Permaculture in Action

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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Book Review: The Bio-Integrated Farm

The Bio-Integrated Farm: A Revolutionary Permaculture-Based System Using Greenhouses, Ponds, Compost Piles, Aquaponics, Chickens, and More by Shawn Jadrnicek

Full Disclosure:
I was given a copy of this book by Chelsea Green Publishing in exchange for writing an honest review on my website.

Bottom Line Up Front:
I was really impressed with this book.

Shawn and

Shawn and Stephanie Jadrnicek

Full Review:
I’ll be honest. I went into evaluating this book with a pretty pessimistic attitude. I think my attitude was due to a few things. First, while I know there have been a number of very good Permaculture books published in the last few years, there have also been a number of redundant Permaculture books hitting the market at the same time… meaning, authors with little experience have tried to cash-in on the Permaculture wave and have written very basic books filled with information already found in other (better) books.  When I read the title, “The Bio-Integrated Farm”, I felt like this was just another repackage of the Permaculture basics in an attempt to sell another book.

Second, before accepting the book, and the subsequent writing assignment, I clearly told the publisher that I would only agree if I could write whatever I wanted… no strings attached. They told me that I could write an entirely honest review, and they felt I would “find Shawn’s work, though perhaps not unassailable, at least accessible and very innovative.” I know this was not meant as a challenge to find something wrong with the book, but I think I took it as such.

So, in all honesty, I started reading this book with a bad attitude and some pretty harsh pre-conceived ideas.

I did a quick skim of this book, and I begrudgingly thought I may have to change my mind. Then I read every page, cover to cover, and indeed, Shawn Jadrnicek won me over.

This book is not a rehash of basic Permaculture.
This book is not written by an inexperienced author.
This book is not written just to sell another book.

Shawn Jadrnicek has worked, according to the publisher’s website, “as an organic farmer, nursery grower, extension agent, arborist, and landscaper, and now as the manager of Clemson University’s Student Organic Farm.” He is not new to the world of Permaculture or sustainable agriculture.

Shawn states in the introduction, “I continuously run into an underlying rule or directive that, if done properly, accomplishes most of the other Permaculture principles. I believe it’s a unifying principle that underlies the heart of Permaculture and all good ecological designs. In the Permaculture community it’s known as stacking functions.”

This strongly resonated with my own thoughts and findings. Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren stated it as “Integrate rather than segregate.” And Permaculture’s other co-founder, Bill Mollison, stated it in two parts “Each element performs many functions” and “Each important function is supported by many elements.” Shawn Jadrnicek’s goal is to have each design to have at least seven useful functions. He states, “Once the magic odd number of seven is breached, the design takes on a life of its own. For a component to perform seven functions it must be so connected with the surrounding environment that it takes on a new autonomous, lifelike quality. I refer to this quality as bio-integration.”

Now, this is the point where most books would give a few examples of “stacking functions” and then move on, but not Shawn Jadrnicek.

Shawn's construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

Shawn’s construction of a new greenhouse with a reflecting pond in the foreground.

The Bio-Integrated Farm really surpasses many Permaculture books by not just sharing a lot of theory and ideas, but it actually provides tested example after tested example of those ideas put into practice. And not only did it have a lot of examples, but it had a lot of details as well. I have been frustrated many times in the past with numerous books and authors who share a brilliant idea, but then fail to explain it fully so that it can be reproduced. Shawn not only gives you the great idea (one that has been tested, redesigned, and perfected), but then he gives the details (sometimes a lot of them), so that anyone can reproduce what he has done.

Let me give you two examples:

In the chapter titled A Pool of Resources, The Bio-Integrated Pond, there is 1 table, 5 formulas, 9 diagrams, and 32 photographs. Shawn dives into pond construction covering functions, determining the best location based on distance to buildings and sun angles, evaporation, construction, size, shape, elevation in the landscape, excavation, proper slope angles and berm size, drainage and overflow (including installation of drainpipes), pumps, siphons, the use of pond liners, filling the pond, pond covers, stocking with fish, using and harvesting minnows, tadpoles, pond predators, details on 13 aquatic/wetland plants, floating transplant trays, and more.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

One of the many photos giving details for rainwater collection.

In the chapter titled The Big Flush, Bio-Integrated Rainwater Harvesting, there is 1 diagram, 10 formulas, 11 photographs, and 15 tables/charts. Shawn goes through dry and wet systems, roof collection, sizing gutters and downspouts, filtration, storage ponds, storage tanks, tank foundation, burying tanks, installing the fittings on the tank, pond and tank safety, calculating and harvesting rainwater, water pressure and flow, gravity-flow toilets, using drip irrigation, installing and using pumps, calculating water usage, and planning for multiyear water storage.

Seriously, this is not a superficial read!

This book is a how-to guide for taking Permaculture principles and concepts and implementing them with practical and useful applications.
This book is written by a seasoned veteran of trials and failures and trials and successes.
This book truly offers something new to the Permaculture library.

I highly recommend this book!

 

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The First Year at the Bauernhof!

This week marks the one year anniversary of moving to our farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner.

It has been busy. It’s been exciting. We’ve had successes. We’ve had failures. We have had sad times. We have had a lot of fun.

I am going to go through each of the projects we have taken on this year and provide an evaluation of each one.

 

SHEEP

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One of my sons with our flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep.

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This is me with one of our new sheep.

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This is me with our first lambs born at the farm, twin boys!

Overview:
We have a small flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep. We started with 10 ewe lambs. We lost one early on to an unknown injury/illness. We were able to borrow a Katahdin ram from a neighbor, and so far, 7 of our 9 ewes have delivered. We had 3 ewe lambs and 5 ram lambs delivered with no complications and no need for bottle-feeding. There was one set of twins.

Lessons Learned:
Our ewes range from medium to small in size. This is directly due to less-than-ideal genetics. If we would have taken some time to visit a few other flocks, we would have quickly been able to see that these sheep were pretty small compared to breed standard. But these sheep were local and easy to obtain, they have all been great mothers so far, and they have performed well on our poor pastures. So far, this has been a good start for us… but I still wish we had bigger sheep!

Moving Forward:
We have 7 proven ewes. We have 2 that may be pregnant  (the ram visited on two different occasions, so they still have a shot). We have internally increased our flock by 3 ewes. We are also adding 8 more ewe lambs (from larger-sized genetics!) this month, so this will bring our flock up to 20 ewes. Our goal is to have 40-50 ewes on our farm. They seem to be performing well on our land. Things are moving well with our sheep.

 

PIGS

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Our pigs snuggled together on a cool morning.

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Our Guineas jump right in with the pigs during feeding time. All the animals love the fermented grains!

Overview:
We have a small herd of heritage breed pigs. We currently have 5 females. These are 1 American-Guinea Hog mix, 2 Vietnamese Potbelly Pigs, 1 Gloucester Old Spot-Large Black-Mulefoot Hog mix, and 1 Gloucester Old Spot-Large Black-Berkshire Hog mix. We have a young, unproven Gloucester Old Spot boar who should be sexually mature any day now. In addition, we have 2 castrated male American-Guinea Hogs which we will be processing this coming Autumn.

Lessons Learned:
I love pigs! But they can be hard on the land. If the pigs are left too long in an area, then they will make a wallow. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a pig thing. It can be bad if we didn’t want a wallow where they made one. But it can be great if we use their earth-moving tendencies to help us till the land before we use it for something else. With pigs, it is all about timing. If they are in one place for more than a few days, especially if it is wet (rain, lowlands, etc.), then they will start to really till the land. Some people will place rings in the pigs’ nose, but we have not chosen to do this at this point. The pigs have been tilling the area where we will be placing our forest garden and annual garden.

Moving Forward:
Our long term goal is to raise pigs in a savanna-style system… grass in the Spring and Summer and then fatten them on nuts (mast) that fall from our oaks, hickories, and walnuts in our forest in the Autumn. We are also planting many apple and chestnut trees on our property for ourselves and our pigs. We still need to get our fencing systems set up in the forest to implement the full plan.

 

LAYER CHICKENS

We keep a flock of laying hens that produce eggs for us and for sale.

We keep a flock of laying hens that produce eggs for us and for sale.

Our chickens came next. We used Salatin-style chicken tractors to disperse the sheep and pig manure. They also ate more grass and gave their own fertilizer.

Our layer chickens are mostly free-ranged.

Our EggMobile!

We do provide a nightly, mobile coop for our layers

Overview:
We have a mixed flock of free-ranging, laying chickens with about 45 hens. We have Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Ameraucanas, Buff Orpingtons, and a single Golden-Laced Polish. The birds are moved around the property in a mobile coop. We are averaging 36-40 eggs a day.

Lessons Learned:
I have read that chickens will take a grassy area down to bare dirt, and so we decided to run our chickens after our pigs to prepare our garden area. Yes, they did take down some of the grass, but not all of it and not very fast. We eventually put up a poultry net around the coop to prevent them from ranging too far. I am sure if I left the chickens in the same spot for a longer time, they would eventually take it down to bare earth. But as we were waiting for this to occur, our egg quality and numbers declined. Our yolks became more pale, and our daily number of eggs (which was really quite good) decreased. We eventually took down the poultry netting and let the chickens go back to free-ranging. We also initially kept our roosters, but they were not really fond of our small children. The roosters never really bothered me. I think they either saw me as alpha or as a non-threat. Unfortunately, they ended up attacking everybody else who visited the coop. We were really not happy to do it, but our goal is a no-stress farm. Roosters randomly attacking people living or visiting the farm is actually pretty high-stress. So the roosters had to go. Finally, a word about chicken poop! We installed a half-inch hardware cloth (wire mesh) on the floor, but it catches everything and prevents it from falling through the mesh. We will need to replace it with a larger mesh in the near future.

Moving Forward:
Our coop can house about 75 birds, so we are going to increase our chicken egg production by adding some additional layers. We just received some Colombian Wynadottes, and we will be adding some Cuckoo Marans and Speckled Sussex in a few weeks. We will continue to run the layer chickens after the pigs and sheep as these animals are rotated around the property.

 

BROILER CHICKENS

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

A view of our farm in Bulls Gap, TN

A view of our farm in Bulls Gap, TN

Overview:
Last year we ran 200 fast-growing, Cornish-Rock Cross broiler chickens in two Joel Salatin-style chicken tractors. We processed the chickens at our farm between 8-9 weeks of age. We sold about half of the chickens and used the rest for ourselves.

Lessons Learned:
This is a fast turnaround farm product. We had no problem selling our pasture-raised, organic-fed chickens. In fact, we had to limit our sales so that we could actually eat some our own chickens! The meat was outstanding. These birds grow fast and grow large. The only way to make any money raising broiler chickens is to process them ourselves. But this is a lot of work. We processed 100 broilers a day on two very long days about 2 months apart. More hands make the work significantly better, but if you need to pay for those hands, your profit drops. I wanted to save the livers and gizzards of as many birds as I could. Personally, I love organ meat, and when it comes from animals raised the way we raise them, I think the organ meat is extremely healthy. But if you want to keep the liver intact, you need to be a lot more careful during the evisceration process. This really slows down the process. I watched many videos of Joel Salatin eviscerating his chickens, and I am amazed at his speed. I work well with my hands, but I probably need a few thousand more birds before I get at fast as Joel.

Moving Forward:
We are increasing our broilers from 200 to 300 this year. This is not a huge increase. But we really want to improve our process. We are implementing Small and Slow Solutions and Applying Self-Regulation and Accepting Feedback. We don’t want to burn out with this great system.

 

DUCKS

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A Rouen male (drake).

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An immature Rouen drake (male) on the left and a hen (female) on the right.

Overview:
We started with 30 Rouen Ducks. We ordered a straight run (meaning they would give us unsexed birds). We ended up with about 10 females and 20 males. We initially ordered the ducks for a few reasons. One of my sons is allergic to chicken eggs, and it appeared that he was not allergic to duck eggs. Unfortunately, his allergy eventually extended to duck eggs as well. Bummer! The second reason was we were considering selling the duck eggs, but we wanted to test the market a bit first. The third reason is that I like duck meat. Finally, we have three ponds on our property, and I thought ducks may be a nice addition.

Lessons Learned:
So the egg-allergy angle failed. The duck meat is really good, but they are really hard to de-feather. We can skin the birds and avoid having to de-feather, but a nice, crispy skin on a duck breast is delicious. But again, ducks are really, really hard to de-feather! We tried the chicken plucker, hot wax dips, hand plucking. None of it works well. I did process (and de-feather!) all but 5 of the males and kept all of the females. But then an unknown predator (hawk? fox? raccoon?) killed 3 of our females. We now only have 7 females remaining. They are laying pretty good now, 3-5 per day. That’s decent for this breed. We now have three nests that indicate our ducks may be getting broody (ready to sit and hatch some ducklings). We have also not had any problem selling our duck eggs. Finally, after doing more research, our ponds are not quite large enough for the number of birds we have. Too many birds on a pond, and the pond will quickly get out of balance. Too much manure dropping into the water will result in algae blooms and fish die-off. Too many ducks on a small pond will quickly kill the pond.

Moving Forward:
We like the ducks a lot. We are hoping they will go broody and raise some ducklings. We will keep the females and process (skin!) the males. We will continue to sell any excess duck eggs we have. We are still trying to see if ducks will work for us in the long run.

 

GEESE

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A young Pilgrim gander (male).

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A mature Toulouse gander.

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The white Pilgrim gander with the Toulouse geese

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Goose eggs are large, and a double-yolked goose egg is enormous!

Overview:
We started with 6 pairs of sexed goslings. We had three male/female pairs of Pilgrim Geese and three male/female pairs of Large Dewlap Toulouse Geese. We lost one due to a leg injury. We lost another to a poultry netting injury. I had to process one due to him being really mean (my kids called him Vader, and they were pretty scared of him). We then lost another four to another unknown predator (fox? raccoon? opossum?). We now have one male Pilgrim and two female Pilgrim Geese and two male Toulouse Geese.

Lessons Learned:
Our goal of having a few pairs of breeding geese has not gone well so far. We made a nice, A-frame nest box for the geese, but the geese ignored it. Both of our female Pilgrims made nests on their own next to the pond. Despite what I just said above about keeping the birds off the pond, we decided to let the geese have access to the water. Geese prefer to breed in water, especially the large breeds like our Large Dewlap Toulouse. The Pilgrim Geese would breed in the water troughs we used in the pastures. But the Toulouse only bred once they got on the pond. So that was a good move on our part. But then we lost our last female Toulouse, so… no more pond for the geese. On top of all this, before the geese started to make nests, we were able to collect a number of eggs. A single goose egg is at least the size of three chicken eggs. They taste great. This was an unexpected bonus for us. Another lesson learned is that my kids are a little scared of the geese. Getting “goosed” is a real thing, and it can be scary for a small child. Again, we don’t want stress on our farm, so this is a bit of a conundrum for us. We all kind of like the geese even though they have not worked out as planned and they can be intimidating.

Moving Forward:
Geese can live a long time. 15-20 years is not out of the question. In fact, there are reports of geese living well over 60 years. I believe that author Harvey Ussery shared a story of a goose living over one hundred years of age in the UK, and was till raising a brood of goslings each Spring, but she unfortunately died from a tractor accident. My point is that a single, first season with the geese is not enough time to make a decision. We plan to keep the geese for now. We are running them with the ducks, and this is working well for now. We will see what the next year holds.

 

GUINEA FOWL

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Our flock of Guinea Fowl

Over 100 eggs were in this Guinea nest found by one of our WOOFERs (Jordan).

Over 100 eggs were in this Guinea nest found by one of our WOOFERs (Jordan).

Overview:
We ordered 23 one-day-old Guinea keets. We now have 22 adults. We lost one, but we have no idea what happened to it. It was just gone one day. We purchased the Guineas to eat ticks as we are in an area with a lot of ticks.

Lessons Learned:
Guineas love ticks! We used to have ticks crawling everywhere on this property, even on the front porch. Within a few weeks of letting the Guineas free range, I don’t think we have had one tick in the 4-5 acres surrounding our house, and we only rarely see them in the pastures. The Guineas range pretty far, covering all 45 acres of our property that are in pasture. They don’t roam much into the woods, and that is where we end up seeing ticks. A bonus is that Guinea eggs taste great. They are a bit smaller than chicken eggs (it takes 3 Guinea eggs to equal 2 chicken eggs). The problem is that Guineas do not lay in nest boxes. They will try to find a secluded location and lay eggs there until caught. None of the hens have gone broody, so occasionally we find a Guinea nest with 50-100 eggs in it! We will eat many of them, but if we are unsure of the freshness, we will boil them and feed the boiled eggs to the pigs. Guineas, just like most birds, enjoy a good dust bath. Unfortunately, they have decided the brick flower beds that line the front of our house are perfect for them. Did it matter the flower beds were filled with flowers? Not to the Guineas. So now we have dirt filled flower beds. The only thing that survived in there were the Rosemary, Lavender, and Mint. So, that is what we are going to fill the beds with. I am not a big fan of these type of flower beds anyway (they get too dried out and require watering too frequently, the soil is not very deep, etc). So the Guineas kind of helped make a decision for us.

Moving Forward:
The Guineas have done their job exceedingly well. Nary a tick to be found unless we venture into the woods. We get eggs as a bonus!

 

DOGS

This is our Scrubs. He travelled the world with us and got us to the farm. We still miss him.

This is our Scrubs. He traveled the world with us and got us to the farm. We still miss him.

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Our male Australian Shepherd, Ritter.

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Our female Australian Shepherd, Arabelle.

Overview:
We had a Dalmatian for about 8 years. We travelled the world together (literally… he lived with us on three continents!). Scrubs made it about 1 year on the farm with us before he died of a presumed liver cancer. That was a really tough time for us. It still is if we think about him too much.

Lessons Learned:
Dogs are an integral part of farm life for us. They offer protection. They offer friendship. We will never have a farm without a dog.

Moving Forward:
Two new Australian Shepherd puppies arrived on the farm within the last month, and they have already become part of the Bauernhof!

 

TREES

We ordered a bunch of trees from Versaland!

We ordered a bunch of trees from Versaland!

Overview:
We have planted about 200 trees so far. These are a mix of Apple, Cherry, Persimmon, Pawpaw, Black Locust, Redbud, and Oak. We still have a number of Chestnuts and Apples to plant, but we are waiting to finish our swales first (see next topic).

Lessons Learned:
Planting takes time. If the soil has not been prepared in any manner, planting takes even longer. We are trying to strike a middle ground between the $100 hole for a $10 tree approach (this means you take a lot of time to perfectly plant a tree) and Mark Shepard’s STUN approach (Simple, Total, Utter, Neglect… plant as many inexpensive trees as possible, as fast as possible, and know that you will lose some). Irrigation is a big deal as well. Fortunately, we have wells and long hoses that can reach each of the trees we planted. If we have not had an inch of rain in the week, we irrigate. This has worked well so far, and we have only had to irrigate twice. But irrigation does take a lot of time.

Moving Forward:
We will continue to plant many, many, many trees!

 

SWALES

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The first swale on the Bauernhof will be just under a half-mile long.

Overview:
We have about 45 acres of pasture with many rolling hills. I have marked out just about one half mile (0.8 km) of an almost continuous contour line cutting across our pastures. I was trying to come up with a way to get some swales built, when I noticed a neighbor had an excavator sitting behind his barn. Our 70+-year-old neighbor, Billy, used to build roads and now has a farm. He has now spent quite a bit of time over at our farm, repairing ponds and building swales for us. What a blessing!

Lessons Learned:
We have a LOT of shale just under the surface of our degraded soils. This takes a lot of time to dig through. Our neighbor Billy has a small, older excavator. Is it perfectly ideal for building swales? No. But does it work? Yes, it does! It just takes a bit more time and finesse, but fortunately, Billy has both. I spent a lot of time thinking about how and where we wanted to put the swales. This is a pretty permanent decision. I almost got stuck in that “analysis paralysis” stage and never made a decision. Finally, I picked a primary reference point and got started. So far, the swales are working well.

Moving Forward:
We still have the other half of the swale to build and plant, but things are going well so far.

 

WOOFERS

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Overview:
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an organization that connects people interested in learning about and experiencing farm life with host farms. We signed up to be a host farm. My wife does all the screening. Getting quality individuals is really important to us considering we have 4 small children. Our WOOFERs have their own bedroom above our garage.

Lessons Learned:
We have had 4 WOOFERs so far. They have been fantastic! Two have been Americans, one French/Canadian, and one Kiwi from New Zealand. All have been absolutely wonderful. We focus on getting quality people. We are not task-masters on the farm. Yes, there is an understanding that they will provide work for us, and we will provide room and board (food). But we love sharing our farm with young people who are interested in learning more about agriculture, Permaculture, and sustainable/regenerative farming. We want our WOOFERs to feel they have contributed to something good. We want them to find peace here. And our children are continuing to keep their minds opened by meeting people from all over the world (now, they already have a pretty good worldview considering they have lived most of their lives outside of the USA). The WOOFERs mostly take care of the daily animal chores and help with additional projects as needed. This has freed up time for us to move forward on additional projects.

Moving Forward:
The WOOFER addition to our farm has been invaluable. For ourselves, our family, and our WOOFERs, I hope we always have at least one WOOFER on the farm! (If you are interested, check us out!)

 

MISCELLANEOUS OTHER PROJECTS

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We had a Youth Group from Michigan spend 4 days clearing Eastern Red Cedar seedlings and saplings from our pastures!

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Right side: Before our animals. Left side: After our animals.

Soil:
We will continue to work on building the quality of our soil. We are doing this through intensive, rotational grazing of our animals and adding any organic content to the soil that we can find.

Pastures:
Directly tied into the soil topic above is the health of our pastures. We first had to clear the pastures of the encroaching Easter Red Cedars that were attempting to turn the pasture back to forest (see the photo above). The grazing systems we are using will are already improving our pastures. We do occasionally reseed, but not much. I have also mowed certain sections of the pasture a single time with my riding mower after our animals are moved off of it… yes, I am sure some of my neighbors laugh when they see me on my riding mower in the middle of our 45 acres of pasture, but I don’t mind. Our system is working. We had a lot of Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), well, we still do have a lot, but it is becoming less and less every day. Broomsedge is a native to our area, but it is a less than ideal pasture grass. It is a great marker of poor soil quality. As we are improving our soil quality, the other more desirable species start to take back the space where only the Broomsedge could grow. We are ending up with better pastures every day.

Gardens:
We will finally get started on installing our Forest Garden and Annual Vegetable Garden this Spring. We are getting a later start than I wanted, but that’s okay. Our goal is to continually moving forward. If the timing is not perfect, but we are making progress, then I am happy.

Ponds:
We have three ponds on our property. Our largest pond was almost lost due to cattle having constant access to it before we bought the farm. Fortunately, our neighbor Billy and his excavator came to the rescue. We repaired a very eroded dam wall, reseeded it, and saved it. We have a second pond that is smaller and also has some significant erosion, but is not currently at risk. We also have a very small pond that is severely eroded and almost empty now. Cattle wore down the dam wall, and almost all the water leaked out. I hope to get these ponds repaired this year. I am also planning on adding some irrigation pipes so that we can water our animals from the ponds without letting them have access to the water’s edge.

Forests:
We have over 50 acres of mixed hardwood forests consisting of Oaks, Hickory, Black Walnut, Black Locust, Redbud, Eastern Red Cedar, and other Pine trees mixed in, along with many other species. There are many useful plants in the understory as well. We also have numerous species of edible mushrooms in the forest. Our forests are a significant untapped resource. We are still thinking about ways to appropriately use them.

 

WEBSITE

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TCPermaculture.com

Overview:
It was five years ago, this month, that I started this website. My very first article on the site stated:

In my years of studying about Permaculture, I have often been a bit frustrated with the majority of the authors.  They are all living and writing and designing in the tropics and sub-tropics.  I plan on living in a temperate climate.  While there are a few books, and it seems more every year, on temperate climate Permaculture, many of them are about the general principles of Permaculture.  Few of them get into the weeds, so to speak, of the actual implementation.  I have found bits and pieces of very good information but never a good central clearinghouse for this information.  My goal for this blog is to create as close to a single stop shop for information on temperate climate Permaculture.  It is mainly about putting all the knowledge I have and will find into one spot for me to use in the future. Hopefully it will also be a place others can use and maybe contribute to as well. 

Lessons Learned:
Since I have started my site, I have been pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Also, since I have started my site, there have been many books published about Permaculture in temperate climates. This is fantastic! Since I finally have a farm of my own, my free time to actually sit down and write has been significantly decreased. That is okay with me. I was never trying to create the most popular website in the world. I just wanted a site useful for me and others. I have done a pretty good job at keeping up to date with my Temperate Climate Permaculture VLOG. I hope to do a bit better with written articles as well.

Moving Forward:
I continue to try and strike a balance between my spiritual life, family life, work life, farm life, social life, personal life, public life, emotional life, etc. It is always something to be introspective about, and I will probably always need to make small corrections here and there. But this site will be here for as long as I can keep it here!

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Our Farming Life only works with Family

I am amazed at how much we have accomplished in just a single year, but it would be misleading if I let anyone believe this is all my doing. None of what we have accomplished would be possible without my family. Years ago my wife could never picture herself living on a farm, and now she could never picture herself not living on a farm. She is truly the engine that keeps the farm moving day to day. I come up with all these ideas, but she is truly the one that keeps us on schedule and keeps the house running day after day. She not only helps out in pretty much every project on the farm, but she also raises and homeschools our four children, schedules all of our visitors and WOOFERs, and still finds time to be a writer. Incredible and invaluable is too weak a description. My father and mother are also living on the farm with us, and I have been so happy with how well our multi-generational farmstead has run. My father is a retired carpenter and my mother a lifelong homemaker. They have provided skills, expertise, wisdom, community, and support which has allowed this farm to blossom.

I am sure I am leaving out many projects we have worked on this year, but I need to stop somewhere.

I am so excited about the future of the Bauernhof Kitsteiner. I can hardly wait to see what next year brings!

 

 

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Time to start a Forest Garden!

It has begun! We have owned our land for just over a year, and have lived here for almost 9 months. We have experienced all four seasons. We are significantly more tuned in to our land. We are finally ready to start designing our food forest.

A food forest, also known as an edible forest garden, was one of the first unique ideas that introduced me to Permaculture about 15 years ago. While forest gardens are not the sole domain of Permaculture, an affinity exists between the two. And this concept, a small forest containing plants which provide for our needs (the 7 F’s: food, fuel, fodder (feed for our animals), fiber, fertilizer, farmaceuticals (plant derived medicines), fun), was so intriguing to me that I soon became a bit obsessed with Permaculture.

The first goal on our farm was to start producing food for ourselves. We started with animals as they have a fast turn around and could be started on our land as it was. We are finally really getting into a rhythm with their care and maintenance. Any overages (chickens and eggs) are sold for a small profit – well, more of decreasing a small bit of our costs at this point. The next stage is to start our plant production systems. Trees are going to stay put for a long, long time, and so we wanted to make sure we knew the right place to put them. This is why we took a full year before we even started the design process of our food forest. Of course, there are many plant systems other than a food forest, and we plan on incorporating many of these onto our farm.  But we are going to start with the food forest.

We chose a location that was close to our house. It is a southeast facing slope (we are in the northern hemisphere). It is one of our more flat (i.e. less steep!) areas on the farm, so managing it for decades to come will not be as taxing as other locations. There is also an area of lower elevation that holds a lot of water and is just begging to become a wetland/marsh. This will allow us to grow plants that like drier roots up top and water-loving plants down low. Diversity is king… and it’s a whole lot more fun!

A view of the future forest garden.

The site of the future forest garden.

We are currently pulsing our animals through this area. Of course they will be adding a fair amount of manure to the soil, and this is great. Another reason we will be using the animals is to remove the grass in this pasture. The geese and sheep primarily will go after the grass, but the chickens, ducks, and pigs will also eat their share. After this is done, the geese and sheep will be moved off. The pigs will rotate with the chickens and ducks to remove as much of any grass and other plants in this pasture. We will of course be supplementing the feed for these animals at this time. But the goal is to let the animals do the plowing and rototilling for us. I know that there are some folks who do not want to use animals to do this kind of work. I understand. I love to give my animals fresh, green pasture as often as possible. But this is not a permanent set-up. They will get in, do their thing, and we’ll get them out. The pigs will especially enjoy it.

The area of the future forest garden as defined by DaftLogic.com

The area of the future forest garden as defined by DaftLogic.com

I highly recommend DaftLogic.com when you are working on design plans. This is a free site that allows you to measure area and distances. I use it frequently, and it is very user friendly. As you can see, our future forest garden is right at 2 acres (0.81 hectares). This is not small! It will take a lot of work and many years to “complete”, but we are so excited to get started!

This is a google map's image of the area of interest.

This is a google map’s image of the area of interest.

You can see we’ve already been improving the soil with our sheep and pigs (far left) and our chicken tractors (center). The patchwork appearance is due to the daily, or sometimes twice daily, moves of the tractors. As mentioned above, this rotation will become more intense as we near the time of planting.

The area drawn to scale.

The area drawn to scale.

It’s important to have a basic scale drawing of the land we are designing. This drawing will be used over and over again as the master template that all mock-ups and samples and ideas are based on. This particular drawing is very simple. It took me about 5 minutes to make. It was made by shooting the google map image onto a wall with a projector. I simply traced the important features onto a piece of paper. The only slightly difficult part was zooming in and out until the scale matched a usable distance on my architect scale.

Some major features of this area.

Some major features of this area.

These are the main features on this drawing:

  1. House
  2. Garage
  3. Fence – The entire property has a nice, tight woven fence of about 5-6 feet (152-182 cm). This fence was put up by the original owners to keep coyotes IN. They ran a coyote hunting farm. The bottom of the fence rolls toward the interior of the property (see the photo below). This worked for a hunting property, but causes some trouble when we want to grow something (or clear weeds!) next to the fence line. We are still trying to decide what we want to do about it, but it does work to keep rabbits and other unwanted creatures out of the forest garden area.
  4. Gate
  5. Main road
  6. Bottom of the valley – This is where water collects and flows during the rain. The closer you get to the lower portion of the property border (bottom left), the more water there is and the longer it stays after a rain.
The fence

The fence rolled under at the bottom – like a letter “L”. Lots of plants have grown through, including some trees. This really needs to be dealt with so that we can avoid “weed” problems in the future.

 

Basic topography on this site.

Basic topography on this site.

This is a basic topographic map (not drawn to scale by any means). I made this just to show the general lay of the land. #1 by the house and the #1 on the far upper left represent hills. The land slopes down and then back up at #3 toward the back of the house. If you keep going along that interior road, the land would continue to rise. But that is out of our area of interest for this project. #2 represents the start of the valley floor. A line connecting from #2 to #4 represents the run of this valley. When it rains, there is water in this location running from #2 to #4. After the rains stop, there will be standing water at #4 for 1-2 weeks, sometimes longer.

Soil in this area.

Soil in this area.

  1. The soil around the house is decent. Much of this soil was either placed back after excavation for the house or it was trucked in. All of the area from #1 down the long, steep driveway to #7 is currently planted to lawn. The soil here ranges is depth from a few feet deep before hitting rock around the house, to fairly shallow toward the lower and northeastern (right side) of the drive.
  2. The slope is steep in this area. The soil in this area is poor. It is only about 1/2 – 1 inch deep before hitting a lot of rocks. There is space and soil between the rocks, but not much. This is a difficult area to regenerate, but not impossible.
  3. As the slope is a bit gentler here, and we are a bit further downhill, the soil is deeper. I can dig 6-12 inches before hitting rock. And the rock is spaced farther apart.
  4. Toward the lowest end of the field, the soil is the deepest. I can dig to 24 inches before hitting rock. This area has no standing water after a rain, so the drainage is still good.
  5. This is toward the highest part of the valley floor. This has running water during rains.
  6. This is the lowest part of the valley floor. This has standing water after the rains.
  7. These are areas that were planted to grass (just like #1 above). These areas have fairly deep soils.

The soil on this property is generally poor. It has a very high, reddish-brown clay content. Little organic matter. All areas that are currently pasture have been compacted to some degree by tractors and continuous, open-grazing of cattle. It would be wonderful if the soil was great, but that’s not how it is. We deal with what we have, and fortunately, with good management, there is a lot that can be improved. Our animal rotation is one way we are going to improve the soil. The second is with cover crops. We will take about a year to grow cover crops  with a variety of functions. Here are a few plants we will be using, for example: buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) for biomass; clover (Trifolium species) for biomass and nitrogen fixation; borage (Borago officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and radish (Raphanus sativus) as deep-rooted/tap-rooted plants to break up the deep layers of the soil. Also, these plants are ones I don’t mind growing in the established forest garden if any of their seeds survive and reseed. We are still toying with the idea of spreading rolls of old/less-than-prime hay over the area to further suffocate/mulch the existing pasture. Of course, these rolls of hay will come with their own seeds, but we will use the chickens to de-seed as much as possible as well. These are just a few of our strategies for improving the soil of our forest garden before ever place a permanent plant.

Next week, we will be taking the next step. We will be collecting soil samples to be sent off to a few labs for analysis. Fun stuff!

Bruce Lee would be a Permaculturist

Bruce Lee was a genius. Unfortunately, many people only know him from his martial arts movies, which can be a bit cheesy by modern standards, and most people have never even seen his movies and only know him by his reputation as a martial arts actor. In reality, he was probably one of the most influential martial artists of all time. Personally, while I am not a martial artist by any means, although I have dabbled with karate and taekwondo a bit, I have always been a fan of Bruce Lee for his creation of Jeet Kune Do.

Jeet Kune Do, sometimes known as “the way of the intercepting fist”, is a martial art and philosophy that Bruce Lee created in 1967, just  years before his death. In very basic summary, Lee was frustrated with how martial arts, and fighting forms in general, had become more about form than function. Starting a fight is never the goal, but if a fight comes to you, winning is what matters. Knowing fancy moves that can be applied in very few settings are impractical. Bruce Lee looked across the world and through history to see what fighting techniques actually worked and really made sense. He borrowed the best from multiple Asian martial arts, boxing, and even fencing. He unchained himself from tradition, and he stepped out on a new path that made practical sense.

To me, this is exactly what Permaculture does. We study as widely as we can, and we incorporate the practical. Ingrained techniques and methods need to be questioned. We need to take what works and discard the rest.

This first quote is from Bruce Lee sharing his thoughts on Jeet Kune Do in 1971. If we substitute “Jeet Kune Do” with “Permaculture”, I think you will see why I feel Bruce Lee would be a proponent of Permaculture.

I have not invented a “new style,” composite, modified or otherwise that is set within distinct form as apart from “this” method or “that” method. On the contrary, I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or molds. Remember that Jeet Kune Do is merely a name used, a mirror in which to see “ourselves”. . . Jeet Kune Do is not an organized institution that one can be a member of. Either you understand or you don’t, and that is that.

There is no mystery about my style. My movements are simple, direct and non-classical. The extraordinary part of it lies in its simplicity. Every movement in Jeet Kune Do is being so of itself. There is nothing artificial about it. I always believe that the easy way is the right way. Jeet Kune Do is simply the direct expression of one’s feelings with the minimum of movements and energy. The closer to the true way of Kung Fu, the less wastage of expression there is. Finally, a Jeet Kune Do man who says Jeet Kune Do is exclusively Jeet Kune Do is simply not with it. He is still hung up on his self-closing resistance, in this case anchored down to reactionary pattern, and naturally is still bound by another modified pattern and can move within its limits. He has not digested the simple fact that truth exists outside all molds; pattern and awareness is never exclusive. Again let me remind you Jeet Kune Do is just a name used, a boat to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one’s back.
– Bruce Lee (September 1971)

Here are some additional quotes from Bruce Lee. His philosophy aligns perfectly with Permaculture.

If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.

To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.

Take things as they are. Punch when you have to punch. Kick when you have to kick.

Man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system.

Obey the principles without being bound by them.

All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.

Real living is living for others.

It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://geeknation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Bruce_Lee_Pic_1.jpg

 

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    Permaculture Documentary… Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective

Permaculture Documentary… Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective

This is a really interesting project and a great introductory video. I had the pleasure of meeting a few of the people highlighted in this trailer, and I am really excited to see the finished project, but they could use some extra funding.

Please visit Costa and Emmet’s Kickstarter page if you are interested in supporting their project.

 

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A Visit to the P.A. Bowen Farmstead

When I was living in Turkey, my friend Jake told me that I needed to read a book titled, Nourishing Traditions. He thought I would enjoy it considering my interest in food and health, and he was right! The book is kind of a mix of a cook book, a health book, and food history book. I have used it and referenced it many times.

The author of the book is Sally Fallon Morell who went on to establish the Westin A. Price Foundation, which I highly recommend to my patients. In addition to being an author and health activist, she also loves to make cheese from raw milk. When Sally had the opportunity a few years ago, she and her husband purchased a farm that dates back to 1665 (from a modern history perspective).

A beautiful Tamworth sow with her Tamworth/Berkshire piglets.

A beautiful Tamworth sow with her Tamworth/Berkshire piglets.

These pigs were friendly and so fun to watch!

These pigs/piglets were friendly and so fun to watch!

Mike Haigwood with the most friendly Tamworth I have ever met... she loves a good back scratch.

Mike Haigwood with the most friendly Tamworth I have ever met… she loves a good back scratch.

I had a chance to meet Mike and Barb Haigwood when I was at the Permaculture Voices Conference. At the time, just over a month ago, they were the farm managers at the P.A. Bowen Farmstead. They said that I should come and visit some time, and, as it turned out, I was going to be in the D.C. area about 2 weeks after the conference. I decided to take them up on their offer, and I am so glad I did!

A young calf born just a couple weeks earlier.

A young calf born just a couple weeks earlier.

What I found was a Joel Salatin/Permaculture style farm that had a lot of class. Now… how do I explain this without offending anyone? I am not sure if I can, so I will just say it. Permaculturists can be slobs. They may call it being frugal or being artsy or being whimsical or being natural, but the end results can often look like a junkyard. There is a part of me that really understands and identifies with that. I really like to be frugal, although I don’t like being cheap. I also understand working at or below a budget, and I am not above foregoing class for functionality… you should see the $800 car I currently drive! At the other end of the spectrum is spending too much time and money on making a place look good, making it look classy; a farm like that can turn into a money pit and will go out of business fast. To me, there can be a good balance between the two extremes. Joel Salatin’s farm falls to frugal side, and the P.A. Bowen Farmstead falls to the classy side. I don’t have a clue about the bottom line or budget of either of these places, so this subjective assessment is based soley on outside observation.

With that said, the P.A. Bowen Farmstead is certainly pretty to look at. If every farm in America looked like this, the cities would be half empty due to everyone moving to the countryside!

Another look at the Egg-Mobile.

Another look at the Egg-Mobile.

The laying hens enter/exit on the ramp. The human door can be opened to maintain the interior.

The laying hens enter/exit on the ramp. The human door can be opened to maintain the interior.

...but the eggs can be collected from outside. Note how the hens prefer just a few locations to lay their eggs.

…but the eggs can be collected from outside. Note how the hens prefer just a few locations to lay their eggs.

I’ll finish this article by adding that Mike and Barb Haigwood are no longer the farm managers at the P.A. Bowen Farmstead. They left on very good terms to start their own consulting practice, Real Life Consulting, “using their many years of farming, homesteading and permaculture experience. Barb and Mike Haigwood consult with anyone who would like to make a difference in the world.”

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!

 

A Visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm

I wrote the following words on Facebook a few weeks ago:

I first stumbled across a copy of Joel Salatin’s “You Can Farm” almost 15 years ago in a small library. I read it and was intrigued… maybe obsessed is a better word. His writing germinated in my mind, and grew ever so slowly as I attended medical school and travelled around the world. This morning, I had the opportunity to walk the land that was described in that book. Even though it is still late Winter and everything is brown, Joel’s farm (Polyface Farms) was still inspirational… It was worth the 15 year wait!

Now I want to share some photos and editorial…

Polyface Farms is in a very rural location. Granted, there are more isolated farms, but I doubt there are many that are anywhere as successful while still being so off the beaten path. I drove over roads that stretched across the brown Shenandoah Valley hills of Virginia farmland in late Winter for about twenty minutes and only passed one other car. The farm is an additional mile down an unpaved road. The drive was very pretty despite the lack of green and the fields of rather poorly managed land of the surrounding farms

As I pulled into Polyface Farms, I noticed that things didn’t look very different than neighboring land. Much of this was due to the fact that everything was still brown from Winter. I spoke with Joel Salatin the week prior at the Permaculture Voices Conference, and I knew that the farm would be at the tail end of its yearly slow period, just getting ready to be amped up for the Spring. However, as I pulled closer to the farm structures I started to notice a few things, and a smile spread across my face.

Interior of the Egg-Mobiles.

Interior of the Egg-Mobiles.

The first thing I recognized as being uniquely Salatin was the Egg-Mobiles (seen at the top of this article). These mobile hen houses get pulled around the farm so the egg-laying chickens can free-range the pastures for food. Supplemental feed is given, but this wild foraging produces some of the best-tasting and healthiest eggs possible. The Egg-Mobiles were not stocked at the moment, but not far from where they were resting for the Winter were three, large hoop houses (aka high-tunnels, polytunnels, hoop greenhouses), and I could hear some clucking.

Winter quarters for the laying hens are large hoop houses.

Winter quarters for the laying hens are large hoop houses.

Another hoop house with a different breed of egg-layers.

Another hoop house with a different breed of egg-layers.

The hoop houses are the Winter quarters for the egg-laying hens of the Egg-Mobiles. These are drastically different systems than the confinement poultry houses of modern agriculture (just run a Google image search for “confinement poultry, and you will see what I mean). You can smell a confinement poultry house from a long distance off, the chickens are packed in tightly, dead chickens are scattered on the floor, and you need to wear a hazmat suit to walk in there, literally. No… these chickens of Polyface Farms were happily scratching in the bedding on the ground, contentedly clucking, hopping into the nests to lay eggs, and the air did not have a stench. I did smell animals, but it was not bad… it was fowl, but not foul! I would have no problem with my children walking in there to collect eggs.

Polyface Farm pigs.

Polyface Farm pigs.

Each hoop house was divided into two sections. About one half or one-third housed the chickens, and the other part housed pigs. I am not entirely sure how this system worked, as I was doing a self-guided tour. Joel was out at a speaking engagement when I was able to visit the farm, and I only had a few minutes to speak with the current farm manager before he had to get back to work. But I am pretty sure that the pigs and chickens rotated back and forth to both sides of the hoop house. There were two areas that were/could be closed off in the center of the hoop houses, and I think these are used to move the animals while keeping the pigs separated from the chickens.

I will add that these pigs were great! Friendly, outgoing, and happy. They also had a bit of a pig smell, but nothing more than a well-kept petting zoo. Which is saying something, because there were a lot more animals here than in a normal petting zoo.

Rabbits are also kept at Polyface Farms.

Rabbits are also kept at Polyface Farms.

The rabbits are kept above the chickens!

The rabbits are kept above the chickens!

Less than a hundred yards down the slight hill from the big hoop houses were some smaller hoop houses. These housed the meat rabbits. I had read about Daniel Salatin’s (Joel Salatin’s son) rabbits previously, so it was also great to see these in person. The rabbits are kept in raised cages, and the egg-laying chickens “free-range” underneath. This stacking of function (literally and figuratively) enables two species to mutually benefit each other. The rabbits drop mature, hay, and feed which provide food and activity for the chickens. The chickens eat any pests that may normally harbor in the rabbit bedding and droppings. Since one animal is a chicken and one is a rabbit, there is a bit of pest/host confusion as well. This is a simple, yet very well-designed system.

The Turkey-Mobiles.

The Turkey-Mobiles?

I knew the Saltins raised turkeys as well, but I had not read nor heard how they did it. I saw this contraption sitting near one of the hoop houses, and I thought it was empty. As I was walking around it, I heard a little rustle inside. I peeked under the hood, and saw a bunch of very young turkeys. This seems to be a variation of the Egg-Mobile. My guess is that it is pulled around to free-range the turkeys… either that, or this was just a temporary holding location for the animals.

The pigs and cattle in the barn.

The pigs and cattle in the barn. Note the ground level difference between the two sections of the barn.

I then decided to wander over to the barn, and all the things I had read about came flooding back. The Saltins do not keep their cattle in the patures over the Winter. They keep them in the “barn”. This barn is not the typical dark, dank structure. It is an open-air roof with almost no walls. The cattle are given fresh hay and bedding on a regular basis. Corn is occasionally dropped as well. The cattle end up standing higher and higher off the ground as the bedding piles up. The corn starts to ferment a bit as well. Toward the end of Winter, the pigs are let into the barn in sections. They love the little kernels of corn, so they root and dig it up, loosening the packed bedding. After the pigs have everything turned over and aired out, the Salatins use a tractor to move this almost-compost out of the barn to be spread in the pastures as high-quality fertilizer. The cattle are kept high and dry for the Winter, and the pigs get to do what they love, root around looking for treasure. Another beautiful system!

The simple, yet efficient, structures of Polyface Farms.

The simple, yet efficient, structures of Polyface Farms.

I also want to point out that many of the built structures on the farm are simple posts or logs, unfinished and unmilled. Most still have the bark still on them. The cost in time and money to use finished wood is really a waste unless you are focused on asthetics. The Salatins are not. They don’t want things to be ugly, but they do care about the bottom line, and it shows. Extra cost is not taken on beautifying poles for a barn. Simple and efficient.

A beautiful calf watching me explore the barn.

A beautiful calf watching me explore the barn.

I don’t actually have a bucket list, but it I did, visiting Polyface Farms would be on it. I plan on visiting again in late Summer or early Autumn when everything is in high gear. There is only so much you can read in a book. Walking the land and seeing things in person allows us to learn a lot more. I tried to share a bit of that in these photos, but if you are ever near Swoope, Virginia, I would recommend you stop and visit.

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!

 

TCP Update: April 2014

I have not written for about a month, but I have a good reason… I was on the road for three weeks. And to top it off, I returned home just one day before the movers arrived. As I type this, my house is filled with boxes. After four years of living overseas, we are moving back to the U.S., but that is an article for another day… in fact, many of the things I am going to mention will be full articles in the near future, but I will give a brief rundown of the last month:

I left the Azores early on a Sunday morning almost a month ago, and I arrived in south-central Tennessee late that same evening. I spent a few days securing a job; I will be working in a small town ER for the next year as I transition back to the U.S. and prepare for the next phase of our life (obviously dealing with Permaculture!). I had a great time staying at The Farm in Summertown, TN. I also had a chance to visit Cliff and Jennifer at Spiral Ridge Permaculture, and to meet Dr. Alan Enzo with the Permaculture Education Center while in central Tennessee.panduan android

I then spent an amazing four days in Southern California at the Permaculture Voices Conference. While at the conference, I had a chance to briefly meet Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, Allan Savory (creator of Holistic Management), and Willie Smits. I had longer conversations with Toby Hemenway, Mark Shepard, Xavier Hawk, and I got into some pretty deep conversations with Paul Wheaton (the founder of Permies.com). I was also fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with Byron Joel, Greg Judy, and Jack Spirko (who is also my partner with AgriTrue!). To top it off, I was able to meet quite a few other people I would now call friends, and I hope they will be mentioned in my articles in the next few months. This was an amazing experience, and I will be writing a number of articles on/about this event.
(Note: the photo at the top, going from left to right, is Byron Joel, Jack Spirko, Greg Judy, and me at the Permaculture Voices Conference)

On the day I flew out of California, I was fortunate to be able to tour Tipuana Farms in San Marcos, California. This is the first Permaculture Research Institute Master Plan Site in the United States!

Over the following week, I drove all over central and eastern Tennessee, which is where we hope to be buying land in the next year. I was able to narrow down my search areas for our future land, so this was a productive week.

I then drove through Virginia, and I was able to spend half a day touring Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. This was a goal of mine for about fifteen years, so even though the weather was not great, it was fantastic to walk the farm. I also spent a few hours with Harvey Ussery who is the author of, in my opinion, the best homestead chicken book written to date (The Small-Scale Poultry Flock). We toured his homestead and ate a delicious, homemade chicken curry made by his wife, Ellen.

I was also able to take a tour of the P.A. Bowans Farm in Maryland. This farm was started by Sally Fallon Morell (who I very briefly met), the author of Nourishing Traditions (which is a great book) and the president of the Westin A. Price Foundation. I met Mike and Barb Haigwood at the Permaculture Voices Conference. They have been the farm managers at the P.A. Bowans Farm for the last three years. They were leaving on good terms within a few days after my visit to start consulting.

Finally, after my driving tour, I spent a few days in Washington D.C. taking a course to be re-certified in Advanced Trauma Life Support.

It was a whirlwind trip with lots of plane flights, rental car miles, and unfamiliar beds. It was fantastic to visit these amazing places and meet these amazing people. I feel like it will take a few months to fully digest and process these experiences, and I plan to share as much of what I learned, discovered, and gleaned as I can in the next few months.

But I am glad to be back with my family as we prepare for this next phase of our life together.

Gone to Permaculture Voices!

I’ll be at the Permaculture Voices Conference for the next few days. I will be enjoying the talks and workshops, I will be speaking on Saturday, and I will just be enjoying hanging out with a bunch of great Permaculture folks!

If you are there, please stop by and say hi!

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a few days, and I’ve already met some amazing Permaculturists. I’ll have lots to share when I get back!

Stay tuned!