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?

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.

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)

Building Soil is Job #1

In 2015 we were inspired by the short-film Homegrown Revolution, featuring the Dervaes family. The short film shared the story of one man’s path to freedom for himself and his family by building a self-sufficient farm on 1/5th acre in the suburbs of Pasadena, CA. That story sparked a flood of new dreams and ideas for my family. A new journey had begun!

Getting Started

With more ideas, than time and money to support the ideas, we struggled with where to start.  After watching the movie Back to Eden, we decided job #1 in building a restorative relationship with the natural world needed to be rebuilding our soil.  Our lawn had died off previously in 2 of our 4 yards, leaving us with a fair amount of exposed ground.

Uncovered ground is both a symptom and a contributing factor to dying soil. The part of our yards that still had growth were covered with English Ivy and other invasive species, which is also a clear sign to the condition of the soil health (or lack of) underneath.

In the spring/summer of 2015, we arranged for a local tree trimming service to deliver 2 truckloads of wood chips and used them as mulch in garden areas we assessed they would be the most beneficial.

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Summer 2015

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Summer 2015

Then we heavily seeded the rest of the property with a nitrogen fixing cover crop.  We also set up a composting station in the yard to help grow fertile soil amendments and encourage the return of worms back onto our property.

Last, we bought chickens and in the fall rabbits to partner with us in our soil building efforts. The rabbits put out a steady stream of ready to use ‘organic fertilizer’ and chickens provided needed disturbance and aeration to the soil.

The result was the next spring we had this…and we were delighted how much more fertile our yard was becoming.  Yet we still had a long way to go.

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Spring  2016

Slow. Stop. Sink.

The same chickens that were a godsend the year before, were little destroyers of our growing efforts in 2016.  They pecked and scratched the land bare, exposing the soil again by the end of the growing season.

To compound problems, it was a hot summer and our food forest area is on a slope. What little rain that did fall during the 2016 growing season didn’t seep into the soil in the same way it did in flatter areas.

As we observed the area we selected to develop into a perennial food forest, it became apparent that we needed to improve the hydration to the area by increased mulching and building a hugelkultur mound around the perimeter.

We wanted to prime the area to slow, stop, and sink rain water into the soil.

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Fall 2016

Food Forest Project

As we cleared the last of the invasive overgrowth and brush from another area of the property, we used the larger pieces of green waste to built an animal deterrent around the food forest area.

Our plan was to let the sticks and small logs dry out and they would serve as the foundation of our hugelktur mounds for the 2017 growing season.  We heavily mulched the area every time we cleaned the rabbit hutches and we seeded the area in the late fall with a nitrogen fixing cover crop mix.

As the snow melted, we started to fill in the gaps of the hugelkultur mounds with small pieces of organic matter and compost. In early March we planted a spring nitrogen fixing cover crop on the mounds themselves.

In April when we moved the chickens into their new gated area, we built a keyhole garden for our annuals where the old coops used to be right outside the hugelkultur mound.

We also took out 2 trees that didn’t survive the winter. We replaced them with 2 peach trees to accompany the pear and 4 apple trees already in the forest area.  Last we added 2 hazelnut trees, gooseberry and boysenberry bushes, and a bunch of perineal flowering plants to round out the layers of the food forest.

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Spring 2017

Beyond 30:1 Carbon Nitrogen Ratio

In the last 2 years we have learned so much about building soil. One of our favorite teachers has been Dr. Elaine Ingham and we have watched every video of hers we could get our hands on. We encourage all growth, including edible ‘weeds’, to keep our soil covered and healing.

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Summer 2017

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Summer 2017

On Fruit Hill Farm we consider building the soil job #1. Every garden area that we have approached with soil building as our goal has given generously during the growing season.

Pennies on the Dollar

Nothing comes close to the peace a family feels with an established larder in their home. We live in a unique window of history and we surrounded by abundance. Wise households are taking advantage and establishing well-stocked larders.

It is so much easier than most would believe. To assess whether a stock larder could be established on a modest income, I looked up the max. monthly amount of nutrition assistance available for a family of 3 (the size of my household). The maximum benefit available is $526/mo. With that amount of money, a larder could be established in 3 months using the following lists at your guide for a family of 3 (please adjust according to your family size).

Monthly Staples – $404.50

4 gallons of milk – $10.00

4 dozen eggs- $8.00
Butter – $5.00
Veggies (per personal tastes) – $75.00
Tomato pastes and sauces 24 cans – $12.00
Lettuce/Cabbage ($2.50/head) – $40.00
Onions 5 lbs. – $10.00
Garlic 1 lb. – $5.00
Potatoes 20 lbs. – $16.00
Fruits (per personal tastes) – $50.00
Rasins 40 oz. – $6.00
Oranges 20 lbs. – $26.00
Apples 10 lbs. – $20.00
Lemons 10 lbs. – $7.50
Oatmeal 18 oz. (4) – $13.00
Honey 1lb. – $8.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 8 lbs. – $6.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00
Meat & Cheese $2.50/day – $75.00

Building the Larder – $114.0

Beans 20 lbs. – $15.00
Spices – $7.50
Oils 50 oz. – $16.00
Vinegar & Salts – $17.50
Sweet potatoes 6 lbs. – $8.00
Rice 25 lbs. – $29.00
Flour 25 lbs. – $21.00

Monthly Total – $518.50

Mason Jars 4 Boxes/month (not covered by nutrition assistance) – $32.00

Following this buying guide will give you all the food you need to eat very well and under budget. If you aren’t practiced at cooking all your meals, you will need to learn. A tip, I bet there are a handful of mentors just waiting for the ask at your local church. I for one would jump at the chance to share what I have learned on my own journey with someone who is taking their first steps towards true freedom!

For couples or singles the time to establish a well-stocked larder will be longer if you go it alone. The maximum benefit for a single is $200/month. Try to find a couple friends in the same circumstance and pool your resources. With 3 singles pooled together for just a 3 month agreement, you could use the above table and to establish your 3 separate larders and have about $80/month left over.

After the first three months, things get pretty exciting fast. First you may notice that once your larder is established and you can cut your monthly spend by $135/month*. Or you could start enhancing your larder with a diversity of flavors the first three months you couldn’t afford. Coco powder, fresh roots like ginger or turmeric, seasonal fruits/veggies, or an organic small animal like a rabbit or chicken to make bone broth and experiment with organ meats** are all great choices. Or you could use your extra resources to buy and dehydrate pounds of carrots, celery, and onions to use later to brightened up your recipes for months to come.

Getting to Pennies on the Dollar

After some time cooking out of your larder, you will likely start feeling drawn toward the full freedom of being able to provide for yourself and your family. When you start feeling pulled to self-sufficiency it will be time to start your own garden and maybe even buy a few animals. Chickens and rabbits are a great jumping off point on the full freedom path.

My family has chickens, turkeys, rabbits, bee hives all on our suburban lot. Check your local laws before taking your journey to the next level, and make sure you take great care of your operation so there are no complaints from neighbors. In my town we can keep 4 fowl and 4 adult rabbits (baby animals under 90 days don’t count). The amount of food produced may surprise you. Also the beehives don’t just produce honey, our bees increased the garden yield for us and our neighbors. When we started gardening and raising animals, in addition to cooking, we started to learn traditional food preservation techniques. Mentors, YouTube, books, and classes are all ways I learned on my journey to establishing a traditional kitchen.

With a garden and a few animals, your monthly {scratch that} quarterly food expenses could start to look closer to this:

Quarterly Staples

Dairy Needs – $40.00
Amish Butter – $8.00
10 Dozen Eggs (with chickens)- $11 in feed
(without chickens)- $35.00
Fruits (not able to grow & store) – $150.00
Veggies (not able to grow & store) – $150.00
Oatmeal 18 oz. (8) – $26.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 20 lbs.
-or- half gallon of honey – $18.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00
Meat (growing your own) -$32 in feed

Maintaining the Larder

Beans
Spices
Oils
Salt & Vinegar
Potatoes & Sweet potatoes
Rice
Flour (or Wheat Berries)

Replace based on your stores ~$100.00

Quarterly Total – $547.00+

* Examples used in this article used the amount of money for a 3 person household on food stamps. However, the model works even better for someone who isn’t receiving assistance. An independent person is free to start spending the money that was previously spent on building your larder in the first 3 months, on buying animals and planting a garden. 

** I do not recommend eating the organ meats or making bone broth from animals that you didn’t either raise yourself or trust the practices of the person who did.