A Productive May

May was a very productive month at Sycamore Commons. The garden is abundant with colourful fragrant flowers, aromatic herbs, luscious fruit, and buzzing bees.  There were lots of strawberries, bundles  of sage, and a few mushrooms. With plenty more goodies to come.


Earlier in the month, Chuck built this beautiful arbour for us to sit under and enjoy the garden, and, of course, the garden’s strawberries.

strawberries under the arbour

On Saturday, May 31, a dozen of us, the young and  young at heart, got together for a few hours of weeding, strawberry eating, and general good fun.

May 2014

Join us on Saturday June 28, from 1 pm until about 4, for more garden enjoyment, and maybe a little work. We will continue to have work/play parties on the last Saturday of the month, throughout the growing season.

Also coming up, July 23 to 27, we will be having a natural building course, with a focus on cob. While we learn, we’ll be building a bus stop shelter and sharing station. The bust stop area design, is part of the overall garden design that has been developed during the past two permaculture design courses. It’s exciting to see our designs taking shape. It is also gratifying to see more of the community using the space. For more information on the natural building course check out the facebook event page.

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Let’s Garden

It takes a community to raise a garden!

Sycamore Commons

Join us for a community work bee at Sycamore Commons Permaculture Project (Townsite Anglican Church on Sycamore Street) this Saturday from 1:00 – 4:00 pm. On the menu will be planting, mulching,composting, light weeding and plenty of great conversation, kinship and permaculture conversation. Please bring along any gardening tools you have at your disposal. Folks of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are most welcome. Coffee, tea and snacks provided. Email Ron at theurbanfarmer@shaw.ca for more information.

See you at Sycamore!

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Last weekend we had a great workshop on bioremediation, or healing contaminated soil. Our teacher, Leila Darwish was enthusiastic, entertaining and highly informative.

Friday Leila Darwishevening Leila delivered a trainload of  information on how to clean up contaminated sites, using beneficial bacteria, fantastic fungi, and popular plants. We also learned about the various kinds of contaminants we might find, including various chemicals and metals.

To a bioremediator the difference  between chemicals and metals is that chemicals can generally be transformed into benign forms, while metals cannot. Metals must be bound into the soil so that they cannot get into our food plants, or they must be removed from the soil, in some way, and safely disposed of.

It is important to know which contaminants you have in your soil, because different bacteria, fungi, and plants are needed for different contaminants. It gets tricky when you have two different metals in you soil that have opposite reactions to various remediation techniques.

Digging the new gardenOn Saturday we started a new garden at Sycamore Commons. We sheet mulched and planted some trees and berries. At the same time we learned and practiced several bioremediation techniques.

compost buildingWe built a bio-orgasmic compost pile and learned about other composting techniques, such as bokashi.

compost tea




We learned how to make super aerated compost tea, and we drenched the site with a barrel full that Ron had just made. It takes about 24 hours to make, and you have to apply it within four hours for best effect.

We learned about biochar and its various benefits to the soil. Ron demonstrated his biochar cooker.biochar



We “planted” oyster mushroom mycelium in the swale we had dug to slow the water running down the hill. We also dipped the roots of the plants in compost tea with mycorrhyzal fungus mycelium mixed in, before planting them.

swale mushroomsWe created a little garden, we learned a lot, and we had some fun! Join us for more fun, healing the Earth, at our Earth Week work party on Saturday, April 26, at 1PM.zone 5 after

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Earth Repair Workshop

Toxic Realities and Radical Remedies: A Grassroots Bioremediation Intensive with Leila Darwish

Friday, April 4th: 7–9pm / Saturday, April 5th: 9am–3pm
Townsite Anglican Church, 6310 Sycamore Street —— Pay What You Can

Are you passionate about growing and gathering your own food and medicine, but lush plantsconcerned that the soils in your community are contaminated by heavy metals or chemicals?

Do you live in a place where industrial activity formerly occurred or is currently taking place and are concerned about the toxic legacies left behind?

Join us for a weekend of exploring and experimenting with a diversity of grassroots bioremediation tools to help heal the lands and waters that nourish us! How can we work with the power of living systems to heal contaminated and damaged land? When it comes to environmental disasters, like oil spills, how can we skill up and help with the recovery of the communities, lands and waters that we love?

This workshop will explore different ways we can work with the many micro-organisms, mushrooms, and plants that are the planets finest and oldest disaster responders, alchemists, and healers.

We’ll cover the basics of different community accessible bioremediation techniques, including:

      • Microbial Remediation
        Using microorganisms to break down and bind contaminants.
      • Phytoremediation
        Using plants to extract, bind, and transform toxins.
      • Mycoremediation
        Using fungi to clean up contaminated soil and water.

Other topics covered in the course materials include:

      • Contaminants 101 (heavy metals and chemicals)
      • Soil Testing
      • Site Assessment/Reading the Land
      • Designing Grassroots Bioremediation Projects
      • Applications for Water Contamination and Filtration
      • Oil Spills 101
      • Self-Care for Grassroots Remediators (personal protective gear, plant and mushroom allies for supporting detox and good health)


Leila Darwish is a community organizer, author, permaculture designer, educator, gardener, and grassroots herbalist with a deep commitment to environmental justice, food sovereignty, and to providing accessible and transformative tools for communities dealing with toxic contamination of their land and drinking water.

Over the last decade, she has worked as a community organizer for different environmental organizations and community groups in Alberta, BC and the USA on different environmental justice campaigns. She is a certified permaculture designer, a graduate of the Linnaea Farms Ecological Farming Program, and has also apprenticed on different organic farms across Canada and the USA. She has given workshops on grassroots bioremediation for a diversity of groups and organizations across the United States and Canada, and is the author of the new book “Earth Repair: A Grassroots Guide to Healing Toxic and Damaged Landscapes” (2013, New Society Publishing).

For more information about the book and courses, please check out her website: EarthRepair.ca

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2013 Design Course

 class on wall

I feel very honoured to have been a student in Powell River’s second permaculture design course in 2013. Now, as we move into 2014, and prepare for another season of permaculture activities, I’d like to do a recap of last year’s course. Last Summer, Erin Pickell and Alyssa Stapleton wrote articles for this blog that did not get posted. I apologize for that, and I will be including their articles in this one. Many thanks to both of them for so beautifully describing our process.ron builds wall

The focus of the course seems to be gardening, but it is so much more. We studied natural building, wise use of water (that should prove very useful after such a dry Winter), and other half finished walltechniques that foster sustainability and resilience. Besides all of the great techniques, we learned the philosophy and approach of permaculture, a  tool that will last us the rest of our lives.

In learning permaculture design, we continued the work of the previous class, growing the garden at Sycamore Commons.

This is what Erin wrote, just before we did the garden installation:Lilla and Erin cobbing

It’s been really exciting to be a student with the opportunity to put our ideas into practice for the community. As the second succession of students to be learning and practicing Permaculture on the site, we were endowed with the great vision and work of the first group.  With the project goals and a good relationship with the congregation already established, the students of 2013 got started in March, benefiting from the great yield produced the first year (a yield of learning, relationships AND honeyberries!).

Permaculture is a big subject with infinite potential, but Rin and Ron have done an expert job of introducing us to it. Before any talk of ecological design, we collectively decided how to create a safe learning environment. We made commitments as a group; for example, using ‘I’ statements, listening to each other, and being honest with each other and ourselves. We also wrote down in groups our biggest fears about the project, our ultimate nightmares, and shared them in order to shine a light on what might otherwise be lurking in the shadows. This effort to create safety paid off and everyone’s voice is heard in a collaborative learning environment.

taking shapeIt’s been so great getting together with this group of people who, while all being unique, have in common a desire to care for the Earth (creating the conditions for regeneration where harm has been done), to care for other people (weaving human needs into the functioning and health of the wider ecosystem), and to share the surplus (not denying other people or species their needs through our own over-consumption).  These are the Permaculture ethics and its important and exciting to be working on this.

In the first weekend, we talked about Permaculture foundations: the ethics and principles, elements in an ecosystem, patterns in nature, and design concepts and methodologies.  We practiced the essential skill of observation at the old golf course, suspending our need to know or control and simply noticing what’s around us, using all of our senses. We were introduced to the idea of forest gardening – creating a perennial food system following nature’s own efficient and elegant design. We got a LOT of information in the first weekend but were assured that it would be repeated and we left with lots to think about. We were given the assignment to observe the places we live, practicing this essential first step of Permaculture design, and bringing our notes to share at the next weekend.full steam

We came back together in April for the second weekend of the course. Ron was away doing good work in Cuba but Rin called in some friends so she had a few breaks (not many!!) Ed rocksAlong with furthering the design process on site, we talked about water. How does it cycle through an ecosystem; where does it come from and where does it go? We talked about the importance of wetlands and the danger they’re in.  Life needs water! So how do we keep it in the ecosystem? We also talked about soil. We were lucky to have Rob and Julia, students from last year, come in to talk to us about building and maintaining soil life. There is no bare soil in nature and we must model this to foster a habitat for the countless creatures that live in soil. They break down organic matter, and make food available for plants to grow. We made compost from Rin’s menagerie of collected materials: coffee grounds from local shops, shavings from her chicken run, manure, brewer’s yeast and grass clippings. This site has a lot of good compost!  We got to visit Edward’s yard, where he’s applied a lot of what we’re learning already: filtering water, building soil, and working with the local ecology; and we explored the forest ecology on Valentine Mountain and once again practiced our skill of observation.  We hosted a meeting at Sycamore Commons to connect with the broader community and find out their thoughts about the space. We ended the weekend by dividing into small groups that would focus on different parts of the design.

wet cardboardWhen we came back in June for the third weekend, we got to see what everyone had been working on over the break and it was great!! There were so many good design ideas already and then, over the weekend, we got into way more detail. We let ourselves dream big and put down all of our ideas. We thought about what functions and features of the site that would reflect the project’s vision of creating a space for the community that is also regenerating the ecology that we live with.   We went through many phases of observation, brainstorming, drawing and mapping and eventually a clear design unfolded. There will be a bus shelter and a book/seed exchange, a terraced garden, a play area, forest garden paths, living willow structures, a meditative space and other places to sit and enjoy the garden with friends. We completed the design on paper on Sunday to show the congregation and community, and asked for their feedback. It was very positive and we were able to talk to some neighbours about their questions and concerns, which we appreciated. Arriving on the first day, I didn’t know how the design would happen, but it did! And we were all part of it. Many thanks to our great teachers.

Alyssa and stream bedAfter we installed our section of the Sycamore Commons garden, Alyssa wrote the following inspired essay.

Gratitude – the feeling that swept over me after viewing the completed installation. Gratitude for the supportive community members, for the caring congregation members, and for the inspiring mentors. To see the completed project was an unexpected joy that evolved from the blank canvas of Sycamore Commons on Sunday August 11th. Equipped with tools, and a clear vision, individuals embarked on what would be transformative Julia and the stream bedexperience for both people and place. And at the close of the first day this objective had already been obtained.

babies and dogs get involvedThe second work party brought with it a whole slew of community members ready to toil in the soil. Plants were installed; a stream bed completed, and bonds between this site and its shapers strengthened. Now that the final pieces have been set in place, Sycamore Commons will be a place for everyone to enjoy. It’s beautiful knowing that though this is just one small piece of the design plan for this area, it is already enriching this community. The direct effects plantingbeing traffic calming, soliciting thanks and visits from its neighbours, and by acting as a harvesting ground for community resilience. Excitement grows from within for future work to be done on this site, but until then, the gratitude for what has already been started will flow freely.

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New Dates for the 2013 Permaculture Design Course!!

Greetings Permies One and All!

We have postponed the start of this year’s community-based Permaculture Design Course form January to March. This means that the four principle weekends for the course are as follows: March 15-17, April 26-28, June 14-16 and August 16-18. We are soooo close to having enough committed folks on board Tomatoes and cucumbers grow around a tuba fountain against asouth facing garage wallto make this course a go – please help to spread the word so we can make the magic happen once again this year!

Click here for the updated 2013 Permaculture Design Course brochure

In addition to all of the intense and wonderful core permaculture curriculum, the first year of the course focused on careful observation, dialogue and design with the people most closely connected to the site – the parishoners of Townsite Anglican church (“zone 1” if you like). This year we will continue this process but moving it further out into “zone 2” –  the geographical community of Townsite. Once again we will undertake a design process and a couple of fabulous work bees to continue the transformation of the site into a wonderfully rich, diverse and productive community space. We will also have site visits and design exercises and all students home properties (within the region). We will also have the wonderful resource of the past year’s students to add into the mix!

Please join us for this adventure. We are certain you will find it thoroughly enjoyable, meaningful and so very useful in your own path towards sustainability and community abundance!

Ron Berezan and Erin Innes

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“The Mushrooms are Here!!”

Such was the excited exclamation of Jeanette when I bumped into her a couple of days ago. Jeanette was one of the 40 or so volunteers who came to our two installation work-bees in July, 2012 when we began the initial work of transforming the Townsite Anglican church grounds into an emerging permaculture paradise. And part of that work included the inoculation of oyster mushroom spawn into a long narrow strip bordering on the parking lot beside the site.

Just four months later, and the first Pleurotus ostreatus have put in a bold and exciting experience. Welcome!! We are glad you decided to join the party! We have big hopes and plans for you so please stick around, and tell lots of your friends to come too! (OK, so I talk to mushrooms – you got a problem with that??).

Every element in a permaculture design is selected and placed with great intention. We did not randomly throw mushroom spawn all over the installation site. Rather, we thought carefully about what roles we wanted our fungal friends to play, and how we could best connect them to other elements in the design so they could succeed in their role and help other elements with their roles too!

Most of our oyster spawn (obtained from Western Biological in Aldergrove BC) was jammed down into the stumps of the holly hedge that had been cut to ground level. Holly can be very persistent and we wanted to eliminate it from this location. So after composting all of the branches, we drilled holes into the stumps and packed in the spawn. Then we mulched over that heavily with cardboard and added our remaining spawn into the cardboard layers. So far, no sign of the holly coming back – score one for the fungi!

Another key function intended for the fungi, is to turn the woody stumps, cardboard and mulch into finer nutrients that can be taken up by the surrounding plants, particularly the espaliered fruit trees planted along the same strip. Already that strip of hard packed ground is feeling a lot spongier, thanks both to the mulch and the work of the fungi and countless other organisms who have been actively chowing down. Oyster mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they live off of dying or dead organic matter, cycling otherwise unavailable nutrients back into plant and animal life. The humus is on the rise! Score two for the fungi.

Of course, oyster mushrooms also make very good eating and we have intended this garden design to provide a variety of food yields. As these first mushrooms broadcast their billions of spores into the mulch of the surrounding areas, with a little good luck, we’ll have a great harvest of oyster mushrooms for a few years to come. Score three for the fungi!

And there is one more (amongst others)  important function that these amazing organisms are playing for the system: mycoremediation. The vast majority of the bio-mass of a fungi is below the ground – the mushroom represents just a tiny fraction. As these oyster mushrooms continue to grow, they will send their mycellium through literally thousands of km’s of soil, creating a dense mat that functions as a lens to filter out ground level pollutants. The lens will trap any contaminants (such as possible hydro carbons from the cars in the parking lot) in their physical structures and will break them down into their constituent elements, using them for food and rendering them far less toxic or harmful. Score four for the fungi!

Oh yeah, then there’s the fact that fungi prevent erosion by holding soil particles together, and that they store tremendous volumes of water in their bodies often making that available to plants helping to stave off drought conditions. And they are a keystone species in the forest whose presence enables far more bio-diversity to exist below and above ground … .

Way to go fungi! Let’s make a date for an omelet soon … .

R Berezan

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Permaculture Powell River Information Night

What’s all the buzz about permaculture in Powell River these days? Join us for a lively information session introducing you to the powerful possibilities of permaculture for our region. Find out more about the second year of our community-based permaculture design certificate program (PDC) starting in January 2013 and the public permaculture garden now underway in Townsite. Film, music, conversation and just plain fun!

Wednesday, November 21 7:30 -8:30 pm
Townsite Anglican Church, 6310 Sycamore Street
Admission by donation (all proceeds go to our program scholarship fund)

For more information, contact Erin Innes (604 483 4050 erininnes@gmail.com) or Ron Berezan (604 223 4800 theurbanfarmer@shaw.ca) or visit www.permaculturepowellriver.ca

Hope to see you there!

Ron Berezan
Erin Innes

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Culturing Connections: Community Permaculture Beyond the Garden weekend workshop

Transition Town Powell River and Permaculture Powell River present

Erin Innes, Certified Permaculture Designer

with a weekend Permaculture Design Workshop

Where does our individual work fit into the larger landscape of exciting community projects happening in Powell River? Can we get more benefits for our community from the work we’re already doing by finding greater connections between our diverse projects and organizations?

Transition Town Powell River and Permaculture Powell River invite you to join us for a weekend workshop in Social Permaculture to help us find ways to answer these questions, and work on linking the work we are already doing into a larger, stronger, and more resilient network to help this community move toward a more sustainable and lower energy future.

Saturday, Nov 24th 10 am – 5:30 pm and Sunday Nov 25th 1 pm – 5 pm
St David & St Paul’s Anglican Church basement, 6310 Sycamore St

Sliding Scale $70 to $120:  Pay up to 50% in Powell River dollars PR$

To Register
email transitiontowellriver@gmail.com, call (604) 483-9052 or use the form at:
Limit of 20 participants

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Registration is Now Open for our 2013 Permaculture Design Course!

After a very wonderful first year of our community integrated permaculture design course

(PDC), we are now ready to launch year two! This means that we will be offering a new PDC beginning in January, 2013 and running over four long weekends and several stand-alone days throughout 2013. This is your chance to participate in a dynamic and evolving community project in Powell River and to earn your own permaculture design certificate!

Through the course, you will learn the skills you need to design your own space for food production, bio-diversity, effective resource use, creating community and much more. some of the topics included in this course are:

  • Permaculture design ethics and principles
  • Methods of design and ecological patterns
  • Annual and perennial food growing strategies
  • Animals in rural and urban areas
  • Soil, water, and energy systems
  • Appropriate technologies and green building
  • Ecosystems and ecological restoration
  • Settlement design and community strategies
  • Alternative economies and resilience
  • And more …!!

Please contact Erin Innes (rin@passionatepermaculture.ca / 778 707 4848) or Ron Berezan (theurbanfarmer@shaw.ca / 604 223 4800) for more information.

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