Tag Archives: permaculture

Welcome to the Amazon Food Forest!

One of the reasons we fell in love with our house is because of space. Besides the awesome house, we had more land than we expected.

Once the papers were signed, it was time to get to work. Last year we started off small and I set up a tiny spot by the back door to be our garden space.

Things went well until July when the constant sun pretty much baked most of our veggies.

I decided that for the next year, I'd move to a better spot. The problem was decided where.

The back had an area that could work, but there were a few major things we needed to do to get it ready.

Turning a Weedy Sandy Space Into a Garden

One of the first tasks we needed to deal with before we started the garden was beefing up the soil.

When we first moved that back side area was covered with weeds, some taller than my husband (who's just over six feet).

Once they were chopped down, though, we discovered that the soil was not great for what we wanted to grow. It was really sandy, which meant water and nutrients can pass through quickly. T

Translation for us? More work to keep it watered and fertilized.

To prepare such a large space and stick with our budget, I decided to go with the lasagna garden.

Lasagna Gardening 101

Like the name suggests, lasagna gardening is about building layers.

The first layer is either brown corrugated cardboard (like we had from the move and Amazon) or three or four layers newspaper laid right on top of the area you're building up.

You then lay down soil, compost, mulch on top. The box breaks down into material to help the soil and you block the weeds from below from springing up.

With other house projects going, we stayed frugal and used a huge pile of wood chips in various stages of decomposing.

We had gotten it from chopping down our trees in the back.

We also strategically incorporated leaves we collected during autumn, included some material from the compost pile, and straw.

You can also use:

  • Food scraps like vegetables and fruit
  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves
  • Garden trimmings

You get the idea – anything you'd use to dump into a compost pile can be used in your lasagna garden.

One thing that helped speed things along was pre-soaking the boxes before laying them. This allowed them to break down faster.

From Garden to Food Forest

Once we looked at the how the space was developing, I thought we could step things up a bit with our garden plan.

Instead of a large garden, we thought starting a food forest would be a better fit.

What's the difference between a garden and a food forest?

Besides the scale in terms of size, a food forest is about long term productivity. The permaculture piece is how you design it.

With a food forest, you're creating systems that mimic nature.

We're using permaculture ideas like companion planting to help protect our vegetables and fruits, but also increase yield.

A food forest can be created in your backyard. Each year you can observe the results, adjust as needed, and build up the ecosystem.

If you're curious about how to include companion planting in your garden this year, I'd like to recommend checking Permaculture Homestead, Carrots Love Tomatoes, and this handy chart.

Less Work on You, Less Stress on Land

Using permaculture methods meant we could not only help improve the environment but give ourselves a bit of a break.

The lasagna method meant we didn't have to do any double digging or tilling.  A double win!

Thoughts on a Food Forest

Since we used boxes to jumpstart things, we thought it would be appropriate to refer to it as our Amazon food forest.

I'll share updates with pictures soon, so you can get a better idea of the benefits and challenges of growing one.

I'd love to hear from you. How many of you have a home garden? How did you build up and prepare it? Have you started a food forest or thinking of one?

Gearing Up the Greenhouse

This winter we've been working on a project that I believe would not only make 2017 awesome in terms of simplifying our lives, but would also be a cool project to share here.

Since we knew were going to sell our townhouse and get another place, we carefully spent time defining what we really needed in the house.

Last year when we bought our home, we were thrilled to get a bonus with our lot. We were looking at 1/4 acre for most of the properties, but this one had just over 1/2 acre for a really good price. The catch? The space needs work.

Expanding the Garden into a Food Forest

I'll get more into our food forest plans later, but the project and goal that I'll be tracking here is  seeing if we can grow half our food.

It  may or may not sound crazy to you, but for us, who have only garden in small plots, this is huge.

I wish I could say the yard was ideal for garden right off the bat, but we learned last year that there are challenges to our space, including:

  • pockets of sunny spots amid shady areas (we have over 20 older trees in just the back yard)
  • moles, deer, rabbits, and other hungry critters
  • poor soil (clay on one end, beachy sand on the other)

In addition to preparing a new garden area, for the first time we're using a greenhouse. It's not huge, but it's a way for us to get a jump start on growing.

Over the past year, we've been working on our space. We started composting, amending the soil, began a small garden to see how things grow .

Prepping Our Greenhouse

We'd like to maximize the seeds we have, so having them start off in the green house and then transplanting seems like safer and more economical option for most of the vegetables. (The exception I keep seeing are carrots.)

We first had to decide on the right greenhouse for us.

We went ahead picked this one up. It's compact and yet we can grow about 75 seeds on a shelf, giving us a good amount of plants.

What's Growing Now

Right now we have on hand:

Herbs

  • Cilantro
  • Lemon Balm
  • Catgrass
  • Sage
  • Chamomile
  • Oregano

Flowers

  • Marigold
  • Passion Flower

Vegetables

  • Spinach
  • Kale Red Russian
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomato

Our Methods of Growing

We have two ways we're preparing seeds in our greenhouse.

The first is pretty direct. We take the pellets, add water to expand them, and then plant our seeds. Once the tray is full, we then take it to the greenhouse. Once it's ready, we'll move it to the garden.

The second, I discovered with catching Suburban Homestead. Siloé Oliveira germinates the seeds is a paper plate method. Once opened he then transplants them to their home in the garden.

Grab My Free Garden Planning Spreadsheet

With all that we're growing now and will be growing this year, I have to be better organized.

I've created a garden planning spreadsheet. You can grab for free here! Just make a copy and start keeping records on your garden.

I've also included tab with companion planting notes on some popular vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Thoughts on Growing Your Food

I'd love to hear from you. What are you growing this season?

How to Install a DIY Rain Barrel

Last week I had my cousin over for lunch. It was the first time they've been to our new place here.

We grilled some hamburgers and relaxed outside. While eating they noticed our rain barrel and asked about it.

Why Rain Barrels Rock

Having a rain barrel can be a smart move for the environment and your own wallet.

Taking some of the rain that runs off your roof allows you to keep your garden growing. We live here in North Carolina and some summers are extremely hot. Having a close water source helps maintain our vegetables and fruits.

We also save a bit with the water bill, which is a nice bonus.

DIY Rain Barrel

The good news is that it's pretty easy to make a rain barrel. It's a fairly straightforward process. From start to finish, it took me less than an hour.

You need a food grade barrel (you can get it new, but there are some great ones used). We were fortunate that our neighbor had one that he gave away. I've seen them online for about and between $25-$55 on Craigslist, depending on the size and condition.

Please make sure you have your safety googles and other equipment ready before you begin.

The detailed instructions came with the kit we bought. The big picture view is basically:

  • Drill a hole in your rain barrel at the bottom for your spigot.
  • Insert the spigot and make sure it's sealed.
  • If you're connecting it to your downspout (like we did), you need to drill a hole in the spout and in the barrel.
  • Connect hose between the barrel and spout.

In case you're curious we picked up this Rainstation Downspout Diverter Kit on Amazon. It had everything I needed (except the barrel) and clear instructions.

After seeing how easy it was to set up, my neighbor picked up another barrel and is planning on installing his this weekend. 

I'm happy with how it turned out. My next project for the barrel is creating a stand so I ‘ll have more patio space available.

Thoughts on DIY Rain Barrel

How many of you have a rain barrel in your yard?

Organic Gardening 101: Building Up Your Soil with Wood Chips

We have some big plans for our yard and lots of projects on our to-do list, but the foundation for all of them is pretty much the same – fix our soil.

If you've been following me on Instagram, then you've already seen what we're dealing with. We have lots of sandy dirt toward the far side. When it rains the water washes parts of it away, exposing rocks and stones. Basically, it's like a rocky beach.

Closer to the house we're practically at the opposite end – hard clay. Some areas have moss while others are bare spots.

It's a mess, but we're excited about the challenge.

Know Your Soil

Over the last few months, I've been checking out dozens of garden books and have been researching online and with my green-thumbed buddies to come up with a plan that would work land, be manageable, and budget-friendly.

One of the first things I found out was that soil is much more than dirt. In general, all soil is a mix of silt, sand, and clay.

When you hear people talking about their soil being clay, sand, and silt, they're giving you information about the soil texture and the particles.

Sandy soils tend to have water wash through it easily. Clay typically prevents water from draining efficiently.

Not sure what you have? Start with your hands and eyes. Get some of the soil and see how it feels. You can do a few do it yourself tests to get an idea of what you're dealing with.

You can also do a soil test with a home kit.  You can purchase one at your local hardware or garden store. They can give you a ballpark figure about the macro-nutrients Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

If you want a more detailed analysis, you get your soil tested by your state's cooperative extension. If you have to pay, it's usually a small amount (in North Carolina it's $4 during their busy season).

You can get really deep with soil. Looking for a good resource? I like NC State's Permaculture class. They have a previous semester's worth of video and lots of handy information you can watch at any time.

Our Plan to Fix Our Soil with Wood Chips

We've started a compost pile soon after we moved in. We knew that it would be an asset in the long run. We hope to use it when we start getting ready for the spring planting.

Right now, though, our energy and time has been incorporating wood chips. After researching possible solutions we gravitated towards them for a few reasons.

Wood Chips Would Simplify Our Gardening

Covering is much easier than tilling our yard and from what I've been reading, the microorganisms and critters in the soil would have an easier time with wood chips.

We also have huge dips in our yard, so we've been using the wood chips to smooth things out.

Getting Woodchips for Free

While grabbing bags of mulch can quickly add up (as we found out earlier in the year!), you may be able to grab some much cheaper – as in free!

When we were searching for the best deal on getting our sick trees cut down, I noticed that many of the companies asked if I'd be interested in mulch from their projects.

After you have your trees cut down, it's chipped into mulch. You can keep it on your property (which is what we do) or it gets hauled away, which costs the company money. Here's the cool part – you can sign up to get their mulch from a job (doesn't have to be yours) for free.

About a month or so after we removed the oaks, I got a call asking if I'd be interested in mulch from a job in the area. A few hours later and we had a nice truckload of mulch in the front yard.

Using the prices we paid at Lowe's for our bags of mulch. We've estimated that we got just under $600 worth – that's a win in my book!

What I like about this particular load is that there is plenty of green leaves mixed in with the wood chips.

With the heat, I've seen it already breaking down in some awesome material so I've been using it in the garden spaces.

Wood Chips Smell Awesome

Okay, this more a more aesthetic advantage, but I love the smell of wood chips in the yard.

Thoughts on Fixing Soil with Wood Chips

Have you had to fix up your soil? What techniques did you use and why? How well did it work?

How many of you use mulch in your yard? Do you use it to cover weeds or part of your soil remediation?

Permaculture Gardening and Companion Planting

As we continue our yard projects, I realize we're embracing permaculture as we're building up the garden and general layout.

What's Permaculture?

It's difficult to summarize, but I see it as a design process that attempts to mimic nature and build around systems instead of just looking at individual components.

It's usually associated with yard/garden design, but it's more encompassing.

Permaculture design seeks to minimize waste  and labor. For example, our kitchen waste and small yard debris is used in the compost.

The new garden location was picked out because of the natural slope of our property and the amount of sunlight means we shouldn't have to spend as much time keeping it watered and maintained.

Permaculture Gardening and Companion Planting

Since our soil isn't very good, we're building up as we're creating this new garden space.

We have two large piles of woodchips we're using. There's one pile that is particularly suit as it has plenty of green leaves shredded into it and it's decomposing quite well.

There are some advantages of going this route than tilling the soil.

Tilling can destroy the microbes in the soil that we want to work for us in the garden. Again, working with nature, we're mimicking how the ground is covered with material that eventually decomposes and enriches the soil.

Instead of planting in rows, we're beginning to incorporating companion planting. Companion planting groups herbs, veggies, fruits, and flowers to help one another grow and offer some pest protection.

We're experimenting with a small patch for a fall garden. Right now we have:

  • Cabbages, carrots, spinach
  • Jalapenos, onions,
  • Broccoli, buckwheat,dill

Basil, marigolds, and rosemary are spread around too.

Looking at what we want to accomplish with our space, I think we're moving towards that.

Becoming More Self-Sufficient

There's a spirit of self-sufficiency that appealing to many, including us.

We don't have any plans to go off grid or feed ourselves only on what we grow here, but we do want to have more options for food.

Permaculture Resources

As we're digging into permaculture, we've been discovering some new sites, books, videos, and resources.

YouTube/ Videos

Books

Sites/Forums

The forums at Permies.com have been helpful, especially with seeing how others have started their gardens and designed their yard space.

There are so many more, but we're still discovering them. If you have any recommendations, please let me know!

Thoughts on Permaculture

How many of you are incorporating permaculture into your home and yard design? What are some of your favorite resources?

Simplify Gardening: How to Start a Compost Pile

Looking for ways to make your yard more beautiful and productive without spending a ton of money? Here's how you can start a compost pile that is easy to maintain. 

Creating a beautiful and productive garden and yard can be as expensive or time intensive as you afford.

You can go to the store and do several supply runs to fix up the problem spots. And for some instances, that's an efficient way of doing things.

In many cases, though, going the do it self route can be the best route. Take composting.

Why You Should Compost

We're working on getting our yard more consistent and productive. Right now we have patches of really great soil and plenty of areas where its either a clay mess or sandy.

Considering the size of our lot (just over 1/2 acre), we knew that we had to put composting at the top of our to do list.

If you're new to gardening the composting is basically helping organic material break down into healthy nutrient rich soil (also called ‘black gold').

Some big benefits with composting:

  • great for the environment (your food trash is productively used)
  • big money saver (since you're not having to rely on fertilizer, which can get pricey)
  • easy on time (using what's around you saves you a trip and maintaining it is a cinch)

Sounds like a win all around, right? So how so you get started?

How to Start a Compost Pile (The Easy Way)

There are several ways you can compost, but one of the easiest ways to get started is using what you probably have around yard.

  1. Start by spreading a layer of leaves or straw on the bare ground. This will allow worms to help aerate the pile.
  2. Top that with several inches of dried leaves and/or straw. This layer will help with drainage.
  3. Add a thin layer of soil. Since we're trying to level some area, I simply used that for the pile.
  4. Don't forget to throw in some ‘green' material like grass clippings and clover. You can also include some used coffee grounds and food scraps.
  5. Add another layer of leaves and or straw.
  6. Moisten the pile.

You can turn the pile every couple of weeks or if you're looking for a lower maintenance option, you can try drilling some holes into a PVC pipe and planting into the pile.

If you have a ton of leaves you can start another pile and compost them. Find a shaded area with good drainage. It won't have much in nutrients, but it can used be a soil amendment.

Compost Bins

While you don't need a bin to start composting, it can be a practical solution if you're hoping to keep pests away and want to organize your yard.

You can buy a compost container or you can build one with simple materials such as old pallets.

To keep things contained, we re-purposed an old zip line tower into a compost bin. The pile on the left is made from everything around the yard and the smaller one is just the leaves.

More on Composting

I still have so much to learn, but I'm really happy with the progress we're making. Some of the bald patches are starting to sprout some life.

If you really want to get into composting I highly recommend checking these out: