How to Plant a Fruit Tree or Berry Bush

Easy Instructions for Successful Fruit Tree Planting

  1. Dig the hole – Remove the plant carefully from the pot and set it next to the hole.  When digging, the initial hole should be nearly twice as big as the root ball itself.  Put most of the dirt you are removing in a wheelbarrow or the pot it came in. 
  2. Place the plant – Set the root ball in the hole.  The top of the root ball should be flush or 2-4” higher than the soil level (especially for sandy soils). 
    1. Do NOT let it go lower that the soil level. Remember, the plant will settle into the hole, so it’s always better to plant it a little high.
    2. Backfill the hole with the native soil.
    3. Do NOT put fertilizer or compost into the hole.  Doing so will cause the roots of the plant to want to stay inside the hole instead of venturing out and establishing a wider root system.  Amendments should be applied to the top of the soil only.
  3. Compost – Apply a 1” layer of organic compost to the top of the soil.  Keep all top dressing away from the truck / stem of the plant.  The width of the ring should be twice the width of the canopy of leaves.
    1. Soft stem plants:  Use a compost that is plant and bacteria based.
    2. Hard-stemmed bushes / trees:  Use a mushroom or fungal based compost, when possible.
  4. Manure – Apply a ½ – 1” layer of composted manure (Do not apply fresh because it may burn your plant).
  5. Weed Barrier – Apply a layer of cardboard (remove all tape and staples) to suppress weeds and retain moisture.  Use a pitch fork to poke holes in it for water penetration.  If using newspaper, use at least 6 sheets of newspaper, otherwise it will decompose too quickly and the weeds will come through. 
  6. Mulch – Use a good quality or wood chips as your top dressing (4” deep)
    1. Wood chips:  Better for woody stemmed and/or mature plants.  Benefit is that it takes longer to break down and provides a cleaner look.  Drawback is that for annual vegetables it can tie up nitrogen when it initially breaks down.  It will often la
    2. Straw or grass clippings:  Better for annual flowers and annual vegetables.  Benefit is that is breaks down faster and helps heal the soil quickly.  Drawback is that is needs to be reapplied annually.
    3. IMPORTANT NOTE: Never use colored or dyed wood chips. This is not only bad for the soil and microorganisms, but will also end up in the fruit that you eat.
  7. Watering – Water well the first time, using a probiotic spray (like BioAg by SCD Probiotics).
    1. After the initial watering, always use the finger / soil test to determine when the plant needs to be watered.  In general, most plants like to dry out between watering.
    2. Put your finger into the soil at the base of the tree down to the biggest knuckle.  If the soil is moist, do not water.  If it is dry, then consider watering.
    3. Plants like to be watered less frequently with a deep watering.
    4. After the first year, with proper mulch application, you should rarely need to water.  Once established, let the tree roots do their job and only water during drought times or when the trees look overly stressed. 
how to plant a fruit tree

REMINDER:  Fertilization in subtropic and tropical climates is best done in February, June, and September on fruit trees and berry bushes.  In cooler climates, it should be done in March / April (just before flowers emerge) and again in June just before fruit set. After the first year, fertilization is best applied as a quality compost or manure.  Chemical fertilizers are unnecessary and do not help the soil in the long run.

For additional benefit you can also apply a compost tea or late spring foliar spray during the same months listed above

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March Garden and Property To-Do List (Zones 8-12)

Here’s a list of what you should be doing in you garden and food forest in March, if you live in warmer, tropical climates (USDA Zones 9-12). Granted, weather isn’t exactly a science… well, it is… it’s just not a predictable one. Keep a close eye on your weather this month and adjust your planting accordingly. If you are unsure what growing zone you are in, watch this video tutorial. If you are in a colder climate and want info for zones 3-8, CLICK HERE.

Without further delay, ladies and gentlemen, here is March Gardening To-Do List!

Cover crop with daikon radish, winter wheat, and field peas

In the Garden

  • Take soil tests and send to your local extension office. Take samples from each area of your yard and make sure to get the detailed report. The most important part for me is not the NPK… it’s the amount of organic matter! Generally speaking if you have a higher percentage of organic material in your soil, the rest of the soil health will follow suit.
  • Make minor amendments before the spring rains (add bone meal, blood meal, compost, etc.). Many people settle with a short-term “solution” of applying an NPK fertilizer, but a better longterm solution would be to focus on soil building through organic matter, manure, and compost.
  • TIP – Spread chicken poop and hay from the nesting boxes on the compost pile and get it working before the weather gets insanely hot.
  • Annuals to plant indoors: Okra, peppers, eggplant, more nasturtiums and marigolds (to deter garden pests), pumpkins and gourds.
  • Annuals to plant outdoors (or direct sow): arugula, beans, borage, carrots, corn, cucumbers, okra, another round of onions, seminole pumpkins (Florida), squash, sweet potato slips, tomatoes (especially Everglade tomatoes), and watermelon.
  • Plant some tender annuals like longevity spinach, Okinawa spinach, Surinam spinach, etc. Don’t plant all you have yet, in case we still get another frost, but start putting some out in your more protected areas.
Calendula – used for tea, ointments, creams, etc.

In the Greenhouse

  • Plant seed trays: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, roselle (Jamaican Sorrel), Cranberry hibiscus, etc. Start perennial seeds for food forest planting: goji berries, trees from seed (like Moringa), etc. Also start food forest items like Roselle, cranberry hibiscus, elderberry cuttings, sugar cane, bananas.
  • Fertilize orchids well this month
  • TIP: Always plants more than what you think you’ll need. The worst case scenario is that you have some to share with neighbors, friends, or gorilla plant in a local park.
Nasturiums planted under trees and near tomatoes.

In the Food Forest

  • Break up any large sticks and twigs. They will decompose much faster if they are in direct contact with the soil.
  • Remove leaf cover from the soil and use as a mulch around the base of trees / bushes (cover the sticks). You can chop it up a bit with the mower if the leaves are still crispy.
  • Plant alley crops between rows and plantings. In zone 9, personally love planting durana clover, red clover, sun hemp (legume), and winter wheat. Sun hemp should be purchased now and planted the first of April.
  • Plant living mulches around the base of the trees (turnips, Bocking 14 comfrey root, borage, nasturtiums, etc.)
  • Feed native wild birds before nesting season starts in order to encourage them to live in your area. They are fantastic bug control and leave behind little bits of birdie poo.
  • Hang wild bird houses and bat houses before nesting season begins.
  • Set out orange halves and grape jelly to attract early migrating orioles.
  • Spray your spring foliar spray on every perennial in the food forest! Get the recipe here.
  • Add fresh mulch to trees and shrubs (up to 5″ thick). Remember to always keep the mulch away from the trunks of the trees.
  • Get a permaculture consultation to help you come up with a game plan for your overall property, garden, and food forest. PermacultureFX now offers both in-person and digital consultations (at a reduced rate).
Simple birdhouses using old license plates

In the Shed

  • Sharpen mower blades and all cutting tools.
  • Oil any metal that rusted over the winter. Remove tarnish with steel wool. Ax heads should be treated with bees wax.
  • Check for broken pots from winter cold.
  • Set a few extra mouse traps in the shed, greenhouse, and garage.
  • Start up the mower, weed whipper, and other tools for the first time. If you have difficulty starting them, you can always use a bit of Sea Foam to get things moving. Use two ounces per gallon of gas. It will work wonders!

In the Chicken Coop

  • Remove winter bedding, if you used the deep bedding method.
  • Deep clean…deep clean…deep clean! We use Shaklee’s Basic H2, because it’s organic and will also take care of mites, lice, etc.
  • Lower fat content (corn) and increase protein sources. If you are doing a mealworm farm, it’s a great time to give the girls an extra boost!
  • Feed extra omega-3’s. Get some feeder fish (minnows) from a local pet store and put them in a shallow pan. Watch your chooks go nuts for them!
  • Use honey, garlic, and ACV in their water once per week to give them an extra immune boost before the springtime. I also add a product for livestock by SCD Probiotics based out of KCMO.
Basic H for deworming livestock and cleaning the barn / coop

Around the House

  • Clean out the gutters from any winter debris, especially oak leaves.
  • Remove winter window treatments and wash windows (inside and out).
  • Power-wash the sides of the house, cement, and garage doors. We use Basic H2 for this as well, because it organically takes care of mold and mildew easily.
  • Oil doors and hinges (interior and exterior).
  • Prune any trees around the yard before leaf buds begin to open.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Finish cutting back any dead growth from last year.
  • Remove leaves or debris from the top of bulb areas, leaving only compost or wood chips. The debris should be composted and added back to the beds later.
  • Start planning mulch and compost deliveries now. Look for sales or companies to bring it to you in bulk.
  • You can also plant cold season annual flowers at this time as well. Snap dragons, violas, pansies, begonias, and calendulas do great this time of year.
  • Spring sow any native wildflowers.

  • TIP: Never use mulch that has been colored or dyed (red or black). Let’s just use our heads on why that’s a bad idea.

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.