The official start of Spring is just days away, and gorgeous healthy weeds are popping up everywhere. We have dandelions, thistles, spurge, mares tails and a wide variety of other volunteers that I can’t even name growing right up through the mulch! What I’ve come to love about these volunteers is that they are really here to help. They get the garden started where nothing is growing, creating healthy nitrogen-rich leaves, and breaking up heavy clay soil with their roots! See here how useful these gardening allies are for creating crumble, friable soil where once we had dense clay! I’ve been enjoying time in the garden, listening to the birds sing, breathing in the fresh air and getting exercise as I pull up weeds and drop seeds or small seedlings in the holes left behind, burying the seeds or seedlings back up and then tearing up the leaves and dropping them for mulch. I give some of the dandelions leaves to the turkeys too – they are very fond of eating dandelions! I’ve been planting lots of corn seeds because I still have a huge bag of corn seeds left over from last years crop, even after we ate a lot of fresh corn, froze some, and popped some. This year, I hope we can sell some too! Well that’s our post for today – when you pull out weeds, replace them with seeds (or seedlings) of your preference!
Break off the flowers and seed pods from the weeds for disposal before you drop the leaves back on the ground, if you wish to prevent more weeds from self-propagating.
Wintertime doesn’t stop the food forest from richly producing abundance!
The great freedom of having a forest-style garden is how easy it is to get an abundant harvest!
Here’s a list of the “work” we have done this winter:
Please note: This “work” can also be thought of as fun, good exercise, an opportunity to enjoy being in nature, and an opportunity to create a healthy oasis for life!
Broadcast last summer’s seeds onto the forest floor before a rainstorm – easy! Stroll through the garden with a bag of seeds in hand, sprinkling them onto the mulch as you go, then let the rain wash the seeds down through the mulch where they will germinate when the weather warms up.
Prune the pecan and almond trees to keep them shorter so we can easily harvest from them next year – top pruning takes about 1 hour per tree at most, and if you do it every winter, the tree begins to take the shape you want – we like umbrella shapes, so we prune off the branches that are growing up too tall for us to reach. Here’s a link to our post about why we prune in winter:
Other than that, THE FOOD FOREST GROWS BY ITSELF – check it out…
ONIONS AND GARLIC
The delicious green garlic tops and onion tops are in season now. The roots will survive a frost, especially when covered with mulch so the soil doesn’t freeze.
A A A A single clove of garlic will multiply into a whole bulb of garlic in 1 year.
We enjoy eating these gorgeous purple cherries, seeds and all, either fresh from the bushy trees, added to oatmeal for breakfast, or dehydrated as snacks. The turkeys love eating them too. Every winter they produce abundantly – with no effort from us.
LEMONS, ORANGES, AND TANGERINES
These trees are worth planting if they grow in your area, because they produce useful delicious fruit for decades! Plant them now and your grandchildren will thank you later 🙂
Each January, these trees produce a large crop, and smaller crops throughout the year.
For more on Macadamia Nuts, please see our post from 2016:
You don’t have to meticulously plant seeds in your soil and cover them back up! They will sprout if you toss them out on top of the mulch on the forest floor and wait for the rainwater to germinate them.
During summer of 2016, our beets, carrots, onions, lettuces, arugula, flax, basil, parsley, etc. produced thousands of seeds!!! That is way too many seeds to plant individually.
We experimented this summer by broadcasting thousands of our own seeds onto the mulch layer to see if they would come up. Why shouldn’t they? Weed seeds easily sprout up through mulch. We tossed out the seeds right onto the mulch surface and left them there for a couple of months. When the rain came in autumn, they sprouted.
One of the most important aspects of a forest is the covering of organic material on the forest floor. Our soil is covered about 1/2″ – 1″ deep in a variety of organic mulch.
Some people think that you have to part the mulch to plant the seeds in the soil underneath. This may be true for certain larger seeds like corn or pumpkin, but this was not the case for our tiny seeds.
One day, just as the seedlings were starting to appear, many crows landed on the forest floor and started digging up the seeds. After chasing them away, we placed this dragon kite in a tree near the seedlings.
This dragon kite scared the crows so much that they haven’t come back into the garden since we hung it in this tree!Apparently crows are afraid if you hang a DEAD BIRD on a tree or a pole for them to see. Now the crows fly by, and when they see this scary dragon kite which looks like a dead bird, they cry out with a fearful CAW and they won’t land anywhere near it! Even our pet turkeys are afraid of this kite and moan fearfully when they see it!
Compared to our first scarecrow, which didn’t seem to do anything at all – this has been amazing!
Here are more seedling pictures.
We hope you are happy to learn about how easy it can be to plant seeds when you have a food forest!
We wish you Peace, Abundance, and – let’s say it together – Aloha!
Hügelkultur is a German word meaning “hill culture”. Simply put, it’s a way to speed up the decay of fallen branches, logs, twigs, canes, vines, or any other dead vegetation by covering it with soil. Once its covered with soil, the diverse soil-dwelling life-forms feed from the vegetation as they decompose it, creating richer, moister soil as they feed.
Hügelkultur is not a new concept!
For thousands of years, people worldwide have imitated nature by creating hügelkulturs. Our modernized world nearly forgot about this process until recently, when world-famous permaculture experts Sepp Holzer, Paul Wheaton and Geoff Lawton brought the practice into the limelight and now promote it as a perfect practice for working in harmony with Earth.
Practicing hügelkultur achieves these results:
Hide the garden’s unsightly “dead” vegetation
Feed the soil-dwelling life-forms that help your garden flourish
Enrich garden soil as vegetation decomposes
Release moisture into the garden soil
Hügelkultur works in synergy with earth’s natural processes!
Hügelkultur happens all the time in nature. When a forest tree falls to the ground, fungi, microbes and insects feed on it as they help to decompose the tree into rich humic soil. It once was a tree, but it becomes part of the soil that feeds plants with rich nutrients.
Hügelkultur works all around the Earth!
Hügelkultur works in all environments – from snowy mountain tops to rain forests, to deserts.
Since our climate is dry and we get very little rain, we have learned how to use hugelkultur to benefit our food forest, and here is what we’ve learned.
How to Optimize Hügelkultur for Arid-Climate Gardens
In dry climates, if you lay a pile of fallen vegetation on the ground uncovered – it will take years or decades to decompose.
If you cover that same pile of vegetation with soil, and it will decompose faster, but if it’s not completely covered, that will delay the process.
For our first hügelkultur, we followed this diagram we found on Wikipedia. This method didn’t work too well for us in our dry climate, although it works well in moist climates.
We had a pile of branches sitting on top of the ground, so we dug up some soil from elsewhere in the garden and covered the pile with the soil. We didn’t cover all of the vegetation completely, so some branches stuck out. Over time, the soil settled down further, which exposed even more of the vegetation. After a year or two, we covered the pile with more soil, but that pile ended up taking years to become a rich garden bed.
Here’s how the unburied pile looked a couple years later – in the lower left area of the picture – it still had not decomposed!
The next hügelkultur we made, we completely buried the spent vegetation into the ground, and found that the soil rapidly became fertile. In the picture above, where you see pumpkin vine, potatoes, and corn – all growing vigorously – that’s the hügelkultur where we completely buried the vegetation, which rapidly decomposed and jump-started the soil with new life!
Here’s how the process works:
Rake any sheet mulch to the side to expose bare dirt. Set the mulch aside to use on top of the completed hügelkultur.
Dig your trench deep and long enough to hold the spent vegetation.
Beginning with the largest pieces, fill the trench with your fallen branches, twigs, canes, vines, leaves, manure, fruit and veggie peels.
Cover the vegetation back up with the soil you dug out of the trench. Our chunky clay soil needs a soaking of hose-water to help settle it in. Water the pile to help settle it, then cover the pile with mulch.
That’s it – you’ve completed the hügelkultur.
We had great success planting garlic cloves on the mounds immediately, and in the following spring our seeds grew vigorously in their new home.
Practicing Hügelkultur allows us to recycle our forest vegetation and enrich our soil with little expense or effort.
Top 10 Reasons to Practice Hügelkultur in an Arid-Climate Garden:
1. The trench you place the material into will also serve as a water reservoir in times of rain, capturing water for the water table
2. Broken and trimmed branches and other forest material transform into humic garden soil
3. Provide food for the soil-dwelling creatures
4. Release moisture into the soil as it decomposes
5. Sequester carbon into the soil and reduce carbon in our atmosphere
6. Requires less work than chipping or shredding material – especially larger branches and logs
7. As a raised-bed substitute, it requires no wood frame structure. 8. Just bury the material once, and leave it alone – enjoy the results for years to come. 9. Increases soil health and nutrition in the form of humic soil, which helps plants thrive. 10. Burning your fallen vegetation may be dangerous and will cause the potential humus to go up in smoke and release carbon into the atmosphere. Hauling it away requires a truck burning fossil fuel to carry it somewhere else. Burying it is free and helps planet Earth!
Do’s and Don’ts: Creating Hügelkulturs in Arid Climates
Do dig a hole deep and long enough to hold your material and to leave you with enough soil to cover it back up.
Do leave the soil you dig up next to the trench, so it will be close to the trench when you’re ready to back-fill.
Do cover the material completely with soil.
Don’t leave any of the material sticking out of the soil, as it will wick away your moisture and lengthen the decomposing time.
Do include fruit & veggie peels, grass clippings, green weeds (no seeds), leaves and a little sprinkling of manure (if available) for a nitrogen source.
Do be mindful of any seeds you may be adding to the pile in the form of weeds or spent flower heads.
Do add only those seeds you want to see growing next season!
Do cover the soil mound with organic mulch such as leaves, straw, chipped material or compost.
Do water the mound to help settle it – unless you prepare the mound just before a rain!
Here’s a quick look at a Hügelkultur we created:
Look for an upcoming post on where to position a Hügelkultur to be most helpful to existing plants and trees.
We enjoy listening to the birds sing their joyful songs, watching the woodland creatures frolic in the garden, and seeing the darling faces of the moles when they pop their little heads up out of the soil and sniff around in the fresh air. They enjoy frolicking in the food forest and eating many of the plants they find growing here.
We have enough abundance to share some of it with our furry friends, but when it comes to the newly sprouted seedlings that emerge from seeds we’ve recently planted, we have to set boundaries to prevent the hungry creatures from eating our new sprouts before they have a chance to mature into useful plants.
To create the necessary boundaries, we created a simple fencing system, constructed with 5-foot lengths of 3/4″ PVC pipe and PVC fittings (the kind you use to run irrigation lines), and some chicken wire.
Each section of the fencing is 5′ tall and 5′ wide, and we join them together with T’s and 3-way corner fittings. With a small fence like the one pictured below, you don’t have to use PVC glue to hold it together – which leaves the material completely intact and re-usable if you decide to dismantle the fence.
Of the various configurations you could make from this material, we chose to make a 10-foot by 20-foot rectangle, but you could make it much smaller or larger.
After fitting together the pipe, we wrapped the entire structure with 4-foot tall chicken wire. When the seedlings were very young, we draped deer netting over the top of the fence (as a ceiling) to prevent squirrels and birds from getting in. Here’s a shot of our first enclosed garden from spring of 2014. The fence successfully protected the sprouts 🙂
We constructed a simple gate by adding one more 5-foot PVC post halfway between two of the existing posts and attaching it to the top and bottom of the fencing. We cut the chicken wire here a couple of inches past where we installed the new post and wrapped the chicken wire around the post. Then we wrapped the other side of the chicken wire that we had just cut onto a 4-foot piece of PVC to give it a little stability while we opened and closed the gate. Finally, we used a bendy foam-covered wire to tie the gate closed. Here’s a shot of the gate:
We liked our prototype so much, we decided to create larger, semi-permanent fence, which we call “The Middle Garden”, because it’s a garden in the middle of the food forest!
This one is 30 feet x 30 feet and we used the same PVC framing method, but we had to use glue on the fittings to hold this one together. We substituted deer netting for the chicken wire to save money (but ended up having to wrap a 2-foot tall section of chicken wire around the entire fence at ground level later because the rabbits chewed through the deer netting). We also pounded stakes into the ground and tied them to the posts to help keep them upright. Here’s a shot of our creation on March 10, 2014:
The Middle Garden – 900 sq. ft. fenced, covered in mulch, and ready to plant with seeds! Hurray!!!
We also created a similar, but new gateway, by pounding a piece of rebar into the ground and slipping a PVC pipe over it. In the pictures below, you see how we lift the PVC pipe to reveal the rebar which holds it in place.
In the middle garden, we’ve planted countless seeds and grown them into healthy mature plants, and have been able to save the next generation of seeds to use in future plantings. We saved seeds from onions, carrots, beets, lettuce, corn, pigeon peas, sunflowers, radishes, squashes, peanuts, peas, and whatever else went to seed in the garden. Having removed the weeds, covered it in mulch, and fenced it off has made possible a successful garden space that’s protected from hungry critters!
Here are a few pictures of what we’ve grown in “The Middle Garden” 🙂
Here it is today, dominated by pigeon peas and kale (which we planted from seed last year) and strawberries (which we planted as small plants last year), and with newly planted seedlings of peas, beets, peanuts, onion and garlic popping up.
We were enjoying our autumn seedling success, until a family of gophers moved into the middle garden last month and are now busy eating the earthworms and the new seedlings and stirring up the soil. As cute as they are, they still have to go! A few days ago, we installed 2 Sweeney’s Sonic Spikes into the ground, which run on solar power and repeatedly emit an annoying beep sound once or twice a minute 24 hours a day! That did not work at all for us. Maybe because we live in a noisy place. We saw a little gopher snake the other day, we are really hoping that nature will work this out. If the problem gets too bad, we’ve considered installing owl boxes or getting a cat or a dog to drive them out.
It turned out that hawks keep the gopher population in check, and we don’t have to do anything.
We still have gophers appearing in the garden, but we stopped fighting them because we began to appreciate the great job they do of bringing up unwanted debris from the soil so we can easily collect it and dispose of it, and of creating mounds of really nice soil that we can use for potting cuttings and seeds. Here’s a short clip of one of these cuties at work:
So that’s the story of how we protected the seedlings in the food forest from being eaten by our furry friends – and you can too!
Thank you for reading this post and I hope you enjoyed it.