Monday, 30 December 2013

Much larger projects - saving endangered plant species

You probably notice I have been absent from the blog for a while.

December visits
I have travelled to Portugal for a month. I visited a few permaculture projects, some nice ones, like the Fojo (near Pombal) and Cherry Pond (near Gouveia). Last summer we visited the famous ones: Martin Crowford's forest garden, the Plants for a Future farm, and Seff Hozler amazing project.

These are some serious experiments at improving food sustainability. I notice that many projects brand themselves as "permaculture" but they add little to what countless generations have done and grown in the countryside. We should be more experimental.

Now, both me and Pami, have found two personal projects, which will occupy our lives for decades ahead.

A collection of medicinal plants
One is making a collection of medicinal plants (and she is doing a 4 year course in natural herbal medicine, not trivial stuff you find everywhere in the web, it's something deep).

So I have been collecting seed (and trying to germinate) plants like arnica, leonorus cardiaca, skullcap, etc, in addition to our collection which includes meadowsweet, valerian, angelica, etc. I also have been collecting seed of plants often used in aromatherapy: eucalyptus citriodora, patchouli, plumeria.

Eucalyptus citriodora is a tree I eagerly want to grow. The smell of its leaves is incredible. I had two exemplars but they died because of lack of watering. Now I am growing many more seedlings.

Saving endangered plants
Another big project that we are just starting, is making a collection of endangered plants. Controversial stuff, yes. I have noticed that many plants are in fast route to extinction and there are very little efforts towards stopping it. Even conversation institutions do little. They are limited to study why those species are becoming endangered, mapping them and saving seed in seed banks.

Well, things in nature do not work like that. Endangered plants must be kept growing. If not in their endangered habitats, then elsewhere. Often they are under threats of human construction, farming and forest fires, in the very reduced areas they still remain. Even making nature reserves to protect them, is not enough. If their area of growing is small, then a disease, climate change, or a forest fire will kill them, and then they are lost forever.

Frankincense is one example of a species in some risk of extinction. These trees were over-harvested because of its famous resin, which was given as a gift to Jesus on its birth. Are we going to let such a historical tree disappear only because we did nothing?

I don't understand why conservation institutions are not doing more (probably lack of funding is the answer). So, I will embark in such a mission. Some of these species have seeds for sale in the internet (sometimes even growing plants). I will order them, grow them with much devotion and propagate them. I intent to collaborate with as much people and institutions as possible, to many places can grow these species, to save them from extinction.

Some of these species include:
critical endangered (only one step from extinction): calendula maritima, aloe pillansii, some portuguese species, pinus torreyana, cycas debaoensis, agathosma gonaquensis, medicago citrina

endangered (high risk of extinction in the wild): parajubaea torallyi, araucaria araucana, abis pinsapo, cycas elongata, pinus maximartinezii, leucandendron discolor, atlas cedar, juniperus cedrus
vulnerable (risk of extinction in decades ahead): sandalwood, dracaena drago, jubaea chilensis, abis recurvata, cycas bifada, abis fabri, pinus gerardiana, aloe dichotoma, aloe ramosissima, bauhinia bowkeri, rhamnus glandulosa
near threatened (likely to become endangered in the near future): frankincense, abis spectabilis

Often some of these species are only growing in a single location, in areas not larger than a few sq km! Imagine how fragile their situation is!

The Torrey pine is the second most rare pine in the planet. It only grows in a single spot in the west coast of the US. Though rare, sometimes seed can be found for sale. The qiaojia pine is even rarer. There are only 20 trees in the entire planet, in a forest in China. The Baishan fir, also native to China, has only 3 trees left. Both are extremely close to extinction.

I will be starting a crowfunding project in soon, to have some funding to buy their seeds and for to cover the incredible ammount of work that this task requires. Please contact me if you already want to donate some fundingx or be informed about this project. Even small donations are welcomed.

These species cannot wait to be protected.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

December- the impermanence of Permaculture

During the last month of November, I was ill for a few weeks. Recovering now :)

The very cold weather arrives
Outdoors not so much was going on. The weather has been very cold in Iceland, average -5ºC to -12ºC, and down to -21ºC in one day. The snow has been pilling to half a meter. All the plants are dormant under the snow, and it looks like most perennials are surviving well under the protection of the snow. Cycle to cycle, this is the time of the year when nothing can be grown in Iceland. Or could it?

This is how Iceland looks like in winter

Compact fluorescent lamps, for growing plants alive indoors
Indoors, I bought a set of powerful bright compact fluorescent lights (300W, about 20.000 lumen). Before this, it was difficult to keep most plants alive indoors (even when using four 20W cf lamps). Now, the 300 W light is so blindly bright that almost all plants are thriving.  I can keep my tree seedlings alive during the darkness of the winter.

Hopefully, we will be able to grow vegetables, like salads, perhaps even tomatoes, during winter.


I also had a powerful insight, during these recent weeks, as I was ill. That nothing is permanent, and so I am thinking about what I have now called "Impermaculture". Nothing is permanent, everything is always changing, so the notion of trying to control a stable system is impossible. Systems are inherently unstable, change and sometimes dramatically and outside of our control. Let's say you have a property and a forest garden, it is possible that you lose everything you planted to an extreme drought or a forest fire. And I think its worthless to have this idea of control (which implies a lot of effort), when nothing is assured. Better to plant and just let is flow, without expectations. In this context, a wide diversity of species, and also doing a wide number of forest garden projects, ensures better survival of species, and of rich habitats.