Models and Designs of Nurturing

Chapter 8 - Part 2

Sacred-Earth Land-Nurturing, a book by Steven D Redman, has been compiled for farmers, homesteaders, land-carers, environmental educators, conservationists and more. It amalgamates the theories and ethics of Permaculture, Land Stewardship and Biodiversity Conservation practices, plus it provides useful templates to help assist with nurturing of the planet.

Each week on Permaculture News we will share with you a snippet from various chapters of the book which is available on Blurb

Todays snippet is an additional extract from Chapter 8 / Part 2 – Models and Designs of Nurturing


There is no perfect region or perfect design. The beauty is in the diversity; millions of variants are possible and desirable. Consider the ideal township I spoke of in the last section. Imagine it with hundreds of different eco-farms and forest lands, each with unique features, people, art, interests, passions and products. My designs are utilitarian, poetic and philosophical. We can raise and harvest wood, vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits, herbs, meats, and flowers; while loving and appreciating the waterland and revealing in its beauty, mystery, sanctity and eternity.

A good, general design rule is the one-third idea. In other words, keep a third of the land wild, a third semi-wild and a third domestic. We can apply this concept to ourselves too—in terms of nurturing ourselves, that is, by never forgetting the wild Earth in our spirit and essence. Yet, eco-sensitivity can be applied to an entire site, and entire regions. When we treat all Life as sacred, then we tread lightly upon the land, and treat most everything with loving-kindness. Yet, this must be balanced with realism too. We can’t let invasive species, like the python in the Everglades, purple loosestrife in the marshes, or tansy in the pastures run rampant. Not to mention, mice, ants and cockroaches in our houses. Our designs should also be climate-friendly ones that promote forests, reduce fossil fuel use, employ clean energy, save energy, reuse materials, and minimize burning of woody brush or creating other pollutants.

We can plan, assess and document our nurturing activities through mapping, GIS (geographic information systems), bio-blitzes, indicator-species monitoring, soil analysis, phenological studies, water quality monitoring, environmental impact assessments, photography, motion pictures, journaling, and in many other ways. Our designs can be diet-flexible. Which is to say that, vegans may want to culture the land in ways specific to their needs, vegetarians in ways promoting their preferences, and meat-eaters in ways that suit them. Our designs can be modest and humble, not asking too much of the Earth, rather emphasizing needs over grandiose, trivial desires.

Good design should plan for individual and private areas, for social-community areas, for comfort and safety, and for some degree of self-sufficiency and productivity. Holistic design nurtures a balance between ecology and other sciences, art, uses of the land, spiritual, individual and social considerations. Honorable design fosters democracy, human rights, legal justice, economic fairness, decentralization, bioregionalism and inclusiveness. Sensible design seeks coordination among features and uses, considers maintenance, and has cohesive themes. In other words, it is possible to have too much going on in a certain design or site, making it overly eclectic, scattered, busy and unnerving.

Designs should honor children by giving them room to play, dream, wonder, create, and be free and safe. As you may have noticed, my designs favor plazas, fire circles, wild forests, thickets, hedges, greenbelts, habitat mosaics, permacultures, minimal soil tillage, and are helio-centric (always noting and considering solar-intake of plants, buildings, gardens, and orchards). Finally, my designs emphasize both habitat blocks and edges. That is, large blocks of habitat are often more stable than small, narrow ones, and provide essential habitat to sensitive species. While, many edges and ecotones also promote species diversity, and are very useful to people. These features must be balanced.

Earlier in the book, I talked about the Nessen Ridge Pines in Michigan. Well, there is a narrow band of spruce plantation just west of the pines. It is a non-native forest type occupying about two acres. It consists of Norway Spruce, Scots pine and Colorado blue spruce. There are some natives in the plantation, including sugar maple, white pine, elm, cherry and red oak. I planted the white pine. Many of the spruce trees will be useful or marketable timber within about 10 years. I don’t want the area to be a dark, scraggly, overly-dense spruce plantation forever. Such dense spruce cause the native trees there to be subordinate, prevents undergrowth, fails to enhance the sandy soil, and is not a diverse habitat for wildlife. The spruce plantation is also very fire-prone. My long-term plan is to drastically thin the spruce. Viewed from the south (at the county road), it will appear as a thick wall of spruce, just as it does now. Once about 30 feet back into the spruce, though, the thinning shall commence. A large oval or strip of spruce will be mostly cleared away. This will be done carefully, sensitively, and not as a wholesale slaughter. Strips, clumps and specimen spruce will be spared. All the native trees and shrubs will be preserved. Some slash piles remaining after the spruce harvest will have to be burned during the rainy season.

Within the spruce plantation area is where I would choose to have a camp, cabin, sheds, greenhouse and barns because it is already the least valuable habitat on the ten acres, and in the most need of regeneration. It is adjacent to the red pine forest and the native hardwoods to the north. It is these two habitats that I want to preserve as the more-wild of the three. Once the interior of the spruce plantation is “opened-up”, the restoration process can begin in earnest. The spruce can be thinned more heavily in the south and west half of the long, rectangular plantation-to create a beautiful garden, and less aggressively in the northeast half. The goal is to nurture a diverse and amazing, more open and park-like garden back in the spruce plantation. All manner of native and domestic plants can be used, just so long as they are non-invasive. To the north of the south-facing strip of spruce, I plan to make an approximately 50 by 50-foot clearing. This will be the future cabin site. That area can be grass field until the cabin is built. North of that, is where the permaculture-orchard-garden will begin. It will stretch a couple hundred feet northward until it meets the southern edge of the hardwoods. Presently, a very thick stand of Colorado blue spruce meets the hardwoods at the northern end of the spruce plantation.

Northwest of the cabin clearing can be open gardens, vineyard, and scattered orchard, shrubs and trees—a lightly wooded, prairie-type habitat. Little bluestem grass, milkweed, echinacea, black-eyed susan, native sunflower, sunchoke, aster and other native herbs can be planted. Vegetable and herb gardens can also go here, and woody plants like grapes, brambles, roses, native vines, serviceberry, dogwood, hawthorn, mountain ash, viburnum, lilac, sassafras, rhododendron, apple, pawpaw, cherry, pear, kinnickinnick, plum, quince, medlar and peach. Northeast of the cabin clearing can be more densely planted orchard and nut grove. These can be intermixed with the existing young, native trees and remaining spruce, in such a way, that the trees get taller toward the northeast corner of the spruce rectangle. Nut producers, like hazel, chestnut, walnut, heartnut, oak and hickory can be nurtured in this northeast area.

The long-term result will be a heavily wooded, highly diverse, 10-acre ecological-forest-farm featuring maple-beech-hemlock forest, red pine-red oak forest, and a sublime and private permaculture-garden and human habitation-park (where once grew only a non-native spruce plantation). Earthworks, such as, Zai pits, stone lines, and terra preta beds can also be constructed and experimented with in the spruce plantation-garden area to hasten soil regeneration. The soil there is very sandy at present, not more than a few inches thick, at best, and likely quite acidic. Native prairie plants, grasses, maple leaves, compost, and even additions of limestone dust will help improve the soil.

Let us now think about some miscellaneous and useful ideas and practices applicable and complimentary to Sacred-Earth Land-Nurturing models and designs. This will be a collage presentation. Natural patterns are useful to design. Examples are spirals, wavy lines, dendritic, circles, ovals, in-folded/brain or maze-like, tiers, hexagons and webs, radial symmetry, and irregular-edge patterns. (See appendices) Related to patterns are artistic creations like henges, dolmens, mandalas, rock walls, naturalistic rock groupings, sun dials, sculpture and contour-ditching. Feng shui principles, especially the ones making ecological, artistic or psychological sense, can complement design.

There are many related practices, such as, seed saving, gleaning, donating to food banks, voluntary simplicity, natural medicine and health, wildcrafting and other crafts, garden clubs and other NGO’s, farmer’s markets, food coops, community supported agriculture (CSA’s), edible landscaping, slow foods, organic & local food and community gardens. Ecological education, restoration and synthetic ecology and other sciences, architecture, film-making and nature writing can all be woven into our models, designs and plans for ecological sublimity. Social developments like endangered species recovery, wildlife rehabilitation, modern zoos that emphasize biodiversity conservation, pet and farm-animal care, exotic game and bird ranches, school gardens and woods, and hummingbird and pollinator gardens certainly relate. Ecological forestry and range management are central considerations. In eco-forestry, for example, a mixture of harvest and preservation patterns, including mosaics, spider webs, circles, star-like patterns and kelp-like branching could greatly improve the ecological prospects of the world’s commercial and family forests. (See appendices) Example of technologies and design movements that relate directly are tiny houses, yurts, unplugged/off-grid, geodesics, Green buildings and roofs, bio-shelters, bio-treatment, bio-fuels, solar, wind and small-hydro energy, passive solar buildings, straw bale houses and the use of mud brick, native stone, bamboo, hemp and other engineered woods, re-use and up-cycling.

Lastly, the practices of cost-sensitivity, frugality, community tool-sharing, re-purposing, using designated utility areas for work projects, recycling, storage, isolating pollutants and ugliness (as opposed to having equipment and paraphernalia randomly scattered everywhere), maintaining access to buildings and other structures and defensible space around buildings, not planting under powerlines or over water or other utility lines, minimal burning of brush piles (burning large woody debris destroys the forest legacy and ruins habitat for salamanders, lizards, native bees, small mammals and other wildlife), selective favoring of native and desired plants, culturing wooded-pastures and not grazing animals in native woodlots, and having alternative designs for flexibility and revision options are all important to responsible and caring designs and operations. Once our philosophy, goals, plans, models, and designs are in place, we can dedicate ourselves to long-term relationship and experience with our place in the watershed.

Steven Redman

Land Keeper, Steve Redman, seeks to inspire all people in the practice and support of biodiversity conservation and ecologically sensitive land and water care. He has explored interests in gardening, landscaping, ecological philosophy, and forest ecology since his youth in northern Michigan. Steve has served as a park ranger, schoolteacher, garden centre salesperson and landscaper. He enjoys wilderness recreation with friends and family. Steve nurtures 10-acres of forest in Michigan and the 2.6-acre Wilderness Edge Garden in western Washington where he lives with his wife, daughter, and dog.

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