Cancer Fighting Food and Medicinal Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goals of the project

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

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

Elements of the Cancer Fighting Food Forest

Layer 1: Top Story Trees

Black Walnuts in a food forest

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

Siberian pea in a food forest

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

plum tree cancer fighting

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

Layer 2: Small Trees and Shrubs

elderberry benefits for fighting cancer

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

Layer 3: Small Shrubs and Bushes

Goji berries and cancer fighting

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

Currants in the food forest

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

gooseberries and cancer

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

Layer 4: Herbaceous

echinacea purpurea and cancer

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

oregano medicinal herb

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

rosemary to fight cancer

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

Layer 5: Ground Covers


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

red clover ground cover

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

Layer 6: Roots and Mushrooms

turmeric for fighting cancer

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

garlic in the food forest

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

reishi mushrooms to fight cancer

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

turkey tail to fight cancer

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

Layer 7: Vines

Hardy Kiwi midwest food forest

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

purple yams

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

Sample of a Full System

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

October Gardening To-Do List

Blue River Forest Experience in Overland Park, KS

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

In the garden

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

In the Greenhouse

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

In the Food Forest

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

In the Shed

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

In the Chicken Coop for October

  • Feed extra protein (meal worms, black oiled sunflower seeds, bugs, etc.) to help them with molting season.
  • Add a small amount of corn to their diet to help with caloric intake before winter.
  • Purchase suet blocks (>5% protein) as you see them on sale for winter prep.
  • Clean and sterilize your coop and get ready for winterizing (have extra straw on hand for the winter months).
  • Make plans for water freezing over the winter (more next month). Add probiotics to your water to get birds healthy for winter. You can use a mixture of honey, apple cider vinegar, and garlic powder as one approach. I also rotate in BioLivestock, which is a blend of probiotics, beneficial microbes, and bio-fermented organic acids.
  • Add garden and flower bed cuttings to their run for them to “go through” and eat bugs and seeds before composting them.
  • Feed pumpkin and squash to chickens! It helps boost their immune systems and can be a preventative for worms. NOTE: Pumpkin seeds are NOT a proven treatment for worms, but a great as part of your preventative maintenance regime.
October Gardening To-Do List
October Gardening To-Do List

Around the House

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

Perennial Flower Beds in October

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

Ideas for Kids

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

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

Ground Covers for Midwest Food Forests

Using Ground Covers to Repair Nitrogen, Pollinate, and Create Beauty

Things to Consider

  1. Succession of plants and species –  When you first plant your food forest, you’ll likely have much more sun available because the trees are thinner and there is less canopy creating shade.  This gives you the opportunity to plant more sun loving, nitrogen fixing plants, which will help get your food forest off to a great start. For more articles about starting a Midwest Food Forest, click here.
  2. Annual vs perennial benefits – Obviously having a plant come back year-after-year is less work on our end, but at the same time, we shouldn’t overlook the benefit of annual crops to help meet specific functions.  Sometimes those functions need to serve a short-term purpose, which is where annuals play a really important roll.  For example, does the soil need tilling or aeration?  Consider annual root crops like turnips, dandelion, or daikon radishes.  Does the soil need biomass?  Consider buckwheat or something in the vetch family.  Does the area need fast pollination?  Consider creeping thyme or a crimson clover.
  3. How the area will fill out over time – Some species may work really well for a few years, but as the over story canopy grows, production increases, or as new plants are introduced small adjustments are often needed to the original species.  As the canopy of top story trees thickens, the succession of species around it will need to evolve with it.
  4. Where ground covers are located within the forest – Some ground covers can get tall and lush, but also serve as a chop and drop mulch.  Comfrey (the bocking 14 variety) is great for this, because it creates substantial biomass, but will still still stay localized.  It works great at the base of young fruit trees and provides needed pollination.  There is some debate as to what it provides for the soil, but at the very least it is proven to increases minerals in the top soil region and provide shade for the tree roots that it’s planted by.  At the same time, other ground covers need more sun, so will do better away from the base of the trees.  For example, planting clover varieties in the alleys between orchard rows will help keep grass at bay, prevent the need for frequent mowing, and provide pollination sources. For more on selecting a location in your food forest or permaculture orchard, click here.

Depending on your region, there are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to ground covers for a food forest or permaculture orchard.  Before spreading seeds, it’s important to research and study your site thoroughly, because some ground covers can be harder to get rid of once established.  It’s also important to pay attention to the sun and moisture requirements these species need to really help your ground cover be a show stopper. Lastly, be sure to research the ground cover you have selected so you prepare the soil correctly before seeing. Doing research beforehand will save time and money in the long run.

However, to get you started, here are a few suggestions for those of you who live in the Midwestern USA.

Ground Cover Comparisons

Species Annual vs
Height &
Benefits Drawbacks
Dutch White Clover

Hardy perennial 3-6”, but can be easily mowed. Nitrogen fixer, soil builder, dense foliage to cover soil.  Great for sunny areas in food forest and for alleys between rows.  Can also be used as a forage for animals and poultry.  Can spread easily to other areas if allowed to flower and go to seed.  Should not be planted next to other plants it’s name height, because it can choke them out.
Ladino Clover Perennial (4-5 year max) 4-8” Nitrogen fixer, soil builder, dense foliage to cover soil.  Great for sunny areas in food forest and for alleys between rows.  Can be used as a forage for animals and poultry.  Does better rebounding after animal pasturing and often more economic. Spreads easily.  Attracts deer more than other clover varieties.  
Red Clover 1-2 year perennial 6-8” Highest nitrogen fixing among the clovers, great for bees and honey flavor, excellent for adapting to a wide variety of soil types.  Easily tilled under.   Short lived, does not do well in shady areas.
Crimson Clover Annual 5-8” Stunning flower display, similar nitrogen fixing to other clovers.  Excellent source of nectar for bees and butterflies.  Great for areas that need a temporary ground cover. Short lived, attracts a full spectrum of insects (some good and some bad), including moths in southern regions. 
Hairy Vetch Tender perennial Up to 3’ Very high nitrogen fixing ability and an excellent pollinator.  Great for larger areas that do not have bushes or understory, fields, etc.  

Best used in larger fields, livestock areas, and places that are not farmed multiple times per year. Great for soil stabilizing along water areas.
Hard to get rid of, because the vines can grow to 12’ long and get wrapped around smaller farm equipment.  It’s best to till them under in April, before they are too invasive, and will likely need additional turning to terminate them (in a commercial or large scale setting).
Cow pea Annual 2’ tall areas, but vines can be 12’ long. Excellent at fixing nitrogen, but also gives an edible crop for dried beans.  Easy to harvest, dry, and remove at the end of season. They are a great no-till cover crop that can be “mowed over” at the end of the season. Not a great pollinator.  Can climb up nearby trees and bushes if allowed.  However, this is easy managed and pruned back.
Buckwheet Annual (self sowing) 30-50” Pollinator, usable seed for ancient grain, excellent bio mass producer.  Great at choking out unwanted species. Some animals will use it for forage. Thick, harder to harvest the seed without equipment.   Will resow itself if you let it go to seed before chopping and dropping.
Tokinashi Turnip Annual 12” Greens are edible when cooked and roots are a pleasant food source (raw or cooked).  Greens are excellent for animal and poultry forage.  Excellent understory crop that can tolerate dappled shade.   Needs sunlight and space to grow if you are harvesting the roots.  If you are harvesting greens, they are very easy to grow, even in lightly shaded areas.  
Comfrey (Bocking 14) Perennial (4-5 year max) 12-18”  Very resilliant, pollinator, medicinal usage for humans (bone and muscle healing), roots for tea and tonic.  Biomass and mineral accumulation, chop and drop mulch, excellent forage for animals. Hard to get rid of once established.  Do not use anything other than bocking 14 or it will spread at a near uncontrolable rate.  
Creeping Thyme Perennial (4-5 year max) 3” Herbal use, excellent pollinator, hardy once established, and great for areas that need lower growth.  Needs sun to flourish.  Can be walked on and moderate tolerate foot traffic. Needs sunlight to do well and get established.  It can be harder to get established in mass plantings, but once it has take root, it never needs to be mowed and covers the ground well.
Sweet Woodruff Perennial 3-5” Flowers can be used as a tea or added to white wine, pollinator, shade loving. Spreads once established.
Wild Ginger Perennial 4-5” Shade loving, wild edible, small flowers under leaves. Does well for smaller areas, but not ideal for large scale.  

March Gardening To-Do List (zones 3-8)

Here’s a list of what you should do in your garden in March, if you live in the Midwest (specifically in USDA zones 3-8). Granted, weather isn’t exactly a science… well it is… it’s just not an exact science. Just keep a close watch on your weather and plan your planting accordingly. If you are not sure what your growing zone is (or how to use it), watch this tutorial video. If you are in a warmer climate, don’t worry, you can CLICK HERE for the Zone 9-11 March To-Do List.

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

crocus bulbs in bloom
Crocus in the spring garden

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, etc.).
  • Spread chicken poop and hay from the nesting boxes on the compost pile and get it working before it’s warm.
  • Start planting some frost friendly veggies (radish, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, some lettuces, etc.)  We recommend direct sowing a little every week, so that way your harvest is staggered.  It also helps to insure a diversified crop and give extra insurance that if one round dies… another one will do just fine!

In the Greenhouse

  • Plant seed trays: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc. Start perennial seeds for food forest planting: goji berries, gooseberries, trees from seed, etc.
  • Add black 5-gallon buckets of water (with lids) for radiant heat source, if you do not have a heated greenhouse.
  • 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.

In the Food Forest

This hori hori tool, from Barebones Living is one of my new favorite gardening tools.
  • 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 our area I often use a blend of red clover, white dutch, yellow closer, and crimson clover. I plant this between the rows.
  • Plant living mulches around the base of the trees (turnips, bocking 14 comfrey root, berries, herb roots, 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.
  • Last chance to prune apple trees (before buds open)!
  • Spray your spring foliar spray on every perennial in the food forest! Get our 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).

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.

Around the House

  • Clean out the gutters from any winter debris.
  • 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 (interior and exterior).
  • Prune any trees around the yard before leaf buds begin to open.
  • Get hoses ready to bring outside.

In the Perennial Flower Beds

  • Finish cutting back any dead growth from last year.
  • Trim back winter ferns and greens (holly, lenten roses, etc.)
  • 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, and calendulas do great this time of year.
  • Spring sow any native wildflowers. One of my favorite Midwest companies for this is Prairie Moon Nursery (online), because they do seed mixes geared toward your specific sun exposure and soil type.

  • 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.

How to Select a Location for a Food Forest

food forest planning
food forest planning
Food forest planning

Knowing how to select the location for a food forest or perennial garden is possibly just as important as knowing what to plant. Before you start digging, take time to examine your site. Study. Watch. Learn from the environment around you. Take notes on some of the topics below to help you decide which location will be most suitable for your new food forest or perennial garden.

  1. Sun and soil requirements:  What pH will be needed for those plants?  How much organic matter exists on site already?  Does the site meet the sun requirements for the species selected?
  2. Identify precursor species:  Knowing what plants are already thriving will tell you about the site, soil, and environment.  For example, if there are a lot of dandelions or tap root plants, the soil is trying to rebuild minerals and nutrients.  If there are signs of plants with shallow, hair-hair-like roots, the soil may be trying to stabilize itself from erosion or drying out.  Do you see acid or alkaline loving plants growing native?  
  3. Space to grow and fill out:  Do the plants have room to thrive and have airflow at their mature size?  Do you have room to move among the plants or rows?  Do you need extra or protected space to make allowance for animals or livestock?
  4. Ease of watering:  Is there water access?  The first 30 days are often the most important as the plants establish, so you will want to have easy water access points.
  5. Ease of maintenance:  Is the area something that you frequently visit or drive by?  Is this area one that can be easily maintained or get tools and equipment to as needed?  Will you need truck or tractor access?
  6. What is the long-term use for this area?  Consider mapping out 3-5-10+ years.  Is your current use of the space preparing the site adequately for those goals?
  7. Ease of Harvesting:  Will you or others be able to quickly and successfully harvest?  Are there rows or adequate spacing between key areas?  Are 90% of the crops within arms reach?  Will you see and be able to easily use the crops you have planted when the harvest time arrives?

How to Create a Food Forest in the Midwest – Part 1

Why a Food Forest?

In a culture that encourages us to have more money, bigger toys, larger savings, new cloths, and an endless supply of technological gadgets, we should be stepping back and asking, “why?”  Do we really need one more gadget?  Do we need another nick-knack?  Do we need the latest cell phone or computer?  Do we actually need the new shirt or pair of shoes or could we just simply wear the ones we already have?  We have been trained by a consumer-based culture that more is better.

The reality is that most of these items we are collecting have a short shelf-life.  Even our savings accounts, retirement funds, and inheritances we will fade in a relatively short time.  Maybe they will last a few years, a few decades, or if we are are extremely wealthy they might last a generation or two.  In the context of a century… our stuff will be gone in a heartbeat.  But, what if we could pass on a legacy that would last 50-100 years or more?  What if our legacy could provide food, shelter, and play areas for your children or grandchildren?  What if our legacy provide pollination for wildlife, shelter for birds and animals, and purified the air?  What if we could leave a legacy that actually provided a source of LIFE?

In my humble opinion, one of the most practical ways to accomplish a legacy of this caliber is to plant a midwest food forest.  In permaculture, we use this phrase to describe a forest of edible and restorative plants working in harmony with one another.

Food Forest Design

What is a Food Forest?

Generally speaking, every forest is jam packed with edible fruit trees, nuts, berries, and fungi.  Over hundreds of years, natural succession helps establish these systems and create a healthy and balanced growing environment.  Using permaculture, we are essentially designing a system that works in tandem with nature to speed up the process.  Instead of productive abundance taking 100 years to be established, we can design it to take only a handful of years.  A food forest uses intelligent design to restore and remediate land that would otherwise take centuries to return to a normal state.  Instead of working against nature to maintain a mono crop, perfectly green lawn, or a patterned landscape of tropical annuals, we use perennial species that will last foe year.  This is especially useful in areas that have suburban forests, because in most cities our forested areas are only 50-70 years old (at best).  Historically speaking, many wooded areas were harvested between 1940-1975 for lumber and then either naturally regrew or were replanted.  Even the city land behind my house in Kansas City, MO is a fairly young forest and only has a handful of old growth oak trees that are older than 100 years.

Food forest summary

A note on removal of invasive species:

Most of the forests in the Midwestern city areas are in similar shape and are nearly all facing the invasive honeysuckle bush invasion.  Amur honeysuckle, or Lonicera maackii, was introduced to gardens in New York in the late 1800’s and by 1924 was already labeled as “weedy species”.  Since then, it has spread throughout the east coast and midwest and it’s shrub-like structure shades out low growing species in younger forests.  It’s red berries are generally ingested by bird species and the seed spread in their stool to other areas.  Removing this species is often the first step for Midwesterners starting a food forest.

Once the invasive species has been removed, the land is ready for replanting and reforestation.

Invasive Amur Honeysuckle

How to Plant the Food Forest – Part 1

1 – Land Preparation:  In our recent project, we had a great deal of invasive honeysuckle to remove, which was obviously very time consuming.  Digging it up is the most effective way, but you can also use a chain saw and cut it off at the ground. When you cut it, you will have to use chemicals to kill the root or it will simply grow back.  Obviously, I prefer NOT using herbicides, but there are some natural alternatives that contain orange oil, agricultural grade vinegar (15-30%), and epsom salts.

It’s imperative to properly rid the area of the invasive species, because skipping this step will allow the old species to return and choke out all of your design work. When removing undergrowth species, I prefer to do it in early spring so it’s warm enough to work and you don’t have to worry about ticks or fighting through the leaf growth.  If you are fortunate enough to have goats, they will take care of the leaves and branches, but you’ll still need to dig out the root or it will grow back quickly.

The second step in preparing the land is to examine your soil and structure.  This is your time to consider amendments.  You can bring in compost from a local company, collect fallen leaves from your fall clean-up, add bone or blood meal, or sulphur for acid loving areas.  Before adding anything to the soil itself, make sure you are testing and observing your site.  Get to know the land you are working with and begin with the end in mind.  Know the type of soil your plants will prefer, so you can create the right environment for them.

midwest food forest
Cleared plot for a newly planted food forest in Kansas City, MO

2 – Plan out your design:  For every project, I generally need about 10-15 hours of preparation and research before I even begin planting.  Winter months are a great time to do this, because we often are not outside as much.  Research species according to your soil type (acidity, organic matter, etc.) and carefully consider how much water will be retained in that area.  Factor in sun exposure both in it’s current state, but also imagine the area once the plants have reached their mature sizes.  How might this change your design?

Once I have the basic questions answered, I can then start looking at individual species and seeing what looks good together on paper.  I will go through 3-5 different designs and purposely make myself change out some of the species in order to think outside of the box.  Here are a few factors to consider:

  • What is my top story tree?  Will it produce nut or fruit? Will that impact my soil acidity over time?  How tall will my center piece trees get?  Will that impact my shade?
  • Do my understory trees or shrubs have compatible soil requirements?
  • How it my spacing? What will this look like in 3 years?  In 10 years?
  • Do I have at least 4 layers in my food forest?
  • Have I including at least one nitrogen fixing plant in my system (legume, locust tree, clover, etc.)?
  • Is there multi-seasonal interest for the eye?  For nature?
  • Have I considered season-long pollination?
  • Do the plants that I have selected require a male and female plant for fruiting?
  • Do my colors and leaf textures work well together?

Finalizing Your Midwest Food Forest Design

Once you have created a few different drawings of your layout, I would recommend sitting on it for a few days and then coming back to it later.  Run the ideas by a friend and get their feedback.  When I was initially planning my layout, I incorporated too many alkaline loving plants next to my blue berries, which do best with slightly acidic soils.  I was so focused on the fruit and berries that I liked, and the way they would look together, that I missed a pretty big piece of the puzzle.  The result would have been an environment where likely neither would have thrived, so I was relieved to have the insight from another permaculture eye.

Before planting, plant on spending at least 10 hours of researching and planning out your design.  As you plan, research various species, their growing zones, and read the reviews of others online.  Often plants will say they will work in certain zones, but after a few years of consumer reviews, they change the rating on the species.  For this reason, I tend to stay away from varieties that have not been tested in my region or ones that I am unable to find adequate reviews.

Personally, I like to order plants from places with one zone colder climate, so I know they can take the various types of weather we experience in the Midwest (KCMO).

The second part of this article will be available next week, including a few options in planting species for a wood-edge (sun/shade) area with clay soil structure.  In the upcoming article you’ll learn how to amend the soil, perform bio-remediation for areas that may have had pollutants, and how to space the plants appropriately.  The next article will include pictures of a newly planted food forest and close up pictures of the various species used in it’s design.

What to Do Before an Ice Storm

how to prepare for an ice storm

If you live in a cold climate region, you have probably been faced with the occasional freak out on social media regarding ice storms.  In fact, here in Kansas City the mention of an ice storm is cause for grocery stores and gas stations to look as though we are on the brink of the apocalypse.  Years ago, people knew how to handle themselves without electricity, water, or gas, but modern Millennials (like myself) are often completely in the dark when it comes to this.  So, if you are wondering what to do before an ice storm, this is the starter article for you.

What to Do Before an Ice Storm
Preparing for winter storms in the Midwest

Before progressing, remember, an ice storm is not the end of the world, you are not going to freeze to death, and social media will carry on without you for a day or two.  Before taking any of these steps, it is important to remember that more often than not, the weather service will blow storm possibilities to mammoth proportions.  Just remember, if they did not, the backlash for people not being warned could be devastating.  So, don’t freak out – just be wise.  Take a few practical steps beforehand and you and your family can enjoy the ice in peace and warmth.

Here are some key items to do the day or two before an ice event.

1 – Make sure you have kerosene / heaters ready in case the power goes out. Test them before using and NEVER use while sleeping. They give of toxic fumes, so should always be used with an open window or ventilation.  If you don’t have these, make sure to connect with a neighbor with a fireplace .  You can offer to help chop wood or provide soup in exchange.  
2 – Have water stored and ready.   Use empty bottles, pots, pans, and even the bathtub to store water.
3 – Wash clothes and dishes immediately, in the event you loose power.   In Kansas City we have lost power for over a week and having clean underwear sure helps make things brighter (and less stinky).
4 – Open cabinets of sinks / drains / pipes on outer walls.  Providing proper air flow can help prevent pipes from freezing.
5 – Precook a meal or two. Plan your “no power menus”.  Do not let anyone open or close your refrigerator – under any circumstance.  Store food in coolers in the garage for easy access.  The more you open the freezer and refrigerator doors (even a few times) will let out the cold, causing your food to spoil.
6 – Make sure you have a full propane tank of gas for your outdoor grill.  Meals that can be cooked on the stovetop can often be cooked on the grill.  Use cast iron pans on your grill.
7 – Buy some cheep candles at the Dollar store.  You can use these for making homemade heaters, light, and to simply brighten the house on these ice days.
8 – Pre-salt your outdoor steps to prevent ice buildup. Leave a granola bar for the mail man too .
9 – Make sure pets, animals, chickens have food / water and are protected. Add extra straw and bedding, and feed cracked corn to increase body heat.  Learn how to keep chickens warm in the winter here.
10 – Close shades and blinds to prevent drafts indoors.  It may be beautiful to let the sunshine in, but remember, most houses (even with quality windows) are drafty.  Pulling the blinds will help keep the heat in.  With this in mind, limit or restrict going outside, but if you do, be sure to open / close the door quickly.
11 – Charge electronic devices and be prepared to turn off all power strips in the event of a brown out. Intermittent surges can damage appliances.
12 – Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly or single.  Generally speaking, we should be checking in on our neighbors anyway, but during a snow storm, doing so once a day is a common human courtesy.

Additional Tips on What to Do Before an Ice Storm

What to Do Before an Ice Storm
Are you ready for an ice storm?

Once you have the basic covered, here are a few extra tips for you to prepare a little more and make things a tad more exciting.

  • Find old board games to play and books that you have not read in a while.  Organize family game and reading time – snuggle!
  • If you have a generator, test it out and be sure to hook it up properly.  Youtube this or have a professional show you, because you can fry your home electrical panel if you do it improperly.
  • Fill up your bird feeders before hand and keep warm water in the bird bath.   Watching birds out the window can provide great family entertainment during snow and ice storms.
  • If you are on a prescription medication, get refills before the storm arrives.
  • Brainstorm a list of activities and old games you played as a child: charades, win / lose or draw, coloring books, indoor hide and seek, fort building, etc.

People Care: Practicing Permaculture for Kids | by Kris Edler

permaculture kids

permaculture for kids
Permaculture for Kids

Of the three tenets of permaculture, as depicted by Bill Mollison, the notion of “people care” is, perhaps, the most essential.  One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in my journey in permaculture (permanent culture / agriculture) is in focusing my efforts on the next generation.  Let’s be clear, this is not an article about global warming, the melting ice caps, or a lesson in how to recycle more.  There are plenty of well-researched articles written by scholars who have given their lives to such topics.  This is about the importance of permaculture for kids.  This article comes from my own experience working in youth ministry, 15 years in education, and as a neighbor with seemingly revolving doors on his house so the kids can come and get snacks before seeing the chickens.

Regardless of your beliefs regarding global warming and the many political agendas surrounding it, the reason you clicked this article is because you care about kids.  So, based on that fact alone, we have something in common. This common ground allows us to have a healthy dialogue about WHY we do what we do.  At the foundation of my journey in permaculture is the value of interacting with kids in order to help them be a part of a community that seeks to better the world they will one day inherit.  These kids are not just future leader of tomorrow.  They are tomorrow’s leaders – TODAY.  They are impacting the world around them with vigor and passion.

Classrooms, worms, and the conversations with kids

kids in nature wildflowers
Junior High student from our school permaculture class on a wildflower hunt

As an educator for the last 15 years, I have taught in public / private school classrooms.  I have been a keynote speaker at hundreds of conferences and seminars.  I have written school curriculum and served as student council advisor for 10 years.  In spite of platforms, I have learned that the most meaningful conversations often do not take place in the classroom or surrounding an assignment on Ralph Waldo Emerson (though I love his work).  The most heartfelt times did not take place in a prom planning meeting or even at our end of the year parties.  Those events were memorable and exciting, but I tell you, the most profound conversations took place outside, in nature, and usually in the garden.  Something profoundly different took place during the times I worked with students in the garden and their hands hit the soil.

When these young adults came outside and their hands hit the flowerbeds, their guards went down, their defenses lowered, and their hearts opened up.  Conversations would range from home and family, sports to God, and from dreams to fears.  Whether we were out feeding chickens or chopping down wood in the forest beside the school, those moments were the most meaningful in my career as an educator.  So, what did I learn?   I learned that the sowing into the next generation is more than just giving them an assignment – it is sowing seeds with them.

Kids don’t need another manager – they need mentors

So, how then do we learn to be centered on the next generation?  Simply put, we take time to care.  Kids spell “love”, T-I-M-E.  That is it.  Take time to talk, weed slower, and get less done.  To be honest, when I worked with 27 junior high students in my gardening class, I quickly learned that I could get more work done in 2 hours on my own than after a week of having them do it with me.  However, speed is not the goal.  Quality of weeding is not always the litmus test for impact.

If we want to change a life, we have to be willing to value families before we value function.  We have to value people before a project.

People Care in Permaculture

kids and permacultureThis core value of permaculture addresses the fuel for our projects.  The reason we care for the earth is so that we can leave it as good or better for the kids who will live long after us.  We want them to experience a better world in which they can experience a greater level of abundance than we have.  Just think, when you were a child, kids rode bikes in the streets, would play out in the woods until the sunset, and would roam the neighborhoods as though it was their kingdom.  We did not have to worry about a fraction of what kids today are faced with.  And today, parents are terrified to let their kids go outside alone in many suburban areas.  We need to impact our communities far beyond new recycling bins or switching to reusable shopping bags.  If we think that stopping there is going to make a difference, we are kidding ourselves and petting our wounds by drinking overpriced coffee.  Instead of settling for merely recycling to do our part, we need to be regenerative in our approach in order to reverse the damage we have already done.  No longer is it enough for us to be “organic”, but we now need to restore the broken systems that even the USDA accepts as “certified organic”.  Regenerative agriculture can no longer be a novelty form of gardening, it needs to become the norm if we are going to fix the damage we have done to our neighborhoods.

People care in permaculture is not only the “why” in caring for the earth, but it’s also the “why” behind the fair share aspect of permaculture.  We want families to receive based on what they have sown.  In permaculture, we seek to see families supplied for, fed well, educated to the highest degree, and kids receiving the support system they deserve.  Each of the values in the permaculture system are hinged on the value we have for people – primarily kids.

Permaculture for Kids :: How to Step Out This Year

permaculture kidsInstead of merely gardening in your backyard this year, invite your kids (or grand kids) to join you.  You might not weed as quickly, and you might need to buy a few boxes of bulk popsicles at Costco, but it will be worth it.  Here are a few ideas to get you started with the kid friendly garden.  The seeds you sow by opening up your garden to others will produce a much greater fruit that you could put on your table.  Don’t get me wrong, it does have its challenges, but even those are not insurmountable.  I am a single 35 year old guy, and can tell you that even the single community can invite neighbors from the houses next door to take part.  If you don’t have neighbors, find a foster care home to serve or invite over, or call your local Big Brothers, Big Sisters organization.  If people care is important to you, make time for it.

Don’t settle for a flower for one.  Grow a garden for all.

Lessons in Lifestyle Permaculture | by Kris Edler

vision board

Seasons of change and transition are often challenging to navigate, no matter how many seasons of life one has experienced.  As I am in the midst of one of those seasons myself, I am continually asking myself, “Why is this so challenging?”  The answer to that is so simple, it is often overlooked.  In short – People.  People and relationships are complex, ever-changing, and the most precious commodity in the universe.  Learning to navigate our journeys while being centrally focused on people are essential tools in a permaculturists belt.  These lessons in lifestyle permaculture are a reflection of one of the core components of the practice – People Care.  While many articles, blogs, and videos teach the earth care and money making principles of permaculture, the aspects of inter-personal relationships are often underplayed.  When ignored though, the system goes out of balance.  In most cases, earth care is the “what”, fair share is the “how”, and people care is the “why”.  Without the foundational WHY being cultivated, the practices we build on top do not matter that much.

Have you ever been in a season of life when you lost your WHY?

In 2007, I was a part of a group of educators who helped found a small private school in South Kansas City.  Over the last decade, The Daniel Academy went from 65 students to over 300.  We purchased 18.5 acres of land in the city and an old church campus to hold our classes.  Immediately, mentoring these young adults became my “why” and the fuel for my teaching job.  Everything I did from that point forward was for kids and to see them thrive in the context of healthy families.  Creating a school that was more of a community than an educational sphere became a foundational value that I functioned from.  In 2010, we started a gardening and permaculture class for the junior high and high school students, and every quarter had between 5-35  students, depending on the season. Over the years, I can still tell you which students planted which nut tree groves, which families paid for and planted the apple trees, which students planted the wildflowers, and who helped plant the understory in the food forest.  I can still picture some of my first students, Graham, Christopher, Becca, Bria, and Austin out in the courtyard planting Missouri native wildflowers.

This year, for multiple reasons, I came to the realization that my time at the school was nearing an end.  I had been sensing the transition and have a burning desire to take the impossible step into “the next assignment” (forgive my teacher talk).  I am not the first one to have been here, nor will I be the last.  We have all been there, in that painful place between the last season of life and the ambiguous next season.  We have all felt the intense series emotions that accompany transition and asked the question, “How in the world am I ever going to get there?”  The answer, like most in life, can be found in the garden.  Permaculture practice does not end at the garden gate, in fact, it often begins there.

It is important to embrace tough seasons, challenging relationships, and trying times.  After all, the very best gardens have a foundation of crap.

Lessons in Lifestyle Permaculture

Here are a few of the lessons in lifestyle permaculture that I have been learning.  Perhaps it will help others in learning to navigate their seasons from one garden to the next.

1 – Understand your WHY

For me personally, I have always thought I was project driven.  I thrive when there is a large task, project, or an event to plan.  My heart comes alive in doing acts of service for others and being able to see them loved well.  In December 2016, when I moved my desk, some of the chickens, and my other belongings out of the private school and into my home, I began to reimagine my ideal backyard set up.  It was my opportunity to give order to my own castle.  So, I arranged my desk to look at the back window, and had the chickens in the perfect line of sight.  I rearranged my shed and garage, and started drawing up the next phase in my urban permaculture yard.  It was / is a picturesque set-up that I can find few practical faults with.  The last two weeks, looking out from my desk, I had a profound realization…

I do not like chickens that much.  Even heavier… I do not really enjoy permaculture (itself) as much as I thought.  Believe me, I was shocked.  For three days, I sat and pondered while I continued to clean and organize, until the realization hit me.  There are no sounds – no people.  At the school, I was surrounded by kids, teachers, families, and parents.  Every twenty minutes someone would come into my office to sit, talk, or just hang out.  At the time, those interruptions were annoying and seemingly inconvenient.  Now, being at home, I have realized that those students, kids, and families were the WHY behind the projects.  

It’s true, I raised chickens primarily because it gave me a platform to interact with students.  I taught 11-12th grade English because I loved seeing the “ah-ha” moments on their faces.  I worked in my office with the door open so that parents and kids could come inside and visit.  In fact, I even studied permaculture to give me a connect point with families outside of the traditional classroom.  This entire time, I thought the projects, hugel-swales, raised beds, writing assignments, and books were my passion, but I was wrong.  I misunderstood my own passion, which was really caring for PEOPLE.

2 – Strengthen remaining connections and build new ones

When undergoing seasons of transition, take Bill Mollison’s advise, “For every element, establish 3-4 connections.”  Often when our life experiences change, we focus on what was lost.  We look too heavily on the “sink” or the waste.  This is easy to do, because we experience a sense of grief and mourning, which is healthy and normal – for a moment.  Instead of staying in the place of loss though, we must look to what remains.  Strengthen the connections that have weathered the storm, because often times those are the most healthiest points anyway.  In an ice storm, the branches that break off are often the ones that likely needed pruning anyway.  Focus on restructuring from the remaining framework and make additional connections to strengthen that which remains.

Often times, remaining connections will experience stress and pain, but instead of ignoring it, tend to it.  Let the wound have “sensation”, because it’s a sign of life still existing there.  Apply healing salve to broken limbs, set bones right again, and prune back the dead leaves.  Focus on the trunk and root system and be prepared to nurture it over a period of time.   Yes, recovery takes nurture, and most importantly, nurture from community.

Use these times of transition to build new connections. Add limited additional elements to your system.  Not only will this help you learn something new in the process, but it will also take your mind off your circumstances. Instead of focusing on the valleys, look up to the hills and find the longest-highest contour point (where the water comes from).  So, let’s be practical.  In times of life transition, embrace relationships where you can be vulnerable.  Let people call you higher.  Invite people into your home, even if they don’t invite you first.  Make the phone calls you have been dragging your feet on, and try a new project or two in order to keep the hands busy.  Don’t shrink back – take a step forward.

3 – Think long-term and begin with the end in mind

Seasons of loss are followed by rebirth.  Death is not the end, but rather a beginning.  In the garden, when sometimes dies, we do not throw it away and remove it from our property.  We compost it and re-add it back into our system in a changed (often healthier) form.  Even diseased plants can be composted, but need to be treated with a higher core temperature to kill the bacteria, but after a short time (18-days in the Berkley method) the compost can be generally re-added to the garden without fear.

lessons in lifestyle permaculture
Vision Board Night 2017

One of the practical strategies in lifestyle permaculture is to begin with the end in mind.  If you want a long-term food forest to feed your children, don’t limit yourself today by only planting lettuce and tomatoes.  In our every day life, one of the practical tools I use is creating a vision board.  As yesterday was National Vision Board Day, I had 15-20 folks over last night to just dream about their futures and get a little creative.  Participants cut images and words out of newspaper and magazines, and glued them on their own vision boards to hang up in their offices, closets, and bedrooms.  Keeping the longterm vision in front of us on a daily basis helps keep our eyes fixed on the bigger picture and allows us to visualize what the future might look like.  For me, seeing my vision board every day helps me make smaller decisions that are like “steps” toward the bigger goal.

4 – The problem is often the seed of the solution

Problems are real and cause stress.  Conflicts are painful.  Relationship bumps are challenging and stir the heart.  Emotions, both positive and negative, are real and should be experienced without shame.  Getting stuck in the place of pain is obviously never the goal, but glossing over it is not helpful either.  Often times, the pain points we experience in transitional times are the seeds that we need for the days ahead.  I remember Geoff Lawton saying, “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency.”  The slugs are natural parts of the ecosystem and should not be reason to burn an entire crop at the first sign of their presence.  Their presence is an indicator that the system is in need of attention and nurture to bring it back into balance.  The problem is often the solution.  Those slugs, with the introduction of ducks, can be turned into eggs, meat, and fertilizer.  Not to mention, those problematic slugs provide hours of entertainment for families when we get to watch the ducks on a feeding frenzy.  The problems do not indicate the end or death; instead they merely indicate a system which needs nurture (not neglect).

When using permaculture as a lifestyle model, ask yourself some key questions about the problems you are facing:

A – What is the pain point I am experiencing?  Why does it matter to me?

B – What is the opposite of this pain point?  How can I build toward this to create a better reality?

C – What type of nurture is needed in order to bring about this change?  What connections need strengthening?  What pests / diseases need to be “heated up” in order to bring back the balance.

5 – Polyculture not Monoculture

In the garden, planting a mono-crop is often easier in the short-term.  It requires no other connections with plants, little thinking, and can be accomplished in a short amount of time.  In the long-term though, the mono-crops experience nutrient deficiencies, devastating disease, require fertilization, etc.  When the mono-crop is finished producing it’s fruit, it is done.  Nothing next.  In contract, a polyculture with multiple, perennial species, a different approach is taken.  It takes more careful planning, time to evolve, and a little nurture, but it will create a balanced and self-sustaining system that has perennial abundance.  Polyculture systems experience less disease, continue fruit and supply, and a supply for both humans, insects, and animals.  Polyculture systems create the platform for abundance.

When crisis arises in our personal lives, we often bunker down and try to hide ourselves away.  After a rough day in the office, I would frequently go home and have a glass of wine and a PINT of Ben and Jerry’s Ice-cream.  Nursing my wounds with ice-cream is an unfortunate go-to, but is usually followed the next day with regret.  Likewise, instead of isolating ourselves in our momentary hang-ups, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in the place of community is a much healthier approach.  When your brother falls down, stretch out a hand to help him up.  When a neighbor is cold, give them a blanket and food.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Sounds simple, but it is much easier said than done.  It requires us to establish and nurture connections, and be vulnerable.  That risk is always worth it.

It is all about the WHY

At the end of the day, what I have discovered in this season of transition is that understanding our foundational WHY is the key to thriving in times of change.  For me, these lessons in lifestyle permaculture have taught me to value family before function.  People are the foundation stones for any project, and at the very center of my being is an innate desire to be in family and a part of a community who is in it for the long-haul.  For me, that is permanent culture.  People care is the foundation of my journey in permaculture.

Why do I do permaculture? I believe that families today deserve the very best food, produced in the very best way, and that kids deserve to live in a community that is flourishing with abundance. I do permaculture because when I leave the earth, I want to leave it to the next generation BETTER than I found it, which means that merely “organic” is not enough anymore. We need regenerative systems to heal the damage we have already caused. Millennials, we are way past the point of needing “sustainability” and organic food – we need a culture that heals families, land, and hearts. We have to leave this planet better than we found it or we have failed. Because of our endless greed, narcissism, and egocentrism – we will have failed the ones who will come after us. This is why permaculture is more than tomatoes – it’s about a legacy.


vision board


How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter | by Kris Edler

frozen eggs

How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter
How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter

If you live in the Midwest, it can be challenging to keep chickens warm and insulated in the winter.  The fact is, learning how to keep chickens warm in the winter is NOT the same as how we would keep ourselves warm.  Heat lamps, space heaters, and candles are not a good idea in a dry chicken coop full of hay, straw, and feathers.  For some reason though, many people try to heat nature the same way we would our house, however we forget that these birds have survived for thousands of years without electric heat lamps.

Here are 5 simple ways to keep your chickens warm during the cold wintery days:

1 – Feed extra calories and protein

Keep feeding the chickens their regular food, but add a little cracked or crimped corn to their diet on the colder days.  If you know the night is going to be extra cold, feed the cracked corn later in the afternoon, so they can digest it a little before roosting that evening.  This will give them the extra calories needed to produce body heat in the coop.  Don’t overdo the corn, just like with everything else, you can easily get too much of a good thing.  If you are local here in Kansas City, you can go to a local Mill (I use May Milling in Grandview) to get organic / non-gmo cracked corn for around $17 per 50lb bag.

2 – Allow proper air flow, while minimizing drafts

As a general rule, do not have any vents open in the winter that are within 18″ of your roosting areas.  This will allow the birds to comfortably roost together and share their body heat.  Maintain good airflow in the lower levels of the coop though, because you do not want the air to get stagnant.  Remember, do not create an air tight coop.  If you are using the deep bedding method in the winter, maintaining proper airflow will also keep out the smell and keep things dry.  In Kansas City, I open extra vents in the summer to keep the coop cool, but cover them with cardboard in the winter to insulate the coop.

3 – Feed a little extra fat

Around the holidays we all like to have a little comfort food to help us cozy up in the winter months.  Your chicken are the same way.  Here are a few easy comfort foods for your girls.

  • Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (great protein, healthy fats, etc.)
  • Suet Cakes (use ones with >6% protein)
  • Meal Worms (great protein source and especially helpful just after molting season)
  • Left Over Spaghetti (trust me, this occasional treat is hilarious to watch)
  • Left Over Meat / Fish (any cooked meats that you have for dinner are generally ok for the birds)

NOTE:  Do NOT use chicken sweaters.  These are a novelty and are horrible for the birds.  They damage feathers and prevent the birds from “fluffing”, which creates warm air pockets in their coats.

4 – Use extra bedding

Extra straw or wood shavings in the coop provide insulation, reduce smells, and absorb excess moisture.  If you are in doubt, add another sleeve of straw just in case.  Not only does this provide insulation, but it helps chickens have something fresh to scratch through, which prevents winter boredom.

5 – Keep water and food fresh

Using a heater in your coop is always a bad idea, unless you want fried chicken.  Just suck it up and change their water 2x a day.  Using warm water and keeping it fresh helps keep the birds hydrated and warm.  I typically use two waterers and bring one inside to thaw while leaving the other one out until it is frozen. Then all I have to do is switch them out during the day.  Adding a weekly tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and honey in the winter can also help boost their immune system.  Always keep the water out of the coop when possible, though.  The spilled water will create moisture in the coop, increasing the risk of frost bite.  Food should always be kept dry, so either feed inside the coop or create a “lean-to” outside of the coop to keep the snow and rain out of the food container.

So there you go, a few easy tips to keep those birds warm in the cold winter months.  If this was helpful to you, be sure to like the article and share it on your favorite social media outlet.  Keep warm and drink some extra coffee!

Short Video:  chickens in cold