Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Flash Freeze Fruits and Vegetables

Everybody knows real food is a great idea, but one of the biggest obstacles most people face is that processed food is SO convenient - it's always there, no matter the season, predictable and never-changing.  But real food comes in seasons.  You can't (or maybe shouldn't) eat fresh strawberries in December.

That's why I love my freezer!  If you opened my freezer right now (it's October), you would find containers full of strawberries and blueberries that I picked this summer.  They are obviously not as fun as fresh, but there's something decadent about a strawberry in the middle of the winter.  *

But you can't just throw a bowl of strawberries in the freezer and hope for good results!

To freeze fruits and veggies quickly and easily, do these 4 things:

1. Find a cookie sheet or quarter sheet-pan that will fit in your freezer.

2. Line the cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper

3. Spread fruit or vegetable in a SINGLE LAYER on the waxed paper.

4. Place in freezer for a few hours.

Yes.  It really is that easy.  But it's magical: the SINGLE LAYER of fruit or veggie means when it's time to transfer your produce to more permanent freezer storage, each berry or grape or carrot slice will come off the pan without sticking to all the others!  This way, you don't end up with a giant boulder of frozen fruit that you have to break before using!

Storage Tip: in the past I've used Zip-type bags, but since I'm trying to move away from so much disposable plastic, I now use inexpensive lidded plastic pitchers.

Long Term Storage Tip: Some veggies contain enzymes that may make the produce mushy or discolored if it is going to be frozen for a long time.  For example, if you flash freeze corn as described above, after a few weeks, they will become softer.  But I have never had this problem with berries!  If you are planning on keeping frozen vegetables in the freezer for many months, you may want to steam blanch them first to deactivate those pesky enzymes.  Then you can use this single-layer flash-freezing method just as described!

* I know some hard-core preppers or even permaculturists might call me out on this: "Freezers use so much energy."  "If you can those strawberries, you can keep them at room temperature."  "If the SHTF, your frozen strawberries won't last long," sniggering behind their hands as they stockpile fake dried cheese.

And you know what?  They're right.  People have been living happily without frozen strawberries for thousands of years.  But I'm a big proponent of Jack Spirko's "Law of Prepping:" Everything you do to prepare for the future should benefit you in the future, but it should also benefit you RIGHT NOW!

And right now, I want to pick lots of local organic strawberries in June, and I want to have some to give to my kids in October when the skies are gray and cloudy and we all need a little Vitamin C.  Our current lifestyle provides us with a freezer, so I'm going to darn well use it.  A full freezer is an efficient freezer anyway.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

7 Homesteading Mistakes I Made So You Don't Have To

You know you've thought about it - you see pictures of these gorgeous, sun-dappled country properties, with barefoot, white-organic-cotton-clad children dancing through fields of flowers, holding baskets of fresh eggs, and you're like,

"Yes.  I can do that.  It will be all sunsets and harvests, I know it!  Very little manure or sweat.  NO spiders."

Well, you're not alone.  It seems that homesteading is the Millenial generation's version of the American Dream.  Everywhere I look, people under 30 are getting dirt under their fingernails, making compost bins, and hightailing it to their own little patch of heaven outside of town.

Maybe we're interested in providing fresh, organic food for our children.  Maybe we're fed up with a long commute and sitting in traffic.  Or maybe we are just super enticed by the gorgeous pictures on Pinterest of all things made with reclaimed barn wood (guilty!).

I mean, look at it: is this not the place to raise a family?

 Well, I have a confession to make: I'm a suburb kid.  I grew up in a neighborhood with paved sidewalks, dogs on leashes, and a 7-Eleven within walking distance.  When we moved to the country and started our little homestead, I had NOT a FREAKING CLUE about what it took to make it out here.

I have a feeling I'm not the only one from my generation who thought that homestead would be a little easier, a little cushier, and a little rosier than it really turned out to be.

So I started making mistakes quickly, and trust me, the axiom that Failure is the Best Teacher is 100% true.

So here are a few of the things I learned those first few years, when the learning curve was steepest.  I'd love for you to learn from my mistakes!

1. If you don't know how old your eggs are, crack them into a separate bowl first.

 Homegrown food is an adventure all by itself, isn't it?  Most of us grew up having the luxury of a produce manager inspecting our apples and an assembly-line worker candling our eggs, but this is not the case when you grow your own!

I finally understood where the idea for Easter egg hunts came from the first year we let our chickens free-range...they laid in the strangest, most hidden places, and sometimes we'd find a huge cache of eggs that had been out in the weather for several weeks!  There's nothing worse than making an omelette and realizing that the egg you've just added to the pan has been sitting out in the rain for days and is totally bad.

This tip could also include: Check your peach pits for earwigs.  Check your apples for worms.  Check your babies for ticks.  And always, always check your feet before you walk in the front door (right??  I know, gross!).

2. If you leave the hose trickling all night, on well water, in the dry season, there won't be water for showers in the morning.

On city water, the worst this would do is spike your water bill for the month.  Sure, that's a pain.  But when it's only 6 a.m., the dishes are in the sink, there are no clean diapers left, and the well's already run dry?  This is not a recipe for a happy day.

3. The outside will come indoors if you don't have a place to leave it.

This was a huge, HUGE struggle for me!  I grew up in a fairly pristine home that we cleaned, top to bottom, once a week.  As soon as I moved to the country, I realized that once a week cleaning would NEVER cut it if people (ahem, husband!) tracked their muddy work boots around the house!

Having a mud room or a big, washable rug with a bench nearby or a covered front porch is your First Line of Defense to keep all things dirty, stinky, and oozy from making it into your home.  There are no sidewalks here.  Dog paws can be toweled, shoes can be kicked off, and jackets can be corralled immediately upon entering, and if they aren't, you will pay later!

4. The fox will come on the night you forget to close up the chicken coop.

It's true.  It happens, and it sucks.  But living with many little beings (plant or animal) under your care provides so, so many opportunities for small heartbreaks.  There is no "I'll get to it tomorrow" when a helpless creature is depending on you.

That may mean you're going to be bringing baby chicks into the bathroom at 11:30 at night to clean up their pasty-butt (by the way, warm running water is the way to go, followed by a quick dry-off with a hair dryer).  Or it might mean you're slogging out in the pouring rain to fix a fence, close a gate, or drag a water tank when you'd SO much rather cozy up by the fire.

But the standard we live by is this: We must provide our animals with a BETTER life than they would have in the wild.

5. Growing food doesn't do you any good if you don't eat what you grow.

Is there anything sadder than a beautiful, home-grown tomato getting chucked in the compost because you didn't have time to eat it before it went bad?

My first year of gardening, the only thing that grew well for me was radishes.  Seriously, that's it.  And I hate radishes.  So I figured out a way to make them palatable, and we chowed down, sometimes for breakfast, sometimes for lunch, and sometimes for dinner!

It's so much easier to just run to Costco and buy all the familiar things to make all the comfortable meals that everybody definitely likes.

But that's not what we signed up for; we signed up to change our own little corners of the world.

That means being creative, finding ways to help your kids  (or husband) actually like veggies.

It means eating weird assortments and combinations of things at times, things that you would NOT find in a fancy restaurant or on the pages of your favorite food magazine.

It means getting used to cutting up itty bitty potatoes or weird-shaped carrots or super bitter lettuce, and just making do and making it work!

It means not caring if the other kids get a fruit-roll-up and a Go-gurt while your kids are eating dehydrated apple slices and homemade muffins, because you are committing to helping your kids appreciate the way they eat instead of coveting their neighbors' snacks!

Yeah, I'm still looking, but I have yet to find the Goldfish Cracker seeds at the feed store...

6. Running into town for take-out is no longer an option.

I was so used to a life of convenient food that it took me a while to realize that, well, that's not the way it works in the country.

Wasting all your gas money to dash in to Taco Bell or the quick mart makes zero sense...wouldn't you rather spend that money on a new perennial?

You've got to have a plan.  It might not mean every single meal is scheduled on a color-coded calendar, but it means you have to know what is in your pantry, what you can make with it, and what you need to get when you're in town anyway.

And really, isn't it kind of fun finding creative ways to use up, make do, and improvise in the kitchen?

7. There will always be a "next year."

I think this was my hardest lesson.  I learned it when the fox came, when I didn't water and all my seedlings died, when my dog dug up the garden (again!), and most recently (and most tragically), when I forgot to take the cap off the chicken waterer, and I lost 3 new hens on one horrible hot day.

We are taught in our culture to avoid failure, to aim for perfection, and to limit our room for error, and all of those sentiments can come in useful on a homestead.

But there has to be a huge, huge reserve of grace and self-forgiveness if you're going to stick with this kind of lifestyle.  That day when I took a bowl of table scraps down to the chicken coop and spotted 3 of my 4 new chicks laying dead in the grass, then realized that my own dumb mistake had caused their deaths was a giving up kind of day.

I cried.  I blamed myself and my flighty, distracted brain.  I was pretty sure I should throw in the towel and hang up my boots, because I clearly wasn't responsible enough, compassionate enough, or clear-minded enough to care for small, helpless creatures.

But that's not what we do on a homestead.

We are tough.  We are brave.  We dry our tears, get down in the mud and mess, set things straight, and try again.

We know why we're out here, and we know why it's worth it.  There is no promise of success, but there is always the promise that tomorrow, the sun will rise, and we will work hard at work worth doing.

We're old school and love blog link-ups.  This post has appeared at Giving Up On PerfectThe Charm of Home, and Mitten State Sheep and Wool.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

What I've Learned After 8 Years of Eating Real Food

Do you ever feel like real food is just exhausting?  I'll admit, I sometimes go to the grocery store and just want to pile random stuff in my cart that makes me happy, that I used to eat when I was a child!  Or I scan the grocery ads and think, "Man, I sure wish all the sales weren't for processed food."

Living a real food life in a processed-food world takes serious mental adjustment.

Wouldn't you think that after 8 years of a real food lifestyle, I would've gotten used to all this by now?  Well, maybe not.

  My family has, for a long time, enjoyed the benefits of raw milk.  We have had raw milk farm shares (what's a farm share?) with a few different family farms here in Oregon, and right now, we're loyal patrons of Helios Farms, which is "out Yoncalla," (rural Oregon slang for "in the Yoncalla zip code, but so far out of town you'd barely guess it.")

I really respect Theo's dedication to his farm, his family-friendly philosophy, and his quest for constant improvement.

However, I also...you know, like to actually drink milk.  And give it to my kids.

But sometimes, that doesn't happen as often as I would like.  So many little things can make small farm food production unpredictable: the sow goes on a rampage, and the farmers are up all night hunting it down, or the cow gets into the garden and everything tastes like tomatoes!

And the next thing I know, my 4-year-old is in the kitchen, tugging on my pant leg and crying because he can't have milk with his dinner!

This is the trade-off when you start pursuing real food:  You gain your health.  But you lose the convenience and predictability of the American food system that is based on speed and uniformity.

Is it a bad thing?

I don't know.  I think it's more of a hard transition, away from food being an afterthought.  Once upon a time, I could go through my whole day barely thinking about where my meal would come from.  No dinner plan?  No problem, we'll go through the drive through!  No lunch plan?  No biggie, I'll grab a granola bar from the vending machine.

But when, in the history of the world, has food been an afterthought?  Most people on earth even now spend much more of their time, income, and intention on feeding their families than the average American.

Here are a few of the main changes I've had to make in my thinking as we've adopted a slow-food lifestyle:

1. It's ok for food to make up a significant portion of our budget.

We are not trying to win an award for lowest grocery budget here.  Not that that's a bad goal!  We've been there!  Super-low prices have been very important to us in years past, but as our goals and priorities and opportunities have changed, so has our budget.  We are nourishing tiny bodies, bodies that are growing so fast, and literally laying down the foundation for a lifetime of health.  And did you know that Americans spend much less on food now than we used to?  My grocery budget gets put in perspective when I look at that graph and realize how much more my grandparents spent on food, comparatively!

I've had to become ok with food being more important to me than other things I could spend my money on.  Will we buy all new school clothes this year?  Nope.  Will the kids wear hand-me-downs and use their same tired backpacks from last year?  Yep.  Will they be able to participate in every activity they'd love to do?  Probably not.  But some things that used to be important to me have become more peripheral.  And good food has not.

2. It's ok for food to take up a significant part of my day.  

Making yogurt, sprouting beans, chopping veg, shaking the milk before pouring it into cups, washing so.many.dishes, these little things add up to make food prep more of a time commitment than it used to be.  I have to schedule time into my day to prep, eat, wash, repeat, and it can sometimes interfere with the other things I would like to be doing instead.  But it's worth it, both for the nutritional value of the food, and for the values it instills in my children and myself: patience as they wait for lunch to bake, diligence as they help me in the kitchen, and (let's be real here) independence when the control freak part of me is fed up with kids in the kitchen and tells them, "Just go play!  I need to finish in the kitchen by myself!"

3. It's ok for food to be an adventure.

Sometimes we have milk to drink.  Sometimes we don't.  You can't set your watch by it.  But isn't that what an adventure is?

Has eating real food been a big mental adjustment for you?  What are the hardest things about the change?  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Dirty Secret at the Heart of My Mommy Blog

People blog for many reasons:

  • To keep faraway family/friends updated on their lives
  • To share their brilliant ideas/recipes/methods/philosophies with others
  • To make some money to support their families
That's not an exhaustive list, but those are the big three, I'd guess.  I have, at various times, blogged for all of those reasons.  When I first started this blog, I thought that my unique contributions, i.e. the things I had an abundance of that I could supply to others, were a tendency to over-analyze, and a non-momish affection for all things math/science/nerd.  I thought I could take a unique stance on typical mom issues, or look at domestic issues from a nerdy point of view (the only one I had at the time).  This philosophy was fairly accurate, since my most-visited post of all time is a mathematical breakdown of the efficiency of crock pots versus other cooking methods.

However, I quickly realized that "the rest" of the blogs out there like mine were drawing traffic with recipes, gorgeous pictures of food, and DIY tutorials.  Big, fat, long posts full of numbers and mathematical symbols were not exactly a selling point.  So I started doing what everyone else was doing: taking food pictures of my new recipes, writing DIY "how-to's," and recording my new discoveries for the benefit of others.

But here's what I gradually learned: I found that (what?!) actually living my life, being fully immersed in it with no camera in my pocket, was so much  more fulfilling than constantly blogging about it.  I hate dragging a camera down to the garden all the time, and I especially hate making my family wait to eat dinner so I can take a picture of their food first!  I realize that some people are huge photographers, or take great joy in capturing all the beauty that they show on their blogs.  But I'll be honest, I am not one of those people.

But here's the truly new thing I discovered during those months: I was blogging because I felt like I was doing so much around the house that was of value, that was significant, and that I wanted SOMEONE, ANYONE to see and admire.  

Do you see the problem here?  I think this is secretly at the heart of so much of the current mommy blog obsession.  We work so hard in our homes, we pour out our hearts in the things we are doing, but who recognizes our hard work?  Do our kids stop and say, "Oh mom, thank so much for making me applesauce from the apples on our tree instead of buying some Mott's.  I appreciate that you took the extra time to do that."?  No way!  Do our dogs say, "Oh, mom, I appreciate you not using pesticides in the garden or chemicals in the house - I feel so much healthier, and I've noticed my tail wags more."?  Heck no.  Do our husbands say, "Thanks sweetheart, for washing my clothes in all-natural detergent instead of store-bought."?  Well, maybe, but not likely.  

So here we are, working our tails off (no matter what kind of oil we're cooking with or what kind of detergent we use!), and who is there to notice but God?  And I found myself thinking, "I better take a picture of this so it can go into a blog post, because otherwise, it's just extra work, unnoticed and wasted."  

This was my dirty secret: I felt unappreciated, unnoticed, unpraised.  And I wanted someone to tell me, "Great job!  You've done something that matters!  Your hard work will return a handsome reward someday in health or in savings."  Nobody in my home was telling me (as often as I wanted, at least).  Society's only message to me was, "you are of value only if you make money to buy nice things."  And so blogging became my source of recognition, of pride, of value.  

But that is not my true source of value.  My worth doesn't come from other people recognizing my hard work.  It doesn't come from doing the work.  It doesn't even come from the character that is gradually built up in me as I put my own desires on the shelf to provide for my family.  Nope.  My value is deeper than that.

I am loved, cherished, valued by the One who made me.  

Always, forever, and regardless of what I accomplish during the day. 

That is the truth I needed to fill up the empty discontent in my soul.  And when it is filled up, daily, by knowing who I am and Who He Is, then instead of striving and working to fill myself up, the things I do are an overflow of the love that is full to the top within me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Controlling Asthma Naturally Update - What Works for Me

When we moved from Oregon to Colorado 2 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that my asthma started acting up.  Switching to Real Food years ago had gotten it under control for about 3 years without prescription meds, but when we got here, the humidity, pollen, whatever, made it really flare up again.

Especially during the spring and fall, even if I didn't have "classic" allergy symptoms like runny nose or itchy eyes, I would have shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and all the old asthma symptoms returned with a vengeance!

So, as I shared 2 years ago, I've been exploring different natural options to control my asthma without prescription medications.  

Here is what works for me:

  1. A foundation of healthy fats. 

    They keep me full and drastically reduce blood-sugar swings.  By healthy, I mean fats from real foods, like butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil, fatty fish.  I absolutely avoid ALL cheap, processed oils like canola, soy, vegetable, sunflower, etc.  These oils come from factories, not food!

  2. Plenty of (safe) starches and carbs. 

    For me, this means potatoes, white rice, sweet potatoes, starchy/carby vegetables, and occasional non-gluten grains.  If I don't eat them, I don't feel full, and I have low energy.  But I make sure I eat them with plenty of fat, or else they do spike my blood sugar.
  3. Avoiding (most) gluten.

    Some people do fine with a little wheat.  I generally don't, and many other asthmatics are in the same boat.  If I eat it, I have asthma symptoms, period.  I still occasionally do, like in social settings where it would be rude or awkward to refuse (after all, it doesn't make me hurt...just wheeze), or on a special occasion, like my kid's birthday cake (give me a break, those bean cakes on Pinterest are NOT good enough to give to guests).  I have noticed that good sourdough white bread bothers me the least of all wheat products, so if we do have wheat, we try to have it in that form.
  4. Avoiding pasteurized dairy.  

    We still drink raw milk and eat yogurt, cheese, kefir, and sour cream with no problems.  Also, I have no trouble at all with pasteurized heavy whipping cream - I drink it in my tea every morning.  But milk from the store is out, as are ice cream, hot cocoa mixes, etc.  If I do have to eat these things, or just really, really need a little scoop of ice cream to make me feel human, I try to eat it with some raw milk or fermented dairy to help it digest more easily.  For me, this is almost as big a trigger as gluten.
  5. Plenty of Fat Soluble Vitamins. 

    We take Cod Liver Oil somewhat regularly (a molecularly distilled type with synthetic Vitamins A and D added), eat high-vitamin foods like egg yolks, liver and oily fish, and I've started taking a D3 supplement.  I know some experts are against supplementing, but, honestly, I just can't feed my kids sardines at every meal when we go to a play date and they are offered PB&J's.  We already eat weird food, I don't want them to have complexes.  So we supplement a little bit to help cover those dietary gaps that come from being socially graceful.  For me, I've noticed a pretty big improvement in my asthma since adding in the Vitamin D supplement.
  6. Good Bacteria.  

    I try pretty hard to eat something fermented every day, whether that is yogurt or kombucha or homemade fermented veggies or Bubbie's pickles, or whatever.  Also, we spend a TON of time outside playing in the dirt, working in the garden, petting the filthy dog even after he swims in the muddy pond, mucking the chicken coop, and we are NOT fastidious about washing our hands.  My 1-year-old has eaten more dirt than I thought possible this summer.  Permaculture has reminded me (sorry, I had to throw in at least one reference to it), that the microbial health of the soil is what supports the health of plants, and in turn, of bugs and larger animals that eat those plants.  The closer we are to our healthy soil, eating produce from it and exposing ourselves directly to it, I think the healthier we will be.
  7. Careful Exercise.

    When I was younger and had time to jog, I noticed that regular running helped my asthma stay under control.  Basically, if my cardiovascular health was good, then "normal" life exercise didn't make me breath hard, so didn't bother me.  However, going for an hour run everyday made me tired and really made one of my hips hurt.  So my exercise now consists of working hard around the yard, doing jobs around the house, hefting kids/feed bags/tools around, and doing body-weight exercise like squats, push-ups, core, and yoga poses.  And if I feel like sprinting after my kids, dashing up to the garage to grab a shovel, or flying down a particularly tempting hill, I go for it.  When I listen to my body and run when it feels like running, I get some great sprints in, I have no trouble with my asthma, plus I enjoy every minute!  I feel invigorated and think, "I love sprinting places!" instead of feeling like a dead dog and thinking "Jogging is necessary torture."  Mark Sisson's 5 Essential Movements and Primal Blueprint Fitness E-book gave me a good start, although I take it more easy than he suggests, since I'm still nursing and notice a milk shortage when I overdo it.
  8. Natural Remedies.

    I will preface this by saying, I still use my albuterol (rescue inhaler) occasionally, sometimes in the thick of allergy season when working in the garden or if I have a bad cold.  Also, if I have eaten dairy or wheat, I tend to be wheezy by evening.  Breathing is important, not something to mess around with, and you don't want to end up in the emergency room or morgue, so don't hesitate to take action if you (or your kid!) are about to asphyxiate!  However, when I'm just feeling a little wheezy or tight in my lungs, I often try some natural remedies instead of reaching for the inhaler.  A hot shower with plenty of steam helps relax my lungs.  Also, if I have annoying wheezing and can't sleep, but it's not bad enough to really cause distress, often a cup of hot tea helps ease the wheezing enough for me to drift off.  Along with that, eating cold foods sometimes makes wheezing worse, so I try to avoid that if I'm having a rough time of it.  I have heard everything from garlic to ginger to turmeric to lemon juice can help ease symptoms, but if you are eating tons of trigger foods and filling your body with inflammation-causing crud, a spoonful of turmeric is not an adequate long-term solution!  These remedies work best if you are already doing the hard work of changing your diet and improving your health.

    A Little More Background About How I Got Here:

I considered putting myself on the GAPS diet, which is a gut-healing regimen that basically (as I understand it) tries to repair micro-holes in the large intestine by only allowing foods which digest in the small intestine.  This means most starchy foods are eliminated, like grains, uncultured/pasteurized dairy, most beans, all refined sugar.  And probiotics are gradually introduced, so that good bacteria can replace bad bacteria in the gut, further healing any damage.

There are many things I love about the idea of the GAPS diet:

  • It is all real food.  Made in your own kitchen.  
  • It emphasizes healthy fats (saturated from pastured animals).
  • It uses traditional cooking methods, like long simmering of bones to make nutrient-rich broth.
  • It eliminates many of the "problem foods" that I had noticed were aggravating to my asthma, like pasteurized milk and wheat.
However, since the GAPS diet has been so widely used in the past few years, I started finding many testimonials from people who had tried it and had issues with it.  According to these people, it really is amazing at doing what it claims - improving those "Leak Gut Syndrome" symptoms.  But it can also lead to fatigue, thyroid issues, and low body temperatures for some people.  In particular, one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured, recorded her family's GAPS journey in detail.  She eventually decided that if she could do it over again, she would not have started the GAPS diet with her family, partly because of the problems it caused, and partly because it is just so much work for what it accomplishes.  

So, my next question was, "If not GAPS, then what?"  I gradually stumbled across Matt Stone and Chris Kresser and their "revolutionary" advice to listen to your body, experiment, and see what works for you and what your body is really craving (from more carbs to more sleep to less exercise!).  I also have really enjoyed the Perfect Health Diet, which is kind of a Paleo spin-off (like Chris Kresser) that encourages eating plenty of "safe starches."

So, that's the run-down of what has helped me, every day, to control my asthma naturally, without prescription medicine.  I still keep a rescue inhaler handy, but I have been able to avoid using preventative prescription medicines for 5 years now and counting!

Note: I'm not a doctor or nutritionist or anything licensed.  Please don't interpret my personal experiences to be medical advice, and check with your doctor before discontinuing any medicine, blah blah blah legal jargon.

Do you know anyone who suffers from asthma?  Have they had any luck trying to control it with natural methods?  What has been helpful for them?  Leave a comment and share your experiences and thoughts!

Posted at Small Footprint Friday and Fat Tuesday

Friday, September 27, 2013

Easy Garden Changes Tip #7: Use More Layers

This post is part of a series of Easy Changes to Make Your Garden Act More Like Nature.  For the full story, start at the beginning with Tip #1, Get Rid of Bare Earth.

Tip #7: Use More Layers

This gorgeous cherry tree "guild," which here means
"a bunch of things planted together to their mutual benefit"

This one is pretty self-explanatory.  I think the average veggie garden uses three layers: the "herb" layer, or typical veggie-sized plants, the vine layer (climbing beans or squash), and the root layer, like potatoes, carrots, and turnips.  But thinking outside the "veggie garden" box allows you to grow in all plant sizes, and use trees, shrubs, "herb" sized-plants, ground covers, roots, and vines together.  I am just getting started with this in my own garden, but I dream happily of the day when my strawberries grow in the part-shade of a zucchini plant, which has a bean vine growing up it, while blackberries happily clamber up the trunk of an apple tree.  You get the idea.  If you don't get the idea, here is a great visual at the Permaculture Research Institute website.

This type of gardening is idyllically called a "forest garden" by many permaculture-type people.  It also extends into silviculture where forests are managed for their produce, or in conjunction with raising animals.

My favorite example of using multiple layers is Mark Sheppard's book "Restoration Agriculture," which describes his savannah-type farm, where productive nut trees grow between fertile grassy areas, and cows, chickens, and hogs range, living entirely off the produce of the forests.  It is like a Joel Salatin style grass-based farm, plus huge, awesome trees to create shade for animals and food for both animals and people.

So, those are all the incredible, life-changing tips I have to offer you at this time.  I hope at least one of them has been as helpful to you as it has to me!

I saw the tagline "recreating agriculture in nature's image" somewhere, and I like it so much, especially as opposed to the opposite, which would be, I guess, "recreating nature into our plan for agriculture."  Even better, I find that the more I follow nature's example, instead of fighting it, the less work I have to do!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Easy Garden Changes Tip #6: Rethink Tilling

This post is part of a series of Easy Changes to Make Your Garden Act More Like Nature.  For the full story, start at the beginning with Tip #1, Get Rid of Bare Earth.

Tip #6: Rethink Tilling

Garden Tilling Service

Why do we till the ground?  To break up hard soil clumps, to displace weeds or grass, to give the soil a flush of nitrogen from the air to encourage rapid plant growth, or to establish nice, straight lines to plant?  Or maybe just because that's what most of the garden books say to do, and that's what "everybody" does in the spring.  After all, if you can rent a rototiller, you should, right?

Interestingly, nature doesn't generally till.  Sure, some pigs root around in the forest, some birds scratch at the surface, but in general, the surface of the earth doesn't get overturned once or twice a year, and yet it does a mighty fine job of growing plants.  It also does a mighty fine job of building soil, while modern agriculture is destroying soil at a remarkable pace.

There are many smarter and more experienced people than me who think that tilling should be a thing of the past, so I won't reinvent the wheel.  Instead, check out this summary statement of why tilling is harmful to the soil, or this how-to for reducing weeds by eliminating tilling.

Besides saving me plenty of time, not tilling has helped me to reduce weeds, keep my soil biome healthy, and keep my mulch on the surface, where it belongs!

One more tip left: #7: Use More Layers
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