Permaculture Pedal Tour
As Lindsay Craig opened his gate, eight robust goats, named after seasonings that pair well with goat—Rosemary, Salt, Pepper, Mint—greet him as if they were puppies. A few kept approaching for a nuzzle as he strolled the yard, pointing out stout tomato plants, fruit trees, goji berry bushes, young chickens and a gawk-worthy historic treasure—a large, 1860s-era barn, its dark red paint worn by time and its frame standing strong.
Lindsay and his wife, Karen, bought the property five years ago—or as Karen said, they “started stewarding it.” She finds “own” a funny word for the way one generation takes care of land that’s existed for many millennia. The barn, she said, is one of the largest and best preserved of its era in Reno, and “owning” it led to a series of interdependent care-taking tasks.
First, the family noticed that the tall, parched weeds surrounding the barn were a fire hazard, so they got some goats to feed on the weeds. The goat droppings helped fertilize the soil to boot. The Craigs’ son, Jason, then 17, acquired a beehive. The family got more beehives, so they needed fruit trees to provide pollen for the bees. To grow trees, they needed better soil. To nurture soil, they rely on “hugoculture,” planting garden beds on top of mounds of decaying wood debris and other biomass. The stand of aging cottonwood in the corner of the yard provides plenty of wood debris. The Craigs pile fallen trunks with additional plant waste to make what eventually becomes a fertile garden bed.
“It’s full of life,” said Lindsay. “It just goes off like you can’t believe. You get the best gardens off of those.” For proper hugoculture, the Craigs needed a little water running under the mounds, so they purchased water rights from the nearby Last Chance Ditch. Lindsay, a geologist and mining scientist, built a diversion system, so now there are mini-ditches running right under the mounds.
Continuing the tour, he picked a handful of fruit—a dozen or so translucent, yellow currants, a dark-pink raspberry and the season’s first ripe blackberry, bursting with tartness and sweetness.
“That’s what it’s supposed to be in permaculture, little buffets everywhere,” Lindsay laughed. He knows that, technically, permaculture is a set of garden-design principles that amounts to setting up an ecosystem that mimics nature’s own.
While the Craigs practice permaculture by using decomposed cottonwood and goat droppings for fertilizer and grouping veggie plants selectively to nourish each other—corn, beans and squash all together, the Native American way, said Lindsay—a group of gardeners around Reno, who stay in touch via a meetup.com group, each practice their own different versions. They’re called Permaculture Northern Nevada. One member grows fruit trees for the homeless. Another’s prize garden fixture is a mulch pile. Co-organizer Josie Luciano (an RN&R contributor) has an herb spiral.
This month, 14 PNN members are planning a pedal-powered, self-guided, open-house tour of their gardens. The public is invited to bike around town and visit each gardener’s version of a permaculture dream—including the Craigs’ friendly goats and antique barn.