How to Start a Suburban Food Forest

In the last 3 years, my husband and I have planted 30 fruit bearing trees on our 1/3 acre property.  Next year we are planning on experimenting with installing two permaculture trios.

I 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 6a)

*  Chestnuts

*  Hazelnuts (filberts)

*  Pecans

*  Walnuts

*  Apples

*  Apricots

*  Cherries

* Nectarines

*  Peaches

*  Pears

*  Plums

Nitrogen fixer trees that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 6a)

*  Bladder Senna

*  Japanese Pagoda

*  Silk tree mimosa

Fruit bearing shrubs that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 6a)

*  Blackberry

*  Blueberry

*  Boysenberry

*  Currants

*  Elderberry

*  Goji Berry

*  Gooseberry

*  Gumi Berry

*  Mulberry

*  Raspberry

*  Sea Buckhorn

Edible/Medicinal perennial plants that I recommend for my region (Millwood- zone 6a)

*  Basil

*  Chives

*  Claytonia (Miners Lettuce)

*  Chicory

*  Egyptian walking onions

*  Garlic Chive

*  Ginger

*  Good King Henry

*  Lavender

*  Lemon Balm

*  Mint

*  Oregano

*  Parsley

*  Ramps (Wild Leeks)

*  Rosemary

*  Rhubarb

*  Sylvetta Arugula

*  Sage

*  Scarlet Runner Beans

*  Sea Kale

*  Shallots

*  Sorrel

* Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)

* Sweet Potato

* Tree Collards

* Thyme

*  Yams

You’re Blessed

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he claimed a hillside.  Those were apprenticed to him.  Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.  This is what Jesus said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are- no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  God’s food and drink are the best meal you’ll ever eat.

You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being ‘care-ful’, you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world- your mind and heart- put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compare or fight.  Thats when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that- count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too lose for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

You can be glad when it happens- give cheer, even!- for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

(The Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-13, The Message)

We are blessed and His invitation is still alive today!  I accept and will abandon kingdoms of my own design.  I will commit my hands to His kingdom work today and all days to come.

Do It Anyway…

What did I do when my hero rejected me?  

Recently one of my heroes rejected my work. He is a public figure who was so influential in my personal formation to becoming my truer self.  Last month he posted a video, I’ve Lost Patience.  In the video he criticizes people who retreat in self-comfort instead of actively ‘resisting’ the environmental devastation that civilization is creating.  In his assessment these people are narcissistic and he, “Has no use for them.”

The part of his video that cut closest to my heart is that he included gardeners in amongst his identified lot of indulgent self-soothers!

What happened next, is predictable and a little embarrassing.  In some lost cause to compel him to validate my work and count me among his ilk, I tried to explain how important I felt gardening is.

His reply…

“Gardening would’t have stopped Hitler. We need to stop the primary destructions.”

Ouch!  I was not misunderstood. One of my heroes just fundamentally held little value for my work.  After reflecting on my path, I still believe it is the work I would betray my existence not to be doing.

Oh well, I will do it anyway.


For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.  Amen  (Romans 11:36)

For my son, my deepest prayers are:

*  that he knows and loves God

*  that he is free to live a life of his design, surrounded by a community he builds

*  and that he is willing to accept the consequences of his actions and learn from that feedback

It is the same prayer I pray for every soul.

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 believe it is very possible I missed my calling as a farmer.

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 believed it is modern farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and permaculturist that will have 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-diverse-

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 far away, 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.

Each of these tenants are worthy of their own post and I plan to do that in the future.  For this post, I will just state them so if you are interested in exploring more about food security you will have the best practices outlined.

What about my hometown?

How much food can one yard grow?  We do not have the data to answer to that question, but the Dervaes family farm, on 1/5 acre, can be a helpful point of reference.  On their 1/5 acre farm, they support 4 adults with about 75% of their total food needs and sell enough excess produce to provide the remaining 25% of their food needs.  The farm has been 20 years in development and is located in Pasadena, CA.

How does that compare to Millwood (my hometown)?

We have a much shorter growing season and that impacts our ability to grow our own food exclusively in significant ways.  However, our soil is healthy in Millwood.  Yes we have rocky soil, but I’m willing to bet our carbon content is higher than it was for the Dervaes family their early years.  We keep our soil covered with lawns and gardens.  Also, we have access to water for our yards.  Pasadena, CA experienced drought the majority of the years the Dervaes family were establishing their farm.

Among the homesteading community, the cited amount of acreage it takes to provide all the food for a family of four, is often 1-2 acres.  Sources that cite 2 acres often include space to grow grains such as wheat, major livestock like cows and pigs, and sometimes include space allocated for a solar array for energy.

In a thought experiment once, I penciled out what would be required to grow 100% of my family’s caloric intake on our 1/3 acre lot.  It was possible with each family member getting 2000 calories a day based on garden yields I am building the foundation for, but don’t anticipate for 3 more years.  In my experiment, the diet we would be able to grow ourselves would largely be fruits, veggies, eggs, and nuts.  We would have to grow greens indoors over the frost season, and we wouldn’t be able to grow wheat.  According to Millwood’s current ordinance the only meat animals you can legally raise in your yard are 4 female fowl and 4 rabbits at any given time, so meat would be scarce and predominantly rabbit.

Regional food security is a topic that I believe is worthy of many future discussions.  And the first discussion should be at our kitchen tables with our families.

Transformative Storytelling

August 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most influential speeches of all-time.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s effectiveness was part due to technical brilliance, but just as important Dr. King deeply understood transformative storytelling.  He understood the importance of interplay that must exist between the audience, the message, and the storyteller.

Why was ‘I Have a Dream’ so powerful?

Reminds us what we already know…

Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King opened with the words, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” Instantly the audience is connected to the wholeness of an empowering truth already known, their freedom has already been ensured.

Transformative storytelling is just as much connecting people to truths that deep down they already know, as it is helping them discover new truths.

Articulates the big picture in details

Dr. King is a master of metaphor and powerful parables as tools to make big dreams concrete in the listener’s mind.  One of the great failings of leadership of our time is that too few leaders take the time to inspire others to follow.  Visioning the big picture is part of great leadership; the other part is making those big truths relevant for those you expect to follow.

Too often I hear leaders criticize their constituents for not being able to see the big picture.  That is the job of leadership!  Dr. King used a very concrete symbol of segregation to explain the consequences of a polarizing issue when he delivered, “We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: ‘For Whites Only.’”

Unquestioned authenticity

Every element of this speech is saturated in authenticity.  Not only because of who delivered it, a man willing to go to jail for his moral conviction, but also in how it was delivered.

Dr. King’s speech is technically brilliant in delivery.  His meter starts at about 50 words per minute allowing the audience to be drawn in, suggesting that he stands in the rightness of his message.  There is no need to rush a message that must be heard.  Starting with a slower meter also allows the crescendo as he launches into the impromptu ‘I have a dream’ section have the appropriate tone of authentic passion.  Too fast of a meter in speech raises suspicion in the minds of the audience.

Dr. King also uses pauses of silence to allow his audience to digest all that they are hearing and this too lends to his authenticity.  We don’t promote reflection over ideas we don’t truly believe ourselves.

You Are 100% Safe

“Raise your hand if your feel 100% safe in this moment?”

I was in a room of about 150 fellow clinicians.  We were an audience of doctors, nurses, chaplains, and social workers…only 2 hands went up.

The speaker went on, “That is surprising!  Don’t you see that you are 100% safe in this moment?”

For the next half-hour protests about all the things that make us usafe every minute of every day came from every corner of the room.

“What about mass shootings?”

“What about the inevitable financial collapse?”

“Natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity, what about that?”

“Terrorists, protestors, and crazy people are everywhere.”

“Nuclear war!”

The speaker persisted, “We have been having this debate for 30 minutes you were and still are 100% safe.

About five minutes into the debate, I did come to the realization that in that moment I was 100% safe.  I was in a room full of fellow caregivers that have devoted their lives to serving others.  We were in a safely maintained facility in a safe town.  I felt peace wash over my body and my stance loosened.  I took a deep breath and felt grateful that I was attending the conference.

For the remainder of the day I learned techniques to reduce the amount of time I allow my body to be in ‘fight or flight’ response, so that even if I were ever in true danger I would be able to access my highest level of assessment and decision making abilities.

A few other key take aways from the day:

*  My child is among the safest cohort to ever have existed on earth.  Did you know that in the late 17th century 30% of our children born didn’t live 6 months?

*  Allowing myself to feel secure in moment-to-moment safety doesn’t mean I should not take reasonable preparedness measures to survive likely crisis I could encounter.

*  There is real brokeness in this world, and plenty of it.  Yet I am not made stronger to deal with my own primary traumas that will happen to me and people who are relationship with me, by constantly exposing myself to the secondary trauma of remote crisis that I have no meaningful impact on or relationship with.  ‘News’ media should be consumed sparingly.

*  I am more resilient by engaging and processing the primary and secondary trauma I will (or have) experience and not being detached.  However, it is best if I do that engaging and processing from a place of peace and realization that, ‘In this exact moment I am safe.’

On Earth, as it is in Heaven…

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  (Romans 8:17)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Christians, our call is to love who God loves, feed who God feeds, and heal our broken world with the reconciling ministry of our King!

The Story of Trees

“Society grows great when the elders plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit.”  Greek Proverb

I had a wonderful lunch today with some new friends (and a dear old friend).  The discussion over lunch was about the importance of building community.

One of my lunch mates shared the story about Millwood’s tree lined avenues being here because of one family’s commitment over a century ago.  The Woodard family planted trees to nurture a timeless neighborhood feel to attract others to this area.  As the papermill brought workers here, they help built a town with features that serve us well today.

The walkability of our city, the main street business district, railroad access, and all the trees planted and nurtured were ensured by people who are no longer here.

The conversation begs me to ask, “What will we leave for the next generation of Millwood citizen’s?


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.


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)