Category Archives: Worms & Micros

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

photo 5
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!

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

slowsteadyPeople utilize permaculture principles selectively. It’s in our nature and there are 12. And honestly, it took me a few years before I really, fully, truly understood all 12. That’s part of what makes permaculture a great compliment to nature; it’s natural pace.

Often permaculturalists are asked to rush designs to accommodate what people would like to see, which means bulldozing past quite a few key elements that will make a design thrive. Yes, those plantings may yield after some time of their fight against opportunistic plants better suited for poorer soils, but the time and energy needed is crudely invested.

That said, there are often may outside, human influences rushing the process. We like to see results and for humans these days, that’s something akin to the immediate gratification of seeing plants in the ground. But more and more, I find myself questioning these methods as they fail to reiterate that key principle, Slow and Steady Solutions.

What makes this principle so critical? For one, it allows room for the first principle of Observation, which if practiced alone would save the average gardener years worth of toil. Secondly, working closely with the land at a slower pace allows for a gradual accumulation of new microbes well-suited your soil, it affords valuable time for soil-building and cover cropping in which carbon and nitrogen cycles have time to sufficiently stabilize, and as those changes unfold, creates smaller feedback loops permitting more time to observe changes and adapt.

Where we fail to apply this principle, we find thriving opportunistic plants, decreased yields of desired plants, and if plants suffer, an increase in pests and disease, resulting in a poor demonstration of permaculture and a weary grower. That’s not to say that every permaculturalist who fails to yield to this principle is going to suffer. If done correctly, it is possible to establish a fairly productive system mimicking the longer-duration process, with the right elements in place and with, at the very least, time allotted for observation.

That said, please slow down. Take time to get to know the land. Have a picnic in your future garden space and see experience the wind and sun, the insects, birds, and neighboring plants. As with any relationship, don’t rush it; savor it. Grow with it.


“You can’t do that without a tractor!” and other things people tell us… [Part One]

We hear this a lot, “How can you do that without a tractor?”

Tractors make great trellises.

It helps that we don’t till and manage the farm in a manner consistent with Permaculture’s ‘slow and steady’ principle. But the question remains, how do you deal with a large swath of land that requires working? We’ve run into one such stretch of pasture that was heavily tilled and sprayed for a few years. What remains is a rocky, sandy, depleted soil with several varieties of pioneer plants putting down deep tap roots to mine for nutrients and to gain traction in a heavily eroded landscape.

How can we alter this stretch without a tractor?  Our answer: Time, livestock, poop, and seeds.

Pioneers, the first to appear after the soil has suffered enough tillage, are plants often detested by the traditional farmer/gardener. They’re designed to survive in harsh, arid soils. Some even secrete a growth-suppressing hormone from their roots, keeping other plants from competing for the limited nutrients available. Additional tilling, which throws nutrients into the air, will generate an ideal habitat for these plants, preventing what we’d like to grow from growing (unless we rely on biocides to kill them, then soak the ground with synthesized NPK).

Instead, we approach the land with an integrative thought process. How can we work with what’s here and what we have to improve soil and get a yield of some kind out of the process? That yield might come in the form of fodder for animals, or food for humans (or both).

The land mentioned above, once a GMO-cornfield, is being transformed into a productive grazing pasture for our sheep. We first let it grow undisturbed for a full year (in a few more years, the microbial life there prior to conventional approaches will return), while installing fence-posts.

Taking advantage of a gentle slope, we’ll graze the sheep, who expel some of the richest pelleted manures of any livestock, in the upper portion, supplementing their feed with hay. During this process, as it rains, they’ll fertilized the upper portion of the field and allow for water to carry some of the nutrients to the lower half.

The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.
The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.

The pioneer plants, which congregate in the lower portion of the field, will now serve as a food source for meat-chickens. Using a chicken tractor (instead of a petrol-driven tractor), we’ll move the chickens daily and where they’ve eaten away the vegetation, they’ll leave a rich manure in its place. After each move, we’ll sew grasses and a limited supply of clover (a great nitrogen fixing legume).

By next year, we’ll reverse the process, allowing the sheep to graze the lower pasture, continuing to fertilize as they eat, and run the chickens across the upper portion, seeding as we go. Out of this, we get yields of meat from our chickens, fodder for the livestock, and fiber off the sheep. No tilling (and no tractors) necessary.

HTF What the heck is hugelkultur, anyway? events

Interested in learning to build soil for your raised garden beds? Wondering about that crazy German word you’ve heard floating around of late? What is hugelkultur, anyway? We’ll share the answer and much more as we build beds all around our new, old, old house.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll welcome people or small groups to our urban farm and illustrate the art of all things earthy, including information on indoor and outdoor composting and how to find free materials for use in building soil. These informal gatherings are FREE and open to all.  Call to set up a time that works for YOU.

http://www.healingtreefarm.orgHealing Tree Farm • (231) 499 – 8188

Farming and Food Security

According to a United Nation’s report, more than two billion people live in poverty and are without food intermittently. Worldwide, seventeen thousand children die each day from starvation. And those of us fortunate enough to have access to food, are threatened with pink slime, traces of antibiotics, hormones, and even excrement.

Agriculture is industrialized and no longer seeks to integrate into the natural rythyms and patterns of the existing landscape, but scrapes the land, amends the dredged topsoil, sprays it with biocides, and plants genetically modified plants that can tolerate this extreme environment.

What remains is a sterilized food source and an industry that is exposing people to known carcinogens, while utilizing massive amounts of petroleum and water to sustain their practices. Today, we face a greater threat from within our food producing system than from any threat of plant disease or infestation.

How do we protect our food supply? Firstly, we must stop contributing money to companies and growers who factory farm, utilize product like “pink slime,” or genetically modify their crops. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Nearly all corn is now GMO contaminated and companies like Monsanto are moving to other crops like soy, cotton, and rice – staple crops.

Secondly, grow and buy locally. Consider the first and second principles essentially observing and conserving resources. Examine your food system on a local level. What exists and is working currently? Where can improvements be made? Is there access to community space for growing food? What is your local government’s policy on gardening? Chickens within city limits? Etc.


Next, consider seed saving. Save seeds from plants that grow best within your microclimate. Create a community seed bank. Or share within your neighborhood. Host discussions on this and other crafts, including soil-building, water catchment, and free resources within the community that can aid in these and other objectives.

Seek out the advice of farmers – even if they grow using conventional methods. These growers still have a considerable amount of wisdom to share. And hopefully you can bestow a little of your own farm-savvy back ’em.

Just as the food forest represents an interconnected web of diverse plantings, networking within your community is equally beneficial. No bat signal needed here; just a few smart folks getting together to initiate change locally.

Introducing the “Worm Bag”

The fully functional worm bag featuring Ecospun breathable poly-felt fabric and nylon stitching, a pine frame and retention tray.

If you love vermiculture, but are hesitant about separating worms from compost from other wastes in the effort of saving castings and other good stuff, the worm bag offers a greater level of efficiency in it’s simple design.

Worms prefer to live near the soil surface, so as you add compost to your bag, the worms eat, process and move upward. This leaves the majority of processed compost at the bottom of the bag that may then be released into the tray as needed.

The bag design was featured and was the brain-child of “amyoungs.”

Our bag closely follows the design featured online, though we focused primarily on making this project affordable over aesthetically appealing (since it will live in our basement).

We bartered with a neighbor and farmer who brought two containers of healthy, happy red wigglers. They were introduced to a week’s worth of cut-up food wastes saved as a starter. Like people, worms love coffee – or at least coffee grounds which provide a nice source of nitrogen to plants. Other

Our oldest helps sew the Ecospun into a new home for the red wigglers.

food wastes to compliment those macronutrients are egg shells (Ca), sweet potatoes (worms love yams), and shredded newspaper (C) – these are great mixed with existing soil for a good starter.

Total cost of this project (assuming you have access to a sewing machine and tools)

is $21.25. Ecospun fabrics are made of recycled bottles and are a poly-felt fabric available at Joanne Fabrics. Use nylon thread to hold materials together and nylon cords for your cinches.

Healing Tree: the website

I’ve been brainstorming ideas to make this blog more effective and I’ve decided to build a website around topics discussed on the blog while maintaining the blog as a central forum for discussion and ideas.  The website will offer resources to folks new to permaculture and also those more familiar with the “do no harm” approach to farming, including helpful links and articles written by me and those more familiar with the process.  

Since we’re landless, we’ll be propagating a new kind of garden – with vital seeds of change – online!