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John Lee
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Lawrence, KS, United States
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Cold Temperate
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Permaculture in the Home (When You Don't Own)

Posted by John Lee over 8 years ago

   It still seems like a lot of people I talk to are blown away that spent coffee grounds are fine organic matter that provides a slow release fertilization while holding moisture and can thus be used to enrich and feed the soil of indoor plants, as well as outdoor.  As a result, I would like to highlight a few simple things I do to reduce my footprint in the home I rent (and cannot alter.)

   As mentioned above, I feed my indoor plants with coffee grounds.  No miracle grow plugs or any of this odd, indistinguishable stuff.  All plants have crystals and rocks I've found at the bottom (5% or so of pot depth), with wood chips and leaves above (another 5% or so), then potting soil up to within an inch of the top for small pots and more for the larger.  The potting soil was originally Foxfarm brand Ocean Forest and/or Happy Frog and has been recycled for a few years now.  Other than coffee grounds, I add spent tea leaves, any dead leaves or branches from indoor plants, and the ash from my pipes when finished.  Chop up the leaves etc. from time to time and voila!  

   Not only do I feed my indoor plants with free materials most people throw away, but the plants I have are virtually all free.  I have local cacti I've grown from buttons and seeds on trails, and these obviously require little effort to grow if they subsist in dry, sub-alpine environments.  Aloe, spider plants, philadendron, pothos, english ivy, begonia, and jade plants are scattered about my living room, all having been sick plants I saved from others or propagated from other plants.  Also in the mix are a bonsai my mother gave me years ago and a gifted banana plant that would really love a greenhouse or warmer climate.  These plants are for beauty and air purification, the only useful or medicinal ones being my 3 aloe varieties.  I also have a 4-year old, 3' tall with 3' canopy avocado tree I've grown from seed and he is my pride and joy of the indoor plants!  I expect mine to fruit in about 2-3 more years, and in the meanwhile added some lemongrass to his pot since I noticed the tree doesn't have roots in the top few inches of soil.  A friend (with no plant knowledge) I gifted one of the avocado plants I've sprouted the last couple years has kept his alive and thriving using the simple instructions above.

   The reason I like having these specific plants is that they are not sissies!  Every one of them is just fine with what I give them, which is not much.  They get water when I rinse the french press and provide them coffee grounds fertilizer, or if I have a big pot of water (from canning, say), I will distribute the contents to the driest pots.

   One thing I've been working on is a way to put up a temporary, removable shield to pee in the garden (especially where there is a compost pile) so that the neighbors don't have to watch.  Convincing my roommate to pee in a bucket to take out has been difficult, though this is the most sensible option for us.  Watering down the urine is no problem as we have to run the shower for a good minute during the winter before it's warm enough to step in - pee in the bucket, put the bucket under the shower while it warms up, take your shower, take the bucket outside, boom.  Someday.

   Cutting my own hair has allowed me the opportunity to keep my hair to add to the worm bin or straight into the gardens.  I get about a handful of hair every month from both my beard and top of my dome.  Fingernails are organic matter too, so same deal - straight into the gardens or worm bin.

   This next idea is huge and deserves it's own article with more facts and data, but one way I've affected my local ecosystem in the Denver metro is to simply NOT put my city garbage and recycling bins out every week.  WOAH!  Really though, it takes at least two months, if not closer to four, for me to fill my garbage and recycling bins.   Let's say for argument's sake it's every three months, meaning those heavy, diesel trucks stop at my house four times a year, rather than fifty-two.  That is significant!!!  If one calculates that figure (4 vs. 52) multiplied by however many houses are in your city, county, state, or country, an incredible data sheet would form.  Calculate the wear and tear on those big garbage trucks, and how gas gets guzzled with all that stop and go at every house every week, then slash that to 1/12 and you'll see a huge sum of money free up within those governmental entities to be spent on other integral infrastucture.  I almost feel like I'm tricking the city into spending less money and burning less gas by having my trash and recycling out so seldom.

   Not many view it as such, but this way counts as permaculture - my cat's diet is supplemented with the mice, rabbits, squirrels, and birds he catches.  His diet is supplemented while my garden and house are simultaneously safegaurded - multiple functions served.  Even cooler, this fall I got my hands dirty learning how to hide and clean a rabbit on one of the larger buns my cat brought home and now I have confidence to take on more rabbits and even larger animals when they come.  

   While I'm discussing bushcraft skills, this winter I plan to fashion myself a bow and some arrows using my knife and hatchet.  There is a good list of trees and shrubs on or near my property for gathering test materials including: elm, box elder, hackberry, crab apple, spirea, spindle, and buckthorn.  All of these plants grow readily and I'll have no shortage of whichever ends up working the best.

   And while I'm discussing practical knowledge and skills, learning how to cook meals I like and grow foods I would otherwise purchase at the store has been a no duh, but it's surpising any time I take notice of how few people grow anything beyond greens and a few token vegetables.  Studying local, wild edibles and medicines has been a huge part of my permaculture journey because I've been able to substitute free, foraged foods for some of my favorite store-bought foods.  For example, Cornelian cherries and Hawthorn pomes were unknown to me before this year, but make complex and delicious substitutes for the Michigan tart cherries I used to purchase in bulk.  I used an applesauce recipe with only Hawthorns and it tasted like the cherry applesauce my parents would occassionally get when I was a kid.

   Methods of preservation has been a huge part of my studies this year.  I've made jam, jelly, "apple"sauce, fruit butter, fruit syrup, tincture, schnapps, dried flowers and herbs, and saved adapted seeds from dozens of plants from my gardens and the wild.  I have 25 pounds of raw honey (sourced within my region) for baking, making mead and medicinal syrups this winter, as well as 5 pounds of wax for making my own lip balms and salves.  There are a few folks in my community who are knowledgeable on ferments, so I hope to enlist their assistance in making more clear the basics on vinegars, yeasts, wild cultures, etc. though I've been able to figure out most everything else at home on my own so far and may just do some more reading and online discussion before giving it a go here at home.

   The online community has been invaluable to me.  Facebook has plenty of interest-specific groups and event postings.  Permacultureglobal.org, permies.com, permaculture.org, and other permaculture specific sites have been great sources of information on specific climates, techniques, methods, and learning appropriate plant/animal species.  Nextdoor.com is a neighborhood website I've used like craigslist to contact neighbors when I have or need something, as well as to offer my design services, to some success.

   Other than online contacts, I have met many of the neighbors I now know by knocking or leaving notes on their front door asking if they plan to harvest goods I see growing on their property unused, and if not, then may I come harvest.  I leave my name, number, and address for them to get back to me however they'd like and usually get a text saying they'd be happy for someone to come harvest their unused goods.  From neighbors I had never previously met, I've acquired jelly jars, elderberries, raspberries, rose hips, hawthorns, grapes, and hopefully some new friends when I take them all a jar of fruit spread as thank you.

   Another way I engage my local community is to attend and host workshops on interesting topics.  Spring is usually full of seed swaps and crop swaps rife with food, entertainment, and local speakers talking about plant propagation or seed saving.  Summer and fall have plant walks, farm tours, and harvest festivals, along with habitat workshops, permablitzes, and classes on extending crops and winterizing your gardens/bees/etc.  

   Finally, perhaps the most permaculture thing I do is to simply continue learning.  Observation and interaction is a constant, dynamic process that only stops once you disengage.  Permaculture is a holistic method of living and, as such, any practitioner should recognize that they are connected to everything around them, so there ought never really be a shortage of stimuli to engage and from which one might learn lest you live in the arctic tundra, in which case you might end up with some down time.  ;)

   Photos for the article were too large, so I've attached them here:  Permaculture in the Home Photos  Thanks for the read, y'all!

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