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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

What a Great Year!

As 2015 comes to an end I hope you are feeling as thankful as I am.

As we celebrate the Holiday Season I look back and realize what an exciting year it has been.  Enjoy this quick video that highlights some of the different projects, partnerships and friendships that made the year special.

The winter hasn't really hit, but that may change tomorrow!  That gave me a chance to get a little more done than I was expecting... but of course as the nice weather lingered I made more plans for my own yard that are going have to wait for Spring.

If you are coming to the Waukee FamilyFest stop by our booth for a fun activity and say Hello!

Happy New Year!
Stay tuned for another exciting announcement and contest in the next couple weeks!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Warm wishes for you and yours on this special holiday!


A very Merry Christmas to you from Abundant Design!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Well ok, our open fire was in the gas oven :)

This week Winter officially begins, although we will be enjoying high temperatures near 50°F.  The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, will come and go, marking the beginning of increasing daylight hours!

Also, Christmas is upon us again!  And as The Christmas Song starts out, this week I'll share a recipe for roasting chestnuts.  Enjoy this classic Nat King Cole version as you read more.

American Chestnuts are being back-crossed with Chinese Chestnuts to be resistant to the chestnut blight.  The American Chestnut Foundation has dedicated decades of work to this task.  But as I posted on Facebook this week, researchers may have found a wild resistant line of American Chestnut trees in Maine!

Chestnuts are a highly prized nut tree in many permaculture, silvopasture and agroforestry systems, along with hazelnut, oak, butternut and walnut.

Ours were collected in October at the Brenton Arboretum, West of the Des Moines metro between Dallas Center and Adel.  (I planted some trees there way back when!)
Thanks girls and Ms. Lee
  1. Preheat your oven to 400° while you cut the shells
  2. Lay the nut on a cutting board, flat(-ish) side for stability
  3. Using extreme caution cut an "X" across the top.  Get all the way through the shell and skin avoiding the flesh.  A bigger knife than the little cheap one in the picture would work better.  My thumb was pretty sore from pressing down to cut through the tough shell. Also the wider X's seemed to peel easier.
  4. Place them X-side up in a cookie sheet, baking pan or dish and roast for ~15-20 minutes. 
  5. After ~10 minutes rotate/shake the pan a bit to help them cook evenly and continue roasting. Also, check to make sure the inner skin is not drying out or it will be hard to peel off. 
  6. Check every ~5 minutes and remove when the shells start to peel back and the flesh turns golden, or if any skin looks to be sticking.
  7. As soon as they have cooled enough to handle start peeling the shell back.  If they cool completely you warm them back up to make it easier to peel, saving your thumbs a bit.
Photo Courtesy NYC2 & Outdoorlicious

You might also want to try soaking them for thirty minutes to an hour in salt water. 

Supposedly the street vendors in New York city boil them and only roast them a bit for looks. 

I have not done it but either way is supposed to make them moist and easier to peel.

They are a unique treat, kind of a lot of work, but very nostalgic!  They are pretty starchy with a somewhat sweet taste with a hint of mapley-butter flavor.  Maybe I can experiment a little on the recipe too. 

May your Yuletide be gay! And...

Have a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Conserving Soil, Water and Nutrients with prairie strips

STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips.

Made up of a multidisciplinary group, comprising scientists, educators, farmers, and extension
specialists, the STRIPS team conducts research on the prairie strips conservation practice.

These strips of prairie, should consist of a diverse mix of native perennials, and be placed at the base of a slope with another (or more depending on the field) higher up on the slope.

Together making up 10% of the field, these practices will reduce soil erosion by 90% and nitrogen loss by surface runoff up to 84%.

Prairie strips can also provide potential habitat for biodiversity, including wildlife, pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Follow this link for more great information and resources to assist commercial growers help the land and waters of Iowa.

Reviewed by the STRIPS science team at Iowa State University for science/economic content related to prairie strips on August, 15, 2018.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Prairie STRIPS presentation

A couple weeks ago through my affiliation with the Central Iowa Permaculture Guild, I had the pleasure to invite Tim Youngquist, Iowa State University Agronomy Specialist, to present on the STRIPS program through Iowa State University.

STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips.
Made up of a multidisciplinary group, comprising scientists, educators, farmers, and extension
specialists, the STRIPS team conducts research on the prairie strips conservation practice.

Enjoy this presentation on the STRIPS program given at the November 2015 Central Iowa Permaculture Guild meeting.

Spreading Prairie STRIPS to Iowa Farms for Improved Water Quality,
Soil Conservation, and Biodiversity

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Last Minute Bulbs

Its a quick post this week because I want you to get a great deal with perfect timing!

This weekend's forecast is perfect for some end of the year tasks in the yard with highs near 50°F

The ground hasn't frozen yet either, so we still have an opportunity to plant!  Last minute deals on trees are an option and this late in the year, if you can even finds them, trees and shrubs will be on DEEP discounts. 

It would also be perfect for transplanting deciduous trees.  The cold weather early has most of these trees in a dormant state so they transplant with less stress.

Speaking of deep discounts, I encourage you to head over to the Habitat ReStore and pick up a great deal on flowering bulbs.

Early Spring flowers are great companion plants as they grow early, grabbing nutrients.  These nutrients might otherwise wash off site during Spring rains. As the season progresses they die back releasing these nutrients back into the soil, which are then used by your summer plants.

So get out there, get dirty, get healthy and prepare your beds for an easy, and cheap, burst of color this Spring. 
Then later you can Cheer on the Hawkeyes!

Remember if you want a great landscape, that includes edibles and/or plants for pollinators, with a design that optimizes your property for sustainability contact Abundant Design.

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gifts from the Heart

Thanksgiving Holiday

I hope you've all had a grateful Thanksgiving weekend!

We can help make these feelings of gratitude carry through all year. Try keeping a "Thanksgiving" journal where you can record the blessings of each day. Or take the time to tell someone "thank you." It might make their day, and yours! Feelings of gratitude help experience positive emotions that support happiness, increased resiliency, trust, social connections and creativity.

The Holidays have Begun

While the girls had fun shopping, the boys and I took some time on Friday to build rabbit fences, pot up some plants and empty the rain barrel.

Maybe you survived Black Friday, or enjoyed Buy Nothing Day, or took time to support local businesses on Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday are up next!

Some great deals can be had at this time of year, no doubt! And it is better to give then receive.

Gift giving plays a big part of the Holiday Season, but often times it becomes the focus building up frustration to the breaking point. Long lines, busy parking lots, traffic jams shipping hassles all contribute to Holiday Stress. And then if the kids aren't appreciative...

"You kids are going to have a great Christmas, or else!"

Just this morning my son was talking about wanting a stuffed animal of a character in an older movie we have. As we were telling him they don't have those anymore, I thought "here is a learning moment!" I started to tell him how the toys weren't made any more and they are making new movies and getting kids to want new toys to go with those movies. Instead of seeing the valuable lesson here, he was getting starry eyed at the possibility of even more toys that he would "need." I guess my timing or delivery needs a little work. Ha!

Simplify the Holidays

I encourage you to simplify your holidays this year. It is a recurring theme, I know, as we talk every year of more simpler times, homemade and "experience" gifts ...and then can get carried away.

This week I found a great site from the Story of Stuff Project, called So Kind. It is an online gift registry of sorts that helps focus on unique and memorable gifts. These include gifts of time, skill, experience and charity.

Experiential gifts are more environmentally friendly and don't wear out. Memories last a lifetime and can be with friends and family for great quality time. How about day passes or a membership to the Botanical Center, Reimann Gardens or Living History Farms?

Gift Certificates and Coupons are another good option. You could skip buying anything and give a coupon for a few hours of yard or housework, garden weeding or harvesting, or even lawn mowing. Gift cards to local restaurants can be nice to have for a special date night.

Homemade gifts are heartfelt, customizable and low-cost. The value is multiplied many fold over the cost of materials so are a great way to extend your gift giving budget. Freezer meals great ideas that make supper easier on busy nights. Try some easy birdhouses or for a bigger gift try some compost bins.

What about a gift by Abundant Design? Who wouldn't want a total backyard makeover, an edible oasis or even a pollinator garden as a gift!

Have a great week and beginning of December!!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Give Thanks!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! 

This time of year we remember the Pilgrims' celebration of Thanks they had with the Wampanoag after their first successful harvest in Plimouth.  Hopefully you will be able to enjoy something homegrown, or at least locally grown in your celebratory feast.  Thanksgiving is also a time for prayer, and reflection.  So, before we worry about the big shopping day, I want to encourage us to take some time to reflect on the last year.

Remember the good times, the blessings and savor those memories.  What a year this has been.  Abundant Design has worked on some great projects from Easter Lake to Beaverdale and Urbandale to West Des Moines. I am truly thankful for my customers and their trust in me!

I also am thankful for the other groups I've gotten to work with.  Forest Avenue Outreach, Plant Grow Fly, Monarch Watch, Area515, Urban Ambassadors, the American Heart Association and the Central Iowa Permaculture Guild.  These organizations and many others are doing great things to promote wholesome food & healthy lifestyles, building community and environmental awareness.

Also recall the challenges and give thanks, maybe not for the actual events, but for the lessons learned and character that grew from them.

And what about this snow?!?!  We had a warm pleasant Fall that really stretched our growing season.  That came to a quick end this week with the ~5 inches we got in Waukee.  These peppers had given us handfuls throughout October, but the little ones left hanging on there now won't make it to the table.  The snow did provide some pretty scenes across the landscape.


I am thankful we didn't get a foot or more that fell across parts of northern Iowa.

Drive safely if traveling is part of your celebration.  Eat well, giving thanks for what has been provided to us this last year.
Happy Thanksgiving!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sweet Survival Tactics

OK, maybe not for the Zombie Apocalyse, Red Dawn or even solar flares, but plants have figured out many ingenious ways to survive.

There are becoming more and more "Super Weeds" that have developed resistance to herbicides, especially Monsanto's Round-Up or generically, glyphosate. One of the worst for large scale farming operations is Palmer Amaranth.  It has built up resistance by producing tens of thousands of seeds per plant, which increases the chance that one of its offspring will have some level of resistance.  Over time the more resistant plants survive to reproduce making tens of thousands of seeds with some resistance, and the chance for that much more resistance the next generation.

A more beneficial survival tactic, for us anyway and our gardens, is how some plants tolerate cold.  As plants grow they make carbohydrates by using the suns energy to combine water and carbon dioxide.  These carbohydrates are stored as starch in many of the plants we depend on for food; corn, wheat, potatoes, etc.  Starch can be dissolved in water by heating, think of water in the pot after boiling potatoes, but not in cold water.  This is where some plants have gone to Survival School.

Carrots are a great example.  As temperatures drop the carrot plant starts to convert some of the stored starch into sugar.  Sugar can dissolve easier in water, even cold water.  Think of making sweet teas or lemonade.  The dissolved sugar lowers the freezing point of the water in the plants tissues, and that's good news for the plant.  If the liquid in the cells freeze, the expanding ice crystals will cause the cells to burst.

This is why carrots are tastier after a couple frosts.  Unfortunately for the carrot, this survival technique has made it more likely to be eaten. 

You can store carrots right in the ground until you are ready to eat them.  You can enclose them in a hoop house or cover them with a thick layer of straw to keep the ground workable.  Once the ground starts to freeze you need to get them out or they will be stuck until Spring and in Iowa their internal antifreeze only protects them for so long.  You can store them in a root cellar for several months or in the fridge for several days or more.

Kale, parsnips and brussel sprouts are a few other vegetables that get sweeter when its cold.  Give them a try, even if you've not liked them before, you might be pleasantly surprised at the difference a couple dozen degrees colder can make.
Have a great week!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Wild Beauty - Fall Planting Sumac

Smooth and Staghorn Sumac are common small trees or shrubs in Iowa's countryside.  The feathery leaves turn a fiery red in the Fall, and the seed heads form a garnet colored cluster on the ends of the branches.  These seed heads are high in vitamin C, can be brewed into a lemonade like tea or dried and ground into a spice for Middle Eastern dishes.

They grow just about anywhere, so poor soils are not a problem for them.  They often form thickets and can spread by runners.  Since they grow so well, they can be used for erosion control on steeper hillsides and where the land has been disturbed.  Often times you will see them growing on the banks of steeper ditches along interstate highways.

This week I've put together a video showing a transplanting from last fall and how it grew this last year.  Fall planting works well for deciduous plants as they don't have to deal with summer heat, moisture loss through many leaves and a stressed root system.  They also will be going dormant above ground as freezing temperatures arrive.  Many can still put on some new root growth even with soil temperatures below 50°.  Sumac is a hardy plant and can do well with Fall Planting.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week!


PS - What are you thinking of the Search for Sustainability series? 
I saw the first couple episodes, but haven't gotten caught up.  I really liked hearing from the people I follow anyway, and enjoyed those portions.  There were other interviewees where I was doing something else and didn't follow too closely.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Join me for the Search for Sustainability…

I recently found out about this documentary series titled, The Search for Sustainability, and not only does it look and sound like it will have some good stuff, but it's broadcasting for free!
Episode 1 only has a couple hours left.

I'm really excited for the segments with Marjory Wildcraft and Paul WheatonHere's the trailer for the film and all the details:

During this series, which broadcasts online between November 1st-12th, 49 uplifting voices speak out about the tragic and crucial emergencies going on in the world, the potentially imminent food, water, and financial collapse, and how we might be able to avoid all of this disaster and thrive in a sustainable way simply by:
  • Taking back control of our food, health, water, and energy supplies
  • Implementing simple and no-cost methods for living harmoniously with the land and our surrounding environment
  • Learning to grow our own food in a sustainable and regenerative way whether you live in New York, Texas, California, Oregon or any state for that matter
  • Collecting and properly using water to build back our water table and end disastrous water droughts
  • Utilizing herbal medicines to thrive
  • Creating and participating in local co-ops, farmers markets, and food growing networks to thrive in our local communities
  • Supporting and opening sustainable schools and values-based systems to support the health and consciousness of our children and the next generation
  • Learning to thrive in abundance in Urban, Suburban, and Rural communities by making a few simple changes
  • Having a deeper and more meaningful spiritual connection to our food, land, animals, and fellow humanity
  • Engaging and supporting the creative arts, music, and media in a sustainable way
  • And much more!
All this and more will be shared at no cost during this internationally broadcasted 12-part documentary series.  I highly encourage you to visit this web page for all the details so you don’t miss a thing:
49 sustainability experts, permaculture designers, organic farmers, herbal medics, energy and building enthusiasts, systems analysts, green-politicians, and health educators share potentially world-changing information during this series that simply is not available all in one place anywhere online.

If you or anyone you know is at all interested in living more sustainably, having more food, water, and shelter security, and being engaged in a meaningful experience with your local community, then you need to see this series today.

Make sure to mark off November 1st-12th on your calendar as each episode will be released once per night for 12 nights straight, and I know you won’t want to miss a single great episode.

Thank you, I can't wait to watch it with you! 

Please assume that any links being linked to products or services outside of Abundant Design are affiliated links and we may receive commissions for those referrals. Neither Jeff Reiland, Abundant Design nor their affiliates, content providers, employees or comment contributors are liable for any use or misuse of the information provided herein and your use of any information contained herein is solely at your own risk.
The information and statements contained within this website, any added comments or products and services provided hereby are intended for educational purposes only, have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health or medical disorder.
Be sure to always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a health or medical situation. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice or treatment, because of information received from Jeff Reiland, Abundant Design nor their affiliates, content providers, member physicians, employees or comment contributors.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jack's day is done, now what?

It's over... 
King Jack's reign on the front stoop was grand! 
He watched the leaves change to red and gold, but now they have fallen. 
He watched the trick-or-treaters come and laugh, but they now are gone, too. 
He gained an hour (really?) but now the evening comes sooner.

Who am I talking about? 
You know... Jack. 
Jack O'Lantern!

According to the Department of Energy, 1.3 Billion pumpkins are grown in the US each year.  Millions of pounds of these will soon be headed for the landfills.  They have been painted or carved into Jack O'Lanterns for holiday decorations and will end up in the municipal waste stream.

What can we do to prevent contributing to this problem?
If you live in the panhandle of Oklahoma or Vero Beach, Florida your pumpkins, and other trash, might end up in a biorefinery.

Unfortunately most of us don't live there, so what do we do?

Lucky enough to have pigs, or chickens?  They make great snacks for them, tasty and nutritious.  You will need to break them up a bit for chickens so they can get to the inside.

No pigs or chickens? They can also be composted, and will break down faster if broken or chopped into smaller pieces.

Hopefully if you carved Jack O'Lanterns, you roasted the seeds and composted the rest of the insides.

We can eat them too, and not just the seeds! 
Pumpkin flavored everything can be found anywhere you look.  Cookies, coffees and more...  and don't forget pie!

Skip the canned stuff and you'll be rewarded with a flavorful homemade version.  Make your own pumpkin puree with this recipe from the Clever Carrot.

If you opted to paint them this year or left them as plain decorations, they'll probably be ok yet for cooking, if they haven't gone through too many freeze/thaw cycles.  Don't forget to take the paint off!

Then once you have your puree (or if you carved a jack o'lantern and bought some) try some of these Pumpkin Recipes from Eating Well and Taste of Home.

For your own Pumpkin Spice mix try this recipe:
Pumpkin Spice-
  • 4 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts ginger
  • 1 part nutmeg
  • 1 part allspice
As a BONUS Treat, not Trick, the Sustainable Small Farm Online Summit is FREE (replay) until 9pm Central November 1st.

Have a great week!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Get Dirty! ...and happy, and healthy!!!

This week I want to encourage you to get dirty! 

It's a perfect time to layout new garden beds for next season.  You can go through the work of double digging them in amended with compost, but that can be a LOT of work and disturbs the beneficial fungal network that may already be there.  If root crops can wait a year, lasagna beds take a lot of the work out of it, and provide the microbes plenty of food to build up a great soil.

Lasangna Bed Recipe (you can vary the ingredients based on available materials)
  1. Spread a thin layer of compost or fruit/vegetable waste.  This will attract earthworms as it decomposes.
  2. Layer cardboard or several layers of newspaper (non-glossy).  This will act as a biodegradable weed barrier.
  3. A layer of grass clippings can provide nitrogen
  4. A leafy layer will provide additional organic matter
  5. Cover with compost, which will kick-start the microbial activity
  6. Finish with mulch which will protect the layers below
  7. By Spring your new garden will be ready to plant

Speaking of soil life-
Soil contains microbes that can make us happy!  Mycobacterium vaccae, a strain of bacteria found in soil, has been found to trigger a release of serotonin a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being, happiness and decreased anxiety.  This soil bacteria is also being looked at for cancer treatment, Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis therapy.

The "hygiene hypothesis" is also gaining traction in the scientific community.  Evidence is growing that supports exposure to dust and microbes, as opposed to a super sanitary environment, as a young child can reduce the chance for allergies and asthma as they grow.  In one study kids from livestock farms had nearly half the chance of having allergic reactions to common allergens; dust mites, mold and pollen.

Grounding or Earthing-
Grounding or Earthing refers to the practice of connecting to the earth without anything between a person's skin.  This can be done by walking around on dirt barefoot, or lying down on the ground.  The belief is that in our modern world of thick soled shoes, floors and concrete sidewalks our bodies are no longer benefitting from the electron flow to and from the earth.  Grounding/Earthing may be a simple, natural, and yet effective environmental strategy against many common health disorders, and an essential element in the health equation.
There are commercial furniture, mattresses and other devices that claim to reconnect with this energy, but if you can walk around your garden barefoot, or lie on the grass in a warm sunny spot, I think I'll save my money.

So get outside, get dirty, happy and healthy and enjoy your week!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pumpkin Contest

What a perfect Fall weekend we just had! Cool nights and sunny days. The leaves took a beating in the wind but the colors are still astounding!

Speaking of leaves there will be plenty to collect for mulching or composting.

It was also the ideal weekend for planting garlic and flower bulbs, with soil temps getting into the 50's for most of the state.

We did get a pretty good frost across most of Iowa so if you were still getting tomatoes and wanting more I hope they were protected.

Maybe you even got a trip out to the pumpkin patch!

 This week we are doing a pumpkin contest!

Submit a photo of your handiwork to be entered for a chance to WIN! 
Post it on Abundant Design's Facebook page, attach it to the comments or email it to me.
Judging will take place next Saturday afternoon.

It can be painted or carved, silly or scary to compete.
  • Third prize will be a potted raspberry plant
  • Second place will receive choice of a Elderberry, Raspberry, Currant or Redbud tree planted in your yard*
  • First prize will be a FREE 1-hour On-Site Consultation*!
*Des Moines metro locations
Another fun thing to do this week is Valley Church's Great Pumpkin Party!  Always a big hit in the community, come check it out.
Have FUN & Good Luck with the contest! 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Stovetop Popcorn: Easier Than You Think

Popcorn is a fun and healthy snack.  It has a satisfying crunch and has an impressive amount of fiber-over one gram of fiber per cup.  This is great for people watching their diet, as popcorn can fill you up without a lot of calories if you go easy on the extras.  Also, it's gluten-free if you need to avoid that.

Popcorn is a whole grain, which means it contains the germ, endosperm, and bran.  This is in contrast to refined grains, which retain only the endosperm.  Besides the fiber mentioned above, popcorn is a surprising source of antioxidants, including lutein, an antioxidant that is good for your eyes.  The antioxidants found in grains, polyphenols and phenolic acids, may even be easier to absorb into our bodies than anthocyanin antioxidants found in berries and other colorful foods.  Corn also has B-complex vitamins, magnesium and manganese.

Many people are trying to limit the use of the microwave.  ...or at least avoid prepackaged microwave popcorn.  This week, I'll show you how to prepare popcorn on the kitchen stove.


This technique works with purchased popcorn as well as your own homegrown varieties.

UPDATE: Recipe tweaks for our favorite, plus you can add the butter right in
Gather and prepare ingredients as in the video-
  • 3Tbsp Coconut (or your favorite) oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn
  • 1-1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • Salt to taste
Hack-  Follow video as directed, until you add the rest of the kernelsAfter waiting for them to come to temp, add the butter as you return to heatThis melts & spreads the butter throughout the batch while not allowing it enough time to brown and smoke

In addition to butter or more coconut oil and salt, sometimes we like to add nutritional yeast as an almost cheese-like topping.  For kettle corn try three tablespoons of sugar added along with the kernels.  If you are wanting a low calorie or fat-free snack, be mindful of the added extras.

Finally, if you must use a microwave, we have used 1/4 cup kernels in a brown lunch bag.  Fold the top over two or three times, microwave for ~2 minutes and it comes out just right.  It is nutrionaly similar to air-popped, which is low in fat.  (We just prefer the flavor and health benefits of coconut oil)

Now go pick out a movie to go with your popcorn and
   have a great week!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Casting call - Reality TV!

I can't believe I am suggesting a Reality TV Show...

But honestly, I have thought of trying out for the Amazing Race (especially after having so much fun in Urbandale's Amazing Race and the Des Moines 9 to 5 Adventure Race) or even Survivor (but that was before I had seen an episode...) 

Although it's rare for me to watch TV, even good stuff like Growing a Greener World, this one has potential to be GREAT if it is done well, and after talking to the folks there and browsing their website it could be educational and even culture changing for good.  So...

Do you want to help save the world & be on TV!

  • Are you a young American between the ages of 21 and 30ish?
  • Do you live with your parents or would you consider moving back in with them?
  • Do you want to try to convert your parents’ lawn (and neighborhood greenspaces) into a workable yardfarm–one that can sustain you and your family either nutritionally or financially or both?
  • Do you want some guy with a camera following you around while you try to do this for nine months?!?

If you said yes to all those questions, then you should apply to be on Yardfarmers! Yardfarmers is an upcoming reality TV show that’ll follow six young Americans as they attempt to make a livelihood out of growing food in their parents’ yards, their neighbors’ yards, random street flower boxes, churchyards, school yards, vacant lots, cemeteries, or whatever spaces you can find that can be converted from useless ornamental lawn into a new source of healthy, local and sustainable food. In the process, they’ll be helping to combat climate change, the obesity epidemic, factory farming, suburban sprawl, food deserts, and get their family, community, and country ready for a warmer, more turbulent future. All while competing for the honor of being crowned “America’s Best Yardfarmer,” and, of course, a substantial cash prize.

What could be a more fun way to spend 2016? To learn more about the show and to apply, check out Yardfarmers’ call for contestants. Apply soon as this is a rolling application and will close once we choose our first crop of yardfarmers!


Technically the casting call is closed, and the odds of selection at this stage are much lower. However, after talking with them, I found out that they have had very few candidates from the Mid-West. 

So, if you apply quickly, and are a very strong fit, they will still consider you!

I would LOVE for one of YOU to be chosen for this adventure!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sprinkle, Slice, Simmer, SNAP!

Although I'm not a big snacker, tortilla chips and salsa are one of my favorites.  If I want to crank it up a notch, I'll add some melted nacho cheese and some jalapeƱo rings.  Just like at the ball-game!

This week I put together a how-to video on canning pickled pepper rings.  With the growing season winding down, its good to prepare the garden surpluses we have been getting into storable versions to last until next year.

Anyone who makes them probably has their own recipe, or is tweaking one.  This is my version so far.
     Pepper Rings (makes 4-5 pints)
          ~3 pounds jalapeno and/or banana peppers
          5 cups cider or white vinegar (5%)
          1¼ cup water
          1 tablespoon honey or sugar
          1½ tablespoon canning salt
          1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
          1 tablespoon celery seed
          1 tablespoon coriander
          3 garlic cloves, crushed

Here's another recipe-

Here are some refrigerator versions that do not need to be canned, although have shorter storage life.
Video - http://allrecipes.com/video/548/quick-pickled-jalapeno-rings/

Before starting your peppers or other water bath canning read:

The National Center for Home Food Preservation also has an e-book on the basics of canning in downloadable .pdf format:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Western Hills Family Retreat

Although still used, this raised fire pit space was overgrown and really needed tidying up.  The soil was compacted, and weeds were the only thing growing in this highly compacted area.  The homeowner was tired of fighting the weeds and wanted something done. 
Plans were put in place for a new fire pit and patio area, with new boulders and a potential planting on the back edge.  As the project plan developed, the decision was made to create a patio comprising the whole raised area and a separate raised bed with a mini-orchard and forest garden.  Already avid gardeners, they really liked the concept.

Other ideas-
  • The carpetball game table is a family and guest favorite, so access and spectator space was key.
  • Include Hydrangeas!

The hostas and daylilies were relocated to the back side of the privacy fence where there was a need to slow water flow, reducing erosion and filtering runoff, coming off of a parking lot.  Hardy plants, they survived transplanting even in mid-summer thanks to quick work and forgiving afternoon shade.

The fire ring of small boulders was removed and the existing walls were torn down.  A new base was dug and compacted.  Serendipitously a stairway formed at the junction of yard, path and patio.

Several tons of boulders were brought in to finish the retaining walls and establish the raised beds for the fruit tree guild.  The entire surface was tamped to stabilize the soil disturbed by constructing the retaining walls.  Next, the paver base material was laid and packed.

For the fire pit to match the look of the patio, I cut bluestone edging to build the custom outer wall, and a heavy duty fire ring lined the inside.

Large bluestone pavers were laid in position, arranged and rearranged for the best fit.  Once a few corners were removed for a tighter fit and the best layout was determined, they were leveled with sand and set in place.

The river rock and stepping stone pathways took inspiration from dry stream beds in the new rock valley.  The path was graded and covered with cardboard "sheet mulch" to kill any remaining weeds prior to laying the river rock and bluestone steppers.

The forest garden bed was seeded with cover crops including radish, wheat and clover to sustain beneficial soil life until apples, strawberries and more were available.  A few modifications were made to the original sketch to accommodate plant availability and future plans.

Horseradish was included in the background for contrasting large leafy texture as well as to be used as a nutrient rich mulch when cut. Clover was included for nitrogen fixing =natural fertilizer.  We also planted a mix of flowers, including prairie natives, to attract pollinators.

Hydrangeas, as well as an additional American Cranberry, were spaced on the right side of the path to enhance the remaining hostas and bleeding hearts.
If you enjoyed this project, contact me and we can make a plan for your backyard edible oasis! 
Have a great week!