Category Archives: Permaculture

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Seaberry is popping up all over the place!


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.


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.


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


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.


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!


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


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.


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


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.


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.


North swale

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



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

Hence, the river.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.



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?


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.


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


They made several types of bridges.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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”.



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.


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


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.





The Wanderers

Wandering all around the land
With my sweet hearts, hand in hand
Seeing all the bright green trees
Hearing all the frogs and bees

Smelling scents of sweet delight
Feeling sunshine, clear and bright
Touching feathery grass and weeds
Glimpsing sprouts all grown from seeds

Squash and okra, flowers, grass
Span the land, a great green mass
Lifting faces to the sun
Knowing that the day is done

What a beauty! What a sight!
Sparkling daylight turns to night
Wandering back into our home
Tomorrow, we again will roam


Boys playing ‘secret hideout’ in the wild grasses of the prairie.


Rose of Sharon


I think these are brown-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s Lace



Squash arch with squash!



Burgundy amaranth courtesy of our hens.

Garden Gnomes

Two gnomes scurry and scuttle around my garden picking broccoli and searching for bugs and caterpillars.

They are fun to watch, fun to listen to and fun to be around. Their constant energy is enough to fuel and reignite my excitement at finding new fruits, fresh eggs and even bugs.


They are hard workers…constantly on the search for a pest or praying mantis. Armed and ready with bug house, mason jar and bug gun.


They are quick to find and point out something new or something that they hadn’t seen in one of their many patrols. They enthusiastically make sure everyone sees this new ‘thing’ they found.


They eagerly race out to the blackberry patch to see who can find the biggest ‘jackpot’ of berries to pick.


They are thrilled to find a caterpillar and see what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn out to be.


Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


Their curiosity is contagious.

Their enthusiasm is energizing.

Their happiness is heavenly.

They plant seeds of joy everywhere they go.


A little tiny gnome
Has nature to call home
He sprints and jumps around
In gardens he is found

Perenials vs Annuals

The results are in.

We’ve tallied up the scores.

The winner for best production in 2016 is…perennials! By a long shot.

The kitchen garden was left to its own devices for far too long.


The broccoli barely produced.

Don’t even get me started on the peppers.


Granted, the cherry tomatoes are producing well, but we’ve only picked a few ripe tomatoes…most of them are still green.


On the upside, this may be the year we get brussels sprouts. The heat hasn’t killed the plants and I see little sprouts sprouting.


The perennials, on the other hand, produced, produced and produced some more.

We are still picking blackberries and we have several gallon and pint bags in our freezer already.

We’ve made blackberry pie, dipped them in Cool Whip and we are going to make blackberry ice cream…and maybe blackberry wine.


The grapes have doubled their production from last year. I’m not sure what we are going to do with them…but I’m thinking it might be fun to experiment with making our own grape ice wine or maybe blackberry/grape juice.


The aronia are just about ready to pick and I want to try making some jam this year…or maybe chokecherry wine.

Hmmm. Icewine, blackberry wine, chokecherry wine…there seems to be a common theme.

The mint has gone completely insane. I don’t want it to take over the vineyard but it smells so good and it keeps the weeds down. I need to harvest it and dry to use for tea.


The hops, despite the beetle attack, are getting big and have popped up everywhere, tangling with the grapes and kiwi.

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The perennials are the clear winners of this year’s production competition. But I can’t really blame the annuals for their failure.

We focused so much on our trees, shrubs and fight with the Japanese beetles that the poor tomatoes, peppers and broccoli were left defenceless.

Next year, I’ll be sure to give them a head start.

Annuals have lost
Perennials take the win
Poor, sad tomatoes

Unintentional Gardening

We discovered a strange squash in a spot where no squash should be.

We waited, wondering what on earth it was.

There is no way we would have ever planted anything there.



It just appeared one day…twining out from under the trailer in our side yard.

We had no idea how it got there.

When we had the makeshift playpen up, the little chicks were in that spot, but we didn’t start to give them kitchen scraps until they were much older and in their permanent pen.


It’s weird.

It’s big.



We didn’t water it. We didn’t weed it. We didn’t fertilize it.

We. Did. Nothing.

And yet…it grew.

And grew.

And grew.

We could have mowed it.

We could have pulled it.

We could have destroyed it.

But…we didn’t.

We left it alone.

We let it grow into a pleasant, bumpy, yellow, orange and green surprise.


What is this strange thing?
So bumpy, orange green and weird.
Nature’s lovely gift


We have sorely neglected our kitchen garden.

We’ve let volunteers and weeds go wild. Borage, tomatoes and lamb’s quarters threaten to choke out peppers, carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts.


The kids go out almost daily and cut away at the infiltrators and I try to pull thistles out by the root when I think of it. But, like fighting the Japanese beetles, it feels a bit futile.


Just like every year, I start to feel forlorn about failing to get all the projects we wanted and planned to do done.

  • We didn’t plan well enough to avoid the Japanese beetle takeover.
  • We didn’t pull and/or transplant enough volunteers to prevent the kitchen garden from turning into a jungle.
  • We didn’t take the time to learn more about pruning trees.

And then, just like every year, I look back at the projects we did manage to finish.

We planted 65+ trees.


We added posts and wires to the vineyard so the kiwi and grapes could continue their upward climb.


We built a new, bigger run for the 16 chickens we added to our homestead.


We transplanted sea berries and blackberries from the fedge to the vineyard.

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We built a squash arch.


We built an herb spiral.


We discovered we had a rooster.


We fought Japanese beetles…and lost.


But, at least we tried and got a few…thousands.


After thinking of all the projects we did complete and all the goals we did meet, I feel kind of like a superhero, a rockstar…a successful homesteader.

Feeling blue and sad
All the failed plans we had
Until I stop and review
All the things we did do