Suburban Micro-Farm (Book Review)

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What is the first thing that a suburban homesteader does?  I’m sure you guessed correctly – they start a garden.  It’s probably the easiest thing to do to start a self-reliant lifestyle because of many reasons. There’s a low barrier to entry – you just need some dirt and a few seeds – and it’s

Stacking Functions: Increasing Yields & Decreasing Labor with Multi-Function Elements

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Written by R. Ann Parris on The Prepper Journal.

Stacking functions is a quick term for the concept of planning things (elements) and areas (space) to perform the most services for us.

The post Stacking Functions: Increasing Yields & Decreasing Labor with Multi-Function Elements appeared first on The Prepper Journal.

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are With A Free Infographic

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Permaculture Zones

Permaculture Zones

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic

Learning the permaculture zones can be intimidating. There never seems to be an easy down to earth explanation about permaculture. I have never seen a Permaculture for dummies. If there was I would buy it right now. For Infographic Monday’s I thought I would share one on the 5 permaculture zones. No long mysterious explanations here. You can check out the interview I did with Paul Wheaton for a bit more.  Also, the Permaculture Playing cards are a great resource.  I found this infographic at Afristar. They have a ton of great free resources.


Permaculture Zone 1

Permaculture zone 1 starts at your door. Basically inside your home is zone zero. When you step outside its zone 1. It can also include frequently visited paths. The things in a permaculture zone 1 need daily attention. 

However, if you have an area around your house you never visit it is not zone one. So if you have a tiny space on the side of the house that you never go to even though it is touching the house it is not zone one. It could very well be zone 5 if you never even do maintenance to it. 

If you go to an area every day to maintain it, it’s zone 1. 

Permaculture Zone 2

In permaculture zone 2 are things that still need a lot of attention but less than zone 1. Your perennials and long growing season vegetable’s go here. In fact, most of your garden will go here. With automated irrigations and raised beds that don’t need weeding there’s not reason, to visit except for harvesting. 

Fruit trees, Beehives, and chickens also go in permaculture zone 2. 

Permaculture Zone 3

Zone 3 is basically farmland. It is your typical row crops, Large orchards and pasture for grazing animals. On most backyards, you have little to no permaculture zone 3.  This area is not visited much at all. Zone 3 requires little day to day attention. 


Permaculture Zone 4

Permaculture zone 4 is semi-managed woodland. You use this area to forage for wild edibles, timber and for grazing animals. You might take out saplings in here to open up the area. Make paths for yourself and animals. Set up feeders or cameras. This is also a good area to practice bushcraft skills and set up a permanent camp. 

Permaculture Zone 5

Zone 5 is unmanaged wilderness. This is an area where nature takes her course. You can visit to observe and enjoy. This is the part of your land to enjoy nature is her untamed glory. To see the animals in their natural environment. 


Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic

Learn What The Permaculture Zones Are This A Free Infographic



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150 Varieties of Fruit Trees on a .28 Acre Lot

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John from Growing Your Greens goes on a field trip to visit Dr. Bob Randall’ Permaculture Food Forest in Suburban Houston, Texas.

In this .28 acre lot Bob grows over 150 varieties of fruit trees, a raised bed vegetable garden and more. In this episode you will learn how he is growing many different types of plants using permaculture principles. During this episode John will give a tour of the property and share many of the different types of plants growing at this suburban food forest.

You’ll also hear John interview Dr. Randall and ask him some questions about permaculture and some new ways to get you to think about your organic home garden.

As John writes, “after watching this episode you will be sure to learn some new ways and techniques that you can use to have a more successful garden in the future.”

Click here to learn about the classes in Houston about permaculture.

The post 150 Varieties of Fruit Trees on a .28 Acre Lot appeared first on Walden Labs.

Incredible Permaculture Farm Created in Just 3 Years!

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Andrew Martin once worked in the finance industry, but after leaving that life, he and his wife Beth moved to New Zealand and developed an amazing permaculture property in just 3 years!

This film by Happen Films was made as part of their Living the Change series. For this series they’re traveling around New Zealand making short documentary films about permaculture farms, tiny houses, and sustainability. Check them out on Youtube and support them on Patreon if you like what they’re doing and want more videos.

The post Incredible Permaculture Farm Created in Just 3 Years! appeared first on Walden Labs.

Setting up a Permaculture Farm in a Temperate Climate

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Reflecting back on our first season on the ground establishing Agroforestry, Holistic Planned Grazing, Kitchen Gardens and various other systems from scratch. It has been an amazing ride, so many incredible people from around the world made this possible; good team, clear design & a lot of well coordinated hard work.


6 months transforming a run down old Swedish farm into a thriving Permaculture hubIt is impossible to capture the incredibly diverse & rich experiences that have taken place here this year. It has been such a pleasure to share this unique time and learning opportunity with so many bright and dedicated folks committed to being of benefit through their actions, enterprises and work. Part of our vision is to be able to offer people experiences that can really empower the design approach and practical skills we see as necessary for farming, managing projects, etc. We ran three PDC trainings and two 10 Week Internships this season, rather intense by any standards, but laden with such rich learning possibilities as we designed & installed systems from scratch.


One of summers fantastic groups learning how to design & install effective systemsBeing short on finances our aim was to buy a farm we could move into immediately and install a design to regenerate and reinvigorate the ecosystem whilst making a viable farm enterprise. Our budget for the entire project is less than most people spend on their houses in Europe, making this an interesting challenge given the economic situation in Sweden. Properties are usually sold via a bidding process here in Sweden and sadly a lot of beautiful small farms go for holiday homes and the land base is never fully utilized. We had defined about 50 clear goals including the climate zone, distance from international travel, relative location to market for “beyond organic” high value local produce, sloping land where we could utilize gravity and create a clear visual demonstration of the aspects of design we teach, some forestry for repairing buildings and building infrastructure and a whole host of other things. We also did not want to have to spend years renovating buildings rather than farm but we had a relatively tiny budget, so rural Sweden it was. We would turn up at a viewing and manically design up the property to decide if we could achieve our objectives only to be quickly outbid. It was an exhausting process squeezed between my international travel schedule and we had almost given up when we came across Ridgedale.




The kitchen garden, paddies, polytunnel and teaching yurt looking great by summer. Amazing transformation in just a couple of months…A thrifty couple that raised pigs and farmed horse drawn until 20 years ago previously owned the land. The land had not been worked since and degrading pasture stood testimony to the lack of animals on the landscape. We designed Ridgedale as a pasture and perennial crop based system to maximize photosynthetic capture whilst ensuring low input management for the future, valuing our most renewable source of energy; the sun. We have used Keyline Design as a framework for prioritization in most of our design work over the last few years and this also frames the pattern of land use. We have strips of pasture with multiple complimentary animal species grazing through Agroforestry strips of fruit, nut and berry production. At 59 °N light is a limiting factor and so we stack layers of cropping quite intensively to make the most of the short season.

Setting-Permaculture-Farm-design6 copy

Ridgedale is set on 10 Ha with pasture, forest, streams and sloping land with good solar orientation we have a great platform to begin regenerating the soils mineral and water cycles and build increasingly diverse habitat whilst producing very high quality food for the local community. One unusual aspect to the farm is that we aim to meet the majority of our own food needs first, and then produce a surplus to sell. Farming economically at this scale requires low initial debt, utilizing local waste streams, producing our own needs and focusing on high quality value added products. When we say our “own” food that includes a bustling average population of 25-30 folks who come to participate in trainings at the farm for half the year. This year we established 600m2 of annual vegetables in our contoured No Dig Beds and Polytunnels, and in 2015 we will be experimenting with innovative ATV cultivation, and look into extending annual production for a CSA. We plan to start this slowly and “feel into” the demand, partly as we have so many other commitments.


Grain, oil & field crops all possible with a simple & fuel efficient ATV…We ran a successful fund raising campaign through the Permaculture Crowdsourcing site WeTheTrees and imported an American machine than can till, seed & pack anything from grass to beans using a simple quad bike. They are used widely for planting feed plots for deer hunting in the US, but caught our attention when we considered how to plant grains for our chickens and field scale crops to feed the hundreds of hungry mouths that pass through the farm each year. As we all know, most of our industrially grown food today is usually bathed in Diesel. We figured if we could grow field scale crops with a simple Quad bike then we could supply our own grains, oil crops and staples with relative ease. It has been shown than soil organic carbon can be sustained in some annual cultivated agroforestry systems, but to be sure we minimize our impact we will be working on very long rotations through the conveniently parceled rows between our tree crops and companion planting field crops. The tillage is also very shallow compared to typical agricultural practice, and we will never cut through the first soil horizon with this set up. We use compost teas, home made bio- fertilisers & cover crops to maintain soil health.

Designing at a farm scale involves a little more complexity, more systems to functionally interconnect, finances are usually stretched and there’s generally just a lot going on. That’s especially true in a Swedish spring when growth is explosive, and in autumn when harvesting and storing nutrient dense food and medicinal crops to keep up vitality through the long dark winter.


Our local wood mill’s waste turned out to be a lifeline!When working with a tight budget building multi- use infrastructure, intercepting waste streams and designing everything to work with the landscape is vital. Running a project or farm of this nature is about responding to whatever needs attention whenever it needs attention. Responsibility. We’ve been using this initial and unique year setting up the farm from scratch to educate a lot of folks from around the world in how to design, organize and implement such systems. The response has been amazing with hundreds of folks from 25 different countries coming through the farm in 2014. We have been so privileged to host such incredible folks at the farm this year, and blessed to have such an amazing Core Team who support the running of all aspects of the farm.


Scrap wood has given us everything from converted barns, mobile animal shelters and this caravan sauna. 10’s of 1000’s of $ worth of timber saved from being chipped & burntSetting-Permaculture-Farm-beds10

Setting up the polytunnel early in the seasonWe began the season by laying out the No Dig vegetable beds, converting barns, creating a workshop, building a polytunnel, installing a RAM pump to supply fresh water that reticulates around the farm ready for mobile animal grazing then got busy planting thousands of fruit and nut trees and berry crops planted to maximize solar gain amidst the strips of pasture.


Abundance glistening in our No Dig contoured kitchen garden after a couple of months…Setting-Permaculture-Farm-12

Using gravity to power the RAM to supply fresh moving water reticulated across the entire farmWe bought a large supply of our trees in the UK, partly due to supply but a lot to do with cost. Sweden is extremely expensive with some of the plants we bought being 5 times the price locally. With European plant passports opening up we decided it would serve us best to go with the high quality nurseries we already had relationships with. When buying pot grown trees it is worth considering how trees get their nutrition in nature. Organic compost may be fine for a vegetable that is going out in the ground within a few weeks, however a poor start for a perennial means permanent compromise. We like root trainers and pre-inoculated trees fed by slow release fertiliser if going for potted plants. Whilst this may be controversial for some, you really want to consider pattern here. Nearly everything we bought was bare root, making them cheaper and suited for transport in their dormant stage. First job was timing the arrival of the plants to the UK the day I got back from a teaching & consulting jaunt in SE Asia and Mexico so I could be there to deal with vulnerable plants immediately. This went like clockwork and I booked a van with a friend and we drove the 24 hrs through 7 countries to get the plants to the farm and move into our new home, saving in the region of $80- 100,000 in the process!



The front and back fields on the farm schematic make up the intensive perennial cropping zones of the farm. They are patterned according to our overall Keyline layout, allowing for continued pasture development between the tree lanes over the subsequent years.Pasture is not the optimum starting point for establishing trees. Grasslands are bacterially dominated through to balanced fungal: bacterial ratios in the late successional grasses. Shrubs and vines tend to thrive in F:B ratios of 2-5:1; whereas with our tree crops we are talking F:B ratios of 5-100:1 or more (up to 1000:1 with conifers and old growth forests). Cultivation of soil selects for bacteria


Farming & learning. Hundreds of folks from 25 countries came to learn together in this small rural Swedish village. Amazing times!In addition, the cultivation will lead to a profusion of grasses. It does, however, give us opportunity to sow a diverse cover crop and plant trees and shrubs into well-prepared ground whilst dealing with the overall water considerations of the site. Our job as engineers of this designed process is to help steer everything possible towards the set of chain reactions (the succession) that we desire.

The mounded tree lanes were seeded immediately to kick start succession with plant assemblies we would actually like, timing being critical in this whole process. Once the tree mounds settled the tree and shrub crops were planted as bare roots / modules at regular spacing’s. In the back field there are two rows of crops planted according to their height to maximize solar collection due to the general E to W row orientation. In the front field the main tree crops are planted over a central rip with shrub crops on either side, due to their N to S orientation: The trees and shrubs are of high value, and longer-lived perennials deserve a good start in life. Bare roots are dipped in diluted molasses & kelp mix during planting out then watered in with 20l of the same to help kick start fungal symbiosis. We used recommended doses of commercial fungal inoculants and will be continuing compost tea applications throughout the season. (Kelp and fish products can also be useful in boosting initial tree growth.) We also added rock dust around each tree/ shrub. It is worth considering the relative placement of any amendments. Adding everything to a planting hole can possibly limit the organisms desire to root outwards in search of goodies. We also have compacted land that has not been grazed effectively (or utilized otherwise) for many years, with a consistent plow pan at 20- 25cm depth. We needed to prepare the ground for planting, lift compaction, deal with water and establish a multitude of support plants simultaneously.


Our imported Simon 1.8m twin rotor bedformer was impressive in dense sodSetting-Permaculture-Farm-17

Our Yeoman’s 6SB Keyline Plow decompacting old pasture whilst dealing with long term hydrologyThis is where innovative use of equipment and allowing the geometry of our topography to pattern our farm can serve us very well. Below you see a quick sketch of the process of establishing our perennial lanes to this beautiful Keyline geometry. There are many ways to establish trees, with more or less technology. The scale we are working on, whilst not particularly large, suits the machinery we have at hand for an efficient and multi-functional result. We imported a Keyline Plow from Australia last year for consultancy/ development gigs as well as a resource for the wider region. We also imported an old French Simon Bedformer (typically used for vegetable bed formation on ploughed & weathered land) This model is a 1.8m twin rotor 90hp job capable of burying stones with it’s 2nd rotor, giving a better planting surface. We wanted this machine due to it’s ability to create “swale” like mounds on the sides of the beds (2.2m at bottom of the cut, see video below). It also worked well for us in terms of the planned plant spacing. Anticipating this would not easily run through pasture we also bought a vintage Lely power harrow. Modern harrows are usually really wide, and this was the only model we could find that matched up with out bed width.


As with any design work, the mapping and conceptual design process leads us to an accurate digital layout where we can generate a bill of quantities efficiently. The length of tree lanes and our chosen spacing’s allows rapid calculation of plant stocks required.

Main Tree Crops

  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Cherry
  • HazelSea Buckthorn

Main Shrub Layers

  • Raspberry
  • Blackcurrant
  • Redcurrant
  • Gooseberry
  • Hazkap

Marginal & Contour Plantings

  • Goji Berry
  • Japanese Quince
  • Edible Rowan
  • Chinese Mahogany (leaf crop pollard)
  • European Lime (leaf crop pollard)
  • Mulberry
  • Elder var.
  • Juneberry
  • Chokeberry

Support Species List (hand broadcast seed)

Our groundcover mix was sown into the formed tree beds immediately after mulching trees & shrubs to quickly establish perennial groundcover. The multiple benefits we are looking for are nitrogen fixing, mineral accumulation, edible crops, insectary and nectary sources as well as protecting the soil. Having perennial support plants helps tip the F:B ratios in our favor, and the addition of chop and drop mulch and woody compost from deconstructed biomeilers will ensure a good supply of fungal food is present. Rock dust, kelp, provide the wide mineral spectrum being necessary to encourage fungi in depleted agricultural soils. Whilst there may be a few annuals and self-seeders in the mix, some of useful perennials we include are;

  • Petasites japonicus
  • Agastache foeniculum
  • Armoracia rusticana
  • Dryas octopetala
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Glycyrrhiza echinata
  • Medicago sativa
  • Origanum vulgare
  • Thymus vulgaris
  • Aegopodium podagraria
  • Allium tuberosum
  • Astragalus cicer
  • Bunias orientalis
  • Centranthus ruber
  • Chenopodium bonus-henricus
  • Diplotaxis spp.
  • Dryas octopetala
  • Hedysarum boreale
  • Hemerocallis spp
  • Lupinus spp
  • Oxyria digyna
  • Physalis heterophylla
  • Physalis longifolia
  • Pycnanthemum spp
  • Rheum australe
  • Rumex acetosa
  • Rumex acetosella
  • Rumex scutatus
  • Sium sisarum
  • Stachys sieboldii
  • Symphytum uplandicum
  • Symphytum grandiflorum
  • Trifolium repens
  • Trifolium pratense
  • Angelica sylvestris
  • Perideridia gairdnerii
  • Petasites japonicus
  • Myrrhis odorata
  • Oenanthe javanica
  • Origanum vulgare


The “Bison 1.0” (Our multi- functional wagon now serving as a mobile egg laying quarters) carrying 800l of kelp & molasses dip, tree guards, trees, stakes, labels & mulch for easeful strip planting.Effectively planning the workflow for farm work is essential for motivation, efficiency & generally getting the job done right. Adapting existing infrastructure for multiple functions & utilizing local waste streams is a key factor in Ridgedale existing. With a farm purchase/ development budget lower than the average cost of a small house in Europe we are creative with resource management and always seeking to stack functions. (The Bison 1.0 having served it’s purpose has morphed into version 2.0, a mobile egg-laying house rotating around the pasture strips sanitizing the cows. In winter the box is unbolted & jacked up and Layers moved to the polytunnel. The Wagon morphs to version 3.0 for winter logging work with the option 4.0 being a charcoal wagon utilizing an old wicker basket that overhangs the whole wagon)


Getting down to detail with the Interns to prepare for the plantings; an organized workflow is key to effective & rapid implementation. Visualizing the process through step-by-step many times is so incredibly useful. A vital skill for project implementers….Setting-Permaculture-Farm-21

Water collecting on the ridge center with newly planted trees mulched in and cover croppedSetting-Permaculture-Farm-22

Animals & perennials in symbiotic stacked productionOur first job was to subsoil the paddocks on the Keyline patterning explained in this previous article. The tree lanes were marked out on the 12m spacings we are working on in the front field with 18m on the top fields. 10m headlands allow easeful turning of machines, which in our case is likely to be Keyline subsoiling over the next years, small hay cutting rigs and quad bike harvesting in the future. One of the benefits of the systems we are establishing here is that we will not need anything larger than an old 2nd hand machine after this initial work is complete.

After deep ripping with the Yeoman’s plow we tested the Simon bedformer and to our surprise it cut through our fairly dense sod with no problems. We took 2 or 3 passes to get the finish we wanted, the 3rd pass necessary only in the front field which has a higher clay content.

Simon Bedformer (Tree bed Preparation) @ Ridgedale PERMACULTURE on youtubeTillage was necessary to meet our goal of broadcasting a diverse range of perennial support species which includes perennial salad crops, Dynamic Accumulators, Nitrogen fixers and Nectary plants. Tillage naturally selects for bacteria in the soil food web, and so amendments were made to help begin the rapid spread of mycorrhizal fungi in the tree lanes. We used recommended doses of the mycorrhizal fungi; 25g for bare root trees, 10g bare root small shrubs @30cm and 5g for bare root canes. Each tree had 2 cups of rock dust 50cm outside the centre stem. 3.5ml of concentrated kelp extract per plant and diluted sugarcane molasses root dip/ watering in solution. This was then topped with cardboard for the trees/ newspapers for the berries and 1 wheelbarrow of wood chip for each tree, 0.5 barrows for fruit canes.


Preparing seed mix which was then weighed out into bags relative to proportional lane length to be broadcast by handSetting-Permaculture-Farm-24

Newly planted trees waiting for cardboard & woodchip and the row’s diverse broadcast seed mixSetting-Permaculture-Farm-25

The design coming alive from paper to the field….Setting-Permaculture-Farm-26

Cover crops filling in nicely by mid summerSetting-Permaculture-Farm-27

Tree lanes settling in later in the seasonDuring 2014 we introduced dairy cows and goats for the farm, raised several batches of Broiler Chickens and Layers as well as sheep. Having moved to the farm in winter we planned all our grazing before we began using Holistic Management Grazing methodologies at the same time as conducting various field surveys to learn more about exactly what was growing and happening in our pasture. Our amazing Farm Manager Kate conducted Sward and Invertebrate Studies to allow us to better plan the grazing and understand the species we are working with and how to manage the animals and landscape optimally. This led to the observation and understanding of how after 96 hrs the number of dung beetles in the cowpats had declined massively whilst the number of fly larvae was at its peak. Cue the layers!



The transformed “Bison 2.0” carrying the laying flock, following the dairy cows around as mobile sanitizersBy timing the movement of the Layers after the cows we can optimize the beneficial interaction of these different species in a mutually beneficial manner. The Layers are diesel free muck spreaders that love the Omega rich maggots and save the flies bothering the cows, and we get eggs as a by- product of all this healthy interaction. To make a future- proof and economic enterprise we have to mimic ecosystem processes.


Young pastured Broilers out on forage at 2 weeksSetting-Permaculture-Farm-31

After various feed experiments we found we can produce dressed birds averaging 2.4kg organically in 8 weeks without compromising the birds “chickeness”Setting-Permaculture-Farm-32

Worth the work! Amazing amount of good food from the farm in this pioneering yearWe also brought in sheep which we will be breeding up to a larger flock. At present we feel like sheep, broilers & eggs will be our primary enterprises and in a couple of years berry & tree fruit production will begin to trickle in. With so many hungry mouths to feed coming through the farm during the year it will take a while to over- produce!


Grazing & timber harvesting in Autumnal SwedenWe run our production appropriately with the seasons to minimize wastage of non- renewable energy. That means we have a lovely cycle of 6 months of intensive long days and 6 months down time to rest and recuperate as well as catch up with work abroad; a nice cycle that allows us to be somewhat flexible in our lifestyle. The winter is all about reviewing and designing; with plans to scale up our productions commercially utilizing the careful research conducted this year.


Intern’s laying out Keyline guide for subsoilingSetting-Permaculture-Farm-35

Other projects in the later part of 2014 included planting out our “nut field” with several species of walnut and a few other nut varieties to trial. We are shipping in nuts from all over the place to grow out and hope to find genetics suited to life at 59 °N. We inoculated 350m of mushroom logs of 13 species to produce a yield in the riparian buffers.


The beginnings of wood fruit…Setting-Permaculture-Farm-37

A nicely situated classroom for studying forest ecologyThe second group of Interns also built a beautiful cob oven and herb bed for planting up next spring, made some great composts, BioFert’s and teas to build up populations of beneficial micro- organisms and ensure nutrient cycling in the intensive gardens remains stable.



Fresh herbs, fresh pizza!

We also managed to fit in time to design half a dozen other farms and properties, including taking the Intern’s to Norway to design one of the sweetest small farms in a long time, spring fed reticulation system for mobile animals with 80m head pressure available. Magical places and magical people, it’s been an action packed 6 months to say the least!



Excited for more future- proof resilient farms in the region!It’s clear to us that there is nothing a group of hard working folks cannot do when committed to be of benefit. Whilst we have never worked so hard in our lives it has strangely felt almost effortless this season. Whatever the future of farming will look like, it is sure to involve biomimicry and people, that’s for sure!

Plans for 2015 involve a lot more tree planting, introducing pigs into forest pastures, scaling up layer & broiler production commercially as well as creating several water features in the landscape. We’ll also be working on passive solar heating, pond building and continuing our experiments with Jean Pain composting plus a whole bunch more. We are using the down period to build new portable and multi- functional animal shelters and working on processing and marketing locally. Plan, plan and plan! We will also be running intensive trainings again throughout the summer with a focus on supporting more folks to step into professional design as well as encouraging even more people to start land based enterprises of their own. You can follow us via the website or our Facebook page if you’d like to stay in touch, we post a lot of regular updates and insights and document our process so it can benefit others who can’t be here!


Autumns bounty; wild harvest from mushrooms, fish, herbs and meat…

First published here.

The post Setting up a Permaculture Farm in a Temperate Climate appeared first on Walden Labs.

Case Study: Establishing a Cold Climate Permaculture Site in Sweden using Keyline Design, Part 3

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This is the third of a series of articles looking at design considerations for our Cold Climate Permaculture site using the Keyline Scale of Permanence as a organizing framework, as well as an informative read for anyone interested.

P.A.Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence (SoP)

  1. Climate
  2. Landform
  3. Water
  4. Roads
  5. Trees
  6. Buildings
  7. Subdivisions
  8. Soil

The first article introduced some basic Keyline concepts and looked at the site specifics and how the landform will influence the patterning of our farmscape. The second article looked at water and roads. This article was originally intended to address trees and buildings, but after consideration of the importance and wide scope of trees in our landscape, the focus will be solely on trees and how we are integrating woody aspects into our permanent agriculture. This article will follow these main topics, riparian zones, Keyline patterned perennial cropping, windbreaks and hedges, timber, coppice firewood and tree nursery considerations.

Tree patch overview at ridgedale permaculture for reference through the article

Trees are placed quite high in the SoP, potentially outlasting buildings, but more importantly perhaps, managed in ongoing relationship to the previous elements in the SoP. P.A. Yeomans used contour strip forests on his farm and proposed developments of Keyline landscapes.

Contour forest strips on Yeoman’s Nevallan

These are generally placed along water harvesting / irrigation channels. Trees usually border roads, and are located above irrigation channels, offering protection to water systems. In his excellent book from 1971, The City Forest, these forest systems are used to clean residential water whilst producing fuel within city boundaries. Not a bad idea. Detailed benefits of integrating trees with pasture / annual crops are expounded later.

Riparian Zones

The riparian zones protect the two streams that run through the property. Trees and shrubs serve to secure the banks of streams and water bodies, shade the water and filter run-off before it enters the course. Riparian zones, or buffers, are also important habitat. We can also crop in this area, and use periodical grazing whilst we establish the plant assemblies we desire. Naturally our riparians are well drained but may remain moist through snow-melt and field drainage, as well as occasionally flooding.

One of the steep banked riparian zones looking SSE from the road in the very center of the farm

Existing species include;

  • Birch
  • Alder
  • Willow
  • Spruce

We can use these niches for cropping of fruit, nuts and timber as well as various shrub and herb layers. Occasional grazing and ideal sites for bee hives make this a multi-functional and productive zone. Additional species we will add include;

  • Walnut (var.)
  • Cherry
  • Plum
  • Hawthorn (var.)
  • Raspberry
  • Hardy Grape
  • Hardy Kiwi
  • Aronia
  • Sea Buckthorn
  • Service berry
  • Rowan

Keyline patterned perennial cropping — Ground Preparation

Keyline patterned ripped & mounded high quality tree prep. Photo courtesy Darren J. Doherty

The front and back fields on the farm schematic above are the most intensive perennial cropping patches of the farm. They are patterned according to our overall Keyline layout, allowing for continued pasture development between the tree lanes over the subsequent years.

Pasture is not the optimum starting point for establishing trees. Grasslands are generally bacterially dominated through to balanced fungal:bacterial ratios in the late successional grasses. Shrubs and vines tend to thrive in F:B ratios of 2-5:1; whereas with our tree crops we are talking F:B ratios of 5-100:1 or more (up to 1000:1 with conifers and old growth forests). We also have compacted land that has not been grazed effectively for many years. So we need to prepare the ground for planting, lift compaction, deal with water and establish a multitude of support plants simultaneously.

This is where innovative use of equipment and allowing the geometry of our topography to pattern our farm will serve us very well. Below you see a quick sketch of the process of establishing our perennial lanes to this beautiful Keyline geometry. There are many ways to establish trees, with more or less technology. The scale we are working on, whilst not particularly large, suits the machinery we have at hand for an efficient and multi-functional result.

Our first job is to subsoil the paddocks on the Keyline patterning explained in the previous article. The tree lanes will then be marked out to the 12m spacings we are working on in the front and back fields. (More considerations explained further on.) The next step is some primary cultivation to disturb the grass — a mechanical weed-killer if you like. We will use a power harrow for this first pass, which has the benefit of not mixing soil horizons like a rotary hoe or plow, which could also be used.

Adapting the Keyline Plow for multiple tasks in a single pass. Photo courtesy Darren J. Doherty

On the 2nd pass we will deep rip with 2 or 3 of the 26” shanks on our Yeoman’s plow with a rotary hoe bed former trailing behind, the image above serving as an illustration of how this machine can be adapted for multiple functions. This will leave us with nicely prepared slightly raised beds for planting trees / shrubs and cover crops over deep rips appropriate to our desired planting pattern, with the furrows on each side of the bed performing like mini swales but on the Keyline patterning (as illustrated above). This patterning leads any excess surface flow out to the ridges and slows its movement through the landscape.

Keyline “pocket” ponds, photo courtesy Mark Sheppard

Mark Sheppard has adapted this technique with what he calls “pocket” ponds, that can catch and store excess run-off. These are ponds that are not necessarily designed to remain full all year long, but more to slow, sink and store water to make it an asset rather than a problem. At ridgedale we have laid out farm tracks to catch and move water passively around the landscape, anticipating the combined subsoiling and tree lane mounding (with dense planting) to be an effective water management strategy. The beauty of this layout and system is the ability to observe and adapt if necessary.

Species Assemblies & Planting

Cultivation of soil selects for bacteria. In addition, the cultivation will lead to a profusion of grasses. It does, however, give us opportunity to sow a diverse cover crop and plant trees and shrubs into well-prepared ground whilst dealing with the overall water considerations of the site. Our job as engineers of this designed process is to help steer everything possible towards the set of chain reactions (the succession) that we desire.

The mounded tree lanes are seeded immediately to kick start succession with doses of fungal-oriented compost tea. Once the tree mounds are settled the tree and shrub crops are planted as bare roots / modules at regular spacings. In the back field there are two rows of crops planted according to their height to maximize solar collection due to the general E to W row orientation. In the front field the main tree crops are planted over a central rip with shrub crops on either side, due to their N to S orientation:

Planting pattern for maximum solar gain. Note deep rips under formed tree beds,
with mini “swales” on either side of bed resulting from the bed former.

The trees and shrubs are of high value, and longer-lived perennials deserve a good start in life. Bare roots are dipped in diluted molasses to help kick start fungal symbiosis. Fungal oriented compost is applied with each planting, as well as covered with a thick spot mulch of straw or whatever is lying around to keep up moisture levels and reduce competition around roots during establishment. Commercial fungal inoculants can also be used, along with continuing compost tea applications throughout the season. Kelp and fish products can also be useful in boosting initial tree growth.

As with any design work, the mapping and conceptual design process leads us to an accurate digital layout where we can generate a bill of quantities efficiently. The length of tree lanes and our chosen spacings allows rapid calculation of plant stocks required. With nearly 1.5km of tree lanes in the front and back fields our cropping list includes;

Tree & Shrub Crops

  • Apple 90
  • Pear 40
  • Plum 40
  • Cherry 40
  • Hazel (bush) 390
  • Raspberry 620
  • Currants/berries 700
  • J. Quince 50
  • Goji 50
  • Elderberry 75
  • Aronia 75
  • Saskatoon 75
  • Blue Honeysuckle 150

Nitrogen fixers

  • Eleagnus
  • Siberian Pea Shrub
  • Sea Buckthorn (Driveway Planting) 360 (approx. 36 Male) (2m spacings with 6m between rows)

Differing planting patterns and assemblies will be used, but for a general picture we plan 7.5m spacings for fruit trees on semi-vigorous rootstocks. In the back field this allows the N side of the tree lane to accommodate hazel (bush) on 1.5m spacings with assorted berry fruits on 80cm plantings over the front rip. This solar oriented “forest edge” style planting allows maximum light for all plants on a more E to W orientation. These rows have 12m pasture strips between them, laid out on the Keyline patterning.

In the front field, where the plantings are roughly N to S, we also pattern the plantings for maximum solar gain, with tree crops over a third central rip and shrub / berry crops on either side. In all tree lanes a diverse assembly of support plants is undersown to support the main cropping trees / shrubs.

Seed Mix

Our groundcover mix will be sown into the formed tree beds to quickly establish groundcover. The multiple benefits we are looking for are nitrogen fixing, mineral accumulation, edible crops, insectary and nectary sources as well as protecting the soil. Having perennial support plants helps tip the F:B ratios in our favor, and the addition of chop and drop mulch and woody compost from deconstructed biomeilers will ensure a good supply of fungal food is present. Rock dust, kelp, etc, are useful considerations if necessary, the wide mineral spectrum being necessary to encourage fungi in depleted agricultural soils. Whilst there may be a few annuals and self-seeders in the mix, some of useful perennials we include are;

  • Agastache foeniculum
  • Armoracia rusticana
  • Dryas octopetala
  • Foeniculum vulgare
  • Glycyrrhiza echinata
  • Medicago sativa
  • Origanum vulgare
  • Thymus vulgaris
  • Aegopodium podagraria
  • Allium tuberosum
  • Astragalus cicer
  • Bunias orientalis
  • Centranthus ruber
  • Chenopodium bonus-henricus
  • Diplotaxis spp.
  • Dryas octopetala
  • Hedysarum boreale
  • Hemerocallis spp
  • Lupinus spp.
  • Myrrhis odorata
  • Oenanthe javanica
  • Origanum vulgare
  • Oxyria digyna
  • Petasites japonicus
  • Physalis heterophylla
  • Physalis longifolia
  • Pycnanthemum spp
  • Rheum australe
  • Rumex acetosa
  • Rumex acetosella
  • Rumex scutatus
  • Sium sisarum
  • Stachys sieboldii
  • Symphytum uplandicum
  • Symphytum grandiflorum
  • Trifolium repens
  • Trifolium pratense
  • Angelica sylvestris
  • Perideridia gairdnerii
  • Petasites japonicus

Breeding hardy nuts

A lot of nuts are borderline for us here. Chinese and American chestnut, their hybrids, butternut, Manchurian & black walnut, American, European & beaked hazel, etc, are all useful candidates but so far there are no nurseries with hardy lines suitable for any reliable commercial use in our climatic zone. Due to the big-Ag economy there is little chance of the necessary breeding being done by commercial nurseries, and so we need a lot of folks breeding out useful perennials for their areas. Based on the mass breeding of Luther Burbank we have seed arriving from different parts of the world and will be planting out nuts en masse hoping for the handful that can handle our climatic conditions. The most promising genetics for chestnut and hazel are in the US, so we will be planting out a lot of nuts from the US, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in nursery beds hoping for that 1 in 100 that has the genetics we are after. In this video Mark Shepards offers insights into his work in this regard, and we appreciate the emphasis on taking responsibility for breeding and continuing the development of future proof food supplies.

Our NW paddock will be a savannah style planting, still following the overall Keyline layout, but with wider 14-18m spacings between trees/rows. Deciduous trees planted this way into pasture will have no detrimental effect on pasture and livestock production for at least 10 years. Forage production tends to fall off rapidly, however, once trees exceed about 35% canopy cover.

Value adding

Through direct marketing to a local customer base, processing as much as possible “on farm” and value adding our products, we can make small-scale regenerative agriculture viable. Whilst the educational arm of our enterprise gives us a security some farms do not possess, our goal is to demonstrate the viability of small-scale, local, beyond-organic agricultural supported communities. We purposefully do not want to operate on any form of subsidy, as we believe that this disempowers the responsibilities of farmers / land managers. Simply by having the facility to process wood, fruit, breed plants, gather people, etc, we open the doors to community engagement and cooperation — important aspects of our design. We aim to add a nice green blop at 59°N on the map below, as a farm producing for its own needs as well as a useful and vital surplus for sale.

Benefits of silvopastural / silvoarable systems

I’ve seen alley-cropping agroforestry systems mainly planted between 8-26m around Europe. Talking to Professor Martin Wolfe about his research and observation, we decided to go with 12m spacings between our Keyline rows to optimize beneficial interactions between trees and pasture / row crops. It seems that beyond 26m the beneficial interactions tail off considerably.

Poplar over wheat, the benefits of agroforestry are diverse and numerous and could provide multiple benefits in many farm enterprises

A lot of the farms I have visited could benefit from integrating tree systems into conventional cropping / pastoral scenarios. The benefits are diverse and rich;

  • Integrated tree systems can provide fodder, niche crops, spaced crop harvest, firewood / fuel, coppice yields, shelter, biomass, lumber, biomeiler material, water cleaning, pollination, habitat and riparian protection as well as utilize marginal land.
  • Controlling runoff and soil erosion, thereby reducing losses of water, soil material, organic matter and nutrients.
  • Maintaining soil organic matter and biological activity at levels satisfactory for soil fertility. This depends on an adequate proportion of trees in the system — normally at least 20% crown cover of trees to maintain organic matter over systems as a whole.
  • Maintaining more favorable physical soil properties than conventional cropping through organic matter maintenance and the effects of tree roots.
  • Help close nutrient cycles. This is true to an impressive degree for forest garden and farming systems.
  • Checking the development of soil toxicities, or reduce existing toxicities — both soil acidification and salinization can be checked, and trees can be employed in the reclamation of polluted soils.
  • Layered tree / perennial systems utilize solar energy more efficiently than monocultural systems — different height plants, leaf shapes and alignments all contribute.
  • They can lead to reduced insect pests and associated diseases.
  • Can be employed to reclaim eroded and degraded land.
  • Creation of a healthy environment — interactions from agroforestry practices can enhance the soil, water, air, animal and human resources of the farm. Agroforestry practices may use only 5% of the farming land area yet account for over 50% of the biodiversity, improving wildlife habitat and harboring birds and beneficial insects which feed on crop pests. Tree biodiversity adds variety to the landscape and can improve aesthetics.
  • Moderate microclimates. Shelter given by trees improves yields of nearby crops and livestock. Shade in summer can be beneficial for livestock, reducing stress.
  • Agroforestry can augment soil water availability to land-use systems. In dry regions, though, competition between trees and crops can be major problem.
  • Nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs can substantially increase nitrogen inputs to agroforestry systems.
  • Trees can probably increase nutrient inputs to agroforestry systems by retrieval from lower soil horizons and rock weathering. (‘Mining’ minerals and trace elements and relationships with fungi.)
  • The decomposition of tree litter and prunings can substantially contribute to maintenance of soil fertility. The addition of high-quality tree prunings (i.e. high in nitrogen but which decay rapidly) leads to large increases in crop yields.
  • The release of nutrients from the decomposition of tree residues can be synchronized with the requirements for nutrient uptake of associated crops. While different trees and crops will all have different requirements, and there will always be some imbalance, the addition of high-quality prunings to the soil at the time of crop planting usually leads to a good degree of synchrony between nutrient release and demand.
  • In the maintenance of soil fertility under agroforestry systems, the role of roots is at least as important as that of above ground biomass.
  • Agroforestry can provide a more diverse farm economy and stimulate the whole rural economy, leading to more stable farms and communities. Economic risks are reduced when systems produce multiple products.


Extensive wind breaking is often a necessary and economic design consideration

Cold winds can literally blow the profitability off livestock in a cold climate. Crops suffer pneumatic damage too. Although planting windbreaks is an investment that takes some land out of production, well-designed windbreaks have often been shown to protect the health and productivity of crops enough to make the overall return positive. Multiple produces from a windbreak can include yields such as fruit, timber, animal fodder, mulch, wildlife habitat, and other economic farm products. In our situation we have considerable shelter from the tall forests around the farm. The topography also protects us. In our unique situation we will use our rotational coppice willow (see below) as partial wind breaking that also acts as a visual screening and utilizes a marginal border zone and drainage ditch.

If wind is a problem, then the species used should be selected first for their wind tolerance and appropriateness for the site (climate, soils, etc); the products should be a secondary consideration in selecting species. Obviously trees yielding products such as fruit, food, fodder, or mulch should ideally be located in the interior or wind-sheltered rows of the windbreak for maximum protection.


Beautiful example of future- proof livestock fencing from the UK

Coming from the UK I still think we have the best hedgerow systems I have seen. The art of hedge-laying is ancient and diverse, and represents an awesome technique for livestock fencing that eventually manages itself. Our country used to be thoroughly divided up by diverse hedgerows, moderating wind and providing ample habitat for birds, reptiles and mammals. In the short term, wire fencing around our main paddocks will keep wildlife out, as well as act as security if our mobile fencing fails. In the longer term we will establish hedgerows with mixed species every 30cm and 50cm between the alternate-planted double row — a deep rip with two of the shanks on the Yeoman’s plow, simple fencing during establishment and a browse guard on each bare root plant as it goes in. Once established the trunks are cut through most of the way with a bill hook (up to 70% of the trunk) and laid. Traditionally chestnut stakes with willow woven tops were used to hold a newly laid hedge in place — chestnut lasting well in the ground. Good species for our climate include blackthorn, hawthorn, crab apple, dog rose, dogwoods, hazel, oak, ash and willow.

Around the kitchen garden we will plant willow fencing for both animal protection as well as aesthetics. The North side of the garden also warrants berry bushes in front of dwarf / semi-dwarf trees, creating a heat trap orientated at the sun for solar gain. Cold climate design is all about leveraging micro-climates, but aesthetics and functionality can easily be combined.

Coppice Firewood

Willows are very fast growing, and when grown as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) they can produce as much as 10 to 15 tons of dry wood per ha per year and often more on the better sites.

Willow is grown at different spacings for different purposes. To produce long thin rods, which are ideal for basket-making or other craft work, you can plant as close as 25cm between plants and 50cm between rows. Colorful varieties for basketry can be sought.

Prof. Martin Wolfe’s short rotation willow coppice for on- farm firewood supply, providing
constant windbreak and habitat in this alternate harvest planting, Suffolk, UK

SRC plantations are typically planted at wider spacings such as 60cm between plants and rows. They are harvested every 3 or 4 years and commonly turned into wood chips. To crop more decent size logs for home use, spacings of 1m between plants and 1.5m between rows can be used.

Pollarding, (or coppicing up high) for
browse protection

To set up a five year rotation;

  • Divide your area into five roughly equal size beds.
  • Plant all the beds during the dormant season.
  • Control weeds thoroughly in the first growing season, landscape fabric is an easy way to achieve this.
  • In the 1st winter after planting, cut down the new shoots on all the willow in all five beds.
  • Second winter onwards cut one bed each year to establish a 5-year rotation.

About 6500 plants on 1ha can yield around 13 tons of biomass for burning. Here in Sweden it is Salix Viminalis that is commonly grown as a commercial source of biomass. This can either be chipped and burnt or bundled into traditional faggots. A lot of farms around here have these marginal pockets and damp ditches where nothing is grown. This is a potentially fantastic yield where the stands can also be providing shelter, pollen and habitat during their rotation. Our willow rotation will only yield an estimated 1.3 tons, which will help with our firewood load as well as perform other useful beneficial functions.

The tradition of coppicing does not seem as familiar in Sweden compared to where I come from, however many trees are good for coppice; for fuel wood, furniture and crafts, charcoal, tool making, etc;

  • Alder
  • Birch
  • Sycamore
  • Hazel
  • Chestnut
  • Hawthorn
  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Rowan
  • Service
  • Lime
  • Willow

The entrance to the farm will sport 30 lime pollards, making both a grand architectural entrance as well as providing ample salad for our visitors for several months each year. Pollarded at harvest height these make excellent support for hardy kiwi, etc, which can all be pruned together when necessary.


With enough spruce and larch for all our construction / infrastructure needs one way we will manage some of the older timber is with a mobile sawmill. Timber is the number one value added product on the planet. Add desirable species to the mix of slow and carefully air dried timbers and you can make good income selling lumber to the right people. Our patch of 90 yr old Spruce is valued at 150,000 SEK (US$23,250). In planked form I estimate its value at way more than the cost of the farm! A 50,000 SEK investment for a second hand mobile sawmill will ensure our building projects are cheap and require no loans or hefty investments.

Areas for leaf-tree planting in orange. The red outline depicts overhead cabling — an area
where tall trees cannot be planted

Serious wood workers will pay serious cash –
here’s Eur 3000 worth of Tilia @Ecole
Superior d’ebenisterie, France

There are many options for sawmills, and good opportunities for secondhand models. The leaders in this field seem to be the Aussie Lucas Mill (see also here, here, and here) with both circular swing saw and slabbing options on all models. This allows for maximum recovery on saw logs and super nice wide slab options for making custom furniture, etc.Woodmizer are also a highly regarded manufacturer, although these are band saw models. They are cheaper, but will not cut such wide widths, and don’t have the same versatility as a Lucas style set-up. It’s a great investment when you have a lot of timber on the property, both for your own construction needs and for processing your own and other’s lumber. Other options include chainsaw adaptations if you don’t have much timber but want to use your own lumber for building, etc.

The patches outlined in orange above show where we will plant leaf trees into the sparse regrowth of spruce. It also makes ideal pig habitat, and we will use pigs for all the cultivation work here. They will need additional feed, but will also provide a chunk of the farm’s meat needs, with some surplus for local sale.

The area outlined in red must be kept low due to overhead power lines. This marginal area, typically unfarmed, will make further “pig pastures” with eventual plantings of high value berry fruits that should thrive well in the “edge” system. Every little niche can be utilized when space is a limiting factor in design, and that applies to farm design too. Whilst these areas are not conventionally commercially viable, our farm will concentrate on feeding itself and its visitors too.

Tree Nursery Considerations

Growing perennials is more challenging than popping in some non-dormant annuals that respond to very basic conditions. Many perennials require specific treatment to mimic natural germination and “trick” the seed into growth.

Stratification of seeds involves mixing the seed with a moist medium and keeping warm and/or cold for a certain time before sowing. Seeds are usually mixed with moist (not wet) silver sand, using 4 parts or more sand to 1 of seeds. We’ve found it best to use a mister, as it is very easy to get the mix too wet and risk rotting. The mix should be placed in a plastic bag, which can be sealed and re-opened. Label the bag well! Warm stratification means keeping the seed/sand mix at about room temperature around 15-21°C (60-70°F); cold means keeping the mix at about 5°C (40°F) — a domestic fridge being ideal for small quantities. When cold stratifying over winter, seed/sand mixes can be placed outside in a rodent/bird-proof container (eg. a plastic dustbin). Whenever stratifying seed, check every week or two to see if germination is starting. When it does you will see white roots start to emerge from seeds, and if this happens then the seeds should be sown immediately. If this isn’t possible, keep the mix at a temperature just above freezing until you can sow.

Scarification of seeds involves softening the hard seed coat in some way to allow water to be imbibed into the seed. The simplest way of achieving this is to give the seeds a hot water soak, putting them into water at about 88°C (190°F) and allowing them to stand for several hours while the water cools. Alternatively, the seeds can be very carefully rubbed between two sheets of fine sandpaper.

Dewaxing – some seeds are covered in a layer of wax which stops the seeds imbibing water and germinating. This must be removed before stratification or sowing; the best way to do this is to rub the seeds between two sheets of coarse sandpaper (do it for periods of a few seconds at a time, then check the seeds – you only want to get rid of the wax and not damage the seeds!)

Seeds which take a long time to germinate are best sown in seed trays or pots, and covered with sand rather than compost. Very small seeds should be sown on the surface of the compost and the tray/pot kept moist by enclosing it in a plastic bag. Don’t give up if seeds don’t germinate, or if only a few germinate in the first year, as many seeds spread out their germination over more than one year as a basic survival mechanism. If the seeds are large enough, you can check their viability by cutting one in half – the seed embryo inside should be white and solid, and not soft or watery.

Recommended treatments you find online / in books, etc., promote good germination. Using these treatments does not guarantee germination. Our experience is that different sources often give widely varying advice! Remember you are trying to mimic nature’s processes!

Once treated seeds are planted, either in pots or prepared open beds / cold frames, we like to use root trainers, which vary in size suitable for vegetables all the way up to 1 litre tree containers. The “books” open up for root inspection, and as you can see from the photo (left) the roots develop in a healthy manner and air prune when they come out of the bottom of the cell, meaning a tree will not “root ball”. This is critical; I like to compare root-balled trees to the old images of bound feet from China. This is injury the plant will never fully recover from, so in a long-lived organism it is critical to care for their early years well.

We also use a slow release NPK fertilizer with good compost and vermiculite or similar. Whilst this may be controversial for some, it best mimics the release of nutrients in the soil. Vegetables staying in module for a few weeks have no problem with good organic compost, however a tree or shrub that might remain in the root trainer for considerable time needs adequate nutrition, especially in the beginning of its life. Fungal inoculants, either by way of commercial products or (perhaps preferably) fungal oriented compost made from local materials will help start beneficial interactions with fungi and other soil microorganisms. A heat mat under the establishing seedlings is useful in these cold climates to help get everything off to a good start.

The post Case Study: Establishing a Cold Climate Permaculture Site in Sweden using Keyline Design, Part 3 appeared first on Walden Labs.

Case Study: Establishing a Cold Climate Permaculture Site in Sweden using Keyline Design, Part 2

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This is part 2 of a series of 3 articles looking at design considerations for our Cold Climate Permaculture site using the Keyline Scale of Permanence as a organizing framework, as well as an informative read for anyone interested.

The aesthetic curves of the Keyline layout at ridgedale PERMACULTURE

The previous article introduced some basic Keyline concepts and looked at the Site Specifics and how the Landform will influence the patterning of our farmscape. This article looks at our considerations for water and access.

P.A.Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence (SoP)

  1. Climate
  2. Landform
  3. Water
  4. Roads
  5. Trees
  6. Buildings
  7. Subdivisions
  8. Soil

Water for Life

Water is where we begin with design; as it is the greatest limiting factor for production, and its movement in the landscape depends entirely on the landform. Earthen constructs such as ponds, dams, swales, etc, are very permanent features in a landscape. Roads are too, and the well constructed roads and earthworks of ancient cultures can still be found functioning today, from the Romans to the Kogi.

From a design perspective, water has many duties. It is what makes all life possible and in a farm perspective this may mean irrigation storage, drinking water and water stored in living soil. It provides rich and diverse production habitat and aquatic ecosystems cannot be underestimated in their importance in farmscapes. Robust and well designed water systems can add significant return-on-investment regarding property value.

Water in the landscape performs multiple functions & gives aesthetic charm

We can also possibly produce energy by micro-hydro, water wheels, etc., as well as provide for human aesthetic needs.

The principle of designing water into Permaculture systems involve taking water over the longest path, over the most time, moving as slowly as possible with the most passive friction, affecting as many living things as possible. This is a fertile situation.

Keyline_in_Sweden_iimage005Here in Sweden, where we have snow melt in the spring, many landowners put a lot of resources into draining water off their land, as discussed in the previous article. Can you have too much water? It is possible in the very short term, but as a system this is somewhat doubtful. How to rapidly build soil and make use of the water is a good directive. Under utilized rainfall is the primary reason that desertification is spreading across the larger half of the land surface of the planet today. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water, and in many parts of the world this is derived from mega-dam projects. Mega-dams have displaced over 80 million people in the last 100 years, and the methane released from stagnating nutrient flows make large dams more atmospherically polluting than coal fired power stations (Methane is 22x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2). Here in Sweden we do not have the problems of the brittle landscapes, but I see few farmscapes that are future-proof regarding water. Pumps and other degenerative technologies are costly and need constant maintenance, so any chance to use gravity fed systems is high up on the design agenda.

We will deal with water at the farm resiliently, via soil development, including Keyline subsoiling and ripping, managing our grazing holistically, perennial strip plantings, ponds, dams, intelligent farm track positioning and appropriate technology.

P.A. Yeoman’s ‘Yobarnie’ — originally storing 715 mega liters in various types of earthen dams
in eastern Australia with sparse rainfall. Photo courtesy David Holmgren.

If farms (and urban areas?!) would switch to small scale water harvesting and farmer / community controlled water storage based on Keyline patterning there would be an end to flash floods, much less oil needed to pump water around, an increase in community resiliency, better care for watersheds and it would actually be cheaper with more environmentally sound habitats.


Earthworks are usually significant investments with potential risks and like all good design, it is worth holistically considering different ways of obtaining any objective thoroughly. Creating earthen dams and swales deals with the Landform layer of the Scale of Permanence. These are constructs that should be there in hundreds (if not thousands) of years time if built well. This is a very different disturbance and strategy than something like subsoiling, which deals with the Soil layer of the SoP.

Soil is by far the cheapest and most effective place to conserve water, with more layers of stacked benefits than any other way you could store it. One particle of humus can hold on average four parts of water, and so we start to see the cost effective, production-increasing effects of building healthy soils — the basis of all our production, and indeed, of civilization itself. For every percentage increase in soil carbon we increase the soil water holding capacity by 144 000l per Ha.

For the sake of design consideration in this article I will share this; I have seen swales implemented in various countries where I personally think they are totally inappropriate and unnecessary. It strikes me that trends in popular Permaculture risk diverging from design planning and holistic decision-making. For example, when I consider the cost of subsoiling (which allows water to slow, sink and possibly spread), combined with good grazing (which can rapidly develop deeper living soil that can hold the water) I have seen quite a few earthwork examples where I’m positive I could achieve the same outcomes with radically lower cost, with water in the soil where it is actually needed for production with no major risks. Holistic Management decision making is incredibly useful in the design process when weighing up which technology / strategies, etc, will lead you optimally towards the holistic goals and resource base you are managing for.

Keyline_in_Sweden_iimage012Constructing dams and ponds is a big subject and depends on so many variables, both human and geophysical. Due diligence is vital in order not to risk breaking the bank/ limbs/ laws. There are some brief notes of some considerations at the end of thisarticle I wrote after a Dryland training last year. Important considerations for designing these systems include:

  • Annual rainfall
  • Rainfall distribution
  • Water needs
  • Maximum perceived rainfall events
  • Catchments / Watershed analysis
  • Roof catchments
  • Soil Characteristics
  • Soil infiltration rates
  • Geophysical analysis
  • Costing analysis

Because of our climate and water needs, and the fact we have flowing streams with a height difference (allowing us to run a RAM pump) our ponds and dams are mainly for simple aquaculture — for farm use, recreation and habitat. They are not particularly cost effective in this regard, ie, we don’t need the water, but we want it. Having friends with old machinery can be a big help as in this case investing a lot of money in this work would perhaps not be a great financial decision for the farm. On another hand well-designed earthworks will add value to a property, so could be viewed as a longer term investment with a lot of great benefits. If soil resources do not allow earthen dam construction one good alternative is Geo-synthetic Clay Liners (GCL), which is a layer of bentonite clay, sandwiched between textiles that swells with water contact. It is necessary to cover this with topsoil, which, incidentally, allows immediate planting and rapid repair from the disturbance. GCL works out at about 8 Eur/ m2 here, which is great. It self seals around overspill pipes and roots, which makes it very pleasing to work with.

Catchment area that supplies the 2 streams at ridgedale

The two streams that flow through the property have large secure catchments, mostly forest with few properties — 1800 M/L land in the sub watershed, marked 279ha, and around 3500 M/L in the larger sub watershed. That’s a bunch of water, and we can utilize the height drop across our farm to meet our water needs at minimal cost using a RAM pump (see below).

An example of functionality & beauty, the
Nelson’s natural swimming pool

Natural Swimming Pools

Leisure, aesthetics and health are vital aspects of regenerative design. The addition of features like this in an overall site development cannot fail to increase the property value too. Who wouldn’t want chlorine-free swimming?

Our roof catchments will collect, firstly, into ferro cement tanking to ensure a good quality pump- free drinking water supply, and then overspill into water bodies. Planning overflows from each water body is crucial! Understanding levels and calculating for extreme weather possibilities is in order. Natural swimming pools are an awesome integration into a home setting water system, and could double up in water cleaning and production systems as well as all the other benefits ponds bring to an ecosystem. To have a good swimming lane it pays to make a conventional shaped cut and the whole thing is created with a cleverly folded liner. The shallow edges are planted with sub marginal aquatic species amongst gravel or similar medium to make an attractive and clean finish. A simple suspended and submerged rope marks the edges for swimmers. A solar powered skimmer can keep the surface clear of leaves, etc. The main cost is digging and a liner if it’s needed.

Ferro Cement Tanks

Keyline_in_Sweden_iimage018Photo courtesy Oasis Design

Ferro-cement tanking is usually much cheaper than brick or straight concrete, using far less material to make a strong frame for water tanks of more than 1000L. Plastic and tin sheet tanking is also an option, and all have their pros and cons. Part of the beauty of a ferro-cement tank is you can make it a feature rather than an eye-sore, which feels important for the placement of our tanks, in the farm center.

There are different methods of constructing ferro-cement water tanks, but the usual ratio of cement to dry sand is 1:3 by volume. The ratio of water to cement has an important effect on the final strength of the mortar. A ratio of about 0.4:1 to 0.5:1 (ratio of water:cement by weight) is ideal, which is equivalent to between 20 to 25 litres of water to each 50kg bag of cement. When we have built tanks in hotter climates / weather, we have used wet blankets to slow the curing process. Plastic wrapping could be used too.

Building tanks without using formwork

This method requires a stiff wire frame around which flexible mesh such as ‘chicken wire’ is wrapped. The first layer of mortar is applied by a mason working on one side of the tank, with an assistant on the other side holding a plastering float in the right place to allow the mortar to be compacted without it falling through the mesh.

Building tanks using temporary formwork

Temporary formwork, made of wood, flat or corrugated sheets of steel, or coiled pipe is placed against one face of the tank during the application of the initial layers of mortar. The formwork is removed before plastering the inside of the tank.

Building tanks using permanent formwork

Formwork, such as corrugated sheets, may be left in place permanently, plastered on both the inside and the outside.

Photo: Loughborough University

For cold climate use, this kind of tanking could be used as integrated rainwater harvesting / heat sink in the back of a greenhouse, or placed underground to prevent freezing. Buried below frost level a simple old- fashioned hand pump can serve to provide drinking water year round. We will use ours for rainwater collection for drinking as well as other tanks for irrigation of kitchen gardens and animals via roof collection and RAM pump supply. These tanks will need draining when winter comes on. (It is worth noting that flowing water takes much longer to freeze — see RAM pump video below.)

Water lines, rainwater harvest & diversion drains in our water network

Tracks & Access

As mentioned in the previous article, we do not have convenient higher storage sites for earthen dams for irrigation of perennial crops or livestock. However, we have surface flow from springs in the NW paddock that can be developed, and marginal areas that make suitable dam sites. These areas will be suitable for recreation, a small amount of aquatic production for farm needs and in places acting as heat sinks and reflective surfaces (particularly important for leveraging the microclimate in the kitchen gardens for example). We also have a lot of large rocks (extracted from the field by hand long ago) that will be semi-submerged in the water’s edge to help heat the water too. Having microclimates within the water bodies, eg shallow and deep water, allows more ‘stacking’ of life within it. Any overspills with height drop (such as in our North paddock) can be conveniently spilled down rocky falls to eliminate erosion and oxygenate the water in the process.

Keyline_in_Sweden_iimage028The farm tracks are needed for access and harvesting, but serve the double function as diversion drains, leading overspill from one water body / roof catchment to the next — a good example of the Permaculture directive “every element performs many functions.” In designing water it is important to plan for maximum possible flow rates and a check around old weather records and trends can help ensure the systems are robust and capable of dealing with any episodic rainfall events. An ideal road or track grading drop of 1:200 to 1:400 will keep water moving slowly — easy to survey with simple tools like a bunyip level or rotating lazer level. A ditch (ideally on the ‘inside’ of the road) harvests the water slowly and under control. The size will be calculated according to maximum presumed flow rates. Roads should ideally be placed slightly off-contour for this purpose, or on top of ridges where water can shed easily off either side. At ridgedale we will construct these graded tracks with the same machine that creates our ponds and dams. Graders and bulldozers are also used.

Most excavators in Sweden have Rototilt® ankles allowing highly tactile earth sculpture

Badly constructed roads are incredibly expensive to maintain, and another good example of how useful the SoP is for organizing the patterning of landscapes with a much longer-term holistic overview in mind. P.A. Yeoman’s wrote The City Forest (1971) describing how whole towns / cities could be planned very efficiently with this process. It’s well worth a read.

RAM Pumps

G&C – leaders in this awesome tech

We have a 67m fall across our land, and the benefit of two perennial streams means we can use this amazingly simple technology to pump fresh and constantly flowing water around our farm. Green & Carter in the UK have been making RAM pumps for over 200 years and still only make this single product, which they guarantee “forever”. They have pumps still in operation from the 1800s. They aren’t cheap, considering you can make your own for 150 euros, but in my mind some things are worth investing in. They will certainly out-perform a home made version, plus in today’s world I’d consider buying anything with a lifetime guarantee.

One of the beautiful aspects of this set up is that we can run a 25mm pipe along our fencing to the barn, with quick access outlets (and taps on the ‘downstream’ side) every 15–20m. This means with 100m of 25mm hose on a trolley reel we can connect up and have running fresh water supplied anywhere on the farm, with no electricity or oil needed. This will suit our mobile grazing set up, as well as give us security for the large number of perennial tree and shrub crops we are establishing on the Keyline layout. Simple and effective.

Conventionally it takes a lot of power to pump water around piping, and pipes are best laid along or slightly off contour along the centers of ridges. Laying pipe by access / fencing makes everything functional, accessible and just plain sensible. If we wanted to bury the pipe we could adapt the Keyline plow to do this, but we are keeping it exposed for simplicity and adaptability — conveniently the lowest point in the whole line is right above the creek, so with a simple valve we can drain the whole system.

The pump can be run into each side of winter and can supply drinking troughs well past the time they conventionally freeze. As long as the pump keeps running, it’s fine. If it stops the pipes will burst! Here’s a nice example of a RAM pump in winter action in -10c:

On its normal circuit the rammed water will keep ferro-cement tanking full, then overspill into the swimming pool system, through connected pools and back down the diversion drain on its journey back to the creek. This cycling of water through pond systems offers increased oxygen levels too. It is worth noting you can also get compound type RAMs that allow you to use the stream flow (‘dirty’) to pump up a separate supply of water, eg, well water (‘clean’) for household consumption.

In the next section we’ll look at the planting patterns, species choices and ground preparations for our diverse perennial cropping as well as consider buildings — retrofitting and adapting for resiliency….

Originally published here.

The post Case Study: Establishing a Cold Climate Permaculture Site in Sweden using Keyline Design, Part 2 appeared first on Walden Labs.

Case Study: Establishing a Cold Climate Permaculture Site in Sweden using Keyline Design, Part 1

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Having spent the past few years on a busy international schedule Richard Perkins has purchased a farm in Sweden where he is establishing ridgedale PERMACULTURE. This is the first of a series of five articles looking at design considerations for this cold climate Permaculture site using the Keyline Scale of Permanence as a organizing framework, as well as an informative read for anyone interested.

The aesthetic curves of the Keyline layout at ridgedale PERMACULTURE

The popular and somewhat unique aspects of Keyline Design include the Keyline Plow & its patterned use for soil development and water conservation, combined with intelligent water harvesting, storage and irrigation. However, the SoP is a beneficial organizing pattern for Permaculture Design, which leads to the creation of aesthetic, harmonious and cooperative interactions between the farm and the landscape.

P.A. Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence

  1. Climate
  2. Landform
  3. Water
  4. Roads
  5. Trees
  6. Buildings
  7. Subdivisions
  8. Soil

Our Yeoman’s 6SB Plow fresh off the boat, summer 2013.

Planning in this manner means the most permanent aspects of the landscape are acknowledged and layout of farm systems is optimized before dealing with the more malleable aspects. This article will touch on climate and landform, which are almost unchangeable aspects of a landscape.

Site Specifics

The farm is situated three hour’s drive from Oslo, four hour’s from Stockholm and 3.5 hour’s from Gothenburg in the heart of Scandinavia.

  • Latitude: 59°50’15” N, Longitude: 13°08’34” E,
  • Land area of 10.6 ha (26.1 ac)
  • Perimeter 1892m
  • Elevation between 120 – 167m above sea level
  • Cold Temperate/Humid Continental Climate
  • Approx. 634 mm of rainfall per year, or 52.8 mm per month.
  • Average 147 days per year with more than 0.1 mm of rainfall or 12.3 days with a quantity of rain, sleet, snow etc. per month.
  • The driest weather is in February when an average of 31 mm of rainfall occurs.
  • The wettest weather is in August when an average of 73 mm of rainfall occurs.
  • The mean temperature is cool at 5.4 °C (41.7 °F)
  • Mean monthly temperatures have a variation of 20.8 °C (37.4°F) The average daily temperature range/ variation is 7.9 °C (14.3 °F).
  • The warmest month (July) is very mild having a mean temperature of 16.1 ° C (60.98 °F).
  • February is the coldest month (slightly cold) having an average temperature of -4.7 ° C (23.54 °F).
  • Average 120 days frost- free (1- 30 day variance)
  • Southerly Aspect
  • Swedish Climate Zone 3- 4
  • Wind, predominantly S but quite sheltered by surrounding forest
  • Soil: Moderate Clay loam. Depth between 10- 30 cm with both sand (upper ridge) and clay subsoils 20- 300cm+
  • 1.5 ha 90yr+Spruce plantation
  • 0.2 ha 25 yr Spruce/ Larch/ Birch

Swedish Climate Zone with a zoom in on Varmland
(We are just outside Sunne in the centre of the zoom in image)

Cold climate design is all about leveraging micro-climates and heat sinks and at this latitude, where light is the limiting factor, maximizing photosynthesis captured and reflecting light with heat sinks (ie, water bodies) is ideal. Through appropriate wind breaking, orientation and functional interconnections it is possible to jump a whole climate zone.

10kW Biomass Gasifier
& Genset

With such a short frost-free growing season we have less perennial species available at our disposal than some of you might be familiar with, however I can think of at least 180 solid cropping perennials for this climate zone (we are profiling five a week currently on our blog). Options like biomass gasifiers which can heat and power lighting for greenhouses as well as the farm will prove very handy in a country like ours where most farms have access to forest. In fact, Sweden was a leader of this technology during the WWII era, when a lot of cars ran on wood gasification. We will look at innovative uses of appropriate energy in the final article as we are trying to close the loops and make the farm as future-proof as possible regarding oil and resource inputs.

The number of farmers in Sweden is in decline as bigger enterprises buy out small farms suffocated by the economy, high taxation and costs of production and changing consumer habits. It is interesting to consider the landscape — now predominantly fast-growing “vertical desert” monoculture spruce — which was once more diverse in tree species.

The open grasslands are (often only) kept open by subsidized mowing by machines where herbivores are strangely absent. From what I’ve seen of the farms I have been working at here, as well as our own, the pasture is degrading back to moss. Over the summer I’ve being taking people out to monitor supposedly “healthy” pastures with large proportions of moss and bare ground. They look green at least! This is indicative of a combination of water logging, poor nutrient cycling and highly compacted clays — we couldn’t get our penetrometer more than a couple of centimetres into the soil anywhere we visited over this dry summer. The grasses also suffer from lack of grazing impact in this negative spiral, and typically the response is to plow and seed for a quick-fix relief. This never addresses the root cause, nor supports the future resource base we are managing holistically towards.

Brief overview of primary landscape components

The three primary landscape components: From The Geographical Basis of Keyline

At the top of a primary valley you find the steepest part of a landscape. P.A. Yeoman’s identified the Keypoint (marked in stars on the picture above) as a point where a short steep slope changes to flatter and shallower slope in the primary valley. This is also known as the point of inflection (imagine looking at a cross section, the shape of the landscape profile would turn from convex to concave) or the point of deposition; this is where finer particles such as clays usually begin to aggregate in a valley. The Keyline is the contour line that runs through the Keypoint to the edges of the primary valley. Where a ridge ends and a valley begins can be identified on a topographic map as it too has an inflection where you could say the contours change from concave to convex. What you find if you look at a map is that Keypoints in primary valleys descend toward the sea — part of what allows the eloquent Keyline patterning of larger landscapes like P.A. Yeomans developed at Yobarnie outside Sydney.

The Keypoint is usually the highest place to economically store water in earthen dams in a landscape, unless there are saddles in the main ridge. As water naturally leads to this point on its S-shaped flow through the landscape (water always flows perpendicular to contour) and due to the shape of the valley, this is usually where the earth resources exist for this type of construction, as well as being a shape with optimal an capacity:soil moving ratio. This high placement in the landscape forms the backbone of gravity fed irrigation systems. We do not have these features at ridgedale, and we do not have the water issues of the brittle landscapes, but we will be making effective use of water and keeping it under very good control without using power.

It is worth noting that whilst a lot of properties do not have any significant landscape features such as these, the principles, affects and design sequence of Keyline design remains highly effective.

Part of the significance of these primary landscape components is understanding how water moves in relationship to land shape. Water is the basis of all life on earth, and the limiting factor in most agricultural production. Managing water effectively is crucial for future-proof resilient food systems. What you notice if you get a map out is that the valleys are a small percentage of any landscape, while ridges make up the majority of the landscape. In Yeoman’s work, He observed how valleys tend to have adequate water and that ridges tend to dry out, rendering them unproductive. That was in a Mediterranean climate. We are in a very different setting. Following this patterning is still very useful in our scenario as it can help alleviate wet spots, hold water on the ridges longer, accelerate soil building, aide tree planting and allow better infiltration of summer and autumn rains amongst other benefits.

Landform at ridgedale PERMACULTURE

Design following the pattern of the landscape, not imposing onto it.

Keyline subsoil pattern guide shown in purple, with adequate machine turning and permanent
fencing already marked in. Subsoiling and later tree strips will follow this geometry.

In some landscapes, where primary landscape components are present, establishing the plow pattern is based on following parallel to the Keyline up and down the valley, and on the ridges following the lowest contours parallel up the ridge. Combined, this creates a pattern that is off contour, save the Keyline, and leads downhill from valley center to ridge center. This can also be approximated by feel, which is more likely on smaller properties and when primary landscape features are not present, but still following the basic premise.

Basic topographic overview (not accurate
enough for planning here with 10m contour
intervals) describing the undulating
ridge/dale formation

Here in Sweden when the snow melts in the spring, farmers are mostly concerned with drainage of their landscape. A lot of resources and capital are spent to this end, and yet this summer we had almost no rain for several months and the pastures suffered. Building carbon in the soil is the cheapest way to store water, with 1 particle of humus able to hold on average 4 parts water. Our focus is on building deeper living soils that can deal with the excess water, plus retain it for the dry summer period. Integrated perennial crop strips (see first image) throughout the pasture on the Keyline layout will also help with excess water along with a whole heap of other benefits, such as microclimate, forage, cropping and nutrient cycling. We are designing to deal with the core problem, not address symptoms. Ultimately designing for resiliency is going to be cheaper, organic by default and requires an increase in production! Combined with holistically managed grazing this degraded farm is in for total transformation.

We also have heavy compaction — not great for our pasture, and certainly not good for planting trees directly into. This land was once known for its apples, and our neighbor can remember a lot of apples here 50 years ago. The soil is also thin here in places, down to 15cm. The neighbor asked why I would want to pull a subsoil plow through below the topsoil into the “dead mineral” layers? Well, the reason is at least threefold. Firstly, the only difference between topsoil and subsoil is life, air and water. We can begin to address all that with a simple pass of the plow, and can accelerate our impact by applying compost teas, biofertilisers, etc. A regenerative agriculture could be defined as one that, at the very least, builds soil. All land-based production is founded upon growing soil, which remediates so many of our issues.

Secondly, we lift compaction, and one of the advantages of the Yeoman’s Plow over generic subsoilers is the effective explosive subsoil shattering that occurs up to 30cm from the point, due to the angle of the foot and the tip dynamics. We encourage deeper rooting to allow water to sink; and following this geometry to hold water on the ridges for longer. Timing is important here, and we will look at this when we get to soil.

Thirdly, we can make high quality tree beds for better establishment of our perennial tree and shrub crops. Long-lived and slow-growing organisms are valuable, and, just like children, a good start sets up the foundation for the rest of life! After subsoiling the fields we will power-harrow the tree strips as a basic weed disturbance, then deep rip the tree lanes, with a rotavator bed-former attached (two shanks spaced widely to accommodate staggered plantings). Whilst we will get a profusion of grasses coming back we will seed a diverse array of support plants for the intensive tree and shrub plantings (which will be spot mulched with woody material to help the soil food web begin shifting to a more optimal fungi:bacterial ratio.) This pattern cultivation will allow us to continue our soil development work in the pasture strips between the trees.

Ripped and mounded tree beds (Photo courtesy Darren J Doherty)

One very nice aspect of this property is the two perennial streams flowing through the site, which mean we will be able to have flowing, living water distributed anywhere on the farm without using electricity or oil to pump it. We do not have the option for earthen dams in the landscape that could cover all our water needs through gravity feed, but we can run a RAM pump to cover that, and I know where to find the best quality units going. More about water in the next post….

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Overheated Ducks? No Problem!

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The Problem is the Solution

The permaculture motto is turn the problem into a solution.  In this case a quadruple solution.

Lois M. in Oklahoma inherited several ducks this spring, and she’s worried that they won’t make it through the hot OK summer outdoors.  There are very few trees on the property, so there isn’t much shade – and it gets very dry during the summer.

So the original problem here is that there isn’t enough shade and water for the ducks.  That’s one problem. Now let’s apply permaculture to the problem.

A Permaculture Solution for Overheated Ducks

Ducks like water.  And they turn that water into fertilizer soup.  Well, vining melons and squash like water too – and they love fertilizer.

Ducks also like shade.  Well, vining melons and squash love the sun – and they have big leaves that make lots of shade wherever they’re planted.

If you plant vining melons and squash in an open field, bugs and slugs may be drawn to the plants and the moisture.  Well, ducks love to eat bugs and slugs.

And you love to eat melons and squash all summer long.

So, those Oklahoma ducks can be either one problem, or four solutions – depending on how you look at it.

The first principle of permaculture is observation: Getting to Know Your New Permaculture Site

You’ll Need a Trellis and an Enclosure

You may want to build a trellis to hold the vines, and an enclosure to hold the ducks.  Let us combine those two things.

There is a type of fencing called a cattle panel.  You can find many examples on the internet of these being formed into an arch and used to trellis vines.  Simply put a fence across the open ends, and you have an enclosure.

Place a water trough on each side, so that it can easily be emptied onto the roots of the vines each morning.  Let the ducks out to patrol for pests in the morning while you dump and refill their water troughs.  They will return to the troughs for water, and you can shut them in for the heat of the day.

Repeat this in the evening, shutting them in to protect from predators.

Another option is to build your duck enclosure under a grape trellis.  This was done a long time ago on this farm, but I can’t show it because a heavy winter snow collapsed the trellises – so it is a mess that I have to try to solve this year.  There were two trellises – a long narrow one around the perimeter of the garden for the ducks, and a high square one for the chickens.


Thanks to Qberry Farm for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We’re still getting the list of prizes lined up for the Spring 2016 Writing Contest. We awarded over $2,097 in prizes for the Fall Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

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Online Earth Day Summit – Register for Free

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Sustainable Solutions for Troubled Times

Wow, we’ve clearly got an ecological mess on our hands… global warming, species on the brink of extinction, polluted water supplies and more.

Yet, if we put the miraculous, collective power of our hearts and minds together, we CAN solve these problems.

Solutions DO exist and every day, more and more incredible people are rolling up their sleeves and finding creative ways to fix what we once feared unfixable.

Plus, we now have access to an abundance of cutting-edge technologies, effective community organizing platforms and revolutionary, life-giving ideas!

Join Me for the Earth Day Summit 2016

Join us to discover these solutions and more at Earth Day Summit 2016!  I will be one of the presenters, and I’d love for you to come show your support.  

Free Online Event
Earth Day Summit 2016
April 22, 2016

Earth Day Summit 2016

I’m honored to be among 20+ esteemed environmental leaders, innovators, activists, scientists and ecologists who are offering a renewed sense of hope, step-by-step solutions for local and global action – and restored reverence for Mother Earth.

Other experts who are taking part include Starhawk, Kenny Ausubel, Vicki Robin, Chief Phil Lane, Jr., David Crow, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and more.  They will share their visionary insights and inspired actions for a healthy, sustainable and thriving planet.

I hope you’ll participate in this special daylong gathering.

RSVP here for Earth Day Summit 2016 — at no charge!

What to Expect

During this inspiring event, you’ll discover:

  • Practical steps & innovative solutions for living in harmony with Mother Earth
  • Trusted resources & expert guidance for making sustainable life choices
  • A vibrant community of kindred spirits mobilizing globally to create a thriving planet
  • Ways to take action on local levels as well as national legislative action
  • The experience of activating global consciousness, weaving the world together
  • Engaging stories of those who are making a difference in the world, inspiring you to take action and create your own out-of-the-box solutions
  • Invaluable insights on grassroots organizing, citizen lobbying & community action

And much more!

With guidance from these leaders, you’re sure to come away from this global gathering deeply transformed — and part of the solution!

Join me and the other extraordinary panel of presenters for a FULL DAY of hope, inspiration, actions and discover your next step for personal and planetary transformation.

RSVP here for Earth Day Summit 2016 — at no charge.

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Nature Is an EXTREME Composter – You Can Be Too!

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Learning from Nature

I admit it: I get a kick out of shaking things up. For years I listened to the rules on composting… then I shrugged, threw away the rule book, and decided to watch what happened in nature and copy the design I found there.

Basically everything organic can be returned to the soil. Paper, sewage, logs, animal carcasses, chicken soup… you name it.

And isn’t it much better to return these items to the soil than it is to dump them in a landfill? It’s a no-brainer!

In 2015, my years of experimentation and the knowledge I have gained were distilled down into the book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting. The response was excellent, and the sales still continue to amaze me. It is transforming the way gardeners think about composting. Just throwing things away isn’t good enough anymore.


Unlearning the “Rules”

When I wrote the book I had no idea so many people would be willing to come along for the ride. It’s thrilling.

For years, we’ve been told not to compost meat… and then we’re told to use blood meal as a great organic source of nitrogen for our gardens.

We’re told to turn our compost piles regularly… but when we walk through the woods the leaves have created rich humus everywhere, no turning required.

We’re warned that human waste is incredibly dangerous… but every other creature on the planet fails to use a flush toilet with no ill effect.

People love recycling because it’s easy and feels like a good deed… yet those same people will often throw away a banana peel or a ham bone because composting is “too hard.”

It’s not hard when you do it like nature does. Composting is recycling “trash” into soil — and we should all be doing it.

Extreme Composting

Some of the ideas in Compost Everything are certainly extreme compared to the nice, safe restrictions foisted on us by well-meaning agricultural extensions and fuddy-duddy garden writers, yet nature itself is an EXTREME composter!

Why not see what she does and do the same?

Though I couldn’t cover all the methods I explain in my book for the safe and simple recycling of even the most “extreme” items, I did manage to pack a lot of exciting and practical composting demonstrations into the movie I created for the 2016 Home Grown Food Summit. My talk is going live in just a couple of days—I hope you’re signed up! If not, sign up here Now!

Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it yet:

See you all there. It’s been a great event so far… don’t miss another minute!


Permaculture Paradise: Tour of Val and Eli’s Garden!

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Val and Eli take us on a tour of their magical permagarden in Jacksonville FL. They have created a wonderful, natural space filled with self-sustaining fruits, vegetables, herbs, medicines, colors, water, fragrances, and wildlife.

This is the very best fast food!

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Permaculture Paradise: Tour of Alex’s Permagarden

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Alex Ojeda in Jacksonville, Florida, gives us a tour of the techniques, philosophies, and plantings in his back yard permaculture garden.

“The thing that makes permaculture so amazing to me is that it’s sort of an encyclopedia heading of everything that all of our indigenous ancestors ever learned, updated to be a little bit more focused and modern. We take what our ancestors learned and we try to use that in new and different ways and / or focus them by putting them all together. Focus them on one piece of property, to, and this is important, to holistically manage a piece of property.”

Tour: Part 2

“The point of permaculture is not to dig or till or anything like that. You never do that except maybe when you first walk into a very compacted piece of property. And then what we want to do is dig it up, loosen it up and infuse it with some kind of organic material. Now you have to have a proper balance of minerals in order for the subterranean life to get a foothold and turn that into really amazing life-giving vibrant soil.”

Tour: Part 3

“I believe that using permaculture design sciences, the understanding of how we interact and how we hook into the natural systems of the earth, that we can live with all the same luxuries that we have, with an abundance, with more than we have today, freer than we have today, and I do believe we can do that while also returning the earth to a healthier state than when we began.

Permaculture to me is how I can have more following nature’s rules with less work on my own part and without me having to figure out every little aspect and detail of what makes it works, because nature already has that plan figured out for us. It’s just a matter of understanding it and playing by the rules.”

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Sustainable Apple Trees – Self-watering and Self-fertilizing

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The Tarahumara Apple Tree Growing System

Do you hate dragging hoses around the yard? Are you tired of lugging compost around in bags, buckets, and wheelbarrows? Check out this super simple system that is used by the Tarahumara Indians to grow wonderful and delicious apples with almost no work!

The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon are known around the world for their exceptional health and their outstanding running abilities. The region where the Tarahumara live has been labeled as a “cold spot” because of the very low occurrence of modern chronic diseases, including diabetes. In talking with the Tarahumara, Marjory found that they largely attribute their health and athleticism to the fact that they grow almost all of their own food.

Marjory kept a journal of her entire trip to Mexico and she’s sharing the story here. You can see lots of beautiful photographs, and read all about the Tarahumara way of life, including how they grow their own food and medicine, in her story Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians.


A Perennial Food Guild for the Arid American Southwest

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Edible Permaculture Plants You Can Grow in Arid Regions

If you live in an arid region, at some point you have probably felt envy when looking at pictures of food forests from other climates. You see countless varieties of plump fruits as far as the eye can see, with beautiful flowers, herbs, and annual vegetables growing from every nook and cranny.

It doesn’t seem fair. The idea that you could just go out and plant apples, blueberries, and strawberries in the middle of your yard is laughable. You might pull it off, but it will be a full-time job and your water bill will go through the roof. Many of us just shrug and say, “Well, you can’t do that here.” And that’s partially true – you can’t easily grow blueberries in your yard in Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona. But if you are willing to open your mind to wolfberries and other lesser-known plants, you can grow an edible guild just as useful, and beautiful, as those you see in wetter climates. There are some great perennial edibles that are well suited to the high temperatures and dry conditions of the southwest. They may not be as glamorous or as well-known as the fruits that you see in pictures from Florida or Oregon, but there are some good candidates that deserve a place in a perennial desert food guild.

In the list that follows, I have omitted many more desirable edibles – like citrus, stone fruits, and blackberries – that might fare well on your property, depending on the amount of water and shade that you have available. For the moment, we’re going to focus on native and well-adapted edibles that can survive harsh summer conditions with little supplemental water, and that also enable function stacking in tough spots.

The Maligned Mesquite Tree

Frequently regarded as a “trash tree,” the mesquite is perhaps the most important plant in this list. Infamously long thorns make it unwelcome in many yards and gardens, but it provides several valuable services to the soil and its neighbors, and it has many practical uses for the permaculturist.


Spring mesquite blooms

Mesquite is renowned for its status as a pioneer plant. In dry, poor soil, mesquite is often the first sizable plant to repopulate clear cut or overgrazed dry land. And its presence is sorely needed. As a legume, mesquite is a nitrogen fixer. There is an old saying in Texas, known to be true by ranchers and cattle alike, that during times of prolonged drought, the last green grass will be found underneath the mesquite trees. The free nitrogen around mesquites is only part of the reason why this grass is still green. Thousands of tiny deciduous leaves make the shade cast by mesquite trees much like that of a commercial shade cloth. It casts a light, evenly distributed shade that protects the ground underneath from intense sunlight, while allowing enough light through to sustain most sun-loving plants. Each autumn, the tree sheds its tiny leaves, allowing winter sun through and blanketing the surrounding ground with a speedy layer of natural compost. These factors make mesquite an ideal nursery tree for establishing edible perennials in arid environments.

With a little work to collect and process its beans, mesquite can also be a valuable source of food. By some accounts, mesquite beans were the single most important food for the Native Americans of the Sonora Desert; more important than any grain, including corn. These beans are a great source of plant-based protein. Gruel made from ground mesquite beans sustained desert tribes through the winter, in between harvests of cultivated crops. In addition to gruel, mesquite flour was used in broth, gravy, pudding, bread, and even a slightly alcoholic punch (1). Today, adventurous home brewers and distillers are rediscovering the potential of the sugar-laden mesquite bean for fermentation in wine, beer, and liquor.

Mesquite can also provide a nice supplemental income stream for those with enough land to grow it as a production crop. Mesquite wood fetches a high price for its use in cooking meats. It can also be sold as a raw material for furniture, flooring, and various crafted and carved wood products. Any wood that cannot be sold is useful at home as firewood, fence posts, tool handles, and mulch. Beans that are not used make great fodder for cattle and other livestock.

If the pesky thorns are a deal breaker for you, one good alternative to mesquite is the leucaena (lew-SEE-nuh; Leucaena leucocephala). This tropical import fixes more nitrogen than mesquite, but its seeds must be cooked before being eaten, and are poisonous to some animals. There is a wealth of information available on mesquite, leucaena and other desert legumes from The University of Arizona’s Desert Legume Program (2).

Using Wolfberry in the Perennial Food Garden

Wolfberry is a native shrub that grows naturally throughout the United States. There are many edible varieties of wolfberry, a few of which do well in the arid southwest. Our native wolfberries are close relatives of the Asian goji berry, which is famed as a “superfood” for its nutritional density and high concentration of antioxidants.


Wolfberries closeup (By Paul144. Own work. Public Domain, via Wikipedia Commons)

Torrey’s wolfberry (Lycium torreyi) is a native species that grows naturally among mesquite trees in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It grows in dense thickets, regularly reaching 6 feet in height, occasionally growing up to 12 feet. It grows well in poor, dry soils, and benefits from the presence of the mesquite. In addition to providing a nutritional boost in your diet, the berries are favored by birds and the bush provides habitat for birds and small creatures.

Agarita for the Arid Food Guild

Filling in underneath the mesquite in our desert food guild is the agarita (Mahonia trifoliata). This wonderful shrub is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It regularly grows to 6 feet, and can reach 8 feet in good conditions. Agarita is evergreen, and its holly-like leaves are tipped with sharp spines. Agarita is a true survivor, able to withstand punishing summer heat with minimal water. It grows wild in full sun to partial shade, and it thrives along edges, often flourishing naturally under the canopy of mesquite trees.


Agarita leaves closeup (By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons)

The sweet and tart berries of the agarita are edible for humans and wildlife. These berries earned it another common name, the wild currant. The berries can be eaten raw, but they are most commonly used to make jelly and pies (3). In a crunch, the berry’s seeds can be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute.

Agarita is especially effective for drawing wildlife in to the guild. Birds and mammals relish the sweet berries. Bees are drawn to its fragrant yellow flowers, and many beekeepers use agarita as an early season honey plant.

Rounding out its usefulness in this guild, the roots of harvested agarita can be used to make a yellow dye which was popular with Native Americans and early settlers. Agarita also has many medicinal qualities. The berries are useful for making a tea to treat mouth sores and sore throats. The flowers can be used to prevent infection in fresh wounds. The root is used as a laxative, a fever reducer, and an eye wash (4).

Prickly Pears as a Perennial Food Source

Prickly pears are cacti in the genus Opuntia, easily identifiable by their flat, oval-shaped pads (cladodes). The USDA classifies at least 71 species in the US, and many more exist in Central and South America. Prickly pears are known to hybridize in nature, making identification notoriously difficult. The pads and fruit of all opuntia are edible. The most common culinary variety is the Opuntia ficus-indica – the Indian fig. Like most prickly pears, the growing requirements for the Indian fig are simple. It makes due with very little water, in any well-drained soil. This plant spreads so readily in dry conditions that it is has naturalized around the world and is considered invasive in parts of the Mediterranean, Africa, and Australia. It needs plenty of sunlight, but fares just fine in along the outer edges of a mesquite canopy.

The pads and the fruit are edible, though care must be taken to ensure that none of the spines are eaten. Spineless varieties are available to make preparation easier. These varieties are “spineless” in the same sense that seedless watermelons are “seedless.” The spines are fewer and smaller, but the plant must be prepared carefully to ensure that no spines are ingested. In Mexican cuisine, the pads – or nopales – are often diced or cut into long slices, and prepared fresh as a salad called nopalitos. The dietary fiber of opuntia pads is reputed to be especially beneficial, and is widely marketed as a health supplement. After the cactus flowers, sweet fruits are left behind, called tunas. The tunas turn red as they ripen, and when ripe are a sweet treat that can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, or used in any number of deserts, candies, and drinks. There are countless recipes and variations for the pads and the fruits – too many to list here.


Ripe prickly pear fruits

Prickly pears are increasingly grown as a fodder crop for cattle and other livestock. They require much less water per kilogram of dry fodder than most other fodder plants. Luther Burbank selected nutritious, spineless opuntias for this purpose – and descendants of his selections are used widely today as drought-resistant fodder sources in South Africa and Namibia (5).

Ripe opuntia tunas can be juiced to make a red dye or fermented to make a tan color. Opuntia also boast many medicinal uses. The flowers of Indian fig are used as an astringent, a diuretic, and to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The pads are used as an anti-inflammatory and as an anti-infective agent (6).

The Edible Common Mallow

Everything you need to know about the growing conditions for this perennial food source is revealed by its botanical name, Malva neglecta. Common mallow grows naturally throughout the US without supplemental water or care, including in the arid southwest.

Common mallow doesn’t taste like much, but its leaves are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. The young leaves, flowers, green fruits (called peas), and ripened seeds are edible. Tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, and mallow is often dried and added to smoothies for its nutritional value.


“Malva-neglecta-20070428” by Luis Fernández García – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 es via Wikimedia Commons

The mucilage from its peas is used as a thickening agent for soups, stews, gumbo, and confections including whipped cream, meringue, and marshmallows (7). Mallow is also good fodder for your livestock. As a medicinal, mallow is useful as an antibacterial, an anti-inflammatory, an astringent, a diuretic, an expectorant, and a laxative (8).

Purslane as an Edible Groundcover in the Desert Food Forest

As a groundcover, no edible is better suited to the intense heat of southwestern summers than purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This small succulent grows throughout the US as an annual, but some species can overwinter in warmer climates.


Purslane, an edible ground cover

Purslane packs high levels of vitamin C, enzymes, and omega-3 fatty acids, and it can be stored for months after harvesting by fermentation. One cup of purslane can contain 400 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, more than fish and far safer to eat. A study at the University of Texas at San Antonio found purslane to contain 10 to 20 times more of the antioxidant melatonin than any other fruit or vegetable their lab tested (8). Add to this the fact that purslane will grow on its own in dry climates in full sun to part shade, with no special care, and you have the perfect edible groundcover. In addition to providing a zesty addition in your fresh salads, purslane makes great fodder for chickens and larger livestock.

Choose Your Own Adventure

These plants are a framework for a perennial food guild in the arid southwest. Be creative, and look around your area for other useful and edible plants that can thrive in hot, dry conditions. You might consider using mullein, yuccas, and grapevines to diversify the guild and to add beauty to its appearance.

Even these tough native and well-adapted plants require a little care to get through the punishing summer season, especially during extended periods of drought. You can keep additional watering to a minimum by harvesting as much rainwater as possible, using effective earthworks like berms and swales, mulching well, and making use of household greywater. Methods like hugelkultur and sunken beds can also help you to stretch your water budget.

Just keep an eye on your plants, especially when they’re young, and give them a little extra water if they’re suffering. Depending on your conditions, you might be able to work in some thirstier plants that require more water than those listed above. And, as you build your soil, more and more plants will be likely to thrive underneath the mesquite tree that you used to anchor this desert guild. With some time, you just might build a desert food forest to rival any that you’ve seen in Florida or Oregon.

Reprinted with permission from Permaculture Design Magazine, Volume #99, Spring 2016


1. Niethammer, Carolyn. American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest. Lincoln: Bison Books, 1999. Print.
3. Harelik, Tiffany. The Big Bend Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of West Texas. Charleston: American Palate, 2014. Print.
4. Heatherley, Ana Nez. Healing Plants: A Medicinal Guide to Native North American Plants and Herbs. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 1998. Print.
5. Mondragón-Jacobo, Candelario and Pérez-González, Salvador. Cactus (Opuntia spp.) as Forage. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001. Print.
6. Khare, C.P. Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, LLC, 2007. Print.
7. Kallas, John. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2010. Print.
8. Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2014. Print.


Raise Chickens Easily and Naturally with These Free Videos

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Justin Rhodes is a permaculture homesteader in North Carolina who focuses his work on finding the best, most sustainable, most natural way to raise chickens. He studied under Geoff Lawton and Pat Foreman, and he soaked up every bit of chicken knowledge he could find.

Last year he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie about keeping chickens on a permaculture homestead – and it was a huge success. His project was fully funded, and it was picked as a “Staff Favorite” by the employees at Kickstarter. Justin’s full-length feature movie Permaculture Chickens made its public debut in December.

Now he’s offering a series of four educational videos for free, along with some great free bonus resources. You can watch these informative videos for free – they tell Justin’s personal story, and they’re full of good information about how to keep a flock of chickens using natural, sustainable practices that are consistent with the ideas of permaculture.


Here’s an overview of what’s included in the free videos:

• Putting Chickens to Work for You (hint, hint… they can give you much more than eggs and meat)
• How to Get Started Quickly and Easily (in just one weekend)
• DIY Mobile Chicken Coops
• How to Cut Your Feed Costs (by 100%)
• How to Learn Everything You Need to Know About Raising Chickens in One Evening

And here’s an overview of the free Bonus Resources that are included when you sign up for the free videos:

• Why Chickens – a micro-documentary featuring Joel Salatin, Pat Foreman, and Lisa Steele
• DIY mobile chicken coop plans for Justin’s “Chickshaw” and Chicken Tractor
• Access to the “Getting Started” chapter of the movie Permaculture Chickens
• PDF action plan for cutting feed costs 100%

You can sign up to get free access to Justin’s four free videos below. When you sign up, you will receive an email with a link to watch the first video. Then you’ll get links to the other videos over the next few days. Enjoy the free videos!

Click Here to Sign Up for Four Free Videos (and Bonus Resources)

After you watch the four free videos, you’ll have the opportunity to buy the entire Permaculture Chickens video. As Justin’s affiliate, the Grow Network will receive a percentage of any sales made as a result of this promotion.


Creating a Food Forest – A Step by Step Guide

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One of my earliest memories of visiting my grandparents’ farm was playing on the dry stone wall, tossing stones around and just generally fooling around.

Then, looking down, I came across a small seedling sticking out the side of the wall, growing in nothing, with barely any soil between the stones.

Out of childish curiosity more than anything I decided to set it free from the heavy stones and leave it to grow on its own. That was 20 years ago…

IMG_2303Today, that seedling is this strapping young fellow on the image left – European Ash tree.

He has survived the droughts, heavy snows, pouring rains and sub-zero temperatures all by himself, without anyone taking care of him.

As I sit under his shadow today and plan my food forest I’m curious to find out how trees flourish without human intervention.

How come wild apples, plums and cherries from the nearby forest do so well while the cherry tree I planted in my orchard five years ago has died miserably? To understand this I needed to return to the place where the seed of this Mountain Ash tree came from and revisit my teacher – the forest itself.

Forests are our teachers

Just by my house, some 50m away is an entrance to a forest. I visit there often, it makes me feel relaxed, I enjoy the serene sounds of nature, the falling leaves, birds and other critters. Most importantly, I go there to observe and learn.

You see, given enough time every ecosystem ends up like a forest. This is the end point of an ecological succession; a point where the ecosystem becomes stable or self-perpetuating as a climax community and, without any major disturbances, the forest will endure indefinitely.

This is exactly what you want your own food forest to be like. To achieve a low maintenance abundance of fruit, nuts, berries and herbs you’ll want to create a forest-like system where fertility comes from various sources, where you’re greatly aided by fungi, where wildlife is your primary pest control, where soil holds water like a sponge, and where you have a high diversity of plants.

You want a carefully designed and maintained ecosystem of useful plants and emulate conditions found in the forest.

However, the problem is often that you’ll find yourself starting out with a bare field, a blank canvas and the overall plan can feel a little overwhelming. Sometimes even reading books such as Edible Forest Gardens can make things harder rather than easier.

While creating my own food forest, I broke down the plan into smaller, manageable steps. I want to make as few mistakes as possible and to be honest, I don’t have time to make them. 

Right, let’s dive in and see how this process can help you go from that bare field to a fully-functioning ecosystem inspired by forests. 

Note: I’ll be giving away a free PDF with ‘Five Temperate Climate Guild Examples’(Apple, Walnut, Peach, Medlar and Oak) and a free Site survey checklist’ in the article. Be sure to check them out. 

1. What do you want from your food forest?

First you have to be clear about the ultimate goals of your project.

Why is this important?

You see, with a clear goal, everything becomes easier, you know where best to place your efforts and, most importantly, what are the priorities, what to focus on and what to postpone for the time being.

You have to think are you doing this because of: 1. being more self-reliant, 2. making an income, 3. producing healthy food 4. educating others 5. having a fun project for all the family

As you can see, each of these will require different considerations for your precious time and money.

Don’t overdo it at the outset, but just be clear what you want from the beginning.

2.  Explore, Sit Quietly and Observe, Analyse

Entrance to my nearby forest. My source of inspiration and many seeds & cuttings.
  • Explore your local forest so you’ll have an idea what will grow best in your area

Start with taking casual walks in your local forest. When designing a food forest you want to learn from the local ecosystem and try to emulate it. This is why such observations are important, this is how you discover what plants will grow best in our area.

For example, when I walked in my forest I saw elderberries, hazels, hawthorns, lindens, cherries, apples, junipers, and the list goes on. So, guess what I’ll be growing in my food forest? I’ll be also taking seeds from those naturalised species and using them as rootstock for my plants.

  • Sit quietly and observe your site

Next, sit at the future site of your food forest, no matter if it’s 5 or 50 min, just sit there quietly. Brew yourself some coffee or tea and just be mindful of what is happening around you. No specific agenda here, just immerse yourself and study the wildlife, feel the breeze, listen to the sounds of the natural world around you. You can learn a great deal simply by sitting quietly.

However, I must admit this comes hard for me. I like to work and there is so much to be done, yet these moments of mindfulness help put things into perspective and reveal a wealth of important information about the site itself.

  • Do a site survey and make a basic map

It’s time to put your permaculturist explorers’ hat and take notes about your site. Note everything about the water situation, climate, soil, slope, aspect, wildlife… Do some lab tests on your soil and also experiment with some basic tests yourself. For example, I dug holes throughout my site and then poured water into them just to check how porous my soil is. Simple stuff like that. Help yourself and download my checklist below.
Download my free site survey checklist HERE! 

Based on the information you’ve collected, make a rudimentary hand-drawn map or use Google Earth as a base layer and annotate the printout with your notes. From the map it should be visible where the site potentials lay, and what you’ll need to design for.

3. Design – Create a layout and choose the plants

Illustration from Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. Excellent reference when designing a food forest.
  • Choose a general layout – orchard, woodland, savannah

There are four basic layouts that determine the final look of the food forest: In their book, Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier suggest more options but I’ll round it down to the basics:

  1. Savanna type systems – alley cropping and silvopastoral system – examples:Mark Shepard/Grant Schultz
  2. Orchards – woodlands with regularly spaced trees – examples: Permaculture Orchard, David Holmgren
  3. Mid – to late succession woodland – this is what we are trying to emulate – examples: Robert Hart, Martin Crawford
  4. Closed canopy forest – end point of a succession – these are mature forests – example: “Your local forest”

Mid- to late succession woodlands offer the opportunity for the most varied, interesting, complex, and productive patterns of trees shrubs and herbs.

However, the woodlands we call orchards and agroforestry systems are better for commercial fruit, nut and herb production.

  • Start by outlaying your infrastructure first

Start your design with the scale of permanence in mind and plan your water, access and structures first. Good infrastructure design is essential in order to minimise maintenance, maximize productivity, and provide a habitat for beneficial animals.

This includes fences, patios, sheds, irrigation lines, water tanks, cold frames, greenhouses, water elements. It’s best to begin with these essentials, because they will be the most permanent elements of you food forest.

  • Make a list master list of plants you wish to grow

Make a master list of plants – your desired species and others necessary to fulfil a certain purpose in your food forest. Think about ecological functions needed throughout the garden such as food production, the gathering and retention of specific nutrients, beneficial insect nectar plants, and ground cover for weed control.

If there is a desired species that simply won’t work on your site, you can always find an ecological equivalent, an ecologically similar species that fills a similar community niche in comparable habitats. Be sure to also include existing species on your site, if any, and native and naturalised species you found in the forest.

  • Create guilds from your master list of plants

This is the very core of forest gardening. You want to create effective polycultures that share the resources and mutually support themselves. But how can you choose the right combination of plants? Here are just a few of the recommendations from Edible Forest Gardens.

You can do your guild build based on what you know or guess about plants, their species niche, and how they interact. In this way you can also create novel plant combinations thorough your experiments.

You can create a random mixture. A lot of people will just select a group of interesting plants and throw them together and see what happens. However, while it is sporadically ok to do so to spice things up, if the whole garden is like this, it will probably result in failure.

You can also try to emulate a habitat and use a model ecosystem as a template for design, incorporating species directly from the model habitat. This model habitat could be your local forest.

If you’re not sure where to start, Download my free PDF with 5 Temperate Climate Guild examples you can recreate in your food forest.

  • Do a patch design – define your planting areas and plant spacing

Design your patches one by one, a patch could be a row, a contour or a grouping of plants in one area. In the patch design the most important aspect is to find the planting distance. You can do this by using the ‘crown touching rule’ and placing the individual trees a crown’s diameter apart.

Usually, the biggest mistake people make is overly-dense spacing where tree crowns are interlocking. This is OK when you’re planting a screen or hedge, but otherwise this will put stress on the plants and limit their growth.

In his book, Creating Forest Gardens, Martin Crawford recommends adding 30-50% more distance around each woody plant if you want more sunlight for understory plants. Also, you want to plant wider than ‘crown touching’ distance when soil conditions are limiting, in order to reduce competition between plants for limited resources.

4. Prepare the site

Improving the soil on my site one patch at a time. Hugel swale with red clover/perennial rye cover crops.
Improving the soil on my site one patch at a time. Hugel swale seeded with mixture of red clover/perennial rye cover crop.
  • Adapt your site if necessary

If you’re not starting from scratch with a bare field, the chances are there is something already growing there and you’ll need to adapt your site accordingly. This means clearing unwanted vegetation and leaving whatever you find useful. You can use anyavailable biomass for mulch, compost, wood chips, firewood, mushroom inoculation….

For example, I will be leaving some naturalised plums and using a wood chipper to create some mulch from the trees and branches I don’t need, plus I’ll be using the wood for my hugel beds.

  • Shape the earth to your advantage and optimize water retention

After you cleared the vegetation you can start the earthwork for optimizing water retention on your site. This includes digging swales, ponds, berms and dams, ploughing for keyline, anything you can effectively do to slow, sink and spread the available rainfall.

I think one question on everybody’s mind is whether or not to swale it. For assistance, I would encourage you to look at this cheat sheet by Ben Falk if you’re in two minds about doing swales on your site.

  • Set up infrastructure and put down irrigation, pathways and fencing

Following the earthworks, begin with the most difficult, important or permanent elements of the food forest.

Start putting down pathways throughout your site because you’ll want to minimise compaction in the areas you’ll be planting. Fencing the site is the next important thing, you don’t want those deer, coyotes, kangaroos, sheep or rabbits nibbling on your seedlings.

If necessary put down irrigation and install water tanks, you simply can’t overdo it when it comes to making sure there is enough water during the months of drought.

  • Build up your soil and improve the soil structure

Ideally, food forest soils contain a fungal presence ten times higher than that of bacteria. So you should aim to recreate those conditions.

In the beginning, you’ll be probably starting out from a bare field and you want to continually nudge your soil towards fungi domination. You can do this by inoculating the soil with fungi or cover cropping with green manure crops – Michael from the Holistic Orchard recommends red or crimson clover in preference as these two nitrogen-fixing legumes have a stronger affinity for mycorrhizal fungi. Finally, you want to spread woody mulch everywhere to feed the fungi in the soil.

For more info about improving the soil in your food forest read my Definitive Guide to Building Deep Rich Soils by Imitating Nature.

5. Source the plants and start planting

Here I'm taking some Juniperus communis cuttings in my local forest. Sourcing plants the cheap way.
Here I’m taking some Juniperus communis cuttings in my local forest. I’m sourcing plants the cheap way.
  • Start a nursery or buy plants – your choice

Now, when all the preparation work is complete you can start planting.  You basically have two options depending on the budget: grow your own trees or acquire young ones.

If you’re on a tight budget I would suggest growing most of your trees yourself. You can read my post on ‘How to set up a Small Permaculture Nursery and Grow 1000s of Trees by yourself’ and start your nursery today.

Another option is to buy young trees from nurseries. However, the trees will be more expensive, already grafted trees and probably already one or two years old. Nonetheless, this way you can get an instant orchard without the hassle of growing your own.

  • Phase your project and plant in stages

Planting a food forest can take place in stages or all at once. However, you’re unlikely to do it all in one go and that’s why I will outline how to plant in stages. This normally involves planting hedges and/or canopy trees in the first year or two, then later shrubs and a ground cover layer. Here is a recommendation from Martin Crawford’s Creating a forest Garden book:

Windbreak/hedges and edges>>Canopy layer including N fixers>>Shrub layer including N fixers>>Perennial/ground cover layer>>annuals, biennial and climbers. However, in the beginning there will be a lot of light and space available, so you can use this for your annual veggie production.

  • Finally put your plants in the ground

I won’t go into detail on how you should be planting, for step-by-step details watch the Permaculture Orchard documentary where Stephan explains how to plant a tree in great details.

In short, just make sure you dig a large enough planting hole, spread the roots and sprinkle in mycorrhizal inoculant or dip the roots in a mycorrhizal root dip if required, then refill the hole with the soil you took out.

In almost every instance you should use sheet mulch after planting to control the weeds. Unless the soil is very poor do not add extra materials to it.


Creating a food forest is a multi-stage process and you don’t have to go through all the steps outlined above in the exact order. The idea behind this post is to give you a framework for planning and planting your first trees. Aftercare and maintenance will be a subject for another post.

There are four main books I would recommend if you’re serious about starting a food forest: Edible Forest Gardens, Creating a Forest Garden, Holistic Orchard and Teaming with Microbes – there is plenty of invaluable advice to be found in each.

So, where are you in the whole process of creating a food forest?

Let me know in the comments section below or send me an email

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Published first on Permaculture Apprentice

The post Creating a Food Forest – A Step by Step Guide appeared first on Walden Labs.

The Secret to a Long and Happy Life is in the Garden

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Dan Buettner wanted to find the secret of longevity. He traveled the world over, meeting and interviewing the world’s centenarians (people over 100) to learn the secret from those who could speak from experience. But when he pressed them for an answer most of them could not really say. One of them said with a shrug, “We just forget to die.” Too busy living to worry about dying.

These centenarians never thought of retiring. For some of them it was literally never a thought that crossed their mind. They didn’t even have a word for retirement. They were still herding sheep, milking goats, or tending their gardens. They all ate lots of vegetables, and most of them grew their own.

In the U.S., we have a fascination with youth and a fear of aging. These feelings are are not shared in some other cultures. Of a village in Sardinia, Italy, Buettner says, “On tavern walls, instead of posters of bikinied women or fast cars, you’d see calendars featuring the ‘Centenarian of the month.’”

Buettner says, “None of the 253 spry centenarians I’ve met went on a diet, joined a gym or took supplements.”

How is it that these people are still dancing when most people their age have returned to dust? Buettner put together a team to help him collect the data and facts as well as engage in personal visits so they could actually get to know these amazing people and translate what they learned into information that we can all use to keep us dancing right up to the moment the music stops.

Dan Buettner’s Recommendations for Longevity

After working on this project for seven years, Buettner boiled it down to the following recommendations:

1. Make exercise a part of your lifestyle rather than just doing exercise for its own sake.
2. Stop eating when you feel 80% full, because the feeling of fullness is delayed by 20 minutes.
3. Eat mainly plants.
4. Drink a little red wine daily — with moderation of course.
5. Have a goal in life — a reason to get up in the morning.
6. Slow down and have strategies for relieving stress.
7. Be part of a spiritual community.
8. Make your family members top priority.
9. Choose friends who encourage these positive values.

You can read the whole story in his book, The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

I am pleased to note that most, if not all, of these recommendations can be answered in the garden. We have healthy exercise, plenty of fresh vegetables, a reason to get up in the morning, and a place to forget stress for sure. Some things in the list might be answered indirectly – like growing red grapes to make wine, and having gatherings and family picnics in the garden.

Let’s take a closer look at the different recommendations and how you can fulfill them in your own garden:

Recommendation #1 – Exercise
Working in the garden is certainly exercise, but your choice of tools will make a big difference in how effective and enjoyable it is.

I have lately discovered the Meadow Creature broadfork. It’s an excellent tool for breaking up new ground and loosening the subsoil to make it retain more water. It’s perfect for exercise because you keep your back straight and use both arms and legs equally. You just step on the cross bar, sinking the tines into the ground, then lean back to cut through the soil. It loosens soil without turning it over. If the ground is very hard, keep it shallow on the first pass and then repeat until you get the tines all the way in — 12 to 16 inches, depending on which model you use. I feel such a sense of well-being after working with my broadfork that I wonder if I might be getting the grounding benefit called “earthing.” Even though I’m wearing shoes, my hands are on the metal handles and the tines are deep in the ground. Anybody out there have any ideas about that?

My broadfork obeys me perfectly, so it’s safe to use up close to plants, as long as I pay attention to what I’m doing. Not so with a rototiller, which I think has a mind of its own, and a cantankerous one at that. The broadfork is also quiet, undemanding, and maintenance free. Another favorite garden tool is the garden claw which also lets you keep your back straight while working. It has six tines in a square position at the bottom. You push down and twist. No more back-breaking work with these two tools.

Recommendation #2 – The 80% Rule — Stop Eating Before You Reach Full Capacity
Well, I’m afraid this one isn’t easier if you garden. It might actually be harder to stop eating, because your food all tastes so good. But then, you aren’t consuming empty calories, so I wouldn’t worry as much about this one. Just eat slowly, and stop before you’re full.

Recommendation #3 – Eat Mainly Plants
No problem! If you garden at home, there are plenty of fresh vegetables for the picking. And if you plan your garden well, you can keep the fresh harvest coming almost all year long in many areas.

Recommendation #4 – Drink a Little Red Wine
Most of us rely on the grocery store or another retailer to supply us with red wine. But if you’re an adventurous gardener, you could consider planting a grapevine along the edge of your garden. This would provide you fresh grapes to work with, and it might even provide some additional exercise if you crush the grapes traditionally – with your feet. However you get your red wine – always drink it in moderation.

Recommendation #5 – Have a Reason to Get Up in the Morning
There’s no place like the garden in the early morning. What an inspiring place to be! Avid gardeners are heavily invested in their gardens, and so they always have a reason to climb out of bed and go out to the garden to survey their progress, preen their plants, and plan for upcoming projects.

It’s true that a garden can become very unsightly and discouraging if bugs and weeds take over. So, always keep the size of your garden small enough to maintain it in good condition, and continue adding new seeds and plants so that you have constant, vigorous growth. Yes, let some of your plants go to seed for flowers and nectar for the good guys (pollinators and insect predators), but keep planting new things, too, so that the garden stays beautiful all season long.

Gardens can also be very expensive, especially if you opt to purchase soil, fertilizers, and pest sprays. One way to keep costs under control is to learn the principles of permaculture. Permaculture seeks to mimic nature and always tries to minimize external inputs (like store-bought soil). The word “permaculture” (combining “permanent” and “culture”) and the basic principles behind it have been around since the 1970s, but some of the concepts are quite ancient.

a-guild-of-lettuce-radishes-and-beetsOne of the ideas in permaculture is to create groupings of plants that aid and protect one another. These plant groupings are referred to as guilds. And emphasis is placed on using plants that attract pollinators and other “good guy” insect predators. The “three sisters” is a great example of a guild, invented by Native Americans. They planted corn, beans, and squash near each other. The corn stalks act as a trellis for the beans. The bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil. And the squash plant acts as a mulch, shading the ground and keeping the soil moist.

When you plant large groups of the same thing, you make it easy for the nibbling insects that eat in your garden. Instead of having to forage for food, they get to shop at the supermarket. If we take a cue from nature, and plant a variety of different plants together, we have a better chance to outsmart those pests.

a-guild-of-lettuce-beets-and-radishesI have not tried the “three sisters” yet, but I have learned that beets, radishes, and lettuce work well together. You do need to give a little extra attention to the beets, to make sure the other plants don’t overwhelm them. Here the radish has shaded the lettuce, and some bugs have eaten the radish leaves instead of eating the lettuce. This worked out great for me, since I wasn’t planning to eat the radish leaves anyway.

One experiment I did was to stop spraying for insects because spraying kills the good guys, too. This summer, when I was watering and something jumped out of the foliage, it was often a small frog or toad rather than a grasshopper or cricket. You don’t eliminate all the pests, and believe it or not, you don’t want to. If all of the pests disappear, there won’t be any food left for the good guys, and they will disappear too. I must confess, though, that the cabbage caterpillar was just too much and I had to resort to using Dipel. I don’t mind so much when insects stop by for a snack, but when they move right in to stay and leave garbage behind, I just can’t help myself.

open-pollinated-grape-tomatoesThis year I was excited to have an “open pollinated grape tomato” (that’s the only name I have) come up prolifically. I did nothing for them except grow them last year. This year I didn’t plant, water, fertilize, or spray for disease or bugs. I didn’t even pull weeds or keep the tomatoes picked. The plants came up through the weeds and grass, grew up over the top of the the weeds or climbed on anything available, without being tied. Other tomatoes had a hard time this year – it was too wet, then too dry, and the bugs were bad. But there was no problem at all for those little grape tomatoes. I could pick what I wanted, whenever I wanted, all summer long. And they kept right on growing until the first frost. They are bite-sized with superb flavor, perfect for salads and snacking. I would love to hear if anyone else has a favorite garden plant that takes care of itself like this. The picture here was taken in November, so the tomatoes had slowed down quite a bit. But you can see how they still held their own above the weeds and grass.

Recommendation #6 – Slow Down and De-Stress
Gardening is a great stress-reliever for gardeners of all ages. For many of us, the garden is a place we go to unwind and bond with nature. If you have a garden in your yard, you always have a place nearby to regroup and collect your thoughts when life gets difficult and stressful.

If you’re already feeling tranquil, just go out and smell the flowers. Want to punch somebody? Attack the weeds instead. This works better than a punching bag, you will love the results, and there are no regrets!

Walking barefoot on bare earth or grass also helps to reduce stress. We actually do run on electricity, and we benefit greatly from grounding. This is called “earthing.”

Recommendation #7 – Be Part of a Spiritual Community
Recommendation #8 – Make Family Members a Priority
Recommendation #9 – Choose Friends Who Encourage These Positive Values

Some people get a strong spiritual reward from gardening, and for others it’s all about the food. Some families garden together, while some gardeners have families that prefer to stay indoors. Some people garden alone, while others are active in local gardening clubs and community gardens.

What’s important here is to acknowledge that people need people. So, you might need to consider leaving your garden for these last three.

Community gardens are a great way that you can use your love of gardening to connect with others. Even if you already have your own garden at home, adopting a plot in a community garden will put you in touch with other like-minded people in your area. Local gardening groups and clubs are another great way to connect with others who share your love of gardening.

If your family and friends aren’t interested in gardening with you, leave your garden and meet them on their ground. You can always bring some of the wonderful flowers and food from your garden along, to share with your closest loved ones.

Gardening Your Way to a Long, Happy Life

I think the time has come to consider returning to some of the forgotten ways of our ancestors, which were just as effective, and often more efficient, than the way we do things now. Permaculture can be an exhaustive subject, but there are many new books available that translate the concepts into use for the home garden. This opens many vistas for continued learning and keeps our minds alert. Some of my favorite authors on the subject are Anna Hess, Toby Hemenway, and Christopher Shein.

Growing your own food gives you such a sense of satisfaction when you walk through the grocery store. The food there is bland and it lacks nutrition, but you notice the prices going up and up. Instead of wringing your hands and wondering how long you’ll be able to feed your family, you can feel wealthy – knowing that the most delicious, most nutritious food is already at home.

Go to your garden for health and long life. There you will find your medicines and your supplements. And these don’t need to be kept out of the reach of children. Instead of harmful side effects, they have wonderful, live-giving benefits.

sunflowers-in-bloomThe garden provides more than just fresh produce. There is an energy exchange — a symbiotic relationship between people and plants. It’s obvious when you think of the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, but there is so much more. We were meant to be in a garden. The beautiful sights, the pleasant fragrances, and the songs of birds have a calming, healing influence on us. We take care of the garden, and it takes care of us.

Life began in a garden and it still flourishes there. The bible tells us that even Jesus sought solace in the garden. He went there to commune with His Father, and to gain strength for His supreme hour of testing.

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than any place else on earth.

– Dorothy Frances Gurney


Alternative Strategies for a Disrupted Water Supply

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rainwater-collection-tanks-and-solar-panels-for-well-pumpMost all of us have gotten up one morning or another, turned on the faucet, and gotten a big, fat nothing coming out. It is annoying, but not usually a big deal because the water comes back on at some point, generally sooner rather than later. During times of extreme heat or extreme cold, many of us have had a nearby water main break, leaving us without water for eight hours or longer. But what if one day the water supply is interrupted for days, weeks, or even months? How would most of us manage without a steady supply of running water?

Everyone should keep enough bottled water on hand to meet drinking water needs for each person in their household if an emergency arises. But how much is enough? The minimum recommendations say that we should store at least one gallon of water per person and to keep a three day supply on hand at all times. If the climate is hot, water needs may be double that recommendation. This is just water for drinking – not for washing, flushing the toilet, watering the garden, or any livestock we may have.

Those folks who provide their own food by gardening intensively and raising livestock not only need to supply water for their families, they also need to plan on how to keep their plants and animals watered in the event of a disaster that disrupts the water supply for an extended amount of time. During the first day or two without running water, water can be found in places such as toilet tanks, water heaters, and swimming pools. But once these supplies are depleted, locating water will be an ongoing effort. In my area, if we are not in a drought, there may be a few places nearby where I can go to get water. But I cannot depend on those sources being available if and when I need them. And if these water sources are available, I certainly won’t be the only person needing the water who will be using them. I really do not want to have to fight another person to get water for myself and my household. I would much rather employ other means to get the water we will require.

Unless we plan ahead and get prepared beforehand, having enough water to take care of gardens and livestock in a lengthy water emergency is going to be very, very difficult. In some locations, it might actually be impossible.

With this in mind, here are some ideas you can get started on right away so that you will be prepared if problems do arise. And if the problem never happens, you will be using less water, conserving both resources and funds. The older my husband and I get, the more we have come to appreciate lowering our expenses as one of our tactics to live comfortably after retirement – and some of these ideas can help you lower your expenses too.

A Well with a Solar Powered Pump

Many folks living in rural areas are on well water, which is great because it is usually a reliable source of water – unless there is no electricity to operate the pump. In my research, I discovered that there are solar-powered well pumps which have been in use for around thirty years. Apparently, the availability of solar pumps is not common knowledge, even among people who have wells. I had a conversation with a well owner who told me that her family has a generator to run their well in case of a power outage. She was not aware that solar pumps even existed. If you are on a well, you may want to look into a solar powered pump now so that you have a measure of comfort in being able to access your water during an electric or water emergency. Owners of wells with solar pumps will be in a much better position than the rest of the population in a grid down situation because they will be able to provide water for their families, gardens, and animals. You may want to explore the option of digging a well and outfitting it with a solar pump as your first line of defense against a water emergency. This is the most costly option of all the strategies I found, but it’s also the option that offers the most reliable supply of water.

If you don’t have a well, then I recommend using the following four strategies listed below, either separately or together, to ensure that your plants and animals make it through a water interruption with the least amount of stress for them and you.

Simple Strategies to Keep the Water Flowing When Supply is Disrupted

An ancient way of collecting water is to construct a condensation trap. In ancient times, people dug a pit into which they placed some type of receptacle to catch water. They used branches angled down towards the receptacle to direct the dew and frost that gathered on the branches overnight into the catchment container. With the advent of plastic sheeting, we can now use plastic instead of branches for this purpose, which has the advantage of not allowing water to be misdirected as can happen with branches. This method of collecting water might help water some animals or a small garden but unless you have quite a few condensation traps set up, you are not going to get enough water. Detailed instructions for creating condensation traps are widely available on the internet.

Rainwater collection is something everyone can do, whether they have a nice set up with gutters feeding into a storage tank or not. If you don’t have tanks or a rain barrel, you can collect water in various receptacles such as clean trash cans with lids or a swimming pool with a cover. Keeping the collected water in a covered container prevents mosquitoes from using your water as a breeding ground, and prevents evaporation of your precious water supply. If you don’t have gutters on your home, you can still make use of channels in your roof that divert water into a stream off the rooftop and arrange containers underneath that area to catch the rainwater. My roofer added two diverters that direct water quite nicely off the front of my roof, which makes it possible to catch the water in large basins and buckets during a rainfall.

In addition to collecting rainwater in whatever way you are able to catch it, you may also wish to consider creating swales to catch and keep rainwater in your garden. Swales are water-harvesting ditches, but unlike drainage ditches that cut across the contour of the land to speed water along, swales are built “on contour” to slow water down and sink it into the earth. Swales built on contour collect water and help to recharge groundwater tables, and they help to control erosion as well. You don’t need any special equipment to build a swale – all you need is a shovel, a pick, some stakes, and some muscle. There are many instructional videos on the internet that demonstrate how to layout and dig swales. Large swales have become very popular in many communities to direct and retain the flow of water. In a water emergency, neighborhood swales might be a place where you could obtain water for your garden and animals. Of course, this is something that you would need to build ahead of time, before the water supply is actually disrupted.

And finally, learning the principles of dryland farming will help every gardener use the least amount of water necessary and keep the moisture in the soil longer, which means less water will be needed. Using the least amount of water possible is very useful in a watering emergency. Tim Miller of Millberg Farms in Kyle, Texas is well-known in central Texas for his dryland farming. An article on Texas Young Farmers website shares many of Tim’s techniques, such as mulching heavily and making liberal use of rotting wood chips in his garden beds, along with rainwater collection. Another component of dryland farming is making use of drought-resistant, region-specific crops so that your garden or farm needs less water.

The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to survive a lengthy water supply disruption. The bad news is that advance preparations are pretty much required to take advantage of these techniques. There really is not a way to just “wing it” when it comes to keeping animals and gardens watered during a water outage. Getting prepared doesn’t necessarily mean a huge cash outlay but it will require planning, time, and effort to dig swales, set up condensation traps, catch rainwater, and create a drought-resistant dryland garden. In the area of the country where I live, we are in an El Nino, which means more rain. I would be foolish not to collect this rain while it is plentiful. If that is all I do to prepare, it will be a huge help in surviving a water interruption. If I do all this preparation and do not need it, I certainly will not regret it. My water bill will be reduced at the very least and at the most, my family and I will be able to sustain ourselves if the worst occurs.


• Making a Condensation Trap –
• Water Wells –
• Solar Powered Well Pumps –
• Texas Young Farmers/Tim Miller Dryland Farming –
• Dryland Farming –


Permaculture Playing Cards

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Permaculture Playing Cards

                 Permaculture Playing Cards

I saw recently that Paul Wheatons Permaculture playing cards have been updated. I never got around to doing a proper review before. Time to rectify that. If you have happened to listen to our earlier podcasts you will know that we used to read one permaculture playing card.  Couch Potato Mikes organizing system failed though.

I’m sure all of you know what permaculture is right? No? Google defines it as such:


  1. the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Which is a wholly lacking term. Geoff Lawton defines it as a design science. Learning permaculture allows you to design systems, like garden, in a more holistic way. I’m a permaculture fan more so than an expert. Getting a deck actually taught me a lot.


How To Teach Permaculture


How you to teach something to people that aren’t already hungry for it? You try to explain it to them and they think you’re crazy. Give them a book like Gaia’s Garden? A great book to be certain. I’ve read half of it in 4 years.  No they will look at all the pretty pictures and move on. They have learned nothing. You can send them great links. To places like Permies. The link will be added to the to read later list or skimmed and forgotten. No a new solution was needed to trick people into permaculture.



Permaculture Playing Cards

Paul labored over the cards to make them perfect. Packed with tiny tidbits of permaculture wisdom to subconsciously work itself into your brain. Cards like rocket mass heaters, chickens, bees, wildcrafting and my favorite cast iron.

That artwork on the cards is great. They all seem like Peter Max art, only toned down. A very whimsical style. You can’t help but to get drawn in by them. All the details keep you studying the card. After you find out that Paul hide names of the Kickstarter backers and other important folk you will look even harder.

Great Stocking Stuffers

When I backed the kickstarter it was $20 a deck. A bit pricey but well worth it to me. I love my Permaculture Playing Cards. They have been well used. Paul is now selling them 6 decks, a half brick, for $42. Much cheaper at about $7 a deck and the more you get the cheaper. Amazon has single decks for $9.95. That though does little to spread the word of permaculture. Get a few and give them out, use them and enjoy them. I sure have.


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How to Grow 6,000 Lbs of Food on 1/10th Acre

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Who would have thought you could find this self-sufficient beauty 15 minutes away from downtown Los Angeles? If you want to grow your own food and make sure that everything you put on the table is 100% healthy and free of any chemicals, take the example of this next L.A. based family.

The Urban Homestead

Over 6,000 pounds of food per year, on 1/10 acre (3,900 sq.ft. / ~ 66′ x 66′) located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The Dervaes family grows over 400 species of plants, Up to 6,000 pounds of harvest annually, 900 chicken and 1,000 duck eggs, 25 lbs of honey, plus seasonal fruits throughout the year. 99% of everything they consume in a year comes from their own household.


All their products are chemical free and green and their sustainable way of life is a great example to follow by everyone who wants to control what they are eating. Growing your own food also means saving a lot of money and the Dervaes managed to earn over $20000 last year.

As you can see in the video, they utilize every single square inch of their garden. The 6,000 pound harvest on such a small footprint is only made possible using techniques such as companion planting, square inch gardening, intensive growing methods, polyculture/intercropping and vertical gardening.


They also have chickens (eggs/manure), ducks (eggs/manure), dwarf rabbits (manure), dwarf/pygmy goats (milk/manure) as well as bees (honey/wax) and an aquaponics system where they have Talapia fish.

Take a look at the video above to find out more about this healthy family and tips on how to follow in their footsteps. You can follow their progress at The Urban Homestead.



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Convert Your Lawn into a High-Yield Food Forest

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Over the last decade, I’ve helped convert multiple liabilities into assets that grant returns on a level stock brokers would envy.

The liability: a typical lawn.

The asset: a high-yielding food forest.

Why is a lawn a “liability?”

It’s something you pour labor, water, fertilizer, and gas into (hopefully not literally, though burning fire ant hills with gasoline is entertaining… must… resist…) in order to keep neat… and in return, it gives you nothing but inedible grass. And sometimes chinch bugs.

An asset pays you for your investment.

For example, what’s the return on a mature pear tree? Perhaps 100—200lbs of fruit per year?

What is a pear worth — maybe a dollar or so?

$100 – $200 worth of fruit… every year… is a great yield for a tree that originally cost about $25 at a nursery!

If that tree takes up about 400 square feet of your property, that’s a nice yield on the space.

What would 400 square feet of grass pay you over the course of a year?

Nothing. In fact, at $10 per mow, you’re probably paying a kid over $250 just to maintain it.

When you go further than just planting one tree, and instead plant a big edible forest ecosystem filled with fruits, nuts, roots, and greens – you can turn a non-productive space into a veritable food factory.

I did that with my front lawn. Here’s a “before” picture:


And here’s an “after” photo of the same space:


In that piece of abundant jungle there are mulberries, plums, chestnuts, oranges, persimmons, arrowroot, cassava, black cherry, loquats, figs, pecans, nectarines, peaches, perennial basil, Mexican tree spinach, wildflowers, sweet potatoes, jujubes, African yams, and more butterflies and bees than you can count… plus many more plant and insect species that would take too long to catalog.

It took me five years to build that food forest — and that’s only 1/3 of the complete system (and I have a lot of annual gardens out back).

Unlike a traditional orchard, a food forest is easier to tend and has excellent yields due to its diversity of species. The bad bugs get eaten by the good ones and diseases won’t spread like they do in traditional systems. And you can basically prune with a string trimmer and a machete.

I don’t miss my mower, I can tell you that.

And I love picking fresh figs, tangerines, herbs and lots more from the front yard. There’s always something new in every season.

That said — my home and food forest are up for sale right now (click here to see lots of pictures and my listing page) because I’ve got another opportunity to do it again in another climate and I can’t turn it down. You can also see what I’ve built here in Central Florida in this recent tour video:

Creating a food forest seems like a huge task the first time you do it, but over time it gets easier and easier. You start to see the patterns behind the trees and their interactions. You know when they’re going to be happy and when they won’t be. And you learn what works and what doesn’t. As the trees grow and sink their roots into the soil, they become less and less demanding on your time as well… and they feed you like a king!

My challenge to you is this: pick one little piece of your lawn and transform it into a long-term investment. Plant 1-3 fruit trees and surround them with some edible shrubs, some flowers, and a few perennial vegetables. Mulch the area and keep it watered as needed for the first few years.

The productivity and beauty of that little island should cure you of your grass addiction. I fell in love a decade ago and will never go back.

The cost of food isn’t likely to go down as The Great Depression 2.0 rolls on… and gas isn’t getting cheaper… and the stock market is primed for a crash… and you can probably name a half-dozen more reasons why growing your own food makes sense.

Turn your liabilities into assets by turning your lawn into a food forest — and reap the sweet rewards!


Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

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prickly-pear-cactus-opuntiaDrought. A chilling term for a period of less than average rainfall, usually accompanied by times of hot, dry, and often windy conditions. It is enough to drive any gardener stark raving mad. That is, of course, unless you have knowledge of some simple drought gardening techniques.

In the first installment of this series, I covered what steps you can take in your current garden to help make your normal plants more able to tolerate a drought. We also looked at a few simple tips and suggestions for your garden, and a selection of good varieties of common garden favorites for the drought-tolerant garden. In this installment, we will look at some rather unusual edibles for your drought-resistant garden.

Edible Cacti

The first group of genuinely drought-tolerant plants we will focus on are very good desert plants that grow and thrive in the 115 degree temperatures of the great American southwest. Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (better known as the cactus or cacti family), have developed adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. An interesting note about cacti is that the needles of the cactus are actually specialized leaves, and the green is the stem. In cacti the green stem, and not the leaves, is where photosynthesis takes place.

Almost all cacti are edible or have edible bits and pieces, though some taste good while others are downright nasty! I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, and my early twenties in the far southern parts of Arizona near the town of Nogales, on the Mexican border. I learned to really love the beauty, hardiness, and ease of the cacti I found growing all around me. One thing I learned was that cactus, like many other plants, go by a ton of different names depending on where you are in the world. This is often confusing when trying to find the exact species you wish to plant. One cactus of which I am very fond is called the ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ but is also known by at least 14 other names such as Deer-Horn Cactus, Night-Blooming Cereus, Sweet Potato Cactus, and so forth. This is the case with many plants, but when you are looking at cacti with the thought of eating it, you better use the scientific name or you might get one that looks like the right thing but has a taste that makes you ill! ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ if you have the correct variety, has the tastiest fruit around, almost strawberry-like in its flavor and texture. But if you end up with the wrong variety of ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ the fruit you get will taste like…

… Well the only way I can describe the horrid taste of other varieties is to say that it would taste much like what you would think a child’s dirty diaper would taste. That is a vast difference in taste! So, in what follows I will use the scientific names so that when you go to find these you will get the exact cactus you have read about! Fair Warning: Lots of Latin scientific names below!

prickly-pear-fruit-at-marketThe most well know edible cactus is the Opuntia, or the prickly pear. Many Opuntia species of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the popular Opuntia stenocereus. In fact, the truth is that all cactus fruit is edible, but not all are as palatable as the stenocereus. Some are truly delicious, while others are tasteless, dry, or otherwise not very pleasing to eat. Even the tasty ones require some careful work before you can eat them – they have to be de-spined!

One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus are also very popular – these likely originated in southeast Asia and China, where they have become extremely popular with the indigenous populations. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in USDA zone 10, in USDA zone 9 with some extra effort, and in USDA zone 8 if you really, really work at it or during severe drought with hotter- and dryer-than-normal conditions. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, or Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, or Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus also produce tasty edible fruit – P. schottii (commonly known as Senita), and P. weberi (commonly known as Candelabro).

Getting a headache from all of this Latin yet? Me too, but let’s go on!

I know from personal experience that the fruits of Pachycereus schottii are very tasty; this species is very large. Most literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and rather old as well, about 10-12 feet tall and some 30 years old before they will flower, and remember until they flower they will not fruit!

The Arizona queen of the night, Peniocereus greggii (mentioned above), and some other species of such as Peniocereus johnstonii and Pachycereus serpentinus, are also producers of truly tasty edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit too, a number of species being known as “strawberry cactus” because of their strawberry (and sometimes almost raspberry) flavored red or green fruit. The most notable of these are Echinocereus engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus; as well as some lesser-known species like Echinocereus brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. Echinocereus engelmannii’s flavor has been described as “strawberry and vanilla.”

Wow! That’s a load of Latin! Ready for just a little bit more? Here we go…

Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as “chilitos” (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include Mammillaria applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others. Also recommended is a related genus, Epithelantha, of which the fruit of all species are said to be edible, tasty, and quite like those of the Mammillaria. Two more cacti with similar fruit are the Coryphantha robbinsorum and Coryphantha recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as “garambulos” which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acidic cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good enough to eat. They include Stenocereus fricii (“Pitayo de aguas”), S. griseus (“Pitayo de Mayo”), S. gummosus (“Pitahaya agria”, said to be quite sweet but prone to fermentation, hence the “agria,” or “sour”), S. pruinosus (“Pitayo de Octubre”), S. montanus (“Pitaya colorada”), S. queretaroensis (“Pitaya de Queretaro”), S. standleyi (“Pita Marismena”), S. stellatus (“Xoconostle”), S. thurberi “Organ Pipe Cactus” or “Pitayo Dulce”), and S. treleasi (“Tunillo”). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as “Prickly Apples”, the endangered endemic Florida species Harrisia aboriginum, H. simpsonii, H. adscendens, H. fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, although the fruits of all the Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian Harrisia balsanae.

What happened there? Now I’m overloaded with both Latin and Spanish!

Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix (“borrachitos”), and Ferocactus latispinus (“pochas”) also produce edible fruits and edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berry-like fruits, including Corryocactus brevistylis, Corryocactus pulquiensis, and Corryocactus erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as Echinocereus atacamensis (or Trichocereus atacamensis), Echinocereus/Trichocereus coquimbana and Echinocereus/Trichocereus schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, known as the “orchid cactus,” has one such species, Echinocereus anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be much like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are the fruits of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata – hence its common name “Barbados gooseberry.” Another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), Pereskia guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are no doubt many, many others as well, and if I have missed one of your favorite cacti be sure to mention it in the comments below. For now though, that is about all of the Latin I can stand!

For more information on your favorite cactus, two of the best books on the subject include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Now then, if your brain is not totally fried by now, how about we take a look at a few other drought-tolerant plants you might want to consider for your garden.

Drought-Resistant Herbs

First let’s look at herbs. Since most of us know these herbs and their uses, I will not go into great detail on each specific herb on this list. There are many culinary herbs, but not all of them tolerate drought or low water conditions very well. However, many of the most popular herbs used in food preparation are true drought survivors. All of the herbs on the list that follows grow well from east to west and north to south so if you don’t have an herb garden yet, now is the time to plant one! If you want to learn more about herbs, you will find more information here: Herbs.

Garlic Chives – Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an excellent choice for the low water garden. They have a slight garlicky flavor and are delicious in just about everything. They also have lovely pompom lilac-colored blooms. If you allow them to bloom, however, keep in mind that they self-sow like nobody’s business, which can be both a good and a bad thing!

Onion Chives – Onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are also a great choice for a culinary herb that resists drought. These chives are more onion-like in flavor and are much more common in the United States. The blossoms from this chive (and the garlic chive) can be eaten or used for garnish.

Lavender – Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another excellent choice, with a number of varieties to choose from and lovely purple to light purple blossoms great for sachets or potpourris.

LovageLevisticum officinale, or lovage, has a strong sweet to salty celery-like flavor. Use this herbaceous perennial in soups and stews or add the young stems to salads. While not popularly used here in the United States and Canada, lovage is very frequently found in European gardens.

Borage – With its beautiful (and edible) flowers, borage is a great pick for a dry location – it will grow well and is stunningly beautiful when in bloom. When the leaves are small, they can also be eaten and some say the taste is like that of cucumbers. Borage does very well with little water. In extremely dry locations, you may find it is also easier to keep control of this hardy herb. Borage loves to re-seed and become a part of your landscape.

Echinacea – Grow it as a backdrop to the rest of your herb garden – don’t worry, it will require very little water. Don’t just settle for pink! Echinacea comes in a rainbow of colors, with orange, white, gold, pink, and reds to choose from. Echinacea should be divided every three years, but if you have a smaller area to garden, feel free to wait longer than that and keep the spread in check.

Fennel – Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which grow closely arranged stalks. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves and flowers that produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It has a mild licorice taste.

Oregano – Greek oregano, as its name suggests, is native to the Greek Isles and a perfect match for the low water herb garden. Its name means “joy of the mountain” from the Greek oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It is wonderful when used fresh and can be dried as well. Oregano has medicinal qualities and can be used as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal too.

Parsley – Parsley is another option for a low water garden. Technically it’s a biennial, but is commonly used as an annual. If you let the plant bolt and set seed in the second year, the leaves turn bitter but you get lots of new little babies.

Rosemary – Rosemary is nearly indestructible and is perfect in a drought-tolerant garden. Over time, rosemary can grow quite large if not restrained by pruning. It can also make an aromatic hedge and does very well in rocky soils.

Sage – Sage is another contender. Salvia officinalis is a hardy perennial sub-shrub. There are several varieties, all of which can be used fresh or dried. Many of the sage varieties have lovely blossoms as well.

Thyme – Thyme is another good choice with some varieties making excellent ground covers. Dry soil actually concentrates the aromatic oils in thyme, making it taste much more intense – and it thrives in rocky conditions.

Drought-Tolerant Wild Edibles

There are several good wild edibles to add to your drought-tolerant garden. What are wild edibles? Just what they sound like – plants that normally grow wild that we can eat and enjoy. We will look at three of my favorites: dandelion, purslane, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Dandelion – While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many phytonutrients, and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines. The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They’re so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name: Dent-de-lion means lion’s tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3″ to 12″ long, and 1/2″ to 2-1/2″ wide, always growing in a basal rosette.


Have no worries when eating dandelions, there are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce, only resemble dandelions in the early spring, and those are also edible. All these edibles exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while dandelion leaves are bald.

Dandelions are especially well-adapted to a modern world of “disturbed habitats,” such as lawns and sunny, open places. They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. They now grow virtually worldwide. Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow better under adverse circumstances than almost anything else on Earth.

Many gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle. Unless you remove it completely, it will likely regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.

“What’s a dandelion digger for?” a dandelion asked.
“It is a human invention, to help us reproduce,” another dandelion replied.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. But they are still strong growers and good to eat during a drought.

Purslane – Purslane peeks its way out from sidewalk and black top cracks. It invades gardens and it even gained a bit of bad press from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has classified it as a “most noxious weed.”


A weed it may be, but “most noxious?” Please! Give this poor superfood a break! Yes, I said superfood. It truly happens to be a “super food,” for not only is it high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has high marks in beta carotene content.

This is one of the few plant kingdom sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and really is as healthy as eating fish! And you don’t have to check the latest health and environmental bulletins before you eat it!

Known formally as Portulaca oleracea, but also called pursley and little hogweed, purslane is a succulent that looks, as one chef put it, like a “miniature jade plant.” A more colorful description can be found in seed catalogs, which note that in Malawi, the name for the fleshy, round-leafed plant translates to “the buttocks of the wife of a chief.” The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony pepper tang. It grows well anywhere in the world and is a wonderful grower during a drought! Though not as popular now-a-days as it once was, it is gaining in popularity. Martha Washington had a recipe for pickled “pursland” in the Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the collection of hand-written family recipes she received as a wedding gift, according to sources at


Jerusalem Artichoke – Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is familiar to many as a weed, but has some real potential as a crop plant. Native to the central regions of North America, the plant can be grown successfully throughout the U.S. under a variety of temperature and rainfall conditions. Several Native American tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Jerusalem artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new food in a “new Jerusalem.” In recent years, the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities. The plant can be grown for human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production, and livestock feed.


Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable. Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes except the carbohydrates composing 75% to 80% of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste. Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, made into flour, or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes. But as with most things you just cannot beat the home grown taste of this drought-tolerant vegetable.

Growing edibles for your family is always important but during drought conditions it is even more so. Following the tips, strategies and techniques laid out in the first article in this series, as well as planting some of the varieties mentioned here, will help to ensure your family is well fed no matter the rainfall.

This article is part of a 2 part series by Joe Urbach. You can see the entire series here:

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1
Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2


Getting to Know Your New Permaculture Site

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“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time”

– Georgia O’Keefe

the-edge-of-a-forestTo truly see one flower takes as much time as it takes to make a new friend. We can assume, then, that to truly see an entire landscape might take a lifetime. Yet, seeing a landscape truly and in its entirety is a critical task that every permaculture designer must learn to do. We need to know the entire landscape like an old friend. We need to know its history and its aspirations, its preferences and desires, its quirky habits – good and bad. We need to know how it behaves in the light of day, when strangers are present – and how it behaves in the dark of night, when it is all alone and no one is looking.

Too often, when we approach a new permaculture site, haste and excitement take over. We quickly develop grand visions in our mind of the completed design, with key elements springing to the forefront of our mental pictures and our rough sketches on paper. But at this early stage in the design process, haste must be avoided at any cost. Patient observation, instead, is required now. And patience at this pivotal point is the cornerstone upon which successful permaculture projects are built.

Indeed, observation is the very foundation of permaculture, and this is why observation is the first principle we learn. Thorough observation allows us to design effectively and with confidence; knowing that we are working with, rather than against, the natural patterns and processes of the site we are developing. Without observation, a design is likely to conflict with the natural elements of a site. And so observation is the sine qua non of permaculture – that without which no project can be successful.

How to Approach a New Site

Approach a new permaculture site much like you would approach a new friend. Taking this approach, you will first focus on a pleasant introduction. Be mindful not to come on too strong; after all, you’ve only just met. No cheesy pickup lines, and no overzealous attempts to impress. A warm smile and a humble handshake will do just fine. After you have made your best first impression, continue to put your best foot forward and schedule a few casual meetings to get to know your site better. Engage in thoughtful conversation, go for a leisurely stroll, sit down in the shade and share some laughs together – just be yourself and you can’t go wrong. And when you’ve established a good rapport, if all goes well you’ll be ready to begin getting to know your site more intimately. Please allow at least 3 meetings, and don’t rush your site if it is not ready!

As you get more intimate with your new site, your bonds will grow ever stronger. You will learn about its past, its potential, and its most closely guarded secrets. With patience, you will soon find yourself in a lasting and faithful relationship. Congratulations, you will have made a new old friend. And it is from the perspective of this meaningful friendship that a permaculture designer can truly excel, painting a masterpiece on the most complex canvas available – life.

The Introduction – Putting Your Best Foot Forward

When you meet your new site, don’t worry about taking detailed notes. There will be plenty of time later to focus on specific details. Instead, turn your early attention to the energy you feel as you walk the ground. Use all of your senses to survey the site, noting the energy and experiences you encounter at the highest level. What are the smells, sights, sounds, and feelings that grab your attention? Bring with you as little of your own energy as possible – you are here to observe an established ecosystem as an outsider. The energy you project should be passive and non-threatening. Conduct your initial observation under the assumption that you will make minimal changes to the existing landscape.

As you move about, note any energy you experience that beckons to you and draws you in. And note any energy you experience that repels you and drives you away. Note the locations where you experience these differing energies – which areas of your site are warm and inviting; with soft soil, tender leaves, and sweet smells. And notice which areas are more coarse and guarded; protected by prickly spines or rocky terrain.

Notice the general contour of the land – the predominant slopes, planes, ditches, and hills. At this stage you are focusing only on becoming aware of the features present. You will have time to plot elevations and draw individual features in detail after you have finished making your initial introductions.

Who are the obvious stakeholders that instantly make themselves known to you? Are there mighty trees, social birds, aggressive insects, or curious critters? These friendly neighbors are only the tip of the iceberg, and you should know that for every stakeholder you meet today, there are perhaps ten more that you will meet in the future as you become more intimate with the site.

As you begin to absorb the site’s energy and become familiar with its inhabitants and features, give thanks. Give thanks for every observation you are able to make. Recognize the splendor and abundance that is already present here. Your goal is to build upon the resources that nature has already planted here, and to maximize the abundance that already exists.

The First Few Meetings – Getting to Know Your Site

Now that you are familiar with the top-level terrain features, stakeholders, and natural patterns, you are ready to begin delving deeper. Subsequent visits to the site should be as varied as possible, in an attempt to observe as many as possible of the natural phenomena that exist on your site. Visit in the early morning hours to watch the sun rise on the land. Visit in the heat of the afternoon when the sun’s rays are at the peak of their intensity. Visit in the evening as the sun sets and the land cools, and stay to observe the area after night has fallen.

Spend some time looking further into the energies you felt during your initial introduction to the site. Try to begin defining the zones of energy and begin to sketch the borders of the different zones you find. Approach each area slowly and with reverence, because as you approach and enter you will change the energy and activity taking place there. Allow yourself time to sit or lay down in each area, and wait patiently as the land slowly returns back to its routine and comes back to life with you and your energy now blended in to the whole. Remain silent and passive until your presence is accepted by all, and then continue to be quiet and respectful – you are the newcomer here.

Begin to take more detailed notes. Expand the list of stakeholders that you met during your first visits. Take note of every living thing that lives in, makes use of, or simply passes through your site. There is no way for you to build a conclusive list of stakeholders – some of them are hidden from your view within the soil or in the canopy overhead, some of them are too small for you to see, and some of them are only present for a short season each year. But build your list as best you can, knowing that the decisions you make will be better informed with each new stakeholder you can identify. During the early morning and again at dusk, watch the wooded areas and any water sources for larger animals who may pass through regularly. Listen carefully for rustling leaves and identify the source of every sound you hear. Watch for rabbits on the ground, squirrels in the trees, beavers, chipmunks, porcupines, raccoons and skunks. Examine the ground for burrows and determine who did the burrowing. Look for amphibians and reptiles by gently lifting stones and fallen limbs. Look carefully in every nook and cranny. For each animal you identify, ask yourself – what do they eat? Where do they live? And, what eats them?

Locate the spaces on your site that are used by birds. There may be understory thickets where mixed flocks congregate. There may be open meadows where birds scavenge for seeds and insects. There may be seasonal birds that use your site as a mating ground each year, or only as a short haven during long seasonal migrations.

Note the insects that you observe flying and walking in each zone. What do they eat? Where do they live? What eats them?

forest-floor-with-mossWhile the animals and insects that have a stake in your site will be numerous, they are probably dwarfed in numbers by the plant stakeholders. Even if your site is relatively homogenous, a close inspection will likely reveal a staggering diversity of plant life, and each of these plants is a stakeholder in your design. If your site has a diversity of terrain – open meadows, dense forests, rocky hillsides, wet marshland, etc. – the job of identifying plant stakeholders will compound exponentially with each different terrain. If horticulture is not your strong suit, don’t get hung up here by trying to identify each and every species you find. It’s fine to classify things in groups like “leafy annual weeds” or “shrubby understory trees.” But if you can identify each and every species, go for it. Your design will be stronger with each stakeholder you understand. I recommend starting with the largest plants and working your way down. Identify the trees that make up the canopy. Next, identify the understory trees and shrubs, woody perennials, grasses, leafy annuals, and groundcovers. Take the time to hunt for miniature plants, too – mosses, liverworts, and algae. You might find large stands of moss on east-facing slopes and the north side of large tree trunks, and you’re likely to find liverworts growing from the nooks in dead branches.

After a rain, watch for flowering fungi to reveal themselves above the ground. Fungi can tell you a lot about the soil properties of an area, and they should typically be welcomed and left undisturbed whenever possible.

And finally, look for the lowly lichens. Even in the most inhospitable spots on your site, you are likely to find some lichen clinging onto rocks in the full southern sun – a symbiotic teaming of algae and fungus that can establish a foothold for larger life forms in the harshest environments. Lichens expose the potential for life where none seems possible.

When you have sufficiently identified your stakeholders, you are ready to examine the elements. Here you will need to understand sunshine, water, wind, and soil – and how each interacts with your site.

Depending on the size and complexity of your site, a rough sketch may be all you need to understand the sun and shade. Sometimes the structure of shade is simple – a heavily wooded area is mostly shaded, and a wide open area is mostly sunny. Buildings, large trees, and forest edges can greatly complicate shade structure on a site. There are some tools available online that can help you to accurately draw shadows for simple shade structure by inputting your latitude and choosing the desired season. For very complex shade structure, a simpler approach is to sketch the shade as you observe it on a simple top-down drawing or map of the site. On your drawing, use colored pencils to lightly shade the areas that are shaded from the sun at regular intervals over the course of a day. As an example, you might draw the shade lightly in gray at 9 am, in green at noon, in red at 3 pm, and in blue at 6pm. The darkest areas are the shadiest, and the different colors reveal which areas get morning sunlight with afternoon shade, etc. In most regions it is advisable to chart your shade in different seasons throughout the year to account for differences in the angle of the sun. While it is important to draw the shade on paper for planning and reference, these drawings are only a guide. When the time comes to select plants and locate plantings, your personal knowledge of the site should be the final consideration.

Water is a powerful force in nature, and it would be hard to overstate the importance of understanding how water interacts with your site. You can get a good general idea about how water will flow across the land by plotting the elevation and contour of the property. Your county or state may have already done this work for you, and a call to your regional geographic survey service could save you hours of hard work and headache here. If no topographic maps exist for your site, you can use a laser level to accurately show contour and transfer the laser lines by drawing them onto your plan. Or you can find the contour manually by walking the site with a bunyip water level and marking the contour with flags or markers as you go. However you get elevation and contour lines onto your plan, these again are only a guide to inform your decision-making as you progress your design. There is simply no substitute for standing on the property during a heavy rain and watching the water move over the land with your own eyes. Note any spots where the contour of the land causes drainage or run-off. Note any channels with high volumes of water flow. Compare what you see to your contour maps, and note any differences between what you expected to see and what you actually saw.

The effects of wind on a permaculture site can be very subtle and hard to observe. Wind’s effect on an area plays out invisibly – both in the short term as changes in air temperature, and in the long term as erosion and accretion. Learn the prevailing wind directions for your region in different seasons, and then walk your site while envisioning the prevailing winds in both winter and summer. Can you identify existing pockets of protection where a wind screen is already established? Remember that a living wind screen is only effective in winter if the plants that make up the screen are evergreen. And, the smaller the leaf (or needle), the more effective the wind screen – large leaves block the sun well, but the wind blows right through them. Are there large areas that are void of any protection, completely exposed to harsh winter winds? Those same areas will likely enjoy a gentle breeze in spring and summer. Try to identify areas where winter winds may be a concern, and where summer winds may be an asset.

Intimacy – Establishing a Deeper Connection with Your New Site

Now that you’ve spent some time getting to know your new permaculture site through patient observation, you’re ready to take things to the next level. Here you will delve deeper – into your site’s energy and into its soil – to establish a stronger connection with the land.

hands-full-of-soilMuch of what you can learn about the soil, you will already know through careful observation of the plant life throughout the site. Plants can expose much information about soil depth and fertility, without requiring you to even pick up a spade. Now you will make a more focused effort to understand the soil. Walk your site again, this time with a spade, and pay special attention to the soil. Identify areas where the soil feels especially soft and fluffy, or especially hard and rocky. In each area you identify, randomly select a few spots and sink your spade. Pop up a small sampling of the topsoil and take notes on what you find. Is the soil dry, light in color, and full of rocky substrate – or is it dark, heavy, and full of organic material? What life do you find in the soil? Are there worms, grubs, or beetles? Are there thin white strands of mycorrhizae – the fungal filaments that help plants feed? Smell the soil – crumble it in your hand and inhale its essence through your nose – healthy soil has a distinct smell and with practice your nose is a valuable tool to identify problems in the soil. Note any off-putting smells and plot them on your plan to investigate later. Notice the composition of the soil – is there a large concentration of sand, clay, or silt? Does the soil crumble with light pressure – indicating a coarse texture, or is it solid like a rock – indicating a fine clayey texture? You can do a simple test yourself by filling a mason jar one third of the way full with topsoil and then adding water to fill the jar, leaving an inch at the top for air. Seal the jar and shake it vigorously for fifteen or twenty minutes. When the particles settle, they will settle with the largest sand particles at the bottom, and the finest clay particles at the top. In this way you can see a simple visual representation of the composition of your soil. Depending on your plans for each area, you may wish to send a soil sample in to your local university agricultural extension, or a privately owned lab. Be sure to read their instructions thoroughly to get the most accurate information from the test.

Return to each of the energy zones you identified in your initial introduction, and do a closer inspection now that you are more familiar with the site, this time on a micro level. Become intimate with the different energies of your site. Stop to meditate in each area at length, alternating between keeping your eyes open and allowing them to close. Notice any subtle changes in the way that you feel in the different areas. Take your shoes off and slowly fox walk the entire site – notice where the energy changes, and examine the edges that separate the different areas of your site.

Look for microclimates within the terrain. Find areas where a change in contour or elevation creates a small pocket of exceptional conditions – a depression in the ground can create a wet spot, and a sudden drop in elevation can create a pocket of protection from the wind and sun. Note each microclimate that you find and plot it on your plan.

Survey your site to begin understanding its history. Can you identify areas where water and wind have created pockets of deep soil through accretion? Are there other areas where water and wind have eroded the soil over time? Which areas have sustained old growth with a developed canopy, which have been managed and mowed, and which are recovering from having been clear cut in the recent past? Look for telltale pioneer plants that are reestablishing dense growth in an area where the old growth has been removed. Examine the surface rocks that you find throughout your site, both small rocks that have been pushed up through the soil and larger outcroppings where the bedrock shows through – are these rocks all made of the same materials; if so what are they? An exposed cliff can give you a glimpse into the ancient history of your site, showing the gradual development of the land over recent centuries and millennia. For a fresh perspective, try to find a nearby highpoint where you can view your site from afar, in light of the surrounding terrain.

And finally, do a little comparative analysis. Visit several nearby sites and do a quick survey of the plants, animals, and soil conditions that you find there. Are there any notable differences between your site and similar sites in the region? If so, try to understand what causes these differences and try to understand whether the relative differences on your site are desirable or not.

Moving Forward in a Faithful Relationship

When you have truly attempted to understand your site, its energies, its stakeholders, and its history, then you will be ready to begin planning changes. Edit carefully and thoughtfully – always showing respect, faith, and gratitude for your new friend. Apply the principles of permaculture to identify solutions and maximize abundance. Because you have observed the site thoroughly, you will have confidence that the changes you create will work with, and not against, the processes and phenomena that define the nature of your site. Most of all, celebrate the satisfaction that this new relationship will bring to you and your site – good friends are truly hard to come by.

Reprinted with permission from Permaculture Design Magazine, Volume #98, Fall 2015


(Video) Building an Oven with Cob

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cob-ovenI usually like to do things fast!

Why bake when you can fry?

Why whittle when you can use a bandsaw?

Why bother planting all your seeds in perfect rows when you can scatter them everywhere and thin later?

Yet sometimes, taking things slow leads to wonderful results. In the case of my friend Joe Pierce’s homemade earth oven, his patience and design work have created something beautiful, and profitable.

This is his third cob oven and he believes it’s so well engineered at this point that it will be around long after he’s gone.

For those of you not familiar with “cob,” it’s an ancient method of earth construction that relies on clay, sand, straw, and sometimes other ingredients such as manure and sawdust. Once mixed properly and kneaded together, cob can stand for centuries – and its insulation power is incredible.

You can use cob to build ovens, houses, and even (with some extra ingredients) showers and ponds.

Building with cob is not as quick as framing up a building or buying an iron stove, but when you see this oven and hear Joe share how many days it stays hot after firing, along with how versatile a “low-tech” earth oven can be, I think you’ll agree that the extra work was time well-spent.

Check this video out:

He’s using that oven for making pizza, baking bread, drying jerky, dehydrating, and even for making biochar for his gardens. Joe also explains in the video how you can use this oven for wood gasification or even generating electricity!

Something that surprised me as well is how little wood it really takes to get multiple days of baking out of this oven. I went to Joe’s knowing very little about cob construction and received a whole education in earth oven construction — and he was nice enough to let me film the entire thing and share it with all you wonderful members of the [Grow] Network. (By the way — I post a lot of gardening and homesteading videos on my YouTube channel — you can subscribe here: davidthegood’s Youtube channel).

Building that oven took time, yet it certainly proved to me yet again that good things come to those who wait. It was also quite peaceful working the cob into the sides of the oven… reminded me of being a kid again. Unfortunately I couldn’t film and apply cob at the same time, so you won’t see me covered in mud in this video. That’s going to have to wait until Marjory signs off on my Homestead Mudwrestlemania idea, which should happen any day now.

So — have you done cob construction or had experience with earth ovens? I would love to hear your stories in the comments section below!

Note: if you’re ever in Micanopy, Florida — you can see this oven and check out Joe and his wife Emily’s excellent homesteading, bake shop, and coffee joint at


Don’t Miss Marjory’s Appearance in this New Documentary Series

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Marjory was recently interviewed to be part of an empowering new documentary series called The Search for Sustainability. The series is premiering online between November 1st – 12th. And we’d like to invite you to watch it for free.

49 sustainability experts took part in this new series – permaculture designers, organic farmers, herbal medics, energy and building enthusiasts, systems analysts, green politicians, and health educators. Together they share potentially world-changing news, information, and practical methods that have never before been presented in the same place at the same time.

The list of participants includes Marjory Wildcraft, Paul Wheaton, Toby Hemenway, Mike Adams, Jill Winger, John Kohler, Doug Simons, Mike Koch, Kate Armstrong, and many more.

If you are interested in learning to live more sustainably, then you should definitely tune in to watch this new series. You will learn about how we can have more food, water, and shelter security. You will learn about how to be more connected with the land and its spirit, healing and thriving in health and community. You will learn about being prepared and confident in a changing world, whether collapse comes during your lifetime or not.

As you can tell, we’re very excited about this, and we know that you will benefit from this free and empowering information. Here is a brief sampling of the information that will be covered:

• Taking back control of our food, health, water, and energy supplies
• Implementing simple and no-cost methods for living harmoniously with our surrounding environment
• Learning to grow your own food in a sustainable and regenerative way in any climate
• Collecting and properly using water to restore our water table
• Utilizing herbal medicines and ancient healing methods
• Creating and participating in sustainable networks in our local communities
• Opening and supporting sustainable, values-based schools
• Learning to thrive in abundance in urban, suburban, and rural settings

Click the link below to watch a free preview. You can sign up to watch the series by entering your first name and email address below the preview video. If you think that this free series would be helpful for others in your family and community, please feel free to forward this email or share the link on your social networks.

Click Here to Watch the Free Series The Search for Sustainabilty


Weeds: What They Tell Us and Why You Should Care

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dandelion-flowerFor many a homesteader or gardener, weeds can be a major topic of conversation. They should be, but maybe not for the reasons you think! I’m not talking about eradication or even control of noxious or unwanted plant life. What I’m referring to is listening to what the weeds are telling us… now that is a conversation that can really go places! No I don’t mean the loony bin (the weeds aren’t actually talking to you, even though you may be cursing them!). Where I’m going with this is observation and interaction.

Many weeds indicate deficiencies in the soil makeup or structure. For instance, dandelions and most thistles are indicative of compacted soils. You can literally tell what is wrong with your soil by looking at what wants to grow and thrive there. I’m sure this doesn’t really come as a surprise to a lot of people, but my next bit of illumination might. Get this, the same weeds that indicate a problem in the soil-shpere are also the ones that can fix it! The same compaction that is indicated by the presence of dandelion and thistle is also being broken up and relieved by those very same plants with their deep burrowing tap roots. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Many of the weeds that thrive in iron-deficient soils also accumulate iron, and so on and so on.

plantainMany of the most obnoxious weeds the typical gardener faces are armed with impressive tap roots. This makes them a serious pain to get rid of by simply pulling them out of the soil as little chunks of root get left behind and new plants emerge. This leads the average Joe with nothing left to do but resort to a chemical cocktail that kills the plant and decimates the underlying soil biology, only to have them reemerge later. Remember, the problem still exists whether we let nature fix it or not. What I say is toss that Chem-Ag juice and work with nature to actually cure the underlying problems with the soil, instead of treating the symptoms (which in this case can also be the cure, look at my article on how I’m combating Canadian thistle for more)!

Observe the weeds you have flourishing in your system. Listen to what they are telling you about your soil. The answers are there! If you are not willing to let them run their course and correct the deficiencies on their own, (which I totally get… a brother needs some tomatoes this season, not a bunch of dandelions for the next five) then you’re going to have to do the weed’s work!

There a few different ways this can be accomplished. The first thing that might come to mind is to physically alter and amend the soil so that the problems with the soil can be corrected. Think tilling, sub-soiling, broadforking, fertilizing, mulching, and importing mineral amendments to add to the soil. This can get very costly and labor-intensive on a large scale though. The next option would be to utilize intentional plantings that alleviate the problems with the soil to remedy the deficiencies. Planting something like daikon radish in compacted soil or strawberries where the soil is iron-deficient could help alleviate thistle problems and net a yield. Legumes, clovers, or alfalfa will add nitrogen to you soil. Be creative, as there are many cultivated plants that have soil remediation analogs with weeds.

weeds-as-fodderIn the permaculture world, these are often referred to as dynamic accumulators. The plant will mine minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil layers and bring them to the surface in the form of leaves, and fruits. The deposited leaves, etc. from these plants will have concentrated levels of the deficient soil element, which then becomes available at the surface for other more desirable plants. Comfrey is the classic permaculture dynamic accumulator. Most permaculturists don’t consider dandelion or plantain to be weeds, and will actually encourage their growth because they are dynamic accumulators. Many types of thistle are also in this category, as are mulleins and stinging nettles. On a homestead or larger scale, if a person can spare that particular piece of land for a few seasons the problems will be alleviated and the “weeds” will eventually be pressured out through succession. In the mean time, thistles and nettles make pretty darn good fodder for the livestock and many “weeds” can be marketed as valuable medicinals should you want to add that to your income stream.

mulleinThe bottom line is that weeds can be an ally in the quest for truly awesome soil that will grow literally anything your climate and heart will allow. It takes patience, perseverance, and trust in the fact that the natural systems set in place by our Creator are resilient, and restorative. We just need to observe and interact appropriately with our environment, then emulate those natural systems and the answers to our problems will present themselves in due time. Most often those answers are embarrassingly simple… like letting the weeds accumulate nutrients and resolve the soil deficiencies!

Thanks to Dave for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each


Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1

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urban-garden-with-drip-irrigationDrought. The very mention of the dreaded “D” word can make the blood of even the stoutest gardener run as cold as ice. Drought has always been an issue for human beings. Farmers and gardeners, even 10,000 years ago when our ancient ancestors traded in their hunter gatherer lifestyles and chose instead to settle in to small family communities based on agriculture, have always considered drought to be among the most serious of concerns.

Of course we all know what a drought is, but how is it defined?

“A drought is when a region receives below-average precipitation, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface or ground water. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after as few as just 15 days. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region.”

Although droughts can persist for years and years causing no telling how much death and devastation, even a short, intense drought can cause significant damage and harm to the local economy. Annual dry seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought developing and along with it the chances of frequent drought-related bush fires. Periods of heat can significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of water vapor.

Drought happens. Global climate change is real. Whether you believe it is just a normal cycle that the Earth goes through from time to time, or if you believe it is solely the fault of mankind, or even if what you personally believe falls somewhere in between these two extremes, you must admit that global climate change is a reality. To deny the obvious truth that our climate is changing is just as insane as continuing to believe that the world is flat. The question all gardeners, farmers, and preppers need to ask themselves is not whether drought due to global climate change is a reality, but rather how can we continue to grow food for ourselves and our families during drought conditions.

We cannot know when a drought will occur, and by the time drought is upon us it is too late to plant drought-resistant edible plants. But we can consider several things that we can do in our gardens to help our current plants better tolerate adverse conditions when they do occur. The first thing to keep in mind is that the garden is that our gardens are not made up of just the plants that we grow, but also of the soil we grow in. The soil is the foundation of everything we grow. So get it in your head that you start building a garden from the ground up, and you will help make your garden more drought-tolerant the same way – from the ground up. So here are three quick improvements that will greatly help your garden soil during a drought:

No Bare Soil – Use Cover Crops
Cover crops help improve soil health by reducing erosion, increasing organic matter content, improving air and water movement through the soil, reducing soil compaction, capturing and recycling nutrients in the soil profile, and managing soil moisture to promote biological nitrogen fixation. Many farmers and ranchers have recorded increases in yields during extreme drought when using cover crops. One local farmer I spoke with in San Marcos, Texas, used radishes as a cover crop to successfully increase water infiltration in areas where water had previously flowed across his field without soaking in. The radish roots aerated the area enough to allow water further down into the soil profile instead of letting it simply run off the surface and get wasted.

Do Not Till – That’s Right, No Tilling!
When soil is tilled, it temporarily gains a lot of pore space in the top layer. But tilling involves running over the soil with heavy equipment, and that leads to the structural breakdown of the soil and compaction. The end result is a layer with high bulk density and bad pores, topped by loose soil with no structure. When soil has poor structure, it can’t hold water within its pore spaces, and when the water hits the densely compacted layer below, it can’t infiltrate. This leads to runoff, and therefore, erosion, flooding, pollution, and less water held in the soil for dry times. New research has shown that tilling your fields and garden area will also lead to an often significant loss of soil nitrogen. Tilling disturbs the microorganisms that are working to convert organic matter into composted fertilizer, and tilling releases nitrogen into the air where it evaporates away without being of any benefit to our plants and crops.

Add Organic Matter – Compost to the Rescue (Again!)
Composted organic matter is absolutely magic. Poor soil can benefit greatly from even a small increase in organic matter. Even healthy soils benefit from composting – just a small increase in organic matter can improve the soil’s structure. Soils with a lower bulk density (lighter more fluffy soils) and with greater porosity (more air pockets in between the soil particles) route water more efficiently during floods and retain more moisture for plants, and so perform significantly better during droughts. Research has also proven that organic matter often holds 10 times its own weight in moisture, trapping the water in the soil for the plants to use at a later time. Organic matter particles have a charged surface that attracts water so that it adheres to the surface, like static cling, but they can also have pores and charges that repel water. A 1994 study by Hudson University showed that a silt loam soil with as little as 4% organic matter can hold more than twice the water of a silt loam with just 1% organic matter. And silt loam soil with 10% organic matter held three times the amount of water as the same loam with just 4% organic matter.

Okay, that should take care of your soil. But what’s next? Let’s look at how it is possible to grow a vegetable garden during a drought when water resources are scarce, or when water rationing has been imposed. The key thing here is to water smart. Water responsibly, plant carefully, and select fruit and vegetable varieties that are drought-tolerant. All of these sustainable gardening practices require less water at any time, and can help ensure that your family has access to a variety of nutrient-rich foods, even during drought.

Always keep these simple techniques in mind when planning your garden and you will find it doing much better during hot, dry and windy conditions. Whether you want to call them drought tips, water responsibility practices, or just plain old good garden management, these next 16 simple suggestions will help reduce water use in your backyard garden during any weather conditions including the dreaded “D” word.

#1 – Mulch, mulch, mulch!
I know that we have all heard it before but you need to mulch your garden! A 3 inch to 4 inch layer of mulch can reduce watering needs by as much as 50 percent. Mulch reduces water evaporation and keeps soil temperatures down during hot summer months and drought conditions. Grass clippings, dried leaves, pine needles, straw, and shredded bark are all examples of natural mulches which can be used to cover the soil. Hay is sometimes not recommended because it contains seeds, which yields weeds and can become problematic. But regardless of what you choose to use as a mulching medium, just mulch, mulch, mulch!

#2 – Planting Time – Timing is Everything!
Plant earlier in spring and later in fall. Planting earlier in the spring season takes advantage of the warm weather that a drought brings and it reduces exposure to the high mid-summer temperatures that often wither a garden even when not dealing with a drought. Planting later in the fall minimizes the use of supplemental water and takes advantage of seasonal rains to establish plants. For example, tomatoes and other nightshade crops such as peppers and eggplants should not be planted until soil temperatures reach 55 degrees. With a warm spring this could be as early as late March or early April for some of us. If you aren’t using a soil thermometer for accurate soil temperature readings, you really should consider getting one.

#3 – Enclosed Spaces – Smaller and Easier to Manage
Gardens planted in enclosed spaces retain water better than gardens planted in open soil. This is most often due to two key factors, the first being that in an enclosed space you usually find a raised bed garden and in a raised bed we can better control the soil our garden begins with, and secondly that gardens in a raised bed are usually planted in ways that maximize production instead of garden size.

#4 – Avoid the Traditional “Row” Garden
It does not matter if you are planting in a raised bed or in the ground, a hexagonal arrangement of plants beats traditional rows for smarter gardening hands down. A “hex” garden groups plants closer together, which provides shade from leaves, keeping soil cool and preventing water from evaporating.

#5 – Companion Planting – Everyone Needs a Friend
Companion planting is the practice of grouping crops together for mutual benefit. The Native American “three sisters” approach of planting corn, beans and squash together are a great example of companion planting. Tall cornstalks provided a structural support for the climbing beans, the beans returned nitrogen back into the soil, and the squash would spread across the soil acting as a mulch and keeping the soil cool.

#6 – Watering Times – Again, Timing is Everything!
The best time to water your garden is in the late evening and in the early morning hours, typically between 10pm and 6am. The cooler temperature and limited wind reduce water evaporation rates.

#7 – Water Efficiently – Water Wise Tips are Available from Local Extension Offices and Online
Overhead watering with a sprinkler system is not as efficient as drip irrigation. Compared to overhead sprinklers, drip systems can reduce water usage by up to half or even more. One Texas A&M study showed that in a raised bed garden, a drip system used more than a staggering 70% less water! Install a drip irrigation system, grouping plants with similar water needs together on one drip irrigation line. Drip irrigation systems are relatively easy to install for most do-it-yourself homeowners and have become very affordable in recent years.

#8 – Control Weeds – Water the Plants You Want
This one seems like a no-brainer! Pesky weeds compete for valuable water, sunshine and soil nutrients in your garden. Remove weeds before they have an opportunity to flower or spread. Pulling them when they are young is easy on you and I, and stops them from stealing as much water and nutrients from our crops. You might also spend some time learning about the “weeds” in your garden. Some of them are likely edible, medicinal, or useful in some other way.

#9 – Be Selective – Grow Only What You Need
Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables your family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa, and amaranth.

#10 – Drought Resistant Crops – More and More are Available All the Time!
Purchase varieties of fruits and vegetables that do well in hot and dry climates. Many heirloom varieties from Mediterranean regions are prized for being drought tolerant. And smaller varieties bred for containers often produce a more bountiful yield per plant than standard varieties.

#11 – Peak Water Times – Help Conserve by Watering Smart
Fruit and vegetables have critical periods for increased water demands. For most plants, once they become established, watering frequency and volume can be reduced until the flowering or fruit setting process begins. An increased amount of water should be reintroduced during this time. After this initial period of fruit set, water can slowly be reduced again. In some cases, reducing water can improve the flavors of your harvest!

#12 – Garden Size – In this Case, Size Does Matter!
Determine the amount of fruits and vegetables needed to feed your family. Does your family have two, four, or eight members? If you overproduced and wasted crops last year – decrease the amount of plants this year. Set up a garden exchange in your neighborhood so everyone grows less but still has a great variety!

#13 – Consider Days to Maturity – Quicker is Usually Better
A crop needing fewer days to mature requires less watering before harvest (62-day ‘Stupice’ tomatoes vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

#14 – Use Light-Weight Row Covers – Tuck Your Garden in at Night
Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew collects in the soil and helps to keep it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage in some cases, be sure to look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

#15 – Use Shade and Wind Breaks – Give Your Garden a Break
Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using a shade cloth. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water – so a wind break really helps. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

#16 – Plant Something New – Keep Looking for Your Next Superstar
There are many “Garden Greats” that you may not have tried. Have you ever grown Jerusalem artichokes, Malabar spinach, okra or loquats? There are many great garden plants out there that naturally require less water and tolerate higher temperatures. Find some of them and try them in your area. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite!

Obviously the topic of what is drought-tolerant is regionally specific to a great extent. After all, a drought in Maine will be very different from a drought in Arizona, and the plants that are considered to be drought-tolerant in America’s Pacific northwest may not be in my neck of the woods, Central Texas. So it is very important to keep that in mind when planning just what to add to the garden you plant on your little piece of planet Earth.

When thinking of common garden veggies for drought-tolerance think about the varieties that perform well in hot, dry, desert conditions. Desert-like areas present special challenges for the gardener. Living in Arizona for many years I found that I could still get wonderful vegetables to grow in my desert garden if I chose the correct varieties and kept in mind those special techniques listed above.

Some crops and varieties just naturally require less water than others once they are established. Those on the following list were selected from seed catalogs and seed catalog websites that specifically mention the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in the variety description. The list is not exhaustive, but represents an opportunity for the home food gardener to consider new (or new to you) and unusual crops or varieties that allow you to be water-wise. For additional possibilities, consult seed companies or nurseries that specialize in plants suitable for desert or dry climate areas. If I have forgotten one of your favorite drought-tolerant crops or varieties, be sure to tell me about it in the comments section below.

A List of Drought-Tolerant Vegetable Varieties

Bush Beans – White Half Runner, Snap
Butter Beans – Jackson Wonder
Lima Beans – Alabama Black-Eyed Butter, Carolina Sieva, Christmas, and Fordhook 242 Bush
Pole Beans – Asparagus, Blue Coco, Garden of Eden, Romano, Louisiana Purple Pod
Broccoli – Waltham 29 (when fall planted)
Corn – Anasazi Sweet, Hopi Blue Flour, Hopi Pink, Painted Mountain Flour, Pinky Popcorn
Cucumber – Armenian, Lemon
Eggplant – Listada de Gandia
Melons – Iroquois, Navajo Yellow
Mustard – Southern Giant Curled
Okra – Gold Coast, Hill Country Heirloom Red , Jing Orange
Pepper – Jupiter Red Bell, just about any chili pepper, Ordoño
Quinoa – all varieties
Squash – Cocozelle Zucchini, Costata Romanesco, Cushaw Green-Striped Dark Star, Iran Jumbo Pink Banana, Lebanese Light Green, Tatsume
Sunflower – Skyscraper
Tomato – Caro Rich, Pearson, Red Currant, Phoenix, Solar Fire, Pineapple Stone, Yellow Pear Cherry, Juliet Hybrid
Watermelon – Black Diamond

In the next installment of this article on vegetable gardening during drought conditions, we will look at some rather atypical edibles you can grow in your own drought-resistant garden, including things like cactus, herbs, wild items, and more.


How You Make a Living From a 4 acre Permaculture Orchard

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What if I told you that it is possible to make a living from a 4-acre orchard and you can even do this with less work, more yield and more fun.

What if I told you that the secret to doing this is already known, but the information about how to go about it has not reached you?

I wrote about Stefan previously, but his model deserves in-depth explanation. His orchard took 22 years to establish and to be honest it wasn’t always rosy for Stefan.

He is a pioneer of permaculture orchards, and now he shares his knowledge so you do not need to go through 20 years of trial and error like him. You can learn from his experiences so that you don’t make the same mistakes he did. Learning from his experiences means you can save time and money.

But before we go any further here are few things to consider about Stefan:

  • He bought his 5-hectare block and 4000 trees for $42000 – he had no debt, no mortgage and no money left to do anything
  • He had very little farming experience when he started his farm – he did however, have a formal education that helped him
  • Stefan does not live on his farm – he actually lives in the city and commutes to his farm from home.
  • He had many setbacks along the way that would make most people quit, but he persisted, and now his farm is successful.

Miracle Farms: Stefan Sobkowiak – A 4 -acre Commercial Permaculture Orchard, 22 Years in the Making

Stefan Sobkowiak

Stefan Sobkowiak, founder of Miracle Farms


Stefan Sobkowiak is an educator, biologist and master of landscape architecture. He has taught fruit production, landscape plants and design, and the natural history of vertebrates at Montreal’s McGill University. This experience helped a lot when he decided to focus on Permaculture Design and his ‘Miracle Farms’.

The farm that he bought was originally developed as a commercial monoculture apple orchard, making the transition to becoming an organic farm upon purchase in 1993, and was certified organic in 1996. Eventually, Stefan understood the limitations of the organic model originating from monoculture. Since 2007, four acres were converted to a permaculture inspired “u-pick” orchard.

Miracle Farms is the largest and the most developed example of a commercial permaculture orchard in Eastern North America. Production from the farm is sold to 30-80 member families with the short term goal of reaching 100 families.

Recently with film maker Olivier Asselin, Stefan released a DVD called The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic. This is a feature-length educational film that teaches how to set up your own permaculture orchard on any scale. Stefan has this to say about the film – “It will really save you 10 years at least of trial and error and thousands of dollars. Don’t reinvent the wheel, take what I learned and build on it .”

So let’s dive in and see what you can learn from Stefan’s model.

The Permaculture Orchard Model

1. Location and Size



Les Fermes Miracle Farms, about one hour southwest of Montreal.

Les Fermes Miracle Farms is about one hour southwest of Montreal, roughly 100km away, in Cazaville, Quebec, Canada. It’s Canada’s warmest climate zone -Agriculture Canada Zone 5b: USDA zone 4. The property is 12-acres in size with approximately 4 acres planted in a Permaculture style orchard.

The location of the farm is very important. As with many models I have described before, Miracle Farm is located relatively close to the target market, in this case close to the million-and-a-half people living in the city of Montreal.

Although the original idea was 30 minutes away from Montreal, which is an ideal distance for clientele membership club according to Booker T. Whatley’s Handbook on How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres, after many years of searching Stefan settled for a farm twice that distance from Montreal but still managed to make his farm a success.

What Stefan learned was this: If you are close to city there is not such a need to diversify but if people invest their time and visit your farm that is further away, you need to offer them something more that is worth the visit. That is exactly what Stefan did.

2. On-site Permaculture Nursery

Start a nursery!

Start a nursery!

Stefan needed a lot of trees for his new orchard, although there were 4000 apple trees in the orchard already, in the first two years of owning the farm he sadly lost 1000 of them. The cost of the trees accounts for more than 50% of the costs of an orchard so to decrease his expenditure Stefan set up nursery project so that he could grow his own trees.

While teaching at McGill University Stefan partnered with one of his students who wanted hands-on experience and started a tree nursery on the farm. In return for his help, Stefan agreed to split the trees they produced between them 50:50. They tilled a 12x23m area (276m squared), made 3 rows and planted rootstock to be grafted later.

So think about it, if you want to start a permaculture orchard, you could plant a nursery ahead of time by using 10ftx10ft (3mx3m) spot in your back yard. Plan now, gather your mother plants from which you will be able to take cuttings or scions for grafting, contact people in your area that are doing similar projects and learn from them. You could grow just below 1000 trees in that small area (If you have trees in each of the pots you should yield 900 trees).

As Stefan said: “There is a tremendous motivating force to find a piece of property once you have a nursery full of plants that will soon need to be transplanted.”

3. Trios Design Pattern

The Permaculture Orchard

Each fruit tree is next to a nitrogen fixer

What’s unique about Stefan’s orchard is that it is planted in Trios (originally called NAP – nitrogen fixer, apple, and plum/ pear), One nitrogen fixer, 2 crop trees. This is very similar to David Holmgren’s European style permaculture orchard where he interplants with tagasaste (tree lucerne), also a N – fixer. One characteristic of this pattern is that no fruit or nut tree is next to its own species in the row or in between the rows. Therefore, if any tree gets infested with pests, it is much less likely to pass the problem on to another tree of its kind.

Although 1/3 of the orchard aren’t fruiting trees, mixing in nitrogen fixing trees among fruit trees is essential because it helps to create fertility and eliminates the need for external inputs of fertilisers, resulting in a circular ecosystem that virtually takes care of itself. Amazingly, there was no fertiliser used on Stefan’s orchard since 2007 and the fruit trees keep on giving as much yield as conventionally grown trees. N – fixers in Stefan’s case are Honey Locusts and they also act as trellising for vines, kiwi and grapes.

The primary goal is to increase diversity whilst providing a diversity of crops and to reduce or eliminate the use of fertilisers and pest and disease control products. This orchard now offers over 80 cultivars of apples, in addition to several types of plums, pears, cherries, and countless other fruits and vegetables. There are also trios in shrubs: red, black currants, honeysuckle, gooseberry, raspberry, and rhubarb; as well as over 100 different types of ground cover such as annual vegetables, herbs and grasses.

With this hugely diverse amount of crops, trees, bushes, shrubs and plants, you might wonder how Stefan makes sense of the countless plants growing. There is one more ingredient to this design.

4. Grocery Store Concept

The permaculture grocery store

The permaculture grocery store

While trios (NAP) design is 3D pattern in Stefan’s orchard there is also the fourth dimension that is simply: Time.

In permaculture orchard everything is organised by following what Stefan calls a ‘grocery aisle’ concept, whereby everything in one row will be ripe and ready to harvest within a 10-day window.

Despite the huge diversity of species, this allows for efficient harvesting, customers can walk down the row and easily gather the majority of the fruits and vegetables they require in one go, just like they would in the grocery store.

This also helps bring order to the high diversity madness of 100 cultivars of fruit & nut trees, dozens of small fruit shrub cultivars and over 100 species of companion plants. Stefan also aims for a complete season of harvest without any spaces when there will be nothing to harvest. Harvest dates are key to a successful ‘grocery aisle’ planting- Ideally you need to aim for 3 periods of 10-day harvests per month.

While conventional orchards also use the idea of multiple harvest dates because labour is one of their biggest expenses, Stefan is able to keep his labour costs even lower. How? All the lower parts of the tree fruit picking is done by his customers! Leaving the tops of trees to be picked with ladders.

5. CSA/U-pick operation – Costco Style Membership

Upick farm membership

Over the years, Stefan has built up a customer base that is willing to come and pick the produce themselves, thus cutting down on labour costs. He said:“The greatest single cost for most fruit production is harvesting and packaging, usually 40% of the total costs. If people harvest their own in their own containers, we can pass on some of the savings and still earn a better return for our efforts.”

His business model is a members only U-pick operation – basically the same as a Costco membership. For those living outside the USA, UK or Australia, Costco is an American membership-only warehouse club that provides a wide selection of merchandise at low prices, but membership must be purchased in advance for one year. In Stefan’s case members pay an annual fee of $55 which entitles them to come and pick at all of his open days. They can also attend the tours for free and order meat that Stefan also produces. They also get $20 redeemable towards their purchase as part of their membership and benefit from getting fresh, beyond organic food for up to 50% less than what they might buy in the supermarket. Non- members cannot pick any fruit, or buy meat, they may be able to buy from a small roadside stand at twice the U-pick price when Stefan has extra produce.

Stefan also makes sure to use one of the most powerful words in the world of marketing: NO. He often says this in response to people who would like a one-off experience on the farm. This makes his farm an experience limited the group of people who have chosen to be members and are opting for an experience and not just passing by. This way Stefan can provide value to his customers and better convey and inform members of what foods they have. He can tell the ongoing story about his orchard, as well as its history, and educate his members.

Stefan did not always work this way. Initially, he started selling to the public and built up a customer list of satisfied buyers. Stefan said: “A list of satisfied buyers is worth gold.” Later on he converted to the paid membership model, and a lot of those existing customers signed-up.

6. Innovations in the Management of the Orchard

Farm innovation

An apple maggot fly trap (Rhagoletes)

Do you know how many plants Stefan has on 1 acre of land? If we look at the figures it is – 450 trees, a minimum of 450 shrubs, 16×450 = 7200 perennials + ground cover, 150 vines, this is total of a minimum of 8250 plants. And this is just in 1 acre of land. Stefan has 4.

How can one man maintain this many plants, prune all of his the trees and not even live on the farm? There must be a secret.

Stefan was clever enough and open-minded enough to embrace novel methods of caring for his trees. This enabled him to do 80% less work when it came to pruning- although it would be more accurate to say training rather than pruning. He still prunes his trees but only the branches that actually shape the tree, i.e. doing steps to have a chimney to a tree, keeping only 12 -14 branches and pruning or maintaining every branch he keeps. He learned a lot from various French horticulturists in the compiled book Growing Fruit Trees: Novel Concepts and Practices for Successful Care and Management.

On top of that he uses whey to displace fungi diseases, uses insect traps containing molasses and creates favourable habitats for his wildlife that will help protect his trees and plants..

His methods are innovative and he innovates and experiments all the time. He does still use some conventional orchard methods for doing things, such as using plastic mulch and irrigation pipes. To have a better understanding of his whole method of Permaculture Orchard I would encourage you to watch the film where he fully explains his methods and reasons for doing them.

7. Income from Diversification and Stacking function

Stacking functions

Stacking functions – Raising poultry on grass in the aisles

Although the main crop is fruit, fruit alone would not be enough to earn Stefan a decent income. It is also important to note that in farming you do not get to decide which year will be a good harvest. Stefan knows a lot about farming but he is not the boss the Mother nature is, so there can be years with a low fruit tree yield, which when it is your main crop is a big problem. The answer to maintaining a sustainable income in bad harvest years is like in investing, you don’t invest all your money in stocks and put all of your eggs in one basket, you must diversify and be consistent with production, when people come have something else to offer besides your primary crops.

Making a profit on an acre is stacking functions of apples, pears, vines, herbs, as well as keeping animals that graze in the grassy lanes. The grassy lanes are used for pasture (as Mark Shepard does). In these lanes, he raises chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks and geese. The farm is used as a continuing education lab for students in the permaculture courses, offering workshops (grafting, pruning, nursery propagation, raising small fowl, processing fowl) as well as for interns. Farm tours are also available for groups. Here is the full income breakdown.

Farm Income:

  • Sale of Produce and Products – 70%
    – Herbs, Flowers, Fruit Trees & Berries, Vegetables, Traps.
    – Meat birds.
    – Added value products: Juices from apples, dried fruit
  • Education – 20%
    – PDC, Workshops
    – DVD
  • Consultancy Service = 2%
  • Tours of the farm – 8%

Just note that the exact figures of farm income vary from year to year. As Stefan remarks: “ Last year was dismal with no tree fruit, although the best year for small fruit. So last year was a reversal with education and tours making up 70% and sale of produce and products 20% . It’s great to have a diversity of yields to balance things out from year to year.”

8. Learning-Oriented Mindset


If you came this far, you my friend are a keen learner and this is a lesson for you. None of the success Stefan had after 20 years of hard work would be possible without embracing a learning mentality. With so many setbacks and mistakes, many ordinary people would quit a project like Stefan’s, as the owner from whom Stefan bought his orchard did. But, as they say in Permaculture: “there are no mistakes, only feedback”, Stefan accepted that feedback and kept moving along.

He said:”I was a near total newbie respecting orchards when we bought a 4000 tree conventional apple orchard. Began the conversion to organic, immediacy lost 1000 trees first 2 years. (Ouch) Learned a whole lot.”

Stefan recommends in the beginning seeing what other people are doing, learning from their mistakes and building upon their good designs. He recommend to start and then visit other farms and doers to see first-hand how things are done and to have a reference point for what you’re doing.

When he started he visited Joel’s Polyface farm and others, read books and kept trying new things and innovating on his own farm. Traveling and seeing what other farmers were doing was eye-opening and taught Stefan a lot.


It took 22 years for Stefan to reach the point where he is today and his road to success was paved with many setbacks and many learning experiences. Now everything he learned is readily available. So, watch his film, read his book and read Q&A following the release of the film. Everything is there you just need to act on it.

If you want to provide a more natural environment, free from the artificiality of monoculture and welcome natural allies to do their jobs, if you want a greater yield of produce and more fun, with less work- then interplant with nitrogen fixers and increase plant diversity through different species and different cultivars. To put it simply there are four steps to establishing a permaculture orchard – 1.trees, 2.shrubs, 3.companion plants (perennials, herbs, vines) 4.allies. But there is much more to it if you want to adopt permaculture orchard model and adapt it to your situation.

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel, take what Stefan learned and build on it – save yourself time and money.
  • Location is very important – the ideal location if you have produce to sell, is 30 min from the population centre and on the main road, but you can make it work if you have to be based further away.
  • Grow your own trees to help reduce costs and motivate yourself – if you can, partner up with someone with skills and split the final trees.
  • Create Trios – interplant with nitrogen fixers and increase plant diversity through different species and different cultivars.
  • Use grocery store concept – windows for harvesting, same cultivars in the same row, while understory is growing all year.
  • Start a CSA/U-pick operation – Costco style membership – members harvest so you don’t have that expense. As much as 40% of conventional fruit growing expenditure is spent on harvesting and containers.
  • Embrace novel methods of maintaining trees to save time and keep your orchard beyond organic with innovative methods of pest control.
  • You want to be consistent with production- to do that diversify. When people come have something else to offer besides primary crop.
  • Making a profit on an acre is stacking functions of apples, pears, vines, herbs, and animals grazing in grassy lanes.
  • Never stop learning and trying. Period!

Stefan’s vision for the Permaculture Orchard is: 1000 hectares, 1000 people in 50 countries. Do you feel inspired to join his vision? Let me know in the comments!

First published here.

The post How You Make a Living From a 4 acre Permaculture Orchard appeared first on Walden Labs.

Urban Farming: No Farm Farming

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Many people graduate from college and just sit year after year wondering what their calling is. If you are looking to make a difference in the world and find that the typical 9-to-5 isn’t making the cut, then perhaps it’s time to take a look at farming, specifically urban farming.

“What if I don’t have land?” you might ask. This article will help you bring farming techniques into fruition in areas where space is limited. Permaculture is a large concept at work here and it can run the gamut of everything from composting to water retention systems. Although you may think that your backyard is too small to enact some of the main principles, think again. All of these things can bring you one step closer to farming in your backyard.

Water Harvesting

You may not be building the water terraces of ancient China or the aqueducts of old Peru, but you can still change the dynamic landscape of your own backyard to save water. Consider where you need to water and where rain gathers. If you can divert this natural force and slow it’s descent to the sewer you’ll be better off.

First, let’s tackle the backyard. Taking excess dirt and creating a slope that funnels water to the center of the garden is the best way to take advantage of soil architecture and save rain water, as well as water from your sprinkler. 

Roof runoff is also worth saving no matter how rare rainfall is in your area. There are a few things to keep in mind when setting up a water cache system like this.

  • Water Quality: Water must be filtered and should be pollutant free. Keep in mind that zinc-aluminum roofing can be dangerous to your health.
  • Do not let your gutters become blocked with leaves. Leaf guard can be expensive, while homemade alternatives are still effective.
  • Regular maintenance is a must. You’ll want to make sure that water is sealed at appropriate times, to protect from development of mosquitoes in warmer months.

Companion Planting

Growing plants that are native to the same continent and cultures together will improve crops survivability. Because these plants have evolved in the same place for many generations, they require the same protection, and in some instances provide shade, nutrients, and ground cover.

You might find your crops being under siege from spider mites or other pests. This guide will illustrate just how to face those problems in an organic way, by using companion plants.


Composting is central to the farming experience. While we won’t delve completely into the wide world of composting here, there are a few things to remember while at home in the urban setting.

  • Make sure to seal compost bins to avoid confrontation with pets, pests, and neighborly noses.
  • Red Worms are your best friend
  • Save coffee grounds or ask for some from a local business
  • Find a local composting co-op if you don’t have room at home.

Keep in mind that your goal is to return nutrients to the soil as food for crops. You don’t want your backyard turning into a miniature dust bowl after several seasons.


This is a topic that can take some getting used to, but with proper installation you can use the forms of water in your household that are not exposed to human waste to better hydrate the garden. I’ve seen setups where the sink was disconnected and water was free to run into a bucket for later distribution. This comes with it’s problems of course, and is not recommended. But there are designs aplenty for whatever age your home may be. Here are some of the most prominent benefits:

  • More water for use, and less strain on wells or drought stricken areas
  • Less strain on failing septic tank
  • Less energy and chemical use
  • Plants benefit foremost and after water is returned to it’s origin (groundwater) faster
  • Increased awareness of and sensitivity to natural cycles

Poultry & Eggs

Yard pending, you can find a way to install a small to medium chicken coop or convert a pre-existing shed. The chicken housing must meet several requirements, not only for city ordinance, but also for the chickens themselves to be happy and fruitful:

  • Chicken feeding is a regular job and requires a solid schedule. An automatic feeder may lessen the burden.
  • Fencing around the coop can be important if you have nosy pets or live in an area rife with predators.
  • Don’t forget the light! Chickens only lay eggs based on daylight cycles. Some lights will also affect the temperature of the coop, which is another important part of keeping chickens healthy and alive.
  • Make sure you have access to the inside so you may clean regularly.

Whether the goal you have in mind is for eggs (quite sustainable) or for poultry, you should find that the coop is an excellent addition to the home, and is one step closer to making you an actual farmer. Treat your chickens well and healthy product will come along with it.

Position of the Sun         

If you aren’t paying attention this could spell disaster for your first year, mostly because you won’t have a second year. Without proper daylight your crop will never properly flourish, and for some locations the urbanite may have to do some proper planning. Before making any cuts on the tree linings of the property, make a chart that shows where the sun line falls on your property. In some cases you’ll have full coverage, but more than likely you’ll have a tree or two in the way. Note the time of year as well, as the sun will shift depending on the season.

After trimming, consider burying the remnants of your tree trimmings to create a Hugelkultur bed. This is a form of composting that uses trees and tree parts to save moisture, contribute nutrients, and reinvigorate the soil. Gather the tree parts and bury them with a layer of nutrient dense material and cover with topsoil and my personal preference of straw.

Urban Farming For All…

This article is only the tip of the iceberg.  Use the following resources to transform your backyard into a farmer’s market contributor, and turn that day job into that of an urban farmer. If all goes well, maybe you’ll make that return back to college for an agricultural education. For now, supplement your income with fresh fruit, vegetables, and stock!

References and Resources for Further Education

Urban Farming

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Guest Poster: Ryan De La Rosa on twitter
Guest Poster: Ryan De La Rosa
Ryan De La Rosa is traveling the NorthWest looking for a place to farm, even a place to compost would do.