Greetings Greenthumbs! I'm Kathryn Hogan, and I'm here to tell you about my adventures in permaculture.

If you'd like to know more about me, check out my website!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Apocalypse Maybe

This post was originally published at, where you can find all sorts of fun links to great books, as well as a almost-weekly sassy advice column.

This morning I had the dubious privilege of reading Apocaplypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times, by Matt Ridley, on
For the record, I’m not pro-apocalypse. I think that having an apocalypse is probably a bad idea for everyone. Whether by human immorality or an act of an angry God, an apocalypse would likely suck. A lot.
Hilariously, my opinion doesn’t make any apocalypse or apocalypse-related-event more or less likely. Neither does Matt Ridley’s, or Wired magazine’s.
Ridley’s rebuttal of dooms-day-proponents is riddled with ridiculous assumptions that can only be described as his (stupid) opinion. While it’s true that the world hasn’t ended, lots of appalling things have happened. Denying their gravity is to deny the basic humanity that is worth fighting for, and that could be lost if ‘the world’ (ie civilization as we know it) were to end. His privilege as a rich white human male is so prominent in this article that the article may as well be titled:
“I don’t have to worry about anything because, failing the worst kind of disaster, literally billions of people would die before I would be in danger! Now I am going to eat a cake!”
In his introduction alone, Ridley says that the spectre of global famine is/was exaggerated… twice. I’m sure that the tens of thousands who starve to death every single day would certainly agree with him.
First World famine hasn’t happened. Just because it hasn’t happened to us doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. It deserves more attention than as just “an obstacle,” as Ridley calls it.
Next, Ridley tells us that the fear-mongers used to talk about acid rain. Can you believe it? I mean, nothing bad happened from acid rain! We still have forests and stuff!
Except that many fish died. Lakes lost their lives. It wasn’t ‘global’, it may not have been ‘catastrophic’. But it is important, nonetheless. Just because it wasn’t so big and bad that we could never come back from it, doesn’t mean that it can be dismissed just like that.
Ridley explains that we don’t have to worry about environmental destruction because AIDS isn’t a big deal. Really. You see, anecdotally, there have been environmentalists throughout the last four decades saying that shit is going to hit the fan and it ain’t going to be pretty. Well, reasons Ridley, nothing entirely catastrophic has happened YET. And people said equally terrifying things about AIDS, but AIDS hasn’t changed MY life. Therefore, they are just asking us to be scared because it entertains them.
He acknowledges in five words that, yes, AIDS did become epidemic in Africa. But he is a white British guy, so an epidemic in Africa doesn’t really matter, right?
Funny how something can certainly feel like an apocalypse to those who can’t escape it, but can be dismissed in five words by those whose privilege helps them believe they are above it.
The next part of the article – discussing the growth of human population and how we are going to feed all these people – is definitely my favorite. Did you know, for example, that smaller families are caused by lower infant-mortality rates? Yeah! They’re not caused by, I don’t know, better education for girls and women.
Oh wait, I’m lying. Smaller families are caused by better education for girls and women. Empowerment, equality, that old hat sort of stuff. But a man who is trying to prove thatcivilization will prevail and that science will overcome just as long as we continue to do things the way we always have… well, he’s going to say that science (lower infant mortality rates) are what is slowing world population growth. Not some froo-froo hippy feminist equality stuff.
“Over the past 50 years, worldwide food production per capita has risen, even as the global population has doubled”
Let me tell you a story, Matt. Once upon a time there was a whole bunch of extra nitrogen that was no longer needed for bombs because the war ended. So people decided to start using it as fertilizer. Bam! That’s the sound of explosive crop growth. It was called the Green Revolution, and has culminated, like you said, in growing crop productivity.
For a while.
It’s also culminated in a shit-ton of run-off nitrogen in the ocean, causing algae flushes that choke out all other marine life. It’s culminated in a thriving pesticide-and-herbicide industrial agriculture new-world-order, because Nitrogen helps weeds grow, not just corn or wheat, so we have to kill the weeds. It’s culminated in the growth of super weeds, which are pesticide resistant, and are taking over your precious mono-crop, savior-of-humanity wheat fields. It’s culminated in those same pesticides contaminating most of our groundwater and surface water, wreaking havoc of varying degrees on individuals of many species, humans most definitely included.
“With improvements in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, transport, and irrigation still spreading across Africa, the world may well feed 9 billion inhabitants in 2050—and from fewer acres than it now uses to feed 7 billion.”
The ‘improvements’ you speak of have stopped increasing productivity. In fact, that same productivity is now on the decline. No matter how much nitrogen you pump into exhausted, sterilized top-soil, its fertility is drained by being constantly ripped apart by machines, soaked in poisons, and ravaged by annual grains. Soil in that condition fosters the growth of superweeds (many of whom are natural soil-improvers), and crop diseases. It also loses it’s ability to hold water, meaning it needs near-constant irrigation. Irrigating land that is naturally too dry to nurture thirsty crops like corn or rice (or soil that’s been exhausted) is a short term solution. It causes salination of the soil, and fast. Armies used to salt their enemy’s fields to inflict famine on them. Now, we’re doing it to ourselves. And calling it progress.
Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Ridley tells us not to worry our pretty little heads about peak oil or peak anything, for that matter. You see, there’s lots of oil that we can access, any old time we want! It’s just going to be a bit harder to get to, that’s all. Civilization will prevail and science will overcome, remember?
What he doesn’t mention is the cost in lives and livelihoods to access this oil. Frakking devastates massive swathes of living land. There is no safe way to dispose of the waste water. And have we already forgotten the gargantuan dead-zone in the gulf of mexico, or the freaky, mutant shrimp that are being discovered all along that coast?
In his conclusion, Ridley tries to tell us that some climate change might even be a good thing. “…net increases in rainfall (and carbon dioxide concentration) may improve agricultural productivity,” he says. In the midst of one of the worst droughts North America has seen since colonization began, which will likely see the corn and wheat crops fail, which has already caused global prices for those crops to skyrocket.
“We will combat our ecological threats in the future by innovating to meet them as they arise, not through the mass fear stoked by worst-case scenarios.”
Or, we will continue to prosper from our privilege, whether the poor and the dying like it or not, and at any cost. The deaths of humans and animals and plants out of sight do not bother me, and they shouldn’t bother you either.
Thanks, Matt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Berry Spiral Update

When I first built my berry spiral, it looked like this:

Look at those dormant little berry bushes!

Then the bushes and seeds started growing, and it looked like this:

Some growth! Not much, but some!

Then, something amazing happened.
It rained for like a million years. And then the sun came out, all strong and warm and life-giving. Now, my berry spiral looks like this:

Explosion of Growth!!!

It is so beautiful! Surrounded by natural grasses, filled with nitrogen fixing clover and bee-attracting wild flowers, with three honeyberries, a highbush cranberry, a siberian almond, and a little baby evan's cherry, this berry spiral is sort of THE BOMB. There are also some sunflowers growing, which you can probably make out in the left hand of the picture, around one of the honeyberries.

I also planted some gladiola bulbs when I first made the spiral, but some ants have taken up residence and were using the shoots as food, so I don't think any of them will make it to maturity. I'm not too fussed - the ants are aerating the soil and plus they are pretty cute (if you are insane).

I'm super happy with my berry spiral. It probably won't produce berries this year but it's already a veritable mecca for bees, there are ants applenty, and so much green it almost hurts your eyes. 

The main goal of bringing a whole lot of life into what had been a dead zone due to soil damage has been achieved! I'm already planning a new, even more ambitious spiral with a fruit tree at the top for construction next year!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Plant Invaders From The Third Dimension!

Ok, ok. I'm not actually talking about invaders, invasive species, or anything like that.

I'm talking about... Vines!

Vines are a great way to beautify any garden by adding a whole new dimension of plant growth. They can draw the eye up, over or around; they can prettify plain old fences or trees; they can mark boundaries or contain other visual elements, like nature-imitating garden beds.

They can also feed you, attract beneficial insects, increase overall biomatter on your site, improve the soil, and take advantage of sunny spots that other plants aren't able to reach.

Plus, they're soooo pretty!

Look at the difference that some vines make in my own garden:

Before: Boring!
After: Amazing!

Some Vines to Consider Growing:

Grapes! On a Pergola!


If you have a long enough growing season, grapes are a staple-type of food vine for you to grow. 

Arctic Kiwi 

For those of us with much shorter growing seasons, Arctic Kiwi is a fun and interesting alternative to grapes.

Honeysuckle / Trumpet Vine

There is some beautiful native honeysuckle where I live, and I'm excitedly training it onto a trellis. It attracts lots of insects and has very unique flowers.
If you live in a warmer place, try Trumpet Vine, which attracts hummingbirds, too!


Yellow clematis can be invasive, so check local regulations before you plant. But the many shades of blue and purple clematis are a safe bet, and grow vigorously in full sun to part shade. The stunning flowers are a great addition to any landscape.
The best part: no matter where you live, or what part of the garden you're looking to bring into three dimensions, you can likely find a clematis to suit your needs!

Maybe you'll find treasure at the top!

Beans / Peas / Sweetpea

Often quick growers, many varieties are available that have gorgeous flowers followed by delicious food. Plus, legumes help fix nitrogen in the soil, improving soil quality and acting as a fertilizer to other plants. Buy a legume inoculant to help the nitrogen get a'fixin!


If you're looking for a plant that will cover a trellis, pergola or arbor fairly quickly, Hops may be your plant. It is somewhat plain looking, but adventurous gardeners can use the plant to make their own beer!
Espalier How-To


Lots of berry plants can be trained up arbors and trellises, blackberry and raspberry being the best examples. Delicious!

Anything You Can Train!

Many fruit trees and bushes increase their production when they are espaliered. That's a fancy word for training a tree onto a fence or trellis. That's right! You could have an apple tree trained to grow over your deck, or up the wall of your house.

Your imagination is the limit!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sassy Advice - Say it, Or Write it, Or frickin' pull it out by hand. Just don't Spray it.

As far as Day Jobs go, mine is pretty alright.

I work in a beautiful provincial park. I feel indebted to the foresight of environmentalists every time I drive to work here: as much as it can be while still being a tourist destination, this place is protected.

Unless there are weeds.

You see, the activities of us fun-loving humans have brought a few invasive species into this delicate mountain ecosystem. Some of them are classified as 'noxious weeds' throughout the province and are being aggressively sprayed with poisons recently shown in peer reviewed scientific literature to cause birth defects and cancers in mammals.

Like, you know, us humans.

Now, we thoughtful and good-looking humans who know a bit about ecosystems know that healthy ecosystems are far less susceptible to the advances of this invasive plants. Unfortunately, my particular place of work does not qualify as a healthy ecosystem. The accidental planting of weed-seed-contaminated, suited-to-warmer-climates grass as a landscape staple, and damage to the soil from ongoing construction have provided the perfect place for invasive dandelion and thistle.

So my boss has decided to spray herbicides. Here. In a supposedly protected provincial park.

The amount of thistle and dandelion is very minimal. It could be pulled by hand in a couple of days. Sure, it will likely come back. But guess what? It will come back if you spray it, too.

I've spoken with my boss about this twice now with no luck, and am waiting for a call back now that he has decided to go ahead in spite of my concerns... this Wednesday.

What are my concerns?

I'm glad you asked!

1. Herbicides hurt humans.

Most herbicides use glyphosate as their active ingredient. Glyphosate  causes birth defects in humans. It is associated with long term health problems including cancer, especially cancer in children.

Herbicides are also known to cause respiratory distress. Many of the people who come to my place of work have respiratory problems to begin with. If we claim to be an accessible facility to people with special needs, we have to include respiratory needs in that claim.

2. Herbicides hurt the environment.

Glyphosate also “causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals” according to Lucia Graves of the Huffington Post. Even low doses are shown to cause abnormalities in rabbits, including dilation of the heart.

It promotes soil pathogens and inhibits plants’ immune systems.

We are located in an extremely important watershed. Scientific American reports that glyphosate leeches into water.

Perhaps glyphosate is not the chemical that will be used here. Perhaps it is aminocyclopyrachlore, another common herbicide claimed to be more environmentally friendly, which causes mass tree deaths, especially in conifers.

Perhaps it’s the popular atrazine, which is still present in ground water 15 years after its use, causes breast and prostate cancer, and reproductive defects in birds, fish and frogs.

Either way, I cannot fathom how something so harmful to flora and fauna can legally be applied in a supposedly protected area.

On top of all of that, my partner and I are going to be starting a family soon. How could I conscionably expose myself to chemicals that could cause birth defects and / or cancers in my babies? My workplace will be sprayed on Wednesday. I'm supposed to work on Friday.

The mostly-wild places of Kananaskis Country are under enough pressure from tourists, logging and damns without having poisons sprayed on them.

Re-posted from where Sassy Advice is a fun and frequent feature.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That's not Kale!

Something amazing has happened, and it's not kale.

A couple of weeks ago I posted A short tour of my Intensive Garden Beds. This tour included the following picture, which I naively thought was the Russian Kale I had planted in the spring.

I thought this was Kale! But it's not!
Those of you familiar with Kale and other cool weather greens may have laughed yourselves silly at my simple mistake. I thought that, having planted a particular seed, that seed would grow. What a fool I was!

As it turns out, these beauties have grown even more, become bushy and leafy and I finally had to taste one.

And huzzah! It's SPINACH!

Last year, I let a few of my spinach plants go to seed. Then I just left them, and buried them in mulch over the winter. That's all it took for a whole bed of spinach to bless my garden this spring. Were I the baby-spinach type, I would have been able to enjoy spinach salads even before dandelion salads.

I'm never pulling spinach from the garden again!

Feverfew Smells Amazing!

Just installed some heaven-scented Feverfew near my Saskatoon bushes. They should flower at about the same time, attracting bees to that part of that garden. I also installed chives near the honeyberries, for the same reason. I can't believe how good the leaves smell! I have been just running my hands over the foliage and sniffing in delight.

I still have EVEN MORE seed potatoes to plant, despite the feeling that for my whole life, I have done nothing but plant potatoes. Still, having enough potatoes to last into winter after gorging on the fresh ones in the fall will be well worth it.

In other news, it looks like the Oyster mushrooms will have their first fruit of the summer in the next two weeks or so. I'm so excited to eat them!

It's been a great day in the garden. Can't wait for tomorrow!