4 Steps to a Permaculture Backyard Garden this Spring

1. Map your garden.

If you haven’t done so already, create a basic garden map. This should include the property lines and any topography or other salient features like existing fences, trees, or water features.

Next, add an overlay or separate version of the map that indicates how much sun various areas get. Plants need the right amount of sun.

yellow tulip flower field during daytime
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2. Repair and maintain fences, raised beds, and any other artificial structures.

Walk around the garden. Inspect everything. There may not be much to do, or there may be quite a bit of wear and tear since last year’s growing season.

Depending on the climate, this step might also include replacing garden hoses or getting seasonal items out of storage. Garden items also include the picnic table and fire pit for my household.

3. Prune trees and mulch or compost the old growth from last year.

Oh, the first pruning of the apple trees. They were just planted last year, and the majority of the new growth in the branches had to be removed. This lets the root growth catch up, but it feels so brutal.

Not everyone feels the need to prune trees if they are approaching the garden from a permaculture perspective. That is okay too.

If all the old growth was left to over-winter, a certain amount of rearranging is in order, such as discarding the spent second-year berry canes from last year.

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4. Plan your plantings and start any seeds indoors that need a head start on the season

This is the fun part! For zones 8-10, late freezes are much less of a concern. Farther north, it makes sense to start a few seedlings indoors if you are so inclined.

As the garden matures, there will be fewer and fewer new plantings in the spring. In my garden, I just have to have annuals such as tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, and pumpkins.

Seed saving last year was limited to a few different legumes and some nasturtiums.

With hazelnuts, roses, apples, walking onions, blackberries, and a few other perennials coming along, it is set to be an exciting year!

Backyard Orchard Apple Trees

The backyard orchard starts with trying something

This year, I tried adding two apple trees to start a backyard orchard. I really hope they survive the winter. There are already hazelnuts and blackberries growing, but planting trees took a backseat since they are rather large and hard to move once in place.

net bag with ripe apples on sofa
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I am in Zone 5, which narrowed down the initial selection. Gala apples are one of my favorites and are self-fertile as well as relatively early ripening, so that ended up being tree number one.

The second tree took some thought. I wanted a jack of all trades variety that would also be a good pollinator combination with the Gala.

Ultimately, I went with a variety that was new to me, the Pristine early-ripening variety. It ripens as early as July which sounded appealing given our limited growing season.

Lazy permaculture to build the backyard orchard

Fruit trees take several years to produce, so I’m not counting on apples right away. But I have visions of snacks and pies and canned preserves. Maybe even cider.

Hopefully, both trees survive! I was able to get both into the ground the day after they arrived. They are in a semi-sheltered location that does not tend to saturate (in spite of clay soil) and I think they get adequate sun.

ripe red apples on grassy ground
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Protecting the apple trees

I sprayed once with neem oil after noticing aphids, but I think between rain and wasps they may balance out mostly on their own. I might introduce ladybug larvae in the spring as well.

There is fencing in place to ward off deer. Aside from that, I have not wrapped the trunks or sprayed dormant oil, mainly due to limited time and energy for this project.

Having read somewhere that alliums play well at the base of apple trees, I did introduce some Egyptian onions (aka walking onions). Those have been flourishing in a container planter for a couple of years now. They are well acclimated. They are a fairly indestructible perennial to begin with.

Anyway, several bunches of walking onions had sprouted in the mulch around the Gala especially. Now that the weather is turning in earnest, I hope those come back in the spring too.

Early beginnings orchard

The other big investment I considered was pears, but I wanted to be really sure if the desired site. Also, I couldn’t decide on a variety.

I did get a second small lemon tree, but of course those have to come inside over the winter.

I also came across a FIG variety that is marketed as being hardy down to zone 5.

Needless to say, a couple of those are dormant in the garage, but no matter how hardy they are, I think they have a better chance of survival being planted next spring.

two person standing between green leaf trees
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Mimicking natural forests

In nature, forests have numerous layers including a canopy and understory layer, smaller shrubs and ground cover.

So how did we incorporate these ideas in our garden this year? We added the apple trees. We continued to cultivate blackberries—which are amazingly hardy and productive.

I added the perennial alliums, walking onions, under the apple trees. For ground cover, I sowed white clover through the yard and garden.

Planting fruit trees is a slow starting way to grow some of your own food, but once established, the trees require less ongoing input than an annual vegetable garden. I think that if you have even a bit of outdoor space and select the tree variety carefully this is a great addition to the small homestead.

Hoping for the best! This was the last big project outdoors going into the winter. From here it’s up to the plants.

christmas table decorated with wreaths and candles
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7 Ways to Ditch the Consumer Mentality

Ditch the consumer mentality

Defining the consumer mentality: “I have a problem (or need), therefore I must spend money.”

In a culture of “more is more,” sometimes you just need a reset. I like to find ways to make sure that the things I own are serving me, rather than the other way around.

It’s easy to end up in a lifestyle where you do work, get a paycheck, and use that paycheck to buy stuff and solutions. Ditching the consumer mentality is about finding ways to make your own solutions at least some of the time. In time this tends to decrease the dependence on a paycheck.

scenic view of forest

If the concept is intriguing you might check out the book Early Retirement Extreme which is available from libraries and online including a Kindle version. (author’s website here)

1. Mend an item of clothing

A basic sewing kit ranges from $2-$10. Consider that less than 100 years ago, making at least some of the clothes for oneself or one’s family was a common skillset. Nowadays, sewing is more of a niche crafting skill.

While crafting isn’t for everyone, fixing a seam or replacing a button is easy to learn, only takes a few minutes, and is well worth doing if the item is your favorite.

2. Complete one existing task or project

It’s a lot of fun to come up with ideas and start a new project.

If you have a project languishing around, tackling it can really give you a boost. Plus, then you can start a new one!

For me right now, this is a scarf that has been in progress for a LONG time, and getting some plantings into the ground in the front garden.

3. Cook or bake a thing from scratch

We all have to eat. Extra credit for trying something new or a bit challenging, but I will allow anything at all that you haven’t made before.

Cooking from scratch is another lost art, although the 2020 covid lockdowns made things like sourdough starter popular for a time.

If you find or develop a great recipe, especially for a baked good, that can be a nice item to share and gift in the colder months.

close up shot of a person slicing a bread on a wooden chopping board

4. Propagate a houseplant

Pothos is especially easy, and spider plants practically propagate themselves. (Whether or not they clean the air, plants certainly bring natural beauty inside.) I use a few hanging planters that keep them out of reach of pets and children.

5. Make a library trip

Gone are the days when libraries only had books. They have music, DVDs, and often online resources. Often local libraries host crafting and other creative groups. Some libraries offer “take and make” craft kits.

I wish I were into crafting. It is just not my gift. But in terms of free entertainment, libraries are so amazing. If they don’t have the particular item you want, they can almost always order it from other libraries with reciprocal agreements.

brown wooden bench with brown dried leaves

6. Educate yourself without spending money

Spend an evening on something you find interesting…

Listen to a podcast. Listen to an audiobook. Watch a documentary. Read something not directly necessary to your daily life. Check out Coursera, Bored panda, or Youtube (I love recipes, sustainable lifestyle, and gardening inspiration videos especially.)

7. Invent and make something

This does not have to be a crafty item. A birdbath can be any shallow container, weighted down, with some water in it. A clothes rack. A pillow. Change up home decor by shopping what you already have, repurposing something, or rearranging items. My coffee table started its life as a shipping pallet. My planted fishbowl started out as a gallon pickle jar.

Making, creating, and living on less…

It’s a way of life.

person spreading hands against sun

On Homesteading and Minimalism

Homesteading and Minimalism

Can homesteading and minimalism go together? Both concepts speak to identity. Ultimately, you decide, what does the label mean?

Then, whether the labels apply to you.

Being a homesteader can mean doing more things yourself, being more self-sufficient, and resisting the culture of materialism.

Being a minimalist usually includes defining a personal focus on what really matters, and engaging in an ongoing process of weeding out things that do not add value or meaning.

woman in yellow long sleeve shirt lying on couch reading
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If your ideal homestead includes land, trees, and livestock, then you must own the objects needed to provide care and maintenance. The care itself might be part of an intentional lifestyle.

If being a minimalist includes only owning an arbitrary number of items, you might fall into the trap of being forced to buy items when you need them, and regularly discarding items just to avoid ownership.

shallow focus photo of gray steel trash bin
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Intentional Living

I have been thinking a lot about the themes of a life well-lived. There are certain things that I call “part of my definition of the good life.”

A good example of this is books. Notoriously, books are heavy and not very practical if you move around a lot. I have used a Kindle device, Audible subscription, and Kindle app on my phone at various times. But, I love books.

selective focus photography of brown wooden book shelf
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So, I have found a balance. I buy books secondhand, and I keep a limited number of books that I really like. I come back to them again and again.

But we do not keep accumulating them. Instead, we frequent the library, we use electronic sources, and we limit the size of the home library.

The good life looks different for everybody.

I find that with music, good food, good stories, and companionship, life is rich. Having material things on a bigger or grander scale does not enhance or replace the essentials.

L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

(What is essential is invisible to the eyes.)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince

Commonalities of the Homesteader and Minimalist

Can you be both? I think so.

And what I like about it, is that both ideals can be scaled to your current life.

We don’t have to wait for the perfect life circumstances to come.

old tv set on bench in nature
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You can practice minimalism in your attire or your bedroom.

You can practice homesteading in an apartment or on an acreage.

Commonalities include focus, resourcefulness, and efficiency.

Being mindful. Using resources, including your own time and energy, wisely.

firewood burning in fireplace
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For more thoughts on homesteading and minimalism

  1. Medium – The 12 Design Principles of Permaculture as Rules of Living
  2. Morning Chores – 20 Tips to Help You Become a Minimalist Homesteader
  3. A Home Made From Scratch – Minimalism vs. Homesteading
  4. Homestead Hustle – Minimalism on the Homestead
  5. 15 Acre Homestead – Minimalism in the Home
  6. Couch to Homestead – 9 Essential Tips to Becoming a Minimalist Homesteader
white coffee mug
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