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Product Recommendations from the Bauernhof

I have finally gotten around to putting together a list of the products we use on the farm.
  • We raise Katahdin Sheep with rotational grazing/holistic management.
  • We raise mixed heritage breed pigs on pasture.
  • We raise free-range, mixed heritage breed laying chickens.
  • We raise Cornish Rock Cross broiler chickens on pasture in Salatin-style “chicken tractors”.
  • We raise Broad Breasted White Turkeys on pasture.
The following are the products we actually use every day/season.
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Power Flex Fencing PolyBraid 1320’:  This is the perfect length to use with the O’Briens reels (see below). Very good conductivity mixed with the strength of braided line. We’ve had to cut it a few times (we got tangles… our fault); all we did was tie it back together with a couple square knots, and it worked like new. Very good product.
Kencove Step-In Posts: 8 hooks on one side, 4 clips on the other. The clips are for electric tape, but we use them to secure our polybraid (above) when we run our lines. The ones with only 2 clips are not as versatile. When really cold, the plastic can snap, but otherwise, these are very durable.
O’Briens Single Reel Geared sold by Kencove: This product was recommended to my by master grazier Greg Judy, and it is a great product. O’Briens is a New Zealand company, and the Kiwis are at the forefront in the world of sheep and cattle grazing. The geared reels spin 3 times for each 1 time you spin the handle. This is a huge time and energy saver.
Premier 1 Portable Solar Charger:  The Premier PRS 100 (small, 1 Joule) and 200 (large, 2 Joule) Solar Energizers are an extremely useful product. They are very easy to use. We have used them almost exclusively for almost 3 years now. They work well, but they are not without some drawbacks. If there is a moderate amount of grass or pushed up earth (from rooting pigs, for instance) on the bottom lines, these charges ground out easily. Also, I don’t think the batteries like subfreezing temperatures. The battery life seems to drop significantly after subfreezing temperatures. We have had to remove the battery and use a trickle charger to get it up and running again. If this occurs too many times, the battery fails. I still think this is a great product, and I don’t think there is a better one like in on the market. If you don’t have the ability to run a permanent system, this is a wonderful solution. We are still using them with our sheep every day.
Gallagher M60 Electric Fence Charger: This is a permanent charger (110 V) that plugs into a typical home receptacle. Our pigs have routinely walked right through the polybraid wire with the above-mentioned Premier 1 Portable Solar Charger when the battery would cut out or when the pigs rooted up earth and piled it on the lowest line. We are now keeping our pigs in an area about 1 acre (0.4 hectares) in size with subdivided paddocks that we rotate every few days. We ran this charger from the nearby house to the paddocks, and it was been working great. We will eventually get our entire fence running on a permanent charger, but this smaller unit is working great right now.
Premier 1 Poultry Netting: We use the PoultryNet Plus 12/42/3  from Premier 1. I prefer using the above-mentioned step-in posts and polybraid from our sheep and pigs, but we regularly use the Poultry Netting with our ducks and geese. We use them temporarily with our laying chickens when we move them a far distance and want them to reestablish their home base. We also use this Poultry Netting with our ram lambs who occasionally These work great when the ground is flat and not rocky. They don’t do great on hills or uneven ground… there are too many gaps that animals can climb under or the netting bunches up and grounds out. We use extra posts to pull the netting down to cover the gaps. We also have disconnected the bottom 2 or three electric lines to keep the entire netting from grounding out. One of our WOOFERs taught us this trick (Jacob!), and it has worked beautifully.

 

Plasson Bell Waterers: We bought these from Cornerstone Farm Ventures. These are wonderful waterers that we use with our laying chickens, our broiler chickens, and our turkeys. We connect ours to a 5-gallon bucket. I wrote an article about setting up the Plasson Bell Waterer. They can occasionally clog up, but the entire unit can be easily broken down and cleaned. We’ve had to do this about once a year, but it is not hard. In freezing temps, the water will freeze and the water will not flow. But we’ve never had a part break due to freezing. Once the temps warm up, everything starts flowing again. If a part does break, and there is one part (the handle hook) that has broken on us a few times, you can buy just the individual part to replace. I highly recommend this product.
Plasson Bell Waterers

48” Galvanized Poultry Feeder: We bought these from Cornerstone Farm Ventures. These high volume feeders are fantastic in the Salatin-Style Chicken Tractors. We used other, smaller ones in the past, and we had to refill them way too often. These have been durable and have reduced our work.
48” Galvanized Poultry Feeder

New Country Organics Feed: For our chickens, turkeys, and sheep mineral, we exclusively use New Country Organics. I have not found a poultry feed that has a better nutrient profile, and if I was designing a poultry feed, this would be almost identical to what I would want.
New Country Organics

Prairie Moon Nursery Seeds: This amazing company only sells native (to North America) wildflower/prairie seeds. We have added small amounts of their mixes to our other re-seeding mixes for our pastures. We have also recently planted some larger portions of our lawn to wildflowers… we want to get rid of as much mowing as possible and attract native pollinators/beneficial insects. Their products are high quality, but can be expensive, so pick the mix that best suits your site and finances.
Prairie Moon Nursery

Walnut Creek Seeds: This company provides multiple seed mixes for pastures. We have used the Super Soil Builder mix after frost through the Summer. We use the Nitro Soil Builder mix in late Summer through Autumn. And we use the Winter Grazing Mix starting in October. We have been very pleased with their seed mixes. We will often add other cold-weather pasture grasses to these mixes or a small percentage of wildflower seeds (above) to theses mixes.
Walnut Creek Seeds Agricultural Mixes
Walnut Creek Seeds Grazing Mixes

Murray McMurray Hatchery: Every year, we raise broilers for ourselves and for sale. We raise Broiler Chickens (Jumbo Cornish X Rocks) in Salatin-style chicken tractors on pasture. We have used other hatcheries, but McMurray has consistently provided the highest quality chicks. We also raise a wide variety of laying hens, and most have been purchased from McMurray. In addition, we raise Broad-Breasted Giant White Turkeys each year.
McMurray Cornish Rock Cross Chicks
McMurray Layer Chicks
McMurray Turkeys

 

 

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Wildlife at the Farm

We recently had some of our ducks and geese killed overnight. This happened last year as well. But we were never able to determine who the culprit was… fox, coyote, raccoon, opossum, owl?

I had found various piles of scat (animal droppings/manure) around the pastures, but they were too indistinct for me to tell which animal they came from.

We tried to go out late at night and really early in the morning to spot an animal. We never saw anything.

One of our farm volunteers even stayed up all night with a large spotlight in an attempt to catch a glimpse of a possible predator. Again, nothing.

So finally, after trying without success, I bought a game cam.

I first set it up near our mobile chicken coop, the Egg Mobile. We saw some rabbits and a few opossums. But that was it.

I then set it up near our sheep. Nothing.

I set it up near our pond. I saw the black and white cat that occasionally visits our farm.

But no predator that could take out 5 geese in one night (last year) or 4 ducks and one goose in one night (this year).

Eventually, I set up the game cam at the treeline bordering our pastures.

Here is what we found:

 

I am disappointed to see the coyote on the farm. The coyote is the likely source of our animal losses (although the bobcat may be contributing for sure). We know that if coyotes are hunted heavily, litter sizes increase dramatically. So in our attempt to fix the problem, we are actually making it worse. For now, I am still working on a plan to deal with the coyote, but I am not sure yet how I will proceed.

But I am so excited to see the bobcat on our farm. To have a high level predator like this means that we have a functioning ecosystem. There is obviously a trade off with this. If we lose a few chickens or ducks to these higher level predators each year, I am okay with that. To me, this is the cost of having a farm that encourages natural diversity. And I love it.

 

All photos/videos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Edirne Eggplant

I never ate eggplant growing up. It was just not a vegetable we used. But when I lived in Turkey for a few years, I was surrounded by eggplants. I learned to appreciate these versatile vegetables… technically a fruit, and even more accurately, eggplants are berries! Actually, I really fell in love with eggplants. They are delicious!

Most people are familiar with the common “Black Beauty” or “Black Bell” varieties. These are very good eggplants, which is why they are so common, but there are so many other varieties from around the world. They range in shape from small and round, to long and thin, to large and bell shaped. They come in shades of white, green, orange, red, purple; striped and solid.

We lived just off Edirne street when we lived in Turkey, and so I thought I’d love to try this Turkish variety in our garden. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds describes the Edirne Eggplant this way:

Originally collected in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, in 1948, and stored by the USDA ever since, until we grew it out in 2008! Gorgeous 6-8 inch fruits are richly striped in purple and off-white. May be even superior to Listada de Gandia in appearance due to its deeper luster, and actually preferred over it in our trials! Vigorous plants, very productive.

I made a version of Turkish fried eggplant (Patlıcan Kızartması) yesterday. Just slice the eggplant, fry in oil, and serve with a garlic-yogurt sauce… very heavy on the garlic! Simple and sublime!

I’ve made variations of this dish in the past with the common Black Beauty Eggplant, and this version was way better. I can’t say that it was entirely due to the Edirne Eggplant versus the Black Beauty, as it may have been the freshness of my eggplant. But for now, I think it may be my new favorite!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Our First Goji Berry Harvest!

We planted four young Goji Berry plants this Spring on the farm. I intend to plant a lot more, but I wanted to test them out first. All four plants lived, but one of our Goji Berries was attacked by a Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). I thought this was odd, because I thought Tomato Hornworms only eat tomatoes and peppers.

A few weeks later, the plants started to produce fruit. I was excited to finally eat a fresh berry. I had only ever eaten dried fruits. Well… it tastes kind of like a green pepper. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was not sweet at all. Our farm intern and I were talking about the flavor and then recollecting the Tomato Hornworm attack. I did a quick search, and sure enough, Goji Berries are related to tomatoes and peppers.

Goji Berry, also known as Wolfberry, are one of two closely related plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. These plants are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae); I think I knew this fact at one time, but I entirely forgot it. But it was very interesting that with the caterpillar attack and the flavor of the fresh berry, we were able to place this plant into its botanical family.

I gave the fruit some more time to mature, and they did get a bit sweeter, but not much. I can see why no one sells the fresh berries. It’s not that they are not edible, but they are not that enjoyable. If I was very hungry, I could easily eat a few handfuls of fresh Goji Berries. But I wouldn’t seek them out.

There are a few named varieties of Goji Berry that have been developed, and they are reported to have a sweeter flavor when fresh. I will have to do some more research!

However, drying the fruit intensifies the sweetness. It changed the rather boring fresh fruit into a much sweeter, almost nutty, raisin flavor. They are quite good dried, and this is what I have done with all our Goji Berries this year.

Okay, so this is not a huge harvest, but it’s a start!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Birdhouse Gourds!

Also known as Calabash or Bottle Gourds, Lagenaria siceraria are hardshelled gourds have been used for multiple purposes around the world. Many varieties are edible: edible fruit, edible seeds, edible leaves. Many varieties are hollowed out after they are dried. These are used as bowls, cups, bottles for water, storage containers for rice, serving dishes, serving spoons, water pipes, musical instruments, and more.

One of our Birdhouse Gourds.

The variety of Lagenaria siceraria we grew this year has been developed to make birdhouses, hence the name Birdhouse Gourds. Of all the squash/melons we grew this year, these plants were the most disease resistant and prolific. Almost no pests. And very late to developing any mildew.

Storing our Birdhouse Gourds in cardboard boxes.

We just harvested about half the gourds that had dried stems. The other half still have just a bit more maturing to do. We will let them dry out in our garage for the next 4-6 months. They are dried when the seeds rattle inside. Once they are dried, we will drill a hole in the side for an entrance. We will scrape out what we can, but the birds will do a pretty good job of cleaning out what we don’t get. We will also drill a number of small holes in the bottom for air circulation. Many people paint the dried gourds with a variety of colors and patterns, but a simple varnish or coating of white paint will also be sufficient to seal the gourds to help prevent rot. If sealed well and cared for in the off-season, these natural birdhouses can last for many years.

For best storage, the gourds should not touch each other.

I’ll share some more photos when we make convert these gourds to birdhouses… now we just have to wait 6 months!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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American Mountain-Ash Berries

A few weeks ago we traveled to northeastern Vermont to visit family. This was an incredibly relaxing vacation for us. And I had the opportunity to finally try a fruit that I had only previously read about… berries from the American Mountain-Ash (Sorbus americana). This small tree is related to the European Mountain-Ash, and these trees are also commonly known as Rowan. I’ve written more about this genus in a previous article.

We happened to be in Vermont in the middle of September, and this appeared to be the peak time for Mountain-Ash berries this year. As we drove the small country roads and boated on the lake, I could see the clumps of bright red, almost glowing, berries growing on these small trees. I grabbed a bucket and some kitchen shears before we got on the boat one morning, and we found an overhanging tree covered in fruit.

Note that Mountain-Ash berries are not eaten fresh. They are very bitter and high in tanin, and they honestly do not taste very good. But birds love them fresh, and they serve as a great cold-season food for birds as the berries hang on the tree long into the Winter. I have found some reports that the fresh berries contain a substance (parasorbic acid) that is potentially nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys); however, this substance quickly breaks down into a harmless substance (sorbic acid) when the fruit is cooked or dried. The fruit was used by natives of North America as a medicine and food. Meat was dried and ground into a powder along with the dried berries and often mixed with other ingredients for a Winter or travelling food source that was high in protein and Vitamin C.

Excited to find some Mountain-Ash!

We had to harvest from the boat. The kids were excited to help… but quickly lost interest when they noticed the fish!

Mountain-Ash berries grow in large clumps which make harvesting pretty easy. I just clipped the clumps with some kitchen shears and tossed them into a bucket.

In about ten to fifteen minutes, we had a five-gallon bucket almost two-thirds full of loosely packed clumps of berries. Harvesting was significantly easier than cleaning. But cleaning was easy if not tedious. I spent a few hours sitting on the back deck pulling the stems off berries, tossing bad berries, and flicking off the variety of insects that make their home on the American Mountain-Ash. This was relaxing work, and my oldest son enjoyed helping out… volunteered on his own to help, even when I took some breaks!

My oldest son volunteered to help me sort and clean the berries.

Not a bad haul for 10-15 minutes of harvesting!

Mountain-Ash Berries!

There may be an easier way to really clean the berries, and I’ll share it if I find it. The berries had a lot of dust and debris on them even after the initial cleaning. I washed them all in the sink, draining them in a colander. I then took one cup at a time and tossed them in a bowl of clean water. Many of the bad berries and leaves and dried flowers floated to the top and could be easily picked out. This final cleaning took about another hour. I then spread all the berries in a thin layer on some kitchen towels on the counter to dry. The next morning, I packed all the berries into quart ziplock bags and ended up with about a gallon of berries. I packed these bags into my carry-on bag for the flight back home to East Tennessee. The TSA employees were just a little curious about what were in the the little ziplock bags!

We ended up with 4 quarts of berries.

Back in Tennessee, I decided to experiment with the berries in a variety of ways: mead, cordial, jam, and tincture. I’ll briefly describe the purpose and methods I used for each.

American Mountain-Ash Mead: Mead is a fermented honey drink also known as honey wine. When mixed with fruit, a mead is technically called a melomel. I used 3 pounds of a local honey (1 quart) for this 1-gallon batch of mead. This will give a nice medium-bodied mead. Less honey will be lighter and less sweet. More honey will be heavier, thicker, and more sweet. The Mountain-Ash berries are very high in tannin, and this adds a dryness to the wine, similar to a dry red wine such as a cabernet sauvignon. The fruit will also give additional and unique flavor to the mead. I boiled a half-gallon of water then stirred in the honey until it was all dissolved. I put the clean berries into a previously sterilized, 1-gallon glass jug, and I poured in the almost boiling honey water. I then filled the jug the rest of the way with just boiled water. I capped the jug with a rubber stopper (as seen in the photo below) and let the jug rest until the water cooled to about room temperature. I then pitched (poured in) the dried brewer’s yeast that I had in my garage. Ideally, I would have used a champagne yeast, but I didn’t have it on hand. I replaced the rubber stopper with a plastic airlock that allows the fermenting mead to release gas without allowing outside air, and contaminants, into the mead. The mead is bubbling away as I write this, and it will probably will do so for a few weeks before I transfer it to another jug to age.

Mountain-Ash Syrup: A syrup is basically any concentrated liquid (tea, juice, etc.) that is sweetened with sugar, honey, or any other sweetener. The purpose of a syrup can be for flavoring or medicinal. Often used as a way to make herbal teas or decoctions more palatable. There are number of medicinal uses for Mountain-Ash berries. Because they have a high Vitamin C content, they were traditionally used to prevent scurvy, especially considering that the berries stay on the tree long into the Winter. Mountain-Ash berries are very astringent (drying… due in large part to their high tannin content), and were also used for anything that involved swelling or irritation (upper respiratory infections and sore throats, diarrhea, boils, etc.). Additionally, it was commonly used as a “digestive” to aid or stimulate digestion. From a medical perspective, I believe that this probably helps increase gastrointestinal motility, but I have no evidence for this yet. However, because Mountain-Ash berries have also been used as a mild laxative, I believe this makes sense, at least theoretically. This syrup was pretty easy to make. I added about 1/2 cup of water to a quart of berries and simmered them until the berries were very soft, about 20-30 minutes. I used a potato masher and smashed all the berries. I poured this mashed fruit into a fine colander and let the juice drip out. I could have left it drain overnight in the refrigerator for a very clear juice, but I didn’t want to wait so I pressed the mashed fruit to quickly express as much juice as possible. This resulted in a cloudy juice. I heated this in a small, clean saucepan, and I added honey to this to make it quite sweet, but not overly so. I store this in the refrigerator, so I am not too concerned about spoilage. I will likely use this syrup as a flavored sweetener to a hot cup of tea this coming Winter. It has a very bitter flavor, but there is a nice, aromatic fruity flavor behind it. I enjoy a nice bitter drinks like a strong IPA beer or coffee, bitter greens like endive and radicchio, and semi-sweet foods like grapefruit and dark chocolate, so the bitterness in Mountain-Ash is rather nice, if not rather strong.

Mountain-Ash & Apple Jam: I have read that Mountain-Ash/Rowan berries pair well with sweet and tart fruits like apples and cranberries. Well, I didn’t have any cranberries on hand, so I used apples. This was a simple jam recipe. I used about 1 cup of table sugar, 1.5 quarts of Mountain-Ash berries, and 3 apples (I think… it may have been 4. They were Honey Crisp if I remember). I added all these together and simmered them for about 30-40 minutes. I let it cool just a bit, then I put the mixture into a blender and pureed it. Some people will use more sugar, but I didn’t want to mask the flavor of the berries. It has a similar but sweeter flavor to the syrup above, but be warned… it is very tart and bitter! Since I made just a small amount, I decided to store the jars in the refrigerator instead of doing a hot water bath.

Mountain-Ash Tincture: Tinctures are a medicinal product created by soaking a plant, mushroom, or animal product in alcohol. These are simple to make. I poured about a pint of berries into an old port bottle I found when I was living in Portugal. I topped the bottle off with Vodka. I will let this set for weeks to months. I have tested it after about a week, and it is strong stuff! Not just the Vodka… a lot of the tannins come through, at least so far. They may mellow a bit. One thing people may do to make tinctures more palatable is to add honey to the tincture. This would then be called an elixir. If the flavor doesn’t mellow, then I will probably be doing this.

 

From left to right: Mountain-Ash Mead, Mountain-Ash Syrup, Mountain-Ash and Apple Jam (three jars), and Mountain-Ash Tincture

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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My Breakfast for Today

This is just another reason I love our farm/homestead… this is what I ate for breakfast this morning:

  • Swiss Chard (Verde Da Taglio)
  • Mustard Greens (Southern Giant Curled)
  • Kale (Forage Kale Proteor)
  • Kale (Nero Di Toscana)
  • Thai Red Roselle Leaves (Roselle is a species of Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and Thai Red is the variety)
  • Pea Shoots
  • Rosemary
  • Free-Range, Organic-Fed Chicken Eggs

The variety of healthful foods we regularly eat here on our farm/homestead just blows away any grocery store I’ve ever visited. These greens were harvested FIVE minutes before they were eaten!

I don’t share this to gloat, but hopefully to inspire others. Eating fresh, high-quality food is possible without a lot of work; it just takes being intentional.

So get out there and grow your own breakfast!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Holistic Management Beyond the Pasture

I recently wrote an article (Pigs, Pride, & Permaculture) on the recent re-evaluation of our farm endeavors. Basically, we had become overwhelmed by trying to do too much. On top of that, my wife and two daughters were injured in a farm accident which, thankfully, was not serious.

The culmination of these events made us stop and really think about what and why we are doing what we are doing. I explained how we are using Permaculture as a general lens to evaluate our goals. I hinted at our using Holistic Management, but I didn’t really go into it in that article.

I had an overwhelmingly positive response from that article, and I am so appreciative of that. But I did have one reader ask a probing question. We are planning a Holistic Management course in November, and this reader asked why, if we are feeling so overwhelmed, are we still planning on running a 3-day course?

I thought this was a great question, and I wanted to dive into this a bit more. Let me start with the paragraph I use to describe Holistic Management:

Holistic Management is a systems-thinking approach to managing resources. It is a process of decision-making and planning that gives people the insights and management tools needed to understand nature: resulting in better, more informed decisions that balance key social, environmental, and financial considerations. In the context of the ecological restoration, managers implement Holistic Planned Grazing to properly manage livestock and improve pasture and grazing lands.

This may seem like a really wordy definition, so let me break it down a bit.

Holistic Management was developed in Zimbabwe by Allan Savory to combat desertification… that is, the desert’s expansion into areas that were previously not desert. By learning how to regenerate grasslands, prairies, and savannas, Alan Savory developed a system that can be used to manage highly complex ecosystems. And while Holistic Management can be used on ranches and farms, it can also be used to manage any system with complex socioeconomic and environmental factors such as a family enterprise or business.

The Permaculture Wardrobe

I see Holistic Management as an amazing tool within the “Permaculture Wardrobe”. For those unfamiliar with the Permaculture Wardrobe, let me explain. I first heard the term from Geoff Lawton (current director of the Permaculture Research Institute Australia), and I am not sure if the concept originated with him, but the wardrobe is an idea that describes the knowledge that can be drawn from and the skills that can be applied to a Permaculture project. I drew the illustration above after many years of hearing about the wardrobe. All our tools and methods must agree with, or fall in line with, Permaculture’s Three Ethics engraved at the top of the wardrobe.

Holistic Management is a wonderful system I personally use to implement systems on my homestead and farm. I use it within the guiding umbrella of Permaculture… the Prime Directive, the Ethics, and Principles. Specifically, it provides a framework to implement Permaculture; a way to actually put all of these great Permaculture ideas and ideals into practice.

We have attempted to filter all our farm/homestead decisions through the personal holistic goals we developed. This isn’t some new-age, philosophical, pseudo-religiosity. This is a practical and intentional method to set goals and work toward them. This is the actuality of Holistic Management used in the real world. It has worked beautifully on our pastures, and when we use it, it works beautifully beyond our pastures into almost every aspect of our farm and homestead.

Unfortunately, we stopped using Holistic Management. It wasn’t on purpose. We just drifted away from it. And then things started to unravel. I wrote about this in my article, and I had so many people comment through my website, through Facebook, and through email that I know I am not the only one who has felt overwhelmed, felt over-extended, felt like I’ve got too many things going on, felt like I am spending too much time on things that are not important to me and my family.

So, we are going back to the basics, so to speak. We are going back to our Holistic Management plan. We are going to actively use it to get ourselves back on track.

And this is why we want to bring a Holistic Management course to our area… because we personally see the benefit of using it. Holistic Management is not a cure-all, but it is an amazingly effective tool.

Kirk Gadzia has over 30 years experience teaching the concepts of Holistic Management and has taught over 250 Holistic Management training seminars and workshops internationally.

Ultimately, I feel good about sharing my successes and failures so that others can benefit from them. I am glad to be able to offer a Holistic Management course at our farm, and I am really excited that we were able to book Kirk Gadzia to teach it. Kirk is probably one of the best Holistic Management teachers in the world… and I mean that literally.

I am not a salesman, and I really hope I never sound like one. I strongly recommend taking a Holistic Management course, but I don’t care where you take it. Another course or another location or another date may work better for you. But if our course works well for you, that is great, and I really look forward to meeting you!

In closing, I’ll share a video of Allan Savory’s Ted Talk, the originator of Holistic Management:

 

Holistic Management in Practice course at the Bauernhof Kitsteiner
Bulls Gap, Tennessee
2-4 November 2017 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday)

 

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Pigs, Pride, and Permaculture

The pig paddocks have had too much impact!

It was the smell of failure.

Insidious. It seemed to creep up so slowly.

I was standing at the edge of our pig paddock, and all I could smell was the overpowering odor of pig manure.

Actually, I was at the edge of one of two pig paddocks, and we still had a third paddock on the other side of the farm. But these two paddocks had too many pigs on them for too long. Their impact on the land had been too much.

This system was failing. This system was screaming at me to be fixed.

Something had to change.

My wife and two daughters (3 and 5-years-old) were pinned under the four wheeler.

A week earlier, I was travelling back from my brother’s wedding.

The plane landed, and my phone started buzzing with texts sent while I was flying:

My wife and two daughters had been in a four wheeler accident. 

The four wheeler flipped.

All three were pinned underneath.

They were heading to the emergency department.

My 5-year-old was scraped up but doing well.

My wife was bruised and needed CT scans… no significant injuries.

My 3-year-old daughter was complaining of abdominal pain, was vomiting, and had blood in her urine.

She had a CT scan… some significant bruising. Probable kidney contusion. But everything was okay.

By the time I was able get home, the emergency had passed. But the near tragedy was, and is, still fresh.

We have fallen in love with this land, but we were not enjoying it like we should.

We have only been at our farm for two years.

The first year had been wonderful.

But things had changed during this second year.

With the stench of manure in the air and the bruises on my family, I knew something had to change.

The near tragedy shook us out of the routine we had fallen into.

Our Vietnamese Potbelly – Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets.

How had it gotten to this point?

Over the previous few months, I had observed multiple issues with our pig system. It had started moving in the wrong direction. When we first started with pigs, our thought was to incorporate a wide variety of breeds in our herd. I wanted to see what worked best for us and for our land. Included in our herd were a couple Vietnamese Potbelly Pigs. This small breed was very resilient, but it was just too small for what we were aiming for. Unfortunately, I had not separated the boar from our two potbelly sows… I had too many things on my list, and I separated them too late. Well, not surprising, we had undesired litters from each of our Vietnamese Potbelly sows.

So we now had three separate herds: 1) young uncastrated males (we didn’t castrate them, because I didn’t get to it… too many things going on!), 2) young females and older females we didn’t want bred, and 3) our main herd (boar and selected sows). Keeping three herds fed, watered, and on fresh pasture is a lot of work, especially when the weather is getting hot.

The pigs have a heavy impact on the land. We anticipated this, and we had designated an area for us to rotate our herd. Unfortunately, with the extra pigs and multiple herds, the land didn’t have enough time to recover by the time we needed to move the pigs to the next paddock. The result was degraded soil with no cover and an excess of manure building up.

Get to the root cause!

But the pigs were just one example, or better yet, a symptom, of the underlying problem.

I am a strong proponent of getting to the root cause of problems. Finding and fixing the failure is important, but discovering the underlying reason that the failure occurred in the first place is paramount to preventing similar problems in the future.

We needed to search for the underlying cause.

So what went wrong?

First, I know I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. We have had many successes on the farm. With our pigs specifically, I know they were actually in much better conditions than most other pig operations I have seen. But these were my pigs on my land under my management. And this is not how I wanted to raise them.

Second, we lost sight of what our goals were. As a general rule, I don’t publicly share our personal holistic goals, but I can say that our overall priorities are faith, family, homestead, environment, farm, community. I generally aim to live by two guiding tenets:

  1. The Permaculture Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for own existence and that of our children. A Greek proverb that falls right in line with this is: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
  2. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Third, we over committed. We stretched ourselves too thin. We pushed ourselves too much. I also work off the farm, and so this burden frequently fell on our intern, our WOOFERs, and my family. Instead of doing a few things well, we were doing too many things… some were working great, some were working well, some were not quite working, some were not getting done, and some were failing. Because we were too busy, we were not enjoying the journey. We had stopped doing a number of the things that were important to us. Yes, we were accomplishing a lot, but we were not accomplishing the things that mattered the most to us.

Fourth, I had not heeded my own advice: Revisit the Permaculture Principles on a regular basis. David Holmgren (co-founder of Permaculture) has 12 amazing principles that I regularly use… well, maybe not as regularly as I should have! The following section touches on a few of these principles and how we are using them to get back on track.

Permaculture Principle One: Observe and Interact.
I had observed, but I didn’t interact. We just kept on doing what we were doing. It is hard to take the time to make changes when you are just trying to keep up, even if those changes will make things better in the long run. But we need to take the time to implement changes based on our observations! 

 

Permaculture Principle Four: Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
It is so easy to let our pride get in the way of accepting feedback. It isn’t always arrogance. Too often we will just keep doing the same thing or wasting a lot of energy trying to accomplish something, because we think we are smart enough to figure it out. We tell ourselves, “If we just work on it a bit more, longer or harder, we can make it work!” And we may eventually figure it out, but at what cost? Remember the quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

 

Permaculture Principle Nine: Use Small and Slow Solutions.
One of the first things I wanted to do on our farm was to try a little bit of everything. We would see what we liked, what worked for us, what didn’t work for us, and then we would pare down. Unfortunately, trying to maintain so many systems was overwhelming. Also, trying to pare down is actually a lot more difficult than I was expecting.

We thought we were starting small and slow. Compared to many farming ventures, we were not doing a lot. But for us, it was still too much. Over the last few months, my wife has told me many times, “This is starting to feel too big.” She has more wisdom than she credits herself, and if I was a bit more self-aware, I would have made the connection between her words and this principle.

However, we also need to use small and slow solutions to fix the problem as well. We could have decided to completely give up, sell the farm, and move back to suburbia. I think many young farmers get burned out and then walk away from everything. But that wouldn’t be a small and slow solution. We are choosing to pare down a step at a time… trim back slowly.

 

Permaculture Principle Twelve: Creatively Use and Respond to Change.
Everything is constantly changing around and within us. This is life. We can passively let these currents push us around. Or we can be intentional. We can use these changes. We can learn from them. We can respond to them. We can also make our own changes to influence those currents.

We found ourselves in a place we didn’t like. While we had systems that were working, we also had systems that were failing. And so we are doing something about it. We are observing, accepting feedback, interacting with our systems, and using small and slow solutions to get ourselves back on track with our personal holistic goals.

We have since made some changes to our pig system. We moved things around and now have two pig paddocks instead of three. By doing this, we have already cut our pig chores by a third. We are also giving the land more time to rest… and the smell is almost gone already! In addition, we took the time to process some of the larger pigs that did not fall in line with our breeding goals. This has cut our feed bill, and we now have some high-quality pork in our freezer and for sale. We will continue to cut back on our pigs until we have a much smaller breeding herd. Our focus is quality, not quantity.

We are implementing a number of other changes. For example, our first batch of broilers (meat chickens) is about 2 weeks from their processing date. This first batch of birds was for our own personal consumption. Last year, we raised a second batch to cover the expenses of the first batch. However, with being stretched too thin, we decided not to raise a second batch this year. That means our chicken is going to cost us more, but we will have more time to enjoy it!

We are continuing many of the things we love including raising our pastured lamb and laying hens. Most of our other changes are small, like they should be. But cumulatively, they will continue to guide us back toward our goals.

We love raising our sheep on pasture.

This Permaculture Life is a process. It is not an endpoint. There is constant evaluation and interaction and evaluation and interaction… and this goes on and on. And it can be a lot of fun. But we must be intentional.

I’ll end with some of my favorite quotes.

Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?
There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

– C. S. Lewis

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
– J. R. R. Tolkien

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
– Matsuo Basho

We are what we believe we are.
– C. S. Lewis

 

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Planting Ramps in our Forest

There is something about the Spring forest that brings me a deep sense of joy and contentment. The days are growing longer. The air is warming. The trees are waking from their slumber. The songbirds are returning.

After the Winter, walking in the Spring woods seems to rejuvenate me as well.

It is in this temperate climate Spring forest that Ramps will grow.

These wild onions with strong garlic and leek undertones are true Spring ephemerals. They only shoot up in the early Spring forest, and they quickly depart as the trees’ canopy fills back in with new leaves to cover the forest floor in shadow.

I have previously written about Ramps in one of my plant articles.

Ramps are now growing on our farm in Tennessee!

When we moved to our farm in East Tennessee, Ramps were one of the plants I was hoping to find. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a wild patch of them on our property.

I had been contemplating how to bring Ramps to our farm when an opportunity crossed my path.

My family and I recently had to travel to northern Indiana. We try to use our camper as much as possible, and we used it for this trip staying at a few different campgrounds. I spent many early mornings walking through the forests in and near the parks where we were staying, often with one of the kids who woke up early enough to join me.

The ephemeral Spring woodland where the ramps were growing.

There was a small forest bordering the property of one of the campgrounds. I recognized it as a special place as soon as I entered. Overhead were mature maple and beech trees with their young leaves just forming. There was an understory of flowering dogwood and pawpaw trees. Blanketing the moist ground were at least three different Trillium species all in flower, Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild Ginger (Asarum), multiple ferns, and… Ramps! Literally thousands of Ramps covered the floor of this Spring forest! Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the areas with dense Ramp plants, but I did get the photo above where there were a lot more of the other Spring ephemerals.

Fresh Ramps!

I spoke with the owner of the campground, and he told me he owned this forest as well. He was unaware of the plants he had growing there, but he seemed very interested to learn what I had found. He also told me that I could harvest a few Ramps for myself. I did so, but very carefully. Trilliums are sensitive to disturbance, and they will usually die if any part of the plant is picked or damaged. Since many Trilliums are endangered, I chose to harvest Ramps that were not growing near the Trilliums. I carefully dug up the Ramps preserving as much of the roots as possible. I then pushed the soil back in place and replaced the forest detritus.

I decided to eat a few Ramps with breakfast, sauteed in butter with our free-range chicken eggs… amazing! I saved the rest to transplant.

I planted the Ramps (3)  near Mayapples (2) and Pawpaw saplings (1).

We returned to Tennessee a few days later, and I knew exactly where to plant the Ramps. One small valley on our property has relatively moist soil. This is where our largest Pawpaw patch resides nestled under the overstory of hickory and oak. There are Mayapples, False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and ferns growing underneath. This environment best matched the location where I harvested the Ramps.

I won’t know until next Spring if the Ramps took to their new home. But I am excited and hopeful. If they do survive the transplant, it will probably be 3-5 years before I will feel comfortable with their establishment before I will harvest any.

Regenerative agriculture is a long game.

It takes patience.

But the rewards are well-worth the wait.

And sometimes they are delicious, too!