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Kirk Schonfeldt

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since Aug 09, 2013
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I grew up in the big city wishing I was a country boy, composting, gardening, foraging, exploring, learning.  I've been a Certified Permaculture Designer for over 15 years.  I'm a plantsman and gardener, holistic orchardist, raise chickens and bees, cook/can/ferment/dehydrate, barter, explore and learn. Now on a homestead in south-central Iowa.
South-central Iowa
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Recent posts by Kirk Schonfeldt

Here's what has worked for me in Iowa in dappled to full shade:

Black raspberries
Caucasian Mt Spinach (CMS)
Lemon balm
Autumn olive
Garlic chives

5 months ago
I do a variety of things with my "weeds", chop n drop, compost or weed teas. I also grow comfrey along the border of my main garden area specifically for chop and drop. I have also considered growing miscanthus over my septic leach field to harvest nutrients and use as mulch in my garden beds, but not sure growing a vigorous perennial grass over my leach field is the best idea. Perhaps it would be wiser to grow vigorous annuals like sunflower, amaranth, pearl millet, sorghum, etc? Anyone care to share their experience trying to harvest nutrients from an existing leach field?

I've also considered in new garden areas planting every other bed to perennial dynamic accumulators like comfrey, alfalfa, clover, etc as a source of chop n drop mulch for the other beds. Anyone doing this?

I love the unique peppery-ness of Nasturtium leaves. I wonder if they could be dried/powdered and sprinkled on foods. That would be...interesting.
1 year ago
I'm planning to try black cumin, Nigella sativa, though its an annual...

(Fennel flower; Russian caraway; Black caraway) Commonly featured in Indian dhals and equally at home in Russian rye bread! Aromatic black seeds resemble fennel in aroma and taste something like peppery nutmeg. Seeds can be ground and used with near abandon like black pepper. Its legendary healing powers are summed up in the Arab proverb, “In the black seed is the medicine for every disease except death.”
1 year ago
My daughter and I love growing and harvesting our own teas. We haven't blended much but here are our favorites (mostly made with fresh herb in the warm season, sweetened with honey from our hives and drunk cold).

1. Tulsi - Love the fruity, clovey/spicy flavor, this is our favorite!
2. Anise Hyssop - Love the sweet licorice mint flavor, hard to beat!
3. Peppermint (Mint/Nettle) - Yum! I often dilute mint 50/50 with nettles and my daughter never notices!
4. Orange Spice thyme - this is a small-leaved, small-statured thyme variety so I need to propagate. It makes a lovely tea.
5. Lemon tea - Lemon thyme is the base, but I add lemon basil, lemon balm and often a squeeze of lemon.
6. Hibiscus - makes a great tea, but I have had great difficulty germinating the seed and growing myself.
7. Chamomile - easy to grow and dry a years supply. We grew a high-essential oil variety and its potent, should blend to dilute and mix with another relaxing evening tea herb (lemon balm?).

I need to try the wild Monarda sp. around here (though its flavor is more medicinal/oregano. Also, I'm more inspired to add various "medicinal" herbs in tea blends.

1 year ago
I appreciate you wanting to keep it local. I think you could vastly improve your soil this way. Do you compost your humanure? This is certainly a big step to closing the nutrient cycle. But on a relatively small homestead scale I think it judicious to import necessary minerals to bring soil back into balance (I was greatly influenced by Albrecht, Reams and Steve Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener) I am okay with importing minerals that are absent or severely limiting due to geology or past misuse of the land. For my circumstance, that is primarily P, and also some micros, which I have chosen to add back via Soft Rock Phosphate (and MAP on my more alkaline areas). I have only been at it a couple of years (and already started with overall excellent, fertile soil) but am seeing my soil come more into balance and produce more higher brix fruit and veg. I think of mineral imports as a temporary compromise that will reap long-term rewards for generations to come if the soil is managed and protected. Good luck!

1 year ago

Andre Lemos wrote:Jim,
you already have broom growing so let it grow and spread for 4 years and chop and drop them on the year 4.
In Portugal we used to use broom as fertilizers.

Good luck!

Be aware, broom or Spanish broom is a perennial leguminous shrub that fixes nitrogen, however, broom sedge is a completely different plant, a weedy native grass typical of worn out pastures. It is pretty unpalatable to livestock, spreads rapidly in poor soils and often outcompetes other natives due to allelopathy. I *think* the best way to keep it in check would be periodic heavy grazing and other general soil improvement measures (to give the less hardy, more palatable grasses/legumes a better chance). Also, I would *think* that this  area would be considered a "non-brittle" environment where enough precipitation and humidity exist to decompose biomass without the benefit of ruminant animals. This would mean a 2-4 time/year mowing regime would provide mulch that would decompose and improve your soil over time, improving SOM and increasing biomass production.

I would also recommend reading Steve Solomon's The Intelligent Gardener for details on how to balance your soil for productivity and nutrient-density (be your own soil analyst!). A $25 annual soil test and a judicious use of lime (cheap) and perhaps soft rock phosphate (less cheap but often lacking) and other trace minerals can do a tremendous job at unlocking the potential of your soil. If you have a bit more resources to spend (and this can address both soil improvement and water management) look into keylining the property. Keylining essentially involves ripping the soil on contour (more or less - it typically is done so that it is slightly downhill towards the ridges thus spreading precipitation more evenly across the land). Once you measure out the contours, renting a tractor (or hiring the job out) with a box blade or ripper (I've heard of lots of people that have had success without using the hard-to-find Yeoman's plow) and ripping the soil just 3-6" initially could have a major, lasting positive impact. Again, this is an oversimplification, but consider looking into Keyline design and keyline plowing if you want more info.

2 years ago
Robins came back a week ago in our neck of the woods and some forsythias are in full-bloom. NOT hopeful for peaches this year, darned February heat-wave.

Tyler Ludens wrote:Turkey Vultures have returned.

The vultures aren't year-round residents there? Were around Houston. They aren't the prettiest birds, but still one of my favorites. Known for their carrion-eating, but excellent hunters as well.
2 years ago
Hi Clay,

Did you get your orchard planting started? Just curious what your goals were, just food for the homestead or for sale as well? I started planting my "Permaculture Orchard" in 2015 and am continuing to graft and plant - as my resources are limited I have grafted/propagated almost every tree, berry and support plant myself. Our goals were to provide all our fruit needs year round (including sauce, canning, dehydrating and root cellaring) and we plan to have excess to sell in a micro fruit CSA in a few years. All in all, the orchard area is ~1/2ac and this includes a ~12' tall mixed, fruiting windbreak on 3 sides. This spring I'll be grafting out the last of the trees to transplant into the orchard in 2018 - a four year process, which is slow but the time allowed me to solidify my goals, do the research to track down and acquire suitable cultivars. I went with semi-dwarf trees, about 50 in all with a (16x12' spacing), mostly apple, lots of plums, pears, some peaches, tart and sweet cherries, pawpaws, with 8-10 mixed trees per ripening window. My rows are laid out 1=-Jul, 2=early Aug, 3=late Aug, 4=early Sep,5=late Sep, 6=Oct+. Windbreak includes tons of stuff from juneberries, hazelnuts, elderberries, seaberries, etc. Understory has many support plants, herbs and currants, aronia, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, etc. I did not include NFTs in the orchard design but have (or will have) a coppiced NF shrub adjacent to each fruit tree as well as alleys full of red/white/sweet clover, alfalfa and other herbaceous nitrogen-fixers which are mowed and mulched in the row. The alleys are also tractored by layers and broilers in during the growing season. I keep nut trees, persimmons, mulberries out of the orchard area for size reasons (and apricots on the N side of the house to delay bloom).

If you are planning on such a close spacing, please get appropriate rootstocks! Otherwise you are battling vigor and the natural tendencies of the trees and will spend a lot of time in summer doing size-controlling pruning (winter pruning typically increases vigor). I'm too busy in summer to mess with that. If you have reasonably good soil and water/water-retention semi-dwarf rootstocks should be pretty self-sufficient (I do not irrigate my orchard, though I do mulch and have watered individual trees a couple of times during dry spells in the first 2 years). Also, if you plan on being "organic" you better be "holistic" (see Michael Phillips The Holistic Orchard) with fruit trees in the high pest- and disease-pressure Midwest. Look to varieties with natural disease resistance. This is NOT no-spray, but management-intensive "holistic" sprays of compost tea, milk/whey, fish, seaweed, neem, Surround, etc. I believe you have to address pests and disease on multiple fronts in our climate and that definitely means addressing soil mineral balance for maximal nutrition/high brix, walking the orchard daily, and spraying every 7-14 days or so during the season, probably setting some pheromone and sticky traps. I use a 4 gallon backpack sprayer for my 1/2 acre about once every 10-14 days, though as the trees mature I have a feeling multiple passes will be required to fully coat all trees).

Definitely learn to graft if you haven't already. Such a valuable skill that I left out of my "homestead toolbox" for too many years but it is easy and opens up a world of possibilities. Also check out North American Scion Exchange and Growing Fruit websites for forums and scion exchanges.

2 years ago
There is a notion out there that Prunus americana (I don't know about Prunus nigra) is only graft-compatible with Japanese and hybrid plums which is just not true. They make a fine hardy rootstock for Euro plums too and a few northern nurseries use them as rootstock for Euros (Saint Lawrence for example). Anyhow, P. americana is the only rootstock I use here in Iowa. It does sucker some but is easy to propagate whether by seed, sucker or cuttings (I prefer seed for genetic diversity...but I'm an opportunist). In the past I have grafted suckers in spring, then transplanted the following spring. And though I haven't tried it in that case, I do like fall planting and find it gives things a real head start in spring as roots continue to grow long after the leaves have dropped and trees are "dormant". I would advise earlier fall planting since you're further north, maybe late September? Perhaps when leaves are starting to turn rather than after they've dropped.

2 years ago