“How do we get people to eat food out of their own gardens?” is a question Kevin Muno asked himself several years ago. Now as president and CEO of Ecology Artisans, he and his team have found the answer to that question and then some. They are quite literally changing the landscape in North County and beyond with a goal of “creating productive and beautiful landscapes, farms and developments that harmonize and align with natural ecosystems.”
With projects ranging in size from raised garden beds to entire food forests and dry-farmed vineyards, Muno and his partners have expanded their vision and have been able to make their dreams reality. The beginnings of Ecology Artisans took place in a permaculture design course the partners had enrolled in. “It was a six-week-long course that teaches you to mimic nature in a landscape,” Muno said. “It is a set of tools, techniques and principles for living sustainably and restoratively.”
Ecology Artisans has grown to a 10-employee company that services the entire county. Services include irrigation, planting, rainwater harvesting, landscape design and installation and more. However, one of Muno’s biggest goals is to educate residents. The collective experience and education of the team make it uniquely qualified to help the community learn how to live sustainably while making their properties beautiful. On the horizon for Ecology Artisans is a series of workshops on topics such as composting, edible landscaping, rain gardens and rain water harvesting.
One of Ecology Artisans’ bigger recent projects was installing the earthworks for a food forest on the Leichtag Foundation’s Coastal Roots Farm. “It’s a super cool project,” Muno said. “It’s modeled after ‘peia’ which in Hebrew means to leave the corners of your field open.” One of the goals of the food forest is to help feed those who can’t afford to feed themselves.
Dry-farmed vineyards are another way some local residents are increasing their sustainability. “They operate totally off of irrigation,” Muno said. Ecology Artisans is currently working on one in Rancho Santa Fe. “A lot of small farms only have citrus planted,” he said. “We now know that citrus is more susceptible to pests and diseases. (It) is also rather thirsty.” The move to more drought-tolerant crops like olives and grapes interplanted with other species attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators. This not only eliminates the need for pesticides, it also reduces the amount of water.
By adding sheep to graze the vineyard, you can bring down your labor costs while getting free fertilizer. “We are calling it a regenerative vineyard,” Muno said. He added he expects to see more of these locally in areas that have larger properties.
What can you do today to become more sustainable?
When it comes to your edible landscapes, Muno recommends a “lazy” approach, by planting perennial vegetables. “They live more than one year,” he said. “You plant once, and get it for three years.” Balance is key, for any successful landscape, and perennials reduce the amount of tillage so that the soil doesn’t get disturbed. “Then you disturb your fungal balance,” he said. “Fungus have an amazing ability to bring in water from really far distances. Then you don’t have to till the soil every year.”
Muno recommends planting winter squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, rosemary and artichokes. “Try to use native plants and flowers as well as try to plant veggies and fruit trees,” he said. For someone wanting to live off their landscape, he advises a polycultural environment, including herbs, and trees such as long-term nut producing trees.
No matter the size of your yard, there are options for creating an edible landscape. “Raised gardens are super easy,” Muno pointed out as an example. “You can do it in your front or backyard.”
“One of the cool things about gardening is you can integrate animals,” Muno said. Animals are no longer just for rural residents, either. “On an urban scale, you can have rabbits, chickens, potentially a few milking goats,” he said. “Rabbits can eat leftover scraps. They can potentially be a protein source. They also have a good amount of dung that they deposit in their rabbit hutches. Underneath they have worm bins.” He said it’s a continuous loop. “The worm castings can then feed your chickens,” he said. “One loop feeds another loop.”
Chickens are popping up in yards of all sizes in North County. “You can do a chicken coup, and you feed them table scraps,” Muno said. “The nitrogen from their coop and the carbon from straw hay make a really cool compost. You use that compost in your garden. It’s free fertilizer.” Ecology Artisans plans to host workshops, helping residents to create their own coops.
Water: Rain and Gray
Muno recommends people tie rainwater systems to their landscapes and gardens. “It’s low maintenance, so people don’t have to constantly be out there with a garden hose,” he said. One idea is to plant fruit trees so that they can be watered directly from roofs. “We try to integrate as much passive water as possible and minimize water from outside sources,” he said. The benefits are twofold. “We are putting less demand on city systems and preventing storm water runoff,” he added.
Rain barrels are another inexpensive way to capture rainwater and reuse on your property. Kits are available at home improvement stores, or there are DIY videos available online. With the amount of rain we have had this winter, rain barrels are an easy way to reduce your water bill.
Graywater can also be recycled, with innovative systems like laundry to landscape. “You can save 24,000 gallons of water a year for a family of four,” Muno said. Graywater includes water from washing machines, showers, bathroom sinks and tubs. It is considered cleaner than water from kitchen sinks, dishwashers and toilets, as it doesn’t have high levels of organic contaminants or fecal matter. Another bonus is that the county offers some graywater rebates for both simple and complex systems.
Introducing composting can be a very simple sustainability practice. “On a smaller scale, it can just be a worm bin,” Muno said. “It’s a really good way to do composting.” He said there is also a larger two-bin system, which means you have two areas that you rotate and turn the compost from one to the other.
Depending on the size system you are interested in, the ingredients of your compost and the intended end use, the options available are endless. Muno looks forward to Ecology Artisans’ upcoming workshops so that he can spread the word about the benefits to composting as well as show residents how to set themselves up in their own homes.
Muno is excited about the future of sustainable living in North County. “It makes us a more resilient, robust and fun community,” he said. “We think Encinitas could be a hotbed for this.”
For more information about Ecology Artisans, visit ecologyartisans.com, call (858) 769-9058 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.