Author Archives: R. Coville

Seaberry aka Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) – Plant Highlight

Seaberry Benefits

A list and table provided by Whole Systems Design, LCC: http://www.wholesystemsdesign.com/wsd-seaberry-products/

  • Exceptional essential fatty acid content.
  • Nitrogen fixer
  • Hardy from USDA zones 3 (maybe 2b) to 7 for sure, probably 8 (I’ve seen growing in Tuscany Italy and have heard first hand reports of them growing in central Canada where it gets to -50F)
  • Nearly deer proof (very resistant to browse once established and even early on with thorns present)
  • All parts medicinal from leaves to fruit to bark (non fruit parts used as a tea for centuries)
  • Fast growing and drought tolerant
  • Soil hardy – we’ve grown them well in everyting from sandy to heavy dense clay
  • Birds do not harvest them much if at all
  • But great bird nest habitat
  • Needs full to 3/4 day sun minimum
  • Exceptionally wind hardy – great wind heedge and snow fence
  • Salt tolerant – grows on Siberian coastal dunes
  • Bears every year, bears at a young age
  • Flowers hardy to below 20F – exceptionally reliable and resilient in the face of late frosts
  • Maintenance free once established -no need to prune
Constituents of Sea Buckthorn Fruit (per 100 grams fresh berries)
Vitamin C 200-1,500 mg (typical amount: 600 mg)
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Up to 180 mg (equal to about 270 IU)
Folic acid Up to 80 mcg
Carotenoids, including beta carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthine; these contribute the yellow-orange-red colors of the fruit 30-40 mg
Fatty acids (oils); the main unsaturated fatty acids are oleic acid (omega-9), palmitoleic acid (omega-7), palmitic acid and linoleic acid (omega-6), and linolenic acid (omega-3); there are also saturated oils and sterols (mainly β-sitosterol) 6-11% (3-5% in fruit pulp, 8-18% in seed); fatty acid composition and total oil content vary with subspecies
Organic acids other than ascorbic (e.g., quinic acid, malic acid; ingredients similar to those found in cranberries) Quantity not determined; expressed juice has pH of 2.7-3.3
Flavonoids (e.g., mainly isorhamnetin, quercetin glycosides, and kaempferol; these are the same flavonoids as found in Ginkgo biloba. 100-1,000 mg (0.1% to 1.0%)

To hugelkulture or not to hugelkulture? Mulch is the question @ Rahma

Rahma Forest Garden is likely one of the most carbon rich soil sites in the city of Syracuse. Trees and perennial plants have been established there for over 5 years, and many truck loads of mulch have been spread on the site with Syracuse Grows’ annual garden Resource Drive. We chop and drop some plants like black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and comfrey (Symphytum) to help build soil Carbon & Nitrogen. In addition to chop & dropping some plants, we accumulate a lot of plant matter from weeding, thinning, and pruning on site, which gets piled up in a low pallet fence roughly separating woody debris from green materials.

This piled up plant debris is useful in theory. In reality, the piles are too loosely stacked to effectively break down, they are unwieldy to move or turn over, and they ultimately end up an eye sore (or once upon a time, a nest for abandoned kittens!), needing to be brought to the curb for city pickup.

Mulch from Syracuse Grows waiting to be spread with pitch forks & shovels, buckets & wheelbarrows at Rahma Forest Garden September 22, 2018

City pickup is a nice option as the city has substantial mulching infrastructure & logistics, and the mulch made from city yard waste like that at Rahma Forest Garden is available for pickup at various locations for free. We end up cycling nutrients from Rahma Forest Garden, to the city composting facilities, then back to Rahma Forest Garden in some cases (or in some ‘Carbons’)! Taking a closer look at this nutrient cycle, city pickup means the use of fossil fuels (trucks, heavy machinery) and the removal of nutrients from on the garden. That yard waste grew from sun, water and soil. If the goal is to build soil with a low-footprint as part of the regenerative garden, isn’t there a more regenerative solution? Some options being considered are listed below. The question at hand is: what’s the best way(s) to handle plant waste from the forest garden, maintaining healthy nutrient cycles for the site and beyond?

Continue reading →

Revisiting Rahma – restocking of Rahma Edible Food Forest after 5 years of tree growth

A fundraiser for $500 dollars

In 2012 we started the journey together through design, fundraising and organizing, to build a forest garden on the grounds of the Rahma Free Clinic.  In 2018, after 5 years of growing a forest, we will revisit and renew, taking an intentional look at what succeeded and what failed, redesigning plots and polycultures, and replanting and newly mulching spaces that haven’t yet fulfilled their potential at the Rahma Edible Forest Snack Garden in Syracuse NY, located at 3100 South Salina St.

For example, one of our first plots – the paw-paw/currant/gooseberry/mint polyculture – has been very stable, though we lost one pawpaw tree following a dry period during the summer of 2016.   Most of the groundcover and herbaceous layer is productive, but some spots have seen takeover by plant species that we would rather convert to other productive residents.  Thistle and wild lettuce will be replaced with  friendlier clover, gaps between under-story specimens will be re-mulched and filled in with cuttings from the adjacent gooseberry and currants, and the pawpaw loss will be replanted with two new 4-foot tall saplings (approximate cost with shipping $100.00).

Second, the center of out garden has often suffered from dry periods, and the trees planted there have either been mortality specimens or have grown very very slowly.  We will replant with a monarch waystation patch of 32 plants including 6 different species* ($136.85), as well as a triumvirate of Adirondack Gold Apricot trees ($104.24)!

The remaining funds from the $500 raised will go towards supplies and materials such as plant stakes, ID tags, snacks for volunteers, and clover seed.  If we raise more than the $500, we’ll be able to extend our revisit to other patches in the forest too!  Come take a look and share what areas you’d like to see receive some extra special TLC this year.

* (5) Butterflyweed for Clay (3″ Pots), (5) Rough Blazingstar (3″ Pots), (5) Common Milkweed (3″ Pots), (5) Sky Blue Aster (3″ Pots), (6) Hoary Vervain (3″ Pots), (6) Purple Coneflower (3″ Pots)

Picture above is from our annual Juneberry harvest!  The perks we are providing to donors of this campaign are not metered out in buttons, or keychains, or postcards, or any other trinkets, but in real food, and planting stock, and seeds, that we give away and share with anyone that visits the edible food forest, from the plants that we grow on site!

Planting the seeds of sustainable urban gardens in Syracuse

Adding to Alchemical Nursery In The News, here’s a throwback to Syracuse.com article “Planting the seeds of sustainable urban gardens in Syracuse” from 2015:

http://www.syracuse.com/living/index.ssf/2015/02/permaculture_flourishes_with_a_cornucopia_of_public_produce.html

The article details some of Alchemical Nursery’s origins, quotes leaders of the Rahma Edible Forest Snack Garden at the Rahma Free Health Clinic, and shares some of the hopes that animated the organization years ago and still today. Frank Cetera, co-founder and current president of Alchemical Nursery, is quoted: “A lot of people that don’t have a high income can’t afford produce,” he said. “We can help reduce the overall load to tax payers and social services agencies by providing a resource for people to grow their own food.” Get involved!

Balkan Ecology Project takes note on value of diversity in polyculture gardens

The Balkan Ecology Project is finding success with regenerative design, and is taking to sharing the fruits of their labor through literal fruits (available through their Bio-Nursery Project) and through open-source, empirical note keeping on the inputs, outputs, and observations of their permaculture projects.

At the end of their Market Garden Study – Year 2 post, they share more on what their research is about:

If you are reading this you’re most probably aware of the environmental damage caused by industrial agricultural practices We believe this damage is unnecessary, and aim to provide healthier models of agriculture that yield nutritious affordable food while at the same time promoting biodiversity and general ecosystem health.

Industrial methods are heavily researched and funded, and there is a general belief among many farmers and growers that this is the only practical way of operating. Following 12 years of cultivating polyculture gardens we are seeing that small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens are a realistic and practical way of providing food for humans whilst preserving biodiversity and general health in the environment. Furthermore we believe this type of agriculture can help create thriving local economies that strengthen community, provide dignified work and enhance the amenity value of an area.

Little data exists showing the productive capacity of polyculture systems and the economic viability of them. There is a big need to fill this gap and provide solid data and concise coherent models that can be replicated easily and provide real solutions to the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture. This project intends to go some of the way in filling this gap.

We aim to address the following questions;

  • How productive can polycultures be?
  • What advantages can polycultures provide ?
  • How much time do polyculture gardens take to establish and manage?
  • How economically viable are these gardens?
  • How bio-diverse can our food producing systems be?
  • Can we provide clean, nutritious, affordable food whilst enhancing biodiversity?

You can read that full study here:
https://balkanecologyproject.blogspot.ca/2016/12/the-polyculture-market-garden-study.html

As noted, the Balkan Ecology Project’s research is open source, and you can see all their data on their publicly viewable Google spreadsheet. They also express openness to share their sheets and discuss with others who want to undertake similar research.

Citizen Science: Testing a small-scale rapid aerated composting system for urban environments

Update January 4, 2017: Success! With an abundance of support for this research, the project earned sufficient funds to proceed with the study, and was awarded a $500 grant for placing first in amount of pledged supporters for the project by a common deadline between other projects within the realm of Cities & Transportation on Experiment.com! Thanks for supporting this citizen scientist, Syracuse resident, and backyard forest gardener in their proactive research efforts – we look forward to learning from his findings, and putting them to practice!


A local Syracuse resident is engaging their passion for environmental science and waste management with composting. Through crowdfunding, Ethan Bodnaruk hopes to kick off a science project to explore efficient, decentralized composting systems that can be used throughout Syracuse and other cities around the world. Here is an excerpt from Ethan’s research proposal:

Urban food and yard wastes can contribute in multiple ways to greenhouse gas production and water pollution. But they can instead be transformed into resources through efficient neighborhood-scale composting. I will test and demonstrate the use of a novel small-scale aerated composting system for rapid composting coupled with bicycle-powered collection of neighborhood yard and food wastes. I aim to make it simple and fine-tuned enough to replicate in many locations.

Ethan with compost piles

Almost half way through the crowdfunding campaign, the experiment is just over 50% funded. If you have the means, would you contribute? Visit this experiment’s proposal page to learn more about his qualifications, research idea, its significance and its goals. In any case, this may be something worth considering and sharing to help cities achieve increased resilience, less environmental footprint and degradation, and greater community empowerment and connectivity. Continue reading →

Annual Winter Potluck image

Annual Winter Potluck – 2016

Join us on Sunday January 29th from 6 pm – 8 pm
for our Annual Potluck and Angel Card Ceremony
at the Bitternut Homestead, 717 Otisco St Syracuse, NY 13204.

We’ll share food, enjoy a burning fire, pull Angel Cards, create art, and catch up. Vegan food is preferable for sharing. BYOB.

Share and RSVP on the Facebook page for this event if you can, and in any case, feel free to come and bring good company!

SALT-CNY listserv kick-off approaching

With the beginning of 2017, we are launching the SALT-CNY e-mailing list to serve and connect people in and around Syracuse and Central New York who are interested in and working on the topics of Sustainability, Agriculture, Landscaping, and/or Transition.

SALT-CNY listserv sign-up

To sign on as part of the initial cohort please send an email with your full name (First and Last) and email address to info@alchemicalnursery.org, along with the name of an organization you represent if applicable. Continue reading →

THANK YOU for Supporting Alchemical Nursery in the SeedMoney Crowdfunding Challenge

We have met our goal in the matched grant crowdfunding challenge through SeedMoney! You helped us raise $600 in donations within a month and we’re now eligible for an additional $400. Thank you! We hope you can come to the Gifford St. Community Garden to enjoy its fruits and help put these funds to use!

Take a look at our SeedMoney page to see how we intend to use it at the 610 Gifford St Community Garden and make a contribution.


Rahma Stewardship Team Scheduling

Getting a permaculture forest garden through the first stage of succession takes work. Trees take time for their canopies to emerge, and there is rigorous competition as intended cover crops try to spread and establish themselves. All that means Rahma Forest Garden needs extra care and maintenance as it perseveres toward a more stable state: freeing up trees, pulling out obvious overgrowth of weeds, pruning and clearing trails and growing space to help people and plants thrive there.

We’re growing a Stewardship Team to look after Rahma Forest Garden. The team schedule is on Google Drive and can be accessed at the following link. Please feel free to sign up for a participation or leadership slot, or make note of a time you’ll be going to steward the garden!

Rahma Stewardship Team Schedule ( https://goo.gl/xOAWv3 )

Right now, the Rahma Stewardship Team is mostly Alchemical Nursery board members and regular volunteers, and we’d like to expand the team and involve more local community members. Being an Alchemical Nursery, part of our long-term goal is to pass on mature and fruitful projects to local communities once we’ve nursed the seeds into sprouts and cared for sprouts so they grow up as hearty creatures! Right now, Rahma is a little bit beyond the sprout stage and needs attention and support, as well as a shift in stewardship toward long-term, local care and enjoyment. As Alchemical Nursery we strive to facilitate that through plant propagation for the public, training volunteers, raising community awareness about permaculture lifestyles & landscapes in Syracuse, and hosting educational workshops for a diversity of youth & adults. All that takes time, resources, and most importantly: volunteers! We invite anyone with interest in learning more or getting more involved to reach out to us and come to the forest garden!