March Monthly Harvest Totals

Permaculture is a real solution, something we can all do and it can “pay for itself” by making our lives healthier, wealthier and wiser. It’s not about sacrifice or arguing over politics. It’s getting down to work on our own gardens, homes, neighborhoods and communities. 
This season, we’ll be documenting our “inputs” and “yields” from our one, small urban Permaculture site on a monthly basis. 
For March, normally a “lean time” in the garden, here’s what we harvested:

20+ lbs jerusalem artichokes. (some were replanted and given as gifts without being weighed.)

4 large belgian endives (or equivilent.)
10 packages cress, oregano and other herbs. (similar size to those sold in stores.)
4 bunches green onions. 
1 box spring greens mix (sorrel, lettuce, salad burnet, kale, etc.)
1 bunch chives
16 heads of heirloom garlic

(Cellar-forced Endive at end of March, after repeated harvests all winter.)

And one of the biggest benefits of a perennial garden or forest garden is that it also produces plants. This March, we’ve harvested at least $300 of perennial plants at low-end market rate, including salad burnet, anise hyssop, hyssop officialnis, variagated comfrey, monarda, turkish rocket, Belle de Boskoop Sorrel, a dozen crosnes, thyme, oregano, yarrow, walking onions, chives, garlic chives, blackberries, elderberries, black raspberries… but that estimate does not include sun chokes we’ve transplanted. 

(Patch with sorrel, blood-veined sorrel, onions, fresh garlic, in March.)

And it doesn’t include valuable plants that have self-sown and spread for us, including some rather expensive edible plants. This month, we’ve found whole new patches of ramps, claytonia virginica, mayapple, and ostrich fern, chives, garlic chives, etc. that we didn’t have to plant. 

(New patch of ramps.)

(New patch with Claytonia Virginica.)

Additional harvests:
2 dozen large rabbit chew sticks, 
2 new mushroom patches (kits typically cost $50 each)
5 bags of mulch, organic,
4 small vermicompost systems, 1 new large bin. 
Our garden has also provided us with seeds, including Arugula, carrots, lettuce, salad cress, squash, corn, poppies, jerusalem artichokes, chives, garlic chives, bulbing fennel, cilantro, chicory, egyptian onions, turkish rocket, leeks, tomatoes, mache, chop suey greens, marshmallow, etc. Easily $60+ worth. 

(One 12 lbs harvest of sun-chokes from 2 plants.)

Estimated total Yields in Dollars:
It’s difficult to fully estimate the cash equivilent of a lot of these products, as market values are often VERY high, probably somewhat inflated for many of these Permaculture veggies. Produce like sorrel, endive, cress and sunchokes often sell for very high prices. For example, at “market rate,” the prices I’ve seen online and at our local food coop, we harvested a few hundred dollars in chokes alone! 
So, we’ve low-balled this estimate, rounding down items and using “lowest market rate” on some of the high-priced items, to come up with a really reliable minimum market value number:
Total minimum market value: $840. 
Here, we’ll move away from “hard numbers,” to speculation. Keep in mind, we were not harvesting for the market this month, and could have harvested 3 or 4 times this quantitiy without disturbing the system. If a reliable market could be found to accept all of what our system could produce, I believe we could have sustainably harvested $3,000 worth of plants and produce at fair market value this March without compromising the stability of our system. It’s possible that with clever marketing and value-added products, our monetary yield could have been substantially higher than that, but that would have also required much greater time inputs on marketing and production. 
Through most of March, we did very little other than harvest food. 
Last year, we recorded and found that we spent an average of 2 hours per week in the garden doing maintenance work, with some weeks getting no non-harvest labor. However, this year, we expect to be putting in significantly more time because we’re significantly increasing the yields from our system. To me, this is an ideal system, where you can put more in and get more out, but if you don’t have the time, it largely takes care of itself. Kim and I spent one whole day, probably 8 hours for a combined total of 16 hours doing garden work, potting up plants, thinning raspbery cains, and mulching. Most of this was probably aesthetic, but some of it will increase our yields this year. In addition, we both spent a few hours together doing work on a couple of week nights. 
Total March work time: 24 hours, 6 hours/week. 

Minimum hourly return on investment, or “hourly rate:” $38/hour 

We also brought in one load of wood chip mulch from the Kalamazoo City mulch pile to start a new garden bed. This was the only off-site input so far this year. We anticipate that wood mulch for starting new beds will be the only off-site input for the year. 
Additional Farm Income
This month, we also had significant farm income for our Community Supported Forest Gardening program. So far, we’ve had a lot of positive support from the community and generated a lot of interest, making this an encouraging model for others operating a classic homescale Permaculture system. However, because of the complexity of the program, I will be reporting on that in depth at a later time.

Community Supported Forest Gardening Program!!!

If you’ve ever thought of starting a forest garden or food forest, we’ve got 2 days left to get the early registration price for our Community Supported Forest Gardening program for 2016. This program gives you everything you need to design, plan and implement your own forest garden project, including plants, design consultation, a complete course and a community of like-minded gardeners to learn with:…/ 

It also comes with complete access to our entire HUGE collection of perennial edibles, self-sowing vegetables and ideal forest garden plants. I’m especially proud of the course we put together for this program – it’s going to be a great time, a great learning experience, and we’re going to create some great forest gardens in the process. 


The Home Garden; Unit of Humanity


There it is, the basic “Home Garden,” an ancient, evolved forest garden system, similar to those found throughout the tropics, and in one form or another, almost everywhere trees will grow. This beautiful version is from Cuba. (

At its most basic level, it’s surrounded by a forest garden planting or enclosure, a mixed function productive hedgerow membrane designed to exclude harmful energies while welcoming and containing beneficial energy flows. Inside, there are areas (organs?) devoted to all the functions necessary for the unit to survive and prosper, areas for vital exchange of information (social functions,) areas for production, areas for growing food, sustaining internal health, and so on. It has units for photosynthesis, converting sun energy into useful energy for the homestead. It has various apendages for affecting the outside world, for reaching out and bringing in vital resources, sharing information with outside units, and exporting its wastes. It has a sort of central nervous system which regulates the distribution of resources within the unit and responds to external stimuli. It even has a nucleus home structure to protect its most vital information processing, organizing, and storage units.
The very word “garden” comes from the word enclosure, “garde.” This is true in most languages.

(Medieval English “cottage garden.”

As these units grow, they eventually reach out with their genetic information, sharing it with other units and reproducing itself, splitting into separate units to reproduce the pattern. Each new cell adapts to its specific environment, its place, its resources and landforms. It fulfills its role in maximizing life enhancing energies and performing particular duties as part of a larger fabric of human communities. Each naturally grows, shrinks, exchanges resources and acts according to the needs of the whole.

(Toft and croft pattern of home garden “cells,” organized into communties [tissues?] which were in turn surrounded by hedgerows and borders… Wyrtig.)

It is likely that this is the fashion in which humans, and our companion species, generally spread around the globe. It’s a pattern that follows the dictum “life makes good for life,” enriching its ecosystem and ensuring biodiversity and resilience for all species.
Is this self-organizing cell-like basic home garden structure a “poly-species” super organism? (super-organisms are those made up of multiple individuals, such as a bee hive.)
Is this some basic, hard-wired pattern of biology that we evolved in order to adapt our environment in a way that made us beneficial keystone species?
Do we instinctively utilize the ridgid, lignin-rich properties of woody perennials to create our “cell walls” and define our “tissues” (communities) just as plants do?
Is this pattern the ideal result of simple, logical ways that biological organisms thrive in interaction with each other? Is it shaped in some fundamental way by the laws of nature on our world, regardless of scale: cell, tissue, organ, organism, community, ecosystem?
Architects such as Christopher Alexander have pointed out that we seem to inately feel “right” inside these enclosed, cell-like spaces. We love plants, rich, lush gardens filled with fruits and vegetables. We thrive on the loving companionship of non-human animal companions. We do indeed seem programmed to order our environments to create this home-garden pattern….

(Forest garden “enclosure” at Lillie House)

So, how did we get stuck into the self-destructive, eco-cidal patterns of agrarian civilization, where “cells” stop acting beneficially, and instead maximize “consumption,” the conversion of raw energy into ever more humans, ever more cells, without regard to role or the health of the whole? …into “expansionist” units that infiltrate, and convert healthy cells into similarly single-minded, anthrocentric, tissues with poorly defined borders? …until inevitably, the growth causes the breakdown in the healthy function of the whole super-organism “ecosystem,” and with it, the humans that depended upon it.
Of course, it’s probably inaccurate (to say the least) to compare the self-destructive nature of agrarian civilization units to cancer cells. But the underlying biological mechanism and behavior characteristics look very similar, and unless we’re careful, they’ll have the same end result.
Whether or not our homesteads are surrounded by the literal “cell wall” enclosures of traditional home gardens, it’s interesting to me that Permaculture seeks to solve our problems by recreating this basic “closed loop,” celular pattern of humanity, in various ways.
Are we witnessing the death throws of a failed, self-destructive human system which has finally destroyed its super-organism host?
Are ideas like Permaculture and biomimicry an instinctive reclaiming of our biological role – the basic “genetic” motivating information that will organize a new, healthy, diverse super-organism to take its place?
Of course, I’m being metaphorical, rather than metaphysical. Ultimately, these questions are unanswerable, unscientific, and verge on being meaningless.
But I do believe that when we turn away from the destructive global system to build our own personal Permaculture systems and communities, based on caring, mutually-benefical interactions between species, we create a powerful, beautiful way of life that will spread, endure, and provide comfort and security for generations to come.

Foraging Recipes: Roasted Garlic Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

This is one of my favorite vegan soups this time of year. Easy to prepare, smooth of texture, and filled with flavor, Jerusalem artichoke soup with roasted garlic has been a hit with us and our guests for years. 
Better still, it’s another great homesteader recipe that cooks up with little oversight, keeps well and can be easily adapted. We often make a batch at the beginning of a week, add coconut milk and curry spices midway through and then even use the remainder as the base for a curry sauce. It freezes well, and can be made into ice cubes for a quick sauce. 
Jerusalem artichokes make a fine native vegetable for a home forest garden, but they’re also quite abundant in the wild. I know of three places in downtown Kalamazoo to find large stands, and I frequently see them along roadsides and at the edges of farm fields. This time of year, they’re easily identified by last-years stalks. After the winter thaw, they’re at their sweetest, and between the chokes and the sweetness of roasted garlic, we’ve often had guests ask if we used honey to sweeten the soup. 
We’ve also made this recipe with roasted field garlic and it tasted great. Make a stock with wild thistles, burdock, wild carrot greens, and foraged mushrooms for a 100% “wild” foraged staple dish. (Later, I’ll post my recipe for a foraged vegetable stock.) This time of year, add a salad of foraged spring greens for a complete foraged meal. 
Roasted Garlic Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
5 lbs Jerusalem artichokes, washed. 
1clove of garlic. (Substitute field garlic)
1 container of vegetable stock. 
Place Jerusalem artichokes in a pot, cover with water and place on high heat to bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes, then turn down the heat to a slow boil. Now, the wait begins. The inulin in Jerusalem artichokes breaks down with long cook times, and 4 hours is often recommended. After cooking, pour off water and let chokes cool down slightly. We’ll be putting them in a blender, and hot ingredients in a cold blender can crack glass.
As the chokes cook, turn the oven to 400 degrees, wrap the garlic in tinfoil and add a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then put it  in the oven while it heats, for 10 minutes. I’ve found this is a reliable way to get perfect roasted garlic. 
Combine roasted garlic, chokes in blender with enough broth to blend them, in small batches. Blend to a smooth puree in batches and return them to the pot. French sources often say that Jerusalem artichokes make the smoothest of all veloute soups, so you’re looking for a silky smooth texture. Add broth or water to thicken to the desired texture, then add salt and pepper to taste. 
I like to garnish with finly chopped spring greens, such as pepper cress, parsley, and field garlic greens. 
Serve with warm, crusty french bread. 

Foraging Recipe: Fast Easy Pita Pizzas with Goat Cheese, Pepper Cress and Roasted Field Garlic

These quick pita pizzas feature one of my favorite late-winter flavor combinations with the crispy crust of classic Roman-style pizzas, and go yard-to-table in about 15 minutes. For busy homesteaders, these pita pizzas are a workhorse, turning home-grown and foraged produce into quick and easy meals with few dishes and little clean-up. 
But this is slow fast food. The flavors of pepper cress and roasted field garlic, tempered with mild goat cheese are a combination fit for gourmet restaurants.  

Biding its time underneath the snow for the first thaw, Cardamine Hirsuta is everywhere this time of year. It goes by many names, peppercress, shotcress (as I was taught) and hairy bitter cress, though it is neither hairy nor too bitter.

It’s especially fond of damp places, but I’ve found it in almost every type of environment throughout the Great Lakes region, from woodlands, gardens, and waste sites, to sandy soiled barrens, and lawns. 

It looks, tastes and has a very similar delicate texture to its close gourmet relative, watercress. It forms a small rosette in fall and grows over winter. Though most of its look-alikes are other edible cresses and “little mustards,” for beginners honing their plant eyes, it bears a very slight resemblance to some poisonous plants of the carrot family, including poison hemlock, pictured below, which lacks the rounded leaflets seen above. 
(Ooooh, not this one! This one’s poison hemlock!)
The next ingredient in this recipe is field garlic, allium vinaele, another plant that’s nearly universal around the Great Lakes region this time of year. 

It’s often found in grasslike dense clumps that have outgrown your lawn over winter and have a strong garlic aroma when crushed. The greens and the bulbs are edible and have no poisonous imposters. 

The bulbs can be roasted in a hot oven just like garden garlic. Together with the peppercress, the two form a nice flavor combination. 


1 Lebanese or other thin pita (not Greek pita.)
1/1 – 1 C chopped pepper cress
1 clump field garlic (12 bulbs)
Pasta or pizza sauce to taste
Goat cheese to taste
Fresh mozzarella to taste
Pinch dried italian herbs (fennel seed, oregano, basil)
Pinch sea salt
1 T olive oil 

Remove the greens from the field garlic and set aside. Wrap the clean bulbs in tinfoil and add a few drops of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a crack of pepper. Place in the oven to cook while the oven heats and turn the oven to 450 degrees. Garlic should roast in about 15 minutes. 

Sprinkle the bottom of the pita (you decide which side will better hold the ingredients) with olive oil and then italian herbs and sea salt. Turn it over and give the edges of the crust the same treatment. 

Spoon dolops of sauce onto the pizza, then a light crumbling of goat cheese and pieces of mozzarella. Don’t over-do it. To many ingredients will keep the pizzas from getting crispy. 

Add 1/4 – 1/2 Cup of chopped pepper cress, keeping some aside for the finished pizza. 

By now, the garlic should be ready and the oven hot, so remove the garlic and put it on the pizza. 

Then put the pizza in the oven, directly on the rack. At this point, I often switch the oven to “broil” to finish the top of the pizza. It should cook up in about 5 minutes. 

Voila! Sprinkle some more fresh pepper cress on top and a drizzle of olive oil. A quick gourmet meal from your yard months before the first annual vegetables will be ready! 

Permaculture: Fancy Farming, Lazy Living, or a Tool for Supporting Our Goals?

(Image wikimedia)

“Permaculture: Where the designer becomes the recliner!”

~Bill Mollison, while lazing around in his hammock. 
In the early days of the Permaculture movement, founder Bill Mollison used to wow audiences with stories of tropical and sub-tropical horticultural “forest gardening” societies where folks are documented to meet all their needs and make their livelihoods on just a few hours a week of “work,” mostly bumming around the garden and casual harvesting. 
Tough life!
While our modern myth is that life without advanced energy technology used to be all work and no play, academic studies of the Kandyan forest garden culture, for just one example, find that they really do spend just a few hours a week doing anything that we’d call work. They spend the rest of their time LIVING, doing life-enhancing, fullfilling activities (Kandyan Forest Farmers, etc. Douglas McConnell, et al.) 
These typically sustainable, egalitarian and peaceful cultures of small-scale forest gardens and home production came to represent an ideal within the early movement, as opposed to a centralized system of manufactured food scaricity and for-profit farming. 
But as Permaculture came to America, we yanks, with our famous “American work ethic” brought a certain balance to the movement. It’s somewhat rare these days to hear about this “lazy” kind of Permaculture in the States. More often, I hear the “big name” Permaculturists stressing the value of long hours of grueling hard work, and a decade of “paying dues,” living in a shack, sacrificing and struggling to achieve the future reward of a successful farm or Permaculture business. 
Only natural. Our early American contributors to Permaculture often made their reputation by distinguishing themselves from Lazy Bill, working to “adapt Permaculture” both to temperate climates and to American culture. Part of this just seemed natural to a colder climate where each year brought a new “hungry season” to “prep” for and “winter is coming,” always. Hard work means a secure future and “preppers” became a key constituency for Permaculture.
Many of Mollison’s claims were dismissed as unrealistic in our climate, if not anywhere with an expectation of a “modern” life and the demands of a “modern” economy. 

And finally, peek oil, climate change, soil depletion and ecosystem collapse caught up with us. That original vision of ease and natural abundance was tempered with a “roll-up-our-sleaves” practicality that shook itself out of Mollison’s hammock, picked up a shovel and got down to work saving the planet. There was, after all, a whole lot of work to be done and no time to waste. 
With all those factors, modern American Permaculturists tend to focus much more on ramping up overall productivity, designing to create the maximum possible yield per acre, and trying our darndest to kick Industrial Ag in the pants. High output became the common goal, so long as the inputs were sustainable. “Profitability” became key. (A somewhat ironic sidenote is that Mollison’s famous laziness didn’t stop him from creating what was probably one of the most profitable and impactful Permaculture businesses of all time.)
But even the Permaculture movement follows the “back and forth” sin wave pattern that most social trends follow. Though we share much, we’re far from the monolithic single-minded community that often gets portrayed to the public. These days that earlier, lazier vision of a more human-pace of life is making a return. I’m personally aware of several sub-movements of Permaculture have started to even “name and claim” this more relaxed territory:
– Feral Permaculture
– The Human Habitat Movement
– Rewiliding Permaculture
– Wild Permaculture
Personally, I’ve been very inspired by both sides of this “debate,” though I’m probably much closer to the “wild” or “feral” side than the center of gravity of the modern American movement. 

(The creators of this Shikagami forest garden in this video call their very low-input approach “Feral Permaculture.” Though our urban garden has an ornamental component, I aspire to garden very much like this.) 
But what I’ve come to recognize is that Permaculture is simply a system of design, a tool, and that tool can be used to support our values and reach our goals, whether that’s more time in the hammock, a healthier lifestyle, more security, more time with family, financial “success,” or more “wealth,” however you define that. 

For many of us, this “debate” mirrors one of the great debates of our lives: work/life balance. It also follows one of our great “spiritual” questions, the balance between “equanimity,” letting go and enjoying life and on the other side, having the “fierceness” to set fulfilling goals and strive to achieve them. 
To me, the great insight here, is that Permaculture can be used to support us on those challenging questions, to help us find “the middle road.” 
From that perspective the BEST designs are not those that are optimized to be the most productive, OR those that are optimized to require the least work, but those that can be flexibly adapted between the two, to meet us where we’re at in life and support the goals that are important to us at the moment. I call that “Flexible Adaptability of Input/Output Ratio.”
I’m pretty terrible at naming things.
If we find ourselves busy with the activities of life, my ideal Permaculture system can be quickly be configured to save us time and energy, provide us with a relaxing environment and still produce a great yield, without overburdening us with an overabundance of apples and zucchini to force on our neighbors. But if we find ourselves in a place of needing more income or a higher yield, it can quickly be revved up to reward our extra work with even greater returns and potential profitability. 
So both sides are “right,” depending on the circumstances. And Permaculture becomes about picking the tools that are going to best meet your needs and help you create the kind of life you’re dreaming of, even if you haven’t quite figured that out yet.