The Benefits of Nature Hikes and Observing the Seasons

One of the first things about permaculture that I learned was to first observe, then observe, then wait and observe, and then take small actions for change.  You have to understand your context before you can apply techniques or principles to your situation.  For applying permaculture to gardening and farming, it’s important to observe the local area where you want to grow (soil tests, rain fall, sunlight, etc).  However, it’s also very important to know your surrounding region (climate, local plant and fungi species, local wildlife, etc).  I frequently hike through parks near my house to get a better idea of what is already living near me.  Doing so gives me the opportunity to observe natural ecosystems and patterns around me, and contemplate how I can copy these existing natural patterns to benefit my garden.  This also gives opportunities to find herbs and other resources for wildcrafting or herbalism, or plants that you might want to propagate for your garden.  No need to order seeds if you can collect them, or better yet transport species that are plentiful.

There are several hiking groups that explore areas in our region.  Many of these groups meet several times a week, exploring areas minutes from my home that I never knew existed.  I’ve met lots of friendly people, seen some amazing sights, and learned a TON about my local ecology.  Improve your plant identification knowledge, learn to forage, learn to track animals…  I encourage everyone to become more aware of your surroundings, and spend some time in nature!

Here are some local hiking meetup groups:

Hiking Around Philly – My favorite hiking group.  Led by a friendly guy named Sidney who seems to know about every marked or unmarked trail within 100 miles of Philadelphia (maybe an exaggeration, but I’m constantly impressed by his hiking knowledge of our area).

The 20’s Hiking/Indoor/Outdoor Adventure Group – A meetup.com group that occasionally does hikes in the Philly area.

Return to Nature – A foraging teacher from NJ that gives classes from NYC to Philly.

Wild Foodies of Philadelphia – A meetup.com group that organizes hikes and plant walks to identify useful, medicinal, and edible plants in and around the city.

Here are some photos from a recent Hiking meetup that my girlfriend and I attended at the Schuylkill Environmental Center:

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One of the Art Exhibits at the beginning of the hike was this beautiful native pollinator garden.

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We hiked past this huge community garden.

 

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The community garden had an area for beekeeping.

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Some animal bones off the trail

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The hike leader led us through large holes in fences, and we did some exciting off-trail hiking.

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Another art exhibit

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Swirly wood grain in this tree.

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Interesting formations on this tree.

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Beautiful exposed roots.

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We hiked past a small pond with some canoes.

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A tree loop!

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The bird observation station.

 Here’s some inspiring poetry from the Poetry Trail at D&R Greenway Land Trust in Princeton, NJ:

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First Permaculture Movie Screening and Potluck a Success

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Our first Permaculture Movie Screening and Potluck was a success.  We had about 30 people come out to watch The Fruit Hunters and share food.  As an unannounced surprise, I brought 28 Miracle Berry tablets to distribute, and some sour food to taste.  The Miracle Berry was mentioned in the film.  When it gets on your tongue, it changes your taste buds and makes sour things taste sweet.  Everyone who tried them seemed to enjoy the strange sensation of biting into a sweet-tasting lemon or lime slice.  Our next film will be on January 5th.  I hope you can make it!

Follow Up: Earthship Building in Bristol, Pa

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On November 22.23, Earthship Biotecture hosted a workshop in Bristol, Pa to teach participants about building Eartships.  About 50 people volunteered either one or both of their weekend days to help with the construction of this earthship at Silver Lake Park.  This is a structure that will be completely off-grid, harvesting rainwater and solar energy, and passivly heating the building.  It’s walls are made from tires packed with dirt, aluminum cans, glass bottles, and concrete.   This type of building is very cheap to build, and is much more resillient and durable than most buildings.

Here’s a walkthrough of the structure from Sunday:

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A schematic of the water management system in an eartship design.

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One example of an in-process filter for an outdoor planter.

The class was Saturday and Sunday, with a lecture on Saturday night focusing on water management.  I had heard about earthships in the past, and thought I understood the basic concepts, but the lecture on Saturday night opened my eyes to how intricate the design really is.  Water that is collected from the roof of the structure is stored in large, underground cisterns.  The water from these cisterns is filtered, and gravity fed into the building where it is used for drinking water, sink water, and shower water.  After being used, it is filtered through an in-ground planter that is in the greenhouse section of the building near the large, south-facing windows.  After feeding nutrients to the plants growing here, it is used again in the toilets.  From the toilets, it is flushed outside to several more in-ground planters where the blackwater feeds nutrients to more plants.  Food is not typically grown in the blackwater planters, but the greywater planters thrive as food sources for the inhabitants.  In the presentation from Saturday evening, there were examples of beautiful kitchens with lush gardens integrated as part of the home.

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Pounding dirt into tires to create a rammed-earth structure

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After ramming the tires with earth, we created a concrete and stone trim

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A lot of dirt has to be moved when building earthships.

We were burying the water cisterns on Sunday, and we needed to move wheelbarrel after wheelbarrel of dirt to the top-rear of the building, where the cistern sits:

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Digging large food garden planters inside the south-facing glass windows.

There’s also an earthship currently being built in West Philly.  They could use your support: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/west-philadelphia-earthship-demonstration-project

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Glass bottles and concrete make funky patterns in the walls, and insulate against cold weather.

Most people today buy their homes with a mortgage that they will need to pay off for 20-30 years.  Imagine, rather than taking on this debt, if a community got together and built homes for each other.  Spending time on the weekends to work on each others homes, a small community of earthships could be constructed in a few short years.  This community would then be self-sufficient, off-grid, and mortgage-free.  This would take a lot of time, but maybe as a society we need to re-prioritize how we spend our precious free time.  Maybe sacrificing some time (and sweat) to help one-another live more resilient lives is exactly what our society needs.

The Permaculture Action Tour with The Polish Ambassador

On November 6th, The Polish Ambassador and his crew of activist musicians brought the funk to Philly for their Permaculture Action Tour.  Joined by Mr. Lif, and Ayla Nereo with their unique musical styles, and Liminus providing live visuals, The Polish Ambassador is also travelling with a crew of Permaculture activists, spreading sweat and positive messages to communities all over the US.  It started with a IndieGoGo campaign to fund their idea for a music tour that left behind a positive footprint in each community they visit.  Their mission is to spread the ideas of permaculture and regenerative living to their audience, engaging people who come to enjoy their music, and inspiring them to participate in making their community a better place.  The tour is over now, but for six weeks they travelled across the country organizing community volunteer days to plant permaculture-style gardens, reclaiming abandoned lots for guerilla gardens, and teaching their fans about living a regenerative lifestyle.

Ryan Rising seemed to be the resident permaculture expert on the tour, and before the show in Philly, Ryan gave a 20-ish minute presentation on what they’ve done so far with the tour, planting permaculture gardens, guerilla gardening, and spreading information about permaculture.  Then, he invited Robyn Mello to speak about the Philly Orchard Project (POP), and their ongoing work in Philadelphia to plant food forests and educate people about permaculture.  POP does amazing work organizing volunteers to plant trees, and help with city gardens and farms, and even holds workshops on all kinds of awesome topics related to permaculture.   Paul Glover, another Philly activist for regenerative living and recent candidate for PA Governor, spoke about Car Free Cities.  Imagine, in a very possible future, a Philadelphia where all the streets are transformed to bike paths, public transportation, and green space; farms, gardens, and parks running down every street.  It sounds like paradise to me.

Some of The Polish Ambassador’s fans have reacted negatively on the musician’s facebook fan page.  Some think that they’re neglecting the music aspect of the tour by focusing on their permaculture message.  The Polish Ambassador responded in a Facebook post:

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Here’s a video that I took during the concert.  Ayla Nereo and Mr. Lif improvised, using a loop pedal, collaborating with a beatboxer from the crowd, and created this awesome freestyle experience:

Eastern Pennsylvania Permaculture Convergence

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The first ever Eastern Pennyslvania Permaculture Convergence took place a few weeks ago in Lilitz, Pa.  Nearly 60 people came out to take part in the event at the Millport Conservancy.  I wasn’t able to attend, but the way my friend Dana Herman describes, it sounds like it was a great event:
The convergence was very interesting from my standpoint, I haven’t been in a permaculture gathering before so it kinda felt like I was in a different country, a kind country. The group used new meanings for familiar words like, popcorn for throwing out ideas, and after stacking when they would identify individuals who wanted to make a longer point. Also some interesting hand signals to show you were agreeing or not to what the speaker was saying, another set of signals to point out if person went off topic or if another wanted to make a specific comment back to that point the speaker made. The process in getting all the ideas down was very organized and at the same time organic.  When time was up, the organizers told us we could have lunch while they took all the boards out of the room to compose them in groupings.
 
After lunch they came in and placed 6 posters up on the wall with bubble off shoots of ideas.  Outreach, Public Relations, Programming, Funding, Vision/Mission, and Structure.
The plan was for us to decide which one spoke to us most and when they called out the name of that poster someone was to come up (one who wanted to be acting leader) get the poster and go to a different area of the room and those interested would follow.  Structure had Legal, Membership, Staff/Volunteers, Infrastructure, Functions, Funding and Internal and we barely got the first 3.
 
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The goal now is that each groups leader take what was discussed and type it up into a format and post within the Worldpress.com [site] and that we (the rest of us) work on this for the next month or so until a new meeting is scheduled.
-Dana Herman
There are a few other reviews of the event on the blog, click on the names below for those reviews.
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Those of us not able to attend the convergence are asked to join one of the Working Groups to join the discussion.
Here’s the site for the convergence: easternpennpermaculture.wordpress.com
For more information about the convergence, contact susq.pc@gmail.com.

Hazmat / Nuke / Chem / Bio Emergency Saftey Class

Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean just taking care of food/water/shelter in times of abundance.  It also means being able to take care of yourself and your loved ones in an emergency situation.  I’m not talking about all-out doomsday preppers, but at least being exposed to some safe practices following emergency situations.  During Hurricane Sandy, my apartment lost power for a few days.  Luckily, we were decently prepared for that short-term event, but if anything ever happened that knocked out electricity, water, or gas, we wouldn’t have been prepared to take care of ourselves for more than a week or two, if that.  Exposing yourself to certain knowledge before an emergency can greatly increase your chances of staying safe in the following days and weeks.  This free class put on by Fernando of SurviveandthrivePhiladelphia.org and Will from PracticeSurvival.com was just that, a great intro-level exposure to some techniques that can be used to protect yourself in a situation where radiation, biological, chemical agents threaten public safety.

On November 9th, at the King of Prussia Firehouse, a few different groups co-organized a class on emergency safety for dangerous situations involving hazerdous materials, nuclear radiation, and dangerous biological, or chemical exposure.  The class was a basic overview of many techniques and tips to help increase your chances of staying safe in these dangerous situations.  It was taught by Fernando who runs SurviveAndThrivePhiladelphia.org, and Will from PracticeSurvival.com.  The class was very informative.  One of my favorite tips was for creating your own emergency survival toilet.  With a 5-gallon bucket, a trash bag, and a bag of cat litter, you can make a “litter box” style emergency toilet.

About 50 or so people attended the class.  Did I mention that they had a full bar?  Not a bad way to spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

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Wild Land Immersion Class

Update:  The Philadelphia class has been cancelled due to insufficient registration.  Another class will be offered in the Spring in Philadelphia.  Email susq.pc@gmail.com to be notified of the Spring class.

This looks like an awesome class for anyone who’s available on Mondays in Philadelphia, or Saturdays in Lancaster, Pa.

Wild Land Immersion: Philadelphia

Wild Land Immersion: Lancaster

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Learning ancestral skills is something that’s important for increasing your ability to be self-sustainable.  Our ancestors took care of their basic needs in ways that our current society has forgotten.  Leaning things like foraging for wild plants, creating fire, crafting tools and weapons, tracking, and hunting are all key to survival if you’re not relying on others in some way.  A big part about permaculture is forming ommunities, because it’s much more efficient to work as a team than to try to do everything yourself.  Classes like this are also a great way to meet like-minded individuals and start forming a network of friends.

The description of the class on the facebook page says the class will cover, “gathering wild foods and medicine, building debris-huts, animal tracking, fire-making techniques such as hand-drill and bow drill, making basic hunting implements such as a survival bow and simple traps, and much more!”

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This class is being taught by Ben Weiss and Wilson Alvarez.  Ben is a permaculture teacher from Lancaster County.  I took a 7-month long Organic Gardening class with Ben in the Summer of 2014, and I thought it was great.  I learned a ton of practical knowledge that I used in my garden, and I met a lot of smart people with similar interests.  Ben is a great teacher, and is very patient and thorough with his explanations.  I haven’t met Wilson Alvarez, but I’ve heard good things.  He’s “a permaculture designer, an inventor, gardener, skilled tracker, bowyer, nature-awareness instructor, and poet from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.”  This is definitely going to be a knowledge-packed experience.  I wish I could attend, but I work on Mondays, and Lancaster is a bit far for me.  If they have any Saturday classes in Philadelphia in the future, I’ll definitely be there.

The Philadelphia class is 6 Mondays: November 24th, December 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th.  Every class runs from 10AM-4PM.

The Lancaster class is 6 Saturdays: November 22nd, December 6th, 13th, 20th, 27th, & January 3rd (January 10th postponement date in case of bad weather). Every class runs from 10AM-4PM.

The cost for the classes is $236, and the class requires a minimum of 4 students.

Email susq.pc@gmail.com to register.

Permaculture Movie Screening and Potluck

I’ve been frustrated with how disjointed the Permaculture community in Philadelphia is.  Lots of people are doing really cool things, but these different projects aren’t always very visible in the community.  I’m starting what I hope will be a monthly meetup for Permaculture folks in Philly.  A monthly movie night / potluck where we’ll screen a permaculture related film and share food and stories about our projects.  I hope this can turn into a venue for people to share ideas and organize for projects, but for now, let’s just get together and watch cool, permaculture-related films.

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The first meetup will be Monday December 8th at 4029 Market St in Philadelphia, Pa at the Repair the World office.  We’ll screen “The Fruit Hunters,” a film about plant diversity and lustful obsession with exotic fruits.  We can gather at 7PM to share some food and meet one another.  We’ll start around 7:30PM with the film, ending around 9PM.  Bring some food to share if you’d like.  This is a free event, so come out and meet some other Philadelphia permaculture folks!

Here’s the trailer for the film we’ll be watching

Facebook event page

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