Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Ecoroof Planting Plan

We just submitted a grant for putting ecoroofs onto our house, carport, and garage. I thought our conceptual approach and plant list may help other people contemplating ecoroofs, or those with thin soils for whatever reason. (Someone on the Portland Permaculture Guild list just asked about plants for a site with a few inches of soil over compacted gravel, so I sent her my plant list a
s a starting point.)

I selected the plants in the plant list below from books on ecoroofs, and from drought-tolerant plants listed in the Plants for a Future database and Martin Crawford's Ground Covers booklet. Many of the drought tolerant plants may survive drought by sending down deep roots, which won't work on the ecoroof, so many of my selections may fail.

Our grant proposal "Planting Plan" follows:


We consider the ecoroofs "Zone 2", a permaculture concept referring to areas accessed once or twice a week (as opposed to "Zone 1" areas of daily access where you would grow salad greens and so on). We'll grow crops which require relatively infrequent maintenance and harvest. Suitable crops include bulbs and other root crops, medicinals and herbs harvested for drying or other storage techniques, berries, and seeds for eating or animal fodder.

In our yard, we're experimenting with polycultures of perennial vegetables, trying to include nutrient accumulators, nitrogen fixers, beneficial insect attractors, aromatic pest confusers, ground covers, tall clumpers, and vines in patches through the entire garden. Given the limited species pallette for the ecoroof and given that we know even less about species interactions on an ecoroof than on the ground, we'll start with experimentation with simple polycultures of two plants at a time. Generally we'll aim to have a solid mat of low growing ground covers with taller clumping plants growing up through them. We'll try different plants in different combinations, and try different plants in different microclimates of aspect, soil moisture, and shade availability. As we learn what works well together and as plants volunteer themselves in new areas, we'll evolve more complex polycultures of more than two species.

We will design for year-round plant growth on the ecoroofs. In some places we'll use evergreen species, and in others we'll use two rounds of plants, for warm season growth and then for cool season/winter growth. In our regular garden we fill the winter niche with a combination of food crops of garlic and other Alliums, cover crops of fava beans and others, and self-seeding volunteers (such as the salad greens Montia sp, Barbarea verna, popweed [Cardamine unknown], Lapsana communis, and Lamium purpureum).

Seasonal Growth


On the ecoroof we'll focus the winter crop on garlic, multiplier onions, shallots, and other Alliums which can grow over the winter and produce bulbs for later harvest. We'll also try some chard and kale, and maybe other greens to allow for a once or twice a week visit to the roof to harvest a salad or a bowl of cooking greens at a time. This seems the most efficient way to supplement our normal daily-use winter garden on the ground.

Spring Into Summer

Many "spring ephemeral" bulbs native to the West should work well on the ecoroof. Others have already reported that Camassia grows well on ecoroofs. We'll also experiment with the edible bulb producing genuses Triteleia, Brodiaea, Dichelostemma, Fritillaria, Scilla, and Muscari, many or all of which contain species of similar life cycle to Camassia: leafing out in early spring and dying back with the onset of our summer droughts. These should provide calorie rich bulbs without requiring additional irrigation. We can harvest these as soon as they go dormant, or wait til the fall or winter.

We will also experiment, especially in early years while we wait for the ecoroof to fully fill in, with growing baby carrots and perhaps other "baby" annual roots, taking advantage of the prime spring growing season before the ecoroof gets baked in the summer.

Summer and Fall

The ground covers should persist through summer and fall. In places where our spring ephemeral bulbs have died back, ground covers may be the only plants growing. In other places we'll have taller plants which also persist into fall.

Fall Into Winter

We'll plant our garlic and other Alliums, and sow seeds. Seed sowing will work best in conjunction with harvest of root crops, disturbing the soil and setting back the ground covers enough to open niches for the seeds to utilize.

Implementation Schedule

To save on plant costs, for many plants we'll purchase fewer starts than ultimately needed (especially of the quickly spreading ground covers), and propagate them from divisions, seeds, and bulb offsets once they establish. In the meantime, we'll plant more heavily with annual crops such as garlic, baby carrots, and maybe even some spring greens to use the open space and minimize its colonization by unwanted volunteers. This will also allow us to experiment with a large number of species to see which succeed and which fail; after the first year or two those which succeed will have proven themselves and begun offering propagation material to fill in the areas of plants which failed.

Potential Species Lists

(still a work in progress):

Ground Covers / Low Plants

  • Rubus nepalensis
  • R. tricolor
  • R. hispidus
  • R. illecebrosus
  • R. irenaeus
  • R. pentalobus
  • Astragalus glycyphyllos (Milk vetch)
  • Montia perfoliata (Miner's lettuce)
  • Montia sibirica (Siberian miner's lettuce)
  • Valerianella locusta (Corn salad)
  • Cornus canadensis (Bunchberry)
  • Lotus corniculatus (Prostrate bird's food trefoil, especially "Plena" low-growing variety)
  • Sempervivum unknown (Hen and chicks)
  • Thymus sp (T. praecox, T. x citriodorus, T. pulegioides, and others)
  • Origanum vulgare (Creeping oregano)
  • Campanula poscharskyana (Trailing bellflower)
  • C. portenschlagiana (Adria bellflower)
  • C. carpatica turbinata
  • Ceanothus sp
  • Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
  • Fragaria chiloensis (Beach strawberry)
  • Vaccinium angustifolium (Lowbush blueberry)
  • Vaccinium pensylvanicum (Lowbush blueberry)
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Lingonberry)
  • Vinca major
  • Vinca minor
  • Stachys affinis (Chinese artichoke)
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
  • Berberis wilsoniae
  • Mahonia repens (Creeping Oregon grape)
  • Myrteola mummularia
  • Taxus baccata (English Yew, "Repandens" or other low growing ground cover variety)
  • Prunus tenela (Dwarf Russian almond)
  • Ribes alpinum (Alpine currant)

Taller Plants

  • Astragalus crassicarpus (Ground plum)
  • A. membranaceous (huang-qi)
  • Agastache rugosa (Korean mint)
  • A. foeniculum (Anise hyssop)
  • maybe other Agastache sp.
  • Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm)
  • Hemerocallis sp (Daylilies)
  • Garlic/shallots/multiplier onions
  • Allium cernuum (Nodding onion)
  • A. tuberosum (Garlic chives)
  • A. schoenoprasum (Chives)
  • A. moly (Golden garlic)
  • A. acuminatum (Hooker's onion)
  • A. senescens (German garlic)
  • Tulbaghia violacea (Society garlic)
  • Psoralea esculenta (Indian breadroot)
  • Sedum spectabile
  • Sedum telephium
  • Linum perenne (Perennial flax)
  • Salvia officinalis (Sage)
  • Lavandula angustifolia (Lavendar, perhaps "Hidcote Superior" variety)
  • Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary, preferably a dwarf variety)
  • Berberis buxifolia "Nana"
  • Amaranthus sp.
  • Chenopodium sp.
  • Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek)

Spring Ephemeral Bulbs

  • Cammassia sp (quamash, cusickii, leichtlinii)
  • Triteleia sp
  • Brodiaea sp.
  • Dichelostemma sp.
  • Scilla sp.
  • Muscari sp.

Hippie Grass Areas

(hang-out space and paths):

  • Bellis perennis (Daisy)
  • Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
  • Trifolium sp. (clovers)
  • Lotus corniculatus (Bird's food trefoil, especially "Plena" low-growing variety)
  • Chaemaemelum nobile (Chamomile)

Friday, November 06, 2009

Our perennial vegetables

I've typed up a list of the perennial vegetables we're growing in our yard. I've loosely organized them by their primary usage, but we use many of them in multiple ways (for greens and roots, for example.) I haven't organized the list in any other way.

Greens & Edible Flowers

  • Violets - Viola cornuta, Viola odorata, maybe others
  • Bellflowers/harebells - Campanula unknown, C. portenschlagiana, C. poscharskyana, C. persicifolia, C. rapunculoides

  • Mallows
    • Zebra Mallow - Malva sylvestris mauritiana
    • Malva Alcea fastigiata
    • Malva neglecta

  • Comfrey - Symphytum officinale
  • Salad Burnett - Sanguisorba minor
  • Good King Henry - Chenopodium bonus-henricum
  • Sylvetta Arugula - Diplotaxis muralis
  • Sea kale - Crambe maritima
  • Giant sea kale - Crambe cordifolia
  • Daisy - Bellis perennis
  • Mitsuba - Cryptotaenia japonica
  • Perennial Lettuce - Lactuca perennis
  • Salt Bush - Atriplex canescens and A. halimus
  • New Zealand Spinach (marginally hardy here) - Tetragonia tetragonioides
  • Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica
  • Peppermint - Mentha x piperita
  • Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis
  • Anise Hyssop - Agastache foeniculum
  • Lovage - Levisticum officinale
  • Miner's Lettuce - Claytonia perfoliata
  • Siberian Miner's Lettuce - Claytonia siberica
  • Buckshorn Plantain - Plantago coronopus
  • Sea Plantain - Plantago maritima
  • Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare
  • Chicory - Cichorium intybus
  • Iceplant - Sedum spectabile
  • Hen and Chickens / Houseleek - Sempervivum tectorum
  • French Sorrel - Rumex scutatus
  • Wood Sorrel - Oxalis oregana
  • Sheep Sorrel - Rumex acetosella
  • Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
  • Cleavers - Galium aparine
  • Grape (leaves & tendrils) - Vitis vinifera
  • Wolf Berry - Lycium barbarum


  • Day Lily - Hemerocallis sp.
  • Columbine - Aquilegea vulgaris
  • Red and White Clover - Trifolium pratense and T. repens
  • Turkish Rocket - Bunias orientalis
  • Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia

Shoots and Stalks

  • Rhubarb - Rheum x cultorum
  • Solomon Seal - Polygonatum commutatum
  • Giant Solomon's Seal - Polygonatum commutatum biflorum
  • American Spikenard - Aralia racemosa
  • Colts Foot - Petasites palmatus
  • Fuki - Petasites japonicus
  • Poke - Phytolacca americana
  • Angelica - Angelica archangelica
  • Asparagus - Asparagus officinalis
  • Bamboo - Phyllostachys sp

Seeds & Seedpods

  • Swamp Milkweed - Asclepias incarnata
  • Sweet Cicely - Myrrhis odorata
  • Scarlet Runner Bean (marginally hardy here) - Phaseolus coccineus
  • Eastern Bean - Phaseolus polystachios polystachios
  • Akebia - Akebia quinata and A. trifoliata
  • Milk Thistle - Silybum marianum

Root Crops

  • Skirret - Sium sisarum
  • Scorzonera - Scorzonera hispanica
  • Yellow Asphodel - Asphodeline lutea
  • Marshmallow - Althaea officinalis
  • Licorice, American and European - Glycyrrhiza lepidota and G. glabra
  • Hog peanut - Amphicarpaea bracteata
  • Tiger nut - Cyperus esculentus
  • Earth chestnut - Bunium bulbocastanum
  • American bistort - Polygonum bistortoides
  • Wapato - Sagitarria latifolia
  • Asiatic Lily - Lilium unknown
  • Camassia - Camassia quamash, C. leichtlinii, C. scilloides
  • Cat Tail - Typha latifolia
  • Grape Hyacinth - Muscaria unknown
  • Scilla unknown
  • Canna Lily - Canna unknown
  • Dahlia - Dahlia pinnata or D. rosea
  • Mashua (perennial nasturtium with edible root) - Tropaeolum tuberosum
  • Cinnamon Vine - Dioscorea batatas
  • Yacon - Smallianthus sonchifolia
  • Oca - Oxalis tuberosa
  • Jerusalem Artichoke/Sunchoke - Helianthus tuberosus
  • Sweet Flag - Acorus calamus americanus
  • Horseradish - Armoracia rusticana
  • Ladybells - Adenophora lilifolia and A. pereskiifolia

Onions (Allium genus)

  • Egyptian Walking Onion
  • Nodding Onion - Allium cernuum
  • Bunching Onion - Allium fistulosum
  • Chive - Allium schoenoprasum
  • Garlic Chive - Allium tuberosum
  • Garlic - Allium sativum
  • Multiplier Onions & Shallots - Allium cepa aggregatum
  • Ramps - Allium tricoccum
  • Golden Garlic - Allium moly
  • Drumstick allium - Allium sphaerocephalum
  • Allium stipitatum

Self seeding annuals and biennials

  • Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis
  • Pop Weed - Cardamine unknown
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Curly mallow - Malva verticillata
  • Calendula - Calendula officinalis
  • Nipple Wort - Lapsana communis
  • Purple Dead Nettle - Lamium purpureum
  • Money Plant - Lunaria annua
  • Parsley - Petroselinum crispum
  • Pigweed - Amaranthus sp.
  • Lambs Quarters - Chenopodium sp.

Integrating Chickens Into Your Food System

Here are some thoughts and pointers I pulled together for my class "Integrating Chickens Into Your Food System".

Foraging Breeds

From books and online sources, these breeds can free range and forage much of their own food:
  • Austrolorp
  • Brown leghorn
  • Buff Orpington
  • Dominique
  • Hamburg
  • Leghorn
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Silver-Laced Wyandotte
  • Sussex
  • White Wyandotte
  • Ameraucana
  • Black Sex Link
  • Red Sex Link
  • Sussex
And thanks to Chris for a pointer to a good foraging meat breed, the Le Poulet

Best Chicken Pen Method

We've used a single largish free range area of ~3000 square feet for six hens. They keep the area fairly well denuded of ground covers, though we have successfully established trees and shrubs and a few herbaceous plants. The next time I design for chickens I'll adopt a rotating pasture method. I agree with most of the points made in Paul Wheaton's article, "concerns about the way most people raise chickens".

Chicken Tolerant Plants

Once we established these plants, our chickens did not eat or scratch them to death:

Latin nameCommon nameNotes
Mentha x piperitaPeppermint
Sium sisarumSkirretChickens don't eat it; not yet verified whether they'll scratch it to death
Hemerocallis spDaylilies
Chenopodium bonus-henricusGood King Henry
Asparagus officinalisAsparagusChickens do knock it over
Allium spOnions, garlic, etcChickens don't eat; uprooting depends on its root establishment. It helps that we get lots of coop scrap alliums; the chickens can only kill so many volunteers.
Solanum tuberosumPotatoDitto on lots of potatoes from coop scraps.
Malva spMallows
Aachilea millefoliumYarrow
Helianthus maximilianiiMaximillian sunflower
Angelica archangelicaAngelicaNot sure yet whether these biennials can maintain themselves via self-seeding
Levisticum officinaleLovage
Armoracia rusticanaHorseradish
Petasites japonicusFuki
Urtica dioicaNettles
Phyllostachys spBamboo
Tropaeolum tuberosumMashua
Foeniculum vulgareFennel
Houttuynia cordataHot tuna

Chicken Fodder Plants

One tip I've read is to watch wild birds for what they like to eat. Plants our chickens like to eat:

Latin nameCommon nameNotes
Symphytum officinaleComfreyChickens tend to eat it to the ground mercilessly, but it generally stays alive. We're trying to establish enough plants for them that they won't slaughter them all.
Caragana spPea shrub
Brassica oleraceaKaleChickens eat to death
Berries, fruit treesRaspberries, gooseberries, serviceberries, mulberry, wolfberry, cotoneaster, and so many more
Rheum x cultorumRhubarbChickens eat the leaves, but not the stems
Helianthus tuberosumJerusalem artichokeChickens eat the young shoots, but can't stop them from growing rampantly anyway
Scorzonera hispanicaScorzoneraChickens eat to death
Robinia pseudoacaciaBlack locustIn theory chickens eat the seeds - ours don't seem to
Prunus spKernels from pits of plum, peach, cherry, apricot, etcNeed to crack them open for the chickens - smashing with bricks or using a grain grinder works fine. Also edible by humans; see my old blog entries for more details
Acorns / beech nuts / other nutsNeed to crack them open for the chickens, or allow to sprout in the chicken yard
Lemna minorDuckweedChickens not nearly as excited about it as our neighbor's ducks, but they eat some
Oenothera biennisEvening primroseRead about this as chicken fodder - probably for the oil-rich seeds. Haven't tried growing it for the chickens yet
Apios americanaGroundnutRead about this as chicken fodder - I think they'll eat the seeds, while you can harvest the root. Ours hasn't made any seed yet to verify
Trifolium spClovers
Amaranthus retroflexusPigweedChickens don't eat the leaves, but do eat the seed. Presumably all Amaranthus sp would work
Chenopodium albumLamb's quartersDitto
Elaeagnus umbellataAutumn OliveBerries of course, but the chickens also eat the leaves