My Tree Guild Favorites

With the aide of my growing home library, I compiled a group of permaculture-inspired tree guilds. The plants used in my guilds are plants that I like to eat. So if you don’t see any kale, that’s because I think it is the most vile leaf known to man—but stick it in there when you see fit.

The plan is that someday our entire hügelkultur garden and orchard will utilize all of these guilds. In the meantime, feel free to use, share, and print any of my “cheat sheets”. Get out in that dirt and start something cool.

permaculture: a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction, and integrated water resources management that develops regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. “Permanent agriculture”.

tree guild: an arrangement of symbiotic plants that serve as a plant community for the benefit of the whole. A typical permaculture tree guild is defined by plants which fit into one of these functions: upper canopy tree (shade, mulch, traps humidity), lower canopy tree (same functions as the upper canopy, but shorter), herb, root, fungi, vine, bush, and ground cover.

Print-friendly versions can be found on the Printables page. :)










Here’s the thing…

I homeschooled Cami last year and we both loved it so much that we are continuing this year. I have this silent rule here on the blog that I don’t usually write about: politics, religion, or public education. Mostly because I have a passionate dislike of all three. But– I’m going to break my own rule because I wanted to make a few notes based on the overlap of homesteading and home education.

We are switching from a classical curriculum (Calvert) to a more artisticly-approached curriculum (Oak Meadow). As much as we loved the lessons, the ease of use, and the challenge of Calvert, we just cannot afford it this year; especially when the Oak Meadow curriculum is 1/3 of the price.
I knew someone would ask what we were using, so I thought it a good idea to just stick it in here.

While I was typing up all the tree guild lists for a blog post, I had my Fungi Perfecti catalog out. It would have been quite unfortunate to spell “King Stropharia” incorrectly for the world to see. Cami was flipping through the catalog asking what all of the equipment listed in the back was for. I explained that mushrooms produce seeds that are so small that they are too difficult for human eyes to see. Mushroom seeds are called spores and people use special equipment to keep their mushroom tools clean so that it is easier to grow them.


Then I thought: How cool would it be to grow mushrooms through a full cycle as a science project? My mind wandered to all kinds of crazy experiments and lessons that could stem off of simple mushrooms. I already planned to start a straw mushroom patch in a couple weeks so why not set it up together? Planting methods, growth charts, measuring, spore prints, “still life” drawings, elementary shapes, record keeping, all can be taught and practiced using a $20 bag of mushroom spawn.

This all led me to start a list of different subjects I want to cover through the future years of homeschooling my daughter. Sure, you can do all this with kids after a day of public school, but–

Here’s the thing…

I don’t want to. I want my kid to learn about using a ruler from measuring how tall a mushroom grew, or counting from collecting eggs (actually did that one), or how to use a scale by weighing baby animals, or about astronomy by staying up late to map the constellations, or the parts of a plant by growing one, or even about anatomy by dissecting something once alive. I want my kid to be able to ask as many questions as she wants. I want her to get one-on-one instruction. I want her to be confident enough in herself to laugh and be silly while learning about the life cycle of a toad or about the American economic system.

If you went to a public school that had unique methods of learning like this, tell me where you grew up and I’ll hop on a plane tomorrow.

Many people work long shifts or cannot afford to educate their children at home. I totally get it. We are also on a very tight budget because I am blessed enough to have a husband that works hard so I stay home with the farm and our daughter.

Regardless of the financial limitations, I have found this last year of homeschooling to be beyond rewarding for our family. I see the faces my family makes when I say that I plan to continue homeschooling, but whatever. I’ve seen that humpf face before when I wanted to go to a holistic healing school; or travel to Russia to study old, crusty art; or when I brought Trevor home. I’m used to it. Thanks to homeschooling on the farm, Cami has learned more than was ever expected from her. The kid has all the preschool stuff and most of the kindergarten stuff down pat. She even knows how to milk a goat and make a chicken nest. Next we’ll tackle the SAT’s and a high-tech aquaponics system.

It works for us. Sure, we don’t have money to go out to dinner every week or go see movies in the theater as soon as they come out, but we get to do better things. We are trendy in the fact that we eat, live, and learn “hyper-locally”. That’s what the hipsters cool kids call it, right?

Got fun homesteady-homeschool lesson ideas? Grammar perhaps? (Just kidding.) Leave a comment!

Crock Pot Greek Yogurt Using Raw Goat Milk

We really don’t drink milk around here. I know, it sounds weird considering we have dairy goats now. We may not care for milk in a glass, but we do enjoy all those dairy-based foods. Mozzarella, feta, chèvre, mac n’ cheese (awesome use for goat cheese), Gjetost, ranch dressing, chip dip, cream cheese sour crem, and… yogurt.

I do have two more goat milk foods to mark off my bucket list: hard cheese (like cheddar or jack) and using chèvre or cream cheese to make a cheese cake. If any of you out there have good recipes for small batch hard cheese using goat milk, let me know. I will love you forever.

For now, I am absolutely smitten with the yogurt I made yesterday. It was easy. It was painless. It used two ingredients. It turned out rich and creamy. This recipe is definitely a winner in my book.

This batch will be used for both regular yogurt –with honey drizzled haphazardly ontop– and some will be used as a test for frozen yogurt. Mmmmm.


Crock Pot Yogurt

:: makes 2 quarts
• 2 quarts milk (raw is best, but you can use milk that has been minimally pasteurized; not ultra-pasturized)
• 1/4 cup Greek yogurt starter (use the last of that container from the store as long as it says it contains “live and active cultures”)

Pour 2 quarts of milk into crock pot. Cover and heat to the “low” setting for approximately 2.5 hours or until the milk has reached 110*F for 30 minutes.

Turn off the crock pot and cool the milk with the lid on until the milk meets 110*F.

Add the yogurt culture or finished Greek yogurt. Do not add your culture if the milk temperature exceeds 115*F. Mix well with a whisk.

Cover the mixture. Wrap in towels and let sit for 8-12 hours. Refrigerate for 6 hours before eating (it will thicken a bit more during this time).

Bam! Yogurt. I told you it was easy. You have no excuse now. Especially since you can keep the yogurt going forever by always saving that last 1/4 cup to start the next batch.

Farming with the Tao :: solutions

The Tao Te Ching is a philosophical and often spiritual text of meditative verses. The Tao Te Ching is a book of ancient Chinese wisdom written sometime around 500 B.C.E by the sage, Lao Tzu. The book has endured thousands of years because it has timeless understanding of life. Second only to the Bible, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world.

In this series, we are going to approach the Tao Te Ching from a farmer’s point of view. Let all of us– backyard farmers, market farmers, chicken raisers, and “wannabe” farmers alike– take on these poetic truths together.

Farming with the Tao series

Don’t be afraid to explore;
Without exploration there are no discoveries.
Don’t be afraid of partial solutions;
Without the tentative there is no accomplishment.

Regrets and procrastination are useless to us, and yet we are all guilty of them both. We regret not trying something new. We regret an outcome we did not expect. Regret can make us hesitant to try again or to try in the first place. Exploration on the journey ahead makes the destination and our goals that much sweeter. We cannot allow fear of incomplete projects or failure cloud our path.

The same is true of perfection. Do not let procrastination –waiting for that ideal moment to begin– alter your path. The perfect moment and the perfect set of circumstances never come, so if you were to wait for such things before starting on a new journey, you would never reach your goal. Days, weeks, years could pass and you would be standing in the same place with nothing but regrets.

Don’t be afraid of partial solutions. Instead, set up reasonable milestones that can be acheived while working toward your goals. Smaller accomplishments are just as worthy of praise as the large, seemingly unattainable, ones.

In conclusion, get out there and plant some crazy crap in the garden.

*Tao Te Ching translations by Ming-Dao Deng. Unsightly opinions by Sarah.

Fiddle Dee Dee





Aren’t these Norwegian fiddles adorable?! Rhetorical question. They are adorable. I wonder how my $60 fiddle would feel about a metallic sharpie makeover?

After several months of attempting to teach myself to play the fiddle, I am slightly less horrible than I was when I first picked up the instrument. Which may be more a testament to how bad it sounded nearly a year ago than anything else.

I still scratch and squeak and play the not-so-occasional wrong note. However, I can play a handful of songs competently (notice how I didn’t say “well”). My favorites so far are: Ida Red, Shortnin’ Bread (the ultimate beginner fiddle song), Home on the Range, Run Johnny Run, and Sugar Hill. I can also play House of the Rising Sun and Amazing Grace, but only a few notes actually sound like the song. Sometimes I have to just tell Trevor what I’m playing because it is too hard to guess simply by listening to my cat scratch.

The fun part though is that playing the fiddle is a surprisingly easy concept. Since it is a stringed instrument it operates similar to a guitar. The most difficult aspect is keeping the bow touching only one string at a time when you intend to. The other strings often jump out and slide against the bow when they aren’t supposed to. Then again, that may just be me.

Trevor is a wonderful guitar player and also has a mandolin. We have been learning a lot of the fiddle songs in my book, Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramous, together, he on the mandolin and myself on the fiddle. Incase you have never seen a mandolin before, the strings are the same notes as the fiddle, but are in pairs. It makes it easy to do ear piercing duets.

The other day Cami dug through all her crap to find her harmonica and we all played together. She also insisted that we march down the road like a parade, playing our instruments, but I told her that our neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate it. She was disappointed, but our neighbors have done nothing to warrant such torture.