I grow spoon dipper and birdhouse gourds each season. I harvest them in the fall after the foliage has died back and dry them indoors, away from moisture. In the spring, the gourds should be very hard and the seeds should rattle around inside. I use a 1” drill bit and slowly drill a hole into one side of the gourd. I dump out the seeds—saving for planting—and my kids decorate them before we hang them in our trees.
HOW THIS BENEFITS YOUR GARDEN/ ORCHARD
1. Inviting birds to stick around all winter means they’ll be there already when bugs and pests make their first spring appearance.
2. Birds like sparrows love to snack on bag worms and coddling moth larvae. I hang these from my fruit trees to keep pests in check naturally.
3. When hung in your garden or growing spaces, birds are invited to stay and feed on cabbage worms, hornworms, and more. This simple effort gets kids involved in the garden, the orchard, and helps encourage native bird populations.
You can find more activities similar to this one in my family seasonal living series called The Little Homesteader.
Time Stamps: 0:25 My greenhouse goals / 0:43 Managing olives and citrus in the winter / 1:45 Tour of plants / 3:43 Insulating the greenhouse / 4:50 4 Ways to Heat Your Greenhouse
Four ways to heat your greenhouse this winter season:
1. Greenhouse Grade Plastic
I wrapped my entire greenhouse with hoophouse plastic to keep drafts away and hold heat within the structure. I literally wrapped the entire house with the plastic and affixed with a staple gun. I found mine here: Happybuy Greenhouse Film 15 x 40
A heater is an obvious choice, especially on extremely cold days, however it quickly drains energy. If the greenhouse isn’t properly sealed or has drafts, any heat generated by the heater will rise and escape. Improperly attached extension cords can cause a fire.
3. Thermal Mass from Water Drums
Large 50-gallon drums can be filled with water. Water loses heat more slowly than air. If plants are crowded around the drums, they will benefit from the atmospheric heat provided by the drum. In the spring, water from the drum can be used to water plants.
4. Reflective Insulation Board
If you have a wall to spare, or can sacrifice the north side of your greenhouse, a large sheet of reflective insulation can be helpful. The insulation maintains heat within the greenhouse, while the mirror-like surface of the board captures and reflects light and heat from the sun back into the greenhouse.
Other options include a composting floor, and erecting your greenhouse on the side of your home to take advantage of heat. Straw bales can form a perimeter at the base of the greenhouse, but just remember heat rises—if the roofline is not sealed, heat will escape. Finally, I paint my greenhouse interior black to attract the sun’s rays and hold heat.
It’s citrus season! I started a new batch of homemade limoncello! Have you ever tried it or made your own? It’s so easy and ions better than store bought.
Limoncello is a sweet and tart liquor sipped after a meal in Italian culture. Because it contains so much lemon oil from the rinds, it truly does help with digestion. Careful… it’s easy to over-sip. 😉 The yellow color of the liquor comes from the lemons, but you could also use orange peel for a Halloween-themed drink! Recipe below:
1 bottle 190 Proof Grain Alcohol (I use Everclear but vodka works too)
10 meyer lemons, organic
2 cups water
2 cups sugar or more to taste
Wash the lemons. Carefully peel the skin from each lemon using a vegetable peeler or pairing knife. Try to get only the yellow skin; the white pith adds a more bitter flavor. Place the skins in a large glass bottle. Pour grain alcohol over the top and close the jar. Allow to infuse for two weeks, undisturbed, out of direct sunlight.
After two weeks, strain the alcohol into a new container and discard the rinds. They’ll be crispy!
Prepare a simple syrup in a large sauce pot over medium heat by combining equal parts water and sugar. Whisk and allow the sugar to dissolve. Turn off the heat. Add the lemon liquor to the sauce pot and whisk to combine well. Taste the limoncello. If more sweetness is needed, mix a second batch of sugar syrup in a second sauce pot. Slowly add to the limoncello (1/2 cup at a time so as not to over sweeten).
Once the limoncello is fully cooled, pour into glass bottles using a funnel. Screw the lid on the jars and store in the refrigerator for up to one month or the freezer for one year. To drink, simply pour liquor in a shot glass and sip after a meal.
Time Stamps: Sacrifice Plot 0:13 / Winter Pasture Management 1:44 / Pasture Division and Rotation 2:37 / Winter Seeding 4:21 / Sacrifice Rehabilitation 6:11 / Dry Lot 6:33 / Foggage 7:02
A well managed pasture is an integrated plan—a series of efforts working together to create a grazing space that doesn’t detract from Mother Nature through unnecessary carbon loss, tillage, compaction, and erosion. Rather, several initiatives can be implemented to maintain the integrity of pasture spaces year-round without sacrificing quality of life and forage on the part of the animal.
In this video I’m sharing the several different efforts I make to keep four draft horses, five sheep, and a flock of ducks and geese thriving on my six-acre farm without ruining my land. Through winter pasture management, implementing dry and sacrifice plots, winter seeding, foggage or standing hay growth, and proper pasture division and rotation in the warmer months, we can continue to keep our animals healthy and happy while remaining ecologically sound.
Several relevant content sources to support this video
Did you know that the peak production time for one strawberry plant is 1-3 years? After three seasons, productivity declines. This is why nature sends daughters, or duplicate plants of the mother, outward on shoots. These shoots are called runners. I take advantage of this system by letting my strawberries reproduce in place. But when healthy plants start spilling into walkways, I transplant these free plants to new beds and growing guilds. It’s so incredibly easy and fall is a great time to split.
Strawberry plants are incredible weed suppressors. When planted densely like in my blueberry and valerian guild in the first video, they remove the task of weeding, keep the soil cool, and help maintain moisture, all while providing fruit. And because folks always share their issues about pests taking their berries, I cage mine from birds with hardware cloth or netting when in production. A motion activated sprinkler does wonders too.
There are permaculture practitioners out there who speak out against the use of horses in permaculture. I disagree. Horses, when well managed like any other livestock, offer:
- Manure is composted and nutrients are returned along with organic matter to soil
- Hoof prints make indentations on top of soil creating pockets for improved seed germination
- Trampled cover crops during browsing return nutrients and organic matter to soil
- Horses ingest parasites of sheep and other species while grazing, reducing parasitic larvae counts in sheep, goats, etc.
- Pasture and forage maintenance is achieved through grazing. Well maintained pastures absorb tons of carbon from the atmosphere through regrowth and regeneration.
- Horses love to graze autumn olive, both full grown or young shoots, removing invasive species
- One horse can pull 2k-8k pounds depending on breed and health reducing need for tractors and fuel
- Horses can provide transportation (leisure riding, sport or utility)
- Meat in applicable countries
- Income by way of breeding, teaching lessons, or selling composted manure
- Shed winter coat hair can be collected and used to make paintbrushes
You can learn more about horse breed options perfect for homesteaders (and other animal species and breeds that offer so much function) in my book The Sustainable Homestead, available wherever books are sold.
This year I installed a Mediterranean guild home to olives, artichokes, rosemary, lavender and thyme. While I chose varieties most suitable to my climate, I’ve researched artichoke winter care and here’s what I’m installing. We are getting our first freeze this evening (these plants have successfully withstood frosts already) so it’s time to hibernate these artichokes for the season.
I start by tying the leaves of the artichoke plant together in a bundle. This protects the crown. After tying, I cut the leaves off just above the string or twine. The remaining standing bundle is roughly 6-8" in height. I choose to mulch the surrounding soil and other guild members with the trimmed artichoke leaves. I also add chopped comfrey leaves as a green manure at this time along with fallen maple, oak, or other dried leaves from around the farm. An upside pot is affixed on the artichoke bundle for protection from the elements. To secure the pot in place over the winter months, I top the pot with a rock. Bedding or mulch can be added around the base of the pot to make sure gaps are filled in where the pot makes contact with the soil.
Imperial Artichokes can withstand frosts so once winter temperatures begin to ease and we head back into the spring season, I'll be removing the protective pot. From there the bundles will be untied and new growth will be allowed to emerge.
Our Holland Lop rabbits live the good life outdoors (with shelter) all spring, summer and fall. They graze on cover crops from our raised beds and other food growing spaces by spring. Come summer and fall, they graze the pastures and laws with the ducks and geese from the safety of their bun run. And in the winter, they retire inside the old duck and goose coop for extra protection from the cold. I'm sharing my set up, bedding, and thoughts on winter rabbit housing.
You can find the Bun Run video here
Permaculture Duck and Goose Living video here
You can also find the products I mentioned from Eaton Pet & Pasture here:
Hemp Pet Bedding
If you follow mythology (or just watch Thor movies) then you know that Odin is the one-eye god of war and death. This name is most fitting for the horse who almost lost his life at a killpen... and who is also blind in one eye.
Odin is a Belgian draft aged about 15-18 years old based on his teeth. I bought him sight unseen just a week before he was to be shipped from a Texas killpen to slaughter at a processing plant in Mexico. Aside from his lack of sight in one eye, he has rotting hooves from the muck he's been living in, which was stuck up to his pasterns. He has lice, is very underweight, and is covered in callouses from his work harness. And despite all of this, he's a gentle soul.
I've already bathed Odin, removed the muck, and have started salves and antibiotic ointments on his wounds and eye swelling. His lice has been treated and he'll have a follow up dose in two weeks. His hooves will take work and time, but we will get there. We’ll schedule dental too. Even though he's clearly had a rough go at life, and traveled 3,000 miles to finally find his forever home, he's in good spirits. He's curious, friendly, and happy to have loads of hay all to himself.
As requested, I will share my quarantine protocol in a post next week. And I will also share my new intensive rotational grazing plan for keeping 4 draft horses on 6 acres without sacrificing land stewardship. Yup… tomorrow, one more horse arrives I just couldn't pass up. Thanks for all the luck sent our way to get this boy here safely. Welcome home, Odin.
Thank you to everyone who recommended horse auctions, pens, sanctuaries and organizations for me to browse. If you’re looking, there are some great rescues out there. And loads more where this guy came from at Last Chance Direct Ship horses on Facebook. They provide a list of trans-continental transportation companies upon purchase. Note these are horses that need rest and recovery before work.
Last Chance Direct Ship Horses
Gentle Giants Draft Rescue
Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue
Castleton Ranch Horse Rescue
Horses Deserve a Second Chance
Cover cropping seems to be trendy and there's good reason for it--this "green manure" adds loads of nutrients and organic matter to gardens and growing spaces. I was suspicious the first time I was sowing cover crops; that there was more hype than real benefit. But I was shocked at the visible difference and improvement in my soil.
Cover crops are not harvestable like a vegetable or fruit crop. Instead, they're grown for the nutrients, cover, and tilth improvement they offer soil. In the fall cover crops can be sown into the garden. They grow and protect soil all winter long, preventing erosion, solarization, and runoff. Come spring, the cover crops are chopped and dropped, grazed, or removed (I have another video on that). Ideally the crop would be chopped and allowed to decompose in place. Any nutrients left in the plant during its lifecycle is returned to the soil as it decays, also increasing the amount of organic matter.
I use a mix of cover crops to perform multiple functions; soil cover, weed reduction, to loosen compacted soil, to attract beneficial insects at spring thaw, fix nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and pull soluble nutrients up from soil layers. I purchased this pre-mixed blend from True Leaf Market. You can also research cover crop varieties and their benefits at the Rodale Institute's website and create your own blend.
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead® LLC. This historic six-acre permaculture farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, five sheep, two guardian dogs, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.
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