Category Archives: permaculture

S’no Joke!

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S’no Joke!

Here’s the latest from Green Grenouille  welcoming committee

Green Grenouille

The Green Grenouille welcoming committee are not impressed by the weather!

Grenouille No.1 – No! I can’t look at any more snow.

Grenouille No.2 – I refuse to listen to any more weather forecasts!

Grenouille No.3 – Oooops! Did I say that out loud?

Outside indeed it still looks like winter but in the cold frame most of the hardy greens are almost ready for harvesting, despite the fact the lid of the frame collapsed during one of the January storms and the little plants spent several weeks crushed and frozen under the tarp. Goes to show just how hardy tat soi, rapunzel, kale, mizuna and arugula really are! In a few weeks they won’t seem half so special but at the moment all these early greens taste A-maz-ing!

Early greens

Tat soi, kale, mizuna and arugula all growing quite happily in a makeshift cold frame

 

I’m always trying new ways to extend my harvest of greens and thought I’d share today’s little venture – planting in eaves trough. I salvaged a couple of pieces of eaves trough from a construction dump last year and cut into four foot lengths they gave me six troughs of a manageable size, approximately the same width as my raised beds. I’ve heard of growing lettuce etc. in eaves troughs but have always been a little skeptical, wondering how much watering is required (daily through the summer months I would imagine) and also how much nutrient needs to be pumped into the soil to sustain healthy growth.

items needed to make an eaves trough planter

Eaves trough cut into manageable (four foot) length, duct tape, old towel and some soil is all that’s needed to plant a row of kale

I’m more interested in starting seedlings in troughs indoors and then transferring them as ready made rows, that will slide smoothly out of the trough and directly into a waiting furrow in the garden. Firstly, I closed off the ends of the trough with duct tape. Coconut coir or cardboard would do just as well, I’m sure. I then cut strips of cloth (I sacrificed an old towel) that measured about a foot longer than the trough, leaving enough to allow for an overhang at each end when the strip of cloth is placed along the bottom of the trough. By doing this I hope to ease the transition from eaves trough to garden bed, causing as little disruption as possible to the roots of the plants by simply pulling on one of the end tabs of cloth and sliding the plug of soil directly into the waiting furrow. After I’ve cut away the duct taped end plugs, of course.

Seedlings ready to be transplanted

Kale seedlings ready to be transferred from a recycled commercial salad mix container into a length of eaves trough

I had seeds already started in the house that I’d seeded way too heavily. I should know better by now but I was not wholly trusting of the seed as it is several years old. I wasn’t sure how viable it would be but I think I got close too one hundred per cent germination. One more plus for kale – the seed is very robust and stores really well! I let the soil around the seedlings dry out, thinking that it would be easier to separate the delicate roots if the soil fell away easily. It did, but of course it could be argued that the tiny plants would already be stressed by this drying out and therefore the untangling of roots would be even more traumatic for them. I’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

I want to start peas in a couple of the troughs and I’m hoping this method will work well for that as well. Stay tuned!

Early spring greens growing in a tractor tire

A salvaged tractor tire set up as a hot box provided weeks of super early spring greens

And of course I’m definitely going to set up another ‘hot box’ in the old tractor tire I found washed up on the beach  a couple of winters ago. Not sure if I wrote about it last year or not, but here’s a quick recap for anyone who might have missed that post – First a layer of hot manure – I used chicken, well covered with a thick (3-4 inches) layer of organic mulch (straw, leaves, seaweed, etc.) This is to keep the roots of the plants from touching the manure, which is used specifically as a heat source and therefore needs to be ‘hot’ –  which also translates as – much too fresh to consider as a source of nutrients at this time.

Tire with some manure

Hot manure is placed in first then topped with protective mulch barrier before soil goes in

I packed the inner core of the tire with seaweed (eel grass to be specific) and then filled the central hole (where the wheel hub would go) with a rich mix of soil and organic nutrients and then I wrapped the tire in plastic sheeting until the seeds were well sprouted and the temperatures had risen. There was snow on the ground when I was doing this and I really didn’t know if I was pushing my luck just a bit but no – in the earliest days of spring I was able to pick salads from this tire, which kept producing phenomenal greens week after week after week.

Tire wrapped in plastic

The tire didn’t look like much at first!

I have had good success with hot box set ups in the cold frames but I think the black rubber of the tire helped intensify both the heating up of the soil and also aided in heat retention. On some really bitter days the temperature of the soil in the tire was usually fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than in the regular garden beds.

 

 

And finally, my new book has arrived! The Food Lover’s Garden is now in stores. The people at New Society Publishers have done a wonderful job and I am delighted with the look of this book. It’s in full color and is quite lavishly illustrated. Thirty of the images are taken from watercolor paintings I did of one of my fave. subjects – vegetables – and the forty some other images are all from pictures I took in one of my fave. places – my garden 🙂

So yes, this book feels quite close to my heart, especially as it’s all about the joys of growing, preparing and eating  good, healthy food. The official launch will be at the Halifax Main Branch Library, April 22nd. at 2.00

The really exciting thing is that all the original paintings, framed, are to be auctioned off on line during the month of May, with all proceeds going to support Soul’s Harbor Rescue Mission and Dartmouth North Community Food Center. Needless to say I’m thrilled to be able to use my art in true permaculture fashion, that is for more than one purpose – to illustrate the Food Lover’s Garden and also to support two organizations which I greatly admire!

Food Lover's Garden bcover

Front Cover of my new book – in stores now

 

 

 

 

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!

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If I was to ever write my memoires, which I know I never will, the title would have to be: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time! My life path is littered with seemingly brilliant, ultimately disastrous ideas… some more disastrous than others! Fortunately I’ve learnt to pay attention to the warning signs; the clanging bells and flashing lights that I used to ignore when blundering on towards yet another pending catastrophe. But not always 😦

The ‘fedging’ or living fence project I was so excited to share a few months ago is one such of those I-should-have-seen-that-coming ideas. Perhaps by sharing my mistakes I can at least prevent others from following along the same, misdirected path. And before I start to sound too depressed about it, let me say that at least half of the fedges I planted are brilliant. I love them. And in fact one hundred per cent of the fedges are brilliant if we’re just basing their success on growth. This is the problem.

Fedge gateway

This fedge I was so pleased with has turned into a monster

One ‘fedge’ prospered even better than all the others – the one surrounding one of my vegetable plots. And why did it flourish so vigorously? Because it was gobbling all the nutrients that were intended for my crop, in this case potatoes. Potatoes! I mean really, of all the crops to under produce! They need so very little to be happy and usually produce twice our requirements. This year, other than some fingerlings and some blues, which I’m saving for special dinners, we’re already out of spuds.

With subtle slight of hand I’m blaming it on the fedge for stealing every bit of nutrient out of my wonderfully fertile garden plot, although in truth I’m fully responsible, because of course I should have known better. Fedges are wonderfully seductive, and I was lured into thinking solely on how great they’d look and how they’d be just perfect to keep marauding geese out of my garden. To add insult, the tender slips I stuck in the ground mere months ago have grown tenacious roots that have all snarled together forming an impenetrable web. It’s going to take a lot of digging to get them out.

 

Note to self, and to anyone else who’ll listen, only plant fedges along perimeters where you’re sure you’ll never, ever want anything else to flourish. I’m told they have a different but  equally devastating effect on wells, septic systems and foundations. Yikes!

Hands cutting a space into a bale of straw

It’s a lot harder than might be expected to cut holes in a bale of straw!

One thing I’ve been rather down on and I realize unfairly so, is straw bale gardening. I was needing to write a piece on my experience with straw bale beds recently and I realized that everything I had to say was positive. I guess all I’d remembered was how difficult it actually is to cut planting spaces out of a bale of straw. And certainly if other options exist, I’d chose them first. But  on a rock hard surface, in a narrow space, they will provide the opportunity to grow some food.

close up of straw-bale bed

The newly constructed straw bale with planting spaces filled with dirt was planted with sunflowers and cosmos

 

 

Cutting out spaces and filling them with fertile soil mix is essentially creating fully organic planters which will eventually decompose and become soil. That’s what finally happened to mine. After several years of being a straw-bale bed, the straw vanished almost overnight, or so it seemed, and I was left with some very friable, fertile soil.

show a mis of greens growing in dirt

The mix of mache, mizuma and tatsoi thrived well into December in what remains of the straw-bale bed

 

 

A fall crop of winter greens was more than happy to flourish in it and this after it had supported a season of spinach and arugula. Nothing to complain about there.

Seed catalogues are already out and well thumbed. We try to save as much seed as possible, here on QuackaDoodle, but it’s always fun to try at least a couple of new things each year. Definitely no more  Chinese winged beans; they were a once and never again, for us.

jars of salsa verde stacked on counter top

The tomatillos harvest made lots of salsa verde

Tomatillos on the other hand, a big Yes! They produced well and made great salsa verde (but of course they did, as that is what they’re most noted for) but also, they were equally good as a substitute for green tomatoes, in green tomato mincemeat.  One more plus is their appearance – they really are a funky little (and not so little) plant and I love the way each fruit comes individually wrapped in its own paper case.

close up of tomatillo plant

The bees go gaga for the little yellow flowers of the tomatillo plant.

I have sweet potato slips rooting and potted up. Definitely pushing the limits with these and any success will depend on what kind of summer we have this year. A cold wet one like last year will definitely not work for sweet potatoes… or for me either, come to that!

 

cover of Permaculture For The Rest of Us

Permaculture For The Rest of Us ~ Abundant Living on Less than One Acre

My BIG NEWS is that I have been invited to give three presentations at The Mother Earth News Fair in Belton Texas. This all came about because of my recent book, Permaculture For the Rest of Us.

It will be going there with my publisher, New Society Publishers. I’ll finally get to meet some of the people I’ve been working with for a couple of years, but have never actually met. Excited!

snow covered garden

Yesterday the garden looked like this

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was surround with banks of snow but after a night and most of a day of heavy, heavy rain it’s mostly gone and I can see more green than white. Oh joy! My green thumb is starting to twitch already and as soon as I get back from Texas I plan to start seeding my herbs and seriously starting to plan what else needs to be started and when. Around these parts it’s important not to be tricked by a brief respite from winter (today is plus eight!) and start seeding too soon. But it’s never too early to start dreaming, right! 🙂

a long shot of a thriving garden with lots of green growth

today it looks like this… well, perhaps not quite like this 🙂

 

Best Way Ever to Shovel Out The Goat Shed!

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Spring was so slow coming this year that it sometimes seemed that exuberant growth might never happen, but of course it did. More recently, as much of the country suffers terrible droughts we’ve been having way more than our fair share of rain, torrential downpours in fact, that just keep on coming, along with lower than average temperatures, except, that is, for a long dry spell middle of June through to middle of July, during which nothing grew. Weather patterns are most definitely becoming more extreme! While some crops must surely be set back, much of the garden seems to be flourishing in the present cool, moist conditions.

Bed of Asian Greens

The’ Asian Greens’ bed

The ‘Asian greens bed’, as we identify it, is especially happy. It contains Gai Lan, (also called Chinese Broccoli), Mache, Tat soi, Chop Suey greens (which are actually an edible chrysanthemum) Pak Choy, Rumex lettuce (sorrel) and Michihli (Chinese cabbage) all of which are delicious. I would highly recommend trying any or all of these as they’re all uber delicious. They’re also all early season plants, in that they prefer cooler conditions so the plan is to re-seed for a second, late season crop around the end of August.

close up of Tatsoi and Michihli

Pak Choi snuggles in with the Chop Suey (Shungiku) greens which are towards the top of the image

sorrel

Rumex lettuce, which is a variety of sorrel described as having a raspberry vinegar flavour. It is lovely in a salad.

Young child admires baby chick

Putting the day old chicks under the heat lamp in their ‘nursery’ is always fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had hoped to raise a different type of meat chicken this year called Sasso, simply because the Meat Kings we usually get seem unnatural. Unfortunately the source we were depending on for the Sassos didn’t come through so we’re back to Meat Kings again this year. They grow so big, so quickly, not because  they’re genetically modified in any way but simply because the cross breed of specific strains of male Cornish and female White Rocks creates a bird that is nothing more than an eating machine. For anyone growing these birds for the first time, here are a few things to be aware of. Time of harvest is quite crucial and it goes as follows: 6 weeks for your standard KFC / Swiss Chalet broiler; 10-12 weeks is what we usually aim for (net out at 7 to 8.5 lbs) After 10 weeks, you’re into the diminishing returns curve as the amount of weight they gain is less value than the feed you’re giving them. Feed needs to be regulate around 3-4 weeks or the muscles and ligaments won’t be able to support the excessive weight and after ten weeks heart attacks and strokes become a very real issue, just as with obese humans. These birds are the ultimate gluttons!

Beyond that, the sky’s the limit, assuming they survive much beyond 20 weeks, at which point if managed well, they will dress out at the 13 to 16 lbs range, too big for all but large family special occasions. We don’t like to grow them this big as they start to look engorged and really uncomfortable. On the bright side, as day old chicks they’re awful darn cute.

 

Community is, shamefully, the aspect of Permaculture that I focus on least, or at least it used to be that way until a

Woman in sun hat sitting with a plate of pancakes on her knee

Best way ever to shovel out a goat shed

Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago when several of my neighbours arrived, armed with forks and shovels, prepared to clean out the goat shed. I was awaiting hip surgery at that time and shovelling was out of the question. Even walking was getting to be a bit of a challenge. Chores were certainly starting to get backed up around here.  To my neighbours a bit (no, let’s make that a lot) of shovelling, was fair return for the fresh greens and stuff that we have an overabundance of, and love to share; to me it was  the most amazingly beautiful gesture of friendship and generosity. They even brought me breakfast of pancakes with strawberries and maple syrup and one dear child who couldn’t come to the shovelathon sent along a batch of fudge he’d made, just for me. How sweet is that! I still get quite emotional, thinking of that morning and I realize that for me it was quite a learning curve. I love giving but I’m not that good at receiving, and in truth I suck at asking for help. That wonderful morning really underlined that truly everything, as in Permaculture, is about connectivity and that the value of community cannot be understimated. See below the best ever way to shovel out a shed!

Five women and a boy shovel out a goat shed

Wow! Is this what friends are for?

 

The job is done!

Canadian Gothic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me. happy with my new book.

Permaculture For The rest Of Us. Yeah!

My other big news, other than the fact that my hip is fixed and I’m feeling fine, is that my latest book, Permaculture For The Rest of Us – Abundant Living on Less Than an Acre is at the proofing stage and I’ve even had an advanced reading copy in my hand. The cover design incorporates a section of a painting I did based on the QuackaDoodle Farm layout, so that’s kind of cool. It’s being published by New Society Publishers and will be available October first. Exciting!

 

 

A COUPLE OF QUICK TIPS 

If you happen to see a broken down pleather couch, or chair, out for curbside pick up, stop and take a couple of the cushions. They make the best kneeling pads ever and they don’t get super soggy after a rain so can be left out permanently. The two I have also add a bit of comfort to the rustic wooden chairs at the fire pit. Multi-functional and re-purposed, a perfect Permaculture solution.

Hens in a hen-poster

Happy hens make great compost.

A hen-poster is a must, if you have chickens. (And why not have chickens?) We emptied ours (the henposter not the chickens) this spring and it was full of the best ever compost. Chickens love digging and scratching through the garden waste and kitchen scraps, so they’re continually aerating and manuring any organic matter that’s made available to them. Having it corralled by a simple ‘fence’ prevents it from being spread all over the place, and allows it to accumulate some mass which in turn facilitates the heating up process. Also makes it much easy to shovel out come the Spring.

 

I’m leaving the final word to Mother Nature.

Pink and blue Columbines

Mother Nature rules!

There’s a patch of ground close up to the foundation of the house that is solid clay, backfill from the excavation. It’s totally shadowed by the back deck and gets virtually no sunlight at all. I’d spread it with some gravel topped with beach rocks, planning to park my kayak there but Mother N had other ideas. She filled the gaps between the rocks with Columbines. I have no idea where the first plants came from but every year they proliferate and diversify and have created a magical little garden where I thought nothing could possibly grow. It’s amazing to see these fragile, beautiful plants thriving in such an inhospitable environment. Just another proof that it is so much better to let nature rule. Just one of the things that makes Permaculture so cool!