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:
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.
People who grow food for people and animals will appreciate the many benefits of growing pigeon peas.
Many cultures love and grow this plant, but here in the USA, we don’t hear much about it. We’re growing them here in Southern California and we love them so much that we want to share our enthusiasm about them with you.
We were introduced to pigeon peas on this permaculture site -which is clever and fun to read. Rather than me trying to re-state all of the information, please check it out here and then come back for the rest of the story!
We ordered seeds on amazon.com and planted them in May 2014, so they’re about 1 1/2 years old in our garden now.
We wondered how they would grow here in USDA Zone 10a/Sunset Western Garden zone 23.
Take a look… here they are just a few weeks after planting…
Grow they did – and grow some more – and they keep growing 1 1/2 years later. It’s so pleasant and fun when something grows with such ease!
They’ve been producing pods prolifically. All summer we picked baskets full every day.
This makes the turkeys very happy, because they love them so much!!! It feels good to give them something freshly grown.
They’re delicious just eaten off the plant, and they make a great addition to a salad or they can be boiled in salted water and they come out like edamame (boiled soybeans you get in japanese restaurants as an appetizer). They’re a great snack when served that way. Other cultures serve them regularly with rice and in soups and stews too. There are many recipes available.
As the weather began to cool down this fall, I noticed that the pea production slowed down, but stray pigeon peas plants had volunteered to grow where ever they had been dropped. They grow with practically no effort.
We saved some of seeds and planted a new hedge with them too – so when those start producing, we will have not only something unique, but enough to offer to the community.
Here’s a shot of one small green pod opened up to show the peas. They are delicious at this stage. Once they mature and dry out, they have to be soaked to be eaten. I think we’ve always eaten them fresh, but maybe soon we’ll make a pot of beans from the dried ones!
Younger Peas on Left, Older Peas on Right
Thank you for reading this post – we hope you enjoyed it!
It started when we lost of most of our pecans to the crows last year. Dozens of them landed in several tall pecan trees in our neighborhood, flapping, cawing and having a good-old time. They ate from the top branches where most of the nuts were growing, and we could only watch because we couldn’t even reach the pecans. We got hardly any of the nuts on the tree.
Here’s the good news – this year during their annual pecan-ripening feast, they’ve bypassed our tree and gone on to the taller trees in the area.
Here’s why they’re more interested in the neighbors trees instead.
We decided to trim the height of the tree so the pecans wouldn’t be too high to reach.
Here are some before and after pictures:
We waited until winter, when the tree was leafless and dormant. It took us less than an hour to trim 1/3 of the height. We lopped off the vertically growing branches and kept the more horizontal branches.
It didn’t hurt the tree at all – in fact, the tree grew wider and fuller this year. Now the nuts are at our level and we can get to them as soon as they begin to ripen, thus giving us a fair chance against the crows! We will trim the tall vertical branches again each winter, because we are so pleased with the results.
Here’s one more shot from another angle. See how it’s a lot easier for humans to reach now? The crows did get some pecans this year, but just wait, we’ll be on the ready next year…
Here’s why we love our pecans:
We keep the outer skin of the fruit for use as a hair dye.