Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, September 24, 2011

MVNews this week:  Page 9

Nature & The Environment



 Mountain Views News Saturday, September 24, 2011 



Just a few months ago I wrote this…..Just when I believe I have been promoted to a five star 
General of the restaurant army and certain I will win every battle. I am hit by a surprise attack 
and defeated. It was Saturday Night and it commenced in a promising fashion. The heat 
of the day was receding beneath the pledge of a California evening.

One shouldn’t be forced to ask for the price of the special. I hate to be forced to wallow in 
shame that inquiry. 

You may recall a previous article where I was critical of a reader named Tony for getting burned 
by a ($14) glass of house Chardonnay. He said, “I will take the House Chardonnay.” Falsely 
believing it would run in the ($6-$8) range, but he never made the effort to inquired into the 
price. Tony, This is one of those do as I say not as I do. Well, friends it happened to me again. 
Just last week I went to my favorite wine bar and asked the bartender what the nights specials 
were, you see this particular wine bar has nightly specials and they are always in favor of the 
patron. I guess I forgot about house rules. My bartender said the entire night is happy hour, 
I asked the bartender for the happy hour menu. I ordered a glass of sparkling wine by name 
and knew it wasn’t on the menu, and asked 
for a glass 
of red wine 
for my date. 
“Merlot Sir?” 

Sure, you got it, two glasses.” 

Well that was $32 of another lesson. When will I learn? 

Join me for…. 

"A Taste of Old Town Monrovia." 

The beer, wine and food festival will return to the city of 
Monrovia on October 16th. It will showcase the best local 

For a $50 pre-registration ticket or $60 at the door, volunteers 
will "slap on a wrist band and hand you a wine glass" 
and then attendees can take their pick from food, beer and 
wine samples provided by restaurants from all over the city. 
Confirmed participation to this point is from Old Town 
Pizza, Café Massilia, Rudy’s Mexican Food, Robeks Juice, 
London Gastro Pub, and Monrovia Coffee Company. Visit for additional information and 

by Christopher Nyerges

It turns out I was 
practicing permaculture 
before I ever heard the 
word. The coined word 
means “permanent agriculture,” referring to 
finding the way to let nature seek its own balance 
in gardening and other areas of life.

Here are some sections adapted from my 
“Self-Sufficient Home” book, which is available 
wherever books are sold, or from www.



When I was still living with my parents, we had 
no space at all to garden. It was unthinkable then 
to tear up a front lawn and use it for a garden – 
something I wouldn’t hesitate to do today. The 
next door neighbor offered us the use of an empty 
yard between our houses. My mother – who grew 
up on a farm – sat up at night with me planning 
how to use that space for gardening. Most of what 
I learned about what to plant and not to plant was 
learned by making mistakes.

I began by planting herbs, tomatoes, and corn, 
all neatly arranged in north-south lines with 
some pathways in-between. I knew nothing about 
fertilizer or mulch or pest control. I just went out 
there and planted what I believed would make the 
best garden, and I watched the results.

Herbs took care of themselves – mints, fennel, 
oregano, lavender, and others. Herbs tended to be 
drought-tolerant, and required very little of my 
time and effort.

Tomatoes grew good too, but I learned that they 
just grew and grew, longer and longer, and only 
began to produce lots of tomatoes when I pinched 
back the stems so the branches would not grow as 
long. Yes, I got tomato worms, which I just picked 
off and tossed to the birds. 

Corn was quite an education. It grew tall and 
the ears formed. As they got bigger, I noticed 
that they were very infested with lots of ants, and 
aphids, and earwigs. In horror, I would take the 
hose and wash all the bugs off, and this worked to 
some extent since it was a small garden.

That first season’s corn was a disaster, with 
bug-infested, half-developed ears, and I even 
used some bug poison for the first and last time. 
I experimented with some of the natural pest-
repellants, and made my own insecticide from 
a mixture of garlics and hot peppers, liquified 
in the blender, and sprayed on the plants. I even 
added a little Basic H to the mix. 

 I had some results, but I was still working with 
poor soil.

In desperation, I studied all I could on natural 
pest control. After all, I had fresh memories of 
one of my uncles in Chardon, Ohio, who had to 
dress up in what looked like a bee suit every time 
he went into his apple orchards so he would be 
protected from all the pesticides that he sprayed 
on the apples. (He died of cancer). Shouldn’t 
farming and gardening be about life, not death, 
I wondered? Can’t nature take care of itself? Isn’t 
there a way to find a balance so that the bugs keep 
the other bugs in check?



I learned that – regardless of what you grow or 
where you live – the health of the soil is the single 
most important factor in producing plants that 
are drought-tolerant, bug resistant, and able to 
survive in the greatest range of temperature. 

My next experiment in that small yard was to go 
to the grocery store and get boxes of old produce 
and just dig a hole here and there in the garden and 
bury the old vegetables so they’d decompose and 
enrich the soil. Simultaneously, I went to the local 
cemetery and obtained bags of grass clippings. I 
began to layer the bare ground around the base of 
the plants with liberal amounts of grass clippings. 
This was a thick layer, not a thin sprinkling of 
grass clippings. The top layer would dry out a 
bit, but underneath, it stayed moist, softened 
the soil, and provided an environment where 
earthworms thrived, as well as lots of other bugs. 
With the layered grass clippings on the ground, I 
now noticed that the herbs and vegetables thrived 
and grew well, and the bug infestation was at a 

Plus, I didn’t need to water as much. I continued 
to get as many bags of grass clippings as possible 
and mulched the soil. And I continued to bury old 
vegetables in the garden. I produced onions and 
tomatoes and Swiss chard and zucchinis, and lots 
of herbs. I decided to skip the corn.



A few years later, I was a squatter in a house in 
a hilly part of Los Angeles. The house was empty 
and I simply moved in, had utilities turned on 
in my name, and lived there for a year and a half 
until it was clear I had to move on. 

I had an enclosed yard, and I kept some ducks 
there. I grew many vegetables there, corn included. 
I had tomatoes and peas and vegetables. I didn’t 
bring grass clippings here, but I did maintain a 
compost pit where I produced my own fertilizer 
from kitchen and yard scraps. I had a tree pruner 
dump his massive load of wood chips in my yard 
and I used them to mulch every square inch of 
my garden. At night, I would put the hose in my 
corn patch and let it dribble out. My ducks would 
spend the evening there, and they loved to eat all 
the earwigs and whatever other bugs the water 
brought out. 

And the corn grew tall and strong. One day my 
friend David Ashley and I stood in the corn patch 
eating raw corn. David had assumed that corn had 
to be cooked, and was amazed at the sweetness 
of the raw corn. We stood there for 15 minutes 
or so talking, and David was amazed that the 
experience of standing in my little duck-fertilized 
corn patch was like being in another world. It was 
like my own postage stamp-size field of dreams, 
my own Walden Pond. David talked about it for 
years afterward.

In this garden, I grew only non-hybrid varieties 
whose seeds I could harvest and replant. These 
were the vegetables also known as the heirloom 
varieties. At the time, I was not aware of how 
today’s farmers are captive to the corporations 
which produce the hybrid seeds, the widely 
touted miracle of modern farming. I was always 
disturbed about hybrids, whose seeds would not 
produce the same plant that they came from. 
Wherever possible, I have always obtained and 
used the non-hybrid, or heirloom seeds, and 
would save some of the seed for the next season, 
just as small farmers and families have done for 

Part of my garden was the famed three sisters 
of the Southwest – corn, squash, and beans, which 
David Ashley suggested I grow. Squash is planted, 
and allowed to sprawl on the ground as a ground-
cover, keeping some moisture in the soil. Corn 
is planted throughout the area, and once it gets 
a foot or so tall, native beans are planted. The 
roots of the beans fix nitrogen, meaning, you are 
increasing the nitrogen content for your corn by 
growing the beans nearby. And the corn provides 
a trellis of sorts for the beans. This “three sisters” 
garden is a common theme in arid Southwestern 

[Nyerges is the author of “Self-Sufficient 
Home,” and numerous other books. He can be 
reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or, where you can 
also see his Blog.]

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