Autumn Olive: the herpes of the permaculture world.

Permaculturists, stop this!  Stop recommending that people actually plant Autumn Olive on land where this evil, invasive, non-native, destructive, allelopathic plant has not yet taken hold!

I don’t know why, but environmentalists always seem to want to import plants and insects from Asia to solve some problem here “naturally.”  Now, I’m all about doing things naturally and avoiding chemicals, but have you ever noticed that the plants and insects that are imported from Asia always end up wreaking havoc? From the aggressive, biting Asian Lady Beetle (imported by environmentalists to kill aphids without the use of chemicals) that ended up killing all our own cute, non-aggressive lady bugs, to the Tree of Heaven that sprouts like foul-smelling weeds in every untended suburban or urban area, to the vile Autumn Olive planted by the Forest Service to control erosion – these plants and insects are adapted to the ecosystems in Asia, not North America.

Here they destroy everything in their path, reducing diversity to nil.  Perhaps environmentalists do not care about eco-diversity, but one of the tenets of permaculture is supposed to be about encouraging ecological diversity!

Anyway, this is why I am a gardener and small-hold homesteader who uses permaculture practices but am not actually a permaculturist.  When your attachment to dogma overrides good common sense, you might want to stop and reevaluate your goals and the reasons you are putting your hands to the soil in the first place.

I believe the people who are encouraging young, naive gardeners to just give Autumn Olive a try once, what can it hurt to try it once, go on, kid, all the cool permies plant it…fall into two camps.

  1. the ones who may or may not have planted it but don’t yet realize how evil the plant is.  These are analogous to freshman girls on campus who are just learning about feminism but haven’t yet experienced all the glorious empowerment of following in Lena Dunham’s slutty footsteps and
  2. the ones who’ve already planted it and secretly know how evil the plant is.  These folks are analagous to sex-positive feminists who have already contracted an STD like herpes and want every other girl to catch one too so they don’t feel so bad about their awful, life-long, incurable, diseased state.

Let’s say you, the permaculture virgin, have just decided to avail yourself of Autumn Olive-positive planting.  You’ve done the deed, you’ve planted one, harmless little bush.

Next year, it’s grown.  A lot.

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But it has berries on it in the late summer/early fall, nice red berries that actually don’t taste very good.  You decide to let the birds and wild creatures have the berries.  They eat them with gusto and poop out the seeds all over your land.

Next summer you notice it’s getting difficult to walk through your forested areas because of all the thorny Autumn Olive shoots popping up EVERYWHERE.

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A pasture you’d let lie fallow has shoots coming up too.

Well, you think, I’ll use them as chop-and-drop for soil improvement.

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Hmmm, that’s an awful lot of chop-n-drop…

You try to chop and drop, but it’s hard to get near the shrubs now that they’ve quickly grown to ten feet tall, with multiple, thorny branches tangled together and arching over, making it difficult to get at the thick shoots, which by now can only be cut with a saw.

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You get stabbed in the arm with one of the thorns…

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…which is when you learn that many people have a strong reaction to Autumn Olive scratches.  The scratch swells and is hot like fire for several weeks after that.

You run the branches through your mulcher and spread the wood chips around some new saplings you planted to take the place of the Autumn Olive. All the saplings die. That is when you learn a new word: allelopathic.

Oh man, I’m done with this stuff, you think.  I’m cutting it all down come spring and burning it.  And you feel satisfied with this eradication plan.

You manage to get it mostly all cut down, but it sends up suckers faster and faster the more you cut on it. Horrified, you sneak to Lowe’s wearing big sunglasses and a hat to conceal your identity before engaging in this most shameful act…you are going to buy some…some…oh you hate to confess it but you are going to buy some Round Up to spray all over the Autumn Olives. You cannot believe you have been reduced to spraying chemicals all over your organic land. You feel great shame but also great relief.

You spray and spray and it all dies.

Victory?

Ha.

Ha ha ha!

When the next spring comes, you cannot believe your eyes. From the dead Autumn Olives are springing…new shoots!  This plant…it is literally an unkillable zombie eating everything in its path!

And at that moment the realization suddenly dawns on you…just like the herpes your hairy-legged, sex-positive feminist college roommate has for life, just like the zombies from an apocalypse…

Bitch, you are never, ever getting rid of it.

 

 

Conservative Christians and Permaculture: separating the wheat from the chaff.

per·ma·cul·ture
ˈpərməˌkəlCHər/
noun
 the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

 

Permaculture was originally a portmanteau of “permanent agriculture” and was related to forest gardening.  It has changed over the years though, and now has both very wise gardening techniques and quite absurd new-age-y progressivist elements as well.  This is a common graphic associated with permaculturists:
There is both wheat and chaff in permaculture, and I don’t have them all separated out yet.  Here are some of the things I agree with:
1. Rather than large swaths of sterile, barren lawns, humanity would be much better served if people learned to plant beautiful herb, vegetable, and fruit gardens.
2. Planting gardens the way God made forests is sensible.  Permaculture follows a “forest garden” model:

 

Without buying into the pagan new age spirituality associated with permaculture (to read a permaculture blog is to read the word “Gaia” ad nauseum), I’m still intrigued by their ideas about what it means to labor and obtain a yield, as well as their smart gardening practices.

 

We bought a little over ten acres of woods and disrupted farmland this past fall.  The land had been let go, which means it’s becoming overrun with autumn olive bushes, which are highly invasive thorny shrub that can grow ten feet tall and spread like wildfire.  Autumn olive was originally brought to this country from Asia as a means of controlling erosion; the fruit is supposedly edible, but it isn’t a smart plant to cultivate as it will take over and choke out native plants and trees; it even changes the soil chemistry, making the land good only for autumn olive.

 

I’ve slowly started clearing it out of our forest and meadow.  Here is an area I’ve cleared:

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Here is what an autumn olive thicket looks like up close:

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Here is another area I’ve cleared, transitioning from our yard into the forest; previously this was a thicket of autumn olive and thorns:

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Using some of the techniques I’m learning from permaculture, I aim to transform it into this:

Image source: Starter Permaculture http://starterpermaculture.com/


 
In the fall I planted apple and peach trees with raspberry and blackberry vines under them.  I’ll add sunflowers, strawberries, herbs and other plants, following the permaculture technique for creating a “forest garden”.  Instead of recycling our cardboard waste, I am using it to mulch under the trees and plants for weed control, which saves labor (saving labor and producing no waste are both permaculture attributes).
 
As I separate the pagan chaff from the beauty- and food-producing wheat of permaculture, I will share those lessons here.  Looking at ten acres of work feels overwhelming, but the permaculture approach of implementing small, slow solutions is comforting and compatible with both my conservativism and Christian faith.
 
[This is my second post in an ongoing series, “Separating the wheat from the chaff,” in which I consider the health of our natural world and environment in the context of conservatism and Christianity.  The first post was Conservative Christians and the International Day of Forests: separating the wheat from the chaff.]