I love the idea of the keyhole garden, I think you should go for it. It's fine to turn over the top soil and then put compost, etc. on top. Watch for weeds that come up through, depending on what you started with. Any of the mulching materials are fine, they are all a bit different and you may find one works better than another for you and whatever you plant. Any layers or organic material is a good thing. I do use a lot of cardboard, that's my preferred method, I don't worry overly about toxins and I try to use only brown cardboard. Make sure you share updates and pictures whatever you decide, I would love to see.
As a single woman in my 50s, self-defense and physical injury would be my two biggest concerns and weaknesses if I were in a situation where I would have to be self-sufficient for a long period of time. I do believe I could sustain enough food and shelter for myself, and to keep a couple ducks and rabbits alive over the winter months. I don't want to be without a large dog though both for sleeping body heat and the alarm/protection provided. Supporting a large carnivore over the winter by myself would be a huge undertaking. Hunting/trapping skills would not be on par with what I would need, although a spring trap for squirrels might get me close. It's an interesting thought experiment. Having a partner would make this a much more secure scenario.
Water table/ Mud kitchens are also a big hit with small children. They usually can't resist squishy messy container type play!
You may not be getting a lot of "garden work" done, but you are getting a lot of educating, example-setting, and child rearing done. Every minute spent in the yard/garden with you is an investment that will pay back tenfold as your little one grows. The garden and it's work will always be there waiting for you. :)
I'll admit to now and then pocketing seeds from plants and trees at the nursery when I'm browsing... is that stealing? I have a few wintergreen berries tried and stratified this year that I'm hoping will sprout. I think it probably is, and it bothers my conscience but I can rationalize they they were going to be trimmed off or just drop to the pavement and wasted anyway. Do you do this? Is it wrong?
I'm trying chinese noodle beans for the first time this year. I discovered basil tea last year so I'm growing more flavoried varieties this year; lemon, cinnamon, and blue spice. I'm also trying chervil for the first time. Have seeds for both perennial kale and sea kale, hoping I get some results from those, and I'm starting a boatload of asparagus from seed. So perennial additions to the yard. German chamomile as well, which should easily self seed and become a staple. Oh, and miners lettuce. I'm hoping I have an area of the yard suitable for naturalizing that, I'll try a few different spots with the seed I have.
Last year I found a really nice amalanchier on clearance for 75% off. It was quite pot bound and not looking great. After some root surgery I ended up with about 13 really good sized small trees from that one pot! I planted 3 and gifted many more, all have swollen buds ready to leaf out as soon as the weather turns warm in a few weeks. One of my best finds. I always visit the clearance sections too, so many really good deals. :)
On a small level, there are many folks that simply do not know what food looks like outside of the grocery store. Even something as basic as an apple, they will worry that it's not edible, or actually poisonous, or "dirty" if it grows outside, etc. Folks may have no idea that hazelnuts are edible and how to collect and use them. Similar to how acorns are viewed now. I think education and hands-on experience needs to be a vital piece of preservation. Get people interested and involved. Share the product, but also where it comes from. Teach children. Hold open house/yard/gardens. Give plants away, etc. Plant the seed and some few will fall in love with the learning and become stewards themselves. Or maybe I'm just an idealist ;)
I've got my son in law eager to turn his backyard into productive space, and my nephew joins me in my urban lot to start seeds, do a "taste-test" tour regularly, and help with the work. He's got his mom getting them a small community garden plot, where he'll have the chance to see and meet other gardeners too, from different walks of life as well. We've gotta raise and teach others to see the value and know HOW to use it and reap the benefits, as much as preserving the land and forests.
You can never have enough wood chips. I like arborvitae in general, but in limited space and not an ideal spot? yeah, I'd cut it down and mulch it up if possible. Put it back to work for you and make space for something useful.
Nikki, you are better at compromise than I am, lol. My version of "compromise" in that situation would be to divide the yard in half, put up a fence, and say "you do what you want over there and stay out of my half..." LOL.
Hmm. My experience has been with Katahdin sheep, and they were especially hardy and easy to keep. Lambing was pretty straightforward, open-air, no heat lamps or sweaters, rarely did a ewe need assistance (usually I'd help with a breech though). A new hay source led to a calcium deficiency one year, the only time I lost a couple lambs. Lambs were healthy and ewes were maternal, there was just no milk. I should have stripped them better to make sure, but I had gotten used to easy lambings. Supplementing the rest of the flock turned things around part way through lambing and the rest were fine, although I had a lot of bottle babies in that first week. I ran a flock of anywhere from 15 to 30 for about 10 years. Sold my farm and sheep last year, boy I hope the new owners are taking care of my girls.
This was my 2nd year on this small urban property. I always mulch ALL of my fall leaves right into my lawn areas in the front yard. Only house on the street that doesn't put out bags and bags of leaves for pick up in the fall. I noticed THIS year my neighbor to one side did the same thing :) I think the first year they were thinking "what is she doing, she's going to kill her lawn...." and then this summer my lawn looked GORGEOUS long past when others were starting to brown (I also leave it pretty long and overseeded clover). Maybe I'm starting a revolution. The city composts the leaf and yard waste and gives out mountains of it to residents in the spring. I feel a little guilty taking some because I don't contribute to the materials. Same with my grass clippings. The only thing I ever put out on yard waste collections is rose bush trimmings.
There were so many places this fall that I passed with wonderful abundant apple harvests in public spaces that no one touched. I'm not sure what the reasoning is if try to get to the bottom of it. Many don't know they are edible? Won't pick it up off the ground? Don't know how to or when it's ready to pick? Are afraid "wild" apples are somehow poisonous or dangerous? Avoiding bees/ wasps? Maybe a combination of all of that. It was frustrating to see so much available going to waste. Maybe I just didn't see whatever portions may have been picked up by the homeless or folks passing by. I did stop by with a small bag and gather a bagful for my rabbit.
Now that I'm back in the city I've been pursuing information on starting or taking over a community garden space with plans for orchards, etc. Wondering how to get folks more interested in actually utilizing free food. Maybe they simply need to be told.
My nextdoor site sounds almost identical to yours filled with exactly the same sort of typical posts :) I gave away some free plants on mine this past year, and I'm hoping to use it in the spring to invite neighbors to an open garden/ plant share afternoon.
It's not hard to only keep a small number of breeding stock over the winter especially with small stock like ducks, rabbits. Both need shelter and bedding, but handle cold and snow just fine in zones like mine. Rabbits can produce a lot of meat over the course of a spring/summer/fall and then keep back just 3 adults over winter. Surplus duck eggs store well for long times, and good layers will lay through October and start again in February. So, maybe 6-8 weeks without fresh eggs, after you use up your supply. I ate duck eggs almost every day with just 3 laying females. They'll also raise their own young if you let them. You can store meat without a freezer during winter months if your zone gets cold enough. Rabbit, duck, and duck eggs go a far way to supplying protein requirements. Add nuts to that... I raised sheep and pigs too, but I never kept pigs overwinter and sheep WERE a more difficult prospect with quite a lot of stored hay and grain put up. I wouldn't consider them easy or low maintenance. Not difficult, but did require more labor and food storage space. Unlike some livestock they can get some water requirements met on fresh snow. You do still have to water them, but it's not as dire as some livestock when you have bad weather that makes getting to your stock challenging.
Well, we had a terrible preschool experience. My daughter was an early reader and for almost half a year the teachers let the other children call her a liar and even sometimes joined in before they bothered to actually give credence to the idea that she actually could read and take the time to see. For two years after she refused to read out loud. Generally an introvert, she often internalized things and wasn't easy to draw out to discuss. I was always behind in what was going on with her, although I knew it was something.
Then we had a wonderful amazing Kindergarten experience with a teacher who was on top of her game, understood my daughter from the get-go , nurtured both her sensitive easily-damaged side AND her precocious side. We were back on track, she was blossoming again.
Then first grade in public school. Bored child, youngest in her class, brand new teacher, and a "counselor" that didn't like that I was making waves as a young parent. We stuck it out, barely. By the start of 2nd grade my child was really struggling again, disliked herself, wanted to "fit in". Would do her homework, show it to me so someone would see that she could do it, then secretly she'd erase a portion of her correct answers and deliberately make them wrong before handing it in, so it would look like everyone else. And so she wouldn't be accused of lying or cheating . She was SIX YEARS OLD.
The last straw was a teacher grabbing her by the front of the shirt, in front of me, and telling if she didn't stop crying I wouldn't be allowed to come to any more xmas shows. That was her last day. From that day forward we Homeschooled and every month was better and better. If I could do it over I would spare her the early experiences. She's 29 now, owns her own home, is in a beautiful relationship, has amazingly fascnating hobbies, and I couldn't be more proud of the young woman she has become.
That's my warning of doom and gloom. I do realize not everyone has these sort of experiences with institutionalized schooling. But for us it was a really bad fit, put my child and my family through some serious stress and strain, and ultimately forced me to homeschooling, which turned out to be an amazing journey.
More great ideas, thanks everyone. Season extension is something I'm definitely looking into with cold frames and double-hoop covers. I was managing to grow several cold hardy greens uncovered through mid-November, that was encouraging. Fridge space isn't an issue for me, mine tends to be much too empty most of the time, so storing fermented jars after they have finished is a benefit for me, takes up air exchange space. Freezer space is at a bigger premium for me. Do they make units with a bigger freezer and smaller fridge? Hmmm something else to research. Didn't think about the salt intake.. that needs some consideration.
Love all the ideas here, thank you all. My neighbors have been wonderful so far, everyone seems to MYOB, so as long as I keep things discrete and hidden from the street/ gate view I can probably get away with a lot. I have heard stories of neighborhood watch people "helping" the zoning commision though, and doing walk throughs of neighborhoods INCLUDING going up driveways to look through back gates into fenced back yards. I have 6ft privacy fence but an open wire gate with a strategic view lol. Funny about the rabbit and calling her a greenhouse heater LOL. When I got her I was calling her a grass powered lawnmower. Again, with a visible greenhouse I have to be careful what I put up as a "structure" @@. I'm still researching that area of regulations to find out what size it can be before it's not allowed, or how open it has to be to not be a "structure" in the yard. It's not ideal, but I stayed with relatives for 6 months house hunting in a competitive market with a small budget. The size and price of this house/ lot was perfect, and after being outbid in neighboring towns for something similar (with much better garden/ livestock regulations) I had to grab up this one. All things considered, it is GOOD in many ways. Working within or around regulation parameters is an interesting challenge and only sometimes frustrating. If it gets too ridiculous I'll consider moving again, although leaving gardens behind is SO HARD!
Nuts: I put in pecans and hazelnuts, will be a few years before I see anything from them!
Loving the outdoor, perhaps below ground storage ideas! Will give that a good think over the winter too.
As far as growing and storing what I eat, that's a challenge I didn't mention in my OP. I don't do carbs. Almost at all. Managing insulin and joint issues with diet and yoga requires limited sugar/carb intake. So that is another layer of challenge with winter storage that is so often root crops/ starchy veggies! Canning IS something I'm also looking into, but want to explore non-cooking options. Day 3 on my first batch of fermented cucumbers...
I recently sold a sheep/duck/rabbit farm to move back to the city. I did raise my own meat and eggs, and the rabbits I processed myself. They lived a life as natural as possible in captivity, with fresh food and fresh air, and same-species company. They were never frightened or handled roughly from the moment they were born until the moment they died I knew exactly how they lived, what they ate, etc. It was much harder sending my sheep off for processing, it would have been much better for them if I had a way to let them stay on the property start to finish. If I could have done that myself I would have. I have no intentions to stop eating meat or eggs, but I dislike purchasing it from where I don't know how they lived or died, and it feels hypocritical letting it be "out of sight out of mind" as long as someone else is doing it. I do have a backyard rabbit now, I wasn't going to be able to produce enough of my own compost material without additional input. She has a litter box with fine shavings and all urine and manure goes into my compost bin. No backyard livestock are legal here, but she is discrete and I have good neighbors. If I can devise a way to blend a small quail hut into my yard I may see if I can sneak in a group of females without raising eyebrows. I miss fresh daily eggs the most out of all the farm product.
This winter I'm looking at more ideas for next year's food storage. My new urbanish house is only 600 ft2 and no garage or basement. I have my electric bill down to a very affordable $40/ month and I do not want to add appliances to that if I can avoid it.
My two thoughts so far are 1) Fermenting and 2) solar dehydrator build. I've already done *some* research into both of those ideas, and fermenting is something I can practice over the winter with store-bought produce. The videos I've watched so far are suprisingly so much easier than I thought the process involved. Picking up suitable jars at thrift stores, etc. How much fermented food can one eat? How quickly does it start becoming something you just can't stand the taste of another fermented thing (if at all?). Maybe I'm thinking I could rely on that TOO much?
Solar dehydrating; I realize that will be a seasonal challenge, with only things that are harvested while the days are still long enough to dry? I've seen several models on youtube that look promising and some threads on this site that I can revisit over the winter months. I'm fairly handy with power tools and with sourcing reclaimed materials. I'd love any thoughts or suggestions regarding making this work.
I should also spend some energy on finding ways to extend my outdoor growing/ harvesting season so less storage is needed. I do have two outdoor sheds, but they get quite cold in the winter, not sure if there are things that can be stored under cover in "outdoor temperatures" without ruining them. Depending on snow, even getting to my larger shed for access is a problem. I have physical challenges (rhuematoid arthritis) that constrain my winter outdoor manual labor output abilities, so digging out or shoveling to outdoor storage presents a challenge. Underground root cellars, etc. might be off the table for me. Same with unsightly aboveground ideas (strict codes here, things even in the backyard need to be unobtrusive and pleasing to look at, possibly even with purpose disguised. Let's not mention my illegal rabbit and future illegal quail.
My cat loves mint in all it's forms, he even has a small mint garden outdoors that I let him have access to when we are outside ;) I would not count on mint repelling any cats. I might actually use mint to attract them away from beds I don't want them in and make another area more attractive. I've had good luck with sprinkling garlic cloves in raised beds that neighbor cats were visiting, and my dogs keep most of them out of the yard during the hours we are home. But they are indoors overnight so we still get some "visiting." I think cats avoid onion smells as well.
There's really too wide a variety of possible parasites. Many will die with exposure to sunlight and drying, but others can persist in soil for years , or make their way into water sources, or get picked up by snails, frogs, etc. as an intermediate host. Some have incredibly tough outer coverings that protect it dormant from any harsh environmental conditions. Some larval stages leave the poo shortly after touching the ground so heating the poo after you find it is just too late. When I had land I had a separate compost pile for cat/ dog waste but they were my own animals and I knew their health and condition. I like the idea of a deep bottomless compost bin the best for this.
One idea for planting in deep mulch areas, depending on your feelings on reusing plastic.. I cut large plant pots into a few rings a couple inches tall, and use it around small plants/ seedings to keep the mulch back until they are a bit bigger (and so I don't forget and step on them) .
Bren I love your property and all the mature trees there! So much potential. Where to start? That's so personal. It sounds like you've already spent time observing and mapping out the plot. I would suggest starting with what is most important to you. Sounds like reducing mowing and getting that kitchen garden in? One idea for reducing mowing is to put a wide mulch ring in around under your trees. Depending on how much you want to do, maybe even connect them into large "islands." You could easily reduce your mowing by half just with that step. Do you WANT all of the trees? any plans to get remove certain ones? That might be a first step too, if possible, get that done and out of the way before you start building gardens. If it were me I'd be stockpiling cardboard and finding some free wood chips ;)
I had GREAT success with chipdrop, and had them delivered to my work parking lot. But I got 2x what I needed, lol. I've been trying to give them away on craigslist, FB marketplace, local Nextdoor site, no luck. Blows my mind, I looked for free chips for months; am I really the only person in my part of the state looking for free clean wood chips?! LOL. Now I've got to pay someone to move them before snow plowing starts. I'm not complaining though, they are fabulous mixed chips and they've already reduced/ started composting by half. Chipdrop did take about 8 weeks after my request before the delivery but it was a good haul!
RE: mint. Nepeta/catmints can be really polite garden mints. Mounding habit, gorgeous bee-attracting flowers, lovely fragrance.. and you can make tea with them too! I have quite a collection in my gardens and under fruit trees, blueberries, just love them. I chop and drop them when they need trimming too, aromatic mulch that hopefully repels and confuses pests!
Charli, one of the only things this house came with was 4 large rose bushes. I never appreciated roses before! The are excellent thorny habitat for small birds and mammals, create a lot of ground protection, and the blooms start in June and then reblooms go right through to the mid fall for me. I had no idea they were so versatile. I'm working on figuring how to develop and use rose hips (I understand, I think, that not all types of roses are useful this way). Almost all of my flower arrangements included roses. I also use a lot of non-conventional fillers... like catmint and marigolds. They are WONDERFUL in bouquets and long-lasting cut. Who knew? And they are both already hard working permaculture plants in their own rights. How about sochan/ cutleaf coneflowers? LOTS of tall yellow daisy like flowers on long stems, and lots of delicious greens in the spring.