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Podcast 055 - Review of Gaia's Garden, Chapter 6

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Credit: Vida Norris

Paul Wheaton and Jocelyn Campbell sit down to review Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden – Chapter Six – Plants for Many Uses. Paul opens the podcast looking for praise on his new mullein video. Paul discusses his motivations for making the video and how it all came together. Jocelyn ties the video in with Chapter 6 of Gaia's Garden, since mullein is in fact a plant with many uses, and Paul's video provides a lot of information on them. Paul makes the statement that mullein is one of the primary healers of the earth, makes great “cowboy toilet paper,” and has many medicinal uses.

Paul teases Jocelyn about how he got to hang out with Toby Hemenway on the weekend before and she didn't. Paul brings up the video he made with Toby about native plants and the different debates that come up with people who feel they should only plant natives only – and the downsides to planting in this way. He brings up a point Toby made offline, that the 'plant native lobbyists' are corporations like Monsanto – because they gain an incredible amount of income from the native only advocates.

Jocelyn expresses her love for the start of the chapter being about the roles of trees. Paul mentions The Man Who Planted Trees, as an important video to watch on this topic. Jocelyn continues with a quote from the chapter that tells how a full grown tree can transpire 2000 gallons of water on a hot dry day, which eventually is returned as rain, and that up to half of the rainfall over forested land comes from the trees themselves – the rest arriving from evaporation from bodies of water. Paul had underlined the same paragraph to speak about since he also felt it was an incredible important point, saying, if you cut down the trees, the rain disappears. Paul also reads what Toby wrote about the leaves in reducing greenhouse gases.

Jocelyn reads another part that surprised her, where Toby describes how leaves collect things like pollen, dust, bird and insect droppings, and other nutrients, which then gets collected by the rain water when it drops off into the soil it effectively becomes the tree's own personally prepared feritilizer solution. Paul likens it to Geoff Lawton's food forest video, where it's pointed out that you can build a food forest and leave it alone, and it will continue to produce food since it knows what to do, or you have the option to monkey around with it to optimize it's production.

While on this topic Paul is reminded of the video he made on nettles.. He describes the video taking place at the base of a massive cottonwood tree, where there were a whole ton of nettles growing. Paul wonders why they would grow there, of all places, since it didn't seem to fit, and then he discovers that an incredible amount of birds live in the tree, causing a lot of bird nutrient to collect at the base of the tree, enough to support the tree and the nitrogen loving nettles.

Paul quotes one last thing about trees - describing oak tree roots that have grafted with roots of nearby trees of their own kind, and exchange nutrients, as well as notify eachother of insect attack. He reads that when a tree has alerted the others about the insect attack, neighbouring trees secrete a protective compounds that will repulse the incoming invasive insects.

They move on to talking about multipurpose plants and how Bamboo is the King of the permaculture plant world, and comfrey is the Queen, since they have such an incredible amount of uses. Jocelyn brings up the list of plants that are medicinal as well as usable as toilet paper, and they go over the points of annual vs perennial gardening, which Toby expresses in the book.

Paul and Jocelyn discuss edible weeds, and how there are higher nutrient levels in the weeds in comparison to conventional lettuce. Paul brings up that although he normally wouldn't enjoy eating greens, but if someone knows how to cook well, they can be awesome. Jocelyn brings up it requires a shift or learning curve in taste to be able to eat in this way. Paul argues that you can achieve a change in eating where you can still eat what you want except it's more nutritious and one of the keys is having better prepared food. He brings up the point that cooks in an intentional community is one idea to experience this kind of a change.

They finish up discussing micro-climates, and the effects of cold drainage and frost pockets and how easy it is to make mistakes with this aspect. They wrap up reading about examples of nurse plants and allelopathic trees, and their mutual dislike of modern landscaping.

Relevant Threads

Trees and Rain
Eating Nettles
Bamboo in a Forest Garden

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Paul mentions in this review that the wild edibles chart on page 142 (2d ed.) inspired him to want to make a video, presumably to help others be able to identify wild edibles. I don't know if he's done by now that or not, but even if he has, maybe permies would like to know, if they do not already, that there is an excellent set of (free) electronic flash cards "out there" that is perfect for this job.

All one has to do is download the flashcard software (http://ankisrs.net/), open the program, click on "Get Shared", search for a deck called "edible weeds", download it, and start learning. You can do this on your PC and there are also apps for smart phones (if you use both as I do, the decks can by synchronized through Ankiweb). Although the photos in this deck are of Australian specimens, they seem to me to be valid for the NW (I live in Oregon). The user is able to edit the decks however s/he chooses, add to the deck, etc. The Anki electronic flashcards are a great learning tool that I sure wish had been around when I was in school.
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