Thursday, February 19, 2015

Forest Gardening: What is it and what's in it for me?

I just  recently realized that the techniques and gardening processes I have reading about and trying to implement for the last 12 years can all be gathered under one umbrella heading: Permaculture.
Edible landscaping, lasagna gardening, Ruth Stout, Winter sowing, low tunnels, plant guilds, companion planting, three sisters, homesteading, perennial vegetables, using mushrooms in gardens, square foot gardening, straw bale gardening, gardening with livestock, and sustainable homesteading are all components of an amazing system that strives to mimic nature while accommodating humans needs and pleasures.

Paraphrasing one of my favorite Permaculture teachers, Larry Korn,"Permaculture is a system where we can grow an abundance of food with decreased effort while increasing the health and vitality of the soil and the diversity of life in the environment." Now that sounds good to me.

A wonderful place to learn the hands on process of Permaculture is Toby Hemenway's book, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2001, ISBN 978-1890132521).  Toby does a wonderful job of explaining Permaculture, and provides an easy to follow 'how-to' for the novice. I've read it cover to cover and made copious notes in the margins.

As I've begun learning about Permaculture I've encountered the term "Forest Gardening". This is a concept that I initially had trouble wrapping my head around. I dismissed it thinking, "I can not grow the things I want to grow under a canopy of trees". Then I had an 'Oh, I get it' moment.

Maybe the term Forest Gardening, as a communication tool, is a bit like the term Global Warming. In retrospect, a title like 'Climate Chaos' might better describe the threat. Similarly, Forest Gardening might have been easier for me to embrace if it was called "Gardening to Mimic Nature's Amazing and Time Tested Patterns". Or "Sustainable Gardening" for short.

This winter I am expanding my front yard (Zone 1) gardens to include more fruit trees, berry shrubs, perennials and most of my annual veggies. I am using sheet mulching and straw/compost to get the area ready for spring planting. Since part of the area has been a"Lasagna Garden" for years, and all of it has been 'cared for' by my chickens since fall, I am expecting great things form the area.

So, what about the shade? A Forest Garden will eventually develop a canopy that will provide areas of shade, but it is designed so that when it has grown out and begun to mature, it is not just an area filled with trees. My Forest Garden contains areas of full sun, areas of filtered or partial sun  and some areas of shade. In my Forest Garden we will be growing and doing many different things, and sunlight will be a valuable component.

As Larry Corn says: A Forest Garden is Not a dark dense place, it is a sunny happy place with a wonderful diversity of plants and animal life.

I had been adding fruit trees to my yard for several years. Now I am creating guilds around them. Last week we made a trip to an amazing bamboo farm and I've begun several bamboo guilds with the help of my grandson Rusty and a great neighbor, Brody.

Is establishing a Forest Garden in my yard worth the "work"? I'll have to let you know.

What's in it for me? How about fruit, vegetables, herbs, medicinals, rabbit feed, chicken feed, cattle fodder, hog food,timber, pleasure, a place for friends and family to gather and a place to feel centered and close to nature.I believe it will be worth far more than the initial effort. And I'm trusting Larry when he says the Forest Garden becomes less work and more productive as time goes on. I am very optimistic, but guess we'll see.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Buddy Burners and Vagabond Stoves

Remember Buddy Burners and Vagabond Stoves from Girl Scouts?

Great for emergencies, great for camping and great for cooking out in the back yard, these little stoves make a wonderful addition to a preparedness kit or long term pantry.

Here are simple, straight forward instructions from that describes the process better than I can. These little stoves are easy to make (if you can still find a metal coffee can!) and work remarkably well. You can cook directly on the surface or use small pans set on the coffee can to boil water or heat canned food such as spaghetti. The little tuna can heaters are also easy to make and the whole “set up” costs the price of the paraffin or wax, unless you have some used candle scraps or jelly wax in which case it is basically free.

Do remember to use them outdoors only, and use in a safe manor. Vagabond Stoves get really hot!


·        Flat tuna, pet food or pineapple can

·        Plain corrugated cardboard (not printed with bright inks or coated with wax or plastic)

·        Candle wax or paraffin

·        # I0 gallon can (the large institutional size) or a large coffee can

Making the Buddy Burner

Cut the cardboard in strips in a width which is the height of the tuna can - across the corrugations so that the holes show.

Roll the strips until the cardboard roll fits snugly into the tuna can. Melt the wax. It is best to use a double boiler. as if the wax gets too hot. it can burst into flame.

You can improvise a double boiler by putting water in a large pan and then setting a smaller pan into the water.

Each tuna can will take about 4 ounces of wax.

When the wax is melted slowly pour it into the buddy burner so that it runs down into the holes and saturates the corrugated cardboard and fill the can to the rim.

You can put a small piece of cardboard sticking up or a candle wick in the middle to help start it. but this isn't required.

Let it cool and harden.

Making the Vagabond Stove

First. cut out one end of the # 10 can. Then cut a door about three inches high and four inches wide on side of the can at the open end leaving the top of the door attached. Pull the door open.

Slide the cutout lid into the can setting it firmly against the closed end.  (Neat trick that I did not know)

The following procedure will hold it there permanently and the double thickness of metal will conduct the heat more efficiently.

At the top of the stove (the closed end of the can) punch four smoke holes around the side with a punch-type can opener.

The metal from the holes will hold the extra lid in place. Your stove is now complete.

You will cook on the top of the can either directly on it or by placing a pan on top of it with the

Buddy Burner underneath for the heat source. You can also use the Vagabond Stove without the Buddy Burner using or a wood fire for the heat source.


Set the Buddy Burner on a brick or concrete block (these get VERY HOT. so make sure you place them on something heatproof).

Put a lighted match in the middle of the can (or light the wick if it has one). The flame will spread across the top of the can; that's what it's supposed to do. It is also helpful to turn the can on the side so that the flame of your match can spread across the cardboard more easily.

Once lit place the Vagabond Stove over the Buddy Burner with the open end down. You can place a pan with whatever you want to cook on top of the Vagabond Stove or you can cook directly on top of it. (Be sure to wipe the top of the stove after it has gotten hot to remove the coating. Use a throw-away rag, not your Troop Leaders good hot padJ )

 If you need to regulate the flame, you can use a piece of aluminum foil (several thicknesses folded and slightly larger than the Buddy Burner) and place it partially over the name in the can. To extinguish the flame place the foil over the entire top of the can.

If you need to bake something you can use tuna cans as little pans. Place the food to be baked in the tuna cans place on top of the Vagabond Stove and place another # I0 can over that to form an "oven". Anything you would bake in a regular oven can be baked this way (if it is small enough).

Refilling the Buddy Burner

Each Buddy Burner should burn between 1-1/2 to 2 hours without needing to be refilled. They can be used for an indefinite period of time if they are replenished with wax though because the wax burns at a lower temperature than the cardboard and lengthens the lite of the cardboard. To refill the Buddy Burner place small chunks of wax on top of the corrugation while it is burning.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why Diversify?

Why Diversify?

Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson has a new book The Diversity of Life
published by the Harvard University Press. In this book Wilson discusses the value of genetic diversity, and the terrible risks we face as that diversity dwindles. Edward Wilson was recently interviewed on NPR’s Science Friday where he put into words some of the urgency I, and so many, many others feel regarding the conservation of the diversity we have before it is lost.

WILSON: …we're coming to understand the great value of preserving what is left of biological diversity in nature. We can provide many, many examples of products that have been forthcoming just in recent times, and the likelihood of vast, new important products -- drugs, new kinds of crops, fibers, petroleum substitutes, restorers of exhausted soil, and on and on.
… every species is a great treasure for humanity to enjoy and use for centuries, for thousands of years to come, and that in saving them, we should not only regard them as having this enormous, virtually limitless potential for our children’s' future, but also as part of our deep history -- literally the cradle in which the human spirit was born.

As The Livestock Conservancy, (previously the American Livestock Breeds Conservancytells us: The need for livestock conservation is urgent. Throughout agricultural history, each generation has taken its turn as steward of the genetic trust. Our generation is now in danger of bankrupting this trust and leaving little for the future. Each day, some breeds move closer to extinction. Each extinction reduces the diversity within the livestock species and the biodiversity of the Earth.

In simple terms, we cannot afford to put all of our eggs into one basket.

At Grimm Acres, Diversified we have chosen to take our small position on the front line actively working to preserve the genetic diversity in our small number of livestock and poultry. We work to do our part in caring for the animals and spreading the word about the intrinsic value of each species, and the joy they bring into every day of our lives. “At Grimm Acres the animals are not our whole lives, but they help to make our lives whole.”