Category Archives: Permaculture

Wild

I took inventory a few days ago in my walk around the homestead.

The milkweed is still everywhere, but the beetles have started attacking it now that they’ve eaten everything else.

They seem to prefer the flowers to the leaves. Probably because they aren’t as thick and furry. I keep hoping the milkweed bugs will attack. No luck.

The prairie grasses are looking wonderful. The black-eyed Susans are back and flowing in the breeze. A variety of wild grasses blowing in the breeze.

The cattails are getting thicker. I think I’ll clip a few of these along with some black-eyed Susans and bring some wild prairie inside.

I did notice the Japanese beetles, but they are fewer in number and seem to be getting lazy. I can dispatch them easily at anytime of the day now.

I don’t know if these are new, but they are a lot shinier than the others I’ve killed.

They’ve finally started in on my oak trees and a few of the nut trees. I sure wish they’d attack the thistles instead.

As I walked back to the house, I noticed my lovely herb spiral.

The nasturtiums came back, as well as the bee balm. I planted more cilantro, thyme, basil, marigolds and a few salvia. It looks beautiful and the beetles have left it completely alone.

This year, it is more of a flower spiral with a few herbs sprinkled in and chocolate mint trying to take over.

I’m still not sure where the mint came from. I never would have planted mint in the spiral on purpose as it tends to take over.

I keep pulling it out and transplanting it to the swales. It can take over there with my blessing.

The landscape, so wild
Grasses dancing in the breeze
A tangled jungle

Operation JBE: Status

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 30, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Issabella the Scout
– Cheyenne the Soldier
– Melissa (Mom)

Report:
Experiment #1: The beetles in the bug house were not as destructive as I thought they would be.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #2: The containers with dead beetles were slightly effective, but by the time we installed them around the perimeter, there were just too many beetles to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #3: We tried a homemade essential oil spray: cedarwood oil with water. We sprayed one row of kiwi and, while there were fewer beetles the next day, there were again too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #4: After seeing that they were leaving the chocolate mint completely alone, my niece had the idea of making a “potion” of mint and water. We pulled a bunch of mint and blended it up with water, strained it and loaded up a couple of spray bottles.

The troops were deployed. This time, we sprayed two of the rose bushes, leaving the third as our control.

Again, it worked slightly, but there were just too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

What do we do now? I’m at a loss. Further research will be needed to determine our next steps. Stay tuned.

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #2

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 26, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

Report on 1st Experiment:
The beetles in the bug house are not as destructive as we predicted. It is possible that we have disturbed their behavior patterns by taking them out of their natural environment.

But I suspect something more diabolical.

They are up to something. I just know it.

New Observations:
– With high winds in the early afternoon, subjects behaved as they do in early morning and twilight hours. They were hanging on tight to their green victims, but they did not flee when approached.
– They are moving onto the blackberry leaves in force. I find more congregating there everyday.
– There are no Japanese beetles on the blanket of mint growing on the vineyard floor. Is the scent too strong?

They are increasing in number and becoming more destructive by the day. We must figure out how to stop them before it’s too late.

Experiment #2:
In further studying natural methods of disposing of the revolting beasts, we have decided to strategically place containers of drowned beetles around the perimeter of the most attacked areas of the homestead.

Other beetle battlers have reported success with this method. Apparently, the smell of rotting beetle bodies deters others from coming into the area of destruction.

Results pending. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication #1

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 23, 2017

Entomoligists:
– Joseph
– Jacob
– Melissa

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Appearance:
– Six legs
– Oval in shape, 1/3-1/2 inches
– Metallic green with coppery brown leaf covers
– Five patches of white hair on each side of the abdomen and 1 patch on the lower abdomen

Life cycle and Known Facts:
– Egg, grub, and adult stages.
– From early June to late July they emerge from the soil as pupa, become fully grown adults and begin their attack.
– They have an 8 week lifecycle during which they are laying eggs every day.
– The females live for a couple of weeks feeding on trees, shrubs and roses in the morning.
– They hide during mid-day and return to the desecrated plants in the afternoon.
– At this time, they carry out their true objective: they lay more eggs.
– They leave their scent on the leaves they eat as if to tell their cronies “this is a good spot”.

Observations:
– The beetles seem to be sleeping during twilight and the early morning hours.
– Cool rainy weather makes them lazy and depressed.
– In extreme winds, they have a tighter grip on the leaves they are desecrating.
– They are beginning to go after the early fruit as well as the bright green leaves.
– They love roses and are VERY fond of hardy kiwi and grape leaves.
– They are starting to attack blackberry, seaberry, aronia, cherry, blueberry and raspberry leaves.
– They seem to enjoy healthy plants as they are leaving the unhealthy ones alone.

Experiment #1:
– I caught four of the fiends and put them in my son’s bug house for observation.
– In this first experiment, we will make note of how long it takes 4 beetles to devour a leaf.

Results pending.

Awake

Today, Joe and I walked around the homestead and heard buzzing, chirping, croaking and singing.

Spring is here, softly waking everything up and gently pushing back on a very determined winter.

We tried to sneak up on the croaking frogs, but before we could sneak all the way to the edge of the pond, the croaking stopped and we heard the plip plop of frogs diving for cover.

We heard the birds talking to each other and the rustle of critters in the grass. Joe was very excited to find worms and other crawly critters.

Buds are forming on trees and the majority of the autumn olive Ray and the boys transplanted last weekend are doing well.

Cherry blossoms are opening. We ended up with a handful of cherries last year that were a bit too sour for my taste. Maybe we will get enough this year to can.

Due to all the rain, our swales are full and overflowing.

The sun was shining and there was only a slight breeze, so we brought the plants out to stretch and bask in the sun and fresh air.

I plan to plant my cabbage and broccoli in the garden today. I may also throw some lettuce and spinach down and replace the carrot seeds the chickens ransacked.

They can withstand cooler temperatures.

The chicks also got to spend a few hours outside. It is still too chilly to leave them out at night with no mama to keep them warm though.

Yep. Spring is definitely here…now if we could just get it to stay put.

Winter, raging and railing
Holds tight to the cold
It roars into March
Pushing with rain and snow

Spring, sighing and shushing
Quietly stands against the cold
It whispers soft sounds
And stands determined and bold

#atozchallenge

This Year’s Project

Our neighbors…the ones who built the gorgeous greenhouse…moved to Florida last fall.

We were sad to see them go. They had been wonderful neighbors. We helped each other out with the odd project. We went out to dinner a few times. We used their greenhouse to start seeds.

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“Maybe you could advertise that the house comes with a free gardener,” I told them over dinner…only half joking.

Once on the market, the house sold quickly.

“If they don’t want the greenhouse, tell them we’ll take it off their hands,”  I said when they told us. I was completely serious, but I didn’t think that it would actually happen.

Then, one day 6 months after they’d moved in, the new neighbors called us.

They wanted to take the greenhouse out and turn it back into a pool. Were we still interested in it?

“How much do you want for it?” Ray asked.

“If you take it out, you can have it.”

We were filled with joy and, at the same time, dread. This was going to be a big project.

Scratch that. Planting 80 trees  was a big project. This was going to be a huge project. 

The greenhouse, the fan, the pavers, the dirt, the tables….all of it will be ours. All we have to do is figure out how to get it out of there.

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Gulp.

We are going to wait until the weather is a bit warmer before we start. In the meantime, we are making plans.

Where are we going to put it?

What are we going to do to heat it in the cold months?

What are we going to do for the floor? Pavers? Concrete? Or will we leave it open so we can plant directly into the ground?

And, perhaps the most important question?

Can we get it out, rebuilt and ready for planting by the fall?

I sure hope so.

Stay tuned! This is the first in a series of posts about this project. 

The Fedge, the Vineyard and the Swale

It’s not that we neglected the fedge and the fruit trees we planted.

It’s not that we let them fend for themselves.

It’s not that we intentionally meant to let the weeds and grass all but take over.

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We just focused so much of our energy on fighting Japanese beetles.

We were just so excited to harvest all the new fruits that popped up.

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We were just so focused on planting new trees.

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I know, I know. Excuses, excuses.

Yet, in spite of our neglect…the trees survived. The fedge produced. The vineyard thrived.

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This year, we are focusing on maintaining the fedge, pruning the trees and propagating, well, anything we can.

We are also determined to transplant all the seaberry and aronia that ran riot in the fedge. There are at least 8 new seaberry plants and 3 new aronia that raced under the ground and sprang up through a thick layer of mulch as if to say, “Ta-da! Here we are!”

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We will also try to throw down seeds, plant nitrogen rich perennials and overtake the grasses that cover the swales. It will be a race. Survival of the fittest with the advantage given to the plants we want to take over.

Mint? Throw it down.

Seaberries? Plant them everywhere.

Raspberries? Absolutely.

I didn’t sketch anything up. Maybe it’s the wrong method, but rather than plan out exactly where everything will go, I plan to just get in there and plant, plant, plant where I see there is room.

I will be strategic of course. We don’t want to overcrowd the trees or any of the raspberries and comfrey we have already planted. As I plant, I’ll have my clipboard with last year’s final sketch so I can mark what we planted where.

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That’s the plan. Pruning and transplanting happens early to mid March and we’ll start throwing down seeds in mid to late April.

Let’s get seeds and rooting hormone ordered.

Let’s get the pruning shears sharpened.

Let’s get ready.

Finally we’re moving
Ahead and not behind
Finally we’ll get ‘er done
I’m in that frame of mind

We’ll order seeds and hormones
We’ll sharpen all the tools
I’m ready to get started
Let’s go! Let’s bend some rules!

Winter Prep

In Winter, most of the garden chores involve cleaning up to prepare for the Spring. Even though the chickens are doing most of that work for us, we still have a few tasks to make sure the soil is soft and ready for planting.

We moved the chickens over yesterday. The girls had done their job tearing up the soil, destroying pests like cabbage worms and squash bugs and fertilizing their first stop in the kitchen garden.

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We covered the spot with a thick layer of straw to keep the soil warm. The ground will freeze, but when the Spring thaw starts, we want to retain as much moisture as we can to keep our soil healthy.

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Since my winter sowing project did not work out well last year, I’m going to try direct sowing the cool season and a few root veggies now.

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If anything comes up before the cold really sets in, I’ll use the upside down milk jug tops I have to insulate the seedlings against the cold.

I also plan to give winter sowing in milk jugs another go this year. Although, with this unseasonably warm December I may have the same problems I had last year.

Other winter chores include pruning and cleaning up weeds around the trees and insulating the perennials against the cold.

We have not had a hard freeze yet, but it is coming soon. In the next few days, I’ll get the rest of this done and sit back and wait for my seed catalogs to start rolling in so I can start planning for 2017.

I’ll plant my winter garden
I’ll hope for it to grow
I’ll watch for little seedlings
Protect them from the snow

I hope the cold won’t kill them
I hope I will succeed
I hope my winter garden
Suppresses summer weeds

Nature’s Nurses

Ray and the boys each picked a handful of Autumn olives yesterday and went for a walk in the swales.

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It was twilight and gorgeous. I walked along with them snapping pictures and enjoying breeze, the warmth, the sun and the peace.

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They munched on the berries as they walked and spit the seeds out between the trees we’d planted.

“What are you doing Joe?”

“We are planting trees!”

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Planting trees by spitting seeds may sound crazy…perhaps it is. But how do trees grow in a forest with no one to dig holes and plant?

Seeds drop to the ground. Birds and beasts spread them around.

Sure, some of them grow and some of them don’t, but no shovel is needed to grow a tree.

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Why would we want Autumn olives to grow willy-nilly in the swales?

One, they grow fast and spread even faster. We are slowly trying to cover the berms with plants and shrubs we can use for three purposes: food to eat, nutrients for the other trees and protection from erosion.

Two, they are packed with nitrogen and will enrich the soil. The roots fix nitrogen feeding other trees and shrubs nearby. We are working to nurse the soil on our property, to restore this disturbed soil to a rich and fertile landscape, perfect for growing food for our family.

Three, they taste great and are packed with nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. They have more lycopene than tomatoes. Roughly 15 times more in fact. Lycopene has been associated with preventing certain diseases such as breast, prostate and skin cancer.

We aren’t just planting autumn olives. We’ve also transplanted seaberries and raspberries. We’ve planted comfrey and mint and plan to throw down more borage in the spring.

We are building our food forest one seed at a time.

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Nature’s nurses planted
All throughout our land
Maybe they’ll grow tall and spread
And nurse our soil back from the dead

We’ve started the process
To repair and restore
We’re giving it our very best
And letting Nature do the rest

Look Mom!

Joe came running up to the house with a ‘surprise’ hidden behind his back.

“You are not going to believe this!”

He slowly pulled his arms around and revealed a small pumpkin. The look on his face, the light in his eyes and the excitement rolling off of him in waves was so contagious.

It was a small pumpkin, but we carved it and roasted the seeds while talking about how it got there when we didn’t plant it.

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We really didn’t plant pumpkins this year. Not in the garden, not in the vineyard and definitely not in the swales.

But last year, we did throw a seed mix down behind the chickens as we moved them through the swales. And we did feed them kitchen scraps.

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Joe and I went walking in the swales to see what else we could find.

We found red and yellow raspberries…ripe and ready to eat. They were hidden in the tall grass and they were oh-so-sweet and yummy!

We found lettuce and mint growing wild.

We found wild mulberry trees.

There is SO much abundance on our land!

We’ve guerilla gardened in our own backyard with seed bombs and chickens.

We’ve forgotten what we planted and transplanted.

We’ve let Nature do that thing she does so well…grow. We’ve created a food forest for our boys to explore.

“Look Mom, raspberries!”

“Look Mom, chocolate mint!”

Look Mom…joy.

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Pumpkins in the swales
Foraging our own backyard
Sweet berries and mint