Bringing Back Bitters for Health

Bitters Benefits  2-1-18

You may know I have been studying digestion for Loren (my husband with GERD). But while researching, I have come up with some very interesting data for people with diabetes, blood sugar issues, weight loss and food cravings, gas, bloating, and liver and gall bladder issues which I thought would be of interest to you.

In light of the problems we are facing with our food these days – toxins, poor nutritional quality and content, GMOs etc, digestion has become an ever more important aspect of our lives. People are complaining more of heart burn, gas, bloating, poor energy, stomach aches and cramps, and food cravings.

We are seeing an increase in GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease where stomach acid comes back up from the stomach inflaming the esophagus and causing other problems including auto-immune, leaky gut, and much more).

It turns out that the Scandinavians have had it right all along. Bitters has been a traditional part of their diet for ages. Or the French who make it a habit of drinking an aperitif before a meal. By tasting a bit of bitter flavor before eating, it does all kinds of things listed below.

I’ve known for a long time that the taste of bitter stimulates the entire endocrine system, every gland in the lot, which kicks off good digestion and handles a bunch of problems throughout the whole body. It’s a toner, rever-upper for the metabolism, and relaxer all at the same time.

I’ve been researching this in depth today, but took a class in it two years ago at a Permaculture Gathering in N.C., and learned you can make your own delicious bitters with some 100 proof vodka or Everclear and some herbs usually available in a lot of places. It doesn’t even take a lot of different kinds but I found out I was already making some of them for medicinal uses.

One could even go a little nuts and make a hobby or business out of the creative blends of botanicals and spices listed in the website below. It’s so rich in possibilities.

However, you can purchase “bitters” at any liquor store. Just put a couple of drops on your tongue before eating. It’s strong flavor, but it ramps up the whole digestive process so your body really gets the benefits of the nutrition you are trying to get from eating. Eating a salad with some bitter leaves before a main course does the same thing as does an alcoholic aperitif, even some red wine with dinner has similar properties.

If you want to try making your own you can do that. I’ve included a site to check out for that below. and

 Benefits of digestive bitters:

  • Bitters have also been used to supress food cravings.  The craving for sugary snacks or starchy salty snack foods can be quenched with a drop of bitter taste on the tongue.
  • Bitters relieve gas and bloating.
  • Bitters help maintain healthy blood sugar levels
  • Bitters support the liver and gall bladder.
  • Bitters relieve heart burn and indigestion
  • Bitters relieve upset stomach and nausea
  • Bitters are both drying and cooling
  • Bitters aid weight loss by curbing sugar cravings and maintaining healthy blood sugar
  • Bitters help to regulate fat metabolism
  • Bitters can improve your complexion by improving digestion


But for bitters to be effective they must be tasted.  It’s the bitter stimulation of the tongue that triggers the cascading effect of bitters on the digestive system.

How to increase the digestive bitters in your diet.

  • Eat raw green salads before a meal.
  • Drink a glass of red wine with dinner.  White wine doesn’t have the same astringency as red.
  • Take a bitter tonic or aperitif about 30 minutes before dinner.
  • Take a bitter tincture 20 minutes before eating.  Just a few drops on the tongue is all you need.
  • Include bitter tasting food in the meal
  • Use less sugar to mask the taste of bitters

If you have an herb garden or access to fresh herbs listed in the website above, you can have some fun making the infusions (soaking herbs in liquid for some time) or tinctures (soaking in alcohol or vinegar) and getting creative with flavors, also covered in one of the sites above. They can be quite delicious.

Or you can purchase already made bitters from a number of herb companies like Mountain Rose Herb Company or your local farmers market or homestead group from people who do it for you. Whatever the source, when making them or purchasing them, use and purchase what has been made with organic botanicals and herbs so you aren’t accidentally exposing yourself to the chemicals sprayed on non-organic plants or on the ground they are grown on. Alcohol will concentrate toxins.

Bon Appetite

Diann Dirks




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Permaculture and Organic Internship open now Spring-Summer in Auburn, Ga.



OPENING Spring to Summer session NOW

Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga. in Barrow, County, NE Georgia

Permaculture* Demonstration Garden

Get in on the early Spring planting season on into Summer

Work, Learn, and have Fun in this beautiful bird, bee and butterfly haven.


Taught by Diann Dirks, Certified Permaculture Designer, 45 year organic grower, herbalist, researcher, educator, consultant.

7th Year of our Internship Program. Accepting only 8 people per session

so Act Now! Must be 16 years old or older.

Must be able to lift 30 lbs, bend over repeatedly, & walk on uneven terrain.


On our 100 bed facility, using Permaculture Design technology and natural laws:  Annual beds, Orchard and Herb Gardens, Vegetables and Fruit, Wild Crafting knowledge, Advanced soil techniques. Learn Korean Natural Farming techniques (ways of increasing fertility and soil ecology).


Minimum 4 month commitment, only one 4 hour week-day session required per week (but you may attend more if desired). Fee $45 for the 4 month program.


We will begin the season with seed starting and plant propagation. Don’t miss this fascinating process to choose the best varieties of foods and herbs.


This is the only Permaculture Internship program in the South East.


Increase awareness. Learn these subjects: organic soil building, seasonal plants, companion planting for best yield, organic fertilizing techniques, orchard management, herbs for medicine and food, bio-char, moon phase planting, harvesting and food and herb preservation methods, seed saving, composting, manure and weed teas for fertilization, rain catchment methods, creative plant supports, bee and butterfly haven creating, best garden tools and their use, container gardening, raised bed and in-ground methods, berms (hills) and swales (ditches) for water catchment, contour bed arrangement, mulching, pest handling without chemicals, relationships with nature and the organic garden for highest yield, using no chemicals or GMOs.

Get your hands dirty in beautiful rich organic soil and have fun!


If you are interested email, Personal Message at FB – Georgia Dirks, or call 678 261-8141 and leave a message so I can get back to you (I don’t answer if I don’t recognize the number so please leave a message.)

*Permaculture Design is a science of design based on natural laws and an ethic towards the environment: care for the earth, care for people, equitable use of abundance.


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Good Design in Life

Good Design in Life

By Diann Dirks

If you look around you, you will find everything in your life that you use (even nature) is based on a conceptual design, manifested into physical universe stuff. There are things that work great and are beautiful and efficient – that’s good design. There are things that work poorly, break down easily, are ugly and inefficient – that’s bad design. There are things made everywhere in between these two aspects. In the world we live in, usually the good design stuff is either so well established in life that we don’t even think about it, and is the ‘standard’, or they are new and usually expensive. Bad designed stuff is usually made of junky material, breaks down after a year or a few months, and ends up in the land fill, but are usually cheap and made in another country – though not always. (I try to buy local or made in the USA.)

When you make a choice about what to purchase, or make, or create (as in a whole environment), by basing your choices on long term sustainability, and what is good for the earth, and people, you become one of the solutions, not the problem. Maybe nobody will come by and pat you on the back and say to you “Good Job”, but in a hundred years people will be better off because of it, as will the other critters of the world we live in. We all survive together or not at all. Just think of the honey bee – for every 5 bites of food you eat, 3 of them were compliments of a bee. When they go, we will end up like they do in Japan, hand pollinating every fruit, with the cost of a peach around $5.

An old adage is “you get what you pay for” or “penny wise and pound foolish” meaning you aren’t looking long term and only seeing the immediate price tag.

For some reason, I have always loved the aesthetics of really good design. A pair of shoes that lasts a very long time, is comfortable, made of good leather, beautiful, well made, and keeps you going where you want to go without hurt feet, slipping on a floor or the earth, or breaking down after a month of getting wet. How about a tool that you can use over and over for a lifetime, and pass onto the kids. One of my favorite examples of a garden tool that is masterful is the “Terra Planter” * of which I have two. It’s made of good steel, rubber-like handle that doesn’t get sticky with time, is lightweight but sturdy and is perfectly balanced, has a pokey kind of side and a trowel kind of side perpendicular to the held stem, like a “T”. This can do almost anything in a garden. Dig, loosen soil, plant, smooth out soil, dig out a root, make a trough in the soil, chop up hard clay, spread mulch, on and on. It’s so well designed that it replaces about 10 other tools, and because it’s just one tool, I carry it around with me and don’t loose track of it in the garden. It’s about $17 online plus s&h. The old version had a wood handle which was replaced with steel. There are knock offs, they are ‘downstream beer’ and don’t have the balance or ease of handling. I’ll take good design any day over cheap. *The new name for it is:

So, when I had the opportunity to do certification training in Permaculture Design, I was delighted to find that just good design can be used to heal the earth, increase efficiency and cut waste to almost nothing, and bring abundance into life and the earth itself, no matter where it is. Because the best design of all you find is nature, and Permaculture Design is based on 23 natural precepts and laws of how nature works. So instead of imposing our will on the world with bad results and lack of knowledge of how it works, we have the benefit of billions of years of natural selection in what survives and what doesn’t over time, which then leads to better survival for ourselves and everything up to and including the world. This ranges in scale from a back yard to global think and management. “Act local, think global”.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of people on this planet and limited resources. Why is there poverty, suffering, famine, etc.? Simply put – bad management and bad design in how to use resources and how to optimaly work with people. That’s why design is so important – form follows function – you look at what needs to be done in the best possible way, then implement it in the most efficient way possible and that’s good design. That’s the beauty of Permaculture Design because first of all, it’s based on an ethic, the only design science on the planet that is: Care of the Earth, Care of People, Wise and Equitable Use of the Abundance (thus formed with good management and smart planning and design). It isn’t based on what makes the most profit for the share holders or how a government can maintain control over a vast area and get the most taxes out of it. The design criteria is what makes a better world.

Often we live a life of designs not of our choosing, but taken on because of necessity and lack of options – gotta feed yourself and if you have one, a family, or a nation. Usually in humankind systems, the pattern of it goes way back to feudalism or barbarism. These systems have worked to put certain people in charge and in power, and the rest of the people in various levels of being ‘followers’.  Currently on this planet we have Monarchies and Corporate systems, which are basically the same thing. Monarchies still pull the strings, while corporate systems work to organize and reap the system in a similar fashion. The only difference being blood line and tradition or corporate boards and profit. In some areas we still have vestiges of democratic Republic governing but money and control are power so unless we can restore “We the People”, we sink back into totalitarian regimes.

But when we work together as individuals putting sanity into the mix, we have a chance to live the ethical and sane life we choose.

Into this we have centralized Religion that has been used to create standards of behavior and control by the top of the heaps over the centuries, and have brought some comfort to the ones below that when there is sanity in the beliefs. There is a spiritual world, there is order, and there is chaos that needs taming. That is basically life. Without ethics and order, we sink back to barbarism and suffering. With reason and good design in how we manage the planet and our lives, we gain freedom and long range survival.

When you can tap into the natural world and take advantage of that orderliness and long term survival, and have a connection to the spiritual power in all of us, which also is intrinsic to the natural world, you can really start to live an optimal lifestyle with joy. Most agree that there is ‘intelligent design’ at work.

In order to tap into that reason and good order, it requires that you know firstly that things can be better, that life can be better, and that you and others like you can do something to influence and remedy the problems created by the bad design or mistakes made which harm that natural balance.

Don’t be naïve though, there are about 1/5th of the people on earth who are either bent on making things worse, or are under their control and making mistakes, which influence the rest of our lives. People who would have us be slaves (economic or otherwise) work to create the illusion that we are helpless and help to create a ‘why bother’ attitude, apathy or distraction onto the pleasures of the moment. So, when you go to fix things which are obviously not doing well, realize you have this also to contend with.

Just remember, the greatest things on this world were created by a dedicated few visionaries who were willing to roll up their sleeves and do something worthwhile about it. They are the heroes of history, unsung or celebrated, doesn’t matter. Anything good we have in our lives was created by well thinking people who were ethical and smart, who cared about the future. Be one of those people and join others who are too. Below you will find a partial list of some of those people who have really done this and made a better world.

But remedying things requires knowledge – knowledge = power. It also = becoming causative as opposed to being the effect of the mistakes and disasters others have caused. The good news is that you can do this gradiently, improving in steps, as you learn and are inspired to act.

Getting inspired to go from what isn’t working to what does is a wonderful journey, full of realizations, wins, comraderie, learning, and a lot of joy. That requires actually having correct data and a correct system based on truth. There’s a lot of ‘information’ out there that is influenced by people who want to bend the truth for their own enhancement to the detriment of everyone else. (Again, ‘global warming’ as an example, put forth as a way for a handful of people to make billions.) So, you have to consider the source of whatever you wish to apply. Look at the actual long term effect. Permaculture Design is based on designing things that are good design for 7 generations – not months, years or even decades – generations!

There are some people in the world who have been great sources of really workable planet healing technology in Permaculture Design. To name my favorites:

Bill Mollison – the founder of Permaculture who wrote among many books “Introduction to Permaculture” ,

Masanobu Fukuoka – precursor to Permaculture by several decades who wrote “The One Straw Revolution” considered a master of many of the precepts in PD,

Geoff Lawton – student and associate of Bill Mollison, a co-founder who has gone on to do a great deal around the planet to restore eco-systems including deserts, urban blight and others (see his many videos at,

David Holmgren – another of Bill Mollisons associates and cofounders who wrote “Permaculture – Systems and Pathways Beyond Sustainability”,

Paul Wheaton – designer, well known permaculturist, known for his rocket mass heater and sustainable toilet system designs, as well as COB* building and other techniques who also has many videos (,

Toby Hemenway – author of “Gaia’s Garden” masterful small scale Permaculture Design,

Paul Stamets – master mycologist (study of fungi and mushrooms) who has developed ways to remedy the soil using fungi, among many other discoveries – see ,

Tradd Cotter – another master mycologist who researches to remedy soil and many other discoveries – see,

Wayne Weiseman (my instructor), Daniel Halsey and Bryce Ruddock – designers and consultants who wrote “Integrated Forest Gardening” – the Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems”, and

Sepp Holzer – a Swiss well known permaculturist who also wrote a book called “Permaculture”.

Another little book I use for quick reference is “Permaculture in a Nutshell” by Patrick Whitefield.

There are many outstanding Permaculturists who have done much to forward these principles, but I don’t have the space here to include them all.

If someone would like to get really inspired to do something about the current deteriorating condition of this planet, they would do well to read some of the books I have mentioned, and pull up these many sites,  and watch the videos by Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton and Paul Wheaton and others. It’s quite a wonderful uplifting adventure to watch what these people have done to turn things around so beautifully.

You can save so much energy, time and resources by taking the time to learn good design, or by hiring a Permaculture Designer for your project. I am available for consultation in NE Georgia, or by internet almost anywhere. But however way you go about it, by applying natural law to your environment, you leave a legacy of restored earth, and survivability to your people into 7 generations. We can do something about it.

As a final note, and for those good people who see the logic and necessity to help turn things around, there are specific things we each can do to ensure good design replaces the chaos of the current situation on the planet which is so dangerous to the future.

We constantly see the warnings about ‘global warming’. First of all this concept is junk science motivated by politics and power seeking. But we do have troubles in the environment – contamination and pollution, droughts and loss of arable (useful farmable) land due to desertification and erosion. The loss of vast numbers of trees is the primary source of many of our troubles.

By individually taking responsibility for our waste, and what products we use which can go into the natural system as contaminants, we do our part. When we recycle, we are doing our part. When we only buy food that is pesticide and chemical free, organically grown and non-GMO, we force the market and farming practices to change, thus removing the source of most of the pollution in our water and air which comes from industrial agriculture practiced in most of the farmland in the U.S. and elsewhere.

When we cut down trees, especially in large areas, the planet’s mechanism to make rain is destroyed. Trees make rain! We have seen massive deforestation by corporate powers motivated by greed and the fast buck and wealth at the expense of everyone else. Or just the consistent removal of forested land to build houses and cities in the name of the economy. When agriculture in this country went to mostly mechanized methods, the rows of trees that used to line the fields and which protected against wind erosion were removed to facilitate the huge planters and harvesters. This made the land hotter, cut out a great deal of natural bio-diversity which helped to keep pests down and held in moisture. We need to rethink agriculture. Permaculture Design does this.

The best way to turn this around is first to protect every tree possible. Think twice before cutting down a tree on your land. Or if you must, plant another two trees as replacements. On a broader plane, where you have a say, stop clear cutting of forest. Instead care for the earth by careful harvesting and replanting of diverse tree species. Instead of tree farms which are just another form of mono-cropping (like millions of acres of corn and soy), take the care to plant multiple species in more natural combinations. When building a house or a subdivision, save every possible tree. This takes some careful planning, but it is important. And it requires careful grading to not harm the trees left standing. Insist that the builders you invest in practice tree preservation and good land management of soil and water source.

Another way is to take care in your purchasing of things to only support ethical companies (boycott Monsanto), and those which do not destroy the environment to make their crops or products. Avoid purchasing things grown in the Amazon forests where vast areas have been deforested to grow GMO crops, coffee and chocolate, palm oil and other products while ruining vital bio-diverse species and eco systems.

And for pete’s sake – plant some trees! Plant them wherever there is some space to grow them. They can be fruit or nut trees, herb trees, or lumber creating trees, but just plant trees! For every human being on the planet we need 15 trees to supply the oxygen and remove the carbon dioxide we personally create, not to mention that which is created by our cars and to make electricity to run our houses and industry. Do you have 25 trees on your land for every person living there? If not, we can support the planting of trees on waste land if you don’t have a place of your own to do so.

I have been certified in Permaculture Design since 2009. It has been an amazing journey and adventure, full of ongoing inspiration and spiritual and intellectual growth. If you are interested, I have an internship program in NE Georgia. There are good people all around the country and world who can help you learn. And you can take courses or learn on the internet. There are groups of people doing meet-ups you can hook up with. Or you can form such a group yourself.

I wish you a wonderful, prosperous, and joyful journey.

Blogsite:    FB addy: Georgia Dirks and

FB page: The Garden Lady of Georgia

8/29/17 Diann Dirks

Certified Permaculture Designer

Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga.

Mothers School of Self-Reliance


Posted in Food Forest, food forest management, Food protection, Gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Planetary management using Permaculture, Self-Sustainability, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First Big Freeze of the Winter

We’re expecting the first low freeze tonight. 20 something, brrrrrr! So, we have to get ready. We’ve had a lot of leaf fall, which can be bunched up around potted plants outside for added insulation, 002then covered with plastic. 016
Here’s my list:
0. Gather organic matter for mulching such as autumn leaves, pine straw, or straw. I put mine in large construction grade heavy duty bags from Home Depot – Hefty brand. They can be re-used over and over as many as 20 times before they start to be too full of holes or shredded to be useful as a bag. Then I use them to line bins or other uses.007
1. Check moisture content of all beds to be secured for freeze, water if necessary.
2. Drain all the outside water lines and bring in the watering wands (they tend to break if left out in the cold), wind the hoses onto their carts.
3. Put extra mulching around the bases of all the annual plants, and any recently planted perennials which didn’t get extra mulch already.008
4. Bring all the unplanted trees, bushes, and other perennial plants into a circle and surround them with bagged up autumn leaves – cover with clear plastic and secure.  022
5. Dig in any kitchen waste in un-planted beds and cover with soil – they will be planted again once we have a warm day. Then cover open areas with mulch. 009
6. Harvest any greens needed in the next several days from annual beds.
7. Harvest hard perennial herbs such as thyme, bay leaf, lemon verbena, Echinacea roots, etc. for later processing.

8. Lay tomato cages on their sides, alternating direction down the length of the beds, carefully placing them around existing plants.

Click pictures to enlarge.

9. Bring in any of the plants which are tender perennials or warm weather plants, and place by the window where they can get some sun, including seedlings not yet planted.
10. Rake un-planted beds smooth and mulch with autumn leaves so the mulch can be pushed aside for later plantings, but are protected from freeze meanwhile.015
11. Bring out clear or white plastic sheeting and roll it out for sizing to be placed on beds, organize for best use.
12 Carefully lay sheeting over tomato cages, secure with one-cell cinder blocks around the perimeter, and use bricks or rocks over path ways here and there if sheeting covers them, to avoid wind catching the sheets and blowing them off. 021
13. Neaten the area, bringing in plastic planters and stacking them, raking up spilled soils or leaves around staging areas, securing any un-used plastic sheeting, etc.
14. One last check making sure sufficient coverage of all annual areas including containers and back deck area and side of house where some perennials are living, and securing with bricks or other weights to prevent blow-offs.

15. We don’t have a riding mower or tractor, or other outdoor machinery here at Hillside Gardens, but if you do, empty the gas tanks, including warm only weather stuff like chain saws or chippers, clean out the tanks, and if you have an equipment shed, bring in the machinery, or if not, cover with heavy tarp.
Watch the weather in your area. If the temperature gets into the 30s’ even if it doesn’t say it will freeze, prepare your garden for a long freeze anyway. Water pipes burst, watering wands are destroyed, tender perennials freeze and die, annuals which aren’t sufficiently cold hardy will be lost, and losses occur. But if sufficient preparation is done while it’s still above freezing, the garden can keep producing, and your equipment will be secure. If you have mowers you can run them over leaves and catch them for great mulch.
I purchase rolls of white 3.3 mil plastic sheeting from Home Depot for around $20. It’s a big sheet which I usually cut up into wide strips for rows. They also have clear sheeting in smaller rolls for about $13 which works well too, 3.5 mil. This sheeting lasts several seasons.
When the weather warms up between cold spells, if the temperature goes above about 65 F, I roll the sheeting back because it holds onto heat and cold weather annuals don’t like it too hot.
Who says you can’t grow all year long. You don’t need a green house, just some ingenuity.
Here is the winterized growing area within a deer fence, with screen panels strengthening the base of the netting. This area will grow a tremendous amount of greens and cold weather vegetables this winter – yum.

Annual garden area surrounded by deer netting and panels of window screen. The beds are all covered, secured with bricks and cinder blocks. The foreground is the staging area soon to be organized. 

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It’s Transition Time at Hillside Gardens

At last we’re having some frost and the leaves are turning in brilliant array, after a very late autumn.


Great Smokey Mountain color from our trip back from Iowa (Early November)

I’m very happy for this because it has allowed much work to be done in the garden which needed doing. When it gets cold early a lot of preparation of soil has to wait till spring. But by doing lots of mulching now, it builds soil all winter, and protects the roots of the perennials in the food forest (a multi-level orchard with trees as the center piece, and herbs, flowers, and vegetables under them in beds).

We now have a full compliment of interns. I only accept 5 at any given time, and we now have Toni, Kiana, Marissa, Amber, and Susan.

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(Toni not pictured above) Plus our good neighbor and friend Rhys. They have been very helpful in all the preparation and the projects below have all been learning activities. We have been having a lot of fun too. Nothing like getting hands in the soil, growing up baby plants, and harvesting summer’s bounty.

We have had bumper crops of herbs (drying), greens, tomatoes, okra, and beans late in the season.

The deer have been particularly stressed this year with the seemingly unending drought. It has forced them to go to extreme measures to eat particularly succulent organic vegetables and greens (in my garden, no I’m not running a deer food pantry, but they think so). We had to rework the fence around the annual bed where we’re growing winter vegetables, because the herd moved in and ate the tops off lettuce, Swiss chard, and other greens. They found a weakness in the deer netting. Luckily I think it was only a morning foray because it wasn’t a total destruction, which has happened at other times.

For a deer fence, we used tall bamboo and PVC pipes as uprights and cross pieces to hold deer netting (which we get in long rolls from Home Depot), with gates along the sides.

And along the base of the netting we have placed, and held in place with cable zip ties, panels of used screens (they were nosing under the netting before that). This goes all around the major all-season beds. It has worked well except it isn’t a really strong system. We’re looking into a more permanent solution. But for now, we used what was on-hand with the exception of the netting itself. I like to re-use, recycle, and re-purpose.

We found a location nearby where a bunch of pine trees were being cut to make room for some commercial projects, leaving piles of mixed mulch of fine wood chips and saw dust, with pine needles mixed in. This is perfect top mulch for perennial plants in the food forest. It breaks down slowly, inhibiting weeds, but holding in moisture and insulating roots over the winter. By late spring most of it will have broken down into top soil. It also helps the worm populations with organic matter food.

I purchased a bunch of pansies which laugh at cold weather, and chrysanthemums which don’t mind it much either, and which are perennial.dscn0711I also got a bunch of ornamental kale and several lavender plants to fill in blank areas in the food forest at the final sale at our local growers outlet. These keep things looking nice and colorful in an otherwise dull and colorless winter garden, and in the spring will provide loads of flowers for the bees coming out of the winter cold.dscn0709

I spent quite a bit of time starting cool and cold weather plants from seeds in late August thru Sept. I use a wonderful technique I learned from the wonderful horticulturist from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company, to start seeds. It’s especially great to germinate older seeds of uncertain germination rate, thus otherwise wasting good garden space with non-production. He told me he takes unbleached coffee filters, wets them, and sprinkles seeds on the wet surface, then folds it over to encircle the seeds. This is then placed in a sandwich sized Ziplock baggie and labeled. In about a week he checks them for germination. Those that have come alive, he places in seed starting mix in ‘mass plantings’ like a larger pot. Then when they get big enough with two sets of real leaves to transplant, he either places individual plants into little seed cells or little pots, or into the soil directly depending on the plant and the current temperatures.


I modified this system and use half pieces of narrow paper towels, and label the top end of it with a sharpie pen, but only wet the bottom half with a tablespoon of water – just enough to moisten the space for the seeds but keeping the ‘label’ dry. This goes into the baggie. I save quart paper cartons saved from half and half, cut off one long side, and punch holes in the opposite side for drainage. Into this I put my seed mix – 1/3 top soil, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. Then once the seeds are germinated, I take the end of a pencil and make little indentations for the germinated seeds in the light soil. If the seed has already grown a little root and stem, I carefully plant each one about an inch apart. They get and are kept watered for moisture but not drenched.

Once the mass planting seedlings are big enough to handle, they get transplanted. I save little Greek yogurt cups, put holes in the bottom with a skewer, half fill with the seedling mix, label, then sprinkle more mix so any roots are covered. This saves so much time and resource. I also use used Styrofoam meat trays from the super market as saucers for these transplanted babies.

This year we started broccoli, many kinds of lettuce, Swiss chard, several other kinds of brassicus (cabbage family) plants, spinach, two kinds of beets, flowers, and herbs. Most of them are now planted into the prepared beds.


In order to add fertility and organic matter to the soil, which is in non-stop production, we figured out a way to make use of several bags of egg shells (crushed), coffee grounds, top soil saved from other projects, crushed granite sand (Quicrete brand from Home Depot all-purpose sand for the worms which need grit for their guts), some hardwood ash from last year’s fireplace, and compost.

We have a tumbler composter which hasn’t worked well to compost due to the dry weather. So, we used it like a cement mixer to mix the various components.

I don’t till, but I do use a cultivator which reaches about 4” into the soil, gently loosening any compacted soil in each bed. Into this loosened soil I make a little hole for each plant, add a handful of the mixed soil as fertilizer, plant and mulch.

To make best use of the bed space, I don’t plant in rows. I use a grid pattern like a zig zag – up and down – think trellis holes. And I mix plants integratively, taking advantage of every inch, but leaving room for the eventual size of the mature plant. Cabbage takes up more space than carrots, so carrots can be planted in the spaces left in the middle of 4 cabbage plants in grid planting as an example. I don’t believe in mono-cropping – all one kind of plant in a bed. Different plants need different nutrients in a bed, so they don’t have to compete so much for the same things.

This year I was lucky to have on hand the gleanings of chicken manure and shaved wood bedding from a large coop from a friend’s flock. This should never be mixed into the soil as the poop is too ‘hot’ with ammonia for delicate roots, and the shavings absorb nitrogen from the soil defeating the purpose. But it makes a nice top dressing which as it gets watered slowly releases plant nutrients. We carefully sprinkled a thin layer of this ‘chickipoo’ around the newly planted babies. Over this we put chipped garden waste run thru our big chipper – quite fine and lightweight.


As the babies have grown larger, we went back and filled in more of the lightweight chipped mulch to give the bed a nice layer of insulating mulch for the winter and the worms.


Around the base of the perennial plants and ornamentals in the food forest, we have added 2 to 3” of the sawdust/pine needle mulch.

I didn’t have enough chickipoo for all the plants but with a goodly layer of organic matter on the soil, by the end of winter, this will have decomposed sufficiently to enhance the top soil. Where possible, we have given the perennial plants some homemade liquid fertilizer from compost tea or manure tea.

We have an array of containers in the garden which are deeper soil than the beds. These make great growing spaces for carrots and beets which send roots down deep. Little by little, we have planted these containers with newly germinated root seeds.

They will need to be covered once the really cold weather sets in, but for now they are able to establish with sunshine and the Indian summer weather we’re having.

I came across some research on how to grow potatoes in the fall/winter/spring. This will be a new experience for the garden. I only usually plant my annual beds on the east side of the garden because it isn’t as steep footing, and easier to maintain. But since potatoes will go in and not show until spring, it will be our west terraced area planting. There are several beds which have dying summer plants. Once the supports and plants are removed, we will put in potatoes in that space.

The technique is new to me but exciting. The beds are given some organic matter, gently cultivated in, then a trench of about 18” deep and a foot or more wide gets dug down the middle with the soil piled up on either side. Into this trench goes 4 to 8” of fall leaves or pine needles. The whole seed potatoes are laid on about a foot apart, and covered with another 4 to 8” of leaves, moist sawdust, or pine needles. Then the excavated soil from the trench is mounded up over the trench, and top mulched. The potatoes have good insulation, and have the whole winter to establish a root structure. In the spring the plants emerge with a ‘leg up’ and produce a much earlier crop of new potatoes.

dscn0747(Potatoes now in the ground and well mulched)

I plan on planting onions or garlic along the edges of these beds, which the deer won’t eat, making good use of that space, for a second harvest. Because the deer will eat anything else above ground and I don’t want to cover everything with deer netting, this keeps the space productive. Plus onions are protective of the potatoes which are of the nightshade family (as are tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco).

We tore down the tomato cages and vines which got killed with the recent low frost (froze for an hour at dawn). The tomato cages were stacked, and the beds now open will be planted soon with baby starts.


We had a terrific rainstorm finally about 4 days ago, so we haven’t had to water, but it knocked out most of the colorful leaves around the area, and we’re looking like winter finally. This week we’re expecting a couple of nights in the 20’s F.

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We’re almost done with wrapping up the garden for winter. That will be our next post. We actually grow more food in winter here than summer, and we’re already enjoying huge salads from the garden. This is the gathering of greens for our Thanksgiving with friends.



Here’s me.

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Fermented Fertilizer DIY


Keeping soil fertile with vital nutrients and charged up with beneficial micro-organisms is key to having good yield. Using commercial fertilizer gives you pretty veggies with very little of the minerals and other nutrients our bodies need, and tends to kill off the micro-organisms which are what convert the unavailable nutrients in the soil into ones the roots can uptake. So having a non-stop source of DIY fertilizer in a form that is easily taken in by the plant is vital to the sustainable garden, which also provides added beneficial microbes and the trace minerals as well as the macro building blocks of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Making a fermented liquid ‘tea’ is that solution. Start with either rain water, good well water, or city water that has been left to off-gas chlorine and other troublesome chemicals. You don’t want to kill off the valuable microbes. Needed: 5 gal. bucket, tank bubbler from the pet store fish section (about $13 Petsmart), 5 gal. mesh paint straining bags from Sinclair Paint (or other paint store), fresh or composted manure, compost or composted soil or freshly dug soil from under trees in a healthy forest or bamboo grove or worm castings compost (or a combination of them, whatever you have available), un-sulphured molasses or organic sugar; optional: kelp meal (B&G Feed), Activia yogurt (small container), Alfalfa meal (non-GMO), granite meal or green sand, used coffee grounds, egg shells crushed, worm castings; Add after brewing is done – Epsom salts, Fish emulsion, collected human pee. Place water in bucket, weigh plastic tubes of bubbler and place at bottom of bucket (if city water, let run for several hours before adding other ingredients), add a ½ to 1 cup of unsulphured molasses or sugar, fit 5 gal mesh bag over rim of bucket and secure with twine. (Can pour stuff directly into water but it will need to be strained later if you use in a sprayer). Add in 2 or 3 cups of each: manure, compost, worm castings, forest soil, a cup of any of the optional material you have, fill water up to 2” from rim, then turn on bubbler. Cover with plastic sheeting – tying with twine loosely – or screening or row cover material. Leave to bubble for 4 days to 2 weeks, stirring every 2 days or so. Remove bag of compost etc., strain if no original bags, mix in optional items such as a cup of Epsom salts, small cup of Activia yogurt (unflavored) which increases breakdown of organic matter in the soil, 2 cups human pee, and/or ½ cup undiluted fish emulsion. Use what you have. Once completed, dilute this original tea with good water and apply either directly to garden beds or put excess into sealed buckets or plastic detergent bottles etc. in the shade. If use as foliar spray strain well 1:10, for soil 1:5 – tea to water. Use within a few weeks to retain potency of microbe population.

FERMENTED WEED TEA Using the same technique as above – with or without the sugars – save all your weeds from the garden (or lawn if not sprayed) and place in bucket with non-chlorinated water. Chop them up for better breakdown of organic nutrients. Cover with water leaving 2 or 3” from rim of 5 gal. bucket. Place in shade away from house as this gets stinky. Cover to keep out mosquitoes. If using bubbler, must have cord access. Weed tea provides great diversity of soil nutrients – use as large a variety of them as are available. Some of the top ones are: Azolla – water weed, watercress or anything in mustard or brassicus family, stinging nettle, chard, alfalfa, comfrey, equisetum, lambs quarters, willow branches, chickweed, dandelions, cleavers, chamomile, lawn clippings (unsprayed), chicory, perilla (aka shiso, Korean sesame), rabbit pellets, parsley, burdock, sorrel or dock, plantain, pigweed, horsetail, and optional bone meal, kelp meal, granite meal, green sand, rock phosphate. Ferment 4 days to 2 weeks, put used plant matter into compost. Use only on soil, not as foliar spray. Can store in plastic buckets or bottles in cool location. Dilute 1 part weed tea to 5 to 10 parts non-chlorinated water. Use throughout the growing season. Provides potassium, phosphorous, nitrogen, many trace minerals, vitamins, enzymes, microbes. Helps to detox the soil. Notes: with both kinds of tea, as a last addition before diluting, you can add bean inoculants (nitrogen fixing bacteria for beans – Cofers Nursery), or mycorrhizae ( which increases beneficial fungi connections for better nutrient accessibility. For larger gardens I use a 15 gal. or larger kitchen plastic waste bin and increase the values of the noted ingredients. Some vegetables are heavy feeders so applying this kind of fertilizer every couple of weeks keeps the plants happy and productive. Esp: tomatoes, night shade family, corn. Compost/Manure Tea can also be used to infuse activated charcoal for bio-char. Never use unfermented charcoal in a garden as it will absorb nutrients and keep them away from the roots. Hillside Gardens, Auburn, Ga.


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The Fine Art of Mulching

As any gardener or farmer knows, the success or failure, work load, and attention necessary of growing things is all in the soil – it’s fertility, texture, depth, ability to hold moisture and general health. One of the Permaculture Design tenants is that you never leave soil open or uncovered. Many farmers do anyway, just putting plants in a row, with open soil all around the plant. Some plants will do alright but what happens is the soil on top dries out, gets blown around or rained on and soil is lost in both cases. We are loosing farm soil at an alarming rate. The USDA tells farmers if they only loose one to one and a half inches of soil a year, it’s good soil management.

It takes nature a hundred years to create one inch of top soil. So, basically when this attitude is taken, using heavy farm equipment and industrial style farming, we aren’t growing or husbanding the soil, we are mining it. When we run out of ‘friable’ (crumbly fertile soil suitable for growing crops), we can’t provide food for people and we will all starve. We worry about peak oil. Peak farm soil and farm land is much more at hand and dangerous.

Without food civilizations crumble because, simply, people need to eat. When they start to experience famine they tend to destroy any civilization around them in their mad rush to eat and feed their families. We take food for granted. Food crisis is already here, and without wise and speedy restoration of our food system, famine is coming sooner than we think. A lot sooner. I’m not a doom and gloom person. I just make my living knowing trends in agriculture being a consultant. And I know our food system is already in danger. Food prices alone have gone up more than 75% in the last 4 years. Have you noticed box contents are smaller for the same price, meat is sky high, everything is more costly.

But study after study by the UN and other international organizations have found that instead of the big industrial sized millions of acres style of food growing using ‘mono-cropping’ (one crop grown by the thousand acres like corn, soy, canola – rape seed, etc.), what provides more food in a more sustainable way and in actual fact CAN feed the world is the small family farm using sustainable practices. The number of small family farms is again increasing as more people are seeing the wisdom of this and wish for that lifestyle.

So, back to the subject of the soil, this idea of never leaving soil uncovered or unplanted begs the question, what does that mean?

In a small backyard garden or small farm, when one crop is done being harvested, the space it took up must be prepared for the next crop quickly and planted. In a backyard garden when a few carrots are pulled, the wise gardener immediately has some other succession crop like beets or lettuce which takes up about the same amount of space ready to put in, either by seed or transplanting seedlings already prepared.

Or a cover crop is planted such as clover, rye grass or other ‘green manure’ plant which when turned back into the soil adds to its fertility.

In a careful garden, where soil is constantly in need of fertilization due to intensive planting, it means that not only is the next crop put in or a little space replanted, but it also means each time digging in a little something to add fertility like some garden waste or a handful of compost or coffee grounds. And until the lettuce gets big enough to shade the surrounding soil which is now open and uncovered, it should be mulched.

Mulch is some kind of organic matter covering above the level of the soil itself. Soil is composed of organic and inorganic matter such as clay, silt, sand, decomposed organic matter, animal manure, plant roots, and micro-organisms such as bacteria, virus, fungi, protozoa, and other tiny organisms. Its texture depends on the ratios of those elements. Mulch is a separate layer sitting on top of the soil providing many things for the living organisms in this rich microcosmic eco system.

Mulch provides many benefits.
1. It covers the soil so the moisture is protected from evaporation. This is particularly important in drought areas, but also any place where it’s hot, especially in summer, where you would otherwise need to water. It also means in container gardens, the amount of evaporation tends to be higher than in the ground requiring more frequent watering. So, an inch of fine mulch can save a lot of watering and the cost of it, as well as the time it takes.
2. Mulch adds fertility to the soil. I am particularly fond of grass clippings caught in a lawn mower over a lawn that is never sprayed with chemicals. The green manure breaks down and adds nitrogen to the soil. But any mulch decomposes and adds to the water holding and nutrition levels of the soil.
3. Mulch provides food for worms. Worms come up to the surface leaving a little channel for oxygen to reach the roots, giving moisture a channel down to them as well, and leave a trail of beneficial micro-organisms which help to break down organic matter into a form the roots can absorb. Also those micro-organisms break down inorganic matter like minerals into a form which the roots can intake.
4. Mulch over time becomes soil by the action of the micro-organisms and the worms, which replaces the organic matter lost through the plant eating what’s in the soil, converting it into the leaves and stems, as well as the fruit of the plant. It needs those sugars, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients provided by organic matter breaking down. Especially important is the fungi which transports nutrients much further through the soil than the roots can reach. Fungi breaks down mulch and organic matter, and even moves it from plant to plant.
5. Mulch acts as insulation for heat and cold. A couple of inches of mulch chosen for the specific use area it goes to, can bring the soil temperature down to one acceptable for the delicate rootlets of a plant in hot weather, or up above freezing in winter. For trees particularly, a foot of coarse wood chips can save a plant when the weather goes colder than the zone it was meant for. I lost 5 trees two years ago when our Zone 7B weather withstood 60 hours of 5 degrees – two zones colder than the trees were meant to survive in. The next year even with newly planted trees, because I mulched adequately, I lost none.
6. Mulch harbors thousands of kinds of fungi which by providing the right kind of material, particularly wood chips but any not-broken-down organic matter, act to foster the growing of the mycelium (strands of fungi which is the body of the mushroom, the mushroom being the fruit) and the breaking down of long sequestered nutrients in a tree’s wood into digestible form. 80% of the volume mass of beneficial micro-organisms is fungi.
7. Adequate mulch will suppress the germination and growing of weeds. Since weeds grow particularly well in disturbed soil, such as if it is tilled, or cultivated, making sure you have at least an inch of cover over the open soil ensures that the weed seeds aren’t activated or if they are, they don’t get any sun to help them grow.
8. Mulched soil tends to be lighter and less compacted making weed pulling, when the odd weed does grow, much easier. The texture difference between well mulched soil and sun pounded compacted soil is amazing and having light soil is so much less energy demanding in maintenance. It holds onto moisture so much better and the roots of weeds just don’t get as much purchase making pulling difficult. If you have to cultivate your beds often, you aren’t using enough mulch. Even using path mulch cuts down dramatically in the amount of weeding necessary and the need for watering.

But all mulches are not equal.

Commercial ornamental dyed or otherwise chemicalized mulch found in landscape and nursery shelves to my way of thinking is just about useless for the growing of food or other consumables. It might look pretty and neat, but it carries with it a lot of stuff the soil can’t use and many of them are toxic. If you’re growing food you don’t want your plants to be drawing in toxic chemicals because you are going to eat that stuff.

I use many kinds of mulch.

Around the little newly planted seedlings in my garden I use the softest finest mulch. I love freshly mowed grass or dried grass fluffy and easy to spread around the delicate little plants. But if I have dry garden waste to chip, that makes a lovely top dressing for annual vegetables.

Around trees, I like coarse wood chips. About once a year I also spread composted manure around each tree, especially those bearing fruit. I also will spread a one inch layer of un-composted chicken coop bedding with wood shavings and chickipoo, but I don’t dig this into the soil around the trees or anywhere because until it decomposes for about 6 months, it is too high in nitrogen/ammonia and will burn the roots. But sitting on the surface and not dug into the soil, it will gradually leach nitrogen and other nutrients in as it rains or is watered, in a slow manner. (I also make manure tea, dilute it, and use that as a liquid fertilizer but always I love manures.)

The manures that have to be composted are cow, horse, chicken, or other fowl. Those that are not hot and can be used as-is are rabbit, goat, and sheep.

As a season progresses, depending on the weather conditions including rain, heat, wind, etc., more mulch may be needed. It breaks down, worms eat it up and mix it in. I have a big chipper and fine chip all the organic waste from the garden. I keep them separate depending on how coarse they come out of the chipper and how easily they will decompose. In fall I chip up corn stalks, tomato vines, dead plants except moist squash vines, autumn leaves, the stems from processed herbs, and any dried organic matter of a fine nature. This is the best for around tender new plants.

I also prune hedges, and in the general progression of a garden various woody branches from trees and they get chipped. These tend to be more of a coarse nature. This kind of mulch is better for around perennial plants such as bushes, perennial flowers, orchard trees and herbs which don’t get replanted often like annual vegetables do. This type of mulch lasts longer on the beds but provides protection for the soil.

Usually perennial beds get a yearly ‘sheet mulching’ (layers of organic and inorganic matter which builds soil) of some inorganic matter like crushed granite for the minerals for the gizzards of the worms (which is used to grind up the organic matter as they eat their way thru the soil), some compost or partially composted manure, and some top mulch. If the soil has shrunk considerably, I may add a few inches of new top soil in newly planted areas, then top mulch that.

I use wood chips as path mulch. For this I like the coarsest type of wood chips. I get them from our local electric company generated from their maintenance of electric lines through the forested areas and to keep the lines clear of trees in general. They even deliver them to us. The mulch on these paths needs to be recharged about every other year. But I notice that if I dig down a few inches below the surface, the soil below that is lush black top soil after a few years.

So, sometimes, before recharging those paths, I will dig up the old mulch base, sift out the larger chips, and take that beautiful loamy soil and use it on my beds to recharge the soil level. The chips come from pretty remote clean areas so I don’t worry about toxins like I would if the trees being chipped were from heavily populated areas or near industrial sites. Trees can collect and intensify toxic materials like heavy metals and petrochemicals if exposed to them over time.

Compost is probably the nicest kind of mulch for vegetable gardens but only the kind I make myself because I know what is in it. Be very alert to the source of any commercial compost as many of those companies add sludge from municipal sources which are absolutely loaded with toxic matter. It must be from a known source. Do your research. If you know a farmer who grows organically, that would be a good source as long as he isn’t also using industrial sludge sources for his own fertilizing.

Another favorite kind of mulch I have used successfully in the past both in pathways and around fairly mature annual plants is straw. Not hay which is basically cut from fields of grasses and wild weeds. Hay is loaded usually with weed seeds and will cause you a lot of extra work. Straw from wheat must be checked out too because farmers are now using Round-Up on non-GMO wheat fields to speed the drying of the grains. Some rice straw is contaminated. But uncontaminated straw from most grains makes great mulch.

Also be wary of hay or straw that comes from fields or pastures where any other herbicide, pesticide or other chemical is sprayed as part of the farmers routine. “Grazon” or similar pre-emergent or pasture herbicide sprays on pastures will knock out your carefully grown broad leaf vegetables such as lettuces and cabbage family. There are some herbicides which are sprayed on organic matter, which stay active for 5 years and have wiped out organic garden and farm crops in England and this country. Know your source. It’s a sad commentary on our world when we can’t trust plants because of man’s treatment of them.

But good natural un-sprayed straw and some kinds of hay if harvested before the plants in the field produce seeds, make wonderful mulch. It breaks down beautifully into rich soil, and feeds the plants and worms beautifully. Same goes for untreated or sprayed lawn grass.

Another interesting kind of top treatment – especially when mixed with other kinds of mulch – feed the soil while also acting as mulch. Organically grown alfalfa, whether in hay form or pellets are very good for the soil and worms. But now farmers are growing GMO alfalfa so again, know your source.

Some kinds of horse feed which is untreated makes good mulch such as Timothy grass. I used to go to my local feed store and they would let me sweep out the semi-trailers which brought in bales of horse and other animal feed, because it was loose and required work to clean up. My exchange was to clean them out and get the good organic matter.

Also, stable bedding with horse manure in it, with also included horse urine, can be gathered as well. But be careful in using this if the horse owners regularly worm their animals because this wormer also kills earth worms, which are your friends. I used to gather nicely composted horse manure and bedding from a customer with stables until I realized I never saw any worms.

One time I found loads of worms, happily, but then I wondered why I didn’t find them always, or why my own beds were lacking in worms. When I figured it out, I never went back for horse manure. It was killing my own earth worms. If you find someone with horses who use natural worm medicine like black walnut tincture that doesn’t kill off the natural worms, that would be OK. But do a test first.

Some people who keep sheep, alpaca or other fur bearing animals use the short furs from the legs or head, or anywhere with shorter fibers, as mulch for their gardens. The plants grow up thru the fibers and eventually the fur breaks down into the soil. It forms a kind of blanket on top of the bed which usually is lighter color, reflecting hot sun as well as keeping in moisture and preventing erosion.

I tried this in a small patch of my garden once but I ended up going back to my plant based mulch. However I know gardeners who swear by using this technique. I was given a goodly supply of older alpaca ‘silk’ (so called instead of fur by alpaca growers) to use as mulch, but I found it was so nice I have been spinning it for yarn instead. The little bit that was too short was so miniscule I didn’t bother keeping it. It depends on what you have available.

If you have a large orchard or widely spaced crops, you can also use un-chipped organic matter such as large leaves from growing plants. If you live near an ocean where kelp or other sea weed washes up on shore, this makes phenomenal mulch and fertilizer combined. People grow the plant comfrey which has large leaves and is also incredibly nutrient rich as a ‘chop and drop’ mulch system, which also does double duty as fertilizer and mulch.

When the comfrey plant gets to be four or five feet tall, they take a machete and whack off the leaves, leaving a foot of the plant above ground, up to 3 or 4 times a season, and lay the leaves directly around the trees or fruit bushes. This is particularly good if you have a regular planting of comfrey every 3 or 4 trees or bushes. You just walk along the row and distribute the leaves as they get cut off. No need to use a wheel barrow.

Another form of mass mulching would be the use of un-chipped corn stalks (from non-gmo corn of course) from a harvester, if it doesn’t already spread the leavings back on the field.

I also gather tree leaves from neighboring towns where the inhabitants rake their leaves out to the curb to be picked up by a big vacuum truck, in autumn. I go there with an empty metal garbage can and a supply of contractor black plastic garbage bags, and a couple of leaf rakes which I use like giant chop sticks. I put the bags in the garbage can to support the bag and make it easier to load. Then I take the two leaf rakes and grab big rake loads of leaves and dump them in the bag.

I prefer the ones where the leaves were run through a lawn mower first as they are perfect for mulch – a 25% ‘green’ (grass), and 75% ‘grown (leaves) for composting and mulching. I try to avoid those lawns where the acorns have been falling profusely as they tend to want to become trees in my garden beds, buried by the local squirrels.

If the tree leaves are full sized, I run them through my chipper into very fine bits, perfect for around tiny plants or composting.

Another use for large bags of autumn leaves, if you have a source with enough volume, is to place a circle of the bags around nursery stock or plants or trees you want to protect from winter cold, such as around a container garden, or baby trees recently planted. They act as wonderful wind protection and insulation. Later you can use the contents for mulch and soil building in the next warm season. I always collect as much of this as I can every year, often making 3 or more trips to town filling the back of my mini-van with bags of leaves. Nobody seems to mind me gathering their leaves.

Having enough gathered organic matter is a constant challenge running an organic garden because I don’t use commercial or chemical fertilizers of any kind except manure, or compost tea of my own devising. So, the soil constantly needs a steady supply of outside sources of organic matter. I used to go to juice bars and get bags of their organic waste when living in California, but this area doesn’t have such a place I can get it from, handily.

However, if you are lucky enough to have such an establishment, work out some kind of deal to get their waste because it makes divine mulch as soil builder. I use it under a top mulch as fertilizer and worm food. If you have a large lawn, capture the grass every other mowing and pile it up or bag it for mulch or soil building in ‘sheet mulching’. You want some of the grass clippings to recharge the lawn itself though and feed the worms there.

I also love coffee grounds because it’s excellent worm food, loaded with nitrogen, and makes lovely soil builder, being the perfect texture. Coffee shops will often save their grounds for you if you supply a bucket and pick it up every day. It’s a bit of trouble but boy, coffee grounds make fabulous soil!!! You might have to pick out the coffee filters, but the abundance of nutrients is worth it. Grounds also make excellent food if you have a worm bin.

A word of caution if collecting grass clippings or other organic matter in large volume from an overgrown location. Watch the seed cycle of the plants. Do your collecting before the seeds are formed or you will be cropping weeds instead of what you want to grow. The idea of using mulch is weed suppression not weed growing.

I like to bag up and save organic matter whenever I find it, or whenever I do chipping. I keep separate kinds separated by location so I know which one to use for which purpose. I keep my eyes open for gathering opportunities and have several regular sources from friends or willing contributors. It’s amazing what you can find if you are looking. Then when I need to recharge a growing bed or am creating a new one with sheet mulching I have everything to hand.

A friend recently was building a house and had a big pile of sand which was too much for the project. She encouraged me to bring a bunch of buckets and several friends, and we filled them up. Now that sand is going onto my beds in preparation for winter. Compost from the summer and chicken poop from a friend’s coop is being spread on all the beds for next year, or recharging my winter growing beds. It all gets used.

If you are wondering why you aren’t getting the kind of yield from your garden or farm, just ask yourself where you can get more organic matter and mulch like a wild person because the more you use this technique the better you and your soil will be. Happy plants come from careful and bounteous use of mulch.

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