Projects for the New Year

Take on one project this year that will help improve the earth. Just one. If you can manage more, fantastic. However make sure that you are fully mindful of all aspects of your project so that is it done as well as it can be.

For instance, decide to use greywater. If you can physically and legally connect your household non-toilet water pipes to a water composting system and use it to irrigate plants, then do so. If piping is impossible, then hand-carry the dishwater, shower water, bath water and cooking water out and dump it on your plants as often as you can. Make a smoothie for yourself, then clean the blender by filling it with water, blending it, and pouring that nutrient-rich residual around your plants. Yet that is not enough. Use environmentally friendly soaps. Be aware of the plastic content and chemical treatments for fireproofing or insecticide of the clothes you are washing. Plastic is in synthetic fleece, in microdermal skin treatments, in polyester bedding. You don’t have to not use greywater if you are washing synthetic fabric, but you should be mindful of what you buying. Avoid microbeads. Avoid glitter and mosquito-proofed outerwear. Choose your purchases with open eyes, thereby reducing your usage of these toxins. Build good soil to help clean the toxins from the water. 

Compost. At the very least, use blender compost.    That means, take a handful of soft kitchen scraps, put them into a blender, fill with water, process, and pour the very liquidy mixture around your plants. Don’t throw away any food scraps, egg shells, leftovers, sour milk, moldy refrigerator mysteries, paper towels, tissues, paper napkins, cotton Q-tips, cotton balls, cotton dental floss, hair, or anything biodegradable. If you can’t blend it up and pour it onto the earth as fertilizer, then dig a small hole and bury it, or make a pile and compost it, or layer it in a raised bed or in a lasagna garden. What leaves your house in the form of trash should only be recyclables and undecompostable items. Your garbage disposal should be rarely used if ever. Put this raw fertilizer into the ground, not into the dump. Be mindful of what you are buying and whether it can be composted or not. 

Plant trees. If you are in an area with too much rainfall, you need the trees to take up the water, hold the soil and buffer the onslaught of the weather. If you are in a dry area you need trees to shade the ground, to capture ambient moisture and rain it down, to cover the hard earth with leaves. All areas need perches for animals. All areas need the oxygen supplied by the trees converting carbon dioxide gasses. All areas need reforestation with natives that thrive in indiginous locations. Be mindful of what kind of landscape you are planting. If you choose non-native trees that offer no food for animals and harm the native flora, then you are not helping. In San Diego, if you plant eucalyptus, ficus, Washingtonia palm trees, Brazilian or California peppers (not from California, but Peru), or many of the sterile fruitless versions of ornamental trees, you are taking away from the landscape rather than adding to it. I can’t begin to count how many neighborhoods I’ve been in with old plantings of ornamental plants and trees, and the area is so sterile of animals that they are like wastelands. Only survivor crows and sparrows (and loose cats) can be seen. Instead, areas with native trees are rich in many species of birds, and the insect population is under control as well. Water use is low, pollinator habitat is high, and the neighborhood feels alive and well, especially if the cats are safely tucking inside where they belong, as mine are.

Recycle. I am constantly stunned to see recyclable bottles and cans thrown into regular waste. The percentage of what is recycled that actually processed is low, too. So choose glass over plastic. We bought camping utensil sets to carry with us, refuse straws, and this year I’ll work on bringing containers for leftovers when we eat out rather than take a clamshell plastic container or Styrofoam one. I already wrap banana peels, leftover pastries, apple cores, and whatever is biodegradable in a paper napkin, bring it home and compost it. If you have a plastic water bottle, soda can, glass bottle, or anything recyclable, please put it in the appropriate container. Recycling has been around since I was a schoolgirl, and I can’t believe everyone still doesn’t do it.

Switch makeup. My daughter is particularly good at finding vegan, Fair Trade and non-GMO skin care products for reasonable prices. Neither of us use many cosmetics, but the lip and cheek color, eye color and moisturizers we use, as well as our daily soaps, are ethically and environmentally sourced. Why rub harsh chemicals into your eyes and mouth? The choices grow every day, and the prices lower all the time. Do your homework. Be mindful of what you pick up in the store. Remember that what you put on your skin is also washed down the sink and into the water table, or into your greywater. Support the businesses who have ethical business practices. This goes for men, too. Shaving cream, after shaves, toner, scent, hair products, etc. Your skin will be healthier for the change.

Shop local. Pick one or two local businesses that you know practice sustainable, ethical and conscientious business practices, who give back to their community, and give them all of your support. Buy from them, advertise for them, befriend them, give them moral support. Rate them highly on Yelp, Google, or other rating systems. Watch out for them to be sure that they can succeed. Work for them if possible. Adopt them so that they have success.

Go animal and dairy free at least one day a week. I cannot go into the scope of the damage to the environment and the horror of the treatment of food animals here. Dare yourself to find out for yourself. Read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Find out what happens to cows and their calves in dairies, and the heartbreaking lowing of the cows -always kept pregnant to produce milk- as their young are hauled shrieking away to be slaughtered for veal. If you think that fish and shellfish somehow have no nerves or instincts, then think again. Lobsters who are by nature competitive being held in freshwater tanks, their claws bound, among their competition, starved, and then boiled alive. If you shrug and turn away from the suffering from others, then perhaps you should analyze your food sources more. You condone practices if you support them with your wallet. So set aside a meatless and dairy-free day once a week. If  the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles ‚Äď or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The UN  has said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from the worst effects of climate change because of the heavy environmental impact of raising livestock. Not to mention the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet; diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and so much more is rooted in diet. Make a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Wednesday, or whatever, and avoid pouring cheese sauce all over some steamed veggies and calling it a good meal.  Have a curry, a Turkish Eggplant Stew, a dairy free mushroom stroganoff, spring rolls, veggie lasagna, heavenly steamed eggplant, a portobello sandwich, stir-fry, bean and avocado burritos, try some non-GMO meat substitutes like those from Gardein (particularly their fish!) (no product placement, just a recommendation), or make your own seitan. Make your own vegan butter. Let your body and the environment have a break for a day.

Help Out. Choose a local charity, or a needy neighbor, and provide what they need. Don’t just give them what you want to get rid of , or what you think they should have. Often people just need reassurance or a friend to talk to, or possible solutions, or a hand for a day. Donate what your charity needs, and if that is money then do it. Help with a fundraiser. Volunteer your time. Do something to truly help someone else out, without asking for praise or cosmic bonus points in return. Don’t be a pain; be a blessing. Volunteering and helping out make you feel worthwhile and surrounds you with like-minded people who can become your friends.

 I have found many of my closest friends through volunteering.  Be aware of large, nation- or world-wide charities who use most of your donations for salaries and infrastructure, and very little on what they are supposed to be supporting.  Don’t let the big names fool you. Use your money to help honest charities in your area, or by just sending money to people who need it, anonymously.

Whatever you choose to do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the details, to where products come from, to the business practices of the charities and stores you support, to how animals and people are treated in the making of the products, of what is in what you handle every day. You don’t have to, nor can you, take on the world’s problems, but you can focus on one thing and stick with it; make it part of your day-to-day until it is habit. Then move to a second choice. What you do, what you buy, what you say and how you spend your time cause ripples across the earth, and being mindful of your influence will send out help rather than harm.

Happy New Year. Be healthy. Be kind. Be happy. You matter.

A Garden Coop


If you want chickens and vegetables, and have predators and opportunists trying to eat what you grow, and perhaps have limited space, this design may be for you. I did not come up with it; I don’t know who did and I give lots of credit to that person because this makes so much sense. I’ll be converting our Fowl Fortress into one as I can.

It is the Garden Coop. You build one structure of strong wire with small gauge holes to keep rats, mice and snakes out, keep your hens on one side and garden in the other, then switch. 

Start with cemented posts. Your coop can be of any dimension depending upon how many chickens and how much gardening space you will need. Take that number and multiply it by two. Instead of wood you can use metal posts with metal spacers across the top if that is more cost effective for you. Make it 7 or 8 feet tall, for comfort to walk in and also to give you more vertical growing space.

Wrap the entire structure with wire, all sides and across the top, and at least six inches into the ground all the way around. This helps prevent digging animals from getting into the coop. As we have coyotes, I also pounded 6″ pieces of rebar into the perimeter every 6 inches. If you have gopher problems, then bury wire 2.5′ into the ground around the perimeter. Hardware cloth would be best although the small chicken wire is more flexible to work with. When you overlap the wire cloth be sure to sew it closed or wrap and tuck the edges, otherwise rats and mice will slip through. 

Put your hen house in the center of the coop; the house should have doors on two sides.

Divide your coop in half with wire down the  middle. The wire should go around the hen house, and the hen house doors should open into each half of the garden.

Now you can keep your hens in one half and garden in the other half. When a season ends, switch them.

You’ll have all of your fruit and vegetables safe from squirrels, rats, mice and birds. You’ll have vertical space on which to grow your vines. When you switch, you’ll be gardening in insect-free, well manured soil and your hens will have excellent food sources. They will be working without being let loose, and will have an active and healthy life without becoming prey. They will take apart your old garden and fix it for the next switch.

All of your water needs are in one place. All of your composting is in one place. All of your vegetable and egg gathering is in one place. You get to harvest all of your vegetables and eggs without feeding rodents. What you don’t want, you toss to the hens. All with one structure, one initial cost. Its a chicken tractor that doesn’t move!

Because you are keeping animals out physically and controlling insects with hens, you won’t be enticed to use traps, bait, sprays, etc. 

You can also grow around the outside perimeter of the coop. Just be aware of shade issues from vines (maybe a good thing?) grown over the top. Summer shade with a deciduous vine may be just right for keeping your hens and garden cooler.

Its a great idea, and maybe the one that will help you succeed in your garden.

Six Years of Permaculture

In February, 2011, I signed the contract with Roger Boddaert to create a permaculture food forest. The goals at that time were to stop the erosion on the property, to create a wildlife habitat, and to grow food, medicine, native plants, building materials, herbs and ornamentals in a sane way: no chemicals. So the journey began, and it hasn’t been easy. Nor did I at that time know that the garden would evolve into Finch Frolic Garden and my business would be education. 

In preparing for a talk about our garden, Miranda and I worked on before and after photos. The garden this April, 2017, is stunning, with blooming wisteria, fruit trees, red bud, roses, angel-wing jasmine, iris, and so much more. Best of all Mrs. Mallard has brought her annual flock of ducklings from wherever she nests, and the four babies are still alive and thriving after a week! So I thought I’d share the incredible difference between what had been, and what is now. All done with low water use, no fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, additives or supplements. Come visit when you can!  Slideshow images change in ten seconds:

Podcasts with Diane Kennedy

Two podcasts with me talking about permaculture, Finch Frolic Garden, and how you can save money and the world through gardening! ūüôā Please let me know what you think:

This is a podcast with Sheri Menelli of, where I talk pretty much without a pause for breath for about the first ten minutes.  Recorded in May, 2015.

Ep7: Interview with Diane Kennedy of Finch Frolic Gardens and

This is a podcast with Greg Peterson of Urban Farm Podcasts, released Jan. 7, 2016, and you can listen to it several ways:

Urban Farm U: 


You can sign up for free to hear all their great podcasts here.

Water Harvesting With Simple Earthworks

Finch Frolic Garden’s Program In The Garden Series for June:

Shaping the land to harvest energy and water ‚Äď easily!

With permaculturalist Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics and Landscaping

Jacob HatchSunday, June 28, 2015 2-4 pm.

Use 30% – 70% less water on your landscape!

Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics will show you how to catch free, precious, neutral pH rainwater using earthworks.  Whether you use a trowel or a tractor, you can harvest that free water. Each attendee will receive a plant!  We will, of course, offer homemade vegetarian refreshments.  Cost is $25 per person, mailed ahead of time.  Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook.  Please RSVP to . More information can be found at  You’ll love what you learn!

Pathways Can Help Your Garden!

A finished section.

A finished section.

Footpaths and/or vehicle access paths are absolutely necessary for any yard. ¬†Unfortunately, weeds love growing in them. ¬†Worse, the pressure from footfalls, wheelbarrows and vehicles compress and compact the soil, pressing the soil grains together so tightly that oxygen – and therefore life – can’t exist often up to several inches or more deep. ¬†Any life, that is, except for the grasses and other weeds that nature sends in to help repair the soil. ¬†Bare ground will be greatly compacted by rainfall, which will then erode paths as it runs, unable to soak through that spaceless ground. Once wet bare pathways are often unwalkable until they dry out, and have to be resmoothed. In our hot, dry areas, bare earth or graveled pathways reflect heat and light back up. ¬†That reflected heat and light dries out the underside of plant leaves, where species such as Live Oaks have over the millennium developed leaves that curl to expose less surface to the hot sun and to gather moisture underneath. ¬†Reflected heat and light dries out the air as well, and any hope of slight humidity to help water plants through months of dry heat is gone. ¬†If you have open-pollinated vegetables that rely on breeze for pollination, all that open pathway actually decreases your germination because pollen – such as from corn – will dry out in arid conditions. ¬†Humidity that you can keep in your garden will keep pollen more viable longer.

A wealth of freshly chipped wood - two dump-trucks full!  The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour.  Yikes!

A wealth of freshly chipped wood – two dump-trucks full! The challenge: to spread it all in a week before our first tour. Yikes!

What to do? ¬†Covering pathways with gravel is a common solution. ¬†I hate gravel. ¬†It heats up and becomes a thermal mass in the summer, further cooking your soil and air. ¬†It doesn’t suppress weeds and weed-whipping becomes an exercise in avoiding shrapnel. ¬†You can never get it out of the ground once you apply it, and chunks of gravel don’t do soil much good for planting. ¬†If you trip and fall on gravel it does terrible things to your knees – I had a piece lodged in my kneecap after a stumble some years ago (sorry for that cringe-worthy item).

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper  with mulch on top.

A 1/2 inch of cardboard or newspaper with mulch on top.

Covering the soil is better, but not best. Bark will help rain bounce and then percolate, is dark so it won’t reflect light and heat as gravel does, and it decomposes. ¬†It is also expensive to buy, and because it decomposes you have to re-buy it every couple of years. ¬†Decomposing bark may be adding elements to your soil that you don’t want depending upon the source.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

I have experienced all the options above. The best method of countering all these issues that I have found also repurposes and recycles. Sheet mulch. ¬†Yep. ¬†You’ve heard it from me before and it proves itself every year. ¬†There is more to it, though.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of  the unused Kenya bee  hives.

I disturbed a couple of nesting mice in one of the unused Kenya bee hives.

First of all, please, please, please never use plastic.  You can read about white pollution and the layers of plastic merging with topsoil in China and cringe.  Plastic will not last.  It will always be around in pieces. You will be poisoning your soil.IMG_6460

At the most basic, you can cover your pathways with 1/2″ of cardboard and newspaper, and top it with wood chips. ¬†I obtain my wood chips ¬†from arborists who save paying a dump fee by dumping it in my yard. ¬†If you’d rather have a more uniform look then purchase your bark. ¬†Either way the cardboard and newspaper will make the chips last years longer. ¬†More importantly the cardboard and newspaper form a protective, absorbent layer that protects the soil from compaction. ¬†Have you looked under a log or sheet of abandoned plywood in awhile? ¬†All the white tendrils of fungus, insects, worms, lizards and roots are thriving there along with billions of soil microbes all because they have that protective layer that keeps moisture in and compaction out. ¬†That microclimate is what you are forming with cardboard and mulch pathways. Since microbes free up the nutrients in the soil from which plants feed, you are creating more food sources for your plants. Tree and plant roots don’t end at the dripline, they reach out towards whatever source of water and nutrition they can find. ¬†If you are top-watering rather than deep-watering, then roots are abundant closer to the topsoil. ¬†By sheet mulching pathways you are extending food sources for your plants and trees, which now can stretch underneath the paths, link together with other roots through fungal networks, and become stronger and healthier. ¬†You also are creating habitat which is a food source for the entire food chain. ¬†Cooler, humid areas are better for bees and insects that pollinate, and the predators that feed upon them such as lizards, toads, frogs and birds. ¬†Just by sheet-mulching your pathways you are improving your environment as a whole. ¬†How can you NOT want to do this?

Sheet mulching around trees  is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulching around trees is much the same, except you add a little manure or compost tea if you have it.

Sheet mulched pathways hold moisture and create some humidity which allows for better pollination and helps keep your plants from scorching in arid areas.  If you live in a wet area or very humid area, use thicker layers of cardboard and mulch, which will help absorb moisture from the air and deliver it to the ground.  Decomposition is quicker in wet areas, so using several inches of cardboard with mulch will last much longer and will again keep  down compaction.  Compaction in rainy areas is just as bad as in arid areas because of the erosion and flooding it causes.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

More progress as the afternoon wears on.

To catch rainwater and allow it to percolate into the soil rather than erode away topsoil, you dig rain catchment basins or swales. ¬†Swales are ditches with level bottoms, and can be a foot ¬†long (fishscale swales) or the length of your property. Swales should be positioned perpendicular to the flow of water. ¬†You can create swales across pathways, fill them with mulch, top them with cardboard or old plywood, and mulch on top to match the rest of the pathway. ¬†Water will be caught in the swales and won’t wash out paths on hillsides.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

MIranda working on a large pathway near our large hugelbed.

Going a step farther, you can ‘hugel swale’. ¬†Hugelkultur¬†¬†is layering woody material with dirt. This introduces organic material, oxygen and nutrient pathways into the soil and holds moisture into the dry season. ¬†You can dig deeply in your pathways, layer old wood (sticks, branches, logs, whatever you have) with the dirt, up to soil level, then sheet mulch. ¬†Your pathways are now waterharvesting alleys that you can walk on, and which will really feed your plants. ¬†And you just repurposed old woody cuttings.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears  and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer.  The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity.  We'll be planting more heavily in  this area, too.

This mulch will greatly help the Asian pears and cherries which struggle with the dry heat of the summer. The ground will be kept moist and reduce evaporation, holding in humidity. We’ll be planting more heavily in this area, too.


In very dry areas plants and trees do better in sunken beds, especially those that require a long chill time.  Cold settles in holes.  Moisture runs downhill, therefore dew will accumulate at the bottom of holes.  You can either plant in holes and have your pathways higher, or if you have an established garden (such as I do) you can build up your pathways so that they become slightly higher than your trees and planting areas.  We are working on that at Finch Frolic Garden, here in drought-stricken San Diego county.

So before I launch into yet another long lecture, the idea for pathways is simple: sheet mulch with cardboard and wood chips.  If you live in a wet area, use several inches of both.  If you live in a dry area, use no more than 1/2 inch of cardboard (or else it will absorb moisture from the soil) topped by at least an inch of mulch (no limit there!).  If you want make super pathways, bury woody material before you sheet mulch.  If you live in a dry area, raise your pathways above your planting beds.  If you live in a wet area, lower your pathways so water can drain away from your plants (unless they love wet feet).  Never use plastic, and please rethink gravel.

Then sit back and enjoy your yard and all the food and nutrients and abundance you have set the stage for, all using recycled materials that will last for years.  Congratulations!

Saving the Bees

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration.  Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

The ponds at Finch Frolic Garden are cleaned by fish and plants, with no chemicals, algaecide, artificial aeration or filtration. Well-balanced water allows wildlife to thrive.

I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc. ¬†I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering. ¬†Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution. ¬†Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously. ¬†Too bad no one listened to him decades before. ¬†A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes. ¬†However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results¬†of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are ¬†gone. ¬†Over half. ¬†Gone. ¬†On our watch. ¬†In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame. ¬†So what about the next 40 years? ¬†Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone. ¬†There are only 3% left in Los Angeles. ¬†The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks. ¬†We are pumping all that ¬†water overland, open to the sun for evaporation, ¬†to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up. ¬†It is madness. ¬†All ¬†the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone. ¬†All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have ¬†access ¬†to it. ¬†The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths. ¬†Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon. ¬†We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.dry_colorado_new[1]

One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons).  We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean.  Look around at your streets and houses.  Are they harvesting water or channeling it?  Any property that is slanted is channeling water away.  Any property that is level Рlike the bottom of swales Рis harvesting water.  So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them.  When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it.  Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil.  That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground.  The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates  (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil.  That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life.  We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves.  We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.

Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures.  Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic.  Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced.  They eat mosquito eggs.  They clean up algae.  They are as vitally important as soil microbes.  Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.

I spoke with Quentin Alexander from  HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather  than having to kill the entire hive.  He has had no luck in the past two  years with European queens, even those bred in California.  With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths.  Again, these contain highly chlorinated water.  Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.

We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater.  We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated.  One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water!  It is so easy to harvest rainwater Рdig level-bottomed swales!  Dig small ones with a trowel.  Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows.  Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water.  Catch water as high up on your property as you can.  If you have level soil, fantastic!  You have it so easy!  Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water.  Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow Рits called hugelkultur. 

Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia. ¬†You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails. ¬†Here ¬†is the link. ¬†The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert. ¬†If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting. ¬†We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time. ¬†Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it. ¬†If there are¬†flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there. ¬†It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property.¬† Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life. ¬†Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment. ¬†If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional. ¬†In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics. ¬†Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways. ¬†Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife. ¬†He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments. ¬†No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes. ¬†How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil.  Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same.  We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.

Using Smuck, or Using Food Waste


One afternoon's haul of smuck.

One afternoon’s haul of smuck.

Just when I was mourning the fact that¬†our household¬†didn’t create enough food waste to generate lots of compost, I received an email from a former visitor to Finch Frolic Garden.¬† She volunteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry, where they distribute balanced food supplements to over 800 families a week who earn less than the US poverty limit.¬† They receive raw, outdated fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and other sources, sort through it and have to discard what isn’t safe to hand out.¬† The volunteer knew that I composted and wondered if I’d like to pick up the residue so that they wouldn’t have to throw it out.¬† She and the director had been taking it home, but it was too much for them.¬† Four times a week I’ve been picking up buckets of smuck, or what I call the¬†rotting fruit and vegetables, and often its too much for me as well.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy.  Buckets are better.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy. Buckets are better.

There has been a grace period where my daughter and I nearly broke our backs picking up cardboard boxes sodden with fruit juice that stained our clothes and our car, and spent lots of time cutting produce out of plastic bags and containers, but the Food Pantry staff  have been wonderful about usually opening the packages  and using only old pool buckets.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic.  We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside.  These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic. We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside. These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

My back, my clothes and my car thank them.¬† Fortunately others have been picking some smuck¬†up.¬† The man in my life happily¬†takes lots of it to feed to his compost worms.¬† We’re a great match.

My daughter and I empty the buckets into the chicken coop.

Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

Charlotte, Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

The girls love it. I make¬† sure they eat lay crumble and calcium as well to keep laying, but with the smuck they’ve reduced their intake of crumble and hence have lowered my expense.

The girls going after the smuck.

The girls going after the smuck.

I pitchfork straw and weeds over the top and within a few days most of it except some citrus and a coconut or two is pretty much gone.  There is a fly problem, but with the flies there have come more flycatchers and lizards, and  the hens eat the insect larvae that emerges in the compost.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer.  She's here just because she's so lovely.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer. She’s here just because she’s so lovely.

The picking up of smuck, hauling it down the hill and into the coop, de-packaging, cleaning buckets and fighting flies and ants, three Рto -four times a week has been a time-consuming and very, very icky job, but the thought of all that free waste going into the dumpster keeps me at it.  This is bacteria-heavy compost material, which is excellent for growing non-woody herbaceous plants such as our own vegetables and herbs.

I’ve also layered the¬†smuck with cardboard, paper waste from the house (tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, Q-tips, junk mail, shredded paper, etc.) under the bananas.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana.  A citrus to the side likes it, too.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana. A citrus to the side likes it, too.

Bananas love lots of food¬†in the¬† form of moist¬† compost around their roots; in fact, they are commonly planted in banana circles with understory plants and the center¬†of the circle is a place for waste products to¬† deteriorate.¬† In our dry San Diego climate we don’t have that kind of tropical moisture to help it rot, but the¬† compost does become a¬† sheet mulch¬† and really helps create soil.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

One inch of compost¬†reduces watering needs by ten percent, so a pile of wet¬†smuck layered with carbon items such as dry cuttings and cardboard is excellent. ¬†I throw cuttings and pine needles over the top¬†to keep down the rotty fruit smell,¬† which doesn’t last long anyway.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana - kind of a banana semi-circle.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana – kind of a banana semi-circle.

When creating new impromptu trellises for melons and squash in unimproved soil, Miranda and I dug trenches, threw  in wet wood and dumped buckets of smuck right on top then covered the trench with dirt.  We  planted seeds in handfuls of good compost and away they went.  We also used some of the mostly composted soil from the Fowl Fortress directly into the kitchen garden .

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

Due to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables in the smuck buckets we’ve had some interesting volunteer plants.¬† Tiny tear-shaped tomatoes that had been sold in plastic containers for natural snacks, a sweet potato, other tomatoes, and melons. At least we¬† thought they were melons.

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden... but not the melons we expected!

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden… but not the melons we expected!

Miranda was wondering about pulling them out of the kitchen garden because they were taking over without apparently producing a flower.  A couple of days ago she investigated further and  found a real surprise. We have about thirty kiwanos growing under the foliage!

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

I’ve never eaten a¬† kiwano.¬† Wikipedia says: Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit, is an annual vine in the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae.¬† I’ve seen them in the smuck buckets, and it just figures that of all the green melons and orange melons¬† that we’ve thrown in there, something like these would grow!¬† None have ripened to the light orange color as yet, which is good because it gives us¬† time to figure out what to do with them.

When they turn orange they'll really look like blowfish fruit!

When they turn orange they’ll really look like blowfish fruit!

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.¬† Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.¬† By popular demand,¬†for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.¬†¬† They will be Sunday, August¬†10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.¬† Tours begin promptly¬†at 10 am.¬† The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.¬† I ask $10 per person.¬†Please reserve and receive directions through¬† Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.¬† Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!¬† Diane and Miranda

Striving for Healthier Hens

Nora and Branwyn enjoying the sun on our windowseat.

Nora and Branwyn enjoying the sun on our windowseat.

The last six months have been very difficult chicken-wise.¬† We lost Chickpea to a coyote, who snatched her a few yards from us, we lost Miss Amelia and Madge from unknown ailments, and we’ve nursed chickens back to health as well. Mulan had a prolapsed uterus, which we cleaned, stuffed back in coated with honey from our own bees and bandaged.¬† She recovered and is laying happily, thank goodness.¬† Viola and a couple of others had impacted crop, which means that they swallowed something like long pieces of grass which have blocked up the exit from their crop to their stomach.¬† There have been many mornings I’ve spent making a chicken throw up, without breaking her neck or suffocating her.¬† We’ve been frazzled with the health of our hens, all purchased through feed stores.¬† Our past chicken experiences had no egg binding, no septic peritonitis, no crossbill (which should have been bred out of the hens) and no¬†infected eyes.

I’ve purchased mostly organic feed for them, and given them greens in their large Fowl Fortress or brought them into the fenced yard for grazing.¬† Organic feed is amazingly expensive.¬† Since we don’t eat the hens and we use their eggs as one of our main protein sources, they need to be in good productive health.¬† Chickens can live ten years or more, and lay that long, too.¬† Ours seem to top off at three.

I tried fermenting their food.¬† Fermented food is all the rage and I read many articles about the health benefits of fermenting chicken food.¬† In a 5-gallon bucket I’d mix water and their lay crumbles along with some cracked corn and wait a couple of days until it smelled yeasty.¬† Then I’d give them some and replenish the bucket.¬† It took awhile for the hens to come to like the food, but it didn’t seem to do anything for their health.¬† In our warm San Diego weather it was tricky to not have the fermented food spoil.¬† Eventually I gave that up.

One of the hen’s purposes¬† in the garden¬† is to create compost.¬† They excel at pooing.¬† When the opportunity arose to be able to pick up discarded fruit and vegetables from the Fallbrook Food Pantry four times a week, I jumped at it.¬† Much of the produce is still edible for the hens; when mixed with pooey straw¬†and dirt the chickens could grub out, well, grubs and fly larvae and eat more naturally.¬† Although we’re still picking it up, we are devoting hours a week lugging stinky veggies around.¬† It is hard and heavy work, and the fly population has exploded.¬† However we have seen more flycatchers hanging around the yard recently and the phoebe is truly fat.¬† I shovel and rake the produce mixed with carbon sources (paper goods from the house mostly) and then the hens kick it all over.¬† It is good exercise for them, they eat far less lay crumble, and they are producing some very good quality compost for the veggie garden.¬† Their health has been better.

One of the reasons that the hens came down with just about every known illness was because they were purchased from hatcheries.¬† Hatchery birds live in hell from the second they are born.¬† Since few people want roosters, the male chicks are swept into trash bags and thrown away, live.¬† The female¬† chicks are inoculated¬† and packaged up for shipment through the mail.¬† There are always extra chicks packed in because the heat of the ones on the outside keep the ones on the inside warm enough to possibly survive the stressful, hungry, thirsty and brutal trip.¬† Therefore the ones on the outside of the bundle are sacrificial.¬† I didn’t want to support this animal cruelty any longer.

I decided to find a local breeder who cared for her hens.¬† I found someone who seemed reputable; her¬† mother owns a feed store and the woman breeds horses, dogs and hens.¬† On conversation with her I learned that she had imported chickens from good stock and bred them at her place.¬† The hens weren’t inoculated, but that wouldn’t matter to us since we have a small isolated flock.¬† With glee I ordered four pullets, from several weeks old to a couple of months.¬† They were different breeds and were to lay different egg colors.¬† We sectioned out the back of the Fowl Fortress and happily put the girls in.¬† Not long after we found out they were crawling with lice.¬† None of our other girls had lice, thank goodness.¬† Upon contacting the woman she said that she’d put Frontline on the hens per advice from her vet.¬† We smeared Vaseline around the eggs that encrusted their necks and powdered¬† diatomaceous earth on their bodies.¬† We’ve repeated the treatment, but we haven’t won the war yet.¬† I noticed when we picked the girls up that the blue maran, Nora, had a watery eye.¬† That eye became infected, and we learned that it was probably a small eyeball, and now she’s blind in that eye.¬† Just a few days ago her other eye was bothering her so we are treating it.¬† She is underweight, and Miranda noticed that her beak was overgrown so it was hard for her to peck food.¬† Miranda trimmed it, having had lots of experience with our poor late crossbill, Belle.¬† So Nora¬†lives for the time being in the house as we hope that she doesn’t go completely blind, and as we try to feed her up so that if the time comes when we can reintroduce her, the flock won’t attack her.

Branwyn balancing herself on her weak forelegs.

Branwyn balancing herself on her weak forelegs.

Then there is Branwyn.¬† She’s a feisty olive-egger.¬† A few weeks ago Miranda noticed that Branwyn’s legs were bowing out as she walked.¬† By the time she brought the bird up to the house she was paralyzed in both legs.¬† Our immediate fear was Merek’s disease, which is highly communicable and would have meant death for all our birds, sterilization of the coop and no hens for six months or more.¬† Within days Branwyn showed signs of moving her left leg.¬† Miranda configured a Rubbermaid container as a bouncy chair, tying a t-shirt across it and cutting leg holes through it so Branwyn could rest with legs down and feet touching the bottom.¬† Later, Miranda cut the legs from an old pair of tights and stuck Branwyn through to bounce her across the floor,¬† giving her physical therapy.¬† Sounds nutso, I know, but its working.¬† Branwyn’s left leg is much stronger and she’s beginning to force her right leg to work.¬† She can’t stand, but she can now get her feet under her.¬† We still don’t know what was wrong with her; some kind of neurological disorder or possibly vitamin deficiency.¬† We were giving her Vitamin E and B complex with selenium heavily for a week and saw her initial improvement.¬† Vitamin deficiency can be inherited; common chicken feed should have enough in it, especially when combined with vitamins in their water.

Miranda walking Branwyn in her sling made of old tights (to the tune of Surrey With The Fringe On Top).

Miranda walking Branwyn in her sling made of old tights (to the tune of Surrey With The Fringe On Top).

Lark, who was huge with sterile peritonitis, was drained by the vet and is several pounds lighter and much happier.¬† She’s with the rest of the flock.¬† Since we have no idea what caused the condition (she’s barren), it might happen again but for now she’s back kicking fruit around with the rest.

I still don’t want to participate in the hatchery butchery and torture.¬† Anything mass-produced, be it animals, food, plants or products, are rooted in cruelty: sweat shops in other countries, underpaid workers, poor root stock, diseased, malnourished and maltreated animals, unhealthy chemical-laden food.¬† I’m holding off on purchasing any new hens, even though I wanted a¬† lavender Americauna.¬† I still think that buying local, while more expensive, is better.¬† For whatever reasons this batch have all been ill.¬† In fact, the only hens we’re treating right now are all four of the new girls!

Chickens have wonderful personalities and make great pets, and they are pets; having a few hens for eggs and meat sounds easy but just like any living thing they require work.¬† Especially OUR hens, who must know we won’t cull them and have decided that we are an early retirement home with personal nursing care.¬† I wish I could look forward to such a deal!