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Archive for December, 2012

My Perennial Vegetables

Now that I have explained why you might want perennial vegetables, many of you are wondering, “What vegetables come back every year other than asparagus?” Some people are aware of artichokes, sunchokes and rhubarb. But that is the extent of most peoples, including my own, knowledge of perennial vegetables. So I found a book to help me out some. Perennial Vegetables, by Eric Toensmeir. He explains quite a few vegetables that are supposed to be delicious and come back every year. Another way of finding perennial vegetables is to check out what is available at permaculture nurseries. There aren’t many of them that are easy to find, but with some looking, and suggestions from the book I mentioned, you should be able to get a decent selection.

After much looking around, I chose Food Forest Farm to order some perennial vegetables from. I chose this farm for many reasons. The location was in the same growing zone as me which means that it won’t be full of tropical plants I can’t grow. The way they set up their plant list made it very easy for me to choose which plants I wanted to order. It listed zone, uses, soil and light requirements, and prices all in a neat little chart so I could compare and decide what I wanted to try.

I bought one each of the following: turkish rocket, sunchoke, sea kale, pea shrub, hog peanut, ground nut, Good King Henry, and Giant Solomon’s Seal. A few of these I chose because they grow well in shade and I have plenty of shade. A couple are nitrogen fixers which is great for my garden. The rest just sounded good. Now I just have to wait until May to get my delivery.

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Happy Winter Solstice

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!!  Today is the shortest day of the year and the longest night.  From here on out the days are getting longer and the nights shorter.  That is something to celebrate no matter what your chosen holiday of the season is.  It rained all day today, so we didn’t get to do much, but tomorrow should be better.  The family will come over for breakfast and we will open gifts.  I am proud to say that I made almost all the gifts I am giving this year, and the cards I sent out too.  Hopefully it will be nice like it is supposed to be and we can go for a walk at the park.  We will also have a bonfire if there is any wood left that hasn’t been soaked through.  Either way, we will enjoy some time outside with the family taking in the season.

No matter what it is you choose to celebrate this time of year, have a great holiday and enjoy yourself.  Make many happy memories with your family and friends and be sure to remember what you are really celebrating.  I say to remember because as I look around I realize that so many people have forgotten. This season starts with black Friday where people fight over items in various stores and sometimes even trample each other.  We rush around spending too much money on various gifts that we give to everyone on our list.  You get judged on how good your gifts are and people are mean and ungrateful if you don’t get them the right gift.  Our children beg for the most expensive electronics while we are telling them to be good because Santa is watching them.  I have always celebrated Christmas in the past, but this just doesn’t go along with what the season should be about.  It also doesn’t fit in with the life I am trying to make for my family.  So we are trying something a little different this year.  I am excited to try and celebrate the season rather than just the gifts.  That means so much more to me.

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Skills for the New Year

In our journey to becoming self sufficient, there are numerous skills we need to learn along the way.  We currently live in a house in a little neighborhood with every store imaginable within ten minutes.  We don’t need to have many skills.  When we decided that we were leaving this lifestyle behind, we quickly realized how little we knew how to do for ourselves.

So we started learning as many skills as possible, starting with growing a garden as I had mentioned before.  This past year we learned quite a few new skills.  I began making most of my own household cleaning products out of things like baking soda and vinegar.  I learned how to make my own soaps and am currently perfecting my own shampoo.  I started learning fermenting through making mead and vinegar.  We participated in a local CSA and started learning what cooking in season was all about.  We made rain barrels and a water filter in order to drink clean, fresh water instead of treated tap water.  I did a small amount of canning.  The final project of the year was the lasagna garden.

So now, what new skills to learn this year?  We would like to do some more work with fermentation.  Maybe yogurt, kombucha, and sour kraut.  We eventually want to build a rocket mass heater, so this year I think we will build a rocket mass stove which is a simpler version of the heater.  Cobb as a building material is part of the rocket mass stove, so we will probably learn to work with cobb this first.  I bought a large amount of raw wool this past spring which I am hoping to learn to work with; I am considering an alpaca farm at some point in the future.  We also need to learn to start a fire without tons of lighter fluid and a lighter.  A perennial vegetable garden is something I have already talked about doing.  There are so many possibilities and so little time given that we still currently have standard jobs.  We also have two lovely babies and are trying to buy the land that we will all eventually live on.  So what is most important to learn?  I would love to get some input from anyone who has been through this already.

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Perennial Vegetables

If you are going to start a permaculture garden you need to have something more permanent than annual vegetables. Permaculture is not planting vegetables every single year. It is setting up a bed one year and harvesting every year. This means that you need perennial vegetables. Vegetables that come back for multiple years with little to no care, but still provide delicious produce to feed your family.

Permaculture also means multiple functions for everything. So what is another function DSC_0269for vegetables? Some of them are pretty, but that is not really a second function. However, perennial vegetables can also be soil builders and erosion control. As part of the plants die off every year, they add organic matter to the soil that will breakdown and feed themselves the following year. They have an established root structure rather than a flimsy root structure that will rot away. This prevents erosion by holding your soil where it is so that you don’t have to replenish next year.

I currently only have a standard garden that I have attempted to set up as a lasagna garden this year. My intention is to buy a few different perennial vegetables to plant one row of my garden as an experimental perennial vegetable bed. I will buy the obvious asparagus and some “walking” onions that I have found and whatever else I can find that could potentially be good food. The long term plan for this is to decide on which perennial vegetables are the best and start a full scale perennial garden.

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Now that your lasagna garden is all set up you have all these leaves leftover because you went overboard collecting them. This is a perfect time to start a a compost pile. Don’t get too lazy and just throw the leaves in a pile somewhere though, it could make extra work for you later.  Just read this quickly and think about it for just a couple minutes.

The first step in composting is to choose a good spot.  The bacteria living in your pile that are breaking it down for you need warmth and moisture.  Therefore, choose a location where you get a little of both.  You want it to get some sun to warm it up and some water from the rain so you don’t have to water it yourself.  My pile is at the edge of the tree cover in my yard, right at the border of my garden.  That way it is in the sun part of the day but can still get rained on.  Another option is to put it anywhere you have some room in the sun, water it when it gets dry, and cover it with a tarp to retain the moisture.  I always go for the choice with the least effort and I think that tarps are ugly, so I don’t use this option.  One other consideration for location is effort to get things to and from the pile.  I mentioned that my pile was at the edge of my garden.  This makes for less work in the spring when I am the busiest.  I have to walk further in the fall when I am raking leaves, but that time of the year isn’t as busy so I don’t mind. Finished compost is also much heavier than a pile of leaves.

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The top layer of my new compost pile

Now that you have a spot set up for your compost pile, what do you put in it?  You need a good mixture of green and brown materials.  Green materials are things like grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps.  Brown materials are leaves and papers.  This combination is again to support the bacteria you are trying to get to work for you.  They need certain nutrients that are available from the different materials.  Carbon is in the browns and the greens are for nitrogen.  The suggested ratio is 25 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.  If you have too much nitrogen, don’t worry, it will just smell a little funny.  If you have too much carbon, the pile won’t break down very well.  You can always add other things to your pile like wood ash, seaweed, shells, etc if you need other nutrients for your soil but these are the basics.

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Lasagna Garden Setup

Setting up your own lasagna garden is easy and can be done completely for free. The entire job took me about a day all together. There was a little bit of collecting also involved, but the piles of stuff didn’t even sit for very long. So here’s how to do it:

  1. Lay down flattened cardboard boxes. Many people make the first layer of the lasagna a layer of cardboard or newspapers. Many other people think this is a bad idea because of what is in cardboard and newspapers like ink and glue. What I think is that cardboard and paper are great for the walkways in between the actual garden beds. I am just trying this for the first time so no guarantee as to how well it will work. I saved empty cardboard boxes and newspapers, and the rest I brought home from work. I also used the empty leaf bags when I ran out of boxes.
  2. Start with a layer of brown material. I use leaves collected from my yard and the yards of all my neighbors. They bag them up and put them by the side of the road and then I send the man to go pick them up for me. Living in the town I live in, there is no shortage of leaves. Brown layers should be about 3-4 inches deep.
  3. The next layer is a green layer. Things that are good for green layers are: kitchen scraps, grass cuttings, hay, seaweed (in small amounts), garden scraps, etc. I used hay that had “gone bad” from a friend with horses. Rotten hay that horses can’t eat is perfect for gardens. I planted an oilseed radish cover crop a couple months earlier and cut the tops off the radishes for greens. I also piled on some food scraps when I ran out of the other things. I finally collected seaweed from the shores of a local beach.
  4. Another brown layer and then another green layer etc. until your garden beds are piled about two feet tall.
  5. Wait a few months.
  6. When it is finished, your layers should be broken down to about two inches. They will be perfect to plant your spring garden in.

If you want to speed up the process, water each layer as you pile them on. Then cover the beds with tarps to retain moisture. The best time to do this whole setup so that you don’t have to wait is the fall. This way, the decomposition takes place over the winter and come spring you are ready to go.

How to set up a lasagna garden for free.

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Lasagna Gardening

I’m sure you are aware how wonderful compost is for your garden.  For some people, including myself, there is just not enough room in your yard to have enough compost piles to feed your whole garden.  So why not just turn your whole garden into a compost pile?

“Lasagna gardening” or a “no till” garden does just that.  You build up your garden with the same layers of browns and greens that you would in a compost pile and just leave it there.  When done well, you can plant your garden right into these piles of compost with little further effort.  You don’t need to till because the materials will compost and turn into a nice, soft bed for you to plant your garden in.  You don’t need to fertilize because your garden is going to be built out of fertilizer.  You don’t need to weed as much because the thick layers will block the weeds from growing where they would normally grow.  You don’t need as much water because the organic composting materials hold much more water than standard garden soil and the water is there waiting for your plants to drink it up.  The layers you add on to the garden may even prevent some of the diseases and pest you have had in the past from being able to return to your garden for another year.  

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My almost finished lasagna garden

I am going to give this type of garden a try this year. I am doing my fall clean up (a little late) right now, which means I am surrounded with excellent composting material to add the layers to my garden. My plan is to set this garden up like this for now and then come spring my garden work will be far less then normal. My garden will also be much healthier than it has been in previous years. Hopefully I am on the right track, but it makes so much sense to me that I don’t know how I could be on the wrong track. 

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