Saturday, February 27, 2010

Arborsculpture isn't new, but some of the people involved in the art are going to even further extremes. Think of arborsculpture as a kind of combination of bonsai, grafting, and pleaching. You're probably familiar with bonsai and grafting, but pleaching is a lesser known technique in the training of trees and plants. Basically, you grow two or more plants in close proximity, such as in a hedge, and then you cut their branches and stick them together. When they heal, they'll actually heal together, and you get get beautiful latticework as in the picture above. Arborsculpture has been used to create everything from chairs and tables, to shelters like the one above.

A team coming out of MIT, known as Terreform, has developed what they call the Fab Tree Hab. It uses arborsculpture techniques to grow houses which are finished off with cob, a mixture of clay and stray. The only real problem they face is zoning and insurance restrictions--it's hard to keep your house from moving and getting bigger when it's alive.

That said, it's a fun idea, and eliminates the harmful effects of growing, harvesting, and transporting resources for building houses. Everything is grown and stays in its final place, and continues to grow and absorb CO2. Further, it likely provides food for either you or wildlife. When I have the space, I'd be interested in trying to grow a building out of empress trees. They seem like a likely candidate, considering they can grow up to 15 feet in a single season. One just has to plan ahead for the placement of doors and windows... and especially skylights so the inside of your building can get sunlight and thrive.

Richard Reames comes up as one of the United States' leading experts on arborsculpture. His book, Arborsculpture: Solutions for a Small Planet, is available online. He's a fellow Oregonian, and his website, available here, details the work he's done around his home.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I first noticed the flowers starting to bloom a few weeks ago, and I haven't been able to sit still at a computer ever since. But, here I am to give you a few updates. First of all, I'm creating a forest garden! This is my last term at Pacific, and I have two classes out at the B St. Permaculture Project A.K.A. B St. It's nice to be out there again, and Terry et al. have decided to convert the chicken/goat area into a forest garden (A.K.A. food forest A.K.A. woodland garden). There's already a walnut tree in there, and I'll be adding two more seedlings from Burnt Ridge Nursery. The only problem with walnut is that it secretes a toxin, called juglone, in order to suppress the growth of its competition. Some plants are resistant to this toxin, however, and can be used between walnut and your other plants to create a kind of shield. The second edition of Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture provides a perfect example of how to integrate these walnut guilds into the rest of your fruit trees. Suggested plants include currants, mulberry, elderberry, serviceberry, hackberry, and goji berry. A lot of these are available through the University of Idaho. One of these plants, hackberry I beleive, secretes its own toxin which prevents the growth of grass. In my opinion, that's a good thing--I hate weeding grass. But, needless to say, don't plant it in the middle of  your lawn if you want your lawn to survive. Gaia's Garden also presents an apple guild, and instructions for integrating it with a walnut guild.

Another book I've been reading, and which has been immensely helpful, is Patrick Whitefield's How to Make a Forest Garden. I haven't finished it yet, but it has provided sound advice and starting and maintaining a forest garden.

Also, I've been blown away by what I saw happening at the Permaculture Research Institute in Australia (via video, of course, though I wish I could go study there). If you take nothing else from all of my blabberings about forest gardens, get their DVD entitled Establishing a Food Forest. It's one of the most awe-inspiring things I've ever seen. Check out the trailer:

I'll hesitantly note that this movie is available via BitTorrent, but please use this information responsibly. Selling books and DVDs helps PRI continue all of their important work, so if you do download this movie, please go to their donation page and make a small donation via paypal, or follow the link above to buy a hard copy. Used responsibly, BitTorrent can help these small independent publishers reach a wider audience. Used irresponsibly, it can drive them out of business. Consider yourself lectured.

And, if you really have money burning a hole in your pocket, or you're just feeling beneficent, PRI is running a special on their Food Forest DVDs. If you buy 10 or more you get 10% off, and if you buy 20 or more you get 20% off. If you can, and are inclined to, I would encourage you to buy several and donate the extras to friends, family, libraries, schools, universities, etc.

All in all, my work on the forest garden at B St. is going well. The permaculture class is grafting scionwood onto rootstock for apples, pears, and plums. I just submitted an order for the things mentioned above, as well as some pawpaw trees, up which I will grow wild yams. I've also got passion fruit on the order to train up the fruit trees. I've also got a shade tolerant ground cover, Western Dog Violet, to grow under the walnut trees. It's an edible native which is host to an endangered species of butterfly. Sounds like everybody wins with this one.

In total, 48 items (including seed packets), for roughly $178 excluding shipping. Of course, this doesn't include the trees that we already had rootstock for, seeds that I've collected from local Black Locusts, and berry bushes that we can propagate from things we have on hand. All in all though, it seems like a decent forest garden could be done for under $500--well under $500 if you're willing to bug neighbors for cuttings and seed, or if you're willing to tromp around in the woods. I think our total cost, including rootstock, etc. is still around $300. And, not everything needs to be done at once. Plant a couple of trees every year, and eventually you'll fill in your space.

That's all for this time, so until next we "meet," happy gardening.