation in a mighty, public crusade but a personal choice for Kevin Songer.  I choose to eat food we quickly grow in the garden; beans, grains, vegetables and fruits.

Consuming a bird in less than thirty minutes when five months of intensive carbon footprint maintenance was required to raise the bird to edible size is not sustainable.

As is usually the case when learning, the Urban Farm efforts have raised more questions about life and death than provided answers.  Certainly I’ve learned and seen those ways I’d never before seen, touched or tasted.  There is little noticeable affection between our farm fowl, even among those of the same genera.

The turkeys, chickens, ducks and geese are all each focused on self preservation.  They want to eat and they will grab food from other beaks quickly and without remorse.  Weaklings are shunned, rammed and pecked.  Strangers brought into the flock are jumped upon and attacked with amazing ferocity.  

But it is a beautiful harshness and there are those moments where the spirits of an Urban Farm critter make a profound connection to ones' soul, usually with amazing eye contact and a fleeting but powerful understanding and acknowledgement between homo sapiens and the animal creature, an understanding that transcends time and place.  

The momentary mystical insight into the true understanding of the ways of life is quickly severed though as the bird snaps itself out of the meaningless trance and shakes his or her head, covering my starry-eyed questioning face with slobber and half-chewed forage.

The goose walks away and I go wash my face off with chlorinated water supplied through a reinforced nylon hose and cast metal spray nozzle made in China.  The goose has a life with no deceit.  Human life is levels more complicated.