If you're craving green and a little inspiration for the growing season ahead, then my video today is for you. In it, I give you a tour of our food forest. Even though we live in a cold climate, it doesn't mean that we can't grow a lot of edible perennials in our yards. With 9 fruit trees, multiple berry bushes and a variety of other edible perennials and herbs, our food forest has turned into a very productive space in just 5 growing seasons.
What I love about permaculture and gardening is the opportunity to turn degraded landscapes into edible paradises of food, fertility, medicine, and wildlife habitat. When we bought our 3/4 acre property back in December of 2012, the back of the lot was just grass, with a Siberian Pea Shrub hedge defining the north property line and a large pile of garbage and organic matter piled up in one area. Having been a rental for several years before our purchase, not much attention had been paid to the outdoor landscape.
Through the method of sheet mulching, we added yards and yards of straw, woodchip, leaves, compost, and manure. Along with planting bare root fruit trees and shrubs and seeding annual crops, we eliminated roughly 8000 square feet of lawn and turned the area into a lush, edible landscape that has become the home for birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, earthworms and other microscopic life that dwells in the soil.
So check out the video below to get a tour of the forest! Then, I would love to hear from you. Are you growing fruit trees and berry bushes in your yard? If not, would you like to? Share your successes and challenges in the comments below!
Chickens are one of the easier and more useful animals to have in your backyard gardens. In permaculture, they are often the example of 'each element performing multiple functions.' In other words, having chickens as part of your backyard ecosystem accomplishes several functions at once. Not only can they provide you with eggs and meat but their manure acts as fertilizer for your garden, their feathers and egg shells can be added to your compost piles, and they can help clean up your garden beds.
In our yard we have both a permanent coop and a chicken tractor that I move around the yard. In cold climates, just having a chicken tractor wouldn't be sufficient enough protection and insulation for the birds during the winter. Our permanent coop, on the other hand, is insulated and in an area of our yard that is quite protected. I find I am only adding supplemental heat to the coop for the few days every winter when it dips below -20 degrees. Conscious of zoning in permaculture (i.e. putting things that need your daily attention closer to the house), I also placed the permanent coop roughly 50 feet from the backdoor for ease of feeding them every day. When you're making a trip out to the coop twice a day in the snow, you want to make that journey as short as possible!
Though I would love to have the chickens roam free around the yard, if they did so, they would destroy the growing garden fairly quickly and decisively. Instead, I've opted for letting them move around in the yard and garden in a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is a moveable coop on wheels. The tractor that we built houses two to three chickens at a time. Since we have five chickens, I switch out the ones that go in the tractor. Oftentimes, it's the naughty chickens...or the ones that I can manage to catch! There is a roosting bar and two nesting boxes in the tractor so the chickens are able to stay in there for days at a time.
Having this tractor allows me to pick and choose the areas of my annual garden beds where my chickens can scratch up and fertilize. I use the tractor in the spring and fall in my annual garden beds and place it in other areas of the yard during the summer. Check out my video below where you can see the tractor (and chickens) in action!
Do you have chickens or a chicken tractor? Please share in the comments below how you use them in your yard and garden!
With the majority of the US population living in urban areas, there has been a growing interest in urban agriculture and the ability to grow food in small spaces. From rooftop farms, to balcony gardens, to living walls, and vertical growing towers, there is no end to the innovation. Especially in concrete jungles, designing green, lush areas of productivity and life are not only beneficial in terms of mitigating urban heat, but they serve to feed both body and spirit. In addition, producing more food in an urban area cuts down on the transportation miles from farm to table, one of the most significant ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint.
While we still have a lot of elbow room and open land in Montana, not everyone has a backyard or land on which to grow. Joining a community garden, helping friends with their gardens or simply buying from local farmers are all great options for the apartment/condo dweller. However, if you still want the experience of growing some of your own food, even if on a small scale, there are so many options with container gardening.
In my video today, I give you a tour of a balcony garden at a client's place. This is a project that we started in 2013 and has evolved into a beautiful and productive growing space.
Back in 2013, the balcony was a stark, uninspiring, hot, south-facing area. Needless to say, it was not a very pleasant place to relax, especially during the summer.
Now it has become a pleasant and productive example of what’s possible in a small space. Not only is my client able to grow annuals like peas, greens, herbs, carrots, tomatoes, and edible flowers, we have also been successful with growing grapes and blueberries in containers, even here in Montana.
So click on the video below to get more of an up close tour! Let me know if you have any questions by posting in the comments below. Or, if you have any experience with container gardening, I would love it if you shared your successes, challenges and photos!
If you participated in any of my workshops this year, then you know that in April, Alpine Greenhouses installed one of their greenhouses on our property. I’ve been pretty excited about it as it’s going to allow me to extend the growing season into November, with minimal inputs of electricity. I’ll also be able to start growing as early as February next year.
This is the main garden bed in the greenhouse which is 5 feet by 10 feet by 14 inches high. These can be custom built to the size specification that you would like. I wanted to maximize my growing space in the greenhouse so I made the bed as big as I could. There is a stepping stone in the middle of the bed so I can access everything easily.
In permaculture, one of the twelve principles is, ‘Obtain a Yield’. In other words, we aim to design our properties in such a way that we obtain a yield of something, whether that’s fruits, veggies, medicinal plants, pollinators, fertility etc. With this new greenhouse, I’ll not only be able to obtain a yield but I’m now able to extend that yield in time and in space.
What do I mean by that? Especially in a cold climate, we are looking for ways to have more of a harvest over a longer period of time. In addition, we want to maximize the growing space that we have and take full advantage of it.
In this short video, I give you a mini tour of what I have growing in my greenhouse and how I’ve maximized the growing space. So click on the video below to check it out! If you have any questions about greenhouse growing or experiences that you have had, I'd love it if you shared it in the comments below!
When I've asked workshop participants why they want a garden, a frequent answer that I receive is they want to give their children the experience of growing food. Indeed, producing food is one of the best ways to engage children outdoors.
Whether it's growing broccoli, carrots or tomatoes, or owning a small flock of chickens, giving children tangible ways in which to engage their senses while learning about the natural world is the best classroom there is. Kids love tasting, touching and smelling what's growing in the garden so it's always great to look for opportunities to make it their garden as much as yours.
One of the most compelling elements in my garden for kids is the herb spiral. Picture a 15-foot rectangular garden bed that is twisted up into a three-dimensional spiral form so that its total diameter is no more than five or six feet across. Bordered by rocks or bricks, this bed’s design creates microclimates because solar orientation and drainage change as the bed spirals upwards. The rock edging creates a heat sink, emanating heat at night, keeping the growing bed warmer than the traditional raised garden bed.
The bed’s microclimates allow you to plant your herbs according to their preferred growing conditions. Herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme, which thrive in drier, sunnier conditions, will be located near the top of the spiral; others like chives or parsley will be located towards the bottom where the bed holds more moisture. Herbs which have a tendency to bolt in the hot summer sun, like cilantro, can be located on the east side of the spiral where the afternoon sun will have less of an impact on the plants.
This is a beautiful, functional and space-saving garden bed but can be even more compelling if you plant it with herbs and edible flowers that kids love to touch, smell and/or eat. Here are some possible herbs and plants to add to your spiral that will be sure to tempt kids' taste buds or tickle their noses:
* As many of you probably know, it's best to be cautious with the mint family as it has a tendency to spread. You may want to plant these in pots close by, rather than in the actual herb spiral.
Spiral beds can also be planted with lettuce, peppers, and other veggies provided they have enough growing space. There are endless combinations and designs. Needless to say, you can be taken down a Pinterest rabbit hole if you google 'herb spiral'. You can make the herb spiral even more interactive by adding a pond at the bottom of the bed. Adding plants such as arrowhead (edible), horsetail and lilies create additional habitat for birds, insects and other pond life.
Your kids can be part of building, planting and harvesting plants from the herb spiral. This is a great addition to any garden, adding vertical height and curve to your space while at the same time making something engaging and fun for your kids!
Do you have other ideas for gardening with kids? I would love it if you shared them in the comments below!