Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Three Years at Rivenwood - A Spring Photorama!

Let's start with Easter...

This is Tyson.  He was a gift from some new friends just a day or two before he met his demise...

This is also Tyson, a couple of days later.  He was a really fat turkey, but made fantastic stock.

This has nothing to do with Tyson.  These are chicken eggs being dyed for Easter with natural vegetable dyes, these with boiled onion skins.  I traded a couple dozen strawberry crowns for a pile of white eggs from some homesteading friends nearby.  We normally don't have white eggs, so the timing was perfect.

Here's the finished product.  What great variation compared to the FD&C-approved version!  The red-brown ones are the onion skin dyed eggs, the purple ones were done with beets, the blue with purple cabbage, and the gold with turmeric.  All in a grapevine basket made by my grandfather.  The variation within one color was due to trying a brown egg with each dye, and the botanical prints were just random things collected from the kitchen garden held fast with pantyhose.

First spinach thinnings of the season were combined with early wild spring greens and edible flowers to round out our dinner offerings to the potluck with friends.  (Forgot to take a picture of the finished product unfortunately...)  That Grandfather sure makes some nice baskets!  And the young spinach was top shelf.

Wide overview of the developing kitchen garden.

Asian pear, rabbiteye blueberry, rhubarb, horseradish, and comfrey polyculture below the bath house.  Strawberries would probably match up well here too, as a groundcover, but the terrain is too steep for the tedious picking involved.

A view to the south-southwest through the woods.  The chicken tractor has been picking its way along new paths all winter, and will hopefully arrive on the other end of the kitchen garden just in time to join the new spring pullets in an as-yet-unbuilt coop and yard when the latter are big enough to defend themselves against the old broads!

View through the Asain pear-blueberry polyculture back across the bottom of the kitchen garden.  White flowers in the background are native dogwoods toward the end of their bloom. We are fortunate to have lots of them. 

New white-fleshed peach polyculture under development on the near end of a strawberry-rhubarb patch.

Trusty old low tunnel hoops that will be packed up for the season by the next post.  The Swiss chard in the middle of this bed made it through a pretty harsh winter undercover.  The near greens are the remaining spring spinach seedlings that didn't get pulled for Easter potluck.  To the left is another peach-centered polyculture, this one planted last spring.

My favorite!  Dinosaur kale.  Or Tuscan kale...or Lacinato kale...whatever you want to call it.

A nectarine polyculture holding down the north end of the strawberry-rhubarb bed.  So far I've companion-planted my Prunus species fruit with comfrey, valerian, sweet mint, lemon balm, sage, self-heal, and perennial onions around the base to repel voles.  Left to add this season are yarrow, bee balm, Fanny's aster, and black-eyed Susans.  You can see the first comfrey tops of the season cut and laid down as a fertilizing mulch to the right of the rocked off area.  We'll get much larger dressings of comfrey later this season.  I just wanted to remove flowering tops for now, until they get bigger.

More of last spring's peaches and plums, with spring pullets in the little tractor in the middle ground, and pink native azaleas in the background outside the kitchen garden.

The new girls.  They are the first stage of any new garden bed 'round here.

My doe rabbit trio in the process of building a new large bed above this Asian plum.

A new Euro plum whip backed by those pretty native azaleas I mentioned earlier.  We now have quite a collection of colorful plums, and I'm just getting started...

You gotta have nuts too.  I mean, in the garden.  (Or to do what we did in the tent.  Either way.)  This is a Chinese chestnut holding down the hillside above the near-future chicken yard.  I'll be adding in some blight-resistant American chestnuts soon, a pair of pecans and an almond or two to try out in this climate, a bunch of hazelnuts, and nut pines in the dry spots. 

Bridging kitchen garden and big garden tours, I've included one shot of hard structural changes.  We added in a 120 gallon propane tank last fall that supplies a gas cooktop and a space heater to back up the old wood cookstove (which worked brilliantly all winter, by the way, for heating and cooking).  I also moved the water tank from below the house to this spot above the house, trying to get more pressure to garden hoses (and potentially a kitchen sink).  It's now ready to be plumbed into the near side of the roof for rainwater collection, which should happen pretty soon.

Picture's a little shaky, sorry, but you've seen this garden before.  Only, each year it moves more toward perennial fruit and herb production, and away from veggies.

Elephant garlic, old raspberries, comfrey, new raspberries, and a whole bunch of garlic (and a few vagrant broccolis that didn't get the message about the fruit/herb thing).

35' of raspberries in their third season.  Should get a full yield this year, and last year's wasn't bad...raspberry jam for Christmas anyone?  To go with the blueberry and blackberry of last year?

This is 35' of new raspberries planted last fall out of the other bed.  (Recently weeded, so a bit ugly, sorry.)  This will give us a summer raspberry snack while they get established.  We hacked the old crop back to get one big fall crop out of this primocane variety, instead of the summer crop it bears on old wood and fall crop on primocanes.

We're slowly building up stocks of the herbs we use most, and comfrey deserves its spot at the top of that list.  Despite recent FDA propaganda (don't worry, if you haven't heard the new slander of comfrey from the establishment, give it time), comfrey is one of the most useful plants on Earth, and one of the brightest stars in our herbal lineup from Small Batch Garden.  Lavender, garlic maybe, few plants should be loved more.  I hate the FDA.  With all my heart.

Speaking of garlic!  I'm growing a whole bunch of 3 varieties this year.  More than I probably should, considering my limited space.  But we should have an ample supply for my garlic-loving household to eat (children included), to plant next year, and to sell some for seed stock.  Funny thing, I planted exactly 365 cloves.  Accidentally.  

Big sweet blackberries coming along nicely, already in flower.  I should be doubling or tripling them this season.

Lots of great blueberries.  But this is not the big crop!  This is the snack aisle...
There's a long mound of strawberries to the right, and a long mound of asparagus to the right of that.

Aren't these pretty?  Just some native woodland irises.

View of the 'stead from down the hill.  We haven't made a real impression on the landscape yet, but we're getting there.

And that's a wrap!
I got mono a month ago - worst thing ever - and it set me back hard on spring preparations.  One more reason to focus on perennial food crops!!  I'm just now beginning to feel better, but I have every intention of kicking a lot of ass the rest of this year.  So much to do, so I better get to it.  But I'll stop back by and catch you up again as soon as I can.

Happy Spring!  Enjoy those gardens.
Tripp out.


  1. Looks great! You've accomplished an amazing amount in three years. Funny how different permaculture looks when you live somewhere where rain falls from the sky regularly. My PC site looks radically different with only 16 inches a year.

  2. Awesome site, thanks for the lovely pictures. Looking forward to reading more. Especially enjoyed the Buhner post. I had a similar experience reading that book.

  3. Your homestead is very impressive! It's a pleasure to follow your progress. I also detest the FDA. I hope you can stay under its evil radar.

    In Seattle it's been so warm that most of my plants are a month ahead - including flowers on the strawberries & raspberries. There's no snow-pack in the mountains, so water will be expensive this summer. Fortunately, my 2500 gallon cistern is almost full.

  4. Thanks, Tripp, for the 'trip' to your place :) Will be back... when the sun it is out! (from someone in Western Washington ;)

  5. Nice photos! What sort of yield are you expecting on the garlic this season?

  6. What a beautiful place! You are indeed lucky to live there. My first reaction was similar to Bryant's: "wow! so much water!" -- in a good year I get 20") :-)

    Where you talk about the companion planting for your fruit trees, do you have a good resource to advise? We're just planting lots of comfrey near ours, but our happiest fruit tree has other herbs with it also (mint, rosemary, artichoke)

    Thnaks for the article,

  7. Nice, Tripp. I'm here by way of the ADR. My reaction isn't about how much water you have but how none of it is frozen. I have most of the snow gone, but there's still a lump in the driveway from the giant pile the plow left, and in the shade on the north side of the house too. I should do a photo inventory.

  8. Saw your link in the comments to John Michael Greer's blog. Impressive. Nice photos. We grow all our produce on 2 acres in Michigan, and for a few years ran a 10-member CSA. You can do a lot on a small piece of land.

  9. Next year 366 cloves minimum, that's what I call progress! Really nice pictures, love what you're doing and jealous of the green! The garlic are only just nosing out of the straw and getting a good frosting every morning here in NH. Found my way here via the ADR.

  10. Bryant, thank you! That's especially nice to hear after having to sit and lie down more than work for the last month with mono! And even better coming from another permie. Yeah, a certain amount of annual rainfall was definitely an important factor when were looking for a permanent homestead at the end of our wandering! I think our minimum requirement was 36"? I've done the 16" thing, in eastern Washington. You're brave. Got a blog of your own? Post a link?

    Yupped, you're very welcome. My pleasure actually! Yeah, Buhner is a different sort of cat, isn't he? "Herbal Beers" is still blowing my mind! Making his whole hive mead this afternoon actually. Once I stop mucking about online (but, you know, it's pouring out there...). Love mead. Interested to see what this will be like.

    Su, I always appreciate your visits to my "virtual living room," as Greer puts it! (And personally I hope the FDA is the next federal institution to get tossed - but really, what are the chances? Drugs? That's the only ACTUAL growth industry left!) 2500 gal tank full? Sounds great. I only wish I had that much storage. That's half a year's water for us! (As long as it keeps raining...I think irrigation during a hot summer drought would push that total north pretty hard!) Is that enough to get you through a dry Seattle summer? You probably have much nicer soil than I do, so that would help.

    Nancy, you're welcome! Maybe I should do my next photo shoot on a sunny dry day? I tend to think a fresh rain makes it all look so much more lush...like Seattle.

    Damo, let's see, out of the 365 cloves I planted about 350 look to produce. I don't tend to get very many real big bulbs, but nearly as big as grocery garlic on average, and plenty of seed-quality cloves. Have you priced seed garlic? Particularly organic seed garlic??

  11. Angus, I appreciate it! (Or "pre-she-ay-tcha" as the locals between here and Chattanooga, TN, tend to say it). From what I understand, if you were to leave Australia because of low rainfall and relatively poor soil, you wouldn't be the first by far. Do you know your countryman Darren Doherty? I took a Keyline farm design course he taught in Aromas, CA, in 2010. Cool cat. But I believe he lives in Virginia now...

    On the other topic, Australia may have the best resources regarding permaculture-style companion planting, but the go-to reference for me is Gaia's Garden (Hemenway).

    Dan the Farmer, yeah, besides annual rainfall total, how much time that water spends frozen was up there on our permanent location vetting process, too! (And here, it isn't much.) So, Dan, now that you're here...I've been wanting to ask you a question that I don't feel comfortable asking over at the ADR: Did you play "Dwalin" in the Hobbit??

    Genepurdum, you have my respect! A CSA, even a 10-member one, sounds daunting to me. What do you mean you don't have enough broccoli for me? But everybody else got broccoli!

    Kristiina, :)

    redoak, thank you much! Yeah, your growing season up there in New England is just too short for me. Y'all are some tough dudes! Sounds like you're doing some good things, too.

  12. Your garden looks all kind of Spring verdant, and it is obvious how very, very much work you have put in already. I would love to see photos of how it looks through the year.

    I had an old timey gardener assure me last week that planting nasturtiums under the stone fruit would prevent leaf curl, but I don't know if I am willing to skip a year of bordeaux spray. Like you, we have a very wet climate here in Tasmania, and leaf curl is dreadful - do you spray, or is your companion planting enough - or do you not suffer from leaf curl in the US?

    On the subject of comfrey, last year in our little Living Better With Less group we learnt to make comfrey salve. When one of our group snapped her achilles tendon she kept applying the comfrey salve and her doctor was gobsmacked at how fast she healed. He'd never seen a tendon knit up so quickly. But he was sure it wasn't the comfrey that did it...

  13. Jo, couldn't be the comfrey, could it? That stuff is simply amazing. We've been making our comfrey salve for 6 1/2 years now (easy to remember because it started out as diaper rash cream for our eldest, who will be 7 next month), and it has healed just about everything we've thrown at it, even difficult tasks like you brought up.

    No, we definitely have leaf curl issues here! And I will definitely be planting nasturtiums under all my stone fruits from now on! Thanks for that little nugget of old time wisdom. Hard to say if my current companion planting would have brought it under control or not, as most things have just gotten their first companions in the last two springs. And now I'll be adding the nasturtiums, so I'll never really know. I can tell you from experience that nothing heals black spot on stone fruit trees like a thick application of comfrey leaf! Fast too. Again, one of the world's best plants.

    I was really grooving on your most recent comment over at the ADR, the one with the Atticus Finch reference, before you showed up here. So it made it that much more exciting to get a new comment when I saw your moniker! And so, from one iPhone shunning apple planter to another, all our best from Small Batch. Cheers.