Toad's Permaculture

My Blackberry Bushes Spring 2021

By Melinda Hatfield awkwardly with her phone

This is my blackberry field. Well, I didn’t actually take a picture of the field because the leaves coming out are so small. These pictures were taken in mid March.

These pictures are two weeks later and show that all of the blackberries are showing exceptional growth.

All in all-

  • All 75 blackberries are thriving after the snow storm
  • A lot of extra shoots are coming up and branching out
  • Some of the tall standing canes have fallen to the side and are starting to run along the ground.
    • This means I will have to trellis if I don’t want runners everywhere.
    • They have to be tied. They cannot just stand alone. I misled myself by ignoring key information.
    • They need trellis.
  • I have more than three different varieties but they all look the same to me. I hope their fruit is different but their leaves look the same
I just love it. I cannot wait to see what year one yields and how this actually plays out. 
How much will year one produce?
Are they truly going to produce multiple plants?
Are they mildly invasive?
What insects will they attract?

Flowers all around 2021

Spring 2021: the beauty of it all coming together

Strawberry patch between trees. Berry bushes are planted in between trees and herbs (ground covers) are planted in between trees and berry bushes.

We put the flags up because we wanted to mark the areas where the plants where. This all used to be a pasture and last year we created a berry patch. It has over 75 black berry plants that survived the snow.

It doesn’t look like much right now…

So, it isn’t a straight line. I tried but it didn’t work out but the two juniper trees indicate the entrance. We plan up putting some fun stuff up to support our grapes on the side but we’ve fallen behind. Behind those juniper bushes are 75 blackberry plants. They all survived. I am very pleased with how they turned out.

Its sideways because it seems easier to see the canes.

They have lovely leaves and some have shoots. I haven’t seen any beetles around except for some Shiney dung beetles- i don’t know their name yet. I would share your picture but they were around a pile of poo.

Blackberry plant that is growing

Blackberries are going to be fun and I have heard rumors that they can spread like wildfire. I am counting on it. I hope to control the spread and plant the spares around the back of my property. It will give me a reason to go back there and I hear that they can simply survive in Texas. I am excited to see the results.

Straw berry patch

We have three different types of strawberries this year between two strawberry patches. I am excited to take baby strawberry plants and plant them in between my trees. My kids are already seeing baby strawberries forming on our plants- they stare at them and check them daily to see if there are any ripe. We hope that they start producing this year and that by buying three different kinds we will be able to harvest throughout the entire summer.

Indian Paintbrush or Castilleja
Fruit tree blooms

Golden Oregano: Aureum

Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’, also known as Golden Oregano, is a perennial that is grown in zones 4 to 9. These plants are not as invasive as other oregano varieties but still spready quickly and are fast growers. Usually they don’t get larger than three feet tall and can be an excellent ground cover.

They can be an evergreen in warmer climates, but still come back in cooler zones if they do not stay perky all year long. These plants are allegedly deer and rabbit resistant. I can confirm that they have the same great taste and smell as other oreganos, but it’s not as strong as their relatives. I haven’t really noticed much of a difference myself but I just planted this herb and it may change as it ages.

Now, we already have one successful oregano growing in our fairy garden. We were sure that it died during the harsh winter this year, but it didn’t. In fact, I feel as though the snow just made it stronger. That’s why we decided that adding different types of oregano would be beneficial to our forest.

Aureum enjoys full sun but can grow in partial shade. We planted this in several places in between our berry bushes and trees. They are still young and they are a nice contrast to the other greens that we have planted.

It blooms in the middle or late summer and attracts butterflies and other pollinators. I attempted to get more than one source but they all seemed to say the same things.

  • This is an ornamental plant
  • Aureum has little to no culinary value and that there are other oreganos that have a stronger flavor than this one. That only made me thing that this might be beneficial for people who have sensitive stomachs. I have not investigated this, it was only a thought.
  • It is edible
  • Aureum enjoys full sun and can be used as a lovely ground cover
  • The leaves are golden and their flowers are purple or pink

I wish I had more information, but I will show off the growth of this perennial as it continues. We haven’t used a lot of the herb since we have gotten it but as we use it in our recipes we’ll let you know if there are any true differences. Once I get more information I will put it out there, but there isn’t a lot to go on when it comes to Aureum or Golden Oregano.

March 2021: Outside the plant science building

By Melinda Hatfield at the TAMUC plant science center

These things are everywhere but I only took pictures of the ones that I particularly enjoyed. I most likely looked like a lunatic outside looking through the areas at the prettiest plants.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

Other plants where there but they hadn’t adjusted to spring or they might have been dead. I didn’t want to depress you so I didn’t take pictures of the dead looking or dormant plants. No one wants to see a bunch of dead plants, but if you want to I can take pictures next time I come.

By Melinda Hatfield at the TAMUC Plant Science Center

I think I would enjoy this as a ground cover as well but I don’t know if it has any usefulness. I will have to look into it and figure out if it has some use other than spreading like a disease.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center. This is catnip. It had a sign to tell me that it is catnip

This is a healthy little catnip plant. I love the shape of the leaves and I enjoy seeing it spread. It was one of the plants that came back stronger. It also looks great. They must not have a lot of cats in the area.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center.

These are beautiful blooms. I was just excited to see there are more flowers blooming around this time.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center. More catnip

I just wanted to come back and say that I am planting catnip in line with my sprinklers so that it will lure my cats in and then blast them. I know I shouldn’t but they mess up so many of my plants I just can’t help myself.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

This is just a really pretty weed that I wanted to share… and below is more clover? Maybe I don’t know. I’ll have to look into it.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

I love the color green. Did you know green is my favorite color? These are so pretty.

By Melinda Hatfield at TAMUC plant science center

Horticulture Lab: Planting things

Thats right we were planting things. I have to say that it has been very exciting being in plant and bug based classes. I feel as though these classes will benefit me long term. I also feel like I am learning a lot. For example, most plants die from over watering or not enough life (especially houseplants). Also there is a correct way to water plants, which is not something I even considered.

By Melinda Hatfield

Now first we planted beans. He showed us three ways to do it as an experiment and we put them in the pot. You should be planting your seeds no deeper than 2x their size. If you plant them deeper it could cause the plant to poorly develop. They’ll be trying to hard to get to the sun and they’ll give up. So make sure you are properly planting the seeds to the accurate depth otherwise your seeds may not grow to their full potential if they make it to the surface at all.

By Melinda Hatfield

So first we did the bean experiment, which was fun. Next we grabbed a tray with 18 slots to plant things. He had lots of seed options but on this tray I chose….

By Melinda Hatfield

Oregano because I love the herb and it can easily be added to my collection. I cannot wait to have it as one of my many coexisting ground covers. It’s going to be amazing. Now more mowing the grass for this lady. Also I just enjoy oregano as a herb, it is good stuff.

By Melinda Hatfield

Also the yellow pear tomato. I have never planted these before but I am excited about planting them for sure. They are allegedly really delicious. My professor said they were amazing and I was in for a treat. I cannot wait to see these start growing. I know it is a couple of days before the seedlings germinate but I want to watch them like a stalker.

I don’t know, I’m weird watching dirt and waiting for sprouts is just something I’m into. Don’t judge me.

By Melinda Hatfield

Next we planted three seeds of Texas Mountain Laurel. My professor said that they have beautiful flowers that smell like grape kool-aid and I said, “I’m in. Let’s do this.” As you can see before we could get to the seed we had to get through the hard shell. The seeds are those bright red things.

By Melinda Hatfield

That’s a close up of the seed. It is red in color and, although it doesn’t look like it, the seed has a very hard outer shell. Its bright red and with this seed, the Texas Mountain Laurel, we planted three seeds again but this time we tried to file part of the seed down with one and put the other in sulfuric acid for ten minutes with another and planted one regularly. Filing the seed down was no joke and took more than ten minutes. I can’t wait to see which ones turn out better and which ones don’t.

By Melinda Hatfield

I even decorated my pot with a dead leaf. I cannot wait to see the results of this experiment and then plant all three in my forest. Flowers that smell like grape kool-aid- I’m so in. Let’s do this.

By Melinda Hatfield

Finally, I planted another row of eighteen because he said we could and I was just so excited about the entire adventure. So in my next tray of eighteen I did half…

Mammoth dill and half kohlrabi. I can’t wait to see how these babies turn out. I have no dill planted right now but I am sure I can find a place for it. He says they get a little big and I want to eat some kohlrabi. I’m excited about it.

Have a good day and I hope you’re planting something awesome as well. Until next time

New Life this spring 2021

By Melinda Hatfield

Beautiful green layout looking amazing over here. I like that there is so much of the green stuff, it kind of looks like a moss but to be honest I have no idea what it is. It’s probably in a different class. Regardless, I loved the natural look of the sticks and rocks with the green ground cover. Looking good spring. Looking good.

This is mint that I planted last year and to be honest I am surprised that it survived so well. It really is branching out. You can see all of the runners creeping around and spreading. I think mint will be a lively ground cover. When I was outside with the kids we noticed that the off shoots had gotten harder and there were tiny runners that were easier to move.

By Melinda Hatfield

Out first flower from the countless bulbs that we planted. I love the purple color and as you can see there are more shoots coming up around it. We are excited because we planted quite a few to add color to our land. These bulbs will allegedly come back next year but we’ll have to wait and see. If so we will be very excited.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is random plant smells like oregano but we did not plant it. I am assuming that some how it jumped across the yard. I’m not mad about it but I thought it was neat. I am actually excited about it. This oregano plant looks much healthier than our other oregano even though the other plant is older. When they say plants in the mint family spread they weren’t lying. I love it though. It’s a lovely long lived herb if its allowed to spread like this and I am going to let it spread out everywhere. Don’t judge me.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is just come beautiful patch, I think it is clover but don’t quote me. I haven’t learned to identify plants like that just yet but I’m working on it. I just thought it was beautiful.

By Melinda Hatfield

Here is some more mint. Really I want this to be one of my primary ground covers. Mint will eventually cover the entire place and choke everything else out but mainly the grass. I do not want grass anymore. I hate mowing. I will not mow mints I will harvest them. I enjoy harvesting.

By Melinda Hatfield

This is getting out of control. Salad Barnett is a wild little herb. It has spread out everywhere and its very soft to run your hands through. None of it died in the winter snow storm and it stayed green and flush. I am impressed. I may have to cut this back a lot.

Regardless I am very pleased with the signs of spring and I hope you are as well. Have a great day and enjoy these spring items.

Insect Reproduction

In farming it’s pretty important to understand you insect populations. I say this because there are many types on insects and each one has a specific set of rules and roles. There are also more beneficial insects than just lady bugs and butterflies. That isn’t saying that they aren’t beneficial, but it makes sense that there would be other insects that are both beneficial and general pests.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

Differences in reproduction

  1. Females are more selective when it comes to mating and often try to find the best suitor to lay their eggs with. They are often preoccupied with habitat selection and progeny development. These activities expend most of their energy after mating. Once they mate, females limit mating.
    1. Eggs fertilized as it leaves the ovarioles. (I know it’s too much information but it’s a scientific fact, so please understand that we’re discussing ovarioles for science.)
    2. By knowing a females mating patterns, after identifying our insect population, we have a better chance of preventing the spread of a pest or stopping further reproduction. There are many ways of doing this, but I’m not expert. Just make sure you’re reading the labels about application and the time between sprays. A lot of people don’t look at those and it could cause you to have ineffective treatment methods (I have been guilty of this myself).
  2. Males search out receptive females persistently and frequently. Locating mates and producing sperm expend more energy. After mating males frequently search for another mate.
    1. Sperm is stored in the spermatheca
    2. I know it’s gross but males are often doing mating dances and defending their territory in case any female comes along. They don’t seem to be as picky as the females.
  3. They find mates using:
    1. Vision
      1. Swarms
      2. Color
      3. Light
    2. Hearing
      1. Cicadas
      2. Grasshoppers
    3. Smell
    4. Touch
Lovely insect habitat right outside my own home

Many insects find each other through mating dances, light flashes or ‘sex-attractant’ pheromones which can be produced/performed by either males or females. Mating dances are specific to each type of insect and allow for their mate to find them or for them to find their mate. Dance patterns can be anything from flying in circles in an attempt to attract the females attention and she might possibly fly through his fancy dance to staying in a specific territory and zipping back and forth to assert dominance.

Pheromones -This is one of the way that pesticides are effective. It isn’t the pheromones that kill the insects but what is at the end of that tunnel. People put out bait that is coated in pheromones (which varies from insect to insect) and they either trap the insects inside a sticky trap or a net trap or they lure them to their deaths by poison or insectide.

I’m not advocating for any specific way but I am inserting that many people allow for a certain amount of pests inside their gardens, homesteads or whatever they are growing. They only spray when a population has grown out of control or once a season during a specific time before breeding is able to take place. Over spraying is a huge issue and can cause populations to grow out of control.

A nice green area with lots of spring growth (I really hope it doesn’t freeze again before April)

I’m just now learning about these things and I find that they are important to know and understand when I am attempting to start my own food forest. That being said there are a lot of homemade sprays that can kill or deter insect populations, just remember to know what insect you are spraying for. Guessing could kill many unnecessary insects in the process.

Without basic knowledge of insects in my area I might not notice when there is a problem or issue; also I might not notice when an invasive insect arrives. Also, having a diverse population of insects can help with the health of your plants.

More stuff to come… hopefully it’s interesting.

Photo credit to Larry Silsbee

Plant Names and Classifications

Are you like me and didn’t know that common plant names are not the best way of identifying plants because a lot of the common names get confused or could overlap with others? I mean there are trees that are called oak trees that are not in the same group. It’s just a bunch of craziness and I just want to make it clear: up until this point I was entirely ignorant. I’m cool with it.

Now there is a science to plant classification and in that science there are two categories that we should be aware of and that is the plant taxonomy and plant systematic systems. We used to go by common names but it often became confusing  for a lot of people. Today we classify all plants based on their genetic and evolutionary characteristics, this means that the plants are grouped based on who their common ancestors are.

In horticulture they are primarily concerned with the last three levels of classification: Species, Genus and Family.

The species is the most basic level of classification and below this there can be many subspecies. These plants are usually the most closely related to one another and they can interbreed freely.

The Genus is a group of related species.

The Family is the general group of Genus who are all related by a common ancestor.

There are two important flowering plant families that my professor made sure that we covered. Frankly, I’ve already learned more than what I knew before and I am pleased, but we’re only part of the way through so I’ll continue to let you know what I know or I am learning.

First is the dicot family, which is a flowering family with two cotelydons (embrodic leaves). Just to let you know those cotelydons are inside and this is the largest of the two families. There are over 200,000 types and they are everywhere. They are roses, myrtle trees and so many more.

The second flowering family is the Monocot. They are grass like flowering plants that only have one cotelydon per seed. In agriculture the majority of biomass is created through monocots. You might find a monocot as wheat, rice, bamboo, sugar cane, forage grasses and many others. This family includes many bulb flowers like daffodils, lilies, and iris. They are not simply flowers and grasses but also tumeric, garlic, and asparagus.

Both are angiosperms and very popular. I really enjoy these classes and can’t wait to learn more. How many more things am I going to learn? Who knows but I can’t wait.

Although this information may not be useful right away I am certain being able to identify plant families will be useful in the future. These pictures are by a wonderful lady named Vivian Morris.

Plant names are identified not my their family but by the genus and species. Common names change by region and can be confusing because a rose is a rose and can be any different species of rose if you are looking for a specific type. Although common names can be misleading botanical names are not. The Botanic name is a Latin name accepted world wide.

For example: Magnolia alba or Ligustrum album.

Until next time…

Horticulture: What I didn’t know

My salad barnett

Why didn’t I learn this stuff when I was in school? I’m amazed. Regardless, horticulture is a field of agriculture that deals with every aspect of plants from business to science and even the art of growing ornamental plants. Horticulture covers everything from ornamental plants and office plants to fruits and vegetables. Horticulture is different than other fields of agriculture for a lot of reasons, but mainly (from what I’ve learned) because we deal in landscape and artistic design.

The fields of the landscape industry according to my professor are installation, maintenance, irrigation, and design. This is not every part of horticulture and is only one of three different primary industries within horticulture. Inside each field of the landscaping industry there are many different jobs and needs that we most likely work with regularly on our homesteads or farms. The landscape industry as a whole deals in the design, installation and maintenance of home and commercial landscapes.

My tree

In the cities landscape is the most recognizable industry and is one of the largest industries in the entire State of Texas, allegedly with over nine billion in total added revenue to the state’s economy. This may not take in to account the kids who are looking for summer work, but it is clear that it is one of the easiest fields to get into.

When we talk about installation we are discussing the full destruction of a previous landscape and creating a completely new design or modifying an existing plants. Sure, it seems like fun but demolition of existing systems can take a lot of work and effort. It includes: bed preparation, adding organic matter to beds and tilling the soil before new transplants are added. This also includes adding things like rock walls, paths and structures that benefit the landscape or area of attention. It’s not hard to see why this area is one of the highest in profitability but is seasonal work because grass doesn’t grow in the winter.

My tree

Maintenance is also just more than maintaining existing landscapes. This can also be turf maintenance, which if you didn’t know is what we use on golf courses and sports fields. This could be anything from mowing the yard to making sure that edging and trimming is properly done around the fencing and other fixed structures. This work is usually low pay but can be continuous throughout the entire year with only a small decline during the winter months.

Irrigation is something that I have just started learning about outside of class- I set up my own crappy five hundred dollar system. Now irrigation system managers may assist in the initial installation of a landscape system or they may work in maintaining existing sprinkler and irrigation systems. They usually work on larger commercial projects or they have many smaller projects in a larger city and people who go into this field can specialize in irrigation design which I didn’t not know was a real life thing. This does require a license in Texas with TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality).

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Finally, there is design, which seems to be incorporated in each and every single industry so far. They are usually in charge of designing new or existing landscapes. They usually design large commercial projects or for residential customers. If you are working in a large city you may be required to get plans from a landscape architect (who knew this existed) and those people are specifically certified by the ASLA (American Society for Landscape Architecture). Sometimes these people also specialize in irrigation in design, which I thought was kind of neat.

A big thing to look at with landscaping is that they do a lot of work with turf grass, which if I’m reading properly it should be an industry of it’s own. Especially because turf grass is widely used by sports fields and golf courses. This falls under the care and maintenance and is covered under the landscaping industry, rightly so, but is a huge part.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

All in all I had no idea there were so many different types of landscaping and we haven’t even gotten through the rest of horticulture. Allegedly this is the most important because it is the most money making. Landscaping, it’s the most commercialized and has the highest profit margins. So if you’re looking for money to be made it’s from people looking for these services and for some reason I was a dummy and thought it might have something to do with food, but I was wrong.

Now onward to the other fields that are equally important regardless of how valuable it is to commercial America. After landscaping we have interiorscape. Just to let you know I don’t think that’s a real word, I know that it’s all over the internet and they say that it is a word and so we’re running with it. Spell check says no too though, so they should get together and work on that.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

This specific industry deals specifically on the inside. That works with the installation and maintenance of landscapes inside buildings or structures. This doesn’t seem like a very common or wide range field. Yes, there are plants in the majority of buildings but the majority of buildings do not require someone to set them up. This is specifically to help businesses to establish a natural environment inside their building. For example a fancy fountain with fish at the bottom and the whole ecosystem that goes along with that. You might find these in fancy malls, hospitals, banks, offices or other environments where there are people who want an enjoyable and relaxing environment. Sometimes they might design an enclosure in a zoo. This is where they must design an environment that is suitable and specifically designed for the animal; that’s temperature, plants they are comfortable with and everything else that goes into recreating a temperature controlled environment. Although, this is usually done for primates.

After Interiorscape and Landscaping we have Floriculture. This one doesn’t pass the spell check either. I didn’t know they had a name specifically for flower people, but here we are. These people specifically deal in the production, sell and use of flowers. It’s got a lot of layers to it but floriculture serves a purpose in landscaping, but is a lot more than growing flowers in yards and it also is used in specialized greenhouse production. Floriculturists provide insight on color (especially seasonal color) and pretty much all plants that are used in interiorscapes. They are known for their ornamental plants and their pretty flowers and deal in anything from pothos ivy to flowers that we see in flower shops.

Sign at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

They are the growers of flowers you cut to make bouquets with as well as flowers that go into pots or in garden beds. This industry is the primary job in greenhouse production. That’s because floriculture deals in bedding plants, which is where plants are grown in tiny little pots to get ready for transplanting in a garden or a landscape. They also work with foliage, which are plants that are grown specifically for their pretty leaves instead of their flowers. They are the primary flower producers and in order to protect those flowers from being eaten by bugs before they hit the floral shops they grow them in greenhouses. Finally they work with potted plants and flowers, but this is mainly used in interiorscaping and not to be confused with plants that are grown for transplant.

The nursery is what you hear most about, or at least I do. I hear more about this because the people I am around go to nurseries a lot and so do I. They work in the production and sale of perennials, trees, shrubs and ground covers. Nurseries can be owned locally or by large box stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart. Really, I advise everyone to shop locally, but I cannot deny sometimes they have things that I want and need.

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Finally, my two favorite fields in the whole world and that is because they are the ones that I am most particularly interested in. Fruit and nut production is the first one, because as we all know I’ve been working hard towards growing my fruit trees and berry bushes. From fruit and nut production we have the two largest fields for fruit and nut production in Texas: pomology and viticulture. Pomology is concerned with fruit trees; in Texas it’s primarily peaches, pecans and plums but it can also include apples and citrus. Viticulture deals with grapes and grape production, this is particularly useful in wineries and vineyards. Although, you would think that this would be a big deal in Texas most of our production is done by people like me: hobbyists.

The last one would be Olericulture and if you hadn’t guessed by now this would be the field of horticulture that deals with the production and sale of vegetables. I am not going to lie when I tell you that I expected that this would actually be more in the higher profit margins because I see vegetables everywhere when I got to the supermarket. I am wrong, this is not the most profitable. Actually, if you want the honest truth it’s not even driven by vegetable sales it’s driven by hobby farmers like me and possibly you.

Plant at TAMUC agricultural plant science center

Learning about horticulture has really helped me see that there is more than just one field to go into and I am excited about it. I am still learning and have a lot to learn but as I learn so will you or not. I mean, tell me if I’m wrong and I’ll look into it. Regardless, have a great day.

Snowpocalypse pictures

It really shows off what a blank canvas we are working with.

The foraging birds

First, I love birds. They are a favorite of mine. I mentioned in a previous post that I did not like clipping my dead stuff until spring and I have a very good reason for it: birds.

But it’s not just for birds. The leaves and dead plant droppings cane be home to salamanders, butterflies, chipmunks, box turtles, toads and many other creatures. They provide a lovely ground cover for earthworms to turn all of that matter into compost. There are so many benefits to just leaving it alone and letting the animals forage through it.

Leaving it alone can also increase the survival of important and beneficial insects and other arthropods. They will be your helpers in keeping pest problems low and help in decomposition of earthly matter. All of this stuff combined will increase soil health and that benefits you in the long run.

So not only are you reducing your time and effort but you’re also the proud parent to an entire ecosystem. It warms my heart just to write that out. This will also save waste because a lot of people throw their trimmings out- which could be recycled and composted or just left to allow a little home for the bird food. It’s only temporary.

For more information on why you should leave your lawn alone you can go here Scientists Say or here National Wildlife Federation to find out more information. It isn’t hard to find out why I am such a big fan. Bring on the birds.

After the snowpocalypse 2021

Our Swiss chard had stayed alive up until that freeze and then well- it did not agree. It is brown but makes for pretty pictures

I can’t help it if I like earthy tones.

My sweet lemon thyme was barely bothered. You can see a little bit of frost damage on the leaves but this one will most certainly survive.

I am not going to lie I am really excited they made it through and I am thinking about doing a mass propagation and using this as part of my groundcover. I am kind of excited to see how it plays out.

Not going to lie. I thought my parsley was done for, but there is a little bit of green growing back. It really is a winter mericle but I am excited that the parsley made it out alive.

Parsley isn’t a fan favorite so I probably won’t spread it around but I do like having some on hand just in case.

My fairy garden looks like trash. I just want that noted but I just don’t have the heart to fix it because it is a habitat for so many bugs and birds use these areas to forage for food. I dunno, maybe I should, but things are coming back. Who knows what is good or bad?

Salad Barnett saw no changes. Looks just as bushy as ever. I think I might spread this one out as well. It just seems to do so well and stays green all year. It gives great coverage for insects seeking shelter from the cold and for birds to forage for food.

My English thyme is looking a little frost bitten but I don’t see any reason to be concerned. The plant will continue to grow and is another keeper. We like cooking with it and now we know it can survive cold winters we are sold.

A lot of oregano died but a lot survived. I am glad because this is one of our favorite herbs and we love the way it makes our hands smell. I am going to spread this one around as well. I am just happy to see that the plants are coming back to life. Fingers crossed we don’t get another freeze.

My sweet rosemary. Funny thing: the one outside lived the ones inside died horrible slow deaths. I dont know how it happened but this baby survived and once clipped back this spring will spring into life. I cannot wait. I am super excited.

Finally the sage which survived with flying colors. I didn’t even see any frost damage. I will definitely replant garden sage throughout my permaculture food forest. It seems hardier than the others.

I did not take a picture but my snap dragons survived as well. More to come but things have been busy.

Arthopods and Insects

First, since we know that insects are inside the athropod phylum. Also, when we think of insects we’re bunching a lot of different species into the anthropod phylum. So first let’s determine what an anthropod actually is…

  • They have jointed legs, and when he says that I feel like he means more than one joint but I don’t know if that bit has truth. They do however, have jointed legs in common. All anthropods.
  • They have segmented, and usually cylindrical bodies. It shorts all of their vital organs and makes sense.
  • They also have bilateral symmetry. That just means their body- if cut in half- could be divided into equal halves. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • They have an exoskeleton made with chitin- which is that sugar shield we talked about last time.
  • They have a ventral nerve cord and a dorsal brain. Now, I know what you’re thinking: dolphins. But no, it has nothing to do with dolphins. Ventral is situated on the lower part of the body and the dorsal is on the upper part of the body. I didn’t know and now I do. The nerve cord is downstairs and the brain is on the top.
This is pretty cool. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of bugs yet but I am working on that. So here are some pictures from my intro to horticulture class

When we talk about insects we think of a general word like bugs, which turns out is kind of specific as well. I should inform you that arthropods have five classes. If you look online it’ll say four but that is because they push centipedes and milipedes together.

Anyway they are…

  • Arachnida- these are spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks. (I bet you didn’t know that ticks were arachnids because I didn’t)
  • Crustacea- lobsters, pill bugs or sow bugs, decapods and crayfish (crawdads).
  • Chilopoda- centipedes
  • Diplopoda- millipedes
  • Hexapoda- insecta or insects
We have peas. You should know that we have prematurely started them and are about to repot them into individual containers. Pretty fun stuff.

So, to help myself refresh I have to remember:

  • Kingdom- all life is separated into six kingdoms: animals, plants, fungi, protists, archaea and bacteria
  • Phyla- anthropods which branches from the animal kingdom
  • Class- how the phylum is divided narrowing down specific types of that phyla. Each class can have as many different species as necessary. In the instance of anthropods we have our five classes: Crustacea, chilopoda, diplopoda, arachnid, and hexapoda.
  • Order- further narrowing it down but isn’t as mentioned
  • Family- narrowing it down even further and isn’t as mentioned
  • Genus- the first word in their scientific name.
  • Species- the specific thing. For example homo sapien. Homo is the genus and sapien is the species. Sapien is the most specific place and the narrowed search.

This is all called Taxonomy and is identifying living things and shoving them into proper categories with similar creatures- both living and extinct- and then given a scientific name. Often times common names are misleading and you think because something is called a California Pepper it is from California but it is actually from Peru. Knowing their scientific name really helps narrow down the search to get more information.

Well one half of this tray seems to be doing well. I wish they were doing better. More on these will be announced later

They’re calling it binomial nomenclature. That’s what they are calling the taxonomy system we use. Seems a bit unnecessarily long but I am sure they had their reasons. Also, not everyone can agree on the taxonomy, some things seem up for debate.

Until next time, thank you Dr. Drake for the information. Hopefully I’ll be able to retain it for the test next week.

Insects: What We Should Know

That’s right, bugs. At least, that’s the slang term for these creepy crawlers and freaky fliers. They are the primary consumers of plants on this planet and also the greatest predator of plant eaters (if you don’t count how we poison them by existing and on purpose for crop improvement).

Insects are also major players in the decomposition of organic matter and materials. Not only are they major predators they are also food for many different animals and some humans. It’s good that they are edible because they out number us two hundred million to each individual human. That’s roughly forty million insects per acre and over thirty million species in all.

I am pretty sure it is some kind of cockroach but I can’t be sure. I should be able to identify them just by looking at them, but I am working on that.

Remember: those are just the bugs that we remember.

Fun fact: fewer than one percent of bugs are considered pests. Most insects are considered beneficial because they are pollinators and/or predators.

Just so we are all on the same page, insects have a few things in common:

  • They have their skeleton on the outside to protect their insides. This is called the exoskeleton and is made of chitin. Chitin is a tough, kind of transparent nitrogen containing polysaccharide (a carbohydrate which has molecules that contain a whole bunch of sugars bonded together)- which is related to cellulose and is used in the exoskeleton of arthropods.
  • Their heart, the most important part, is located on top of the insects body.
  • Their nerves are on the lower side of their body
  • They smell with their antennae
  • They taste with their feet
First moth for my insect collection that I have to turn in. When I know what it is I’ll share

All fun things to know about insects on a basic level. Now, a lot of individuals are going to say that there is more bad than good but that is no necessarily true. First we’ll go over some of the positives of insects:

  • They produce products for us such as honey, silk, wax, and assist in composting.
  • They are pollinators and assist in the development of crops.
  • They are food for wildlife and are usually scavengers.
  • They can be a food source, if you’re brave enough.
  • They are useful for research and experimental purposes. They can track quite a bit through insects from their development to their effects on crops. There are lots of things that bugs tells us.

The bad things, the ugly things, the things that concern us:

  • They’re weird looking: this is ninety percent of our fear.
  • They are generally annoying to humans and animals because they’re always flying around and just being where they don’t belong.
  • They destroy crops because they are hungry and they are trying to survive like the rest of us.
Another specimen I hope holds out until

Insects are in a larger group called arthropods. Now, arthropods are cold blooded creatures- they have an exoskeleton and no backbone. I was really surprised by that because they seem so brave when they fly head strong into my face on the porch. So, arthropods are above insects. Insects are inside the phylum -> arthropod.

If you are going to be doing any work on your land you, like me, should be aware of what the world we live in populates. Who knew that this was going to be so fascinating?

I must contribute all knowledge to Dr. Drake at TAMUC. I am taking classes in order to benefit my home. Why shouldn’t I make my love for plants a real thing? Regardless, I can’t wait to share what I am currently learning in class with you, because it’s fun to share.

This does not make up for being in a college class where things are better explained. Please do your own research about the bugs in your area.

Butterflies and Moths in North America is one of many resources that are available to the public. Check it out and find out what kind of lepidoptera (fancy official word for the order in which butterflies and moths come from) you are dealing with or are in your area. Enjoy the crappy moth pictures.

Rosemary Indoors

I am having a lot of fun with rosemary. It is one of my favorite herbs to grow in our garden. I started rosemary in 2020 and I fell in love. Have you ever just taken your face and moved your face between their leaves? It is the greatest experience.

Also this is another perennial for my area. One thing I learned is that perennial doesn’t mean that it will live forever. It only gives the promise of three or more years. The more you know, right?

Rosemary is evergreen that boosts the immune system and helps blood circulation. This plant is high in antioxidants, improves digestion, enhancing memory and concentration, neurological protection, protection against macula degeneration, and many other amazing uses. They have this disclaimer that says: do not bulk up on rosemary and try to just eat all of it. Eating rosemary in bulk can put you into a coma and many other not so cool side effects.

This has been one of the easiest herbs that I have been able to grow. Rosemary can get between 1.5 and 3 meters tall- which is awesome. It can be used as an anti fungal remedy as well.

Fun Fact: this is a beneficial herb to help prevent scurvy and certain cancers.

I love that it is one of the many herbs that grows well in containers. I enjoy the smell and that is an evergreen. It is so pretty. Smells good, tastes good in food and has all of the benefits a humble farmer could want. It makes an excellent border shrub and repels certain insects.

I have dried out a large amount of rosemary and I am really excited about grinding it down. I have been making it into a powder and putting them in cork bottles. One day I plan on doing a lot with it. Unfortunately, my plants aren’t producing large quantities of rosemary just yet.

I have been thinking of it’s uses because I do not use powdered rosemary for cooking. Who knows, but the uses are endless.

Not recommended for women who are pregnant, nursing or wish to become pregnant. If you are taking medications that are prescribed or provide long term medical care always consult a physician before adding rosemary to your diet on a regular basis- as in more than 4 nights a week.

Just putting that out there so that if people see it prevents cancer they don’t eat three pounds, put themselves in a coma then sue me. I don’t have time for all of that nonsense.

Just know rosemary is easy to grow, does well against cats using it as camouflage to attack one another and my children love running their fingers through it and it doesn’t die. I can forget to water it and it doesn’t act dramatic.

Healthy Hopefuls: Endive and Arugula

After 5 days. They are still babies.

I started planting endive and arugula. I was told I should plant them in January, they can’t be transplanted until after the front but they need a little bit more time.

At 8 days we had a few more popping up. This is a mixture. One side is arugula and one side is endive.

I think we should start with endive. I should let you know that before this I had no idea what endive was or that it was a thing. You should know that I am new to this and I am trying everything.

Still 8 days. They are just now coming out of their seeds you can see that on this one. It’s lovely.

We planted endive because it can take longer to mature than other plants. It grows like lettuce. They are a leafy green that can be placed in salads for a bitter taste [which is allegedly good in salads].

11 days and we are strength training our sprouts with a fan to over the stove. I know it sounds silly but it helps us thin out weaker sprouts and they are strengthening their stems for our windy area.

The primary reason we are growing it is due to the fact that it is high in fiber and endive glycemic index is very low at 15, which can help prevent spikes in blood glucose after meals. I do not have diabetes but it is a beneficial plant to keep in your garden just in case. Plus we’ve never tried it before. It could be a delicious addition to our salads.

11 days from the top under their grow light. I swear one day the cops are going to come over with a warrant and be very disappointed to find lots of herbs and plants.

Now arugula has this tangy flavor and is also known to help lower blood sugar. It is known to lower the risks to cancer, osteoporosis, assists in preventing insulin resistance, improves the heart and rich in vitamin K. Remember when dealing with vegetables that are high in vitamins similar to K that you should slowly introduce as this vitamin helps assists in blood clotting.

Day 15 and these babies are busting out. You can really see how putting the fan on them for a couple of hours twice a week has caused their thin stalks to thicken and some of the taller sprouts have fallen away.

They say that arugula is said to have a peppery taste as well. It can be chewed to combat sour breath so I have read. Again, this one is new to me but have you see the benefits? I am really impressed. I can’t wait to find out how arugula tastes. They say you can put it in salads, smoothies, and omelets. I am sure that there are a million ways to make it.

More day 15.

I enjoy learning about these cool foods are out there and how having them might benefit my family. I feel like I am missing a lot of useful information. I am hoping that I can continue to learn amazing things that we can all benefit from.

An from the top picture of my plants. From the top boys is all I said and they started posing. Look at Arnaldo, he is so proud of himself growing from the side.

Healthy Hopefuls: Endive and Arugula

After 5 days. They are still babies.

I started planting endive and arugula. I was told I should plant them in January, they can’t be transplanted until after the front but they need a little bit more time.

At 8 days we had a few more popping up. This is a mixture. One side is arugula and one side is endive.

I think we should start with endive. I should let you know that before this I had no idea what endive was or that it was a thing. You should know that I am new to this and I am trying everything.

Still 8 days. They are just now coming out of their seeds you can see that on this one. It’s lovely.

We planted endive because it can take longer to mature than other plants. It grows like lettuce. They are a leafy green that can be placed in salads for a bitter taste [which is allegedly good in salads].

11 days and we are strength training our sprouts with a fan to over the stove. I know it sounds silly but it helps us thin out weaker sprouts and they are strengthening their stems for our windy area.

The primary reason we are growing it is due to the fact that it is high in fiber and endive glycemic index is very low at 15, which can help prevent spikes in blood glucose after meals. I do not have diabetes but it is a beneficial plant to keep in your garden just in case. Plus we’ve never tried it before. It could be a delicious addition to our salads.

11 days from the top under their grow light. I swear one day the cops are going to come over with a warrant and be very disappointed to find lots of herbs and plants.

Now arugula has this tangy flavor and is also known to help lower blood sugar. It is known to lower the risks to cancer, osteoporosis, assists in preventing insulin resistance, improves the heart and rich in vitamin K. Remember when dealing with vegetables that are high in vitamins similar to K that you should slowly introduce as this vitamin helps assists in blood clotting.

Day 15 and these babies are busting out. You can really see how putting the fan on them for a couple of hours twice a week has caused their thin stalks to thicken and some of the taller sprouts have fallen away.

They say that arugula is said to have a peppery taste as well. It can be chewed to combat sour breath so I have read. Again, this one is new to me but have you see the benefits? I am really impressed. I can’t wait to find out how arugula tastes. They say you can put it in salads, smoothies, and omelets. I am sure that there are a million ways to make it.

More day 15.

I enjoy learning about these cool foods are out there and how having them might benefit my family. I feel like I am missing a lot of useful information. I am hoping that I can continue to learn amazing things that we can all benefit from.

An from the top picture of my plants. From the top boys is all I said and they started posing. Look at Arnaldo, he is so proud of himself growing from the side.

Poll: What’s your favorite season

Year Zero: Serious Moment

I have a five year plan. It is not a good plan and it changes from day to day but it is a plan. Right now, I have just left year zero. January 2021 is starting a new year for me.

You may ask:

What is Year Zero? Year Zero has been my year of planning. I also went around the area and looked at local nurseries. I wanted to see what everyone had to offer. It opened my eyes. I also planned to go back to college and learn about plant things.

Why is Year Zero so important? Year Zero is my planning year. We moved in October 2019 and that only started our adventure. During this year I have walked the property over five hundred times. I have learned the land-ish. There is a lot more to starting a permaculture food forest then I anticipated.

This is where I outlined my goals. I learned my property and I planted starter plants- which I will get into later. We have a lot to cover so I will continue.

Some of the trees ready for new homes

What does having a poorly planned year zero do for someone who is just starting out? This is a tough one because I had to reset my Year Zero last year. It was insanity. I killed every plant I got my hands on because I just jumped in. I thought I could just wish my garden into growth. It was poor planning and I wasted a lot of money on plants that died. So, don’t waste money use your year zero wisely. Learn to work with your property and not against it.

Year Zero is the most important year of planning and development. This is my year of research and getting to know my property. Here I started and failed then restarted after some research. Even still I am not 100% sure that everything will work out. My year one began with medicinal plants and evolved into the dreams of a food forest. Somewhere it evolved and I wanted to have real food security.

I learned a lot about the native plants that already live here and it inspired me to start a Monarch Butterfly Santuary. I started by going online and joining many types of groups. They kind of inspired me and so I continued with my year zero goals. I did way better than I anticipated.

The reason Year Zero is important is because it lays the foundation for success but remember: you can always switch it up later if your plans don’t work out. I know it sounds crazy but a lot of people (myself including) thought they could just jump in (like I did) and fail. I’ve learned it’s only a true failure if I stop trying and so I will continue.

It took me the better half of the first year to figure out I was doing things wrong and I might need to talk to experts. That’s why I enrolled in classes but I’ll share all of that information as I get it with you.

Squash flower (I think?)

Sure, I was in the best Facebook groups. Unfortunately I hadn’t been utilizing them. So I went online and I just dove into research on permaculture, companion planting, ph levels, soil samples and I was blown away by how much was out there. I will never know everything but I had started down a rabbit hole that brought me here to this blog.

Spoiler alert: my plants stopped dying. I got better at planting the more I learned and there is this feeling of happiness when you are using your own vegetables and fruits.

All throughout year zero I sat outside my plants hoping they might grow. It does not make plants grow faster.

Now I know I need a plan and in year zero it’s the perfect time to decide what you want and where you see that going in five years. Make it fun and exciting but remember: your plan must flow with the tide. So make sure you are ready for those changes and adaptations as you go. For example: I thought I could just put seeds in the dirt and it would just grow. It doesn’t work that way and now I know thanks to countless people.

Goals for my property and my life for the next five years. This is important because it gives me a general outline to work with. Remember, I am making plans but they are like the wind- every changing and straightforward.

In five years, I want to have every individual breed of plant I want on my property. Even if I do not have every part of my land covered (Which I most likely will seeing my progress already- it is a possibility). I am not talking about a neat little orchard- I want trees and shrubs. I want to be overwhelmed with sight, smell and feel like nature surrounds me.

Keep that in mind- it is the foundation for our success. My goals are not primarily food security, even though it is a reoccurring theme, but instead a food based garden of eden, a place for me to retire my body and my spirit. So, not all of my plants will be solely food based. I am going to continue on that note, but keep your goals in your mind.

Another goal I realized: I want the species here to be closer to disease resistant and ready to produce in five years. This means that in the first few years I have to plant my trees that need to be producing as well as create a water source.

In Year Zero, I am going through plant lists to find edible plants, flowering plants, herbs, and pollinators. I am collecting seeds and planting what I like to call guaranteed success plants such as blackberries. During Year Zero I did a lot of planning but then I began planting samples.

For example: I don’t know of I even like certain fruits- this is a great time to plant one or two and try them. If I don’t like them I won’t plant more of that particular tree. It’s good to know before I make a mass planting decision.

The ones that do well and we like: we plant more of them. The ones that don’t we just move on from and don’t plant more. At least we are keeping those three blueberries (if any of them survive), but I am hesitant of planting more until we know they will survive. That is one of many examples. We keep what we like but we don’t want continue any difficult plants. If something happens we want to make sure we can take care of it. (Eventually I hope it will take care of itself, in my old age I don’t want to be chasing around a 7 acre mess)

I want to cover my entire property in plants that are useful primarily with a little playroom for beautiful things. I want to retire in my own hand made forest and I want to leave it for my kids to enjoy. I cannot wait until I make my dream come true, but Year Zero opened my eyes to the many possibilities.

Frankly, Year Zero did not go as planned and there is a good chance your Year Zero will not be magnificentbut don’t give up. I killed a lot of plants that I want to blame on bizarre seeds from China that I never received. Really it all came down to poor planning.

Year one starts now in January and during that year I have a lot of things I would like to accomplish. But first let’s talk about what i have already got started:

  • 75 thornless blackberries, three different kinds.
  • 33 grape plants, twenty four muscadine, six concord, two seedless randoms from Wal-Mart, and one Spanish grape.
  • 8 apple trees, 4 persimmons, 4 pomegranates, 5 peaches, 3 plums, 4 cherries, 2 pears, 2 limes, 2 lemons, and 2 avadaco trees.
  • Planted many perennials and failed two gardens.

Year One I have new goals.

  • I would like to plant 100 additional thornless blackberry plants. This year so far we have planted 75. We know that blackberries will do great here and we want at least 200. We want to primarily plant thornless varieties which is also why we are not dying into raspberries.
  • Set up the irrigation system that will support the amount of plants that I want to bring in. We already bought two irrigation systems. One is set up for bushes and one is set up for the trees.
  • I want to plant a minimum of 25 different kinds of apple trees, but that may not be possible.
  • I want to focus on the 41 disease resistant breeds that grow in my zone. Zone 8a.
  • Focus on filling in the spaces between my trees with shrubs and berry bushes.
  • Expanding my seed collection
  • Creating a creek system that runs through our property
  • Planting as much as I can as fast as I can and keeping it all alive with magic

So, don’t give up. Year Zero seems hard on everyone. We’ve got this now onward to YEAR ONE.

A much more detailed goal list for Year One is coming but you’ll have to be patient. I am busy looking through seed catalogs while listening to permaculture information.