Tag Archives: commons

How to build soil while making new friends . . .

Scavaging for the GANG garden — this morning, grass clippings!

Lots of them. A whole truckfull. From Indiana University groundskeepers. Whew!

The two IU groundskeepers, Shadow, and Jim, my housemate, who directed where to put the clippings.

I consider this a real coup . . .

Shadow and were out on one of our usual morning walks, this one into a big grassy area north of campus. Once again, no chemtrails above. A good omen.

Came upon these two men, both dear hearts, forking grass clippings into a white truck with the IU decal on the door. Would they mind taking this load of grass clippings to theGreen Acres Neighborhood Garden? It’s nearby.

“Well, I dunno. We’d have to ask the boss.”

After a bit more hemming and hawing, and me begging and scraping in front of them, Shadow dancing around their feet, one of them sauntered over to the truck cab and pulled out his walky-talky.

The boss: “Nearby?  I see no problem with that.”

Shadow and I ran home to be on the street in front when they arrived. Got here just in the nick of  time. Jim, the young permaculturist and Goddard student who lives with me, directed them to dump the pile just in front of flower gardens at my house, since he’s working on a project for a sweet little gate for the garden itself (next door),

Finally, we’re going to get an obvious gate into the garden. As it is now, people don’t even know the gate is there unless they are already familiar with it. Jim is working to create two little raised garden beds here, on the outside, before creating a more obviously welcoming gate. All these projects take time. As the founder and organizer — and elder — I sit back and watch young permies do their thing, utilizing the permaculture principles we all learned in the two-week-long permaculture design class.

and didn’t want that area disturbed. Told me he’d clean the whole mess up.


This is not the first time I’ve scavenged for materials for the GANG. Not the first time our morning walks have yielded riches. Most of these unexpected finds come from where neighbors pile what they don’t want for the city to take away. But not all.

A few years ago I spotted bamboo growing a few blocks away (for temporary garden structures; now we have our own bamboo patch to harvest). I went up to the door and asked the renters if they would ask the owner if we could cut part of it. YES!

Old carpet (for garden aisles,

then covered with woodchips (donated, when I ask, by the city of Bloomington, or by men cutting down nearby trees),

Here’s one of our aisles, carpet laid down and partially covered with wood chips (I’ve put a call into the city for more . . .). Notice the Garden Tower to the right (www.gardentowerproject.com). We’ve found that aisles treated this way discourage weeds for about three years in this climate, and then need to be replaced.

leaves from nearby neighbors each fall, a tree trunk downed by a windstorm and dragged from next door (for a hugelculture bed).

Image thanks to permaculture institute of Australia. A log can go in as the base of these type of beds, and then disintegrates slowly.

Cardboard too, once in a while. I see it piled flat on the curb, and, like the carpet, load it into the back of the Prius. All of this stuff, flotsam and jetsam of the suburban landscape, for the lasagna beds, to mulch them and keep building soil.

For now, Jim says he’d like to mix this load of grass in with our compost piles, some of which are mostly carbon (sticks) and in need of nitrogen.

Ommigod. FRUIT!

So. We spent a wonderful afternoon on Sunday’s Earth Day weeding and mulching. Alexandra will write up a fuller post on it, but here’s a great shot of the workers working,

and another shot of strawberry/blackberry bed fully mulched.

But today I want to talk about fruit. FRUIT. We got some! Not just grapes and berries (which came on strong the second year, not so great the third year, and this fourth year, are again strong — thanks to addition of rock dust),

Grapes, so tiny! This cluster is about the size of one of the digits on my little finger.

Blackberry buds. Can you see 'em?

Strawberries, still whitish, but large! (Only the second year for the strawberries)

but peaches, apples and pears!

I had noticed that these little trees, after four years, finally had some flowers on them this spring, but not until today did I actually notice that they now have fruit!

Me, with apples. (I THINK they're apples!)

Peaches. (They're fuzzy.)

Pear. (I think it's the only one on the tree!)

Plus, some little berry buds on some kind of bush, not sure what it is, but it was the very first thing we planted in the very first permaculture workshop that we held, back in 2009, and I had wondered if it would ever produce.


On the other hand, the seedlings are still gathering sun, awaiting transplanting.

I’ve had to cover them one night in the last week, since temps dropped into the mid-30s. But since then they’ve been okay. However, the way they are situated now, they only get sun after 1 p.m. About six hours total a day. Barely enough. And they are pale, need more nitrogen.

So it goes, as the magical GANG garden ramps up its activity, freeing the abundance of Nature year after year, fuller and fuller, as permaculture gardens are designed to be. Eventually, this place should look like a jungle, with stacked stuff to eat everywhere, and a natural magnetic draw for gathering neighbors into community. Blessings!

BTW: the fish are doing swimmingly, despite (because of?) the purgation of twelve days ago. About a dozen in there now, and I’m expecting little ones soon. Frogs are hopping and honking. All is well.

The GANG pond: death, and rebirth?

Today, I received an extraordinary gift. But before I tell that story, I need to give a context for the story which will throw it in ultra-high relief. . .

I came home from a whirlwind 48-hour trip at the stroke of midnight last Sunday morning. The next day, still groggy from lack of sleep, I went out to the car and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a spot of orange on the surface of the GANG pond. Oops . . .

Reluctantly, I went through the gate and walked over to the pond. Yes, there it was, a dead goldfish. Then I noticed a few other dead fish, floating on their sides.

Other fish lined up with each other, parallel, unmoving, at the bottom of the deepest part of the pond. See them?

And, there were at least three that were alive, moving slowly, and hiding away in a shallow corner of the pond.

Then I noticed that the pond had overflowed. In fact, that it was still over flowing. Somebody had left the water running from the hose in the pond. The hose water was in the process of killing the fish. I guessed there had been at least 100 fish in the pond. How many would die? And what would we do with the dead ones?

I turned off the hose. Within a few minutes one of the smallest fish revived completely, started swimming around like crazy. The others stayed still.

I went in the house and called my son. I needed moral support. Colin came over, and together we started scooping dead fish out, as well as, we discovered, dead polliwogs . . .

… and buried them, a few at a time, in the garden beds. This is a process that I would repeat for the next 24 hours, over and over again, as more and more fish died and floated to the surface on their sides. And polliwogs. At least 50 of them, all together, and I bet I buried 125 fish. I had no idea we had so many polliwogs. In fact, I had never seen a polliwog in the pond, though I had heard rustling, and once in a while, the two adult frogs which I did know were there, would croak and jump. So we learned something about the denizens of our pond on this sad day.

The big question was, would the little school of fish survive without being replenished from outside? An open question.

Within 48 hours of the hose water being turned off, the pond had mostly recovered its oxygen; apparently hose water is not oxygenated, and when you leave the hose on for too long, all the water is replaced and the fish suffocate. At least that’s the theory I tend to believe. I do run the hose when the pond gets low, but never more than about two hours at a time. Lucy, who was caring for the rabbit while I was gone, was the one who had inadvertently left the hose on, and it ran for nearly 24 hours before I discovered it.

By yesterday, the fish were all swimming around like mad, and I counted at least a dozen in there, which surprised me. At first I thought that only about a half dozen had survived. Among the survivors were the two biggest fish, from the original stock three years ago.

Now, here’s where the story of the gift comes in.

This morning, when I went out to the pond, the biggest fish, the one I always think of as a male, the stallion of this little herd, was definitely acting like one, aggressively swimming alongside and trying to corral the second biggest fish. Trailing them both were four or five other, smaller goldfish, who I thought of, at that point, as yearlings, wishing they could get a piece of the action, but it wasn’t gonna happen.

I wondered, “how do fish do it?” How do they have sex?

Well, I got to see it! Right then!

The stallion fish corralled the slightly smaller fish into an area between two reeds next to the side of the pond where she couldn’t get away and right then, what I saw from above was him humping her, thrusting four or five times. But wasn’t really sure that this was what was happening, because couldn’t see that she was underneath until it was over. And she was! He then swam off, and she “stumbled” out into the main body of the pond, and the four or five little ones once again tried to get at her. The stallion then came back and aggressively turned them away, coming after her again! At this point, feeling too much empathy for her, I turned and went back in the house.

So I have a feeling that any worries we had about the little school being able to replenish itself are beside the point.

I tried to take a picture of the two of them together, but they were too fast. But the Mama and Papa frogs both let me take their photos! For the first time. Can you see them? Here are three shots. Try this one first.

He’s in the middle, next to the tall reed. Here’s a slightly closer look:

And the other frog, just then, decided to show herself (pretty sure she’s the female). Hopefully, they will have new babies, soon. (She’s on the carpet, to the right of the red floating leaf.)

Never before, have the frogs shown themselves and sat still for photos.

Rejoicing continues, with the irises, the first of which bloomed on the day the fish died,

now in full array.

Sprouting Spring

Thursday Alexandra, Sarah and Stephanie had a productive working meeting at the GANG with the help of fellow neighbor José.

Alexandra, Stephanie and Sarah awed by the seedling-baby growth

We were thrilled to see the seedling so bountiful… but wanted to thin out some of the ones that really sprouted up, like the cilantro and basil, so we cleaned out some potters with herbs and re-planted the little plantlings. We also put some into the garden tower (more on that to follow!) With the recent frost warning, Ann had been taking the plants in overnight, so they are still alive and kicking. Now, we have been covering them with plastic overnight to keep them safe.

Happy gardener weeding the bed for the arugula.

Then we decided the pouty, wilty arugula was ready for a re-planting, having outgrown its little container. So Alexandra and José weeded out a bed in the garden,

Doing the dirty work... José with the bucket of manure

then José got a giant bucket of manure

and together we spread the nice, mulched horse manure over the bed.

Spreading the love...

Stephanie went to check how far apart to plant the arugula (about 6 inches) and together with Sarah, we re-planted the arugula plants in this bed.

Planting the arugula.

Sarah also had fun planting and trimming the Garden Tower.

Sarah planting herbs and arugula in the Garden Tower.

Stephanie added some amendments to the raspberry bush, from a mixture of liquid fertilizer (all natural, of course).

We hope these changes make the plants happy!

We made a final circuit around the garden, and Stephanie showed us the successful results of our de-weeding experiment:

Clear boundaries from where plastic was pulled up - no weeds underneath! It worked! A quick, easy, and efficient way to weed large spaces.

in March, we had put black plastic over a bed with a lot of weeds and clover that needed to be er one bed that was completely covered in clover and weeds that needed to removed before planting there. The black plastic, held down by rocks to keep down, would kill the weeds (with the help of the sun!) to free us of weeding. Stephanie lifted up the black plastic, and we could see the effect! Here you can see, too, the clear line where the plastic left off, and how nice and weed-free the soil is underneath the plastic! We left the plastic on, and will remove it when we are ready to plant.

Until next time, GANG!

Action in the Garden

A photo update of the work taking place around the garden.

We hope you come and get involved.  Next work day: EARTH DAY, April 22nd from 2-5 pm !!

Spring is sprung. The garden in its weeded glory.

Seedling power! Stephanie and Alexandra planted some seedlings over Spring Break… and within days they were popping up like champs!



This eggplant jumped up right away and needed to be re-planted into bigger containers!




Compost here! We got a lot of help from the neighborhood, including Jim making these awesome compost bins! THANKS!!! Now, we need all of your compost, grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc!











Mmmmmmmanure! Thanks to Steve Headley and his horses for this wonderful natural fertilizer! (FYI – his farm is on Mt. Gilead Road in Bloomington for others who might benefit from using this manure on their gardens). We will be spreading the manure over the beds to get them chock full of vitamins and minerals for healthy plants!




Weeding… a necessary evil. Thanks to all who pulled weeds to get GANG ready for yummy plants!







Yes, Shadow absolutely helps, too!









Ann is excited for the brambling blackberries and raspberries!





Ahhhh, planting. Steph and Sarah had some fun planting beans and peas along the perimeter (they’ll grow up the fence) and around the teepee (another good structure for their vines to climb up).

Hope to see you soon at the GANG!