Monday, 5 January 2009

Introducing the Matron of Husbandry

by MOH, Throwback at Trapper Creek

Hi everyone, I am writing to introduce myself. I am flattered to have been asked to join this great group of writers, who write about subjects near and dear to my heart. Thank you so much for inviting me and I hope I can add a little bit to the mix, I know I have learned many interesting things from this blog.

Some of you may have already read my regular farm blog, Throwback at Trapper Creek, so this may be a little redundant for you.

I farm with my husband and teenage daughter on land that was homesteaded by my paternal grandfather in 1881. Our farm is a Century Farm, which is a historic designation awarded to farms that have been continuously farmed by the same family without a lapse in farming. Our house was also built by my grandfather and is pretty much original, with the exception of an indoor bathroom. I am the last child of the second to last child born to my paternal grandfather, so I was brought up by older parents who still used some of the old ways. If my dad were alive, he would have celebrated his 110th birthday on New Years Eve. (I wish he was still here to teach me more.) So I have learned firsthand many of the skills so important these days with a changing economy.

We reside in the Pacific Northwest, our garden zone is 7a, our gardening challenges are 120" of rain per year with the accompanying cloud cover, and a Mediterranean type dry summer, with hardly a drop of rain from late June through mid September. (Unless we have hay curing.) We garden using the flat row method, with a dust mulch, which requires little or no irrigation. Utilizing wide row spaces, and proper thinning. This method is used for all truck farms in our area also, avoiding the need for irrigation. Several books by Steve Solomon, Water-Wise Vegetables, and Growing Food when it Counts, detail this quite well. At 1400' elevation, on the western slope of the Cascade Mountain Range, we do not have enough heat units to consistently ripen warm weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons, so these garden crops are raised in an unheated greenhouse, where we do have to water.

We maintain an organic, rotationally grazed beef herd, selling meat through word of mouth and through the site. Striving to be as self-reliant as possible, we raise our own vegetables, fruits, meats, and keep a family cow. So expect posts about daily farm life, and year-round gardening from me as well posts about our gravity water supply and heating our home and household water with wood from our timberland. My husband works off the farm, so I will be blogging from a my perspective of a farm girl, who is as comfortable cooking from scratch as building fence.

It is a great amount of work just living here, we are not off grid, but minimise our use of electricity. To live like this is an anomaly in this day and age, but more and more people are wanting to learn more about the lost skills of self reliance. Our interests include: home dairy, blacksmithing, log construction, homeopathy, animal husbandry, biodynamics, permaculture, gardening, food preservation, seed saving, local history, quilting, knitting, sewing, hand embroidery, and soap making to name a few.

Our main goal is to be good stewards of this farm and insure it's survival for more centuries to come. The other stuff along the way, is just part of life, blogging is a way to preserve the daily minutiae of our brief time here. Thank you for inviting me to join.

Root crops under dirt mulch and snow cover.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Building a better trellis.

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

The last couple of posts that I submitted were a fairly basic introduction to my idea of Square foot Gardening.
Fast and loose SFG I
Fast and Loose SFG II
As I said, I generally like to keep things relatively informal. Part of my logic behind this is that I like to "leave my options open" so to speak. I've found that in the garden, as with many other parts of life, if you follow too many rules, or perhaps guidelines is the better word, by doing it the way that the "experts" tell you to do it, you run the risk of missing the opportunities and flashes that are possible through experimentation.

One such "flash" came to me early this year and I went with it. The result, I think, is my best result from any of my gardening technique trials that I've had and I wanted to share it with you here first. What it is, is a trellising system that allows me to use my 4 x 6 raised beds in many different configurations depending on the crop that I wish to grow there that particular year. In doing so, it also frees me from the chore of having to rebuild or move trellising apparatus every year, or worse yet every season, because it can be quickly tweaked to serve my needs. I've built one over each of my 4x6 beds and can either set it up as needed, or ignore it altogether and use the beds as though there were nothing there at all.

I put together a couple of renderings of the basic structure to give you an idea of how it's built. The ones I have in my garden were made largely from recycled 2x4's (sorry I don't know what the metric equivalent is...) that I ripped in half to make 2x2's, although I did have to purchase a few. I joined them very basically with long grabber screws (course threaded.) very similar to the picture of the single frame trellis that I showed in my part II post.
Basically, it's two of the single frames joined together at the top by another set of cross pieces. The image above is of the system in a straight configuration. Across the bottom of the raised bed, I ran a piece of 1x2 scrap wood that I could tie twine off to and then ran that up to a third top piece that I added. You could actually run the string out to the edge pieces to support the top of the plants when they reached above the top of it as well. My beds are 6 feet deep so I would run one string in the middle of each sq foot to support, for instance, a tomato plant.
Here's another way of setting it up that I'm calling the "V-configuration". This was the original catalyst for this whole experiment. The reason I did it, was to try and solve a problem that I continually had with growing my pole beans. The issue I was having with conventional ways of doing them was that in my raised beds I either had to only grow one run per bed so that I could easily get to them, or I could grow them in a grid which inevitable turned into a nest of vine in which I couldn't find the dang beans! Also, in a four foot wide bed, I had a hard time reaching in easily to access the beans. I could get them, but always felt off balance. This "V-configuration" was developed to grow the beans on the inside of the bed allowing the edges to be used for other plants and, as they got taller and taller, to bring them out into my reach for harvesting from the side. It worked great as you can see here.
OK, not the greatest picture of me... but the beans look good right? I have a small wheeled garden cart that I can sit on and could actually just sit down and slide along the paths as I picked. It was perfect.

I also made another version of this that ended up as a sort of "Double-V Configuration".
Readers of my personal blog may have seen something that I tried this summer to make a little different use of the space around my plants another way. You can see on the top of the bed here that there are two 1x2's holding the strings down. In this space I planted a crop of carrots just after my cucumbers had come up. They grew there with plenty of sun initially and since they are cooler weather crops, did just fine in the shade from the larger plants. I will say that I should have planted them earlier than the cukes to have gotten better results, but it's a method that I'll definitely try again!

Interestingly, there are a couple of additional benefits to this system that I hadn't even thought of. Wind tolerance for instance. We get some nasty micro-bursts during the summer storms here and I've had problems with single frame trellises getting blown over from the force against the large plants growing up them. I watched my beans getting blown around severely with this, and yet lost not a one of them! In fact, I noticed later that some of the strings had broken from the force, but since the vines reached the tops of the frames, they no longer needed the strings anyway. Also, the frames can be used to support either shade cloths for the hotter climates or tarping to protect from frost and hail in other climates.

So there you go, my way to build a better trellis. I've tried to come up with some cool catchy name for it, but have come up short. Any suggestions, I'd love hear them. Also, if any of you decide to give this a try, I'd be honored if you'd email me a picture or two, I'd love to see how you're able to suit it to your own needs.

Till next time everyone...all the best!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Creating Connected Communities

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Participating in your local community will build a richer, stronger, safer place for you to live.

I strongly believe that relocalisation is the key to environmentally, socially and economically sustainable communities. There are hundreds of areas around the world where relocalisation groups have formed, once of the most successful and well known being Totnes, UK.

In 2008, I became the coordinator of our local LETS group. LETS is a non-profit network of individuals, families and businesses who trade in an alternative currency. The currency exists as a unit or point scheme, rather than using actual tokens. Here you can search for LETS groups in Australia, and here is a worldwide list.

Seed Savers and gardening groups are a fantastic source of inspiration and support. As well as seeds and cuttings to help your garden grow! Meeting with other gardeners locally one can learn a lot more about the soil, climate, pests and resources available where you live. Seed Savers groups can be found here, and gardening groups often advertise in local directories and newspapers.

By being a part of CSAs, Community Gardens and Farmers Markets – you know your food. There’s nothing more grass roots than gardening alongside others, meeting the people who grow the food you eat and knowing how it’s grown. You’re really living locally when you participate in local, sustainable agriculture.

Co-ops are increasing in popularity with the shift in focus of our consumption habits. Consumer co-operatives can range from a large retail outlet to a couple of families buying some meat or pantry items in bulk together. If there’s something you’d like to purchase in bulk to save time, money and packaging, seek out co-ops running near you (council or a neighbourhood or community centre might be able to help), or ask like-minded friends or neighbours and organise the purchase yourselves.

When considering transport options, sustainability and community appear side-by-side again. Car pooling to work or school, car sharing, public transport, walking and cycling should be considered for at least some of your transportation.

Please strengthen your ties to your neighbourhood this year. Take a look at the options above and research ways to increase your involvement in your local area, either by joining a group or simply getting out there and saying hello or offering a hand to a neighbour.

Friday, 2 January 2009

E-Waste - Recycling Electronics

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Happy New Year, everyone! Maybe you unwrapped a new electronic gadget or toy over the holidays, or maybe your family decided that instead of getting a converter to switch your old television over to digital receiving it's time to spring for a brand new model. So now, what are you going to do with your old stuff?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by the end of 2007, "of the 2.25 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products ready for end-of-life (EOL) management, 18% (414,000 tons) was collected for recycling and 82% (1.84 million tons) was disposed of, primarily in landfills." Almost 2 million tons of e-waste, now leaching heavy metals and other toxic elements into our environment, in the United States alone! And that's not counting all those old cell phones tossed into a drawer or outdated computer monitors collecting dust in the garage. The EPA estimates another 235 million items, not counting cell phones, are sitting unused, in storage. No electronic gadget is too outdated to recycle, so here's a quick guide on what you can do to act in a responsible and green manner (Note: I live in the USA, so a lot of my information pertains to local resources. I hope my international co-writers and readers will add information regarding the resources available in other countries).

First, consider making some money from your old electronics. If your old IPod or GameBoy is still in decent condition, look into listing it on Craigslist or Ebay. Be honest about the condition and any missing cords or peripherals, and be sure to remove any personal information. Some stores, such as Staples or Best Buy, offer store credit for used equipment. Turning in your old laptop or camcorder might garner a voucher for $100 or more. Apple offers a discount on a new item when you turn in your old. Kodak will purchase any functional old digital camera, regardless of brand, when you buy a new one from the company.

Next, consider giving it away. has many local groups across the globe, dedicated to keeping stuff out of the landfills; giving (and getting) unwanted articles free of charge in a local, grassroots, setting. It's free to join. If there isn't a group near you, you might consider starting one.

Many non-profit organizations are only too happy to take your old, still-working, electronics. Your local homeless or domestic violence shelter could find a good home for your old analog television (consider donating a coupon for a converter with it - call 1-888-388-2009 before March 31, 2009, or go here to request two coupons maximum per address). Here, we have a local non-profit that takes any old computer equipment - CPU's, monitors, printers, cords, software - and refurbishes it for seniors and schoolchildren unable to afford one of their own. Earth911 or your local phone book might help you find a similar operation in your community. Ask them about removal of personal information before donating a computer. You might want to invest in a hard-drive overwriting program, such as WipeDrive, to prevent identity theft or other problems.

Those old cell phones (and chargers) piling up in a drawer, working or not, can help survivors of domestic violence. The phones are refurbished to call only the local 911 operator, but could save a life. More information, including drop-off sites, can be found here. Again, remove all personal information before donating.

As a last resort, or for items that no longer work, take the time and effort to recycle responsibly. Some places are available free of charge, or sometimes you might have to pay a nominal fee. Office Depot has various sizes of tech recycling boxes you can purchase, fill with any and everything, seal up and send off for recycling. C'mon people, Mother Earth and our future are worth paying $10 to do things right! Those items aren't waste - they're a resource! Go here to enter your zip code and find recycling drop-off sites for everything, electronic or otherwise, near your home; or go here for more information about specific companies and items. Let's all start the new year with a cleaner conscience and a cleaner earth.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Growing fruit and nuts in the backyard

by Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth blog

Happy New Year to all our readers!

We have done a bit or reorganising here at the co-op and from now on, we will work to offer you daily posts about simple, green and frugal living. There are some new writers too, I hope you enjoy getting to know them over the coming weeks. Don't forget to "follow" us, or add us to your RSS, Atom or Google reader so you can see when the daily updates are posted. I encourage you to comment on the posts here. It gives us valuable feedback and often gives us ideas about future posts. There is an email address in the sidebar if you want to send us your suggestions or ideas for the site.

I am proud to be part of this wonderful team of writers and very pleased to be the first co-op writer to post this year.


Eureka lemons growing in our chicken yard

When you first realise the space you have available in your backyard is ideal for food production, most people start growing vegetables. All those delicious, organic vegetables that fill up our bellies, at little cost, and keep us healthy. It's such an empowering feeling to grow your own food. It tastes better than store bought produce, it grows from that small seed you planted, and it's organic - the best of the best.

Our lone pineapple, grown from a pineapple top

When you've been growing vegetables for a little while and start to gain some experience and confidence in your abilities, I encourage you to expand your repertoire and add fruit and nuts to your backyard food forest. Unlike most vegetables, you generally need only one fruit or nut tree or vine, and that one plant will take you through many years. However, some fruit and nut trees do need a pollinating tree nearby so check this out when you buy your trees.


Fruit and nut growing is suitable in all climates. In the hotter weather you have the tropical fruits like pineapples, bananas, avocados, melons, passionfruit and paw paws (papayas) and fruits, such as grapes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins (I think these are called Clementines in the northern hemisphere). Pecans, macadamias, peanuts and cashews can all be grown in warm climates. In the colder weather you can grow delicious fruits like peaches and nectarines, as well as apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, raspberries and blueberries and a range of nuts like walnuts, pecans and almonds.

Blueberries - type Sunshine Blue

Technically I live in the sub tropics but as I'm inland and at the base of a mountain range, we get quite cold winters, by Australian standards. That means we can push the envelope a bit and plant tropical fruits as well as some generally grown in colder places. I believe that if you're living in area that is neither really hot or really cold, you can probably grow many types of fruit and nuts. If you decide to take the plunge into fruit and nut growing, find a good fruit nursery near you and ask them what will grow in your area. Remember too that you can modify your conditions with bales of hay and by planting against brick walls, which retain the heat of the day to release it slowly overnight. Don't forget dwarf fruits trees too. They are ideal for planting in a large pot, so can be taken inside in very cold weather, or moved into the shade in very hot weather.

Right now in my backyard we are growing oranges, lemons, passionfruit, red paw paw, bananas, pink grapefruit, grapes, loofahs, blueberries, avocados, loquats, pineapple x 1, pecans and strawberries. All the photos here are of our backyard fruit. However, not everything always goes to plan, we've just removed a peach tree and a nectarine tree because the fruit fly descended upon us these past two years and they were starting to attack our tomatoes and other soft fruiting vegetables. We have also grown, and removed, a macadamia tree. It attracted rats and needed a lot of water, so we got rid of it.

Red paw paw (papaya)

But generally fruit are hardy plants and after an initial establishment period, continue to bear fruit for many years. An exception to this rule are bananas which technically are herbs but are treated as fruit. They grow from suckers from which one hand of bananas grows over the course of a year, then is removed to make room for other suckers to bear fruit.

Strawberries - in their third, and possibly last, year.

Daleys Fruit and Nut Nursery (Aust)
there is a lot of info on fruit growing here
Growing fruit in the subtropics.
How to grow cashews.
How to grow fruit
Growing good fruit at home (USA)
Grandpa's Growing Tips
Fruit Trees
Lots of info about fruit and nuts from Mother Earth News

Loofahs growing on a trellis next to one of our large water tanks

Each type of fruit and nuts will require specific planting requirements, I have included links to information about growing various types of fruit and nuts above, but generally you'll need free draining, rich soil. You can usually get around problems like clay soil or poor drainage by adding compost. Before you plant anything - whether it be vegetables, fruit or nuts, you need to enrich your soil first. It can be real pain to have to wait until this is done, but enriching your soil with compost and/or composted cow, horse, sheep or pig manure, will make the biggest difference and I encourage you to take the time to do it.

So ask your tree seller how you should plant and in what location and be guided by what they say. Once the plant is in, take good care of it with adequate watering and mulching. Make sure you pull the mulch back from the stem because moist mulch up against the tree will cause stem or collar rot.

General maintenance will include simple things like checking the plant frequently for pests and diseases. We have a caterpillar here that can chew its way through half a grape vine in 24 hours. Search online for information about your tree or vine and learn what you can about what you grow. Slowly over time you'll know your plant inside and out and that will help it produce an abundance of fruit or nuts for your family.

And once you've tasted fruit from a home grown fruit tree there will be no going back to supermarket produce. What you grow will be sweeter and taste more intense than anything you will ever buy - even in the early years.

Next time I will write about growing loofahs. I get a lot of emails about them and they're a very handy plant to have in the backyard. Happy gardening everyone!