February Gardening To-Do List for Zones 9-11

Florida February Garden List

February is prime vegetable season for much of the warmer regions in the US. This Gardening and Property To-Do list for February will help you cover all the bases on your homestead in order to be ready for an abundant spring. For the To-Do List for USDA Zones 3-8, CLICK HERE.

In the Garden

  • To Transplant: Greens, arugula, beets, brassicas, cabbage, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.
  • To plant by seed: beans (all kinds), melons, corn, cucumbers, okra, onions, radish, squash, turnips, watermelon.
  • Bulbs: Ginger (I recommend spiral ginger, black ginger, and ganglion for a bit of exotic variety.) There is a great company in Central Florida (who ships nationwide) that has organic ginger, called A Natural Farm. Let them know we referred ya!

Annuals

  • Sunflowers
  • Snapdragons
  • Violas and Pansies
  • Nasturtiums

Perennial Flowers and Around the House

  • Mulching! This is the optimum time to mulch and start applying compost to your garden and food forest areas. Many regions have tree service companies that will deliver wood chips for free if you call and ask them. Get ready for a dump truck load!
  • Empty and Sterilize Bird Houses (and feeders): You want to have this completed by mid-month, so you are ready for the spring nesting season. To disinfect, I use Shaklee Basic H and/or G. You can find it by clicking here
  • Start ordering your organic soil amendments for spring (compost, mushroom compost, manure, etc.)
  • Finalize your seed orders. Use companies that have organic and non-GMO seeds. I really like Baker Creek and ARK Seed Kits.
  • Start planning your online orders for barefoot perennial flowers. Consider a company like Hartmann’s or Oikos Tree Crops, where you can order in bulk at a much cheeper price.
  • Dig new swales and cover with straw or winter wheat seed to prepare for spring gardens.
  • Get a permaculture consultation to help you plan your property, food forest, and homestead. Don’t wait until spring!

Food Forest & Orchard

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Lots of compost and manure applications by the third week of February.
  • Fertilize blueberries
  • Plant trees and shrubs while they are in (or close to dormancy). In Central Florida, this is the perfect time to plant mulberries, elderberries, dragon fruit, persimmon, peach, etc. Always plant (and water well) when they are dormant. Never plant trees when they are in the flowering phase. You want as much energy as possible to go to the root system. First year fruit trees should NOT be allowed to bear fruit (pick them off), but it’s ok to allow some berry bushes to fruit the first year.
  • Cover Crops: Durana clover can be planted during warm spells, and red winter wheat can also be planted for chicken forage.
  • Order organic orchard supplies for the coming season – be sure to look for holiday sales! Include seaweed extract, BioAg, neem oil, and fish emulsion. Get ready for spring foliar spraying.

Pasture

  • Plant lespedeza, millet (last half of month if weather is ok), could possibly plant corn or sunflowers for silage.
  • Some clovers can be planted at this time, if there is a 5-7 day window of warmer evening and rain.
  • Dormant comfrey (bocking 14 variety only) can be planted now for minerals.
  • Turnips and radishes (especially daikon) can be planted in food plot areas as well. Just be sure to water until they are established.
  • GOATS: If you have goats, you can feed them used Christmas trees for an extra boost of vitamin C and antioxidants. Deworm using Basic H (see next note).
  • CATTLE: Deworming can be done using Joel Salatin’s method of using 1tsp of Basic H per gallon of water or 1/3 cup for a 50 gallon watering trough. I prefer the original Basic H instead of the Basic H2 though. It comes in a 5 gallon bucket, which is a great opportunity to go in with another farmer to purchase. It will last for YEARS! CLICK HERE TO ORDER

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents. This time of year it is common for mice to start having babies, especially in the greenhouse.
  • TIP: Make a tool oiling bucket by filling it with sand and adding a pint or two of oil. You can use old motor oil from your car or even olive olive. Put shovels and spades in this to remove rust and keep oiled.
  • Look for estate sales that might have garden tools. The best tools are often the old wooden handled ones – skip the new ones. Most of the time, they are overpriced and not made with the quality standard they used to be.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their own recovery season.
  • Do NOT let a hen go broody yet. Wait until the end of February. The weather fluctuates too much this time of year and that can make it a hard hatch for your girls.
  • Consider hatching eggs indoors in an incubator. Use a reputable company for ordering OR use your own fertilized eggs. Collect hatching eggs and store in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours before putting in the incubator.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Deworm using Joel Salatin’s suggested organic method, using Shaklee’s Basic H. 5 drops for chickens in 1 gallon of water. Click here for order info. NOTE: He recommends using the original Basic H as opposed to Basic H2.

Winter Ideas for Kids

wood ear mushroom
  • Go on a hike and look for deer runs and fallen deer antlers.
  • Look for wood ear mushrooms! They love the warmer winter days this time of year and are absolutely delicious. Not to mention, they have no “inedible” look a-likes, so are a safe variety for new mushroom hunters to harvest.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Schedule a property consultation to get a professional plan for your property!
  • 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. Have them cut out pictures from your seed catalogue to make a collage to inspire them to plant with you in the spring.

See something we miss?? Add your ideas in the comments below!

Medicinal Plants and How To Use Them

In the midst of challenging times, we have a choice of whether to give in to fear or focus on abundance and hope. CLICK HERE FOR INTRO VIDEO. Personally, I will always choose the side of hope. In that choice, I have made the conscious and intentional goal to be more self sufficient and sustained. Planting your own veggie or herb garden is an easy step, and one that you can take regardless of your living conditions.

The following document download contains the notes from a session on “Medicinal Plants and How to Use Them”, which was given at A Natural Farm, in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida in December 2020.

Feel free to share this link with a friend, who might benefit from this information.

Happy Gardening!

FREE SESSION NOTES

Need help on your property?

CLICK HERE to learn more about on-site and digital consultations with PermacultureFX.

Best Compost Tea Recipe

Learn how to make the best compost tea recipe for your organic garden, orchard, and house plants. Using organic permaculture methods, you will help create an abundant environment for your plants and animals to thrive! With this simple recipe, you can make gallons of this living probiotic fertilizer for your plants and will see fast acting results within a matter of days. It’s always recommended to test a small amount of this first, to make sure it doesn’t burn your specific plants. If in doubt, dilute this recipe with water.

What you’ll need to make the best compost tea!

  • Large drum container (a 10 or 50 gallon works great, but you can also do this in smaller batches in a 5 gallon bucket.
  • Aerator pump (you can either purchase one online or use a fish tank bubbler with a large soapstone).
  • Probiotic for the soil (I highly recommend using a concentrated living product called BioAg, which was created by SCD Probiotics).
  • Fish Emulsion (preferably organic)
  • Neam oil (or leaves)
  • Cured animal poop (cow manure, chicken poo, goat / cow, or even worm castings)
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Molasses or cane sugar (1/4 cup for a 5 gallon 2 cups for a 50 gallon drum)
  • Pond sludge, lake or stream water (for local beneficial microorganisms)
  • A few banana peels (for potassium)
  • Dried kelp meal (optional)

How to make the best compost tea

  1. Put all liquid ingredients into the bottom of the water container using the recommended dosage for your specific product.
  2. Put solid ingredients in an old t-shirt (with ends tied shut) to create a make-shift “tea bag”.
  3. Lower the bubbler / aerator into the bottom of the container. This helps create an oxygen rich environment for the microorganisms to multiply in. Do not skip this step, or you will risk an anaerobic liquid, which may harm your plants and soil.
  4. Fill the container with water and let bubble for 24-36 hours.
  5. Apply as a foliar spray or to the soil around your plants. This mixture needs to be applied / used within 4-6 hours, so the microorganisms stay alive and healthy.
  6. You may use to water OR dilute for a foliar spray in a backpack style sprayer.
  7. This solution can also be used as a spring foliar spray (click here for additional recipe)
  8. TIP: Apply this recipe in the evening or before a rain, so the water flushes it deeper into your soil. Avoid any foliar spraying in the heat of the day or during full sun hours.

How to Make Fermented Chicken Feed

Learning to make your own fermented chicken feed can help you save money and have healthier birds. By soaking your chicken feed in water, the seeds will expand, releasing locked up nutrients, and will also deliver important probiotics to your flock. In turn, your birds will be healthier, happier, and your wallet just a little fuller.

Basic Chicken Feed Recipe

Ingredients are measured by “parts”

Mix the feed using a unit of measurement that suits your particular situation by changing the size of the unit of measurement. For example, one part (in the recipe below) could mean “a coffee can full”, “a scoop full”, “one cup full”, “one bucket full”, etc. In essence, this recipe will make 12 parts total. So, if your unit for measuring is one cup, you’ll be adding 2 cups of cracked corn, 1 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of kelp, etc…. which will then give you 12 cups of dry feed when the recipe is complete. If you use a 1 gallon scoop for your unit, you will get 12 gallons of mixed dry feed.

Here is the basic chicken feed recipe:

  • 2 cracked corn
  • 1 oats
  • 1/2 kelp meal
  • 1 barley 
  • 2 milo
  • 2 wheat
  • 1 alfalfa (pellets)
  • 1.5 split peas
  • 1/2 flax (ground or whole)

NOTE:  It’s important to use organic / non-GMO ingredients when possible.  

NOTE 2: Use 1/4 part aragonite for layers as a calcium supplement

How to Ferment Chicken Feed
How to Ferment Chicken Feed

How to Ferment Chicken Feed

How to ferment your feed

  1. Use the chicken feed recipe above OR your own whole grain feed mix.  Fermenting feed does not work well with pelletized food, because when soaked it makes a mush that some chickens may avoid.  In addition, non-organic foods may also contain added antibiotics or chemicals that may change the fermentation process.
  2. Fill a five gallon bucket 1/2 full of feed.
  3. Add 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar OR 2 tablespoons of BioLivestock (by SCD probiotics) to start the fermentation process.
  4. Add enough water so that the bucket is 2/3 full.  Your feed will expand, so be sure to allow room for this.  You may need to modify this quantity based on your feed type.
  5. Keep 2” of water on top of the feed at all times.   This will help prevent mold from growing on your feed. Whenever you see mold, the ferment will need to be discarded.
  6. Let it sit for 3-4 days to get the ferment going.  You’ll smell the ferment (slightly sour) as it becomes ready.  You should never see mold growing or smell a rotten smell in the bucket. You may choose to lightly set a lid or board on top of the bucket (do not press sealed) in order to keep critters out.
  7. Feed your chickens the fermented feed (within 5 days) using a pan or tray and make sure to add more water to the ferment so the seeds are covered at all times.
  8. Use a scoop from a previously fermented bucket to start a new bucket of feed, similar to a kombucha scoby.  Once the ferment is started, you will not need to add more of the apple cider vinegar or BioLivestock, unless it’s a completely new fermented bucket.
  9. The general rule is that if you feed a scoop of fermented feed, add a new scoop to the bucket, so you don’t have to start from scratch each time. Think of it like a sour dough starter for chickens.

Soaking and fermenting your own feed is a much healthier choice for your flock. It delivers powerful probiotics in a way that is bioavailable to birds, and also expands the food using water so that you use less feed. This nutrient dense way of feeding your flock will not only increase their overall health and well-being, but also give you healthier eggs for you and your family. Enjoy!

February Gardening To-Do List for Growing Zones 3-8

February Gardening To-Do List

For USDA Growing Zones 9-11, CLICK HERE.

Cold Temperate Climate Property To List

winter sunrise

Late winter is the time when the gardener in each of us starts to get restless. We start frantically searching for things we can do on the sporadic warmer days in hopes that spring will come just a little bit sooner this year.

At the same time, we are secretly enjoying the winter time of rest, healing, and renewal. There is something innate inside of us that is programmed to enter into a season of rest, but even in these times, we dream of fruitfulness and abundance. We long for the days we can go barefoot outside again and feel the grass between our toes. We anticipate the coming growing season and make countless garden layout sketches to satiate ourselves.

So, as we each do what we can to embrace the late winter time of rest and healing, here is a list of activities you can do to keep your green thumbs happy until the crocus start to bloom and the soil wakes from its slumber.

Here are just a few things you can add to your February Gardening To-Do List.

In the Garden & Greenhouse

  • Continue cover the soil with organic matter. This time of year, I use a lot of straw, specifically the stuff that comes out of the chicken coop or duck house. Then, over the next month, I will start adding a 3″ layer of wood chips to the top. Just make sure to keep compost and wood chips away from woody stems (The goal is to have donut shapes not volcanos around the stem / trunk).
  • Remove any remaining dead plant matter from last year. Tomato wilt and fungal diseases can stay in the soil, if it doesn’t get cold enough over the winter. Add to compost pile or burn.
  • Do controlled burns on new garden areas. Check areas again after it rains / snows to see if you have burned it down far enough or need to do it one more time.
Controlled burn area that will end up needing a second burn to get to the roots and destroy old seed heads.
  • Turn the compost pile every few weeks 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.
  • Plant brassicas (early in the month): cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc. These can be planted in the green house mid-month OR indoors in seed trays.
  • Plant night shades (later in the month): tomatoes, peppers, and egg plants. Use heat mats, grow lights, etc. This will keep the seedlings from getting too leggy over the next two months. If you do not use supplemental heat / lighting, you might want to wait until early March to start indoors.
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced here in Kansas City).
  • Start ordering seeds and root stock.
  • Brainstorm garden plan ideas and draw them out, so you are ready once the growing season starts.
  • Consider using new companion plants this year and rotating your usual crop layout.

In the Food Forest

  • Prune all fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and bushes. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Prepare to start tapping for maple syrup. Get your hooks and spouts ready, check the sugar drip lines (if you have a tube harvesting system). The best time for tapping is usually mid-February through mid-March.
  • Remove all rotten or hard fruit (still on the trees) and put in the compost pile.
  • Make bone sauce for deer repellant (recipe coming soon) and apply “spots” on the warmer days. This bone sauce recipe will actually keep deer away from orchard trees for 10+ years.
  • 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, and fish emulsion. Get ready for spring foliar spraying.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).

In the Shed

  • Check mouse traps frequently. Add cotton balls with peppermint oil to deter rodents. This time of year it is common for mice to start having babies, especially in the greenhouse.
  • TIP: Make a tool oiling bucket by filling it with sand and adding a pint or two of oil. You can use old motor oil from your car or even olive olive. Put shovels and spades in this to remove rust and keep oiled.
  • Look for estate sales that might have garden tools. The best tools are often the old wooden handled ones – skip the new ones. Most of the time, they are overpriced and not made with the quality standard they used to be.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them during their own recovery season.
  • Do NOT let a hen go broody yet. Wait until the end of February. The weather fluctuates too much this time of year and that can make it a hard hatch for your girls.
  • Consider hatching eggs indoors in an incubator. Use a reputable company for ordering OR use your own fertilized eggs. Collect hatching eggs and store in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours before putting in the incubator.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • GOATS: If you have goats, you can feed them your used Christmas trees for an extra boost of vitamin C and antioxidants.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Start planning your online orders for barefoot perennial flowers. Consider a company like Hartmann’s or Oikos Tree Crops, where you can order in bulk at a much cheeper price.
  • Winter seed new wild flower beds. If you have an edge area in your yard, this could be the perfect solution for that area. Plus, the less you need to mow, the better! Use a company like Prairie Moon Nursery to order native perennial seed mixes specific to your site needs.
  • Dig new swales and cover with straw or winter wheat seed to prepare for spring gardens.
february swale digging
Swale digging during a warmer winter day
  • Water house plants carefully and start adding a 1/2 dose of nitrogen fertilizer (starting the last week of the month). If you have a fresh water fish tank, you can also use that water when you do water changes. It’s rich in nutrients and fish poo.
    • 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.

Winter Ideas for Kids

wood ear mushroom
  • Go on a hike and look for deer runs and fallen deer antlers.
  • Look for wood ear mushrooms! They love the warmer winter days this time of year and are absolutely delicious. Not to mention, they have no “inedible” look alike in the Kansas City region, so are a safe variety for new mushroom hunters to harvest.
  • Attend a local gardening, mushroom, or permaculture event in your area.
  • Schedule a property consultation to get a professional plan for your property!
  • 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. Have them cut out pictures from your seed catalogue to make a collage to inspire them to plant with you in the spring.

Prepare for the March To-Do List! CLICK HERE

How to Find and Harvest Chaga Mushroom

how to find and harvest chaga

Mushroom hunting is something that many foragers and homesteaders want to try, but for some reason are put off by the fear of being poisoned. However, I would suggest that although mushroom identification can be challenging at first, there are a few species that are easy to identify, hard to miss, and have very few (if any) look a-likes. These species are great starting points for those who want to get starting in the mushroom world. Lion’s Mane, Chaga, Chicken of the Woods, Morel, and Oyster mushrooms are among some of these species that are both easy to identify and use. In this article, we’ll give you a step-by-step process of how to find and harvest chaga mushrooms. A later article (after ours have dried) will be created with tea and tincture recipes for chaga and a few bonus tips on how to use chaga in your coffee.

Health Benefits of Chaga – The King of Mushrooms

  • Nutrient-dense superfood. …
  • Slowing the aging process. …
  • Lowering cholesterol. …
  • Preventing and fighting cancer. …
  • Lowering blood pressure. …
  • Supporting the immune system. …
  • Fighting inflammation. …
  • Lowering blood sugar.

How to Find Chaga

trees for chaga

Step One: Find White Birch

Though chaga will grow on a varieties of trees, the most common is the white (or paper) birch tree (Betula papyrifera). In fact, when growing on this type of tree, the chaga mushroom is the only species that has this growth habit, so you don’t have to worry about mistaking it for another species. Often times, these species of trees grow in sandy soil near pine and oak trees. Because of the bright white bark pealing from the tree, they can be easily seen in the distance. The white bark also makes chaga easy to spot on the side of the trunk.

identifying chaga

Step 2: Look Up

More often than not, chaga will grow 8-10′ or higher in the tree. When hunting, bring a ladder and leave it in the truck while you are looking. Then either mark the tree with bright ribbon OR by dropping a pin on your GPS. You have found a specimen, you can go back and get the ladder. Generally speaking, the larger and healthier species will be higher up in the tree, so be sure to bring a friend with you to help hold the ladder while harvesting. It’s also helpful to have someone to hand the chunks to as you cut them, so you don’t have to drop them on the ground.

How to Identify Chaga

How to identify chaga

Step 3: Look for back and red

When you cut open the chaga, a healthy specimen will have a rough black exterior that resembles burned wood. The interior will have a red / burned orange umber. If the interior looks like wood and has rings, you have found a birch canker which is not edible. However, the black and umber coloring are your primary indicators for a healthy chaga specimen.

How to Harvest Chaga

Step 4: Think about safety

It’s highly recommended to have two people harvesting chaga. One person to hold the ladder (preferably with a helmet and glasses) and a second person who is climbing and chopping. A safety helmet is wise, in case the axe is dropped during harvesting, and the eye protection is best for the person below because chaga tends to come off in hard chunks (with lots of dust).

How to harvest chaga mushroom

Step 5: Use a hand axe to remove

Chaga is nearly impossible to remove with just a knife. The black exterior is extremely hard and the high moisture content makes it like removing part of the tree itself. Use the axe to cut it off in manageable chunks. At this time, you’ll see the healthy and living red interior of the mushroom. Only remove <80% of the mushroom, as it may continue to grow in the years ahead. Often times, the same tree will produce more mushrooms.

foraging chaga

Step 6: Bag it up

As you harvest, because of the way chaga breaks free, you’ll have a variety of sized chunks. I try to bring a few gallon zip-lock bags for the smaller pieces, because I don’t want to waste any. In some cases, you can even bring a tarp for the base of the tree to help collect the smaller chunks as they fall. Don’t worry, if you miss any pieces, the wild turkeys will eat them and be thankful.

How to Prepare Chaga for Use and Storage

how to prepare chaga

Step 7: Cut it up

Chaga has a very high moisture content, so it needs to dry well before consuming and storage. Using a band saw, cut the chaga into chunks about 1″ each. This is possible using a knife, but will likely dull the blade, because the black exterior of the mushroom is extremely hard.

preparing chaga

Step 8: Lay it out to dry

Chaga needs to dry for 6-8 weeks before storage and use. Spread your 1″ chunks out on a sterile surface and turn them weekly to help them dry on all sides. This step should be done in a warm, dry location (i.e. on top of a refrigerator). Once dried, chaga can be used and stored for years.

Your chaga mushroom is now ready for storage and use. There are many ways to incorporate chaga into your diet. In a later article, we’ll give you more tips on how to process, store, and use the chaga.

This is just one of the many topics that will be covered in our winter permaculture design certification course. For more information on this course or upcoming events, click here.

What Can You Plant Between Snows?

What to plant in the winter

In the midst of the winter hibernation, I find myself craving all things GREEN! I want to get outside and play in the dirt again, long for the warm sunshine, and can’t wait to smell the spring flowers. If you are like me, you have frequently googled, “What can you plant between snows?” …only to find very few answers. However, here are a couple of my favorites to help keep your heart hopeful in these long winter months.

Try sowing the following plants in your winter garden, so your yard is ready for springtime.

1 – Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)

Jerusalem artichokes are among the unsung heroes of the food forest garden. The tubers can be eaten like a potato and the fall plant will become 12′ tall with gorgeous yellow flowers. They need a lot of space and spread quickly, so do not plant them in the flower bed. Use them on the edge of the yard or as a full sun-border.

2 – Garlic

Garlic can be planted in the winter any time the soil can be worked. Plant twice the depth of the size of the clove, with the pointy end facing up. Cover with compost or straw when finished. They are best planted among the strawberries, because they form a beneficial relationship and help keep strawberry bugs away. Plant in full sun.

3 – Alliums

Alliums are among my absolute favorite spring flowers. Globemaster and Gigantium are possibly the most stunning garden perennials in my book and an excellent pollinator. Check out the banner on the top of the article for some other varieties. You can often find these bulbs on sale in early winter at local hardware stores. If you think you have bought enough, get two more (you’ll thank me later).

4 – Crocus & other spring bulbs

Most spring flowering bulbs can be planted until the end of January. Although they will not be as prolific as they may have been (had they been planted in November), they will still flower in the spring and flourish the following year. Crocus, narcissus, and muscari all do well in our area. These are all excellent sources of early color in the garden and great pollinators for bees emerging from their dormancy period.

5 – Comfrey

If you are a chicken, goat, or farm animal keeper – comfrey needs to be on your planting list. It is high in minerals and micronutrients, great for biomass creation, and used as a compost additive. Root cuttings are the most economic, and can be planted in the ground during the winter or indoors and transplanted in the early spring. Use the Bocking 14 variety to prevent seed spreading.

If you are looking for some more tips to satisfy your gardening itch in the winter, be sure to read through the December Gardening To-Do List. You can also sign up for our mailing list below for more FREE resources and information on upcoming events.

December Gardening To-Do List

December Gardening To-Do List

Even in the midst of our winter hibernation, there are still things we can be doing outside to prepare for the upcoming growing season. At the same time, for those of us in a temperate climate, the winter season offers us something unique – a time of planned rest.

Winter is a time of restoration, rejuvenation, and healing. It’s like a divine pause for us to reset. During this time there are still crucial things happening that our eyes don’t always see easily.

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 decomposing and returning important nutrients to the soil. Fungal networks are expanding underground to strengthen the soil web. The cold is killing off bacteria and disease in the soil and helping with insect control. The roots of trees continue to grow deeper, even in depths of the winter months. Winter is indeed a time of unsung activity, but should also be a time of rest for you and your garden.

Here are just a few things you can add to your December Gardening To-Do List.

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 or root crops (Jerusalem artichokes, strawberry root stock, dormant shrubs, etc.)
  • Remove any remaining dead plant matter from last year. Tomato wilt and fungal diseases can stay in the soil, if it doesn’t get cold enough over the winter.
  • If you are preparing any new garden beds, you can cover the grassy areas with black tarps for the winter to start killing off the grass and weeds, so it’s easier to work in the spring.
  • Turn the compost pile every few weeks 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.
  • Plant seeds that need to be cold stratified (pawpaw, acorns, etc.)
  • Apply winter soil probiotic and microbial spray (I use a product called BioAg, which is produced here in Kansas City).
  • Test soil samples and begin making amendments.

In the Food Forest

  • Prune all fruit and nut trees, shrubs, and bushes. Remove branches that are preventing light from getting to other branches. Open and airy scaffold structure is best to promote fruiting.
  • Remove all rotten or hard fruit (still on the trees) and put in the compost pile.
  • Check for deer damage (eating branches, buck rubs, etc.) at least 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, and fish emulsion.
  • Finish any winter mulching (wait for compost until spring, so you don’t add too much nitrogen now).
Winter Gardening List at BRFE
Blue River Forest Experience – Host site for the January 2020 Permaculture Design Certification Course

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Around the House & Perennial Beds

  • Continue to plant spring bulbs every time the soil thaws. This can be done all 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.

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.

Cancer Fighting Food and Medicinal Forest

In this article, we explore the possibilities of a cancer fighting food and medicinal forest, which has been specifically designed for the Midwest USA.

Food forests are a low-maintenance agroforestry system that mimic the natural production of a woodland forest edge.  Plants in a food forest are arranged in a way that work in synergy with the natural succession of species in an ecosystem and maximizes their food producing potential.  The practice of permaculture (permanent agriculture) seeks to work in harmony with the natural growth processes in order to create a system that speeds up the natural growth pattern of an area.  What might take over 100 years in a natural, untouched system, permaculture systems can accomplish in a matter of 3-5 years.  After just a few years, there could be a food and medicine producing forest that would provide for those fighting cancer.  The food forest creates an ecosystem of productive abundance and is both low-maintenance and long-lasting.  This type of system can last hundreds of years, once established, and can provide abundant healing foods for generations to come.  

In our cancer fighting planting guild, we have strategically selected plant varieties that have specific anti-carcinogenic properties and immune boosting benefits.  We have designed a system where each plant can serve the one planted next to it.  For example, nitrogen fixing cassia plants help fertilize walnut and plum trees.  Locust trees provide compost and living mulch, creating biomass for elderberries and goji berries.  Cancer fighting herbs are also used to attract beneficial insects to help pollinate the berry bushes.  

Each and every element in this system have been selected for growing US Growing Zone 6, but the pattern could be mimicked in other regions as well by swapping out certain species.  This Cancer Fighting Medicinal & Memorial Garden is designed specifically for climate in Kansas City, MO.

As someone who has battled cancer, I have designed this system using elements that were beneficial me in my fight against cancer.  Though natural health remedies have not been approved by the US Food and Drub Administration, there is on-going research taking place across the globe and growing anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of natural health and food as medicine.  

Cancer fighting food and medicinal forest
Cancer Fighting Food and Medicinal Forest (Diagram above is for zone 9a)

Goals of the project

  1. To create a productive food system to benefit those who are currently in their own battle against cancer.
  2. To create a learning garden for students, kids, and families.
  3. To create a Memorial Garden for those of us who have lost loved ones to this horrible disease, and who believe that the cure for cancer may lie beyond the pharmaceutical industry.  

In essence, this Cancer Fighting Medical Garden is being planted to inspire hope, remember loved ones, and to provide productive abundance for those battling this sickness.

Elements of the Cancer Fighting Food Forest


Layer 1: Top Story Trees

Black Walnuts in a food forest

BLACK WALNUT TREE
Walnuts have multiple cancer fighting benefits, and are the only nut that contain a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (2.5 grams per ounce). Walnuts also contain a variety of antioxidants (3.7 mmol/ounce) and numerous vitamins and minerals.  Walnuts have fatty acids are also shown to have cancer fighting benefits.

Siberian pea in a food forest

SIBERIAN PEA
This nitrogen fixing tree help fertilize the soil using nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots.  It can also be “chopped and dropped” to provide biomass and much for other elements in the food forest system.  The tree provides edible seeds which have 36% protein, which is comparable to soybeans

plum tree cancer fighting

PLUM TREE
Shown to have cancer fighting benefits including high fiber and polyphenols.  They have high levels of anti-oxidants and vitamin C.  There is ongoing research specifically for colon and breast cancers.  In the food forest, plums are a delicious over-story tree, which also provide pollination for insects.


Layer 2: Small Trees and Shrubs

elderberry benefits for fighting cancer

ELDERBERRY
Flowers and berries have been traditionally used as an immune tonic to help strengthen the natural defense against disease.  The berries are also high in vitamin C, which is a known cancer fighter and immune system booster.  In the food forest, it’s an excellent pollinator as well as shade producer.


Layer 3: Small Shrubs and Bushes

Goji berries and cancer fighting

GOJI BERRIES
High levels of vitamin C, strong antioxidant, and all around superfood.  This plant in the food forest has stunning flowers and provides not only food, but also pollination .

Currants in the food forest

CURRANTS
Help create healthy bacteria in the gut as well as having high amounts of anthocyanin, which have an ‘anti-tumour’ effect on some cancers.  Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

gooseberries and cancer

GOOSEBERRY
Contain alma, which is being studied by the European Cancer Institute as a ‘wonder berry’ to combat tumor growth in several types of cancers.  High in antioxidants, and as a plant is cold-hardy and disease resistant. 


Layer 4: Herbaceous

echinacea purpurea and cancer

ECHINACEA PURPUREA
All parts of this plant can be used to make an herbal tea to boost the immune system.  It’s an excellent pollinator for beneficial insects and bees, and provides natural beauty and color in the food forest.  There are several native bees and caterpillars that use this plant as their host plant, all of which are beneficial in the garden.

oregano medicinal herb

OREGANO
Anti-viral, anti-fungal, cancer fighting properties.  Helps boost the overall immune response.  Provides pollination and ground cover benefits to keep the soil protected.  Keeps away garden pests and repels deer and other animals who would eat the tree branches.

rosemary to fight cancer

ROSEMARY
Rich in carnosol, rosemary has been found to detoxify substances that can initiate the breast cancer process, and it’s a rich source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), another powerful antioxidant.  Serves as a pollinator and insectary plant.


Layer 5: Ground Covers

astragalus

ASTRAGALUS
 It has immune-stimulating effects and may help to reduce side effects from chemotherapy, and boosts the immune-response of the body.  In the food forest, it’s an excellent pollinator, ground cover, and insectary plant.  

red clover ground cover

RED CLOVER
 Extracts act as an estrogen agonist and stimulates proliferation of ER-positive breast cancer cells in vitro.  It’s also used for skin cancer treatment and as a tea to detoxify the body and boost circulation of the blood.  In the medicinal garden it is not only a nitrogen fixing plant, but also a colorful pollinator. 


Layer 6: Roots and Mushrooms

turmeric for fighting cancer

TURMERIC
Curcumin, the constituent in turmeric has been shown to inhibit bone cancer cells while promoting growth of healthy bone cells.  It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.

garlic in the food forest

GARLIC
Several compounds are involved in garlics possible anticancer effects. Garlic contains allyl sulfur and other compounds that slow or prevent the growth of tumor cells.

reishi mushrooms to fight cancer


REISHI MUSHROOM
Research in cancer patients has shown that some of the molecules found in the mushroom can increase the activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. Reishi mushroom can enhance immune function through its effects on white blood cells, which can help  fight infection and cancer.

turkey tail to fight cancer

TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM
The polysaccharopeptide found in turkey tail mushrooms, inhibited the growth and spread of human colon cancer cells.  A certain type of polysaccharide found in turkey tail mushrooms called Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG) may suppress certain tumors, specifically breast cancer cells. 


Layer 7: Vines

Hardy Kiwi midwest food forest

HARDY KIWI
Kiwi is a little hand grenade of cancer-fighting antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and copper.   This cold-hardy vine is a high producer, great pollinator, and does well in a food forests part shade.

purple yams

PURPLE YAM
Climbing vine and support species that has also been shown to benefit breast and colon cancer patients. Promising research suggests that two anthocyanins in purple yams — cyanidin and peonidin — may reduce the growth of certain types of cancers.


Sample of a Full System

NOTE:  The diagram below is actually for a similar guild for Zone 9a/b, but the concept of placement and repetition is similar for a Midwest planting


October Gardening To-Do List

Blue River Forest Experience in Overland Park, KS

Here is a list of things you should be doing in your yard in the month of October. Pay attention to the garden, house, shed, orchard, animals, and of course… the kiddos! This is your Kansas City October Gardening To-Do list.

In the garden

  • Harvest late season veggies that you planted in August, including: kale, lettuce, cucumbers, swiss chard, brassicas, etc.
  • Harvest and process the last of your late summer veggies (especially nightshades) like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, etc. Watch the weather carefully for early frosts, so you can cover plants with sheets or poly-tunnels to extend your growing season.
  • Harvest and dry herbs (rosemary, holy basil, oregano, etc.)
  • Plant garlic for next year.
  • Save seeds and store in a cool, dry place.
  • Store winter veggies like squash and pumpkins.
  • Plant cover crop mixes for the winter (clover, legumes, vetch, winter wheat, etc) OR cover your soil with 4-6″ of straw or woodchips. Never leave garden soil exposed to the elements, especially in the winter.
  • Apply winter probiotic spray (I use BioAg by SCD Probiotics) to all gardens, flower beds, and orchard soil. I use this both as a foliar and soil spray to help keep microflora healthy and the soil biome in pristine condition.
  • Test garden soil and make fall amendments. In Kansas City, we have a lot of clay and limestone, so we should ALL be adding compost to your soil every fall.
BioAg Probiotic Concentrate

In the Greenhouse

  • Plant another round of: kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, radishes, Diakon, mixed greens, snow peas, etc.
  • Spray soil with probiotic spray
  • Plant seeds that need winter stratification, like Paw Paw, so they get a jumpstart in the springtime.
  • Bring all outdoor pots inside the greenhouse to extend growing season.
  • Start cleaning tools. All metal should to cleaned with steel wool and then rubbed down with oil to protect them over the winter. Store in a dry place to prevent rusting.
October Gardening To-Do List | Plant Diakon Radishes

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest apples, paw paw, persimmons, blackberries, and any remaining fruit.
  • Spray all fruit trees with probiotic spray, neam oil (for bugs and fungus control), and keep areas beneath the trees clear of waste.
  • Fresh compost and mulch around the base of the trees for winter. You can also use chopped leaves from trees around your yard. Do NOT use other fruit tree leaves if you can avoid it, because you don’t want to let any fungus or disease overwinter in the food forest.
  • Divide plants that are big enough to multiply and share (i.e. comfrey, berries, perennial flowers, etc.)
  • Harvest any remaining herbs (dry them, make tinctures, give away, or make an herbal broth for cooking). Some herbs can actually be frozen in olive oil (using ice cube trays) for use over the winter.
  • Plant cover crops for the winter in any lanes or open spaces.
  • Plant new trees in the orchard and food forest once leaves have dropped. Fall is perfect for planting!

In the Shed

  • Empty and store flower pots
  • Clean and oil all tools
  • Empty gas from machines that are finished for the season
  • Add mouse traps. TIP: You can also soak cotton balls or fabric in water with peppermint essential oil and put them in the corners to deter mice.

In the Chicken Coop for October

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them with molting season.
  • Add a small amount of corn to their diet to help with caloric intake before winter.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale for winter prep.
  • Clean and sterilize your coop and get ready for winterizing (have extra straw on hand for the winter months).
  • Make plans for water freezing over the winter (more next month). Add probiotics to your water to get birds healthy for winter. You can use a mixture of honey, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder as one approach. I also rotate in BioLivestock, which is a blend of probiotics, beneficial microbes, and bio-fermented organic acids.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed pumpkin and squash 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.
October Gardening To-Do List
October Gardening To-Do List

Around the House

  • Clean out gutters on eavestroughs
  • Check caulk around windows and doors
  • Check / change light bulbs around the yard
  • Chop leaves as they fall by mowing them up. Never rake and put them to the road, because you are literally sending nutrients away from your yard.
  • Prune dead branches and chop for burning
  • Power wash sidewalks, sides of house, etc
  • Drain and store hoses if the weather starts freezing
  • Change air filters on HVAC and check pilot lights on your heater before turning everything on. It’s also smart to vacuum out all ductwork / register vents and add a few drops of essential oils to them to keep things fresh.
  • Fall clean out of the garage and shed
  • Put up any winter window treatments (shrink film on thin windows)
  • Check batteries on carbon monoxide detectors (replace every three years) and check batteries on smoke detectors.
  • Chimney maintenance and fire place testing
cut back spent perennials

Perennial Flower Beds in October

  • Cut back spent plants, but leave as much as you can for winter interest, especially if there are seed heads. I recommend pruning back fully in the spring, because many butterflies and beneficial insects have already laid eggs and are in a chrysalis form on your plants now, and they will not hatch until spring.
  • Plant spring bulbs. Rule of thumb… buy 2-3x as much as you THINK you want, because you’ll always want more.
  • Remove and compost faded annuals. Don’t throw them away – definitely compost them!
  • Divide large perennials and multiply in your garden OR share with friends.
  • Store tender bulbs like cannas, elephant ears, and dahlias.
  • Cover all soil with either compost, chopped leaves from your yard, or wood chips. NEVER leave your soil exposed to the winter elements.

Ideas for Kids

  • Make a fort with sticks and branches and then cover in leaves
  • Have at least a few times where you rake piles of leaves and let the kids jump and play
  • Make fall bird feeders and put them around the yard
  • Use peanut butter and spread on the trunks of trees, then press birdseed into it to attract woodpeckers
  • Fall nature walks are a must
  • Take the kids to green house this fall. Many local nurseries offer free fall activities for kids, pumpkin patches, etc.
  • Buy each kid a tree / shrub to plant in the yard or food forest. Help them pick it out and let them know it’s “their tree”.
Suburban Lawn and Garden
Fall hay rides at Suburban Lawn and Garden in Martin City, MO

Feel free to add comments below as to what is on your October Gardening To-Do List