Development of a Dream

Our Vision is becoming a reality here at Fruit Hill Farm!

Let’s take a tour so you can see what we’ve been up to…

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Our sign is finally up in front of our 106 year old farm house.  This house is full of character and soon will be open to Local Economy Entrepreneurs for co-working space membership!  Also, onsite is our Front Porch Store, located behind and to the right of the house.

Front porch store

When you step inside, you’ll find all natural products to help you live your best life.  We also carry books and items made by local artisans- it is very important to us to support local businesses and independent artists.

Exiting the store, go ahead to the back to see the progress.  We’ve put a ton of work into what will become our espalier orchard, pumpkin patch, and demonstration/research garden.  This area is truly the heart and soul of FHF as it represents our commitment to sustainability and healing the land base.  We’re 100% committed to turning this once weed-choked, neglected field  into a place where people can learn and see exactly how to plant the garden of their dreams.  Take a look at these before and after photos and remember- we are a small company and we do all the work ourselves (with some help from friends and family!).  Our small but mighty team have accomplished so much, and there is still so much more to come.

Here is the back area in April 2019…

In May of 2019, we are watering our newly planted orchard…

Our trees all lined up and ready for sale!

Speaking of plants for sale, we’ve  definitely saved the best for last.

We’ve been growing our inventory for months, and we have plants and starters for everyone- from the novice gardener to the seasoned homesteader.

Store is open

Herbs, tomatoes, and berries- oh my!  We’ve stocked a huge variety of edible perennials, fruit trees, vegetable starters, any herb you could possibly need, and a plethora of berry bushes- both the usual (raspberries and blueberries) to the exotic (goji berries anyone?).

Of course our real passion is education, research, and community capacity building.  We want every aspiring gardener to have access to the information they need in order to create the garden of their dreams.  If you have been yearning to turn that unused patch in your backyard into a sustainable garden full of delicious food, if you want to reduce your grocery costs, or if you’ve ever envisioned yourself picking fresh herbs to really make your dinner pop- well we want to help you get there.  We walk each and every customer through the planting process, giving them the tools they need to make their garden flourish.

So that’s our farm!

But why not just see for yourself?

The Productive Homestead

The best way to ensure your place in the new economy is increasing the productivity of your home.

How do you increase your home’s productivity?

True productivity is the creation of products of the 3 economic sectors.

Primary Sector (raw material resources)

*  Land capable of growing food
*  Forrests and biomass
*  Produce and livestock
*  Unpolluted bodies of water
*  Mined minerals and metals

Secondary Sector (manufactured goods)

This is everything we make, process, manufacture, or ‘finish’ from primary sector resources.

Tertiary Sector (services)

These are all the things we do for each other through commerce, including financial instruments that ‘represent’ primary and secondary sector wealth.

Household Productivity Index

Present Productivity Index =
100 (past household cost of living / present household cost of living )%

For example:

If your pre-homesteading annual household cost of living last year was $56,000

But now your monthly food costs have gone down due to gardening and building an effective larder system, and you’ve even made a little money you make selling surpluses from your homestead and now your annual household costs this year are $49,500…what is your present productivity index?

100 (56,000 / 49,500) % = 113%

Indexes >100% are excellent and reflect your increased household productivity!

Backyard Animals

This year Scott wanted to expand our chicken operation. Unfortunately, we are only allowed by code to have four adult female fowl in our city. His solution is we have become chicken concierges! {No, we don’t really call ourselves that}

There are people in our neighborhood who are interested in raising chickens but cautious about going it alone. For homeowners we set up the coop, provide the chickens, and even make daily visits to feed and water the chickens. Neighbors love getting farm fresh eggs that were harvested from their own backyard!

Why do we do it?

The more homes in our neighborhood that have gardens, orchards, chickens, bunnies, and beehives the more resilient our entire neighborhood becomes.  It also normalizes homesteading activities for not only the house we have the chickens at, but for all their neighbors too.  As we are out and about taking care of these chickens we have the opportunity to chat with neighbors and share our passion.  Next steps, we are developing a program to offer garden rabbits for our neighbors too.

How to Start a Suburban Food Forest

In the last 3 years, my husband and I have planted 30 fruit bearing trees and experimenting with permaculture trios.

We first heard about permaculture trios by following biologist and educator Stefan Sobkowiak on YouTube.  According to Sobkowiak, the best way to start a food forest is to establish 2 trios and propagate your mature trio over time to establish new trios on your property.  He makes this recommendation because the initial investment is reasonable for average households.  Also, in establishing your first 2 trios you will learn everything you need to know about your skill set, what grows well in your region, and your land without risking loss of time and investment.

What is a Trio?

Each trio is made up of:

*  2 fruit or nut bearing trees

*  1 nitrogen fixing tree (a tree capable of sequestering nitrogen from the air into the soil)

*  9 fruit bearing shrubs (3 per tree)

*  30 perennial plants (10 per tree)

In a trio the trees will be planted per the nursery’s recommended spacing.  In between the trees, the shrubs and perennials are companion planted around the tree’s base.  This creates a biodiverse ‘forest’ that is capable of retaining water due to the living mulch of the perennial plant layer.  The nitrogen fixing tree ensures natural fertilization of the the soil, without the use of chemicals or soil amendments.

The result is a self-promoting living system that produces food year-after-year, with minimal inputs.  And as the trios matures you can propagate the trees and plants to establish more trios for your property!

Fruits and nut trees that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 5)

*  Hazelnuts (filberts)

*  Pecans

*  Walnuts

*  Apples

*  Apricots

*  Cherries

* Nectarines

*  Peaches

*  Pears

*  Plums

Nitrogen fixer trees that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 5)

*  Bladder Senna

Fruit bearing shrubs that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 5)

*  Blackberry

*  Blueberry

*  Boysenberry

*  Currants

*  Elderberry

*  Goji Berry

*  Gooseberry

*  Gumi Berry

*  Mulberry

*  Raspberry

Edible/Medicinal perennial plants that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 5)

*  Chives

*  Claytonia (Miners Lettuce)

*  Egyptian walking onions

*  Garlic Chive

*  Good King Henry

*  Lavender

*  Lemon Balm

*  Mint

*  Oregano

*  Rhubarb

*  Sylvetta Arugula

*  Sage

*  Shallots

*  Sorrel

* Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)

* Sweet Potato

* Thyme

Local Food Security

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.”  – Joel Salatin

Alarmingly few people seem to understand, or talk about, the food crises that already being experienced in many corners of the world.  These food crises have not yet been felt in western nations, but in coming years they are projected to be.  Major eastern nations seem to have a grasp on the realities of the food supply as they deploy large scale agricultural reform that prioritizes:

*  Perennial crops

*  No-till/restorative practices

*  Regional distribution

What’s Wrong with the Current System?

Let me preface this section with the fact I love farmers!

I say this to underscore the point, my criticism is of how the US Agriculture system grows and distributes our food.  The men and women who are farmers today did not create this globalized system dependent on unsustainable practices.

However, I believe it is modern farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and permaculturist that are called to heal this system.  Furthermore, if you and your family like to eat I believe you will have to start to identify as a member of the above list.

“There will come a time when only those who know how to plant will be eating.” – Chief Oren Lyons (attributed)

We have over a half century of collective knowledge since the green revolution to lean upon as we develop new solutions to ensure regional food supplies.  Of that collective knowledge, four major tenants that viable solutions will be built upon are:

*  No-till practices that build carbon in the soil-

US Agriculture has average of 1% carbon in soil.  As reference point, desert soil <0.5%.  As the carbon is built in your soil, the stability of soil structure increases and the need for irrigation decreases.  The dust bowl was the result of lack of soil structure stability.

*  Bio-diversity-

Monoculture crops are susceptible for entire crops to be wiped out by infestation. Bees need to shipped in, since there is only a small pollination window for any given crop. The soil is never able to tap into the symbiosis of nutrients between companion crops, since there is no diversity.

*  Perennial crops- 

Well established root systems are more resistant to climate changes.  Perennials also sequester carbon, and in some cases nitrogen.  Perennial crops heal the soil and the environment as they grow food.

*  Local distribution-

Our distance from of our food supply is inversely correlated with our food security.  If we depend on food from another continent, we have low food security.  If we depend on food from our yards, we have high food security.  Of course there is a wide spectrum between those 2 points.

Rosehips and Honey

These past 2 weeks, in addition to food preserves, I have been preparing ingredients to be added to my homegrown healing library.  One of the exciting additions this fall is a healthy bowl full of rosehips that a dear friend gifted me.

To prepare my rosehips, I first rinsed them and then removed all the leaves and stems.  At the tip of the rosehips there are a patches of ‘hairs’.  Some methods of drying will recommend that after the rosehips are dried and chopped, you can rid your stock of the ‘hairs’ by using a sifter.  I want to store whole rosehips in my healing library so I chose to just cut the tips off before the drying process.

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After the rosehips were prepared, I oven-dried them until the skins had a reddish brown leathery quality.  Drying rosehips is just intended to remove extra moisture to increase the shelf stability.  The rosehips should not fundamentally change into a new product, like plums drying into prunes.

I stocked away a quart mason jar full of dried rosehips for future recipes.  This left a little over a cup of rosehips to infuse into Rosehip Honey.

There are 2 basic methods to infuse honey.  I have used both and select based on the material to be infused, and the time horizon I have to complete the project.  For dried fruit infused honey, I prefer to simmer the honey with fruit directly added to the honey.  I do this by placing the cooking pan with honey and fruit in a hot water bath so that the heat is evenly distributed and the honey is not scorched.

For more complex recipes, such as my turmeric savory honey, I allow time to infuse the material into the honey passively for 6-8 weeks.  After the dwell time is complete all I do is strain the extra material out of the honey and store infused honey in a mason jar.

Infused Honey

(Passively Infusing Turmeric Savory Honey)

Autumn Abundance

Everything seems to slow down this time of year.  The darkness outside beckons me inside to nest and prepare for a winter’s rest.

Yet there is still so much to do!

This is the time of year all the efforts of spring and summer come to bear and abundance abounds.

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This year we have been oven-drying tomatoes in mass to use for recipes for the next two years to come.  Next year we plan on canning tomato sauces and pastes for the next two years after that.

Alternating focuses every other year allows for better planning of which varieties of tomatoes to grow in a given year, in addition to not burdening the food preserver with too many items to prepare every year.

The amount of effort to save 2 years worth (as opposed to 1 year worth) of an item is negligible, the amount of effort to save 1 years worth of 2 items every year is significant.

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The first fall frosts tell us it is time to harvest the remainder of winter squashes and pumpkins.  Cutting pumpkins and squash from the vine with 2 inch stems left on their heads will allow us to store these fall treats easily for up to 4 months.

My family also deep mulches (with straw) cold hardy greens to extend the season as long as possible.  The straw beds also add carbon to the garden to be broken down over the winter into the soil for the next growing season.

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Last, we are up against time to winterize the five hives of our apiary and harvest the honey before it is too cold.

We triple strain our honey by gravity, so the honey harvest can take a couple of weeks to complete.  It can take months to complete making all the products we make with the leftover honeycomb and beeswax.

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Harvest Season

Between our garden, the farmer’s market, and Green Bluff- our local farming community, we are swimming in produce abundance!

For modern day homesteaders across the country, August is harvest season. This last weekend we put:  9lbs. of blueberries; 6lbs. of Bing cherries; 3 bunches of radishes; 9lbs. of carrots; and countless cucumbers up on our larder shelves.  Additionally, we dried bunches of tomatoes for future pasta dishes and dinner entrees.

The following are two very easy food preservation techniques that should be in every homesteader’s toolbox.

Pickled Vegetables

We use brine and lacto-fermatation to pickle our vegetables…

*  1 Quart jar

*  2 Tbsp. of salt (we use Himalayan pink salt)

*  3 Cloves of garlic

*  Pearl onion

*  Additional fresh herbs (dill for cucumbers)

*  Fresh filtered water

In the bottom of a dry jar, add 3 cloves of garlic, pearl onion, chosen herbs, and salt.

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Next pack the vegetables in as tightly as possible, top off with fresh water, and close the jar.

Pressure might build up in the jar as a byproduct of the lacto-fermentation process. After a week on the shelf, simply loosing the ring on the jar to ‘burp’ it and then tighten the ring back on. Burping the jar will no longer be necessary after 2-3 weeks and the pickles will be shelf stable. The pickles must refrigerated after opening.

How long these pickles can be stored is a debated issue. Your taste buds are a reliable guide in lacto-fermentation. This is the same process that is used for dishes like Kimchi and Sauerkraut.

Oven Dried Fruit

*  Parchment paper

Take parchment paper and line metal pans.  In a single layer, lay out your fresh washed fruit to be dried.  Place in oven set at 170-210 degrees. Convection mode is best.  If you have to use bake mode, set at 170 degrees and put fruit on top shelf.  We used 210 on convection mode.

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Dry your fruit for 3 to 8 hours depending on type of fruit. Check your fruit every 2 hours to determine how much longer to keep it in. We used the same process for the cherries, but due to sugar content after they had been oven-dried we had to air dry on parchment for a few days before transferring to a mason jar for storage.  The blueberries were able to be stored after a short cooling period of an hour.

August is the time to preserve harvests! In the coming weeks we will be steam juicing plums and grapes, as well as our annual honey harvest.

Our Grocery Garden

When we are sharing our enthusiasm about growing our own food with others, we often hear responses like:

“I have never had a garden before”

“I don’t have a green thumb”

“Our yard isn’t big enough to grow food”  

My family is passionate about growing our own food. We have been suburban farming for 3 years and this year we plan to have a full 4300 sq. ft. (1/10th of an acre) of our yard devoted to growing food for our table. I am the first to admit though, parts of our property definitely yield more return for the invested energy and money spent.

The most productive part of our property is the 250 sq. ft. we call the grocery garden. Most of what is planted in this 250 sq. ft. space is either a perennial that only needs to be planted once and grows for a lifetime; or can be easily purchased as a ‘start’ (mature plant ready to be planted) for less than $3 each.

A garden like our Grocery Garden is extremely feasible in a yard of any size, and can be nurtured by a gardener with any level of experience.

What’s in our Grocery Garden?

*  Kitchen herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, and oregano)

*  9 Tomato plants

*  Cut & come again salad greens (kale and lettuce mix)

*  A 120 sq. ft. strawberry patch

*  4 Pepper plants

*  8 Cucumber plants

*  2 Blueberry bushes

*  Multiple blackberry bushes

*  Multiple raspberry bushes

*  Chives

*  Parsley

With a reasonable investment and very little effort to maintain, we encourage everyone to start reaping the monumental benefits of a Grocery Garden of their own.

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Saving the Bees

This school year my son pitched a ‘save the bee’ plan to his fellow students.  He proposed that his class sponsor a honey bee hive to be place in a community space. He thought this would increase awareness to the essential role bees play in our food supply.

As part of their research they called a local Honey Farmer and scheduled a field-trip to discuss the project. What my they learned at his meeting with the Honey Farmer, I have to admit I did not know…

beehives

(Fruit Hill Farm Apiary, May 2017)

Honey bees are colony bees, but there is a whole other world of pollinator bees that just don’t receive the same level of attention…solitary bees. There are over 4000 types of solitary bees, and they fall into 2 categories:

*  Mining bees (about 70% of solitary bees)

*  Nesting bees (about 30% of solitary bees)

Mining bees burrow into the ground and create their temporary living spaces in garden beds and lawns. If you see them and you desire to encourage bee populations, just leave them alone. Let them enjoy their short lived residency in your yard.  They will only be around from 10 days to 4 weeks, and the great news for your garden is they are around when your garden needs them most!

bumble bee

(Nesting Bumble Bee spotted on Fruit Hill Farm)

Nesting bees, include summer leafcutter bees and the increasingly popular springtime mason bees. The most prevalent mason bee in our area is the Blue Orchard Bee and they are the workhorse of our pollination world. Some mason bees accomplish the pollinating work of 120 honey bees!  To promote nesting bees survival, all we have to do is provide them a sanctuary or ‘bee hotel’ for respite when needed.

We all learned a lot this year through my son’s mission to ‘save the bees’. No doubt honey bees are an essential part of growing food.  If you want to join the effort of protecting bees however, don’t forget about the unsung heroes of our food system, the solitary bees.

beehouse

(Food Forest Bee Sanctuary, May 2017)