Mission: The creation of an integrated Permaculture growing space that facilitates a multitude of yields over time leveraging our splendid sandy loam soil and past developments.
Honestly, I don’t know what to call it because it’s so many things; A Permaculture Garden, Food Forest, Orchard Garden, Alley cropping orchard, Agroforestry lines, Forest Garden extraordinaire. The space is comprised of hedges and food forests previously planted (starting 2018) flanking agroforestry orchard lines planted food forest style of many layers (2021/22 planting). These orchard lines are planted 25 to 27ft apart with 20 to 22 ft wide cells (alleys) between for alley cropping. The alleys are filled with beds of nursery propagations, vegetables, flowers, chicken or duck tractors, weeds, and sometimes burnt field. It is a massive work in progress.
Here is how it started. For some unknown reason, some think it was from a meteorite, this field perched above the backwaters of the Ohio river is full of the sandy loam Petersburg is known for. Its quality is dreamy and was used for farming on and off I am sure for millennia. In more recent times, it was farmed for tobacco in the 50’s-70’s like so much land here in Kentucky. It really had no agricultural use until I burned the field in 2012 and planted an orchard with trees I received as payment for teaching in SE Ohio that winter. But life took me back to Europe and with no cages, not enough care and protection, that failed eventually. Some survived enough to the point when Annie Woods started Dark Wood Farm in 2017 here, she had to uproot a couple of struggling or most likely just rootstock by then. She then created 50 ft long beds in the field which those quadrants, 4 sections of 50 ft long beds that were about 150 to 250 ft wide. She grew a successful market garden here for years allowing me to observe it under the eye of production. I learned a lot from Annie and grateful for the time she had here, the garden development, and the improved soil she left behind.
This continued through 2020 and eventually she found a farm of her own an hour away. This left the field to begin the process of succession in early 2021. Some vegetables were left in the field from fall 2020 planting and was fun to watch them bloom and self-seed. Annual weeds took over and then the perennials crept in. My friend Allison in 2021 planted a couple of rows of Dhalia flowers and I supported with some chicken poo from our poop deck and general care. I was so overwhelmed with the launching of the landscaping business that I could only pull off a small garden of my own.
But those gardens got me thinking about what could be along with the flowers, the veggies, the sheep grazing back parts, and the landscaping motifs that were being implemented at clients’ houses. So as the planting season wound down in late 2021, we as a crew launched the framework for an orchard garden. Lines of trees were planted with different layers in between within the rows whilst leaving the alleys in between to be planted in the spring. We made the tree crop rows around 6 ft wide with log borders from the arborist who also drops woodchips. Those rows were planted with fruit trees like peaches, apples, European pears, plout, and apricot. The idea was to trial as many different cultivars as possible and see which ones could handle this intense growing climate of heat and humidity and cold snaps, late frosts, and plenty of challenges. In between the trees within the row went different cultivars of elderberry and/or currants, gooseberry, and honeyberry. The later are meant to be grown as mother plants to clone cuttings off of. The fruit trees, if they prove successful for this climate, can provide scion wood for future grafting.
Our fall 2021 endeavors were limited to quadrant one, the southernmost quadrant. This is also the same quadrant I had been working the edges of for about 5 years with fruit trees, berry bushes, perennial vegetables and blackberry trellis’s. These edges taught me a lot about what this soil can handle and how to manage it. You know when you read a description of a tree in a catalogue, it almost always says prefers well drained soil. That we have here in the sandy loam, maybe too much at times because the sand doesn’t hold a lot of organic matter/ fertility. So mulching is ultimately the biggest test of scale. Deep layered mulching is necessary to feed these soils and suppress weeds. Honestly, I abhor weeding, so we spend a lot of time mulching. We feed the soil religiously because that is what it takes to regenerate and produce food.
2022 was indeed about scaling up and taking on quadrants two and three with more plantings of agroforestry lines while also creating the field nursery cells. Quadrant two was planted intensively with about ten tree rows totaling 38 trees (Nectarines, tart cherries, apples, Asian pear, peach, plum, grafted paw paw). Meanwhile quadrant 3 was more for clearing and preparing with a bit of planting. One of the first things we did to prepare quadrant two was to burn. Honestly the tree growth in quadrant two post burning was remarkable. It might also have to do with the vast quantities of sheet mulching with cardboard, animal bedding with manure (mainly goat), woodchips, handfuls of vermicompost, and chicken poop from the poop deck wrapped in pdz. What is permaculture? Moving organic matter from one place to another is what we say here as we build inches and inches of soil for these grow beds. And the trees responded to all strategies and techniques showing from finger sized twigs 3 ft. tall to some being forearm sized trunks and 13 ft. tall at the end of one growing season. Furthermore, in quadrant 3 we slowly cleared the vegetation with mowing and silage tarps and got one row implemented before we ran out of planting time. That row was figs, something that could handle being planted in June with the heat and dry coming.
In 2022, Quadrant 1 tree rows were managed with intensive mulching and also planting in many guild plants. This added a layer of beauty and weed suppressing functionality and of course the pollinators loved it. It really helps to fill out the layers of the food forests with fruit trees as canopy, elderberry shrub, currant bush layer, comfrey and flowers like grey headed coneflower and strawberry running underneath. Again, the focus of this is not so much production of fruit, which is a byproduct, but more about plant material for propagation. It was also about further developing a pattern for the edible landscaping work. For example, at the Gordon Homestead in Central Indiana, we created essentially the same pattern. Tree rows with mixed layers of plants with alleys in between of about 25 ft.
Also in quadrant 1 was the laying out of nursery propagation beds in the alley cells post burning. To prepare and manage the beds, it was much like a market garden bed; broad fork, rake, plant, compost, water, weed, harvest. The harvest, bare root nursery stock, takes a year to grow. To achieve that, we did put a massive effort into mulching the pathways and laying compost mulch (as Jesse Frost calls it just south of here in the Lexington, KY area) around the cuttings. The compost mulch was applied a couple of times in the grow beds of the cuttings throughout the season feeding the soil life and suppressing weeds. Some cuttings that measured 12 inches when we put them into the ground turned into 6 ft. tall bushes in one growing season! The cuttings also got chicken manure from the poop deck as the season went on handling the boost of nitrogen wonderfully. Overall, the nursery propagation and general growth was successful even though we got the irrigation system set up later than desired. We had a dry part of April that probably should have been mitigated with irrigation, but voila, Rome was not built in a day. Sales are beginning through our shop already!
Besides nursery stock in the alleys and agroforestry lines, there was another set of implementation and management occurring. Not all of this is just about plants as we have integrated sheep in quadrant 4 and the back hedgerow to help maintain and fertilize. We also raised meat birds and while they were supposed to remain in quad 1 and 2 it got way too hot early in the summer and we moved them to the back hedgerow/ trellis vine area. That old backstop of my grandfather’s now holds 3 hardy kiwi vines and 2 Akebia that were well fertilized by the chickens. We grew about 55 meat birds this year thinking to eat one each week. After the meat birds were done we raised ducklings and layer chicks together in the garden until the layer chicks became pullets and could handle being with the adult chickens across the way. The ducks are currently in quadrant 3 producing duck eggs on the daily!
Also, in quite a few cells we planted vegetables, herbs, flowers, and also perennials. We ended up producing quite a bit as I really like focusing on staples like root vegetables such as sweet potato or turnip, paste tomatoes (still tons in the freezer), squash, watermelon, and corn. Some vegetables were also planted in the agroforestry rows that hadn’t been filled up with tons of perennials like the okra in the cherry bed that was missing two sweet cherries that will arrive spring 2023. With all these trees and shrubs planted for sure we harvested fruit this year. I mainly pick the fruit off when the trees are young but one or two stay on just to peak the curiosity of the passerby. And with stacking in space and time the food forest way, yields from plants like elderberry and aronia happened as they were quite mature plants when put in the ground. Finally on the edge just outside the garden we housed goat rotations several times last year. It brings the goat manure bedding even closer and combines trips so to speak. Both the tomatoes and goat meat will be staples in our upcoming Winter Weekend PDC.
Allison grew Dahlias once more in 2022 with the growing space being the eastern part of quadrant 3. She scaled up, which was good for her, but due to extraneous forces she couldn’t manage as intensely as she would have liked. However, I think it was a great lesson for her and us as a collective. The small-scale intensive principle is a lesson to be learned by all gardeners at some point. For another phase of implementation this 2023 spring, 7 lines of trees in quadrant 3 will be planted. These trees have been ordered and will arrive starting in early March. One such is Jujube, which I think will love the sand, and produce its sweet and medicinal fruit. There will be more apples, Asian pears, peaches, Asian plums and grafted paw paws. Just in Apple cultivars alone between the agroforestry lines and back hedgerow it will already be up to 30 different cultivars. The back hedgerow was originally planted out in 2018 and continues to evolve each year. It currently is also getting heavily mulched and now that we have burned quad 4 it has become one big contiguous garden! Since clearing that vegetation and now being able to see the whole space, it really brings a new recognition of all that we have done. A special feeling and I want to express gratitude for all who contributed.
Furthermore, the design of the food forest in terms of what goes where is still coming. This year will allow for more scale since we aren’t putting up a 1000 ft. of fence like we were last year as well as setting up the water system. We learned a lot from that 2021/22 season; start small and grow. We actually have already started doing cuttings as we have prepared much of the field this year with a subsoil plow behind a BCS walk behind tractor. Thanks to Jason at Harmony Creek Hillside Farm for letting us borrow his machine. He has been one of our landscaping clients and it makes for a nice trade value. The BCS speeds up the decompaction process with the subsoiler. We still are using silage tarps to solarize more upcoming sections of plantings. We are organizing where staple vegetables will go, kitchen garden vegetables and herbs, cut flowers, nursery beds, animal rotations. It’s actually a quite complex puzzle but with that old Holmgren adage of observe and interact, well the observation unlocks the keypoint to the algorithm. A plan is a formula, a mathematical equation with so many variables that only a farmer can comprehend this form of calculus.
Here at the Farm at Treasure Lake, the TreeYo Permaculture headquarters stationed in Northern Kentucky, lots is going on despite it being winter. First, what is not going on this year is maple syrup tapping, which usually happens right around this time. I still have tons from last year, and my tennis elbow has me not wanting to lift 20-pound buckets on and off all day. Maybe I will do a later run in February just because I love it so much! In some ways winter has just begun yet spring is upon us with mild temps, thunderstorms, budding trees, and growing grass on unfrozen earth.
What is happening is the day in day out farm animal care, soil building, and prep for planting. On the animal side of things, goats’ bellies are swelling with pregnancies. Scoob, our kinder buck, is getting a chance to breed a little early because his pasture mate and fellow buck Snoop died in the fallout of the generational cold snap of wind chills of -30 F. In fact, the puppies that are left and dad dog sunny were eating snoop today as goats that die like that, we turn into dog food. It’s a harsh cycle on farms and yes apex predators like dogs enjoy their raw diet here of homegrown goat and chicken eggs. Furthermore, the goat babies born in December are thriving and are at that fun age of being very bouncy, personalities forming, and winter coats being very snuggly. They have some amazing colors, and we are at that point where we begin to market them to be bucks on other farms or band their balls and they become whethers for meat here one day. It’s a homestead and goat meat is a vital yield of it. And that ties to eating here and also serving for classes which more is on below.
The animals, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens, each are tended to twice a day at the very least. Frozen or empty water buckets, hay replenishing, grain/ herbal dewormer feeding, and enclosure cleaning all are a constant rhythm (wave pattern). Sometimeswe are also rotating them in electric fence, although dramatically less, it does still happen at this time of the year. Collecting eggs, harvesting animals for meat, checking on birthing status, its watchful eyes, thoughtful labor, and material inflow.
As for the sheep, our first lamb of the year is a sprite single from a mother named honey (katadhin/ St. Croix mix). It was cold when she was born and within days of being alive, she witnessed cold that we haven’t seen in this area in a long time. Ironically, since that crazy Christmas deep freeze, it’s been very mild with signs of spring everywhere. But possibly fallout from the cold beyond snoop the goats’ death, was the stillborn lambs out the last two births. Star baby, our first lamb born (12/21) was due to give birth, and it never happened. Instead, she never could pass the still births and died way too young. Pearl was right behind her, and she was able to pass the stillborn twins and is hanging in there but recovering slowly. The cause is unknown, maybe the cold and calcium deficiency, maybe bacterial as this did happen once before. We had been essentially dry lotting them in one area during the cold period, and after the still births we moved them to new pastures in part for sanitation and also for forage because the grass is growing.
Since the sheep had been in that spot for 3 or 4 weeks, the build-up of waste hay and manure is quite intense. We are now taking that and moving that to tree crop hedges and tree rows as well as compost piles. Getting things properly mulched/ fertilized is a big one for me during winter as when spring hits so many things need attention that beds can easily get overwhelmed by weeds if not properly mulched during winter.
Moving organic matter from one spot to another is mostly what permaculture is btw on the day in day out.
The bedding, a mix of manure, urine, hay, and just a bit of straw is a great potassium and nitrogen boost coming into the growing season. We use cardboard to further suppress the weeds and feed the fungi. The mycelium is already active and loves the bedding mix as well as the cardboard and woodchips that we also use when available. The number of fruit trees in hedges and beds is getting closer to 100 so it’s quite a lot of biomass needed. The animals make the bedding even more potent with their manure packets full of nutrients and microorganisms.
What once was Dark Wood Farm ran by Annie Woods as a market garden, has slowly become a food forest set up as an alley cropping system in agroforestry. In between the agroforestry lines (rows of fruit trees, berry shrubs and bushes, comfrey, and native flowering perennials) in the alleys, we are busy subsoiling to do bed prep after the layout. These beds will be planted with nursery propagations, annual vegetables, flowers, etc, in our holistic orchard garden. The subsoiling decompacts the soil deep down, which is a vital part of great growth. After the subsoiling occurs to fully get the beds ready, we then broadfork and rake or hand weed. We have a running grass that comes from the drive lanes north and south of the beds and must be hand weeded, or it goes crazy quickly. There are 4 rows in each cell. A cell is formed by agroforestry lines and are the khaki color in the map above.
The cells are around 20 to 22 ft spacing wide and 50 ft long. The field itself is broken into four quadrants; rows of 50 ft long beds that are about 150 to 220 feet wide. We just opened up quadrant 4 for production this year with step 1 of burning. In our potassium deficient sandy loam, it helps. Furthermore, our cuttings and root divisions from last year of plants like elderberry, currants, jostaberry, gooseberry, aronia, and comfrey did excellent. So, we are hoping to expand that as our mother plants are one year older and even more diverse. It’s a very large undertaking this 1-acre field with 1000 ft of perimeter fence that we put up last year. The propagations help fuel our edible landscaping work.
That install part of permaculture is definitely one I love to do and teach about. Site assessments and designs are occurring currently for the 2023 install season through our subsidiary called harvest and habitat. As far as teaching goes, last weekend I got a chance to teach with the Cincinnati permaculture yearlong pdc and loved it. I am one of the main facilitators this year stepping back into that familiar role that once was the mainstay of my career. Anyway, it’s a great group, biggest one ever I believe for CPI and full of diversity. I have another course coming up that will be hosted only at the farm starting in Feb and running for 5 weekends. Check it out below and here is to my pledge of blogging more in the new year. Without AI.
2023 5 weekend PDC: Feb and March
Written by Doug Crouch
We open our nursery doors to bring you native edibles, pollinator plants, and beautiful specimens.
It’s that time again here on the southern range of the sugar maple trees. 🍁 🍁 🍁 We start early for sure because the rollercoaster of temperatures is quite extreme here in the Ohio River valley. I thought about waiting because of an intense cold snap ahead and you also never know when summer will hit in March so to speak.
This is my third year with it here at the lake in terms of full time suggarin, not just helping like years before. I have more of the right equipment and supplies in place so on day 1, 50 taps going in was quite easy. Glass jars, plastic lids, plastic tubing, and plastic 5-gallon jugs to transport the sap is our outdoor setup. I like glass what can I say. I try and avoid the sap water sitting in plastic for too long, so I have my system/equipment of choice.
I have the trees I want to tap fairly squared away after doing it these last couple of years and seeing which ones make sense in terms of access and grouping. It’s one thing to tap a tree on a steep hillside, it’s another to collect many times during the sap run season. And I phase some trees in and out in that respect and am trying a new zone this year and scaling back in another zone. That way I keep around 80 taps which seems to be a sweet spot for me to keep up with it and it be a good challenge. I may get up to about 90 this year, and who knows maybe I will pull the taps on the southside early and try the northside run for the first time this year where we have really dense sugarbush in some spots. For sure less accessible but as we scale up, a venture needed.
It is pretty amazing to see on a warm day in mid-January just how immediately the trees are dripping on the south facing hillsides that I tap on. On my north facing hillsides that I am constantly looking at but rarely walking on during the winter, I can’t imagine starting there for at least another month. This does show the amazing power of microclimate and season extension.
And in just 28 hours we had our glass 2.5-gallon jars filling and reminding to wash my evaporator pan and find my funnel, ha. Which I did, then we began to boil and several rounds of collecting from the different zones. 30 gallons of sap in day 1 of harvests with more taps put in on day 2 as well. All in all, this is a multi-day boil and should be around gallon and a quarter of syrup. I lose track after a while of how much sap is harvested. Time to rinse the hydrometer off, get the finishing pot ready to go, and some bottles ready. It looks like only a bit of our nice bottles will be sold this year as the price of glass is crazy, so more low-key sales this time!
And like that after hours and hours, days really, of boiling it becomes syrup. My busy life only lets me do it on electric, but it works! This time I finished in my regular kitchen, not outdoor kitchen and it was great as the wind was whipping with a snowstorm approaching. The syrup came out light and full of flavor. Like a true stuffy connoisseur, I will call it vanilla overtones with a tang of citrus in the back end. With temperatures in the 40’s for a couple days this week after a good cold snap, the trees should be gushing again! We got our 1.2 Gallons boiled away and a sugar resource secured for our homestead. Happy suggarin y’all!
As stated in the last blog post, we started an edible landscaping company in 2021. We have amassed the pictures into a portfolio page with descriptions. It’s been great to work in so many different parts of the tri-state and beyond but still in the Ohio River Valley.
Fruit trees are being ordered, staff is being sorted, clients being onboarded right now for this exciting year ahead!
At the beginning of the year, I didn’t even know who “we” was and that a proper company with numerous employees was really going to be formed. I knew I had a busy fall 2020/winter 2021 designing and several landscaping jobs ready to go, mainly through the startup called Thrivelot. I knew we had one piece in order which was the plants, since here at Treasure Lake we were hosting Cincinnati Permaculture Institute’s Growing Value Nursery. And then it catapulted and was a great way to actually launch further businesses, fund developments on the homestead, and help pay for the labor to maintain it all. But the “who” was the hardest part at first but quickly became the easy part cause a great crew was assembled. And how did we retain them? We paid well.
The edible landscaping projects were diverse and hinged off of my agro- ecology style of permaculture and having installation experience in the past throughout the world and at my homestead. Beyond that I had really only done one small outside installation in 2020 in in the tri-state of Cincinnati, Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana. Thus the business was built around the fact that we have a 60-acre homestead headquarters owned by my family here at Treasure Lake, a V8 Cargo van I already owned, and the TreeYo brand /LLC legal structure. You need certain things to begin, first clients, then you need tools and ways to get them there. You learn who to order mulch from, who to buy more plants from, who to source the this and that’s. But we do supply our own wood posts and compost, which really helps as well as some plants like comfrey.
We took on projects big and small and I give tons of credit to the crew. We did small urban projects, large urban projects, suburban lots, larger rural properties, and an out-of-town, congress funded Permaculture project at VA Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. We also worked with the municipality of Colerain in Cincinnati at their parks, which launched our goat scaping service. We worked with food forests, hedgerows, windbreaks, earthworks, paver and stone walls, herb gardens, orchards, high density apple orchard while constantly educating clients. We also sold lots of plants through our edible landscaping and through the nursery directly. We planted a lot of natives and a lot of edibles and those that cross both of those. Basically, we created a lot of Harvest and Habitat, which is foreshadowing to more to come. We did a lot last year and look forward to more this year!
Not all of 2020 was so bad, like having the space an time to plant trees and do the design documentation to illustrate it. These visuals will help to digest this progress.
Health is a form of wealth. Here is 13 Health Tips for Better Immunity that I wrote 18 months ago but only now able to press publish. Its a very long road of health, its hard in fact. Do what you can eh. A lot has to do with supporting your micro biome.
Instructional video on food forest management. Chop and drop, annual seeding, and spreading microbe love. From the banks project at treasure lake.
The next day course April 18th will be a fun one and continue our mushroom mission and collaboration with maestro Romain Picasso. Learn the basics of mycology and mushroom inoculation both theoretically and out in the field. Learn from our trials and errors and successes at Treasure Lake in Northern Kentucky and the abundance in your lands is sure to follow. https://treeyopermaculture.com/permaculture-design-courses-pdc/mycology-mushroom-inoculation-class/