Homesteading

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

 

You may be interested in these other articles:

 

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Positive Poultry Impact

So amazing to see the positive impact of our chickens on our land!

The only difference between the low quality field in the background and the lush area in the foreground (where my daughter is almost buried!) is that we had our laying chickens’ mobile coop parked in the foreground area for about 3-4 weeks.

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

We have seen some marked pasture improvement with our chicken tractors. These are our mobile pens where we raise our broiler chickens. These “tractors” are moved 2-3 times a day.

Swath of green from our chicken tractors.

As you can see, in the wake of the chicken tractors, the pasture really had a positive impact.

The EggMobile – our mobile chicken coop for our layers.

But it was nothing compared to a more intense impact of 3-4 weeks from our mobile chicken coop (a.k.a. the EggMobile). We did no re-seeding. We added no soil amendments. We didn’t water this area. The only difference was that the EggMobile was parked here!

Amazing boom of lush growth from our mobile chicken coop!

We can have healthy domestic animals and quality farm products and profitable farms AND heal the land in the process.

It takes time and intentionality… but it is possible!

 

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

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Woodland Edge Plant Identification

A few days ago, I was walking through our pastures getting things ready to move our ewes to a new paddock. We have a clump of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees on the edge of this paddock, and I noticed a swath of bright green growing under the trees and spilling over into the pasture. I went over to investigate and noticed a number of plants that I could not identify. I took a few photos and did my best to identify them, but was only partially successful. So I posted them on Facebook and had an almost immediate response from a number of online friends. Within a few hours I was able to confirm all the species in the photos. This is when I love social media!

Here was my initial post:

Plant Identification Photo 1

Plant Identification Photo 2

Plant Identification Photo 3

Looking for some plant identification help.

These plants are all growing on the edge of one of my pastures, on the western border of a clump of Eastern Red Cedar trees. They are in a low point, so they have plenty of moisture, but not sitting water.

1. Pretty positive this is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum).
2. ? The wispy plant with tiny white flowers
3. Pretty sure this is a type of burdock
4. ?
5. ?
6. ? These plants have gotten quite tall in a few spots in the pasture… maybe up to 6 feet?

Anyone know these plants?
Thanks!

 

As I said, I was quickly able to identify all the plants. And as I was confirming the plant identification, I was able to learn some useful information about these species. I’ll show the photos again with the species and information:

Purple Dead Nettle

The characteristic “square stem” of Purple Dead Nettle

1. Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. Does not sting like its relative Stinging Nettle. It is considered edible and nutritious, but most people blend them into smoothies (I am guessing to mask the flavor?)

 

Hairy Bittercrest

2. Hairy Bittercrest (Cardamine hirsuta) – Native to Eurasia but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. In the Cabbage and Mustard family. The leaves and tiny flowers are edible and have a spicy-hot cress flavor which can be used in small amounts in salads or cooked as a potherb.

 

Burdock

The “burrs” of Burdock. Note the small hooks on the ends of the tips.

3. Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) – Native to Eurasia. Considered a weed in North America. Used a root vegetable and is reportedly very good (has a neutral flavor that picks up the flavor of whatever is cooked with it)… I’m going to have to try some! Also used in folk and traditional medicine for many purposes.

 

Chickweed

Chickweed

Chickweed’s diagnostic single row of hairs on one edge of the stem.

Chickweed for breakfast! Sauté with butter in a cast iron skillet with over easy duck eggs… delicious!

4. Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Often considered a weed. Highly nutritious wild edible; some say when cooked they taste just like spinach. I tried some just this morning for breakfast, and it was excellent. I really mean that. Often time, “wild” foods are bland or very strongly flavored, and you have to force yourself to eat it. But not so with Chickweed. I will be harvesting this for food on a regular basis!

 

Cleavers

5. Cleavers (Galium aparine) – Probably native to North America. Often considered a weed. Tender young shoots, leaves, and stem are edible (before fruits appear). Geese like to eat it (also known as Goosegrass) – I have geese! In the same family as coffee; the fruit can be dried, roasted, ground, and used like coffee!

 

 

Giant Cane/River Cane

6. Giant Cane/River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) – This is one of our native North American bamboo species in the genus Arundinaria. We only have three native species of bamboo in North America: Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), Hill Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), and Switch Cane (Arundinaria tecta). Base on the size of the plants on our property, this is Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), also known as River Cane. It has grown well over 6 feet on our property, but can reach heights of over 33 feet (10 meters)!. It has all the uses of other bamboos around the world. I am especially interested in the shoots for cooking! Giant Cane is also an “important habitat for the Swainson’s, hooded, and Kentucky warblers, as well as the white-eyed vireo. The disappearance of the canebrake ecosystem may have contributed to the rarity and possible extinction of the Bachman’s warbler, which was dependent upon it for nesting sites.” (quote from Wikipedia)

 

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

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Spring Forest Plants!

Spring may be my favorite season.

I love walking in our woods and seeing the Earth wake up from its Winter slumber.

Here are some photos I took this morning…

Cercis canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is much more pink and magenta than red.
Redbuds are “nitrogen fixers”… that means they pull nitrogen from the air to be used for its growth. It also provides some excess nitrogen to surrounding plants.
The flowers are also edible!

 

Asimina triloba is the Common Paw Paw, the largest native North American fruit!

 

Another photo of Asimina triloba, the Common Paw Paw.
Its scientific species name, “triloba” refers to the flower’s three-lobed calices and doubly three-lobed corollas.

 

Silene virginica is known as Fire Pink.
It attracts and is pollinated by the Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

 

Prunus americana is the American Wild Plum.
Their fruits are edible, and while sweet they are also very tart.

 

Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Bud in the foreground and trunk in the background. The trunk is what gives this tree its name!

 

Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Now with the bud in focus.

 

Viola sororia, the Common Blue Violet… but considering its purple color, I prefer its other name, the Common Meadow Violet.
Edible flowers and leaves!

 

Oxalis violacea is the Violet Wood-Sorrel.
The flowers, leaves, stems, and bulb are all edible and taste sour (in a good way), similar to a lemon.
Also known as the “Wild Shamrock”.

 

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

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Grass-Fed Lamb!

So excited to see that the smallest of our lambs still falls within expected weights of conventionally raised Katahdin lambs… and we are producing a healthier, grass-fed animal with no antibiotics, dewormers, or vaccines… and our small section of Earth is being healed in the process!

Looking out over our pastures!

This process is taking a few months longer than conventional, but the only real cost is the time to move paddocks. And this is kinda fun thing do.

Just under a year ago, our ewes had their first lambs on our farm. Today I’m taking the smallest ram lamb to a new butcher to be processed. This Katahdin Hair Sheep lamb weighs 97 lbs. He is 99.9% grass fed on our rotationally-grazed pastures. They get a small bit of fermented grain to help lead them to a new paddock and to keep them friendly. They also have a free-choice, kelp-based mineral supplement.

If the butchering goes well and our tastings pass the test, we will soon be able to start selling USDA-approved, locally-grown, beyond-organic lamb!

 

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

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Pig Plows and Wildflowers

I don’t own a tractor.

There may come a time when I change my mind, but I actually hope to never own one if I can help it.

But I still could use some earth turned from time to time.

Fortunately I have pigs.

And they can beautifully plow up a field. I have struggled to bury a shovel blade in the same soil that my pigs move through with seemingly no effort.

And they only use their nose!

Pig plow in action.

Pigs who root are happy pigs!

Pigs are amazing animals.

This same plowing efficiency is why some people do not want pigs in their pastures. That’s understandable. Especially if it is a good pasture. The pigs will tear it up.

The key to grazing pigs on pasture… and yes, I do mean grazing… my pigs love fresh grass! …but the key to grazing pigs on pasture is to make sure the soil and pasture are not destroyed by the pigs in their process of tearing it up.

And that’s not a contradiction.

A pasture that is torn up and left with patches of bare soil has the real possibility of being destroyed. A pasture that is torn up and then quickly covered again with grasses and other pasture plants is not destroyed, but is stable or even improved.

And this is the process we are implementing on our farm.

The rolling hills and valleys of our pastures.

Our farm has some areas of pretty good pasture and really bad pasture. Not surprisingly, the worst areas are on the ridges of our many hills. The topsoil is very shallow or even non-existent and has almost no organic matter.

These infertile, poor-soil ridges are the perfect place for our pigs.

This is our “soil” on the ridges… not very good

Between the Broomsedge and erosion already present on the ridges, it was pretty easy to see where we should start working to repair the soil.

Here’s our plan:
We set up a paddock on the ridges. We use poly braid electric fencing with a portable electric solar charger. The paddock will not extend too far on either side of the ridge where the pigs can cause significant erosion. We just want the soil turned over. We add hay to the paddock. The pigs eat some of this, but mainly they nest in it at night. After a few days, and this all depends on the size of the paddock and how much rain we get, the paddock will be sufficiently pig-plowed, and the pigs will be ready to be moved to the next paddock. The day before we move the pigs, we will broadcast seed in the pigs’ paddock. The pigs will trample the seeds into the soft earth. The manure and hay will add a good amount of organic matter to start the soil rebuilding process. The seeds will bring even more biomass and biodiversity to rebuild the soil and pastures.

 

Our pigs have plowed up this paddock and are ready for the next one.

This brings us to the seed.

I have many requirements and desires on pasture species. Therefore my seed list is very diverse.

Here’s the basis of our seed selection:
We desire pasture plants that can feed our animals. We desire plants that produce a lot of biomass (leaves, blades, stems, roots, etc.) to build the soil. We desire plants that can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil. We desire plants that can break up our clay soil and subsoil compaction. We desire plants that have deep roots that can withstand drought and pull nutrients from deep in the subsoil. We desire plants that increase soil microorganisms and life in general. We desire plants that yield a steady progression of flowers through the season to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators. We desire plants that provide habitat and food sources for beneficial insects.

That is a lot of desires for a seed. No one plant can do all that. There are some species that fulfill many of these requirements, but we also desire to increase the biodiversity of our pastures.

We are going to do this with seeds from two sources, Walnut Creek Seeds and Prairie Moon Nursery.

The bulk of our seeding will be using the Walnut Creek Seed Super Soil Builder Mix. This is a mix of species that will meet the majority of our desires in pasture plants. The seed mix includes:

  1. Field Pea
  2. Cow Pea
  3. Sunn Hemp
  4. Oats
  5. Pearl Millet
  6. Radish
  7. Ethiopian Cabbage
  8. Sunflower

We will also be sprinkling in a small amount of seed from Prairie Moon Nursery every time we seed with the Super Soil Builder. These are seeds from prairie plants native to North America. The majority of these species had original distribution over much of the east, including my home in Tennessee. These plants will fulfill our desire for pollen, nectar, and habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. They will also greatly increase the biodiversity in our pastures as there are over 100 species in our mix!

The species from Prairie Moon Nursery include:

  1. Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)
  2. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  3. Yellow Giant Hyssop (Agastache neptoides)
  4. Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
  5. Prairie Onion (Allium stellatum)
  6. Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
  7. Pasque Flower (Anemone patens var. wolfgangiana)
  8. Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
  9. Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate)
  10. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  11. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  12. Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticallata)
  13. Heath Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum ericoides)
  14. Smooth Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum laeve)
  15. Calico Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum lateriflorus)
  16. New England Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  17. Sky Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum oolentangiensis)
  18. Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
  19. White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba)
  20. Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)
  21. Decurrent False Aster (Boltonia decurrens)
  22. Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia or Arnoglossum atriplicifolium)
  23. Great Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum reniforme)
  24. Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
  25. Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
  26. Pasture Thistle (Cirsium discolor)
  27. Lance-Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
  28. White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
  29. Leafy Prairie Clover (Dalea foliosa)
  30. Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  31. Illinois Bundle Flower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
  32. Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense)
  33. Illinois Tick Trefoil (Desmodium illinoensis)
  34. Midland Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
  35. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  36. Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
  37. Bush’s Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)
  38. Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  39. Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata)
  40. Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis)
  41. Cream Gentian (Gentiana flavida)
  42. Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
  43. Showy Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
  44. Early/False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
  45. Rose Mallow (Hibiscus laevis)
  46. Great St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  47. Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota)
  48. False Boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides)
  49. Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
  50. Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis)
  51. Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
  52. Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
  53. Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
  54. Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
  55. Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
  56. Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica)
  57. Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
  58. Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)
  59. Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
  60. Tube Beardtongue (Penstemon tubaeflorus)
  61. Narrow-Leaved Obedient Plant (Physostegia angustifolia)
  62. Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
  63. Prairie Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta)
  64. Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
  65. Hairy Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var.pilosum)
  66. Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
  67. Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
  68. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  69. Sweet Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
  70. Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
  71. Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
  72. Late Figwort (Scrophularia marilandica)
  73. Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa)
  74. Maryland Senna (Senna marilandica)
  75. Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  76. Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium)
  77. Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)
  78. Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
  79. Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
  80. Stout Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
  81. Grass-Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia)
  82. Early Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
  83. Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  84. Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
  85. Purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
  86. Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
  87. Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
  88. Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)
  89. Yellow Crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides)
  90. Common Ironweed (Veronia fasciculate)
  91. Missouri Ironweed (Veronia missurica)
  92. Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
  93. Heart-Leaf Golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera)
  94. Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  95. Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
  96. New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
  97. Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum)
  98. Early Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)
  99. Big Bluestem PLS (Andropogon gerardii)
  100. Side-Oats Grama PLS (Bouteloua curtipendula)
  101. Bebb’s Oval Sedge (Carex bebbii)
  102. Plains Oval Sedge (Carex brevior)
  103. Brown Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
  104. Canada Wild Rye PLS (Elymus canadensis)
  105. Virginia Wild Rye PLS (Elymus virginicus)
  106. Dudley’s Rush (Juncus dudleyi)
  107. June Grass PLS (Koeleria macrantha)
  108. Switch Grass PLS (Panicum virgatum)
  109. Little Bluestem PLS (Schyzachyrium scoparium)
  110. Indian Grass PLS (Sorghastrum nutans)
  111. Rough Dropseed (Sporobolus asper)
  112. Prairie Dropseed PLS (Sporobolus heterolepis)

Note: There are a few of the species listed here that may be toxic to livestock. Then why would I add them to our fields where our sheep and pigs and other animals may eat them? First, none of the species are extremely toxic. Second, toxicity is almost always dose dependent… meaning, a little bit will not cause trouble. If a whole paddock was filled with a mildly toxic plant, then yes, an animal could be harmed. But we are adding so few of each plant, that I am not concerned about this. Third, these are native prairie plants that have been grazed by herbivores on this continent for thousands and thousands of years before modern humans altered the ecosystem… meaning, grazing animals have and can live in harmony with these plants. Fourth, when animals have a choice, and that is key, they will choose the plants their bodies need. Many of these “toxic” plants are likely medicinal to the animals in small quantities. If herbivores have plenty of options for grazing, they will eat what is needed and desired, and not more. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in light of the other reasons listed above, I believe the benefit from this huge increase in biodiversity is worth the very small risk.

As this system matures, I will add photos!

 

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Patches of Spring Regeneration

It’s not much yet, but I’m still excited to see these bright, Spring green patches of grass coming up in a pasture that was recently covered with Eastern Red Cedar seedlings (Juniperus virginiana) and Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus).

This is the result after only a single rotational grazing period with our sheep followed immediately with my small riding mower to knock down the clumps of Broomsedge.

We did no reseeding, liming, or calcium application… all of which would be helpful and would speed up the recovery/regeneration process.

It’s these little encouragements that confirm we are on the right track.

 

 

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Dealing with Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus)

Andropogon virginicus, also known as Broomsedge Bluestem (or just Broom Sedge), Yellowsedge Bluestem, and Whiskey Grass is a clumping grass that is native to the southeastern United States, and this includes where our farm is located in East Tennessee.

In the photo above, you can see how thick it has grown in the pastures on our farm.

When we first moved to our farm almost 2 years ago, I knew this plant was going to be a great indicator species for me to monitor the health and regeneration of our pastures.

Broomsedge in a pasture tells me that the pastures have been overgrazed or neglected or both. While grazing animals will eat it in Spring and early Summer, it is not preferred. It has less nutrition than other pasture plants, and once it dries out in late Summer and early Autumn, grazing animals will mostly ignore it.

A fun photo of our kids right after we bought the farm… but look at all that broom sedge and red cedar taking over the pastures!

Why is it an indicator of overgrazing?

Well, as many graziers like to say, “herbivores eat dessert first”. They will choose the pasture grasses and plants that have high levels of sugar and/or protein and/or mineral content first. Examples of these plants include clovers, bluegrass, rye, timothy, etc. Ideally, our pastures will have high proportions of these plants.

Herbivores will eat their favorite “dessert” plant first, then wander over and eat another “dessert” plant, and then wander some more and eat yet another “dessert” plant. All the while, they are ignoring the less desirable species of grass or pasture plant.

When the animal eats the leaves of one of these plants, the photosynthetic ability of that plant is suddenly and significantly reduced. The plant now has to rely on the energy reserves in its roots to stay alive. It will use these energy reserves to grow new leaves, or as I like to say, new photosynthetic energy generators. Depending on the season and plant species, this new growth (regrowth) will start in 4-10 days.

If the pasture is small or there is a high stocking density (i.e. a high number of animals per given area of land), the animals may east the less desired plants only after they have eaten all the highly desired “dessert” plants first.

If we leave the animals on the pasture too long during the active growing season then, by the time the animals make their way around the pasture, there has been sufficient time for the “dessert” plants to start to put on new growth.

Now, the only plant an herbivore likes more than a “dessert” plant is a “dessert” plant with tender regrowth!

So the “dessert” plants will be eaten again, just as they are trying to regrow. They have used up a significant amount of their energy reserve in their roots to put out new leaves, and these leaves are now gone again. So the plant has to pull even more stored energy from the roots to try and regrow even more leaves. A plant can only do this so many times before it has no energy reserve left, and then the plant will die.

All the while, the less desirable plant continues to grow. It matures. It develops and drops its seed right next to the “dessert” plant that has been grazed, literally, to death. Now that less desirable plant can move in to the space previously occupied by the “dessert” plant.

This is how, over time, a pasture can become full of less desirable species of grasses and plants.

This is exactly what has happened on my farm. The previous owner let a neighbor open graze his cattle (that means let the cattle have free access to all pastures) for well over 10 years, maybe more.

Fortunately, not all “dessert” species were lost. But the less desirable species, especially the Broomsedge Bluestem, were given an unfair advantage for a long time. Now my pastures are covered with it.

We are rotationally grazing our sheep as one method to improve our pastures.

So what am I going to do about it?

First, we are going to manage our pastures with intensive rotational grazing techniques. This is going to make the biggest long-term impact on the health and improvement of our pastures. I have written about it multiple times in the past on my site:

  1. Sheep paddock rotational grazing
  2. Mob grazing with sheep
  3. More evidence of our farm’s regeneration
  4. Rotational grazing Azores style

Second, since this plant is a native to my area, I am not overly worried about it. But it is not an ideal plant. I would rather have more of the “dessert” species in my pastures. The rotational grazing methods we are using will work to regenerate our pastures. But I think we can speed the regenerative process up a bit.

Third, we will speed the regenerative process up by thinking a bit about how the less desirable species grows (in this case it is Broomsedge Bluestem). It is a clumping grass. It is eaten by our sheep in the Spring and early Summer. By late Summer and early Autumn, it will dry out and form fairly thick standing clumps. These clumps will stay standing all Winter long and well into the next year. By staying standing, it will shade out the growth of other pasture species, thereby maintaining its position in the pasture.

On the left of this photo is the field I am actively mowing… cutting the Broomsedge. A swale is holding water almost a week after the last rain. This moisture has helped “green up” the landscape downhill, but that area was also mowed a few months earlier, and so that pasture was not shaded out by the tall, dense Broomsedge clumps.

Forth, I use this information to develop management plans to encourage other plants’ growth. Specifically, I let the animals eat the Broomsedge in the Spring and early Summer. Then, especially in Winter when we will not interfere with the active growth of other plants, I knock down the dried standing clumps of Broomsedge. I do this by cutting it with my riding mower. Yes, I am sure I get some strange looks by my neighbors when I am riding my small mower in the middle of our pastures. But there is a method to my madness. By cutting those standing clumps in Winter, I am preventing the Broomsedge Bluestem from shading out the other plants come Spring. I am trying to give the unfair advantage back to the desired species.

About a week after mowing the area uphill of the swale, there is already new green growth. This is mostly fescue, a cool-season grass that is getting a jump start due to the recent warmer weather AND my letting in more sunlight by cutting the Broomsedge.

There are a number of other techniques that could be used. We could add seed of desirable plants. We do this a bit right now. I broadcast clover seed in Winter (this is known as frost seeding). Other people my use a tractor and seeder to drill (i.e. plant) seed in the pastures. Some people may plow up a field and reseed, and other people may use chemicals to kill all the grass in a pasture and then reseed with the plants they desire. We do not have a tractor, and I am pretty adamant about avoiding all synthetic chemicals on our property. This is how we came up with the methods we are now using.

 

All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.

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The Trouble with Facebook Permaculture

Facebook Permaculture.

That’s my new term for the day. And it has really been bugging me.

The problem is that I’m guilty of it myself.

I need to say that at the onset. I don’t want to come across in a condescending way, because I do it.

I don’t think we really mean to, but it happens nonetheless.

We get excited about getting something done. We are proud of it. We want to tell people about it. So we do. We get on Facebook or Instagram or whatever social media, photo-sharing website/app we use, and we show the world the wonderful thing we have just accomplished.

We are happy when others “like” our post. We love the positive feedback.

Now, before I get too far, please don’t get me wrong… sharing our successes and accomplishments is important to do. In fact, we ought to do this.

I often think of the people in the mid-1960’s and 1970’s “back to the land” movement. They were one of the first groups of people who left the city to try and be self-sufficient. Most members of the previous generations knew how to be self-sufficient, because that was how they were raised. The earlier generations grew up with backyard gardens and chickens and a more self-reliant know-how and confidence. But by the 1960’s, at least in the United States, there was a gap in the transfer of this knowledge. The people who left the city and moved to the country didn’t have first-hand knowledge. They had to learn it or figure it out.

They may have had a few Foxfire books.

If they were lucky, and not too arrogant, they were befriended by a neighboring farmer or homesteader from a family that never left the homestead. They were fortunate if they had some early successes to build the confidence when tough times came… when a harvest was destroyed or an animal was lost.

Unfortunately, far too many of these “back to the landers” gave up. This whole “living off the land” thing was way too hard. It was all but impossible. So the “back to the landers” went back to the city. Defeated. Disillusioned. Depressed.

Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have the enormous wealth of knowledge found online. We can find how-to’s and problem-solving-solutions within minutes of when we need it. We can find success story after success story. We can find inspiration.

This next generation of “back to the landers”, of which I am one, are not giving up quite as quickly as before. I have no scientific data to support this claim. But I daily see success story after success story from people who are not giving up, not throwing in the towel, and not moving back to the city. It’s not that we are better in any way. I firmly believe that this generation of “back to the landers” are succeeding, in large part, due to the vast resources we have at our fingertips, which sadly the previous generation did not have. We run into roadblocks, and we can more easily find solutions and work-arounds. We are able to Google our way to success.

But this is only because we share those successes.

This is because we are getting on blogs and Facebook and Instagram and telling the world what we did and how we did it.

So for that I am immensely grateful.

But there is a down side to this story. And this is not only found in Permaculture or Homesteading or with the “back to the landers”. It is found throughout this entire generation of people who compare themselves to those they see on social media.

“Gosh,” they say, “Everyone is so successful with everything they do. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I be so successful? I’ll never be able to ____  Maybe I should just stop trying. Maybe I should just quit.”

This is especially true in the Permaculture world.

We share photos of our huge harvests, of our beautiful pastures, of our new lambs or piglets or chicks.

But we don’t share struggles. We don’t share our failures. Some do. But most do not.

It is not malicious.

It’s just not fun. It’s not exciting. We are not proud of failing.

Our compost pile... that will be in the wrong place for over a year before we are finally done with it.

Our compost pile… that will be in the wrong place for over a year before we are finally done with it.

When all we do is share our success, we make it appear that failures are not common and are not part of the path toward success.

But I think it is important for us to be real.

So I’ll start…

  • We had a litter of piglets that were all stillborn.
  • We had another litter of four piglets, and only one survived.
  • We had a dump truck load of compost that is still sitting on the driveway. We used almost half of it, but we probably will have that pile sitting there for another 6 months… much to my wife’s chagrin.
  • We randomly had one of our ewes die. No idea why.
  • We had two of our pigs die. Not at the same time. But it happened, and we don’t know why.
  • We had a significant drought this Summer, and I lost close to half of the trees I planted a few months earlier.
  • I sliced my finger while breaking down chickens after processing, and I needed to give myself stitches.
  • We got our garden going too late this year, and we didn’t get a harvest from the broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels spouts. (You can see the photo at the top of the page… this was a quick harvest before the frost… all we got was cabbage, but none of the other crops had time to mature, because we got them going too late.)
  • We still have a section of perimeter fence down from a windblown tree, and I have yet to get it cleared and the fence repaired. And I’ve known about it for at least 6 months.
  • Our geese made multiple nests, laid eggs, and abandoned all of them.
  • We lost every single one of our 23 Guinea Fowl to an unknown night predator.

That’s all I can think of in about 30 seconds. But I am sure there is a whole lot more.

We have had a lot of bad and sad and frustrating things, but the good thing is that our successes have outweighed our failures and our delays. And that is really important.

But it is also important for people to see that this life is not always simple or easy or carefree.

I’m not planning on quitting and moving back to the city. Not at all!

But I am trying to keep it real.

 

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