Category Archives: Permaculture Orchard

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Shiawassee Still Beautifuls

photo 2 (15) The wax tape is now falling away from the 40 grafts we made this spring. The graft unions look great. It’s exciting to see these little trees grow!

All 40 grafts took, though one was damaged by our toddler, so that tree, while still growing, is root stock only. These trees will be overwintered somewhere in town and transplanted outdoors next spring. photo 3 (8)

Remember the segments of root stock that were going to be thrown out by the NPS last year, but that we managed to save and root using willow water? They’re also doing well. In fact, they’re thriving in our yard and will make wonderful shade trees to some future home-owner. Cuttings from apple trees will root easily – using a natural growth hormone, like that found in willow water, helps. photo 1 (13)

RealEyes Podcast on Our Farm Story

Levi at RealEyes Homestead, which is a permaculture farm adjacent to our farm at DeYoung has just started doing podcasts. They’re great! And we’re particularly fond of the second ever, the story of our farm. Please take a listen and then sign up to receive additional podcasts from RealEyes.

Stinky Wool Bags

The great thing about raising your own fiber animals or getting unwashed fleeces, is all the uses for excess or skirted wool. Inphoto 3 (4) - Copy the conventional orchard, coyote urine is often used as a deterrent for deer. This approach makes sense, but I’m not about to milk the bladder of a wild canine for the end result. And while I could buy the stuff online, that ignores some of the core principles of permaculture.

What we do have is raw, unwashed skirted fiber from the sheep. This stuff is stinky, and I kept in a bag with excess sheep pooh to really enhance the flavor. While it may seem contrary to add the scent of a prey animal to the orchard, instead of the scent of a predatory animal, it’s really very much the same concept. Prey animals like deer will avoid obvious prey scent to avoid being dinner to a predatory animal. photo (3) - Copy

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And best of all, this is a product that we can produce on the farm. It also produces a great mulch when the scent wears off. And the bags can be re-used.

We filled enough bags to cover the upper and lower portions of the orchard, then headed up to attach them to the trees. Already there were signs the deer had been in to snip a terminal bud or two. The netting keeps them off the rest.

Vunerable Courageous

I just recovered from a morning of home-schooling and crazy toddler interactions which typically include repetitive games, multiple readings from the same storybook, and wiping of butts after poohs. (And you thought you were reading an ordinary farm post). I love my kids, but damn, sometimes I need a break in the other room, while they play outside or do anything that doesn’t involve the crazy din that regularly overwhelms my senses.

It’s not them; it’s me. It’s this year. This crazy year of losses and giving up and holding out hope. It eats at me.

I’ve never had trouble admitting vulnerability. This year, as I watched trees and garden die from drought and voles, had to deal with a run-away flock, and lost our broilers to two different predation incidents, then some of our layers, too, then my back, I began to feel vulnerable. I shared. I told our story. Didn’t hide from it. Tried to embrace losses with lessons gained. I’m strong; I can take it.

Then came the alpaca. The four gentle souls, who though timid in their new surroundings, walked beside me in trust. Something in my soul reignited. Something I felt with the sheep and in planting each of the nearly two hundred apple trees by hand. It was a feeling of hope. And I think I had lost it somewhere in the settling dust of this season.

This year highlighted many beautiful things about the people who visit the farm. Visitors helped carry buckets up the long hill to water, volunteers worked to plant and tend guilds, friends and family came on my birthday to whitewash the entire sheep barn, and I wasn’t alone in planting those 200 hundred trees.

What went right: This year we planted an orchard with more than 31 antique apple varieties, then planted two hundred apple whips within the orchard, which we also helped graft, that will become part of an orchard restoration project within the boundaries of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (80% of the grafts took and are thriving). We raised sheep, chickens, processed our own fiber from start to finish, helped plaster the farmhouse, hosted multiple classes and workshops in fiber and permaculture, worked with the Edible Trails project to design the DeYoung Trail garden, launched the Permaculture Progress online publication, and had a little courage left over for alpaca. This doesn’t account for the time we volunteered on other farms, or the work unrelated to farming, the parenting, and the balancing of two properties.

And yet, I was constantly reminded of what I did not do. By people who were probably well-intended, but unaware. Comments that, isolated, do little to affect, but in sequence are grating. The one that surprised me the most – brought me so close to the edge – always came on the heels of my admittance to the awareness of where I fell short of my own expectations. It was the question that punched my gut every single time. “Oh yeah? When is your lease up?”

Vultures? Or maybe they’re intending mercy. Hard to say. But it did nothing to encourage. I found myself second-guessing, trying to appease others, worrying and slipping into a haze of overwhelming depression. Had I failed?

How could I even expect to answer that question?! It’s far too soon. The trees are newly planted. I am a student of my own process. I am one woman shouldered by a wonderful many. I am vulnerable, but I am also strong. I am the pioneer who is near starvation seeking out that one last chance at growing grain. Maybe not so desperate in reality, but in heart.

When asked at the fiber conference what it was we needed as farmers to get a fiber-shed off the ground, I answered simply, “Courage.” It’s the common theme interwoven within the vulnerability. I rely on courage to say yes to opportunity, to try and fail and try again, to be vulnerable in the face others. This is not a race. This is not about the speed in which I accomplish the most; it is about the goal that lay at its finish and the slow and steady process that unfolds to achieve its end.

Really, it’s about knowing those noisy children who look up to me see me follow this dream with every bit of energy and might, to seek out joy, to share. I owe it to them more than to myself. Because my daughter once said the thing she liked about me best was that I never give up.

Applied Permaculture Design

Malus_domestica_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-108Join us for the first meeting to discuss a year-long intensive at garden site located at Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung. This former market garden offers a highly visible location to visitors. Let’s co-create a micro-food forest to demonstrate the core values and principles of permaculture while solving some of the troubles facing a thirsty landscape. While we’re at it, how about experience and a free education in the permaculture design process. Sound good? Then see YOU at the garden!

Course is FREE to anyone interested in lending a hand and gaining an education in permaculture design. Face to face sessions occur monthly, with online support in between.

Please email to sign up and for directions:

Three Ethics, 12 Principles, a chicken, and an apple tree… and Zone 00

Permaculture is an integrative system design approach inspired by highly evolved, productive ecosystems. It’s not simply a spiral herb bed or layer composting, but about interactions that take place within the soil and bio-web within a space, and how those interactions relate to place, time, other elements within the garden, people building the system, neighboring community, wildlife, and the ecosystem surrounding the garden space. That makes not only for a dynamic food forest system, but also for some pretty dynamic external thought processes, and hopefully, a huge amount of introspection.

There are plenty of designs out there that are “permaculture inspired,” but permaculture, as described through the principles, is a process, not simply an implementation of design. When someone says (or when we say to ourselves), “I want a permaculture…,” we, as designers, have to pull back and examine the, “I want.”

While Zone 0 is centered on the place where we spend the majority of our time, Zone 00 represents intentions, ego, learned knowledge, intuition, dreams, etc. It envelopes all things us. And while most of us have no problem evaluating our zones and sectors during the design process, we’re not often asked to look within; to take time to observe our intentions within a space; to keep our ego in check and hold our designs accountable.

That would take time. RealTree-white-BG time.

And time is something our egos fight against in favor of immediate gratification. So, rather than work against ego, we need to inquire about the urgency. Is there a need that is essential and must be met? Or are we eager to see a certain tree planted, so we can enjoy the fruits as soon as we are able? Working with this sense of urgency, we can loop back around to those useful elements of the existing landscape, and highlight areas that must be addressed. Take one step forward, then look back and see how the system responds. Short, concise feedback loops.

While in appearance, working from Zone 00 out appears to take longer, in the long run, it requires fewer additional inputs and results in a system well-suited for participants, whether a helpful microbe in the soil, a cedar waxwing perched on the branch of an apple tree, or you, the budding permaculturalist seeking a better way of living. In reality, permaculture is a philosophy that doesn’t just work externally. When examining a site, we ask ourselves why certain plants and animals are thriving within that environment; it’s time to seek the same answers from within.