Steve Simons

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since Oct 14, 2015
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Recent posts by Steve Simons

I finally got around to editing a video I took of my first food forest.  It's a small but diverse 5-7 year old backyard patch with a guided and labelled tour featuring many species in my permaculture palette for Eastern Ontario.

2 years ago
So I've been experimenting with edible perennial plants and self seeding annuals for a few years and have gained a little experience and insight.  Now when I design for a new piece of land I can draw on this knowledge.  I've started thinking of it like an artists pallette.  Instead of paint though I have plants that will grow well in my area, each like a colour offering something different to the garden.

It's far from complete but I thought that it might be useful to folks in my region of eastern Onatrio.  I'm in plant hardiness zone 4b. I've tried to group plants by family so it's easier to design with diversity in mind.  I've only gotten so far as understory plants.  I encourage other folks in the region to add to it based on their experiences!

Eastern Ontario Permaculture Pallette - understory plants

Lily Family
*-Tiger Lillies (aka ditch lilies.  Apparently not all varieties edible but the common orange ones that grow around here I haven't had an issue with.  I've like the flower stuffed, battered and fried as you would pumpkin flowers.  I have tried the tubers)
-Tulips (historically famine food in the Netherlands, I've only tried the petals.  Nice early flowers in Spring, a good way to stack plants over time and provide some living mulch under trees)

Carrot Family
*-Lovage (aka poor man's celery... tasty perennial somewhere between celery and parsley on taste).  Good for beneficial insects.
-Skirret (perennial carrot I'm trying to grow for my second time.  Easier to start from tuber than seeds)
-Bronze Fennel (mine lasted 2-3 years and produces bronze coloured sprigs of delicious fennel, couldn't tell the difference in taste between  this and normal fennel but no bulb to use.  May be able to use regular fennel too but I haven't tried myself)
-Sweet cicely (perennial herb, some people grow it to add to rhubarb dishes saying it makes them less sour but I didn't notice the difference)

Mint family:
-Mints (peppermint, *spearmint, chocolate mint, applemint)  Classic herbs for tisanes, salads, mojitos, Can be prolific.  Supports beneficial insects.
*-Oregano (classic herb for pizza, tomatoe sauces, etc.  Can be prolific. Supports beneficial insects.)
*-Lemon balm (young leaves for salad.  Fresh or dried for tisanes.  Can be prolific. Supports beneficial insects.
*-Bergamot (several varities of this North American plant.  Variety of flavours. pink, purple, red.  Edible leaves and flower
-Crosnes (small Mint family edible tubers used in French cooking)
-Lavender (classic herb)
-Sage (classic herb)

Mustard Family
-Mustards  (popular in certain Adian cusines mustard greens are self seeding annuals that grow spicy leaves for salads (young) or cooked greens (older).  Seeds can alsso be harvested to make mustard.  I didn't notice a difference in taste between red and green)
-Arugula (self seeding annual, I had it grow really well by accident and not at all where I wanted it to.  Cut and come again greens with peppery taste)
-Horseradish (classic root vegetable with peppery taste used for condiment.  Easy to grow.  Provides living mulch.)

Amarillis Family
*-Walking onions (aka Egyptian onions.  They make small edible bulbs at the top owf the plant which causes them to fall over and grow a other plant.  The young hollow stems are also edible and one of the first plants to sprout in Spring)
-Chives (Classic herb for garnishes, soups, salads)  Can be prolific.

Onocleaceae fern family
Fiddle heads (Harvested in Spring fom Ostrich ferns.  Have been eaten for hundreds of years but have some concerns about toxicity though lower than the risk of bracken ferns)

Rose family
-Roses (rose seed pods called rose hips are high in Vitamins C and a nice addition  to tisanes, pairs nicely with lemon balm)
-Salad Burnet (perneial herb with small edible leaves, cucumber like flavour.  Old leaves can be a little bitter.  Nice addition to salad)
-Strawberries (wild or cultivated can produce fruit and provide a living mulch, need many plants to have any significant amount of fruit)
-Raspberries (some varieties tastier and less seedy than others, varieties have different pruning requirements and fruiting times, often prolific and can easily become a thorny mess if not pruned and given support)

Currant Family
Gooseberry (grows well in shade, some cultivars less thorny than others.  Grow in shade)
*Currants (Black most productive but also red and white.  Easily propagated.  Need pruning to improve yield.  Berries edible, kind of tart, go well with sugar, other berries or in cereal.  Can make juice or even alcohol.  Grow in shade)

Aster Family
*-Jerusalem artichokes, sun chokes (the invasive vegetable!  They can make many many tubers which can be used raw like a water chestnut or cooked pretty much as you would potatoes.  Harvest and place one back in soil for next year.  Flowers are sterile, spread by roots.  Prolific!  Can grow very tall.  Can produce ++gas hence "fartichoke" name.  A friend of a friend became painfully bloated with these but we've never had those issues)
-Dandelion (cultivated varieties available.  Leaves least bitter when young and/or NOT flowering.  Edible uses for roots and flowers as well.  Mild diuretic)

Plantain Family
-Plantain Majora (Not to be confused with the banana relative of no relation, edible leaves best when young.  Infuse olive oil with leaves and and melted beeswax to make excellent salve for dry hands.)

Amaranth Family
-Lambs quarters (Common weed aka wild spinach, raw or cooked.  Can be dried and powdered for use in soup.  High in vitamins and minerals.  Grows well i  disturbed/cultivated soil.  Related to quinoa, seeds tiny but edible.)
*-Magenta Spreen (semi domesticated Lambs quarters with magenta coloured dust on leaves.  Spreen = "Spring=Green")

Buckwheat Family
*-Sorrel (French and Garden varieties of leafy greens popular on Eastern European cuisine.  They have a delicious lemony flavour and cam be cooked or used sparingly in salad... high in oxalic acid which can apparently tly cause kidney stones.  Very different from Jamaican Sorrel)
*-Dock Patience (European spring green, classic Romanian recipe for use as leaves in cabbage rolls)
-Rhubarb (classic perennial vegetable)

Portulacaceae Family
-Purslane (succulent weed, tasty as raw greens, apparently can be used in place of okra to thicken dishes, notably high in Omega 3 fats)

Asparagus Family
-Asparagus (classic perennial vegetable, descended from seaside plant therefore does well with salt, can be planted as a short hedge)

Cannabis family
-Hops (vine to grow up tree.  Used in brewing beer.  Attractive plant and cones.  Does much better with more water)

Chinese Gooseberry Family
-Arctic Kiwi (Vine to grow up trees produces small hairless kiwis.  Delicious.  Must have a male and female to pollinate)
3 years ago
Candes King-Meisenheimer thank you for sharing your arugula experiences. This is what I love about permies (& the internet in general)... where else would I get to learn from people thousands of miles away sharing their real life observations and experiences about something seemingly obscure as arugula?
3 years ago
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Amit. I like your holistic approach. A pond is definitely on my wish list but I have a few other projects taking priority first. I could see these ovillantas being one of many "small hammers" to manage mosquitoes. The dragon flies have arrived and seem to hang around us during the day at the cabin... some times I feel like they are using us for bait! I'll need to put some more thought into this and research deer flies too; they can be just as bad or worse. In the mean time old light coloured dress shirts and a hat go a long way for protection... tricks learned the hard way tree planting in the swamps of Northern Ontario
3 years ago
Thank you everyone for your positive feedback and questions… here’s a few answers.

Maybe you can find a metal pan holder from an old stove to place over your chimney and allow the fire to breathe a bit.

Great idea Julia, I think I'll try to rig up something like that. Thanks for the pie!

Some more data would be helpful. Height and interior dimensions of the riser tube as well as the burn chamber. Also how you packaged the bricks in insulating mix would be interesting. By the looks of it the tabletop is a poured concrete slab with or without rebar?

Yes Chris it’s a poured concrete countertop. I used remesh instead of rebar for reinforcement… from what I read it is supposed to work better for thin applications (the lips are 2” thick but much of the inner area is more like 1”3/4.) I used the "pour in place method" with a high strength quikrete mix. If I had to do it again I’d probably use a special countertop mix and the "mold and flip" method to get a better finish without grinding.

The burn chamber is made of heavy fire bricks, packed with a vermiculite and Heat Stop 50 mix then sided in a sheet metal box for protection from the elements. The ratio is described in my previous post above. I set the bricks up and poured the mix around them. The bottom of the box is sheet metal as well so sparks escape and ignite the wooden structure.

The fire bricks measure 4” x 9” x 1.25”. This makes the mouth of the stove 4” x 2.75”. The height of the chimney is 11.25”. So the proportions give a taller chimney than the 1 : 1.5 rule of thumb I’ve seen for rocket cook stoves. Overall this stove design works very well few variations that I’ve tried even though it only scores a C (or generous B with a Super Pot) on the Ottawa Rocket Stove Scale.

I would also love to see dimensions, especially the insulation thickness to protect the wood from the heat. If the fire brick is in contact with the wood anywhere, I'd expect charring problems with extended use. The metal box sounds like a good start on fire protection, but could still transmit heat to the wood if things are tight.

Erica, as for charring potential, the sides of the burn chambers are insulated by 2+ inches of the perlite mix. The sides are sheet metal clad with no wood contact. The weak points for charring are the top and bottom. The bottom shelf is only protected by 2 layers of sheet metal and fire brick so there is a charring risk. The top is mostly open but there is a layer of OSB under the concrete that formed the base of the mold. I’m sure the edges of the OSB will char with cooking but it shouldn’t catch fire and the OSB is not structural. This is one of the reasons that I wouldn’t do a cast in place counter top again (the trade off being cast in place was manageable to do alone). And more insulation under the burn chamber could help as well to further protect the shelf that it sits on. We’ll see how it holds up!

More pictures of the fire box build follow. Hope that helps with the questions. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks for the interest!
4 years ago
Consider this a late contribution to this thread... if the StoveTec SuperPot is too fancy for your tastes, here's how to make your own diy super pot.

4 years ago
So I’ve been trying to improve the rocket cookstoves that I use at the cabin (like the double burner Rocket Chuckwagon I made the Ottawa Rocket Stove Scale ( based on Winiarski’s basic principles and that helps me to score a design before I build it to assess if it’ll be any good. An easy miss in the design is not to incorporate a pot skirt to keep the heat close to the pot that is being warmed. I’ve made this mistake and looking around the internet I see that’s it’s pretty common.

Luckily the bright folks at StoveTec have come up with a solution
(, a double-walled cook pot that essentially forms a chimney around your pot to increase heat transfer. It also makes for cleaner hands as the charring is on the inner walls rather than the outside of the pot.

In the spirit of doing things yourself and building from trash, I put together my own Super Pot for my rocket stoves. Here’s a how-to video of how I did it.

4 years ago
Well there was the time that we went to plant the arugula in the planter garden but spilled half the seeds on the patio. We didn't think much about it until a few weeks later we noticed that there was lush arugula growing between the cracks of the patio brick. In fact it put the garden arugula to shame by a long shot. We figured that each brick was harvesting water and smothering the competition thus giving a huge advantage to the arugula in the cracks. It's been my favourite happy little accident so far and I'm trying to replicate the situation in a small brick covered spill way that I've made.
4 years ago
Look in to "heeling-in" fruit trees. I was in a similar situation a few years ago with a load of free trees and I heeled them in (basically planting them at a 45 degree angle in a garden bed) for a year or 2. The fruit trees were easy to dig out have done well but the nut trees with tap roots did not fare well. Good luck!
4 years ago
Sometimes we have an overwhelming number of mosquitoes at the cabin so I've been thinking of means to control them for our comfort... bat boxes, attracting more birds and then I came across this... the OVILLANTA.

Has anyone heard of this? It strikes me as appropriate technology and fits within the permie ethos. It has a similar start to the rocket stove as it was developed for the global south but could well have applications elsewhere too. Essentially it upcycles tires and takes advantage of mosquito behaviour to seek out and breed in shallow water. Mosquitoes lay eggs on paper floating in the water. The water and eggs are drained out. The water is recycled though and mosquito pheromones remain in the water and attract even more mosquitoes. I suppose you could take it one further and use the mosquito eggs as chicken feed, etc.

Anyway below are links to a better explanation and a how-to video.

Has anyone tried this? Any thoughts on it? Thanks!

Read more about the OVILLANTA here: Ovillanta in the news

4 years ago