Growing Change
Students from the Environmental Leadership Experience tour the MSU Student Organic Farm Edible Forest Garden.

Sunshine-filled greetings!

June means it's "go time" in the Permaculture Gardens. May was filled with rain, again delaying the opening of Charlotte's Web Community Garden and some much-needed hugel mound care.

However, these rainy days also provided an insightful look into our campus water story. How does rain move across the landscape? What opportunities do we have to "plant the rain" by slowing, spreading, and sinking water? Looking to how nature harvests rain water, we see that depressions in the landscape act as "soil bathtubs" and help slow the flow of water during rain. If we use these depressions to plant deep-rooted perennial plants that adapt well to wet periods, drought, and deep mulch, we can effectively "plant the rain."

This is an alternative to the common storm water management method of paving and piping the rain, which brings about erosion, pollution, and flooding. Permaculture, which looks to nature for answers, flips the problem into a solution. The depressions and the deep-rooted, water-loving, native perennials act as living water storage. They guide the rain along their roots deep down into the soil, effectively planting the rain. We now have a transition to a more water-wise landscape that increases photosynthesis, grows food, resists drought, cleans water, recharges our local water table, decreases the risk of floods, preserves wildlife habitat and beauty, and removes carbon from the air to store it in the soil.

Sharing these elegant and regenerative solutions was part of abundant growth in May, as we hosted 13 diverse people participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE). For two weeks, the ELE group worked together on the Motherhouse campus to bring the permaculture principles to action. With hands, hearts, and minds as one, this amazing group of students from Barry University and Siena Heights University completed projects on campus. These included installing the vermicomposting system, which uses worms for composting; designing, planning, and planting of three diverse edible forest garden polyculture (multiple crop) patches; constructing a second rain garden; and maintaining and replanting hugel mounds. Designs of the edible forest garden polyculture patches were inspired by a trip to the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm's 10-year-old Edible Forest Garden (pictured above). 

It was amazing to work with such an engaged group. Working with these change-makers and watching them grow together in relationship with Earth gives me great hope for a bright future. Both Barry and Siena Heights ELE alumni take home with them theory and hands-on experience to help grow sustainability and permaculture practices on their campuses. I look forward to sharing updates on these campus projects!

In case you missed it: Thank you as always for this connection. If you would like to explore a topic of permaculture, please share via email, telephone, or in person with Elaine Johnson at, 517-266-3599, Madden Hall fourth floor.

The ELE group planned and planted polyculture patches in the ADS Edible Forest Garden (first planted in 2015).

Species Spotlight: Red Wigglers
Eisenia foetida

The humble earthworm is small but mighty. Earthworms ----  specifically red wigglers ----  are amazing soil builders and composting partners. Unlike larger night crawlers, which prefer to dive down into the soil, red wigglers spend most of their lives in the decomposing organic matter near the surface of the soil, where they eat, reproduce, and travel. Red wigglers can eat half their body weight every day!

The Adrian Dominican Sisters' vermicomposting system includes more than 50,000 red wigglers working through 500 pounds of organic matter ----  compost from our campus ----  every week. Red wigglers eat small microbes like bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, which colonize on decomposing organic materials. Their love for the organic matter layer, voracious appetite, ability to withstand a variety of climates, and soil-enhancing "waste" product make them the perfect worms for vermicomposting systems!

If you want to start composting, make sure you don't include meats, dairy, foods with grease, or other processed foods. Worms breathe through their skin. Grease and oil will coat a worm's skin and clog the pores needed for respiration.

To get started with your own red wiggler bin, see this guide from NYC composting project.

For more information on the Adrian Dominican Sisters' vermicomposting system, please visit the following links:
Upcoming Events
  • Partake with Permaculture: Join the Permaculture Department in the Madden Dining Room from 11:30 a.m. to noon on Mondays for an informal permaculture discussion. Bring your permaculture questions!
  • Keep an eye out for Campus Foraging Tour: Tour the Permaculture Gardens with Elaine Johnson to taste a variety of edible plants growing on campus!
For more information on these programs, contact Elaine at or 517-266-3599.

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