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Getting Started with Permaculture By Mr. Permie Bear

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Sometimes getting started on something is the hardest part, it certainly was for me getting around to finally writing something. Now that the so-called pen is on the paper, what comes next is likely to feel somewhat like a whirlwind on my end, but hopefully not on yours. I hope that what follows will help you get started and help you crush on a whole new level.

Before we can really get into some of the details, we ought to start out with a simple definition of permaculture. It’s a wonderful combination of amusing and inspiring when someone finds out that I am a Certified Permaculture Designer and comes up to me to say, “I just planted my first permaculture!”. Sometimes their excitement just can’t be contained (and for good reason) and I just can’t bring myself to tell them that what they told me makes no sense, so I usually just share in their excitement. Let’s not let that happen to you. By all means get excited, but do it with correct definitions. The word “Permaculture” is often defined as a combination of “permanent” and “agriculture” and while that’s close, it’s actually not quite the whole story. It’s really more like a combination of “permanent” and “culture”. It just so happens that often the easiest and most visible application is as it relates to agriculture. At its core, permaculture is a design language. It is a lens that we view and solve problems through. Ethics are at the core of permaculture and the tools we use to solve these problems are based upon patterns observed in nature. In essence, it is a way of thinking and designing systems to meet all of our needs as people living in this realm in perpetuity using ways that are not extraction based, but regenerative and therefore highly resilient and hopefully as permanent as anything can be. Systems and solutions that are Integrated and often times multidisciplinary, not singular and stand-alone. The three core ethics of Permaculture are:

1) Earth Care 

2) People Care  

3) Return of Surplus

These three ethics stem from the prime directive of Permaculture, which is the thought that in this life, we cannot rely on extraction based systems that value neither people nor the creation as a whole and that the only ethical thing to do is to provide for our own needs and the needs of our families. Something that many people in this and other communities really understand. Everything we do within the framework of Permaculture must look to those three ethics and if it does not uphold those, then our design needs work. So, for example, let’s say you decide to plant a garden. Does the way in which you plant and manage your garden meet these ethics? If you prepare your garden by spraying roundup to kill the grass, fertilize with miracle-gro, spray chemical pesticides, and burn all the garden residues – I’d say that’s a miss on 3 of 3. Let’s instead say that you use light blocking tarps or heavy mulch to kill the grass, manage the garden organically, and compost all your garden residues-Now we just hit 3 of 3. We can of course do better, but all of the things done in the second example are life affirming, not life destroying. That’s the kind of thinking we need. 

I guess there’s one other critical part of permaculture that is really present in everything and that is the connections between systems. That’s really what we are identifying and implementing when we look for patterns in nature. It is my belief that those patterns were made by God and there can be no better guide than what the Creator has set before us. 

 

Chickens and sheep working together to build soil. The sheep manure mixed with spent hay is piled up with whole grains mixed in the layers to give the chickens incentive to scratch and turn the piles, thus quickening the compost process. This compost will layer fertilize vegetables grown in the greenhouse.

 

The systems and patterns can be very simple, or very complex. Often times the more complex the system, the more stable it is because we have a plethora of redundancies. We already gave one example of a simple system, Plant a garden organically, compost everything you don’t eat. But that’s not many connections, and remember, as practitioners of permaculture, we are in the connection business. So, what if we add chickens? Chickens can turn the compost for us, get part of their feed from finding bugs in the compost, and add their manure so the compost is more fertile. If we got really crazy, chickens could also prepare our garden beds for planting. If we were to go absolutely bonkers we could add pigs to till the garden, chickens to level it back out and clean up after the pigs (who both eat the garden surplus, thus decreasing our need to buy food), the chicken and pig manure enriches the soil, we add guineas walking in and around the garden for bug control, have ducks around the perimeter eating bugs that would find their way to the garden, set up duck bathing pools around the garden perimeter so we can use the water from their bathing pools to water and fertilize the gardens (all in one shot), add certain plants to be used specifically for mulch and rabbit food (who have an area where their manure is collected for fertilizer), meat from these rabbits is used for people food and to feed the dogs that guard the sheep, which graze the grass in the orchard and fertilize it, which surrounds the garden providing a wind break and extra compost materials, more chicken food, and more pig food. See all the connections? Do you see how the needs of the system are being provided by the system? The nature mimicry? Rabbits garden, sheep fertilize, pigs dig, chickens scratch. They all eat. They have the chance to all exhibit these innate behaviors, each with inputs and outputs. We simply observed and designed. Returning to the 3 ethics:

  1. Earth care – Are the plants, animals, and soil taken care of? Yes, Animals are able to express their innate and unique behaviors. They are fed varied diets. Soil is protected with mulch and enriched with manure and compost. Pests are kept in check by animal and insect predators, therefore pesticides aren’t needed or used. (Note that I said, “Kept in check”. There will be some pests in the garden, that’s why they can be used as guinea food for example.)
  2. People care – The people work less because the animals are doing a lot of the work. Sure, you have to move them around, but compare that to all the individual tasks you now have to do less of like mowing, weeding, turning the compost, tilling, picking bugs, spraying plants, etc. Not to mention the enjoyment of working with each part of the system and the extreme health that will likely result from eating such high-quality food. (You will still have to weed, especially as you just get started. Sorry, But if managed well, weeding should be less and less each year.)
  3. Return of surplus – Compost is created and used. Manure is incorporated into the system whether as a compost addition, directly applying to the ground (as in the case of the sheep), or used to make liquid fertilizer (as in the case of the ducks). Nothing goes to waste. This system will yield more than we humans can possibly consume and so the excess goes back into the system and is used to further sustain it.

 

Pigs and chickens working together to turn pasture into garden. The pigs till and break up soil, the chickens help with sanitation and tilling while eating weed seeds and bugs.

 

Another example of a permaculture practice that might be easier for many people to implement is the creation of plant guilds. I realize many people don’t have room for pigs, sheep, large orchards, and the like, but we all have room for plant guilds. This can be as simple as companion planting in the garden. Perhaps this is planting a nitrogen fixing plant like a green bean next to or before a nitrogen using plant like corn. Perhaps this is using the famous “three sisters” guild which is pole beans, corn, and squash. The beans provide nitrogen, the corn gives the beans a place to grow, and the squash shades out weeds that would compete with the corn. This could also be as complex as a perennial polyculture under our fruit trees. “Say what Mr. Permie Bear? What is a perennial polyculture? I thought we were done with terms and definitions, then you throw this at me? How dare you?”. A perennial polyculture is just a collection of plants that come back year after year that provide things like nutrients and mulch for our fruit trees, provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, and food/medicine for us. For example, we could plant an apple tree. Say 6 feet off the tree trunk (not a firm number), in the drip line of the tree, we could plant a ring of comfrey and daffodils. This will provide mulch and block grass roots from coming in. Under the tree we can plant lemon balm, yarrow, and mint for teas, medicine, and flowers for pollinators. We can then plant garlic and thyme for cooking and keeping away certain insects. Maybe we’ll even throw in a currant bush for some more fruit and some Dutch white clover to keep out other weeds and provide nitrogen. The amount of plants you can cram in under a fruit tree is amazing! When we create plant guilds, what we are doing is stacking functions and also more fully utilizing our growing space by taking advantage of different layers (stacking layers). The stacking of functions is using that same space or system to achieve several different results such as food, medicine, pollinator support, and even beauty. Here’s what stacking layers looks like in this simplified example: in the same space required for just a tree, by stacking layers we are using the tree layer (apple), shrub layer (currant), herbaceous layer (comfrey), ground-cover layer (clover), and even the root/bulb layer (garlic). 

 

A simple polyculture. Comfrey, horseradish, violets, and comfrey grow under the canopy of an apple tree. There are also daffodils planted in a ring around the tree, but they are dormant in this photo.

 

When establishing plant guilds, it’s important to know that some plants are neutral towards each other, some help each other, and some are antagonistic. Each of these behaviors can have its place in our designs so it’s important to research relationships between plants based on what you are trying to accomplish, whether that’s to help something grow or even to try and stop something from growing. 

Now that we have covered some of the specific aspects of plant guilds, we’ll take a step back and look at the system as a whole and once again, we can compare this to the three core ethics and see we are on solid ground. 

It is truly remarkable that with proper design, we can solve or avoid many problems and create systems and gardens that are much more productive than they would be if left to their own devices. We can truly be stewards. There is a saying in the permaculture circles which is “the problem is the solution”. One of my favorite examples of this kind of thinking is attributed to Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture. When someone was complaining about all the slugs eating their crops, he replied “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficit.” In this case, the excess slugs were the solution to growing ducks for meat and eggs without having to buy feed.

So, get started by looking around you. What do you see in God’s design that is working well? What connections do you see? What connections can you make in your Beartaria? Find outputs that can be used as inputs.  Are you hitting the mark on the core ethics or do you need to redesign some things? The absolute, most important thing is to try. There is no “one right way” so don’t let the fear of not knowing get in your way. With ethics at our core, it’s hard to go wrong. Get out there and discover what works for you. In a word, Crush.

Bio-

Mr. Permie Bear is a former commercial banker turned Missouri farmer. He, his wife, and their 4 children operate Piney Creek Farm in the Missouri Ozark’s and specialize in pasture raised meats and raw milk. He is also co-founder of Grateful Harvest Seed Company. His goal is to create a fully integrated permaculture farm which teaches and shows people what can be accomplished with permaculture on whatever scale they choose to engage, backyard to large farm. In his down time…. Oh wait, there is no down time.

PineyCreekFarm.com

Farming

Building a Beartarian Homestead

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow.

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By: Mohawk Farmer Bear

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

There’s something romantic about homesteading. Thinking about building a chicken coop, or milking your own cow. Making butter, cream, and cheese with that milk. Raising a few sheep and pigs that you slaughter yourself and put in the freezer. It all gives you a wonderful homey feeling as you daydream about all the possibilities of building your own homestead and growing your own food while reading homesteading books by a warm cozy fire with snow gently falling outside.

But then comes the daunting task of making it happen. Pounding that fence post into the ground or putting up dusty, scratchy, hay in 90 degree weather… all of a sudden it doesn’t seem as romantic as that homesteading book made it feel. Truth be told, it’s not romantic at all. But it is good, and it’s extremely rewarding.

So, how does one get into homesteading if you don’t have any experience with it? The big thing is, to take it slow. Raising animals requires building infrastructure and dealing with living animals, weather, and predators. There’s a huge learning curve that usually takes years. So don’t try to do everything at once. Start slow and work into it. Get good at raising chickens before getting a pig. Likewise get proficient at keeping a few pigs or goats before adding a milk cow. As you learn how farm animals behave and what is required to manage them, you will become more confident with keeping larger animals.

If you try to do everything at once… chickens, pigs, beef cows, milk cows… you’re going to be overwhelmed. So take it slow, start with some chickens, and work up from there.

As you build your homestead there are a few things you should strive for.

Functionality

Remember, you are growing food to feed your family. While we do want to properly care for our animals, we also want to keep our costs down as much as possible. The goal is to grow the best food we can at a very affordable price. Don’t let money be your go to solution for everything. When faced with a project or a problem, challenge yourself to think of solutions that don’t require spending money.

Animal housing and infrastructure should be primarily about function, not looks. The chicken coop needs to keep the chickens comfortably out of the elements, give them a clean place to lay eggs, and keep the predators away. You can have an attractive chicken coop, just figure out how to do it without spending a boat load of money. If your homegrown eggs are costing you $50 per dozen, you probably overbuilt your chicken coop.

Efficiency

If you just got into homesteading, You’re probably still working a full time job. That means everything you do needs to be efficient. Daily chores should be under an hour per day. Right now I have 11 cows, 1 milk cow, 5 pigs, 70 chickens, and 3 sheep. My daily chores usually take 45 minutes. Mostly this boils down to just a few things.

Sturdy reliable fencing, You don’t want to be chasing animals that escaped. Good fencing is a must and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Accessible water. Hauling water is a pain and very time consuming. Black plastic pipe is cheap. Run some over the ground to where you need and pump the water instead of carrying it. During the winter, keep the animals close to a central watering point so you don’t have to carry buckets very far. Automatic feeders and waterers are a must. There’s tons of options out there but the main thing is to always have clean fresh water available to your critters.

For Chickens I like the Poultry Bell waterers. They can be gravity fed from a 5 gallon bucket with a float valve filling up the bucket. All you have to do is check daily to make sure the water is flowing into the waterer. For pigs I like the Brower 85gallon field drinker. The weight of a full tank keeps the pigs from tipping it over and a float valve keeps it full. 

If all you have to do is collect eggs, add a little dry bedding here and there, do a walk by inspection to ensure feeders and waterers are working properly, then your daily chores won’t take hardly any time. Occasionally you’ll have to clean out the coop or load pigs to go to the butcher, but your daily chores will be minimal. 

Forgiveness

Don’t get discouraged when stuff happens. Things will go wrong from time to time. You’re dealing with living animals, nature, weather, and seasons. A Pine Marten will massacre your chickens, your sheep will get out and eat your garden, drought will dry up your pastures. Whether your toddler steps on a chick, or your goat gives birth to stillborn kids, don’t let the emotions overwhelm you. Life and death is all part of homesteading. Take a moment to ponder what happened, learn from it, and move on. After all, the other critters on the farm still need tending to. Just pray that God would give you the wisdom to learn, prosper, and crush despite the challenges. 

Homesteading is about continually building, refining, getting more efficient and more self-sufficient. It’s the journey that makes it so much fun. Enjoy the building process as you build your homestead. 

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Farming

The Subtle Power of Growing Food

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food.

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By Volgadeutsch Bear / Zachry Smith

This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

I live in Evans, Colorado. It is a town with a population of around 25,000 people. It is a food desert. There are a smattering of excellent hole in the wall restaurants. There are a bunch of gas stations with crappy food. There are a couple of small Mexican grocery stores and that is it. Granted, Evans is a suburb of Greeley, which has all your normal food places and grocery stores and you can easily fulfill your needs by going to Greeley. Like most places in America, the people of Evans and Greeley are dependent upon an external system of supply chains for food. But I wonder; is it possible for the town of Evans to become food independent? What about Greeley and Evans, heck, I wonder if it is possible for all of Weld County to become food independent? What would happen if the people of these communities realized the vulnerability of the existing food system and decided to send significant resources and energy towards becoming food independent on a local level? Is it possible for any community, regardless of size, to make food independence a fundamental pillar of the communities existence?

In 2008 I purchased a property that looked like a park, had amazing soil, and a seemingly endless supply of water, with the intention to experiment on the potential to strengthen my overall health by growing a large portion of my own food. My property is basically divided into three sections. A one acre field with rich soil, the park section shaded with trees where my house sits, and another ¼ of an acre field with beautiful soil. A few of my neighbors and I joined forces and by the third year on the property we created ‘Empire Gardens’ and had an operation growing a little over an acre’s worth of vegetables and herbs. From July through October, Friday through Sunday we created a farmers market in the front yard. We did this for two years when unfortunately my neighbors inherited land in Tennessee and split. The energy explosion and the wisdom revealed in those two years was remarkable. We built real community connections as the farmers market became the place to be. Neighbors got to know each other. Powerful discussions about health, food supply chains, what is value, debt slavery and the trajectory of the education system are examples of the depth of topics discussed. People were learning about nutrition, saving seeds, and preserving food. Many people within the community suggested that I run for mayor. I would jokingly always ask, “is it possible to be mayor without running for mayor?”

My buddy Jayson is a seventh grade biology teacher at a middle school in Hastings, Nebraska. Like Evans, Hastings has a population of around 25,000 people. Jayson spent a few days at Empire Gardens one summer during the peak of its operation. That experience and our conversations planted a seed in his mind. He envisioned the power of growing food and providing the opportunity to do so for kids. He went back to Nebraska and spearheaded the creation of the largest school garden in the state of Nebraska. This is where it gets interesting. One year in the late winter I drove out to Hastings to tandem teach with Jayson for an entire week. We hijacked a week of school to work on one project with the kids.

We asked them; Is it possible for the town of Hastings to become food independent? The kids quickly came to realize that the majority of the food they consume does not come from the vicinity of Hastings even though Hastings is surrounded by farmland.

By the end of the week, kids were presenting solutions on how to create and make available more food on a local level. One kid began mapping underutilized open spaces where food could be grown. One kid searched properties for sale to build an interconnected network of food stores that could be conveniently accessed by foot from anywhere in town. Kids realized we need people who can do stuff. We need growers, processors, marketers, lawyers, leaders, programmers, communications, money and so on. The more we contemplated building food independence for Hastings the more gaps kids realized needed to be filled. That became the game, ‘Fill the Gap’, who is interested in filling the gap? What will it take to Fill the Gap?

Kids can be the catalyst to build more harmonious, cohesive and resilient communities through food independence. What if part of the curriculum of growing up was to be a part of building food independence? Imagine if a team of kids presented to a bunch of investors a plan to make the town of Evans food independent? What if a team of kids ran the math equation, found a few ranchers outside of town and developed a method to provide a quarter of a cow to everybody in town? What if a team of kids ran a media operation with the intent to show the current state of food independence within the town by describing what is currently being produced, what gaps exist, can those gaps be filled, what do people want to eat, what should people eat, we have this need/who wants to help? Empire Gardens is simply the process to create food independence on a local level. Food independence is fractal. It begins with the individual and has the power to radiate from family, to neighborhood , to town, to county, to state, to country, to the world. We all know high quality, nutritious and energetic food when we see it. We all know that that kind of food is a fundamental pillar to achieving our best selves. We all know that a direction through food is a way for harmony to restore. What if we as communities utilize the energy of generation next, the wisdom of elders, the infrastructure that already exists and the super lofty goal of food independence on a local level as a mechanism to create a new trajectory for the good, true and beautiful?

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Farming

The Butler Family

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying!

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This article was first printed in our very first issue of The Beartaria Times Magazine, Origins, A Revealing of Legends

Hi! We are the Butlers party of seven. Our family is nestled on 80 acres in the hills of West Virginia. Our homesteading journey began in 2014 when we decided that we would build our current 750 sq ft cabin and sell our 2,500+ sq ft farmhouse. My husband Bobby’s job as a coal miner was undependable and made things difficult.  It took us three years to finish but all the costs were out of pocket. Finally in 2017 it was complete and our farm house sold! We were mortgage free! The first night we stayed in the cabin was surreal! The thoughts of our five homeschooled children getting to make memories on the farm where Bobby grew up made all of the long, hard days of work well worth it! We would get to see our children not just live but thrive on the land.

Our first spring on the farm we purchased our flock of feathered friends. They were and still are a mixed breed of both brown and white egg laying hens with one handsome Red Leghorn Roo. We collect around a dozen eggs a day that go unwashed into egg cartons then into our refrigerator. Eggs contain a coating that is called bloom. The bloom keeps the pores on the eggs covered and reduces the risk of bacteria from entering the eggs. We don’t leave the eggs out on the counter since our eggs are fertilized. You can though! We’ve read that chickens are the gateway animal. That may have some truth behind it!

We had constantly talked of becoming more self-sufficient on the farm. We’ve always had a large garden and canned, but 2021 felt and ended up much different. We experienced some food shortages in our area but God always came through! We were never without! We knew we needed to make changes if we were serious about becoming more self-sufficient. Spring of 2021 we set our goal to jump full in! Meat, dairy, garden, all of it!

A reliable meat source for our family was important.  We are a hunting family, so every fall our shelves and freezer are usually full of venison. That only lasts our family a time and hunting season on deer isn’t year-round. We wanted a meat that would quickly add to our food storage, be timely to manage and wouldn’t take from our pasture. Meat rabbits were our focus. Good friends of ours had already started the rabbit journey and supplied us with three New Zealand doe’s from their farm. To complete our warren of rabbits we purchased a Lilac Silver Fox Buck and a Blue Silver fox doe. Silver Fox rabbits are a dual-purpose breed, raised for their meat and fur. Their fur coloring trait is found in no other breed and resembles the pelts of the silver fox from the Arctic. They are also a heritage breed. We have had three successful litters so far. One of the litters we have already butchered for the freezer and sent their furs to a friend to tan for us. Be on the lookout for some fun fur items to come!

The next add on to our farm that spring was Honey Bees. I mean why not? Who doesn’t love raw honey?! We purchased a package of Italian honey bees from a local bee shop. A package of honey bees includes about 3 pounds of bees and one queen bee. Three pounds of honey bees is estimated to be 10,000 bees. They toss those three pounds of bees into a mesh box and add a boxed queen bee. She has to be left in her separate protective box for several days after placing the bees into their new hive. This gives the colony time to accept her as their new queen. If she was released into the hive without their acceptance the colony would kill her. Honey Bees are so cool! If you ever get the chance to be present during a hive inspection, do it! Those little creatures are so neat to watch!

The first year of beekeeping, honey usually isn’t collected. The goal is to get the colony strong enough to survive the winter with enough honey to feed them during the months when they can’t forage. A month later, after getting our package of bees set up, a friend called about a swarm of bees that had landed in a peach tree of theirs.

We were excited! What an awesome opportunity! We jumped on the chance to catch the swarm and bring them to the farm as our second hive. We closed up both of those hives for the winter a few weeks ago. If everything goes as it should they will be ready to produce honey for us in the spring.

In between getting our farm ready for our rabbits and bees we expanded our garden. It is roughly a quarter of an acre and was jam packed this growing season! Gardening is such a forgiving sustainable option, in my opinion. We not only use ours to grow our fruits and vegetables for the season but we also have several herb beds that we use for medicinal purposes. We started some from seed and purchased some from local nurseries. A small list of some that we have are: Comfrey, Feverfew, Jerusalem Artichoke, Motherwort, Elecampane, Marshmallow, Anise, Hyssop, Arnica, Lovage, Pearly Everlasting, Bee Balm, Catnip, Sweet Annie, Wild Licorice, Goldenseal, Solomon Seal, Wild Ginger and several different mint varieties. We dried a lot of herbs this year for teas. They are such an easy way to boost your immune system or add as treatment to a condition. 

While we have plans of adding a few other creatures to our farm, we feel that our Jersey Cow, Momma, is the staple to our homesteading life. We did a lot of research and searching before finding her. We knew with the size of our pasture that we wanted a medium sized cow but also one that produced a lot of cream to increase the number of food products that we would be able to make from her milk. A Jersey was the perfect fit for our farm. 

In preparation for her arrival all of the old fencing that enclosed her pasture had to be torn out and replaced with new. The old fence was in rough shape and would not keep in a cow. Along with the fencing provisions we didn’t have a barn to milk in. The same friend that gave us a jump start on our rabbits came to help square up and set the posts for our milking barn. We are so grateful for that help! The milking barn is currently under roof and about fifty percent covered with rough cut. That wood was cut from downed trees from our farm on our saw mill.

Momma requires to be milked & fed  twice a day now that her calf, Guapo, is weaned. She is currently giving us about 2 gallons of milk a day. That adds up quickly! We spend lots of time in our kitchen! We make mozzarella cheese, butter, chocolate milk, ricotta, and yogurt several times a week. Just this month we made our first hard cheddar cheese! Hard cheeses have to age from three to twelve months unlike soft cheeses that can be eaten right away. There is something so special about the bond you form with your animals. We spend hours with Momma every day and she has made such great improvements since coming to us. She is expecting and it’s  due to calf this coming June 2022! 

Our homesteading journey into self-sustainability has been so exciting! We won’t sugar coat it and say that it has been easy because that is not a word that we like to use. Farm life, homesteading, or whatever you choose to call it, is hard! If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying! There are so many ups and downs but this way of life is so rewarding! We tell our kids that there is such satisfaction in a hard day’s work! To be able to sit back and look at your accomplishments, how far you’ve come and the amount of priceless knowledge that you gain cannot be matched!

If you would like to read these articles when they are first printed, you can purchase the magazine here: https://magazine.beartariatimes.com/

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