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Archive for Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Eating up the landscape: Permaculture proves a yard can wield more than grass

Ashton Martin, farm manager for the 12-acre permaculture test site at the Karlin family farm, checks on trees that will be planted as part of a multi-tiered "food forest." Lindsey Yankey, left, helps to plant some of the trees.

Ashton Martin, farm manager for the 12-acre permaculture test site at the Karlin family farm, checks on trees that will be planted as part of a multi-tiered "food forest." Lindsey Yankey, left, helps to plant some of the trees.

April 21, 2010

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Laura Zell, son Henry and husband Devin are pictured in their front yard before turning it into a livable garden.

Laura Zell, son Henry and husband Devin are pictured in their front yard before turning it into a livable garden.

The permaculture plan for the Zells' residence.

The permaculture plan for the Zells' residence.

Brady Karlin with All-N-1 Landscaping is pictured on his farm near a swale that is meant to trap rainwater and provide for a "food forest" going in on the berm side.

Brady Karlin with All-N-1 Landscaping is pictured on his farm near a swale that is meant to trap rainwater and provide for a "food forest" going in on the berm side.

Permaculture lawns

On test acreage of land, a local landscape company stressed the theories of permaculture for homes as a replacement of traditional lawns. The idea is to use sustainable plants that are native and fruit producing. Enlarge video

Trees for permaculture planting

On test acreage, Brady Karlin from All-N-1 Landscape promotes permaculture as a replacement for traditional lawns. The idea is to use sustainable plants that are native and fruit-producing. Karlin works at one the swales on the property that help retain water for the berms where trees are planted. Enlarge video

It's a quiet street in northwest Lawrence. The lawns are green and lush, the heady smell of charcoal and barbecue sauce is in the air, and there's a basketball goal standing sentry to nearly each driveway.

Laura and Devin Zell love their house, their neighbors and their location, and agree that a stroll down their block could write the definition of modern suburbia.

That said, they are planning to change an integral part of that suburban identity one blade of grass at a time.

"To me, a lawn is kind of sad," says Laura Zell, known as Lori to her friends. "I feel that as homeowners, and as apartment renters, whatever it is, we are stewards of this land. And it's our responsibility to take care of it and to use it the way that it's supposed to be used. Not necessarily just for aesthetic purposes. Why not have aesthetics and food and beauty and something that sustains beneficial wildlife?"

In short: The Zells will eschew their piece of Lawrence suburbia for a grass-less lawn. Their front yard will soon be nothing but edible vegetation and walkways. Their back yard will include a swath of grass for throwing around a ball with their son, Henry, 2, but the rest of their lot will be crowded with plants and trees that not only provide beauty, but food as well.

On the organically maintained menu? Strawberries, rhubarb, goji berry bushes, a wildlife garden shaded by fruit and nut trees, a rotating crop of vegetables done in space-maximizing keyhole beds, a grape arbor and even a "beer garden" of brew-making implements shaded by a pergola crawling with viney hops plants. Recycled bricks and decomposed granite will create gardener-friendly pathways, while a super-sized rain barrel system and three-stage compost sorter (for ready, cooking and in-the-works compost), will hydrate and feed the growing vegetation.

Mimicking nature

The Zells' new yard comes courtesy of the permaculture landscaping movement. Started in the 1970s, permaculture is an alternate way of looking at land and the plants that inhabit it.

Founded by Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, permaculture strives to mimic nature to create a balanced, sustainable, organic mini-ecological system. That means all the produce coming from the Zells' garden won't come courtesy of stick-straight garden rows. Rather, the garden will look just like any professionally done landscape.

It's a movement that is held close to the hearts of Troy and Brady Karlin, the brothers behind All-N-1 Landscaping, a Lawrence-based lawn care business that has built the Zells' permaculture design. The Karlins met the Zells when Lori sent out an e-mail to local landscapers eager to find out more about organic, sustainable gardening techniques and design.

Troy Karlin started All-N-1 as a traditional landscaping business back in his high school days. About five years ago, he began implementing sustainable agriculture methods and techniques on the suggestion of his brother, Brady, who was off learning about the natural world in such far away places as California and even New Zealand.

"I came up doing everything wrong, you know, mowing a hundred lawns a week, spreading all the petrochemicals," Troy Karlin says. "And then Brady, when I would go visit him in California and hear about the things that he was doing, it really started to turn me on to a different way and a better way."

Troy Karlin began taking classes on his own and soon began offering rain garden installation, organic vegetable gardens, green roof landscaping, and edible and native landscaping. Then, when Brady Karlin moved back to Kansas at the end of 2009, the brothers decided to convert their 12-acre farm into a veritable showcase of natural, sustainable and permaculture techniques. There, they have multiple gardens they've created using the tenets of permaculture and have recently installed the beginnings of a three-tiered "food forest" - trees and bushes with edible fruits and nuts.

The brothers are hoping not only to use the farm to showcase the fruits of permaculture, but also to teach the tenets and techniques of the movement as well: skills like sheet mulching to protect and enrich topsoil, creating a swale or rain garden to catch water and creating a sustainable, edible, useful landscape. And their ideal students aren't those with similar 12-acre plots, but ones with pocket-sized suburban lots.

"Suburban houses and development lend themselves great to permaculture, they have so much infrastructure already in place," Brady Karlin says. "With the average quarter-acre lot, there is the potential to harvest more food, water and energy than a household of five can consume in a year.

"Americans spend $30 billion every year to maintain 23 million acres of lawn. That's an average of $1,200 per acre per year. The same sized area could still provide a beautiful space for recreation and feed a family of six if converted to edible landscaping as opposed to traditional landscaping."

Split duties

So the Karlins agreed to help create the family's vision by designing a master plan and putting together the plan's hardscaping elements - the walkways, hops pergola, reworked deck, rain garden, compost system, rain barrels and arbor structure - while Lori would order the plants, plant them and do all the other "soft" portions of the work.

"Basically, before All-N-1 Landscaping got involved, I was just going to be slowly encroaching on the lawn and eventually taking it all over," Lori says, laughing. "But this is definitely something I can look at and say, 'OK, yeah, if I break this up into this section and this kind of a theme, yeah, I can do that.'"

Her husband, Devin, says that while the idea of a grass-free, food-in-the-front-lawn existence worried him a bit at first, he says he was quickly won over.

"I'm kind of grounded and grew up in that environment of shrubs, and just landscaping plants, and the garden's in the back of the house, and so I was just like, 'You can't put zucchinis in the front lawn!'" he says of when Lori first started adapting the home's landscape last year. "But the reaction's been really positive.

"I thought it was going to be this weird thing that all the neighbors walk by and scoff at and point fingers. But we've met so many neighbors who just walk by and want to know what we're doing because they've never seen anything like it before."

Comments

Pywacket 4 years, 8 months ago

Ha! I have spinach lining my front walkway, English and snow peas growing up trellises all the length of my Victorian-style porch, and lettuce, beets, & radishes between the peas and the spirea hedge beyond the porch.

As it warms up, we will add tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, and other edibles around the yard. We also have a "regular" garden out back, but it's nice to step out the door and pick whatever I need just a short walk from the kitchen. I have herbs growing among the roses and lilies on a SW slope by a little fish pond. Just planted a few annuals to go along with the perennials.

Deja Coffin 4 years, 8 months ago

That's what I hope to achieve someday. Not just have a garden but be able to walk throughout my yard and have herbs and vegetables planted in various places. My friend's back yard is like that. It's not only beautiful but serves a function!

George_Braziller 4 years, 8 months ago

Oooooooh. Oregano, it's in the mint family and spreads like wildfire. If your "flat chives" are garlic chives they'll do the same. The garlic chives have a fantastic flavor but you have to rip off the seed heads after they flower or they'll spread as well. I have some clumps in my brick sidewalk I've been trying to kill. They're tough little suckers.

ksclimber 4 years, 8 months ago

Pywacket, This sounds amazing! Good luck this season with all the veggies.

Jeanette Kekahbah 4 years, 8 months ago

Began converting my yard in 2007. Smarter, healthier & happier!

Gadmi 4 years, 8 months ago

Are there photos of the Zell's garden as it is now?

Sherry Warren 4 years, 8 months ago

Lori runs a great gardening forum at gardenmodo dot com where there are great resources that she has run across in her quest to remove the lawn.

Sarah Henning 4 years, 8 months ago

Smitty- When I talked with Lori last night, she said she was thinking of putting salvaged tree stumps in the area between the sidewalk and the curb. That way they could look neat (all different heights) and double as seating for visiting neighbors. As far as I'm aware by going through the design with them, there is no plan to have a fruit-bearing tree near the sidewalk area, so don't worry about having to walk through fallen fruit.

George_Braziller 4 years, 8 months ago

I planted a peach tree in my front yard three years ago and intentionally chose a full sized one rather than a dwarf. It's close enough to the sidewalk I only got one peach last year because people kept helping themselves to the fruit.

This year It's tall enough I'll be able to harvest the fruits of my labors (no pun intended).

George_Braziller 4 years, 8 months ago

I used to pick up pears off the ground from another campus tree after I saw the landscape crews just throwing them into the trash.

andrewgraunke 4 years, 8 months ago

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scott3460 4 years, 8 months ago

How great is it to live among such creative and progressive people in Lawrence. Great job!!

devobrun 4 years, 8 months ago

Where's the grain?

Where's the meat? Oh, wait, I know the answer to that one.

Where's the calories? Oh, wait, I know the answer to that one too.

They don't work, not really. So they don't need the calories.

Don't look for any of their kids to set any records at the state meet.

Don't look for them to clear any logs out of the Kaw.

Let the unwashed proletariat do that.

ksclimber 4 years, 8 months ago

"Where's the grain?"-This year we will be growing quinoa, red winter wheat, sorghum, and flax.

"Where's the meat?"-Given that this is our first year, we decided to focus first on establishing our gardens and master plan for the property before prematurely taking on livestock. Next year, we plan to have broilers, hens, goats, and few head of cattle. And yes, I do intend on eating the meat.

"Where's the calories?"-The calorie content of vegetables and fruits may be considerably lower than meat, but that should not justify removal from our diet, as omnivores.

"They don't work. So they don't need calories." You are welcome to visit the farm for a volunteer day and observe our work ethic first hand.

"Don't look for any of their kids to set any records at the state meet." I don't have kids, but I bet they would be really, really, super fast if I did.

"Don't look for them to clear any logs out of the Kaw." I'm confused about the intention of this comment, but I can assure you that part of our efforts in proper land stewardship includes trash removal from the creek that determines the west side of the property.

"Let the unwashed proletariat do that." ?

Devobrun,

As I mentioned before, you are welcome to observe the farm on our volunteer days. Until then, I would appreciate it if you withhold your judgment of the farm and those of us who dedicate so much of our lives to see it and our community prosper.

Thank you,

Ashton Martin

shorttrees 4 years, 8 months ago

If my yard should ever "wield" anything I think it would be big news!!

Look up difference in definitions between "wield" and "yield". Yards don't "wield".

parrothead8 4 years, 8 months ago

I love the sentiment of the Zell's idea, but I find the statement that "it's our responsibility to take care of it and to use it the way that it's supposed to be used" to be a bit problematic. How do we define proper "use" of the land? If we pay the city taxes on a piece of land, does that mean we write our own definition?

Are " Strawberries, rhubarb, goji berry bushes, a wildlife garden shaded by fruit and nut trees, a rotating crop of vegetables done in space-maximizing keyhole beds, a grape arbor and even a "beer garden" of brew-making implements shaded by a pergola crawling with viney hops plants" a proper use of the land? Would those things be here without being introduced by humans? When we change what is planted in the soil, we change the soil.

Technically, much of Kansas would be a tallgrass prairie if left alone. Is that a proper use of the land?

oneflewover 4 years, 8 months ago

When are you going to fix my patio Troy? Come on, follow up, stand behind your work.

disgustedagain 4 years, 8 months ago

"recycled bricks" and "salvaged" wood deck ?? where can I find them? Used to be a N Lawrence place to buy bricks but it's been gone for a while. Anyone here know a source for recycled bricks? Does Lori have that kind of resource on her blog? Seems like landscapers know but not the average person.

disgustedagain 4 years, 8 months ago

Fantastic yard. Wish I could see it. Any photos anywhere?

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