Category Archives: Horticulture

Reclaimed Wood Chicken Coop Greenhouse and Other News

Reclaimed woodWe made a good bit of progress on the chicken coop greenhouse this past weekend. As it stands today the only money spent was for nails and electricity for the tools. The base is an old porch and all of the lumber was taken from an old cabin on our property. The strutcture was abandoned many years ago and there’s a good bit of damage but much of the interior lumber is very useable. We spend the morning gathering wood and by evening we had most of the shell built. The door is also reclaimed and the window is one of four that were being given away due to flood damage. Actually, they were new windows that had never been used and the damage is very minimal… mostly they are just dirty!

Cutting out nails and screwsThe next step is to put on siding and roofing which will cost some money but not too much. Then we’ll use the other two windows as well as 2 sliding glass doors (just the glass, no door) also saved from a landfill to build the attached greenhouse. We’ll be buying some treated lumber for that as well as some roofing but it also is mostly free from recycled materials. My guess is that we can have both structures pretty much done with about three days work.

Chicken Coop in process

Last will come a few finishing touches like installing the 30 watts of solar panel to the roof and wiring in a light and fan for circulating air from the greenhouse which will, in theory help warm the chickens in the winter. We’ll also be harvesting the rainwater from these roofs into 4-5 rain barrels which will be used for plants and chickens. The barrels be painted black and placed on the back wall of the greenhouse where they should heat up a good bit for passive solar heat during the winter.

I’ll post more when it is finished but I’m very happy to be taking the next big step in the permaculture design.

In other news, I’ve now got at least six loads of wood mulch, each load the size of a small car… that’s alot of organic matter!!! All of it local, the product of utility tree trimming. Thanks to all that mulch and a huge load of cardboard I’ll be putting in new paths through our food forest as well as new layers to last years mulch. I planted fava beans around the fruit trees Saturday and came across many earthworms in the greatly improved soil. It is absolutely amazing what 6 months to a year of cardboard and straw mulching can do to for the soil. Lastly, I planted gobs of onions and transplanted the kohlrabi seedlings to the garden. I’ve got 60 seeds of 5 varieties of tomatoes planted in flats.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Beeeeees and other updates

Yes indeedy. The hive and various bits of equipment arrived yesterday. I’ll get that set-up and painted in the next week or two. The bees will arrive sometime mid April. Sweet!!

I’ve started flats of broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, and kale. I’ve ordered four hardy kiwi vines which will arrive sometime in mid March to be planted at the base of the arbor which will be built on the west side of the food forest. Thanks to Roger who works for the local utility I’ll also be getting several loads of mulch delivered in the next few weeks, probably 3-5 loads which will be more than we can use.

My first experiment with fermentation went well! I successfully fermented a head of cabbage into sauerkraut which I’ve already eaten! I started eating it after about nine days. I’ll start another batch next week and will be using two heads instead of one. I was not sure how it would turn out or what I would even eat with it. What I discovered was that since it was pretty salty it was a great addition to vegetable soup. I just put a big spoonful on top of each bowl and stirred it in a bit but did not cook it as that would destroy some or all the good live bacteria culture. I could probably let it go longer since my cabin stays cooler the fermentation is slower. I imagine if I’d left it go another week before starting to eat the end of it would have been a bit more sour.

Oh. I almost forgot the chicken update. In addition to the five chicks Jake hatched two weeks ago they (Jake and Greg) bought another 10 chicks of different varieties. But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Another ten were ordered. Yes, they have lost their minds. So, we’ll have a larger flock of chickens than I expected but Greg and Jake are confident we can handle it. WE being the keyword there. If need be we could always sell a few as there always folks looking to buy a few hens. We’ll see how it goes.

Lots of little steps all adding up to a good bit of progress I think!

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , ,

Want hands on experience with ecological gardening and permaculture?

Picture 4.pngAre you interested in learning the skills needed to live a more self-sufficient and sustainable life? Concerned about climate change and peak energy? Ready to get your hands dirty?

Come for a visit to our permaculture homestead amongst the woodlands of mid-Missouri. We’re looking for energetic folks interested in a cooperative, hands-on learning experience.

You’ll learn about ecological gardening while you help us expand and maintain our food forest. As we implement the various elements of our permaculture design you’ll also learn about:

  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Chickens in the garden
  • Humanure composting

Other activities that we hope to explore and are still learning about ourselves include:

  • Food preservation and storage methods such as drying, fermenting, smoking and canning
  • Bee keeping
  • Wild plant identification, use, and preparation
  • Candle making
  • Woodworking

Perhaps you have a skill to teach? We’re always looking for new self sufficiency skills!

Our project is less than a year old so our accommodations are a bit rough at the moment. While we can provide a beautiful campsite in the woods or near our lake you will need to provide your own tent and other camping gear. You’ll also have easy access to our well for water and solar showers. We also have an outhouse.

While you will have access to produce from the gardens and surrounding woodland we cannot provide other meals. We can provide you with a weekly ride into town for food shopping as well as a lake full of fish.

While we hope and expect to work hard we also take plenty of time off for rest and relaxation. With over one hundred acres we have more than enough land for a long walk or nestle in the shaded nook of a cedar tree and read a good book or nap!

We currently have three openings for stays of 2 to 6 weeks, possibly longer. If you are interested in learning more or would like to sign-up please get in touch: geekinthegarden at gmail

You can also download a pdf of the fancy flier I conjured up!

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Homesteading Self-reliance

Thanks to the folks at Irreguar Times for their mention of our permaculture project. Something I wanted to respond to was this excellent point:

Most of us will choose not to move to the woods like Denny (and given the size of our population, most of us can’t), but we can try to apply his lessons wherever we are in the world and in our life course as we brace for the human impact of a looming economic catastrophe. I encourage you to read his account and ask yourself what you can do.

For those that will not or cannot move into a rural area there is plenty they can do in an urban or suburban setting. In fact, most of what we are doing is on less than an acre. The main limitation for those on a smaller bit of land would be the number of fruit trees but even a few of those can be planted.

house2.jpgBack in 1998 I helped co-found the deCleyre Co-op in Memphis, TN and the intent was almost identical. We wanted to create an example of, and resource for, those interested in living sustainably and cooperatively in an urban setting. We dug up our front yard and planted a vegetable garden, raspberries, and blueberries. We also put in two small ponds and many native plants for habitat.

We typically housed 6-9 folks who participated in a weekly house meeting and several shared meals a week. We also sponsored monthly community potlucks, workshops, study groups, and more. Living in a co-op lowers monthly living costs dramatically and provides a sense of connection, comfort, and security. I would not hesitate to recommend this kind of living, especially in the greater depression we are now entering. The importance of pooled resources, skills, and the comfort of community cannot be overstated in times such as these.

Even if you choose to live in a more traditional setting, practically any home or apartment provides the opportunity to grow food. Any south facing area with full sun or light shade, even an apartment with a balcony, can be place to grow food. With good design using both horizontal and vertical space it is often possible to grow more food than you may realize.

Another aspect of simple and efficient living is the wise use of money. Don’t waste it dining out!! During spring and summer months it is often possible to buy fresh produce at farmers markets for much less than grocery store prices. If you come upon a good deal buy extra and learn how to can it for later use. Many foods can also be easily dehydrated using a home made solar dehydrator made for less than $10. For many just learning how to cook at home is the starting point. Very healthy meals are easy to make and will save you both time and money. A meal for 2-4 people can be made for $2-4 and often takes less than 30 minutes. Compare that to a fast-food or regular restaurant meal that will cost $5-30 and requires time to drive to and wait for the meal which will likely be less healthy than what you make at home.

My suggestion is to stock up on 4-6 months (more if you are able) worth of canned goods and learn how to use them. With times as they are food prices are going up constantly so a nice supply of food bought today at $500 will likely cost $600 just a couple months from now. The same food purchased six months later may have gone up to $700, possibly much more. Given the state of the economy and the growing possibility of a dollar collapse investing in non-perishable food with a shelf life of 2-4 years may be the best investment you can make. If the economy stabilizes (it won’t) then you have not wasted a penny because the food is there ready to cook.

Here’s a sample of what I have stocked (1 person):
Mixed Veggies 50 cans
Corn 30 cans
Green beans 30 cans
Peaches 15 cans
Pinto beans 20 cans
Garbonzo beans 20 cans
Crushed tomatoes 20 cans (28 oz)
Diced tomatoes 20 cans (28 oz)
4-6 boxes macaroni (48 oz)
6-8 boxes spaghetti (48 oz)
1-2 5 lb bag bread flour
1-2 5 lb bag whole wheat flour
5-8 48 oz tub of rolled oats
5-10 lbs of brown rice
10-15 lbs of various beans, dry: black, black-eye pea, garbonzo, etc.
several pounds sugar and brown sugar
several tubs of salt
1-2 gallons canola oil
LOTS of onions and garlic
10 lbs of regular and sweet potatoes
5-10 lbs of apples

I only have to go shopping once, maybe twice a month to replace used stock rotating the old to the front. I buy as much as I can afford each trip to limit my time in the store which is a place I prefer not to be. Now that the garden is better established I’m hoping to can much more of my food supply in the future.

The above list can fairly easily be cooked, often with little to no prep time. Breakfast of rolled oats with sugar and cinnamon can be made in 1-2 minutes three to four times a week. I alternate that with eggs and fried potatoes which takes 30 minutes or so. A tub of rolled oats is $2.75 to $3 so a big bowl of that with sugar and cinnamon is a pretty cheap breakfast at about twenty cents. Pancakes with a bit of fruit topping are also pretty cheap and healthy if you mix in a bit of whole wheat flour, maybe some nuts too.

For other meals I usually make soup, beans and rice, or pasta. Red sauce is easy. Start with a sautéed onion and garlic then add a large can of crushed tomatoes, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, salt to taste, basil and oregano and you have a yummy red sauce. In the summer months sautéed yellow squash, zucchini, or eggplant with your onions for added nutrition and yumminess. Soup is very easy to make using a can or two of mixed veggies, potatoes, onion, garlic mixed in with crushed tomatoes and macaroni. Use whatever cheap veggies you can get at the farmers market to supplement the canned veggies. A nice fall variation of the above tomato-based soup uses pumpkin instead of tomato. Cut up and cube a pumpkin and boil for 30 minutes. Blend the cooked cubes and use that as a base rather than the tomato. Add in coconut milk, cinnamon, salt, curry and cayenne pepper for a super tasty and spicy soup. One medium pumpkin makes a pretty large pot of soup. You can bake the seeds on a cookie sheet or low heat on a covered frying pan with a bit of oil and season salt for a snack.

Soup, pasta, beans and rice… all these are fairly easy dishes to experiment with. Try different seasonings and mixtures or get recipes… I generally prefer to make up my own.

My favorite sites for learning the skills necessary for homesteading and self-reliance:
Sharon Astyk
Homegrown Evolution
Rachel’s Tiny Farm
Red State Green

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Forest Garden Update

IMG_2131This is the second food forest which is just 60 feet from my front door. Trees and bushes planted thus far: 1 peach, 2 plums, 2 red currants, 2 black currants, and 2 gooseberries. Also planted a few native bee balm. Next spring I’ll be expanding it with an apple and a couple paw paws as well as perennial and annuals such as Good King Henry, chives, and nasturtiums.

I’ve just about finished putting in a path using various half rotted logs and branches for the border. For the bottom of the path I’m using big chunks and strips of bark that I’ve been gathering from downed trees as well as the wood I’m chopping up for firewood. Bark does not burn too well so I think using it as a pathway is a much better use. Not only will it decay and add organic matter to the soil but the lizards and frogs love to eat the insects that the bark attracts… you can never have too many lizards and frogs!!

The outdoor shower you see in the back right corner will be moved soon and we’ll be putting in an arbor with hardy kiwi, grapes, and wisteria, possibly a few other vines as well.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , ,

Garden and Harvest Update

I’ve been enjoying a continuous stream of tomatoes, yellow squash, lettuce, arugula and cucumbers since early August. I’ve also had a few zucchini but not nearly as many as I would have liked. The same goes for bell peppers… I’ve gotten a few of those, maybe 10 or so but not as many as I would hope for. I’ve also been getting a good bit of basil for pesto and will be drying some too. Today I harvested black-eye peas, probably a half pound or so. My first attempt with those and a bit of an experiment planted very late so I’m very happy to get a crop. Next year I’ll definitely be planting them again but in much greater number and much earlier. I’ve also harvesting a small handful of potatoes, also an experiment. Many, many more of those will be planted next year.

I’ve also been foraging a couple of handfuls of kinda ripe Autumn Olive berries and eating them fresh every day for the past week. They are getting sweeter and are probably about ripe now… very tastey indeed! I may try to harvest a bucket of them for preserves or maybe pancake syrup.

Comfrey!!! I was disappointed that the packet of seeds (12 or so seeds) I planted only produced one plant but that one plant did very well this summer. A couple weeks back I harvested about half the leaves and put them in a bucket of water which yielded a nice, stinky bucket of tea which I’ve just applied to the remaining garden plants. Waiting to let it go to seed and then will harvest the remaining leaves. I’ll definitely be putting in comfrey clusters around the kitchen garden and forest gardens. A great plant!!

I’d have to say that I’m fairly happy with the garden given the lack of prep time and lateness of planting. I’m very happy with the results of the straw/cardboard sheet mulching. I should have a great compost pile (or 2 or 3) this fall and lots of leaves left over for more sheet mulching. Combined with the addition of chickens and many more comfrey plants next year I think we’re on our way to improved soil fertility.

Gas/oil used? Not much. We used the tiller for maybe 20 minutes and against my better judgement. I thought it would help us get the soil quickly loosened up for the tomatoes. Lots of rocks! I’ve never used a tiller until this year and I’ve confirmed that as a good decision. I finished the job by hand with a pitch fork and was much happier with the results. All future garden space will be prepared in advance using sheet mulch.

Cardboard and straw certainly require energy to obtain and the straw costs money. Most trips to get those ingredients involved the need to get other supplies as well so at least they were not special trips. Next year I’d like to try replacing all or part of the straw layer with leaves though I I’m not sure how well that will work out. Leaves are not so neat and tend to move around. I may use leaves as the bulk of cover and then a much thinner layer of straw on top just to tidy it up and keep the leaves in place. We’ll see.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,
, , ,

Food Forests

Currants and GooseberriesAs the summer has begins to move into fall I continue to learn about forest gardening, permaculture, and ecological gardening. Reading a variety of books and websites as well as hands on work in our own gardens, I’m developing a much better understanding of these ideas. I’m no newbie to gardening and have been doing so for the past 20 years, but there’s no doubt that in these past few months I’ve learned a great deal not only about permaculture design but also about the natural processes and systems that our design is meant to mimic.

The folks over at Edible Forest Gardens offer this somewhat philosophical description of Forest Gardening:

As Masanobu Fukuoka once said, ‘The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.’ How we garden reflects our worldview. The ultimate goal of forest gardening is not only the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of new ways of seeing, of thinking, and of acting in the world. Forest gardening gives us a visceral experience of ecology in action, teaching us how the planet works and changing our self-perceptions. Forest gardening helps us take our rightful place as part of nature doing nature’s work, rather than as separate entities intervening in and dominating the natural world.

The author of Gaia’s Garden,Toby Hemenway, has this fantastic description of the encounter of western observers of the original food forests:

Until the late 20th century, western anthropologists studying both ancient and current tropical cultures viewed equatorial agriculture as primitive and inefficient. Archeologists thought the methods were incapable of supporting many people, and so believed Central and South America before Columbus—outside of the major civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, and Inca—held only small, scattered villages. Modern anthropologists scouted tropical settlements for crop fields—the supposed hallmark of a sophisticated culture—and, noting them largely absent, pronounced the societies ‘hunter gatherer, with primitive agriculture.’ How ironic that these scientists were making their disdainful judgements while shaded by brilliantly complex food forests crammed with several hundred carefully tended species of multifunctional plants, a system perfectly adapted to permanent settlement in the tropics. It just looks like jungle to the naive eye.

The managed forests of the Huastec Maya in northeastern Mexico are packed with up to 300 plant species, including 81 species for food, 33 for construction materials, 200 with medicinal value, and 65 with other uses (the numbers add up to more than 300 since these are multifunctional plants). In these forests, Maya farmers often create different subpatches that concentrate specific guilds of domestic species (such as coffee guilds) amid a background of natives. And all the while, they are tucking small gardens of bananas, chiles, manioc, and other edibles into any clearings. The managed-forest stage may last for 10 to 30 years. Then the cycle begins anew. Since the whole process is rotational, any given area will hold swiddens and fallows at all different phases. This complexity would understandably delude a cornfield-programmed anthropologist into thinking he was looking at raw jungle.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , ,