Category Archives: Permaculture

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

The Lazy Gardener

I have been a lazy gardener this year.

The kitchen garden looks like a jungle with volunteer cherry tomatoes running wild and broccoli going to seed.

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The fedge has been taken over by seaberry and blackberry plants.

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Seaberry is popping up all over the place!

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Blackberries are shooting underground.

The lone autumn olive is huge…I mean it is ridiculously ginormous. We have to prune it because it is suffocating the honeyberry we have planted next to it and threatening to take out the aronia on the other side.

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Autumn olive

The plants in the vineyard are at war with each other.

The aggressive chocolate mint is attacking the poor grapes, and creeping toward the kiwi.

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The kiwi and hops are jockeying for position, each trying to stake their claim to the trellises.

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I decided to get off my duff and clean up the vineyard a bit…mostly because I wanted to eat a few handfuls of grapes.

All of the weeds came out very easily due to the thick layer of mulch we have laid down. Even the big sprawling clumps of grass came out with barely a tug.

When I started clean-up around the first row of kiwi, I discovered small red berries ripening on a forgotten goji berry vine.

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I’d planted two of them last year. They were small, and I did not expect them to make it through the winter. But they did…barely.

They struggled this summer and did not grow much larger, but both remaining plants have berries and flowers sprouting.

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They may have produced even more and grown even taller had I paid more attention to them…had I not all but forgotten their existence.

Or, had I smothered them with care and concern and fertilizer…they may have died a slow death

We’ll never really know.

In my lazy garden
I sit and watch the bees

In my lazy garden
I look around and see

Greens and reds and yellow hues
Purples, blues and whites

In my lazy garden
Oh what a lovely sight!

Drenched

When I looked out the window this morning, my first thought was that the swales and pond weren’t doing their job.

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Water ran in a small river from the back of our property out to the road. I had flashbacks to the time before we put the swales in and a moat would surround our house whenever it rained.

The chickens squawked and Pecky was crowed angrily, at least it seemed that way to me.

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I couldn’t blame them. I’d be unhappy if my home was filled with water too.

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Ray and I moved them to higher ground and tried our best to appease them with extra food and kitchen scraps.

The older gals were even more flooded but at least they were able to climb up into the coop to stay dry.

All the leghorns have is a tarp.

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After we got them situated and soothed their ruffled and wet feathers, I went out to see what was going on with the swales.

Why weren’t they working the way they should? What had gone wrong?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In the wee hours it had started to rain, and by the time we woke up, it had rained over 4 inches.

Our swales were full and our chickens were victims of a good drenching.

The North swale surged into the South swale, just as it should.

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North swale

The South swale was full and streamed into the pond, also full.

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Pond

Then, the water had nowhere to go but out to the road.

Hence, the river.

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Poor Blue didn’t have a tarp. It never dawned on her tiny chicken brain to take cover under a tree or in the little house we have for her in the garden. She just stood eating amaranth and clucking.

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Joe splashed and played in the water, excited by the creek meandering to our road and the giant puddles in the yard.

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He pointed out a colony of ants frantically climbing blades of grass in a desperate attempt to get to dry land. Curious, Joe and I did some googling to learn more about these strange (ant)ics.

Apparently, it’s a survival instinct. The worker ants work together to form a raft or a bridge to get the rest of the colony and queen to safety.

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Our planned lessons for the day were put aside to learn all about floods, storms and other weather events as well as strange ant behaviour.

So we spent a long time looking through weather books and reading about all kinds of storms.

Raining, pouring down
Water swirling ’round
All the hens are soaked
But none of them have croaked

The Brooklyn Bridge: A Lesson in Suspension

Since May, the boys and I have been working our way through the 50 States using a great outline I pilfered from an awesome new friend.

At the start of every week, we get a magnet of the state we are going to study and a card with a few state facts. The materials for the day are left in a mailbox I bought at GoodWill, and the boys take turns checking it every morning.

This week, we are studying Vermont.

We fix food, do different activities and check out library books that pertain to each state.

The other day, we learned how maple syrup was made and how to identify the state tree of Vermont: the sugar maple.

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Last week, we were studying New York.

We studied the Statue of Liberty and did an experiment using salt, vinegar and a penny to answer the question: Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

We made a poster with the basics: state capitol, bird, flower, tree, nickname and a drawing of something the state is famous for to add to our wall of states we’ve already studied.

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One morning, the boys found straws, clothespins, popsicle sticks and coloring sheet of the Brooklyn Bridge in the mailbox.

We watched a few YouTube videos to learn more: What kind of bridge is it? How long did it take to build? What was it used for?

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Then, I asked them if they thought they could build their very own suspension bridge. Using the materials left in the mailbox, as well as anything else they could find around the house, they got started.

Joe brought empty toilet paper rolls and elastic string to the table.

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Jake found some styrofoam and golf tees from our craft box to use.

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They made several types of bridges.

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Joe was excited to finally settle on his suspension bridge design using a popsicle stick, straws, golf tees and elastic string.

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He “suspended” it from the wall using tape and put one of his hot wheels cars on it to demonstrate how it worked.

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Then he made a tunnel using clothespins, string and a straw, so we talked a little bit about the Holland Tunnel. Joe was impressed that it went under water.

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They’ve both learned more about bridges and know now that there are different types and ways to build them.

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This project is fun and the boys love seeing what’s in the mailbox each morning.

Sometimes they wake me up, waving what they found and asking me what we are doing for the day.

Sometimes they aren’t too interested or excited about the activity of the day.

But, when I forget to put something in the mailbox, they are disappointed…and that makes me feel like I’m doing things right.

 

 

 

The Black Swallowtail: A Life Cycle Lesson

A few weeks ago we found what we thought was a monarch butterfly caterpillar.

Joe put it in his bug house and a few days later it made a chrysalis.

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We watched and watched and soon it started to turn a dark greenish gray.

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We came home from a trip to the zoo to find it had hatched! But it wasn’t a monarch butterfly. It was a Black Swallowtail.

Joe named it “Beautiful”.

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We opened the bug house and let the sunshine dry its wings. The boys watched it for a long time while we talked about the lifecycle of a butterfly.

And then, just like that, Beautiful flew away. She fluttered over the garden and landed in the herb spiral before taking off for the pasture.

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We came inside to look at more pictures of Black Swallowtails and to read and color a booklet on the lifecycle of a butterfly.

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Since then, Joe has been searching for other caterpillars to see what they turn into.

We’ve successfully captured a moth caterpillar and watched the lifecycle: caterpillar, cocoon, moth.

We’ve talked about how a caterpillar comes from an egg the butterfly lays and that butterflies hatch from a chrysalis, while a moth hatches from a cocoon.

We’ve counted the steps it takes and how long each phase is and Joe has read an easy reader about the lifecycle aloud.

He’s moved on to other interests now, but it was so cool to be able to combine a math, science and reading lesson and relate them all to something that interested him and Jake.

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