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.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We're all snuggled in for a long winters nap

Warmest holiday wishes from our home to yours!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Good Reads pt2 - For the Kids

Last week we talked about some good books to learn about sustainable farming, regenerative practices and gardening for us. This week will continue with some good reads for your kids to read, and for you to read with your kids.

By far our favorite book is The Little Composter by Jan Gerardi.  The fun rhymes in this book have been read at bedtime for all of our kids, and the flaps are worn and have been taped multiple times. It's mostly out of print but you can still get copies on Amazon, or check your local used book stores.


Another favorite of mine is the counting book Uno's Garden, with its sorrowful story of conquest and urbanization, with a new hope in harmony and regeneration.  The steady, soothing rhythms of Going to Sleep on the Farm have relaxed me probably more than they have the kids, especially after a long days at work :)

Chapter books like the heart warming Charlotte's Web and then for older kids the heart wrenching Where the Red Fern Grows are classic stories that give an immersive view into farming and rural life.

The Little House on the Prairie series is a true epic story set in the pioneer period in Minnesota and South Dakota as the Ingalls family struggled to make it during the settlement of the prairie.  Farmer Boy chronicles farming life on a more established farm as experienced through Laura's future husband Almonzo's eyes.  


Jennifer Ward's books i love dirt! and let's go outside! are great inspiration to get kids outside.  Once out there working on the activities described they can go beyond to play with their craft and further explore. That's where they can really learn and experience nature outside the box!  These experiences are critical for physically and mentally healthy kids.  Parents can read more about that in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods.

i love dirt!  Nature's Art Box and let's go outside! 

I hope you found some ideas for books that you hadn't had and can share with your kids.  It's actually not too late to grab some as gifts if you get FREE two-day shipping with an Amazon Prime account.  If you don't have one you can get a membership here.

Enjoy some good reads this winter, and get outside as much as you can!

http://abundantdesigniowa.blogspot.com/p/products-permaculture.html     https://browneatlas.wixsite.com/home

Monday, December 11, 2017

Short Days, Cold Nights & Good Reads

With howling northwest winds and below freezing temperatures even for the daytime highs, the weather is becoming more and more like winter.

With conditions like this the evenings are great times for snuggling up by the fire with a good book.  Maybe with a mug of hot chocolate, coffee or a cup of egg nog, 'tis the season!

Right now I am reading a paperback copy of Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, the popular introduction into permaculture and ecological design for home gardeners.

I'm also reading the e-version of A New Vison for Iowa Food and Agriculture by Francis Thicke, a past candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, who raises pastured dairy using natural systems as a model.  I'm enjoying his commentary on the status quo and Iowa's potential.  If you're lucky you might be able to get some of their milk through the Iowa Food Cooperative.

I just loaned out my copy of Mini Farming:Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham.  This was one of the first books I read after we moved into this home and started our gardens.
Also on my reading list is Shrink-Smart Small Towns: Communities can still thrive as they lose population by David Peters available to download for free from Iowa State Extension.  I'm really interested in preserving our rural communities, the schools and economies, and am hopeful that regenerative agriculture will play a part as time goes on.

         What's On Your Reading List?
Leave a comment below or on the Facebook link

Here are some other books I would recommend for readers interested in a good book to help inspire a landscape change or just kindle the dream of next season while the fireplace crackles.
Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmier and Jonathan Bates is the story of two plant geeks and their experience transforming a tenth acre lot surrounding a Holyoake, Massachusetts duplex into an edible oasis. 

If you like this book and are really interested in a deep dive into forest gardening Eric's 2-volume book Edible Forest Gardens with Dave Jacke is a veritable encyclopedia of theory and examples.

Taking the forest gardening concept to large scale agricultural systems is Mark Shepard.  His book Restoration Agriculture explains how by mimicking natural ecosystems we can create diverse, and profitable, agricultural systems that provide all our needs of food, fuel, building materials and more with more resiliency with less reliance on input heavy annual crops.

Along the same lines and previous to Mark's work is one of the inspirational works that led to the origin of Permaculture is Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J Russell Smith.

Another book I have to read this winter was a gift from a customer this year.  Thank you!  The Urban Farmer by Curtis Stone is a practical hands on guide to growing food for profit in your own and others backyards.  Curtis is a regular on the Permaculture Voices podcast with Diego Footer and our own local urban garden market, Dogpatch Urban Gardens, took the lessons in this book and ran with them.

There's also The One Straw Revolution, Mycelium Running, Sepp Holzer's Permaculture, The Resilient Farm and Homestead, and on and on and on...

The possibilities are sure to fill your downtime this winter and bookshelves for winters to come!

Happy Reading!

Schedule your design now, and be ready for installation this Spring!

Don't forget your indoor plants, a little boost from Browne Atlas's worm castings will do them good!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What does Regenerative mean?

What is Regenerative?  What about Sustainability?

I've used this word to describe what Abundant Design does and some people may not understand why I feel it better describes what we do better than sustainable.  Sustainability is a big buzz word these days with even industrial agriculture giants Monsanto, Syngenta and more using it to describe their actions.  They may not use it how I would use it, but maybe something is better than nothing. Or is it just corporate "green-washing"?

That is why the distinction is even more important!

Sheet mulching at the healing garden this week
and the first of many loads of organic matter,
to build soil structure and feed the soil life.

If we consider the default mode for extracting resources, such as mining, you could say we are being 'degenerative' where there will be less and less of the resource over time.  The word sustainable means the ability to continue without change or degradation.  Is that really what we want?  To continue with the status quo, as is?

The term regenerative means renewal, regrowth and restoration.  I much prefer to regenerate topsoil, restore water quality and rebuild our lost natural diversity!

Here is a video about the 777 Bison Ranch that uses Holistic Management, a regenerative approach made famous by the TED talk by Allan Savory.  I used to drive by there on my way to Rapid City from Hot Springs when I did my internship at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

The graphic above is from "Kiss the Ground" I encourage you to read that article.  Here's another article for more about regenerative revolution at the Organic Consumers Association, and another video from the Rodale Institute and Organic India.

So maybe we should think about the term sustainability and consider striving for a more regenerative lifestyle.  Instead of leaving a legacy of doing "less bad" we can really improve things for future generations. 
Have a great week!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Small Business Saturday

Today is Small Business Saturday and as a special deal, Abundant Design is giving
$25 off
initial consultations scheduled through the end of November!

If you plan to do a full design and installation package, we'll still deduct the full consultation price from the design.

Your yard can become a sustainable oasis and a foraging paradise!

Shop Small, Shop Local!
Shop Abundant Design!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Looking back from the track loader
A little late on the post this week.  As the weather changes, and there is less and less daylight each day, I've been trying to spend more time with and reconnect with my family.  I'm very excited for this Thanksgiving holiday!

Work still continues, and yesterday dug in the water catchment swales/rain gardens at the healing garden project.  I'm thankful for the beautiful weather before this chilly wind rolled in.

What is a swale?  A swale is a ditch for collecting water, generally to move it elsewhere without undue erosion.  In my projects we usually use a swale on contour, meaning it is nearly level and water collects and soaks into the soil hydrating it.  If there is too much rain, it will move off site in a controlled manner, but we try to infiltrate as much as we can into organic matter rich soil for our plants use.

This video shows one of this summer's rain garden projects where we elongated them to act as hydrating features of the landscape, which will drought-proof the hazelnut, aronia and raspberry plantings.

Video Tour of a large Rain Garden

Back to the healing garden, I am also thankful for Beemer Landscaping who did the initial site grading for the walking paths. I've also used them for some retaining walls and other projects.  Their water features are top notch and Korey and his team have won awards at home shows where I have had feature gardens.

I'm also thankful for Bob and Tessa at Blooming Prairie Nursery.  I have had Bob help me on a couple projects and purchased many plants from them, check them out for your prairie and native plant needs.

Brandon at Browne Atlas has also been a friend and cooperator of Abundant Design.  They have worm castings available and can be used with our landscape installations for an early boost to your plantings.

Will and Jonathan are great guys over at Trinity Tree Care. They have also been a great resource, tree clearing/trimming help and helpful tree care advice.

Although I didn't get to work with Ralph as much this year, I am thankful for his friendship as well.  You can help out the Forest Avenue Community Orchard on Giving Tuesday and/or head down there on December 2nd to help with fall cleanup, meet new friends and enjoy refreshments.

I'm also thankful for my summer intern Michael, Ray at Cherry Glen Learning Farm, Drew at Land Matters and all of my wonderful customers.

I'm also so very thankful for my wife and family and their support this past year as the business has grown and I haven't always been home as much as I should have been.  After getting home past dark last night, with two of my kids helping me out, my wife had supper waiting, so I could eat quickly and get to the board meeting at Cherry Glen on time.

God has truly blessed me, and I am Thankful!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Save the Leaves, Part II

Last year about this time I wrote about saving leaves for an easy way to add organic matter to your soil.  Read that article here-

Organic matter feeds healthy soil life, improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils and the workability of clay soils.

Recently I shared an article on Facebook about how Backyard Abundance, very similar to Abundant Design, is encouraging people to keep their leaves, and even ask for more.  Here's the local news video talking to their director Fred Meyer.

Well, one of my customers from this summer took that advice, and we arranged a load of leaves to be delivered. 

The load arrives, right next to the Norway Spruce we planted

He has been grooming his lawn for some time and it really looks great. Unfortunately homes in newer suburban developments are notorious for having poor soils, low in organic matter.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate)

More recently they've been looking for natural approaches, from using Milorganite and spent coffee grounds in the lawn, adding a butterfly and vegetable garden, composting and our recent project.

We planted several trees and shrubs to enhance the windbreak and shade their home in summer, along with a strip of native prairie plants for pollinator habitat.  Next stages will include a larger vegetable space, natural playscape and possibly a rain garden.

These leaves are a great natural addition to the soil building efforts going on, that won't contaminate the soil or groundwater, but could actually improve it.

Spread and ready to be mulched

After the first pass with the mower

Ready for the snow, a few freeze/thaws and these leave pieces will be rich soil


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Winding down and Gearing up

What a great season its been!
Preparing beds for next spring
These Echinacea seeds can't wait!

I attended a training workshop to be a Prairie STRIPS consultant this week. More on that training in the near future and how Abundant Design can help reduce nutrient and topsoil loss on your farm.

Grass identification slide

Last week was also the ground breaking on the Healing Garden at the East side clinic.  Very excited to see how that develops and grows over the next couple years!

Now is the perfect time to get a design started for your project. 
Be ready to go next Spring!

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Conversation on Soil Health & Cover Crops

As the harvest comes in I see a lot of bare fields...

"What's strange about that, the harvest is in?" you might ask.  

Well, for many years now cover crops have been a topic of discussion and the farmers and land owners experimenting with the practice have had great results - including yield increasesimproved soil health and less erosion.  And year over year the data shows more and more growers are using them.  But by now, I would have thought there would have been a rapid adoption of cover cropping almost everywhere, along with more and more using no-till practices.  The combination can add $100/acre profit!

Here is an email conversation from several years back where I was sharing with my supervisor about cover crops and soil health...

"Part of my performance plan is to share insights of the soils classes I’ve taken and how that relates to our work here.
I have not taken much time for the online classes since the cover crop workshop, but here is a quick video to share from the USDA NRCS that kind of ties together soil health, the industry’s renewed push for biologicals and our company's beginning interest in cover crops."

Thanks for sharing, Jeff! Your interest in sustainability brings another dimension to how we think about agriculture and that is always a good thing.
The expert in the video mentions diversity of crops is best for soil microbe health. Do you think that simple crop rotation is enough to do this? Crop rotation has been a best practice, however I understand sometimes this isn’t done. So are cover crops used in the winter in soy and corn fields? Or are they planted somewhere else?

I don’t know percentages of acres growing continuous corn vs corn-soy rotation. Some growers have also included oats or alfalfa in a multiyear rotation plan, but I think those numbers have really decreased.

However simple crop rotation is not enough for good soil health and conservation. The large amount of time the soil is left exposed to the elements contributes to erosion. Nitrogen off gasses from soil >50°F, the gap from harvest until the soil cools and from warm up to the new Spring growth; fields can lose much of the added benefit if anhydrous or manure is applied at these times. Probably the biggest effect on overall soil health is that the rhizosphere is left without living roots. These are an important piece in the soil food web.

Cover crops are a really great step to bridge the gaps between growing seasons in corn, soy or other annual crops. Late summer aerial seeding into existing stands, planting cover seed at harvest or soon after can have good results too. Cover crops keep the soil biome active (although its much slower in winter) by sustaining the microorganisms with living roots. They also protect the soil from exposure, and the roots help hold soil in place. They take up nutrients and store them in their tissues until released through decomposition post termination.

Use of cover crops is growing but adoption has been quite slow. The combination of no-till and cover crop systems takes ~3years to get established and that plays a big part I think, especially on leased farmland.

If you have more questions just ask, I really like talking about it :)

Spread the word about Cover Crops!


Thanks for the extra information, Jeff! Cover crops sound like a good tool to use. Hopefully they will continue to gain ground :)
As you can see there are numerous benefits with using cover crops, and although not every farmer makes more money on every acre, the majority seem to have more money in their pocket at the end of the season!

Read more on the "Economics of Cover Crops" from Ohio State University

I encourage you to consider cover crops, or talk to your friends and neighbors that haven't.  These are one way to help our soil, water and environment without a major change to a conventional corn and soybean operation.  Resources are available to assist you through the USDA NRCS, USDA SARE, Practical Farmers of Iowa and more.

Have a great week!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wildlife Habitat on Working Farms

This week I got an email from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Setvice (NRCS) highlighting one of their partner farmers in the Sage Grouse Initiative.
With more and more acres being put into production even after the last corn boom has come back down, and farms becoming larger and larger, less habitat is available.  The windbreak on old farm sites have been taken out, or the whole site itself has been converted to production.  Many rural homes just aren't needed; with the increased efficiency of modern machines farmers can cover more ground faster.
Also cities are growing as fast as administrators can push, with tax abatements and promises of jobs, attractions and services.  In Iowa this urban sprawl happens on some of the most important farmland in the world, putting pressure on farmers to produce more on less. 
With remaining habitat dwindling and becoming more and more fragmented, intentional conservation efforts are needed.  Mike Fenn's story shares his experience and feelings on the topic, this link also includes a playlist of other participants in the program.

Here in Iowa we don't have Sage Grouse, but we do have the Ring-Necked Pheasant.  Originally from China, pheasants were accidentally introduced into Iowa when a windstorm damaged the pens of game breeder William Benton of Cedar Falls releasing approximately 2,000 of the birds. Benton’s birds spread north and west and constitute Iowa’s founding stock. The DNR began stocking pheasants around 1910 with most regions of Iowa receiving large stockings of ring-necks by 1930. The ring-neck has since become the most important gamebird in Iowa with an estimated statewide population of 4 to 6 million birds.

According to The Des Moines Register, pheasants could be key to saving rural Iowa, farming and the environment.  Read that story here-

Here is an Iowa State University Extension video explaining how habitat can be incorporated into your working farm.

Have a great week, enjoy the fall colors and cooler weather!

Don't forget to save your leaves!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Building Soil for Health, Climate & Profit

I often talk about how important healthy soil is for healthy gardens, yards and farms.  Well, what does that actually mean? 

Soil is the foundation for all plant life.  One tablespoon of healthy soil contains millions of bacteria, yeasts, molds, fungi, and other microbes. 

Print this coloring page for your kids or classroom
These organisms are vital to the natural processes of the environment by recycling nutrients, protecting plants from pests and diseases, and allowing plants to receive nutrients from the soil.  Nutrient rich plants are healthy food.

Organic matter in the form of compost and mulch feed the soil microbes.  It also increases soil porosity, workability and moisture-holding capacity.  Increasing your soil organic matter by only 1% can hold more than 20,000 gallons per acre of additional water in the ground.  This increased water holding capacity can help your grass, plants or crops survive longer dry spells with less stress.

Composting your food and lawn waste is one way to boost organic matter and life in your soils.  Using wood and straw mulch around your trees and shrubs is another way to increase organic matter.  While worm castings and compost teas can boost soil life.
Chop & Drop your weeds and mulch plants, that helps too!

See these forward thinking farmers share how taking care of their soil improved animal health, increased profits and resiliency.

Soil Carbon Cowboys from Peter Byck on Vimeo.
Meet Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis - heroes and innovators! These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. It's an amazing story that has just begun.

It's not just ranchers either.  Soil health practices such as cover crops and no-till can result in an economic return of over $100 per acre for corn-soybean farmers!

Storing more organic matter/carbon in the soil can possibly even fight climate change, read more from Civil Eats.

With benefits such as these it's no wonder Soil Health is the next big trend:
A new idea: If we revive the tiny creatures that make dirt healthy, we can bring back the great American topsoil. But farming culture — and government — aren't making it easy.
Soil Health: The Next Big Trend Turf Magazine
Integrating biologicals into your program is smart, simple and cost-effective.
As homeowners a major problem in newer developments is the degraded soils, compacted with little organic matter.

Builders strip topsoil off developments to build roads, driveways and homes, but some fail to return it, said John Swanson, a conservationist at Polk Soil and Water Conservation District. "People are left with a rock-hard, compacted soil that builders roll the sod right on top of. It doesn't absorb water much better than concrete," he said. "Homeowners are left with a yard that's not very healthy." The Des Moines Register

We can do things to fix this such as deep-tine aeration, compost addition and supplemental biologicals.  If you are building a new home ask your builder about amending your soil prior to sod or seeding.  Also avoid working wet soils and consider stepping stones or pathways on high traffic areas to avoid compaction.  More tips can be found on our post about the Good Neighbor Iowa program.  Abundant Design can help with any of these and more.

Have a great Fall week!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Grow! Community

Last week we attended and shared about the Good Neighbor Iowa event.  This is one way to be a good neighbor by not using harsh chemicals on your lawn.

Being responsible with what we put on our lawns is important, but even more important are the personal relationships we develop.  People Care is one of the Three Ethics of Permaculture.

With the tragic news out of Las Vegas and lots of other bad things going on in our country, cultivating a feeling of community is critical.  Communities with strong relationships are stronger, more resilient.  People who feel part of a community are not likely to lash out violently. 

You and I are empowered to help stop these acts. 

Community food forests and healing gardens are also places where people can interact with their community and nature.  They can also be beneficial helping people overcome traumatic injuries and experiences.

"Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”  Read more "Heal the Landscape and Ourselves"

Community organizer Nimrod Hochberg, of the Kidron Food Forest, is building relationships through their community food forest in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“Every Friday people come here, get together and plant.
We are creating a community.
And people need it.”

Although I'm not a huge country music fan I do like certain songs from all across the music spectrum.  I remember I liked this one that makes me think about being a good neighbor and building strong communities.  I wonder how things would've played out differently if the people we see as monsters had spent a little more time in nature or with their neighbors on the front porch.

I hope you'll take time to visit with your neighbors, coworkers and maybe those you don't normally interact with.  We may never know the impact we'll have!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Good Neighbor Iowa, Des Moines Kick-off

Yesterday was the Good Neighbor Des Moines Kickoff EventGood Neighbor Iowa is a statewide public education campaign to reduce children’s exposure to commonly-used lawn pesticides. It involves school districts, park managers, childcare centers and other community leaders who are demonstrating that it is possible and practical to manage large areas of turf without the use of pesticides such as herbicides, insecticides or fungicides.
Their ultimate goal is to transform our culture so that we appreciate diverse lawns as a way to protect child health, water quality, and biodiversity.  These goals align with Abundant Design's work and I was glad to attend and promote their mission.
Four main tips for a healthy lawn without pesticides:
  • Mow high (at least 3”) so that grass develops strong roots to compete against weeds.
  • Over-seed and add compost periodically. In Iowa, late Aug-Sept are the best times. If there are bare areas, rough them up and seed them.
  • If you have high foot traffic or athletic fields, aerate and seed.
  • Consider converting certain lawn areas into native Iowa prairie plants.
You can do it yourself or have your maintenance service do it and encourage your school local parks and churches to take part as well.  To learn more, please see their Resources page.

For even more resources on natural lawncare practices visit RichSoil.com

Dogpatch Urban Gardens (DUG) hosted the event, with other organizations attending who support Good Neighbor Iowa's mission. 
Kids Yoga in front of DUG's new Hoop House

Farm Baby Foods had their local, organic baby and toddler food

The Cutler Kitchen had energy bites, Brightside Kitchen brought treats and local coffee. Des Moines Children's Museum brought their "Let's Play Outside" exhibit.  The Des Moines Water Works provided refillable water bottles to the first 100 guests.

Urban Ambassadors shared their mission to empower and inspire sustainable living

I talked to a lot of great people interested in healthy yards, and healthy landscapes like Abundant Design provides. Brandon from Browne Atlas joined me and shared information about their worm castings.

Chatting with visitors interested in sustainable & regenerative land use and permaculture
Good Neighbor Iowa will provide you with a yard sign (in various colors) to show your support and invite conversation with your neighbors.
Here's our yard sign in purple and gold for Waukee, even if they said UNI :)