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August Garden Progress

The permaculture garden is one of the most visited places on our farm.  This is not just a place to weed and collect produce.  It really is a destination  – a place to pause, take in the beauty of God’s creation, look for surprises and appreciate His bounty.  I think the garden is missing a bench so that we’ll be able to sit and crochet or visit, or reflect, and learn -because the garden always has something to teach us.

Meduseld Permaculture garden  - August 3, 2013

Meduseld Permaculture garden – August 3, 2013

Here are pictures of the garden now.  We have pulled some of the earlier plants to make room for the new rotation of fall plants.  You’ll see some bare areas where cucumbers and squash have been removed and beets and turnips will be planted (and parsnips, if I can ever remember to order them…)

I love volunteers in the garden – the plants that re-sow themselves.   Every year there are varieties of plants that I do not replant because I know they will take care of it themselves.  This year’s volunteers include dill, arugula, tomatoes, and the best surprise of all, Holy Basil.  I had planted this basil last year and did not remember to buy seeds this year.  Fortunately, I did not have to! 

Holy Basil growing among the Merigolds

Holy Basil growing among the marigolds

Nearby, the garden is showing a thriving plant relationship.  Here you can see broccoli and Basil planted closely and both are doing well with no signs of insect problems. 

Broccoli and Basil - best friends?

Broccoli and Basil – best friends?

Brussel sprouts forming on stem


Cabbages forming good heads.  This one will make excellent sauerkraut.

Cabbages forming good heads. This one will make excellent sauerkraut.

Peppers hidden in the foliage.

We have had some setbacks – the horses and cows were out recently and one of them leaned over the fence and ate most of the corn plants.  And, there are still some weak spots in the garden, signs of recovering from the excess decomposition of  mulch layers as recommended in Gaia’s Garden.  I hope by next spring the last mulch will be fully broken down, making the nutrients available to the plants.  I am still learning and the garden is the best teacher!

Who Owns Rainwater?

There are things that people can take for granted.  Sunlight, air, privacy, freedom, and water.  In the United States, water in most states is a property ownership issue that conveys with the minerals rights of a property.  If you buy a property with minerals, you are usually even taxed on this “asset.”

In some states this asset is broken down separately into water rights.  You can literally sell the water rights of a property.  In Texas, these are commonly leased for raising cattle.  Obviously, this includes the streams that exist due to rainwater.

Increasingly, states are encroaching on people’s’ rights to their own water.  In parts of the county we reside in, the local water agency is gradually forcing people to give us their wells and accept treated public water – at a price of course – establishing for the local government a tidy little monopoly and usurping people’s ability to use an asset on their own property.

In the other version of this states are claiming ownership over rainwater.   How they manage to pass this type of legislation with a straight face is beyond me, but it is very real.  Please read the following two articles that show real cases and the consequences.  As you read these, please remember that water-run off issues have become a major government battle ground.  For-example, due to the Chesapeake Bay Act, any construction with soil disturbance must have barriers to hold the water and prevent it from running too quickly and eroding creeks and water ways.  Governments claim that it is necessary to slow the water in order to prevent flash-flooding.   In the Oregon article that follows, they are playing the issue both ways.  

Oregon Rainwater Article

States with Rainwater Restrictions


If Austria adopted Oregon's extremist position, Sepp Holzers rainwater ponds for his permaculture estate would become illegal.

If Austria adopted Oregon’s extremist position, Sepp Holzers rainwater ponds for his permaculture estate would become illegal.


Meduseld Having Open House!

We are excited to announce that Meduseld will be having an open house on July 27, 2013, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm!

We have had several calls and emails asking to visit our farm, and thought we’d go ahead and make it an official day.

You will  be able to:

  • See the conservatory,
  • See the assorted animals, sheep, horses, cows, alpaca, geese, peafowl, etc.
  • Tour the gardens and hoop houses (tunnel houses)
  • See the ponds, walk in the vineyard, deer damage and all :(
  • Bring a picnic and hang out. 
  • Pick fresh peaches.

Please make the trip to see us.  We would be delighted to show you around.  This event is invitation only.  Please RSVP!  Directions are available by emailing

See you then!



Permaculture Garden Progress and Projects

It’s so fun to see progress in the garden.  Last month, I posted a photograph of our permaculture garden. 

That was then:


This is now:

june permie garden


It is amazing to compare and see how the garden has taken off in the last month.  We have enjoyed its bounty already, having harvested lettuce, cilantro, broccoli, onions, basil, and a few fava beans.  I also harvested an abundance of rose petals for the rose petal jelly.  Very soon we will have green beans, tomatoes, Napa cabbage, cucumbers  and peppers. 

Here is the progress of the hoop houses.  In the first we have established herbs that we harvest throughout the four seasons: lemon thyme, rosemary, sage, mint and oregano.  In their protected enclosure these herbs are available even in the coldest months of the year.  In this hoop house we have pole beans growing on the rear right side and cucumbers on the rear left.  On the front right you can see a raised bed that has been planted with melons that have yet to emerge, and on the left, you can see one of our son’s small garden which provides quite a bit of food for such a small space.  We have already had turnips, chard and beets from his small patch.

herb hoop house


In both hoop houses I have planted assorted gladioli bulbs.  I love having cut flowers in the house and these are some of my favorites.  The down side is that in this 6b agricultural zone, they would have to be dug up each fall and replanted.  By growing them in the hoop houses, I don’t have to dig them up and still can enjoy their flowers.  The other nice thing is that while we had chickens in the hoop house for seven weeks, they did not touch or eat the gladioli.  You can see them standing in the rear of this otherwise empty hoop house.

empty hoop house

It is almost ready for planting.  The wheelbarrow on the right contains more compost to be worked into the soil.  The days have been so hot lately that doing manual labor in here was impossible.   The heat-loving plants such as cucumbers and melons have already been started in the conservatory, though, and are ready to move into their new home.

Finally, here is the row garden.  It is nearly 100 feet long and has three rows of black plastic with drip irrigation underneath.  Compost was incorporated into the soil as the rows were prepared, and you can see that the plants are thriving.  The row on the left was planted in only the last two weeks, while the rows on the right are just over a month old.  We have already harvested an assortment of summer squash and zucchini and have our eyes on some fine clusters of tomatoes that should be on the menu soon. 

june row garden


If you look at the posts surrounding the garden, you can just make out bird houses.  Some of these birdhouses are currently inhabited by Eastern Blue birds.  When we approach the garden, pairs of these little birds fly out of the garden where they have been searching for insects.  We can enjoy their help because we don’t use hazardous sprays on the plants.  It is an example of finding systems that complement instead of destroying.  As Eliot Coleman said:

     “We live in a world that has practiced violence for generations – violence to other creatures, violence to the planet, violence to ourselves.  Yet in our garden, where we nurtured a healthy soil-plant community, we see a model of a highly successful, non-violent system where we participate in gentle biological diplomacy rather than war.  The garden has more to teach us than just how to  grow food.”

While Eliot does not include animals in his statement above, in practice both he and we include them in our systems.  He describes his ducks that help weed his gardens.  Here at Meduseld, we include all our livestock, the pigs, sheep, etc., as well as chickens and birds in the cycles of farm production.

Video on GMO Debate

Jeremy Irons narrates this Seeds of Freedom Documentary regarding the GMO seed debate.  While most people consider the nutritional and potentially toxic effects of GMO use, this video points out that this is also about the freedom of small farmers world-wide to be independent, to not have to rely on purchasing seeds every year to feed themselves and their communities.   The control of seeds and the food supply is a political issue.  Vandana Shiva is interviewed as are members of British parliament and their government, and many more.

Seeds of Freedom Documentary


Someone I knew told me years ago about growing up in rural Europe.  He said that there a person’s wealth was measured by the barnyard manure pile.  I admit I never really understood the remark until recently.

Compost Pile - Does this Mean We're Rich?

Compost Pile – Does This Mean We’re Rich?

Growing up, we seldom had a garden, so this has been an acquired skill.  I have diligently followed expert gardeners’ advice with mixed results.  The assumption was always that if you planted seeds in the dirt, weeded and took care of them, you’d have plants.  These guides left out an extremely important element though, an element whose absence meant using fertilizers and pesticides; that element is composted manure.

We have been gardening “organically” for years, and transitioning to permaculture methods.  Recently, we have worked diligently to improve our soil, remembering that it is not just dirt, but home to innumerable living organisms that help the plants to live and assimilate nutrients.   In our garden trials, we often use different methods to see which are the most beneficial.  Our tests so far show an unquestionable advantage for the use of composted manure.

In this picture, I have combined two photographs of cucumbers.  Both were planted in seed trays at the same time, and transferred into the garden the same day.  The top one went into the soil created by mulch layers as recommended by Toby Hemminway in his book, Gaia’s Garden.  The bottom one, was planted into an area where we placed almost 6 inches of composted manure in order to raise the angle of the bed.  While the two plants are only feet apart, the difference is staggering.  The top plant is stunted and will most likely never produce anything, a problem that I had throughout much of my garden last year.  The area with manure, though, has produced a superabundance and you can see a salad cucumber growing under the shade of its leaves.


Our success was not limited to the cucumbers.  Here you can see beets that are healthy, vibrant green and have almost no insect damage. 

compost beets


What Eliot Coleman pointed out in his book, The Four Season Harvest, has been confirmed in our own garden.  If the soil is providing adequate nutrition, the plants will be healthy and insects will not bother them.  Compost is providing the ideal environment, making even organic pesticides unnecessary.  In areas without the compost, with only the layers of hay and mulch, the nutrition is lacking, forcing us to come up with methods to help our suffering plants along.

Gene Logsdon shows  in his irreverently title book Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind that intelligent use of animal and even human waste can contribute toward improving agriculture with a resource that is literally put in the sewer.  While I don’t agree with all his conclusions, it is a thought provoking book, and may contribute to opening people’s’ minds regarding the cycles of life.

Ad nauseum I read and hear that mankind must become vegetarian in order to “save the planet.”  Dire predictions state that eating meat is wasteful and bad for the environment.  What our garden, and others like Eliot Coleman’s have shown is that the vegetarian assertion is a grave error.  WITHOUT the animals, plant  production suffers.  It is only by combining the plant and animal resources of a farm that we can create a perpetual, healthful balance. 

It is not difficult to compost animal manure.  One of the most important steps is to turn the pile frequently.  You can see that our pile (this is just one of them) is not contained so that our small tractor can turn it from each side.  The pile above has already broken down a great deal.  By next spring it will be ready to place in the gardens without burning the plants. 

There are many free videos on creating compost, and don’t forget to check with your local farmers who may be glad to share the bounty :)

Permaculture and Meals at Meduseld

Back in April, I wrote an article about how to use permaculture to provide nutritious food and minimize our work.  In my article I talked about the chickens that I would be getting to clean our hoop house.

Well, I am glad to show you the results of our endeavor. 

This weekend, we butchered the broilers at about seven weeks of age.  They weighed in at approximately 6 pounds each, having spent their time eating out the hoop house, cleaning it of insects, weed seeds, and supplemented with organic GMO free feed.  Here you can see the job they have done cleaning.

broiler job in hoop house

I’ll admit this is not one of the prettiest pictures I have posted on this blog, but it does speak volumes.    We can see the remains of a beet root.  The chickens have entirely cleared it of all of its greens, and it is the only one remaining from a row of them.  Clearly the chickens like beets.  They have also cleared all the chard and kale, and have left a few insignificant weeds.  Their pecking has brought stones to the surface, where they can be easily raked away.   While you can see an occasional feather, there is little evidence of manure, which shows that the chickens were not overcrowded.  All these signs are good.

In the next weeks I will post our changes to the hoop house.  We were going to sow summer crops in it, but have decided to relocate this hoop house to another location and plant this one with black plastic and irrigation tubing.  We are doing this on another section of the farm and the growth rate for the plants exceeds the rate for any other garden or hoop house on the property.

Back to the broilers, here is a photo of a freshly plucked bird.  It is well filled out and healthy looking.  Since these chickens had access to so much space, they did not have the weakened leg issues that can contribute to problems on the bottom of their feet or on their chests.

raw broiler

I completed butchering this chicken and tucked fresh herbs under its skin and in the cavity.  The herbs used were lemon thyme and rosemary.  The skin was sprinkled with sea salt and pepper.  Off to the smoker for 6 hours of slow smoking, periodically pouring red wine over it.   And here it is in it finished glory!  Yum!

smoked broiler

 The rest of the birds were vacuum packed and put into the deep freeze.   We will be able to enjoy smoked and barbecued chicken, broth and soups throughout the summer.

Plea to Farmers

I went to high school in the beautiful state of Iowa.  From the meandering Mississippi to the fields of wheat and corn that stretched beyond sight, it was also inhabited by some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.   I remember in the fall students returning to school  as brown as nuts.  These students had spent the summer detassling corn, a process where the tassle is removed to prevent pollination.  Thousands of Iowan acres were detassled by hand and the students were glad for the income. 

The detassling was done for hybridizing corn.  The tassles of most corn are removed while the pollinator rows are left intact.  This creates the hybridized, higher yielding corn.

Fast forward to present day.   Instead of relying solely on the genes present in the corn, corporations have inserted genes for certain traits into the plants and we call them genetically modified organism, or GMOs.

Over and over I read and hear proponents of GMO’s stating that with population growth GMO’s are necessary to feed the world.  While I disagree with the logic of a statement that says  “the undesirable should be accepted in lieu of something worse,” I am going to give the first statement the benefit of the doubt and test it, and see if it stands up to logic.

A casual glance at the research shows that forty percent (MSN Statistics)  of U.S. corn is used to make ethanol.   So 40 % of each years’ crop isn’t feeding anyone.  People are dying of starvation all over this planet, and here we literally burn food to fuel our cars.   When almost half of the corn produced is literally burnt, the feeding the world argument falls apart.

BTW, Ethanol is very hard on automobile engines that were not created to handle it.  It burns at a higher temperature, decreases fuel efficiency, and destroys the plastic fuel intakes on fuel pumps – very expensive indeed.  And even the EPA admits that it is worse for the environment than its gasoline counterpart.   Despite this, evidently the EPA has signed off on increasing the blend allowed from 10% to 15%.  Google what this will do to your engines.   It’s especially frightening when you consider examples from mechanics that gas companies are already sneaking in higher levels of ethanol.  Here’s what Consumer Reports says about the matter.

So, the single biggest argument for using GM crops falls short.  Here are the ones against its use, and they are substantial. I ask readers, especially those who farm with GM crops to please consider:

  • GM corn has been proven to cause cancer in rats and mice at levels that are allowed in drinking water. 


  • GM crops treated with glyphosphate cause disease, from diabetes to obesity to heart conditions.  This may sound like a stretch, until you see the explanation of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, MIT researcher.  Monsanto claims glyphosphate, the active ingredient in Roundup (c)  is harmless to humans since it affects the Shikimate pathway of plants.  Since human cells do not have this pathway, they claim it is harmless.  As Dr. Seneff points out, however, the human gut bacteria outnumber our human cells in our bodies 10 to 1.  It is estimated that each human carries 10 billion bacteria cells, each of which DOES have the Shikimate pathway.  When our intestinal balance is destroyed, Seneff shows that other health problems emerge. 


  • GM crops creates monopolies.  Imagine all the worlds major crop seeds in the hands of a few corporations.  Nuf said.


  • GM crops are weakening U.S. exports.  Recently, India announced that it would be buying GM free soy beans from Brazil.  Personally, I love Brazil, but I am sad that crops that used to be the strength of this nation are being lost.  I was born in Decatur, IL while it was crowned “the Soybean Capital of the World,” and it is about to lose that crown, if it hasn’t already.   I remember as a little girl driving over a large bridge that went through Decatur past the Staley’s plant.  We called it Staley’s bridge, because the smell of the soy processing was so overpowering we had to warn each other to plug our noses.   Well, many countries don’t want our GM products, including Japan who just cancelled a large wheat order when the story emerged last week of rouge GM wheat found in an Oregon field, as described here by The Wall Street Journal.  Korea and Taiwan and considering their U.S. imports as well.

wake up gm


 This is a nation built of hard workers.  People who took great risks, leaving foreign lands and families to build a better place.  Farmers in this country are the embodiment of the virtues that built this nation – hard-working and self-sacrificing.  It is such a shame to watch their international markets shrivel.  Now more than ever it is important to look at why other countries have banned GM products and to turn the tide before all confidence is lost internationally in our ability to produce safe, delicious and nutritious food.  This country was the bread basket of the world.   Please think about it!


Stowell's Evergreen Open Pollinated Growing in Meduseld Garden

Stowell’s Evergreen Open Pollinated Growing in Meduseld Garden




Disappearing Bees

Dr. Mercola covers the problem of colony collaspe disorder (CCD) and its impact on the almond industry in California this spring.  In his thought-provoking article, he reminds people about the necessity of bees in the world’s food supply and draws attention to the dire consequences if we do not find ways to protect the bees.  Please take a moment to read Dr. Mercola’s article.

Honey bee on Hady Almond at Meduseld

Honey bee on Hardy Almond at Meduseld

Meals at Meduseld – Rose Petal Jelly

Rose Angel in Garden

Angel enjoying the shade of David Austin Rose “William Shakespeare.”

While there is so much work to do, the distractions of the garden are so tempting.  Only a few weeks ago, most of the landscape was starting to green up, and now the roses have exploded in bursts of color and fragrance.

Many of the roses here are David Austin Roses that I have selected for their old world appearance and fragrance, especially next to the front porch where we can enjoy their decadent scent.  A small Carolina Wren couple has made a nest in the tree rose and the babies are almost ready to fledge.  It’s easy to forget trials in so much beauty.  What work?



Since we do not use pesticides on our roses, they are available to eat as well.  A few petals are so lovely and delicious tossed into a salad.  Today, however, I am going to demonstrate how to make Rose Petal Jelly.

Using a  large stainless bowl, gather petals from your pesticide-free garden.  I don’t recommend using sprayed petals.  Here I picked an assortment from the garden, filling the 13 inch bowl.


If you’d like the deep red color to you jelly, concentrate on getting fuchsia, red and burgundy roses.   Our white roses are the most fragrant and so I add lots of those for flavor.

Rinse rose petals in a sieve and place them in a large pot.  Fill the pot with water to cover.  I have used approximately 13-14 cups.   Bring these to a boil stirring often since the roses petals will want to float at the surface at first.  Boil until they have lost their bright hue and most of the color and scent has transferred to the water – approximately 10-15 minutes.   The darker petals will give up most of their color, appearing pale like this below.


I have decided I’d like a darker color so I added more dark petals after this photo, bring the water back to a boil to extract their color.

Add the juice of two lemons.  You will notice the juice livens up the color of the water, brightening it.  The acid from the lemons will be necessary for the pectin to work.

Pour the petals and water through a jelly bag strainer.  For convenience, I am placing one in my Amazon store, along with some other items you may need for canning such as my favorite Italian and German canning jars. 

rose jelly bag

Now, measure your liquid back into a pot.  For every cup of liquid, I will use one cup of sugar.  Sounds like a lot, but its standard.  This is one of the few times I use refined white sugar, since it won’t change the color of the jelly.    Bring the rose liquid and sugar to a solid rolling boil.  I will hold it here until it reaches 216-217 on a jelly thermometer.

Here, I add pectin according to the instructions on the pectin, which I bought bulk from the local Amish store.  Please read the instructions on your box, because some differ.  In my case it calls for approximately 3 tablespoons per 3 3/4 cup liquid.    I bring the mix back to a rolling boil for just over a minute, until I can discern the change in texture on my stainless spoon.  When it is ready, it will start becoming solid on the spoon. 

Ladle into sterilized jars.  Seal according to instructions of the canning jar/lid combination you are using.  Process for five minutes in a boiling water bath, and let them cool on your counter.   Enjoy its beautiful color and delicate flavor on toast, English muffins or scones. 

rose jelly done