From the Adrian Dominican Sisters' Permaculture Office
Thank you for joining us on our maiden voyage of the Permaculture Gardens enewsletter. We are thrilled to send you this premiere of our seasonal letters and for the opportunity to help you to grow in awareness of the principles and practices of permaculture. For a deeper explanation of permaculture and its principles, watch this video by Sister Carol Coston, OP.

In the 1970s, while working at NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., I started my first garden. Reading Organic Gardening and Farming magazine led to my interest and research in permaculture. Sister Elise GarcĂ­a and I founded Santuario Sisterfarm to model the permaculture values and principles of "Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share." We learned to observe our site for the patterns of wind, water, and light movements and to mimic nature's example in our own planning: don't create waste, but recycle and repurpose old materials; protect soil from toxic materials; and preserve precious water. After further observations, we made more adjustments in our design. We continue to use this process here on our Adrian Dominican Motherhouse land.
Sister Carol Coston, OP, Permaculture Coordinator

I've been in love with permaculture since age 5 but didn't have a name for it until 2014. It was love at first tour with Carol. As a recent graduate of Siena Heights University with a major in biology and minors in environmental science and chemistry, and as a resident at Needle Lane Farms in nearby Tipton, Michigan, I feel a deep connection to this community and the space we share.

I feel an indefatigable call to this vocation as Permaculture Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Each day, I am involved in my life's passion. For this, I am so thankful. Gratitude of this magnitude is hard to express, but I will begin by saying a big thank you for the opportunity to share the permaculture experience with such a wonderful, caring, supportive, and all-around beautiful community!

Thank you all for reading ----  and happy growing!
Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist

Our Water Story

the great lakes

In late February, the Permaculture Office hosted a series of presentations called "Our Water Story." Sister Pat Benson, OP, PhD, former theology and spirituality professor, spoke on water use and practices in the creation of oil, gas, and nuclear power, with a focus on how these procedures can harm our Great Lakes water. Sister Pat is also a former presenter for Voices for Earth Justice.

Highlights included:
  • Water has become a commodity, although the United Nations identified access to it as a human right in 2010.
  • Examples of aquifers in crisis and disappearing bodies of water.
  • The misuse of water in creating nuclear energy, and concerns about the four nuclear reactors in Michigan.
  • The amount of water used to extract oil and the many hazards of transporting it. Sister Pat also emphasized safety concerns about the 60-year-old oil pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac.
  • Water use in gas fracking and description of the gas fracking process. 
For more information, watch this TED talk.

You are invited to the final "Our Water Story" presentation, focusing on personal water use, at 1:30 p.m.  Wednesday, April 5 in the Rose Room of the Dominican Life Center (1277 E. Siena Heights Dr., Adrian, Michigan) or via live stream.

Edible Food Forests

raspberry bush

An edible food forest is an extraordinary expression of a garden ecosystem created by mimicking forest patterning. Observing how forest patterns emulate the infinite interconnectivity (synergy) of Earth enables us to design and create a living, self-renewing, and edible forest garden landscape.

Forest gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but their design and function follow the same underlying principles. They are designed to offer overwhelming diversity and interconnectedness. A forest pattern is comprised of many layers, which foster this wide biodiversity. Layers are often defined by the following vertical categories: the canopy or overstory, vine layer, understory, shrub layer, herb layer, ground cover, and the underground root layer.

Forest gardens are created from mainly edible perennial species that keep their roots in the ground year after year and don't require planting each season. Among the many advantages of perennial species is the plants' ability to uptake spring snow melt, reducing the amount of nutrients and soil that are washed away.

When we design forest gardens using permaculture principles, human management is transformed into stewardship. When the ecosystem is healthy, medicine, food, and beneficial relationships are abundant. The result is a resilient ecosystem that is more than the sum of its many, many living parts.

There is so much more to forest gardens! More information about these truly amazing ecosystems can be found here. For updates about the Adrian Dominican Sisters' Motherhouse Campus edible food forest, please visit our web page.

Species Spotlight

bee pollinating flower

Of more than 20,000 species of bees, 4,000 of them are North American natives. Many, such as the mason bees, are solitary, living on their own without a hive or queen to protect. This makes them more docile and productive. For every flower a honey bee pollinates, mason bees and other pollinators will pollinate up to 100!

Like honey bees, native bees are in decline from the same human-generated threats. Faced with vanishing habitat, increasing climate instability, and a food supply that's increasingly limited to pesticide-laden monoculture, bees are experiencing tough times. Because of their vital role in agriculture, if the bees go, so do we!

In an effort to increase awareness of the benefits of native pollinator bees and of the dangers they face, we are adding solitary bee nesting houses to the Permaculture Gardens. Made from untreated wood, these houses contain reusable wooden bee nesting trays, designed for two species of native pollinators: spring mason bees and summer leafcutter bees.

How can you help?

Support local farmers who are working to restore native pollinators or start a bee habitat yourself. Planting a diverse selection of native pollinator-friendly flowers, trees, and shrubs with a variety of blooming periods in large, dense clumps will ensure that bees have the best feeding spot all season long. Check out this  list of the best regional native pollinator flowers. Be sure bees have access to fresh water and are not feeding in areas treated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers.

For more information, check out this resource on native pollinators and the Forest Service's document, Bee Basics.

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