Tag Archives: permaculture

Relax and Tour the Gardens

I took a little time off last Saturday since it was going to be a beautiful day, except for a few sprinkles early morning. I decided to go to one of our local garden experts tour and talk, so I visited Miriam’s Gunpowder Gardens.

This is the first time I have ever been to Miriam’s but I must say it was not only beautiful on the banks of the Gunpowder River, but educational. Miriam is very versed in all manner of flower, shrub, and tree on her property. With over 30,000 plants that is some feat indeed!

One of the great things about taking the free tour of the gardens is the opportunity to ask a lot of questions and learn more about specific plants and gardening techniques. Not to mention, when the tour is over, the opportunity to dig and take some plants home-again absolutely free!

I went to the tour with the idea of grabbing a few bee-friendly plants to enhance our honey production from the hives. There was so much, I ended up walking away with several varieties of bee-friendly plants and trees.

It was a great day and Miriam offers free tours every Saturday-weather permitting- through the summer. The tours start a 9 & 11am with 1 afternoon tour at 1pm.

For more pictures or to ask Miriam a question follow her on Tumblr at:


Here is just a 2 minute preview of the gardens from our tour.









I can’t wait to go back when everything is in bloom….Enjoy!






Spring work at the suburban homestead

We  had a small streak of nice days: 60 degrees + with little rain. It gave me a good chance to get out and start taking care of the spring cleanup and get ready for planting.

I have had a huge truckload of wood chips sitting in my backyard since fall, so I was very happy to start moving it around to the different areas that I use it for each year. A friend of mine that owns a tree service is happy to donate his chips to me whenever I want them-free of charge.

So I started around the raised beds in the garden. Making good places to walk which will keep the weed growth down in between the boxes.

20160410_092722 20160410_092735 20160410_092742 20160410_092748
















Once the garden paths were complete, it was on to the permaculture in our front yard, as well as surrounding all of our fruit trees.

20160331_131515 20160331_131528








20160331_131531 20160331_131537 20160401_123047 20160401_123050

















Everything is really starting to take shape, Unfortunately, some cold weather has returned and other projects have gotten my attention. We are supposed to be back in the 60’s next week, so I will probably return to planning/prepping outside then.

Organic, Food Safety & GMO’s

usda-certified-organic How do you know if the food you are purchasing is genuinely free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and genetically engineered food? How can the consumer rely on the fact that a farmer says his produce is “organic”?  The only way to be sure that it is really an organic product is to purchase certified organic products that have the label USDA/Certified Organic.

In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act established national standards for labeling found on the USDA website. Businesses cannot claim they are organic without having the USDA certification or they risk a heavy fine.  Farmers apply for “organic” certification. Diligent records must be kept. The land must meet certain standards. The farmland must remain dormant for three years. During this time synthetic chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, or fungicides cannot be utilized. Third party inspectors check the fields, and complete stringent soil and water tests.

The USDA/Certified Organic seal may be found on products like meats, milk, eggs, cheese, and vegetables. What do the labels on these products mean?

  • 100% Organic- on the product means 100% organic ingredients. Packaging can display the USDA/Certified Organic seal.
  • Organic on the product means that the ingredients are 95-99% organic ingredients. Product can bear the USDA/Certified Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients means that the item contains 70-94% organic ingredients. They cannot display the certified organic label.
  • Other- on the packaging contains less than 70% organic ingredients and cannot bear the certified seal.
  • Natural- should be interpreted as no artificial colors or flavors

Organic vegetables and fruits can be more expensive to buy than traditionally grown produce. If you are not able to grow your own fruits and veggies use this simple trick to decrease your family’s health risk. If you are concerned about the synthetic pesticides that have been used on produce but can’t afford to buy all organic food then consider buying only the organic fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide exposure. Typically, the following produce have the most exposure to synthetic chemicals so consider buying them in “organic.”

  • Green beans
  • Winter Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Bell peppers
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Red Raspberries
  • Potatoes
  • Peaches
  • Imported Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines

What about GMO’s?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered through ggmo-1enetic engineering. DNA molecules from different sources are combined into a molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism. This may give the new organism desired traits, such as better disease resistance or withstanding cold temperatures better.

Genes are spliced into the host like tumors invade cells. Scientists can alter an organism by manipulating DNA with cancer causing pesticides in the cells of the plant to produce plants that can withstand greater amounts of pesticide without wilting or dying. Scientists have also crossed tomato plants with fish genes so that tomato plants will become more resistant to cold weather.

These genetically modified organisms contain pollen with the new genetically altered traits. The pollen can be eaten by birds or insects and travel through the wind to pollinate other organisms that have not been genetically altered. The natural species can not survive with the GMO one.   Thus, all of the pollinated plants will produce genetically altered seeds/plants/organisms.

Food labels in the US do not have to inform the consumer that the product has been genetically engineered. But if an item is marked “certified organic” that means the produce is free from genetically modified organisms. Five of the top hosts of GMO are corn and corn products, soy/soy products, rice, wheat, canola and cottonseed oil.

How safe are the new GMO’s that we eat? How long were the GMO’s studied? There are some groups that think that a complete ban on all GM food would be necessary until studied further. Still, others want a least a mandatory labeling of GM food until the long term health effects of eating these foods are known. These products still have some environmental safety issues: possible destruction of entire food chains if the GMO is unleashed to pollinate non GMO produce. Some countries around the world are banning production of any GMO’s.   Some counties in California are putting bans on producing genetically modified food at this time until some of these issues are resolved.

What options do we have? Of course, first and foremost if you have the land, or enough area for a container garden, grow your own. (At least until the genetically engineered foods have been studied longer.)   Growing your own food gives you the knowledge of where your food came from and how it was grown. You can feel comfortable feeding your family and know that you are not eating genetically modified foods.

Secondly, you the consumer can shop at grocery retailers that sell certified organic foods. This segment of foods is growing quickly as more and more consumers turn to a healthier lifestyle. At the time of this writing, these foods are approximately 5-8% higher in price, but as with anything, as demand grows the price will drop.

Personally,  I feel that the consumer should be informed about any foods that contain GMO. That we, the consumer,  should have the  right to decide whether we want to or eat these foods or not.

Backyard Composting 101

The Basics
The microbiological process that creates compost is the natural process through which plants and other organic wastes are broken down. Worms, insects, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms help breakdown the waste to create compost.

The Golden Rule of Composting
Composting is a natural process. There is no need to obsess over creating a rapid, robust compost because even a failed compost heap will eventually succeed. That said, a very effectively created compost heap will proceed to finished compost much, much more quickly (and can be a strangely rewarding accomplishment).

The Requirements
For the composting process to occur, oxygen, water, some warmth, and a good ratio of carbon-based to nitrogen-based materials are necessary. Fortunately, every one of these materials is abundantly available and should be essentially free!

The Bin
Many different compost bins are available, for many different prices. In fact, many cities offer conservation incentives through compost which they offer bins at highly discounted rates. Which one should you get? Choose the one that fits your household.  thing  In fact, no container at all is just fine too! Some of the best compost heaps are just that – a heap in a corner of the yard with a small enclosure or picket fence to keep things looking tidy.

The Ingredients
The insects and microorganisms that do the work of composting will come no matter what you do. Fortunately, putting out the right combination of nitrogen- and carbon- based materials will be like offering them a free all-you-can-eat buffet. Carbon-based materials to add to your compost should be available in abundance. These are the brown materials such as dead grass clippings, leaves, and even shredded cardboard. Nitrogen-based, or green, materials, can take the form of fruit peels, green grass clippings, and food wastes (avoid adding dairy and meat wastes). The ideal ratio for your compost is about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, but anywhere in that neighborhood will work just fine.

The other two ingredients you will need to ensure a speedy process are water and air. Because the center of your heap will retain a great deal of water, the compost should not need to be wetted very often except during dry spells.

Oxygen is introduced by turning the compost (a pitchfork works best) about once a week, or when the decomposition slows down.

What Will Happen
If you have built a heap with a good carbon to nitrogen ratio, and one that’s sufficiently damp and oxygenated, the composting process should start immediately. When the process peaks, the center of your pile will be producing heat (sometimes a surprising amount of heat!). It is up to you whether you want to completely compost a batch of wastes and then start over, or simply add wastes as they become available. When the center of the pile cools, the process has slowed and it’s probably time to turn your pile. Repeat until you’ve got nothing left but black gold.

The Product
When your compost has been – well – composted – what will remain is a moist, black, sweet-smelling mulch approximately the consistency of soggy cardboard. Nature’s most potent fertilizer, compost can be spread on your flowers, in your garden, on your lawn, and anywhere else you want healthy, strong plants.

Skip the trash can for some of your waste – six weeks in your compost heap can break down more material than six years in a landfill – and the end result is free, natural fertilizer for your efforts!

Happy Composting!

Aquaponic Basics Classes September 12, 2015



It is time!

If you are thinking about joining the great world of aquaponics-Here is your chance!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Because of the uncertainty of getting IBC totes for class-at this time we are ONLY OFFERING THE AQUAPONICS BASICS CLASS ON THIS DATE! If I have the ability to get totes-I will open up the tank building class and those who have signed up for the basics class will be given first option for the class.

There will be three options for the class that day:

Aquaponics Basics, Aquaponics System Building, Full class which includes both options

Be prepared to get your hands dirty! The day will start with a tour and explanation of our suburban greenhouse. We will discuss:

  • Aquaponic Basics
    • What is aquaponics?
    • How does it differ from hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaculture?
    • Is it cost effective to grow this way?
  • Is aquaponics legal in residential areas
    • What about more commercial applications
    • Do you need permits for vegetable/fish sales?
  • What are your goals with aquaponics
    • What are you wanting to grow? flowers, vegetables, herbs
    • NOTE: for Washington, DC residents: since Marijuana is not legal in MD, I cannot teach to that specific plant, but will answer any questions as best I can.
    • Personal consumption only or larger scale
    • Outside system or in a garage, shed, or greenhouse.
  • Types of aquaponic systems
    • Fill & Drain, Constant Height, Vertical, Gutter
    • Pro’s and Con’s of  systems
    • Which system is best for you?
    • Types of plants best for your system
  • Different types of Grow Media or floating rafts
    • Pro’s & Con’s
    • Cost factor
  • Raising and breeding Tilapia fish (This is our fish of choice)
    • Pro’s and Con’s of Tilapia
    • What other fish lend well to an aquaponics system
      • Are you wanting to harvest fish for food, for sale,  or just have fish for the system
  • Receive tracking logs for maintenance and monitoring of your system

We will also be covering topics about: cycling your tanks, grow media, heating, lighting and covering any questions that you may have leading a good understanding of aquaponics and how to start.  After attending the basics class, you will have the knowledge to successfully start your aquaponics adventure.

Once completed in the greenhouse, you will roll your sleeves up to be  completing your own IBC tote tank system. Be sure to bring your truck or trailer. We sold almost 100 of these last year at $299 each and you will take yours home with you the day of class!

I will take you through step-by-step in building your tank and the importance of measurements, heights, and clearances to insure your tank will function properly. Although we will have the majority of the parts pre-cut, please have knowledge of basic hand tools and drills. If you have a battery operated drill, feel free to bring it.

With any system there is some basic maintenance. As we complete the tank systems, I will cover basic maintenance and common causes of malfunctions,  as well as the necessary steps to solve and prevent future issues.

If you bring pictures of the area where you want to install your tank and a simple drawing , I will help you determine the best setup for positioning lines and filters. We can also make small modifications on the spot that would make your system very user friendly for your location.

Simple drawing example. Can just hand draw layout as well.
Simple drawing example. Can just hand draw layout as well.

When you complete this class, you will walk away with the knowledge you need set-up and run your new aquaponics system successfully. Not to mention that you will have your tank system built and ready to set and function as soon as you get home!

All class participants will receive the book and DVD from the foremost expert in Aquaponics in the United States: Sylvia Bernstein.

Aquaponic Gardening: A step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together. This book is the first and best book I have read in starting my aquaponics adventure: a $30 Value

Aquaponics Explained Video: full-length aquaponics course taught by Sylvia Bernstein in her warm, approachable style in June, 2012 at the Denver Botanic Gardens: a $30 Value

Just choose the option that best fits your needs. If you just need the knowledge right now and a better understanding of the aquaponic system, then the Aquaponic Basics Class is for you.

9:00 am Aquaponics Basics-This will include everything listed above in the “Greenhouse Tour” plus the book and video to take home.

$99 per person.                    Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

If you understand the basics of aquaponic gardening and are ready to get your system set up[ and going, with the knowledge of building and maintaining the system, then the AP Tank Class is for you.

11:30am Tank Only Class-This class will be spent hands-on in building your own tank system to take home right after class*. It will include all instruction on the mechanics and maintenance of the IBC tank system. You will be able to leave the class with the knowledge to build more tanks or variations to fit your needs in your own space. This class will include Sylvia Bernstein’s book & video to take home.

*Does not include Grow Media or fish

$349 per person                  Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

If you want to combine the knowledge of aquaponic gardening and starting your system, then come for the complete 1/2 day training!

 FULL CLASS-Best Value. Save $50 from the cost of both classes   for a packed 1/2 day of training and education about aquaponics; leaving with all the information and material you need to get started with your own aquaponics system when you get home!* Includes everything in both of the above classes at a $50 savings, but as an added bonus full paid tuition will include ONE guest FREE. So bring an interested friend, neighbor, or relative and they can participate with you.

$399 for 2 people**                 Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

*Does not include Grow Media or fish
**Includes only ONE book and DVD per paid tuition

Every class will have door prize drawings and giveaways throughout the class, so come prepared to make it a day of learning and fun!

Classes held in Southeast Baltimore County in Dundalk. Times and exact address of class will be sent on your payment confirmation page.



Cherry tomatoes all year long

When I was in the greenhouse today cleaning out the filters on the aquaponics tanks, I realized that my 1 cherry tomato plant has taken over both of the grow beds.

I planted 1(one) cherry tomato plant in January of 2015 and it is grown phenomenally. Not only has it grown, but it still flowers and produces great red cherry tomatoes. I am so happy that we decided to move forward with the greenhouse so I can extend my grow season and my aquaponics adventure!

Let me emphasize this is one plant that has taken over more than  a 4′ X 8′ section of the greenhouse-yet still producing after 8 months! I wonder if I can keep growing it as “permaculture”?

0812 010 0812 011 0812 012 0812 013 0812 014

Excited about this harvest season already

Took a walk yesterday around our little suburban fifth acre. It was extremely hot and humid, so did not dawdle much, but I did get to survey our season so far.

garden 008 garden 009

The front permaculture garden (more of a food forest) is doing well in the front yard. We utilize most of this greenery to feed the chickens daily and they seem to love the fresh greens everyday.

garden 014 garden 015

The fruit trees are 2-4 years old and they are beginning this year to bear some nice fruit. I look forward to the fresh pears, apples, and peaches.

garden 011 garden 010

Oh, the grapes. I am amazed at the amount of growth and fruiting that my grape vines are giving. This is the third year on the grape arbor and I think they are taking to it well.

garden 007 garden 006 garden 005 garden 004A friend of mine built and gave me two grow barrels which I really like. In a two foot by 2 foot area I can grow up to 35 plants. I have grown strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers very successfully in these.

For the first time since I can remember, this year we ran out of canned green beans before this years crop came in. So I added several more areas for pole beans this year, along with the bush beans in the grow barrel. I hate running out of any vegetables that we regularly eat.

garden 012 garden 013 garden 016




This coming harvest should be an awesome time!

Backyard Chicken Eggonomics: How Much Does it Really Cost to Raise Chickens?

Great informative article for any Backyard Chicken Flock owner.

Mind Your Dirt

I’ve found that this is a question I’m often asked when I tell people that I raise backyard chickens. How much does it cost in dollars as well as time? So I decided to start taking notes of all my expenditure, the time that I spend on tending my flock as well as what I’m getting out of having backyard chickens. I always figured I kinda broke even, but I was surprised to discover that I actual turn a handsome profit for my labor of love.

View original post 1,880 more words

Beyond Eggs and the Roasting Pan-Chicken

There are so many benefits to owning chickens that go far beyond the egg and the roasting pot! I wish we could get our local government board of Baltimore County to see the benefits far outweigh the usual diatribes of the ney sayers.

Here is an article from my friend at Abundant Permaculture that outlines 8 strategies for putting the flock to work.

“I am continually blown away by the working power of chickens on the homestead! They’re such great workers, I would keep them even if I couldn’t eat their eggs or meat. Plus, they reproduce themselves, unlike any man-made tool!

In this article, I’ll explain eight different ways you can put chickens to work. I’ll explain how you can use chickens to provide nitrogen for your compost pile, replace machine tillers, fertilize your garden, turn compost, spread mulch, dispose of your garbage, control pests, and improve the health of your orchard.”

Read the rest of the article here: Abundant Permaculture-8 Strategies

Retirement….Not what I thought!

I wrote the other day about my Love/Hate Relationship with Spring, which got me thinking about the last 3 years. The first 3 years of my retirement which have proven to be nothing like I expected.

My wife has about 5 more years before she leaves the work world, so I thought I would have a few years of playing golf and puttering around in the gardens. Little did I know how my interests would change and the amount of time I would be involved pursuing these new interests.

In the last 3 years, I have built a chicken coop, raised and lost 7 chickens (Thanks to the county), built a 10 X 20 greenhouse attached to our house, started building aquaponics systems and teaching aquaponics courses, added another 18 raised garden beds, turned my front yard into a “food forest” (permaculture), started raising rabbits, added 3 bee hives,  and now finishing our second chicken coop on a friends property who is allowed to keep chickens. (We now have 13 new hens which are still awaiting the completion of their permanent home.)

Truthfully having a garden has always been a thing. I enjoy getting out in the spring and summer working the gardens, watching them grow, and eating many fresh vegetables right from the vine. I actually grow snow peas strictly to snack on while I work outside!

Falling into aquaponics, expanding the scope of gardening to a year round project, has taken on a life of its own. I love this new hobby and have become excited about sharing the opportunity with other interested hobbyist’s.

Our new chicken coop is about done and I think it is turning out pretty good. Here are a few pictures but I will post more about it when its completed. We got more rain today and tomorrow, so hopefully finish on Wednesday.

0420 020 0420 021 0420 022 0420 023




I have played golf 3 times in the last 3 years and have been busier than I ever was when I “worked”. Needless to say retirement, although I am loving it, is nothing as I expected!