Thursday, December 20, 2012

Butchering a Pig... another quick video

Here is another great, quick video sent to me about butchering a pig. This guy makes it look easy!

Click on the following link for the video:

During the holiday season, I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. I am also going to slow down and spend time with my family. I'll be posting a few things here and there. They will likely be interesting or fun photos or easy to watch videos, but I will not be writing in-depth or time-consuming research articles for a few weeks. So relax and enjoy the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Farmer Style (Gangnam Style Parody)

During the holiday season, I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. I am also going to slow down and spend time with my family. I'll be posting a few things here and there. They will likely be interesting or fun photos or easy to watch videos, but I will not be writing in-depth or time-consuming research articles for a few weeks. So relax and enjoy the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Relax. This is NOT an endorsement for large scale agriculture. It is just a fun video. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Duck 5 Ways

A friend sent me this link to a quick, but extremely well done, video on how to prepare a duck in five different ways. Click on that link; it is really good! I've made some of this myself (you can read about the ways I used my smoked duck leftovers here), but I'd really like to try some of the other techniques shown.

Also, take a look at The Perennial Plate website. Fantastic as well!

During the holiday season, I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. I am also going to slow down and spend time with my family. I'll be posting a few things here and there. They will likely be interesting or fun photos or easy to watch videos, but I will not be writing in-depth or time-consuming research articles for a few weeks. So relax and enjoy the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

More Reasons to Drink Beer

During the holiday season, I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. I am also going to slow down and spend time with my family. I'll be posting a few things here and there. They will likely be interesting or fun photos or easy to watch videos, but I will not be writing in-depth or time-consuming research articles for a few weeks. So relax and enjoy the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trap Plant Species

The French Marigold (Tagetes patula) is one of the more well known Trap Plant Species

I recently wrote about Trap Plants and Trap Crops. I had said that I would publish a listing of trap plant species, so here it is, but before I begin, I need to say a few things.

First, the chart below lists the Main Crop species in bold first, and then the Trap Plant Species is listed underneath as a bullet. Finally, the pest that is drawn away from the Main Crop is listed after the Trap Plant Species.

Second, this list represents only plant pairings for which I could find solid research. There may be other legitimate trap plant species out there, but I did not find anything that proved it. If you come across a pairing, AND you have some research to back it up, please send it my way, and I will add it to my list.

Third, as I come across more research, I will be adding it to this list.

Fourth, and finally, a word about names.  I call these plants (as do many scientists) Trap Plants. Many people may call this Companion Planting, and they would be correct. To me, Companion Planting is any plant pairing that aids the growth of the main crop. It may also aid the growth of the companion plant as well, but that is getting into a whole new subject. Now a Companion Plant may provide nutrients, provide minerals, add fertilizer, attract beneficial insects, provide shade or structural support, or it may repel pests.  Trap Plant planting is a specific type of Companion Planting that draws a pest to themselves and away from the main crop. I hope that makes sense.  I plan to write about this in more detail in the near future as well.

(Listed under their respective Crop Species)


  • Eggplant – Whitefly
  • Squash – Whitefly


  • Chinese Cabbage – Cabbage Webworm, Fleahopper
  • Collards – Diamondback Moth
  • Indian Mustard – Cabbage Head Caterpillar
  • Marigold - Nematodes
  • Mustard – Cabbage Webworm, Mustard Aphid
  • Nasturtium – Aphids, Flea Beetle, Cucumber Beetle, Squash Vine Borer
  • Radish – Cabbage Webworm, Fleahopper, Flea Bettle, Root Maggot
  • Sesamum spp. – Diamondback Moth
  • Tomato – Diamondback Moth
  • Yellow Rocket – Diamondback Moth


  • Onion – Carrot Root Fly, Thrips
  • Garlic – Carrot Root Fly, Thrips

Cauliflower and Broccoli

  • Chinese Cabbage – Cabbage Fly
  • Marigold – Pollen Beetle
  • Sesamum spp. – Diamondback Moth
  • Sunflower – Pollen Beetle
  • Turnip – Cabbage Fly
  • Wild Mustard – Flea Beetle, Potato Leafhopper
  • Yellow Rocket – Flea Beetle


  • Beans and other Legumes – Fall Armyworm, Leafhopper, Leaf Beetles, Stalk Borer
  • Desmodium spp – Stemborer, Striga
  • Medic – Carrot Root Fly
  • Mustard – Stink Bug
  • Napier Grass – Stemborer
  • Sorghum – Corn Stalk Borer
  • Soybeans – Heliotis spp.
  • Sudan Grass – Stemborer
  • Vertiver Grass – Corn Stalk Borer


  • Alfalfa – Lygus Bug, Green Stink Bug
  • Castor Beans – Heliotis spp.
  • Chick Pea – Heliotis spp.
  • Corn – Heliotis spp.
  • Cowpea – Heliotis spp.
  • Fleabane – Tarnished Plant Bug
  • Okra – Flower Cotton Weevil (Bollworm)
  • Sharpleaf Groundcherry – Whitefly
  • Sunflower – Heliotis spp.
  • Tobacco – Heliotis spp.


  • Desmodium spp – Stemborer, Striga


  • Foxtail – Cranberry Girdler
  • Red Top – Cranberry Girdler

Cucurbits (Squashes, Melons, Gourds)

  • Blue Hubbard Squash (planted around Yellow Summer Squash) – Cucumber Beetle and Squash Vine Borer
  • Corn – Fruit Fly
  • Squash (planted around Cucumber) – Striped Cucumber Beetle
  • Marigold – Nematodes


  • Basil - Thrips
  • Marigold - Thrips


  • Castor Bean – leaf eating caterpillars
  • Sunflower – leaf eating caterpillars


  • Chives – Leek Moth


  • Marigold – Nematodes


  • Alfalfa – Lygus Bug
  • Clover – Lygus Bug
  • Crownbeard and other Wildflowers – Thrips
  • Melilot – Lygus Bug
  • Mugwort – Lygus Bug
  • Vetch – Lygus Bug


  • Desmodium spp – Stemborer, Striga


  • Canola – Lygus Bug


  • Squash – Corn Rootworm, Cucumber Beetle


  • Hot Cherry Pepper – Pepper Maggot
  • Lupin – Heliotis spp.


  • Horseradish – Colorado Potato Beetle
  • Marigold – Nematodes
  • Sorghum – Aphid
  • Soybean - Aphid
  • Tansy – Colorado Potato Beetle
  • Wheat – Aphid


  • Marigold – Snails


  • Pelargonium geranium – Japanese Beetles


  • Desmodium spp – Stemborer, Striga


  • Green beans – Mexican Bean Beetle
  • Rye – Corn Seedling Maggot
  • Sesbania – Stink Bug
  • Sickle Pod – Velvet Bean Caterpillar, Green Stink Bug


  • Alfalfa – Lygus Bug, Tarnished Plant Bug
  • Daisy – Lygus Bug
  • Mustard – Lygus Bug
  • Scented May Weed – Tarnished Plant Bug
  • Wheat and other grains – Dusky Wireworm
  • Yarrow – Lygus Bug

Sweet Potato

  • Corn – Wireworm
  • Wheat – Wireworm


  • Corn – Fruit Fly
  • Cucumber – Tomato Fruit Borer
  • Dill – Tomato Hornworm
  • Lovage – Tomato hornworm
  • Marigold - Nematodes

Vegetables (General)

  • Chervil – Slugs


  • Squash – Cucumber Beetle, Squash Bugs

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Rhubarb

Rhubarb, one of the few well known perennial vegetables.

Common Name: Rhubarb
Scientific Name: Rheum species
Family: Polygonaceae (the Knotweed, Smartweed, Buckwheat family)

The large leaves are a great biomass accumulator

Common Species:

  • Himalayan Rhubarb (Rheum australe)
  • Sikkim Rhubarb (Rheum nobile)
  • Turkey or Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)
  • Da Huang (Rheum palmatum tanguticum)
  • False Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum)
  • Common Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
  • Garden Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum or Rheum x hybridum)

Remember, only the stalks (aka petioles) are edible

Rhubarb, along with Asparagus, is one of the more well known perennial vegetables. The large green leaves and red stalks were once a very common site in the home garden. Nowadays, there are probably more people who have heard of this vegetable than have eaten it, although the sour leaf stalks are still commonly used in pies (typically mixed with berries and lots of sugar) or in jams (also with lots of sugar). Few people in the U.S. have eaten Rhubarb as a vegetable as they do in Asia, and even fewer people have eaten the immature flower buds like cauliflower.

Rheum rhaponticum

Almost all of the nearly 60 species of Rhubarb are used for food, medicine, or both. Originally from Asia, and grown for thousands of years, Rhubarb has been distributed around the world.


  • Most commonly found Rhubarb have red stems, but there are a number of varieties (and other Rheum species) that have green or pink stems.
  • Rheum palmatum is a large plant that can reach 6-10 feet tall and reportedly has a gooseberry-flavored stalk
  • Rheum australe is reported to have an apple-flavored stalk.

Definitely not your grandmother's strawberry-rhubarb pie!

Dried Rhubarb - after it has been soaked in apple juice

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Stalks – very tart. Typically cooked, but some eat them raw. In the United States, Rhubarb is cooked like a tart fruit in pies and jams, with the addition of a lot of sweetener (sugar, honey, etc.), while in Asia, Rhubarb is eaten as a vegetable similar to celery and can be used in soups and stews. Rhubarb stalks have been candied as well.
  • Edible Flower Buds – cooked; similar in texture to cauliflower, but very tart.
  • NOTE: due to the high amounts of oxalic acid in this plant, Rhubarb should be eaten in moderation. So what does this mean in real life? Don’t eat Rhubarb with every meal for a week. Oxalic acid inhibits the body from absorbing calcium. Over time, this can be harmful. However, considering its tartness, excessive consumption is unlikely.

Secondary Uses:

  • Pioneer Plant Species
  • Groundcover – plant larger species (Rheum palmatum) at 4 feet (1.2 meters); plant other species at 2.5 feet (0.8 meters)
  • Dynamic Accumulator
  • Biomass – on the small scale, but the leaves are not eaten, so use them for compost
  • Insecticide Plant – simmering leaves in hot water yields an insecticide solution (I can find no recipes or application instructions)
  • Dye Plant – some species leaves, stalks, and roots can be used to make yellow to red dyes.

Yield: Depends on the species, variety, growing conditions, and harvesting techniques.

Harvesting: Spring – Early Summer.  Cut or twist off the leafstalk. Make sure to avoid the roots and the leaves. By mid to late Summer, the oxalic acid content has climbed, and even the stalks should be avoided or at least eaten in very limited quantity. Many people, mainly commercial growers, will harvest all the stems at once. This likely puts undue stress on the plant and encourages it to go to seed. Instead, remove no more than about a third of the stalks at one time and only mature stalks; harvest the next batch of now mature stalks a few weeks later. This method will also extend the harvesting season. It is time to stop harvesting once the stalks get thin.

Storage: Eat, cook, or process right away. Fully mature stalks will keep in a cool dry place (like a refrigerator) for a few days. Stalks can be frozen as well; pre-cutting and pre-measuring will make using them easier.

Rhubarb can be used as a ground cover since those large leaves shade out weeds

USDA Hardiness Zone: 
Himalayan Rhubarb (Rheum australe): 5-8
Sikkim Rhubarb (Rheum nobile): 7-9
Turkey or Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum): 4-7
False Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum): 3
Common Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum): 3-8
Garden Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum or Rheum x hybridum): 1-9

AHS Heat Zone:  Garden Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum or Rheum x hybridum): 8-5

Chill Requirement: No reliable information available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species and many, many varieties available. 

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile. Pollinated by wind.
Flowering: Summer

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: Rubarb will put out stems right away, but they should not be harvested the first year. A few can be harvest the second year.
Years to Maximum Bearing: 3-4 years is when you can start harvesting in earnest
Years of Useful Life: 10-15 years if not divided. If divided, the plant will live indefinitely. 

Not many know that Rhubarb's flower buds can be eaten like cauliflower

If not eaten, the flower buds will bloom in shades of white, pink, or red

Size: 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide for R. x cultorum, other species are larger.
Roots: Fibrous and Deep (Rheum nobile has a root that can get to 7 feet (2 meters) long)
Growth Rate: Fast

The almost otherworldly Sikkim Rhubarb, Rheum nobile

The apple-flavored Himalayan Rhubarb, Rheum australe

The large Turkish Rhubarb, Rheum palmatum, has a gooseberry flavor

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Medium
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.1 - 7.0)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Being hardy to Zone 1, Rhubarb is one of the most cold hardy perennial vegetables available.
  • If you live in areas warmer than Zone 7, consider growing Rhubarb as a Winter annual or consider growing a more heat tolerant species (Rheum palmatum, Rheum nobile).
  • The garden varieties are great for gardens and good soil, but consider some of the other species if you are planning on using Rhubarb as a pioneer species or planting in soil that is less than ideal.

Usually by division in Spring. Can be planted from seeds, but seeds do not always produce plants similar to their parents (not true to type) – seeds do not require cold stratification.


  • Almost none. Very resistant to pests and disease.
  • Crowns should be divided while dormant (either late Autumn or early Spring) every 4-5 years.
  • Consider composting the leaves and stalks that dry up at the end of the season

Poisonous – Leaves and roots are toxic. There is a high amount of oxalic acid in the leaves, but it is likely the presence of an unknown glycoside that is the cause of its toxicity, not the oxalic acid.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin


From the Publisher:
A couple working six months per year for 50 hours per week on 20 acres can net $25,000-$30,000 per year with an investment equivalent to the price of one new medium-sized tractor. Seldom has agriculture held out such a plum. In a day when main-line farm experts predict the continued demise of the family farm, the pastured poultry opportunity shines like a beacon in the night, guiding the way to a brighter future.

I have yet to read anything from Joel Salatin that I cannot recommend. This book is no different. The general premise of this book is one of farming, that is, raising food with the intention of selling it. While I may get to that stage at some point in the future, I would suggest that this book is for anyone with some land a bit larger than a small suburban lot and a desire to produce their own healthy food in a sustainable manner. Most of us do not have 20 acres. The beauty of the methods outlined in this book it that they can be scaled down. We could produce some really good chickens in a large backyard. This book will show you how.

Now, if you do happen to have a farm and are looking for a viable revenue stream, I would strongly consider raising chickens by this program. Joel Salatin has spent 20 years perfecting this model. He explains the variations and shortcuts and experiments he has attempted, gives the pros and cons, and deftly outlines his methods.

Maybe it is just me, but I cannot read a book by Joel Salatin without a deep longing to start farming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Trompe - An Almost Forgotten Air Compression System

The simple, yet brilliant, Trompe

A Trompe (also spelled Trombe) is a water powered air compressor system. This simple device was used for hundreds of years to produce compressed air for furnaces, mining equipment, ventilation systems, and even for air conditioning and ice production. Trompes were almost entirely replaced when fossil fuels, with their high energy potential, came into more general use at the beginning of the twentieth century (I believe the only large scale Trompe still in use is at the Ragged Chute plant on the Montreal River in Ontario, Canada). Unfortunately, the knowledge of these systems has been almost completely forgotten. At this time of increasing energy prices and likely post-peak oil, this is the type of information that needs to be shared and implemented.
The function of a Trompe is brilliantly simple. It has no moving parts. Water is directed into a tall, vertical pipe that decreases in diameter. As the column of water is constricted from the piping, air is sucked in through ports. The air bubbles in the water are pressurized – the higher the column of water (i.e. the more head), the higher the pressure. At the end of the vertical pipe, the water with pressurized air bubbles, flows into a larger chamber (called a plenum or reservoir) where the air bubbles are released. The water flows out and the air, now compressed in a tight space, can be harvested.

Correct me if I am wrong, but from my understanding there is a loss of heat energy in this process which cools the air. Actually, the air compression is isothermal (no change in heat energy), but then the air coming out of compression is cooling. This cooling effect can then be utilized for simple air conditioning systems or refined for ice production.

The compressed air can be used directly as a power source to pump pistons or turn gears, or it can be stored in tanks and used elsewhere.

There is a lot of physics involved with a Trompe, but it is really a basic design. The higher the water origin, the greater the potential of energy produced. This is why many of the larger systems were built near waterfalls. However, I think there are plenty of smaller applications in a home or homestead where a Trompe could be used. It is time to bring this almost lost technology back to modern use.

For More Information:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bright Agrotech - Vertical Farming and Aquaponics

The Bright Agrotech team

My good friend's brother has co-founded a grassroots agricultural company seeking to help produce healthy, local, and sustainable food. Awesome! They have a great lineup of products and a great philosophy. Check out their website here:

If you believe in their mission, and you have some extra cash, consider investing with them. Here is their KickStarter page:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Chicory

Chicory is a plant with many faces.

Common Name: Common Chicory
Scientific Name: Cichorium intybus
Family: Asteraceae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)

The "wild" Chicory is an unassuming plant and a great addition to the Forest Garden.

Belgian Endive is just one of many forms of Chicory.

In a similar way that Great Danes and Chihuahuas are very different forms of the same species (Canis lupus familiaris) the Chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) has been developed for a variety of uses. It may be a leaf vegetable in green, red/purple, or white/yellow that comes in a head or a dandelion-like leaf, a root crop used as a coffee substitute, and a forage plant for pasturing animals. It is a pioneer plant, a beneficial insect attractor, and helps build the soil. There is not much more we can ask from one plant!

Cichorium intybus

Well known throughout recorded history, the Chicory plant was prevalent through ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Over the years, it has spread and naturalized over the world. There is likely a variety well suited to almost all but the most extreme locations on Earth.

  • The Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has many varieties of leaf vegetable including Radicchio, Sugarloaf, Belgian Endive (aka French Endive or Witlof).
  • True Endive (Cichorium endive) is a closely related plant, but is a separate species.
  • Root Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) is a variety of Common Chicory cultivated for its root which is used as a coffee substitute.
  • Some forms of Chicory will form heads, but these are usually annual or biennial varieties and not perennial species.
  • Some perennial species of Chicory will form a head in the first year, but after that the plant ceases to form tight heads.
  • The tight heads of Chicory are called "chicons".

Radicchio, a type of Chicory, comes in many varieties.

Grilled Radicchio (here with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar) is one of my favorites!

Primary Uses:
  • Edible Greens – some varieties are developed for commercial production of salad leaves; a great, bitter, nutty-tasting leaf – perfect addition to mixed green salads; leaves can be cooked as any other green (just don't cook too long), and this reduces the bitterness. 
  • Edible Roots – roasted, ground, and used as a coffee substitute

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
  • Insect shelter plant (especially hover flies, spiders, and parasitic wasps)
  • Dynamic Accumulator – Especially potassium and calcium
  • Pioneer Species
  • Dye Plant - blue-ish dye from the leaves
  • Pasture/Forage Species for ruminant animals

Yield: Not applicable
Harvesting: Year round. Greens are most tender and less bitter before flowering (Spring), but can be harvest through the growing season. The roots are best harvested Autumn through Winter.
Storage: Use fresh, may be stored as lettuce for up to a week. While there is no reliable information on storage of roots, I would imagine that roasted roots should last for some time before needing to be ground for coffee, although the flavor likely diminishes with time.

Chicory flowers are typically blue, but white and pink are possible.

Chicory flowers attract many beneficial insects like this Hoverfly.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
AHS Heat Zone: 9-1
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information available.

Plant Type: Small to Medium-sized Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile. Also pollinated by bees.
Flowering: April - October (varies tremendously on the variety and zone)

Life Span:
No reliable information available, but as this plant self-seeds so easily, life span for an individual plant is not very relevant. Keep a patch healthy, and we’ll always have some available.

The roots of some Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. sativum) are grown as a coffee substitute.

The "wild" Chicory leaf strongly resembles the Dandelion.

Size: 1-4 feet (30-120 centimeters) tall and 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) wide; not typically very small, but the flower spike can climb to 4 feet (120 cm).
Roots: Tuberous
Growth Rate: Fast

Some Chicory, like Puna II picture here, are used for animals on forage.

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade
Moisture: Medium moisture requirements
pH: tolerates a wide variety of soils (4.5-8.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider cutting back the flower stalks to extend the harvest of greens.

Typically from seed. Self-seeds easily.  Large plants may be divided.

Almost none. Consider cutting back the seed heads if you don’t want seedlings to spread. Although, this is a plus in a Forest Garden almost all the time.

Spreads easily through self-sowing of seed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Great Geoff Lawton Video

Geoff Lawton

Here is yet another great video from Geoff Lawton, the director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. You need to follow the link below and sign-up. The 30+ minute video is well worth it. Very inspirational!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I am Brewing: Azorean Blackberry Porter

A previous Porter I brewed. One of my favorite styles of beer!
Name: Azorean Blackberry Porter

My goal with this beer was to make a dark, dessert style beer for the Winter months. It is bubbling along right now, the blackberries slowly giving up their flavor and aroma (I hope!) into the dark brown Porter. Should be perfect for a cold night on the island sitting in front of the fireplace listening to the wind howl and the waves crash outside.
Azorean Blackberries (Rubus hochstetterorum) from my backyard garden wall.
  • 6 lbs - Midwest Liquid Malt Extract Dark
  • 3.3 lbs - Midwest Liquid Malt Extract Gold
  • 1/2 lb - Grains: Caramel 120
  • 1/4 lb - Grains: Chocolate Malt
  • 1/4 lb - Grains: Black Malt
  • 1.5 oz - Hops: Tettnanger, US (AA 6.1%), boiling hops
  • 1.0 oz - Hops: Willamette (AA 6.4%), finishing hops
  • 3 lbs - Azorean Blackberries (previously frozen - picked from my garden)
  • Yeast - Safale S-04
  • Simmer crushed grains in 5 gallons of water at 155 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  • Remove grains from water
  • Add more water to bring total to 5 gallons (some water lost in heating/steeping time)
  • Bring to boil.
  • Add malt extracts and return to boil
  • Add boiling hops for 60 minutes
  • Add finishing hops at T-2 minutes
  • Transfer hot wort to 6.5 gallon brewing bucket containing thawed blackberries (the wort was just below boiling, so the blackberries were sterilized but not boiled)
  • Add yeast when completely cool (below 75 degrees F)
  • Rack off the fruit at 7 days
  • Allowed to settle for a day or two in a 5 gallon carboy - If the fermentation is still moving along, I may keep it in here for a while longer
  • Rack, prime with 3/4 cup corn sugar, bottle, age, drink!

  • I would loved to have used more blackberries, but that was all I had. The blackberry season is over here, so I will need to wait until next year for more berries... local ones at least. Ideally, I would have at least double that amount. Hopefully I didn't destroy all the flavor with the hot wort. Hopefully I won't lose the small amount of berry essence to the fermentation gasses, krause, or trub. No worries though!
  • Depending on the taste of this beer, in the future I may consider adding the fruit to the secondary instead. The alcohol and pH at that point will likely inhibit any wild yeasts and bacteria, so I may be a better flavor infusion from the blackberries. This experimenting is why homebrewing is so fun!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Blueberries

The Blueberry, one of the most perfect fruits!

Common Name: Blueberries
Scientific Name: Species in the Vaccinium genus and the Cyanococcus section
Family: Ericaceae (the Heather family)

There are so many species and varieties of blueberries available
Here is a patented variety of Southern Highbush Blueberry named Jewel.

Common Species:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
  • Rabbiteye/Southern Black Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei or Vaccinium virgatum)
  • Northern/Alpine Blueberry (Vaccinium boreale)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern) (Vaccinium corymbosum)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern) (Vaccinium darrowii)
  • Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)
  • Velvet Leaf/Canadian Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides)

Kids love to help pick blueberries - a great way to get kids in Nature

The Blueberry is one of the most well known fruit around the world. It is highly nutritious, highly flavorful, and used in a variety of ways. Primarily used for its fruit, there are blueberries that can be grown in almost any Temperate Climate around the world. A little work is needed to get their acidic soil needs met, but after that we are left with a moderately long-lived, productive plant needing very little maintenance. Blueberries are on my list of mandatory plants in the Forest Garden.

Vaccinium corymbosum

Native to North America, blueberries were used my Native Americans for thousands of years before Europeans took this plant around the world. The first cultivated blueberries (Highbush Blueberries) were introduced in Europe in the 1930’s.


  • The Bilberry, aka “European Blueberry” (Vaccinium myrtillus) is closely related to the North American blueberry species, but it is not in the Cyanococcus section of the Vaccinium genus, so they are not true blueberries. Bilberries have red flesh unlike the white or light green flesh of true blueberries.
  • “Huckleberry” refers to a plant that is either a true huckleberry in the Gaylussacia or Vaccinium genus like the Blue Huckleberry (G. frondosa) or Red Huckleberry (V. parvifolium). The name “Huckleberry” is often a local name given to plants, typically in the Appalacia area of Eastern North America, that are really true blueberries.
  • "Half-High" Blueberries are a cross between Highbush and Lowbush types. They are very tolerant of cold weather, but reportedly are not too flavorful.

Blueberry Tart... enough said!

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh Fruit
  • Cooked Fruit
  • Baked Goods, Pies, Tarts, Pancakes (!), etc.
  • Preserves, Jams, Jellies, etc.
  • Dried
  • Frozen (place washed and dried fruit in a single layer on a wax-paper lined baking sheet and place into the freezer for 20-30 minutes before placing in a container – this will keep the berries from freezing together into one large chunk)
  • Juiced
  • Used as primary or flavoring agent in beers, wine, liquors, cordials, etc.

The Creeping Blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium) is a great, evergreen ground cover

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food source
  • Hummingbird plant
  • Ground cover plant (mainly the Lowbush Blueberry in cooler climates and the Creeping Blueberry in warmer climates)
  • Edible Hedging
  • Tea Plant – dried fruit and leaves
  • Dye Plant - purple, from fruit and leaves

Yield: 3-8 quarts (3.5-9 liters) or 8-15 lbs (3.5-6.8 kg) per mature plant
Harvesting: Late Summer – Early Autumn (July - September). The best fruits are ones that fall from the branch with a little shake. Most blueberries in grocery stores were harvested once the fruit turned blue (and sometimes not even quite blue!). Blueberries to not "ripen" after picked, so harvest the berries when they have been blue for a few days.
Storage: Fresh fruits will keep for 1, maybe 2, weeks in a cool, humid location

Lowbush/Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) is a small, cooler weather shrub

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 2-7 (Deciduous)
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 7-9 (Deciduous)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 2-8 (Deciduous)
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 5-10 (Deciduous)
  • Creeping Blueberry: 6-9 (Evergreen)

AHS Heat Zone:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 8-1
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 7-9, said to “love the heat”
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 7-1
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): No reliable information available
  • Creeping Blueberry: No reliable information available

Chill Requirement:

  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 1,000-1,200 hours
  • Rabbiteye Blueberry: 350-700 hours
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 800-1,000 hours
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 150-800 hours
  • Creeping Blueberry: No reliable information available

Blueberry bushes in Autumn... beautiful

Plant Type: Small Shrub (including prostrate forms) to Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Most are Deciduous, few are Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover/Creeper Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Wide variety of species and varieties available – there will be at least one type well suited to your location. Most blueberries available for purchase are hybrids of multiple species.

Pollination: Most are Self-Fertile; however, Blueberries will produce significantly more fruit if another cultivar/variety is in the immediate area. Pollinated by bees and other insects.
Flowering: Late Spring-Early Summer (May-June)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 3-5 years
Years to Mature Bearing: 6-8 years
Years of Useful Life: Average 10-15 years, but some plants have been productive for over 50 years

Blueberry flowers attract beneficial insects, like this Mason Bee


  • Lowbush/Wild Blueberry: 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) tall and 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) wide
  • Rabbiteye/Southern Black Blueberry: 6-18 feet (1.8-5.4 meters) tall and wide
  • Highbush Blueberry (Northern): 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) tall and wide
  • Highbush Blueberry (Southern): 3 feet (0.9 meters) tall and wide
  • Creeping Blueberry: 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) tall and spread up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide

Roots: Relatively shallow and flat. Most have a suckering or stoloniferous growth habit… sending up new plants from underground roots or putting down roots from creeping stems.
Growth Rate: Slow

Blueberries can be used as an edible hedge
Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium ashei or Vaccinium virgatum)

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates medium shade, but reducing sunlight also reduces yields
Moisture: Dry to moist soils, depending on the species/variety
pH: prefers more acidic soil (3.5-5.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • The acidic soil the blueberries love can help be maintained with pine needle mulch if available
  • Blueberries can be early-, mid-, or late-season cropping which provides a longer harvesting season
  • Does not tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives).  Consider using another plant as a buffer between your blueberries and walnuts.

Propagation: From seed. Up to 90 days of cold stratification may be required. Cuttings are possible but take some skill - softwood cuttings in Summer. Division of suckers are easier and can be taken in Spring or Autumn.


  • Minimal. 
  • Cut back the “twiggy” branches at planting to encourage good initial root development. 
  • Prune after 3 years or so to open up the plant; blueberries can develop into less productive, thicket-like shrubs if left un-pruned. 
  • Yearly pruning of older woody growth will encourage new growth and larger berries. Remember that berries grow on wood that is one year or older, so don’t get too carried away every year.
  • Netting may be required to protect the harvest from the birds
  • If the leaves start to yellow, then the plant likely needs more acid.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trap Plants and Trap Crops

A central row of Buckwheat being used as a trap crop on a large scale.

First, a basic definition. A Trap Plant is used to attract insect pests away from a desired plant. When used on a large, industrial scale, we use the term Trap Crop. Trap Crops are just a larger planting of Trap Plants which protect the main crop from insect predation.

This simple technique has many advantages:
  • Reduces the use of pesticides
  • Protects beneficial insects from pesticide use
  • Provides food for predatory or parasitic beneficial insects
  • Eventually decreases overall pest populations
  • Increases biodiversity
  • Reduces crop loss

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages.

Reduces the use of pesticides
This is fairly straightforward. If you don’t have pests on the fruit or vegetable you are trying to harvest, then you are not going to use a pesticide. I am all for not using any chemicals on my food, whether they be toxic mainstream pesticides or “safe” organic pesticides. If I don’t have to put something on a plant that wouldn’t be there on its own, then that is ideal. If you are a backyard grower who is somewhat committed to an organic garden, then avoiding a pest outbreak in the first place will reduce the temptation of using potentially harmful chemicals on your plants.

Protects beneficial insects from pesticide use
One of many problems with the use of pesticides is that they indiscriminately kill insects, the good along with the bad. By using techniques that reduce or eliminate pesticides, we are preserving the population of beneficial insects.

Provides food for predatory or parasitic beneficial insects
Predatory and parasitic beneficial insects are vastly outnumbered by their prey. Just think of the African savannahs; they are full of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other grazing animals, but there are relatively few lions or cheetahs in comparison. There needs to be a healthy population of prey for the predators to be sustained in the environment. A garden system that has absolutely no pests will certainly not have the beneficial insects which we want. Why would they be there? There is no food for them. But we don’t want our food crops to be hosting the pests either. By providing plants that the pest insects can eat, we are in fact maintaining a food source for the beneficial insects that use the pest insects for food. Since the predators are present in the garden, the pests will have a significantly harder time inflicting damage.

Eventually decreases overall pest populations
Proper use of trap plants involves monitoring the life cycle of the pests. When the trap plant becomes covered in pest eggs or pest caterpillars, it is time for us to intervene. Maybe we cut down the trap plants and bury them in the hottest part of the compost bin. Maybe we put the cut plants covered in pests in the burn pile. Maybe we toss the branches covered in caterpillars in the chicken pen. By intervening at the proper time, we are allowing the pest to expend a large amount of energy on growth or reproduction or both, but not allowing that pest to capitalize on its investment. If almost every time an adult pest lays eggs those eggs never make it to adult stage that can itself reproduce, how many of those pests will continue to be in your garden? Not too many.

Increases biodiversity
By allowing some pests to survive, but away from our food crops, we will encourage more predatory and parasitic beneficial insects into our gardens. Life will never thrive in a vacuum, and in nature a vacuum never lasts. If we try to sterilize our gardens by chemically destroying all pests, we are creating a vacuum of our garden. Without constant vigilance of our garden vacuum, our garden will be overrun the moment we are not looking. Maybe it is a few days of having to work late and not being able to get into the garden or maybe it is a vacation for a long weekend. When we return, we notice that our food crops are covered in caterpillars or, worse yet, we see skeletons of our former plants with no leaves and dozens of fat, happy caterpillars munching on the few remaining bits of green. It has happened to me, for sure. However, by having trap plants and allowing some pests to remain as food for the beneficial insects, we are allowing for the natural increase in biodiversity that will develop in any environmental system.

Reduces crop loss
This is obviously the ultimate goal of trap plants, and it works. It takes observation and planning, but working with nature instead of constantly fighting it is considerably easier, less stressful, and more fun. It is also great for the environment and health of your garden. It is so successful, that many farmers are using this method on a large scale. Reducing crop loss in your own garden is just as effective.

I'll be expanding on this topic more in the next few days with examples of trap plants and ways to use them in your gardens. Stay tuned!