Sunday, April 19, 2009

Permaculture Art: Arborsculpture

Okay, earthsip is supposed to be an ad-free blog, and this posting is KIND of an ad, but if the means are the ends... Being a reader of the Celtic Tree Oracle (aka Ogham), I (Marina) have a particular affinity for trees, and maybe that's why I find arborsculpture so appealing. Arborsculpture is also permaculture in action, an ancient art form now enjoying a resurgence. Arborsculptor Richard Reames shapes the trunks of young, flexible saplings so that they grow into chairs, fences, gazebos, garden borders, benches, tables, trellises, or earth art. Some of the trees are left in the ground, to continue as living artwork or furniture, like the kitty perch, above, and some are cut after being grown into the shape that's needed, like this chair:
While some of these creations are very elaborate, and take decades to grow, you can also do something simpler. I couldn't find a good enough photo, but I particularly like the living table and chairs grown of willow, and still rooted in the ground. (And no, they apparently don't grow too big to continue using them as furniture.) As Reames says, "Everyone with sun and a container of soil can grow trees into the shapes of their desires." Arborsculpture is sustainable, cheap, unique, and beautiful, as well as an example of several permaculture principles---the First Principle of Conservation, since the use of energy would be minimal and you would use only what you need. It also illustrates the Second Principle, Stacking Functions, getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system, because as long as the tree is growing in the earth, it can provide shade, shelter wildlife, be the building material itself, be a wind break, fertilize the soil, prevent erosion, raise the water table, and sequester CO2. Depending on your available time and skills, it could also be an example of the Third Principle, Appropriate Scale, where what we design is on a human scale and can be done with the available time, skills, and money that you have. And practicing arborsculpture will certainly help anyone learn the patience necessary to figuring out what your particular spot on earth needs. As Reames says, "The entry price to practicing this art is to check your speed at the garden gate and enter the slow motion world of tree time."

To learn more about arborsculpture and Reames' techniques, or to sign up for one of his classes, or purchase his most recent book, "Arborsculpture- Solutions for a Small Planet," check out his website or his blog His website includes a fascinating, well-done video on the history of arborsculpture, as well as instructions on how to grow a living chair and a living fence.

(But please don't do this with your bicycle! :))

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rose and June set up coop-keeping with Sara---and a Hawk Attack

Happy Ostara/Easter/Passover/whatever holiday you may celebrate! We're just relieved that Sara is still here to play her part in the Easter animal parade (figuratively speaking, of course). Yesterday, this red-tailed hawk attacked Sara, and although we're still not entirely sure why, it seems to have been scared off when we heard the terrible commotion, and came outside. (Either that, or Sara fought back?) The hawk didn't go far, though---just flew up to the top of what's left of our silver maple (maybe 14 feet high?), and didn't even flinch when Steve tossed sticks up in that direction to try to spook it. S/he still was eyeing up Rose and June, who had wisely taken refuge under a forsythia bush.

Sara lost quite a few feathers in the attack---the hawk seems to have been systematically plucking her right underwing---and she was pretty shaken up at first, but now she seems otherwise okay.

There's a nick in her skin from the plucking (it hurts to even think about it!) but she didn't bleed, thankfully, and her feathers will come in again. Lesson learned by the humaniamals. Even in the city, hawks are hungry. So the days of our chickens wandering freely around the backyard are over. Their coop is plenty big for the three of them, of course. Still, we hate the idea of keeping them in a cage, even if it is one that's roomy and moveable, as their "chicken tractor" will be. We need to keep them safe, but it does make you think about what it means to keep what is essentially a prey animal safe from predators in the outdoors...

Otherwise, Rose and June have been settling in nicely to their new living situation with Sara. Sara's still boss chicken, and Rose, who is smaller, doesn't get as much of whatever there is to get, but...she has a secret treat source that Sara and June don't know about! Steve cut back the wild grape vine, and showed it to her, so now she drinks the sap that drips from it, as you can see from the photo.
It's still pretty brown and bare here in south central Wisconsin; we're just south of the north woods, after all. It sure will be nice when more greenery emerges. Things have at least dried out a little, though, the chickens can enjoy dust baths, and they aren't wearing boots of mud. (Wish we had a photo of that to post, because they look really funny running towards you with their mud "clodhoppers"! Next time it rains, maybe...)

Crocuses are coming up, though...