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, January 30, 2017

Fire! Putting up Firewood for Heat and More

There is just something about the experience of being near fire.  It is beyond the warmth and the cracking of sparks, almost something spiritual.

A campfire is welcome even during the heat of summer
I mentioned during the Introduction to Permaculture class this weekend, that I heard a great interview this week with Lars Mytting, author of the Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, a cult classic in Scandanavia. 
The latest Scandinavian publishing phenomenon is not a Stieg Larsson–like thriller; it’s a book about chopping, stacking, and burning wood that has sold more than 200,000 copies in Norway and Sweden and has been a fixture on the bestseller lists there for more than a year. Norwegian Wood provides useful advice on the rustic hows and whys of taking care of your heating needs, but it’s also a thoughtful attempt to understand man’s age-old predilection for stacking wood and passion for open fires. An intriguing window into the exoticism of Scandinavian culture, the book also features enough inherently interesting facts and anecdotes and inspired prose to make it universally appealing.  
You can listen to the interview here:

This really brought back memories and nostalgia, that has been growing in my mind a lot lately.  Not only nostalgia but the great qualities and uses of wood for heating, cooking and more.

Our Earth Stove
Growing up and into my young adult years we used wood heat almost exclusively.  The exception in the late Fall and early Spring when temperatures weren't cold enough to keep a fire going and we used supplemental electric heat.  Although we could have "stacked functions" better, we did keep a kettle of water going on it for humidity and it was a handy spot to hang drying laundry if guests were not expected.

After being outside for awhile a few minutes standing near "the stove" would warm you to the core.  It was a fairly efficient heater as well.  Two or three pieces of wood, almost always oak, in the morning, and two or three in the evening was all it would take.  Turn it up, open the damper to get a good draw on the chimney and you could load it without puffing smoke back into the house.  Give it a few minutes for the existing coals to get the fresh wood burning well and then turn it back to low.  Many times we would open a couple windows just a crack as it would get too warm.

"The nice thing about heating with wood is it'll warm you twice!" said Dad

Dad and I sawing up some limbs we dropped near the house
We usually waited past prime time for putting up wood due to other chores, so getting heat twice wasn't the most welcome experience in the heat of summer.  However with proper stacking in our wood shed that allowed plenty of airflow we did ok.  If we had any leftover from the year before that was moved to the front to use first, that gave the stacks in the back time to dry a bit longer and with drier winter air.

Settin' 'em up & Knockin' 'em Down
The Monster Maul was a beast, that could turn fully round logs to firewood in a couple whacks.  I still remember Dad smiling when he told us about buying it, even though I was pretty little when it was new.  It was a similar focus activity to shooting a bow and arrow.  Lose focus, and you miss, sometimes knocking over the log you were working on and the next couple you had staged.  But keep your focus and you will be amazed at the amount of wood you can split.  Hydraulic splitters are easy, but slow.  The maul can keep up easily if you maintain your focus, it gives you a great workout and uses no gasoline. 

I don't think they make the exact one we had, but here are a couple that are very close.  They even have a cushioned grip!  It is a little pricey, and I have friends that like others better, but from my experience these are great tools that will last several lifetimes if you keep them out of the rain.

Mom and I splitting firewood, our wood shed behind
If you can have someone setting the logs up for you, you can really fly.  After a bit, you can change up your activity by stacking the split logs.  By switching up your motions you can extend the time you can keep working.

Other hints for splitting firewood include starting from what was closer to the bottom of the tree working up.  The fibers come apart better that way, especially if you have a fork in the piece.

With pieces that fork or have a crotch work from the bottom as above, but also if they are thick enough, take a piece off from each branch and leave the middle part as one piece.  Alternatively you can split the crotch so that you are splitting both branches at the same time; so that you end up with two Y's.  You will not split a piece ending up with a branch on each piece.  Sometimes after a few whacks without progress, you may decide this would be a good "chair" in the woods, or mushroom growing log.

Also, splitting the really large ones from the base of the tree, you don't want to start right in the middle.  Take a slice off the edge, you will get to know how thick of a slice based on the size of the round with experience.  Each slice may be split into two or more pieces as well.

Staging firewood by the back door before heading to town 
For our stove the best pieces ended up ~5" in diameter (but squarish or triangular).  Bark is fine but it does hold moisture in better so exposing the split sides to air in the stack is best.  We had od bridge planks to keep the wood off the dirt in the shed, and stacked with good gaps between the logs to maximize airflow.  Newest wood went to the back, if possible, and having two "stalls" helped with this.  Also, we would bring a few days supply close to the house, protected from the elements, where it was handier to step out in the morning instead of making a trip up to the woodshed.

If we visit Living History Farms now I tend to linger in the 1900's farm kitchen with its wood cook stove, especially if we get there near lunchtime.  The smells of hearty real food cooking with a hint of smoke, delicious!  Modern wood cookstoves are still made, and you can check some of those out here.


I love what Ben Falk, author of The Resilient Farm and Homestead, has done with his wood stove arrangement, and you can see his set-up below.

The multiple functions of a well designed wood cookstove
For more about his setup, and resilient systems, listen to his interview (along with Iowa's own Grant Schultz) by Diego Footer at Permaculture Voices.  There are also video reviews of different wood cookstoves and so much more!

You can also follow this link for more information about Lars Mytting's book, to listen to the interview or subscribe to the Art of Manliness podcast.

Don't forget the deadline for Registering for the Permaculture Workshop Series is February 3rd!

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Introduction to Permaculture Class

We had a lot of fun out at Waukee's Family Fest this weekend!  The first year we made Pollinator Seed Bombs, and this year we made Origami Butterflies.

Next Weekend I will be teaching an introductory class on Permaculture at Cherry Glen Learning Farm.

From the event notice:
Introduction to Permaculture with Jeff Reiland
Saturday, January 28 at 1 PM - 3 PM
Cherry Glen Learning Farm
3989 NW 94th Ave, Polk City, Iowa 50226
Mr Reiland has a Permaculture Design Certificate, and a Bachelors of Environmental Science/ Biology. This program covers energy & site assessment - contours - earth works- water catchment, and mulching & soil building to produce nutrient rich produce. Program will include an outdoor walk to look at projects in various stages of development. Cost $5.00 No advance registration required.
No need to pre-register but you can SHARE & let people know you are "Going" or "Interested" at the Facebook event page.

Don't forget, if you want a more in-depth, hands-on experience Register for the Upcoming Permaculture Workshop Series.

Have a great week and we'll see you Saturday!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Waukee Family Fest

Come see us at Waukee's Family Fest next Saturday!

Share the flyer with your friends!

 Check out the highlights from last year, and a video to make your own seed bombs at home!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Water - Lawsuits, Dead zones and Runoff

The Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit is set for this year.  Bill Stowe has made it his mission to sue Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties for costs incurred in the removal of nitrogen from the nutrient laden runoff which provides the Des Moines metro area with much of its drinking water.  The Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have made it their mission to stop him.
Moon reflecting off Beaver Creek
This media circus has made its way through all the news channels, even the New York Times and Huffington Post have picked up the story.  Legal fees, for both sides, have already exploded with nothing yet spent to actually clean up the waterways - for drinking or otherwise.  Posturing from both sides is what we have come to expect in our current political climate.
The nutrients in the water are making a big mess!  Everywhere!

Nitrates (a form of nitrogen) in drinking water is a serious health problem.  Particularly for babies, and pregnant or nursing mothers, nitrates in the water can hinder the hemoglobin in blood from carrying oxygen.  This leads to "Blue Baby" syndrome, with digestive and respiratory issues, brain damage and even death. 
Even for adults, long term exposure has been linked to serious health effects.  Potential problems include miscarriage, birth defects, thyroid disorders and even cancer.  Stomach, bladder and neurological cancers have recently been linked to high nitrate exposure.
Beyond our drinking water, nitrates and phosphorus (another fertilizer component) are causing problems in our lakes and waterways.  Fish kills are common news in Iowa.  Certain blue-green algae thrive in these nutrient rich waters producing toxins with serious health risks that cause many beaches to be closed.
Local waterways aren't only problems for Iowans.  Read this article by The Great Healthy Yard Project founder Dianne Lewis Protect water from dangerous algae: View
These problems also flow downstream through the rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. The giant Hypoxia Zone forms where the Mississippi River dumps tons and tons of Nitrogen and Phosphorus laden runoff from the entire Midwest agricultural regions.  These nutrients are quickly used by algae which then multiply rapidly.  The result is a dead region of the Gulf that gets bigger each year, bigger than the area of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined!
NOAA's Happening Now:Dead Zone 2015
The newly elected Republican's in the Iowa House have stated that water quality is their top priority.  Not typically known for their environmental stance, they will try to clean up the water better then their Democratic colleagues had, even with their greener reputation.  Both parties are beholden to the electorate and their donors so we shall see what happens.
Some reduction in nutrient runoff has been made recently, but there is so much yet to be done. 
The Iowa River where I grew up
Efforts by Iowa State and the Leopold Center include the Prairie STRIPS program, which can reduce nutrient loads by 90% with a 10% allocation of fields to native prairie plants.

Listen to a STRIPS story on NPR here
My friend Ray Meylor of the Cherry Glenn Learning Farm watershed mitigation project penned a letter to the Cedar Rapids Gazette highlighting the benefits and reproducibility of that project near Saylorville Lake.
"Imagine if similar projects were launched all along the 127,000 impaired waterways in Iowa. Such a movement would not only mitigate our state’s water quality issues, it would bring new farm families into our rural communities, rebuilding our rural economies and communities." 
"There is no need to take school education dollars or increase our sales tax to fix Iowa’s water quality problem"
Water quality issues, along with low corn and soy prices, could nudge some farmers to experiment with other crops, like cover crops and edible crops.   These are showing promise for tying up excess nutrients and preventing then from washing into waterways during the times when no cash crops are growing.  Many are finding that input costs go down and income per acre increases over a several year period even if yields stay the same or drop slightly.  Additionally cover crops can be grazed by livestock diversifying your investments and adding additional income streams.

In addition to our edible landscapes that provide many ecological benefits, Abundant Design can help you design and install filter strips and riparian areas on your farm that can produce a yield for your family or for market as well.  I have contacts I can put you in touch with that can market your surplus if desired.  Nutrient runoff and sediment will be mitigated at the same time.  Many alternative crops can thrive in these settings providing habitat for wildlife as well as fresh fruit and a beautiful setting for you.
If farmers in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties, as well as all of us, start implementing the strategies above (STRIPS, watershed mitigation, cover crops, etc.) the runoff issues will go away. 
Nitrogen removal costs go down for Des Moines Waterworks, and their customers;  
Unhealthy nitrates are reduced in our drinking and recreational waters; and  
Farmers can continue their livelihoods without large settlements or additional regulations.
And that's good for all of us! 

Geese landing on Walker Slough

Monday, January 2, 2017

It starts with a Dream!

Are you already planning this years garden?  Well it's at least a great time to be dreaming of it!

Its also a great time for ordering seed catalogs if you are not already on the companies mailing lists.  Some have already started sending them out and the others soon will be, and you can use the form email below for a great selection to get you started.

You can also link to their websites (below) and browse their catalogs online to reduce shipping and paper use (but most can be used for sheet mulching)

Here are some email addresses to request the free seed and nursery catalogs.  Just copy and paste these addresses into an email asking for one of their catalogs, with your name and address.
custserv@burpee.com, customerservice@seedsavers.org, info@territorialseed.com, seeds@rareseeds.com, homegarden@johnnyseeds.com, bountiful@sonic.net, questions@fedcoseeds.com, customercare@onegreenworld.com
info@starkbros.com, customerservice@raintreenursery.com, customerservice@oikostreecrops.com, trees@lawyernursery.com, mail@burntridgenursery.com

Here's an example you can use-
     Seed and Plant Catalog Request
     Please send one of your catalogs to
        Your Name
        Your Address
        City, State ZIP

     Thank you!

To request a catalog from High Mowing Organic Seeds follow this link HERE

Please add your favorite seed & nursery stock provider with a link in the comments below!

Also you can get some great trades at local seed exchanges!  Watch for Abundant Design's upcoming seed exchange by following us on Facebook or updates on the Events page.