KW Homestead

Pasture Raised Poultry from Our Family to Yours

Tag: permaculture (page 1 of 3)

Maple Sap Ideas

Sap season is here, at least for those of us in the Piedmont of North Carolina. The maples trees in our area have begun the yearly ritual of the sap flow. While we don’t have a lot of sugar maples in NC, and none grow on our land, we do have plenty of red maples. Red maple doesn’t produce as sweet a sap as sugar maple and therefore is a less economical choice for tapping and maple syrup production.

However, syrup production is a time and energy intensive operation that I don’t really have a desire to get into just yet. Something I am interested in is maple water, aka straight maple sap. Maple water is an old concept that has recently been rediscovered by health food companies. It’s essentially the same sap that would be boiled down into maple syrup left unaltered and bottled. The result is a slightly sweet and clear drink with a dose of antioxidants and minerals. Different cultures have used maple sap as a cleansing tonic for a very long time, and it is well known to wildcrafters and foragers as a source of clean water.

maple popsicle

a delicious maple icicle, formed at the end of a trimmed twig

My interest in tapping a few of our red maples is part science experiment (especially considering Emma’s discovery last year of sugarcicles), partly a pursuit of fresh maple water to drink, and part fermentation experimentation. I want to make some maple wine and some maple beer.

I’ve read a few different recipes that use maple sap as a brewing/vinting ingredient and it seems that straight maple sap would yield a fermented beverage clocking in at around 1-3% abv. Now, if you were to either add some sugar or boil this down a bit to concentrate it, you could raise these to more traditional beer and wine levels (FYI: Don’t forget to check out our craft beer review show , Beauty and the Beerd).

Now, in order to get this sap, i’ll have to tap some trees. The standard rule of thumb is not to tap a tree less than 10″ in diameter. We have a few of those on our property, and i’ll probably tap them in the traditional way by drilling a hole in the tree and inserting a tube/tap that drips into a bucket or some other container. But what i’m really excited about is some recent research out of Vermont about tapping smaller trees.They coppiced young maple trees and used vacuum tubing to yield over 10 times the amount of syrup per acre.

I don’t have any vacuum tubes, but this is still interesting because it shows that even smaller trees can yield sap without harming their growth. My idea, and it’s not an original idea, is to try and harvest the sap from twigs and smaller branches on our maple trees. You simply prune off the end of a twig and either attach a tube or plastic bag to the branch to collect the sap. According to, some twig taps can equal the sap production of a trunk tap, and you can do many per tree.

maple sap twigs

a maple twig tap is less invasive and easy to use

This action is less invasive and harmful to the young trees, and actually stimulates growth due to pruning. I’m pretty excited to experiment with it and see how it goes.

Of course, not just maple trees can be tapped, but also birch, walnut, linden, sycamore, and many others. You can see how tree saps, and tree sap beverages can fit nicely into a permaculture system as a late winter activity. By utilizing these saps in for items other than syrup production, which can be costly both in energy and time, even marginal sap producing regions can harvest appreciable yields form their trees, and stack another function into their designs and homesteads.


Some Thoughts on Fencing and Homestead Design

Fencing is an integral part of farming, homesteading and permaculture. But there is more to a fence than just a boundary or barrier.

By laying out fencing, you create an element on the landscape that you can now design off of. Instead of having a blank canvas (sometimes the hardest thing) you have a structure that can be used and integrated into your homestead or permaculture design.

Fences create, define and reinforce zones and actvity centers. They can be also be used as trellises or in creative ways like chicken moats.

Once these sort of elements appear on your property, it becomes easier to build out around them and add other elements that coalesce into your design. An example would be: this fence divides the garden and the chickens, we need gates here, we could have 2 dwarf trees on either side of the gate, comfrey at the base, and vegetables trellised up the fence.

The next iteration of elements seems to spill out form the edges of the first, just like a forest with an advancing front of blackberries and other woody plants. I’m so excited about our new cattle panel fence, and the future of our homestead design, that I recorded this quick video today.

Also, be sure to check out Episode 2 of our his and her craft beer review series where we do an Ommegang’s Three Philosophers Review. Also, don’t forget to use our Amazon link before you do your last minute holiday shopping! Thanks!

Chicken Moats: Permaculture Ideas in the Garden

I just came across a new concept while researching fencing and it’s pretty cool. Chicken Moats.

A chicken moat is essentially a perimeter chicken run that performs the functions of insect pest control, weed control, deer fencing and protection, trellis, and off course chicken protection and grazing control.

chicken moat permaculture

chicken moat diagram from Edible Forest Gardens

The basic concept is to have two fences spaced a short distance apart that encircle a garden or orchard. This creates a laneway where you let chickens graze and scratch. Here they are able to much on bugs, and help control some of the tougher weeds that spread by rhizomes and runners. They are also in a prime location to receive garden scraps, fallen fruit, and pulled weeds and because the two fences create a hallway effect, deer are less likely to try and jump over them, keeping another potential threat out of the garden.

Other benefits include a nutrient flow, where chicken manure washes from the moat into the garden area, or perhaps deep litters are simply thrown over the fence and into the garden as compost. This type of structure can also be used as laneway and set up strategically with gates that allow the homesteader to graze their chickens in certain paddocks at certain times, or even let them loose in the central garden space to clean things up for winter.

chicken moat homesteading

an example of a chicken moat in action

Edible vines (kiwis, grapes etc.) and fruiting plants can be planted along the fences of the moat providing both shade and snacks for the birds, as well as pollinator habitat, and fruit for the farmer. Herbs like comfrey and rue can be planted on the edge of the moat, outside of the fence, where the chickens can eat some, but not completely scratch it to pieces.

A concept like the chicken moat is permaculture thinking at it’s best. It demonstrates the principal of function stacking wonderfully, while producing  a yield, caring for the earth, animals, and people. As we think more and more about fencing, and multi-species rotational grazing, concepts like chicken moats make me excited to see what our farmstead will look like in the next few years.

Managing Woodlands, Woodlots, and Forests for Fun and Profit

The millions of acres of American Woodlands have, for the last 2 centuries, been mined not managed. They have been stripped, clearcut, set on fire, and replanted with short rotation mono-crops to the point that many of our mature woodlands and forests bear little resemblance to healthy and natural woodland communities.This has been done in the name of short term profits, and while the logging companies and sawmills made-out great, more often than not landowners received a stumpage price way too low, and were left with a degraded and less valuable piece of forest in the aftermath.

clear cut timber permacultre

clear-cutting forests is rarely the best form of timber management

It doesn’t have to be this way though. Forests can be sustainably managed and designed to produce income for generations. With proper thinning, forest planning, tree selection, and management techniques, forest owners can ensure that their woodlot is not just a commodity to be firesold to save the farm, but a profitable ecosystem that increases in value over time, and can be passed on to future generations.

To do this e will have to go into these abused forests and asses the damage that countless “highgrading” cuts (a logging practice where all trees above a certain diameter are harvested, leaving the worst adapted and least valuable species standing) have left only stunted, poorly composed timber stands. Sometimes we may need to replant, or perform shelterewood and seed tree cuts to ensure proper forest regeneration, but often some thinning of poor quality trees, which can release trees of higher quality to achieve their full potential, combined with timber best practices like crop tree management, silvopasture, and coppice regeneration can bring degraded and abused forests back into sustainable productivity and profitability.


These thinnings wont always be of high enough value for commercial loggers, but this material does not need to be wasted. In fact,it can be extremely profitable. These crooked, small diameter and low value logs can be used for mushroom production on logs, firewood,craft wood, or even be sawed to length on portable bandsaw mills. Other uses can include fence posts,biochar prodcution, hugelkulture, and round timber construction.


small diameter oak logs inoculated with shiitake mushrooms!

This is where the small woodlot managers have an advantage. It’s one thing to find uses for 2-10 acres of low value wood, but quite another when you are dealing with 1000’s of acres. Smaller forest owners, particularly those who live on the wooded acreage that they are managing, also have the advantage of constant contact and correction. They walk their property every week, sometimes every day and can notice things like diseased, dying and dead trees, and can quickly implement a strategy to deal with them. They can also easily diversify into many avenues of production. It’s very feasible for someone to combine a small shiitake mushroom operation on logs , a coppice grove for crafts, cut a few cords of firewood for home heating, put in a small food forest with edible tree and cane fruits, go hunting a few times a year for turkey, squirrel and deer, all while increasing the value of their timber, property and life.

timber management cruise nc

forest owners and managers should observe and interact with their woods in order to come up with goals, and management strategies

This is the key to timber management, the interaction between owner and forest. There cannot be a prescription for management until an owner knows what he/she want’s to achieve with their woodlot. After that, a timber inventory, and then a timber management plan can be created and implemented. From there, it transitions to the long and enjoyable phase of observations and interactions, all tailored to the goals laid out in the beginning. This can lead to many years of productivity, profitability, and sustainability, all from a woodlot that was worth only a fraction of it’s value, but with proper timber management, can be passed down for generations as it wealth accumulates.

Blackberry and Raspberry Propagation by Layering

We have plenty of wild blackberries growing on our homestead, so when we ordered cane fruit plants last year for our food forest, we focused on raspberries. We did get 1 type of blackberry though, a thorn-less variety named Chester, known for its sweet, early ripening berries. Because we only have 1 lone plant at the base of  a dwarf apple tree, we figured we should try our hand at layering, an easy method of cane-fruit propagation.

blackberry layering

a chester blackberry ready to be layered

Layering involves digging a small hole by the base of the berry bush and then bending one of the canes down into it. That’s pretty much it. Over the winter, the buried portion of the young cane will start to send out roots, and will develop into a new plant! By bending the cane, instead of snipping off a cutting, the new plant still has access to the old plants more established root network and all of it’s nutrients and water it can absorb from the soil.

layering blackberries

dig a small hole by the base of the plant, about 6 inches deep

blackberry propagation layering

then bury the new shoot, tamp down the soil, and wait until spring!

Come spring, simply cut the cane 6-8 inches from the base of the new plant, and feel free to either dig up and transplant your new black/raspberry or extend the older plant outwards like you would if you were creating an edible hedge, or fedge. This new plant will be exactly like your old plant, except that for the first year it’s leaves will be upside down!! Pretty cool, and a great way to produce more plants for free!

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Greening the Desert with Geoff Lawton

In 2003, in the dead sea valley of Jordan, one of the world’s hottest, driest and most inhospitable pieces of land, permaculture practitioner Geoff Lawton and his crew implemented a design to regreen, reforest and bring life back to the desert. Their goal was to create an oasis in the most difficult location on Earth, a showcase to the world that the ethical design science of permaculture can solve some of the big problems.

They installed swales, water catching ditches on contour, to rehydrate the overgrazed land and store the few inches of rain they receive in the soil where it nurtured the dates, figs, pomegranates and other fruit trees that were planted in addition to fast growing, hardy nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs.

Unfortunately, funding ran out for the project, and it was completely abandoned for 6 years. In perhaps the harshest environment on earth, the young trees and plants where left on their own, with no irrigation, fertilization or care at all.

Yet when Geoff returned, instead of withering up dying, the trees thrived and produced an abundance not seen in the “fertile crescent” for hundreds if not thousands of years. The swales stored 100% of the runoff and rain, and supplied enough water to bring the system into maturity and abundance in 122 degree weather. A patch of life in a sea of brown.

It’s truly an amazing sight and story, and proof that the techniques and concepts of permaculture can produce abundance, fertility and life in any environment. Check out the video, which shows both the original design after implementation, and what the site looked like 6 years later.

Mobile Chicken Paddock Update

Emma wrote the other day about our new mobile chicken run design, and after moving this system twice I figured I would give an update on its functionality. The chickens have been in this new setup for about 1 week. In our old system, we would typically wait 2 weeks before moving them to a new piece of pasture, but in the past week I have moved them twice. As Emma mentioned, even though the fenced area is half of what it used to be, because the coop is no longer inside, the chickens actually have around 75% of the space they used to have.

mobile chicken coop

the new mobile coop and paddock system is easier to move, which means we move it more often

However, thanks to the redesign, moving the chickens is now a much easier proposition. It can be done at any time of day, and is now a 1 man job. Compare this to the old system where we had to wait until dusk, take down the entire thing, pull up posts, roll up the bird netting, put up the posts and panels, zip tie everything, by this point it was dark, we were frustrated, and we still had to untangle the bird netting and fix any rips that had happened. Not fun, and not a chore we looked forward to. This meant that we often put off moving the chickens, and the would end up staying in the same spot for longer than two weeks. This lead to overgrazing, compaction, and further frustration.

Our new system easily slides to a new spot, and because it is smaller (16 ft. by 16 ft.), it fits easier into tight spaces around garden beds and fruit trees. The hawk netting does not need to come off, there are no posts, and this can all be done at any time of the day. I have already done it twice, and at this rate the chickens will have access to 300% more pasture in 2 weeks than before. This allows us to more easily monitor their behavior and impact on the land, and more efficiently harness their energy toward improving our land, and avoid the harm that comes from overgrazing, all while they enjoy more grass, weeds, and bugs than ever before.

mobile chicken paddock system

bridey watching the chickens in their new paddock

I think we learned a valuable lesson; that if you design an aspect of your life to be difficult, you will dread and avoid it, and when it doesn’t get done, it becomes harder and harder to catch up. This starts a cycle of stress and frustration that is hard to beat. However, if we design these things so that are easily accomplished, we are more likely to do them. This fits in with the permaculture concept of zones, where you design the elements of your property that need attention everyday (vegetable gardens, livestock, etc.) to be closer to your house where you constantly see and interact with them. For example, if you have to milk goats everyday, don’t put the milking area half a mile away, down a steep gully and then up a rocky hill. If you wan’t to remember to take a multivitamin everyday, don’t put the vitamins in that cabinet that you can’t reach unless you get that stool that’s in the garage.

It’s a simple concept, but we all have things that for one reason or another we have made harder for ourselves, whether it’s on a homestead or not. Some of things we can’t change, but the other ones should be designed to fit into our life in a way that enhances it, not make it harder. With thoughtful design, things tend to fit together easier and our life systems function more efficiently, giving us more time to focus on whatever it is we want to focus on, be it writing, working, gardening, or eating delicious eggs from pasture raised chickens.


The Where and Why of Our Backyard Food Forest

Over the past few weeks Emma and I have been busy planting over 100 trees, vines, bushes and shrubs as the foundation for our new food forest. A food forest, for those who may never have heard the term before, is a forest designed to provide food for its stewards. They often consist of perennial species, like fruit and nut trees, and are therefore inherently stable and resilient.

A well designed and established food forest is able to cycle nutrients, capture energy, and produce a yield with few human inputs, such as irrigation, fertilization, and planting. Our food forest will take some time to reach this mature, self supporting state, and for now we will have to nurture our young plants to ensure that they become well established and provide for us for decades to come.

food forest

Last year, the forest edge, the location of our new food forest, was an impenetrable tangle of small trees and shrubs.

This longevity is one of the key benefits of forest gardening. There are food forests that are over 2000 years old which have provided for many generations of humans caretakers. This is what we are shooting for. Designing a system that will feed not only us, but our progeny for years and years.

Our new food forest is only the home base for our future plans, and is located right outside our back door, in, what in permaculture is referred to as zone 1 or zone 2. The backyard area forms a u shaped, open glade that faces south, and is bordered by native woods made up of oaks, poplar, hickory, maple, and pine among others.We are expanding out from this hardwood forest with our fruit trees, replacing the shrubby undergrowth, and following the curved shape of the woods. This was a conscious design choice and has numerous advantages.

First, we replaced many undesirable and inedible species with productive species. As anyone who has ever walked into a forest knows, the edge is usually where you encounter the thickest undergrowth of thorny bushes and vines that seem impenetrable.

Second, by planting along the forest edge we, and our plants, are able to tap into the complex and well developed fungal network that supports and coexists with our woods. Plants usually prefer to grow in 1 of 2 environments.The first is a bacterial one that is primarily found in grasslands, meadows, and prairies. These environments rely on grazing animals to digest large amounts of plant material and poop out partially decomposed manure that is full of bacteria that complete the nutrient cycle from plant-animal-plant.

The other is a fungal environment, where moist, and shady conditions, as well copious amounts of woody material support millions of miles of fungal hyphae, that break down dead wood, help tree roots obtain and take up nutrients in the soil, and act as a sort of internet that connects the trees in a forest. Thus, by planting our trees on the edge of the forest, their roots are able to seek out the fungal network that forests and woody trees depend on to thrive.This is much easier than having to establish this fungal network from scratch by mulching with woody material, or trying to establish a fungal based system in the middle of a bacterial environment, like a lawn.

food forest edge

forest systems rely on fungal networks to cycle nutrients , maintain balance, and grow large trees

Third, in addition to tapping into the fungal network of the forest, our new food forest will benefit from the established nutrient cycle that is already in place. Our towering hardwood trees have roots that have driven deep into the soil, and are able to pull up nutrients and minerals unavailable to most plants. They then store these nutrients in their leaves, and when fall comes, shed huge amounts of organic fertilizer and mulch all around our young food forest.

In addition to gathering and cycling nutrients, these massive trees are also able to soak up and “sweat” out water. This dew will fall directly on top of our new food forest, supplying it with a decent amount of moisture and reducing our need to irrigate.

All of these benefits are part of the reason we planted our food forest on the hardwood forest edge. Because the mature system can provide so much for our new, immature system, we won’t be planting as many support species. There will be some, but no where near as many as would be planted in a typical food forest.

This diverse forest system will be made up of an extremely diverse group of fruiting and medicinal plants. In addition to the overstory of hardwoods (which also provide shade and moisture for our mushroom logs), we planted apple, pear, peach, pluot, plum, paw paw, cherry, and asian pear trees as the main food species. We then planted shrubs and bushes like raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, currants, gooseberries, seaberry, autumn olive, goumi, goji berry, aronia, and elderberry. We also planted a few vines, like groundnut, grape, and passionflower, as well as herbaceous species like sunchokes, comfrey, fava beans, and, soon, a dozen more medicinal, perennial herbs like black cohosh, astragalus, marshmallow, yarrow, and valerian. Among these will be nitrogen fixers like honey locust, black alder, and siberian pea shrub, as well as a mix of clovers.

All of these species are in an area smaller than an acre, and primarily along the border. Most are perennial, and should provide for food for many years, as well as serve as nursery stock for propagation, ans the expansion of our food forest to other spaces on our property. It has taken a great deal of effort to plan and plant, but our new food forest should start paying dividends in a few years, and then on for as long as there is someone here to harvest.

Using Geoff Lawton’s Mineral Supplement Recipe to Revitalize the Land

A huge problem in the world today is the constant erosion of our soil. Over many years, this process leads to nutrient deficient and dead soils that grow less nutritous plants every year. If we follow the food chain up, any livestock that eat these plants will suffer nutrient deficiencies, and any meat, eggs, or dairy that we obtain from these animals will likewise not supply a full spectrum of minerals and nutrients necessary for healthy life.

Bantam Chickens Homesteading

Livestock, such as chickens, can help us cycle nutrients and minerals back into the landscape.

One way to combat this unhealthy cycle, and remineralize the land, our livestock, and our food, is through the use of supplemental minerals. By feeding a full spectrum of minerals to our animals, in addition to high quality feed, not only do we improve the quality of their health, meat, and eggs, but we also improve the quality of their manure. By cycling these nutrients and minerals through livestock, they become bio-available to plants, which readily soak them up and perform better than ever. If we continue this cycle, and either mulch, compost, or feed these plants back to our livestock, we can rapidly increase the fertility of the land, and remineralize eroded and damaged landscapes, all while enjoying a bonus of the healthiest plant and animal products imaginable.

Geoff Lawton is where I first heard of this remineralization process, and his supplemental mineral recipe is great. This recipe is enough to feed to 1 dairy cow every day at milking or 10 chickens once a week.

  • Start by boiling up a cup or two of clean water.
  • Add 1 tsp. of copper sulfate. This worms the animals, but is a toxic compound that can poison them.
  • So, to neutralize the dangers of the copper sulfate, but still get the worming effect, add 1 tbsp. of dolomite lime.
  • To balance out the pH add 1 tbsp. of flowers of sulfur, an acidifying element to balance the alkaline effect of the lime.
  • Next, add 1 tbsp. of 2 types of rock dust minerals. For example, 1 tbsp. of greensand and 1 tbsp. of azomite.
  • Add 2 tbsp. of kelp, a dried mineral rich ocean product. This contains all of the minerals of the land (which all erode out into the ocean) in a slightly different form and ratio.
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. This adds more nutrition, and helps with the digestion of some of the minerals.
  • 3 tbsp. molasses. An extra boost of iron, and a nice sweet taste makes this concoction a delicious treat for all livestock.

This mix is stirred together, added to a bucket of chopped forage, and fed to the animals. Geoff credits the bones of this recipe to Pat Coleby, an Australian author who writes natural animal care books for farmers and pet owners. Pat’s take is that animals do not have health problems or diseases, but rather are suffering from a nutrient deficiency, and that it is up to the farmer or pet owner to supply the correct nutrients and minerals. This treats the cause of the problem as opposed to the symptoms.

There is probably some wisdom there when it comes to our own health as well. Regardless, the first step is to remineralize the soil, and there isn’t a more efficient way than feeding a mineral supplement through your livestock and having them pre-process it for you into a plant ready state, creating an oasis of fertility and nutrient density in your backyard.

*Don’t forget to pre-order your Heritage Thanksgiving Turkey!

Nitrogen Fixing Trees in Our Food Forest

Yesterday I talked about using herbaceous support species in food forest design and establishment, and how both annual and perennial herbs and plants can perform many of the same functions as typical support trees. While this is true, I wanted to also point out some of the nitrogen fixing trees that we will be planting this year into our food forest as support species.

support species permaculture

240 Support species started from seed, ready to germinate and go into our forest garden.

First on the list is honey locust. This is an awesome tree. It can be an overstory tree if you let it, but it coppices easily, making it a prime candidate for chop and drop mulching. It fixes nitrogen, and flowers for a long period of time in late spring and early summer, providing an excellent nectar source for bees. It also yields huge amounts of sweet tasting pods with edible seeds. The seeds can be eaten by humans, but chickens, cattle, and goats are especially found of them. Honey locust trees are easily grown from seed, provided they are soaked overnight until swollen, or nicked and soaked prior to planting.

Another support tree that we plan on planting is black alder. Black alder fixes more nitrogen per acre than any other native species. It grows rapidly, easily, and coppices. It’s eaves break down rapidly, increasing soil fertility above ground while it fixes nitrogen below ground. A pioneering species, black alder is often found growing in poor soils and wet sites. It’s wood is highly valued, especially for uses where it is submerged in water, such as docks. I can envision using some black alder poles as a base for a floating chinampa garden in our pond. Needless to say, we are excited about black alder.

Siberian pea shrub is another nitrogen fixing permaculture plant that will be interplanted among our fruit and nut trees. A tall growing shrub, it fixes nitrogen and produces a very high protein seed that is palatable to chickens and other livestock. I consider it a temperate climate version of pigeon pea, as it performs many of the same functions but is extremely hardy, to at least zone 3. Siberian pea shrub is easy to grow from seed; it germinates quickly after an overnight soak and thin sowing.

These are the three plants that I have going in a speedling tray at the moment. I planted about 240 of them, so there should be plenty to fill the gaps in our food forest, and we won’t feel so bad about cutting them down for mulch as the system progresses. Over the next few weeks, I plan on starting some more species, including mimosa, goumi, black locust, and russian olive. All of these support species fix nitrogen, and should supply ample fertility for our new food forest.

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