Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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Big Tree

Often the design feature of a suburban yard is a big shade tree. What do you do when that big tree in your yard begins to die? For a suburban lot there can perhaps be no greater change. All of a sudden that deep shade becomes full sun and it may take 30 years to grow another tree to replace the one you just lost. But, when you finish grieving, the loss of that tree is a great opportunity to increase the diversity of your habitat.

There are two permaculture principles that apply. The first is to creatively use and respond to change. The second is to produce no waste. Consider having the tree processed in place and using the logs and wood chips to build a hügel mulch.  You will save the expense of having those materials hauled away and the expense of establishing a lawn in the old area of shade. The hügel mulch can then be planted to a guild of plants that will support each other using the materials from the old tree as nutrients for up to 30 years. That saves the expense of mowing, fertilizing, and watering the lawn. Instead of spending time and money maintaining a lawn that is seldom used, you will have created a habitat for beneficial insects, including the pollinators, and an annual supply of food for people and other visitors to your garden.

In the Denver area we have this opportunity coming from two different directions. First, as Denver was developed, a popular landscape tree was the silver maple. Many of those trees are coming to the end of their lives and becoming a hazard. They are at risk of blowing over or losing large branches during high winds. The other potential for tree loss is the emerald ash borer. It has recently been found in the Denver area and if it spreads about 20 percent of the urban canopy is at risk. All those trees being lost could mean a great deal of expense for landowners who remove the trees and landfill the wood. There is even more expense to amend the soil and lay sod to put in a lawn the old fashioned way. An alternative is to creatively respond to the change and not waste any of the material.

Plant Propagation Cooperative

We are taking steps to take advantage of this opportunity by forming the High Plains Plant Propagation Cooperative. This new form of organization has six ways to participate for anyone who is interested. Working together these six elements will save home owners money when faced with the loss of a tree opportunity. By changing the way landscaping is done we will improve the health of our urban and suburban habitat.

The central piece is plant propagation. With a little instruction, some used pots, potting soil, and a little time collecting seeds or cuttings, anyone with a sunny window or a balcony can start plants that will fit into the forest island guilds. We want to identify and propagate specific varieties proven to thrive in this precise climate for each species we want to include in a guild. That will increase genetic diversity and the ability to respond to climate change in the same way as saving seeds and line breeding domestic animals. Permaculture designers familiar with the concept of plant guilds and others familiar with local plants can participate by designing plant groupings (guilds) that will do well in these forest islands. That will help our plant propagators to know which plants to propagate. People with larger lots can make space available to grow out the plants until they are large enough to plant out in the forest islands.

 Apple Tree Recycled

I envision people learning to work with converting old trees to hügel mulch forest islands and offering their services to home owners and getting paid both for their contracting services and labor. Anyone who thinks that it is important to change the way we do landscaping can participate by spreading the word. We can plant demonstration plots and provide tours to show how beautiful and productive a forest island can be.

Here is how everyone benefits:

• The plant propagators will own the plants and can sell them wholesale to the contractors and at retail prices to do it yourself home owners.
• The designers can get a royalty whenever a home owner selects one of their designs.
• Landowners can get a per plant fee for plants sold from their property.
• Contractors will charge for their work the way they do now except that they will include the charges to compensate the other participants.
• There will be plenty of call for labor to help with installations.
• People interested in improving the habitat who are out talking to their neighbors about alternatives to traditional landscaping can earn a commission when they help arrange for a home owner to work with the co-op.

We have set up a cooperative membership structure with full members who agree to contribute both time and money to the success of the cooperative and associate members who agree to contribute time. Full members will assess themselves to cover the expenses of the cooperative and have a vote in determining how each of the participants is compensated. Each participant will make their own decisions about how and when to participate. If we have good designs then neighbors will show each other. That will create demand for the plants and demand for help in processing trees and building gardens.

Start a Co-op in Your Region

This is about changing the way landscaping is done in urban and suburban areas. Each locality is unique. The guilds that we develop for the Colorado front range will differ from those developed for another locality. Therefore each region needs a co-op of its own. Each new co-op will increase the diversity of species participating in the regional system. The more diversity we foster the more we improve the resilience of our system.

If you want to start a co-op of your own, get in touch with local permaculture practitioners and show them this blog. Other sources of participants are organizations in your area that are working to promote local food, increase pollinator forage, reduce pesticide use, improve wildlife habitat, reduce water usage and any number of other issues that can be addressed by changing the way that humans interact with the living things around us.

 Forest Island

This is an experiment in creating the kind of world in which we want to live. Many of us wish for fewer toxins released into the environment and more beautiful and healthy places. We cannot expect either the government or the corporations to make these changes for us. The government, by design, represents the status quo. Corporations, by law, must produce a monetary return for their investors. The system can and will change when individuals begin to work with their neighbors to repair the damage that has been done. When we do that, nature can resume building resources back into the system to create the kind of beautiful and productive places where we would like to live.

We call it using your resources strategically to enhance the pattern of interactions within the range of your influence. Indeed, the only way that change ever happens is at the level of the individual interaction. Governments and corporations will come along eventually.

Special thanks to my gardening team mate Donald P. Studinsky who helps me translate these complex interrelated concepts into understandable bites. To the extent there is clarity here the credit belongs to Don.  To the extent it is not clear the fault is mine.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I was recently trying to get a mortgage for a house that my wife and I were looking at buying. After 30 minutes on the phone, answering questions about my income, assets and debts, I was declined for the mortgage. I asked if there was any room for flexibility, and the mortgage broker said something that really struck me: “Sorry sir. Everything in our industry is black and white.”

Jonny Price Kiva Zip Senior Director

At the end of a long, slouching call, that one sentence made me sit bolt upright, write it down, and now write a blog about it. Because at Kiva Zip, we’re trying to disrupt that paradigm, and this (lending) industry. We’re trying to inject shades of grey, or (even better) rich, vibrant colors into the process by which small business owners can access the capital they need to launch or grow their businesses.

There are a myriad of ways in which we are challenging the conventional “black and white” approach, but I’m going to highlight two – firstly, how we underwrite loans; and secondly, how we approach delinquent payments.

Character-Based Lending

When I was applying for the mortgage I mentioned above, I was underwritten on a purely financial basis. What was my credit score? How much money did I have in my bank account? How much did I earn last year? How much did my wife earn? What debts do I have? What is my net worth? At no point was I asked for character references. And the mortgage broker did not know me personally. It’s all about numbers and statistically-tested algorithms. I didn’t qualify for the mortgage because, on average, people in my financial standing would not be able to keep up with the payments in more than (e.g.) 10 percent of cases. Now don’t get me wrong, this numerical, financial approach is very useful. And it works. It’s why banks and lenders are able to maintain high repayment rates, and make money.

But it doesn’t paint a full picture. By failing to take into account the character of the borrower, or social data points (like the strength and extent of a borrower’s trust network) on an individual, case-by-case basis, this average-based approach misses out on nuance, and thereby disqualifies many would-be borrowers that deserve, and could pay back, a loan. At Kiva Zip, by focusing on these information gaps that exist in conventional, financial underwriting, we can introduce flexibility and “color” into our underwriting process, and help a lot more people think a “black and white” approach allows.

Grace Periods

In July of last year, we launched Kiva Zip in Richmond, Virginia – thanks to funding from Capital One, and support from Senator Mark Warner and Mayor Dwight Jones. Unfortunately, one of the borrowers we made a loan was taken seriously ill just as she received the money. In a “black and white” lending world, this personal tragedy would have been met with stern letters, late fees, and spiraling interest payments. I imagine there would have been no “exceptions”. In the Kiva Zip community, the borrower’s proactive communication on her conversations tab was met with no fewer than 15 comments from her lenders – every single one of them positive, affirming and understanding. The unanimous message was “we are so sorry to hear of your sickness. Make sure you focus on getting back to full health first. You can pay back the loan later.” This empathy and grace on the part of her community of Kiva Zip lenders blew me away, and epitomizes the “color” that comes from re-injecting human relationships and people into a financial system that (over the last couple of decades) has become overwhelmingly transactional, and subsumed by the pursuit of profit at all costs.

Now the borrower has recovered, and is paying off her loan. With any other lender, the accumulation of late fees and interest rates might have made hers an unbearable debt burden by this point, and she may have weathered one crisis of health, only to be confronted with financial bankruptcy. But on Kiva Zip, even a year later, she still has only and exactly the $5,000 principal to repay. This might be stretching the point, but on some small level, I can’t help but wonder if the flexibility she experienced from her community of Kiva Zip lenders, in stark contrast to the intransigence that she probably would have encountered from a more conventional lender, might even have helped her emotional and physical recovery. There is ample evidence linking financial worries with emotional stress, the detrimental physical effects of which are also well known. If our financial system was more people-focused, would we all be a little less perpetually worried about money, and a little happier as a result?

In a black and white lending industry, we on the Kiva Zip team want to thank all of you, our lenders, for enabling us to dream of splashing vibrant colors on the canvas.

Now I’m not saying that I should have qualified for the mortgage. But that’s because of my shady character, and dubious circle of acquaintances, rather than the paltry state of my finances.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


 Accelerating Appalachia is the first green business accelerator of its type

As one of my colleagues, Dayna Reggero has informed me, Accelerating Appalachia is accepting applications NOW for the next intensive accelerator to begin in 2015!

Businesses in the following sectors are encouraged to apply: soil, seed, grains, grasses, weather, water, sustainable food farming, clean energy, forests fiber/textiles, green building, craft brewing/distilling and nutraceuticals/ integrative medicine.

"Accelerating Appalachia attracts and scales high-impact, seed-stage businesses and connects them not only with investment opportunities, sustainable supply chains and expanded customer base, but also with peer networks, mentors, and lasting connections," says Sara Day Evans, founder of Accelerating Appalachia. "More than 35 jobs created and 50 retained, more than 106 new sustainable farm acres and 12 new farmers added to supply chains, and continuing connections across Appalachia and beyond."


Businesses awarded in the past include: Appalachian Botanical Alliance, Carolina Ground, EchoView Fiber Mill, Riverbend Malt House and Smokin' J's Fiery Foods. Appalachian Botanical Alliance is a herb grower’s cooperative that supplies high quality Western and Chinese herbs to practitioners, distributors and manufacturers; Carolina Ground is the only mill in the Southeast producing organic wheat, rye and barley flours - Carolina grown and milled; Echoview Fiber Mill is the first fiber mill built in North Carolina in 40 years and is the only GOLD LEED certified mill in the U.S.; Riverbend Malt House is unique on the East Coast as a processor and purveyor of barley, wheat, rye malts for brewing and distilling; and Smokin' J’s Fiery Foods is the only grower of ghost peppers in U.S., and maker of proprietary base pepper paste sold wholesale nationally to salsa and hot sauce makers.

"All the entrepreneurs that participated display characteristics of scalable, socially and environmentally responsible businesses that will further develop the growing sustainable economy in Appalachia," says Evans. “Accelerating Appalachia created a unique opportunity for Riverbend Malt House to interact with the successful entrepreneurs, finance professionals, and business leaders throughout our region. Those interactions helped guide our company through a period of explosive growth that continues to the present day,” says Brent Manning, Riverbend Malt House.

“Accelerating Appalachia creates a bridge between the new wave of nature based businesses and an amazing array of mentors, venture capitalist firms, and business leaders who are eager to support a more durable, localized economic model for our region.” Applications for the next cohort are currently being accepted.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


Wild turkeys

It’s hunting season, which means that my and my husband’s lives go on hold for 5 weeks to try to fill our freezer. Actually it goes on longer than that when you count in upland bird season, fall bear, and anything else we care to look for when it comes to meat.

Despite the reports of great hunting, we we’ve been struggling to get all our tags filled. Yes, we got our two antlerless tags filled, and occasionally managed a wayward grouse, but everywhere we’ve went, we’d run into the wrong species, sex, or the wrong unit to hunt the critters.

That’s why when we ran into the Tom turkeys, we were surprised.

Talking Turkey

I raise a few mixed heritage breed turkeys. Although I have a small flock of them, this year I was loathed to thin the turkeys because none of the turkey poults survived longer than a week. That’s really the way with turkey poults. They’re tough to get to hatch and even tougher to raise until they’re a few months old. After that, they’re really wonderful birds and I’m fonder of them than chickens.

Even the broad breasted turkeys are charming. My very first turkey was a broad breasted white hen that fell in love with me. (No, I’m not kidding.) Turkeys bond to whatever they see as poults. So, if you’re the one caring for them, they think of you as “mom.”

Although the domesticated broad breasted turkeys are a bit short on brains, the heritage ones are smart. In other words, they didn’t get as dumbed down as the standard Thanksgiving turkeys. Which brings me to the wild variety.

Wild Turkey: The Bird, Not the Booze

Having seen and dealt with both the wild and the domestic versions, I can truly say that the wild turkeys are impressive. When I first saw wild turkeys oh so many years ago on a road, I was stunned. I didn’t know what to think. What were they? Emus? Yes, I can laugh now, but then I had never seen one.

When I moved to Montana I was soon surprised to see wild turkeys around. I remember walking with my husband and we heard something that sounded like a stricken aircraft overhead, only to discover it was a wild turkey in flight. Yes, they’re loud when they soar. We soon saw them all the time on the road and in the forest. Whenever we went to purchase hay or go places we’d see them in fields.

The Underpants Gnomes

Come hunting season, forget it. Wild turkeys are notoriously crafty. I nicknamed them “the Underpants Gnomes” after characters in Southpark who are only seen by one child and disappear when he tries to get other people to see them. The turkeys move on foot at an astonishing rate, so when you see them, you’d better be ready to shoot.

The flock of four toms were on a small hill. My husband managed to get a shot and we saw the bird flop around and then disappear into the woods. One thing to be aware of is that not only are these critters crafty but their camouflage makes them impossible to see even when down. We ended up finding the blood from the shot and through some tense minutes of looking, I was able to see where the feathers lead to the bird. He was still alive, so we dispatched him and called it a day for hunting. With less than a week before Thanksgiving, we now had our turkey.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Manarda In Restoration

A new approach to conventional agriculture would unite not only row crops and prairie plants, but farmers and environmentalists. In his New York Times editorial, Mark Bittman highlights the STRIPS program and its incredible potential for commodity grain farmers throughout the Midwest. STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips. From Iowa State University researchers, this new conservation method converts 10 percent of a crop field to diverse, native perennials. This relatively small change reduces soil erosion by 90 percent and nitrogen loss by 85 percent.  

Prairie Plains Resource Institute(PPRI) of Aurora, Neb., is a non profit organization with a 34-year history of doing just this kind of work in the Great Plains. Specializing in high-diversity restoration, their program Ribbons of Prairie hopes to engage landowners in turning their streams and waterways into stable, diverse strips of nature that resist erosion and runoff. “We believe it should have a much wider application,” says Bill Whitney, Executive Director of PPRI. “Also, it seems to me that the heartland could go through a major transformation in land use in the next generation or two, due to climate change, fossil energy availability, water and societal changes. Prairie is certainly not the answer to everything, but it is a sustainable resource that is fundamental to life in a semi-arid environment.”

Pokorny Prairie Seed Collectors 

Similar to the STRIPS program, PPRI encourages reseeding ditches with high-diversity regional mixes. Ditches are like field strips in terms of land coverage, but carry water away from fields. If re-designed for higher plant diversity, they would store water in the soil more effectively and create a diverse insect and plant habitat that encloses a crop field, from previously unused land.

Mike Bullerman 

Learn more about the STRIPS Research Team at their website. Publications on prairie restoration may be found at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture website. If you are interested in connecting with a prairie restoration organization in the Great Plains, you may contact the Prairie Plains Resource Institute at or 402-694-5535.

High Diversity Restoration

(Top) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: A PPRI Restoration: Monarda in bloom.

(Second from top) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: Pokorny Prairie seed collecting, next to a corn field.

(Second from bottom) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institure: Mike Bullerman, Restoration Ecologist with PPRI, reseeds a ditch.

(Bottom) Photo courtesy Prairie Plains Resource Institute: High Diversity Restoration.


Holiday gift-giving anxiety. Have you experienced this phenomena? It usually hits me at the beginning of November, sometimes December, if my life has been too busy to think about the holidays. What do I get people?

Like most of us, I get pulled into the joy of giving presents. But, as a bird-lover, gardener and conservationist, I am also aware of the immense pressures placed on the environment when we create demand for new, material possessions. Enter my solution: embracing the joy of homemade gifts.

Now, before you stop reading because you aren’t crafty, give me just a few more sentences to change your mind. There are a zillion fun, clever, inspiring and easy, yes easy, gifts you can make with your own two hands.The hardest part is generating the ideas. So, explore this Pinterest page we put together. It includes a variety of homemade gifts ideas you can make that celebrate the spirit of feeding birds, growing plants, increasing biodiversity at home, and supporting those gardeners who live to get their hands dirty. Feel free to forward this link to your loved ones as a “Hint, hint, I’d love something homemade for the holidays.” Included on this Pinterest board are upcycled birdhouses, simple suet feeders, garden decor and more. We did the research, so you can spend your time creating. On average these projects will take you about thirty minutes of planning and material collecting, and an hour of creating--depending on how much detail and unique creativity you add. But, the reward will be priceless. So, roll-up your sleeves these next few weeks and make a homemade gift.

Birds Eye ViewIf you have been the recipient of a thoughtful, homemade gift, you know why this method of giving is worth the modest effort. Watching the receiver admire the time, attention and love you put into the creation fills everyone with a warm, satisfying glow. Even the presumed flaws are admired as they demonstrate one of the great wabi-sabi lessons — there is great beauty in imperfection. Join the YardMap Citizen Science community for inspiration on birds, science, habitat creation, gardening and low-impact living! You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This post was written by Becca Rodomsky-Bish, YardMap Project Assistant

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Right now talking about weed control seems pretty ridiculous with the ground covered in snow. I was getting my weeding tools out to clean and sharpen in order to be ready for next springtime and thinking it is wise to plan ahead because those weeds will surely present themselves when this snow melts. I especially like to cut the weeds back that have stickers which get into the dogs fur. Locally we are being told that Canada thistle is an invasive species and will crowd out native vegetation but I have not seen that threat mature yet in our area. The Department of Agriculture wants weeds like Canada thistle and leafy spurge plus a host of other weeds eradicated from our common lands and our property. Our community seeks to comply and their last effort at weed control was to apply copious amounts of 2,4, D, Amine 4 to noxious weeds. Failure to seek out every thistle and saturate it with spray or rip it out by the roots seems to upset some zealots who are more committed to killing weeds with toxic spray rather than protecting the environment.

I personally observed a dead deer laying in the meadow with no apparent external cause of death and numerous deer and elk with tumors on their bodies. Some people are still of the belief that if a little is good then a lot is better. I personally witnessed spraying this toxic chemical on a specific location in the morning and later that day saw a herd of deer eating the sprayed weeds. One of those responsible told me that he was also using an experimental herbicide on leafy spurge that he obtained from a university professor who was one of his friends. Using an untested herbicide without knowing its potential toxic side effects on humans and four legged animals is seriously irresponsible in my opinion. People who are more intent on killing weeds at the risk of our safety need to be kept away from spraying apparatus so they don‘t get carried away with their obsession.

A Hazard Outside - Greater Hazard Inside

I have seen the commercials on television where this big manly guy with a deep voice comes onto your screen singing a catchy jingle that is designed to make you want to buy a gallon of their pre-mixed herbicide whether you have weeds or not. No sense reading the label or warnings on the container because it is pre-mixed and all you need to do is point and shoot and watch that weed wither and die. That product is only one of many brands which have carcinogens in them. The half life for 2,D.4 Amine and most products outdoors is only a few days but in one independent report I read it stated if tracked inside onto carpet its half life extended for up to one year. That would be the same carpet our children and grandchildren play on and is walked on in bare feet.

Humans Smarter Than A Frog?

The other remarkable feature I found when exploring the use of herbicides is that the reports available are either pro or con depending on who writes them so ascertaining which one is truly correct is difficult. Add to this the manly type standing with feet spread singing a catchy jingle and it is no wonder why some people disregard common sense and rush down to buy the pre-mixed herbicide that only takes a few minutes to apply. In many respects people remind me of the frog experiment where attempts to put a frog in hot water results in its immediately jumping out of the pan of hot water to safety. However, if you put a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly increase the water temperature the frog will remain in the pan until it dies. We humans are a lot like that frog when it comes to our use of herbicides. Exposures occur over time and accumulate with other exposures from the food we now eat to the air we breathe and the water we drink. Some people have a greater tolerance to toxins than others. Children and those with weak immune systems tend to be more susceptible to adverse effects than others. Pets appear to universally be susceptible from all the reports I have read. I know what I personally witnessed in our community when they were spraying herbicides.

Manual Removal Of Weeds

Those who are prone to spraying herbicides will go right ahead and spray them due to expediency sake and ignore the hazards. As for me I would suggest an alternative method I have found practical. It is more labor intensive and takes a longer time to perform but in the long run is just as effective and much safer. Note the photo where my array of weed control tools are laid out on our picnic table. Mowing is very effective but requires more time to manage the weeds. Some weeds like the dandelion we actually harvest and eat. That is effective weed control and is nutritious too since dandelions have many vitamins and nutritional aspects that are good for you. For the taller, non-edible weeds I use the manual weed whacker. I found the handle that came with it didn’t last long due to our many rocks so I put a heavy duty handle on it which I salvaged from a snow shovel. The electric weed whacker is used within 80 to 100 feet of our house according to the length of the extension cord. Weed control around the house is also good for wildfire mitigation. The other tools are for pulling weeds up from the root and getting into harder to reach places. Our grasses are all native natural grasses.

I concede that chemical companies are clearly here to stay and will market their herbicides with catchy commercials. However, I prefer to do my weed control manually and don’t mind taking the extra time needed to avoid putting any toxic material on our property. While our weed population is currently covered with snow and will remain that way for the next few months perhaps this topic will be a reminder to others that alternatives are available and when those weeds appear next spring instead of rushing down to purchase a herbicide possibly the manual way will be just as effective.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and sensible mountain living go to their blog, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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