Grackle Fest was one of my first public speaking events on Permaculture. It was such a success that it inspired the below article by Patrick Reck of The S.H.I.R.E.
Ecerpt From the-shire.org
Mesquite Bandages: Permaculture at Grackle Fest
In the shade of an oak grove, we set up camp in a manicured clearing. The ground is soft with decomposing underbrush. I take off my shoes to enjoy the soil between my toes. Two minutes after going barefoot–ouch–I pull a two-inch mesquite thorn out of my heel.
“You can’t understand how much time we’ve spent hacking and pulling and chopping,” I say to Theron.
His glasses shine in the sun. He gives me a knowing look. “Do you know why they’re growing back?”
“Because we didn’t remove all of the roots?”
“Because the land is attempting to heal itself. Mesquite fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil for other plants to absorb, and it attempts to keep us out.”
Theron sits in lotus pose. The crowd’s conversation of acro fades into laughter. People circle together in the shade on the black and white linoleum dance floor ready to listen.
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is an adaptive design science that cultivates diversity to meet the needs of humans. It is the dynamic, accelerated implementation of nature’s processes and cycles. Permaculture uses the transformations of decay and growth, pollination and propagation, to induce an ecosystem’s evolution from monoculture to diversity. With permaculture, we can restore damaged landscapes. We can cultivate productivity in our gardens, yards, and forests. We can help the environment reach a cycle of continuous fertility that nourishes all communities.
“Life is always trying to produce abundance.”
Theron speaks with quiet excitement wearing his Community Cultivators tee, meeting the eyes of everyone in the crowd. His hands animate the space around us, giving us a different way to view the remains of central Texas’ blackland prairie.
Destructive to Productive
When the buffalo grazed the blackland praries of Texas, they would eat an area bare and move on. This process of clearing the prairie grasses would act, in a sense, as a reset button, fertilizing the soil with dung and leaving an absence of dominate species in rolling slopes of fertility, inviting new seeds to take hold and flourish. The herd would graze on, only to return years later when the landscape was flourishing again.
Now, we’ve killed off the buffalo and replaced them with cattle that we fence in and force to eat an area bare, bringing in feed and dried grasses, preventing nature’s processes from regenerating the land.
When the last homesteaders left the Hundred Acre Wood property forty years ago, the land began to heal itself, evolving into the young oak and elm forest we see today. Mesquite came first, finding little competition in arid conditions and scorching sun.
Not Invasive, but Filling a Niche
Mesquite need very little water. The leguminous, deciduous small trees and shrubs grow quickly and hardily. Their roots form vast networks that connect one plant to another, using their long taproots to reach wide and deep to draw from the water table. Their sharp thorns protect them from grazers, herbivores, and hippies alike.
Walking the trails in the yonder wood, we see gnarled trunks stretching around cedar elms. Beside the dance floor, we see saplings sprouting bright green, bipinnately compound leaves.
In the root nodules of legumes like mesquite, we find nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Microbes literally pull nitrogen from the air into the soil. Mesquite provide nitrogen for other plants to use. When the cattle left, the soil was barren, depleted of nutrients. As the mesquite thrive, the organic content of the soil increases, beneficial insects return, and the filling of the niches of damaged soil systems creates the conditions for biodiversity.
Soil is the Foundation of Life
“If you are feeding the soil, you are feeding yourself,” Theron says as his sparkling green eyes travel from the ground to the tree branches.
Most people don’t realize that the shedding of roots provides more organic matter than leaves. So when a tree branch falls in a wind storm or a buffalo munches the grasses of the prairie, in each of those organisms a corresponding root cluster sheds itself producing more organic matter for the soil. This shedding allows the plants to maximize water consumption while simultaneously adding nutrients to the soil. Trees, weeds, shrubs–they feed themselves.
“Every plant is a pump.” Plants absorb water from the soil for photosynthesis. This energy is excreted as sugars into the ground through their roots. Roots exudates sugar into the soil, attracting beneficial insects that form the foundation of the ecosystem. Most trees put 60-80% of solar energy into the soil through exudation.
The shedding of roots provides more organic matter for the soil than leaves. When you trim a plant or a tree at the right time–during a wet, cool period–it’s corresponding roots shed and fertilize the soil. This combination–trimmed branches and leaves decomposing and providing shelter for animals while trees draw water up near the surface and roots shed organic matter–expedites the process of diversity with amazing rapidity.
“Diversity leads to productivity. In permaculture, what begins as a ratio of 90% nitrogen fixers and 10% fruit and vegetable producers becomes reversed in only 10 years.”
We sit in wonder, thinking about the enormity of what goes on unseen and how quickly things change. A handsome bearded listener asks, “Theron, what is the importance of native species in permaculture?”
Native or Invasive?
Native and non-native is a misunderstood duality that has little meaning and significance in permaculture. All matter is from the stars, so nothing is native to earth. Everything is born in space. Seeds simply go where they are needed. Only through human meddling, do we view the process of species invasion in the short term, and interfere before the process of balancing diversity would begin naturally.
It’s something we see out here. Yes, for the first few years of recovery. Mesquite will be one of the only thriving species, but through their processes of nitrogen fixing, new niches are created. These needs of the land lead to more organic matter, more bugs, more plants, more animals, more diversity, more abundance, more productivity.
As the air heats up and the discussion winds down, people begin to talk in groups, gushing about exciting ideas, talking about Foot Patrol’s performance last night and the growing hunger for tacos.
“What about grackles? Why Grackle Fest?”
Theron smiles. Like mesquite, grackles are perceived as a nuisance–eating food from our plates, flying into stores, hanging menacingly on wires in murders. And like mesquite, grackles are simply filling a niche. They have learned to live off the waste of humans, moving to the city for an easy bite to eat.
I look up, expecting, yet knowing there are no grackles in the country. The clouds float lazily on a warm southern breeze. A vulture circles overhead, riding a warm current up into the air.