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Bryce Ruddock’s Mature Homescale Forest Garden, GLPPodcast

Bryce Ruddock in his Forest GardenBryce Ruddock, co-author of the forthcoming Integrated Forest Gardening: the Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems, due out in August, sat down with Milton Dixon.

In this first segment, Bryce describes some of the food systems he has established in the past 30 years on his 1/6 of an acre suburban forest garden and at his family’s county extension garden in South Milwaukee.  An abridged transcription is available below the audio.

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Bryce Ruddock: There are parts of the yard we hardly ever get to. The back corners, underneath the elderberries and hazels and such. Behind the garage where the nettles grow. We have a lot of interaction with nature here.

We get racoons coming through. the occasional coyote will jump the fence and come get a drink from the pond. Chipmunks just woke up and they’re starting to run around. Squirrels have been going all winter. We get ever kind of bird species imaginable here, as well as ducks coming in.

The ducks with go and weed out the wild rice pond. I mean, they will thin out that wild rice so it doesn’t get too thick.

Milton Dixon: Is that wild rice established?

pre forest garden

Before permaculture design

BR: Yes it is, it self sows. It’s an annual grass which self sows every year, but it requires submersion in freezing water for a period of time of a month or more in order to germinate the next year. So by mid or late April its usually germinated and you can see it in the water. Then by the middle of May it’s emerging out of the water, and beginning to grow. It grows up to 5 or 6 feet tall in this shallow pond.

MD: How many species do you think you have on your lot?

BR: I tried counting them once for Bill – Bill Wilson, rattling off the names and when I passed about 150 he told me to stop, his head was spinning. The last time I tried to figure it out, I stopped when I got to 300. Those aren’t cultivars of different plants, those are actually different species of plants. There’s a lot of herbs, things that grow just in the root zone. Also some fungi.

The birds will bring in stuff too and the chipmunks, and squirrels and they move things around. So we think of them as partners in the process. They’re fun to watch. They interact with us. We’ll sit out there and listen to music out on the patio during summer, and the chipmunks – they like that folk music.

They’ll come up there and sit on the rocks by the pond and they’ll actually dance. Waving back and forth to the music. It’s the darnest thing, and they like doing it. Chipmunks are sociable that way.

MD: How does your property compare to the neighbors’?

BR: Almost like night and day. The neighbor to the west though has a few things. That’s my inspiration for the black walnut guild. She’s got some stuff growing underneath her walnut tree, The comfreys, the daffodils, some rain lilies, hostas and stuff, and I’m like “okay, I know those grow, because they’ve been there for 30 years and I’ve been watching them.”

We get a lot of people walking by, because we’re  at the intersection of two alleys. They’ll walk by the front, walk in the alleys. They’ll look at the yard, look at the wildlife in there, look at the ducks in the pond and go, “wow, how do I do that?” Sometimes they’ll even ask questions.

bryce's forest garden

A recent picture of the forest garden.

MD: How was permaculture design relevant to your site design?

BR: We had four years to really do some observation of natural systems in the light of permaculture ideas  before we moved here, so that gave us ample time to come up with some rough plans in our head. We had a lot of conventional bio-intensive raised bed gardening experience at the county extension. From the 1970s on.

Where we live is a very nice area, in that the temperatures are moderated by proximity to Lake Michigan. When we bought here, we thought wanted to be near infrastructure, but we didn’t want to be in a great big city. That worked out pretty good, we’re right near the edge of things.

You end up looking at things in a new way when you start thinking about them permaculturally. and you don’t have to go far from home to find these things. If you’ve got parkland or natural areas near by, or even degraded fields and you look at them. You get a whole new perspective on things.  Such as when they’re putting up a shopping center and they let those out lots lay bare for a few years, you notice what the pioneer species are. I counted four species of clover up near a store in the city of Oak Creek just south west of here.

For the full segment, listen to the podcast. More material from this interview will be available in the upcoming months, and you can reserve your copy of Integrated Forest Gardening: the Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems from Chelsea Green today!


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