It felt so odd typing 2020 into the title. Can you believe we are almost at 2020? That is amazing. I am excited to enter this new decade in our space, expanding and honing our vision for this land.
This is the time of year where any spare time is spent looking throughout seed catalogs, comparing the seeds I purchased last year with my notes on how things did where, seeing what I still have some seeds for, and what I need to purchase. We had so many things do so well last summer, and we had a lot of new things go into the ground we won't see a harvest from for several years. Some of our woodland medicinals fall into that category as they take several years from seed - and we have some from bare root and some from seed. We may not see Goldenseal for awhile, but we know it is there.
The plan for 2020 is to expand all of the garden areas, increase the forest guilds, plant around the whole back garage building, plant more natives and water loving plants in the moist areas, and more drought tolerant natives where it is dry. I love posting my lists to the blog because is it a great thing to have when I look back next year, comparing notes and memories. It also makes me feel more accomplished when working on a few acres, because when you don't plant in rows, sometimes it looks like not a lot is there, when in actuality it is a vast amount of plant materials, but spread out over land as plant do naturally in the wild.
2020 Medicinal Perennials
It feels like we have a small part of the acres planted, but when I look at that list I feel pretty satisfied that we have been working forward in our 15 months living here. One thing we are working towards is creating a botanical sanctuary space where we can give plant walks and where we work to preserve wild plants from our region and county. We are lucky to be very near a large state wildlife area that is several thousand acres with no trails, no parking (other than a few gravel spots on the highway). In studying some of the rare Wisconsin plants found in that area, I am able to focus also look to grow some of these endangered plants that are found within a mile of our land. Our area is a part of the wetland drumlin complex left when the Wisconsin glacier receded, and we have tamarack and mixed deciduous forest, drumlins (our house is along the edge of a drumlin), and the wildlife area even has a tamarack bog. Yes, I am a botany geek. It has so many unique grasses, sedge, and plants such as sensitive fern, marsh ettle, bellwort, bloodroot, blue cohosh, rue-anemone, canada mayflower, and even a rare bog rosemary. Wisconsin even has an orchid species, that has been reported in that area. We know that area also has muskrat, otter, mink, deer, cranes, wood ducks, fish, and many other animals and species that reflect how amazingly diverse this area has always been. If we can plant and diversity even a few acres of land, we will have a pretty spectacular place here. Big goals. One step at a time.
This has been our first growing season at this property. It was a good idea to start smaller, and build a few garden areas first, and see how the wind, water, sun, animals, and insects are. Some things did amazingly well - we still have tomatoes up to our eyeballs in late September - and some things, meh (beans? where are the beans?). The medicinal herbs bed was a good start as well. It was enough to manage 5 different locations of herbs as I went through a summer finding an amazingly wide variety of medicinals growing wild on our land or road.
As we wander towards October, things are winding down and and yet we also still have so much happening. I love the location of the main food bed, and it will be easy to expand along down the side every year, and to slip a greenhouse in that area as well. I can tell what herbs I need to grow more of next year, what I should pull, and where to transplant out some of the bush seed starts that will be ready to upgrade to their own areas next year (St. John's Wort!).
Draper, our dog, and I, have walked miles and miles this summer on the land. My step tracker says I hit 40-50K a week, and that is mostly here. Back and forth, up and down, side to side, all the way around. I am so happy at how many medicinals and natives we have growing here, and am pretty happy with the start of both the front and back orchards. We had one tree seller that had a horrible die rate (and a really ridiculously work-intensive hoop jumping return guarantee), but other plants have all done really well. WE have apple, plum, peach, pear, cherry, elderberry, nannyberry, aronia, goji, raspberry, currants and more - all that will hopefully have fruit by next year.
I am especially happy that I still feel good here, like walking, rarely see another person, haven't had any issues with animals, only minimal insects (deer flies in July - I'm talking about you - and I haven't missed since you disappeared). It still feels right and good. And beautiful and big. The views are still wow, the smell of the air and the wonderful blue skies and light breezes are amazing.
We will now start thinking about prepping the chicken coop and run for winter. I have some ideas that I need to test out - I want some areas sheltered from huge snowdrifts, but also want to still be able to see them so if anything gets in there with them, I know. I want to rig an insulation panel system that uses velcro for panels that go up and down for ease of cleaning (and there is rafter ventilation). The solar light system is good, and we had an outlet put along the back wall so we can run a water de-icer out there and a light for winter. We have great motion sensor lighting system, but want more inside the coop light. My husband wants to move them against the house for winter, but I don't want mice and think they should stay where they are, so we shall see.
I can't wait to pick all our pumpkins we grew, see the leaves change, and pull in for fall and winter. I am in need of a nice winter of fireplaces, baking, and working on my writing projects. Here is to a good first year. xo
I have always wanted to keep bees. I love their magical dances, quiet dedication to the greater good, their dedication to the queen and enigmatic communication that we humans don't understand. We have always worked on having habitat for native pollinators, who do need our help. And while some think bringing a box of bees into an environment is not natural, what the bees do when we "keep" them, it really pretty independent from us as much as we pretend to have control over the situation.
When we moved here I knew I wanted to keep bees. I was happy to see that the neighbors who have their permaculture forest guild wilderness across the road had a few hives down the road. I know most of the native plants and medicinals we plant are loved by both natives and honeybees, and we also planted two areas of orchard. We have bush fruit in the back orchard area - cherries, elderberries, nannyberries - and in the front orchard we have aronia, goji, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, apple, peach, plum, and serviceberry. We also have wild raspberries, mulberries, and blackberries. And, we have many other plants and flowering trees. Truly enough support and food for our pollinators.
So, of course as it goes, we installed bees when they arrived at the post office. We had everything ready to go, and we transferred them into the hive. As a new beekeeper, while I spent years reading about beekeeping, I have been reading ongoing now as well, so that I follow the season and know what to look for as I have been inspecting and checking throughout the summer.
I was a little nervous on my first inspection, but know that they can smell our fear, and so I focus on telling them how amazing they are, thank them for pollinating my plants, and radiate love. It might sound cheesy, but I do think that helps keep them calm. I do inspect suited up - I know some don't wear gloves or a suit - but I move with intention, carefully, and thankfully. The inspections have gone well all summer. I find what I should, I proceed through the hives, and I find the queen or evidence of the queen.
I know as I get more experience working with them, I will expand with more hives and probably experiment with different processes or setups. I love the idea of natural beekeeping, but know that with mites and other issues that can arise being so common, I should be a responsible beekeeper and do my best to keep them healthy before I experiment or try new things. So many long-time experienced beekeepers are losing their hives - or a lot of their hives - every winter, so I hope to make it through a winter.
Now that we are in September, I have checked the hive again and we will start looking towards preparing them for winter and protecting them from invaders looking for warmth and food. I am happy to finally be keeping bees, after dreaming of them for many years. Every time I walk the dog on the back acre I see our hive setup and am grateful for all of the changes we have made in the past year to get here. My whole family jumped in headfirst to get us to this new place, and our life is so different than it was one year ago. We overwintered successfully in this new place, now we need to get the bees through their first winter here as well.
One of the things we have wanted to include on our little farmette is chickens. Not only do chickens lay eggs, and my teenager is, and has always been, a chicken whisperer (and while he is allergic to all mammals/meat/milk, he is not allergic to feathered animals or eggs!), and they are also wonderful in a permaculture system. They eat bugs, weeds, and bits and pieces of garden plants, and they leave rich fertilizer for our compost, orchards, and gardens. We are raising them only for their eggs and fertilizer, not for meat. They will hopefully live a long and happy life here at Lunar Hollow!
We got 6 sexed chicks in early March, and inevitably one was a rooster - so we have 1 big guy and 5 hens. We have 2 golden laced wyandotte, 2 silver laced wyandotte, and 2 barred rock. They should all be pretty cold hardy in our Wisconsin winters. The boys initially wanted to name them after epic video game characters (Ahri, Aurelion Sol, Cassiopeia, Fiora, Jinx, Kai'sa, Shyvana, etc.), but I have just naturally fallen into calling them by names that end with the -ie sound, since it is easy on the mouth and easier to remember for me, so the names are starting to stick. The boy is Budgie, then we have Siouxie, Terri, Cyndi, Annie, and Toni. (Can you tell how old I am from the names?)
We live with a natural woods barrier on one side, but 3 other sides are pretty open for wandering (& one side is along our road), so we have not let them roam without supervision yet. Every day they get out to roam in a different area and we are taking them farther from the coop and run each time, and training them to come back when called (treats!). It took a few of us to herd them back each time, but now I can do it myself with only minimal clucking sounds, as they know what awaits them when they return. As the summer winds down, they will get to wander in our food gardens, medicinal beds, and orchard, and we will know they will come back with us when it is time.
We started with just 6 chickens, but plan to add possibly geese or ducks next year, if we make it through the first winter with the chickens. We shall see. It worked out well for us to start with only 6 and get used to the routine and care of the chickens before expanding.
It is interesting to see the intelligence of the chickens, see their personalities, and see them learn and figure things out. They are fun little dinosaurs! Our next phase for the chickens is figuring out the best way to add some shelter/tarp area for rainy season and as we go into winter and snow. Also, winterizing the coop...any tips?
Summer has been in full force here. Record breaking heat, storms, winds, sunsets. All spring it was a lot of work, but also a lot of discovery. We first looked at this home last July and moved in September, with only a few hours on the property in between. So, it was a guess about the land, the plants, the soil. We have been really happy to find so many natives and medicinal plants growing here. For awhile it was a daily discover, and now in peak summer, I have identified a lot of what is growing here. We have been very lucky to find (I'm sure I am forgetting a few):
sThere were also many garden plants in ground besides the trees including asparagus, raspberry, and strawberry.
We also have been working to plant a lot of food and medicinals. We started by creating a few beds in one primary area and widening a few existing beds. We got a lot into the ground. We started a beautiful triangle medicinal bed and a strip along the food bed for plants that can be moved out into more of a permaculture guild design ongoing - including wormwood, anise hyssop, tulsi, skullcap, brahmi, calendula, white horehound, dagga, echinacea, milkweed, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, St. John's Wort, mugwort, hyssop, clary sage, elecampane, Moldavian dragonhead balm, lavender, agrimony, thyme, sage, evening primrose, and a bunch more. We also got plants such as rose, valerian, solomon's seal, black cohosh, american ginseng and a few others into the ground, but it will take a few years to see anything. We also have about 50 pots with herbs on our deck and stairs in back that includes rosemary, fig, lemon, lime, passionflower, and more culinary goodies that like heat. We installed a few flower cutting beds as well, to have fresh flowers all summer - which is nice. We have also been preserving and pickling away from our food beds.
I feel like there are not enough hours in the day, but that is the nature of working a few acres, homeschooling, volunteering almost full time, having a mentor, volunteering in clinic, taking several classes, and trying to have a life! I am enjoying summer as much as I can, while also starting to look forward to autumn and winter for downtime (ha!).
All of that and I have not even mentioned our dog, chickens, or bees. We not only got a new house, we got a whole new life.
More later. Because one thing I have noticed is that I mess the blogs of the 00's. When we would write, share, read, comment, and have actual conversations. I feel overwhelmed by instagram and facebook a bit. More of a throw everything at the wall and see what sticks endeavor, not conscious thoughts assembled to share connect. I mean, I suppose there are people trying to do that, but the more "popular" one is on social media, the more it is just posting to get everyone to tell you how amazing you are. Not anything that benefits the relationship between the two or the reader/viewer. Mostly a poster ego stroke, and I am just not into that. I feel like I want to get some of the old engagement and conversation back. SO, I will be writing likely to myself, for myself, with only myself to read it, but ... it is time to take back this space. until then.
We have had a few months settling in, getting used to wind, water, slope, drainage. Bugs, animals (lots of animals). We have been working to develop a big plan for planting, but really wanted to get to know things a bit first.
We have been working on the big plan - where the beehives will go, the compost pile, the coop, the cutting garden, the food garden, the fruit trees/orchard, the cane fruit, the nut trees, the medicinal gardens, the greenhouse. I have been working on and tweaking a digital plan (see above). We adopted a dog recently, and so I have been walking the perimeter in sun, rain, and snow, so some of that will change as I have walked the land so much I have a better idea of space and light and drainage.
I am trying to make gradual process in some areas, but I also want to get a lot done (without burning out my family helpers). We laid out some black tarps in the fall, planted some canes and fruit, deer-proofed the small plants - we see a dozen deer a day on our property - and then plotted out where the other beds will go and where we hope to install the high tunnel. We have many bare root and 2nd year plants coming in the spring, so we will plant as we get them! We have our starter beehives and bees will be coming this spring. We have a plan for chickens and geese, but we may ease into that as we recently got a dog and there is much work to be done to get this all started, and more coop and animal care might be too much for everyone. We shall see how we feel once the snow starts to melt!
Our goal is to create not only a permaculture farmette here with food and medicinal plants, but also educational gardens and a space for classes. By working to preserve endangered plants as we can, this space will become a botanical sanctuary, caring for pollinators, plants, and people.
We setup a large seed starting system and I have started seeds. I will share more on that later - but here is our big plan for this year.
2019 Planting Plan
If you follow me on facebook or instagram you likely already know the news. We are moving! We have been in this home for 3 years, but we have always had in the back of our mind that we would move again for the right property. Acres. With high speed internet. Rural, but accessible to the airport for my husband who travels on business. We have always felt uncomfortable with people right there when we are in the garden. We are lucky that we actually have great neighbors that we love to chat with, but it still feels like a fishbowl.
From February to June this year we had constant issues with my older son's health. The mast cells are wreaking havoc and his body is reacting and responding to everything. Over a few months he had a biopsy, 2 MRIs, a few scopes, a dozen blood draws, and an urgent care visit. We have some answers and we have been making changes via foods and herbs to support him ongoing - but all of that pretty much reinforced the idea that we need a place where we can settle in for the long haul and where we can just work together as a family. A home that works for us now, and will work for us with adult child or children still living at home. We found one home that was amazing and after a hectic week we discovered the owner used an open house to push an existing accepted offer - and we just wasted time even trying.
About a week after that we were in a small town 40 minutes east and I half heartedly mentioned a house I saw that was nearby - should we drive by? We drove past and immediately called the realtor for a showing the next day. We have been wary of homes that have been lived in since mu son and I react to everything people have used in the home - cleaners, detergents, plug-ins, air fresheners, you name it. But we were in the house for an hour without any reaction. It was spotless, well maintained (anal retentively, almost, which is good). The only house you can *see* when standing anywhere on the property is almost a mile away (there are closer neighbors, but there is a large wooded area of pines, so we cannot see them). Glorious. We put in an offer before we had even listed our house and it was accepted.
We had a frantic week of packing half of everything we own to stage the house for the realty photographer and an open house. The house was listed on that Thursday and on Sunday the open house happened. On Wednesday we had an offer and our house was sold (we have amazing realtor team too). I am not much of a woo person, but I have always felt if something is too hard it wasn't meant to happen. This came together perfectly because it is what we need at this time.
We had high speed internet tested - and it is indeed high speed. The well was tested and it is deep and clean. We had the house inspected and it is not only beautiful, but in great condition. While I can't wait to update the kitchen cabinets and light fixtures throughout the house (a little country for me), it has real wood floors, floor to ceiling windows in the living room with views for miles (literally). It also has a full lower level that can be used as classroom (!!) and business space now and will be a perfect an A apartment if he needs it in the future.
We only have a month to now pack and move. A month or so is plenty of time to make big plans. We want chickens. Greenhouses. Extensive medicinal herb gardens and integrated layered permaculture systems throughout. There is a forest side - perfect for medicinal woodland plants, and plenty of flat space for serious expansion of growing. The property also already has fruit trees, restored grasses and prairie areas, and it is on a road with only 3 other homes, next door to horses. It is also zoned rural so no HOA. Plenty of room to grow food and herbs and have fresh air and sunshine.
Being in this home for a few years has been a good step for us, but we are ready to make the move to better match our lifestyle and to make a better day to day for all of us. We have been waiting and working for many years wanting big open skies, huge views, green rolling hills, and land of our own. It is time.
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, permaculture designer, organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.
©2007-23 Denise Cusack, all photos and text. Feel free to share my posts on FB or Twitter or online media or pin on Pinterest (thank you!), but please keep the links back to my website intact (meaning please do not take or copy my images off of this website and share them unattributed or without linking back here or use them without permission). Thank you! :)
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