indicators + gardening tools

Indicators are a great permaculture designer tool, observing nature and following her lead.

Nature has a way of communicating and relying on different species to benefit and signal one another. If there is one thing I have learned about gardening, it’s timing is everything! And I already blew it big time this month, with the loss of dozens and dozen of healthy hearty tomato and cucumber starts, some of which I had nurtured right from the seed saving point years ago. I had the BEST starts I have ever had, big huge healthy plants, and then I joined the rest of the valley weeping at the late and hard frost that devastated even the most hardened veteran gardens around here! Not so many days after that big event my girlfriend dug this little tid bit of phenology up specific to the Kootenays (excerpt from Gardening in the Kootenays:)

“When Forsythia or Daffodils bloom, plant peas
Plant beets, lettuce, spinach, cole crops and carrots when Dandelions start to bloom or when Lilac leaves first begin to unfurl
When Lily of the Valley blooms it’s safe to put tomatoes out
When Irises bloom you can transplant eggplant, melon and peppers
When Daylillies bloom plant out tomatoes and peppers
When Aspens have leafed out there will be no more hard frosts
When Apple blossoms fall plant corn
When Maples unfurl their leaves plant out decorative perennials
When Lilac blooms fade plant cukes and late squash
When Lilacs are in full bloom plant beans and squash
When Mock Orange blooms you can direct-seed cabbage and broccoli in the garden”

Gee I wish that: A) I knew what the lily of the valley was, and B) noted that it had not yet bloomed on the night of the deadly frost!

I have been following a number of tools to get my timing right; my garden journal from last year, as well as the growing in the kootenays guide. So I am happy to add a more natural indicator guide to my planting arsenal.

On the topic of gardening tools (and I don’t mean shovels) I have some tried and true resources at hand:

love love love companion planting guides here are some of my online favorites:

Golden Harvest  PRI  and  Garden Toad

As for my go to books to guide me through my food systems I rely heavily on:

Gaias Garden (MY BIBLE OF GROWING FOOD), Gardening When it Counts and The Resilient Gardener

I am also really enjoying Homegrown Whole Grains and The Permaculture Garden (great book, horrible cover page)

So.. My apple blossoms are falling and the lilacs are in full bloom… Hello 3 sisters (ancient guild of corn, beans and squash) Tomorrow is the day for getting into my super nitrogen rich corn field (former chicken run) and planting more food!

Big back road thanks to my darling “city girl takes on the country companion” I will follow the flowers lead from now on. And you can follow her farmyard follies and garden frolics at theredsnowshoe.

Oh and I just found this GREAT companion planting image:

Advertisements

meet the tiny barnyard cast

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I realized we have a few new faces (both fuzzy and feathered) around these parts and thought it was about time to introduce you to the new animals so here they are starting from newest to oldest:

5 tiny chicks, by way of a fram yard in Grand Forks come sweet little silkie chicks less than a week old. We think they look like Fraggles when they are mature with feather feet and huge flamboyant head plumes so we have been calling them: Red, Gobo, Boober, Wembley and Mokey, and a tribute to everyone’s favorite puppet master Jim Henson.

2 new zelend / rex rabbits; Romeo and Juliet, soon to be Ma & Pa… but it seems little Romeo (small white little guy) isn’t up for the challenge yet. All is not lost their poo is great and we are feeding it to the worms who can’t get enough, and they cause a great stir in the chicken yard when the start hopping around at top speed!

1 tiny home birth (or hatch as it may be) Feist sweet little black baby bird that looks mostly Americana, she is the second “child” of Madonna our gold breasted Brodie patriarch bird.

10000+ red wiggler worms! lovely happy poo eating machines! You may recall our excellent vermicompost tea brewing systems from last week! Today we are bubbling up another batch of vermi-comphry-tea for the garden, starts and guilds.

All the other lovely hens we have keep us in farm fresh rainbow eggs each day. I think with the new chicks we are up at about 26 stunning heritage birds.

And the keepers of us all, the night watchmen, dedicated loyal and diligent in their service to the fokes and the flock are MacKenzie and Odin. The best bear busting cougar chasing, deer stalking duo around!

mess beautiful mess

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I keep taking pictures and want to share all of the exciting accomplishments we have made around here, but everytime I pull out my camera to compose a picture I think… ‘ew look at thay ugly pile of poo, or those tarps look so messy, or why are all of those materials piled up like that in the way? Maybe it’s the artist designer in my who is always put off by the chaos in a image composition… yet I have no trouble living with the straw piled high in front of my waddle and daub shed and strewn with an ugly blue tarp! I have to admit I don’t share as many images as I would like to because I think the farm looks messy when captured in a single frame… but when your here, living and moving, growing and building the mess is all relevant to the successes we are having!

So messy piles and half finished undertakings aside we have so much to share, where to begin?

The entire “old” garden space got planted, new rock stairways improved access to the Yarn yurt and the new expansion of the garden (to the hugel and giant sheet mulch, and future key holes), we started a swift execution of an outdoor shower that was quickly quelled, and promptly replaced by a stunning pole framed shed roof shower house structure, which decks off from the yarn yurt and houses a new cedar board and baton shower and composting toilet house with stunning open views of the moutains across the valley and the top of Perrys Ridge. The new structure also boasts a lower level garden sink and outdoor kitchen area. OMG it is looking fabulous! with huge overhangs, and beautiful joinery. I was happy with the make shaft early version.. but this my friends is unreal. There is talk of milling a giant cedar slab countertop for the garden sink with part of a massive cedar trunk gifted to us.

We have had some big days in the last week planing cedar boards, pulling new dead standing poles from the back 40 for garden fencing, hauling shit, and building sheet mulch beds, and another HUGE compost pile (decked out in a fancy compostex cover rather than the trouble some tipi’d tarps). The other day I spent most of the day sitting in aged horse shit weeding it for the base of the barley bed. Poor Phil had the unfortunate task of hauling nasty chicken shit straw up to the new compost pile site.While Jordan got his chainsaw skills tuned back in, as he hauled the newly required 14 fence posts for the big expansion. Dyl and his dad plained miles of boards and the reward was warm shower for all Friday morning! What a delight! The space is totally functional yet not at all finished. It’s time for some designer attention. I have some idea to adorn the space with rusty bits and bobs repurposed. YEAH FOR HOT SHOWERS!

But I digress, I skipped the long weekend… Both of Dylan’s folks ended up joining us for what was a drizzly and cold weekend, but we still manged to get many tasks done and feed an army of 8 for days (whew that was a little tiresome but my culinary skills are honing in). It was as always so wonderful to have family out here! It was a real shock for Helen to see what we have done since her visit last summer (new road, 2 yurts, waterlines, and expanded gardens to name a few!)  Jordan slipped back to Alberta for a few days but brought his friend Isis back with him, and I was thrilled to have some amazing estrogen in the dirt with me. Isis and I managed to plant out all the rest of the beds and she did a number on the weeds, cleaning pathways and flower beds, she even improved the esthetics of the man-yurt and painted a lovely mural on the door!

Dyl and I were getting a little burned out and called for an all out NO WORK weekend! For maybe the first time ever! We spent Saturday with Dave driving to Kaslo and touring through Sandon,  it was wonderful to take a much needed day off… as we haven’t done that in months.

Today we heading up valley to help our friend raise the roof of their Conics shelter for their outdoor kitchen. What a wild structure! low cost, no waste, strong and resistant to all sorts of extreme weather. It was so cool seeing it go from a pancake of plywood tiles to a curved self supporting structure of beauty! With very few hitches!

Ah living the good life.

hugelkultur is here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know I have mentioned a few times already that we are hugel-ing a part of the new garden expansion… well the other day we finally got the bed underway!

The hugelkultur bed (mound culture as it translates from German) was pretty simple to assemble:

We started by staking out a contour line, and as we are building it on a hill side, we pounded some pole steaks into the ground to catch the load of the first and largest punky tree trunks, then we neatly stacked more and more woody materials (which we have been hoarding in hugel stacks for months) generally building the stack from biggest pieces to smallest as we went up. The overall shape is a long pie wedge that acts as the boarder from the road way to the new terraces.

The following day we utilized our new gravity spring fed water line and really saturated the mound, which made for a nice refreshing sprinkler cool down as we worked on a small excavation about 12 feet away in the beating heat. Having a hugel dump site directly behind a earthen excavation was peachy! All of the roots and twigs and duff we pulled out easily made there way to the mound.

What a lovely way to use us massive amounts of wood bits and bobs; branches punky stumps, rotten birch branches, roots, twigs, leaves, pine needles, old straw well packed in chicken manure, the contents of many pee buckets, leafy duff, pine shavings, and sandy soil from an excavation… what does this all amount to? A self watering nutrient rich raised bed, that may even ward off the kouch grass for a time!

Check out Paul Wheatons Great hugelkultur Page full of diagrams and pictures of more examples of hugels in action!

Our hugelbed will will planted out with squash and chickpeas, all of which will be heavily mulched of course. As we work on building good soil it will be exciting to watch it grow!

On the topic of mulch; For the last couple years I have used a great amount of straw to mulch all of my beds, but struggle with the fact that it is not even close to local out here, it’s expensive and has been pretty seedy in the past. So what is our local counterpart to straw? Well it’s wood chips my friends! Lucky for us we have a friend who owns a small (this is a relative term) mill just down the road and he is swimming in wood chips and shavings, he gives us the word once he has run pine or fir and we head down the road 5 minutes for truckloads. I like the look of the wood chips in the garden, and on the occasion of a chicken assault on the garden the birds seem less drawn to the wood chips than they are to straw! Best of all it’s free!

We will add more pictures as we get the bed planted and it starts to grow and we get underway the next garden bed projects: sheet mulch key hole beds!

On the topic of sheet mulch: Way way back 3 spring times agao, when all we had here was a waving hillside of kouch grass I eked out one 80 foot long bed using a lasagne or sheet multch technique. I built that bed right ontop of thriving fresh kouch grass, and still to this day it is one of my favorite and most nutrient rich beds in the garden. The grass is managable and not so vigorous and I feel like this is a really viable option for working with weedy long routed grass challenges! There are some things I have learned about that bed and my material selections I am set to improve this go round.

*** I am so stoked to have so much great news to report, having all the extra muscle and brain power around here is fabulous, we are making HUGE steps forward in all manor of food and human systems. Jordan erected a great shower house next to the yarn yurt and we finally got to use the bamboo walls Dayna gifted us last year for the task, The shower has a sturdy peeled pole bench and a pallet deck floor. We will have a double sink next to it for all manor of garden / toiletry / and kitchen camp uses both will be heated with a hot water on demand unit designed for outdoor camps. The open air view from the shower is wonderful and I can’t wait to jump in an enjoy a sunny outdoor shower!

Phil and Jordan hauled no end of big @ss boulders around today, improving access after days of bobcat disruption! We now have a raging water line across the garden and to the yarn yurt, and that was no small feat. Dyl had to learn how to drive a bobcat backhoe to get 140 feet of new water line in place, and that task was an all hands on deck pick axe-shovelling-racking fiasco! I kept singing “laying pipe all day long” and acknowledged that never before have I had 3 men “…working so hard to satisfy this woman”!

Yeah for water, and bobcats, and bamboo showers, and perky plants who loved the vermi-compost tea treatments!!!

brew’n poo’n luvin it

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am bubbling with excitement to share our latest adventure in composting…

Where to start… Well a few months back I got back on the vermi wagon and welcomed red wigglers back into my house, inspired by our friend Rob’s vermi-pod I created my own as a temporary  house for my magical compost factory. Today I harvested my first casting. But let me go back a little further…

When I was about 8 My grandma has this wonderful invention I adored, it was a home spa, a portable long oval plastic deck you would lay in the bottom of a tub, connected to a really loud motor that for periods of 5-30 minutes at a go you could enjoy the rejuvenating bubbles of a spa right in your own tub! I used to drown myself in bath foam and create epic mountains of bubbles and play for hours in the tub. Eventually I ended up with the home spa, and dragged it from house to house with me never really using it, but always remembering home much I loved it.

After moving to BC, I was taking my PDC at Mountain Waters Retreat in Nelson and we were learning about brewing compost tea commercially! How exciting this was for me, as I had had and loved vermicompost previously and had in my possession a huge oxygenating pad which would so easily act as a brewer. Joyfully I came home only to find out a mere 3 weeks earlier Dyl had finally tipped my home spa in the bin! WHAT.. there goes my dreams of free tea brewing.

About 3 months ago I was scrounging through a second hand store when a small familiar blue and white box caught my eye. low and behold it was a home spa! Just like the one I had lost. I snapped it up for $5, and today it had it’s virgin run.

We had a tragedy occur here at the farm, that is we lost all the tomato plants and the cuc’s in the course of a few days. (more on tabacco related deaths in a future post), but all of the sudden the health and vitality of my smallest tomato and pepper starts was of the up-most importance! The starts needed a major boost of love and care and it was time to bust out the worms and the brewer and get at it!

Here is what we did.

I harvested about 4 cups of casting (and coco-husk bedding, thus the increased amount) and bagged it in a reusable produce bag that essentially acts as a tea bag, we put the tea bag in a 40L rubbermade bin, filled it with water along with 1/2 cup of Mycrobez (a wonderful live enzyme product made in Kaslo, sourced from Bocashi composting), added about 1/2 cup of unsulfured molasses and  immersed the home spa in the bin. Weighted it down with a tree root and a pick axe, that we just happen to have been using all week, used vice grips to over ride the timer function and got the tea a brewing! And boy did it brew!

Any fears about the home spa’s lack of air flow were immediately quelled as it busted out some serious bubbles! As I type the tea is in it’s 4th hour of brewing and by this time tomorrow all of our plants will get a hard earned juice boost from our friends the worms!

And as we are now rabbit farmers too the worms will get there first taste of rabbit droppings and straw bedding tomorrow! Exciting times as the elements all start to come together around here. Stay tuned there is so much on the go, and I have a few more posts to share soon about earthworks, water, rabbits, and how tobacco plants kill tomatoes 😦

may daze

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Oh what a week we have had here!

Our new intern Jordan arrived last week just as Phil departed for a time, we are soaking up the the new and unstoppable energy and crossing many items of the ever building To Do list! Things are looking tidy around here and Dylan is bucking up stacks of trees and Jordan doesn’t ever put the axe down… which means the firewood stacks are growing to a promising size!

I moved my nightshade starts into their new temporary home in the sweet cold fame Jordan built and we have salad greens popping up everywhere! The garden has been all encompassing of my time these days and  Jordan and I have been spending endless hours digging and double digging the new massive potato patch, edged on one side by shelling peas set to climb up the fence and on the other is a cabbage and onions mound edged with a whimsical olive oil tin  kale / chard container boarder. We put 20+ lbs of potatoes in the ground today, 4 varieties, and are trying and interesting approach to planting… Firstly we set each start in the ground with a comfry leaf (to ward off scabs) placed 12″ apart in rows of triangles to maximize plants per space, then we gently covered them with dirt and will be building up layer after layer of straw mulch on top. The idea is that the potatoes grow in the straw rather than the ground, yielding clean and easily harvested  potatoes, hundreds and hundreds of them! Here is a good example of a straw potato patch success storey. Next we tackle the purple barley field and the corn crop.

This week we  travelled to a south slocan farm to meet our newest animal additions… a mating pair of rabbits. Just working on the design for hutch housing and dropping collection to easily feed the worms. The idea has spiralled into a bigger far more function stacked system, but while we have the skilled hands we might as well throw in a passive solar green house and compost tea brewing facility right!?!  We have orderd a few more chicks to keep our little solo babe company and have finally got our hands on the two breeds we have been after for some time; Marans which lay chocolate brown coloured eggs and Silkies which have a big white poof of feathers on their heads and look an awful lot like fragil rock creatures.

Our strawberries are flowering (which is so exciting because they will turn into the first strawberries ever from our land) and out guilded fruit trees from last year all look healthy and are popping with green, as is everything around us!

We managed to get our new hillside seeded out and planted with hundreds of basket willow starts to attempt to stabile the lot after our road work last year. Much more willow basket weaving is certain to be in my future.

We all managed to get the final strapping of the yurt roof done, it’s tied down, insulated and almost decoratively covered (with white tarp). Last night we celebrated with a fooz tourney, as the long stored foos ball table now has a home in the man-yurt. It is all most move in ready, with a well working door and a new temporary (albeit ugly) roof cap, that is a repurposed fiberglas massive satelight dish. We have sweet vintage metal cabinets to use in the new yurt ( or the Murt; man-yurt as we have been lovingly referring to it as) and the makings of a nice little kitchenette, complete with a bar fridge and a sudo- sink.

This next week the boys will finally tackle the unfinished 3/10th’s of  tin roof on woodhenge! This will mean dry storage and re-stacking of lumber in racking!

We built and have been monitoring a whopping HOT compost pile… Ahh nothing like the smell of steamy cooking compost to get you up in the morning! Actually the pile got a little too hot, and took some effort to cool it down, but it will be lovely and ready shortly. Jordan took an in depth soil studies class with Doug Weatherbee last year and there is another round of this class I am really interested in attending this month in Alberta hosted by Verge. I love the study of soil and making it and it would be dreamy to get out to this workshop.

Speaking of interesting things happening in Alberta, The Western Canada Permaculture Convergence is happening this August (24-26) and it is certain to be an amazing event! Many of our friends are involved in making it a success and it will be a fabulously inspiring weekend of learning and sharing and networking!

I have been working on this post for a number of days, and since starting it Phil has re joined our team here, and I was happy he made it back in time for all of us to take in the May Day – Water Celebration. Winlaw’s annual festival in celebration of our stunning water in this special place. The event is a long day of music and dancing and reuniting with friends as we all shake of the winter and celebrate the spring, complete with a drum lead parade from “downtown” to the river for a blessing. The whole community joined in singing “down to the river to pray” and it was a breathtaking and fabulous! What a special place  to be.