Saturday, December 29, 2012

Whats in Bloom- September 2012

The Geraniums are going strong around the porch.

Harlequin Marigolds.

The Mayo Indian Amaranth is in full bloom.

Petunias are popping among the peppers.

Rose of Sharon Hibiscus, with a tiny flower spider waiting in ambush.

Harlequin Marigolds coming up in between Brassicaceae plants spaced in a 12" Hex pattern.

Jewels of Opar

Flowering Tobacco

The Raspberries are flowering as well.

Petunias, Gladiolus, dahlia, and Oregano all blooming in Nikki's square foot flower garden.


I'm not really sure what this is, but there is a lot of it growing on the wooded hill north of the house.  If you look close, there is also goldenrod visible.

Hostas are blooming under the oaks West of the house.

Spilanthes acmella, the toothache plant. 

Amazingly, our small cactus produced a bloom on the sun porch.

 And of course, Pablo was eager to help with the pictures.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chicken and Garden update 12/16/2012

     The unseasonably warm weather has made our chicken care chores a lot easier than I had imagined they would be for this time of year.  It's pretty unusual to not have snow yet for this part of the country.  Not only has it not snowed, there have only been a few days where we have had to deal with frozen water in the mornings.  I have about an hour of sunlight after work these days and my routine now includes letting out our neighbor's Lab, Maggie.

     At first this was a difficult proposition that had me rushing to walk her so the chickens could have some time outside after she was back in the house.  Incredibly, though, our efforts to introduce them slowly have paid off, and she understands that they are part of the pack now.  Even though she was trained to hunt, she is smart enough to tell the difference between pheasants and chickens.  Good dog!

     Now we go get the chickens together.  Here they are in the not yet fenced, soon to be forest garden.  I moved our picnic tables over there and put some pallets across the benches so they would have some overhead cover.  They really prefer the neighbor's Pine trees though.  I will need to get some fencing up soon, they are starting to do visible damage to the turf in spots.  I just figured everything would be covered in snow by now.

     Maggie and the chickens get along really well.  Some times they even follow her around, which is hilarious.

     Maggie is off to patrol the lasagna gardens.  The pink ribbons tied to the fence posts are so that I can monitor and better understand the wind patterns here.

And the chickens follow.

     We are still getting some kale out of the lasagna beds.  The Red Russian Kale on the upper right has not fared well through the frosts, the remaining broccoli is also not looking too good.  But the Curled Blue Scotch Kale (lower left) is still crisp and delicious.

      The garlic and potato onions are sprouting.  I am surprised how much the chickens like the garlic greens.  They pick at the kale, but don't do too much damage with the time they have.  They do a wonderful job of turning the top layer of mulch though.

     Above is Aristotle, one of our 3 ameraucana roosters enjoying some garlic.  They are gorgeous birds, especially when the sun hits their many colored feathers.  It is going to be a sad day soon when we have to take out the boys, but they are having more frequent, though minor scuffles lately.  And a few time they have gotten into crowing contests at 8 or 9 at night.  Fortunately for us the neighbors can't hear it in their house.  They have been more and more adventurous lately, discovering the flower gardens and bird feeders up by the house.  Below, Hank the rooster and one of the ameraucana hens are checking out Nikki's butterfly garden.  Luckily they haven't gone near the road at all.  We expect to start getting some pullet eggs some time in January.

     The new front hugelkulture bed looks about the same so far, not much settling.  I did spread some white clover seed over it yesterday while there were warmer temps and a gentle rain.  Nikki has planted some bulbs in it, but I am not really sure what or where yet.  There are also some patches of safflower sprouting that I had thrown out to encourage the chickens to scratch at the mulch. 

    So far, our winter hoop coop setup is working out well.  Of course we haven't faced any real winter weather yet either.  No smell at all in the coop, the deep litter method is working wonderfully in that regard.  We filled a few pallet bins full of leaves from the yard this fall.  Dry leaves, with a little straw, have made up the bulk of our litter material so far.  Though I also picked up some store bought pine shavings to get us through wetter weather.  I spread a thin layer over the entire coop floor at least once a week.  We stopped using the nipple type waterer.  The chickens stopped using it the first time it froze on them.  I  was planning on constructing a heated version of it.  Now I am not so sure if I should.  In a lot of ways, I think it is better to just bring them a fresh dish twice a day.  It gets us out there to check on things and uses less energy.  Mostly now we use the plastic waterer we first started with.  Hanging it from a chain has really helped keep things cleaner.  The two dishes on the right we use for grit.

     We had another dramatic close call a couple of days ago.  A friend came to visit with his rambunctious Lab-Husky mix named Sunny.  The chickens were out and he was very interested, so we kept him on a leash the whole time.  We were in back chopping wood and having a small fire while sunny was tied to a nearby fence post on a long cable.  Everything was fine, until the entire flock of chickens crept over toward us through the trees behind our compost bins and came suddenly into Sunny's view.  He ran for them.  When he ran out of cable, his collar snapped off without so much as a jolt, and the chase was on!  I am pretty sure this was the fastest I have ran in at least a decade, but there was no way I was going to catch up in this race.  The chickens gained a little ground by scattering and Sunny went after the largest group, around the barn and toward the big pine tree.  The birds went under the tree and Sunny went around allowing me to cut him off.  He easily sidestepped my grab and ran toward a lone Red Star hen standing 1/2 way between the coop and the tree.  She bolted to the small, and thankfully open, chicken door as he barreled down.  My heart thumped loudly as she stumbled outside the door and he snapped his jaws just shy of her tail feathers.  Somehow she made it through the door, which he was just barely to big to fit through, as the thin boards creaked and cracked against his weight. 

     I was only a few steps behind, and grabbed him, pinning him down while my friend went to retrieve his leash.  I am still amazed that no one got hurt, with the exception of scrapping my knuckle on a brick that we use to prop the coop door open sometimes.  I'm not angry with Sunny, it's the dog in him, and other than an intense need to play rough and fast, he is a good dog.  Maggie (pictured with Nikki below) is an amazingly smart dog; though definitely her own master.  I have really enjoyed having her around.

Other than that we are just looking forward to spending some time with our families over the holidays and then on to the start of garden planning season!

Sunday, December 9, 2012



Lupinus sp.



Common Names:

Lupine Russell hybrid (Lupinus subcarnosus) 
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)


Herbaceous flower up to 4' tall (Russel hybrids)  or 1' tall (bluebonnets)


Full sun to partial shade, prefers acid soil.  Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before average last frost.

Seed Saving:

Collect fully mature, dried seedpods in late Summer or Fall, before frost.  Dried seed is speckled, about 1/8" diameter.

Permaculture uses:

Nitrogen fixer 
Attracts pollinators
Important host plant for the larvae of the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.


Soil, water, sunlight, nutrients, beneficial bacteria


Nitrogen, Seeds, Leaves, Flowers, Roots, Root nodules


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Forest Garden Update 11/29/2012


I managed to make a little more progress with the warm weather over the long holiday weekend getting the first section of forest garden layed out.  I used my 300' reel tape to make sure the 164' poultry netting would fit on the mowed paths.  The fence posts mark the corners of the garden and will support a snow fence to keep the chickens inside to destroy the turf this Spring.

Updated Seed List for Spring sewing

Seeds that need light (no seedball)

Astilbe  Astilbe sp.
Yarrow Achillea sp.
Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia sp.

Seeds that need stratification before seedballs

Apple Malus sp.
Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia sp.
Blueberry Vaccinium sp.
Cherry Prunus avium
Columbine, Alpina deep blue Aquilegia alpina
Echinacea Echinacea sp.
Goumi Berry Elaegnaceae multiflora
Lupine Lupinus sp.
Pear Pyrus sp.
Peach Prunus persica

Seeds that need Scarification before seedballs

Black Locust Tree Robinia pseudoacacia
Nasturtium, dwarf Tropaeolum minus

The rest of the seeds in seedballs

Asperagus Asperagus officinalis
Beans (various bush and pole)
Broccoli Brassica Oleracea
Butternut Squash Cucurbita moschata
Cabbage Brassica Oleracea
Chamomile Chamaelum mobile
Chicory Chichorium intybus
Cucumber Cucumis sativus
Daikon Radish Raphanus sativus
Delicata Squash Cucurbita pepo
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Goji Berry Lycium barbarium
Ground Cherries, Aunt Molly's Physalias pubescens
Hairy Vetch Vicia villosa
Kale Brassica oleracea
Lettuce Lactuca sativa
Marigold, Harlequin Tagetes patula
Parsley, Italian Petroselinum crispum v. neapolitanum
Parsley, Darki Petroselinum crispum
Pea Pisum sativum
Rhubarb Rheum rhabarbarum
Safflower Carthamus tinctorius
Strawberry Spinach Chenopodium capitatum
Siberian Pea Shrub Caragana arborescens
Spilanthes Achmella oleracea
Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris
Sunflower Helianthus sp.
White Clover Trifolium repens
Yarrow Achillea sp.

Plants to allow or add later

Almond Prunus glandulosa
Chestnut, American Castanea dentata
Comfrey Symphytum officinale
Crocus Crocus sp.
Currant Ribes sp.
Daffodils Narcissus sp.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Elderberry Sambucus sp.
Gooseberry Ribes sp.
Hyacinth Hyacinthus sp.
Iris Iris sp.
Jerusalem artichoke Helianthus tuberosus
Lambs Quarters Chenopodium album
Nectarine Prunus persica v. nectarina
Plantain Plantago sp.
Plum Prunus sp.
Purslane Portulaca oleracea
Raspberry Rubus strigosus
Strawberry Fragaria x ananassa
Tulip Tulipa sp.
Valerian Valeriana officinalis

Mushroom logs

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chicken update 11/16/2012

The Chickens are doing well.  The hawks haven't been around too much and we still have all 20 birds.  We have "Winterized" the hoop coop, taking the wheels and the hitch off and surrounding it with straw bales and another tarp.  I kept the front open to the South to let some light in and ventilate.  The barn should protect it from the cold North winds.  I'm not thrilled with the setup, but I think it will get us through the Winter.  The chickens seem to like it.


We have switched over to the deep litter method, using straw and dried leaves for bedding.  Frosty mornings have  made keeping them watered more of a chore, but the hens always make me laugh, and I love catching the sunrise on a brisk fall morning before work.
I need to get some nest boxes installed soon.  I am thinking I will try ones made from 5 gallon buckets and maybe a milk crate or two.  We expect them to start laying pullet eggs around January, but with the short days they'll likely be few and far between until Spring.  So far the three roosters are behaving themselves, though there have been some scuffles for roost space in the evening.

I let them out for a while when I get home from work, though the days are very short now, and forage is pretty limeted.  We are feeding them layer crumbles and providing grit.  I am very anxious to get the forest garden going and provide them with better forage and shelter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saving Seeds

I really got into saving and growing heirloom seeds three years ago, and have been reading and practicing ever since.  As my confidence grows, and I have a chance to grow out varieties to test isolation techniques, I plan to offer seeds for trade or sale within the US. 

Above is a shot of my current collection, both saved and purchased.  Below is a list of vegetable, herb, Tree, and flower seed I currently have in excess.  Email me a if you are interested.  I charge $3 for the first packet and $2 for each additional.  This includes shipping, quantities vary depending on variety. 

Asparagus (unk local variety)
Ground Cherry, Aunt Molly's
Hairy Vetch
Hollyhock, Antique White
Marigold, Harlequin
White Clover

That's it for now, but I hope to add more varieties next season.  We'll see, I'm struggling with how I am going to maintain genetic isolation as I convert the gardens into a polyculture forest garden.  Oh well, I guess there is no "best" way; just the best we can do.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A quick, delicious breakfast

It's almost too simple to call a recipe.  I have been making this dish with many variations for the last couple of years.  It only takes about 5 minutes (not including harvest) and is a great way to eat some fresh garden veggies.  I call it

Scrambled Eggs and Veggies


I have made this with Asparagus, Broccoli, and it is shown here with Kale, though I am sure there are numerous other great options.  I do think that it is best to keep it simple, and work with one vegetable in a batch.  Basically I just chop and saute the veggies until they are slightly wilted, then add the eggs and scramble.  Being from Wisconsin, I usually throw a little shredded cheese on top as well.  The whole process takes about 5 minutes.
The seasoning options are endless.  Some of my favorites are simple, with just a touch of salt, pepper, and cheese, or spicy, with hot sauce and butter.
It's delicious, nutritious, and something we can make almost entirely from the garden.  Using the cast iron makes cleanup a breeze.  If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be growing and eating kale, I would have thought you were insane, unless you fed me this first!  I wouldn't exactly call it gourmet, but for two people who work full time and never seem to have enough time to take care of ourselves, it works really well.

Some good combinations:

Swiss Chard and Mushrooms
Saute mushrooms for 2 min then add chopped chard

when chard is slightly wilted add eggs salt and pepper
Scramble, add cheese when finished




Symphytum officinale



Common names: 

Comfrey, Bone knit, Knit bone


Perennial herbaceous plant, growing 3' to 5' tall
Deep tap root


Comfrey is easily propagated through root cuttings.  People who  try to eliminate comfrey by tilling end up with a field of comfrey, it is best eliminated by smothering.  Gophers and squirrels like to harvest and bury pieces of root, spreading the herb.

Thrives in full sun, tolerates partial shade.
USDA Hardiness Zone 4-9

Seed Saving:

Permaculture uses:

Medicinal herb, applied topically or as bruised leaf or salve to treat broken bones, bruises, tissue damage.
Dynamic accumulator; Nitrogen, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Silicon [source: Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway]
Fermented for liquid fertilizer
Forage on limited basis
Chop and drop mulch up to 5 times a season





Wikipedia, Comfrey

TC permaculture, Comfrey