#8 Tongues in Trees
April 15th, 2022 - No Cars in New York, The Levels of a Food Forest, the Joy of Vietnamese Mint, the Wonder of Flowering Herbs and Not a bird, Not a plane, A Crane Fly!
Today is Earth Day!
Earth Day is said to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the modern environmental movement in 1970. This year the theme is “Restore the Earth” and I think Tongues in Trees tries to do that every week.
If you want to get involved in Earth Day socially a quick google search should yield activities in your area from picking up litter to gatherings to tree plantings. I will be taking cuttings of my native plants to keep them populating the local environment and I’ll probably uproot a few invasive species while I’m at it!
This week in the newsletter:
New York is continuing an initiative sure to have an impact.
In Permaculture, we take a break from the principles to look at the levels of a Food Forest.
This week’s plant profile is the delicious and aromatic Vietnamese Mint which has delightful flowers. Likewise, other herbs inspired my moment of wonder this week with diminutive blooms.
Finally, have you seen a giant mosquito? I thought I had but it wasn’t even a close relative …
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New York Swaps Cars for Community at an Annual Earth Day Event
When an international icon like New York City has an event it makes an impact.
This year they will implement car-free Earth Day for the seventh time. Earth Day began in 1970 in the United States on April 22, but has built in popularity since then to become an international event. In 2016, New York began “Car Free Earth Day” connecting more than 100 open streets and 22 plazas.
This year the event is the day after Earth Day on April 23rd. This Saturday there will be a wide range of Arts Events around the city and residents will be able to access free bicycle hire for 30 minutes at a time.
Apart from just reducing emissions for a day, this event has the potential to connect communities in a cleaner environment. While one day is hardly likely to make a significant impact on global emissions, it makes an impact by raising awareness and providing people with an idea of what a carless world might look like.
It’s great news to see a large metropolitan zone coordinating an event like this that reinforces the need for change in a positive way. Read more here.
How Many Levels Can You Find in the Forest?
This week we’re taking a break from Permaculture Principles to have a look at levels. If you’re interested in creating a Food Forest then levels are a great place to start!
Here are your basic seven levels:
1. Canopy (Large Trees)
2. Understorey Trees
3. Bushes and Shrubs
4. Herbaceous Plants
So, where should you start?
Start with soil. This is relevant for the smallest balcony garden to the biggest food forest. Soil is an integral part of plant health and with the right soil your plants have a much better chance of success.
Once your soil is sorted out, which level is the best starting point?
David Holgrem says that you should start with Trees because they take the longest time to grow and care must be taken to position them correctly. If you have a smaller space, use this reasoning to establish the tallest level that you are willing to cultivate.
After trees, groundcovers and herbaceous plants will help you to keep the soil healthy by restricting access to drying sunlight and weed seeds.
When planning your garden space, try to think about what layers you can provide in the space you have. This links to the “patterns to detail” principle discussed last week. Once you have thought about the levels, you can plan the details of which plants will form those levels.
Don’t forget that there are a lot of resources for companion planting in levels too. Arguably the most famous example is the “three sisters” configuration used by Native American Indians, where Squash shades the ground, Corn rises high and beans climb the cornstalks while fixing nitrogen into the soil that hungry corn has removed.
If you’d like to see the beginnings of my food forest, there’ll be a tour on my YouTube channel this weekend!
Vietnamese Mint (Persicaria odorata)
This moisture-loving perennial is in fact not from the mint family at all! However, like mint family members it can quickly take over an area if not confined to a pot. Originally from Vietnam, as the name suggests, it can be harvested continuously and recovers well.
It bears very pretty small pink and white flowers to compliment its large green leaves with maroon stems. To keep it looking tidy, harvest regularly.
It prefers well-drained moist soil, although I have successfully grown it in a small pond with just the bottom inch of the pot in the water (during a very hot Summer). A position in part shade is ideal with morning sun a better option or simply dappled shade for the whole day.
It wilts quickly in warm weather, making a self-watering pot much more convenient than trying to keep up with its thirsty nature.
In the kitchen, this herb has a range of uses. My favourite is fresh in a rice paper roll where the minty coolness is lovely and refreshing. It is also suitable for infusions and adding to meat and poultry dishes.
Medicinally, this herb is reported to improve skin condition when added to steam inhalations or hot baths. It has also been used to treat fevers, acne, inflammation, nausea and as a diuretic.
The Beauty of Flowering Herbs
After a long road trip at the end of last week, I was lying on the patio watching butterflies drift past on the breeze, when one fluttered and stopped on one of the mint plants in my hanging pots. As I changed position to view more closely I realised that it was sipping nectar from Spearmint flowers.
I am always surprised by the beauty of flowering herbs. The mint family has such subtle blooms and hides them under leaves. Yet, if you take a moment and look more closely, they are so tiny, delicate and intricately formed that they bring instant delight.
I was too slow to photograph the butterfly, but the flowers were trapped in place. Herb flowers are loved by pollinators. Don’t forget to allow yourself, and them, the delight by leaving some stems unharvested in the sun!
Fancy a Tipple?
No, it’s not a giant mosquito! It’s a Crane Fly or Tipple, so-called because it is from the family Tipulidae. Mosquitoes are in a totally different family and a Tipple is more interested in your flowers than your blood.
They are commonly found inside because they are attracted to light and will usually willingly be ushered back out to breeding grounds. They can live for months in the soil during their larval stage, but the adult stage rarely lasts longer than a fortnight. They drink nectar during the adult stage to sustain themselves while breeding.
These nocturnal insects are great night-time pollinators and lack any way of biting, stinging or harming humans. If in doubt, one way to differentiate them from mosquitoes is that mosquitoes have four wings, but Tipples only have two.
Next time you see a Tipple, wave them back out to your garden secure in the knowledge that any open flowers that receive a visit will benefit and the birds won’t mind them as a snack either!
This week’s free read is linked to the Earth Day theme “Restore the Earth”. Restoring the Earth doesn’t exclude us as human beings. We need to start appreciating the nature of our own existence as well.
So here is the link explaining How Trees can Help you Learn to Love what You see in the Mirror.
That wraps up another week! I hope you enjoyed the read and learned something new.
Earlier this week I sent out a request for testimonials. I still need at least two more. If you are willing to write one I would really appreciate it!
I’d love some feedback and you’re welcome to make requests for particular plants or garden advice or anything relating to the content.