2017… And so it begins.

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Reminiscing about greener days on the farm

I almost just shot a coyote!

My god… how life has changed. But if a creepers gonna creep on my flock, I’m going to have to take them out. Just call me Laura Ingalls effing Wilder. No, don’t do that. I don’t think she’d approve. Plus, I don’t know if she’d actually shoot a coyote, but it’s 2017 baby, and this farm girl’s got a gun!

Hey all! It’s me, y’know that sweet sweet blogger you’ve missed hearing from? I can officially say that I completely failed all of you in the year of 2016. Like, seriously. I had three blog posts. Three. Ugh. The worst. But I’m back! And better than ever! Well, I don’t know about the better part, but definitely back. More prepared maybe. After having a kid, I seem to have snacks on me at all times so that is an improvement.

In the past, I’ve started the year out with a recap of our past years goals, how far we’ve come and what life is looking like for the New Year. I did a great recap of 2016 already, and for the most part it covered our goals and accomplishments. You can catch up here if you missed it. You will see in our current list of goals and aspirations, we seem to have lost our minds and decided that we can, and should do all of the things.

Who needs sleep anyway.

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“We do Mom. We need sleep. The baby is mobile and he is everywhere!”

I’m headed back to work a real job in March so things should get so busy that we’ll be taken down a few notches, but for now, here’s our list:

  • Install deck railing and child gate – we attempted to get this done before winter hit in 2016, but it just didn’t happen. But we need to get on it because we have the busiest little boy on our hands and he is just raring to get out there.  So definitely #1 on the list.
  • Landscape and clean up the farm for the family reunion – Every three years, my husband’s family has a family reunion, which is awesome! We were, um, voluntold a few years back that our farm was picked to host the family reunion and we were very excited… when it seemed so far away. Now, it’s here! In July.  And we have some things to do. The theme is Pioneer Days though and I am already planning a pack horse race so… it will be a good time regardless if our farm is presentable!

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    Luckily, I know a decent landscaper ❤

  • Honeybees – this is happening this year. Even if we just have to get some bees and learn the hard way. It’s happening.
  • Horses – Currently we have 20 horses on the property: 12 mares, 4 geldings, 3 colts and 1 stud (Thor is back!!!) We’ve been keeping everyone fed and the colts are finally weaned. They are hanging out with our stud horse Thor and learning that humans aren’t so scary… which means we’re actually managing our wild herd! My father-in-law is brining hay across the river to the remaining wild ones and we plan on bringing more across this spring. We still don’t have an exact count of how many total there are, so we’ll just have to keep catching them.
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    So. Fuzzy.

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    This little one is very friendly and just wants to be loved by me

  • Garden – Oh, the project that just keeps on giving…
    • Organic Certification: Our commitment to producing crops organically is going to be official! Clay and I decided to go pesticide free on our commercially farmed 88 acres of farmland when we moved onto the property, so the first summer would have been 2014. We need a minimum of three consecutive years of no pesticide use to qualify and plan on having certification by 2018. We are initially going to certify our crops and have plans to move into certifying our poultry, eggs, honey and any other products we may venture into on the farm. So. Exciting. We will continue to practice organic methods of fertilizing (compost, worm tea, cover crops) and pest control, as well as continue to strive for a permaculture balance on the property as a whole. Organic certification will mean that we are going against the grain of the farmer’s and fields around us to provide a healthy ecosystem for our family, our critters and the wildlife that share this land. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time and I’m beyond thrilled to be learning and living the process.

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      The grass and weeds had a very healthy year in 2016. I promise you there is food in there somewhere!

    • CSA Farm Boxes: A long-term goal of the farm is to become a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation. Basically this means that people in our community will invest in shares of our farm and crops at the beginning of the season to help us buy the supplies we need and then, in return, will receive a share of our harvest throughout the harvest season. Eating local at it’s finest! So this year I want to commit to selling 5 boxes per week for 10-12 weeks… gotta start somewhere!
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      2016 dinner harvest

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      I am planning on getting some of my preserves tested this year so I can offer them through my farm boxes at the end of the season

    • Set-up small greenhouse, prep, dress and mulch 100′ beds, install drip lines, manage pathways, work on grass issue, plant 5 fruit trees (pear, plum, apricot, honey crisp apple x2), plot 2 fruit tree guilds in the food forest, fix raspberry bed and prep remaining 100′ beds on west side of acre garden. All while keeping a small child from burning and overheating in the open field…there’s going to be a lot of dirt eating this summer. Yup.
  • Chickens – my small little flock needs some filling out and my egg basket needs more colour (did you know that egg colour is addicting?). As of now I have 1 rooster and 9 laying hens, a mixture of green and pink eggs mostly with one blue one thrown in for good measure. I received an incubator for Christmas this year (thanks Mom and Dad!) and have my first set of eggs incubating as we speak! If all goes well and I don’t absolutely kill all of them, then I will be hatching many many more. Eggs on order include: Black Copper Marans (dark brown egg), Ameraucana’s (blue egg), Silkies (small white egg), Blue Isbars (green egg), Cream Legbar (blue egg), Icelandic (tinted white egg), Lavender Orpington (light brown egg), Wheaten Marans (dark brown egg), Olive Eggers (olive green egg) and silver and blue laced wyandotte (light brown egg). I think I can officially claim that I’m a chicken farmer…. or a crazy chicken lady? Same difference in my book 🙂 We are also embarking on the world of turkey ownership this year… it could go either way. They could be super awesome, sweet and fun to have on the farm or I could have to face one down and hit it with a shovel like that one time I was 12 at my friends house. Could go either way…

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    Current egg basket. Just set 24 of my gals eggs in the incubator and expect a hatch on February 28

  • Cabin – there is much to do in our 16×20 cabin on the property. After meeting with the bank regarding the build of our dream forever house it’s been determined that we must live in the cabin for up to 12 months during the actual building process. That means me, my husband, our toddler and 2 large dogs will be moving in and living that REAL homesteader life. So yes, much to be done in the cabin. But stoked to be planning our dream forever house!

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    Work in progress…

I suppose that sums it all up. Seems doable, and if not, definitely a lesson in patience. I must say, I can’t remember a time when I have ever felt more fulfilled with my daily life or with where I am. It truly feels as if we are in the exact right place at the exact right time. And with the state of the world today, it feels good to be connected to our land, our family, our community and our happiness. 2017 will be a year to learn, grow, be kind and over all else – love.

What’s on your plate for 2017?

~Katy

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Garden To-Do & Soil Test Results

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Current view of the acre garden plot

Well the frogs have emerged in the dugouts and are loud as ever, so despite the snow we got this past weekend, I call Spring!

Since we have approximately one month until planting time, Clay and I are busy with plans and logistics for the gardens. He built me some beautiful beds around the south side of the house/deck and we will be filling the largest one with hugelkultur this weekend. We are getting a load of compost from Uncle Ross sometime (hopefully) soon, and I’ll use that to top dress all of our house beds. The chicken garden is coming alive (even with all of the chicken attempts to thwart it) and my chives, mint and a few garlic survived the winter. I’m anxious to see what else will come up. I will be planting peppers and tomatoes against the house as well as grape vines, roses and peonies against the lattice of the deck, most of which will be a summertime project.

The largest item on our list is the acre garden and we have a lot to do. The plan is to plant the large trees and shrubs of our forest garden, build some swales, plant a traditional row garden with this years veggies, install a few perennial beds and put the rest under cover crops of buckwheat and red clover. In the fall I’d like to build some large scale hugelkultur beds, but we’ll see where we get. Oh yes, and then there is the building of a small greenhouse up by the house… By now you should know we are very optimistic people.

When starting this journey last year, we conducted a soil test. I even had my very own specialist on hand since my husband is an environmental scientist. We also tested for pesticides as our plot used to be commercially farmed and is located next to traditional farmed land. Here are the results:Soil Test Results

Since I’ve never done an actual soil test on a garden before I went to the all knowing Google to figure out what these numbers meant and what I needed to do about it.

  • Organic Matter: 10.7 – Apparently this is ridiculously good. The sources I found said the 4-6% would have been great soil, so we’re sitting pretty on this one.
  • Nitrate: 9 ug/g – Ideally we want this number to be 25-30, but medium lies in the 5-20 range so I guess we’re okay
  • Phosphorus: 24 ug/g – We are in the ideal range of 21-28, hooray!
  • Potassium: 397 ug/g – The highest ideal amount I could find was 120, so I guess this is good? Not sure…
  • Sulfate and Ammonium: I couldn’t find much info on this except that these are secondary nutrients.
  • pH: 5.8 – it seems we are a little on the acidic side of the pH scale but most veggies do well in a range from 5.5-7 so I’m not going to worry about it this year.
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After a good old fashioned squeeze test, it seems we have loam (ideal) soil! Not too much clay, not too much sand

Our pesticide test came back negative and we are glad for that. Although it was expensive, I really wanted peace of mind when it came to possible issues. We tested for over 40 types of pesticides and we are free and clear… phew! All in all, I think we are looking pretty good and I don’t plan on adding much to the soil besides compost and organic mulch. The cover crops will provide organic matter and extra nitrogen in the un-attended areas and we will address any issues in the fall.

Today I came home to a big box of goodies I ordered from westcoastseeds.com who specialize in organic, non-gmo and heirloom varieties. It included my seeds, potatoes, hops, cover crop (buckwheat) and asparagus crowns. Oh good golly it’s like Christmas in April! (don’t take that too seriously universe, we don’t need anymore snow I assure you). I also placed my fruit tree/bush/nut/grape order with a nursery in Manitoba who specialize in zone 2-3 plants. I’m SO excited to get it all in to my house, but less excited to get it all in the ground on my tightened schedule. Here is a list of things we need to do before we can plant:

  • Finish the 2015 aspects of the garden design, continue to work on design to finalize
  • Purchase and install 8′ wire elk fence – 3 rolls at 330 feet each
  • Install working gates – tractor gate + walk-in gate
  • Run piping/hose from well to northwest corner of garden site
    • Our plan this year will be to water mostly by hand which isn’t ideal, and as we grow into the full space we’ll need to come up with a better plan. But for the first year, I think we’ll be okay.
  • Till the entire acre with borrowed till from our cousins
  • Find a bunch of compost and wood chips
  • Buy a few bales of old, spent alfalfa for mulch
  • Plant, plant, plant

I am hoping to grow enough to make it to the local Farmer’s Market this year on Saturdays as well, so we’ll work it into the schedule. Ah yes, the farm/full-time work schedule. At this rate I’ll either be invincible by the end of the summer or they’ll find my body face down in the garden dirt with an invoice in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. Let’s hope for the first one shall we?

Any advice from those experienced gardener’s out there?

~Katy

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No trip to the garden plot is complete without a visit from these two

 

My Permaculture Garden – Planning an Edible Food Forest in zone 2b-3

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Pineapple sage seedlings

Sunshine and mud is upon us and thus brings unrealistic hopes of gardening in the near future, if you live in the North. We have at least one more month of cold temps and snow before we can begin to see the landscape change into spring. And our springs a little muddier and a little chillier than most, earning it the unrivaled title of Break-Up. Like I really need to label my feelings on how I feel about winter right about now…

BUT, spring is coming. And so I must be ready, because in the North, gardening season happens fast, happens dirty and happens to never last.

Since January hit, I’ve been scouring the internet and several books to gather the information I’ll need to start putting our garden into place. Exciting! In a previous post, I discussed my interest for permaculture gardening and how we implemented some practices last summer (read more here). This summer, we plan to take on a larger chunk of our property and start building a food forest, a lush perennial garden as well as a possible annual market garden. I mean, you know, because we don’t have a lot to do around here. In my quest to put as much research together before the soil thaws, it made sense to start piecing together a list of plants that are both favorable to a permaculture garden as well as the garden zone in which we live.

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The garden/food forest site

Fort St. John, British Columbia is noted as a garden zone of 2b-3, although it is apparent after much observation we have a pretty great micro climate on our property, especially in our 1 acre garden plot. Most of our 1/4 section is south facing towards the Peace River and our garden plot slopes slightly towards agriculture fields, downwards from a large hill and in between a shelter belt of trees and a dugout. I’ve noted that it warms incredibly fast in the the spring, has good drainage and isn’t terribly affected by our winter winds. We did a soil test last summer that came back great, made some amendments, mostly with old manure soiled hay and left it to it’s own devices. We also tested for pesticides since it is so close to traditionally farmed fields which came back negative (whew). All in all, the plan is to plant with the zone 2b-3 in mind, but experiment and have some fun as we go.

I’ve been making lists and lists. Lists of fruit trees, of bushes, of varieties, of herbs, of nitrogen fixers, of dynamic accumulators… pretty much anything I’ve come across as favorable to our zone. Well ladies and gents, it’s time to put those lists to work and start piecing them together.

Let’s talk about edible forest gardening. I’ve always wanted an orchard and with land comes the opportunity. Though, the more I read up on permaculture practices, the less I wanted a traditional orchard. Enter the edible food forest garden. The principle of a forest garden is to build in layers, 7 layers to be exact, imitating the natural process and growth patterns of a natural forest. If you’ll notice, no one ever has to weed or water a forest because there is a balance. Building a forest garden allows the gardener to use similar patterns while allowing a break from too much weeding and watering. Sounds good, right?

Here’s a handy drawing I made to explain the layers:1-DSC_0076

  1. Canopy – large fruit & nut trees
  2. Low tree/tall shrubs – dwarf fruit trees, tall shrubs
  3. Shrub layer – berries, nut bushes, etc.
  4. Herbaceous layer – comfrey, herbs
  5. Rhizosphere – root vegetables
  6. Soil surface – ground covers
  7. Vertical layer – climbers, vines

When you include each layer surrounding a main large fruit or nut tree, we refer to this as a plant guild. Each plant has a “job” within the guild and an overall purpose to the health of the guild. Jobs include providing nutrients, mulch, pollen, protection, etc. Plus, with each group of plants comes differing root length and spread, so planting in guilds cuts down on competition. Two major types of plants within a guild are described as nitrogen fixers and dynamic accumulators.

Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants and plant growth. In traditional farming practices, nitrogen is added through fertilizers. In a permaculture garden, nitrogen is added through plant systems. As a nitrogen fixing plant grows, it creates a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. Excess nitrogen is built up in the plants tissues and when leaves fall, roots die, or gardeners prune back leaves and leave as mulch, the excess nitrogen is released back into the soil. This excess nitrogen is picked up by the other plants in the area and utilized for their own growth.

Dynamic accumulators (DA) involves the idea that certain plants (often deep-rooted ones) will draw up nutrients from the lower layers of the soil, and these nutrients will be deposited in the plants’ leaves. When the leaves fall in autumn and winter and are broken down, those stored nutrients are then incorporated into the upper layers of the soil where other plants will benefit from their decomposition. You can hasten this process by cutting back vigorous growth and leaving the leaves as a green mulch layer.

Pretty cool, huh? Making your own fertilizer with living plants – sounds good to me!

So I’ve started my list. I’ve gathered plants that will survive in our 2b-3 garden zone that I will use to create my plant guilds and it was quite the research project. But I am so happy to finally have them all in one place. Now I can share them with you and hope that other northern gardeners will find it helpful.

PDF found here – Food Forest Plant List

Food Forest Plant List

There you have it… the beginning of something beautiful. Food forests are a labor of love and can take a few years to establish, but I’m up for the challenge. Looking forward to many days spent planning, planting, pruning and providing… with so much to do, it only makes sense to make my plants work too.

Do you have plants with jobs in your garden?

~Katy

 

 

 

Homesteading Goals: 2015

1-IMG_2292After writing the summary post of our first year on the farm I am amazed at how much we accomplished… and also a little overwhelmed because I mean, how in the heck do we top that?! But with the New Year brings a refreshed sense of over achieving and I think we’re up to the challenge.

Earlier this week, Clay and I sat down to sketch out our farm goals for the year and my oh my, how do we still have so much to do? Ah yes, it’s called homesteading and there is a reason that not everyone else we know is doing it. Starting from scratch takes time, patience and a crap load of work. Also, mistakes. You have to be willing to make mistakes and not kill each other over it. So far, nobody has died (save a few critters here and there). Well, we’re pretty good at making mistakes so might as well continue to do what we’re good at!

Here is a breakdown of our 2015 homestead goals:

  • The Garden:
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    Maynard in the garden site last summer

    • Triaged from last years list my major focus this year will be implementing my garden. I have big plans, big plans I tells ya… to the point of maybe too much but I am committed to taking it one step at a time and starting with a well thought out, drawn out plan. The hard part for us is starting small, so we will be practicing that.
      • Design, design, design… I am designing my garden based on permaculture principles that incorporate many different ideals on how to best work with nature to accomplish our goals. The back 1/2 acre will focus on an integrated food forest design and the front part will consist of hugelkultur beds, suntraps, keyhole beds, mandala beds, microclimates and herb spirals.
        • Books I am currently reading or have read for research are: Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips, Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway and Integrated Forest Gardening by Wayne Weiseman (just to name a few).
      • We have to build an 8 foot elk fence around the acre section. For a while I figured we didn’t need it and all would be fine, but this winter has proven me to be a liar.

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        Thor stands down two bull elk directly next to my garden site

      • Our water system will be a major project as an acre is a lot of ground to cover. Whilst I’ll be designing the garden with plenty of water saving techniques (swales, hugelkultur and mulch) we will still need a reliable source of water. The garden plot is currently located between two existing dugouts so we will need to figure out a way to best use these resources. And also will need to get ducks, obviously…
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        Dugout located on the right side of the garden site… perfect for ducks, right?

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        An elusive Peace River water hippo and some sort of creepy water goblin enjoying the dugout on a hot day

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        The second dugout is located to the left of the garden site in the section of trees

      • Then it will be time to dig and dig and dig and move and lift and haul and plant and water and plant and water and…. spend so much quality outdoor time with nature my soul will fill to the brim.
  • Building our horse corrals:
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    Corral site

    • We will continue on our lovely log peeling journey to finish up the rails we need to start construction on our corrals. The land will hopefully start to turn into pasture as we finish the last 150-200 rails. Then it’s time to put them up!

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      Clay peeling logs with two very hard working supervisors

    • Once the corrals are finished, the goal is to load up the 50-60 wild horses from across the river, transport them 3 hours to the farm and let them get used to the idea of being contained. We’ll host a big old party to entice people to come help us with the cutting, branding and breaking and will hope that all goes well and Wyatt doesn’t get killed immediately by a wild horse… some will be sold, some will be kept and the mares will be transported back across the river with Thor as their new stud… I hope he’s up for the challenge!
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      Our Fjord mix stud Thor in the front

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      The wild ones last summer

  • Install my clothesline, keep muddy dogs and loose chickens away from it
  • Install gutters on house and add a few rain barrels
  • Landscaping:
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    The fire pit area in need of some finishing touches

    • Finish fire pit area
    • Lattice the bottom of the deck
    • Chicken yard and area around well
    • Re-seed patches in lawn
  • Chickens:
    • I want to add some Ameraucanas and Blue Copper Marans to the flock
    • Going through our first winter with the coop has pointed out some flaws with the interior design so we’ll be working on remedying some of these issues

So there you have it… doesn’t seem so bad…. right? Oh who am I kidding, it looks really bad, but in a good way. There is a reason we don’t have TV.

I’ll be looking for full-time work and have many personal goals in mind this year as well, so it all could go either way. But this is the path we’ve chosen and we enjoy the good life so here’s hoping we don’t collapse in a heap of exhaustion, or even worse, end up with goats 🙂

Ever optimistic and always on our toes. Cheers to the new year!

~Katy

 

 

NPHS 2014 Garden Tour


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Yesterday was an inspiring and overwhelming day.

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that NPHS stands for the Neil Patrick Harris Society, but alas, it does not. It stands for the North Peace Horticultural Society and they sponsored a garden tour of 7 rural properties and 1 town property in the surrounding area of BC where we live. What an absolute blessing it was to actually witness what hard working people like Clay and I can accomplish in 10-20-30-40-50 years. Many examples of a lifetime of work. Lots and lots of work. Some guy built his own island with a moat. Did I mention it was a little overwhelming?

The experience was grand though and I tried to take a lot of photos and gather as many ideas in my slightly- hung-over- head as possible.

There were great combinations of edibles, perennials, flowers, garden art and overall ideas, ideas, ideas. Many were not my specific taste, but each one held a few key thoughts and applications that I could really get behind.

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Nice looking vegetable garden

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Lush and green with lots of poppies hidden about

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LOVE the idea of a re-purposed window green house

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This was the set-up outside an outhouse for guests to use and wash their hands. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

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This perennial garden was 30 years in the making

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This property had a beautiful, very expansive English country style garden. Not totally my taste but when I saw the clematis climbing the side of the house, I realized that my dream of something similar really could come true. Even if I live in the north!

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This little bench caught my eye, not only because it’s my style but because it just was. No flowers, no frill, just plopped in a quiet corner of overgrown grass… which I just so happen to have an abundant amount of

The two gardens that I enjoyed the most were a rural property owned by a couple who were closest to Clay and I’s ages and the town property that, gasp, actually incorporated some permaculture ideals and practices. It does exist around these parts!

The younger couple had only been on their property for 10 years, but it really spoke to my heart and sense of projects. They even had a small corral in the back where two young girls were riding their pony. Kind of seemed like something our property would have in 10 years.

She had a water feature in the front yard with many random perennial beds scattered throughout, a gorgeous shade garden in the front of the house, a charming greenhouse with a wood stove and a veggie garden to die for. I quickly made a note to myself to try and become friends with her… but covertly enough that she didn’t think I was psycho. More “oh look, we have similar interests” rather than “oh look, I was just driving by your house again”.

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The owner told me that she never minded weeding and working around the water feature because it was such a zen place to spend time.

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Love the wooden rain barrel paired with some lovely hops

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Her charming greenhouse

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The wood stove inside the greenhouse… Yes, I could spend some time in a place like this

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Her veggie garden of delight

The second property was a regular house in an older part of town where this guy and his partner had created a permaculture-esque paradise in his back yard. I didn’t get a lot of photos here because I was busy talking and inquiring. All of his bushes and trees had an edible component, he had built plant guilds and a food forest that incorporated some showy flowers because he liked the added color and textures. His tiny greenhouse was loaded with an abundance of ripening tomatoes and he even had a fig tree…. a fig tree. The fire pit only had two chairs, but I figured that I could bring my own when we also became best friends. They seemed like the type of people who just loved to wear fabulous shoes and drink wine in the garden, yes please.

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The adorable greenhouse surrounded by food

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More veggies and a very lonely looking fire pit

Anyway, all in all a great day! I returned home hot and tired and immediately judged my non-existent gorgeous garden, but reveled in the fact that maybe, just maybe someday our house would be on the garden tour and young inspired gardeners would be plotting to become friends with me. Smiling, I sat down in the yard and quietly watched the littles and Beatrix free range in our overgrown grass.

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What what, chicken butts

Permaculture and Hugelkultur – Adventures in Gardening

Permaculture, what? Hugelkultur, who?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our journey in the wonderful world of sustainable gardening here at Canadian Acres. And it all begins with some funny sounding words with very big ideas.

Over the last few years I had the privilege of taking some beginner courses on permaculture in Anchorage. A beautiful couple named Saskia and Matt have made an amazing permaculture site in the urban setting of Anchorage, Alaska and have inspired many to make the switch from conventional gardening and overall living to permaculture and it’s practices. Once you take a class from Saskia, it all just feels right. Check them out at the Williams Street Farmhouse.

After getting my feet wet with a few courses I made the big move to our 160 acres in British Columbia. Quite a change from a townhouse with a few raised beds to this. Oh, but I’m so ready for the challenge. I spent winter dreaming and scheming of the perfect garden, and devoured material on permaculture. I fell in love with the idea of a food forest and making gardening work for me instead of against me. Sounds grand, sign me up!

Permaculture is defined as the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Since we are surrounded by so many diverse and wonderful ecosystems here in the valley, I want to add to that with my garden.

My wonderful husband thought about me and my love of gardening when he fenced our quarter section of land and made sure to leave about an acre section off of the main farmland for my site. It’s beautiful. Right next to a dugout it has rich soil and south facing views. Conveniently he’s also a environmental scientist, so soil is his specialty. And our lab reports are good. Full of nutrients and pesticide free! Now, I just have to wrap my head around an entire acre to garden in… an acre… that’s huge.

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The future garden site from our yard this spring. We fenced off the u-shaped area in between two dugouts from the farmed land

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Timber tilling the soil this spring. Loving my garden view!

Like really big.

But, the nice thing about permaculture is the practice of using food forests and other types of design principles to make my job as a the gardener easier over the years. Less weeding, watering and maintenance as time goes on… yep, definitely sign me up.

The two books I really enjoyed on the subject were The Vegetable Gardner’s Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein and Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway.

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This year we are focusing on design. I want to get some fruit trees and perennials planted and incorporate different design principles that will set us up for success over the years to come. One of these principles is called Hugelkultur.

Hugelkultur is an old German word meaning “hill-culture”. The basic concept includes building garden beds upon rotting logs and wood, adding some nitrogen filled material to help balance the carbon overload and covering it all with dirt and compost. Over time, the wood will decompose, acting like a sponge to store and provide water and nutrients. Many of these beds are built into large “hill” like beds.

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Depiction of a hugelkultur bed after one month. Images from http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

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Hugelkultur bed after one year

raised-garden-beds

Hugelkultur bed after 20 years

The concept seems pretty genius to me. We decided to experiment with the first beds to be built at Canadian Acres, our house flower beds.

Clay built me a u-shaped flower bed around the west side of the house. This gives me southern, southwest, west, northwest and northern exposure. Plenty of room to experiment with my ever growing knowledge of perennials. Since we started from scratch I thought what the heck, let’s make this interesting.

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West facing bed

I spent an entire day with my close friend the wheelbarrow and two supervisors Maynard and Wyatt and went on a rotten-log-collecting-adventure. Sounds fun, right? Well, it was good exercise anyway. I filled up the bottom of my beds with lots and lots of wood. After the large pieces went in, I used all of the willow/stick/root piles we had just finished raking off of our lawn site. It was a nice way to get rid of an ugly mess.

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My two supervisors hard at work

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Bed filled with rotting logs and wood

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Our miscellaneous stick and wood pile. The woody matter on the right went on the beds

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Logs covered in woody matter and lawn rakings

I made sure to wet the ground before piling on the wood, and then gave it a good spray down after that layer was finished. Water helps the decomposition process and makes it nice and comfortable down there. Water from the hose also gives Maynard the crazy eyes as he.loves.that.hose.water.

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Suddenly a supervisor seems very interested in what is happening on site

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Maynard being helpful

On top of that I had some help to throw on our nitrogen filled goodies. Fresh grass clippings and chicken manure made a fine covering. Then we sprayed that down with the hose as well. Then we sprayed down Maynard with the hose again.

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My wonderful helper M

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Mmmmmm…. hugelkultur madness. Wood topped with grass clippings and pine shavings with chicken manure

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Loves it

Next, with the help from my husband and our awesome neighbor’s bobcat we borrowed we filled the beds with topsoil. Not fancy screened top soil because that would be expensive, but the topsoil we stripped from our building site last summer. We’re all about cheap around here.

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Filling beds with topsoil

Finally, time to get some plants in there. I’m new to flower gardening and know that I want to eventually have these beds overflowing with wonderful and easy to maintain perennials, so we’ll be working on adding to it through out the summer. I snuck a few dahlia bulbs in for good luck. Most hugelkultur beds do better in the 2nd and 3rd years, but so far, so good!

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Peonies and veggies for our first year south facing bed

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My small start to the west facing bed

Now to figure out how to do some larger scaled “hills” for the actual garden site. Our work is never done.

What do you think, will it work or does it all sound like mumbo jumbo? Only time will tell 🙂

Cheers to at least finishing one more project~

~Katy