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Nick says:

I was working in a streetside garden one day and a young girl stopped by, with her dad in tow. She looked about five or six years old. She asked what I was doing, so I described how I was clearing out overgrown creeping oxalis to make room for a melon sprout that had just opened its first yellow flower.

She watched for a few minutes, then asked “Why are you doing this?” I talked about how beautiful the garden was, and how important it is to make beautiful gardens on this planet. But she was quite young, and I missed the opportunity to answer more deeply.

I left a career of more than three decades as a computer firmware engineer to pursue a new calling with little relationship to the old one. Why did I leave behind a whole career for such a risky new path?

 

141120-0641a planet in trouble
I look out at the world, and I see beautiful, living species vanishing by the dozens and hundreds all across the planet.

Amazing natural ecosystems are being torn down, chewed up, and turned into mono-crop farms, cities, and endless uniform suburbs. The planet’s biosphere, also known as Gaia, is being progressively despoiled. Earth is a planet in trouble, and I want to do something to help restore it.

Despite what is happening out there, I still feel hope for Gaia’s future. Lots of people are already doing great work. Some projects are large or even huge, others are small and seemingly insignificant, but all of them are important.

I was ready to do something, but what could I do? I am just one tiny little human. After several years of “casting about” for the next thing to do, I was not particularly wealthy or even well-off. I realized I would have to start small.

 

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a new way of gardening
A new passion emerged for healing Gaia. I decided to start right at home. How could I improve the ecology of my own garden? Could I do that in other gardens?

In that moment of insight, the offering I call “deep nature gardens” was born. A new kind of gardening began to evolve, in which a healthy, diverse, beautiful ecosystem is the most important element. A whole new world of possibilities opened up, and it is still unfolding in amazing, new directions.

We have a big opportunity to work for planetary healing, and that is why I do this work. If enough of us begin to act in large and small ways, we can make a difference. We can create and preserve healthy ecosystems in so many places. The ever-evolving offerings from deep nature gardens are centered around exactly that opportunity and that hope for the future of Gaia. I am one of many people acting in various ways to save Gaia. You can do it too by creating a deep nature garden of your own, and in many other ways. This blog is not just about my own work, it is about what all of us can do to help heal Gaia.

 

141120-0728a growing community
Now, as more and more nature-loving people begin to find us, the passion for this work continues to grow. This path, this inspiring calling, is what I want to do.

There is a plan now, a way of moving forward to do even more for the planet, with new offerings and more beautiful deep nature garden spaces everywhere, not just here in the Bay Area but anywhere there is a gardener who wants to create something truly extraordinary.

This is my work now, and I joyfully offer it to the world, in person and through our excellent modern online tools.

If you are local, my assistants and colleagues and I can shape your garden and continue its evolution as a hands-on service. But no matter where you are, if you have the commitment and the passion I can help you create and evolve a beautiful deep nature garden.

I hope that many more lovers of Gaia will get in touch and explore how to create a beautiful ecosystem, a diverse and abundant species enclave, in their own landscapes.

I also look forward to developing our other offerings, including enclosed ecosystems, artistic mini-landscapes, and so much more that is still being invented, or even unimagined as yet.

 

gratitude
Thanks to all of you who are becoming part of this! I feel so much gratitude to be part of this extended community. I am grateful also to the little girls and boys who are just now asking “why are you doing this?”

in love with Gaia,

Nick Turner

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What we do is not like “regular” gardening!

In some ways the relationship between a deep nature garden and its human caretaker runs in the opposite direction than it does in a “normal” garden.

Here is a table that might make these differences more clear:

traditional garden deep nature garden
garden expected to “obey” gardener gardener and garden co-evolve
gardener takes care of garden garden adapts itself to conditions
maintains a consistent design design co-evolves with gardener
garden is planted garden grows in
garden is “done” once it is planted garden constantly evolves
ecosystem is simple and controlled ecosystem is complex and self-regulated
contains only selected plants contains many volunteers
unexpected sprouts are removed unexpected sprouts are celebrated
pruned for controlled appearance pruned for natural appearance
wants to be “complete” may have some blank places
plant eaters are killed plant eaters are welcome
augmented with fertilizers augmented (if at all) with compost
“protected” by poisons not in need of protection
gardener works in the garden gardener merges into the garden
conforms to gardener’s vision always reveals new beauty

 

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Did you miss the previous episode in this series? You can also jump back to the beginning.

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December 19, 2012. Morning sun slants across the garden at little yellow house. There was some serious rain, and now thousands of sprouts are popping up in every blank space. The garden is greening up!

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Above: An odd little corner of the front strip features a variety of fascinating plants including petty spurge, groundsel, mallow, cut-leaf geranium, English violets, buttercup oxalis and more, plus a few pretty autumn leaves. Here’s a closer look:

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Right now, our most important task in this garden is thinning out extra sprouts of anything that is too abundant, plus removal of certain plants like buttercup oxalis that we generally prefer to restrict to selected areas because of their invasive nature.

Below: An area shadowed by a purple lantana in the street strip shows a bit of frost on leaves of English violet.

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Above: On the left side of the front walk the daisy bushes enjoy the sun while the wisteria bush behind it is still in shade. It leaves are turning yellow and dropping down. There’s frost on the neighbor’s roof in the background. Under the daisy bushes in front there is a carpet of violets and decorative strawberries, still filling in. Like almost every other plant in this garden they were there to begin with, not deliberately planted.

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Above: Skipping forward to Christmas eve, 2012 the garden continues to grow in rapidly. In the front strip is a drift of blooming buttercup oxalis, pushing up between the frost-burned stems of lantanas. In spite of the frost damage, some stems of lantana still bear pretty purple flowers.

This is one of two areas where we are allowing the oxalis to stay. Here it has to compete with the vigorous lantanas, and it is also quite difficult to extract from this zone without damaging the lantanas. The other oxalis drift is under the big wisteria bush, where they look pretty pushing up through the carpet of fallen leaves.

Below: Closer looks at the buttercup oxalis. The beautiful yellow flowers are edible and excellent in a tart-sweet, tangy way. Try them in salads!

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Below: A few more sweet little scenes from the garden at little yellow house on Christmas eve, 2012. We see English violets, sweet alyssum, a cute mushroom, and some autumn color.

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Next: Wisteria drops its leaves, the owner begins a stone patio, and there’s lots more thinning to do.

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The headlines proclaim, “The Worst California Drought In Recent History!” At the same time, thousands of gardens across the Bay Area still feature green lawns watered every day by pop-up, high pressure sprinklers, releasing a flood of water to keep them green, along with copious mist that evaporates into the air. What’s wrong with this picture?

In our semi-arid climate with frequent, prolonged droughts, any kind of lawn that needs regular water is wasteful of one of our most precious resources. More people are choosing to reduce or eliminate their lawn irrigation. You might have a golden-brown lawn or an inert, sun-baked gravel- or dirt-scape. There are even dead, dry lawns that have been spray-painted green.

Some people might choose to replace their lawn with a succulent garden, or with a heavily mulched space with super-drought tolerant plants (often California natives) watered by tiny little drip heads.

There is certainly nothing wrong with these water-wise lawn replacements. Every one of them reduces water usage and helps us better manage our resources. Congratulations to all gardeners who choose these and other xeriscaping options.

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At deep nature gardens we have developed another water-wise alternative for ecologically conscious gardeners.

If you value beauty, diversity, and abundance but you don’t like drip-watered mulch-scapes, slow-growing succulent gardens or spray-painted lawns, consider creating an ultra-drought-tolerant deep nature garden.

Here in the Bay Area we are surrounded by hills covered with some of the lushest, most diverse and abundant ecosystems in any dry climate on the planet. Our beautiful chapparal hillsides are supremely drought tolerant and yet they are densely clothed with rich, diverse vegetation. How do they do it?

We have studied the evolution of drought-tolerance in garden spaces, especially the kind of “managed nature” that is present in a deep nature garden.

You can have a garden of exceptional beauty, diversity, and abundance that is able to survive even times of extended dryness. Even when it is dry, such a garden can feature green leaves and an assortment of open flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and many other critters.

Any time is a great time to get started. We’ll remove that thirsty grass. We’ll move some soil around, making high and low places, and add some beautiful natural looking rocks with moss and lichen. We’ll plant a few starters and scatter a layer of eco-mix seeding blend. There will be a carefully managed watering scheme that will encourage just the right blend of plants. As everything grows in we’ll remove anything that does not fit.

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Within a few months you’ll see the beginnings of something extraordinary: a natural looking garden that is equally healthy whether it is in the middle of a wet rainy season or an extended California drought. Not only is it resilient to wet and dry, it is also beautiful. Deep nature gardens are living works of art.

If this sounds interesting please get in touch. Let’s have a free visit to your garden and talk about what is possible.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Growing a deep nature garden is not about planting a whole lot of different plants. It’s more about creating a blank slate (or, if you are lucky, a healthy starting ecosystem!) and then allowing the garden to “grow in” from there.

Most patches of ground already contain seeds of hundreds of kinds of plants, including rare natives. One of the basic principles is to start with what you have — within reason, of course. It might be necessary to perform massive triage at first, in which most or all of the plants are physically removed, and some landscaping is often a good idea. Seeds can be added if there’s not much in the ground to begin with.

A deep nature garden does not happen overnight, or even over several months. It’s a serious, long-term relationship between the garden and the gardener. The gardener’s goal is to remove what diminishes beauty, diversity, and productivity while occasionally adding new diversity in various ways.

Over the course of many months, it evolves.

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There may be an early surge of vigorous fast growing plants. These are not “weeds” — we don’t recognize that word. These early pioneers are valuable contributors, quickly building up a new, rich, diverse soil ecosystem. In this group (in the SF Bay Area) are prickly lettuce, sow thistle, petty spurge, grasses, California poppies, lamb’s quarter, purslane, and many more.

As each of these pioneers matures it is pulled out or clipped neatly at the base. Many are strictly deadheaded as their blooms fade. Most pioneers are not allowed to go to seed. Although some of these vigorous early residents are wonderful edibles (purslane, lamb’s quarter, etc), they are best grown for food in containers or farming areas. In the deep nature garden their presence is almost always temporary because they are gradually replaced by slower-growing perennials.

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Among all of these early sprouters are hundreds of other seeds and seedlings, of many different species. As the pioneers come out, these other plants begin to grow. Some are well adapted to their microclimate, and out-compete others. Those might end up dominating, but no species will be allowed to take over.

For a passionate deep nature gardener, a large part of the joy of deep nature gardening is the excitement of waiting to see what new kinds of plants will sprout up.

At any point we can guide the ecosystem’s development in several ways.

  • We can increase diversity in the form of new plants. These can be store-bought or they can be our special eco-packs.
  • We can increase diversity by scattering seed mixes.
  • We can prune plants as they grow, for best artistic, naturalistic appearance.
  • We can actively thin out plants that are limiting the beauty, diversity, or productivity of the garden.
  • We can handle overgrown areas though various forms of local triage.
  • We can scatter soil amendments to improve fertility or nutrient balance.

Gradually, the garden shifts. The big, fast, showy annuals are replaced by slower but more diverse long-lived plants that are more precisely adapted to the particular part of the garden where they grow. Shade plants will grow in the shade, and the dry summer sun lovers will eventually take over in the dry, summer sunny places.

All along the way we gently guide the ecosystem, aiming for that special aesthetic “ah!” moment, over and over again.

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We have not seen much dew in the Bay Area in this year of record drought, so here’s a reminder that sometimes there is actual moisture around here! On December 24, 2012 the sun lit up this tiny spider web among irises and Santa Barbara daisies.

140519-0623The spider that spun this web was no larger than a pin head, yet it contained enough instinctive knowledge to construct this complicated, 3-dimensional structure suspended expertly from  leaves and stems.

A typical organic garden contains thousands of spiders of many kinds. Most of them remain hidden in the vegetation, actively exploring for prey. Only a few spin webs that are large enough to be easily noticed.

The presence of spiders in the garden is ecologically profound, because they eat a significant fraction of the flying and crawling insects. In webs just like this one in the same garden, I have spotted fungus gnats, parasitic wasps, fruit flies, many other small insects, and even a lady beetle.

There are more than 42,000 kinds of spiders. They have been around for 400 million years, evolving from fascinating little critters called trigonotarbids that looked a little like modern ticks and mites.

Back in those early days there were no dew-spangled spider webs because web-weaving spiders had not yet evolved. True spiders with spinnerets appeared around 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous, a time when yard-long dragonflies cruised the skies. It must have been a great time to evolve predators!

There’s more about spider evolution at Wikipedia. There’s also a neat article about trigonotarbids.

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Did you miss the previous episode of this series? You can also jump back to the beginning.

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It’s November 19, 2012, and the garden at little yellow house is now as blank as it will be. The big square section on the right of the front walk is about 50% bare ground. The biggest plant is the pittosporum bush  near the house on the left. To its right (near the truck) is the bare space where the giant silk tree came out.

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On the left side the big wisteria looms over three just-pruned daisy bushes. On the right are some grayish French lavender bushes, and on the left a butterfly iris and a low Santa Barbara daisy. Directly in front are some decorative strawberries and English violets.

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The right side street strip contains purple-blooming lantanas, still unpruned and just recovering from the damage done during the great big silk tree removal. Also present here, buttercup oxalis and some annual grasses pushing up between the step stones at the street edge. At the upper right, the street strip is temporarily shaded by a street-side recycling bin.

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In the left side street strip the blue mailbox post rises near a massive clump of red-flowering stonecrop, also known as sedum, currently not blooming. Beyond, a wild-looking mix of white flowering sweet alyssum, creeping oxalis, California poppies, and much more. This small section of the garden is already one of the most diverse, ecologically healthy areas.

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Between the big pittosporum bush and the front of the house an old flagstone walkway is being deconstructed. These stones will be reassembled into a more eco-friendly mortar-free patio where mosses and other small plants can establish their own kind of ecosystem between the stones. Beyond the remains of the walk way is the blank space where the silk tree was removed. This is where the next major action will take place. Let’s fast forward a couple of weeks to December 5…

140510-0917Here in Menlo Park we are very tree-aware. When a large old tree comes out (a “heritage tree”) the law says you have to plant a new tree that can grow as big.

At right, two trusty garden experts from Roger Reynold’s Nursery put in in a strapping young red maple. Sadly, Roger Reynold’s has since gone out of business.

We chose a large-leafed deciduous tree to replace the old silk tree. While this maple will drop its big crinkly leaves all over the garden, they will be easy to remove from the tops of bushes and smaller plants, and easy to redistribute under the bushes and in other deserving parts of the garden. Unlike the old silk tree, it will not drop tons of fine debris, smothering everything beneath. It will also experience a wonderful annual cycle, being beautiful in different ways around the year. A big improvement!

For now, the new garden citizen is small and bare. In coming episodes of this series of posts you’ll be able to watch as it leafs out, grows a bit, drops its leaves, then leafs out and grows some more. We’ll prune it now and then as its branches reach out into the air. It will be quite a few years before it reaches the garden-shading extent of the old silk tree!

Below: On December 10, 2012 the garden at little yellow house basks in the slanting winter sun. Even now, it is mostly a blank slate. Its deep nature evolution has only just begun!

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Next: the garden greens up with massive diversity, and the first frost of the winter.

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It has now been almost two years since this current adventure began into deep nature gardening. The work has evolved, and so has the very basic concept of what a deep nature garden is, and how it works.

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It has been amazing to experience the widely different perspectives people have on gardening, and even on the basic definition of what a garden is. I have worked among straight-edged platonic topiary solids, and amidst the wild tangles of ten-year-old thickets. In all of these very different plant-filled spaces, the question comes up of what the owner actually thinks a “garden” is.

I want to present deep nature gardening in an accurate way, so that people understand the concept and can make an intelligent decision about whether to create such a garden, or hire me to do it.

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What is a deep nature garden?
It’s a bounded slice of managed nature.

It’s a zone of the planet’s surface that is tended by a human and guided skillfully towards greater beauty, diversity, and productiveness.

It’s an ever-changing, evolving work of art.

It is an ongoing expression of an intimate interaction between one or more humans and a well-loved patch of soil.

Want to know more? Read about the principles of deep nature gardening.

If you would like a deep nature garden, I can create one for you or I can teach you how to do it yourself. If this sounds interesting, please get in touch!

Did you miss the previous episode of this series? You can also jump back to the beginning.

 
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We rejoin our story of the transformation of our flagship site, little yellow house in Menlo Park, a short five days after the removal of the giant old silk tree.

It is November 14, 2012. The front garden, now fully exposed to sun, is about to begin a long-term shift toward something much more lush and interesting. But right now it still looks bare in many places. The front wall of the house bears a bright white scar where a huge old jasmine was removed.

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On the left side of the front walk the garden was less affected by the tree removal. From left to right above, a healthy mugo pine occupies the far corner near the neighbor’s driveway; in the near corner there are three daisy bushes; in front of those, a little patch of violets and decorative strawberries; filling the background, a big old wisteria “tree-vine” that has been neglected for years; and in front of the wisteria there are two silvery French lavender bushes. The ground has been prepared and covered with leaves scattered outward from beneath the wisteria.

The front edges of this zone have been slightly excavated, so that the soil at the edge is lower than the sidewalk. That way, any watering or rain overflow will not wash soil out across the walk.

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The right side of the walkway looks much more bare. A lot of invasive violets have been removed along with a large amount of other common plants such as grasses that were occupying most of the space. At the left is a dense pittosporum bush that we will try to preserve. In front of it are some butterfly irises running toward a large patch of bearded irises in the far background. Just behind the left-most two rocks is a single stand of agapanthus, which will also be kept. It is the only full-size agapanthus that will be allowed to remain. The low patches of green in the foreground are mostly violets and various other fairly invasive plants, including the dreaded buttercup oxalis, destined to be one of the most frequently-thinned plants in this garden.

What is not visible here are the tremendous number of tiny seeds already present in the soil. As we will see in future episodes of this story, this garden still bears many traces of its former history.

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In 2012 we actually had some early winter rain. Here in a bare patch in front of the pittosporum bush there are hundreds of small seedlings. These include many grasses (soon to be removed!) and a bunch of fast growing pioneers we will allow to stay just long enough to do their good work of opening the soil and attracting some beneficial insects. These small ecosystem-builders include petty spurge, groundsel, cut-leaf geranium, chickweed, and more of the still-ubiquitous English violets. Also present, tons of buttercup oxalis coming up from their deep bulbs.

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Also in the same area, some naked lady bulbs sprout vigorously. These will now do extremely well in the newly sunny space!

Meanwhile, over in the driveway are stacked some of the limbs taken from the big old silk tree that was removed in the previous episode. They are covered with a truly amazing ecosystem of lichens and some small mosses. Some of these made lovely holiday decorations inside of little yellow house:

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Next: A new tree goes in, and a closer look at more of the interesting plants already present in little yellow house front garden.

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Happy New Year to all friends, clients, associates, colleagues, merchants, family, and other respected humans!

With the new year comes a new beginning for deep nature gardens as a business, and a re-evaluation of all the goals and projects. This new beginning is much more than just switching to a new page in the accounting spreadsheet. There will be some fascinating new offerings in 2014… and I am tremendously curious to see how it all unfolds!

 

140111-0837looking back… and thanks!

2013 was an exciting exploration of what is possible with deep nature gardening as a calling. At the start of the year there were only two clients, and it was not yet clear whether it would be possible to do “professional deep nature gardening.”

Over the following 12 months the work deepened, more clients appeared, and a whole lot was learned. Now it definitely feels like deep nature gardening is “what I do.” It is delightful to see how the various clients’ gardens are becoming more beautiful, diverse, and productive.

There are now 11 active clients, including several with large, fully dedicated deep nature areas, some “mixed work” clients with various extra garden tasks, and even a few who only want me to keep their bushes pruned. All of you are valued and appreciated.

So before I describe some of the Great New Stuff, I want to be sure to thank all of you who have supported this work in any way, whether you are a client, advisor, merchant, compost co-op member, or simply through your continued friendship and emotional support. This amazing new calling would not be possible without you great folks.

 

things to come

In 2014 I hope to continue the good work creating beautiful deep nature gardens, and I want to expand that work in some new directions. In order to make that possible there will be some interesting evolutionary changes.

Now that there are more active clients, I will be inviting one or more apprentices to work with me to become trained in all aspects of deep nature gardening, including pruning, thinning, and identification of all the various plants that appear in deep nature gardens. Over time, these apprentices will help me care for your deep nature gardens, either with me or on their own.

As some garden visits are handled by an apprentice, I will dedicate more of my time to working on several new projects that will benefit all of us.

What new projects? The mindheart swirls with great ideas! All of them involve the three basic foundations of deep nature gardening: beauty, diversity, and productivity.

 

140111-0855ecocells

A big new set of project ideas centers around the concept of an ecocell, which is an enclosed ecosystem. Typically, such an enclosure would be a greenhouse, but ecocells can be of many sizes, from a small indoor terrarium / aquarium, all the way up to a gigantic orbital space habitat. The idea is to create a zone where a controlled ecosystem is separated from the rest of the world.

One of the new projects for 2014 is to create some greenhouse-size ecocells and populate them with beautiful, diverse, productive ecosystems. Since I don’t personally have the space for a greenhouse, an early goal is to find a client who has some property and would like to let me create such a thing, either in an existing greenhouse or in a new one we can construct.

Why build ecocells? Not only are they easier to protect against pests and diseases, they can also be environmentally controlled very precisely. In a tropical ecocell we can grow papayas, bananas and much more. How much better it is to eat totally organic, locally grown papayas instead of shipping them from Mexico!

Do you have some unused space? Can I build an ecocell for you and fill it with beautiful, diverse productivity? Do you know someone who might like this? If so, let’s talk as soon as possible!

 

140111-0901local resilience ecosystem

Most of us have heard of the term “resilience” — it’s a real 21st century buzzword. It means that if things get bad, we can still survive and thrive, taking care of each other by exchanging raw materials and products among ourselves.

One of the most important basics of resilience is going local. This phrase means that as much as possible, we grow our food and create other useful products locally, instead of paying for products that have been shipped halfway across the planet using non-renewable fossil fuels.

I believe so strongly in local resilience that I’m ready to start building an extended local resilience ecosystem (that’s a provisional name until I figure out what to really call it) among the many good people on the central SF peninsula.

Right here in our area there are hundreds of small back yard gardens that already produce all sorts of edible or useful products. Many of us produce more than we can use. We also have tons of devoted home craft workers, making lots of other useful products from knitted scarfs to scented soaps. Why shouldn’t these valuable, producing community members join together cooperatively to form a local resilience ecosystem?

How will this work? To be honest, I’m not sure yet, but stay tuned and you will find out! If you are curious, the best way to follow my progress (our progress!) is to subscribe to this blog, where I will publish updates on this and other new projects for 2014. The subscription box is at the upper right of every page. Of course, I would be utterly delighted if anyone decides to become an active commenter and question-asker. I am actively asking for your good ideas.

Do you (or someone you know) produce more edible bounty than you can use? Do you (or someone you know) create any kind of useful or interesting home-crafted products? Would you like to exchange your own bounty for cool goodies created by other local folks? Would you like to become part of our experimental new local resilience ecosystem? If so, let’s talk as soon as possible!

 

other ideas

There are other ideas too, but I’m going to keep them to myself for now. Between deep nature gardening, ecocells and the local resilience ecosystem I think I have enough on my plate for 2014.

I definitely won’t be able to do these projects alone, and the community of Good Green Folks (that’s all of us!) are critically important to make it happen.

Whether you’d like to be a deep nature gardening apprentice, or you’d like to offer your extra veggies (or hand-crafted products) to the community in exchange for other goodies, or you have some unused space where an ecocell can grow, or you just think what I’m doing is incredibly cool, I hope you’ll get in touch. If you like these ideas, become part of them!

 

onward!

Happy New 2014 to all, and may we all experience great success this year!

Nick Turner

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