Materials for permaculture educators from International Forum of Permaculture Educators you can find here:Back to top
Have you ever considered that plants you trample when you walk on the grass can be a rich source of vitamins, minerals and healing substances? Our grandparents did know – they didn’t have as much access to medication and nutritional supplements as we have, so they used what nature offered. We are also slowly returning to the interest in plants as both food and cure. Ground-ivy, common nettle, ground elder and blackberry are plants that grow in our surroundings. During the workshop conducted by Magdalena Oprządek we looked for them in the riparian forest by the Vistula River, in the northern part of Warsaw. From the plants we collected, we made a salad and a marinade.
PICKLED GROUND ELDER WITH CURRY
2 cups young leaves of ground elder,
brine (1 1/2 tablespoon salt per 1 litre water)
1 teaspoon curry
several pepper grains (green or black)
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon pasteurised vinegar
Wash and dry ground elder. Put the leaves into a scalded 1 litre jar. Add garlic and pepper. Mix a teaspoon of vinegar and curry into the brine and pour over the leaves. Screw on a scalded lid and leave for 5–7 days in room temperature. Stir every day, so that leaves on top do not go mouldy. Both pickled leaves and the water form the jar are an excellent addition to oriental soups.
*based on the book Dzikie kiszonki i inne fermentacje [Wild pickles and other fermentations] by Kaja Nowakowska and Małgorzata Ruszkowska.
FERMENTED BLACKBERRY LEAVES
Collect blackberry leaves (careful with thorns!) and place them in a basket for 1-2 hours, until all critters leave. Crush the leaves in your hand, you can roughly chop them, and pack them tightly into a jar. Leave for 24 hours to start the fermentation process. After that time, take the leaves out and lay them out in a dark, well ventilated place, or put in the over set to 40 C and dry. When the leaves are dried, keep them in a dry, dark container (e.g. tin can). Then you can prepare infusions by pouring a cup of boiling water over a spoonful of dried leaves, and letting it sit for 25 minutes. Drink twice per day.
Materials from the workshop can be downloaded here (in Polish):
Workshop Edible plants took place on 23rd May 2021 by the Vistula River and was conducted by Magda Oprządek from the Botanical Gardens of the University of Warsaw.Back to top
Build you own vermicomposter and observe the underground life of earthworms!
Vermicomposter is a type of compost created by earthworms processing organic leftovers. In nature, earthworms simply live in the ground. Earthworms, of which there are around 30 species, belong to the subclass Oligochaeta. In one cubic meter of earth there can be even 800 of these wondrous invertebrates! Charles Darwin, eminent researcher and discoverer of the process of evolution of living organisms believed that not many animals fulfilled and still fulfil a role as important in the history of the world, as these slimy critters of uncomplicated build. We can find most of them in the earth that is wet and full of organic matter, such as fallen leaves, or dead plant fragments. They also like fields fertilized with manure, i.e. droppings of farm animals – cows or chickens.
Earthworms aerate and fertilize the soil. Even though they are so small, they can break up the earth and corridors they create make it easy for water to permeate, which is then accessible to plants. By boring in the ground, they eat dead remnants of plants, such as leaves or stalks, as well as fungi, protozoa, and nematodes that live in the soil. After the food goes through earthworm’s digestive tract, it is excreted as the co-called vermicast. Earthworm droppings contain a mix of minerals available to plants and good bacteria which liven up the life in the soil. According to the research, within a year, a single earthworm can produce as much as 4,5 kilograms of excretions. Earthworm droppings are better for farm plants – such as vegetables – than artificial powdered fertilizer used by people!
If you would like to peek at the mysterious, underground life of earthworms, you can build them a small house, or vermicomposter! Use a container with transparent walls, such as a small aquarium, a glass jar of at least 2 litres, or even a plastic bottle, at least 1,5 litres, with the neck cut off. It’s a good idea to cover any container with a gauze folded over several times, and secured with a rubber band, or a lid with several holes. In this way you will protect yourself from bothersome flies. Inside the container, on top, place fragments of dry cardboard, dry toilet paper, or brown paper towel. For your vermicomposter, you should always use brown, unbleached paper, as the bleaching process uses chlorine which can have a negative impact on our worms.
You can buy earthworms for observation online, or ask an allotment gardener you know who has their own composter to give you some, or you can go for “a hunt” in a damp place with fertile earth, find them and dig them up yourself! Below you will find a list of layers that should be placed in any comfortable earthworm home.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE LAYERS OF THE EARTHWORM HOUSE:
1. On the bottom, create a layer which will absorb excess water. It could be made from broken up think sticks, or some woodchips, or soaked coconut fibre.
2. Then place a layer of dry plants: hay or straw which you must slightly compress.
HERE WE ADD EARTHWORMS 🙂
3. The third layer should contain mature compost which will be the shelter for the earthworms until they start processing leftover plants in the jar. It will also be the source of fungi, bacteria and protozoa which provide food for the earthworms and also compost (i.e. decompose) organic matter.
4. Then, optionally, you can cover mature compost with a layer of loose sand. This will help us observe the mixing of separate layers in our little house. Everything happens quite slowly, but with each passing day, you will notice that the layer of sand mixes with other materials.
5. Over the sand, put a layer of last year’s leaves – earthworms love them!
6. In the sixth layer you can put small pieces of leftover vegetables, such as kitchen waste: cucumber and carrot peels, or pieces of apple. Don’t use bones, citrus fruit, or leftover bread. These leftovers easily get mouldy and start to smell.
7. As the topmost layer put some waste paper torn into tiny pieces (brown paper, unbleached bardboard, brown toilet paper). The last two layers can be repeated if you notice that in time, the earthworms used them up. Always put some paper at the very top – it will prevent fruit flies from breeding in the jar.
After several weeks the contents of the jar will become darker – it’s quite normal. Slowly, it will become more and more difficult to distinguish between different layers. Sometimes, for example when it’s dark (you can observe that by looking in at night with a flashlight), you can see how the earthworms move – they wiggle as if stuck to the wall of the jar. You can also see the movement of food inside their bodies. If the earthworms feel comfortable in their house, they will lay eggs in cocoons – from which tiny white earthworms will hatch.
1. Keep the inside of the jar damp, earthworms need a lot of moisture. It’s better if it is too wet than too dry.
2. Keep the jar in a cool and dark place, never leave it exposed to sunlight!
3. If you think that the observation of earthworms no longer fascinates you, be sure to set them free! Find a damp spot with soft earth – it could be a park, or a compost heap in a garden. Empty out the entire contents of the jar. Afterwards you can wash it and use it for something else.
Sowing obsession, or how to transform your balcony into a garden
During the pandemic, we’ve observed an unusual increase of the interest in growing one’s own food – instead of flowers, many balconies started to house pots of tomato plants, kitchen window sills became full of herbs and lettuce, and in garden allotments hammocks were replaced with tiny greenhouses.
Gardening mania gripped the entire Europe. In the initial phase of the lockdown, orders in British seed cooperatives went up 600%, and producers of seedlings could hardly satisfy the demand. Warsaw residents also proved that the slogan “edible city” is no longer just a projection for the future, but our new day-to-day. If you want to join the community of home gardeners this season, but you don’t know where to start, learn a few simple rules that wiil help you change your balcony into a garden.
When tending to a balcony culture, you can use solutions glimpsed in nature. Emulating natural and sustainable ecosystems combined with holistic design are the basis of permaculture. In permaculture farms and gardens, everything was designed to coexist.
Thanks to establishing permaculture microfarms in our balconies we can have a positive impact on expanding local biodiversity. Flower mini-meadows, pots with herbs, several tomato plants, a patch of lettuce and radish, as well as shallow dishes with water for the insects, or even a hotel for wild pollinators, or butterflies – all that will have a positive impact on the development of organisms in our neighbourhood.
Increasingly often, apart from growing decorative plants, we decide to introduce edible species to our balconies. We should remember that if our balcony goes out directly onto a busy street, or if such a street is nearby, food grown on it can absorb heavy metals, and as a result it will be contaminated. It is estimated that a safe distance from the street should be no less than 200 metres. So if you have such a space at our disposal, let’s start planning what, how, and when to plant.
First, pots and containers. We should find deep ones, where you can put more earth. More soil means better root development, and more capacity for storing water, which is significant during a hot summer. Wooden fruit boxes or old wooden containers lined with nonwoven crop cover. However, you must remember to make small openings in the material, to evacuate excessive water from the roots.
When you decide in what you would put our plants, let’s look at soil. Live, fertile soil is the foundation of permaculture farming. Garden soil usually sold in stores comes mostly from European peat bogs. Its exploitation not only causes devastation in the environment where it is obtained, but also changes the climate as a whole, as it deprives us of bogs that retain water in the ecosystem. This is why, if at all possible, try to secure soil based on compost and woodchips. You could also add a bit of compost (especially valuable is the so-called vermicompost, the result of red wiggler worm activity) to regular, peat-free soil, and for plants that like acidic soil (e.g. blueberries or strawberries) you would do well to mix garden soil with wood chips and pine bark which effectively lowers the pH of the soil.
If you prepare the seedlings yourself, it would be a good idea to compose the earth for the seeds from garden soil and sand.
To prepare seedlings, you will need seeds. Here, the key are their quality and ethical sourcing. It is best to order them from websites that work for preserving old, native varieties of plants, and make sure that seeds have to chemical additives. When buying seeds, pay attention to their expiry date and the packaging itself. Some seed cooperatives place their phone number on packages, which you can call to obtain all information about a given plant. Academic facilities and research institutes are also a good address. Among the most interesting ones are the Polish Institute for Culture and Acclimatization of Plants, and the National Centre for Genetic Plant Resources where you can order a set of seeds for your own use.
The next topic is types of plants for our cultivation. If you only start your adventure with balcony farming, let’s focus on vegetables with a short growing season that grow to only a small size. Radishes and lettuce that have similar life cycle and requirements would be perfect for beginner gardeners. Dill is also quite an easy vegetable to manage – its seeds can be put straight into the ground continuously, throughout the entire season. You can also consider onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, runner beans, chives, parsley and stick celery.
Conditions on the balcony are often extreme for the plants: a lot of sun exposure, and wind, sometimes make them really struggle for survival. To make it easier for them, prepare bedding – put a layer of straw, sawdust or woodchips on the surface of the soil. The layer of mulch stimulates the activity of organisms living in the soil, and what’s more, it retains moisture in the ground, which frees us from the need to water as often.
Act, experiment and transform balconies into edible gardens! Crops harvested in July and August usually make up for the struggles of the preceding months.