Invasive or Oportunistic -Whose Home is it Anyways?

Hey invasive species, you’re not that bad. I mean, I’m sorry for pulling you out and stuff but you can just get really overbearing sometimes. Maybe we can talk things through, I mean Ivy,  you’ve got a lot of weaving potential. And thistle, you’re hella medicinal. So whadda ya say? Truce?

Ps. You’re still not allowed in the Garry Oak Meadows…

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Some potentially invasive species sitting under an exotic Hawthorne tree- a prime plant for living fences and grafting.

Travelling species wreaking havoc are an inevitable side effect of the hyper connected world we now live in. As part of the Ecological Restoration club at UVic, a question I am constantly contemplating is that of ethics and invasive species removal. On one hand, humans are ( a large part of) the reason why so many species have been introduced into sensitive ecosystems, leading my opinions to think that we should claim responsibility for our screw-ups and restore. On the other hand, recent attempts at environmental management- or mismanagement- have lead to seemingly more harm than good. Is it our place to interfere with ecosystems?

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Click the photo for more morbid chuckles

“It is only our limited time frame that creates the whole “natives versus exotics” controversy. Wind animals, sea currents, and continental drift have always dispersed species into new environments… The planet has been awash in surging , swarming species movement since life began. The fact that it is not one great homogeneous tangled weed lot is persuasive testimony to the fact that intact ecosystems are very difficult to invade.”

― Toby Hemenway

I love to walk, particularly anywhere non-paved. For a while I was walking fifteen minutes a day to practice breath and ease of mind. One morning it was particularly quiet- I could here small branches giving into the wind and hitting the ground, joining the debris there. I could here the birds that were most incessant, and the ones who saved their called for seemingly important matters. And I could also hear the crunchy echo of my footsteps along the path- the footsteps that compacted the soil, shifted little rocks around, carried seeds. Our impact on the planet is inevitable. Even in meditation the exchange of oxygen never stops- we are always interacting with the planet. There is a quote by activist Julia Butterfly-Hill “ The question is not ‘can you make a difference’. You already do make a difference. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.” I began to formulate that care towards how humans interact with the planet looks a lot difference depending on space and cultural place. Humans are not separate from nature, no matter how many concrete walls we build between us. The plants will always persevere through the pavement.

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Pondering succession on a walk with Oliver Kellhammer.

So many questions about ecological restoration still arise for me, and I took the opportunity to ponder some out loud while walking with Oliver Kellhammer (Ecological Artist! Activist! Writer! Educator! A star member of punk band the Enemas !). Oliver’s approach to how we view degraded ecosystems and invasive species tied together a lot of loose strings in my eco-philosophy. As humans, we have always manipulated ecosystems. From early agriculture in the fertile crescent, to indigenous land management practices such as clam gardens and camas beds- our species has created cultural niches in ecosystems that benefit us and sometimes the biodiversity of the entire system as well. Instead of viewing nature and wilderness as “pristine” or “untouched” we must instead turn our questioning to how we impact the natural world. Oliver’s work in urban areas using exotic species to show the perseverance of the natural world was extremely inspiring. I began to accept that some areas are meant to be novel ecosystems, and not restored to a historical state. The idea of historical restoration also brings up a plethora of ponderings- when do we restore to? With the changing climate Oliver suggested that we look to the past, at a more similar climate model in order to mitigate. This echoes the need to observe and adapt that was expressed by Adam and Tamara at Linnaea. Flooded cypress forests may be the closest climate model in our trajectory, so might might have to buckle up and head to the Eocene!

Many of the invasive species we now find here have medicinal properties , or are just plain yummy( Dandelion root tea?) I was amazed by how much more I learnt about the benefits of urban “weeds” not only for a source a food, but a source of beauty and ecological art. By painting exotic species in a different light, Oliver challenges the perspectives we have towards species and what is deemed “worthy” to be in our garden. By creating spaces for people to interact and notice urban biology, Oliver opens up a different view of the species that exist all around us- and can be an aid to food security in agricultural deserts.

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A delicious exotic kiwi thriving at Linnaea Farm.

So Finally, word of sympathy for the weeds. We really should be giving invasive species mad props. I mean, they’re just great at what they do. With their nitrogen fixing properties, ability to hold soil and wildlife provisioning skills, maybe we all need to say a little thanks to the weeds persevering against all odds and adding a little green to a grey landscape.

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Figs Figs the Magical Fruit, the More You Eat the More You…. Feel Great

 

Botanical Description

The Common Fig, Ficus carica is a deciduous species growing 4-10 meters high.

Figs are of the mulberry, or moracea family. They have smooth white bark and can grow up to 10 meters, or anywhere within the 4- 10 meter range. They have palmatid leaves with three or five lobes. The infloresence is quite unique and consists of a syconium with multiple unisexual flowers. Fig flowers are not visible outside the syconium, and are actually infructescence . The fig fruit is a fleshy hollow receptacle with multiple ovaries, or inflorescence inside.These edible infructescence range from green to purple and are often.

Fresh-fig-comparison
Image 3. Source: http://bakepedia.com/tipsandtricks/page.9

Habitat

Fig trees grow well in a variety of soils and can thrive in poor soil conditions, however they prefer sunny areas with deep, well-drained soils (Morton, J. 1987). They can withstand seasonal drought conditions and thrive in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean climates (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016). The fig prefers rocky, warm environments, which is perhaps why it has become a prized plant in microclimate permaculture (Morton,J. 1987).

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Image 4. Source  http://news.aces.edu.blog/2015/04/13

 

Cultural History and Geography

Originally native to Western Asia and the Middle East, figs have become naturalized in many temperate climates, being used as both edible food plants and ornamentals (Missouri Botanical Garden 2016). The United States, Turkey, Spain and Greece are the main producers of figs, growing all the way from Texas to Washington in America (Organic Information Services 2016).

Fossils of figs dating from 9200-9400 BC have been found in Gigal, the site of a Neolithic village (Malcom, P. 2006). This predates many of the early-cultivated agricultural species and suggests that figs were perhaps cultivated from the wild as an early farming food source.

Reproduction, Pollination and Natural Propagation

Figs are a gynodioecious, coming from the Greek word for “ two households”. Fig trees have hermaphrodite flowers and female flowers on separate plants (Morton, J. 1987).

Figs need the correct beneficial pollinator in order to produce fruit; otherwise an artificial process called caprification is necessary. Figs are pollinated by a species of wasp , Blastophaga psenes (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016). These wasps do not have a nest and instead breed inside figs and live a very short life after laying eggs. This is a relationship is mutualistic, as the fig tree benefits from being pollinated and the wasp benefits from an environment in which to lay its eggs (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016). The male wasp crawls into the syconium, or inside of the fig, which is lined with ovaries. Female wasps lay their eggs inside the ovaries of the fig, which creates a gall for the young to develop. Young become adults at the same time that the male fig tree flowers. The B.psenes then mates within the sycomium of the fig, and females fly out to lay eggs within another fig fruit, continuing the cycle. The fig tree is pollinated by the wasps that emerge, and the female ovipositing inside the fig syconium (Encylcopaedia Britannica 2016)..

Figs provide shade, habitat for various species, and a food source for birds and animals. It takes up water and cools the environment around it when temperatures rise. Once ingested, the fig seed can be propagated through the droppings of these animals.

Life-Cycle-of-Fig-pollination-with-wasps
Image 5. Source http://www.britannica.com/animal/fig-wasp

 

Nutrition

Figs are often called super foods because of their countless health benefits coming from their high vitamin and mineral. They contain significant amounts of vitamins A, C, E and B-complex ( PFAF 2012). The phytonutrients in figs protect from free radicals by neutralizing them and in turn protecting from many degenerative diseases and cancers (Organic Information Services, 2006). Figs also protect from osteoporosis because of their high calcium content compared to many other fruits (Botanical Online 2016).

Because of their high fibre content, figs can be a relief for some bodily back ups such as constipation (Organic Information Services 2016). Furthermore they contain dietary fats to aid the digestion process. These fats are in the leaves of the fig plant and can also help stable insulin release in diabetic individuals (PFAF 2012).

Potassium, which helps to maintain sodium levels in the blood, is food in excess in figs (Mercola, J. 2016). Individuals suffering from high blood pressure may find it very beneficial to incorporate more figs into their diet. Potassium also helps to prevent calcium loss through the kidneys ( Organic Information Services 2016).

Folate helps in production of new Red Blood cells, protecting against anemia (Mercola, J. 2016).

 

Other uses

The fruit of the fig tree is extremely valued in for its beneficial qualities for skin and hair . Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo were all treated with traditional medicine using figs (Malcom, P. 2006). No western science studies have confirm these qualities about figs, however traditional anecdotal evidence and their presence in skin care products suggests that this remedy is beneficial to many people. It may be that the many vitamins, antioxidants and minerals present in figs help the skin by balancing overall health.

Despite this long list of health benefits, sap coming from the fig tree is an irritant to human skin (PFAF 2012). The milky substance can cause a severe reaction in some individuals causing rashes or boils. Because of this intense ability to slough the surface of the skin, a home remedy for warts has long been to put fig latex on the affected location to act as a natural chyrotherapy treatment in place of liquid nitrogen (Morton,J. 1987).

Today Fig leaves are also a component in vegetarian rennet, acting as chymosin, the enzyme found in the stomach lining of many milk feeding young to help them digest their mother’s milk more readily (Case, J. 2011). This makes figs quite significant in the vegetarian community, as many vegetarians are interested in finding alternatives to rennet derived from slaughter.

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Image 6. Vrinda beside some fig propagations in Brent’s greenhouse.

Permaculture uses and Stacking Functions

Figs are a great species to have close to your zone 1 for easy picking, or farther out in zones 4 for a good stroll for gathering and to provide food for species coming for a visit from zone 5. The provide shade and cool the temperature around them because of their high intake of water and consequential transpiration. Animals and birds eat the fig fruits and can propagate them through their droppings.

Figs can also be propagated easily from seed or cuttings, making them a great plant to start with in your permaculture design (Biggs, S, n.d.)

 

References

Biggs,S.(n.d.) Grow Fig Trees from Cuttings. Grow Figs where you think you cant. Retrieved May18th 2016 from http://www.grow-figs.com/taking-fig-cuttings/

Botanical Online (2016) Fig Tree Uses. Botanical Online. Retrieved May 18th, 2016 from http://www.botanical-online.com/alcaloidesfigueraangles.htm

Case,J ( 2011) Cheese Making with Fig Sap Rennet. A Better Whey. Retreived May 19th 2016 from http://blog.cheesemaking.com/making-rennet-from-fig-sap/

Encylcopaedia Britannica (2016) Fig Wasp. Insects. Retrieved May 24th 2016 from http://www.britannica.com/animal/fig-wasp

Malcom,P. (2006) Orgin and Uses of Fig Trees. Ancient Fig Trees in History. Retrieved May 20th 2016 from http://www.matrixbookstore.biz/fig_trees.htm

Missouri Botanical Garden (2016). Ficus Carica. The Common Fig. Retrieved May 22nd 2016 from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c944

Mercola, J. (2016) Fabulous Figs. Food Facts. Retrieved May 18th 2016 from http://foodfacts.mercola.com/figs.html

Morton, J.( 1987) The Fig. Fruits of warm climates. p. 47–50. Retrieved May 24th 2016 from

https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/fig.html#Toxicity

Organic Information Services (2016) Health Benefits of Figs. BBC Good Food. Retrieved May 20th 2016 from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-figs

PFAF ( 2012) The Common Fig,Plants For a Future. Retrieved May 23rd 2016 from : http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Ficus+carica

 

 

 

 

You can’t spell Meat without ‘Me’

“We only invented the word organic because we made things inorganic.
We only invented the word natural because we made things unnatural.
We only invented the word permaculture because we made agriculture.”
― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

bwmoo
It was a very moo-ving week.

Fellow students of Environmental studies, I hardly need to give you the low down on the industrial food system. And even if you’re not an ES student, you’re probably well aware that it’s pretty f***ed. Even in preaching about the disconnect between us and our food, I didn’t fully see how great the gap really was.

Our first full day at Linnaea farm was spent with Tamara, talking about the animal systems. Most of my studies have been plant focused despite my love of animals. I was excited to learn more about the animal components of homesteading.

william and tam
Even William deserves love and respect!

Spending time with the animals and seeing Tamara interact with them impacted me more deeply than even I thought it would. When I think about the meat industry, I associate it with desensitization from the taking of an animals life. Even when considering small scale farmer’s relationships with their animals I assumed emotional distance had to be taken at some point in order to be able to slaughter an animal. It seemed that this was not the case at Linnaea farm. When talking to Tamara about her relationship with the animals she told us that she cries when every one of her animals goes to slaughter. This deep respect and moral value of living things, and the love and care she puts into their life shines right through. Having a relationship with your meat is difficult- especially in hearing the decisions Tamara has to make about which animals will be for milk, for breeding or for food. But this relationship harbours far more love than turning a blind eye to the way animals are treated by another hand- or machine. The integrity of getting to know these animals and looking into their eyes places us in a more intimate place within our own food web, We step up and admit our role with respect for the other beings that inhabit different roles than we do. I believe that tapping into this circle of life and death teaches far greater lessons and gives much more fulfillment While I believe that whether or not you eat meat is an ethical choice, there is also an ethical choice embedded in the type of meat you consume.This quote from Joel Salatin is a favourite of mine. It really shows that the food system dominating the world now sure ain’t normal- that we were meant to have a relationship with our food:

“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.” 
― Joel SalatinFolks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

 

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Cheese dood Davide showing us a better WHEY to make cheese.

Davide Asher, artisan cheese maker extraordinaire embodied this ability to take responsibility of our food and the impacts it creates. Davide spoke openly about the cheese making process and the controversial use of rennet from the calf’s stomach ( One of the only places where enzyme chymosin is found to coagulate cheese). Though this sent many of us into a spiral of questioning our one true love of cheese, Davide showed an admirable ability to take responsibility of the processes which his craft requires. I felt a great When David told us that he had slaughtered a calf in order to be fully connected with the practice of cheese making, it was hard to hear, but I felt a great respect for him. Being able to connect that intimately with one’s food is far more valiant than buying cheese ignorantly at the supermarket ( like I absolutely have). Learning about the animal systems on the farm brought about some deep reflection for me, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such knowledgeable people, and get and close look at the mix of love and difficult decisions that happen before the food is plated. It is this connection that might open us back up to the power we have to change our food systems for the better of all beings.

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Zena warrior cow-princess.

( okay one more Joel Salatin quote)….

“We don’t need a law against McDonald’s or a law against slaughterhouse abuse–we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.” 
― Joel Salatin

Take up your pitchforks and reclaim your forks, folks! 

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Cultivating community and connecting with food thanks to masterchef Kirsten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Observing and Adapting ; Personal Succession, Resilience and Going with the fLoW

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Here we see Urtica dioica, part of the master adapting kindgom of Plantae! One learns to adapt very quickly to this plants tickly features…

Walking into class one of Permaculture design, I  thought it best to feign total ignorance. Though I knew bits and pieces about permaculture, I felt conditioned to assume a complete lack of knowing, as many students do for any new experience. As University goers and constant learners it can be difficult to find that balance between opening our minds to continuous learning, and realizing that we too bring our very own strengths to share. While we scribbled some ground rules for good class relations, Torrey Archer asked everyone to step up and own their skills. I remember her words impacting me.” If you’re good at something, or passionate about something, share it. We all have strengths and talents to offer”. I can only speak for myself, but I think after that I decided not to follow suite but instead embody that ability and interest.

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Our decided guiding guild ethics, reflecting that even in teamwork one must give themselves credit ( or kudos).

 

Fast forward beyond the semester. DING! Inbox; a course syllabus. In our Permaculture design projects I felt safe to step up to the part, to assume the roles I wanted to grow in, and to assist in the roles where I felt well-versed. Here now, I was trucking myself to an island off an island or an island- and realizing that I was well versed in very little in the perma-real-world. A skill share, a talent show and a new challenge of living in community. It was so comfy to stay in my ears, to not open my mouth. I wanted to listen and absorb, to become the sponge.The thought that I had anything to offer myself brought in the vultures of insecurity.Sitting and pondering this, I realized something- I wasn’t acknowledging myself as part of the interconnections it takes to create a community. With each day, I began to realize that there are times to listen, to step back- and times to speak up and step forward. When in our guilds debriefing the day, this became one of the codes of conduct. In permaCULTURE, the practice of  “each one teach one” invites everyone to learn from one another. Regardless of age or experience, there may always be something you can gain from a fellow human. Each tromping around in our separate lives, the diversity we inspire when we come together multiplies everyone’s knowledge and gives permaculture momentum.Throughout my time at Linnaea Farm and on Cortes Island I came to know this more and more. So much incredible knowledge was shared with and between us.

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Em gaining some know-how on bovines milking and adapting to Jazzy’s sometimes sudden bathroom needs.

Even in their expertise, the farmers and foragers we talked to admitted the need for constant adaptive learning. Adam Shick the head Market Gardener at Linnaea spoke of the importance of careful observation. With the changing climate it is even more important to pay attention to phenology and talk to others about their thoughts. Being able to change one’s methods and be flexible with experimentation is essential for a land based lifestyle like that at Linnaea. Now, careful records of each season hold more value than rigid dates for planting and planning.

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Adam giving us the spiel on pests. phenology and permanent mulch.

In many discourses it is encouraged to bury oneself into the books before taking up a hammer. Even I felt hesitation when seeing the beautiful work of Dan, Mark and Max at Bluejay Lake Farm. Seeing the finished product visibly erases the time spent planning, trying, failing and learning. I felt a moment of resonation amongst the group when Dan admitted he was just working at Earls and planning his escape from the suburbs before he came to Cortes ( I too am currently working a restaurant job and craving cows and countryside) . Having little building knowledge, he asked questions and gained insight from Mark and Max who had already built their humble homes. Max echoed this ability to take risks and let go of the feeling of needing expertise. The Permaculture way of admitting your non-expertise, even whilst teaching others what you do know, is a humbling way to keep diving into new knowledge and staying in a state of constant learning. In Max’s words, “ Don’t limit yourself because of knowledge or support and watch out for propagating false assumptions”- in other words, learn for you what works for yourself. Meat Punk Max’s philosophy was truly nutritious, possibly delicious, more productive than I’ll ever be. But most importantly Max showed an inspiring ability to learn adaptively and on the fly -especially on that speedy motorcycle.

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The one & only MeatPunk Max

In community, this adaptive learning and sharing builds trust in one another, and requires repsect of all the different opinions we each hold.

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Rufus teaching some community luuuuuv.

“Trust is built in many ways: by creating opportunities to share something of our lives and feelings, by encouraging people to argue passionately for their ideas and positions while still respecting their opponents’ right to differ, by meeting responsibilities and building a track record of dependability, and by sharing risks together.”
― Juliana Birnbaum FoxSustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide