Today, I attended a Sustainable Living Conference at All World Acres near Tampa. An Eternal Student t-shirt, worn by a fellow conference attendee, perfectly expressed the importance of lifelong learning as the morning began with a search for wild edibles led by guide Andy Firk from Bamboo Grove Farm in Arcadia, Florida and his Ithaca Forest Farm summer homestead in Ithaca, NY.
While chatting with a wise woman at the conference, she shared with me her learning strategy. When there are so many new things to learn, and we want to acquire a firm grasp of it all, choose one or two things and learn them well before moving on to the next. Good advice. I decided that I would learn to identify miners lettuce (aka winter purslane) growing in the wild and make a conscious effort to include it into my diet.
The origin of its name dates back to the California Goldrush when miners harvested it to prevent scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. The identifiable characteristic of this tender, succulent, wild salad green is a stem growing in the center of the plant's round leaf. It is one of the first spring greens to emerge. Reminiscent of spinach, it can be used in sandwiches and salads... with pine nuts, cheese, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette dressing maybe?
All workshops except the wild edibles hike were held under a roofed area open on all sides to provide a sense of being outdoors but protected from the heat of the sun. John Starnes, a presenter from Tampa, explained how to create a "water wise container" by drilling pencil-size drainage holes 3" from the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket. To make an air wick so there is no standing water in the bottom of the bucket, place dried stalks like perennial sunflowers, cornstalks, or cassava (John's favorite) vertically in the bucket. Next, add growing medium by "lasagna-layering" two-inch layers of whatever brown and green material is available like dried leaves, grass clippings, well-rotted manure, fruit and veggie scraps, etc. in the bucket. The addition of red worms will speed decomposition. Top off with a two-inch layer of finished compost. Finally, plant the seeds or seedlings. Caution: paralyzing nitrogen deficiency can occur if brown stalks aren't balanced with green material. It works well if you pay attention to this. The premise behind this "water wise container" method is that each bucket is a mini composter housing its own rich ecosystem as the plants grow and mature. To provide additional nutrients, John recommends Alaska Fish Fertilizer which sells at Home Depot for $7.57/quart. A better deal can be had at Lowe's for $13.99/gallon. He mixes 3 tbsp in a gallon of water, which will cover a 3 to 4 foot row, and feeds every 4 to 6 weeks. In container gardening (using the 5 gallon bucket), water until the fish fertilizer solution or plain water comes out of the drilled holes.
I had a wee bit of time in between workshops, so I grabbed a black-eyed pea patty on pita bread and a fruity nut milk yogurt and wandered over to a nearby veggie/herb/flower garden. There, my eyes fell upon a mangled fence that created a little garden "room."
Then it was back to my next workshop... As explained by permaculture presenter, Jim Kovaleski from Freedom Farm in New Port Ritchey Florida, the lasagna layering method can be implemented in a garden setting, as well. This is done by layering green and brown directly in the garden, top with finished compost (or a nutrient-dense soil purchased from a garden center until you get your compost pile/bin/tumbler set up and doing its thing), then plant seeds and seedlings in the compost. The green and brown matter will decompose and feed the plants as they grow. You are providing a setting for a vast, beneficial ecosystem to develop. What perfect sense this does make!