Our Mission:

Our Mission: To enable individuals and communities to take an active part in the cultivation of systems that provide the highest quality fruits, vegetables, herbs and other yields, in a way that benefits themselves, cares for the land and environment, and provides a surplus to use, share and reinvest into the system.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Intensive Home Gardening

I really enjoyed preparing and sharing the Backyard Orchard class this weekend!
If you missed it, it will be one I would love to do again.  Watch for it again next year for sure!

One of the points covered was occupying all the available growing space with desirable plants.  We can also use that principle as we plan our annual vegetable gardens using Intensive Methods.

Three Sisters - Corn, beans & squash
Intensively planted

There are several variations to intensive gardening, such as John Jeavons' Grow BioIntesive method or Mel Bartholemew's Square Foot Gardening. One thing they all have in common is higher planting densities.

Benefits are many with high density planting
One of the benefits of closer planting is less space needed for production.  This is important for  gardeners in urban areas with less overall space, or those that want to keep more space for entertaining or the traditional lawn.

You an also reduce the amount of water because the growing leaves cover the soil faster so there is less bare ground for the sun to hit.  The canopy cools the soil and then holds in more moisture that would burn off or be blown away in the breeze.
Green beans planted in a grid using the in row spacing

Weeding time is also reduced.  My wife is often asked why I don't spend a lot of time weeding our garden.  If you are vigilant at first, the closely growing garden plants will shade out the later weeds better.  If a weed does sneak through it will be weaker and spindly from the lack of sunshine, and quickly snipped off or pulled when noticed.

Seed costs are also reduced, as thinning won't be required.  More on that later.

Several practices will help you grow intensively.
In our gardens we have dedicated walkways and beds for growing.  This eliminates the need for rows.  Rows use up a lot of space to give access for thinning and weeding.  The between row space is still watered, and generally fertilized, gets compacted, and leaves the soil exposed to sun and wind.  

Our beds are kept narrow enough (3-4') so that I can reach the centers without ever having to step in the growing area.  I've used new cedar 2x's as well as upcycled decking and siding to designate the borders.  Cedar lasts a long time and is not treated with anything that could leach into the soil.  
Intensive carrots may need just a little more space between plants

Without my big boots clomping around, compaction and the need for tilling is reduced.  I actually have not tilled my beds other than digging potatoes and loosening the ground for carrots since the beds were established.  Instead I rely on the actions of earthworms and plant roots to keep the soil loose.

Composting also helps to grow intensively.  With higher production, we put a higher demand on the soil.  Nutrients that we pull out of the soil in the form of grain, vegetables and fruit need to be replaced.  Compost also feeds and boosts soil life that helps cycle nutrients through the soil food web making them more available for growing plants.
Worm castings are a high grade soil amendment!
Get some for your garden from our friends at Browne Atlas

For planting use the in row, after thinning distance across the beds.  Instead of placing seeds in separate rows, plant them in a grid pattern throughout your beds.  With dedicated walkways, you no longer need rows to walk down.  And without thinning, you no longer use seed that will be cut anyway, saving seed costs as mentioned above.

How to get even higher productivity in small spaces
-Using trellis to capture the third dimension for vining plants like cucumbers and squash
     Also, think runner beans vs bush beans
-Keyhole beds can reduce your pathway footprint even further
-Combine crops into companion plantings, like the Three Sisters guild above
     Increase spacing more, lowers individual crop yield/area but greater overall yields

I hope these tips boost the yields in your garden this coming season!

And if don't have a garden but want one, give us a call and we'll get one built for you.  
Think it's too much work for your busy lifestyle? We can help with that too; check it out on our Stewardship page!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tulips and other spring bulbs are a great addition to many fruit tree guilds. Spring flowers hold onto nutrients in the early parts of the growing season, much like a cover crop. The blooms can also attract pollinators and provide and early pollen and nectar source.  Their growing roots can also provide a food source for soil microorganisms.

If you would like to learn more about companion planting with your fruit trees, register for Planning the Backyard Orchard class coming up up this Saturday.


Trees & companion plants will be available for preorder.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Podcasts, Shows and Classes

This winter things are popping, and I'm not really even doing much snow removal.

Last week I appeared on The Survival Podcast with Jack Spirko.  The show is not all about bullets, beans and band-aids (although sometimes) and delves into topics that can help us prepare not for the Zombie Apocalypse but the many little disasters - job loss, blizzards, tornadoes - and how to setup your lifestyle to be more resilient.  The impact of many disasters can be reduced by preparing in a few sensible areas.  Business building and Permaculture are both favorite topics of the show and can help lead to a less fragile existence.
click HERE to listen

The Des Moines Home and Garden Show is coming up this week and I was invited to help Blooming Prairie Nursery with their presentation and share their booth space - #1510 near the Feature Gardens.  We will be presenting on the Inspiration Stage each day of the show.
Thursday at 4:00 PM
Friday, Saturday & Sunday at 11:00 AM 
2 for 1 tickets on the EVENTS page!

The following weekend I'll be doing the backyard orchard class at Cherry Glen Learning Farm.
Planning the Backyard Orchard
using Ecological Principles & Permaculture Techniques
Saturday, February 17 at 2 - 4pm
click HERE for more information

Of course design work is the main task right now.  So, if you would like to get something set up for this season, now is a great time to contact me for a design or consultation.  Late winter is also a great time for pruning your fruit trees for health and productivity, so get on my list so we can schedule that for you.

Hope to see you out and about!

Be sure to visit our friends at Browne Atlas for all your worm casting needs!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Seeds on my Mind

This last week or so I've had seeds on my mind!

We had a great class at Cherry Glen Learning Farm last weekend, and hopefully I planted a few seeds of learning even though several students had a fair amount of exposure to Permaculture before.

Speaking of seeds, we've been getting all sorts of catalogs in the mail.  From the cheap bulk shops, to the beautiful Baker Creek book, and the smaller but quality seed suppliers.  Have you been getting seed catalogs in the mail?

If you are wanting to get them but aren't follow this link to get on their mailing lists.

We are a bit early to start most seeds like tomatoes and peppers yet.  However if you are lookign for a winter project to satisfy your gardening itch, you could build a seed starting rack.  In the video below I'll show you how to build a simple and affordable growing rack for early seed starting using an inexpensive resin shelving unit and fluorescent lights.

You can also build a rack with wood, or use a wire shelving unit if that's what you have available.  My project is also set up out of the way, but you may have a South facing window in your home and get a nice decorative growing rack that you want to display.  You'll be able to use the lighting section of the video if you want to boost your "daylight" hours.

I just use the cheap bulbs for starting seeds but they really want more light if you will keep them growing here for longer term.  For more information on grow lights:

If you are looking for cheap ways to start seeds and reuse items around the house.  Egg cartons, convenience store cups even regular old newspaper can be upcycled this way!

Don't forget to use a quality seed starter mix!  Adding worm castings is a great way to add plant available nutrients.

Here's a very thorough FREE download for more information on seed saving:

Watch my video for some easy plants to get started with:

And of course Abundant Design's Seed Exchange is coming up!  Mark your calendars for March 10th and stay tuned for details and information.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tallgrass Prairie Visit- Neal Smith NWR

A short drive from Des Moines, the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge is a great place to beat some cabin fever and learn about Iowa's prairie heritage.

Situated on over 5000 acres, it's home to several of Iowa's native ecosystems.  The park is home to several trails to explore the tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow.

If the weather doesn't cooperate with your plans, you can drive the 5-mile auto tour through the bison and elk paddocks.  The Prairie Learning and Visitor Center contains an extensive exhibit area, bookstore and movie theater.  We really enjoyed Baxter Black's telling of the prairie fire poem.

 If you can't wait for a road trip, or the weather to warm up, enjoy this video-
A short animated film about exploring the insect world hidden in an Iowa tallgrass prairie. Created as part of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site’s 2017 Artist-In-Residency program.

Animation: Erin Anfinson
Music: Clara Lorraine