Category Archives: Permaculture and other Green things

Does anyone have a Permaculture solution for a very windy roof garden?

I would like to ask if anyone has a Permaculture solution for a very windy roof garden.

I live on the Mediterranean Coast of Spain and there is plenty of sunlight for my roof container garden and there is usually adequate rainfall, but sometimes there are very strong winds and this has damaged a lot of my plants on the roof. I was thinking of putting some bamboo plants as a barrier but since they have deep roots , I am not sure if they can grow in containers. Any kind of panel could blow off the roof and be a potential danger to people in the street , so whatever I use as a wind breaker would have to be very secure and not able to fly away.

I welcome any suggestions.


Balcony Permaculture: a short video

In about two and a half minutes a man describes some ideas from the book ¨Sepp Holtzwer´s Permaculture¨ by, yep, you guessed it, Sepp Holtzwer.  You might be able to use some of these techniques in your balcony permaculture garden.

Learning permaculture: What,Why,How and Where

What is permaculture?

According to Toby Hemenway in his book Gaia´s Garden ( 2009 second ed.)  the definition of permaculture is a set of techniques and principles for designing sustainable human settlements. As I understand it , permaculture is simply optimization  through interconnection. For example, instead of using a pesticide to kill insects harming a plant , a permaculture option would be to place a second plant that is a natural repellant of the pest alongside  the first plant . This is just a simple example, because permaculture related to growing plants takes many more factors into consideration.

Permaculture was co-created in the mid 70´s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren on the Australian island state of Tasmania. They were looking for alternatives to the rapid changes in industrial agricultural methods, such as monocrops using pesticides, and other toxic practices. In 1978 Mollison published Permaculture One and they continued to develop the practice as it spread across the world and was further developed by many others.

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Why learn it?

For me there are so many reasons ….. ecological ..reduction of waste and carbon footprint…organic food at my doorstep…. so much to learn….fascinating….complex yet simple….ethical…. a relatively new concept…something I have been wanting to explore since I first read about it several years ago….I love plants…. etc.

Probably there are more reasons but these popped into my head immediately.

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How to learn it.

Gaia´s Garden,  A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture, ( 2009 second ed.)  by Toby Hemenway, is considered a classic in the field and I think it´s a good place to start out.  This book explains the global concepts and principles of permaculture,  but focuses mainly on how to create home scale permaculture gardens. It´s easy to find many websites and blogs about permaculture and permaculture practitioners  around the word offer on-site courses (but attending a course is not an option for me). With  these and other resources and most importantly of all,  with practical experience, errors and successes,  I am on the path to learning about permaculture.

Where will I practice it?

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My permaculture garden will be on the balcony and later on the roof of my apartment, in a costal town north of Tarragona , Spain.  The balcony faces south but well is protected from the wind and extreme summer sun by its brick walls and awning. It has a good amount of sun the rest of the year.

The rooftop will require more permaculture skills because although the winter temperature is mild  it´s very, very windy. Wind  evaporates water, causes soil erosion and  and may even destroy plants. But one of the core ideas of permaculture is to design a garden that takes into account harsh or unfavorable conditions, and converts them into a useful part of the  design.

Most of my friends and family live in the city of Barcelona, and if any of them are interested in creating a balcony permaculture garden , maybe we can share the experience. Besides being fun, each of us could bring distinct ideas to the project. I will let you know how it is going. I am in no rush. I plant to study and design over the fall and winter, and do the main implementation in early spring.

Oh, one more thing. I am hardly going to spend any money on this. I intend to reuse materials and exchange materials and plants for the most part. I am really looking forward to the challenge.

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Green green , what does it mean ?… then and now

In the past thirty some odd years  the meaning of  “ being green” has changed significantly. Thirty four years ago, in 1989 a 50 simple things you can selling book was published, 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth , by  EarthWorks Group, (Berkeley, CA: Earthworks Press, 1989). You can see the 50 tips at the link above. I remember taking it out of the library, copying the 50 tips by hand in a notebook , and earnestly trying to do as many of them as I could. This book was important because it was the first mass media product I remember that created a lot of buzz….well before the word buzz existed I guess.

On the other hand , at the time I did not realize that this book had an approach that would be later called “ a mile wide and an inch deep.” There was not much analysis of the actions suggested and they varied from pick up litter on a beach to recycle aluminum cans, which was , believe it or not , not very easy to do in many places in 1989. Saving the earth and protecting the environment still sort of a new idea. It was also still largely free from political polarization and not yet highly legislated


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Over a decade later , in the year 2000  Erin Brockovich , portrayed by the popular Julia Roberts hit the screens. Could this be true? Were big companies really so evil and ruthless? These questions were, perhaps for the first time , brought to the minds of the general public. And we were already in the 21st century.

Of course all, along environmentalists had been trying to get the word out about the multiple and complex environmental issues and even though Greenpeace had been founded almost 30 years earlier , it was still not fully mainstream. green peace

Today we are not so innocent and  not so uninformed but , tragically, we are much more polarized about something that is basic to our very survival and quality of life, as well as that of future generations.  Issues such as fracking, renewable energy,  climate change and many others have become a source of division, as interest groups inform , misinform and counter- inform , often distorting or giving partial information.

In order to be well-informed about these important issues we must make an effort. There is so much contradictory information out there that we need to read extensively , select reliable sources and think critically. Unfortunately not everyone has the time or inclination to do all this work, and that is when political parties or industrial interest groups can get their message out , which may, or may not, be a message that is keeping the common good in mind.

Being green in 2013 may seem complex, but it is also much more urgent, so it is important to find the facts , face the facts and then act in consequence.

Verdolaga…ever heard of it?

Well , I had never heard of it until it started to grow in pots in my roof garden, and someone told me what it was. They recognized it because they had an Italian friend who ate it. Portulaca oleracea , aso known as Pigweed, Little Hogweed and Moss Rose, is either a weed , or a salad, depending on how you look at it. As a very urban person, who is only just learning about so many things related to plants and soil and gardens, I was afraid it could be poisonous, as I had read that there is a related variety which is inedible. The test is to see if it is the edible kind is break a stem and if a white liquid comes out , it is of the kind you cannot eat. Even though this was not the cause I was still very cautious and at only one little leave the first day and a few more the next.

It tastes like Canonigos or other small leaf salads ingredients , actually it tastes a bit salty and it is not at all bitter.

Also it is as hardy as, well , as hardy as a weed! 

And grows like a weed too. No fuss , no special care, very resilient. But the best is yet to come, Verdolaga  is highly nutritious.  According to information found in Wikipedia “It contains more  omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid in particular[4]) than any other leafy vegetable plant. Studies have found that Purslane has 0.01 mg/g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). This is an extraordinary amount of EPA for a land-based vegetable source. EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid found mostly in fish, some algae, and flax seeds.[5] It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)[6] and some vitamin B and carotenoids), as well as dietary minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron. Also present are two types of betalain alkaloid pigments, the reddish betacyanins (visible in the coloration of the stems) and the yellow betaxanthins (noticeable in the flowers and in the slight yellowish cast of the leaves). Both of these pigment types are potent antioxidants and have been found to have antimutagenic properties in laboratory studies






Portulaca oleracea showing blooms