Growing Pawpaws From Seed

Homestead, permaculture

Establishing fruit producing trees can often be an intensive and expensive process, but it needn’t be.  Growing out fruit trees from seed is an exciting proposition. Doing so can allow for very low cost tree establishment, broadening of the gene pool (exploring new varieties, building disease resistance etc.) and affords the opportunity to avoid transplant shock. It can also be a low input affair.

Pawpaws are just one of many fruit trees worth growing from seed.

Pawpaws naturally multiply in two ways: sexually (through fruit and subsequent seed production) and asexually (by suckering from roots of established trees.) Commonly seen as dozens or hundreds of trees, pawpaw patches are often clones of one or more individual trees. The trees sucker readily and can grow into dense thickets. Each root sucker is a clone of the mother and thus genetically identical. For fruit production purposes this is less than ideal because 2 or more individuals are needed for proper pollination and fruit set.

On the other hand, sexually multiplied pawpaws create a wider gene pool. The traits from the two parent trees create a distinctly new individual. Pawpaws are considered true to heredity meaning the trees (and fruits thereof) are fairly similar to their parents. This is unlike other fruits, apples for example, that offer a more widely varied lineage. A seed from an Arkansas Black apple may bear fruit that is outrageously different from its parent, but a seed from a Sunflower pawpaw will produce a tree with similar qualities.

Many of the pawpaw varieties available today are selections of superior trees found in the wild. There is evidence to suggest that even these wild trees were selections made by indigenous populations. Over generations the best fruits were favored and replanted. Intentional breeding has been ongoing for several decades, but more is yet to be discovered in the realm of pawpaws.

This has created an array of very high quality fruit that are much bigger, tastier and fleshier than their wild relatives.

The variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors and textures of this unique and delightful fruit is astounding. Growing out fruit from seed is one way to explore pawpaw diversity.

When growing out from seed, fruit quality can be expected to be similar to that of the fruit from which it came. A Susquehanna fruit will yield seeds with a high quality fruit, although not identical to its parent. Choosing seeds from selected cultivars means you can grow high quality fruit without the fuss of grafting and increase genetic diversity. For pollination purposes it can be helpful to have a wider variety of individuals too.

We have seeds from select pawpaw varieties in our shop, be sure to check them out!

I have spied many pawpaws on ridges and other seemingly unlikely areas thanks to wild animals’ penchants for this delicious fruit. I have even seen pawpaw seeds on a limb 15 feet up an oak tree. Maybe not ideal growth conditions, but it proves the seed’s mobility. In eating the whole fruit, moving around and dropping seed laden scat, raccoons, opossums, coyotes and others are helping propagate pawpaws.

Bottom line is that pawpaws like to grow! Below are a few tips for growing them from seed.

Seed Care

There are two main guidelines for successful germination:

  • Don’t let the seeds dry out and
  • Don’t let them freeze.

If too much moisture is lost, the dormant embryo within the seeds will suffer and may die. Upon eating or processing the fruit, we clean extra pulp off the seeds and pack them into containers with moist sawdust or sand at 1:1 ratio. If they are from an extra rotten fruit I’ll give them a bath in hydrogen peroxide to sterilize seeds. The goal is to keep them constantly moist from harvest time until germination the following spring.  Many folks will pack seeds into plastic bags and store in the refrigerator. We bury buckets filled with seed and sawdust mixture and mulch heavily. Sand is another option.

I’m not sure about the freezing aspect, as the pawpaws’ natural range includes areas that certainly get very cold and frozen. I suspect rotten fruit, duff and other forest debris insulate seeds in the wild from freezing hard. Last year I packed wild seeds in moist sawdust and overwintered them in an unheated high tunnel and got around a 90% germination rate. They definitely got much colder than freezing but did just fine.

Pawpaws need 70-100 chill days for proper stratification to prepare them for germination. This happens in their natural habitat over winter and we can mimic this by either storing them in a fridge or keeping them stored underground until ready to plant. Of course the simplest option is planting them right away. If you do store them in a plastic bag in the fridge, avoid over saturating the seeds by poking a few pinholes to vent excess moisture.

Check for mold and rinse and/or soak in peroxide. Storing for more than 100 days is of course the norm as fruits harvested in autumn won’t germinate until the following spring without special conditions.

Germination

Being a relative of the many tropical fruits in the Annonacea family, they love heat. Their ideal germination range is 75-85 F (24-29C) and they will germinate just fine on their own when spring or summer temperatures begin to heat up. They will do so much faster if given a boost. If you can manage to keep seeds at 85 F they will break the seed coat and push roots in weeks instead of months. This can get you a couple more months of growth. A heating pad or reptile strip connected to a thermostat below a metal baking pan will work. Just remember to maintain moisture.

Pawpaws are known as hypogeal meaning they develop a root before the leaves. This means you won’t see much above ground activity for quite sometime after germination begins. It may be well into summer before you see the leaves unfold. This means there’s no need for direct light for some time, so you can reduce water loss by placing away from direct light. Be patient.

Given moisture and time pawpaws will grow.

Seeding

Seeding can be done in fall directly from the fruit or after stratification. Seeds should be placed with their flat side down an inch below the surface. Sand or organic mulch can help insulate and retain moisture. Once seeded, maintain constant moisture and keep warm if possible. Pawpaws are cold tolerant, but will respond well to gentle heat during these early days of life.

You can choose to direct seed (as raccoons and others critters do) or grow in containers as only humans can. There’s a trade off here. Directly seeded trees may need periodic or constant irrigation depending on site conditions, but will suffer no transplanting setback.  The high inputs for containers and medium mean you can adjust the climate they grow in (for example a shaded high tunnel), move them easily and extend the planting window, but this method also entails that you manage these resources.

In our nursery and forest garden we employ both methods. Some of the patches I seeded I never watered and yet still got 5” of growth. Not great, but for zero tending I’m happy with that return.  In either case until seedlings are at least 2 years old they will be unhappy with full sun and may burn. 30-50% shade is recommended. If you direct seed in near full sun, you will have to arrange some type of shading. Tree tube, window screens on tomatoes cages and other creative ways have been devised.

Their long fragile taproot makes pawpaws vulnerable to damage during transplanting. If you plan to grown them in containers, special considerations are needed. The growth of pawpaws is slow, and they may be in the container for up to 3 years (especially if grafting), so choose wisely. The deeper the pot the better. Ideally it would have an open bottom. Open bottomed containers will facilitate air pruning. When the roots reach the bottom of the container, they stop growing down and the gentle pruning of roots exposed to air encourages fibrous lateral rootlets to develop and creates a more resilient root structure. More bulk and less depth. When planting out into final location, this can make a big difference in how it handles being transplanted. Pawpaw roots are fragile and have a habit of snapping when being moved which can set growth back considerably .

Pawpaw seedlings coming up in an air pruning bed.

Commonly used pots are known as tree tubes and are often 10” or more in depth but usually quite narrow at 4” or so. This year I seeded pawpaws in 12” deep air pruning boxes with hardware cloth on the bottom. I seeded them 4 inches apart and realized up to 13” of growth this season, some approaching pencil thickness. I grew them in a high tunnel with 50% shade and watered about weekly. We will experiment further with air pruning boxes and beds as this approach shows great promise.

 There’s little more to it than this. Keep the seeds moist, don’t let them freeze and plant them an inch deep. Most of all have fun growing pawpaws.

Dancing with Winter’s Death

Homestead, Humanure, inspiration
Adult Soldier Fly resting at the edge of the composting toilet after laying her eggs.

It used to be I only dwelled in fields of wildflowers at the peak of summertime, stopping by the garden on the way home with fresh vegetables colorful and crisp. I dipped in pristine waters, cooling hot moist skin after hilly forest rambles, pack full of juicy berries. Seed starting in early spring, mulching garlic beds in fall. A kaleidoscope of summer feelings, hopeful and bright.

Yet this is only one step in the dance.

Winter can often be a barren time, one we associate with darkness, shivering cold, lack of green growth, lack of sun. The life cycle slows here and we hardly notice anything reaching for the sun, for the sun isn’t as potent and all encompassing during winter. High tunnel greens grow at a snail’s pace. Instead, most growth happens within and it burns with the heat of stored sun inside of wood stoves.

Now I not only grasp what is lush and ripe in summer, I dance with the fecundity of winter as well. Interior soul journeys, but also adventures with matter. Winter holds so much more than I ever realized. For it is winter, when the life cycle slows down, that is most conducive for activities on the edge. Transformation of matter slows and in these times, is most easy to work with.

Spinal pattern on a freshly skinned buck.

For example, fall comes and deer all over the Ozarks are taken by hunters. Meat is ushered into freezers, into soup pots, grills, dried into jerky and ground with pork fat for delicious easy meals all year long. A nice rack is perhaps saved, but what of the hide, the hocks, the little dancing toes?

A step in the dance of life

Playing with matter

Interrupting death
Delaying decomposition
Stepping stones toward Rebirth

This year I’ve been teaching myself how to tan hides. Fleshing, bucking, de-graining, neutralizing, softening.

Deer hide neutralizing Ph in the fresh waters of our creek.

A handsy affair, a timeless process// Can’t not be tactile and making-shoulders-sore the next day. Scratch that – make it definitely going to feel it the next day.

There is a decomposition delay in the edge between the sweet hide fresh off a deer to sour green hair slipping holes of rot smell you cannot believe. Quite a space indeed as matter is transformed into something of extraordinary value and strength. Tanning hides into buckskin is a human-making activity, a self actualizing step forgotten in modern times. A step up from making tools from inert objects, sway a vulnerable flesh coat away from the edge of decomposition.

Deer hide during the softening stage.

Connected earth-based living hinges on this sway

Take poop

Yesterday we did our annual digging out of the compost cave in one of the stone bays of the humanure toilet. Letting it sit for a year, getting eaten by untold microbes, worms & soldier flies, within a year’s time we’ve safely, easily, completely hands-off taken a waste product and turned it into a fertile resource for the farm.

This is far cry from pooping in water, channeling it away from your home in tubes, your poop in a mosh pit with everyone else’s poop as it is “purified” through chemical admixtures, and then sent back via a tube to your sink.

Our poop never leaves our home, but it also doesn’t sit with stank spreading bad vibes around the countryside. Shortly after it drops, it it is sprinkled with another decomposing matter, an off shoot of the milling yard, sawdust. Here with the soldier flies, worms and microbes, poop is transformed in a non-smelly way into a valuable resource reminiscent of the forest floor.

Its highest potential as humanure is realized through symbiotic relationship with those-who-work-at-the-edges. In winter, when growth slows, we cart it around and spread it at the base of fruit trees and understory shrubs of our food forests.

A circle unbroken. We work with a multitude of nearly invisible beings, the angels of Rebirth who live in our composting toilet.

What is gross about death is not these steps, for they are decomposition swayed, they are rebirth envisioned and acted on. Death is usually only gross when it hasn’t been given the proper setting. A rotting carcass is repulsive for maybe a day or two in bad heat, but there are so many decomposers lying in wait to take the matter across the bardo.

Carrion beetles transforming a Copperhead

Who can say when one thing changes into another? The decomposers make it a swift transition from one form to the next. Soon enough, blood and guts, bone and brain disappear or turn into frass & soil.

When I interrupt the process of deer skin not turning into rot, but into a supple water resistant fabric, I am swaying the next form of the deer. A garment I wear is a stepping stone along the way to soil and then … who knows, a thousand fragrant wildflowers swaying in a summer’s breeze.

Ancient Nuts Underground

Ecotrain, Homestead, permaculture

Imagine our ancient hominin ancestor, Paranthropus boisei, foraging for food over 1.5 million years ago in East Africa.

With 5-6 hours a day allocated to food acquisition, a sweet and fatty nutrient dense rhizome found at the base of a sedge that provided 80% of the required caloric intake in 2-3 hours would have been a sought after staple.

Tigernut aka Chufa in the author’s hand after harvest

Fast forward many generations…

Baboons in this same region of Africa are known to seek out this widespread starchy tuber that now grows worldwide.

Chufa prefers a moist habitat but can survive droughty periods as well. Being a pernicious plant (having been burdened with the label of [gasp!] an invasive species), it provides nutritional tubers for humans and wildlife throughout its now greatly expanded range. In fact, it’s currently planted even for wildlife forage.

Due to its opportunistic growth habits, it has become a choice crop for domestic hog, wild turkeys and humans alike.

On an ecological level this means more life giving food with less fuss. This sedge has much to offer those curious or hungry enough to dig up these tubers.

They are called tigernut for the characteristic stripes on the sides of the raw tuber.

Our hominin ancestors were instinctually drawn to this food for good reason.

Life giving and sustaining sources of dense nutrition were (and are) highly valued.

It’s not only very connected to eat a plant known to have provided sustenance for our ancestors, but like many ancestral foods the tubers at the base of Cyperus esculentus are considered a superfood.

In the nutritional territory what stands out for chufa is the abundance of resistant starch- its mineral content (high in phosphorus, magnesium and potassium) and the presence of oleic acid (the heart healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olives and avocados.)

Resistant starches (aka fiber) are complex carbohydrates that persist throughout the digestive process and add a crucial element to the diet. In other words, it is food for the microbial community that keeps our systems going and supports our immunity.

These are also referred to as prebiotics as they provide the favorable conditions to promote probiotic colonies of bacteria.

These starches also help reduce blood sugar spikes and add to the feeling of fullness, showing promise for those seeking to lose weight.

Chufa immediately after harvest from the bases of the sedge.

Given the nutritional profile of these tubers, there is no doubt to their benefit in our diet.

Combined with their ease of growing and sweet taste, it’s a no-brainer in the perennial landscape.

In a water garden, marshy spot or otherwise moist area, chufa is a perfect crop. Through growing this hardy tuber we are not only connecting with our evolutionary past, we are celebrating the rich abundance of goodness found within the base roots of an unassuming sedge.

References:

Stone Cooking Pits and Hide Tanning: Primitive Skills Inspiration

Homestead, inspiration, permaculture

Welcome to the time of the woodstove. Stacking wood, cold mornings, copious amounts of tea, of winter dreaming. Welcome to book after book, abundant rest after another busy year, seeds, nuts, deer hunting season, eternal pots of stew.

It is that time of year again and it hit me before I was fully ready for it or expected it to come. As it gets colder, everything slows down, including my pace and thoughts. I welcome the season of reflection.

Some of the books I’ve been reading lately include Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children series. You may be familiar with the first bestseller of that series, Clan of the Cave Bear.

Venison ready to roast in stone pit.

The story tracks Ayla (Cro-Magno), an orphan who lost her family in an earthquake, as she is taken in by Neanderthals and then is cast out of the clan and has to survive on her own while looking for her own people. The book has quite a cult following and though at times the human drama was a bit much (I just skipped a lot of Jondalar’s waffling), it is also filled with interesting tidbits into how our European ancestors were possibly living 29,950 years ago.

This inspiration coupled with watching all 3 seasons of Live Free or Die (thanks to my friend Joan who sent me a thumb drive of the seasons), a show showcasing homesteading, rewilding, primitive skills, hunter gatherer and tracker/trapper lifestyles, invigorated me to dig in deeper into experimenting with primitive skills.

For example in Auel’s final book in the Earth Children’s series, The Land of Painted Caves, we read this excerpt about a stone cooking pit Ayla makes in order to steam meat. It sounded especially tasty and I was also inspired by seeing Matt in Season 3 of Live Free or Die demonstrate this technique after he successfully hunted a turkey.

Zelandoni had watched Ayla dig a hole in the ground with a small shoulder bone that had been shaped and sharpened at one end and used like a trowel. To remove the loose dirt, she transferred it by small shovelfuls onto an old hide; then gathering the ends together, she hauled the hide away. She lined the hole with stones, leaving a space not much bigger than the meat, then built a fire in it until the rocks were hot. From her medicine bag, she took out a pouch and sprinkled some of the contents on the meat; some plants could be both medicinal and flavorful herbs. Then she added some of the tiny rootlets growing out of the wood avens rhizome, which tasted like cloves, along with hyssop and woodruff.

She wrapped the red deer roast in the burdock leaves. Then she covered the hot coals in the bottom of the hole with a layer of dirt so they wouldn’t burn the meat, and dropped the leaf-wrapped roast in the little oven. She piled wet grasses on top and more leaves, and covered it all with more dirt to make it airtight. She topped it with a large, flat stone that she had also heated over a fire, and let the roast cook slowly in the residual heat and its own steam.

“It wasn’t just cooked meat,” Zelandoni insisted. “It was very tender and had a flavor that I wasn’t familiar with, but it tasted very good.”

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel pgs 212,213

Stone Cooking Pit

While Ini didn’t dig the hole using a shoulder bone, we did try to follow this description pretty closely. Here is our process.

Ini dug a hole and I lined it with a large stone that covered the entire bottom and then placed stones on the sides.

Next I made a fire and stoked it and added wood for 4 hours. I had a really good coal base and the rocks were really hot. One even popped and broke!

We defrosted the deer shoulder and coated it in salt and cracked pepper. I harvested herbs from the garden and put them on the meat. Herbs include yarrow, mugwort, lavender, and green onions. All of these herbs are surviving after many hard frosts!

Then we flipped it and put some pears and horseradish leaves in the mix.

At this point, the coals were ready! We put some dirt on top of them as to not burn the meat and then put the shoulder in.

We also harvested sweet potatoes today and tucked them around the shoulder that was wrapped in horseradish, comfrey and burdock leaves. A sweet little bundle!

Next we covered the bundle with dirt all the way up to the top edge of the rocks.

We then turned the top rocks onto the dirt- they were quite hot!

We put a large flat stone on top.

And then lit a fire on top of the stone to encourage the heat to stay in and to perhaps send some heat into the pit.

This roast has been cooking for 4 hours and we want to cook it for at least 6 hours. The longer the better, really, especially with a tougher meat like a deer shoulder. We have made cooking pits in the past, but never before have we lined them with stones and used dirt or a top stone! We’re really curious to see how this turns out and will be sure to share updates in the comments after we dig in!

That’s not all..

Hide Tanning

Also featured extensively in the Earth Children series is the hide tanning process. Over the summer, I practiced on a couple of hides and made my first buckskin!

My first buckskin I did over the summer. As soft as velvet. I smoked it after this so it remains soft and pliable even after it gets wet.

Luckily our friend Drew had gotten a deer this season and let us know to come pick up the hide. Perhaps I’ll make a full post on the process at some point – although Wild Abundance has an awesome tutorial on their website.

Thanks, Drew!

First things first, one must flesh the hide once it’s off the deer. This includes scraping off any residual meat and fat.

After the scraping is finished, you’ll have a hide free of flesh. At this point, you can soak the hide in a lye solution or water in a 5 gallon bucket (agitate daily) to cause the hair side of the hide to slip the hair off and free up the membrane (layer beneath the hair.)

Today was a warm (75 degrees!) day and I felt inspired to work outside, but it will be freezing tomorrow with a low of 18! Not sure how quickly the next step of this process will move along, but happy to be engaging with these skills ancient humans were proficient at.

Many of us are seeking to regain these longstanding skills that have largely been forgotten in this day and age and I have to say it can be a lot of hard work, but it’s sufficiently worth it. I’m thankful for Auel’s books and the examples of so many humans who have blazed the trail before me.

Our connection with earth is such a gift and it is so rich. I give thanks and make it my life’s work as a human to set an example of a healthy relationship with the earth.

For the Love of Clay Plaster: Building a Sauna

Homestead

In Finnish tradition, when one first moves to the land they build a sauna that they can use and live in the first year while getting their feet on the ground. It serves the dual purpose of providing a restorative haven and also a tiny home of sorts while they establish other infrastructure.

When we moved to the land at Mountain Jewel we had basically no building skills. We were gardeners and needed a home on our raw piece of land as a necessity, but it wasn’t what excited us about homesteading. To house us that first year we bought a used yurt on Craigslist.

Fast forward nearly 4 years

We are building a straw bale home and tending gardens & food forests. It becomes clear, however, that we will not get the straw bale house, begun in April (though dreamed of for much longer), closed in for winter. One of the reasons is that lime plaster requires above freezing temps to cure and we are about a month from our first freeze. As this reality settles in, that we will be spending another winter in our tiny cabin built during the Discovery Channel Homestead Rescue episode on our land, I realize that I cannot do another winter in that tiny space with Ini — without running water or a place to wash off easily. We decide to build a sauna.

As the temps have cooled in the past few days, the decision to take a pause on the straw bale house and build a sauna seems a good one. It’s hard to take clothes off and bathe outdoors when it’s really cold out! (Though we have a well with a pump and electricity, our cabin is hundreds of feet away from that and there are no insulated indoor spaces capable of housing a shower.)

Earthen Plaster Practice

Painting on a clay alis (clay paint) onto an earthen plaster. I will go more into this in future articles.

This season as I gear up for plastering an entire straw bale home (lime on most of the outside and a combination of lime and earthen plasters inside with an earthen floor), I have been honing my skill at earthen plasters. Thus far on the homestead we have created a composting toilet (the Fert Lab, pictured below) that is slip straw with a clay plaster and the facade of the solar shed is also slip straw with earthen plaster finish. A few spots on the exterior of the composting toilet were very eroded from direct water damage and the conventional studs were showing through in a few places due to the sand/wheat paste not being a good binder- we have since started to use fiberglass mesh to better connect wood and earthen plasters. I decided to start there.

In these dark sections, the slip straw was revealed and the earthen plaster was greatly cracked. When water directly hits an earthen wall, the sand comes to the surface and the wall slowly washes away as the clay can only take so much before it erodes. The dark clay is a base leveling coat of plaster.
Fiberglass mesh stapled into a framing stud. Clay cannot connect with wood so this bridges the plaster gap. Notice the wet clay on either side. When applying a new coat of plaster, one must wet the clay to ready the particles for bonding.

Mixing earthen plasters is an art unto itself. Yes, you can basically take any clay rich soil and put it on the side of the wall and it will do some type of job at resisting the elements and closing in your building. However, without good ratios, you will get cracking, peeling away from the surface below, dusting, and a finish that leaves a lot to be desired.

Solar shed perspective shot on many of the areas that needed attention. In future articles, I will detail the process and show final photos.

Being the stubborn creature that I can be, I had not followed all of the advice to do test patches and to sift the clay when making earthen plaster. This led to some cracking and unsuitable trials on my part that I went ahead and plastered the whole wall with (I did mention that I can be stubborn.) This time, however, I was really interested in honing my craft and not just getting the job done. It’s my intention to get really good at this so I can live in a house that exemplifies how truly stunning earthen plasters can be.

The dark brown is a straw and clay heavy leveling coat that prepares the wall for the final plaster which is usually very refined and creamy (lighter finish on right.)
This creamy plaster literally drove me wild with glee. A taste of earthen delights! A dream to apply!

So I practiced. And practiced. Made test patches and trials with our local clay, sand and straw mixes and I learned a lot. One mix I did was very heavy with clay (I had read from Athena Steen of the Canelo Project that a heavy clay mix with a lot of straw and little sand can actually be beneficial in areas where finishes are exposed to direct rainfall- sand comes to the surface when exposed to rain and often erodes quite quickly, whereas the heavy clay & fiber can provide more of a mat resistance.) Though I did have some slight cracking (imagine small broken blood vessels) on this finish, with a wrung-out sponge I was able to burnish the exterior and wet the clay enough that it filled its own cracks.

Left: clay heavy final plaster that has not been burnished. Notice the cracking and uneven drying due to heavy clay content. Middle: same plaster finish as on left but rubbed gently with a wrung out sponge. Notice that the surface now appears much more even, the cracks are (mostly) gone and a nice straw aggregate has appeared. Right: This is the clay alis (natural paint) that I have applied as a final coat (will go more into this in a future article.)

After realizing how a heavy clay finish performs, I was interested in experimenting with more sand. A basic ratio for earthen plasters is 1 part clay and 3 parts sand with a generous portion of chopped straw. This is a rough guideline because the “clay dirt” in each area of the world contains different levels of sand, silt and clay. You can do a test to figure out how much clay, slit and sand your soil contains and whether it is suitable for plaster. Sigi Koko has a good video:

When I made a ratio with 1 part of our clay with 3 parts sand and some finely chopped straw, the plaster felt nearly too sandy, too coarse and dense. It didn’t feel right in my hand, but boy did it dry to a beautiful, crack-free finish! I’m learning by touch and I have a ways to go!

This is why it is so cool to practice with your own local clay – it’s incredibly empowering. I am not simply following someone’s recipe, but I’m learning about what the different ratios look and feel like myself. If you’re interested in learning about earthen plaster, I encourage you to do the same. Because all of these are earthen ingredients, if the plaster doesn’t turn out right I can wet it and use it again!

Sauna Dreams

After honing my craft on the Fert Lab, I was truly itching to plaster more walls. I was having dreams about plastering each night and woke up wanting to sift clay and mix up creamy gorgeous plasters. After Ini and I decided we were going to pause on the straw bale and build a sauna, we decided on a conventional stud framed building with slip straw (light straw clay) infill with an earthen plaster finish. Soon I would have more surfaces to play on! (Basically we built the sauna so I could plaster more!)

Mixing up a batch of slip straw earlier today! Stay tuned for a tutorial video and sauna and slip straw specific articles.

We started the sauna in early September and we’ve been working hard nearly every day on it. I’ll make another post detailing our progress, but thus far we have built the foundation, framed all but one wall, finished the roof on the back of the building and completed nearly half of the slip straw infill. No doubt we are tired and building our muscles, but we are fueled by passion and our imaginings of baking in our sauna this winter!

Photo from a few days ago. Roof and more walls completed at this point.

In coming posts, I’ll detail our progress on the sauna, share some photos and details of my plaster process on the Fert Lab, provide some tutorials on the methods and practice of Slip Straw and Earthen Plasters. Stay tuned!

Foundation for our Straw Bale Home

Homestead

Wow y’all! I have not been keeping up with sharing all of the work we’ve been doing on the Straw Bale build. Things are busssssy, but I’m making an effort to document some of this to share/educate/enliven and because I value being able to look back on things.

The month of June included a lot of work on the foundation. You saw us get a backhoe in to dig and fill the trench. And I didn’t record any of the form building, though @birdsinparadise documented some of it when they visited.

It was so awesome that they could come & help us with the foundation — and my mom helped clean and organize our entire outdoor kitchen (who’s amazing? she is!!) Not only were we making great memories together and we’ll always remember them as being a part of the house build, but they’re really brilliant and skilled people. They used to own a home building company and my dad spent many hours on site (+ he’s a perfectionist who can build nearly anything!) and my mom was the accountant for said home building company and did all of the estimating for the builds… perfect duo to step in as we’re wrapping our minds around the build.

As I mentioned above, my dad is a perfectionist “over-builder” and that’s exactly what we wanted while making the foundation. In fact, we had a friend of ours who had worked in concrete for 8 years come over and inspect the forms before the concrete & pump trucks came Friday June 28, 2019, and he was impressed with the forms saying that they were overbuilt. The pump truck operator said the same thing! We had no blowouts and everything went smoothly (except Ini misestimated the amount of concrete to have delivered so we had to hand mix a section.) All in all – it went really well.

Here are some pics from the day:

We had to get a pump truck as the cement truck couldn’t fit around our site. We couldn’t believe how large the pump truck was – absolutely incredible! When it got going the work happened so quickly!
Ini directing the nozzle into the forms.

We had a good crew of local friends including Petey & Sumner from Eastwind (an income sharing community near us), Chris & Gene (neighbors from 10 min away), Michelle (neighbor 20 min away) and Sarah (a friend we recently met at the Baker Creek Festival who is 3 weeks away from having a baby!). It was a great crew!
Petey & Sumner banging the sides of forms to get the air bubbles out of the concrete.

Gene especially had a lot of concrete experience under his belt and he and Chris smoothed off the tops as we went along.
The little section to Chris’ right was the gap between our need and what Ini estimated! Some of the trench was deeper than he thought it would be and that’s why he thinks his estimate was off (even though he ordered more than he thought we’d need.)
We eeked out the last bits in the pump truck (that the pump can’t access) and filled up the trench by hand, but it still wasn’t enough. Ini, Petey and Sumner mixed some concrete by hand after Michelle and I went to town to get some. Not ideal, but it worked!

Today Ini is taking off the forms (we’ve been lightly misting it for the past day and a half). It’s been super hot – like in the 90s so that concrete is drying and curing quickly. So far what he’s taken off looks great!

I have a video of the process that I’ll compile and upload as well and we’ll do our best to blog about the process as it unfolds.

It feels like such a big hurdle to be finished with the foundation. This was a new step for us and a lot of the steps to come are things we’ve done before. We’ll be calling the community in for help along the way and we’re super excited to be finished with the foundation! Onward <3

Perennial Food in the High Tunnel: Planting Figs

Homestead

Here in the Ozarks of Missouri we’re on the USDA zone map as 6b. Who knows, we may be zone 7a soon! These zones depict climate trends like the date of first and last frost and mean temperatures throughout the year.

When choosing perennial plants to grow, one looks at these trends to see if a plant will thrive within a given climate. With High Tunnels (especially if they’re heated or double walled), we have the opportunity to bend these zones a bit and extend the season or encourage the growth of plants that usually wouldn’t thrive here.

One such plant that is a common one for High Tunnels, Greenhouses and Microclimates is the Fig.

Common figs belong to Moracea family which also includes mulberries and Osage orange.

They are part of the very large Ficus genus which includes thousands of species that grow all around the warmer parts of the world. Figs have been cultivated for thousands of years and have captivated human interest with their scrumptious fruits and lush foliage.

Figs have low water and nutritional requirement, are not bothered by many (or any) pests and love heat so they are a great choice for our high tunnel. Many of the edible figs are hardy to zone 7 and above, meaning they won’t reliably bear fruit in our climate.

On our homestead, we’ve decided to allot the fig ample room within our High Tunnel to encourage fruiting. Usually figs “die back” each year (their roots are still alive, but all above ground growth dies. When this happens, we lose a lot of fruiting opportunities as the plant has to spend its energy producing vegetative growth as well. However, in a High Tunnel the fig doesn’t die back and we get to start with a larger plant each season.

To prepare the soil, we first dug and removed rocks. We then grew a spring cover crop of oats and amended with ashes and lime. We harvested the oats at the milky stage for a delightful nervine tonic and then cut the straw down to stubble to cover the bed- a great mulch layer! We will add some kelp and a little manure before laying on the mulch even more heavily.

We are choosing to focus on perennials in the high tunnel for a few reasons.

First, we want to grow something we otherwise couldn’t, not just get a jump start on heat-loving annuals. Secondly, pests can easily build up in an artificial environment such as a high tunnel, particularly if similar crops are grown year after year. Figs are not susceptible to the most common garden pest. Lastly, we also didn’t want a lot of maintenance and upkeep with the high tunnel so figs it is!

The Romans grew figs in pits to constrict the roots and encourage fruiting over foliage.

These were rock or concrete pits or trenches roughly 2 feet cubed. This bodes well for us because our soils are shallow and we have plenty of rocks, not to mention low fertility. We will boost Phosphorus and Potassium as we are low in these minerals but take it easy on Nitrogen to avoid excessive leaf growth.

We’re excited to take our perennial vision to the high tunnel and are looking forward to a delicious variety of figs in years to come.

Unbelievable Stats on Climate Change

Ecotrain, Homestead

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets. We are literally taking over the earth and causing animals our grandparents grew up with to go extinct. 40% of insects have already gone extinct. This is due to conventional farming practices (read pesticides and herbicides), deforestation, habitat destruction and warming air and waters. Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.) As everything is interconnected and human reach is so vast, our actions intimately and more and more quickly impact all of life on the planet. Now is the time to simplify & drastically scale down consumption, buy used durable goods we can use for a long time, grow your own organic food or know your farmer who does, stop using plastic in favor of wood, glass or metal and simplify simplify simplify. Downscale. Share. Barter. Create. Rampant consumption is not a sign of wealth or progress, it’s actually more quickly devastating our planet and everything on it. Throwaway culture is the death of us all.

Yesterday I shared this soundbite on Instagram with a picture of our little cabin the woods. (We finally got a wee bit of snow!)

I was surprised at some of the “backlash”. Multiple people found the facts I shared unbelievable, one even going so far to call them delusional, and while the gram isn’t link friendly, writing a blog post sure is.

Perhaps you all will find these statistics on climate change and human related impact hard to believe as well. If so, keep reading and I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Breakin’ It Down

3%. 3% of all earth’s land animals are wild anymore. The remaining 97% are humans and their livestock & pets.

This stat came from this article in The Atlantic, Earth Is Not in the Midst of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

Our destruction is so familiar—so synonymous with civilization—in fact, that we tend to overlook how strange the world that we’ve made has become. For instance, it stands to reason that, until very recently, all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass. This Frankenstein biosphere is due both to the explosion of industrial agriculture and to a hollowing out of wildlife itself, which has decreased in abundance by as much as 50 percent since 1970. This cull is from both direct hunting and global-scale habitat destruction: almost half of the earth’s land has been converted to farmland.

40% of insects have already gone extinct.

This stat was from this article in The Guardian, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.


The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

So it seems my statement that 40% have already gone extinct was incorrect. Rather, they’re on the verge of going extinct. Either way you slice it, news like this is not positive and we need to start creating pollinator habitats while we stop destroying the wilds and curb pesticide and herbicide use.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

Our sheer numbers and consumption habits are wreaking havoc (single use plastic was recently found at the deepest trench in the ocean and inside seabird egg yolks at the northern most isolated arctic.)

You all already know about the Mariana trench from an article I did earlier in the week and the egg yolk fact came from this article Plastic chemicals discovered inside bird eggs from remote Arctic.

Chemicals from plastics have been found inside the eggs of seabirds living in remote Arctic colonies, in the latest sign of pollution contaminating the furthest reaches of the planet.

Scientists were concerned by the traces of phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been banned from children’s toys due to their potential “gender-bending” effects.

These substances are routinely applied to many plastic products, and probably came from the bottle tops and cigarette butts these seabirds often eat after mistaking them for food.

The eggs were taken from northern fulmars living on an island in Lancaster Sound, more than 100 miles away from the nearest human settlement.

In a preliminary study, Dr Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service tested the eggs of five fulmars and found phthalates in one, but warned the problem is likely to be far more pervasive.

“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” explained Dr Provencher.

Conclusion

While I misrepresented the statistic on the insects, the rest of them stand affirmed. I find these stats unbelievable as well and it’s shocking to have people who read these demanding that I prove the veracity of my writing simply because the stats themselves are so controversial.

Yet on the other hand it’s not shocking at all. A large group of humans remain “climate change deniers” and they make it a political issue obfuscating the very realities that we need to heed in order to act accordingly.

It’s always so odd to me that people deny that this stuff is going on or get lost in the minutiae. One could go on and on sharing alarming and disheartening studies revealing the state of things facing our world and all of its inhabitants.

Most of us ignore finding the details out about this information because it’s too difficult to take in.

It really is as bad as the scientists confirming it are now saying. Ask people on the coasts or the people facing increased rates of floods, wildfires, hurricanes, island dwellers with raising sea waters, fishermen with less and less to fish, the list goes on…

We can waste our time arguing about the details or focus all of our energies on the solutions. I do think it’s worth hashing out the details so we can really know where we stand and realize how bad it is (or not if that’s what the facts say)! Yet at a certain point, we just have to start acting.

I found this article, The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future, a very worthwhile read proving that no matter where you live you can make key changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

After all, we are all just reaching toward sustainability. It’s literally impossible in this day in age to be divorced from the system that is killing our earth. With that said, it is very possible to take the necessary steps toward living more lightly and aligned with the earth. If the movement toward a gentler way continues, we can truly make lasting change and turn this ship around.

2019 Interns at Mountain Jewel Permaculture Homestead: The Details

Homestead, naturalmedicine, permaculture
  • Natural Building
  • Permaculture/Holistic Living
  • Perennial Agriculture/Food Forests

Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.

At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!

We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)

Garlic harvest

What can an intern expect?

As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.

You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)

Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.

Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…

In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.

On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.

Early summer garden

 With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.

Wren making a cleaver’s tincture

As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!

Our western edge

What do we expect?

In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.

Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.

We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)

Sunset on Ozark Mountains surrounding our homestead

We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.

This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.

Mountain Jewel inspired art by https://lauraleesart.com/

What time frame?

We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed.  In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as  opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.

For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.

Lodging and Food

Lodging

Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.

We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.

Food

Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.

We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time). 

During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.  

*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.

As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.

Shiitakes we grew on oak logs

Transportation

A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.

Ini with a harvest of wild Paw Paws

To Apply

Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to mountainjewelbotanicals@gmail.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.

Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel

Woven Beginnings: My First Wild Willow Baskets

Homestead, permaculture

Oh the slow chilled winter daze! It feels like winter has finally hit! We had our first snow a few days ago and temps have dropped. The Canadian enjoys this weather much more than I do. Feeling like my bundled child self when I do go out, I mainly only go outside to adventure into the woods and to the creek or to make it from point A to point B. Aside from indoor projects (like tiling) and Ini’s work on the Welcome Kiosk, we are turning our sights inward, reading much, and spending time indoors. 
As previously mentioned, this winter I wanted to teach myself to weave with native materials. I started off looking into the river cane, an incredible native bamboo beloved by the Native Americans who lived here previously. Yet, I feel I need a teacher to move forward in this craft — or perhaps I am trying to peel the cane in the wrong season? Nevertheless, there are some Native teachers I may seek out in Oklahoma- especially if they have a workshop on cane material prep and weaving this year. Instead, I have turned my sights onto other materials and I’ve made two baskets!
My first basket – what a thing! Though I did it with a library book tutorial, each step is new and one doesn’t know what one needs to do until ya do it for the first time. It’s cool to already see progress on basket #2 – simply because I knew more about the nuances of the materials and what needed to happen at each stage. Still, the first basket, a true experimental labor of love, is in use and am somewhat charmed by it. However, this second basket.. Ini and I aren’t really taking our eyes off of it! 
Far from perfect, my second basket is USEFUL. It is this that has me deeply enamored with this process. 
The indwelling magic of taking nothing but materials from here to make a useful object with them. As I wrote last night in reflection:
I finished a basket tonight that’s already holding our cedar kindling and sitting next to the fire. It was definitely a life changing moment seeing it there. Somewhat of an epiphany. So outside of capitalism, untouchable. Made completely from this land I love only using secateurs, following a book from the library, a transmission of a skill long held by humans. Something untouchable by the system, made from here, by my hand & serving a purpose… weaving purpose with the land. 
Truly I am enamored with this process and its implications. In a throwaway culture to be able to take a wildcrafting jaunt, especially down by wild water hearing the sounds of the fluid creek as I gather willow, sycamore, bramble and other vines, and harvest materials for a much needed basket… this is really something else. Of course something quite old, but marvelous to my modern self. We’ve been needing a kindling basket for quite some time and we love the look of it sitting there holding the freshly split cedar from our land that we use to start our fires. It beautifies and enhances the whole place. And just looking at it.. the hues and textures, knowing it is born of the river, carries the energy of flood and heron, sunshine and the constant gurgle of spring fed creek… but most of all that it didn’t pass through the hands of commerce and I made it! And I can make more! 
I would like to next perhaps work on a basket with a circular base. It is a bit tricky with the materials I have because they are note uniform “farmed” willow (though I think I will order some of these cuttings to root in the spring so that I can have some cultivated “basketry willow” which is longer, stronger, uniform and comes in neat colors! Yet making these “wild” baskets is a fantastic first step and I read somewhere, and was thinking this too, that if I can weave with the irregular funky pieces, I will cultivate my skill well for when I do have the long ones. And I do love the funk! 
Happiness is making practical objects which escape the economy, made from the land which we love and tend, adding beauty to our abode. I’ve read a lot of books lately on indigenous stories and I am feeling inspired — and also that sick/raging sadness of the destructive march of civilization/modern culture which erases and kills it at every turn. Yet these are skills that bring life and we are all connected to the land, and can be more aware and more connected if we put more time/attention into it. 
Blessings,
Wren of Mountain Jewel