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.

December Gardening To-Do List for Zones 3-8

Winter Gardening List at BRFE

December Gardening To-Do List

Even in the midst of our winter hibernation, there are still things we can be doing outside as we look back on fond memories of the last growing season. For those in a cold-temperate climate, the winter season offers us something unique – a time of planned rest. If you are from a warmer climate (USDA Zone 9-11, CLICK HERE for a list specific to subtropical climates).

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.

Sometimes though, we have to see more with our eyes closed than our eyes open.

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 in Kansas City, MO).
  • Test soil samples and begin making amendment plans for springtime.

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, 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).
Winter Gardening List at BRFE
Blue River Forest Experience – Permaculture Property in Stillwell, KS that hosts after school programs for kids

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. 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.

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 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.

What To Do on Your Property in November (Zones 3-8)

November Garden Tasks

Home, Garden, & Food Forest To-Do List

The summer air is now officially crisp.  The mornings require jackets and scarves, and the evenings are perfect for snuggling under a blanket next to a campfire.  It’s time to finish cleaning up from the growing season and get ready for winter rest and planning.  This To-Do List is geared toward those in cooler climate areas (USDA Zones 3-8), but if you are looking for a list for this month for USDA Growing Zones 9-11, CLICK HERE.

For those of you enjoying “true fall”… here is your November property to-do list.  Be sure to share it with friends on social media and let’s get out into the garden together!

In the Garden

  • Things to Plant by Seed:  Garlic and spring bulbs.  For a list of what you can do all winter for spring bulbs…click here.  
  • Harvest:  The last of the winter veggies… kale, cabbage, fall turnips, swiss chard, and greens.
  • Mulch:  It’s time to cover those gardens for the winter.  NEVER leave soil exposed to the winter elements in the garden, food forest, or flower beds.  Add wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes (wood chips create a fungal dominated soil, which trees prefer).  Keep the chips away from the stems and trucks though.   Add another layer of straw around garden veggies, because straw creates a bacterially dominated soil, which is preferred by annual veggies.  These will decompose slowly over the winter and make things nice and rich for you in the springtime. 

Enjoy the last blooms of the native asters before they go into dormancy. Save seed to spread other places too!

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: If you are planting in the ground, it’s time to start greens like radishes, turnips, and beets. If you are planting in raised beds or tray in the green house, you can do much of the same and even microgreens!
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and unused pots
  • Store pots in a shed or garage with cardboard between them
  • Set mouse traps to control critters in sheds and greenhouses
  • Stop fertilizing all houseplants until spring

Cold season flowers and cover crops can be grown in the greenhouse or hoop house all winter long! This calendula pic was from December in Kansas.

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest ripe fruit: Persimmon, last of the paw paw, acorns, nuts, and other final forest gifts.
  • Plant cold hardy fruit trees: Peach, plum, pear, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, goji berry, lingonberry, aronia berry, hazelnut, pecan, persimmon, and appleUse our FREE GUIDE on “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush” as a quick tutorial.
  • Probiotic time! This is an excellent time to refresh the probiotic in your soil, spray fruit trees, berry bushes, and help activate compost piles before winter. We recommend using BioAg, by SCDProbiotics. Use the code: __________ for a 10% OFF your purchase.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest the last of the legume trees (honeysuckle, Japanese pagoda, Siberian pea, Russian Olive, etc.) and drop them at the base of your fruit trees.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with cool air and moisture, fungal issues can pop-up overnight, so a nice fall application can help prevent this damage over the winter months.
  • Pastures: Fall sow wildflower seeds to improve pasture health.
  • TIP: When your neighbors rake their leaves and do their fall yard clean-up, ask for the bags of leaf litter (usually out at the road) to add to your compost pile. That’s free organic matter to help build your soil! Their trash is your treasure.

Persimmon are best when fully ripe or after falling from the tree.

In the Shed

  • After heavy fall use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors). Use SeaFoam in each power tool to help clean things out a bit before fall storage.
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust while they are stored for the winter.
  • Check for holes in the walls or along the floor to prevent mice from entering over the winter. Fill or patch accordingly.
  • Bleach all storage containers to sterilize them for the winter.
  • Plug in ultrasonic mouse deterrents to prevent nesting during winter months.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Feed extra protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins this month. Birds are finishing with their fall molting season, so they need the extra boost to help replenish their feathers and energy reserves. You can help them out by feeding them live minnows, meal worms, canned tuna, etc. Do NOT heat your coops over the winter. Instead, follow this guide on “How to Help Chickens Stay Warm in the Winter.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • Add BioLiveStock (probiotics) to all animal waterers this month to help their microbiome and gut health as they enter the winter months.
  • Feed spent pumpkins and fall gourds to the chickens and goats. They might need to be cut open first, but this highly nutritious snack is perfect for the barnyard friends!
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Open up the windows on warmer days to help air out the house and let in fresh air
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Have chimney cleaned and inspected before starting for the first time in the winter
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent winter damage
  • Slow down or stop fertilization from November – February (especially nitrogen). Instead, use kelp to help stimulate uptake of remaining minerals and stimulate root growth.
Bring gourds, pumpkins, and squash indoors are “store” on your table as an edible decoration until you are ready to eat them. Collect dried grasses and branches while out on nature walks, but always ask for permission if you don’t own the land yourself.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Only cut back perennials with “soft stems” that will rot over the winter. Leave as many seed heads and spent flowers as you can for winter homes for insects and food sources for wild birds. Wait until early spring to cut them back.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Before a rainy day, add probiotics to your soil for the winter months. This is a great way to help balance out nematodes in the soil, build soil structure, and improve overall soil health. You can purchase organic products like BioAG (that’s what we have used for over a decade), which will store on the shelf for years and has a fantastic probiotic blend.

Fall is a great time to plant native wild flower seed mixes

Comment below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

What to do on Your Property in November (Zones 9-11)

November Garden Tasks

Home, Garden, & Food Forest To-Do List

Finally – the summer heat has ended and there are slightly cooler temps in the forecast.  While some fruit trees and berry bushes are finishing up their production, the annual vegetable garden is ramping up and starting to produce.  In the cooler climates (USDA Zones 3-8), the gardening season is just ending, but here in the south we are just getting started.  If you are looking for the “November To-Do List” for USDA Zones 3-8, click here.

For those of you in USDA Zones 9-11… here is your November property to-do list.  Be sure to share it with friends on social media and let’s get out into the garden together!

In the Garden

  • Things to Plant by Seed:  radishes, turnips, beets, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy, komatsuna greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cosmos, zinnia, sunflowers, and onion sets.  
  • Harvest:  Greens, kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, okra
  • Fall Tea:  Jamaican sorrel (Roselle) calyxes can be used for tea.  You can also use leaves from olives, moringa, Spanish needle, cranberry hibiscus, and lemon balm for refreshing teas and tisanes.  Enjoy these teas over ice and add organic raw honey from a local bee keeper.
  • Mulch:  Keep bare soil covered completely to prevent water evaporation and protect microorganisms.  Add a little more compost and wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes (wood chips create a fungal dominated soil, which trees prefer).  Add another layer of straw around garden veggies, because straw creates a bacterially dominated soil, which is preferred by annual veggies.

Winter Mexican Avocado is a late season cultivar. Ripens November through January.

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: cranberry hibiscus, roselle, surinam spinach, longevity spinach, etc. Save cuttings in a protected area for your “insurance policy” in case we have a hard winter.
  • Trees to plant: peach, plum, pear, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, loquat, moringa, pecan, persimmon, black surinam cherry, yellow star cherry, etc. A Natural Farm, located in Central Florida has an incredible selection of certified organic fruit trees and berry bushes for Zones 8-11 and they actually ship nationwide.
  • Clean and sterilize equipment and unused pots
  • Set mouse traps to control critters in sheds and greenhouses
  • Hang up yellow jacket traps
  • Prepare to remove your shade cloths, and have your solar tarps put back up
  • Move orchids, vanilla, pandan, and other cold sensitive plants into the greenhouse

Time to start moving orchids indoors on cooler nights

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest Berries: dwarf ever-bearing mulberry, Barbados cherry, strawberry tree, etc.
  • Harvest ripe fruit: Sugar apple, star fruit (carambola), java plum, June plum, winter Mexican avocado, Apple cactus, dragon fruit, pineapples, Jaboticaba, persimmon, etc. Many varieties available online at A Natural Farm.
  • Plant cold hardy fruit trees: Peach, pear, plum, nectarine, blueberry, elderberry, tropical cherries, loquats, etc. Use our FREE GUIDE on “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush” as a quick tutorial.
  • Probiotic time! This is an excellent time to refresh the probiotic in your soil, spray fruit trees, berry bushes, and help activate compost piles before winter. We recommend using BioAg, by SCDProbiotics. Use the code: __________ for a 10% OFF your purchase.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest the last of the moringa, legumes, and pigeon pea for chop-and-drop. Chop and drop your pigeon peas and Mexican sunflowers.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with cool air and moisture, fungal issues can pop-up overnight. Trees that are the most susceptible: sugar apple, sour sop, June plum, kratom, ginger, and coffee.
  • Bananas: leave all the dead leaves around the truck for winter insulation. Do not cut the dead matter back until Easter.
  • Hold off on fertilizing and composting until February. Focus on mulch. Plants need to focus this time of year on root growth and hardening off (instead of new foliage growth).
  • Pastures: Plant wildflower seeds (in small batches) to make use of the last of the rainy season. Plant black oats, winter wheat, daikon radish, turnips, clover mix, and sunflowers.
  • TIP: When your neighbors rake their leaves and do their fall yard clean-up, ask for the bags of leaf litter (usually out at the road) to add to your compost pile. That’s free organic matter to help build your soil! Their trash is your treasure.

Persimmon are best when fully ripe or after falling from the tree.

In the Shed

  • After heavy summer use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors). Use SeaFoam in each power tool to help clean things out a bit.
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust.
  • Check for holes in the walls or along the floor to prevent mice from entering over the winter. Fill or patch accordingly.
  • Bleach all storage containers to sterilize them for the winter.
  • Plug in ultrasonic mouse deterrents to prevent nesting during winter months.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Feed extra protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins this month. Birds are finishing with their fall molting season, so they need the extra boost to help replenish their feathers and energy reserves. You can help them out by feeding them live minnows, meal worms, canned tuna, etc.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Coop clean out: On a sunny day with a breeze, clean out the coop in the morning. Use Basic H organic cleaner and spray everything out. Leave the coop open all day to dry it out with good airflow. Clean out all waterers and feeders using a bleach solution.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • Add BioLiveStock (probiotics) to all animal waterers this month to help their microbiome and gut health as they enter the winter months.
  • Plant winter cover crops on previously foraged areas: clover, radish, turnip, sorghum, sunflower, and lezpedeza.
  • Feed spent pumpkins and fall gourds to the chickens and goats. they might need to be cut open first, but this highly nutritious snack is perfect for the barnyard friends!
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Open up the windows on cooler days to help air out the house and let in fresh air
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Wash windows (inside and out). Use a product like “Invisible Glass” to avoid streaks.
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent winter damage
  • Slow down or stop fertilization from November – February (especially nitrogen). Instead, use kelp to help stimulate uptake of remaining minerals and stimulate root growth.
Bring gourds, pumpkins, and squash indoors are “store” on your table as an edible decoration until you are ready to eat them. Collect dried grasses and branches while out on nature walks, but always ask for permission if you don’t own the land yourself.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Only cut back perennials with “soft stems” that will rot over the winter. Leave as many seed heads and spent flowers as you can for winter homes for insects and food sources for wild birds. Wait until early spring to cut them back.
  • Cut back any spent annual flowers and begin planting winter flowers (pansies, snapdragons, violas, cosmos, zinnia, etc.)
  • Take cuttings of cassava, Mexican Sunflower, chaya, etc. Store indoors OR start them in a protected porch.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Before a rainy day, add probiotics to your soil for the winter months. This is a great way to help balance out nematodes in the soil, build soil structure, and improve overall soil health. You can purchase organic products like BioAG (that’s what we have used for over a decade), which will store on the shelf for years and has a fantastic probiotic blend.

Fall is a great time to plant native wild flower seed mixes

Comment below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

August Gardening To-Do List fo Zones 9-11

august to do list florida

What to do on your property in August

It’s the peak of the summer heat and this is the time of year that our gardens are feeling it the most.  However, there are still plenty of things to be doing on your property this month.  Remember, in subtropical climates… July and August are (and should be) a bit slower, so be sure to take it easy and stay hydrated!

This list is tailored for warm temperate and subtropical climate growing zones, but if you are looking for cold temperate lists…  Click here for USDA Zones 3-8.

In the Garden

  • Things to plant by seed:  squash, zucchini, pumpkins, corn, beans, eggplant, watermelon, tomatoes, and more pumpkins.
  • Harvest:  Okra, tropical spinaches (longevity, Okinawa, Brazilian, and Suriname).   You can also use leaves from cranberry hibiscus, South Sea Salad, and Bele hibiscus for salads. Butterfly pea flowers are in full bloom and can be used in salads or tea.
  • Summer Tea:  Jamaican sorrel (Roselle) calyxes can be used for tea.  You can also use leaves from olives, moringa, Spanish needle, cranberry hibiscus, and lemon balm for refreshing summer teas and tisanes.  Enjoy these teas over ice and add organic raw honey from a local bee keeper.
  • Mulch:  Keep bare soil covered completely to prevent water evaporation and protect microorganisms.  Add a little more compost and wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes.  Add another layer of straw around garden veggies. 
  • Sunn Hemp:  This is the month to chop and drop your sunn hemp.  It can be buried for faster decomposition or left on top of the soil to break down.  Cattle and horses can eat it BEFORE the flowers bloom, but it should not be fed to livestock once flowering has started.

It’s time to start making tinctures and drying herbs.

In the Greenhouse

  • Start taking cuttings: elderberry, sugarcane, Barbados cherry, fig, etc.
  • Plant trees / shrubs by seed: Jaboticaba, miracle fruit, loquat, mimosa, moringa, etc.
  • Clean and sterilize the plastic pots used this winter / spring
  • Set mouse traps to control critters
  • Hang fly trap to control aphids, flies, and other pests

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest berries that are ripe: elderberry, dwarf ever-bearing mulberry, muscadine and souther home grapes, and olives.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Avocados: Keep mulching and adding compost around the base of avocados.
  • Chop & Drop: Time to harvest a round of moringa, legumes, and pigeon pea for chop-and-drop. Doing this now will ensure another harvest before winter months.
  • Herbs around fruit trees:  Start harvesting herbs to dry and make tinctures.
  • Harvest elderberries:  If you are making elderberry tinctures, teas, or wine – now is your time to harvest. Whatever you do not harvest, the birds will take care of for you. It is also a great time to harvest elderberry canes for cuttings and propagation.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed. This time of year with heat and humidity, fungal issues can pop-up overnight. Trees that are the most susceptible: sugar apple, sour sop, June plum, kratom, ginger, and coffee.
  • Continue planting fruit trees and berry bushes during the rainy season. For a tutorial on how to plant, click here…
  • Install a banana circle
  • Hold off on fertilizing until next month. Use this month to allow the plants to grow during the last of the rainy season.
  • Pastures: Plant wildflower seeds (in small batches) to make use of the last of the rainy season. Plant Timothy grass in pastures for cattle and livestock. Use 2-4lbs per acre if you are mixing into an established pasture. Timothy grass is high fiber and has great energy content (lower protein). It is drought tolerant and has a lower moisture content.

Reminder: Elderberry must be cooked before eating.

In the Shed

  • After heavy spring and summer use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors).
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust.
  • Sweep and clean out cluttered areas. Spend time working in the shade.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Some of the early spring chickens will start laying soon. Once the first egg has appeared, switch chickens over to a layer feed and/or provide supplemental calcium.
  • Harvest comfrey and feed to chickens, horses, goats, and cattle.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Deworm: Use 1 tablespoon of Basic H in a 5 gallon waterer (1tsp per gal) for chickens. Add 1.5 cups to a 100gal waterer basin for cattle and horses. Available in bulk (much cheeper for farm use) This should be their only water source for two days.
  • Coop clean out: On a sunny day with a breeze, clean out the coop in the morning. Use Basic H organic cleaner and spray everything out. Leave the coop open all day to dry it out with good airflow. Clean out all waterers and feeders using a bleach solution.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • CLICK HERE for extra tips on keeping chickens cool during hot summer months.
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Keep South and West facing shades closed during the day time in order to block out the hot sun.
  • Open up the windows on cooler nights to help air out the house and let in fresh air.
  • Replace your HVAC filters
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Wash windows (inside and out). Use a product like “Invisible Glass” to avoid streaks.
  • Apply UV protectant to your recreational vehicles (boats, car interiors, RV’s, decals, etc.
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent sun damage
  • Give houseplants a good fertilization and shower to clean off leaves
Add kid-friendly elements, hobbit holes, and fairies to the perennial flower bed.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Cut back spent flowers in order to get a second bloom. Spent flower heads can be fed to chickens or composted.
  • Cut back any spent annual flowers and start planting new cosmos, zinnias, etc. Plant a little at a time to prolong your blooming season.
  • Take cuttings of cassava, Mexican Sunflower, chaya, etc.
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Bring cut flowers indoors and share with neighbors, especially those who are shut-ins or elderly
  • Find / create garden activities that involve kids.
Kids picking flowers at the Blue River Forest Experience in Overland Park, KS. This organization hosts after school nature activities and summer camps.

Comment Below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.  

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

LOOKING FOR THE AUGUST LIST FOR COOLER CLIMATES? CLICK HERE

August Gardening To-Do List for Zones 3-8

What to do on your Property in August – Cold Temperate Climates

It’s the peak of the summer heat and this is the time of year that our gardens are feeling it the most.  However, there are still plenty of things to be doing on your property this month.  This list is tailored for cold temperate climate growing zones, but if you are looking for warm temperate or sub-tropical growing zone lists CLICK HERE.

In the Garden

  • Things to plant by seed:  beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips.
  • Fall greens:  In order to stagger your harvest times later in the fall, consider planting smaller amounts of fall greens (salad mixes, kale, etc.) every other week.  The same can be done with beets and radishes.
  • Brassicas:   Plant broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower by seed or transplants.  Keep them well-watered (1″ per week) as they get established and mulch with straw around the base to cover the soil and prevent water evaporation.
  • Harvest:  tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and other night shades.  Prop up plants as needed to provide support.  
  • Mulch:  Keep bare soil covered completely to prevent water evaporation and protect microorganisms.  Add a little more compost and wood chips around fruit trees and berry bushes.  Add another layer of straw around garden veggies.  
  • Compost application:  Add fresh organic compost to strawberry patch (thin them while you apply compost).  You can also add compost to bramble canes (blackberries and raspberries) to improve next years harvest.

It’s time to start making tinctures and drying herbs.

In the Greenhouse

  • We are finished with the “greenhouse” season, but if you have a shade cloth, you can actually open up all the windows now and put the shade cloth over the top. This will allow you to start micro-greens and other later season veggie starts. If using a shade cloth, use the opened greenhouse for your indoor tropical plants to give them a season outdoors. Just be sure to pay attention to your watering!
  • Clean and sterilize the plastic pots used this winter / spring
  • Set mouse traps to control critters
  • Hang fly trap to control aphids, flies, and other pests

In the Food Forest

  • Harvest berries that are ripe: goji, elderberry, brambles, etc.
  • Mulch: Apply mulch / wood-chips around the base of fruit trees. Keep the wood chips away from the base of the tree, because if they touch the trunk it can cause rot or bacterial issues. Wood chips will encourage mycorrhizal activity and strengthen the root system.
  • Herbs around fruit trees:  Start harvesting herbs to dry and make tinctures.
  • Harvest elderberries:  If you are making elderberry tinctures, teas, or wine – now is your time to harvest. Whatever you do not harvest, the birds will take care of for you. It is also a great time to harvest elderberry canes for cuttings and propagation.
  • Watch for fungal issues on leaves and apply organic neem spray as needed.
  • Plant late summer ground covers in any “bare spots” around the forest. Consider things like daikon radish or crimson clover. Water the first 10-12 days until established.
  • Wait to plant new fruit trees and berry bushes until next month, when the heat dials down a few notches.

Reminder: Elderberry must be cooked before eating.

In the Shed

  • After heavy spring and summer use, give power tools a quick check (oil, air filters, and clean off exteriors).
  • Check mouse traps and keep animal feed in sealed containers.
  • Give cutting tools a good cleaning (using rubbing alcohol) and oil afterwards to prevent rust.

In the Chicken Coop

  • Chickens:  Some of the early spring chickens will start laying soon. Once the first egg has appeared, switch chickens over to a layer feed and/or provide supplemental calcium.
  • Harvest comfrey and feed to chickens, horses, goats, and cattle.
  • Quail:  Mix apple cider vinegar and honey with their water once a week. Pick fresh flowers and grass seed heads to put inside their coop and nesting area. This is a great time to provide supplemental protein using meal worms and small crickets.
  • Deworm: Use 1 tablespoon of Basic H in a 5 gallon waterer (1tsp per gal) for chickens. Add 1.5 cups to a 100gal waterer basin for cattle and horses. Available in bulk (much cheeper for farm use) This should be their only water source for two days.
  • Coop clean out: On a sunny day with a breeze, clean out the coop in the morning. Use Basic H organic cleaner and spray everything out. Leave the coop open all day to dry it out with good airflow. Clean out all waterers and feeders using a bleach solution.
  • Add wood ash to the dustbath to help prevent and treat lice and mites.
  • CLICK HERE for extra tips on keeping chickens cool during hot summer months.
Chickens eating a ground cover of wheatgrass, radish, and clover.

Around the House

  • Keep South and West facing shades closed during the day time in order to block out the hot sun.
  • Open up the windows on cooler nights to help air out the house and let in fresh air.
  • Replace your HVAC filters
  • Check batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Wash windows (inside and out). Use a product like “Invisible Glass” to avoid streaks.
  • Clean outdoor windows and doors (I use Basic H for this)
  • Apply UV protectant to your recreational vehicles (boats, car interiors, RV’s, decals, etc.
  • Spray tire shine and protectant on vehicle and trailer tires to prevent sun damage
  • Give houseplants a good fertilization and shower to clean off leaves
Add kid-friendly elements, hobbit holes, and fairies to the perennial flower bed.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Dead-heading: Cut back spent flowers in order to get a second bloom. Spent flower heads can be fed to chickens or composted.
  • Plant seeds of larkspur, holly hocks, and poppies for next year
  • Add extra wood chips to areas that are in full sun in order to protect soil health and microbial activity
  • Bring cut flowers indoors and share with neighbors, especially those who are shut-ins or elderly
  • Find / create garden activities that involve kids.
Kids picking flowers at the Blue River Forest Experience in Overland Park, KS. This organization hosts after school nature activities and summer camps.

Comment Below and let us know what YOU are doing this month in your garden.  

If this list was helpful to you, consider sharing it on social media or sending to friends who may benefit from it as well.

LOOKING FOR THE AUGUST LIST FOR WARMER CLIMATES? CLICK HERE

What to Plant Under an Oak Tree in Florida

The live oaks, swamp oaks, and scrub oaks of Florida can be some of the most challenging areas to grow under. In the Midwest and cold climates, there is a similar problem planting under black walnut trees. The dense canopy and high tannins in the soil make it hard for many species to thrive. However, this area is prime real estate for many types of plants. So if you are someone who has been wondering what you can plant under an oak tree in Florida… this article is for you!

Best Plants for Under and Oak Tree in Florida

1 – Spiral Ginger

This gorgeous tropical plant grows in part – full shade and looks like a corkscrew pattern. The spiral shape adds visual interest to the landscape and both the flowers and roots are edible and medicinal. Roots can be saved year-to-year or just left in the ground and grown perennially. (Cheilocostus speciosus)

2 – Aloe

Plants in the aloe family do really well under the canopy of the oak tree. The dappled light gives the perfect place to add succulents for texture and visual interest. Most succulents (like aloe and desert roses) will stay put and will not spread, but shade plants like mother-in-law tongue may spread over a larger area. (barbadensis miller)

3 – Shampoo Ginger

This popular landscape ginger may not be the best edible variety, but the water that comes from the cone (when squeezed) is excellent for a shampoo or soap alternative. It is also beneficial for skin health and treating / preventing fungal issues. You can add the water to your shower gel OR use it directly on the skin. (Zingiber zerumbet)

4 – Black Turmeric

This is the most potent of all the ginger and turmerics when it comes to its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been traditionally used to make teas and tinctures that benefit the immune system, gut health, and for potential anti-cancer benefits. The roots of the plant range from a deep blue to near black in color and the flowers are so bright they look like a bromeliad. Blooms, which display in June – August, last well over a month. (Cucurma caesia) You can order this organic plant from A Natural Farm, and it can be shipped nation-wide.

5 – Polka Dot Plant

This hardy ground cover grows up to 15″ tall and has a variety of patterns on the foliage. Smaller pink flowers are good for pollination. This plant will survive all but the most severe frosts, but will usually come back even after a hard freeze. It is easily propagated from cuttings and can be grown in full shade to dappled morning sun. (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

A few more suggestions to plant under an oak tree in Florida

6 – Katuk

This wonderful edible plant is used all over the world in soups, stews, and salads. The leaves and small flowers have a slightly nutty flavor. They do contain oxalates, so limit consumption to 3-4 days a week. This gorgeous, shade loving plant grows quickly and can be 8-10′ tall. It loves pruning and harvesting, so be sure to enjoy it at the kitchen table as well as in the garden. (auropus androgynus)

7 – Fire Spike

If you want to attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden, this is your plant! Fire Spike does well at the back of the garden, because it can be 7-10′ tall in the right conditions. Flowers most often come in red, but can also be found in purple and orange. Hummingbirds and butterflies love the nectar of this tall, shade-loving plant. It does do well in part sun as well, but its growth might be a little slower. (Odontonema cuspidatum)

8 – Pigeon Berry

Although these berries are not edible for humans… the wild songbirds love them! Butterflies and bees use the small pink flowers as a native food source. This plant can spread as a ground cover or be grown to be 24″ tall. The plant is also known in some areas as “rogue berry” or blood berry. Historically, the red berries were used to make dyes and ink. (Rivina humilis)

9 – Wild Coffee

This plant is an excellent food source for wild birds, butterflies, and bees. The berries can be dried and roasted for a coffee substitute, but should not be eaten raw. The flavor is much more bold and bitter than arabica coffee. The glossy leaves have an interesting texture and deep green color that really stand out under the shade of an oak tree. This dwarf bush can grow 18-24″ tall. (Psychotria nervosa)

10 – Monstera (Swiss Cheese plant)

This popular house plant, which actually has an edible flower, can be grown in the ground or in a pot under an oak canopy. The large leaves provide gorgeous visual interest and breathtaking beauty. Overtime, this plant loves to climb, and can even be trained up the trunk of a large oak tree. This is a great alternative to the invasive “pothos” plant, which should never go in the ground in Florida. (Monstera deliciosa)

What edible, medicinal, and pollinating plants would you recommend under an oak tree in the Southern US?

Share your experiences in the comments below and feel free to share this article with friends and gardening groups.

How to Plant a Food Forest | Part 2 SOIL

Preparing the Soil for Your Food Forest

Transitioning your decorative landscape into an edible one is much easier than you may think. Learning how to plant a food forest can be as simple as replacing one “inedible” plant at a time over a period of years, or it can be as complex as installing a productive food forest through intentional permaculture design. Either way, I am convinced that I am “winning at life” is when I can go into my backyard and pick a peach right off the tree OR fix a full garden salad right from my back porch. It’s true, there are few things more fulfilling than having friends and family over for wine and cheese, and then stocking your charcuterie board with nuts, berries, and pickled items from your property.

Before you start plopping your new fruit trees and berry bushes into the ground, it’s important to take time and assess the site. As a designer, I am convinced that it takes a year of studying the site before you can REALLY get to know it. However, a trained eye can definitely get a plan into motion and help you get started. If you want to look into a consultation to help you develop a site plan, click here. Planting a food forest is an invitation to know and interact with your site and learn to steward the land accordingly. Whether you decide to hire a permaculture designer to partner with you or assess the land yourself, there are a few initial questions to get to you started in selecting your location (CLICK HERE).

The Most Important Step Starts Right Under Your Feet

The single most important step you will take in this entire process will be how you prepare your soil before you even put anything into the ground. In fact, the best thing you can do is prepare the soil for an entire season before you even plant your first tree or shrub. There are multiple ways you can both clear the land and/or build organic matter in the soil. Some of these methods will depend on what you have available and how much land you need to clear and prepare.

Option 1: Animal and Livestock to Build the Soil

This is, perhaps, the best possible way to not only clear the land of weeds and grasses, but also build the soil at the same time. If you have a lot of bushes, shrubs, or undergrowth, then goats are the best way to clear this area. In fact, some of their favorite foods are things like Virginia creeper and poison ivy! They have amazingly strong digestive systems and will do a great job at turning the bushes and underbrush into fertilizer for the new plot. Once the shrubs are removed, then you can send in the chickens to take care of the grasses and smaller weeds. They will finish the job nicely, till up the soil, scratch up the dirt, remove bugs and pests… and again turn them all into fertilizer for you! Not only is this source of fresh feed better for your soil, but it’s far better for your animals that bags of conventional feed.

In order to control them and focus their energy, I like to keep them in a smaller area (which I rotate) using a solar electric fence. Personally, I use a set-up from Premier One Fencing Supplies and have had minimal escape problems or predator animal attacks. Once the animals have cleared an area, then move the fence to the next zone to keep them working and fertilizing.

Option 2: Light Tilling and Smother Cropping

If you do not have access to animals, then you will need plan ahead several months before starting your food forest. Another way you can clear the area and also build your soil is to lightly till the area to remove weeds and grasses. Get as many of them out by hand as you can, and then follow with a ground cover or smother crop. Ground covers for the cooler climates are listed here. My favorite smother crop for the Midwest and cold climate growing zones is buckwheat and crimson clover. If you are in a warmer climate, the primary ground cover I would use is Sunn Hemp. Plant this is June and let it grow to max height (6-8 feet), and then chop-and-drop it in August. This plant can easily be buried or tilled under in August and will not only build the organic matter in the soil, but will also repair nitrogen content. Because of its dense growth habit, it will often smother out other weeds and grasses. At the end of the growing season, till these under and then you’ll be ready for a fall planting. Otherwise, you can leave it over the winter to decompose in place and plant in the spring.

Option 3: Layer Mulching

This method works really well and provides fast organic matter, but it does require higher inputs into your system. Often called lasagna mulching, this is a much better alternative to the “Back to Eden” method, which only uses ramified wood chips. Starting at the ground level (and working our way up), here are the layer I would recommend.

  1. Cardboard (remove tape and staples)
  2. Chopped up leaves (using a lawn mower)
  3. Grass clippings
  4. Straw (not hay, because you do not want seed heads)
  5. Manure and/or compost)
  6. 4-6″ of ramified woodchips

Once you have this in place, you can either plant immediately or wait for a few months to let the worms and microorganisms do their job. My preference is to wait a bit and let the layer mulching start working before plant installation.

Option 4: Black Tarp

This method is fast working (during warm summer months), but is also one that does the most harm to the soil. Putting a black tarp down over the area will most definitely cook the grasses, weeds, and pests. However, it will also cook a lot of the good bacteria, worms, and microorganisms in the soil. I rarely, if ever use this method.

Option 5: Spraying

The least recommended method in my book is to use a chemical spray. The ONLY two organic sprays I would recommend for a weed and vegetation killer would be either orange oil OR horticultural vinegar (30-45%). Both of these are effective at removing weeds, but they also have a short impact on the soil. The downside is that vinegar and orange oil will both kill any insects (topically) and will impact the pH of the soil you are working with. Though they will remove the weeds, it will also cause more work in the long run to repair and rejuvenate the soil.

Food Forest at A Natural Farm in Howey in the Hills, Florida

Soil Regeneration is the Key to Your Food Forests Health

Spending adequate time in the stage of soil building is absolutely key to the longterm success of your food forest. However, keep in mind that a good garden or food forest will be a continuous journey of rejuvenating soil and creating more organic matter. Perhaps even more than producing a good crop for human consumption, the role of a gardener is likely better described as one who stewards the soil and all the life therein. I’m not saying that all problems in the garden (fungal, pests, insectary imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, etc.) can be solved by compost alone… but 97.3% of them can be. If the soil (and its microbial and fungal balance) is in healthy shape and rich with organic matter, the fruit and flowers that appear above ground will likewise be healthy. Inversely, it’s nearly impossible to maintain healthy plants at the expense of soil biology. Personally, I apply compost every spring and refresh my wood chips each fall. In (sub)tropical climates, compost is best applied in February, June, and September.

If I notice that plants are on the struggle bus, I almost always start with two steps. First, add organic compost and the secondly apply a foliar spray. Either way, building soil is the single most important step of planting a garden or food forest. Generally speaking, when applying compost, use a fungal dominated compost for hard stemmed plants (trees, shrubs, and bushes) and a bacterially dominated compost to soft stemmed plants (veggie gardens and perennial flowers). If you do not have a fungal compost available to you, you can introduce mycorrhizal activity by adding flour to your compost pile.

So, before you plant your trees, shrubs, and bushes – consider how you might improve your soil quality and build organic matter. Share your ideas for new site soil preparation below…

More Articles in the “Planting a Food Forest Series”

Part 1 – Food Forest Myths

Part 3 – Selecting and Planting the Layers of the Food Forest (coming soon)….

How to Plant a Food Forest | Part 1 MYTHS

How to start a food forest

Part One: Food Forest Myths

There is a growing desire in the gardening and regenerative agriculture movements to grow low-maintenance gardens that still offer productive abundance. Learning how to start a food forest is one way to have a productive area with minimal long-term maintenance. Since there are many ways to build these areas, the system described in this series of articles is intended to be adapted to your individual space and growing zone. Keep in mind, there is not a perfect copy-and-paste method of how to build a food forest, but there some key points to keep in mind. Before explaining a few of those broad-brush stokes, let’s talk about a few myths regarding food forests.

Food Forest Myths

  1. “Think about plants before thinking about soil.” – This is, perhaps, the easiest trap to fall into when it comes to building a food forest. Yes, it is GOOD to get excited about the plants, varieties, colors, and textures. Gimme all the plants! However, if we do not first think about soil health and biology, then we cannot expect it to provide abundance in return. The more we partner with the ecosystem by building soil, the more the soil will give back to us by nourishing our trees and shrubs. By skipping the step of soil building, we are essentially taking nutrients from the ground without offering something in return, which will be detrimental in the long-term. Before you put in any plants – add organic matter to your soil.
  2. “Get the trees in the ground, then figure out water later.” – No matter how many beautiful trees and shrubs we put in the ground, if we don’t water them enough in their establishment phase – the trees will suffer and possibly die. Moisture retention in the soil is what will help increase mulch decomposition and soil microbial activity. This moisture will also help increase the needed mycorrhizal fungi in our soil structure. Remember, new plants are often very sensitive (and young), so they need extra care when they first go into the ground.
Food Forest at A Natural Farm and Educational Center – volunteers from one of the PermacultureFX Design Courses.
  1. “Plant things closer together so it looks better.” – Remember, when building a food forest, the goal is to partner with nature in establishing a system in 3-5 years that might take 50 years under natural conditions. With that in mind, it’s important to carefully consider the spacing of the plants to allow for their mature growth and height. Over-planting generally results in a lush green system, but lower levels of fruit and production because the excess shade does not allow for fruiting and pollination. Plan your spacing for mature plant height, and be patient in the initial years while your system gets established. To fill in space during the initial years, use nitrogen fixing ground covers and pollinating wildflowers to provide visual interest.
  2. “You will get fruit the first year.” – This goal may be possible if you spend hundreds of dollars per fruit tree to get specimens that are 5+ years old, however in most cases it will take 3 years to get substantial fruit and 5 years to reach near maximum productivity. Generally speaking, plant growth follows this pattern: Survive – Grow – Thrive. Year one the plant will work on survival and establishing its root system. During the first year, it’s advisable to remove any fruit to allow the plants energy to go to the root system. Next, during the second year, the plant will grow slightly and possibly produce a few small fruit, but most of the energy is focused on the plant becoming established in your specific growing conditions. Finally, in years 3+, the plant will begin to thrive and flourish. At this point, you should begin to see a significant increase and the yield and production levels.

“The Garden was the birthplace of partnership and stewardship. It continues to be a place that is centered upon connection.”

Kris Edler

More Food Forest Myths…

  1. “Food forests do not require any maintenance or upkeep.” – Unfortunately, nothing in life is free. We simply never get something for nothing. The purpose of gardening, specifically in permaculture, is recognizing that we are an active part of the system. Which means, the human element and stewardship greatly increases yield and can help build and regenerate the system. Just like we have the power to destroy a system quickly through mismanagement, we also have the ability to quicken its rejuvenation. The goal of a food forest is NOT to remove ourselves from the equation, but rather to integrate intelligent design in a way that our involvement results in a healed ecosystem. Though a food forest may require less maintenance long-term than a traditional annual vegetable garden, the human connection is still essential in proper stewardship of the land.
  2. “Mowing and tilling the soil are always bad.” – Though there are benefits to a low-till or no-till methods of gardening, they are often necessary in the first 3-5 years in order to help the system reboot. Mowing allows you to bag up nutrients and mulch around trees, creating a microclimate and nutrient dense soil covering that is rich in biomass. It also helps remove invasive species in order for the native plants to have a better chance. Tilling (in small doses) can help remove invasive weed species and can pave the way for replanting in larger areas (i.e. native prairie management or pasture maintenance). Controlled burning methods were used by the First Nation tribes all over North America and arguably around the world over the last thousands of years. These methods may not be an everyday tool, but are often necessary to help restart a damaged system and bring it back into balance.
How to start a food forest
Permaculture in Central Florida (second year example of a small food forest installation)

The Last Few Food Forest Myths

  1. “Only plant native species.” – This one is controversial for sure. Personally, I prefer to use as many native plants (especially pollinators) as possible, because I know it’s best for the birds, bees, and butterflies. Generally speaking, the native plants are also known to be far more disease resistant and tolerant of local weather conditions. At the end of the day, native species will always require less maintenance. That being said, traders have been moving species around the planet for as long as we have historical records. In Europe, the seeds of tomatoes, brassicas, and beans were saved and traded among pre-historic tribes. Sailers, traders, and merchants brought squash, corn, and pumpkins with them to North America 600 years ago and have been used here ever since. So, as long as a species is not invasive or damaging to the local ecosystem, they may actually provide human and wildlife benefit when properly introduced. If in doubt, grow your new plant in a pot for 3-5 years and test it out. Better yet, call your local extension office to ask them about any questionable species.
  2. “Summer is the best time to plant my food forest.” – For most of us, the summer is the time we are up and moving, full of energy, and ready to be productive. The same is true with plants – this is a time for them to be productive, but it’s rarely the best time to plant. Summer heat and drier weather can be hard on newly transplanted stock. Generally speaking, the best time to plant is when the trees are still dormant. In USDA Growing Zones 3-8 that would be either September – early November OR March – April. However, in Growing Zones 9-11 the best time to plant is in the winter months. That being said, winters in the Southern US are often dry, so some people prefer to wait until March – April. The ONLY benefit of planting in the summer in the south is that it’s rainy season. However, sometimes that helps and sometimes the heat + rain is actually harder on the plants. For those of us who garden in Florida… it’s a toss up!
How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush
  1. “Dig a hole, put the tree in the ground, and you’re done. “ – There is actually a best practice process when planting fruit trees and berry bushes. Most of the time they prefer extra water while they are getting established, but like to dry slightly out between waterings. Secondly, fruit trees should never just be planted in the grass, because the grass will both compete for moisture and nutrients. Click here to read the blog post about “How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush.” The primary exceptions to these are citrus and mango, because they prefer sandy and well drained soil. They like compost top dressings, but don’t do well with traditional wood chip mulching.
  2. “We should randomly plant unmaintained food forests in the city.” – In theory, the fruit trees will provide free food for the community and for the poor. In theory, these trees will thrive and produce food for inner city kids. In theory… HOWEVER, in actuality, fruit trees and bushes need maintenance to not only keep their shape and overall health, but they need to be appropriately harvested. Fallen fruit that is not properly harvested can actually feed rats, raccoons, and other city pests. Food forests are an incredible tool, but they are not a magic cure-all for every scenario. They require proper stewardship, and like all living things… they require connection.

NEXT ARTICLE: How to Plant a Food Forest Part 2 – SOIL

How to Keep Chickens Cool During Hot Weather

During times of extreme summer heat, it’s important to not only keep our families safe and cool, but also our chickens and farm animals. Here are some easy ways to keep your chickens cool in extreme heat and help their bodies cope with extreme temperatures.

  1. Change their water multiple times a day: Practically speaking, this will keep the water temperature cooler and your activity around the waterer will remind them to get a bit to drink. There are attachments available online to even turn a medium sized water cooler (like an Igloo) into a chicken waterer, which will keep the water cooler longer (or warmer in the winter).
  2. Add ACV and honey to their water: The honey and apple cider vinegar are a great way to add electrolytes and probiotics to their water. Think of this like Gatorade for chickens. Honey is also antibacterial, so it is strengthening their stressed immune system.  You can also purchase a chicken supplement to add to their water, but I generally use what I have on hand in the kitchen.
  3. Watermelon treat: Cut the watermelon in half and put one half inside the chicken run (like a giant bowl) and let them go to town. Watermelon contains electrolytes that are important for the birds during extreme heat, but it is also very easy to digest, which will help keep their body heat down. Leave the rinds in the run and fill them with water for the next 24 hours like a giant watermelon bowl (see image below).
  1. Frozen veggies in a muffin tin (corn, canned spinach, canned tuna): This Poultry Popsickle is possibly my favorite way to keep chickens cool and also provide a nice treat for them during the extreme heat. Buy some canned corn, spinach, or even tuna and empty the contents into a muffin tin. Slide the tin into the freezer overnight and you’ll have perfect little frozen veggie muffins to entertain the birds and keep healthy them cool.
  1. Proper airflow in the coop: Open up two sides of the coop in order to create a nice cross breeze. Allowing proper airflow will not only cools the birds, but also helps to prevent mold from forming due to the stagnant and humid air.
  2. Access to fresh veggies and fruit: These are normally used as “treats” for the flock, but access to a little extra green material on a hot day will be easy for them to digest and provide micronutrients for the flock. Stay away from treating with things like cracked corn, which may increase their body temps as they digest it.
  1. Create a shaded run or temporarily move coop under a tree: During the extreme heat, provide adequate shade for your flock. If you are have the ability to grow vines up the side of the run, this will provide a nice living shaded area for them. Pole bean, squash, butterfly pea, and passion vine are great choices or this (depending on your growing zone).
  2. Cool their feet: Run the hose on the ground for 10-15 min in the heat of the day so they can walk in it. Chickens can regulate body temps through their feet, so give them a little water on the ground to wade in and they will be happy campers. Practically speaking, hot days are also a great time to clean and sterilize your coop (and leave them open for the day). I sweep and scrape mine out and then either spray and wash with Basic H OR add it to the powerwasher and give everything a nice spray down. Then leave the coop open for the day to dry. Do this in the morning, so the coop has the full day to air dry.
  3. Dust bath (shaded) with wood ash: Dust bathing should be available at all times, because this is a primary way for them to stay clean and cool. Fill a 6-8″ deep container with sand for them to play in and occasionally add a few shovels full of wood ash. This will help treat them for any mites and fleas. Do NOT use Diatomaceous Earth, as this is terrible for their respiratory health; DE should only be used WET or in very small quantities of their feed (3%). Always keep the dust bath in a shaded area, otherwise the sand will get too hot for the birds.
  1. Keep bedding fresh and add herbs (fresh or dried): During heat waves, it’s important to keep things fresh in order to prevent mold, bacterial growth, and to help control insects. Keep nesting boxes and bedding fresh at all times. Add in fresh or dried herbs to repel insects and provide a little fun for the hens. You can add leaves or flowers to the nesting boxes or hang bundles of herbs around the coop. Use things like mint, bee balm, oregano, thyme, fennel, dill, or lemon balm. For flowers, you can use petals from marigolds, roses, snapdragons, sunflowers, etc.

Leave a comment below if you found this helpful, and feel free to share the article on social media to help your chicken friends try out a few new ways to keep the girls cool in the summer.

BONUS: Click here to find out ways to keep chickens warm in the winter.