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Posts Tagged ‘permaculture’

arbor and gate-BLOG

arbor and gate

Livestock panels, sometimes known as cattle panels or hog panels, have many uses in the garden.  They are 16’ long and 36”(hog)-52” high.  The spacing between the heavy wires in the ones I have is 6”x8”.  Some panels have closer spacing near the bottom.  I first learned about them as animal fencing, but they prove quite handy to have in the garden.  Although the panel itself can flex, it is a strong fencing that does not need tightening. 

In the picture you can see my garden gate and grape arbor, both made from the panels.  To bend a panel into the arbor shape, lay it on the ground and have someone hold one end or anchor it in some way.  Pick up the other end and walk toward the first end.  It’s that easy.  We needed more height in the arbor than the 16’ panel would provide, so we put it on top of two rows of bricks on each side.  Rebar is  inserted into the ground through holes in the bricks.  The panel is wired to the part of the rebar sticking up from the ground.  You can find these panels at farm supply stores.  You can find rebar at home building supply stores in the area where they display cement blocks.  To see how this arbor looks when the grapes are in full production, go to my March 6, 2012 post On Growing All Your Own Food.

bolt cutters and hacksaw-BLOG

bolt cutters and hacksaw

The panels can be cut with bolt cutters or a hacksaw.  I cut one to make my gate.  I have wired ½” hardware cloth to the lower half of the gate to keep rabbits out.  An earlier attempt at rabbit control was to weave bamboo through the spaces.  If I have enough bamboo strips there, it works. However, I need to keep after it.  When I came across the hardware cloth, I went with it.  There is no hinge or latch here.  The gate fits between the arbor and fencepost on the hinge side.  On the latch side it just leans against the regular fence.  We have plans for putting new posts in that garden entrance and this gate, put up several years ago, was only meant to be temporary.      

I also use the panels as a trellis for garden crops, particularly tomatoes.  I put a fence post on each end and one in the middle.  Baling twine often serves to hold it to the posts.  The panel goes down the middle of my 4’ wide bed and the tomatoes, planted at the base, are just woven through the spaces as they grow.  In that wide bed there is still space on the sides for carrots, basil, parsley, or just heavy mulch.  Tomatoes can do without a trellis as sturdy as a livestock panel and I also use old field fencing to trellis tomatoes.  The panels, however, present a neater appearance.  These trellises stay in the garden all year.  In the fall, when I’m planting cover crops, I move them to where they are needed the next year and set them up.  I can do this because I have no need to till the beds before planting tomatoes, or whatever it is that the trellis will be supporting.  I just cut the cover crop with a sickle and let it lie as mulch or remove the biomass to the compost pile.  The bed is ready for the next crop with the trellis already in place.

greenhouse-BLOG

greenhouse from livestock panels

These panels are great for making structures, like small greenhouses.  The photo shows the greenhouse our daughter Betsy made for her Arkansas garden.  You can also see it in Betsy’s segment of Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan.  She built a wood frame for the base and used wood to frame a door on one end and a vent window on the other.  You could use the panels against the side of a building as a lean-to structure and build something taller.

Of course, you could actually use these panels for their intended purpose, controlling livestock.  They make good temporary or permanent pens.  Beware of using them with young goats developing horns.  The goats might get their heads stuck.  Once the goats and their horns grow enough, that’s not a problem.  If that does happen, don’t panic.  Cut the fence with bolt cutters or a hacksaw, preferably with the bolt cutters.  You can mend it by using wire to close up the space.  I have a leftover spool of aluminum electric fence wire that I cut and use as twistees to hold the fence to metal posts.  Baling twine works, as does plastic zip-ties.  The panels are good barriers for most dogs, goats, cattle, pigs, etc.  Chickens, however, can slip through, as well as other small critters, such as skunks, rabbits, and opposums.  You can add chicken wire or other fencing to the panels to keep out the smaller creatures. 

goats clearing the way-BLOG

goats clearing the way

Betsy and her husband, Chris,  are using livestock panels as movable fencing with their goats to clear a future fenceline.  They gradually move the pens down an overgrown area on the side of a field.  Sometimes the panels are tied to trees and they are flexible enough to curve around obstacles, if necessary.  Betsy and Chris use as few posts as they can get away with, since they have to move them regularly.  The ends are put together with clips, similar to carabiners.  Besides just connecting the ends, the clips can act as hinges, or as latches if that’s where they decide they need a gate to be.  You can see the great job the goats are doing clearing the brush by the trees.  Goats love eating brush better than grass.  This is a great use of both the goats and the fence panels.  

Getting these 16’ fence panels home from your farm supply store might pose a problem.  I’ve used a pick-up truck with an 8’ bed, putting one end inside the tailgate, extending the panel over the truck cab, and tying the other end to the front bumper.  I wasn’t going far.  If you do that, protect the top of the truck with a piece of cardboard or old blanket.  If you buy enough, you could have them delivered.  If you are going to cut them into shorter lengths anyway, you could do it right there and make getting them home easier.

Some of you reading this may have already been using these fence panels on your homesteads and have plenty of ideas and uses of your own.  If you would like to share them, I welcome your comments.  If you are using these panels for the first time, good luck, have a good time, and let us know how it goes.

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swt potatoesX3, kale, cowpeas--BLOG

sweet potatoes, kale, and cowpeas

Once again, I decided to observe Homegrown Fridays, eating only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent.  Anything you see in bold followed by * is listed on the Recipes page of this blog (click on the recipe tab at the top).  This year was more of a challenge because of other commitments.  I started two weeks early so I could get in seven Fridays and even at that, two of the Fridays were actually Thursdays.  I finished early so that I could be off on another adventure.  If you’re reading this the first week in April, 2012, I’m at Tillers International in Michigan finding out more of what they do there while my husband is taking a class in timber framing.

The delicious dinner you see in the photo was one of my meals.  It consisted of kale harvested fresh from the garden, Arkansas Razorback cowpeas, and three varieties of sweet potatoes–Ginseng, Beauregard, and purple.  When I have no “homegrown only” restrictions, I would probably put butter on the cowpeas and sweet potatoes and vinegar on the kale.  I enjoyed the natural flavors of that food without butter and vinegar. 

polenta with tomato sauce--BLOG

polenta with tomato sauce

I had dried a variety of things in my solar food dryers last summer and had looked forward to using them for Homegrown Fridays this year.  I made a soup using as many of them as I could*.  Dinner one Friday was polenta topped with tomato sauce*.  Cooked Mississippi Silver cowpeas accompanied that meal.  Polenta is just another name for cornmeal mush that has been cooked a little longer and let set to thicken.  I cooked it in a crockpot the day before, then put it in the refrigerator.  At dinnertime I put tomato sauce over it and heated it in the oven.  When I cooked the cornmeal and water for polenta, I added dried onions.  I froze some, which made an easy lunch to heat up on another busy Homegrown Friday.

I was fortunate to have peanuts this year and made peanut butter for the first time in my GrainMaker  mill.  I had better luck grinding raw peanuts than grinding roasted peanuts to make peanut butter.  I made it twice and, although I’m sure I’d get better at it with practice, it’s a whole lot easier, and less cleanup, to just eat the peanuts as they are.  The folks in Biosphere 2 grew peanuts with the intent to press them for oil, but decided to just eat them as a snack.  Peanuts were one of their main sources of fat.  Their two year experiment with eight people living in a completely sealed environment and producing all their food is documented in the book Eating In: From the Field to the Kitchen in Biosphere 2 by Sally Silverstone.  I made peanut butter to have with carrots from the garden.  That day I also made sorghum crackers.  Recalling a recipe for greens in peanut sauce from the cookbook Simply in Season, I made a version of that with my dried collards.  I put peanut butter with the dried collards and water while it cooked.  We ate it as a vegetable for dinner, but I liked it better as a sandwich filling for a meal another day.  It would have made a good dip.  

bean burgers and sorghum breadsticks--BLOG

bean burgers and sorghum breadsticks

I made “bean burgers” for the first time.  It’s something that’s long been on my “to-do” list.  I used cooked cowpeas, reconstituted dried onion and dried sweet pepper, and minced garlic.  The cowpeas were boiled until really soft.  I mashed everything together and made it into patties that I topped with tomato sauce and baked.  Breadsticks made with sorghum flour were served with that.  

One day lunch was home-canned green beans cooked with dried cabbage and onions.  Sorghum patties (made like corn patties*) rounded out that meal.  A couple lunches were sweet potatoes, peanuts, and raisins.  Peanuts, raisins, and popcorn were great to have among my choices of homegrown food.  Last summer I dried grapes for raisins by cutting the grapes in half and drying them in the solar dryers.  The seedless grapes were best for that.  Popcorn was popped in a pan with no oil for a snack some days.  Just be ready to shake the pan a lot to prevent burning.  When limiting your diet like this, it is good to plan for something quick to eat if you are really hungry and you still have to plan dinner.  Peanuts, raisins, and popcorn filled that need nicely and could be taken along if I had to be gone somewhere. 

cornmeal mush with hazelnuts and honey--BLOG

Bloody Butcher cornmeal mush with hazelnuts and honey

Breakfast was the easiest meal and always the same.  I had cornmeal mush made with my Bloody Butcher Corn.  I sweetened it with honey from my bees and added hazelnuts, which were great.  You can read about my hazelnut harvest in my last post.  My black walnut trees seem to bear alternate years and didn’t drop nuts in 2011. The staples in this homegrown diet are cornmeal, sweet potatoes, cowpeas, and greens.  I had sorghum and wheat for additional flour and the dried vegetables were much appreciated, especially tomatoes and onions.  I had some naturally fermented sour pickles and garlic that I chopped up and added to cowpeas for lunch one day.  Herbs, dried and fresh, add diversity to the flavors.  I was happy to harvest fresh celery leaves in the garden.  The parsley I used was dried.  Eating this way makes you really appreciate each additional flavor and texture.  You might be interested in reading about  my 2011 Homegrown Friday experiences.

I drank water or herb tea.  Currently my herb tea blend consists of spearmint, bee balm, lemon balm, and basil.  On these Homegrown Fridays my husband and I often opened a bottle of mead made from our honey and grapes or elderberries.  We feel very fortunate to have such bounty from our garden.  At the same time, we are mindful of those in the world who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  We hope that our work here will help towards the understanding of what it would take to feed others.  The learning is in the doing.  I hope some of you will try a Homegrown Friday or two at any time of the year.  It is definitely an experience.  

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hazelnut cluster-closeupp-BLOG

hazelnut cluster near harvest

In the spring of 2007, I planted hazelnut trees on the north border of my garden.  Last fall, a short four years later, I began to harvest the nuts.  Not all the trees were bearing, but enough were so that I could enjoy a nice harvest and work out the details of what to do with them.  There may be a slight difference between hazelnuts and filberts.  One source referred to the varieties native to the U.S. as hazelnuts and the European varieties as filberts, however I’ve seen the words used interchangeably.  For clarity, I’ll just refer to them all as hazelnuts and specify if I mean American or European varieties.  I have seventeen trees each planted 4 feet apart.  The nuts grow in clusters on the trees, as shown in the photo.  It was exciting to watch them develop over the summer.  I had heard that squirrels often take them, so I watched carefully into September.  I didn’t want them to fall to the ground because I was afraid I would lose them.  As the clusters dried on the tree I pulled them off.  If they needed further drying I put them in the solar dryers.  The harvest began October 9.  At first I stored them in baskets in a cool room in the house.  Having them in clusters insured that there would be some air circulation.  Eventually I got around to threshing them out of the clusters by putting them in a pillowcase and hitting it with a stick.  I use that same procedure to separate dried beans from their hulls.  After threshing I stored some hazelnuts in a crock-type “cookie jar” in my pantry. (It came to my kitchen second-hand and actually says “Cookies” on it.)  The rest were put into a pillowcase and hung in the barn to keep safe from mice.

hazelnuts-vicegrips-ruler-BLOG

hazelnuts and vice-grips for shelling

The nuts still need to be shelled before eating.  These hazelnuts are smaller than the shelled nuts you will find in the health food store.  In fact, they were too small to use with a regular nut cracker, so I resorted to using a hammer to crack them open.  That worked, but often I hit too hard and also smashed the nutmeat.  My solution was to use vice-grips (locking pliers).  I could set the screw on the end of the handle so that the pliers would close to just the right space, cracking the shell but not the nutmeat.  At first I borrowed the vice grips from our workshop, even though they were a little big for the job.  Santa brought me a smaller pair that I keep in the kitchen and are dedicated hazelnut crackers.  From the photo you can see that some nuts are much larger than others.  The trees with the largest nuts seemed to have fewer clusters.  There were anywhere from 2-9 nuts in a cluster.  The largest nuts were in the clusters containing 2-5 nuts.

My trees are American hazelnuts, Corylus americana, which are native to the Eastern U.S. and Canada.  Of the hazelnuts you find in the stores, 99% are grown in Oregon and are European varieties.  European hazelnuts are not quite as hardy as C. americana, but produce larger nuts.  They grow well in the Pacific Northwest where they were thought to be safe from the eastern filbert blight…..until they weren’t.  Eastern filbert blight is now in the western states.  As a result, Oregon State University has bred some European hazelnuts that are resistant to blight.  Rutgers University  also has a breeding program for resistant varieties, hoping to bring commercial hazelnut production to the eastern states.

Eastern filbert blight is not a problem with C. americana.  I bought my hazelnuts as seedling trees from the Virginia Department of Forestry, however, a quick online check shows they don’t offer them anymore.  Yes, some of the nuts were quite small, but some are fairly large.  All are tasty.  According to my favorite garden book, How To Grow Fruits and Vegetables by the Organic Method, edited by J.I. Rodale, if you find a native hazelnut tree in the wild that produces large nuts, dig the suckers and grow them out in your garden.  If you have one that you would like to propagate, and not go digging around, you can just bend the sucker to the ground.  Peg it there or put a rock on it, leaving a few inches of the tip sticking out.  Roots will grow and the following year you can dig that new plant to put elsewhere.  It will have the characteristics of the parent plant.  You can also propagate by planting the nuts.  That method will give you about a 70% chance of having the same characteristics as the parent.  I think I will pay attention and try my hand at propagating my more desirable trees by layering the suckers.

hazelnut male female flowers-BLOG

hazelnut male and female flowers

Although you will find both male and female flowers on the same tree, hazelnuts are not self-fertile, so you need to plant at least two trees within 50 ft. of each other for wind pollination.  The male flowers are actually catkins that are more noticeable hanging from the branches.   The female flowers are tiny and can be found growing right along the branch.  You can see both in the photo.  Some varieties of hazelnuts are designated as producers and some are pollinators.  The pollinators will produce nuts, just not as many as the producers.

I chose hazelnuts for my garden border because I wanted something taller than garden plants for a north windbreak. I would have considered putting grapevines there, but it is a wetter area and grapes need a dry spot.  What I read at the time indicated that hazelnuts could stand the wet soil, however in doing research for this post, everything I see says they need a well-drained spot.  They seem to be doing well in my garden and we’ve had a wet year.  I used closer spacing because I was going for a hedgerow.  Orchard plantings, of course, would be further apart. 

hazelnut tree base-BLOG

multiple stems of hazelnut

In permaculture we always think of plantings that can fill multiple niches.  Hazelnuts naturally grow as a shrub with multiple stems.  As they age, more suckers come.  I assume that I will eventually have to prune some of them out.  That will provide basket-making material and fuel for my rocket stove.  Nuts to eat, baskets, fuel, a nice looking border, and a windbreak all from one planting!  Apparently hazelnuts can be pruned to tree form from the beginning, rather than having multiple stemmed shrubs.  You would have to clip out the suckers when they are dormant early on in the life of the tree.  One internet source I read mentioned spraying the suckers with herbicide!  I’d rather learn to manage the hazelnuts as they naturally grow and find uses for extra suckers/stems. In commercial production the tree form is more desirable because it makes machine harvesting easier.  They let the nuts fall to the ground and pick them up with their machines.  That means they need a clean orchard floor.  I don’t even want to think about how they control the vegetation under the trees for the harvesting to go smoothly.  The American hazelnuts, which grow to about 10 ft., are a little shorter than the European varieties.  Mint, clover, and grass grow under my trees.  If the nuts fell to the ground, I would have to go searching for them, unless I kept that area mulched, or put out tarps or old sheets.  The nuts are actually mature before they fall out of the clusters and I found that it was easy to harvest the clusters on the tree as they ripened.  I wonder if easily falling out of the clusters is a desirable trait in the commercial varieties.  I would think so, although not a good trait in my garden.

I hope you add hazelnuts to your permaculture garden.  They are quick to mature, a good addition to your diet, and provide materials for other projects.  My next post on April 3 will be about my Homegrown Fridays this year which have included my own hazelnuts.

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garden in June--BLOGI am often asked how much space it would take to grow all one’s food.  That depends on a lot of factors.  I can only address the issue from the sustainability of also growing all the compost crops to feed back the soil.  With the world population now topping seven billion, using the least area for this project is high on the list of considerations.

Limiting your diet to only what you could grow in the least area, sustainably, brings nutritional challenges, with the most limiting nutrients being calories, calcium, and protein.  Those can be met with careful planning, however the resulting diet may or may not be something you want to eat everyday at this time in your life.  This is exactly what is studied at the Intermediate level of GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-farming.  The basic information for GROW BIOINTENSIVE can be found in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.

GB_2000calorieThe USDA has interactive diet planning information at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.  You can find the nutrients for specific foods there.  According to the SuperTracker feature, at a moderate rate of exercise, I should eat 2000 calories per day.  The number of servings from each food group is suggested to reach that goal.  However, limiting myself to only my garden, I won’t have all those food groups available.  A GROW BIOINTENSIVE 2000 calorie diet might look like what’s in the box on the right.  It’s a vegan diet and includes no vitamin B12, a critical nutrient necessary for healthy nerves and to prevent anemia.  As with any diet, there are other nutritional considerations.  You would need to eat this amount each day to reach 2000 calories.  If you get pretty good yields, you could probably grow this amount of food for one person, along with the necessary cover/compost crops in about 3,800 sq. ft. of bed space, including compost piles, in zone 7.  I know that vegans often use supplements to get what is missing in their diet.  Personally, I believe in getting all my nutrients in the food I eat, the way Mother Nature intended.  The food contains the nutrients in balance with other things necessary for assimilation in our bodies.

Most likely you would want to expand on this diet.  Chickens are becoming pretty popular, even in city backyards, and would help with that B12 deficiency.  If you are considering the total ecological footprint of your diet, you would have to include the area your chicken’s food came from, including everything it went through from farm to you.  Pasturing your poultry helps, but most people buy in the grains they need.  You could grow your own and then use the straw and stalks for bedding before it all goes to compost.  Harvey Ussery has been working on some ideas for additional homegrown feed, including worms and soldier fly larvae.  He wrote about it in his book The Small-Scale Poultry FlockThe Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe is another book of interest that takes a close look at growing much of your diet.

Then, of course, there’s dairy.  Cheese, yogurt, and other products are pretty nice to have, but they come at a cost of widening the ecological footprint.  And so it goes for each addition.  You could drive yourself crazy worrying about every detail.  I worry when people drop whole food groups from their diet.  I believe we need to feed ourselves from a variety of foods available seasonally and as locally as we can.  This does much to lessen our footprint.  Chickens could be raised for eggs, with the young roosters and old layers for meat, taking the place of the broiler industry.  Limiting our beef consumption to the young steers and old cows from the dairy herds could do away with the sorry feedlots the current beef industry now maintains.  The amount of these animal products and the way we eat them would have to change, but change needs to come anyway.

Our local newspaper just had an article about a family with 13 children, including four sets of twins, who were born between 1954 and 1974.  Reminiscing, one pair of twins talked of the large family garden, fruit trees, pigs, chickens, and hunted deer that fed their family in those days.  If their memory serves them, one season all their parents bought was salt and pepper for the table.  That is impressive.  I’m sure all of them were involved in growing that food.  I have a feeling that a lot of you would like to do the same thing.  Maybe you can, but if you haven’t been brought up with those skills, there’s a lot to learn.  Some people want to grow all their own food out of fear for what the future holds.  Remember, we are not alone in this world.  Furthermore, everything is connected.  We need to recognize that interdependence and build upon it.  It is in building our communities that we can develop a resilient food system that will feed everyone.  Most likely, as you go about becoming involved with the people in your community, you will meet just the ones who can teach you the skills you lack.

grape arbor and friends-BLOGPermaculture ethics call us to care for the earth, care for the people, and return the surplus.  Each of us has talents we can use to strengthen the network within our own communities.  If our talents and resources allow us to grow more food than we can consume ourselves, we can share, barter, or sell the surplus within our community, building strong ties with others and expanding our own options.  Fear can be crippling.  We need to act out of love for the earth and each other.  In acting out of love, fear falls away.

Once again, I’m working on Homegrown Fridays.  That’s when I eat only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent.  I grow a lot of food, but not all we eat.  I often think about what would be involved if I did.  Just as with communities, in our gardens we need to think in whole systems.  There should be no waste because excess from one operation would be a resource in another.  Your permaculture garden would have more than just vegetables.  There would be a hedgerow with filbert trees and berries, grapevines growing overhead, mushrooms in the shady areas, and beehives.  There are many ways to add food and shrink your diet footprint.  If you are building the soil as you grow, you can provide your family with more nutritious food than you can get anywhere else.  Buying from local producers what you can’t grow provides your family with a safety net that is only available within strong, resilient communities.

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garden map 2012-BLOG

garden map

If you are serious about growing your own food, having a good map of your garden space is essential.  At one glance it can show you what is planted where, any day of the year.  It will also show when one crop is expected to come out and the next go in.  My garden map is the one thing I refer to more than any of my other garden records throughout the year.  Here is a copy of the map of part of my garden.  As you can see, I add color to easily identify the crops grown.

To make your map, measure your area and draw it out, showing where the beds are.  If you are making a garden for the first time, you need to decide where those beds will be.  I prefer to run my beds from east to west.  Four feet is a good width for most people.  People with a shorter reach may prefer a 3’ wide bed, but I wouldn’t go any narrower than that, unless you are planting against a wall or fence, then the bed might be only 2’ wide.  The wider the beds are, the more efficient use of space, but there is a limit.  You need to be able to reach all parts of the bed without stepping in it.  I would caution against anything wider than 5’.   Label each bed with a number or letter or, in some cases, both.  My large garden has four sections (A,B,C,&D), with each section having 9 beds.  So I have A1-A9, B1-B9, etc.  Maybe you want to give each bed a name.  It’s your garden.  Labeling helps to identify each bed in your planning.  To get the measuring done, a 100′ tape measure is a great help and is fairly inexpensive.

one hundred ft. tape measure-BLOG

100 ft. tape measure

There is more to a garden map than the outline of the beds.  It helps your planning if all the beds contain the same area.  Many of your crops will occupy a whole bed—tomatoes, corn, and potatoes come to mind.  Some will need less space, such as lettuce and zucchini.  Those can be grouped together in a bed.  You will need to plan rotations and put those rotation arrows on the map.  It is not good to keep planting the same thing in the same place year after year.   That goes for things in the same crop families.  You can plan so that the crop, or group of crops, that are planted in each bed rotates to the next bed the next year.  There is a lot to explore in the area of rotations.  Eliot Coleman has a chapter in New Organic Grower about rotations.  Also, The New Self-Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour is a good resource on the subject.    My pet peeve with computerized garden maps that are often available is that they only show you the plan for one year, with no rotations.  It may be that part of your garden is shady and you have specific crops that go there.  In that case you would have two rotation plans—one for the shady area and one for the sunny part.  Maybe you have both large and small area beds.  If the large areas are twice the size of the small areas you might do as Brent did in my garden plan video and count each large bed as two beds.    Or, you might have a rotation schedule for the large beds and one for the small beds.  If you have only one garden bed, consider rotating the spaces within the bed.

Once you have the map drawn, complete with the rotation arrows, have some copies made to play with.  Write in the names of the main season crops you will have there and the beginning and end dates those crops will be in the beds.  Your garden is out there every day all year soaking up the sun.  Fill in the beds for the rest of the year with additional crops, cover crops, companions, etc.  If you don’t plant something there, Mother Nature will.  Once you think you have everything like you want it, take a good look.  If you have overwintered cover crops or eating crops such as greens or carrots in a bed, the group of crops rotating to that bed the next year needs to begin with what’s already going to be there.  If you plant garlic in bed B3 in the fall and the next year the crops from the current year B2 will be planted there, that selection of crops from B2 needs to begin with garlic.  Most often it is a cover crop that will be overwintering.  If a bed is the first to be planted in the spring with onions, lettuce, and sugarsnap peas, the cover crop planted there in the fall needs to be one that will winterkill.  Or, you could prepare the bed in the fall and cover it with leaves.  Pull them back two weeks before planting time to allow the soil to warm up.  You can click on the pictures in my posts and they will each open larger in a new window.  If you take a closer look at my colorful garden map you will see a couple places where the rotations don’t match for the next year.  That’s because it shows what’s there right now as the first crop, but I’ve made some changes for next year, so the last crop in the bed will be with the new plan.  For more information on planning cover crops for sustainability, refer to my blog posts Planning for Soil Fertility and Compost Materials on August 9, 2011 and Choosing Which Cover Crops to Plant Where on August 23, 2011.  For cautions on bringing in outside sources of mulch and compost read Killer Compost from July 26, 2011.  My video Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden takes you through the year from March to November, showing you the different cover crops and how to manage them using only hand tools.

4-bed rotation map-BLOG

4-bed rotation map

It is good to have a “to-scale” map, but in some cases your working map might look a little different, with the beds large enough to write in all the necessary information. Just as long as you know how much area you are working with and that what you are planning for that area will fit.  In my video, Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan, I work through the rotations in this 4-bed plan.  I’ve had people tell me they really didn’t understand rotations until they saw me explain it in the video.  That video comes with a companion CD that includes this 4-bed map, plus worksheets to help you plan when your crops need to be planted, how long the harvest will be, and when the bed will be ready for the next crop.    In addition, the CD has a 7-bed rotation map that corresponds with Betsy’s Garden at Sunfield Farm, the garden you see in the video.  That map is included as a real-life example of a working rotation.

Now that you have your map as you like it, label it with the year and “Proposed”.  Take two more blank maps (which is why you need to make multiple copies) and label one “Actual” and another “Amendments”.  Put them in your garden notebook and fill them in as you go along.  At the end of the season, you will have a record of what actually was in each bed and when.  You will also have a record of anything you may have added during the year on the amendments map.  Have fun with your garden maps.  Spring will be here soon and you want to be ready.

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It has been an interesting and fun year with the solar food dryers.  As you can see from the picture, I made a summer home for my solar dryers in my garden, laying down pavers which can be easily moved if I change my mind.  That area is 44 feet north of a maple tree.  It got plenty of sun throughout the summer, but in September the shade started to creep in and I had to move the dryers.  When the dryers were in the garden, we didn’t have to worry about mowing around them.  Although I had a grill cover for the small one, I usually left it uncovered out in the weather.  Now, it is in its winter home in the barn with the grill cover on to keep it clean.  The large one will be moved back to the garden, wintering there, ready for next summer.  For information about the cost of these dryers and how I made them, take a look at my post on May 31, 2011.

I had the privilege of having the solar food dryer from Acorn Community in Mineral, VA at my place for comparison.  As you can see, it is similar to my larger dryer.  It has a deeper angle to the collector and the collector box is shallower.  Also, the back legs fold up under the collector, which made it easy to transport in my pickup.  It seemed to heat up a little quicker in the morning than my large dryer, but other than that, they worked pretty much the same.  I assume the steeper angle of the collector caught that early sun. I had it here in early August.  I imagine that steeper angle would have made even more of a difference if I was using it in September and October when the sun was lower in the sky.  My solar oven has a leg in the back that can be adjusted to raise the oven to more of an angle to catch the sun.  I needed to do that during these fall months.  

My friends Susan and Molly, and daughter Betsy decided they each wanted to build a dryer this summer.  We had a series of work days to accomplish that.  If you want to build one, get a friend involved.  It’s a lot more fun and it helps to work out the challenges that are sure to pop up.  Susan added handles on the sides of hers to make it easier to move around.  I like that and would do it if I didn’t occasionally have to load mine in the car to take it somewhere.  On my large dryer, I had a piece of plywood across the handles to make a shelf to put the trays on when I was moving them in and out. 

Susan

Those handles of Susan’s made a built-in support to rest the trays on.  When not in use, Susan kept her dryer in a covered work area.  Molly kept hers on the front porch and brought it out in the yard to use it.  There are so many trees where Betsy lives, she put hers in the middle of a field to avoid shading.

Molly

  Before she had it at that location she had some problems with ants crawling up the legs.  She moved it to the field and put it on a pallet and had no more problem with ants.  Just in case, she put Vasoline on the legs to stop the ants. It promptly melted in the summer heat and ran off.  Betsy’s dryer stayed out in the weather for the rest of the summer.  They finished their dryers in July.  Another friend made one, following the directions in The Solar Food Dryer book.  His only regret was that he didn’t make it sooner.

Betsy

We all enjoyed success and agreed we are all still learning.  July had 5 inches of rain and August had 6 inches, with the accompanying humidity.  Most summers are drier.  You can never predict, so it is good to have a variety of food preservation methods to use.  Of course, the best way to eat your food is straight from the garden all year.  So, we have carrots in the ground and row covers over collards and kale now in late November.  Garlic and onions from summer harvest are stored, along with sweet potatoes, winter squash, and any Irish potatoes that may be left. 

I found that I didn’t have much success with green beans in the solar dryer.  They are so easy to pressure can and the home-canned beans have been my convenience food for a long time, so I think I’ll stick to canning the beans.  I used to can spaghetti sauce using my tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, garlic, and onions.  I would check through my onions and use the ones that wouldn’t store as well.  Now that I dry most of my tomatoes, I have turned to drying those onions that need to be used first.  I determine that by pushing my thumb into the center of the onion where the top comes out.  The hardest ones, with no give, are set aside to braid and store for winter use.  The softest ones are used first in spaghetti sauce and summer cooking, and now, solar drying.  They dry beautifully, as do peppers.  I chop the peppers before I dry them.  Of course, we used fresh peppers from the garden until frost, which was not until Oct. 30 this year.  I had some Ruffled Hungarian peppers that were loaded in late October and I chopped up some for the freezer.  We still have a few green peppers in the crisper drawer of the fridge from that last harvest. By choice, we only have the freezer space above our refrigerator, so I don’t depend on it for preserving the harvest, but it was nice to put some late peppers in there.  The peppers dried through the summer will be used as needed this winter and spring.  

We bought two bushels of apples from an orchard in late September.  I solar dried several loads of them, filled the crisper drawers in the fridge, and left the remaining ones in a basket on the porch.  Once the basket was empty, we started using the ones in the fridge, which are half gone now.  When those are used, I’ll get into the dried apples.  They are great for applesauce or to eat as is.  Peaches dried quicker than the pears I tried.  I bought the peaches from an orchard.  I made raisins from both seedless grapes and ones with seeds.  I cut the grapes in half first, so they don’t look like the raisins from the store.  I would like to propagate more vines from my seedless variety for raisins so that I don’t have to cut out the seeds like I did with the second variety.  That variety with the seeds made great mead with our honey.  Each variety has its best uses. Sorry, I planted those two vines years ago and don’t remember the names of the varieties.

Tomatoes are a given for solar drying, however, since you could have a bumper crop and the climate doesn’t always cooperate, you may want to have alternate plans.  I like to can tomato soup, another convenience food, and it doesn’t require long cooking down like spaghetti sauce.  Tomato juice is easy and relatively quick to can, not heating the kitchen up too much.  It can be used in so many dishes.

This year I had a harvest from some of the filbert trees I planted in 2007.  I was busy when the harvest was coming in and I didn’t want to lose them on the ground or to the squirrels, so I harvested some of the nut clusters when they were on the tree.  Wanting to make sure they were dry, I put them in the dryers.  I grew some cotton this year and got it in later than planned.  Some of the bolls still hadn’t opened when the frost killed the plants.  I put those bolls in the solar dryers and many of them opened.  Another time I used them to dry seeds.  I was happy to find so many uses for these dryers so late in the season.  Having the dryers out in the garden ready to go, I used them as often as I could.  Next year, I want to dry more okra, raisins, and onions, among other things.  It would be nice to grow some mushrooms for drying.    This winter I want to experiment with sauce and soup mixes from my dried supply for quick meals. 

 How did all of you do?  Anyone make a solar dryer and use it?

Click on any picture and it will open larger in a new window.

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Bloody Butcher corn drying in the barn

If you’ve seen my video Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden, you know that I grow Bloody Butcher corn for cornmeal.  I chose that variety because back in 1991 Mike McGrath made a big deal about it in Organic Gardening magazine. I liked the color and that it was an heirloom, so I grew Bloody Butcher the next year.  I also put in a variety of yellow corn that year and Bloody Butcher did the best.  I’ve been growing it and saving seed ever since.

Growing flour corn is similar to growing sweet corn—except you just leave it on the stalk to dry.  With sweet corn you are watching for just the right moment to pick it at its best.  There’s not so much bother with flour corn.  Nature protects the ears from the birds with the husks.  That doesn’t help against the raccoons, but in his book Small-Scale Grain Raising, Gene Logsdon suggests putting old socks over each ear to protect from four-legged predators.  I haven’t tried the socks.

corn ready for harvest

When it’s ready to harvest, the stalks will be mostly dry and often the ears will point downward, but not always.  Choose a dry day and pull off the ears, husks and all.  I pull back the husks on each ear and, using baling twine, tie the ears together in a long string, tying them where the ear meets the pulled back husks.  I hang these strings in the barn out of reach of mice and birds.  I usually do this in early September.  The corn would have been transplanted about May 21 .  The corn still needs to dry down a bit more after harvest, and I’m pretty busy anyway in September, so sometime in October I get around to shelling it.

corn sheller in action

Shelling corn is a lot of fun if you are using a hand-cranked corn sheller.  If you are using your thumbs it’s not so much fun and blisters form pretty quickly.  You can find a shiny new red corn sheller at Lehman’s for $239.  I see there’s one on the internet at Pleasant Hill Grain for $80.  I’m sure there are differences, but besides the color (red and green), the only difference I can see from the pictures is that you need to adjust a wing nut for cob size with the Pleasant Hill model.  The old ones I’m familiar with have a heavy spring that adjusts automatically.   My favorite place to find corn shellers is antique malls.  You can also find them on E-bay.  I prefer the antique malls since I can see what I’m getting.  No doubt, what you find will be rusty, but that’s okay.  A little wire brushing will clean it up, but it would work fine as it is.  Wood missing in the handle is one thing to look out for.  There are plenty of good ones out there, but if you do end up with one missing the wood, you could use a handle suited to putting on a file, as a friend of mine did.  You should be able to buy an old corn sheller for under $50 if you take your time and keep your eyes open.  A popular brand name is Black Hawk.  You need to attach a corn sheller to something, usually a wooden box that you’ve made.  The shelled corn drops right into the box and the empty cobs shoot out and away.  If you are really on a tight budget, you might want to go the primitive route and make a sheller out of a board and a few nails.  This 1983 article in Mother Earth News will show you how–http://www.motherearthnews.com/do-it-yourself/1983-01-01/a-primitive-but-free-corn-sheller.aspx. 

I wash the corn kernels as I did the wheat and you can check that out at my blog post Grains in Your Garden.  Once it’s dry, I store it in jars in my pantry, after I put it in the freezer for a few days first to insure against insect damage.  When I’m shelling, I take note of my best ears and keep that seed separate for planting next year.  I might keep that in the freezer all year.   

Bloody Butcher corn ready for the pantry

Corn feeds us and the soil.  Corn is an easy to grow grain that can be a staple in your diet.  People who have issues with gluten can enjoy eating corn. The stalks provide carbon to feed back the soil by way of the compost pile.  I chop them with a machete in lengths convenient for compost material.  Corn is one of the “five crops you need to survive and thrive” that Carol Deppe wrote about in The Resilient Gardener.  The other four crops are potatoes, beans, squash and eggs.  Deppe is a seed breeder and has developed certain varieties for particular uses and has come up with her own recipes.  Being gluten intolerant herself, she has included her recipe for corn bread that contains no wheat flour in the book.  Published only a year ago, this book is a “must read” for anyone wanting to grow a major portion of their diet.

You can find out how the Hidatsa Indians traditionally grew and managed their corn by reading Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden.  It also covers squash, beans, and sunflowers and is an excellent historical account.  With a little research you might be able to find out which heirloom varieties have been grown in your area.  Or maybe you might read an article about an interesting variety and start from there, like I did.  If you don’t want to have to grind corn and make cornmeal, but you would like the experience of growing corn and harvesting it dry on the stalk, grow popcorn.  You can shell out just what you need at the time and it won’t be too bad on your thumbs.  You could use the stalks for your Halloween decorations, then chop them for the compost pile.  Even a small amount would be fun to get started with.  I hope you keep corn in mind for your 2012 garden.

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