What to do with Wood Ashes from the Campfire | Kris Edler

wood ashes in the garden

What to do with Wood Ashes from the Campfire

I recently spent the weekend burning brush from a tree that fell on our permaculture test site at The Daniel Academy.  At the end of the weekend, I realized I had a small problem involving the amount of wood ashes remaining after the fire had long cooled.  In permaculture, one of the keys I learned from my PDC leader, Geoff Lawton, is that “the problem is often the solution.”  So, I asked myself what to do with the wood ashes from the campfire that remained?  How could I give those nutrients back to my environment in a useful way?

img_7678When looking around a permaculture property, there are many uses for wood ash which can be a great source of nutrients for your soil.   However, it’s important to know that with wood ash, your kindergarten teacher was right in saying, “A little dab will do ya.”  Use only a small amount and increase after a few weeks to make sure your soil pH says in the safe zone.  The reason for this is that ashes are extremely alkaline on the pH scale.

Wood Ash is Highly Alkaline

pH for vegetables
best pH for vegetable garden

Because wood ash is a high pH (often 9-13), we have to carefully consider what to do with ashes in our garden.  Optimal soils for most vegetable gardens have a pH of 6.0-7.2, so adding something like wood ashes can have a drastic effect on pH and do so very quickly.  However, using it appropriately can really help nature walk out it’s course of keeping your soil in balance.

Wood ashes are naturally occurring in nature and are a great way for nature to “reset” an environment.  In the Great Plains, the Kiowa Nations would often do controlled burns in order to reset and manage the land.  Next comes California, as devastating as wild fires can be to homes, it’s actually natures way of resetting the damaged landscape and ridding it of invasive annuals that we have brought to the area.  In upstate Washington, the fires clear out understory and add nutrients back to the soil to feed the remaining old growth forests.  This being said, though fire can be a source of destruction, it’s also a source of life in certain circumstances.

Nutrients in Wood Ash

Potassium and potash are two of the prime nutrients are available from wood ash.  The burning process makes them readily available for absorption by your plants.  In fact, potash is so soluble that if it gets wet between the burning process and the time you spread it on your plants, much of the nutrient value will have leeched into the nearby soil.

You can learn more about how to improve your garden soil here:  Ways to Improve Garden Soil

How to Use Ashes in the Garden

There are countless ways to use wood ashes in your garden and around your property, but understanding the soil make-up of your area is the first step before application.  You can easily find out the average pH by purchasing a test kit from a  local garden center.  You can buy kits to test it instantly (lower accuracy) or purchase a kit online that will test it overnight to get a better reading.  Either way, once you know your starting point, you can adjust your pH using organic compounds, like wood ash, to get into the optimal range.  Remember, start by adding only a small amount and give the soil a few weeks to adjust before adding more.  It’s also important to note that various parts of the property could have very different pH readings.

So, now let’s get to it:  How to use wood ashes from the campfire…

1.  Use it in the compost pile

This is especially useful if you are composting a lot of fruit waste, because fruit (being acidic) can really lower the pH of your pile, making it a wet / slimy mess.  You can bring it back into balance by sprinkling a shovel full of ashes over the top.  Always make sure your ashes are completely cool before using.

pH for trees and bushes
pH for trees and bushes

2.  Sprinkle them around berry bushes and fruit trees which prefer alkaline soil or extra potassium.

I generally use them first around apple trees, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.  They will enjoy the extra sprinkle a few times a year, especially in the early spring or late fall.

3.  Sprinkle on plants to deter pests

This application will only require a small amount of ashes to create a fine dusting.  If you do not have ducks to control snails and slugs, then wood ashes can be a great deterrent.  Carrots and turnips can also be susceptible to the flies and larvae, which can be deterred by the ashes as well.

4.  Light use in the vegetable garden

Often root crops like carrots, turnips, and beets will appreciate a sprinkle of ashes in the springtime worked into the soil.  Just a light dusting is more than enough.  I often use my wood ashes a few weeks before planting and then let it rain a few times before planting seeds.  Other plants that love the extra potash are beans, peas, and legumes.  Just remember, when using ashes in the garden, always test your soil first, so you stay in the optimal zone (6.0-7.2 pH) for growing veggies.

5.  Use them your lawn instead of lime

Wood ashes are a great substitute for adding lime to your lawn.  The easiest way to spread the ashes is to do so just before a good rain, so it soaks into the ground quickly.  This helps with the solubility and also prevents the dust from being tracked indoors or getting on your shoes.  I often use my grass seed spreader and put it on the lowest setting and broadcast the ashes that way.  Doing it by hand or with a shovel can often create piles in the grass which will over alkalize an area.

Now that you have a good use for those ashes, go outside, make a campfire and have a s’more (or three) and let us know how you have used the ashes when you are finished.  Again, make sure they are cool before spreading.  Remember, the problem is often the solution.  Happy gardening.



5 Ways to Create a Kid-Friendly Garden | Kris Edler

5 Ways to Create a Kid-Friendly Garden

In a culture of video games, Pokemon Go, and fast foods – we desperately need to get kids and teenagers back outside.  Getting your children in the garden is easy, as long as you recognize they are not going to “enjoy” merely pulling the weeds or dead-heading flowers.  However, there are some really creative ways to create kid-friendly garden that will encourage activity, creativity, and connections with nature.

As a teacher at The Daniel Academy, a Pre-K through 12th grade private school in south Kansas City, I work with students and families on a daily basis.  Getting these kids outside to explore and imagine is truly one of my passions.

Before I share any of the tools and tips, it’s important to stress here that the overarching idea is that YOU GO OUTSIDE WITH THEM.  No toy, decoration, or tool is a replacement for spending actual time with you kids.  There is not a replacement for laughing with them, getting dirt under your nails together, and talking with them.  Regardless of age, quality time is the goal and the garden is just a place to make that happen.

That being said…Here are a few tips that are easy to integrate in your urban or suburban backyard.

1 – Literature directional signs from their favorite books

It isn’t hard to get kids to enjoy reading, as long as you make it fun.  Making these directional signs are a great way to keep the family busy on rainy days or weekends.  We painted these with our students this summer using acrylic paint and then added a clear polyurethane varnish to seal them.  You can hang them on posts, trees, or on the side of your shed.  Now, of course, you can always do signs from movies or TV shows, but I think we can agree that encouraging reading is a better practice.  Check out mine here (IMG_7679IMG_7680…)

hobbit garden2 – Hobbit / fairy furniture to spark imagination

The boys generally aren’t going to be real impressed with a fairy garden, but give them a place to rock their action figures and they are all set.  Use sticks to create fences or have the kids help you make your own furniture from popsicle sticks or wire.  I have a few of these around the school and one in my backyard, which the neighborhood kids helped me design.



backyard chickens kansas city3 – Involve animals

Whether you create a place for your dogs or get a few backyard chickens, there is always room for animals.  Kids love working with animals, especially when it’s outside.  In our gardening class at the school, my students will argue about which group gets to feed and play with the chickens.  They would rather be in the group with the birds than eating and picking berries or tomatoes;  when kids turn down food – you know it’s a big deal.  We have purposely selected a lot of heritage chicken breeds that have “cool hair” or have personalities that are more social.  The rock star rooster in the picture is Cogswell, he’s a favorite of our students and loves all the attention he can get.  The kindergarten classes even wave to him on their way past multiple times a day!

bird watching in Kansas city4 – Birdhouses, feeders, and watering stations

Attracting wildlife to your property or backyard engages the kiddos whether they are inside or out.  In the middle of winter, it gives that extra bit of interest looking out the window.  I still remember being a kid at my parents house in Millington, Michigan and watching the birds out the window.  My mom always did well at keeping the bird feeders full, so there was never a dull moment out the front living room window.  It was a collection of simple acts (mostly from my parents), like filling the bird feeders, that helped cultivate a love of nature that has lasted into my adult years.

outdoor fitness kansas city5 – Interactive fitness areas

Now it gets fun!  Start thinking beyond a basketball hoop or volleyball net, though those are a great start.  This summer at our school, we added pull-up bars for the gymnasts and a cool tire-run section using old tires from the side of the road.  You can hit two birds with one stone and not only help get kids moving, but also give them a lesson in repurposing and recycling as well.  With Pinterest out there, we have no excuse for up-cycling with our kids and finding creative ways to get them moving.

If you have enjoyed one of these tips, please share this with some friends on your favorite social media network.  Enjoy your afternoon – and GO OUTSIDE and take a few kids with you.

Three Ways to Improve Garden Soil | Matthew Capps

Wood chips for Garden Beds

Three Ways to Improve Garden Soil

One of the main ideals of Permaculture is to catch and store energy in whichever form it takes. Most people spend heaps of cash importing what they need and disposing of their waste, when if they only examined their system a little, they would discover that what they pay the trash collector to take away is actually a valuable resource if harnessed and stored correctly. This is problem of biological waste is often an opportunity to improve garden soil.  The ideal system is one in which no “waste” is produced; every byproduct of every element is captured and channeled to some other purpose.  In essence, we capture the waste (aka. sink) of one system in order to feed another.  Of course, this is physically impossible per Newton’s laws of thermodynamics, but for the practical purposes of everyday life, we can actually come quite close. So, let’s just get real – how do you find cheep and easy ways to improve your garden soil?


1 – Kitchen Compost

This is probably the best understood method for recycling resources, but surprisingly few people actually do it. If we are honest, the few that do compost, never actually get to use what they create because it’s in a forgotten corner of the yard.  Whether from fear of the smells and sights of rotting vegetables or merely the inconvenience of gathering scraps and toting them to the compost pile, most people miss out on this simple and productive system. It does take a bit more work, but for a serious gardener it is more than worth it as piles of fertile earth become available.

You can compost vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells and coffee grounds (in moderation), however meats, dairy and fats should be avoided as they will stink and attract pests.  Unless, of course, you are using the Berkley Method of Composting, but that’s another article.

Where heat and moisture are concerned, the microorganisms that make compost have a goldilocks zone: warm and moist. Accordingly, if you live in a cold climate it is best to have the compost in the sun where the microorganisms can benefit from the heat, but if you live in a hot climate, you may want to put your compost in partial shade as too much heat will hamper the process or cause it to go anaerobic.  If you live in a dry climate, you will also need to watch the moisture; a dry compost will not only kill microorganisms, but if overheated may actually catch on fire.

Compost should be turned regularly to provide oxygen for the microorganisms. This provides the perfect chance to check for moisture and heat. Also, compost should maintain about a 1:2 ratio of brown (leaves, twigs, dried stalks) to green (veggies, fruit, chicken manure), the term ‘brown’ referring to those materials higher in carbon and ‘green’ those higher in nitrogen. A healthy compost needs both. If properly maintained, this ratio should be enough to neutralize any odors coming of your compost. For a chart of compost items on the carbon/nitrogen continuum you can go to homecompostingmadeeasy.com.

A “cheater” alternative, if you just can’t bring yourself to hassle with composting, is to take your kitchen scraps to a corner of the garden and just bury them a foot deep with your shovel. Boom.

Wood chips for Garden Beds
Wood chips for Garden Beds

2 – Fallen Wood

One source of biomass and organic matter that is almost completely forgotten is fallen wood. After a windstorm when the trees shed their weak and dying limbs, people regularly bundle them up and set them on the street corner to be carried away. A treasure trove of sticks and logs can be easily harvested by a pickup truck or even a regular vehicle if you don’t mind vacuuming afterwards. When compiled, this wood can be used for hugelkultur swales, mushroom growing, or wood chips if you’re willing to rent a chipper.  It can also be burned for wood ash, which is really useful for the home orchards.  Apply wood ash around your apple trees and blueberry bushes.  You can also use the finer wood ash in your chicken dust baths, instead of diatomaceous earth.  DT is a highly controversial substance with livestock, because research is showing that the powder can get into the lungs of the animals (birds) causing respiratory problems.  If none of these options are viable, you can store the wood to burn in the winter, heating your house and providing nutrient rich ash for your compost.  You can even use the wood ashes, once they are cooled down to help alkalize the soil and add potassium (potash) to the soil.


3 – Weeds, Leaves and Grass Clippings

Last of all are weeds, leaves and grass clippings. These are the waste products that homeowners spend hours pulling, raking, bagging, and shipping off to a dump where they will do no good. Weeds and grass can be used as feed for chickens or goats; once dried they also make good scratch’n thatch to neutralize the odor of chicken manure and keep disease at bay.  However, in the chicken coop, dandelion greens, plantains, and clover don’t last long at all!  My girls devour it!

Leaves too can be used as mulch or mown over and put in the compost. Fortunately for the permaculturist, leaves are like fallen wood in that no one seems to want them. Bags and bags can be found by every driveway during the fall. By collecting them you can capture the biomass that it would have taken your trees 10 years to generate. My permaculture teacher, Kris Edler, shared in our PDC about how he will collect dozens of bags from his neighbors trees to add to his gardens and compost piles in the winter.  By spring time, most of it has decomposed and is forming a rich layer of organic matter on the top of the garden beds.  It is important to run it over with a lawn mower if applying to flower beds, to help the decomposition process.

Grass Clippings on Garden Beds
Grass Clippings on Garden Beds

A note on grass clippings:  It is dangerous, however, to take bagged grass clippings from people you do not know, as these are often covered in chemicals from their former owner.  They could have pesticides, herbicides, or other toxins that you may not welcome in your organic garden.

To use toxin-free grass clippings, you can add them around the open soil of flower pots to add instant nitrogen and help prevent water evaporation.  These clippings go great at the base of tomato plants or the garden veggies, though I would not put them around the base of squash, because their stem does better when slightly dry.  You can also dump a load into your chicken coop and allow the birds to forage through for weeds, bugs, and seed heads.  There are so many things to do with great clippings around the yard, so don’t bag them up and send them away – save them for yourself to improve garden soil.

Catching and reusing energy is essential to a sustainable future, but with so much going to waste in our own neighborhoods, it only takes one good neighbor to make a difference for many. Building your permaculture property and organic garden can make a huge difference in the community, when it’s done well and with careful planning.  Geoff Lawton says, “We should have 10 hours planning before the first hour of labor.”

We can talk and study about permaculture all day, but until we take these small, practical steps, nothing really matters.  By taking a few steps we improve our neighborhoods, one yard at a time.  Each of these three simple methods are great ways to use biomass to improve garden soil.

If you enjoyed this article, comment below with your own tips and tag a friend on social media.  Thanks for the SHARE!

5 Food Sources for the Resourceful Backyard Chicken Keeper | Matthew Capps

Mealworms for chickens

5 Food Sources for the Resourceful Backyard Chicken Keeper

Going to the mill and buying chicken feed is easy, but it has its drawbacks. With a limited spectrum of nutrients, mill feed can cost more than it’s worth, especially if there are healthier and more readily available alternatives. Eliminating bagged feed entirely may not be possible, or even desirable, but if we activate the resources at hand, we can greatly enhance the lives and quality of our birds. Here is a list of five food sources for the resourceful backyard chicken keeper to lower costs and bring balance to the diet of your flock.

1 – The Compost Pile

An active compost pile provides not only diverse food scraps, but also the insects that come to feed on them. On top of that, compost is still produced, simply taking a short detour through the chickens’ guts before being deposited back into the pile and surrounding land.


2 – Fermented and Soaking Your Chicken Feed

The bacteria in fermented feed are good for the chickens, and will make nutrients more bioavailable, increasing nourishment and lowering food intake. Whole seed chicken feeds can be easily fermented by soaking in water, adding a glug of apple cider vinegar, and leaving it until the concoction is slightly bubbly and smells fermented– the amount of time will vary by season and climate. Generally in Kansas City, if left in a potting shed overnight, it’s already bubbling the next morning. If the feed is left too long it will go bad, or create it’s own ACV scoby. If the food doesn’t smell fresh to you, it’s probably not fresh for the birds. If you see ANY sign of mold, discard it immediately. Remember though, fermentation will only work with whole seed feeds. You can get the recipe for our specialized whole seed feed blend by reading the linked article.


Mealworms for chickens
Mealworms for Chickens

3 – Mealworms

Mealworms are an excellent source of protein for chickens and can be grown easily in a basement, closet, or garage. Their living conditions are very dry, as are their feces (called frass). All they need is an occasional fruit or vegetable scrap and a plastic tub to breed in.


4 – The Nightly Free Range

If chickens are released from their run about 30 minutes before dusk, they will almost always instinctively return to the coop before dark. Obviously, these are animals and there is no guarantee, so I’d watch them the first few times. In the meantime they will be able to find and eat whatever their current forage is lacking.

That said, before you try this idea, know your area and know your birds. Free ranging is a great resource, but if you have squeamish neighbours, live by a busy road, or frequently see predators, it could easily mean the demise of your girls. Watch carefully!


backyard chickens in Kansas City
Alternative Chicken Feed Options in Kansas City

5 – Rotational Foraging Systems

A rotational foraging system will keep chickens healthy and active with fresh ground and change of scenery. By the time they expend forageable plants and insects in one zone, they are moved to the next. As each zone rests, insects and vegetation return, capitalizing on the open ground and nutrient rich manure the chickens leave behind. If the zones are rested long enough (about a month depending on the climate and season) they will be teaming with life next time the chickens come around.

Taking care of chickens requires effort and care, and the value of our flocks will match the value of management we put into them. If we are willing to invest and think creatively, we will be rewarded by high quality, high production, and happy birds.



5 Keys to Healthy Building | Kris Edler

food forest wood chip pile

One of the biggest pitfalls for educators, permaculturists, and business folks alike is the subject of overcommitting themselves.  Like Bilbo Baggins, we often tend to spread ourselves too thin, like butter over too much bread.  When we are building (both projects, land, and people), this tendency of overcommitting often results in half-finished projects, burned out brains, and enough stress to go around.  Not even a dirt ninja can overcommit on projects for an extended period of time.  It always results in burnout.  Always.  In addition, the lack of finished and excellent projects often result in a system that is not sustainable, producing at maximum capacity, or supplying for the people maintaining it.  This is where the 5 keys to healthy building take us from burn out to abundant living.

Before we begin, let’s be honest.  These five keys to healthy building are ones that I have learned, am learning, and will continue to learn.  Every good leader is a going to face the temptation to become unbalanced in these areas, but by revisiting them with frequency, we really can keep our commitments in check.  I am the king of overcommitting, so I am essentially an expert on this subject due to repeated and frequent trial and error.

Half Started Projects

food forest wood chip pileFor the urban gardener or dirt ninja, we tend to start new vegetable gardens, fruit tree guilds, and hugelkultur swales, but all too many times, get sidetracked from focusing on one project only to start another one.  On most permaculture worksites, you can walk around a see 10-15 (or more) projects that are started, but yet to be successfully completed.  On these worksites, one dynamic which often follows is the systems are not maintained, managed, or allowed to yield at their fullest potential.  Not to mention the unpleasant side-effect, which includes ugly properties with piles of “stuff”.  When managed well, a permaculture system should both create successful yield, and provide beauty for the eye.

Whether you are examining the habit of overcommitting from a business management, leadership, or permaculture perspective, the keys to overcoming this trap are the same.  The five keys to healthy building allow the leaders to both grow themselves, their business, and the people around them.  This system of personal and professional development involves healthy levels of input (e.g. learning) resulting in vigorous levels of output (e.g. the project, growth, or fruit produced).

One Thing – Just One

The key number to remember is ONE.  One commitment for every one area.  No more, no less.  This simple rule helps keep leaders healthy in their minds, bodies, and spirits.  By remaining focused on one area at at time, using these five outlets, we keep the diversity needed to prevent boredom, while retaining the focus needed for success.  Keep the first things first and remember – one.  Just one.

5 Keys to Healthy Building

In each of the following five areas, the leader should choose a single project or focus at a time, in order to maintain a peaceful and productive balance.  Obviously not all leaders are created equal.  Some focus better with multiple plates spinning at once, while others can only focus on one thing at a time.  The beauty of using these five keys is that they allow for multiple expressions, while still helping balance various types of commitment.   The following are the 5 keys to healthy building:gallery_15.jpg

  1. Learning:  This input helps maintain personal growth and development.  The learning input includes reading, listening to podcasts, taking classes, or other tasks that aid in personal growth.  As productive and flourishing human beings, we should continually give ourselves to personal growth.  Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we are curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”  At the same time, too much of this key commitment (learning) can result in become knowledge fat with little productivity.  Some of the greatest thinkers will never be known, because they spent too much time thinking and not enough creating.
  2. Giving:  This is the output / outcome that helps keep a balanced leadership lifestyle.  This key of building focuses on sowing back into others through volunteerism, tithe, serving the poor, etc.  Within every human being is the innate need to give back and make an impact on the community around them.  In permaculture, the foundational value is on “people care”, which gives back to the community at large.  Overextending our ability to give, however, can result in an unbalanced income or profit, which goes against the third principle of permaculture – fair share.
  3. Brainstorming:  This type of key commitment is the vision-forming stage of the building process.  By committing to one brainstorming project at a time, we keep our eyes forward on the future.  Looking ahead gives a builder hope that new things are on the horizon and inspiration in the creative process.  In regards to permaculture, Geoff  Lawton says, “Spend 10 hours of observing and thinking for every one hour of action.” However, at the same time, too much dreaming and brainstorming often results in little action.  Great ideas with lack of follow-through are not productive elements in a system and result in brain clutter.
  4. Building:  The building commitments are often the ones that need most of your time and attention, because these are ones that leaders are actively creating.   They are new systems that have just come out of the planning phase.  Even with the best planning, leaders who over commit to building get burned out, emotionally drained, and physically exhausted.  The danger is building more than one project at once is that most of the time, we do not realize we are overcommitted until it’s too late.  There is, however, productive abundance when we build from a peaceful and focused place.  This is the opportune phase to be hands on, active, and committed.  Stay focused here and do not try to build more than one area at a time, otherwise your permaculture property will have handfuls of half-started projects that never reach their potential.  Just because you are should do the project one day does not mean you should do it today.  Just because it is a good idea, does not mean it’s a great idea.  Just because someone should do it, doesn’t mean it should be use.  Instead of taking it all on yourself, use this time to train others for the final key of healthy building.
  5. Maintaining:  In this final key commitment type, we make the decision of what others are capable of in order to create the best system for maintenance.  We now examine whether the end justifies the means; we decide if the system is producing enough to keep active.  If a system is not sustainable, it will eventually become unbalanced and fall into chaos.  Fred Elliott, a business man and church leader from Clermont, FL, once said, “You need to determine first if the project is a priority that needs to be done right now or if you should wait.  Secondly, determine if it’s something you should train others to manage, or thirdly, decide if it’s something you need to maintain yourself.”  Once you figure out maintenance, you are freed up to build the next project and begin the building process anew.

permaculture kansas cityWhen we actively engage in a permaculture creative process, these 5 keys to healthy building help us live from a peaceful, balanced, and productive place.  In order to experience the power of a focused life, it’s important to revisit these five keys and ask ourselves a few questions.  First, “What am I committed to in each of these areas right now?”  The second question is “How do I limited myself to ONE commitment per area?” Finally, “Am I overcommitted and lying to myself about what I can responsibly accomplish?”

By following these healthy habits, we are able to be managers of productive and abundant systems, businesses, and families.

Action Item

permaculture projects in kansas city Make a list of these five areas and what you are currently doing in each.  Narrow it down to five projects total (one for each area) and practice it for 2-weeks with intentional focus.  Do not waver and do not take on any other commitments.  Revisit after two weeks and examine the fruit of your labor and how you feel as a person.

Leave your thoughts in the comment area below and tell us what you think.


Permaculture Test Site and Case Study | The Daniel Academy

permaculture test site

The Daniel Academy (TDA), a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade private school in South Kansas City, is an active permaculture test site and case study.  This site began using permaculture design methods to transition their existing commercial landscape around 2010, and has been on a fast-track course to pioneering the use of permaculture in midwest education.

Permaculture at The Daniel Academy

ji garden 2As a permaculture test site, TDA has been hosting yearly gardening courses for 7-12th grade students, and in 2016 hosted its first Permaculture Design Certification Course (PDC).  As a test site, there are several models of permaculture related designs taking place on one property.  Each of these has a direct connection to the students, classrooms, and families that the school serves.

The downloadable document below gives an example of a permaculture design project focused on the educational sphere.  This design was developed by Kris Edler in 2014 and presented to the school for adaptation and implementation.  It gives a historical summary of the 18.5 acre property, a current site analysis, and a few project ideas to launch them into 3, 5, and 20 year planning.  The project proposal includes everything from the use of late spring foliar spray methods to long-term building proposals and capital investments.

Download the FREE PDC Proposal Below

This permaculture test site and case study is a great way to find out what works in Kansas City with our extreme weather fluctuations, as well as provide inspiration for other local projects.  For those interested in implementing permaculture into education, it serves as an excellent case study to use for adaptation in your own systems.  Finally, the document below is one possible approach to how to do a permaculture design project for your own PDC.  If you know of other test sites for permaculture in Kansas City, or would like your own site to be featured our website, please email permaculturekc@gmail.com


CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD The Daniel Academy Permaculture Design Proposal

Three Foundations of Permaculture | Matthew Capps

permaculture destination addiction

Three Foundations of Permaculture

The word “permaculture” is a portmandeau word, which combines the sounds nad meanings of two distinct words, in order to create a new word. In this case, the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ are blended to create a design system that utilizes the cultivation of earth and community in a way that brings about long-term abundance. Permaculturists, over the years, have identified three veins running through this central idea. The three foundations of permaculture have supplied life and provided boundaries to the wild growth of the permaculture movement over the past fifty years. These foundations are Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. Coined and popularized by David Holmgren, these foundations balance and invigorate each other, and are essential to the purpose and spirit of the practice.


The First Foundation: Earth Care

Earth Care is probably the most prominent and easily recognizable foundation of permaculture, but perhaps as little understood for the light of its popularity. People sometimes think of Earth Care as a secret method, or a set of strings to pull, that will unlock the wealth of the earth for human use. This is the antithesis of Earth Care, and a harmful mindset to carry. Earth Care is the unselfish cultivation of the planet, so that it may live and be abundant for its own sake. As stewards of this beautiful and intricate creation, we are responsible to bring it to fullness. First we study the design so masterfully laid in every aspect of the natural system, then we order and channel every element into that design until life and energy flow as they were meant to. Practitioners of permaculture design are not changing the trajectory of nature, but instead are helping it along the path to speed up bioremediation and the healing of the land.


people careThe Second Foundation: People Care

The second foundation of permaculture is the notion of People Care, which emphasizes personal wellness, physically and spiritually, and relational wellness between individuals. As with the first foundation, People Care is not interested with the indulgence of the body in excess or unhealthy food, but in eating which brings wellness and strength. In the same way, greed and pride are denied and the community is cultivated by a supernatural spirit of giving, love, and hope. These internal realities and codes of living help cultivate a mindset of wellness that impacts the minds, bodies, and spirits of the individuals. In such a community, independence and self-reliance are exchanged for responsibility and the willingness to help. This atmosphere of selfless service and goodwill provides for the long-term needs of individuals as well as the health of an interdependent community.


The Third Foundation: Fair Share

This third foundation puts boundaries in place, ensuring that the abundance produced by the first two foundations is not abused or misused. In many cases, kindly permaculturists give away most or all of their produce, and are forced to look beyond their own land for livelihood. Though well intended, it’s important for us to receive fair return on our labor. In other cases opportunists use the principles of permaculture to increase their own wealth, giving only when necessary, holding back from earth and man alike. Neither of these extremes is in line with permanent agriculture, because they destroy balance and cut off life and energy from a part of the system. The foundation of Fair Share is meant to ensure that the permaculturist retains just enough to meet his own needs, pay his workers, and sow the surplus back into the earth and the community. Fair share, however is not merely about financial or monetary gain, but also about the productive abundance that is sown back into the individuals participating.

The three foundations of permaculture are like elements in nature, are interdependent and from them flow all the designs and techniques within permaculture. It’s the goal of each of these elements to create a healthy and thriving community that cares for it’s residents and the land they dwell on. When properly in balance, it creates an environment conducive to health and wellness of people, land, and economy. The community, family, or individual who practices them will find fresh meaning and vigor in the pursuit of peaceful and productive life.

Concepts and Methodologies in Permaculture

Kansas City Chickens

When most people begin thinking about permaculture, they immediately want to jump in to a “how to video”, but those who have practiced it for a number of years understand the concepts and methodologies in permaculture must be precursors to action.  One of the things I appreciated about Geoff Lawton is that in our first session during my PDC (permaculture design course), he said,

“Thinking is a required set in an excellent design.  You should spend as much time here as you would in the actual execution.  Thinking requires you to observe.  For every hour of physical work, you should have 10 hours of thinking and observation.”

diversity and stability
diversity and stability

In essence, permaculture is a design system which not only meets human needs, but also improves the ecological health of our planet.  This notion design is not a mere concept, but it is an active verb that involves our interaction with nature.  We are not just managers of the ecosystem, we are active participants within the system.  Whether we like it or not, we are part of the system and have a profound impact on it (for better or worse).

Spheres of Design Influence

Bill Mollison, author of “Permaculture | A Designers’ Manual“, gives six distinct spheres of impact we have as we walk out the basic ethics and principals of permaculture design.

  1. Building:  This sphere of influence involves structures and physical elements within our design, which can be either temporary or long-lasting.  Most structures we build have elements that impact a timeframe that outlives us.
  2. Technology:  This includes modern tech (cellphones, apps, etc.), but also includes the advances in solar, wind, and natural energies that enable us to harness the power of nature in a sustainable way.
  3. Education / Culture:  This sphere is centered on community and family.  The way we include the next generation and sow into the elderly in our community gives a fuller picture of family and embraces every season of life.
  4. Land Stewardship:  This sphere is often the most emphasized because it’s the most easily identifiable with sustainability.  It includes the use of land, air, and water around us to help a system grow and regenerate.
  5. Finances and Economics:  This sphere enables families and individuals to be financially free and become responsible (contributing) members of society.  Permaculture does not encourage the “separatist” mindset, which is often based in fear.  Instead, it harnesses natural desire in humanity to provide for others and care for those around us responsibly.
  6. Health and Spiritual Wellness:  This sphere is a very independent output, which is often an unseen product.  The spiritual and physical wellness of those who practice permaculture is both valued and desired.  Working with the land in this way often helps people who desire wellness in their mind, body, and spirit.

Many individuals want to only focus on one of these spheres of influence, but in order to walk out these principles in a healthy way, we need to have diversity in our expressions.  Diversity creates stability.  There is a need for all of these expressions in a healthy ecosystem. Likewise, there is a need for focused and developed expertise in each of these areas of influence.   As a result of using these methods of design, we find ourselves walking out the three tenants of permaculture:  earth care, people care, and fair share (Mollison 2-6)

Elements of Design

Mollison gives four distinct means of walking out these tenets and identifies them as the “elements of design” (36).

  1. Technique is “one dimensional” in concept; a technique is how we do something.  Almost all gardening and farming books (until 1950) were books on technique alone; design was largely overlooked.
  2. Strategies , on the other hand, add the dimension of time to technique, thus expanding the conceptual dimensions.  Any planting calendar is a “strategic” guide.  Strategy is the use of technique to achieve a future goal, and is therefore more directly value-oriented.
  3. Materials (individual elements) are those of, for instance, glass, mud, and wood.
  4. Assemblies are the putting together of the technologies, building, and plants and animals.
Kansas City Chickens
Kansas City Chicken Keeping

Once we understand the methodology, we can then explore the execution of the design, which most people want to prematurely jump into.  The result of this premature leap almost always ends in mistakes, missteps, and unnecessary amounts of work and heart-ache.  These design themes always dictate how we walk out our vision, whether for our properties or our lives.  The conversation of design has to first look at the foundational beliefs before it can explore execution of building.  Likewise, when we begin any design, we always explore soil first.  We must observe, watch, think, and ponder what is already taking place, so that we can insert ourselves into the system and help nature on the most regenerate and sustainable course.  This understanding is necessary for us to act and give back to the system we are a part of.   These are the foundational concepts in a permaculture journey, and are essential for using permaculture as a design science for both life and land use.

Late Spring Orchard Foliar Spray

apple orchard care in kansas city

Whether you are growing apples, peaches, cherries, or plums, this is a recipe for an organic late spring orchard foliar spray.  Learn to spray holistic and organically in order to keep away from pesticides, herbicides, and other nasty toxins.  This spray will feed the plant, the soil, and healthy microorganisms.  This method works both on the small or larger scales, and will prevent / treat a multitude of bad fungus, insects, and blights.  Not to mention, this incredible spray will help feed the “good guys” and healthy microorganisms within your food forest or orchard.  Get ready to kick some butt with this one.

What you’ll need:

  • 5 Gallon backpack sprayer (or a smaller one will do, but amount will need to be adjusted accordingly)
  • Emulsified fish / kelp (I use Neptune’s Harvest brand) = This helps give nutrients to the leaves, nitrogen to the stems, and feed microorganisms and healthy bacteria.
  • Liquified Mushroom inoculant (Mushroom Stuff by Earthright is often readily available) = Feeds the soil and increases mycorrhizal activity in the soil.
  • Compost Tea (CLICK HERE for my recipe) = It’s all the nutrients, minerals, and food your plants needs to kick butt.
  • Neem Oil (concentrate is fine, but always best to order online because greenhouses will charge an arm and a leg) = helps get rid of the bad bugs, treat blights, etc.
  • Free & Clear Dish Soap (I use 7th Generation) = serves to mix all the ingredients together, especially the neem oil into the other water-based additives.  

Easy Steps for an Organic Late Spring Orchard Foliar Spray

apple orchard care in kansas city

  1. Add 10 tablespoons of emulsified fish / kelp
  2. Add 8 tablespoons of Mushroom Stuff
  3. Add 10 tablespoons of compost tea
  4. Add 8 tablespoons of neem oil
  5. Add 3 tablespoons of soap (to help it all blend together)
  6. Fill the backpack sprayer up with water.  Use higher water pressure or move the hose around inside as it sprays to mix the ingredients well in the tank.  Bubbles from the soap are normal – just make sure it’s all mixed well, otherwise you’ll need to get out a whisk.
  7. Close the sprayer and strap up.  Give it a few pumps so you are ready to go.
  8. Spray leaves, branches, trunk, and soil around the drip line of the tree.  It’s best to do this in the morning, so it can dry out during the day.  Ideally, you want to spray on a cooler day, otherwise it will “cook” the nutrients.  I like to do it on a day when it’s supposed to rain 2-3 days later, because then the nutrients get washed into the soil as well.
  9. Clean out your backpack sprayer by rinsing it out and then filling it back up 1/2 way and swishing it out.  I clean it out a second time and run clean water through the sprayer a bit to keep the nozzle clear.  This will really extend the life of your sprayer.

Good luck and happy orcharding!  Let’s get cracking on these food forests!

Leave a comment below if you have some great orchard spraying tips for those of use looking to keep it organic and holistic.

Like what you are reading there?  Maybe you should read our article on what else you should be doing in your garden in early June?  Get ready to become a dirt ninja…