Observation and Restoration

     I’ve been reading a number of books about permaculture recently.  For those not familiar, it’s a set of guidelines/principles that seek to integrate human settlements into the natural landscape and make them sustainable.  It’s still on the fringe of mainstream ecology and the scientific community has been hesitant to embrace it, and rightfully so, because it is more of a philosophy than a scientific discipline.  That being said, I think it is a step in the right direction toward changing the way that we view and interact with natural systems.

      The main tenet of permacultural principles that I think also meshes well with the scientific method is that of observation.  Only by observing intact, healthy ecosystems can we know how the natural world works to produce clean water, humus-rich soils, nutrient-dense plants/fruits, and how it cycles death and decay into life and sustenance.  Observation of the natural world can inform our decisions as to what plants belong where, and what species grow well together.  This hits close to home for us at Beech Hollow, as our entire operation is an attempt to place native plants back into the landscape, but if the plants are put in an inhospitable environment they will perish and all our work will be erased.

     In an attempt to inform ourselves, and later our customers and readers, as to the ideal environment in which to place the plants we propagate Pandra and I have decided to start visiting some of the intact fragments of the Piedmont’s varied ecosystems to observe just where each specie thrives.  Pandra gave me an excellent book for Christmas to guide us on this quest: Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia by Hugh and Carol Nourse. It has us planning excursions to numerous public lands in order to get a glimpse of what the landscape once looked like, and hopefully how we can mimic nature with our plantings .  I took a trip this past weekend to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area with a few friends to see if anything had started blooming yet.  The CRNRA is fully engulfed by the massive sprawl that is Metro Atlanta, and yet these small pieces of land survive relatively intact in their natural state.

       The hike I took was on the West Palisades Trail, which is within a mile of two major interstates, and surrounded by apartment complexes.  Despite the urbanization around it, this trail will transport you from what is essentially a parking lot for a giant apartment complex to a bend in the broad river teeming with birds and the only sounds you’ll hear are the wind and the water.  The bluffs across the river from this trail have their own trails system and rise about 300-400′ above the water, and in the summer months brave/foolhardy people jump from the lower bluffs into the frigid waters below as hundreds of kayakers pass through the shoals known as the Devil’s racecourse.  On a windy day in February the only life on the river was of the avian variety:

  In addition to this and other Blue Herons, we saw Canada geese on their way north, Mallard ducks courting on logs, and numerous sparrows and finches flitting about the wooded slopes.  The main reason for the hike was to see some plants, and despite it being early February, we were not disappointed.

Trout Lilies (Erythronium umbilaticum) were blooming by the hundreds on the steep banks.  Their tiny yellow flowers tend to blend in with the decaying fallen leaves, but once you see a few, the rest just jump out.  These tiny, delicate plants take many years to reach maturity and flower from the corms they form deep underground.

   We also saw several Trilliums (Trillium cuneatum) getting ready to pop open. These plants take seven years  to reach maturity and flower when grown from seed. Sadly, many populations of these beautiful, but slow growing plants have been dug up and collected over the years, and they just can’t replenish themselves in the face of such rampant theft.  Fortunately there are still quite a few that survive near this trail. 

 Look for pictures of these lovely, threatened flowers in the coming weeks as I return to observe and document the succession of spring blooms in this hidden gem of Atlanta.

Certified Naturally Grown

     Beech Hollow Farms is proud to announce that we have been accepted into the Certified Naturally Grown program for 2013!  We’re looking to start selling plants at local farmer’s markets and they use CNG standards as the criteria for evaluating their vendors (Athens Farmer’s Market requires CNG certification) so we went ahead and applied.  We still have to get inspected by another local farmer in the program, and that is one of the cooler parts of this organization: the co-operative nature of it.  There is no central governing body that approves or denies your farm, just a network of participating farmers that evaluate each other based on some general guidelines.  The program is really aimed at food producers, so it might seem like a bit of overkill for us to join, but many of our plants can be eaten by humans as well as wildlife. (Some are deadly poisonous so don’t just start eating our plants willy-nilly)

     Certified Naturally Grown was developed as an alternative to the costly, time-consuming USDA Organic Certification that most small farmers don’t have enough time or money to attain.  It uses the USDA Organic standards as the jumping off point for their guidelines, but allows fewer exceptions.  Many things that would not be considered “organic” by most rational people are allowed under USDA Organic.  Just take a look:

“(b) In addition to the criteria set forth in the Act, any synthetic substance used as a processing aid or adjuvant will be evaluated against the following criteria:

(1) The substance cannot be produced from a natural source and there are no organic substitutes;”

That #1 is a the main way that producers can argue for exceptions for all manner of chemicals.  Contrast that with the CNG list of prohibited substances:  


Fertility and Soil Amendments – Prohibited Substances

Ash from manure burning

Chemically-processed minerals, including quick lime, sugar lime

Compost with sewage sludge, synthetic compost starter, glossy paper, paper with colored ink

Synthetic fertilizers

Plant Pests and Diseases – Prohibited Substances


Detergent-based soap products

Synthetic wetting agents

Nicotine sulfate and other tobacco products

Heavy metal-based pesticides

Most synthetic insecticides, fungicides, miticides

Weed Management – Prohibited Substances

Most synthetic herbicides

Heavy metal herbicides

Micronutrient-based herbicides

Soap-based herbicides

Paper mulch with glossy paper or paper with colored ink

Very similar, but with much less tolerance for synthetic substances, which in my opinion is what “organic agriculture” should be all about.

    You can view our farm profile, grower’s declaration (and soon our inspection report) right here.  The transparency is another aspect of this organization that I also find refreshing.  Anything that we use for fertilizer or pest control has to be declared and anyone can look it up through the website.  You can also use the site to find participating farms in your area.  Who’s YOUR Farmer?



Our Urban Children

I want to share a story with you.  

On the last week of January, I went up north to see my family for a few days.  Before I hit Massachusetts, I stopped over in New York City to go to a few museums, just be in that wonderful, crazy city.  Went to the American Museum of Natural History; they had an exhibit of moth photos, an IMAX of the monarch migration, and a butterfly house…it was a no brainer, I spent a day there. Remember, this is New York City, this is winter, it was 14 degrees outside.  We were in a fabricated wonderland where the temperature was 90 degrees, the plants were green, and there were butterflies flitting all around overhead, nectaring and resting, covering the lucky bamboo and various tropical plants and flowers that were able to deal with the artificial environ.  

Brought my sketch book, and set up in front of a chrysalis and happily went about sketching.  People came and went.  One young man must have been particularly salty; butterflies kept landing on him, proboscis flicking and unfurling.  A couple of elderly Docents hovered and answered questions.  A young woman came in with her adorable three year old toddler.  Momma cooed to her tousle haired child, “Look!  It’s a butterfly, look! Isn’t it pretty?”  After about four or five minutes, the child’s reaction became increasingly loud, obvious: she was terrified.  She had grown up in NYC, what the heck were these things flitting through the air all around her?  She cringed and whimpered for a few minutes, and dodged the butterflies that came anywhere close to her.  She started putting together phrases about not liking the “flies” the butterflies.  Her Mom tried and tried to engage her, soothe her, tried to lessen her fear…The little child was having none of it.  Her distress became increasingly louder every few minutes.  They left.  The Mom had also become distressed at her daughter’s fear.  She had wanted to share something lovely, gentle, magical and fun with her child.  

This is so sad.  Butterflies are so lovely and generally harmless, it breaks my heart to see a child so distressed when presented with an aspect of nature that should be so enjoyable.  This is one reason why EcoAddendum developed the Birds Butterflies and Bees programming…to get urban kids out and engaged with the natural world in a way that nurtures a positive relationship and understanding of the natural world.  It’s one of the reasons why we support environmental education at all age levels.