Climbing the curve of Permaculture

I have several interesting and sometimes tiresome dialogues going on in my head about growing food. As I’m weeding bed after bed of vegetables sometimes in the hot sun questions roll through my mind like: “Is this really having any significant impact on the state of the world?”,  “Should I just leave organic vegetable growing to those that are actually really good at it?”, or “Is any form of annual based agriculture a net contribution to the eco-system with all its tilling, inputs, and deer fencing?”  Those questions can certainly take the wind out of my sail particularly on a hot day and when my back starts to ache bedding over the onion bed.  Yet I do want to attempt to answer those questions, I want to feel even more connected to the why of vegetable growing.  So I thought I would share my musings and my struggles with you so as to not feel as alone in the matter because I know I’m not alone.


My dear friend and land mate Rosie helping me hoe the potato bed.

The questions I have pinballing around in my mind around seem to have their root in a deep intention of mine to do no harm and to be have a positive impact on my environment. That’s my intention and then there’s reality.  As mentioned above there’s several practices that are less than ideal in terms of truly doing no harm whether that harm is in the form of disturbing elk migration patterns or disturbing soil ecology through big tractors till blending up the earth.  People seem to have a lot of hope around organic agriculture and I do as well and yet I feel move to point out that there’s quite a ways to go on the learning curve (especially for me personally) to get the point that human food growing actually has a net positive impact on the ecology.  The hope for me lies in all the various incredible people I know or read about that are plugging away and steadily moving along that curve on differing fronts.  And with the world as it is the opportunities for cross fertilization and collaboration are immense.

I’ve been really feeling these days how much we need each other if to do the learning and work it takes to move beyond a high impact agriculture into a permaculture.  Growing our own vegetables is a start, planting a food forest hedgrerow is one too but its just a start.  I am grateful to be supported in the ways that I am on this challenging journey towards living in harmony with the land.

So maybe I should relish the fact that there’s still so much journeying to experience, eat some strawberries and just keep learning.

Thanks for reading,



My wife Eden (7 months pregnant) helping weed the community garden

Women’s Natural Building Workshop on the Horizon

If you’ve read many of my posts you’ve gathered that there is a strong emphasis here at Full Bloom on the importance of building structures in a way the reflects the deeper values of the emerging ecologically based culture.  These values include: using locally and sustainably sourced materials, staying connected to the rhthyms and patterns of the natural world, and creating a sense of belonging to a place and/or bio-region to name just a few.


The inside of me and my wife Eden’s Strawbale home.

There’s another value that’s becoming a significant and perhaps understated value in the emergent natural building culture: gender equality.

For quite some time now the art and trade of building has been dominated my the male half or our species and we’re excited about being able to shift that imbalance and see what happens.   How would our structures look and feel like if more of them were designed and built by women?  For centuries we’ve missed out on the God’s knows how many cool ideas by not having women be an integral part of the our building culture.   All I know is that diversity is a good thing for any system/culture wanting to thrive.

So in the spirit of supporting more diversity and continuing to evolve this art form called “natural building”  Full Bloom will be hosting a 10 day women’s natural building workshop given by our friend, neighbor, and master builder Lydia Doleman.  The women will be building a load bearing strawbale structure that will most likely be used as a massage room and healing space.


Lydia plastering one of the “cob” structures here at Full Bloom

Its all very gratifying to be a part of the unfolding of a building culture that actually reflects my deepest values of equality and natural beauty.  If you want to learn from about the workshop you can visit Lydia’s site:

“We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.”
― Sheryl SandbergLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead


Gardening as a Spiritual Practice

Every spring I can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt, preparing the garden beds for another season of growth: the rich array of colorful flowers, the crisp sugar snap peas, the deep greens of kale and chard.  I can see them all now in my minds eye even though the garden is mostly bare except for the few perenial herbs and flowers.   Now in my 7th year of heading up the community garden I see how every year is so unique and yet holds so many constants.

The Full Bloom Community Greenhouse

The garden reflects my own growth; this year I am particularly noticing a greater sense of thoroughness and patience.  For instance I’m really making sure that every little plant start in the greenhouse has just the right amount of water and I’m looking closely at their growth every day, noticing any sign to insect damage or nutrient deficiency.  The thing about gardening is that you’re working with living breathing life forms and ultimately its way beyond your control.  Ultimately its a relationship, a relationship that deepens over time endlessly.  I will always be learning more about the plants, the soil, the elements that compose this magical nexus of relationship called “garden”.

When I first began gardening and farming here I was mostly focused on how to grow food for the sake of offsetting my environmental impact and supporting the sustainable/ecological agriculture movement.  Recently I’ve sunken into a richer experience of being in the garden that includes more intangibilities like developing a greater sense of curiosity, feeling a deeper sense of place, and stepping for fully into the unfathomable diversity and beauty of life.   Gardening has become one of my strongest spiritual practices for it offers an opportunity to discover the truth of my connection to life, to dispel a sense of separation and for my egoic tendencies of control and manipulation to be reflected and exposed as not serving me or the garden.   To me “spiritual practice” is the art of becoming more fully present to life and a garden is just one big invitation to do just that.   Thanks for reading and please share your own reflections and thoughts on the matter.   Till next time…….Ryan


Pruning the Orchard

Last week an amazing veteran Orchardist came to Full Bloom to share his pithy wisdom and love for the art of Fruit Tree care.  His name is Terry Helfrich and he’s been taking care of fruit orchards in the Rogue Valley for several decades now.   It was a blast to see him trim up some of our trees without any hesitation, leaving them in a shape that will be super easy to maintain in the years to come  His approach really simplified things for me around pruning as I’ve been exposed to several different styles and they have left me a bit confused and tentative as I attempt to prune our now 60 tree orchard.   Thank God for good teachers!


That’s Terry in the Red, droppin’ the pruning science


What I really appreciated about Terry was his ability to empower each of us to take to our own trees and just go for it, giving us encouragement to not get caught by thinking there is an absolute right way to prune.  There are basic principles, then its just a matter of seeing being in relationship with the trees over years and noticing the impact of what you’ve cut and haven’t cut.

Its really difficult to convey his style in a blog post, especially since I’m relatively new to the vocabulary and would have to sketch out some nifty diagrams, so I’ll just have to let you know ahead of time the next time he comes out in case you want the direct transmission.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  Martin Luther

Let the Mapping Begin!

Last weekend, almost 30 members of our rural community in the Little Applegate Valley got together for our first ever community mapping event.  It was relaxed, fun and even exciting.  My wife and I got there 20 minutes late but that was no biggie since one of the organizers was also late due to daylight savings time.  So we didn’t miss anything formal, just a bunch of friends and neighbors getting a chance to chat and catch up on how the winter was and how the spring was looking.  The purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue and explore what resources of all types we have to offer to each other now and plan to offer in the future.  The group consisted of a sampling of farms from our valley but not every farm or homesteader from our valley was able to be invited due to space constraints. DSC02748So, after a more formal introduction we let the mapping begin.  This wasn’t the type of map I usually think of when I hear the word map.  We were about to map a wide range of things not just geographical locations. Then we would group the like items out of that brainstorm to make sense of all the information. Our wonderful community organizer whose inspiration had called us all together had already prepped 10 large sheets of butcher paper to brainstorm on with different headings on each.  Headings such as: Historic Sites, Communication and Culture, On Site Businesses and Education, social services, Big Dreams. DSC02753 We then broke out into small groups based on which farm we were from and spent 5 minutes in our group brainstorming around what our group had to offer under that heading.  So that took about an hour.  This was called assessment.  We were asked to be specific. If under education we wrote Music Lessons, we would also write the name of the person who was able and offering.  Under communication, we would note which person’s Twitter account or which business  webpage.   As the minutes ticked away we listed whatever came to mind for each topic.  And wow,  at the end of it all, there was so much information on each piece of paper. I felt amazed by how much was being offered by all these different people and the places they loved and the things they loved to do.  I could not help but be excited by all the potential being expressed.  It also blew me away that this was only a sample of the valley community but far from an exhaustive group.  It was clear to me that this was just part of the story.  And it was just the beginning of our story.   Our story of who we are and what we do and how we want to do it together.  Every community ought to do this.  Let the mapping begin!

Permaculture: the Love Story of the Land: Part 1

When we came to this land, bright eyed and tender handed, we came with a dream of farming, of raising our food and our families in a sustainable way, and we saw permaculture as part of that way. Unlike the buzzword ‘sustainability’ that has been co-opted by corporate media, permaculture offers a very clear set of principles to follow, including a code of ethics.  Why does this practice appeal to me and my friends, and to an emergent culture of these last few generations? What permaculture offers is a blueprint for how to relate not only to land, but to each other.

Permaculture encourages us to observe, explore, and interact with our natural environment- a practice that has been undervalued as more and more of our society had to leave the farm and take industrial jobs in the city. Observation, observation, observation you will often see in permaculture texts.  You must know the territory before expecting to know how to work with it.  And when you do interact, you receive valuable feedback, which helps you understand even more deeply.  Working with, rather than making something work for you; creating relationships that lead to greater health within the entire system, rather than just extracting or taking what you need and leaving the system to repair itself (or not) is a fundamental shift from the way industrial systems operate.

These very same principles are what we long for in our human relationships.  Just as we have rejected the archaic idea that children are just blank slates to be filled with our knowledge and ideas, it becomes unethical to just ‘do what ever you want’ to the land.  Our land has a deep history, stories to tell of the animals, humans, water, fire, and geology that has shaped it.


That’s me, Eden, observing and interacting with our land here at Full Bloom

We long for true intimacy with our land and with each other.  We want to know another for who they are, not just our idea of who we think they are.  We are done with the fairy tale ideas of boy-meets-girl and happily-ever-after for we see they are bound to fail; they work only as longs as everyone involved does what they are supposed to, and we all know how well that turns out with humans.  True relationship that allows all humans involved to flourish, that leads to mutual benefits, is based on non-coercive interactions and deep honoring of what is true and present for each individual.  …part 2 to come…

“It is our collective responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live”
The Dalai Lama

The Art of Simplicity

As I sit in meditation in the morning I look out my window which captures a panorama of the heart of the community: the central garden, the community building, the chicken coops, the bathhouse and a cascade of to do’s and anxieties often floods me.  There’s just so much to do and think about!  I close my eyes and come back to just this moment: my breath, the sound of a vehicle, the mild ache in my back and I can rest in the simplicity of what’s just actually happening right here and now.  I’ve come to realizing that I need to rest in that simplicity otherwise I go crazy with the never ending lists of projects that come with being land steward, a husband, a human being. I originally thought that moving out to the country and starting an intentional community would be a simple life, living in harmony with natural cycles and deep in a supportive web of like minded companions.  I can now see that to truly experience simplicity requires a deliberate cultivation of perception    It doesn’t just come about with circumstances (human beings have the magical powers to turn any situation into a circus of craziness).  It requires the deliberate cultivation of perception, the refinement of how I choose to perceive myself, others and the things of the world.  Becoming mindful of the story I am telling myself and choosing to tell a story that is coherent, inspiring and not too complex (e.g. simple). For example:  I could sit here on this beautiful morning on the farm and let my mind go wild painting a chaotic picture of all the things I “should do” or that could go wrong and that go out the door putting out fires and generally running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Or I could choose to take some time to really get in touch with the elements of my life that are truly most important to me, that I can be pretty sure will make fill my heart with the good stuff (satisfaction, joy, connection, pride) then proceed to craft a day or week that reflects that orientation. My sincere wish for Full Bloom is that it becomes ever more supportive for individuals to stay connected with the peace and inspiration that comes from living as an artist, an intentional story teller. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ― Joan DidionThe White Album

The Greenhouse Advantage

At Full Bloom we a have a pretty extreme climate leading to a relatively short growing season.  We’ve been know to have a frost as late as Early June and as early as early October leading barely a 4 month frost free growing window.  But that’s outside.  The Greenhouse changes everything; it gives us another two months on either side.   For several years now we’ve been able to get a major head start on our  tomatoes in the raised bed in the greenhouse planting them in April and still harvesting tomatoes in December.

IMG_8492 IMG_8497

Every year I do dance with the greenhouse to get in our winter salad greens sown just after the hot weather crops like peppers, and eggplants begin to slow down in early October.  Its taken years to get that timing down ( and develop the nerve to pull that pepper plant that may have one or two peppers still to ripen) and this year I was very proud of myself for clearing the bed space and sewing tons of arugula and salad mix for our enjoyment during the winter (note: outdoor greens can end up getting pretty much killed during the winters here. Especially when it gets down to 6 degrees like it did this past December.)

Given the extreme productivity and season extension power of a greenhouse I’ve been pondering lately how we can add another to the land here and/or build a “field house” for the agricultural fields outside of the central area.  These can be put up for minimal cost and can really increase production and protect crops of frost damage.


An example of a “field house”. A no frills green house that one can even drive a tractor through for cultivation.

Well that’s it for now.  Off to the greenhouse, cause its basically already spring down there and its time to prep the soil and start sowing some spinach and lettuce.

Till next time……Ryan

Who loves a garden loves a greenhouse too.”  William Cowper

Winter Camp Winding Down…..

The Consensus on the land here is that the inaugural Social Forestry Winter Camp at Full Bloom was a success!  (To be transparent: that’s not an official consensus, but I haven’t seen much in the way of sour faces or complaints either from the winter campers or the Full Bloom residents).   Yesterday was their “open camp” and they gave a tour or the their community and some of the forest tending they have down.  Very impressive.  What was a dense thicket of fir and cedar is now a spacious forest with a lot more breathing room and a lot less fuel for potential forest fires.

To know that this was all done within the context of a group singing songs about the land, having daily check-ins, and generally imbedding themselves in the forest ecosystem fills me with reverence as I move through the “treated” forest.


An Oak woodlawn treated by Winter Camp

Winter camp was also successful in doing a small controlled understory  burn of an Oak woodlawn.   Periodic, if not annual, burning was an essential practice of the Native Americans who lived in this bioregion to maintain the fertility of the Oak Forests (a.k.a Acorn Food Forest).  Modern controlled burning has to be done in a different way as the amount of understory fuel has built up through years of fire suppression, clear cuts, and general lack of integral forest management.

DSCN1558DSCN1557 DSCN1580To me, the biggest success of the whole Winter Camp experience was that a group of individuals spent 5 weeks living in the forest, relating to it, tending to it and each other and now have a wealth of learning and experience to further themselves and all of us towards a truly regenerative relationship with forest.

But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.
Alan Watts