Understanding Your Eggs

understanding your eggs

The eggs you are purchasing from the grocery store may not actually be as high of quality as you think they are. Unfortunately, marketing gimmicks abound in the produce world, so many times consumers expect their eggs are coming from birds raised in open green spaces…when the reality is likely VERY different. This makes it vital to have an understanding of your eggs and where they are coming from. A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, seeing a visual of your egg and poultry scenario could be a real game changer.

Keep in mind, that as consumers, we have a responsibility to know and understand where our food comes from. Yes, those cheep conventional eggs might be convenient, but when consumers purchase these products we are not just feeding our families. Every purchase supports the systems that are producing the food itself. We are what we eat and our purchases entire food production systems. Make sure you are supporting the right farms and production methodologies.

1 – Conventional Eggs

  • Caged their ENTIRE life (usually killed at 9-10 weeks if they are a meat bird, or 1 year if a laying hen)
  • NO access to sunlight
  • NO exercise
  • NO access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Essentially treated as a machine
  • Low quality feed
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions

NOTE: Conventional eggs can also be sold as “ORGANIC”. However, that only means their food doesn’t have pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides in it. “Organic chickens” or “No anti-biotic birds” are often raised in the same setting as that pictured above. This is actually MORE dangerous for consumers, because since the living conditions are so bad – the birds are often sick. So in this case, the lack of antibiotics actually makes them even more dangerous to consume.

2 – Cage Free Eggs

  • Raised indoors / barns (often concrete or sand floor)
  • Very little exercise
  • Very little space to move
  • Overcrowded living conditions
  • NO access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Essentially treated as a machine
  • Low quality feed
  • Little or no human interaction
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions

3 – Free Range Eggs

  • Raised indoors / barns (often concrete or sand floor) with LIMITED access to sunlight or actual soil. Just because they have “access” to it does NOT mean they get to enjoy it, because an average barn has 10,000 birds in them.
  • Very little exercise
  • Very little space to move
  • Overcrowded living conditions
  • LIMITED access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • Medium quality feed
  • High use antibiotics and medicine, because the birds are prone to sickness and disease under these conditions
  • “Organic” eggs that are in these condition are likely coming from more “diseased” birds, because they are in such over crowded conditions. In these conditions, disease is common, so the antibiotics are actually helping control sickness.

4 – Pasture Raised

This is the phrasing we should be looking for when purchasing our eggs. Even better “organic pasture raised”.

  • Raised outdoors with access to sunlight, soil, insects
  • Lots of exercise
  • Open space to move around
  • Cleaner living conditions
  • FULL access to grass, soil, or bugs
  • HIGH quality feed
  • LITTLE or NO use of antibiotics because birds in these conditions are generally healthier.

Why are Organic Pasture Raised Eggs so Expensive?

  1. Food cost for organic feed is often 3x higher than conventional and medicated feeds. However, the quality ingredients are whole grains and foods instead of a cheaply made corn mush (with synthetic supplements).
  2. There is more human connection (time commitment) involved in pasture raising animals. These animals are often being supervised for predators, checked for disease, and getting social time with their owners. The human connection helps ensure the birds are “happy”, but also HEALTHY! Having humans eyes on them multiple times a day allows farmers to ensure the health of their flocks and in turn – your eggs.
  3. The USDA charges an insane amount of money to be “certified organic”.
  4. Pastures need to be reseeded and maintained so they have enough biodiversity for the birds to eat.
  5. Birds on pasture are often “rotated” to new areas daily, so they have a fresh supply of greens, insects, and soil.
  6. Many farms who are pasture raising their livestock are also using other biodynamic practices (adding probiotics to the water, composting systems, giving birds vegetable overstock to supplement feed). This results in a healthier eggs and meat, but also ensures that the farms ecosystem is healing the land and building soil structure.
  7. Animals raised on pasture are often cared for more attentively during summer heat and winter cold. When the birds are less “stressed” they produce a much higher quality egg / meat.
Organic PASTURE RAISED chickens enjoying a fermented feed treat with whole grains, probiotics, and live mealworms and soldier flies. For a FREE recipe on making this fermented goodness…CLICK HERE

Understanding your eggs

As you head to the grocery store (or better yet… FARMER’S MARKET) next time, consider giving your family the best and get “organic pasture raised eggs”. Yes, they will cost a couple bucks more, but you can be assured you are not only providing quality eggs for your family, but also supporting an ethical food production system. Whenever possible, try to purchase eggs and meats locally at a farmer’s market or co-op and support local farms in your area that are using practices that you believe in.

Remember, many local farms will actually let you visit (and bring kids), so you can see where your food comes from. This can be a priceless, fun, and educational experience for the entire family. Connecting ourselves again with our food helps us not only appreciate what we consume, but also support ethical practices in the food production system.

Our choices as consumers matter.

How to Plant a Food Forest | Part 3 – Selecting Species and Planting

Once the soil has been prepared, you can begin selecting species and planting trees for your site. There are several options for this:

  1. Do online research to see which trees, bushes, and wildflowers are hardy in your area.
  2. Visit a locally owned greenhouse or nursery to see which ones may do well for you. Big box stores are something we recommend avoiding when it comes to fruit trees and berry bushes. They generally sell the same varieties nation wide (which means they may not work in your area) and their quality often suffers. Find a local nursery and build a relationship with one that you respect their growing methods (hopefully organic).
  3. Get a permaculture consultation to help you determine what your site can handle. These can be done in person OR virtually.

There are many things to consider when putting fruit trees and berry bushes in the ground. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as merely deciding what you like to eat and planting it. If you live in Michigan, no matter how much you like avocados, they just won’t survive without a heated greenhouse. Likewise, if you live in Florida, the traditional Haas avocado that you buy in the grocery store hates the humidity. So, there are other varieties that will do better in that region. Learning what does best in your area is an important step and also a lifelong journey. Enjoy that learning process.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when selecting species and planting your new food forest

  1. Understand the cold hardiness zone for where you live. More important than the higher temps, it’s critical to know your minimum temps. Freezing is generally more likely to harm a sensitive plant than higher temperatures. If you want to learn more about your growing zone, click here.
  2. Know your sun exposure. If your yard is mostly shade, you are unlikely to do well planting tree species that prefer full sun. Though a mis-planted tree may “survive”, it may not do well or produce fruit. Keep in mind that there is full sun and full shade in every USDA growing zone, so regardless of where you live – there is something that will grow and thrive on your site. Choose well and work in harmony with your site.
  3. Plant during the right season. Depending on where you live, the ideal time for planting fruit trees may GREATLY vary. Don’t assume that just because a nursery tells you to plant it that it is the ideal time to do so. Remember, their job is to get you the plant – it’s your job to steward it well.
  4. Understand the differences in varieties. Within each type of tree (peach, pear, mango, etc.) there are hundreds and even thousands of different varieties to choose from. A peach is simply NOT a peach. For example, those peaching grown in Georgia are bred for that specific growing zone and will not produce fruit in Central Florida. However, varieties of peaches like Tropic Beauty (our staff favorite), Tropic Snow, and Florida prince are bred to require less “chill hours”, so they will bare fruit much better in zone 9 and 10. Likewise, avocados have a WIDE range in their varieties. Some (like “Fantastic” or “Joey”) are cold hardy down to 15 degrees. Some avocados are better for slicing and dicing (like Winter Mexican or Wurtz), while other avocados are more ideal for guacamole (like Brogdon, Oro Negro, or Mexicola). The benefit of having someone to consult with is that you are more likely to get a variety that meets your preferences in flavor, but also one that will THRIVE on your particular site.
  5. Think in layers. Don’t just plant one height of trees all over the property. Think about creating production at various heights and levels. What can you grow as a root crop? A smaller perennial? A bush layer? A dwarf tree? Top story tree? Vine? By choosing to plant multiple layers in your system, you not only maximize your space, but create a scenario where various plants can work in synergy with one another. One might provide the needed shade for another. Or, better yet, one might actually fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to fertilize another plant.
New Food Forest Installation

Now, it’s time to get planting

  1. Plant away! Use something to suppress weeds. Apply compost. Layer up 4-6″ of wood chip mulch. For more in-depth planting instructions, CLICK HERE.
  2. Finish a smaller area before moving on to the next. This is one of the most common mistakes that new food foresters make… they want to just put the tree in the ground and walk away. However, one of the worst things you can do for your new tree is leave it to fight with the grass around the base. Cover the soil properly, using the method above and completely finish one area before moving on. This will not only give your tree its best chance at thriving, but it will also give you a sense of completion.
  3. Know when to water. There is no possible way to simply say, “water your plants three times a week.” Differences in heat, sun exposure, wind, and humidity all vary so much that it’s impossible to set a specific watering schedule. So, to know when to water, put your finger in the soil down to your big knuckle. If you feel moisture, do NOT water. Plants actually need to dry out between watering. This not only causes their roots to expand and grow deeper into the soil, but also helps prevent root rot.
  4. Maintain your food forest and garden by checking back on the blog for our free monthly To-Do Lists. We will help remind you when to fertilize, when to plant the next crops, and when to prune.

So, now that you’ve read the theories and have done some research – it’s time to get outside and plant. Remember, you can always find more help, information, and inspiration on our social media account.

See you in the Garden!

May Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

We are officially past any dangers of frost and cold, and now the warm part of spring is certainly upon us! In many subtropical regions, this late spring season is often very dry, which can make it challenging in the garden and food forest. The rainy season, in places like Central Florida, is generally from the last week of May to the first week of October. So, for many folks, until rainy season arrives, our time is consumed with harvesting the last of the spring vegetables and daily checking gardens for watering needs.

Remember (especially in Florida), you cannot water gardens and fruit trees very well on a “perfect schedule”. Because of temperature fluctuations, wind, humidity, and other elements the length of time between watering can vary dramatically. Anyone who tells you to just water every day is going to have major issues as the season progresses.

Here is how to water properly

Use the “Finger Test” to see if your plants actually need water. Never just assume that they do. Put your finger in the soil down to the second knuckle. If it’s dry, then go ahead and water. However, if you feel coolness or moisture – then let it be. Generally speaking, most plants (especially fruit trees and berry bushes) actually like to dry out a bit between waterings.

“As a practice, it’s far better to water LESS frequently and MORE deeply.

Doing this will help establish a healthier root system and overall plant.”

-KRIS EDLER | PERMACULTUREFX FOUNDER

So, get ready for an exciting month! May is the time when our region makes the shift from “annual vegetable gardening” being the focus to a primary focus on perennial production from our fruit trees and berry bushes. So here is your May Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your late-spring projects. For some, it may be helpful to print out this list and hang it somewhere to refer to it each week to check progress.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

Tropic Beauty Peach
Tropic Beauty Peach | Self-pollinating, hardy to 20 degrees, low chill hours, deliciously sweet and juicy.

May Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Fertilizing the vegetable garden: If you have not applied a late spring probiotic to your soil or as a foliar spray, then now is the time to do that! This application will increase the health of your soil microbiome, give plants a better chance at fighting off disease and fungus, and is a proactive way to address garden pests before they do any damage. BioAg is my preferred spray for this.
  • To plant: Okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer beans / peas. Vegetable planting season is now over for sub-tropical zones, so it’s time to plant your cover crop. We recommend sunn hemp as a nitrogen-fixing cover-crop that can be tilled into the soil in August.
  • Tropical Spinaches: It’s time to plant tropical spinaches like longevity spinach, Okinawa, Surinam, Jewels of Opar, Brazilian Sisso, etc!
  • Salad Trees & Hibiscus: In this climate, some of the best edible greens actually grow as trees or bushes during the hot weather months. Some of our favorites include: South Sea Salad, Bele Hibiscus, Roselle (Jamaican Sorrel), Cranberry Hibiscus, and Katuk, and Kenaf.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, tropical spinaches, last of the peas, beets, turnips, etc. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. When they start to struggle because of heat and/or powdery mildew – just put the garden to bed and cover crop it until after the rainy season. Focus on fruit trees, berry bushes, and edible tropical plants for the summer.
  • Compost: Turn pile 1x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result than a mere compost pile.
  • Cover Crops: For garden beds that are being put to rest for the summer, this is a great time to plant a cover crop. Sunn Hemp is in the legume family and does an excellent job with this. Not only will it grow 8-10′ tall by August, but produces gorgeous blooms and actually repairs the soil. Sunn Hemp repairs the soil in two ways. First, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil with nodules on the roots, which interact with bacteria in the soil. Secondly, when you till it in (or bury it) in your garden later in August, it will add much needed biomass to your soil. It can be used as animal fodder, but must be fed to livestock before it flowers.
Sunn Hemp Cover Crop

In the Food Forest

  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard (if you didn’t do it last month) FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you. This is a great time to plant avocado, mango, strawberry tree and other tropical trees. Planting this time of year gives them 7-8 months to root in and settle before winter. It should be noted that you will need to water more often until rainy season starts.
  • Harvest (and enjoy): peaches, nectarines, plums, mulberries, strawberry tree, moringa leaves / flowers, elderberry, blueberries, jaboticaba, cattleya guava (in some areas). Anyone else in food forest heaven, yet?!
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). Remember to keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree.
  • Pruning: NO major pruning once trees flower. After they awaken for the spring, there is a lot of sap flowing, so you don’t want to cause a fungal or bacterial issue by pruning this time of year. Pruning should be done during late winter dormancy, so if you haven’t pruned fruit trees yet, it’s best to wait at this point. You can, however, still prune pines, decorative shrubs, and ornamental trees now.
The Strawberry Tree (or Jamaican cherry) is a new favorite! The fruit is low in sugar, high in vitamin-C, and (get this) it tastes like strawberry skittles or cotton candy. Grows best in Zones 9b-12 and produces fruit from April – Decemeber.

In the Shed

  • Put out yellow jacket and fly traps
  • Reset mouse / rat traps (peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball in storage areas will also repel them)
  • Spring cleaning time: Go through a couple storage areas this month and recycle, donate, and reorganize. Steward what you have with excellence.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified, and chemically treatred tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Spring Chickens: This is a great time to add to the flock by either purchasing heritage breeds or hatching your own. Whatever you do, stay away from Cornish Rock or Cornish Cross “meat birds”… more on that to come. It’s also an ideal time to add rabbits, quail, or other animals into your system.
  • Dogs: It’s time for spring check-ups on the fur babies. Once they are up to date on their appointments, go support a local groomer and send them to the doggie spa for a day. NOTE: I’d give a tip on cats… but the only thing I can think of is how much I don’t like them. Sorry, not sorry.

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Last chance to plant Timothy grass, perennial peanut, wildflower mixes, tobacco, clover mixes, and alfalfa can still be planted in some regions. Due to the usual dry weather this time of year, supplemental watering may be needed.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
New food forest installation example. There are three 100′ long rows of fruit trees, berry bushes, and native pollinators with over 90 plants. These rows have been layered with contractor paper (for weed suppression), 1″ of compost, and 6″ deep of wood chip mulch. The rows are 3′ wide. Between the lanes, the grass has been removed and reseeded with a clover mix (and lightly covered with straw).

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Power washing time: Use an organic soap (like Basic H) to power-wash the house, sidewalks, and other recreational vehicles.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in March/April and then in May/June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Perennial Flowers: Using native wildflowers is so much easier than annuals, not to mention will save you money because they come back every year. Here are some of our favorites!
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • Clean out the freezer and disinfect really well. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
Bele Hibiscus (aka Mahoe Hibiscus Tree): Delicious, edible leaves that are great in soups, stews, salads, or used for dolmas. Flowers are also edible (fresh). Grows in zones 9-12 in part sun to full shade.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Nature Hike: Create a mini-scavenger hunt before going on your nature hike. Have kids look for things like: a feather, a seed pod, a leaf bigger than their hand, a cool rock, a weird stick, etc.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Local Farm Visit: Many local farms offer free tours, kids activities, etc. Look up a local farm to visit in your area and give your kiddos exposure to the animals, crops, and fruit trees.
April gardening list peaches
Tropic Beauty Peach in Central Florida

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

May Gardening To-Do List for Zones 3-8

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 3-8. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 9-11, click here.

We are ALMOST THERE… almost past the dangers of frost. In zones 3-5, it could still frost as late as Memorial Day, however in zones 6-7 it’s probably safe by now (fingers crossed). This time of year can be tricky, so I usually try to not put all my eggs in one basket. Stagger your planting by a week or two for each type of crop. Maybe start putting out some of the more cold tolerant plants in batches and even sneak in one or two tomato plants (if you are in zones 6-7), but be patient and don’t plant everything all at once. This will give you a buffer crop in case there is another cold snap, but will also stagger your ripening times.

In the springtime, watering is important, especially as new plants are getting established. However, because the day-to-day temps fluctuate so much, it’s important to water properly (and only as needed)

Here is how to water properly

Use the “Finger Test” to see if your plants actually need water. Never just assume that they do. Put your finger in the soil down to the second knuckle. If it’s dry, then go ahead and water. However, if you feel coolness or moisture – then let it be. Generally speaking, most plants (especially fruit trees and berry bushes) actually like to dry out a bit between waterings.

“As a practice, it’s far better to water LESS frequently and MORE deeply.

Doing this will help establish a healthier root system and overall plant.”

-KRIS EDLER | PERMACULTUREFX FOUNDER

So, get ready for an exciting month. Gardening season is officially here. Here is your May Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your spring projects.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 3-8. If you are looking for the May Gardening List for Zones 9-11, click here.

Tropic Beauty Peach
Reminder: Be sure to dormant spray those fruit trees before the flowers get into full swing. At the very least, spray with neem, basic H, and a probiotic.

May Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Probiotics for the vegetable garden: If you have not applied a spring probiotic to your soil or as a foliar spray, then now is the time to do that! This application will increase the health of your soil microbiome, give plants a better chance at fighting off disease and fungus, and is a proactive way to address garden pests before they do any damage. BioAg is my preferred spray for this.
  • To plant: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, and other warm season crops.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, radishes, beets, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas. You can also keep harvesting the asparagus until the spear size decreases. Then leave it to grow into a “fern” to feed the plant for next season.
  • Compost: Turn pile 1-2x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result than a mere compost pile.
  • Cover Crops: For many food forest areas, it is a great time to plant cover crops in the lanes for grass and weed suppression. Here are some of our favorite for the Midwest: CLICK HERE
White Clover as a cover crop for food forests or “grass replacement”

In the Food Forest

  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard (if you didn’t do it last month) FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you. This is a great time to plant peach, plum, apple, pear, persimmon, paw paw, etc. Planting this time of year gives them 7-8 months to root in and settle before winter. It should be noted that you will need to water more often until rainy season starts.
  • Harvest (and enjoy): Spring mushrooms (i.e. morels), fiddlehead ferns, wild ramps, lungwort.
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). Remember to keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree. Garden beds prefer straw as a mulch, because when it decomposes it’s a bacterially based structure.
  • Pruning: NO major pruning once trees flower. So if your trees are still dormant – get that pruning in NOW!
apple orchard care in kansas city
Apple Tree from The Giving Grove in Kansas City, MO

In the Shed

  • Clean off tools, re-oil, and remove rust
  • Reset mouse / rat traps (peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball in storage areas will also repel them)
  • Use leaf blower to clean out corners and dust piles from the winter months
  • Spring cleaning time: Go through a couple storage areas this month and recycle, donate, and reorganize. Steward what you have with excellence.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified, and chemically treatred tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Spring Chickens: This is a great time to add to the flock by either purchasing heritage breeds or hatching your own. Whatever you do, stay away from Cornish Rock or Cornish Cross “meat birds”… more on that to come. It’s also an ideal time to add rabbits, quail, or other animals into your system.
  • Dogs: It’s time for spring check-ups on the fur babies. Once they are up to date on their appointments, go support a local groomer and send them to the doggie spa for a day. NOTE: I’d give a tip on cats… but the only thing I can think of is how much I don’t like them. Sorry, not sorry.

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Clovers, chicory, rye, turnips, radishes, wheat, oats, etc.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
New food forest installation example. There are three 100′ long rows of fruit trees, berry bushes, and native pollinators with over 90 plants. These rows have been layered with contractor paper (for weed suppression), 1″ of compost, and 6″ deep of wood chip mulch. The rows are 3′ wide. Between the lanes, the grass has been removed and reseeded with a clover mix (and lightly covered with straw).

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Power washing time: Use an organic soap (like Basic H) to power-wash the house, sidewalks, and other recreational vehicles.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in March/April and then in May/June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Perennial Flowers: Using native wildflowers is so much easier than annuals, not to mention will save you money because they come back every year. Here are some of our favorites!
  • Annual Flowers: Plant annual flowers for pops of color. Limit the number of annuals, because most of them are ‘sterile’ and provide no benefit to native insects and butterflies. Consider doing 80%+ native perennials and wildflowers to better support the local ecosystem.
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • House Plants: Move houseplants outdoors once evening temps are above 50 degrees. Start in full shade and then gradually increase the sunlight exposure over a few weeks. Fertilize with fish emulsion and sea kelp once they are outside.
  • Clean out the freezer and disinfect really well. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
Bele Hibiscus (aka Mahoe Hibiscus Tree): Delicious, edible leaves that are great in soups, stews, salads, or used for dolmas. Flowers are also edible (fresh). Grows in zones 9-12 in part sun to full shade as a perennial, but can be grown in zones 3-8 as an annual.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Nature Hike: Create a mini-scavenger hunt before going on your nature hike. Have kids look for things like: a feather, a seed pod, a leaf bigger than their hand, a cool rock, a weird stick, etc.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Local Farm Visit: Many local farms offer free tours, kids activities, etc. Look up a local farm to visit in your area and give your kiddos exposure to the animals, crops, and fruit trees.

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using Facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

April Gardening To-Do List (Zones 9-11)

Spring is officially in motion and is showing off with all her glory. The flowers are blooming, the bees & butterflies have awakened from their slumber, and fruit is beginning to ripen in the food forest. Right now, the mango trees are finishing their blooming and have started to set fruit. Avocado trees are blooming and stone fruits are beginning to grow! One of my favorite things to do in the springtime is to visit local garden centers and see what is new for the coming growing season. Even though I usually gravitate toward native wildflowers and perennials, I often splurge on a few annual flowers or herbs to add splashes of color. Not to mention, I always seem to find one more place to hang a bird feeder or bird house. There is something about walking around a local (and independently owned) nursery that makes the gardeners heart come alive. Maybe it’s seeing others with the same plant addiction… I mean passion… yeah… passion. Or maybe it’s the plants themselves that make me feel alive on the inside. This is the season that my inner hobbit comes to life again and I start dreaming of the spring fruiting that is right around the corner.

In the midst of the busyness of the season though, it always helps to stay organized. So here is your April Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your spring projects. For me it’s helpful to print out this list and hang it somewhere so I can refer to it each week to check my progress, but do whatever is best for you.

Be sure to comment below and give this article a share to other gardeners who might be interested.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 9-11. If you are looking for the April Gardening List for Zones 3-8, click here.

April gardening list turmeric
curcuma zedoaria (Spicy White)

April Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 9-11

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Fertilizing the vegetable garden: Remember, we are what we eat, so stay away from both chemical and synthetic fertilizers. My top choice to fertilize is always to apply compost (regular for veggies and mushroom based for fruit trees and berry bushes). If you do not have access to organic compost, then my second choice is usually a rotation of worm tea, bone meal, blood meal, azomite, fish emulsion, kelp, or other “whole ingredient” fertilizers. Unfortunately, even some name brand organic fertilizers are hiding things like MSG under the name “soy protein hydrolysate”. So, use wisdom when picking out the best fertilizers for you and your family.
  • To plant: Cabbage, sweet potatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard, beans (all kinds), corn, squash, watermelon, okra, tomatoes (up to zone 9a only), herbs (all zones), nasturtiums, edible flowers. You can also plant cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers, etc.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, tropical spinaches, snow peas, daikon, radishes, beets, herbs.
  • Compost: Turn pile 1-2x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result.
April gardening list raised beds
Raised beds being planted at Empower School and Farm

In the Food Forest

  • Prune back brambles (raspberries and blackberries)
  • Apply a late spring foliar spray.
  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard. FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you. This is a great time to plant avocado, mango, strawberry tree and other tropical trees. Planting this time of year gives them 7-8 months to root in and settle before winter.
  • Pinch off “first year fruit”. Never let a fruit tree produce fruit the first year that it is in the ground. Remove any fruit so all the energy goes to establishing a heathy root system. Even leaving a single fruit will cause the nutrient requirements of the tree to change, so make sure to remove all fruit the first year it’s in the ground. This is soooo hard to do, but it will help create a much healthier tree in the long-run.
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). This helps conserve moisture, but also creates a rich fungal compost at the base of the tree. Remember, keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree.
  • Pruning: NO pruning once trees flower. After they awaken for the spring, there is a lot of sap flowing. You don’t want to cause a fungal or bacterial issue by pruning this time of year. Pruning should be done during late winter dormancy, so if you haven’t pruned fruit trees yet, it’s best to wait. You can, however, still prune pines, decorative shrubs, and ornamental trees now.
April gardening list foliar spray
Spring foliar spray being applied by a permaculture design course participant in 2021 at Empower School and Farm.

In the Shed

  • Use Seafoam in the gas tank of all small engines as you start them for the first time this year. Seafoam will help clean out all the lines and help things run more smoothly as you enter the gardening season.
  • Check hand tools: If you oiled your garden tools before winter, everything should be ready to rock. However, if you forgot, you might need to use sandpaper to clean the rust off. Oil them up when you are finished to protect them. This is a great time to sharpen shovels and other tools with a grinder or dremel tool. Use linseed oil on handles to give everything a fresh look for the season.
  • Check for mold: Winter months and bad airflow can often result in a bit of mold. Look inside totes and stored items in the shed to make sure there is no mold or off-smelling areas. Open up the garage and shed on a day you are there to let things air out.
Cattley Guava – tart strawberry flavor, very hardy.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Deworming Cattle / Horses: 1-1.5 cups of Basic H per 100 gallon watering container OR 1TBSP per gallon for chickens, goats, lamb.
  • Nesting box boosters: For a little treat in your nesting boxes, consider adding fresh or dried flower petals and herbs. Fennel, cilantro, and parsley are great laying stimulants. Remember, with spring rains, it is important to change bedding frequently and make sure everything remains dry and clean.

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Timothy grass, perennial peanut, wildflower mixes, tobacco, clovers, alfalfa.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
Pond and pasture
Pond and pasture

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Flower pots from last year should be emptied and refreshed. Old soil can be put in a wheel barrow and have new compost mixed in. You can also empty old soil directly onto the compost pile to let it refresh over the next month or so. Wash flower pots well with an organic soap to kill any remaining bacteria before adding new soil and planting fresh plants.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Clean up bananas: It’s finally time to cut back the dead leaves and branches from bananas and other fruit trees. Removing dead leaves this time of year will help prevent rot and fungal issues. Not to mention, getting rid of the dead makes everything look a lot better.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, bone meal, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in March/April and then in May/June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Annual Flowers: Plant some pops of color around the garden. Use as many native wildflowers and perennials as possible, because the vast majority of annuals do NOT provide nectar for bees and butterflies. However, using them sparingly can still give lasting bursts of color. Some annual flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, calendula, etc.) are also edible and medicinal and can even be used as vegetable companion plants.
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • Check / replace smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries
  • Clean out the refrigerator and disinfect shelves. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
dill herb
Dill – used for culinary purposes, as a pollinator, and in chicken nesting areas as a laying stimulant.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Visit a local arboretum or community garden: Often these will have special programs for kids and families.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Decorate a garden corner and create a gnome or fairy garden. Personally, I can’t get enough garden gnomes hidden in the flower beds or at the base of fruit trees.
  • Spring flower drawing or painting: Pick a flower or two for each kid and have them draw or paint it. When they finish, frame the artwork and hang for seasonal decorations in the house.
April gardening list peaches
Tropic Beauty Peach in Central Florida

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

April Gardening To-Do List (Zones 3-8)

Spring is officially in motion and is showing off with all her glory. The flowers are blooming, the bees have awakened from their slumber, and the gardening season is upon us. It seems like the winter snow was both yesterday and three months ago, all at the same time. One of my favorite things to do in the springtime is to visit local garden centers and see what is new for the coming growing season. Even though I usually gravitate toward native wildflowers and perennials, I often splurge on a few annual flowers or herbs to add splashes of color. Not to mention, I always seem to find one more place to hang a bird feeder or bird house. There is something about walking around a local (and independently owned) nursery that makes the gardeners heart come alive. Maybe it’s seeing others with the same plant addiction… I mean passion… yeah… passion. Or maybe it’s the plants themselves that make me feel alive on the inside. This is the season that my inner hobbit comes to life again after the winter slumber.

In the midst of the busyness of the season though, it always helps to stay organized. So here is your April Gardening To-Do List to help you jumpstart your spring projects. For me it’s helpful to print out this list and hang it somewhere so I can refer to it each week to check my progress, but do whatever is best for you.

Be sure to comment below and give this article a share to other gardeners who might be interested.

NOTE: This list is geared toward USDA Growing Zones 3-8. If you are looking for the April Gardening List for Zones 9-11, click here.

April gardening list spring flowers
Hyacinth, hosta, lungwort, bleeding heart

April Gardening To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Fertilizing the vegetable garden: Remember, we are what we eat, so stay away from both chemical and synthetic fertilizers. My top choice to fertilize is always to apply compost (regular for veggies and mushroom based for fruit trees and berry bushes). If you do not have access to organic compost, then my second choice is usually a rotation of worm tea, bone meal, blood meal, azomite, fish emulsion, kelp, or other “whole ingredient” fertilizers. Unfortunately, even some name brand organic fertilizers are hiding things like MSG under the name “soy protein hydrolysate”. So, use wisdom when picking out the best fertilizers for you and your family.
  • To plant: carrots, radishes, beets, onions, asparagus, rhubarb, a few nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants). Wait to plant the majority of nightshades until after the last frost date in your region, but sometimes you can get a buffer crop if you stagger planting and the weather stays warm.
  • To harvest: Salad greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, peas, asparagus, and rhubarb
  • Compost: Turn pile 1-2x per week.
    • NOTE: For most people an outdoor compost pile doesn’t really generate a lot. However, using a worm bin (like the ones from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), can provide worm tea which creates way more bang for your buck. For most families, composting worms are going to give you a better result.
April gardening list raised beds
Raised beds being planted at Empower School and Farm

In the Food Forest

  • Prune back brambles (raspberries and blackberries)
  • Apply a late spring foliar spray.
  • Consider probiotics for your garden and yard. FREE 11-minute talk on probiotics for the yard, click here.
  • Plant new fruit trees and berry bushes. Here is a step-by-step process (with diagram) of how to plant a fruit tree or berry bush. Some of the info may surprise you.
  • Pinch off “first year fruit”. Never let a fruit tree produce fruit the first year that it is in the ground. Remove any fruit so all the energy goes to establishing a heathy root system. Even leaving a single fruit will cause the nutrient requirements of the tree to change, so make sure to remove all fruit the first year it’s in the ground. This is soooo hard to do, but it will help create a much healthier tree in the long-run.
  • Apply mulch (wood chips) to any areas that need it. Fruit trees like to have 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (extending all the way to the drip line). This helps conserve moisture, but also creates a rich fungal compost at the base of the tree. Remember, keep mulch a few inches back from the truck, because you don’t want the decomposing wood touching your tree.
  • Pruning: NO pruning once trees flower. After they awaken for the spring, there is a lot of sap flowing. You don’t want to cause a fungal or bacterial issue by pruning this time of year. Pruning should be done during late winter dormancy, so if you haven’t pruned fruit trees yet, it’s best to wait. You can, however, still prune pines, decorative shrubs, and ornamental trees now.
April gardening list foliar spray
Spring foliar spray being applied by a permaculture design course participant in 2021 at Empower School and Farm.

In the Shed

  • Use Seafoam in the gas tank of all small engines as you start them for the first time this year. Seafoam will help clean out all the lines and help things run more smoothly as you enter the gardening season.
  • Check hand tools: If you oiled your garden tools before winter, everything should be ready to rock. However, if you forgot, you might need to use sandpaper to clean the rust off. Oil them up when you are finished to protect them. This is a great time to sharpen shovels and other tools with a grinder or dremel tool. Use linseed oil on handles to give everything a fresh look for the season.
  • Check for mold: Winter months and bad airflow can often result in a bit of mold. Look inside totes and stored items in the shed to make sure there is no mold or off-smelling areas. Open up the garage and shed on a day you are there to let things air out.
April gardening list lungwort
Lungwort – this spring flower has leaves that can be used fresh as a tea to break up congestion and help lung health.

Livestock

  • Water rotations: In nature, animals don’t drink out of the purified tap. Sometimes their water is from a rain puddle, but other times from a stream or pond. To help mimic this and give their immune system a boost, try doing something different every time you refill their water.
    • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 tsp per gallon
    • Honey: 1 TBSP per gallon
    • BioIivestock Probiotic: Dilution rate on bottle depending on species
    • Herbs: Add fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc to their water to make a “tea”
    • Rainwater
  • Deworming Cattle / Horses: 1-1.5 cups of Basic H per 100 gallon watering container OR 1TBSP per gallon for chickens, goats, lamb.
  • Nesting box boosters: For a little treat in your nesting boxes, consider adding fresh or dried flower petals and herbs. Fennel, cilantro, and parsley are great laying stimulants. Remember, with spring rains, it is important to change bedding frequently and make sure everything remains dry and clean.
April gardening list currant flowers
Red Currant flowers in Kansas City, MO

In the Pasture

  • Plant: Timothy grass, perennial peanut, wildflower mixes, tobacco, clovers, alfalfa.
  • Hay / Straw: Any rotting or wet bales can be used in the garden or food forest as deep mulch. It can be spread 5-7″ thick in areas that are going to be “future” garden beds in order to prep the soil. First, roll out contractor paper (usually found in the paint section of a hardware store) over the grass and then cover with the straw or other mulch. This is a great opportunity to do “layer mulching” if you have other materials available.
April gardening list mushrooms
Morel mushrooms found in April in Kansas City, MO

Around the House and Perennial Beds

  • Flower pots from last year should be emptied and refreshed. Old soil can be put in a wheel barrow and have new compost mixed in. You can also empty old soil directly onto the compost pile to let it refresh over the next month or so. Wash flower pots well with an organic soap to kill any remaining bacteria before adding new soil and planting fresh plants.
  • Cut back last years growth: Remove any dead material left over from last fall and add to the compost pile.
  • Fertilize flower beds: Use kelp, bone meal, blood meal, and/or fish emulsion. I like to use blood meal in April and then in May or June use bone meal. Kelp and fish emulsion can be used anytime during the growing season. Alternatively, apply a 1/2″ layer of compost to flower beds or at the base of each flower. Keep away from the stems, so it doesn’t “burn”.
  • Spring bulb care: Remove flower / seed heads, but leave the green growth until they naturally die back. This green will help feed the bulb for next year.
  • Annual Flowers: Plant some pops of color around the garden. Use as many native wildflowers and perennials as possible, because the vast majority of annuals do NOT provide nectar for bees and butterflies. However, using them sparingly can still give lasting bursts of color. Some annual flowers (nasturtiums, marigolds, calendula, etc.) are also edible and medicinal and can even be used as vegetable companion plants.
  • Air out the house: On a day you are home, open up every window in the house and turn on fans to circulate fresh air into the house. Change the filters in the HVAC system for the spring months. This is also a great time to vacuum out floor vents and air returns.
  • Check / replace smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries
  • Clean out the refrigerator and disinfect shelves. It’s often best to do this the day before garbage day, so you can take old items directly to the road.
April gardening list spring flowers
Edible spring flowers: Violas, pansies, and snapdragons.

Kids & Family Ideas

  • Visit a local arboretum or community garden: Often these will have special programs for kids and families.
  • Wild Bird Feeding
    • Set out orange halves and grape jelly for the arriving orioles
    • Put hummingbird feeders out on April 15th (never use the kind with red dye), and be sure to change the water in them every week.
    • Hang a new birdhouse for spring nesting season
    • Add white millet to feeders to attract indigo buntings (bright blue birds)
  • Decorate a garden corner and create a gnome or fairy garden. Personally, I can’t get enough garden gnomes hidden in the flower beds or at the base of fruit trees.
  • Spring flower drawing or painting: Pick a flower or two for each kid and have them draw or paint it. When they finish, frame the artwork and hang for seasonal decorations in the house.
April gardening list turmeric
curcuma zedoaria (Spicy White)

See you in the garden

As always, thanks for taking time to join on the gardening and permaculture journey. Be sure to check out the continual flow of content available via our social media channels. Remember, PermacultureFX also does virtual consulting (using facetime, zoom, satellite images, etc.). We’d love to help you get a plan for your property and help you create abundance and wonder.

If this article was helpful, consider sharing on social media (or with your garden groups) to help set others up to win on their property. Happy spring, and I’ll see you in the garden!

– Kristofer Edler

Five Things Every Organic Gardener Needs on Hand

Over the last 20 years, I have found that nearly every garden problem can be solved with a handful of solutions. Of course, there are countless nuances to the various problems, but often times, the solutions are the same. Whether in my own home garden, at other USDA certified organic nurseries, or on the dozens of permaculture sites I have designed, I have found that there are five solutions that every organic gardener needs to have on hand at all times. So, here are the five things that every organic farmer needs on hand:

Food Forest Garden

1 – Organic compost

Instead of wasting money on expensive fertilizers and soil amendments, every gardener needs a good compost pile going at all times. Healthy plants will be more resistant to disease, fungal infections, and bacterial issues. Compost not only helps increase overall plant health, but also builds soil structure. If you are fortunate enough to have an organic compost source locally, then absolutely support them by purchasing their product as well. For many families, a compost pile can be too much work and not enough return. So for many homes, a worm composting unit (like those from Uncle Jim’s Worms) are the best solution to get compost and compost tea. In cold climates, a 1″ layer of organic fertilizer can be applied in April, June, and August. In subtropical and warmer climates, it can be applied in February, June, and September.

2 – Soil and Plant Probiotics

Ideally, we are all brewing batches of indigenous micro organisms, but since that isn’t possible for many home gardeners, there are amazing products to help soil microbes. Probio is (by far) my favorite soil probiotic. I use this monthly in my watering can, as a foliar spray (using a backpack sprayer), and even as a compost pile activator. On the organic farms I am connected with, this product is often the secret weapon for plant and soil health. It often works so well that it curtails future problems with fungal and bacterial issues before they even start. Having this product on hand is a must. CLICK HERE for order info.

Basic H – Plant Based Surfactant

3 – Soap Alternatives (must be plant based)

An organic plant-based surfactant is a god-send in the garden and food forest. Personally, I use Basic H, and we also use this at several certified organic farms we are connected with. This is used to wash off pests, aphids, and bugs….but also to clean pots, trays, and farm equipment.

is also great for treating fungal and bacterial issues and used to emulsify neem and/or fish emulsions before application. Permaculture guru, Joel Salatin even uses this for deworming cattle and livestock (and I now do the same). Do NOT use non-organic options or even scented castile soaps, because they will remove the natural waxy coating on the plant leaves and can actually damage soil health.

4 – Neem Oil

Neem is an organic plant extract used to treat fungal issues like sooty mold, powdery mildew, etc. It is also a great insect repellant and used to kill things like aphids. Neem also has a short activity period, so it’s not going to affect bees and butterflies (unless you spray them directly). It’s a much safer insecticide than anything else I have ever seen or used. Not to mention, in humid climates, it helps control our many fungal and bacterial issues. When purchasing, be sure to get 100% pure neem and then dilute it yourself. The premixed stuff in a spray bottle is a rip off.

5 – Kelp and Fish Emulsion

These two are both light fertilizers that also contain living enzymes that build the soil. They are both non-burning, organic compounds that not only fertilize the plant, but also help the uptake of minerals. They can often be added to water as a root drench, but also used as a foliar spray multiple times during the growing season. Chemical and synthetic fertilizers bought in the store (even most organic options) use salt as a carrier mechanism for the nitrogen. Some organic fertilizers “hide” it with things like soy protein hydrosolate, which is up to 40% MSG. So stick with organic compounds like compost, fish emulsion, kelp, bone / blood meal to build your top soil and microbial health.

January Garden To-Do List for Zones 9-11

While much of the northern states are fighting the cold, snow, and ice… here in the southern regions, we are in the midst of prime gardening season. Sometimes, I think I should feel bad about it, but then I realize… I paid my dues in the midwest for over 35 years. So, instead, I look out the window at the thriving tomato plants, harvest some winter greens, and get out some more seed trays for planting new starts. January is one of the best months for the vegetable garden. Tomatoes and peppers are ripening, eggplants are forming on the bush, more radishes and beets are ready every day, and the tropical greens are going crazy.

Winter campfires with farm friends and fam.

In the food forest, it can really vary depending on the winter, so in the south we really have to be willing to flex from year-to-year, but that’s what makes it interesting and keeps us on our toes.

If you are reading this from a cold climate zone, however, please CLICK HERE for your January Garden to-do list. Now, without further rambling…

Here are some our hit list items on the January Gardening To-Do List for Zones 9-11.

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Plant from seed: Onions, beets, radish, carrots, corn, cucumbers, winter peas, squash, gourds, zucchini, turnips, watermelon. You can also keep doing many greens like arugula, lettuces, mustards, and komatsuna greens (or bok choi).
  • From Seedlings: Cabbage, collard greens, eggplants or peppers, Swiss chard, tomatoes. If it’s a warm winter, then I also plant potatoes and sweet potatoes now. If we are honest, I would still plant them on a cooler winter (just because).
  • Harvest: All tropical spinaches, ginger, turmeric, African potato mint, galangal. Harvest tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants as they ripen. If you have extra, leave a few on your neighbors front porch.
  • Bring in cuttings from tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Surinam, Bele, South Sea Salad) so you have “insurance” if they freeze off during the winter. Also save slips (cuttings) from your most successful sweet potato vines and and start rooting them in water indoor.
  • Watch tomatoes and squash for any signs of powdery mildew. If you see anything, give them a quick spray with Basic H and organic Neem Oil and you’ll be all set.
  • Turn the compost pile every week to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (We use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
  • Start planning for your first time fertilizing in February (order compost, fish emulsion, etc).
Tyler, Victoria (“Linda”), and Rachel harvesting ginger and turmeric in the food forest at A Natural Farm.

In the Food Forest

  • Plant: Loquats, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, figs, persimmons, and other cold hardy trees.
  • Prune existing peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, etc. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting. This is the most optimal month for pruning (all trees except mango and avocado).
    • First Year Flower / Fruit Removal: Personally, I always remove the flowers / fruit from trees the first year or two they are in the ground. This allows all the energy to go to healthy root and branch development. If you leave even a few flowers / fruit, then the tree will automatically take up more phosphorus and potassium, instead of focusing on getting established.
  • Grafting Scions: Get avocado cuttings and start grafting. This is a great month to graft avocados in most (subtropical / tropical) areas.
  • If you slacked off this winter and did not refresh your wood chips, then this is your last chance to do it before spring. 4-6″ deep, go out as far as the drip line of the tree, and keep chips and mulch a few inches away from the trunk.
  • Do NOT fertilize fruit trees until mid-February.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
  • Refinish and moisturize wooden handles of tools with Danish oil.
  • Spray out old plastic pots and clean up the corners of the shed.
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
cup and saucer vine flowering in January
Cup and saucer vine flowering in January.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Dead head spent perennials (i.e. purple coneflower, laitris, or hibiscus)
  • Remove all spent tropical spinaches (longevity, surinam, etc.) or hibiscus (cranberry, roselle, pineland, etc.)
  • Plant native perennial wildflowers. If you are in central Florida, look at Green Isle Gardens in Groveland. Or check out the native wildflower seed mixes at Hancock Seed Company.
  • Apply BioAg probiotic spray the day before a rain (to the soil) in order to inoculate the soil with healthy microbes. This will help prevent a lot of common diseases and pests.
  • Water house plants sparingly.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

In the Pasture

  • Plant Rough Pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), which is a high quality protein (especially for beef cows), helps maintain a healthy gut microflora.  High quality digestible fiber.
  • Winter wheat, Burmuda grass
  • Radish, turnips, or clover
  • Plant bamboo, pigeon pea, or elderberry on pasture edges for chop-and-drop foraging or privacy.

Winter Bird-feeding for the Entire Family

  • Bird feeding is the perfect kids activity this month! My favorite bird-nerd store is Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU), which is found nationwide. They are not only knowledgeable, but often give free feeders to schools and libraries. Not to mention, the quality of their feed is far superior to box stores. Customize your feeds with different seeds for different birds. Each feed needs a different style feeder, but you can learn more about this by taking your kiddos to WBU.
  • Nyger and Sunflower Chips: For finches, vireos, and smaller birds
  • Safflower: Great to keep squirrels away, but cardinals and bluejays love this seed (especially in a hopper feeder)
  • Shelled Peanuts: For bluejays and woodpeckers
  • Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds: Everyone loves these! A must have for the feeder. Woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, titmouse, etc.
  • White Millet: Indigo or painted buntings
  • Suet: Woodpeckers (ladder back, downy, hairy, red headed, etc.)

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees are mainly dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. So make a cup of nice winter tea, open up your sketch book, and start brainstorming.

If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND digital visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more.

Winter Foraged Tea
Winter Foraged Tea: White pine needles, roselle calyx, and olive leaves. Great for anti-oxidants and immune health.

If this content was helpful to you, please help inspire other gardeners by sharing the link on social media or with your favorite gardening group.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

how to get ready for an ice storm

In cold climate regions, January is a time of deep rest. After the holidays end, it’s like our body exhales and realizes that the deep of winter has finally arrived. Instead of dreading it – lean into it. Enjoy it. It’s the perfect time to curl up with a warm blanket, read a new permaculture book, look through seed catalogues, and start planning the garden for next year in sketch books. Not to mention, it’s a great time to review your January Garden To-Do List. However, if you are in USDA Zones 9-11, we have a separate (specific) list for you. CLICK HERE for the warm climate to-do list.

It’s a great time to watch a few permaculture documentaries, take an online course, or even look into local permaculture events in your area. For many of us in cooler climates, the winter can get a little depressing if we just hide away in our caves. So, be sure to get out and connect in your local community and spend nice days outside enjoying the changing of the seasons.

But when the slightly warmer days pop up, be sure to get out into the garden, because there are definitely things that can be done in the food forest and garden in the deep of winter.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8 

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Continue cover the soil with organic matter. You can use chopped up leaves (i.e. picked up with the lawn mower), straw, compost, etc. Better yet, just use layers of each.
  • Continue to plant garlic and spring bulbs. CLICK HERE for a list of what you can plant between snows.
  • Finish removing any remaining dead matter from the garden and add to the compost bin.
  • Take soil samples on warmer days and have them tested at your local extension office. Personally, I don’t use their “fertilizer” recommendations (because it’s rarely organic), so instead I see what nutrients are lower and improve in those areas. Honestly, in 99% of cases the answer is almost always COMPOST and more organic matter. By adding compost, you automatically improve NPK.
  • Check seeds that are cold stratifying outside or in the refrigerator (chestnut, paw paw, acorns, etc.)
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray to compost piles (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO). I always have this on hand to spray on the soil or trees / shrubs during warmer spells in the winter months. I shoot for every other month, because it will prevent many of the pests and diseases that can come in warmer months. Be proactive!
  • Sort through your seed inventory and reorganize when possible.
  • Look through seed catalogues for what you want to plant this year. Use heirloom seeds when possible, because these have not been modified or hybridized since before WW1. Often, heirloom varieties produce a healthier fruit and have much better flavor. One of my favorite websites is rareseeds.com for veggies.

In the Food Forest

  • Wait to prune until February and early March. Let the trees rest for now. Most fruit trees should be pruned during a cold / dry period. The colder temps make the sap stop flowing, and the dry weather helps prevent immediate fungal or bacterial infections. When you prune, take no more than 1/4 of the tree off in a given year, and NEVER apply a wood sealer. Let the tree heal on it’s own.
  • Watch for rabbit or pest damage and protect trees accordingly.
  • Check for deer damage (eating branches, buck rubs, etc.) weekly. Save some deer bones from hunting season to make bone sauce for deer repellant (recipe coming soon). Pack the snow around the base of tree trunks to pack down vole and rodent tunnels.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).
  • Water compost during dry periods.

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Repair garden tools. Sand down wooden handles and reseal them (I like a good Danish oil or non-yellowing varnish).
  • Sharpen all tools (pruners, cutters, shovels, etc.)
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Keep water unthawed
    • Use an electric water heater (OR)
    • Use two watering containers and bring them in at night / rotate them
    • Note: The salt water bottle in the container does NOT work outside of 1-2 degrees below freezing and only for a short time. This can work as an addition, but should not be your primary means of keeping water unthawed.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8¬†Continued…

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Continue to plant spring bulbs every time the soil thaws. This can be done all winter. Click here for some of our favorite bulbs to plant in the winter.
  • Pay attention to windows and address any drafts immediately. Older winters should have plastic over them (purchased at a local hardware store), which will help save $$ on heat bills. Pull blinds to keep heat inside at night and open them during the day to let natural light inside.
  • Water house plants carefully.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.
  • Mid-Winter Banana Fertilizer for Houseplants: Soak 3 banana peels in a large jar of water for 3 days (make sure they stay submerged). Remove the banana peels and add 1 cup of the mineral rich banana water to one gallon of water. Use this ONCE this month to give your house plants a mid-winter boost.

Winter Ideas for Kids

  • Bird feeding is the perfect kids activity this month! My favorite bird-nerd store is Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU), which is found nationwide. They are not only knowledgeable, but often give free feeders to schools and libraries. Not to mention, the quality of their feed is far superior to box stores.
  • Customize your feeds with different seeds for different birds. Each feed needs a different style feeder, but you can learn more about this by taking your kiddos to WBU.
  • Nyger and Sunflower Chips: For finches, vireos, and smaller birds
  • Safflower: Great to keep squirrels away, but cardinals and bluejays love this seed (especially in a hopper feeder)
  • Shelled Peanuts: For bluejays and woodpeckers
  • Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds: Everyone loves these! A must have for the feeder. Woodpeckers, sparrows, nuthatches, titmouse, etc.
  • White Millet: Indigo or painted buntings
  • Suet: Woodpeckers (ladder back, downy, hairy, red headed, etc.)

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees and gardens are dormant, it’s the perfect time to plan for the spring. If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND digital visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more.

January Garden To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8

Happy New Year

from Kris, Vala, and Leto! If you have enjoyed this content, please help us inspire other gardeners by sharing this link on social media or with your favorite gardening group.

December Garden To-Do List for Zones 9-11

In the northern states, they are wrapping up their vegetable gardening season, and in the south we are just getting started! This month the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squash are ripening. We are harvesting mid-season crops like mustard greens, bok choy, komatsuna greens, lettuce mixes, and a plethora of herbs.

Chickens and ducks are resting their bodies in order to restore nutrient levels after a busy laying season and fall feather molting. Fallen leaves and plants are starting to decompose a bit and returning important nutrients to the soil. Fungal networks are expanding underground to strengthen the soil web. So even though the fruit trees and berry bushes are slowing down for the season, we are doing an abundance of vegetable gardening right now! So, in between holiday functions, be sure to get organized with your monthly gardening list. (Click here if you are in a colder climate for your tailored list)

Here are some our hit list items on the December Gardening To-Do List.

Food Forest at A Natural Farm & Educational Center in Howey in the Hills, FL

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Remove “shade cloth” from greenhouses and put up the greenhouse plastic to protect seedlings from the occasional cold snap.
  • Plant: Onions, greens, kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, beets, radishes, turnips, and snow peas.
  • Harvest sweet potatoes planted in the spring, and finish harvesting tropical spinach.
  • Bring in cuttings from tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Surinam, Bele, South Sea Salad) so you have “insurance” if they freeze off during the winter. Also save slips (cuttings) from your most successful sweet potato vines and and start rooting them in water indoor.
  • Watch tomatoes and squash for any signs of powdery mildew. If you see anything, give them a quick spray with Basic H and organic Neem Oil and you’ll be all set.
  • Turn the compost pile every week to keep things decomposing over the winter. Add an occasional bucket of water to keep moisture levels up, especially if there are a lot of leaves in the pile.
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (We use a product called BioAg, which is produced in Kansas City, MO).
  • Test soil samples and begin making amendment plans for springtime. Bring them into your counties local extension office for testing. Be sure to minimally test NPK and organic matter.
Okinawa Purple Sweet Potato

In the Food Forest

  • Plant: Peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, blueberries, elderberries, figs, persimmons, and other cold hardy trees.
  • Prune existing peaches, plums, pears, nectarines, mulberries, etc. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Harvest: Enjoy the last hurrahs from your tropical spinach trees. Save seeds and cuttings.
  • Make sure that every fruit tree and berry bush has 4-6″ of wood chips around the base (from the truck area to the edge of the drip-line). Keep wood chips a few inches from the trunk (to prevent rot), and never allow the soil to be bare or covered in grass.
  • Do NOT fertilize again until February.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, Basic H (for all foliar applications), and fish emulsion.
Jamacan Sorrel / Roselle Calyx. Seeds will be saved and the red part will be dried for winter tea.

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents.
  • Finish oiling up any tools that got missed.
  • Look for online sales for any equipment that need to be replaced.

In the Chicken Coop

december chicken care
  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their recovery season.
  • Do NOT use supplemental lighting to increase egg production. Chickens need this off season to let their bodies rest. Let them have a natural rhythm of rest too.
  • Add a small amount of corn or millet to their diet to help with caloric intake in the winter months. This helps keep them warm naturally. NEVER use heat lamps in a coop or run.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale. The fat content helps birds stay warm for the winter. (click here for more tips on keeping birds warm)
  • Rotate straw and bedding in the coop to keep things clean and sanitary.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed spent pumpkin and squash (from fall decor) to chickens. It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime. You may need to break them open for the birds to get at the inner meat of the pumpkins.
  • Give healthy protein / omega 3 treats: One cheep way to do this is to go to a local pet store and get feeder fish (cheep minnows). Put them into a shallow tray (with a bit of water) and watch the birds catch them! You can also purchase live crickets from pet stores and feel them fresh veggies for a day or two. Feed several per day to your birds for a healthy winter treat.
Luc (owner of A Natural Farm) teaching how to plant a fruit tree

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Harvest pine cuttings for natural winter decor, garlands, and wreaths
  • Apply BioAg probiotic spray the day before a rain (to the soil) in order to inoculate the woil with healthy microbes. This will help prevent a lot of common diseases and pests.
  • Water house plants carefully.
    • Only water them when you can put your finger in the soil and it feels dry up to your first knuckle (about 1″ deep). If the soil feels or looks damp – do NOT water.
    • Water in the sink until water runs out of the bottom, so you know the full root ball is saturated. Let it drain for a few minutes before returning to a sunny spot near a window.
    • Rotate plants every view days for even light distribution.

In the Pasture

  • Plant Rough Pea (Lathyrus hirsutus), which is a high quality protein (especially for beef cows), helps maintain a healthy gut microflora.  High quality digestible fiber.
  • Plant bamboo or elderberry on pasture edges.

Winter Ideas for Kids

Natural winter decorations
  • Take nature walks on nice days.
    • Have kids look for interesting textures and shapes
    • Look for buck rubs or signs of animals
  • Put out bird feeders and make fun food treats for wildlife. Consider a natural Christmas tree outside for the birds with all edible ornaments and garland.
  • Visit a nature center or arboretum in your area and let the kids pick out a new house plant to take care of.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Visit a local farm. Many offer family friendly activities.
  • Have kids help you pick out seeds for next year in the seed catalogues. Consider giving them their own section of the garden to plant in the spring. Involve them in the entire process of planning as well as planting and maintenance. It’s amazing the veggies kids will eat when they picked it out, planted it, and grew it themselves.

Time to Plan

During these winter months while the fruit trees are mainly dormant, it’s the perfect time to plant for the spring. If you are interested in a personalized permaculture consultation for your property, we do both in-person visits to your site AND digital visits (for those out of our area). CLICK HERE to learn more.