Tag Archives: traverse city permaculture

Dried (Really) Goods

thereachThe food dehydrator finally arrived. We’ve been researching the best methods for food storage and it has quickly become one of our favorite tools for preserving the harvest. We can now make jerky, fruit leather, and dry fruit, veggies, and herbs to store for months.

You can even dry sauces and soups for later use (a helpful tip for avid drytomcampers/adventurers).

I wasn’t sure what the kids would think – Would our dried apples compete with the store-bought variety? If the toddler had anything to say about it, I think they exceeded all expectations.

I normally buy dried tomatoes – I love the flavor and texture and it sometimes makes a decent meat substitute. Not only do the tomatoes dry really well, they’re something of a work of art when finished.

applebottomBuying fruit leather at the co-op is a bit costly for this family. Making our own is not only fun, but a healthy alternative. We use a bit of honey to add some sweet to match any tart flavors on part of the berries and can now make good use of all of that autumn olive at the farm.

leverI don’t normally do plugs for commercial products but in this instance, with the limited number of options in our region for food-safe dehydration, this product makes a really nice (and quiet) addition to your food storage arsenal. The Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-5A is one of the higher end models at the lower end of the total wattage spectrum. It’s a smallish unit with stackable trays (up to 12) and very quiet. Highly recommended, if solar isn’t a good option.


Vunerable Courageous

I just recovered from a morning of home-schooling and crazy toddler interactions which typically include repetitive games, multiple readings from the same storybook, and wiping of butts after poohs. (And you thought you were reading an ordinary farm post). I love my kids, but damn, sometimes I need a break in the other room, while they play outside or do anything that doesn’t involve the crazy din that regularly overwhelms my senses.

It’s not them; it’s me. It’s this year. This crazy year of losses and giving up and holding out hope. It eats at me.

I’ve never had trouble admitting vulnerability. This year, as I watched trees and garden die from drought and voles, had to deal with a run-away flock, and lost our broilers to two different predation incidents, then some of our layers, too, then my back, I began to feel vulnerable. I shared. I told our story. Didn’t hide from it. Tried to embrace losses with lessons gained. I’m strong; I can take it.

Then came the alpaca. The four gentle souls, who though timid in their new surroundings, walked beside me in trust. Something in my soul reignited. Something I felt with the sheep and in planting each of the nearly two hundred apple trees by hand. It was a feeling of hope. And I think I had lost it somewhere in the settling dust of this season.

This year highlighted many beautiful things about the people who visit the farm. Visitors helped carry buckets up the long hill to water, volunteers worked to plant and tend guilds, friends and family came on my birthday to whitewash the entire sheep barn, and I wasn’t alone in planting those 200 hundred trees.

What went right: This year we planted an orchard with more than 31 antique apple varieties, then planted two hundred apple whips within the orchard, which we also helped graft, that will become part of an orchard restoration project within the boundaries of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (80% of the grafts took and are thriving). We raised sheep, chickens, processed our own fiber from start to finish, helped plaster the farmhouse, hosted multiple classes and workshops in fiber and permaculture, worked with the Edible Trails project to design the DeYoung Trail garden, launched the Permaculture Progress online publication, and had a little courage left over for alpaca. This doesn’t account for the time we volunteered on other farms, or the work unrelated to farming, the parenting, and the balancing of two properties.

And yet, I was constantly reminded of what I did not do. By people who were probably well-intended, but unaware. Comments that, isolated, do little to affect, but in sequence are grating. The one that surprised me the most – brought me so close to the edge – always came on the heels of my admittance to the awareness of where I fell short of my own expectations. It was the question that punched my gut every single time. “Oh yeah? When is your lease up?”

Vultures? Or maybe they’re intending mercy. Hard to say. But it did nothing to encourage. I found myself second-guessing, trying to appease others, worrying and slipping into a haze of overwhelming depression. Had I failed?

How could I even expect to answer that question?! It’s far too soon. The trees are newly planted. I am a student of my own process. I am one woman shouldered by a wonderful many. I am vulnerable, but I am also strong. I am the pioneer who is near starvation seeking out that one last chance at growing grain. Maybe not so desperate in reality, but in heart.

When asked at the fiber conference what it was we needed as farmers to get a fiber-shed off the ground, I answered simply, “Courage.” It’s the common theme interwoven within the vulnerability. I rely on courage to say yes to opportunity, to try and fail and try again, to be vulnerable in the face others. This is not a race. This is not about the speed in which I accomplish the most; it is about the goal that lay at its finish and the slow and steady process that unfolds to achieve its end.

Really, it’s about knowing those noisy children who look up to me see me follow this dream with every bit of energy and might, to seek out joy, to share. I owe it to them more than to myself. Because my daughter once said the thing she liked about me best was that I never give up.

Applied Permaculture Design

Malus_domestica_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-108Join us for the first meeting to discuss a year-long intensive at garden site located at Healing Tree Farm at DeYoung. This former market garden offers a highly visible location to visitors. Let’s co-create a micro-food forest to demonstrate the core values and principles of permaculture while solving some of the troubles facing a thirsty landscape. While we’re at it, how about experience and a free education in the permaculture design process. Sound good? Then see YOU at the garden!

Course is FREE to anyone interested in lending a hand and gaining an education in permaculture design. Face to face sessions occur monthly, with online support in between.

Please email to sign up and for directions: healingtreefarm@gmail.com

Ghosts of Old Orchards

tophersamtree I carry the trees, slung over my shoulder in bundles, and walk the trail to the open meadowland of the north field. There, the golden rye has fallen and given way to an undulating current inherent in soil. As I dig, the sweet smell of earth fills the air. I find myself talking to each tree as I bury its roots; little tidbits of encouragement; the promise of the caretaker.

The work is hard, but only so much that you feel your muscles by the end of the day and are assured a solid night’s rest. I am glad we didn’t hire the digging by machine. I am grateful to plant each tree by hand. This arrangement between the trees and me has become something of a practice in gratitude. I am here. I am able to smell the earth and carry each tree to its place in the orchard. And perhaps this is how it should be: An act of co-creation between the land, the trees, and me.

I used to tell people I’m living on borrowed time. Cancer makes you rethink the obvious. We’re all going to die, but getting sick at 28 inspired me to forgo the usual worries of aging for the savory act of living. Here I am, near the anniversary of the founding of Healing Tree, in the orchard that I hope will showcase a new way of growing fruit trees, celebrating not only all this farm represents, but also elating in the fortunate circumstances that allow me to witness and participate in this project.

gugtophertreeThe shovel is used for digging, but when I bury the roots of each tree, I do it by hand. Carefully, with intention. And with gratitude. Occasionally, I find cherry wood beneath the soil; ghosts of the old orchard. A reminder of the changes between then and now. My daughter traverses the orchard, tree to tree, talking excitedly about what the apples will taste like and how it will be to harvest them when she’s older. For her, the future is boundless. And the remnants of the cherry trees bares no relevance. For me, they whisper of what was and what will be. They give warning, the give blessing. They are giving in to the earth and will feed the roots of new trees. For them, the future is boundless.

I used to tell people I’m living on borrowed time, but I’ve stopped that after this week of planting. The trees assure me it is irrelevant whether I live to 100 or die at 28. What matters is the quiet moments of fulfillment, of rest between simple tasks, when I am able to look up and see this dream realized. And know the future is boundless.

(ISLAND) Small Orchard Workshop

May 31st 9a-noon at DeYoung

Participants will learn how to incorporate an orchard into their small farm. Fruit and nut trees will be discussed, including care, pruning, long-term planning and variety selection. Guest speakers Trevor Newman and Mark Angelini of Roots to Fruits Ecological Design Samantha Graves of Healing Tree Farm.

Call 231-622-5252 or email jeannie@artmeetsearth.org for more information. Register at: http://artmeetsearth.org/register.html

(This event does request a sliding scale fee of $25-50)

Willows and Rooting Hormone

willow-treeI was planning on writing about willow water today, but found a great article from Deep Green Permaculture on the subject already. Rooting hormone can be purchased at the store, but a natural method of collecting indolebutyric acid and salicylic acid involves a couple of seriously simple steps. Click here to check out the how and why willows are a great alternative to store-bought rooting hormone.


“You can’t do that without a tractor!” and other things people tell us… [Part One]

We hear this a lot, “How can you do that without a tractor?”

Tractors make great trellises.

It helps that we don’t till and manage the farm in a manner consistent with Permaculture’s ‘slow and steady’ principle. But the question remains, how do you deal with a large swath of land that requires working? We’ve run into one such stretch of pasture that was heavily tilled and sprayed for a few years. What remains is a rocky, sandy, depleted soil with several varieties of pioneer plants putting down deep tap roots to mine for nutrients and to gain traction in a heavily eroded landscape.

How can we alter this stretch without a tractor?  Our answer: Time, livestock, poop, and seeds.

Pioneers, the first to appear after the soil has suffered enough tillage, are plants often detested by the traditional farmer/gardener. They’re designed to survive in harsh, arid soils. Some even secrete a growth-suppressing hormone from their roots, keeping other plants from competing for the limited nutrients available. Additional tilling, which throws nutrients into the air, will generate an ideal habitat for these plants, preventing what we’d like to grow from growing (unless we rely on biocides to kill them, then soak the ground with synthesized NPK).

Instead, we approach the land with an integrative thought process. How can we work with what’s here and what we have to improve soil and get a yield of some kind out of the process? That yield might come in the form of fodder for animals, or food for humans (or both).

The land mentioned above, once a GMO-cornfield, is being transformed into a productive grazing pasture for our sheep. We first let it grow undisturbed for a full year (in a few more years, the microbial life there prior to conventional approaches will return), while installing fence-posts.

Taking advantage of a gentle slope, we’ll graze the sheep, who expel some of the richest pelleted manures of any livestock, in the upper portion, supplementing their feed with hay. During this process, as it rains, they’ll fertilized the upper portion of the field and allow for water to carry some of the nutrients to the lower half.

The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.
The Tengelitsch-Graves kids plant fence posts for the future sheep pasture last summer.

The pioneer plants, which congregate in the lower portion of the field, will now serve as a food source for meat-chickens. Using a chicken tractor (instead of a petrol-driven tractor), we’ll move the chickens daily and where they’ve eaten away the vegetation, they’ll leave a rich manure in its place. After each move, we’ll sew grasses and a limited supply of clover (a great nitrogen fixing legume).

By next year, we’ll reverse the process, allowing the sheep to graze the lower pasture, continuing to fertilize as they eat, and run the chickens across the upper portion, seeding as we go. Out of this, we get yields of meat from our chickens, fodder for the livestock, and fiber off the sheep. No tilling (and no tractors) necessary.