Archive | March, 2013


I have written about how we use the principles of permaculture in running our farm, and thought it might be good to elaborate on it.  It is a relatively new concept, considering its brief period in the long history of agriculture, from the fertile crescent to the present.  Many people I talk with do not know what permaculture is, but fortunately there is growing interest. – there is even a permaculture group on Ravelry :)

Permaculture is a process of getting the different facets of gardening and agriculture to work in unison so that they support each other and enhance the health and outcomes for each system.  Those systems are gardening or food production, livestock, and aquaculture.  Permaculture takes organic gardening to its next step and encourages making decisions based on how to permit each system to function best rather than forcing that system into a situation it would not thrive in.  The greatest example of forcing a system is big agriculture, which grows only one crop in an year under circumstances that compell the farmer to use pesticides and herbicides.  This is “monoculture.”  In monoculture, two, or perhaps three crops migh be rotated in order to try to dimish insects, but overall, the system relies on chemicals and depletes the soil.

In organic gardening emphasis is placed on using organic methods to reduce unwanted insects and to protect beneficial insects such as honey bees.  Organic gardening encourages the improvement of the soil through composting, frequent crop rotation, and avoidance of chemical fertilizers.  It still uses monoculture although under a smaller scale, and due to the better soil structure, the plants tend to be healthier and less prone to insects. 

Organic Garden

Organic Garden

Now take this to its next level.  Permaculture encourages not only crop rotation, but animal rotations as well.  For example, by rotating chickens in an area of the garden, they can clean weeds, remove insects and fertilize.   Instead of being forced to live and scavage off the same area, the chickens can be moved around frequently, do their work to improve the soil while benefitting from the system at the same time.  This, is permaculture.

Permaculture - same garden.  Compare tree trunks in background with photo above.

Permaculture – same garden. Compare tree trunks in background with photo above.

It extends to all the aspects of raising food.   Trees, animals, plants and humans all are encouraged in their respective roles in order to improve the overall health of each.  Trees can provide wind breaks and create microclimates for raising more varieties of plants.  The plants can be chosen by the different nutrients that they tend to “fix” in the soil.  Most of the us have heard about beans and legumes such as clover being capable of nitrogen fixing.   Diverse plants can fix all sorts of minerals into the soil. 

You can also use plants to aerate the soil.  We recently had to large black pigs, heirloom type pigs that will forage and produce a healthy, non-GMO meat.  We rotated them through our front pastures, and in one of them they entirely rooted up most of the turf.  Instead of seeing this as a problem, we encouraged it.  They removed most of the grubs without us having to resort to other methods, and by rooting up the surface, we were able to overseed this pasture with better diverse grasses, forbes, and even turnips.  Yes, turnips.  We deliberately sowed in thousands of turnip seeds.  As the sheep and cattle graze they will pull this up by the roots, and we will have succeeded in aerating the soil, effortlessly.  The sheep will benefit from more diverse feed.

Even placing large rocks in the garden can have their purpose.  Mine serve as hose guides, but they also radiate heat to nearby plants at night encouraging their growth.  Sepp Holtzer, one of the permaculture greats, noticed this while very young and deliberately started putting rocks next to his strawberry plants.  Sepp has been using permaculture methods since before it was even called by that name.   Permaculture also makes use of  microclimates around buildings.  Despite being in Ag Zone 6, we are able to grow a very large and productive fig tree on the south side of our house. 

Another method of holding heat in an area is through ponds and other water sources.  Sepp found that water retains more heat than air and that this also benefits the plants.   He is able to grow food for hundreds of people, despite being 1,500 meters above sea level.  No that’s not a typo.  I have added his book to my Amazon store on the right side.  This book also has information on nutrient fixing, plants that can help you identify the existing state of your soil, and advice for reclaiming damaged land.

There are some permaculture “experts” to watch out for.  Some of the groups have as part of their criteria penalizing  people who do not change their mindset or actions, and this is a slippery slope as far as I am concerned.   It’s one thing to encourage people, to educate, but it’s quite another for one group to take a one size fits all approach to life.  Another thing to watch out for are those whose enthusiasm is wholehearted but their recommendations are not.  Our garden suffered a great deal from the faulty recommendations of Toby Hemingway, and now having gone through Eliot Coleman’s books as well as Sepp Holtzer’s, I can see the mistakes that were made. 

For example, Toby recommends multiple layers of mulching and planting in these layers, while Sepp shows how to bury a tree and other composting materials into a berm and cover this with soil, scattering the seeds into the soil.  This difference is huge in its impact.  Toby’s method of planting small plants or seeds on mulch that has not composted means that no nutrients are available to the plant.  The multiple layers prevent aeration of the soil, and finally, as the mulch composts at the top layer, it gives off too much heat, overheating the little plants.  Whereas Sepp’s method plants the seed directly in established soil that can nourish it.  The composting layers beneath provide nutrients to the plants when the plants roots grow long enough to reach that layer.  And the warmth of the composting materials is deep in the soil where it encourages growth instead of overheating the plant at the surface.  These berms also make harvesting very easy – you don’t even have to lean over :)

I also learned last year that the garden will have to be kept more organized.  If you google permaculture pictures, you’ll find that most look disheveled like ours above.  (You’ll also find alot of “conceptual” drawings – lots of people talk about permaculture conceptually, but have little experience in practice.  If you open a permaculture guide and its mostly drawings, move to the next one.)  I find that the sloppyness leads to being unable to find all your vegetables as they ripen, or deal with weeds and insects from all sides. 

The main book on Permaculture is by Bill Mollison, Permaculture a Designer’s Manual, and I was fortunate to be able to borrow a copy since it is out of my budget.  I have placed it in the Amazon store as well, and it is worth the $100.00 price tag for what it will pay back to you in productivity and saved time.  Quite frankly, it is brilliant work.

Raising Healthy Sheep – Care and Worming




When raising healthy sheep, the goal is to feed only the sheep and not a batch of nasty moochers looking to literally suck the life and nutrition out of the animals.  These little moochers are the parasites that are a very real part of life on virtually every farm.  Sheep are prone to them, and unfortunately, many parasites have developed resistance to many of the wormers that were once very effective.

These wormers also have another downside  – derived from chemicals, these pesticides are not exactly what we want to give to our darling pets, nor is it something you want to consume if you raise some of the sheep for the table, as we do.   The lables on these commercial wormers provide withdrawl times before you can eat the animal, but we all know that toxins tend to acumulate in the fatty tissue, and how much is really cleansed out of the system? 

For years, we had no parasite problems at all.  We were able to use diatomaceous earth as our sole wormer and fecal counts from the vet came back with no parasites.  Then we brought in a few sheep, and despite worming them upon their arrival, they obviously had a strain of parasite that was resistant to the wormer.  Failure to thrive started appearing, which caused us to look at the flock and our program in a new light. 

Research showed that natural iodine, such as Thorvine Kelp,  added to the diet would help the sheep to fight parasites naturally, but when faced with a persistant problem, it is only a bandage.   We also tried making fresh garlic juice and drenching the sheep, which we had read is also effective.  This was funny during administration time.  We used this with some lambs we were setting aside for butchering, and felt like we were seasoning them ahead of time…

Thank God for my friend Esther.  She is another local farmer raising animals, mostly chickens, but with years of experience raising cattle and other animals.  She is also a superiour gardener and it is always so interesting to talk with her – I always learn something.  Yesterday, I learned something from her yet again, about her system of parasite control.  Having had a resistant problem in her flock, and not willing to use toxins to solve it, she searched for a solution and found Olive Leaf  (olea europaea).  She was able to mix this into her chickens “mash” and within a short period of time her chickens are laying better and the size of the eggs has jumped to jumbo.

Googling Olive Leaf, shows that it has been used for health benefits for both humans and animals – all sorts of them.  According to the articles, horses, cattle, sheep, all can benefit from properties within this bountiful plant, and we have decided to give this a try for the next several months and see what benefits our sheep can derive.  I intend to update this post, and during the worst parasite month – typically July, I will get some fecal counts from our veterinarian. 

Esther also recommended a tincture from Mountain Meadow Herbs called Para-Rid that in addition to having olive leaf, also has wormwood and black walnut hull extract.  Mountain Meadow Herbs has a sale running until tomorrow, and I may explore trying some of this with a few of my sheep.   I will update this post with more information as our experiment unfolds.

Climate Commentary and New Lambs

It may be best to provide the good news first and leave my cranky observations about weather to those who can stomach it :)

Our little darling, Buttercup gave birth this morning to two darling lambs, both snow white.  This is an interesting cross in breeds, as Buttercup is part Jacob and part Shetland, although she has none of the Jacob spotting.  The ram was Max, our purebred Friesian who has such a nice fleece.  It will be interesting to watch how the fleeces on the two newest develop.  Way to go, Buttercup!  You’re a good mother!  If anyone has ideas about names for them, one boy and one girl, please leave a note in comments.



It was so cold visiting Buttercup and her babies that I had to duck into the Conservatory to warm up.  Our little seedlings are progressing nicely, the Broccoli Raab and Kasumi Cabbage (yum, Kimchi) doing the best so far.  It was also nice to see that one of the avocado trees is in bloom, finally!


OK, If you are a firm believer that the planet is on the verge of climactic doom, you may want to skip the following.  Don’t get me wrong, I care about our surroundings as a steward.  Whether we believe in climate warming, climate change, or Climate Gate, we can agree that being responsible and leaving things in even better condition that we found them, if possible, is a mutual goal.   I don’t believe in planetary worship, setting planet Earth on some sort of pedestal with annual homage, but I do belive that God asks us to care for the things that He has provided.

My dissent with the climate warming advocates is that their dire predictions are not bearing out with reality in our own backyard.  Or actually in lots of places.  It is mid-March, and we can see snow in Europe delaying flights, and arctic blasts sweeping across this nation.  This morning was 25 degrees and the frozen ground is covered with a dusting of snow.   A look at the five-day forecast reveals predictions of highs in the forties for several of the next days, dropping to a high of 39 for Monday.

This is not normal, folks.  Please take a moment to look at the chart below provided by  This is for Charles Town, WV a good bit north of us here.  Please note on it that the average daily high for mid-March is 55.

Average climate in Charles Town, West Virginia

Based on data reported by over 4,000 weather stations

Charles Town, West Virginia average temperatures reported just this week that camel-like animals lived in the arctic  and admitted that the planet may have been much warmer than today.  If that is the case, life on earth obviously survived or I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it.  Most people are also familiar with the Medieval Warming Period.  I have read some climate change alarmists make statements that “this was confined to Europe” although in the absence of any evidence about what went on in the rest of the world, I don’t know how they can make this statement.

Just as the sun goes through its cycles, I believe the Earth does as well.  These days it feels like we are getting colder.

Meduseld Romney – Two New Yarns

We are excited to add two new sport weight yarns to our store, both made of 100 percent Romney wool.  They are both subtle blends of dyed wools and we are calling their colors Monet Winter Sunset and Monet Reflection.

Romney Yarn

Romney Yarn


Monet Winter Sunset is a blend of reds with hints of leaf green and gold subtley intertwined in the Romney wool sheen.  Monet Reflection appears purple or lilac at first to the eye, but actually contains no purple fibers.  It is a blend of reds and blues creating a tweeding effect that changes colors in different light, almost like a color-change sapphire.  You can see these blends in the photos.

I have made some swatches of each.  Sunset was knit with #3 (U.S.) knitting needles.  Reflection was crocheted with an “F” crochet hook.

monetsunsetknit monetreflectioncrochet









Both compliment each other well.  Inspired by a sweater I have always liked in Rowan Magazine Number 50, I started knitting the two together in the rose pattern. 

Monet Rowan

This is is as far as I have gotten, and the colors compliment each other nicely.




Each sport weight skein weighs just over 3.2  oz and is 200 yards long.  They can be purchased for $15.00 each in Meduseld’s store.

Meduseld Romney Yarn

Meduseld Romney Yarn

Wattle Fence, Crocheted Vest, and Village Green Network

Several things to discuss today.

You may remember the first wattle fence article with input from the Frontier Culture Museum.  At the time, I advanced the theory with my husband that the wattles would create a cooler area on one side and a microclimate of warmth on the other.  Well, I can’t confirm my entire theory yet, since we have yet to finish the fence :)  Lack of cooperation with the weather I say, but none-the-less, we have been working on raising the other side.  I know there are lots of global warming alarmists who insist the planet is getting warmer, but we had snow in October and snow in March, which makes 6 months of snow, and I thought winter was generally three months longs, plus or minus, but I digress….

So, despite all the gaps between the branches, and all the sun that it still permits to go through, the snow last week confirmed part of my theory.



We had highs in the fifties both Saturday and Sunday and experienced almost a full melt of the snow.  Almost!  Here is the one portion of the garden where the wattle is complete.  I know where my spinach and lettuce are going this year :)

Second, I finished a fun little project, something I had wanted to try lately, one of the little jackets or vest crocheted in the round.  This was made in a size small out of 100 percent mercerised cotton from Greece.  It has a lovely sheen and a ribbon-like feel.   The vest is available in the Meduseld Store.




Spring Planting

While we still have snow on the ground from the late snow on March 6, today we are hauling out our seed box and starting flats of seeds for this year’s garden.

Even for an experienced gardener, each year contains a little trial and error.  Sometimes a lot, like last year.  I tried some new gardening methods from a book called Gaia’s Garden (no link, I don’t recommend it) and we ended up with some setbacks in the garden.  Maybe that’s an understatement.  The book recommended multiple layers of mulch, from straw, to compost, cardboard and finally shredded mulch.  So we can all agree that weeds were not a big problem.  However, all those layers of mulch breaking down made the conditions too acidic for the plants, and most had failure to thrive.  The plants that managed to grow became insect candy.  Now, since we’ve been growing organic for many years, we are used to a certain level of insects, but this is ridiculous!  One thing that grew well in this soil was turnips.  After figuring out that even the children will eat turnips if you use enough Romano cheese, it ended up being a beneficial crop. 

The book I mentioned advocated permaculture gardening, a method I strongly endorse in general.  This method encourages the cycles of plants and animals and humans in such a way that each benefits the other and creates a system where each sustains each other.  Monoculture – planting only one variety of plant in an area – is discouraged for requiring extra fertilizer and making it very easy for insects to take over a crop.  Permaculture encourages planting diverse things in an area so that insects have a more difficult time finding the type of plant it feasts on.  The diverse plants each have different nutrient fixing properties (like beans with nitrogen) and the plants can improve the soil instead of depleting it.  Permaculture also advocates the creation of microclimates that help each plant to thrive.  For example, placing a stone next to a delicate plant will give it additional heat at night and help it grow.  We are able to keep a large fig tree by planting it on the south side of the house – a microclimate.  I find that Sepp Holtzer has wonderful advice since he’s been planting this way since before it was called permaculture.

The areas of the garden where I ran out of all these mulching materials did much better and here are some of the gorgeous vegetables we were able to grow last year.  All pictures below are from our garden and not stock photos:)


This year the mulched areas have had time to break down further over the winter and I am hopeful that this will yield ideal growing conditions.  We’ll do some soil amendments recommended by Eliot Coleman in Four Season Harvest (a book I highly recommend!) and keep our fingers crossed for a good growing season.

So, with my husband next to me talking about scranlettin tipcklepenny corner (can anyone guess the source?) lets start planting!  The best seeds and value are from  We can’t say enough about this company, and this blog links to them on the right column as well as from our farm website.  They import most of their seeds from Europe which is a benefit since Europe has so consistently banned GMO crops.  That means we don’t have to worry about cross-pollination with undesirables.  The quantity of seeds that you receive for the money is outstanding.  I frequently make comparisons with the other seed catalogs we receive, that will usually have 50-100 cabbage seeds in a packet.  For the same amount of money, the Gourmet Seed packets will usually have about a thousand.  I could not make this up – start comparing some seed websites for your self!

First, the easy ones that can go directly in the garden right now.  As soon as the melting snow reveals the black earth, we can start planting the hardiest varieties such as fava beans and peas.  Fava beans are delicious, and are much better known in Europe than they are here.  They are a wonderful way to put early vegetables on the table.  The peas are hardy and a favorite with our family, and need to go in now.  If planted too late, the hot summers here will stunt them. 

We will start the seed trays in the conservatory, although we could do them in the hoop houses as well.  The temperature in the conservatory is much higher though, and the seeds will germinate more quickly.  The conservatory is also much more humid and the seeds are less likely to dry out.  You can start seeds successfully in a sunny window – morning sun is best.

Eliot Coleman has his own recipe for making soil blocks, but we do not use those.  We have an abundance of seed trays we were given, and we recycle those each year.   For this operation we do use the organic seed starter mix which seems to prevent damping off – the early death of a seedling from some unknown cause, most likely bacterial or fungal.   We will start with hardier varieties of plants, Brassica family plants like cabbages and broccoli, lettuces and spinach.  In a few weeks we will start the tender vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. 

Here are the seed trays that we have planted today – five trays with 72 cells each should make a good start for the garden in a few weeks.  The seeds used are radiccio, lettuces, chard, cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts and more. 



It was heavenly to plant the seeds only feet away from fragrant orange blossoms. 


orange blossoms


We also had another baby lamb and we are pleased to introduce Comet, in honor of Comet PanStarrs.  Here she is in her little black dress.  Her fleece is stunning and will make beautiful naturally colored yarn.

Comet - Freisian/Jacob Cross Ewe

Well, we need to go drain the well.  One of the neighbors is missing…

Meals at Meduseld – Bruschetta

Yesterday afternoon we were chatting on the phone with our Uncle Dick.  Uncle Dick always has sage advice, and his advice yesterday was to go do something fun.  On the spot, we decided to make some Bruschetta and have a glass of red wine.  So, this recipe is in your honor, Uncle Dick!


This is easy to make and so much fun to eat.  It also makes terrific Lent food, if you are looking for meat-free recipes.


Bread – we used our basic bread recipe but switched some spelt flour with the white and made baguettes

olive oil or cooking grease of your choice

4 large tomatoes – diced finely

2 heaping tablespoons pesto

medium onion – diced finely

cilantro – chopped

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

parmesian or romano cheese – grated

salt and pepper to taste

Slice the bread thinly and toast in a skillet with olive oil or fat of your choice.  We used lard and our wrought iron skillet.  Toast both sides until golden-brown.

Toasting Bread


Combine all the remaining ingredients except for the grated cheese.  We made the pesto here with basil we grew last year and it keeps very well in the freezer.  Our pesto contains garlic, so it’s not listed as a separate ingredient. 

The cilantro is still growing fresh in our hoophouses, where it has withstood 11 degree (f) nights, and still managed to grow a bit.  We keep all sorts of herbs in one of the hoop houses and its such a pleasure to pluck fresh rosemary and thyme in the middle of winter.

Bruschetta Topping

Spread this heavenly topping on each piece of bread, top with grated cheese and serve!  We never have left-overs.