An interview with Permaculturist Linda Gibbs
Permaculturist Linda Gibbs
Spring is a great time to celebrate our beautiful earth by heeding the call to stop recklessly spreading poison into the environment. Linda Gibbs, Permaculturist and volunteer for Poison Free Malibu, has shared a few tips about how to “restore” the landscape on your property without toxic chemicals. Linda is a native Californian, passionate organic gardener, herbalist, amazing wife and mother. Whenever I want to know the right thing to do for my garden, I ask Linda.
ALLYSON ADAMS- Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. What is the best way to eco-spring clean your yard and create a sustainable landscape?
LINDA GIBBS- It’s not about sustainability anymore, it’s about restoration. “Sustain” means you sustain the same thing. We want to make our yards and environment better and healthier so that everything works together. Healthy plants attract “good bugs.” You want to “restore” the landscape and begin to envision your yard as its own little eco-system.
AA- California and many other states are suffering from drought. What are the best ways to save water and cut down on usage?
LG- There is a phrase that’s catching on about landscaping water use.
“Slow It – Spread It – Sink It “ Any water that you are using, you want to be able to harness it, so that it doesn’t drain off your property. Treat your property as its own watershed.
AA – How do you harness water or keep it on your property?
LG- Swales, and there’s a lot of information about them online. Swales are a way to divert rain water from your gutters so that the water runs through your yard, instead of into a drain that goes into the street and out to sea. You make small ditches around your mounds of plants to capture moisture and direct water from one spot to another. I encourage people to research it. http://www.tenthacrefarm.com/2014/02/using-swales-in-the-landscape-part-1/
AA- What about watering your lawn? Over 30% of our water usage in the United States goes to watering lawns and golf courses.
LG- There are many alternatives to having a lawn. Mowing a lawn every week uses gas lawn mowers. The amount of resources to maintain a lawn is staggering and the chemical nitrogen from the fertilizers runs off into the ocean and kills the reef and marine life.
Rather than having a yard that looks like wall to wall carpeting, have diversity in your lawn. Let weeds grow. Plantain and clover are good for the soil. Why not plant clover that feeds the soil by taking the Nitrogen from the air, chokes out the other weeds and feeds the bees. Dandelions are a good, edible plant. Find more drought tolerant plants and diversify.
Plus, mowing your lawn too short makes the roots grow shallow. Letting grasses grow taller make the roots grow deeper and nourish the soil. Long grass roots sequester carbon and counter Global warming.
AA – What can you do with the leaves from trees?
LG – Another catchy phrase is “Leave them be.” When they fall, leave them be. Let the leaves break down by themselves and go back into the earth. Or you can put them in the compost, or use them as mulch for ground cover.
If your leaves fall on concrete, try sweeping instead of blowing. One hour of leafblowing admissions is equal to 1,000 miles of car travel. Leaf blowers stir everything up, including allergens that irritates the sinuses. I find sweeping therapeutic and meditative because it’s quiet, and I’m cleaning the energy.
AA – Any tips about taking care of trees? Can you use ashes from the fireplace to put around trees and plants?
LG- Yes. Ashes are good for citrus and makes the fruit really sweet. You want to mix the ashes with other organic compost for fertilizer.
The best time to trim trees is in the Fall. Don’t trim trees in the Spring because birds are making their nests. When we trim our trees in October, we burn the tree trimmings in the fireplace for heat, because they dry fast. The rest of the wood needs to dry longer because the pieces are bigger.
Rather than have the tree trimmers haul your wood away, have them chip up the wood so you can use the wood chips for mulch. That way you are recycling the yard into itself. It’s better than buying and using chemicals.
The best fertilizer is a layer of manure and a layer of wood chips. That will create a great area to plant or a walking area. If you buy wood chips, make sure they are untreated. Then they will break down and feed the soil and you can replenish with more chips.
We used our Sycamore logs for our front steps. Eucalyptus wood chips and leaves are great weed abatement and they don’t compact the soil. When weeds grow taller you can pull them up easier because the soil is open. The chips reverse compaction.
AA – What made you change your whole yard and begin this “restoration” process?
LG – Before I became an active steward of my piece of heaven (laughs) I wandered over to a neglected area of the yard where there was thick mulch under a tree. I noticed the soil was so dark, rich and loamy. I realized all the weed pulling and leaf clearing was depriving my soil in the areas our gardener was paid to expose the soil.
Soil hates to be naked. Never leave it exposed. Would you leave your skin exposed all day to the elements? Plants or mulch must always cover the ground. Mulch can be leaves or cuttings from your plants near by. We call that “chop and drop.” You can use hay, or straw, or woodchips. They all work well. The hay breaks down the fastest, but has a lot of nutrients. The straw lasts longer and the woodchips last the longest.
My soil has become so active and healthy. The healthy soil eats up the woodchips faster and faster every year and leaves behind great soil. I add a lot of bio-dynamic preps to my soil which creates more activity.
AA – How can people avoid rats, insects and spiders, so they don’t have to use poisons?
LG- Poisons adversely affect the whole food and plant chain. Poison Free Malibu’s campaign is to help people understand that All Things Are Connected. Natural predators will kill pests, but if a poisoned rat gets eaten by a pet dog, cat or owl, let’s say, they could die.
AA- The latest report that Roundup, a commonly used herbicide, is proven to cause cancer, is just another ugly fact in a string of alarming truths that add up to one thing; The poisons in the environment are slowly killing us. Anymore catchy phrases?
LG – Yes. With rats, it’s all about cleaning up. So we say “Clean up – Seal up – Trap up.“ Clean up and you starve them. You have to keep trash lids on and clean up all around the garbage. No food around anywhere. Trash lids need to be sealed, so pests can’t get inside. You have to seal your home as well. Any place they can get in, you need to close up and seal.
You don’t need poison if your area is free of food. If there is food, no matter how much poison, you will always have rats coming to eat. No food, no rats. Cleaning up is the answer, not the poisons or the traps. Traps are the last alternative.
AA – What about spiders and ants?
LG – Spiders eat the bad insects. Why would you want to get rid of them if you don’t like bugs? Clean the webs in your home and leave them alone.
If you don’t like ants in your kitchen, clean up. It’s just like the rats, clean everything up. Wash with soap and water and put chalk in the hole. Find where they are coming in from and put chalk and eucalyptus leaves.
AA – You’re right, that works. Anything else?
LG- To be sustainable, you need to do more than save water and stop using poisons. We need to think restorative. When you use wood chips and clover, and start growing taller grasses, you are restoring the soil better than it’s ever been. Healthy plants attract “good bugs” so you don’t need the poison. You can use water in a way that recycles and replenishes the watershed on your own land.
Begin thinking about restoring your yard to a healthy Eco system that self generates. You want a landscape that recycles resources and grows more abundant with life and diversity the older it gets. Less and less outside input every year will be less work for you. A healthy Eco system has everything it needs.
AA –Thank you Linda! For more information, visit Earth Friendly Management. We can do it green, one yard at a time!