The problem is the solution.
At first, this core permaculture principle was intriguing yet perplexing to me; if my problem was unhealthy soil, for example, how was my solution also unhealthy soil? It didn’t seem to make sense.
But I just wasn’t looking at it in the right way. It’s really about understanding the ways in which multiple problems are actually each other’s solutions, like joining loose ends to create a circle; permaculture is ALL about making connections.
Here are a few ways this has worked for us in recent months:
Problem 1: Need for woodchips
Problem 2: Need for tree maintenance
For the first couple of years spent slowly building our homestead, Nick would run back and forth, back and forth to a free pile of woodchips about five minutes from our house, filling the trunk of his Honda Fit, each trip helping a little but ultimately putting barely a dent in the mountain of woodchips that we needed for sheet mulching, path-making, composting, etc., while using up a lot of time and energy.
Tip: Woodchips are foundational and absolutely KEY in many permaculture designs, at least in our experience. There are often piles of woodchips available for free, if you know where to look, and you can always see whether local tree companies might be willing to dump a load or two.
It was frustrating. We talked about buying a truck, which is still the plan, but we couldn’t make it work at the time. We talked about this while simultaneously talking about how much our big black locust tree in the front yard needed serious maintenance, or how our mature apple and cherry trees in the backyard needed a good haircut. For awhile, we didn’t put the two problems together. (Seems obvious, but that’s life isn’t it? We so often don’t see what’s right in front of us.)
Once it dawned on us that the two problems answered each other, we called around to tree companies in the area, getting a few consultations until we settled on a Native American-owned company that gave us a fair price and promised to take care of our trees while leaving the chips behind.
We ended up with a decent pile of woodchips from our fruit trees, but the black locust was too dense to put through the chipper, the owner told us. But he left us branches from the tree that we would use to make borders, and when we mentioned that we were looking for all the chips we could get, he laughed and said ‘Don’t tell that to a tree guy.’ A few days later, after doing a job in the next town over, he came back and dumped a big, beautiful load of Eucalyptus chips for us.
Tip: Use resources in your community, and don’t underestimate the generosity of others (and be generous yourself!). It’s also worth mentioning that during our sheet mulching process, a post on our local Food Not Lawns chapter‘s Facebook page inquiring about the best place to get cardboard resulted in a kind couple dropping off a huge load of broken down boxes, asking nothing in return. Amazing! And major gratitude to Cooperation Humboldt who kickstarted our front lawn conversion last summer...it truly takes a village.
Collectively, all this bounty allowed us to freshen up and create borders for our existing paths, to finish sheet mulching our entire front and side yard, and to create new paths and garden beds.
Problem 3: Invasive ‘weeds’ in our backyard
Problem 4: Need for laying hens
Problem 5: Scrap materials laying around the yard
We're lucky that our site came with an existing chicken coop that just needed some freshening up, but we needed to make a run before introducing laying hens. Behind the chicken coop is a fence separating our backyard from the neighbors', and next to it is our old garage. In between is a roughly 200 square ft area that was completely swallowed up with weeds.
Tip: Remember that, as they say, the only difference between a weed and a beneficial plant is a judgment – and in our dominant culture, that judgment is most likely deeply flawed. Always get to know the ‘weeds’ on your land and find out what they can tell you about your soil, microclimate, water availability, etc. Plus, many are beneficial! On our land, for example, we identified (using the very helpful iNaturalist app, highly recommend!) sheep’s sorrel, cheeseweed mallow, California bee plant, periwinkle, broad-leaved dock, coastal manroot, bur clover, cut-leaved crane’s bill, and dandelion of course – nearly all of these are edible and/or medicinal!
So, what to do? Making use of edge (another key permaculture principle!), we realized we had three out of four sides already in place for a run, and the weeds would provide plenty for the chickens to eat. So, a little weed pulling and fencing off the fourth side of the run - plus the incorporation of our scrap pallets and things into the coop as shelter spaces, a platform for water, etc. - and we were ready! (A special thank you to my father-in-law for all his help in this process!) I made a social media post about our interest in pullets or grown laying hens, and that night a friend connected us with a woman a few blocks over looking to re-home her two silver Wyandottes and three barred rocks. They’re now all settled in to their new home, happily eating up our ‘weeds,’ and giving us more eggs than we know what to do with. Yes!
Tip: If you're on social media, use it to your advantage! Post about what you're looking for, ask questions etc. in local permaculture groups, Food Not Lawns chapters, relevant nonprofits - you never know what connections might be made! And Facebook Marketplace has been a surprisingly useful source for plants, tools, etc.
Problem 6: Intense energy in Covid-19 days
Problem 7: Grass, grass, everywhere
As a new mother, when I see that my seven-month-old daughter is restless or unsettled, I think about how I can resituate her energy – if she’s fidgety, maybe she’d like to dance or jump. If she seems bored, maybe a walk outside.
In this uncertain time of coronavirus, climate crisis, long-overdue demands for social justice, and rapid shifts in consciousness, most of us are feeling a lot of wildly fluctuating energies and emotions. When we’re experiencing an influx of intense energy, we need a place to direct it, to ground it, to move it so that it doesn’t get stuck in our bodies. For me, over the last few months, that’s been connecting to the land. When I’m walking in circles, emotions surging through my body, I take myself outside and put my hands into the earth. Often times I don’t have a plan, necessarily, I just pick a place to start (pulling out grass, it turns out, is very satisfying - there’s nothing more radical than grabbing something by the root) and see where it leads me. And it’s led me to some pretty beautiful places.
Tip: Working in the garden can be meditation in motion. Make sure to breathe. :)
There are countless examples of how the problem is the solution, or, in my preferred framing, multiple problems becoming each other’s solutions, taking stray ends and closing the loops (hey, another key permaculture principle!). These are just a few. But by making these fairly simple connections, we’ve been able to spend these last months sheet mulching, completing our front lawn conversion, creating tons of new space for native plants (which we’ve been using to make healing tinctures and hydrosols – stay tuned!), watching our baby daughter delight in our chicken friends, and eating delicious, super nutritious eggs from our own backyard.
Until next time - wishing you peace and sending you love, from our homestead to yours,
for more recent writings, visit laurabjohnson.com