The beginnings of abundance

Without my mentor, Margot, I would not be where I’m at now in terms of my garden and orchard. At the beginning of 2015 when we originally had the idea to grow plants, it was for profit and we thought of doing a mono-culture orchard of haskaps, with a small home vegetable garden on the side, just for fun. With Margot’s introduction to permaculture in the spring of 2015 our focus changed from a for-profit orchard to being self-sustainable, growing our own food and selling our extras. I needed a good education in growing vegetables and this is where Margot was able to step in to help me. My education as a child and teen consisted of weeding 50 foot rows of potatoes and carrots that my parents had planted to help meet their grocery budget with 8 children. It was messy, tedious work that I didn’t want to repeat. Margot introduced me to Emilie Hazelip’s methodology which made a lot more sense to me. The heavily mulched, raised beds looked much easier to care for then the flat, muddy, weed-infested garden plots that I had been used to.

I decided to give this form of gardening a try. Ivan and I dug out a good garden spot with spades in an afternoon and then I started shaping my beds. I did a key-hole design with a center aisle and 2 keyholes into each side, except that I only did one side of the center aisle before I ran out of planting time and just planted beans, zucchini and potatoes on the second side. In spite of my inexperience in gardening, I had a bountiful harvest and really enjoyed this years efforts in working towards producing a good portion of our own food. Here are some step by step pictures of our garden:

Our hand-dug garden, which wasn’t the brightest idea. We may have saved in cash output but trying to plant into heavy clumps of earth wasn’t fun and I ended up throwing a lot of the clumps out of the garden, adding a large portion of time to our already big project. We also decided to put up a fence so the chickens could free-range. It was a good chicken fence as long as we remembered to close the gate, but the baby goat destroyed it. Hopefully for our next garden, the goat will remain penned in his pasture.

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A closer look at the terracing of the garden beds. The bottom terrace is where I grew spinach and lettuce, the middle terrace had onions and garlic and the level top is where I planted everything else, in little bunches here and there for the sake of bio-diversity.

Here are the mulched and ready sections. I quickly ran out of straw and used mowed and chicken scratched old grass instead. The main thing wrong with my mulch is that I didn’t anchor it in anyway so there was nothing to hold it in place and my raised garden beds were quite steep. A few rain storms and the mulch had all slid down to the bottom of the beds to lie in the pathway. I would recommend doing some kind of criss-cross strapping over the beds to keep the mulch in place.

I was so pleased with the results of my garden! I have never had a garden turn out so nicely. It was the perfect first-time results. In spite of my mistakes and poor timing for planting, I still got such a bountiful harvest and my garden was beautiful.

For our orchard, we decided that instead of planting a large mono-culture orchard, we would instead plant a small food forest style of orchard. This year we started with the centres of some of our guilds: cherry trees and saskatoon bushes, (Apple trees will be added later) and also filled in some of our next level of bushes with Haskaps. If anyone is unfamiliar with the idea of a food forest tree guild, check out this link or this one. There is a lot of other information available for tree guilds online.

Here we are breaking ground for our small food forest. Yes, again, we did it by hand but we really enjoyed it. It was great to just work together and get into working our land. There’s something satisfying about digging holes and planting trees.

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We planted Cherry trees from the Romance series of sour cherries. These are hardy to our area and while they won’t be the big sweet cherries from sunnier climates, we chose the ones with the highest rating for sweetness: Romeo, Juliet and Crimson Passion.

Everyone had a job to do to help out and by the time we were finished planting the 8 trees/bushes that we started with we all had the feeling that this was our orchard. The children continue taking ownership for it into the second year, checking to see if the trees still have snow around them or if they’re budding yet.

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This simple sheet mulch was amazing. It was quite a dry summer in our area but the baby trees did really well and the dirt under the mulch stayed wet for far longer than the grass around the area. we even found a frog at one point hiding out under the cardboard.

 

 

 

Our Animals: an overview

IMG_1630Having grown up in the city without even a pet, 2015 was quite an adventure and adjustment for me. We bought our dog, Molly, in 2014, soon after moving to the country but 2015 was when we started with farm animals.

Chickens arrived in January. We were able to get 30 free chickens from a friend’s Dad who had got 50 layers from a hatchery and then decided he didn’t really need that many eggs. So we agreed to take 30 of them and over several cold winter days we converted our small barn from storage to chicken coop. We used Rubbermaid tubs for nests, turned upside down with an opening cut in the side. I do not recommend doing this. Nests on the floor just get filthy dirty, but we were trying to be economical and fast. Our roosts were just 1×4’s with props under them, in 2 rows along one side of the barn. They worked pretty well for the first 8 months we had the chickens.

For feed, I started with just getting commercial feed and kitchen scraps. Then when summer came the chickens got to be free-ranging all over the acreage. I didn’t lose any chickens to wild animals, our dog is really great at keeping coyotes at bay, just by barking. We did have quite the time trying to find eggs! Occasionally we would come across a stash of eggs hidden in the grass somewhere, perhaps 30-50 of them from a couple weeks of laying. When you get 25-30 eggs a day as I did that summer you don’t tend to miss 3-5 eggs a day for a little while.

bees2In April, our 3 hives of bees that we ordered arrived. Ivan put together pre-made Langstroth hives and also added a layer of high-density insulation foam to the outside of the hives. This is an alternative to wrapping the hives for winter, it allows the bees to still be able to leave the hive for water and other needs on warm winter days and it also helps to insulate against heat in the summer. For more information on how this works, this is the youtube video we used.

In June we bought a dairy goat. Our main motivation for doing so was to provide our 2 children with fresh, wholesome milk. We’ve since discovered other additional uses for the milk and other benefits from the goat. She does keep a good area of grass clear and also enjoys the young weedy saplings that we have such a time trying to clear our property of, and she produces great manure for the garden and orchard.

With the milk we started making yogurt, a simple cheese and kefir. We still make Kefir and enjoy it, but no one really cared for the yogurt or the cheese, so I had quite a surplus of milk. Since I do not have a lot of experience in farming or gardening or animals, and I love to read, I tend to read a lot of books on the different subjects. My book for dairy goats was (and still is) Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. In the book, the author mentions the possibility of making soap from extra goat milk and recommends another book, Milk Based Soaps by Casey Makela. It’s not a long read, very easy to understand and with a great traditional goat milk soap recipe to learn from. So we decided, why not? Ivan made the molds and I collected the equipment we needed, then we made soap, and more soap, and more soap! We decided we may as well sell some of our extras and started searching for, and applying to local markets. We started with a Christmas craft show in December and this summer we’ll be selling at our local summer markets.

IMG_7092In mid-summer we also got 3 kittens. We got a little tired of seeing mice every week at least once in our house, and they seemed awfully adept at escaping traps and avoiding bait. So we got cats instead and that has been a success. For a while we watched the cats catch mice in the fall, and then for the entire winter we have been mouse free in our home. The barn is another story. I need to move at least some of our cat population (now 5) out to the barn.

Fall of 2015 brought a rush of projects to get ready for the winter. I didn’t want the goats to continue sleeping outdoors with just prevailing wind and rain shelter but wanted them to be in the barn, along with the milking stand! So, once again, we were out renovating our small barn. We were able to get 2 goat stalls, one small (for kids and/or milking stall)and one large to fit the 2 goats that we will always keep so our dairy goat is not alone. We also were able to still keep the chicken coop in the barn at one end. This way the body heat of the animals is shared between them all and we didn’t have to plug in any heat lamps for the chickens in the winter.

This year things will be different in the chicken department again, as we are planning to slaughter our old hens for meat (anything can be slow-cooked, right?) and get 5-10 birds for laying hens, placed into 2 small portable coops to move around the property every few days rather than having them actually free-range. This will be a nice down size in our flock which will help with lessening the work load in one area as I pick it up in other areas, like getting a buckling to raise to breed our dairy goat with, and doubling the size of my garden.

More on our garden and orchard next week!

 

 

The Before Pictures

When Ivan and I decided that we were going to transform our property using permaculture, step by step, we decided that the first thing we needed to do was take our “before” pictures. There were two reasons we thought this would be a good idea, first for ourselves: for inspiration and encouragement when it is slow going and hard work. And second for that moment when we’ve reached a certain point and decided to do our “after” pictures, then we can put together a movie-slideshow complete with dramatic music. I was also inspired in part to do this blog, and to organize and continue my progress pictures by the blog Bealtaine Cottage, if you have a moment to look, her before and after post is absolutely phenomenal to scroll through.

The following series of pictures were taken at the end of April, 2015.This was more than a year after we had moved in, so a lot of the overgrowth clean up had already been taken care of.

driveway 2015

Entering our property from the county road you are facing east. The hideous garden boxes I built on the left in 2014 were taken down soon after these pictures. One day I will figure out exactly what kind of welcoming garden I actually want to put in that area.

kids area 1 2015

The children’s play area with rope swings, a climbing gym, hammock, a line of stumps to the left and an old trampoline frame in the background. This year the stumps are gone, the new trampoline will be moved to that spot, and a treehouse and a picnic table will be added.

relax 2 2015

This area is to the right of the driveway. One day it will be full of beautiful flower gardens around a lovely gazebo/patio area for our outdoor cooking and campfires.

house south 2015

Ah, the front of our home. Not much to say here, simply because I haven’t really decided what to do with this area yet. This is our southern exposure and there’s not a lot of solar energy collecting going on with this house, yet. This is still a thought in progress.

On the south side of the driveway from our house is the lounging area of our Great Pyrenees and also the pile of random junk that came with our acreage (the broken down fifth wheel is no longer there.) to the east of this area is the start of our line of random buildings (storage, wood shed, barn). The buildings are very old but still work for our chickens and goats, as well as hay and wood storage.

Our back field. The first picture looking north east from the barn area and the second picture looking south west from the far back corner of the property. This area started its evolution within a month of these pictures with the planting of fruit trees and shrubs and the digging of the vegetable garden.

pond 2 2015

The seasonal run off pond. In 2014, the year we moved here, this pond was twice as big. We had a lot more snow that year. 2015 was fairly dry and this year looks like its going to be even more dry, although its still early enough to get a good dump of snow yet.

This area is the north side of the house. We were busy doing clean up from the previous September when we had a big, early dump of heavy wet snow that broke a lot of the little maple trees there. This is a nice little area, bordered by trees with one large poplar in the middle. The little flower garden surrounding the poplar I discovered by accident after a friend told me the previous fall that the flowers spilling all over the area were not wild flowers.

And finally, here is the northwest corner of our property, an open, windy and exposed pasture that we are going to start changing by planting willows in it this spring.