Category Archives: 02. guerrilla gardening

a. Greening the Desert I & II


Geoff & Nadia Lawton
The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
2009, 36 min 34 sec

When there’s no soil, no water, no shade, and where the sun beats down on you to the tune of over 50°C (122°F), the word ‘poverty’ begins to take on a whole new meaning. It is distinct and surreal. It’s a land of dust, flies, intense heat and almost complete dependency on supply lines outside of ones control. This is the remains of what was once called the ‘fertile crescent’. It is the result of thousands of years of abuse. It is a glimpse at a world where the environment – whose services provide
for all human need – has all but completely abandoned us. This is a glimpse at the world our consumer society is inexorably moving towards, as our exponential-growth culture gorges itself at ever-increasing rates. The original Greening the Desert video clip has been watched hundreds of thousands of times and has been posted to countless blogs and web pages in the data sphere. Although only five minutes long, it has inspired people around the globe, daring the lucid ones amongst us, those who can see the writing on the wall, to begin to hope and believe in an abundant future – a future where our survival doesn’t have to be based on undermining and depleting the very resources of soil, water, phosphorus, etc. that we depend on. The work profiled in that clip demonstrates that humanity can be a positive element within the biosphere. Man doesn’t have to destroy. Man can repair.

Initiator of the project, Geoff Lawton, writes: “I introduce you today to Greening the Desert II. I shot the footage for this video in October 2009 and edited it on location in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan – the lowest place on earth, at 400 meters below sea level. Much of it was shot in or near the village of Al Jawfa where I stayed, which is effectively a Palestinian refugee camp that has morphed over the decades since 1948 into something resembling a functional small town. It was first shown to delegates of the 9th International Permaculture Conference (IPC9) in Malawi, Africa at the very beginning of November and is now being released for general consumption. The video will take you to the original Greening the Desert site, letting you see its present condition after six years of neglect when funding ran out in 2003. You’ll also be introduced to our new project site – the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project, aka Greening the Desert, the Sequel – and see some of the spin-off effects within Jordan from the influence of the original site; promises of much more to come.” “The work we’re undertaking in Jordan is in accordance with what we call the ‘Permaculture Master Plan’, where the project’s future is assured through funding from running educational courses. Project sites thus become self-sufficient, and self-replicating.”

“Through this work we envision thousands of educational demonstration sites worldwide – all inspiring and teaching communities around them how to begin to tackle at root the massive challenges we now face after decades of short-term profit-based thinking has all but ‘consumed’ our planet and dismantled the social constructs that the human race has always depended on for its survival. Through this work we see desertification stopped in its tracks, and reversed. We see this century’s dire water issues getting resolved. We see productive work for millions in bypassing the irrelevant efforts of our ‘leaders’, to instead build a new kind of culture – a culture based on cooperative effort and learning. It’s a culture where its members have regained a sense of their place in creation, where they become land-based stewards of remaining resources; creating a culture where we at last find ultimate satisfaction – promoting and building peace and low-carbon, relocalised, community-based prosperity.”

b. A Garden in My Apartment


Britta Riley, TEDxManhattan; New York USA
2011, 7 min 53 sec

Window farms consist of vertical hydroponic platforms for growing food in city windows. Britta Riley wanted to grow her own food in her tiny apartment. So she and her friends developed a system for growing plants in discarded plastic bottles — researching, testing and tweaking the system using social media, trying many variations at once and quickly arriving at the optimal system. Call it distributed DIY. And the results? Delicious.

Instead of perfecting and patenting the invention, Britta Riley created a social media site where she published the design for free, and even pointed out the flaws, designed in conjunction with an online citizen science web platform, with over 18,000 community members worldwide sharing ideas and contributing to perfecting the Window Farm techniques.

c. Coke & Pepsi as Agricultural Pesticides


Alok Prakash Putul, BBC News; Raipur, Indian
2006, 56 sec

Farmers tackle pests. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola. For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. Agricultural scientists give them some backing. Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control.

Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh say they have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their rice plantations against pests. It is a trend that has been seen in other parts of India, with farmers also using Indian brands of colas. The practice of using soft drinks in lieu of pesticides, which are 10 times more expensive, is gaining so much popularity that sales of the drinks have increased drastically in remote villages. Farmers say the use of pesticides costs them 70 rupees ($1.50) an acre. By comparison, if they mix a bottle of Pepsi or Coke with water and spray it on the crop it costs 55-60 rupees less per acre.

Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, has a different explanation: “All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants’ immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop.” Vikas Kocchar, regional manager for public affairs and communications of Coca-Cola, says claims that the drink can be used as a pesticide have no scientific backing. Anupam Verma, Pepsi sales manager in Chhattisgarh, says sales figures in rural areas of the state have increased by 20%. But he adds: “If there was any truth in these claims then we would rather be selling our product as a pesticide rather than soft drinks.”

d. Make Your Own Seed Bomb


Richard Reynolds, Planet Green, USA
2008, 2 min 30 sec

Guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds strikes again. This time he demonstrates how to make a seed bomb in his quest to attack urban blight. Careful, as this is explosive homework: the wrong seeds at the wrong place can create the wrong biotope.

See also: The Guerrilla Gardening Home Page

e. Aquaponics: Growing Power


Will Allen, Growing Power Inc., Milwaukee, USA
2009, 5 min 38 sec

Aquaponics is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and fish in a re-circulating system. This community-based urban food center in Milwaukee uses tilapia and perch to fertilize a variety of crops and herbs with this amazing system.

Imagine a garden where there’s no more weeds or soil pests, no tilling or cultivating, no fertilizer spreading or compost shredding, no manure spreading or irrigating, and no tractor shed required. And yet, your plants grow abundantly, taste amazing, and are extremely healthy.

f. Forêt Comestible


Gilbert and Josine Cardon; Mouscron, Belgium
2011, 9 min 34 sec

As thousands of other workers in this former industrial region, Gilbert Cardon was laid off in the ’70 and was looking for an activity to make ends meet. Growing your own food is taking things in your own hands and creating autonomy. Josine and Gilbert, involved as volunteers in projects in South-America in earlier years, set up the association Les Fraternités Ouvrières. In fact, this association is a prolongation of their labour and social activities, of enabling access for all to healthy and diversified food, while empowering people. The idea is that organic food is not a luxury only available to the rich. Healthy, colourful, tasty and ecologically grown food is a right for all. Solidarity, equity and ecology are at the core of Les Fraternités Ouvrières.

The whole garden is based on the principle of no crop rotation. Between the trees there is space for a huge variety of vegetables, herbs, aromatic plants, et cetera, which follow each other in cycles of summer and winter crops. The soil is not turned and branches of tomato plants are not cut. In one glass house, where they grow tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines, these crops actually do better when not rotated, contrary to what is often said.

The fruit trees are cut in full season between spring and September. There are several advantages to do so. First, you see what plant you cut – harder to see in winter when the leaves are gone. Second, to reduce the effect of the first aphids arriving in summer, which form mildew on the leaves. This also prevents the tree from growing too big and putting energy in its growth instead of producing fruits. Third, as soon as the buts are closed (goes faster in warmer weather), they do not only retain the sap of the branches, but also change the concentration from liquid and full of nitrogen into more solid. The latter will not be appreciated by the aphids and they will die. So the trees are better protected and can produce plenty of fruits. The cutted branches are left as fertilizer on the ground.

The set-up was not left to chance. On the outside of the garden, larger fruit trees were planted. They protect the (inner) garden plants from wind and rain. As a result the dense garden has a microclimate enabling many different botanical species to grow and to protect each other from disease, wind, cold, et cetera. In winter the temperature is 3 to 5°C above average and in summer slightly cooler and humid. The soil, the source of all this wealth, is not only better protected, but evaporates less. So no additional watering needed.

The number of different plants is incredible – biodiversity is at its maximum in this city garden. Apples, pears, prunes, apricots, figs, cherries, grapes, kiwis, a variety of berries, all kinds of vegetables grow here. There is also a small pont attracting insects and frogs. Furthermore, they apply different types of glass houses. The most remarkable one is called the Californian. The glass walls are constructed on a water basin, even containing fish. This mass of water creates a microclimate, allowing temperature control, which protects the small seeds in the pots in winter from the cold and cools it in summer. The vegetation on the outside is so positioned that it allows the sun in during winter and covers it during summer.

In 1978 they started giving courses on responsible gardening, cooking, bread making and so on. Recently cycles of conferences and reflection groups were organised treating diverse societal issues. Sharing the experiences is at the core of this amicable couple. Already 8000 people followed these courses. Furthermore, cycles of conferences and reflection groups on diverse societal issues. Almost every Sunday throughout the year people can follow courses on permaculture. Each Thursday afternoon they have an open doors day – actually their door is never closed – and people can visit the garden for free. They receive 2000 visitors each year coming from different countries. This shows the growing interest in this type of gardening.

The accompanying house contains a treasure of life: seeds. Four walls of shelves up until the ceiling contain an enormous collection of seeds, carefully arranged and numbered. It accommodates the seeds of 5000 different varieties of vegetables, cereals, flowers, aromatic and medical plants, fruit trees, and ancient sorts. The seeds come from gardeners, associations and other seed collectors from Europe and beyond. The association Fraternités Ouvrières also consists of a group of people buying collectively, a so-called groupe d’achat, in order to reduce the price of the various agricultural products and tools needed. Since 1980 they have planted together with around 100 families about 50.000 fruit trees.

This garden is a beautiful story of abundance, in a rather unexpected city environment, still struggling to get to terms with its previous industrial era and human labour deforestation. This Garden of Eden surpasses any imagination.

g. Indoor Aquaponics Garden


PennyWise Gardener, USA
2011, 1 min 46 sec

This indoor aquaponics garden is growing watercress, lettuce, parsley and lemon balm all with the waste of just two gold fish. The plants in the hydroponic grow bed, which is filled with hydroton and lava rock, filter the water before it returns to the fish in the reservoir.

h. Eagle Street Rooftop Garden


Rooftopfarms; New York, USA
2012, 6 min 11 sec

The farmers at Eagle Street Rooftop Garden show that fresh organic production can happen even in the middle of New York. The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn is transforming otherwise useless urban space. They are growing herbs, lettuces, greens, carrots, tomatoes, spinach, peppers and are even keeping chickens and bees on the roof of a movie and television production company. This food is being distributed in a CSA format and sold to local restaurants.

i. Weighing the Benefits of Green Roofs


Shelly Banjo, The Wall Street Journal; New York, USA
2008, 3 min 11 sec

Throughout New York City, studies were carried out to see if green roof adoption should take root. Vegetation on the roofs of city buildings may benefit climate change and save money in the long run. The interest is rising because of the long-term ecological benefits: lower temperatures in the summer, more insulation in winter, preventing storm water run-off and more. Imagine our dense urban cities full of green roofs.

j. The One Straw Revolution


Joy and Daniel Davis, Beyond 50 Productions; Portland, USA
2010, 9 min 07 sec

The One Straw Revolution is narrated by the book’s editor and translator Larry Korn. In 1973, he was under the tutelage of Masanobu Fukuoka, who lived on Shikoku Island in Japan, where he received a hands-on education in the art of non-cultivation and natural farming. Before it was called permaculture, it went by the name of do-nothing-farming. Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka is universally acknowledged as a major influence.

Translated in many languages, Masanobu Fukuoka’s book The One Straw Revolution is a classic memoir and guide. He asked himself what he should not do to allow for the perfect balance and abundance of nature. This resulted in the philosophy of the Four Principles of Natural Farming: no tilling, no fertilizers, no weeding, no chemicals. Even though his methods require less labor, it results in higher yields for the farm or garden.