Plant Stewardship at Schooners
Working with plants here is probably nothing like you have seen or been taught in conventional gardening practice. We are working towards an ecosystem that looks like it grew by itself. It is not meant to be manicured, or under human control. The guiding principles are balance and complexity. The goal is a complex, rich habitat full of all sorts of life. The human role is as participant and observer, not master.
We are the guests. Listen
Schooners is divided into wild spaces, and spaces for human use. Human areas are the roads, campsites, gardens and parking areas. Wild places are the hillsides, cliffs, roadsides, and riverbanks. Our top priority over the next few years is to get strong roots into the riverbank. After several decades of being used as a parking lot, the riverbank is very susceptible to erosion.
Eucalyptus logs are used to define the spaces- if there is a 2 ton log in the way, please don't drive or park there! The logs are great for climbing, sitting, hanging wetsuits, or pounding abalone, while they prevent vehicle traffic over the restoration areas.
The wild places are weeded, restored and encouraged, but otherwise not messed with much. Most of the human spaces are mowed a couple times a year. See below for Mowing as an Art Form
Guiding Restoration Principles
Earth as skin.
Healthy soil is a living network, laced with roots and mycelia. It has a rich organic component for nutrients. It harbors a seedbank, which is a reserve to draw on in the event of changing conditions. Plants interact, and live in communities. You will notice that where there is one health happy plant it will be a gathering point for others to take hold.
No Bare Earth
Bare, disturbed soil is like a raw wound. It is open to erosion. It is a magnet for a deluge of weed seeds, as well as uncovering the dormant bank of fast growing weed seeds. (Mustard seeds can live 60 years underground, waiting for the right conditions…)
Keep soil disturbance to a minimum. You will notice we use small narrow shovels. This allows precise deep digging, without cutting neighboring roots and mycelial threads
Mulch is good. Mulch is a blanket to heal and protect the earth. It stops erosion, and slowly breaks down to return nutrients to the earth. We use a lot of wood chips as mulch here, returning tree wood back to the soil. Carefully placed uprooted weed plants and crunched up branches make good mulch (be sure weeds do not re-root…) A well placed rock is excellent mulch, providing shelter for root growth. The cover of living plants is another form of mulch.
No straight lines
Nature works in curves, puffs, flows, interwoven interfaces. We dance with that
What do we grow?
We work almost entirely with local native plants. Most of them are from the Albion River Watershed.
There are some horticultural plants around the houses chosen for beauty, fragrance or tastiness. We are looking for plants that are happy in the microclimate we have, so that fussy care is not needed. We do not use chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides in the garden. By planting during the winter rains, additional water use is minimal. All our non-native plants are carefully selected not to be invasive. A goal is to have something to nibble on year-round. So far Fava Beans, Artichokes, Rhubarb, Apples, Lemons, Herbs and Berries have found their place.
What is a weed?
The usual definition of a weed is a plant that grows exuberantly and uninvited. Of course this depends on your perspective!
Here at Schooners, a weed is a ‘ selfish thug’ plant. It is a plant that multiplies, overgrows, smothers, and crowds out the diversity of its neighbors. Most are imported. They love the mild Mendocino Coastal Climate where they have escaped the natural checks and balances of their homeland. The important weeds of Schooners are Eucalyptus, English Ivy, Pampas Grass, German Ivy, Mustard and Thistles. Learn these, and destroy on sight. Pow
How to Weed?
If you did it right, it should look like nothing ever happened. Like you weren't even there. Be careful not to disturb neighboring plants. We have vast spaces here, and clearcutting weeds only creates a bare spot for new weeds to move into. The way to deal with this is to nurture and expand the healthy plant areas. Gently remove competing weeds around a healthy good plant and its neighbors. That plant will then fluff up to fill the space you made. It will encourage the rest of the healthy native plant community. Notice how certain groups of plants are often found together. They may share a patch of sun, or shade, or plug into the same mycelial network. This spot will now take care of itself!
Mowing as an Art Form
Intelligent mowing is one of the easiest ways to reshape the plant population over time.
Mow high and time it right. Most weeds are annuals, meaning they grow fast when conditions are easy (wet warm springtime), create thousands of seeds to reproduce fast, and die. They do not put energy into strong roots. If mowed after seeds are pollinated, while they are waving proudly in the air, but before they are mature, the cycle can be stopped. Ten thousand fewer weed babies next year! If mowed too soon, they just get tough and sneaky, and make their seeds again, often right on the ground out of reach.
Most California Natives are perennials, which gather sustenance slowly in full healthy roots to make it thru the hard times. They do not need to make a million seeds every year. Mowing high gives them a haircut, and allows them to continue their cycle. They will expand, send down deep roots, fill the space and be able to defend themselves against invasive weeds. Mowing low will kill them.
Listen and Observe!
Stay alert and aware. Ask yourself questions. Notice everything, it all works together. When in doubt, don’t interfere. Plants will let you know when they are happy
The Earth Manual: How to Work on Wild Land Without Taming It - Malcolm Margolin
Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World - Paul Stamets
Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy & the Indolent - Ruth Stout